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Credit Agency Warns U.S.

Aired October 15, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, showdown in the House.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I have made clear for months and months that the idea of default is wrong. And we shouldn't get anywhere close to it.

ANNOUNCER: So why are we getting closer?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: It is by design. That is their intention. Make no mistake about that.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE,re Donna Edwards, Democratic representative from Maryland. And Steve King, Republican representative from Iowa. Will Washington beat the default deadline? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right.

House Speaker John Boehner has a pretty straightforward challenge tonight. Can he find something to get 217 Republican votes? He won't get any Democratic votes. But Boehner needs to pass something to deal with the debt limit. Otherwise, he gets rolled by the president and Senator Harry Reid.

The toughest decision will be faced by hardline Republicans. Help Boehner get less than they want or cripple Boehner and achieve total defeat. I think it's going to be a very, very important evening. And I wouldn't be surprised to see it run over into sometime tomorrow.

CUTTER: It's a critically important evening. I mean, look at what we saw today, another credit agency, Fitch, said we're on the verge of another credit downgrading of the United States; another credit downgrading, all because Congress can't fix the problem of raising the debt limit. They can't get their act together.

And that's all because, if you remember, just two weeks ago Speaker Boehner got out over his skis and promised to shut down the government unless we defunded Obamacare. That's what it was about.

I'm serious. I think the American people can't believe this. Now look at where we are today. The deal that's on the table is about extending the debt limit but telling congressional staff that they're not going to get their employer health care. So that's what we're debating about now. Is it all worth it?

Well, I want to ask if it's all worth it to two members of the House who are here in the CROSSFIRE tonight: Maryland Democrat Donna Edwards and Iowa Republican Steve King.

Congressman King, we've now been warned that a downgrade is possible. This is the first speaker. If this happens, this will be the first speaker to see two downgrades on his watch. What in the world is going on in the House of Representatives? Has he lost total control of his caucus?

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: Of course, if this happened, it would be the first president to have that happen, as well.

CUTTER: I think they're pointing at Congress on this. Just as they did last time.

KING: And we heard this, though, the last time. We raised the debt ceiling, and we were downgraded after we raised the debt ceiling, not before. And so I would argue that if you demonstrate fiscal responsibility, you're going to get a better -- you get a better credit rating. They lowered our debt -- credit rating, excuse me. I would argue that you get a better credit rating if you show fiscal responsibility than if you do not.

CUTTER: And do you get that by denying staffers their health care? Is that what you get? You get fiscal responsibility, by selling (ph) congressional staffers?

KING: That wasn't my thought at the beginning. And it seems to me that there are some people that think if we can just get that, we can just deny our staff their...


KING: ... benefits that we hired them with, that's going to be an accomplishment that's worth all of this. And I would say it's not. It is a bitter pill.

CUTTER: So are you going to vote no on the deal that's sitting before the House right now?

KING: I want to see the language. But right now I'm leaning no. And I don't want to pull the rug out from underneath other people. I think we should see the language they bring forward. It seems to be up in the air. It's a jump ball right now.

GINGRICH: Let me ask you, Congresswoman Edwards, not yet having seen the language and noticing that they're continuing to rewrite it, doesn't it strike you as premature for Speaker -- former Speaker Pelosi, in effect, to say not a single Democrat will even consider voting for this? Do you think -- do you think the minds are that closed? Or do you think some people will look at whether or not there's something that could get a bipartisan vote?

REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: It's not that. I think the vast majority of our caucus really believes, as the president does, is that you don't negotiate over paying your bills on time and keeping the government running. I mean, these are basic constitutional responsibilities that the Congress has, and I think the Republicans are being incredibly irresponsible here.

And the idea -- and I've heard Mr. King say this, that it doesn't really matter if we default on our obligations, that somehow...

KING: I didn't say that.

EDWARDS: ... not lifting the debt -- somehow not lifting the debt ceiling is, I mean, you portray it as though it's not a big deal. It's a really big deal.

And I think what Fitch has done is it's sent a warning to us, the shot across the bow that says, "You know what, United States? You put your signature, you have obligations and you have to pay them."

And I think most Americans actually agree with us that we do. And Democrats and Republicans should stand up and do that.

GINGRICH: OK, let me ask this, though. It is a really big deal. We shouldn't be where we are tonight. Yesterday former secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, said that, from his days negotiating with us in the '90s, he really wishes President Obama were more engaged.

Today, Senator Clinton -- former Secretary of State Clinton apparently in Atlanta said something very similar, that her husband and I used to negotiate in the evening, even if we fought all day.

Doesn't it strike you as strange that, with all these warnings, the biggest sign of leadership we saw yesterday was the president as a volunteer making sandwiches? I mean, shouldn't the president -- isn't this also his legacy? And shouldn't he also be more directly engaged in trying to solve this?

EDWARDS: I think the reason that the president has said that we don't negotiate and pay ransom over raising the debt limit, paying our bills, and keeping the government open is precisely because he believes that this is really serious.

And, you know, I have to tell you. I looked at letters from Secretary Jack Lew from May to August to September, warning that this was going to happen. I mean, since this spring. And so the president knows that he doesn't want-- it's not just about his legacy, but it's also about future presidents being held hostage over paying our bills. It's ridiculous.

KING: Those are really polished talking points, and I've heard them, and Donna's said them to me before.

But I would point out that we have a constitutional responsibility and authority to restrain a president that's out of bounds on spending. And that's why we are Article I. And that's why the spending starts in the House, and that's why the tax revenue starts in the House.

And furthermore, I continue to hear, "Well, it's a law now. You must fund it, Obamacare." "Well, the debt ceiling is the law. Now we must raise the debt ceiling even though the current debt ceiling is the law."

And by the way, this law we're talking about with Obamacare is not the law. The president has at least twice unconstitutionally executively amended Obamacare recently, once with the Vitter piece of this language. And the other time...

CUTTER: At the request of the House.

KING: The...

CUTTER: At the request of the House.

KING: Well, yes...

CUTTER: And in terms of that spending...

KING: But also extended the employer mandate for a year, and that's also unconstitutional.

CUTTER: Well, do you want the employer mandate to go back into effect right now?

KING: I want to reassert the Constitution. I don't like the policy.


CUTTER: Well, we can debate about the Constitution all we want. But let's talk about spending for a second.

The law is that Congress has to raise the debt ceiling to meet its obligations that Congress has obligated the country towards. So it is law that you have to do your job.

And if you want to have a debate about spending, the president is happy to have that debate. I mean, spending is -- is cut almost by 2 percentage points from when the president took office. But that's not the debate we're having.

The debate that you wanted to have, over shutting down the government, potentially debt ceiling, is defunding Obamacare. We're not even talking about that any more. And you mentioned at the beginning the current debate wasn't worth it. But was the defunding of Obamacare worth it? You're not getting what you wanted. It's cost the country $20 billion.

KING: This isn't done, of course. And I'm not about to take the position that we should just simply give up and sack up our bats and go home. We are in the middle of this debate. And -- and we have, again, constitutional responsibility and authority.

And when a previous Congress should pass -- and by the way, by hook, crook and legislative shenanigan is how Obamacare got passed. And they put -- they put automatic spending in there to the tune of $105.5 billion.

CUTTER: Congress passed Obamacare.

KING: No one who was elected subsequent to that decision is bound by that decision.

CUTTER: Obamacare was passed by Congress, was upheld by the Supreme Court. We've had two elections on it already. It is the law of the land.

KING: There's been changes since the Supreme Court.

CUTTER: And if you're worried about spending, the $20 billion that we've lost because you shut down the government, what could -- what could that be 20 billion be spent on? It could be spent on paying 16 million retirees' Social Security benefits, two years of a school lunch program, three years of the Women Infant Child program. That's money that we've lost.

KING: How much will Obamacare last on 20 billion?

CUTTER: That's what we have lost, though, because Congress shut down the government.

KING: Congress didn't shut down government. The president refused to negotiate...

EDWARDS: Keep in mind...

KING: And the House several times passed all the money necessary to fund the government...

CUTTER: You don't have to take this from me. Take it from Republicans who told you this is a fool's errand.

KING: ... with the exception of funding Obamacare.

EDWARDS: Then let's look at -- let's look at where we are here. Because I would want -- I want expanded background checks. We have a law now that doesn't have 100 percent background checks. It would be as though -- and 90 percent of the public agrees with that. A lot of members of Congress.

What if we were to organize ourselves and say that we're going to shut down government and not pay our bills because I want expanded background checks? You would say that was ridiculous. I think it's ridiculous.

KING: I wouldn't say Republicans refuse to negotiate, however.

EDWARDS: But that is exactly what it is that you are trying to do- right now. And I have to tell you, for millions of federal workers all across the country, who -- some of whom are working and aren't being paid. Others who are at home, and we passed a bill saying, "We're going to pay you even though we're keeping you at home."

I mean, the ridiculousness is just at a height that I don't understand. The American public doesn't. And the fact is, you could put a clean continuing resolution to fund the government today on the floor, and it would pass the House of Representatives.

GINGRICH: Let me build on -- let me build on the ridiculousness. I want you to look at what Jay Carney said today at the White House as an example of how close to the theater of absurd we are. If we could show Jay's comment.

He's asked about negotiating. And he ends up saying -- Oh, apparently they don't have it cued up. He ends up saying, "Well, we're not really negotiating. We're sort of talking. But we're not really negotiating."

Now, it's pretty simple and straightforward. I believe, had the president been directly involved in negotiating -- and again, not that he would have accepted the Republican position, but the way you start a negotiation is each side has a position, and you talk it through.

You participated in trying to help ameliorate part of this, because you voted for the clean continuing resolution for D.C. which would keep the D.C. -- the District of Columbia government open. Don't you think it would have been better for Harry Reid to have passed that onto the White House so that could be done and out of the way?

EDWARDS: No, I mean, I understand. Look, the D.C. bill is completely different. Because it's about how the District of Columbia spends its local money. It doesn't have anything to do with federal money or federal spending. I really separate that.

We need to open up all government for all Americans. I've been saying that for a while. And passing, you know, one piece of legislation that also impacts others. I have people who live in my district who work at NASA, and they say what does it mean? "I work at NASA but we work with NOAA. If we open up NASA but we don't open up NOAA, I can't do my job." And so -- and that's how the federal government works, and the impact is really great all across this country.

So it doesn't make sense to me to open it up one piece at a time. And I have to tell you, if I left it to my colleague, he wouldn't open up the Environmental Protection Agency. He wouldn't open up HHS so that it could deal with health care and other kinds of things.

KING: I'd do HHS, but I would have to think about the EPA.

EDWARDS: It's a long list of things that they wouldn't open, they wouldn't open up, and so what kind of way is that, really, to run the greatest democracy in the world?

CUTTER: So we need to take a break, but when we come back, I want to ask Congressman King this. Now that the U.S. has been slapped with a warning from a major credit agency that we face a downgrade, what happens if the U.S. really defaults? I mean, we think it's bad now, but it's about to get much worse. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUTTER: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're here with two members of the House, Democrat Donna Edwards and Republican Steve King.

We've just learned a major credit agency has warned the U.S.'s triple- A rating is in jeopardy. This comes just a day away from something that's been utterly unthinkable, a U.S. default. All because Speaker Boehner couldn't figure out how to get something out of the House of Representatives that could pass the Senate and the president could sign. So here we are on the verge of a default.

Congressman King, do you think default is a big deal? I've heard you say some mixed things about this, about when we hit default, what the president could do, the impact on our country. Bankers -- Iowa bankers, I was reading today in "The Des Moines Register," think it's catastrophic: that the value of the dollar will drop, our interest rates will climb, that we could fall back into a recession. Why would we even want to get to this point?

KING: Well, this definition of default is something that we should agree to before we go further with how it might affect our economy or how it might affect the global economy.

But we have about $18 billion a month is our interest bill. And around $240 billion a month is our revenue stream. About 8 percent of our revenue is necessary to pay the interest. Now, we can either roll that principal over or we can -- we can then -- we can then service our debt with what's coming in. And we can take care of some Social Security and Medicare and other expenses.

CUTTER: And not take care of a lot of other things.

KING: So -- but default would be if we failed to service our debt. That means the first time we miss an interest payment. And that's not going to happen unless it's by order of the president. So we're not going to default.

CUTTER: So what do you think the world's reaction would be if the United States starts parsing out its bills and figuring out what it can pay and it can't pay and it starts picking winners and losers because Congress can't get its act together. What do you think the world reaction would be?

KING: First, I don't think October 17 is a hard date. So this is something that would come on gradually. And I've said that at a certain point, we will have to raise the debt ceiling. I've not been one to say we didn't have to do that.

And it's a matter of how we manage that cash flow. And if this thing gets tighter and tighter, perhaps then we come to the table and we get the president to actually negotiate...


KING: ... and we can address entitlements. CUTTER: So you've known since May that we were hitting the debt limit.

KING: We thought it was going to be May, actually. And now it's been moved ahead to October 17.

CUTTER: The president and the secretary of treasury have -- they've been going through extraordinary measures to push the day further and further along because Congress wouldn't act. And now we're at the deadline, and you're asking for more time.

KING: Do we know that, Stephanie? I don't know that we know that.

CUTTER: And you're asking for more time. You know, every president, every secretary of treasury has given Congress notification: "Here's when we're going to hit our debt ceiling." It doesn't matter if we hit it on the 17th, the 18th or 19th, we shouldn't be in this position. We should act.

GINGRICH: I get that, and I want to ask this -- just for a second, Congresswoman Edwards. But first, I just want to make as a brief note, the president's known since May. The president's had a chance to lead since May. At some point, you know, you can't just say it's all John Boehner's fault. I mean, the fact is...

EDWARDS: Well, the House has.

GINGRICH: ... the president of the United States has an obligation -- He had a hundred things he could do, a hundred conversations he could have had. He did none of them. The most he did was make partisan speeches attacking Republicans.

So let me ask you this. If we do get to this situation, which I hope we don't get to. I don't see any reason we should. Would you agree the Constitution requires us to pay interest on the debt? That's the first call on any income? I think you'd have to have Social Security and veterans as part of that initial thing.

Would you support secretary of the treasury making that kind of judgment? How would -- if we actually -- none of us want to get there, but if we did get there, how would you recommend the administration handling the actual day to day cash flow crisis?

EDWARDS: I think that the mere fact of talking about how the secretary of the treasury would prioritize paying our debts would be enough to send not just our economy but the world's economy into a tailspin. Because what it would say to our creditors is you may or may not be on the list. And I think that that is -- that is beyond irresponsible.

Let's look at what we're talking about. We're talking about the possibility of default, which would mean higher interest payments for mortgages, higher interest payments for student loans, higher interest payments for auto loans, jeopardizing savings accounts. People are just starting to recover their savings from the last of the great recession. They just started to recover their savings. And now we're saying to them, you know what? It's going to take a big hit again.

And I think, I want to say I don't believe that it can happen, but I have to tell you, listening to my colleagues, including Mr. King, I don't -- Please answer for me if there's a single legitimate economist across the world who believes what you're saying, who believes that we can just kind of stretch this out and pick and choose what bills we're -- what bills we're going to pay. Pick and choose what bills we're going to pay.

We're saying, "We're the United States of America, and for the first time in our entire history, we're going to look at the rest of the world and say, 'Here's a list, and we're going to choose this one over that one'."

GINGRICH: Let me just clarify for one second. It really shouldn't happen. You're really opposed to it. But you're not opposed enough to vote with John Boehner to pass something.

EDWARDS: Well, I -- what -- here's what I'm opposed to. I'm opposed to what I think is a rump group of Republicans in the Congress holding all of the rest of the nation hostage and saying, in exchange for ransom, in exchange for paying our bills. Let's look at what we're saying. We're saying in exchange for paying our bills, we're going to, you know, default.

GINGRICH: So you would...

EDWARDS: So I'm not willing to just do anything. Because it isn't just about -- you understand history. You're a historian. It isn't just about this president. It's about the next president. And that next president might be a Republican...

CUTTER: I want to answer here.

GINGRICH: Let me just comment on one thing for a second, ma'am. You see -- I just want to clarify. You're saying that, as terrible as default is, voting yes with John Boehner is worse?

EDWARDS: Voting -- voting yes under a circumstance where we're saying that we're trading off and picking and choosing winners and losers with the debt ceiling is a huge mistake because that, too, I think, would send a bad signal to the rest of the financial sector, to the rest of the world, and to people at home who have savings accounts. I'm concerned about those people.

KING: In spite of being called a rump group...

EDWARDS: Well, you did go to that secret meeting last night.

KING: ... which denotes a certain part of a person's anatomy, and I'm not sure what that means, Donna. But...

EDWARDS: Well, you know, consider it a compliment under the circumstances.

KING: ... I don't object to that part. It's part of the vernacular of this town.

But I think -- what if this? What if I accepted your premise? What if I accepted your premise? What if -- what if we accepted the idea that this Congress, this elected 113th Congress, has a duty and an obligation to fund everything that's been passed by previous congresses and also raise the debt ceiling whenever we hit the top of that, if you go on like that and you have the most leftist president we've ever had in history and we see trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, at what point then do we look back in history and say, "Those guys and gals failed us. They should have held the line. They should have been willing to face the president shutting the government down, and they should have made an issue about the debt ceiling so that we could reform entitlement"?

EDWARDS: Well, you know...

KING: That's really the fact.

CUTTER: That's an interesting question, because most Congresses deal with it by working through a budget process, passing legislation...

KING: Negotiation.

CUTTER: ... to reduce spending, to not listen to only the hardliners. And I'm sorry. I don't mean this as an insult, but you're a hardliner in the Republican Congress.

And listening -- you went to that dinner last night, which is your right to do. You can go have dinner with whoever you want. But reports today there was a secret dinner with Ted Cruz, and you were plotting your strategy...

KING: So it wasn't a secret.

CUTTER: ... to hold the line, to hold the line on letting the -- keeping the government shut down so that you can defund Obamacare. Now we're more than two weeks into this. Have you learned nothing? I mean, what have you gained? What have you gained?

KING: I want to see this -- I want to move the debt ceiling, and I want to do it prudently. And I offered Donna this proposal the last time we had this conversation. You were at the table, Stephanie. And it's this.

Why don't we then this: if you love Obamacare so much, just take it all? We'll give you all of it, minus the waivers, minus the unconstitutional changes, all of that, and sunset Obamacare, then, in January 15 of 2015. And then let's have an election in November of '14 and decide whether we really want Obamacare or not. Otherwise...

EDWARDS: Because we had an election in November 2012.

KING: ... under your -- we are stuck with Obamacare in perpetuity.

EDWARDS: We had an election in 2008 over health care. We cannot talk about whether we reopen government or not and whether we pay our bills because you don't like health care.

KING: You won't negotiate, Donna. I gave you an offer.

EDWARDS: You don't like the health care law? Win a presidential election.

KING: Don't you want all of Obamacare?

GINGRICH: Just a second. Both of you stay here. Next we "Ceasefire." Given this, it will be interesting to see if there's anything you two can agree on.

We also want you to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question: "If Congress funds the government for three months, do you think there will be another shutdown in January?" Tweet yes or no using #CROSSFIRE. We'll have the results after the break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking new.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Breaking news. Let's go right to Dana Bash, up on Capitol Hill.

Dana, what's going on?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What's going on is that the House Republican plan that they thought was going to be up for a vote tonight is now not happening, and a House Republican leadership source tells me that this bill is dead. It is not just delayed; it is not going anywhere.

You see the crowd of people coming here, members of the House Republican leadership walking out of the House speaker's office where they formally and officially made the decision that they simply do not have the votes within their own Republican Party to pass this very scaled-down version of the bill to refund the government, reopen it, and to lift the debt ceiling. So all bets are off in the House right now. We're now going to look back towards the Senate.

BLITZER: And so it's up to the Senate non to pass some legislation, get it passed and then send to it the House. Is that what the next step would be?

BASH: Likely. But it is so fluid, because this is a late surprise. We're not exactly sure what the next move is. But likely, it is going to be back in the Senate's court.

BLITZER: Clearly, the stakes enormous right now. Dana Bash, we'll have much more at the top of the hour.

Let's go back to Newt and Stephanie to follow up what's going on -- guys.

GINGRICH: Let me ask you. Is it your guess Boehner tries to write another bill or that the whole thing collapses, and they simply move the Senate bill?

KING: It looks to me like now they're probably going to end up moving the Senate bill, because there really isn't room to write something new. They've narrowed it down to the point where they essentially -- they perhaps have hit the wall tonight, unless they're more creative than -- than I am. We shall see.

GINGRICH: So from your standpoint, moving the Senate bill, say tomorrow, assuming by then there is a Senate bill, would be something you could support?

EDWARDS: I think so. You know, open the government. Lift the debt ceiling. Pay our bills. Get people back to work.

CUTTER: So do you think that Speaker Boehner is going to allow this to pass with Democratic votes? Or is he still going to demand that this be a Republican bill? Is he going be a leader or is he going to be a follower?

KING: That is a tough call. And this crunch time is getting down here to where the Hastert Rule is sitting out in the middle of the table. And I don't know which way that will go.

But I'm hoping that Donna will come and support the Langford bill. You sign a discharge petition on that, and that would be a solution that I think that we could look to that would be favorable to what we're looking at right now.

CUTTER: OK. So you're going to have the Senate bill before you, it looks like. Will you vote for the Senate bill?

KING: Unlikely.

CUTTER: Now we're going to meet your...

EDWARDS: I'm prepared to vote for a bipartisan bill. We have enough Democrats. We need just a few Republicans to get the government going.

CUTTER: So bipartisan bill out of the Senate, and hopefully a bipartisan bill without Speaker Boehner in the House.

GINGRICH: Well, it would take a bipartisan vote in the House...

CUTTER: It has to.

GINGRICH: ... to pass it.

Since we had a bipartisan bill in the first place.

KING: So we were all about a partisan bill in the first place, the Obamacare bill.

EDWARDS: We've committed 186 votes among Democrats to pass a clean funding bill and a clean debt ceiling.

KING: You support Langford if we bring it to the floor, Donna?

EDWARDS: I don't even know what that Langford bill is. What I know is...

KING: That's a clean C.R. for 120 days...

EDWARDS: Clean C.R., no. We don't -- not 120 days. We need to deal with this and not keep coming back and putting the American people through shock trauma, because we can't get our act together. GINGRICH: I think -- ironically, I think the Langford bill may actually be a longer debt ceiling.

KING: It is. It actually is.

CUTTER: What does it do on Obamacare?

KING: Doesn't address it.

GINGRICH: But how would you...

KING: And it does ratchet down beyond sequestration.

GINGRICH: We've got to come back in a second. I think that -- this vote on our -- what's your bet? Any more government shutdowns this cycle or is this over?

KING: If it's over it's over. It's not coming back.

GINGRICH: Will it come back in January.

KING: I don't think it comes back.

EDWARDS: I would hope not. I mean, I would hope that people have learned the lesson of this and just not do it again.

It's his call. Is this your cease-fire?

KING: There has been -- there's been a lot of political capital investment put in this thing. And when it's time to take the Hill you take the Hill or you die on it. And that's about where I'm standing right now, to take the troops.

But to rally the troops again after this is over, after all of these days and all of these months of ginning up to this thing will be very hard for anybody to do.

CUTTER: OK. So let me just interpret what you're saying. So if we reopen the government for a short period of time and then have this debate again, you're still going to push for the government to either be funded with a defunded Obamacare or shut down the government until you get your way?

KING: I'm not about shutting down the government. I -- again, it was the president's decision and Harry Reid's decision. But I am about putting an to end Obamacare some way eventually.

CUTTER: I know. You tried 42 times, and it hasn't worked.

One more time.

OK. Thanks to Representative Donna Edwards and Steve King. Thanks for watching.

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.