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CAMPBELL BROWN

Interview With Utah Senator Orrin Hatch; Selling Health Care Reform

Aired March 25, 2010 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, everybody.

We're just minutes away from what could be a final vote on health care reform. The main legislation is already law. Tonight, though, the House is voting on a final round of fixes.

It could be the end of a very long road. We are following the breaking news tonight, and that is, of course, topping the "Mash-Up." As always, watching it all, so you don't have to.

Tonight's vote taking place at a time of heightened tension on Capitol Hill. The state of ugly threats against members of Congress has Republicans and Democrats trading insults, each party charging that the other is playing politics with hate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The House is expected to vote soon on two minor amendments the Senate approved as it passed the package of fixes to the main bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president, meanwhile, it seemed was still selling health care reform today, even after his victory.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now that we passed it, they're already promising to repeal it. They're actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November. And my attitude is, go for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hazmat crews responded to the office of Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner. It received an envelope containing a suspicious white powder and a letter referring to the health care vote.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Threats are coming not just to Democrats, but we are hearing more and more from all parties.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: A bullet was shot through the window of my campaign office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You and Boehner (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and Mitch McConnell, all you racist (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Both sides are accusing the other of stoking disturbing displays, like this mock wake, complete with a coffin, that was held outside a Democratic congressman's St. Louis home Sunday night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: This is pretty much all anybody has been talking about today. And listen to this. This is coming from the ladies of "The View."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the way that some Republicans are handling this is nothing more than purely despicable. The names that are next to and being highlighted by those crosshairs, I think it's an abuse of the Second Amendment...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good girl.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... and advertising. I also feel, though, every person on here is a mother, a father, a friend, a brother, a sister. And to take it to this level...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's despicable.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Talk it, girl. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's disappointing to see this come from the party.

GOLDBERG: Go ahead. Go ahead.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I would hope that leaders...

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But Republicans are not speaking out against this.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you may be the first one to do it. And I salute you, my girl.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: But tonight we also have Democrats trying to raise money off of all of this. And we're going to be talking about that as well.

But beyond the hate, a historic vote is happening tonight. It could be the end of a long legislative battle to reform the health care system in this country. Stay with CNN for live coverage.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel not exactly known for his sunny disposition, shall we say, but he says it doesn't bother him one bit that he didn't get a public presidential thank you for his work on health care. Listen to what he told Wolf Blitzer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I was surprised, when the president was thanking everyone the other day for what they did, he didn't give you a shout- out.

RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: So?

BLITZER: Do you care?

EMANUEL: No.

BLITZER: It doesn't mean anything? Did he give you one of those 22 pens?

EMANUEL: No. No, I mean, because...

BLITZER: Because you worked really hard to get -- you had the connections in the House and in the Senate.

EMANUEL: First of all, he didn't do it -- I didn't do this so I would get thanked at the signing or anything else.

Let me say this. If that's the question, you should know the night that it passed or the day it passed, he and I -- he came by. He gave me a high-five. I have no doubt of my role in this, and I feel quite good about that sense of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Emanuel refused to say how much longer he will stay on as chief of staff for the president.

More charges tonight that the Vatican failed to deal with allegations of sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests, the latest scandal, an American priest who was accused of molesting hundreds of boys. And the question, what did the pope know? When did he know it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pope Benedict was once the cardinal heading the Vatican office that handled abuse cases, and we have now learned it was during that time his office was alerted to concerns involving 200 boys at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: This Wisconsin priest, the Reverend Lawrence Murphy, was never tried or disciplined by the church -- 200 deaf boys. He also got a pass from the police and the civilian criminal justice system. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The documents show that while there was arguing among church officials over what to do with Murphy, their chief concern may have been avoiding scandal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the second time in two weeks that Pope Benedict's name has been linked to the mishandling of sexual abuse by priests. The Vatican newspaper says it is a clear and despicable attempt to strike out at this pope at any cost.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: The Vatican says it didn't learn about the American priest's case until 20 years later.

The Pentagon today announced it is officially easing its don't ask, don't tell policy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says it will now be more difficult to discharge openly gay troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: They're raising the threshold for starting an internal investigation of an allegedly gay soldier. Higher-ranked officers would have to do the fact-finding, and third- party information would have to be given under oath.

VICTOR FEHRENBACH, SOLDIER: This could be very good news for thousands of service members that are serving all over the world right now because he did address that this could directly affect third-party outings and it's going to raise the level of scrutiny.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a landmark change and a more humane approach, but it will not help the scores of service members like Dan Choi, an Iraq veteran, who have chosen to go public with their sexuality.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was living in the closet. Then I realized, no, this is really a violation of the honor code.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he wants the policy on gays in the military implemented more humanely. Any discharges would have to be approved by officers holding a rank or -- one-star general or above.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: The Pentagon is studying the potential effects of repealing don't ask, don't tell. President Obama says before too long it will be a thing of the past.

You know what they say. With friends like these, who needs enemies? An Indiana couple learned that the hard way. They told their Facebook friends about their plans for a night out and got home to find that they had been robbed. Well, now they think someone on Facebook is to blame.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Keri McMullen and Kurt Pendleton left home for an 8:00 concert last Saturday night, but not before telling their Facebook friends in a post. You're watching a burglary in progress. This security video shows a pair of robbers stealing $10,000 worth of Keri McMullen's belongings in just 13 minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The other goes back in the bedroom. The other is taking the laptop. I posted that on my Facebook page, who the band was, where we were going. The band started at 8:00.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: McMullen didn't think anything of the timing until posting the video on Facebook. A break in the case came immediately. One of her 500 friends recognized the suspect as another Facebook friend she hadn't seen in 20 years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the social networkings are good to have. You just have to be smart about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Words to live by there.

That does bring us to the "Punchline" now. Tonight, this is courtesy of Jay Leno. He is poking fun at a certain former vice presidential candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": And Sarah Palin spoke out this week against the health care reform bill, saying, elections have consequences.

Well, of course, elections have consequences. That's why, right now, instead of being vice president of the United States, she's trying to get a reality show on the Animal Planet.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

LENO: All right? Because they have consequences.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Palin's TV series actually will air on TLC. And that's tonight's "Mash-Up."

When we come back, tensions at an all-time high right now over health care, gunshots, death threats, nasty partisan allegations. Have things ever been this bad in Washington? Longtime Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is going to be here to talk to us after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Things on Capitol Hill, as we have been telling you, getting ugly in the wake of the health care debate.

Tonight, New York Democrat Anthony Weiner was sent a threatening letter with a suspicious white powder, the FBI now investigating. Eric Cantor, who you state there, the number-two Republican in the House, actually had a bullet shot through the window of his Virginia campaign office.

What is going on here?

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has been around Washington for quite a while. I spoke with him a little earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Senator Hatch, welcome to you. It's really good to have you here.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Well, nice to be with you, Campbell.

BROWN: Talk to me about what we're seeing right now, the harassment, the threats of violence. You have been on Capitol Hill since 1977. Have you seen anything like this before?

HATCH: Well, frankly, I haven't seen it personally, but I understand it has existed.

You know, a lot of these people on both sides are decent, honorable people. They're just very upset right now. But, you know, there's no excuse for violence. There's no excuse for threatening violence. There's no excuse for, you know, rude and offensive conduct either. And both sides have committed it. You know, it's disgusting.

BROWN: Congressman Eric Cantor today, who I should mention had a bullet shot -- he says he had a bullet shot through his office window -- said that he believes though right now Democrats are using some of these threats as political weapons, trying to make more of it, and fanning the flames a little bit in the process. Do you agree with him?

HATCH: Well, they shouldn't do that because both sides have been out of line from time to time.

But the vast majority, in fact, almost 100 percent, of the people who are protesting or yelling or making a fuss about this, they're sincere people who really feel deeply about these issues. Those on the Democrat side feel deeply about health care. Those on the other side feel deeply about the big spending, big government, big controls, and, of course, some of the provisions of this -- of these two bills.

BROWN: But it goes further than that, further than people just feeling passionately about this. I mean, we're talking about death threats.

Have you reached out to any of your colleagues, Democrats or Republicans, and said, you know, let's join together on this and speak out very strongly against what we're seeing happening right now? HATCH: Well, of course I have.

And our -- we get along well. Even though I totally disagree with what they have done with regard to health care, I mean, you know, they have a right to do it. It shouldn't have been done in this partisan way. In other words, when you have a bill that affects one- sixth of the American economy, it shouldn't be partisan. It ought to be a bipartisan victory of 75 to 80 votes, in the minimum. And, in this one, it was totally partisan.

And of course that's caused an awful lot of ruckus and in some cases perhaps on both sides people who have been inappropriate.

BROWN: And, because of this, because of what's happened with health care, do you agree with people like John McCain, who says that, you know, this means the end of any sort of cooperation with Democrats going forward to November?

HATCH: No, I don't agree with that.

(LAUGHTER)

HATCH: But I think -- and, you know, Senator McCain's a very strong personality, of course. He's -- both sides enjoy him. He's an interesting personality.

But, no, I think we should look for ways to get together. But I have got to tell you, they have not reached out. They are not opening their arms, unless you believe in bigger government and bigger controls and bigger bureaucracy and more taxes. I mean, let's be honest. Republicans just don't believe in those things.

BROWN: But, apart from that, I mean, let's look at today, for example. You and your colleagues in the Senate sent changes back to the House. You could argue that some of those were substantive changes, but some clearly were put forth to do nothing but try to embarrass Democrats, basically stalling tactics, you know, things like voting against banning Viagra for sex offenders.

I mean, isn't that kind of thing just sort of petty and kind of a waste of everybody's time?

HATCH: Well, this is a health care bill. I think we ought to ban Viagra and Cialis and other sexual-enhancing drugs to anybody who's been a child predator.

BROWN: But who could possibly disagree with you on that? I mean, do you really...

HATCH: Well, they did. The Democrats voted it down.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: I know, but for other reasons. I mean, let's be reasonable here and have a conversation.

HATCH: Oh, no.

BROWN: There's no one who -- I can't believe in all honesty there's a single person, a single member of Congress on Capitol Hill who thinks a sex offender ought to get Viagra. Do you?

HATCH: No, I don't. But they voted -- they voted to not do it. They knew this bill was going back to the House. Why wouldn't they vote for that? I think...

BROWN: Oh, come on, Senator.

(CROSSTALK)

HATCH: No, do you want to know the truth? One reason is it's because it would have cost them money and it would have unbalanced some of the things that they have been trying to do.

And, you know, I don't think that was an inappropriate amendment. It was a health care amendment. It was a smart amendment. It was brought forth by a doctor who's one of the smartest people in the whole doggone United States Senate and who is always straight up about what he does. He is never trying to play games or pull punches. He actually does what he believes. And, you know, I can't get mad at a man like that on either side.

BROWN: You think, I know, the bill's unconstitutional because of the mandate for people to buy insurance. Politico is pointing out that, back in 1993, you supported a similar mandate. Why do you feel differently now?

HATCH: Well, in 1993, we were trying to kill Hillary-care, and I didn't pay any attention to that, because that was part of a bill that I just hadn't centered on.

But, since then, of course, 17 years later, when it comes up and I know it's possible it's going to pass, then I looked at it and, constitutionally, I came to the conclusion this would be -- and everybody has come to the conclusion that this would be the first time in history that the federal government requires you to buy something you don't want.

Now, we -- you know, it's a matter of liberty. If we allow the federal government to tell us what we can or cannot buy, you know, then our liberties are gone. And, frankly, this is a very, very important issue of liberty.

BROWN: Senator Orrin Hatch, we appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much for joining us.

HATCH: Nice to be with you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Coming up next, accusations that both Republicans and Democrats are using dangerous rhetoric on health care to score political points. We are following developments also right now in the House of Representatives, where the final votes are taking place on the last -- quote, unquote -- "fixes" to the health care bill. You can see that happening now. We will bring you updates as we have them.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Politicians across the board are condemning the violent and offensive attacks on lawmakers in the wake of the health care vote, but that has not stopped Republicans and Democrats from accusing each other of exploiting the situation for political gain.

As we reported earlier, Eric Cantor, the number-two Republican in the House, had a bullet shot through the window of his campaign office in Virginia, but he says Democratic leaders are behaving recklessly. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: I have received threats since I assumed elected office, not only because of my position, but also because I'm Jewish.

I have never blamed anyone in this body for that, period. Any suggestion that a leader in this body would incite threats or acts against other members is akin to saying that I would endanger myself, my wife, or my children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So, can either side really claim the partisan high ground?

Here right now with us to talk about this, John Avlon, the senior political columnist at TheDailyBeast.com, Mark Halperin, "TIME" magazine's senior political analyst, and Candy Crowley, host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

Candy, DNC spokesmen insist that Democrats are not playing politics with these incidents, but, today, the president's own political committee sends out a fund-raising e-mail highlighting the death threats and the vandalism. Seems pretty outrageous to me and fairly hypocritical.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hypocrisy is not banned in politics. And...

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: OK.

CROWLEY: In fact, it's almost a mandate.

And, yes, look, obviously, there is enough blame to go around here. You're talking about Organizing for America, which is an arm of the president's old political machine that got him into office. And they did put out a fund-raising letter about this. And that certainly is trying to make money off what is a very serious situation.

You also have Republicans who have said some things that were over the top that could be seen as something that could inspire this sort of thing, but not directly. Nothing direct has been proven. You point out that Republicans have, in fact, distanced themselves from this sort of activity, which is beyond over the top. It's illegal.

And so now you're seeing sort of, you know, the politics of it. It's a political year. Even these kinds of serious threats end up being political.

BROWN: So, Mark, do Democrats look like -- or I guess risk the appearance that they are exploiting this, some of these really troubling episodes, for political gain?

MARK HALPERIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, "TIME": Not a risk. They have already done it.

And, you know, it's easy to say in a political year everything's political, and that's what's happening. But this is -- this is a manifestation of the horrible relationships that exist between not just the parties in Washington, but these people.

You can see, in Eric Cantor's voice, in the voice of the Democratic leaders flooding cable TV all day, they are furious, not at the perpetrators of these threats, but at the other side.

It's so unbecoming. It shows how difficult it is for people to come together. If they can't come together around this stuff, it's hard for me to imagine, short of the Martian invasion I often talk about on CNN, anything that could actually get them to set aside the personal animus and try to address a national problem.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: John, listening to Eric Cantor a few minutes ago, he makes it sound like, ah, this is same old, same old, but it's not, is it? This is unusual, what we're seeing right now.

JOHN AVLON, AUTHOR, "WINGNUTS: HOW THE LUNATIC FRINGE IS HIJACKING AMERICA": It's not. We're seeing bricks. We're seeing bullets, allegedly. This is way beyond the normal hyper-partisan back and forth.

But I do think it is, you reap what you sow. And we are seeing what the cost of pumping up hate and fear in the cause of hyper- partisanship brings us. And what -- Mark makes a great point. The fact that the leadership in Congress can't get behind condemning these actions clearly, but there's still the partisan positional bargaining in place, is just -- it's just insulting.

It's ghoulish for the Democrats to be sending out a fund-raiser letter about this stuff, but the fact that Republicans can't clearly condemn it, for fear -- this whole year, we have seen the fringe blurring with the base on both sides. And we have got a situation where the partisans are afraid to stand up to the fringe, for fear of offending their base. That's a psychotic situation.

BROWN: But put the politicians aside for the moment, because there is someone out there sort of stoking this in a very serious way that you are very familiar with.

This is a former-militia-leader-turned-blogger, and you have written a lot about him. Talk about this person, how influential they are.

AVLON: Mike Vanderboegh is one of the founders of the Three Percenters. It's one of the many what I call hatriot groups that sprung up. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates a 300 percent increase in the first year of the Obama administration.

Vanderboegh took to his blog on Friday and called on a massive effort to throw bricks through windows of Democratic Party offices across the country. And since his call, there have been at least three incidences in different states.

It's a sign of the ugliness. It's a sign of what happens when you do have this demonization of political difference. You have this, in this case, an anti-government militia impulse that we have seen before in American history, but it's massively resurgent, and it's feeding into this health care vote and the aftermath, making things even uglier than they already were.

BROWN: Mark, I know you're in Arizona, and that's where Sarah Palin is going to be campaigning for John McCain tomorrow. We all remember how their campaign rallies, frankly, got a little bit ugly at one point, that that turned off a lot of people.

Do you think there's a little bit of sense of deja vu with what's going on now in -- compared to kind of some of those angrier moments during a campaign?

HALPERIN: Well, what would be great is if at this event tomorrow if Governor Palin or frankly any prominent Republican came out and condemned this stuff, not in this rote and defensive and then offensive way, going after the Democrats, but in a genuine way.

We're all pretty good, as Americans are, in reading the body language and the tone. And I just want to see someone come out and condemn it in a genuine way, not based on caucusing with their communications advisers.

If I could say one other thing, quickly, your interview with Orrin Hatch, he said one of the most cynical things I have heard in a long time. He said he supported a mandate on individuals to buy health insurance a long time ago...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Because he didn't read the bill or he wasn't paying attention to it.

HALPERIN: He didn't read the bill and he was just doing it in order to stop the Clinton administration's plan.

That level of cynicism -- we can talk all we want about fringe groups. The level of cynicism among people -- amongst Orrin -- what Orrin Hatch said -- love the man's music, but that was very cynical.

(LAUGHTER)

HALPERIN: I think that pervades this debate in a way that bleeds out into the country and has this anything-goes attitude that can lead to violence and the kind of things John is talking about.

BROWN: All right, guys. Stand by. We have got more to talk about. You guys are going to stick around, I know.

When we come back, President Obama sort of daring Republicans to keep fighting against health care. Who, though, is really going to feel the sting of all this come November?

We will talk about that in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: President Obama was back in Iowa today to start selling the sweeping new health care law, but it also sounded an awful lot like the unofficial start of the midterm elections, the president sort of daring Republicans to keep up this fight.

Take a listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This is the reform that some folks in Washington are still hollering about, still shouting about. Now that they passed it, now that we passed it, they're already promising to repeal it. They're actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November. You've been hearing that. And my attitude is, go for it.

If they want to have that fight, we can have it. Because I don't believe that the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver's seat. We've already been there. We're not going back. This country is moving forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: We're back with John Avlon, a senior political columnist at "TheDailyBeast.com," Mark Halperin, "Time" magazine senior political columnist, and Candy Crowley, host of STATE OF THE UNION."

Candy, you're seeing the president out there on the stump. He's selling legislation that he's already signed. He won. Why does the White House feel the need to keep holding health care rallies?

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": Because it's not as popular as they'd like it to be. And what they believe -- and you heard the president sort of hint at that and he talked about it in his -- the entirety of his speech -- is that if you can say to people here's what this means to you, you can no longer be thrown off your insurance, so there are no longer lifetime caps for your insurance, that sort of thing, that as soon as people understand this bill -- now mind you he's been talking about it for a year -- but they truly believe that they can sway public opinion. Indeed, there are some signs that people are warming to it although the country is at best split on how they feel about this bill. Why?

He also needs to keep a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate, and he doesn't want this to be a liability come November. They would much prefer now to focus on the economy because they believe that's what people will be talking about come November. But they'd like to kind of lay to rest the kind of division the country is in about this health care insurance. And as you know, Republicans intend to use it as a sort of big government takeover theme that they want to carry into November.

BROWN: So, John, who is the president talking to? I mean, who are the sort of skeptical groups of voters? We're not talking about the fringe anymore.

JOHN AVLON, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: Yes.

BROWN: But those people that are on the fence about this that he really needs in November.

AVLON: Centrist and independents. You know, independents, largest and fastest growing segment of the electorate, 40 percent in the middle. That's who the sale hasn't been made to. And I think this White House realizes that.

The end of the health care is a play to the base bill. It's usually popular and important among Democrats but it wasn't seen as urgent among independents and centrists. So the case they're trying to make is this bill is good for you, it's good for small businesses. But independents are skeptical. Independents don't like big government. They're skeptical about the ability of big government to get things done well, let alone create more efficiencies from this bill with all the spending to bring down the deficit.

Those are the key issues. It's a tough sell, but it's a sell they need to make to restore credibility for the fall.

BROWN: And, Mark, I mentioned before you being down in Arizona for this McCain and Palin rally that we're going to see tomorrow. And in some aspects the pairing, the two together, they actually are reflective of some of the divisions in the party, aren't they?

MARK HALPERIN, EDITOR-AT-LARGE "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, they are, although John McCain has become more like Sarah Palin in his view of stopping Barack Obama's agenda as the main goal and the main focus.

You know, Karl Rove in his interview with John King said it's not enough to just be against Pelosi-Reid-Obama care. The Republicans have to be for something. And both Sarah Palin, in her time on the national stage, and John McCain of late have been reluctant, apparently, to offer up their own ideas. And I think that Karl Rove is right. The key is, and it will be fascinating to see, if Sarah Palin and John McCain use this opportunity to start talking about a positive agenda on health care rather than just simply say repeal what Obama did. And the challenges, therefore, some of the things that are in this bill, it's very tough to talk about repeal, and then, but we like some of the things. And that's why the president I think is being so aggressive. He's for this, he's all in. They have a more muddled message.

BROWN: All right, guys. We are going to leave it there. We are keeping a close eye on what's happening right now on Capitol Hill. The final vote on these health care fixes taking place very shortly. And they're in the final stages of this debate. We're going to go live to Dana Bash as soon as that happens for the very latest on that.

Many thanks to the panel. Good to see you, guys.

When we come back, the new proposal to close California's budget gap, legalizing marijuana. That story when we come back after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We are going to go to Capitol Hill right now with some breaking news. As we have been telling you, that vote is taking place. This is the final vote on health care reform. Just about to begin or I believe.

Can we get a shot up of Capitol Hill, whether the vote is actually started or not? They were just wrap -- there we go. John Boehner is there speaking. They are about to wrap up the debate, and then the final vote will take place. This is on the fixes to the health care reform bill.

Our own Dana Bash has been tracking all of this, senior congressional correspondent, as it has been happening. And Dana is joining us live right now.

Dana, just kind of walk us through what's happening right now. We know the House already voted on these fixes Sunday, so explain why they have to do it again.

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, they are threading the legislative needle so much to get this health care bill to the president's desk that you know that we talked about this a lot, that the way that they did this is through a process known as reconciliation. They needed to do that to just have a simple majority in the Senate, 51 votes ultimately to pass this.

Well, reconciliation comes with a lot of very, very strict rules. And so in the Senate, Republicans were able to find a couple of violations of those strict rules, very minor violations, ironically not even on health care, Campbell, on a student loan measure that's attached to this. So -- but that's the reason why it had to go back to the House. Very minor changes. The House just has to vote on it one more time, and then this fix-it package will end up going to the president's desk, and that finally will be the end of the health care debate here on Capitol Hill.

BROWN: And, Dana, how will tonight's vote change the law that the president signed on Wednesday?

BASH: You know, it actually will change it in some significant ways. First and foremost from the perspective of House Democrats, Campbell, is the way that the government taxes high-cost health insurance plans.

You know, that House Democrats, we've heard this political fight between House and Senate Democrats a lot, they simply thought that the way the Senate bill, which the president has now signed into law, it is the law of the land taxed those plans, really hit workers too hard and especially union workers. The base of the Democratic Party, they were furious about it. And so this change package raises the threshold so fewer working Americans from their perspective are taxed on it.

A couple of other changes. Actually, you heard Democrats talking over the past couple days how they have now closed that so-called Medicare doughnut hole. Well, it really won't happen until this change package becomes law. And one more thing. It actually does add more taxes to pay for this reform package. It raises the Medicare payroll tax for people making over $250,000 a year and not just that, it actually taxes investments, unearned income on Medicare for also people or families making $250,000 a year. So those are just some of the changes. They're not major, but it certainly was enough to politically get House Democrats over the hump and agree to vote on the Senate bill earlier and get every Democrat to agree to go through this process to get health care to the president's desk.

BROWN: All right. Dana Bash with the very latest from Capitol Hill. We're going to keep an eye on this. Dana will, as well, as we await that vote to begin very shortly now, we're going to bring you the very latest details as that happens.

We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, Gloria Estefan. We're also going to talk about what's happening in California. Efforts to legalize marijuana, right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: California is one step closer to making marijuana legal. State officials announce that a bill to legalize cannabis for personal use will be on the ballot in November as a way to generate much-needed revenue in a time of fiscal crisis. CNN's Dan Simon has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are at a place called Oaksterdam University, a place dedicated to teaching all things about cannabis. This is the nursery and you can see this equipment behind me where they teach people how to grow cannabis. We are here because the guy who founded this place is leading the effort to get full legalization in California.

(voice-over): Our camera was rolling as Richard Lee got the news. For him, there was never any doubt that marijuana would get on the ballot.

RICHARD LEE, OAKSTERDAM UNIVERSITY: We needed 433,971 ballot signatures to qualify for the California ballot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many did you get?

LEE: We got 690,000 total.

SIMON: They used paid petition gatherers but Lee says he's confident of a win in the fall that would make marijuana legal for Californians 21 and over to possess an ounce for personal use.

LEE: We're going to get our message out there. And I think people are more receptive to it than they've ever been.

SIMON: For Lee, a victory would mean public validation to a life's calling. Three years ago, he founded an Oakland school that teaches students how best to grow, sell and even consume cannabis. It's called Oaksterdam University. Get it? A combination of Oakland and Amsterdam. Lee started the school after a trip to that city and seeing how marijuana was openly sold there.

LEE: For some people, cannabis is like a religion.

SIMON: Until now, full legalization had never really been taken seriously by voters. But Lee sees an opening with the state budget crisis and the tax revenue it would bring. Possibly hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

According to a California field poll taken last year, more than half, 56 percent of Californians support legalization. Opponents realize they have some work to do and can see they'll be outspent but think their arguments are too powerful to ignore.

JOHN LOVELL, CALIFORNIA NARCOTIC OFFICERS ASSOCIATION: Why on earth would we want to add yet another mind-altering substance to the array of legal substances that compromise a person's five senses where we know they're going to make bad decisions, some criminal.

SIMON: Richard Lee says it's about adults making their own decisions. Twenty years ago, a spinal cord injury put him in a wheelchair. He says he smokes cannabis medically and for recreation.

LEE: Well, I really see this as following the history of alcohol the way it was -- prohibition was repealed there.

SIMON (on camera): Just like any heated campaign, expect the airwaves to be filled with commercials from both sides. Those in favor of legalization hope to raise as much as $20 million for advertising.

Dan Simon, CNN, Oakland. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And we are still watching that vote on Capitol Hill tonight. They are right in the middle of it. We're expecting them to wrap up very shortly. We will bring that to you live when it happens. We're going to take a quick break.

Coming up, women protesters attacked in the streets of Havana. Their cause now a rallying cry for singer/songwriter Gloria Estefan and she is joining us live from a march going on tonight in Miami. She's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: President Obama is lashing out at Cuba for its recent crackdown on government protesters. The criticism coming a week after Cuban security forces forcibly detained a group of wives and mothers marching on behalf of their jailed relatives. They are known as the "Ladies in White." And today in Miami, Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Gloria Estefan is leading a march in support of their efforts. And she's joining us right now.

Gloria, so good to see you. Thanks for being with us tonight.

GLORIA ESTEFAN, ACTIVIST, SINGER/SONGWRITER: It's good to see you, too. We are so happy here tonight. It was an amazing March. A hundred thousand people strong all dressed in white supporting these ladies. And as we were closing the event, those ladies were marching in Cuba and were again being beaten and so were the family members of a lot of the dissidents and a lot of the jailed prisoners, as well, in Cuba.

BROWN: Gloria, take us back a little bit. I want you to explain to people who these women are, why you're so passionate about what they're doing right now.

ESTEFAN: I will. In 2003, in April of 2003, what became known as the "black spring" happened. Seventy-five journalists, librarians, people that were starting to put out dissident messages against the Cuban government, were jailed without reason, without cause. And since then, these ladies their, you know, the wives, the daughters, the sisters of these people that are in jail, have been marching every year on the anniversary of "black spring." And this last year -- in fact, I have given an award from human rights watch to one of them, Yolanda Huerga (ph), a few years ago in New York. Well, this year apparently the government is feeling the pressure and the discontent that's building up in Cuba, and they were violently beaten. They were picked up and carried into buses and taken away from their walk. Yet the following day, they were out there again. They marched for seven days in a row.

So watching this, one particular lady named Gloria was not allowed to join them. They took her from her home before she could even support them, and I thought they can take her away but they can't take me away. It's about time that we speak up and show a unified Cuban exiled community. It wasn't just Cuban exiles. Everybody was here. Flags from all the countries. And, you know, this is a wonderful country. We live in freedom here, and that's what we want for Cuba and for all the countries that are suffering a lack of freedom.

BROWN: Do you think there is something sort of different about this moment right now that -- I mean you said that they've been doing this for years, and it just seems like now that that they're -- with this crackdown that's taking place, that there's something in the air. Do you get that feeling?

ESTEFAN: There is. I get that feeling, which is why I did this, Campbell. I mean, for years I've wanted to do something like this, but the universe conspires to help you out and gives you a little push. And seeing these women getting beaten was the catalyst for me. Also, you know, they can't control now between the cell phones and the Internet. It's very hard for them to have such a clampdown over there in Cuba. So they're able to get their message out a little more, and we were able to see this.

And the world is speaking out. The European parliament spoke out against it. Several presidents, Latin America have, and, of course, we have to add our voices. And the Cuban people know that we are a force here, that we are together with them and that we want the best for them and we want freedom for them. This is not politics.

BROWN: Let me --

ESTEFAN: It's human rights.

BROWN: Let me ask you, though, President Obama did offer his harshest rebuke yet against Cuban leaders saying that they were ruling with a clenched fist.

ESTEFAN: He did.

BROWN: But over the past year, he's eased travel restrictions. He has made moves to reach out to Cuba. Is that the right way to go, in your view?

ESTEFAN: Listen, I think people to people contact is phenomenal. I mean, we need to have them see what the rest of us in the world live like, what freedom is like. So I think that that is a good step.

The problem is that we're seeing that government crackdown. When they switched to Raul, everybody thought well, maybe now there's going to be some changes. What we're seeing is much more repression. They're afraid, the people it's building up. It's like a pressure cooker down there. And that's why we needed at this moment to show our support, to tell them we're thinking about them, we're praying for them, and that we are a united force and that there should be freedom for all human beings and especially for us because we're Cubans and for me, a Cuban woman in Cuba, of course.

BROWN: Gloria Estefan, good luck tonight. I know it's really important what you guys are doing. Really appreciate you taking a few minutes to talk to us. Thank you. ESTEFAN: Thank you so much. And I hope that you guys can cover what's happening down there in Cuba, too, because I'm sure you're going to be able to get some images of that.

BROWN: All right. Gloria, appreciate it. Have a good night.

ESTEFAN: Thank you. You too.

Larry King -- "LARRY KING LIVE" is starting in just a few minutes. But first, flash mobs running wild in Philadelphia. Why they have turned so violent and how police are striking back, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: And we want to bring you up to date on that breaking news. It's happening on Capitol Hill right now. The final health care vote happening at this moment. The House is approving a package of changes to the law that President Obama signed on Wednesday.

And Dana Bash is joining us once again from Capitol Hill as we watch this take place here.

Dana, boy, you've been covering this thing for more than a year, the battle over health care. Here we are at the final moment. I guess, what is the mood on Capitol Hill tonight?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, I can actually give you a report that I just got from our House producer, Deirdre Walsh, about the mood in the chamber. She's in there as we watch these numbers go up and this really does become the final moment for health care on Capitol Hill. But she's saying that there are Democrats lined up to hug the House speaker and that actually it's very interesting, probably not surprising, Sunday night when the Democrats, House Democrats had their big, big victory and actually approving the major piece of legislation that the president signed, the gallery was packed. It's virtually empty right now. No suspense, no drama that we had over the weekend.

But more broadly, it's very interesting. You definitely sense a feeling of relief among many of these Democrats who have fought so hard to pass this, so, so hard and for so long. However, they also know that politically they have a big, big challenge ahead.

For a long time what we've heard from them is that we just need something to sell rather than defend. Well, now, they're going to have something to sell, and so they're going to go home probably tonight or tomorrow morning and have two weeks back with their constituents, Campbell, and it is going to be their opening bid to really sell this. All of those Democrats who voted yes, especially those in those tough, tough races this year, sell this as something that they really wanted to do for them and not as something that -- from the perspective of many of their constituents was the wrong thing to do.

BROWN: Yes. And they are hearing from a lot of those constituents and that's what's sort of amazing about this is that you have this historic vote that's been largely overshadowed by all the recriminations over these threats on members of Congress.

BASH: Today, it really it is true, today and yesterday. As the Senate really did complete its work earlier today, and now we're having this final vote, it was historic, and it is historic. It is very much a moment that all of these Democrats, especially who have been waiting for it, all of these Republicans have been fighting against. And certainly important substantive issues that we have been reporting. But it is true that the whole concept of the security threats, very, very real security threats we have been reporting on. Democrats have been coming out and talking about threats they've gotten, Republicans, as well. But the political back-and-forth and the finger-pointing over how they're politicizing those has really been remarkable.

I mean, you know, you've covered politicians, you've covered the White House. People don't talk about security. In this case, everybody is talking about security, the way it's becoming political is kind of surprising and looking down here.

BROWN: Yes, I was going to say --

BASH: Yes.

BROWN: -- I see the number. It looks like it has passed. It is official.

BASH: It is.

BROWN: And we've got eight seconds left before Larry King I guess takes it over.

BASH: Right.

BROWN: All right. Dana Bash -- we -- OK, we have one minute left.

Dana, I'm watching right now. I can sort of barely see, but I believe that's Speaker Pelosi. I'm having a hard time seeing behind the chyrons but --

BASH: You're right. You're right.

BROWN: Yes.

BASH: The speaker wearing the red in the chair to finalize this. It's interesting she wasn't in the chair on Sunday for the big momentous vote that had all that drama, but it's very clear that she wants to be in her place, in the chair to gavel this vote in to finally put that gavel down to really send this health care bill finally to the president's desk and close the book on the Democrats' very long debate on this very contentious health care legislation.

BROWN: All right. Thirty-two Democrats voting against these fixes, as I understand it, just getting this information. Dana Bash, many thanks to you for sticking with us so we can watch this final, final vote.

That's going to do it for us tonight. Larry King taking over from here. I'll see you right back here tomorrow night.