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Obama Signs Equal Pay Actions; Ukraine Passes Anti-Separatism Law; LBJ's Role in Civil Rights Act

Aired April 8, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A short time ago, President Obama signed two executive orders to help ensure that women earn as much as men for doing exactly the same kind of jobs.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And today, I'm going to take action, executive action, to make it easier for working women to earn fair pay. So first I'm going to sign an executive order to create more pay transparency by prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay with each other.


OBAMA: All right.


BLITZER: And President Obama entered the White House back in 2009, the first law he signed was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. That law was named for the Alabama grandmother who became a champion for equal pay after men in her Goodyear plant doing similar work had been paid up to 40 percent more.

Valerie Jarrett is President Obama's senior adviser, she's joining us from the White House right now.

Valerie, thanks very much for coming in.

VALERIE JARRETT, SR. ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you, Wolf, it's always a pleasure to be with you.

BLITZER: All right. So everybody wants women who are doing exactly the same work as men to get equal pay. That's not controversial.

Here's the question: what has taken so long? The Lily Ledbetter Act was the first step in this direction. Now the president's taking additional steps what, five years later?

So why has it taken so long to move on and make sure that this really does happen in our country?

JARRETT: Well, every single year, the president has been supporting a piece of legislation that is sitting up on the Hill right now called paycheck fairness. And that law would do the same thing that he did today by executive order, except that it would apply to all employers.

And so our goal was to try to get Congress to act to cover all employers. But as he said n in this year's State of the Union, this is going to be a year of action. And where Congress fails to act, he will take action.

So that's what he did today. But yet and still -- he's still pushing Congress to pass a very important legislation that would benefit every single woman out there who has no idea whether or not she's being discriminated against, does not have access to data that would show whether or not she is earning the same amount as her male equivalents and who is concerned that her employers might retaliate against her in the event that she starts to ask what other people are making.

BLITZER: Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, in the House of Representatives, basically saying that what you, the administration, are planning on doing is going to wind up hurting women. I want to play a little clip of what she said today.


REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), WASH.: So women understand the direct impact of the policies and the impact that they have on them. So on this equal payday, I would urge us to stop politicizing women and let's start focusing on those policies that are actually going to help women and everyone in this country have a better life.


BLITZER: She says basically you're doing this for politics and for politics only.

JARRETT: Well, I would ask her, what policies is she talking about, and why would she shy away from supporting paycheck fairness?

As you mentioned, we had Lily Ledbetter here with us today. And when you listen to her story, for 19 years, she was being discriminated against by her employer. That's a fact.

The other fact is, she had no idea until someone passed her an anonymous tip letting her know that she wasn't being paid fairly. That's another fact.

The reason why it was anonymous is that her co-worker was afraid about retaliation if she shared it.

So just think, 19 years went by where Lily had no idea that she was being discriminated against. And so what we would invite the members of Congress and the Republican Party who talk about policies, well, you know, you can support a policy that's right there in front of you today. It is against the law to discriminate against women but we know that it happens each and every day and that there's still a pay gap.

And so what the president is saying is shouldn't we all work together to close that gap?

One way to do it is to make sure that there is equal pay for equal work.

Another thing is to make sure we are opening up opportunities for women to go into fields that have disproportionate representation of men and who also pay a higher wage. So science and technology and engineering fields pay a much higher rate.

So what can we do to encourage women, girls, to take classes in science and math, encourage employers and professors and supporters to help women go into those fields so that they can get those higher paying jobs?

What can we do to make sure that our workplace is flexible so that women aren't faced with having to drop out of the workforce because of the need to have flexibility as they take care of their children?

Let's make sure we have day care available so that women -- affordable day care so that women aren't choosing between working and taking care of our -- of their children.

So there are a whole range of issues here, Wolf, that we need to have a conversation about and what the president is calling for today is let's have transparency, let's all look at what the statistics are and then let's figure out how to close that gap.

BLITZER: Here's the criticism, though, of the White House. Nationally studies showed that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, even though men and women are roughly 50-50 in the workplace. But at the White House, it's 88 cents, according to the conservative American Enterprise Institute. They came out with a study saying 88 cents for every dollar a man makes.

And Jay Carney was asked about this, the press secretary, yesterday. I want you to listen, Valerie, to what he said.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that those studies look at the aggregate of everyone on staff, and that includes from the most junior levels to the most senior.

What I can tell you is that we have, as an institution here, aggressively addressed this challenge. And obviously, though, at the 88 cents that you cite, that is not 100, but it is better than the national average.


BLITZER: Is that OK, that White House employees, women, make 88 cents for every dollar a man makes?

JARRETT: Well, let's talk about the White House. So here are the facts. In the White House, women earn equal pay for equal work. So for example, I'm a senior adviser. I make the exact same amount that Don Pfeiffer makes, the other senior adviser. And that's up and down throughout the White House.

So the most junior people earn the same exact salary. We also have 16 departments in the White House, the majority of which are run by women. We have opportunities for promotion in the White House and one of the reasons why our number is at 88 cents is because we have aggressively recruited women to come in at entry level positions because the president has committed to making sure that women have opportunities for upward mobility within the White House.

And just yesterday, Wolf, I was sitting around one of the senior staff meetings. And of the assistants to the president, which is the most senior position in the White House, I looked around and nine of the 10 assistants to the president I realized had been promoted to those positions while in the White House.

So the president believes in providing that ladder of opportunity up and he also believes that when women are first coming out of school or at most junior levels, let's get them onto the payroll. That's why our number is skewed to 88 cents.

But the real important point here, Wolf, is we can have a conversation about it because of transparency. Our statistics at the White House are open for everyone to see. We have analyzed it to figure out why there is that gap. We are aggressively are looking at ways of moving women up into higher levels within the White House, and we're very, very proud of our track record.

But you wouldn't have any idea about the details behind those numbers were it not for pay transparency.

BLITZER: Valerie Jarrett at the White House, Valerie, thank you very much for joining us.

JARRETT: You're welcome. My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Pro-Russian protests are growing within Ukraine's borders.

Could the country be on the brink of a civil war? Fareed Zakaria joins me when we come back.


BLITZER: Let's get back to Ukraine now and the clashes in the eastern part of the country, there was fighting today on the floor of the parliament in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev. Lawmakers clashed while discussing and then passing a new law outlawing separatist groups. That law comes on the heels of pro-Russian demonstrators taking control of government buildings in Eastern Ukraine.

Russia has warned that any military move by the Ukrainian government could spark a civil war inside Ukraine. Government troops moved in anyway to disperse protesters near the seized buildings.

And joining us now, Fareed Zakaria, the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."

Fareed, thanks very much for coming in. As you know, Russia's foreign ministry now using words like civil war when talking about the possible outcome in Eastern Ukraine.

So what's going on right now?

Are the Russians looking for an excuse to move in?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: It certainly looks like they're looking for an excuse to further destabilize Ukraine so that they can reassert their domination or their relationship with Ukraine.

Remember, Wolf, Crimea was never the prize. Ukraine was the prize. They took Crimea because they realized the situation was spiraling out of control. You remember what was happened in the Maidan. Suddenly they found Ukraine moving very rapidly toward the West.

And Putin decided really as a last-minute maneuver, I believe, because he had been stymied during the Olympics, the minute the Olympics got done, he initiated that KGB-style operation to take Crimea.

But the prize, the thing he has always cared about, was Ukraine and dominating Ukraine, influencing it. So now we move to phase two of the operation and that is, how does Russia assert some kind of control over Ukraine.

And what they're doing now is through local supporters, local sympathizers, probably a lot of money and some -- perhaps some special ops, they are trying to destabilize the East so that they can perhaps have a pretext to move in, but certainly have a pretext to have a very tough negotiation with the Ukrainian government.

BLITZER: Because as you know, the pro-Russian demonstrators, and there are plenty of them in Ukraine right now, they're asking the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to send in, quote, "peacekeeping troops" into Eastern Ukraine.

So is that something you think Putin might be ready to exploit?

ZAKARIA: I wonder myself. I think that the reality is that, while in Crimea there was an overwhelming degree of support locally for annexation by Russia for becoming part of Russia.

In Eastern Ukraine, my understanding, talking to people on the ground, talking about some local politicians, it's more mixed.

Even the Russian-speaking people in Ukraine have mixed feelings about whether they want to actually become part of Russia, whether they want to stay independent.

So Putin is probably trying to calculate whether those Russian troops would be received, would be given a hero's welcome. If they were, I think he'd certainty consider it.

But it is as likely what he's going to try to do is to go to the Ukrainians and say, you see, you have demands from your countrymen. They want us to get involved.

At the very least, you have to give them substantial autonomy and you have to give us, the Russians, a special role in Ukraine. That's what he wants; he wants a special role in Ukraine. Whether that means formal annexation or not, I think probably he's trying to figure out himself opportunistically what the best path is.

BLITZER: Fareed, the past 24 hours, the U.S., NATO, members of the European Union, they've all warned Russia not to move into Ukraine, no matter what. Sanctions are in place. There could be more sanctions.

Bottom line, how tense is this current crisis right now?

ZAKARIA: This is a very, very significant crisis, Wolf. This is essentially the most significant geopolitical crisis since the end of the Cold War, because what you have here is one of the great powers in the world -- this is not a civil war in Syria which, tragic though it is, doesn't it have quite the same ripple effects.

You have a great global power, Russia, that has decided it is going to flaunt (sic) one of the great global rules, which is sanctity of borders and the idea that you do not annex parts of neighboring countries when you want to.

And so the Europeans and the United States, the West, in a sense, has to figure out how they try to maintain that international norm, that rule, that post-Cold War order that has been put in place and that has very rarely been violated in the last 50 years by a great power.

You know, if you're talking about some African country here or there, that's very different. You have had substantial adherence to this idea. And Russia is breaking ranks. So it's a big deal.

BLITZER: Very big deal indeed. And the tensions enormous right now. Fareed Zakaria, thanks very much.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: We attack some of the day's other headlines. That's coming up, including the new NCAA champions crowned last night in Texas. We'll show you a couple very high-powered fans who showed up for the game.


BLITZER: Let's make a quick check of some of the headlines coming into CNN right now.

In Washington State, the death toll from land month's landslide has risen once again. The Snohomish County medical examiner says it now stands at 34. Earlier today, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said President Obama will visit the site of the disaster later in the month.

The president will arrive there April 22nd, the same date he begins a week-long trip to Asia. Check and see how the markets are doing right now. There's the Dow Jones, up about 25 points. Follows a sell-off that began last Thursday, thanks mostly to losses being racked up in the tech sector. Also puts all three major U.S. stock indices into negative territory for the year, at least so far.

The University of Connecticut took home their fourth NCAA basketball championship with a win over Kentucky last night. The seventh-seeded Huskies made an unlikely run to the championship, capping it off with a commanding win over the Kentucky Wildcats.

The game also had a couple of very high-powered fans in attendance, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were there. You see them sitting next to each other. They watched the game, which was held, by the way, at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

It is part of his legacy, 50 years ago, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. But he didn't start his political clear as an advocate of the cause actually, just the opposite. We'll have the story when we come back.



BLITZER: Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson fought to end discrimination by signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. It prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, but it was a fight to get it passed. Suzanne Malveaux has the story.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): On the surface, Lyndon Baines Johnson was one of the most unlikely champions of civil rights.

ANDREW YOUNG, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: You had to like him. I mean, he was a big, lovable Texan. Even though he made you feel comfortable, he made you feel uncomfortable. He'd look down on you and he'd talk with you very intensely. And you couldn't say much to him.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): t was famously called the Johnson Treatment. LBJ's power, as well as his quirks, were notorious, as depicted by this scene from Lee Daniels' movie, "The Butler."

"LBJ": I want y'all to get on the phone and call the NAACP.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Johnson's speechwriter, Richard Goodwin.

RICHARD GOODWIN, LBJ SPEECHWRITER. He said I'm for it. And when you're in the military, it's happening all the time. And Johnson was used to doing that.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Johnson also reportedly swore like a sailor, and occasionally used the N word.

YOUNG: Well, back then it was part of our vernacular, too. I mean, honestly. His language with Martin Luther King was always respectful.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): But early in Johnson's political career he was no civil rights activist, casting votes against the legislation.

GOODWIN: When he was a senator from Texas, he really couldn't follow up that much because otherwise he would have lost his seat.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): So what was the driving force behind this momentous moment?

Many looked to Johnson's childhood in Texas, where he grew up in a small farmhouse as the eldest of five.

YOUNG: He had been poor. Johnson had lived in and felt, I think, guilty enough and had had enough pain about his own hardship and poverty as a Texas schoolteacher.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): As president, he was a shrewd dealmaker and politician drawing on his experience in Congress.

YOUNG: He had lived and breathed and been through a thousand battles with these guys. There was almost nobody in the House or the Senate that he had not done a favor for.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Johnson had a reputation for his lust of power and control. But those who knew him say his fight for civil rights was not politically driven.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: By going all out for civil rights, that was a brave thing.

YOUNG: Well, I think it had to be sincere, because there would have been -- it would have been too easy for him to get out of it. It was almost impossible to do.


MALVEAUX: And so, Wolf, you have really a combination of what was happening here. It was a larger than life personality, but a movement that was behind him, a really intimate relationship with Congress, whether or not you loved him or hated him, he certainly reached out to members of Congress.

And what we're going to see over the next three days at this Civil Rights Summit is really an acknowledgement of those tumultuous times 50 years ago, and looking for it here, how is it that we can use those lessons learned so that President Obama, Congress and also we as American citizens, can move forward in some of the civil rights issues of the day.

We're talking about gay rights, immigration and health care, among them. We're going to have four presidents who are going to be here at the LBJ Library to discuss just that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm glad you're there covering it for us. We'll check back with you tomorrow, Suzanne. Thank you so much for doing this. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back at 5:00 pm Eastern, a special two-hour edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM." "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.