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Analysis of Obama's Health Care Reform Speech to Congress; South Carolina Congressman Apologizes for Heckling Obama; Truth About Keeping Your Insurance Plan Under Obama; Madoff Caught on Tape Coaching Colleagues to Fool SEC; Focus Group Grades Obama's Speech; Sex Talk Caught on Tape; Hidden Tax to Support Uninsured?
Aired September 10, 2009 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and thanks very much for being with us on this Thursday, it's the 10th September. I'm John Roberts.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Carol Costello in for Kiran Chetry. Good morning, everyone. Here are the big stories we'll be breaking down in the next 15 minutes.
President Obama says the time for partisan bickering over health care is over. In a prime speech to Congress, the president challenged lawmakers to act now on health care reform and denounced the scare tactics that have marred the make or break debate. We're live with reaction and analysis from the White House and Capitol Hill, and the truth squad that's separating fact from fiction in the president's speech for you.
ROBERTS: A Republican congressman is apologizing for his stunning outburst during the president's speech. South Carolina's Joe Wilson shouting, "You lie," at the president. Here's how it happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal Americans. This too is false. The reforms -- the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.
REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You lie.
OBAMA: It's not true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Yes. Well, we'll have more on Wilson's mea culpa and the White House's response.
COSTELLO: Looks like the town hall moving.
ROBERTS: I'll tell you.
COSTELLO: Right on to Capitol Hill. Hear Bernie Madoff tell you don't have to be brilliant to fool the SEC. A just released audiotape features the convicted Ponzi schemer in a 2005 phone conversation coaching a witness who is about to be interviewed concerning Madoff's fraudulent investment firm. Christine Romans is following that for us.
ROBERTS: This Madoff thing is just a gift that keeps on giving.
We begin this morning with President Obama taking ownership of health care reform laying his vision on the line. It was an urgent call to action reminding Americans of what they fear most in the system and explaining why reform cannot wait, not just for the 30 million Americans who cannot get coverage.
President Obama also sought to change the dynamics and the tone of the debate insisting he will heal the partisan divide that has left reform in limbo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This is the plan I'm proposing. It's a plan that incorporates ideas for many of the people in this room tonight, Democrats and Republicans. And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. But, know this. I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than to improve it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: And this morning, we are covering the story like no one else. Our Elaine Quijano is live to the White House for us this morning. Brianna Keilar on Capitol Hill and Alina Cho and the truth squad here checking the facts this morning. And John Avlon, independent analyst and columnist at TheDailyBeast.com is going to join us in just a moment.
But first of all, let's start with Elaine. He wanted to move the ball forward on health care reform. By all accounts, he certainly might have gotten some distance to that but really where are we as we wake up to Thursday morning with health care reform?
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as you know, after a politically bruising August, the president very much wanted to hit the reset button on the health care debate.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you.
QUIJANO (voice-over): Trying to retake control of the runaway health care debate, President Obama asserted...
OBAMA: The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. QUIJANO: On the controversial public option staunchly supported by liberals but decried as a government health care takeover by conservatives, the president again tried to carefully thread the needle saying he prefers a bill that includes an option for government-run care, but added...
OBAMA: It is only one part of my plan and shouldn't be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles.
QUIJANO: Yet without mentioning Republicans by name, the president blasted what he called scare tactics by opponents, calling the notion of a bureaucratic death panel a lie, and he insisted illegal immigrants would not be covered, prompting an outburst from South Carolina GOP Congressman Joe Wilson.
REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You lie.
QUIJANO: Wilson later called the White House to apologize. As for specifics, the president did mention what he supports, though much of it he's mentioned before, including a ban on denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, limits on out-of-pocket expenses, and a new insurance exchange meant to allow individuals and small businesses to shop for health insurance at competitive prices. Missing, though, were new details on how exactly to pay for the president's $900 billion plan, aside from what he's already said before, finding money by cutting waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid.
OBAMA: While there remains some significant details to be ironed out, I believe -- I believe a broad consensus exists for the aspects of the plan I just outlined.
QUIJANO: It was an emotional appeal as well, as the widow of the late Senator Edward Kennedy looked on, President Obama recounted Kennedy's thoughts on health care in a letter delivered to Obama after Kennedy's death.
OBAMA: "What we face," he wrote, "is above all a moral issue. At stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."
QUIJANO: Now the president will try to keep the momentum going today. He'll make remarks on health care and he's also expected to meet with a group of centrist Democrats later today here at the White House. He'll also hit the road to campaign for a health care overhaul. On Saturday, John, he'll head to Minneapolis for a public rally -- John.
ROBERTS: Elaine Quijano for us at the White House this morning. Elaine, thanks.
COSTELLO: Rodney Dangerfield may have said it best, tough crowd, I can't seem to get any respect. You saw it in Elaine's speech. President Obama faced a congressional heckler last night. Republican Congressman Joe Wilson shouting "you lie." Wilson did apologize for that stunning outburst, but there may be some political fallout.
Congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar is following developments live from Capitol Hill. So, what could happen, Brianna?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know exactly what would happen but certainly Democrats are looking in to see if Joe Wilson may have violated any rules because the House was in session last night when President Obama gave his address to the joint session. As criticism really started to crescendo last night, Wilson was pretty quick to release a paper statement. He said this evening, "I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president's remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the president's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility."
Wilson actually called the White House as we've said before and he issued an apology to President Obama through his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. But just take a listen to some of the criticism, the bipartisan criticism that came in the hour following this speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Totally disrespectful. No place for it and in that setting or any other. And he should apologize immediately.
REP. JAMES CLYBURN, HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: When I was growing up, not far from Columbia (INAUDIBLE), I was always taught that the first sign of a good education is good manners. I think that what we saw tonight was really bad manners. And having a spirited debate is one thing. Exercising bad manners is another. That was beyond the pale, and I would hope that he would publicly apologize on that same floor to the president of the United States for that insult.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Now, that was James Clyburn, the number three Democratic in the House. And this was just minutes before Wilson did indeed issue his apology. But what Clyburn told us off camera was that there are rules governing appropriate behavior on the House floor and because the House was in session, we asked him, are Democrats going to be looking into enforcing those rules, perhaps sanctioning Congressman Wilson? And he said we are looking into that, Carol. So we'll be following that very closely today.
COSTELLO: You know, I think some people might just say can't they just let it go and move on. I mean, why waste time with this?
KEILAR: And you know, maybe that will happen because that's something that Clyburn said to us ahead of the apology. And certainly it kind of distracts from the president's message last night. So we'll see today if they really will go through with that.
COSTELLO: Well, let's talk about the president's message a little bit because he really needed to talk to Democrats, didn't he? I mean, they needed to hear from him last night. How did the Democrats, especially more conservative Democrats receive the president's speech?
KEILAR: Carol, what we were looking for after this speech was how did these liberal Democrats who say I'm only going to vote for a bill with a public option. How did they respond to the president and how did these conservative Democrats who say if there's a public option I'm not voting for it? Because this was a divide that President Obama had to straddle.
Well, it kind of seemed to be that depending on the point of view of the Democrat, they sort of pulled from it what they will. The liberal Democrats seemed very happy that President Obama touted the public option, didn't shut the door on it. And then conservative Democrats really seemed to zero in on the fact that the president talked about being open about other ideas.
So he did manage to straddle that divide but certainly this issue of whether there's going to be a government-run insurance plan isn't settled and so this is certainly a debate you're going to see continuing here on Capitol Hill.
COSTELLO: I'm sure we will. Brianna Keilar live in Washington this morning.
We want to know what you think about all of this. Please share your thoughts with us, CNN.com/amFIX. We'll be reading your e-mails throughout the morning.
ROBERTS: Looking forward to all of that.
President Obama making lots of promises in his speech to Congress last night, so what was true and what wasn't? Alina Cho has got the truth squad fired up, ready to go this morning, and fact checking the speech so you don't have to. We'll have the results coming right up.
Nine and a half minutes after the hour.
COSTELLO: There it was, the scene of the latest town hall meeting.
Good morning, Washington. Cloudy at 66 right now. It's going to rain later today and maybe we'll hit 70 degrees there. Who knows?
ROBERTS: Yes. That will be nice except the rain.
Welcome back to "the "Most News in the Morning." A major break moment for President Obama in the debate over health care reform, addressing a joint meeting of Congress last night in prime time. The president said it was time for action and time to end the partisan bickering that has clouded the critical issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter charges, confusion has reined.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: So how did the president do last night? John Avlon, independent analyst and columnist at TheDailyBeast.com joins us now.
So it was billed as a make or break moment for the president last night. He tried to clear up some of the ambiguity out there since there's no actual plan, just a series of competing ideas. How do you think he did?
JOHN AVLON, COLUMNIST, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: I think he did pretty well. High risk, high reward. Post-speech polls showed that he did clear that bar. He was able to regain some control over this debate which had gone so badly off the rails this August. So I think it was a gutsy move by the president and I think it ended up paying off. Long way from being done but a step in the right direction.
COSTELLO: But a big problem out in the public. People were -- the people are confused.
COSTELLO: Did he really like make them understand more of what he wants in his plan?
AVLON: More. I think he moved the needle. He laid out a set of priorities that he said were sort of nonnegotiable but then said he was open to different means of achieving those ends. And he started to address what I think a lot of the core concerns are of citizens in the town halls. The issue of fiscal responsibility.
It was a different tack we heard before. It wasn't just the moral imperative for health care that he plays forth but economic imperative. Making the case to middle class folks, look, you are paying for the uninsured now. That's a different flip than we've heard before.
An interesting tack. It's going to be a long sell. This statement of the -- there's not going to be a dime added to the deficit. There's still a bit of a credibility gap when it comes to fiscal responsibility in his place.
COSTELLO: Yes. He didn't really lay out how exactly he's going to pay for all of this.
COSTELLO: He gave -- he lobbed a few ideas out there.
ROBERTS: Sounds like tax increases are coming somewhere along the line here. But in terms of, you know, the misrepresentations that were out there during the month of August, the president called people out, he said he's not going to let people misrepresent what's going on. He also said he was going to reach across the aisle to try to grab some sort of bipartisan agreement. Let's listen to a part of what he said on that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Fortunately, there's not a lot of bipartisan support out there. But how much does his legacy on this really depend on at least peeling off some Republican votes?
AVLON: A lot, I think. Look, this campaign is someone who is going to be the antidote to the polarized politics of the Bush era and yet he has presided over and over an eruption of hyper-partisanship and even hate. And it's more than anything really that we saw during the Bush era as we saw from Joe Wilson's shoutout last night, the town hall escalating (ph).
So there is a lot of ground to cover, but he realizes that he needs to reclaim that bipartisan mantle. He embraced proposals from both John McCain and George W. Bush. Those are steps in the right direction. I don't think you're going to see broad partisan margins --
COSTELLO: Wait a minute, you're never going to get Congressman Wilson to work with Democrats.
AVLON: No, you're not.
COSTELLO: So why bother with him?
AVLON: I don't think Joe Wilson is on the table. I think the issue is whether you can win some of the "gang of six," whether a bipartisan -- any degree of bipartisan support is possible. And I think that's important.
Every major social reform this country has passed and going back to Social Security has had some degree of bipartisan support. For this president to campaign on post-partisanship and then have no bipartisan support would send a very bad message. But clearly, this is going forward no matter what. He's put a lot of political capital.
ROBERTS: Forget Joe Wilson, though. He's got some problems with members of his own party too, which is why he said, well, the public option, maybe, you know, it's one of the ideas out there. There are other ways to get it done.
But what about malpractice reform? You hear what I heard about a week ago, a little more ago, you said the president might talk about this idea of malpractice reform. I thought you were nuts, and then out he comes with it last night. I owe you a beer.
AVLON: You owe me a beer. There you go.
Look, you know, he did that. It was a major olive branch to Republicans. Unexpected. It's like he talked a lot in the past. It was not included in any of the House bills, frankly, because the trial lawyers are so influential in the Democratic Party. But he took a risk. They're going to be doing pilot programs to take medical malpractice out of jury pools and in front of special panels. It's a significant olive branch to the Republicans and hopefully the beginning of some substantive, really substantive outreach that can help make this bill more broad based and not just a plate at the base to maneuver.
ROBERTS: All right. Well, we'll see if we can pull some Republicans over to his side.
John, great to see you this morning.
AVLON: Good to see you.
COSTELLO: Thanks, John.
One the cobblestones of the road to health care reform, one of them concerns you could be forced out of your current insurance plan or forced to change doctors. Alina Cho and the truth squad checking the facts for us this morning.
Good morning, Alina. A lot of people are worried that, you know, if this government health care reform plan goes into effect.
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What happens?
COSTELLO: I won't be able to keep my insurance.
CHO: Yes, that's right. You know, I mean, remember, you know we talk a lot about the 46 million Americans who don't have health insurance. But remember the vast majority, 253 million Americans like us do have health insurance. So what happens under health care reform? You know?
So, the question we're looking at this morning is, what happens if you are happy with your health insurance, don't want anything to change? Will you somehow lose your coverage under health care reform?
Well, here's what President Obama said about that last night. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or the V.A., nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage of the doctor you have.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CHO: Right at the top of the speech. Now keep in mind there's no final bill yet, but we poured through a bill that's gone through three House committees already and it says it protects "the choice to keep current coverage."
Now, a similar passage in the Senate bill is titled "no changes to existing coverage," but, of course, there's no guarantee. Remember that employers can change health plans at any time or drop coverage all together. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office looked at the House bill and concluded that by 2016 some three million Americans who now have health insurance through their employers could actually lose it. It is really in the language.
Now listen to this. In the past, President Obama has said if you like your health care plan you'll be able to keep it. Period. Last night, there was a modification. He said, "Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have." It is a subtle but critical shift.
So the question again, if you are happy with your health care insurance and want nothing to change, will you somehow lose coverage under health care reform? The verdict on this one? A little murky, true but incomplete.
While there's nothing in any of the bills we looked at that says employer-based coverage would go away, the employers themselves ultimately have the final say. They can drop coverage so there are no guarantees, guys, no matter what the language in the final bill.
COSTELLO: So the deal with this if there's a public option, your employer could drop you and you could go with the government insurance plan. That's what people -- some people are worried about.
CHO: That's right. That's right. That's what a lot of people -- that's the core of a lot of the debate right now, actually.
ROBERTS: And the debate goes on. And John and I will be having a beer summit one of these days, too.
CHO: Make him pay.
ROBERTS: I bet that the president wouldn't be talking about malpractice reform. He was right, I was wrong. There you go.
COSTELLO: You owe him.
ROBERTS: I do.
COSTELLO: You owe him more than a beer. You owe him a keg.
ROBERTS: Well, then, we'll have to invite everybody. There you go.
COSTELLO: Flashbacks (ph).
(LAUGHTER) ROBERTS: Bernie Madoff, we have been detailing his properties. Well, now, Bernie might have been involved in something else. Was he coaching witnesses to lie to the SEC. Christine Romans with the latest sordid chapter in -- what are we calling it? -- something felonious.
ROBERTS: Something felonious.
Twenty minutes after the hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Uber swindler Bernie Madoff, yes. The uber weasel is in prison now for 150 years he'll be gone, so he's got to sell his apartment because they don't want him subletting for that long. And the government is selling it for $7.5 million.
Now, wait a minute. Yes, before you go nuts, the kitchen is like brand new. Like brand new because the only thing he ever cooked in there were the books. That's the only thing he ever -- that's all it was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: That was a good one. Uber weasel. That's -- maybe it's the best nickname for Bernie Madoff.
ROBERTS: Lifestyles of the rich and felonious is what I was trying to come up with.
COSTELLO: That is very clever.
ROBERTS: Before you interjected here.
COSTELLO: Hey, welcome back. Let's (INAUDIBLE) morning.
Bernie Madoff in his own words telling colleagues how to dance around questions from the SEC. In a just released audio recording from 2005, the convicted swindler is heard coaching a potential witness about fooling regulators saying you don't have to be brilliant to get away with it. Christine Romans is following this story.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: He basically says, look, these SEC guys, they're going to work there for five years and they're going to get a job and a big fancy job in a hedge fund. So, you know, don't give them too much information. Don't give them anything more than the very basic because you don't have to be too brilliant to deal with these guys. I mean, it really shows what Bernie Madoff thought about the Securities and Exchange Commission, of course.
ROBERTS: But he was right for a while.
ROMANS: And he was right for a very long time. Also, this call, this is about an hour long. It looks like about an hour long call. And he started the call by saying, first of all, obviously this conversation never happened.
When you start a telephone call like that, you usually know that there's going to be some juicy stuff in there. So about an hour long phone call in 2005 released by the Massachusetts secretary of state, clearly Bernie Madoff did not hold SEC examiners in very high regard. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERNIE MADOFF, CONVICTED IN PONZI SCHEME: You know, you don't have to be too brilliant with these guys because you don't have to be, you're not supposed to have that knowledge and, you know, you wind up saying something which is either wrong or, you know, it's just not something you have to do.
You don't want them to think that you are concerned about anything. With them, you should -- you're best off you just be, you know, casual.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: Be casual. Just be casual. But I didn't really hear him say out and out lie. I just heard him say don't give them too much information. These guys don't need to know. It's none of their business. At one point, he says, you know, it's none of their business.
ROBERTS: So at this point, he knew that they were on his tail.
ROMANS: He knew they were on his tail. And several times they had sort of opened -- six times, I think they had opened up different investigations or lines of inquiry into him and had just -- he said, look, they're going to ask a zillion questions. Just kind of, you know -- we kind of look at them and we laugh. Are you trying to write a book? You know? So he really was very cocky with the SEC. Very cocky about the idea that these guys weren't going to get him. And in the end, you know, the first complaint was in 1992. This fraud went on to 2008.
COSTELLO: So obviously, his strategy worked.
ROMANS: Obviously, his strategy worked.
ROBERTS: Christine Romans "Minding Your Business" this morning. Christine, thanks so much.
So what did people who watched last night's speech think about it? We put to it the dial test coming up on the "Most News in the Morning." It's 25 minutes after the hour.
COSTELLO: And welcome back to "the "Most News in the Morning."
President Obama laying out his plan for health care reform in a prime time speech to Congress last night, so how is it playing with rank and file Americans?
Our Jim Acosta watched the speech with a couple of Virginia residents who put the president to the dial test. Jim Acosta is live in Washington this morning.
So, what did you find out?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, nobody shouted "you lie," Carol, which I guess was a positive sign. You know, our group had about ten people in favor of Democratic reform efforts, ten people against reform, and a handful who are up in the air. What we wanted to find out is whether the president is gaining supporters or losing them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which is it? Is it a personal issue?
ACOSTA (voice-over): We asked the public opinion research firm of Luntz, Maslansky (ph) to put together a focus group, roughly 30 Virginians, half Republican, half Democrat for some real-time reactions to the president's speech. The participants turned up their dials for moments they liked, down for the parts of the speech they could do without.
OBAMA: Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed.
ACOSTA: The group dialed it up when the president called for bipartisanship.
OBAMA: Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do.
ACOSTA: But those feelings didn't last. When the president batted down the false claims of death panels, a split emerged.
OBAMA: It is a lie, plain and simple.
ACOSTA: As the president moved on to the public option, the idea of giving the uninsured the choice of joining a government plan --
OBAMA: But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not for profit public option available in the insurance exchange.
ACOSTA: The two sides were still apart.
(on camera): So is everybody pretty much in agreement that we're seeing more hands now than we did before the speech?
FOCUS GROUP: Yes.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But in this room, the president had won a few converts.
KATRINA WALSH, FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANT: He was very specific about what was going to be against the law, what was going to be required of insurance companies.
BRUCE ROBERTSON, FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANT: I'm thinking maybe some of it is emotional, some of it is rhetoric, some of it is just the fact that he's just such an impressive individual.
ACOSTA: So you want to go home and think about it?
ACOSTA: The party loyalists in the crowd had their minds made up.
MARK DELANEY, FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANT: He could possibly pull it off, but it depends on what the bill says.
ACOSTA: You're not buying it yet?
DELANEY: Not yet.
FRED THOMPSON, FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANT: Folks are so skeptical because we've heard this before. Barack Obama you haven't seen before. This man can deliver.
MICHAEL MASLANSKY, LUNTZ, MASLANSKY STRATEGIC RESEARCH: Well, I think you have to give Obama a win.
ACOSTA: Public opinion researcher Michael Maslansky believes the president helped his cause.
MASLANSKY: A lot of people in our group who said he needed to talk about specifics and he gave people specifics.
ACOSTA: The biggest applause line for Republicans in our Focus Group came when the president talked about malpractice reform. There were conservatives in the room, Carol, who did not see that one coming.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the president scored on that one then. Jim Acosta live in Washington this morning. Thanks.
Just about half past the hour. Checking our top stories now. More fallout after Republican Congressman Joe Wilson heckled President Obama last night, yelling "you lied" at him. Within minutes, Wilson's Web site server reportedly crashed. Also his Democratic opponent in South Carolina, Rob Miller, says he's raised more than $80,000 and counting, much of it coming after Wilson's comments.
ROBERTS: Well, right now the space shuttle Discovery is heading home, scheduled to land in Florida this evening. But storms could force the crew to spend at least one more day in orbit. Buzz Lightyear also catching a ride back to earth. Disney is planning a ticker-tape parade for the star of the "Toy Story" movies after NASA named him the longest-serving astronaut in space.
COSTELLO: A deadly assault by Mother Nature in northwestern Turkey. Two days of torrential rains leading to flashfloods. 31 people are dead. Homes and businesses under water. Cars have been swept into the sea. One local official says the amount of rain that's fallen in the past two days is about what normally falls over a six- month period.
ROBERTS: You know, there's an amazing picture of a guy who's riding on top of a bus that's floating down the street, and he leaps over to the roof of another bus that's stationary at the side of the road.
COSTELLO: I hope he was OK in that.
ROBERTS: He was. Yes, he was.
ROBERTS: Just incredible pictures.
Well, turning to our top story this morning -- President Obama's make or break speech on health care reform. He had his work cut out for him after a month of caucus town hall meetings. Americans grew increasingly skeptical about the idea of reform. Two people we heard from at these town halls were Katy Abram who questioned Senator Arlen Specter about the cost of these proposals and Ben Hershenson, who raised his concerns about rationing and the public option with President Obama.
Both of them join me now with their reaction to the president's speech.
Folks, good morning to you.
Katy, let's start with you. What did you think of the speech last night?
KATY ABRAM, ATTENDED SENATOR SPECTER'S TOWN HALL: You know what? I had mixed emotions about a lot of the things that he said. Some things were positive. I think about the possibility of tort reform that I think is a fantastic thing.
But, I don't know. I'm still questioning a lot of things. I question everyone and everything and he is no exception whatsoever.
ROBERTS: All right. We'll get to some of that in just a second.
Ben, first of all, let's get your thoughts. Did you hear anything that you liked last night? Katy said she liked this idea of tort reform. I have an inkling that that's something that you like as well.
BEN HERSHENSON, ATTENDED PRESIDENT OBAMA'S TOWN HALL: Yes, I do like the tort reform idea. But I don't think he went far enough. He's talking about doing some tests out in the field. I would like to hear what the American Trial Lawyers Association has to say about health care reform.
We hear an awful lot about the insurance industry, what about the same type of feedback from the lawyers?
ROBERTS: All right. Katy, let's go back to you. You said that you had some concerns. What are they?
ABRAM: He had said during his speech that he wants choice and competition with the insurance companies. I don't understand how that's going to happen with a nonprofit entity like the government. Obviously, the government is going to be able to under price the insurance companies.
Who's going to win out over time?
It may not happen in a year or two years, but a number of years down the road. As Obama had said, you know, two years ago, 15 or 20 years there may be a single payer system.
ROBERTS: Although he did say that the public option wasn't necessarily a mandatory type of thing. It was just one idea, that maybe there were some other ideas. Did that give you any comfort?
ABRAM: No, because, you know, as we all know, there are a bunch of different bills that are floating around right now. I want to see the actual bill. I want to see exactly what he was talking about. And he had some great points last night. But let's question, question everything from both sides of the aisle.
ROBERTS: Ben, new polls out show that people aren't necessarily opposed to health care reform. They're just fearful of what it might bring. And one of the things I know that you're concerned about is health care rationing.
Did the president say anything last night to allay those fears?
HERSHENSON: No, not at all. He said that things are not really going to change.
My question would be if you're going to be adding 30 to 40 million people to an already over burdened health care system, insufficient physicians, nurses, physicians assistants, et cetera, I would like to know what impact that's going to have when you throw 40 million more people into the system. And it tells me that you got to save money somewhere. And, frankly, I think that's going to come with more rationing.
So my question would be what are the details on this rationing? We have rationing now. I predict there will be a lot more. And I don't think the president, frankly, has been that forward and honest with the American people about that particular part of his plan.
ROBERTS: Yes, but when you say that we have rationing now, Ben, there's no question that a lot of time bureaucrats do get in the middle even in private insurance plans, patients and their doctors.
Katy, I want to rewind the clock just a little bit here. You know, no question that many voters, many Americans are fired up about this whole thing. Let's go back to that town hall meeting where you suggested to Arlen Specter that, yes, people are paying attention.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAM: I'm only 35 years old. I've never been interested in politics. You have awakened a sleeping giant. What are you going to do to restore this country back to what our founders created according to the Constitution?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Katy, you briefly captured the attention of the nation with that statement. You became like a hero to many people as well.
Since that time and particularly with last night's speech, has the president done anything to convince you that now is the time for some form of health care reform?
ABRAM: You know, I never said personally that I think health care is in a great situation right now. It's not. And I think we all know that. But we have the best health care in the world. You can get anything done in the United States.
When I look at how everything is going, you know, I'm a stay-at- home mom, I have a 4-year-old. And if you have a little child -- I'm comparing the government to the way a child is. If you have like a 3- year-old, they have their toys.
And the toys that the government have are the auto companies, the banks, one thing after another. Now they're looking at another toy, the health care system. The toys that you already have, you haven't been taking care of.
Why am I going give you a new toy when you can't take care of what you have?
ROBERTS: And, Ben, final question to you. What would make you happy to embrace health care reform? HERSHENSON: What would make me happy is hearing more details, more facts and frankly like so many others like me who have said before, I want to see the numbers, I want to make the numbers work out.
And right now, I think we're getting an awful lot in the way of what's going to eliminate waste. Define waste for me. What is waste actually mean? And until those questions are answered, I think it's going to -- that my opinion has not changed.
ROBERTS: Well, it's great to hear opinions from both of you this morning. Ben Hershenson, Katy Abram, thanks so much for being with us. We really appreciate it.
ABRAM: All right.
HERSHENSON: Thank you.
ROBERTS: All right. Coming up next on the Most News in the Morning -- one Republican lawmaker in California getting a little hanky panky on the side and bragging about it to a colleague.
COSTELLO: A little hanky panky?
ROBERTS: First rule, though, when you do that, make sure the microphone is not on.
It's 38 1/2 minutes after the hour. We'll show it to you coming up.
ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.
For anyone in the public eye, it is a tiny but deadly weapon -- the open microphone.
COSTELLO: I know. How many times have you heard in this business, don't say anything with a microphone on because you never know when it's going to be open.
Well, it cost a one man, a Republican state lawmaker, Mike Duvall of California, cost of his job. You'll hear exactly why in a moment.
But first a warning, if you have children in the room, you may not want them to hear this. That's how wrong it is.
Here's Thelma Gutierrez.
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Mike Duvall, a conservative Republican and self-described family values politician caught in a very embarrassing conversation here in the California state assembly.
GUTIERREZ: The lawmaker was unaware he was being recorded on an in-house channel at the state capitol, repeatedly boasting about sexual exploits with a married woman to a fellow committee member before a meeting.
GUTIERREZ: The 54-year-old married two-term legislature from Orange County was talking about a liaison with a lobbyist who works for a firm that represents a utility company. Duvall served as vice chairman of the committee on utilities and commerce.
MIKE DUVALL (R), CALIFORNIA: So, the other day she came here with her underwear, Thursday. And so we had made love Wednesday a lot.
GUTIERREZ: He was also heard bragging about a second woman, when the recording was made public, Duvall issued an apology. But after being removed from two committees he decided to resign.
KAREN BASS, SPEAKER, CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY: We have such huge issues before the legislature, and to have this become a distraction, he felt his responsibility was to step aside and to resign and to go home.
GUTIERREZ: Duvall had been awarded The Ethics in America Award by Chapman University in 2000. He received a 100 percent grade from a family values group. And he has been an outspoken foe of gay marriage.
PROF. DAN SCHNUR, POLITICAL SCIENCE, USC: What's finish of Mike Duvall's career is not the fact that he's unfaithful to his spouse. Plenty of politicians of both parties have survived that. What killed Duvall's political career is that he talked about it in front of an open microphone.
GUTIERREZ: An episode that closed the door on his service in the California assembly.
Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.
COSTELLO: What could you say? I mean, his poor wife.
I don't know. We'll have to ask Thelma what's happened to his marriage, because she must be a little upset right now.
Come on, say something.
ROBERTS: I just don't know what to say. It's 45 minutes after the hour.
ROBERTS: Forty-seven and a half minutes after the hour.
And stories new to us this morning.
Firefighters in Southern California racing against the weather to clear away brush that's been fueling a 15-day long wildfire near Los Angeles. Crews short the fire lines last night, thanks to better weather conditions. More warm, dry weather is expected in Southern California over the next couple of days. 250 square miles of territory have burned so far, and sadly two firefighters have been killed.
COSTELLO: Bracing for a possible long and unpredictable flu season. And new report says most colleges across the country are already reporting flu-like illnesses among students. According to the American College Health Association, 73 percent have reported cases with the highest rate of schools in the southwest and the Midwest. Most schools aren't tested to confirm the virus is swine flu. But the CDC says nearly all the flu virus now circulating is swine flu.
ROBERTS: And New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter in some very good company this morning, legendary company in fact. Last night Jeter tied the iron horse Lou Gehrig for the top spot in the all time Yankee hit list with 2721 hits. After seventh inning single, Jeter was saluted by the Yankee Stadium crowd, his teammates and players on the opposing team the Tampa Bay Rays.
COSTELLO: And we thought a shot of his parents there in the stands jumping up and down of joy. He's a pretty cool guy. And you just hope nothing taints him, because you know there's not even a hint of steroid use. I mean, he's a great guy. He doesn't fuzz any -- you know.
ROBERTS: He's a terrific player.
COSTELLO: I know.
ROBERTS: A great night for Derek Jeter. Not such a great one, though, for Melanie Oudin, who lost her match to Caroline Wozniacki.
COSTELLO: I think she came out a winner anyway.
ROBERTS: She did.
And we're going to be talking to her, by the way, in the third hour of AMERICAN MORNING, so we'll look forward to that.
COSTELLO: Right now, we want to head to Atlanta, the home state of Melanie, by the way.
COSTELLO: And Rob Marciano.
COSTELLO: OK, we'll be prepared.
Thank you, Rob.
We're going to read some of your comments on the president's speech last night. They've been coming in fast and furious.
ROBERTS: They have.
COSTELLO: Very interesting.
Fifty minutes past the hour.
COSTELLO: Welcome back. It's time to read some e-mails that we've gotten into our blog about the president's speech last night and especially about Congressman Joe Wilson and his outburst.
ROBERTS: Yes, we get one. Carlblue (ph) said, "I hope South Carolina is again proud of their Republican Party. Wilson must have thought he was back in South Carolina talking to his governor."
COSTELLO: Nicole says, "Wilson, that guy is a shame to the House and to those who voted for him."
He doesn't have many fans on our blog this morning.
ROBERTS: There's a lot of people talking about Wilson more than there are President Obama.
Sue writes and it says, "President Obama's speech was magnificent. As a South Carolinian, I'm appalled by Representative Joe Wilson's conduct. He should be censured by Congress and repudiated in South Carolina. There is no excuse for his behavior."
COSTELLO: You have Christine Romans sent us this e-mail. And it was a comment from political humorist Andy Borowitz. He says, "Say what you want about Joe Wilson. Someone finally made Joe Biden look so controlled."
ROBERTS: And Behings (ph) writes in and says, "The president repeated the same old rhetoric. He was like a traveling salesman. We need a president."
So, opinions running on both sides. But most of them, I would say, are positive and a lot, as we've said, against Joe Wilson.
Go to our blog at cnn.com/amfix and leave us your thoughts on the president's speech last night and any other things that might occur to you regarding what happened there last night in the House of Representatives.
COSTELLO: Also this morning, we're checking the facts in the president's health care address. We have to check the facts.
ROBERTS: Yes. Alina Cho and the Truth Squad digging deeper on the claim that the uninsured are causing people with private insurance to pay more.
Good morning to you.
CHO: Hey, good morning, guys. Good morning everybody.
You know, this is an interesting one for all of us who are currently paying for insurance. Now, the claim from the president, like it or not, is that we are all being hit with a hidden tax to support the uninsured. Let's listen to exactly what President Obama said last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Those of us with health insurance are also paying a hidden and growing tax for those without it. About $1,000 per year. It pays for somebody else's emergency room and charitable care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHO: A hidden tax of about $1,000 a year. Is it true?
Well, we hunted down the source -- the study by the consumer advocacy group called Families USA. Now the group found that the uninsured rang up $116 billion, with a b, dollars in bills from hospitals, doctors and other providers. Of that, nearly 43 billion was never paid.
Now that in turn got passed on to insurance companies in the form of higher rates for other services. And those insurance companies turned around and passed that cost on to, you guessed it, you and me the taxpayer in the form of higher premiums.
Now Families USA did the math, calculated the total cost, about $1,017 per family, $368 for individuals.
So the question again -- is the president's claim that we are all being hit with a hidden tax to support the uninsured true?
The verdict on this one - true, wait for the sound, but incomplete. Maybe even a little misleading. Now there is a hidden expense, that President Obama may have left a bit of a false impression that individuals are paying a tax of $1,000 a year when, in fact, that cost is in the form of higher premiums.
Now the bottom line, of course, not a tax, but call it what you want, the taxpayer is picking up the tab one way or the other. But it's interesting because we're fact checking lot of the components of the president's speech last night to Congress. But a lot of it does have to do with the fact that, you know, yes, 46 million Americans are uninsured, but the vast majority, 253 million of us are insured and lot of us have concerns about what health care reform will bring, so...
COSTELLO: You know, the interesting thing is he dropped that number to 30 million uninsured because he wanted to make sure nobody thought that he wanted to cover illegal immigrants.
CHO: Well, there's a lot of fuzzy math, some may call it, out there.
COSTELLO: Everything is gray in this argument.
CHO: That is right. But I think the consensus is 46 million. But you're right, according to some people it's 30 million.
ROBERTS: Alina, thanks so much for that.
CHO: You bet.
COSTELLO: It's 56 minutes past the hour. We'll be right back.