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Can President Save Second-Term Agenda?; Should GOP Ease Up on Gay Marriage?

Aired November 19, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight, on CROSSFIRE, President Obama's second-term blues. New poll numbers at record lows. His judicial nominees, blocked. His signature achievement in intensive care.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's nobody in this town's doing particularly well at the moment when it comes to the opinions of the American people.

ANNOUNCER: How does the president come back? On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Joe Crowley, a Democratic congressman, and Ralph Reed, a conservative activist. Can President Obama save his second-term agenda? And can Republicans resist the temptation to self-destruct? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: And I am Van Jones on the left. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got a Democratic congressman, and we've got the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Now, look, I know everybody is all hyper-focused on Obama care and Obama's bad poll numbers, but you know, we'll get to that, but, you know what? There's a deeper story here, and I think we're missing it.

President Obama this afternoon highlighted his achievements on the economy, and they're actually, surprisingly, good. Stocks, that means your retirement accounts, way, way up. Near all-time highs. Unemployment, down. American energy production, which nobody's talking about, up, which means gas prices down.

Now remember, this is a guy who took over just as the country was falling into the worst economic slump since the Great Depression. Listen to him now.


OBAMA: I do want to say, though, that beyond the headlines, we have made real progress in the economy. And sometimes that hasn't gotten enough attention. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Now, listen, you've got to give the guy some credit here, just on the gas prices alone. If he was a Republican, you guys would be jumping up and down.

CUPP: Yes, well, if only the president could run on low gas prices in 2014, and then the Democrats could take up that mantra and that would be enough in 2016. Somehow I don't think he's going to get off that easy.

Joining us in the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley and Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Congressman Crowley, let me start with you.

This is the reality: in today's ABC/"Washington Post" poll, the president is down 15 points from January when it comes to being a strong leader. He's down 8 points for being honest and trustworthy. Most damning though, 70 percent of the country think he's on the wrong track. That's a double-digit increase since May. Is 70 percent of the country wrong?

REP. JOE CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: I think it's also reflective of where they see their government going. It's not just the president. I think it's the entire Congress, as well. You have a dysfunctional Congress. The Republican Congress has no vision. It has no agenda for 2014. And I think to some degree the president pays some of the price for that. But you know...

CUPP: These numbers are about the president, though.

CROWLEY: Polls go up and down. They're not just reflective of the president. Listen, they're reflective of what's happening right now in the times. We live in a very unsettling world. And quite frankly, what my Republican colleagues continue to do is to create uncertainty, further uncertainty. More fiscal cliffs to come, unfortunately. We have a CR, a continuing resolution, that will expire in mid-January. And we have another debt ceiling coming in February. Hello.

CUPP: But Congressman, in the same poll, asked for whom they would vote if they could take a mulligan on 2012, more people said Romney than Obama. Explain that to me.

CROWLEY: Look, polls go up and down. He's leaving. He's not, you don't play the poll. You do what's right for the American people.

CUPP: The American people are not happy with the president.

CROWLEY: And they want a Congress with an agenda. It doesn't exist right now.

CUPP: All right.

JONES: and speaking of not happy and speaking about polls, first of all, I'm glad to have you here. RALPH REED, FAITH AND FREEDOM COALITION: Good to be here, Van.

JONES: Before we say any more, I want to make sure we talk about the Republican numbers. They look pretty bad, as well. We want to show those.

I do think we have a situation where both parties are in deep trouble. You have only 30 percent of folks are in favorable of the Republicans right now. Sixty-four percent say they don't like the Republican Party, and when you talk about the congressional Republicans, they're like in single digits.

So what are you guys going to do? What are your good ideas to try to move the country forward? All we hear is how bad Obama is from you guys.

REED: We have to offer positive alternatives to the failure of Obama care. But the reality is, Van, there's no way around the fact that 2014 is going to be a referendum on the car wreck and the train wreck that is Obama care.

And I think some of the poll ratings that S.E. was talking about, this is not just polls going up and going down. It's not just that. This is the first time since he took the oath of office as president that a majority of the American people have said they don't think he's honest and trustworthy.

This is also the first time in the history of the ABC News poll that he's upside-down on his favorable rating. More people have an unfavorable personal view of him than have a favorable view. And that's devastating, because if you rewind the tape to 2012, Romney won on who was the strongest leader. He won on who shared my values more. He won that by 23 points, by the way. And he won on who had a better plan for the future.

But by a margin of 81-19 he lost on "who cared more about me." And now Obama's losing on that.

JONES: Listen. I agree the poll numbers go up and down. But aren't you making my point? Isn't he making my point that their only talking point is how bad Obama is? I haven't heard one positive idea. Have you?

CUPP: Your only talking point is how bad Republicans are doing.


JONES: ... gas prices.

RALPH: You want a positive idea? I'll give you a positive idea. We've been offering it for years. Allow insurance companies to offer Volkswagen-style policies instead of Cadillac policies that cover things like preventative care, primary care and catastrophic care, combined with a health savings account. If you did that, the average family of four could get an affordable policy, combined with a health savings accounts, for 100 bucks a month. We've been offering that for years. What did Obama care do? What did Obama -- what did Obama care do? It did the opposite. It loaded them down with mandates and drove premiums up.

CROWLEY: Ralph, with all due respect, it gives new meaning to the adage, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Forty-seven times the attempt to undermine, to repeal the Affordable Care Act, not even waiting to see whether or not it would work or not. Putting aside the glitches that happened on the rollout -- and by the way, this isn't the first time we've seen glitches in rollouts. We saw it in Medicare Part D. Democrats weren't out there, trying to decry, undermine Medicare Part D.

CUPP: The only defense is comparing it to Medicare Part D.

RALPH: Five point two million people have had their insurance policies canceled. That is not a glitch. That is a failed policy.

CROWLEY: It comes back to a vision. We want to have an opportunity for people in this country, heretofore who have not been able to the afford insurance, to have that opportunity. The Republicans have offered -- despite what you've said so far, they've offered nothing but 47 attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

REED: That's not true. Both Steve Scalise and doctor and Congressman Tom Price have both offered comprehensive alternative health-care reform packages.

CROWLEY: Never made it to the floor. I've never seen it on the floor.

JONES; Let me move on. So we're talking about Republicans. We're talking about Democrats. We're talking about character. You have a Republican congressperson, who just today turns out has been arrested for cocaine possession. Is that a Republican that you think should stay in the Republican Caucus? Or should he resign?

REED: Well, I'm not -- if that's happened today, I've been in meetings all day, and I'm not familiar with that development. But there are going to be...

CUPP: Certainly not representative...

JONES: Let me ask.

REED: Here's the situation.

JONES: Sure. I'm going to ask you the same thing.

REED: There are bad actors -- there are bad actors in both parties.

CUPP: Let me bring this back to -- let me bring this back to Obama care. I actually think Van is right, that Republicans need to come to the table with some good ideas. You're right, Ralph, that we've brought some good ideas. But it sounds like we talk more about repeal.

CROWLEY: Maybe they should be incorporated into the Affordable Care Act.

CUPP: I want Republicans, too. But it doesn't change the fact that Obama care is putting Democrats in peril, Congressman. Here's what Charlie Rangel, your colleague from New York, said last week. "Saying you're sorry" -- Obama -- "doesn't help me worth a damn at the polls, unless I can staple your remarks to the ballot." Do you agree with Congressman Rangel? Do you feel his pain, where Democrats are looking ahead to 2014.

CROWLEY: As I said before, the rollout has been less than stellar. OK. We know that. That's not news.

But what the president is dedicated to is to seeing this law through. He wants to fix the glitches. He wants to fix the rollout and get the Web sites working. But more importantly, he wants to get insurance for people who heretofore haven't been able to afford it. What is wrong with that? There's nothing wrong with that. And, as I said before, no bill has made it to the floor as an alternative. It's only been about repeal.

CUPP: So is he willing to see it through at the expense of the American people, at the expense of the Democratic Caucus, who's now in absolute panic and chaos?

CROWLEY: We have -- we have -- we have other business, as well, we have to deal with.

REED: I'll tell you what. I'll make a deal with you, Congressman. Congressman, I'll make a deal with you. We'll bring it to the floor and vote for it, if you have get us to get Harry Reid to give us a vote in the Senate. How about that? Because we've sent -- we've sent...

CROWLEY: Ralph, I know you're not in the House. Harry Reid is not in the House of Representatives.

REED: Listen -- no, we voted to delay the individual mandate. Reid would not allow a vote. We voted to repeal the individual mandate. Reid would not allow a vote. We -- we passed legislation that would have protected religious charities. Reid would not allow a vote.

The Senate, which your party controls, has been the graveyard of our reforms on hundreds of pieces of legislation.

CROWLEY: With all due respect -- with all due respect, we can fix the Web site. You can't fix a broken agenda. In fact, you can't fix an agenda that...

CUPP: Can you fix a broken law? Because people are suggesting this is not just a Web site problem.

CROWLEY: The reality is we can't really bring anything up to amend the bill, because their only goal is to repeal and to undermine. You can't -- you can't have an honest discussion on this on the floor right now. They know it.

CUPP: OK. President Obama, as we are discussing, has plenty of problems. But next, I want to talk to Ralph Reed about one of the Republican Party's biggest faultlines, one that's dividing Dick Cheney's family. That's next.


CUPP: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Representative Joe Crowley and Ralph Reed.

Sure, President Obama has issues, but so do Republicans. And Ralph, here's one dividing me and you. The rift in the Cheney family exposed a rift in the Republican family. Wyoming Senate candidate Liz Cheney is against same-sex marriage, even though her sister, Mary, is gay married.

In one of her latest Facebook postings, Mary Cheney fired back at her sister: quote, "Liz's position is to treat my family as second- class citizens. It's not a position I can be," quote, "'lovingly tolerant' towards."

I am one conservative who doesn't think same-sex couples are second-class citizens. And I've challenged my part to be more inclusive.

Ralph, I think Republicans should reclaim gay rights as a conservative issue, because I was under the impression that conservatism, privilege is limited government, marriage and family. Tell me where I have that wrong.

REED: Well, I think you're not only out of step with where the party is; I think you're out of step with where the American people are. Thirty-six states and 70 percent of the American people currently define marriage as between a man and a woman.

It was the position of all the presidential candidates who were viable of both parties until as recently as 18 months ago.

And, you know, S.E., even in the 14 states that have redefined marriage, all but four of them have been by judicial fiat. It hasn't been done by a legislature; it hasn't been done by the people.

And in response to the substance of your question, I think that those who are gay and lesbian are free to love whoever they want to love. And in states where they define marriage in that way, they're free to call that marriage. In other states they can call it a civil union.

But I think it is unfair, and I think it -- it even can smack of anti-religious bigotry to suggest that, if you have a view different, if you believe marriage should be defined as a man and woman, that you are, ipso facto, a bigot or you believe, as you said, that gays should be treated as second-class citizens. CUPP: Well, let me just -- let me just press you on that, because I am not asking you to change your opinion. And I say this all the time, and I put myself out there on this. And I've told other Republicans. You don't have to change your mind.

But listen, I've defended you on religious freedom as an atheist, and I defend religious people as an atheist. Isn't it time, though, that your wing of the Republican Party accept and embrace good conservatives, like the Log Cabin Republicans, good conservatives like GOProud, like Lisa Murkowski, like Rob Portman, don't you think it's time to recognize that some -- in some ways the tide is turning, and we should be more inclusive of these values without having to change our personal opinions on them?

REED: Well, first of all, I wouldn't agree with the premise of the question.


REED: If the tide had truly turned then you wouldn't have 36 states and 70 percent of the American people defining it as between a man and a woman. You wouldn't need the courts to impose this, as they did in Iowa, as they did in New Jersey and as they did, by the way, in California. The people of California have yet to vote to redefine marriage.

CUPP: So you think in ten years' time we're going to be a country that still opposes same-sex marriage and with presidents who oppose same-sex marriage?

REED: Well, I can't predict the future, but I can tell you this. The same young people, the same millennials who today are more inclined...

CUPP: Yes.

REED: ... to support same-sex marriage are also more pro-life than their parents were.

CUPP: I'm not going to argue with you there. You're absolutely right.

REED: The country became more pro-choice in the '70s and '80s.

CUPP: And swung back.

REED: And in the '90s and in the last ten years, it became more pro-life.

Just because something is moving in a particular direction, it's an analytical error to assume that it's going to continue with that trend. And let me tell you why. I'll tell you why I don't think that's going to happen.

Because the most successful department of health, education and welfare ever conceived is a two-parent, intact, loving family with a man and woman united in holy matrimony. And all the social science shows that. It's best for the children. It's best for the husband and the wife.

And the fact is, without saying anything negative about somebody who has a same-sex relationship, the social science is clear that the parenting roles are different...


REED: ... for a man and a woman and a husband and wife.

JONES: In some ways, I just want us to be quiet. Just keep saying stuff like that louder and louder.

REED: Affirming loving marriages?

CROWLEY: That was what I thought was actually very good to hear, but I think talking about...

REED: You're against that, Van?

CROWLEY: No, I was actually happy to hear you say that. Being out of step, though, is one of the things you said, as well. And clearly, I think the Republican Party as a whole is out of step on this issue. Not entirely, but overall as a whole is out of step on this issue. I'm glad to hear your common sense on this.

I come from New York state. I'm very proud of the fact that New York is not a state that did it by judicial caveat but did it by legislative action and signed by Governor Cuomo, one of the first states to do that. And it's been remarkable the effect that it's had on people's lives.

I -- Ralph, I appreciate what you're saying, the opportunity for someone to love someone. That's what this is about, as well, and to express that. But this is also not about a religious issue. This is not about the R-I-T-E; it's about the R-I-G-H-T, and to be treated equally under the law. And that's what gay marriage has afforded to millions of people in -- throughout the country, particularly in my state.

CUPP: Well, to me, it seems like the conservative principle. I mean, why are we offering tax breaks to one set of people and not to another set of people? Why are we privileging marriage -- privileging marriage, this institution conservatives absolutely love, monogamous relationship for these people and not these people? Why are we celebrating family and not another kind of family?

If we hate abortion so much, shouldn't we be encouraging gay adoption and the right of any two loving people to adopt babies that are unwanted? It doesn't make any sense to me...

REED: The reason -- the reason why...

CUPP: ... being conservative, not to support gay rights. REED: The reason why is for the same reason why Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965 talked about the deterioration of the family. Because there's a compelling state interest in those monogamous unions that are the best for children.

JONES: Can I say something?

REED: And the social science on this, as I said, is clear. And to treat...


REED: ... other relationships as on par with that is just not accurate.

JONES: You know...

CUPP: Well, I don't think you're a bigot. I want to put that out there. I think anyone...

JONES: Nobody is calling anybody -- nobody is calling anybody...

CUPP: I don't think anyone that has Ralph's views is a bigot. I get it. I just -- I think I can make a conservative case for it.

REED: And, by the way, our view is not motivated by animus towards gays.

JONES: I just want to say something about...

REED: Anthony Kennedy said it...

JONES: I think it's very important to make a couple of points here about marriage. Do you know who's screwing up traditional marriage? Heterosexuals. We're the ones...

REED: No disagreement here.

CUPP: Wait. I just started. I'm two weeks in.

REED: Van -- Van, no disagreement there.

JONES: Let me finish. We're the ones who are getting divorced. We're the ones who are shacking up. We're the ones who are cheating. We're the ones screwing up traditional marriage.

Do you know who's actually saving marriage, who's making marriage actually cool again? It's the lesbian and gay couples that have fought for it, that have stood for it, who have made this a central cause for a generation.

And I think, honestly, we make a huge mistake when we blame social science, we blame all these other things. I know couples. I have -- two of my best friends, Judy and Allison (ph), are the best moms, my own wife the exception. The best moms on planet earth. No social science data, or you or anybody else can tell me that they're doing bad by their kids.

And my big concern here is that this becomes a political talking point, et cetera, et cetera. At the end of the day, your party looks like they don't get it, that they don't understand. And those -- you got kids that are watching the show right now. You are a political genius. You are one of the best in this business. They're looking at you and they're saying, "This guy doesn't appreciate my family." I don't know how your party survives that.

REED: Well, I would -- I would disagree on several levels. First of all, if -- if you really care about marriage, you would be trying to reform no-fault divorce laws so that it wasn't easier for a man to forsake the wife of his youth than it is for him to get out of a cell-phone contract. OK?

JONES: Let's come back and talk about that.

REED: It's easier for you to divorce your spouse than it is to fire your assistant. And that ought to be reformed to strengthen marriage. But you don't...

JONES: We're going to keep going after that. We're going to keep going. After this break, I want you guys to sit here. We're going to come back. We do have a final question for both of our guests.

But we also want you at home to get in on the action. Do you think that President Obama can make a comeback from his low approval ratings? If you do, tweet "yes." If you don't, tweet "no," using #CROSSFIRE. We will have the results after this break.


JONES: We are back with Representative Joe Crowley and with Ralph Reed. Now it's time for the final question.

First to you. I understand your position with regard to marriage equality. We differ on that. But my question is, could you ever support a candidate who disagreed with you on that one issue? Even if they were with you on every other? Would that -- would that issue stop you from endorsing a good conservative who disagreed?

REED: Well, I don't know, because it's a hypothetical. I don't know what other issues they would have. But I will tell you this. In general, somebody who's socially liberal on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage and things like that...

JONES: If they're with you on abortion.

REED: ... is usually not with you on everything else.

JONES: They're with you on abortion. They're with you.

REED: I reject the premise of the question.

JONES: Fair enough. REED: It's very unusual to find somebody who's with you on 99 percent, and they don't get it on that one issue.

JONES: There's one right here. There's one right here.

CUPP: I think -- I think I fall in that category. But luckily, I'm not running for anything.

Congressman, President Obama laid out a very ambitious agenda in his inaugural address: immigration reform, tax reform, climate change, gun control. Has he moved enough for you on any of those issues so far in the second term?

CROWLEY: Well, I'm going to break the rule and just go back to the last point. My wife, Casey, is the best mom in the world. But that's...

CUPP: There you go.

CROWLEY: Look, there are a tremendous number of issues facing our country. I mentioned couple in terms of the fiscal cliff, as well as the continued resolution.

Immigration reform is one of the most -- issues I'm most passionate about.

CUPP: Yes.

CROWLEY: We need to get that done. The president needs to make that a part of the agenda right now and tell Republicans to get it done.


JONES: Well, listen, thanks to both of you for being here. And we are going to keep this conversation going on Facebook and Twitter. If you want to weigh in on our "Fireback" question, "Do you think President Obama can make a comeback from his low approval rating?" Right now, 56 percent say yes; 44 percent say no. The debate will continue online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Thanks to both of our guests. Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.