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Who's Inspirational In Washington?; Can Washington Modernize?

Aired November 20, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the torch of inspiration passed across generations, from president to president.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope we carry away from this a reminder of what JFK understood to be the essence of the American spirit.

ANNOUNCER; Who that is that spirit now? On the left, Van Jones. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland; and Senator Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina. In today's Washington, whose example is inspiring? Whose should be avoided? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, two members of a vastly different U.S. Senate compared to the one of the Kennedy era.

Here in Washington today, we watched a wonderful tribute to a martyred president, whose killing influenced an entire generation, but here's what really strikes me.

The notable thing about John F. Kennedy's Washington is that it worked. The Obama-era Washington doesn't. President Kennedy was able to talk with Republicans, even with Barry Goldwater. When he said "We'll get to the moon in a decade," he didn't mean "We'll settle for a rocket sitting at Cape Canaveral." While he was cautious on civil rights, he made the effort to unify the country, not divide it.

It's too bad that, for President Obama, honoring Kennedy seems to just be a symbolic moment, rather than a chance to learn from him, and maybe to change something.

JONES: I loved it all right until the last sentence. Well, look, I...

GINGRICH: Don't you think he should learn?

JONES: I do think he -- I think he should learn and he is learning. Everybody likes to beat up on President Obama right now. But even JFK, he had his Bay of Pigs moment. Don't count this president out. I think these senators know better than to count him out.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got Democratic Senator Ben Cardin and Republican Senator Tim Scott. Welcome to you. Senator Scott, it's your first time on CROSSFIRE, first time, I think, on CNN.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I've been waiting a long time.

JONES: We're lucky to have you.

Now, listen, I am concerned, because I've been watching all this footage from the Kennedy era. And it seems like there was a time when you had people -- the parties cooperating, working together, and now it looks like a big mess, even on something as simple as getting judges approved through the Senate. We're going to have to have a nuclear option to get judges approved? What is going on in the Senate and what are you going to do about it?

SCOTT: I'll tell you that having a nuclear option would be like having Obama care 2.0. The fact of the matter is that, over the last 15 years, we've seen 215 judges approved, only two defeated. Two hundred fifteen approved, only two defeated.

So the fact of the matter that, as it relates to getting judges approved, it's happening. The question we really should look at is why can't we find a legislative common ground: lower taxes, put people back to work, and get back to the primary question, which is Americans, they want jobs.

JONES: They want jobs, and we will get to that. But I don't want to let you off the hook that easy.

SCOTT: It's my first time on the show.

JONES: We've got to put the heat on you. But do -- I do have this concern, this one sticking issue. We can argue about the numbers of judges, but this one issue around the D.C. court, we are not hearing from Republicans saying that the three judges the president wants are terrible people; they're shoplifters; they're doing cocaine; they're bad; they're out in the mainstream. They just don't want to approve any judges.

Is that a good idea for Republicans? I hear no argument. They just don't want the president, who's got constitutional authority to appoint a judge, to appoint a judge?

SCOTT: I think you make a very good point. 2006, the Democrats said something that's very important. What is the workload of the D.C. courts? What is the workload? And today, we're asking the same question. It seems like the D.C. court load is not sufficient to add any judges. There's no question that the work load is lower than most courts, most circuits. And so it's very important for us to use what we have and use it responsibly. One of the ways that we use the resources that we have responsibly is to make sure that the workload is taken care of and not new judges.

JONES: Do you agree with your colleague here? SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Senator Scott is right, the Republicans aren't voting against the president's nominees. They're not allowing us to have a vote for the president's nominees. They're blocking, through procedural ways, so that we're not getting votes of not only the circuit court for the district. We have plenty of the presidential appointments that have not been filled for over months, and that they are using the, basically, the filibuster to prevent an up or down vote on judges, on cabinet-level positions, to a level that has never before been seen in American politics. That's wrong.

GINGRICH: Well, Senator, let me build on that exact point, which is you've now had eight Democratic senators come out for fixing Obama care, at least as it relates to the people who are currently not going to be able to get any insurance.

Yet Senator Reid has not indicated he'd be willing to bring a bill to the floor, which will now clearly have, counting the Republicans, a clear majority of the Senate favoring it. I mean, shouldn't that -- if we're going to go back to regular order...

CARDIN: Oh, I agree.

GINGRICH: ... shouldn't we also have votes on things like Obama care?

CARDIN: As you know, when we passed Medicare Part D, a lot of us were opposed to that, but after it became law, we said let's sit down and let's make it work. Let's make it work the best that it can.

The Affordable Care Act, Obama care, is the law of the land. It can be made better. We should be taking up legislation in regular order. The question is -- I could ask my colleague -- will the Republicans want to consider this in regular order and not just try to repeal, but to try to make it work better?

SCOTT: We certainly would be happy to talk about making Obama care a more effective piece of legislation. The best way to do it, in my opinion, is to repeal it. If we could do that, we could get on common ground. You've even had some criticism recently about the roll-out of the exchange. is now synonymous with failure.

The challenge with Obama care is simply this. In my state, we had 400,000 South Carolinians without insurance. Today we've had less than 600 sign up for Obama care, but we've had 150,000 additional people losing their insurance because of Obama care.

So the real challenge that we see today is that we need to come back to a free market solution, to make sure that people have greater access to health care. One of the ways that we do that is look at alternatives that will reduce the price of health insurance.

I've got a couple that I'd like to talk about. I'd love to have this debate about providing the American people with a free market solution to lower the prices, create greater access, and see what can happen.

CARDIN: We tried that before the passage of the Affordable Care Act. People lost their insurance, and getting less and less. The basic principles of Obama care are sound. I don't think you want to repeal the fact that you can -- that parents can keep their adult children on their policies until age 26. Or do you want to take away from our seniors the additional benefits we've given them in filling this coverage cap, the prescription drugs so-called doughnut hole? Or do we want to go back to the days where insurance companies can put preexisting condition restrictions or caps on insurance plans?

The fundamentals of the exchanges are there. We have more companies that have signed up under the exchanges offering more plans at lower rates than we had anticipated. Is it working right? No. We've got to get the online services working right.

SCOTT: Seven hundred and fourteen billion dollars taken out of Medicare to fund Obama care. So there's no question that what we've seen is we've made -- we've made Medicare more fragile because of Obama care, No. 1.

No. 2, let's say that what we did in 2011 in the House, was we passed HR-1, I believes it was, that provided about $6 billion for health- care pools in the states, providing a state-by-state competition, which would then allow for those folks with preexisting conditions to find the coverage. If we would allow for competition across the states.

JONES: Wait, wait, wait.

SCOTT: Let me finish the sentence.

JONES: There's a...

SCOTT: I know you guys are courteous to newbies, but one of the challenges -- got to use what you got, right?

JONES: Right.

SCOTT: One of the challenges that we see here is that, if we allow for free market solutions to come to the table, things like Texas -- Texas dealt effectively -- I know you're going to turn it, but Texas dealt effectively with medical tort reform. That lowers the cost of health insurance. Defensive medicine costs about 25 percent of the overall.

JONES: Let me just -- because I've got to get in one question. I don't want -- I don't want you to filibuster.

SCOTT: I didn't know we had nuclear options.

JONES: Right here on the show.

SCOTT: Two point oh, two point oh. Obama care 2.0. All right.

JONES: Here, honestly, I am curious to know -- and you're a resident of South Carolina.

SCOTT: Absolutely. JONES: I know you've got politics to deal with. But are you trying to fix Obama care? Or are you trying to repeal Obama care? If you're trying to fix Obama care, all these ideas might go somewhere. But if you are saying you want to destroy Obama case, I don't think you've got any basis to work with with your colleague here. Am I wrong?

SCOTT: Here's what I can tell you. I think there's a way for us to come together and find a solution to provide a more health insurance opportunities and creating greater access to health insurance in the private sector.

One of the things I'm thinking about is next year -- think about this. I was a small business owner. Owned my own business for 15 years. Small business owners today are being incentived to drop their health insurance coverage for their employees. Next year, according to a report that came out today, 100 million more Americans may lose their health insurance because of the small business exchanges.

CARDIN: We have to wait to see the numbers.

SCOTT: The numbers are coming out pretty clear. Forty percent increase.

JONES: Let him take that before we go to break. Last shot.

CARDIN: Every year before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, more and more people were losing their insurance. And as far as Medicare is concerned, Medicare is more solvent today than it was before the passage.

JONES: I keep hearing that.

CARDIN: It is.

SCOTT: How, you take $700 billion out of something, it becomes more solvent?

CARDIN: First of all, we brought down some of the costs of Medicare.

SCOTT: Write that down for me, because I don't understand this.

JONES: I thought you guys liked it. Got rid of waste and abuse and that type of stuff. That's what we did.

But here's the deal.

GINGRICH: We'll come back. We'll come back after the break.

JONES: We'll come back to all this stuff.

SCOTT: We're going to disagree on that topic.

JONES: Well, we've got to talk about it when we get back from the break. Now, clearly we're bogged down. We need a break out of this bogged-down discussion. And it looks like President Obama himself has been reading Newt Gingrich's new book called "Breakout." Next, I want you both of you guys to respond to this comment from the president.


OBAMA: In a lot of ways America is poised for a breakout. We are in a good position to compete around the world in the 21st century.



JONES: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got senators Ben Cardin and Tim Scott.

Today official Washington commemorated the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination. It was a truly remarkable moment.

President Obama and the first lady joined the Clintons, and they placed a wreath at Kennedy's grave site at Arlington National Cemetery.

Now, I wasn't even alive when JFK was president, but his death and his brother's death, and Dr. King's death deeply impacted my parents. And when my sister and I were born in 68, all of America was still grieving all three of those martyrs.

Now, look, back then, a big chunk of the Republican Party was actually in favor of civil rights. We forget about that. Today we miss the Kennedys. We also miss the Kennedy-era Republican Party. Because today when it comes to civil rights and voting rights and gay rights, too often today's GOP seems like it's on the wrong side of history.

So I want to go to you on this question, this question of civil rights, this question of the -- of marriage equality. do you sometimes worry that 50 years from now, we look back at the Republican Party that you're a part of, that we're going to say, you know, maybe they were on the wrong side of history when it came to marriage equality?

SCOTT: I don't think so. I think we are where the average person in our country is. We are a very loving, open-minded party. The fact of the matter is we still -- most of us still believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The fact is that our party is big enough for people who disagree with my opinion to be a part of the party. I've met with folks who have that different opinion, and that's good.

What I think we have an opportunity is move America into the 22nd century. We do that by talking about those issues that bring people together: finding a common ground. We can find that, economic issues, job creation, building a better economy...

JONES: Those are those common ground issues. But you know, we had Ralph Reed here last night. He's a big part of your party, a political genius. He determined today a lot of what that party can do. He was not as opening and not as welcoming. Does it bother you when you have voices in your party that may come across as less welcoming than you sound?

SCOTT: I think in America, we have the communities that have voices that sound less welcoming. That's just a part of the construct of who we are as a people. Of course that filtrates into party politics. But at the end of the day, what we all really want is America to move forward together. And we can do that by looking at those principles that bind us together as a country, while disagreeing on some of the important issues that make who we are very important.

CARDIN: So -- so why are Republicans so concerned about every vote that they make in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, because they're afraid they're going to get a challenge in the primary from the right?

I hear what you're saying about an open party.

SCOTT: The fact of the matter --

CARDIN: The politics are such today in the Republican Party that if you stand up for what you believe in, you're challenged, your seat mate in South Carolina has challenges because he has reached across party lines to work together. Is that the Republican Party that we have today?

SCOTT: I think if you look at the Republican primaries, you just talked about running (INAUDIBLE) in the primary. The fact of the matter is --

CARDIN: There are many people who disagree with the Republican Party.

SCOTT: Well, our policies --


SCOTT: I thought you were going to allow me to finish my sentence. I didn't realize we were going to talk over each other, that started earlier in the last segment.


SCOTT: What I would say is simply this -- that every party, especially the Republican Party, grows because we believe in the principle of addition. We will always have people in the party that disagree with the majority position of the party. That's OK. We're going to continue to work to make sure that America moves forward, because that is our responsibility.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Last question for you -

SCOTT: And we're going to continue to do that.

JONES: He just mentioned Lindsey Graham, the great Lindsey Graham of your state. SCOTT: Yes.

JONES: Are you supporting him for reelection?

SCOTT: You know, as you three have heard recently, I am up for re -- up for reelection myself. I'm going to make sure that Tim Scott gets out --



SCOTT: It's even possible, and will allow for all the other folks on the ballot to represent themselves very well. I'm going to continue to work hard for my election.

JONES: No endorsement for Lindsey tonight?

SCOTT: I'm certainly going to work really hard for Tim Scott reelection --

CARDIN: I just want to make --

SCOTT: Got to go in first (ph).

CARDIN: In our primaries, in Democratic primaries, and we do have Democratic primaries, but they're not because of the fear of voting the way that we believe. We have in our primaries, who have different views, but it's not because of our fear that the tent is --

SCOTT: Senator, let me --

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Wait a second.

SCOTT: Thirty-nine Democrats broke with the president on Obamacare because they were in fear of their elections. The bottom line is simply this -- for us to sit here and pretend like, throwing that infighting in both parties is to look at the glass as if it's a coffee cup or something. It's just ridiculous. There's infighting everywhere.

GINGRICH: You talk about America moving forward a minute ago. You talk about America moving forward. Let me -- it was nice how the president used the term breakout and all of that, but I want to ask a question about the whole nature of Washington and the Congress, and partly against the background of John F. Kennedy, who was very pro- science, very pro-technology, willing to do things as bold as say, we'll put a man on the moon. And within eight years, we did it. At a time when we couldn't possibly have done it, the day he made that announcement.

I am really struck, and I'll ask both of you to comment on this. The president, the other day, I thought, had a very interesting explanation of why you couldn't take his political information technology skills and transfer them into government. I mean, you went on at length about the fact that government regulations, government bureaucracy, the whole structure made it impossible. I thought it was very important, and frankly not nearly look at enough.

Today, CNN reported that the Veterans Administration has delays and incompetence that are literally killing some -- killing veterans. At the Pentagon, the F-35 fighter jet, which is supposedly the low-cost fighter jet, is seven years behind schedule, and 70 percent over- budget and rising.

We just got a report that the Internal Revenue Service last year said $4 billion in refunds to crooks, including something like 353 checks to an address in Shanghai and 560 to an address in Lithuania.

Here's my question -- getting beyond partisan fighting, I don't sense that neither the House or Senate, a willingness to have the kind of hearings and find the kind of big changes that the breakdown of 130- year-old system of bureaucracy needs. And I don't quite know how we get beyond just yelling at each other over ideology and have a really profound look at why are so many different parts of the government not working? This is not an Obama question.

CARDIN: I know. We have this discussion on a regular basis, how to make government more efficient? And it's a legitimate subject. And we've talked about it. We've had discussions -- last Congress when I was on the Budget Committee, we look at ways -- Senator Warner came with additional ways that you do some procurement in a much more cost- effective way.

The challenge we have today to have that discussion, we've to believe that government services are important. You can't espouse the destruction of these programs. When you have a group, particularly in the House, that are saying, look, government shut down isn't bad, that you don't want government to work -- it's tough to talk about how to make government work more efficiently when you really don't want government to work.

JONES: But I think that Newt is making a really interesting point. I don't know if -- the book "Breakout", I expect it to be the typical Newt Gingrich tough partisan stuff. It's actually trying to get beyond the left/right stuff and talking about more past/future.

I think you do make a good point. It does sometimes seem like your party is so against government, it doesn't want government to work. But you're not in that camp, are you?

SCOTT: I mean, I think if you look the way that the -- remember, two- thirds of the government today are run by the Democrats. And what we've seen so far is that if the Democrats have the vote, they vote. When they don't, they ask for compromise.

And so, the fact of the matter is, it is hard for you or anyone else to point at the Republican Party and say we're the obstructionists and we're only the minority party in Washington, D.C. There are ways for us to find common ground to move this country forward.

The president said in of two his last State of the Union speeches that we need to work hard to lower corporate taxes. We have the highest corporate tax rate in all of the world, 35 percent. He says -- I believe as well -- we can create a million new American jobs right here on our soil if we lowered the rate from 35 percent down to 28 percent or under 30 percent.

Chairman Baucus wants to lower the corporate tax under 30 percent.


JONES: You see an opportunity (INAUDIBLE) time for a breakout.

SCOTT: There is an opportunity for to us find common ground and move this country forward if we focus not on ourselves, not on Republicans or Democrats, but on American families who sit at kitchen tables, like my mom who was a single mom, sitting there, scratching her head, figuring out how many extra hours she's going to have to work just to make sure that we have clothes to go to school. That's something we can get done immediately.

GINGRICH: Stay here. Stay here.

Next, the final question for both of our guests.

We also want you the at home to weigh in on today's fireback question: which president will history view more favorably? Reply now with Clinton or Obama using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.


GINGRICH: We're back.

The final question for both of our guests, you know, this is a day of really remembering, and you and I were talking about it. So, we're going to just chat a couple minutes.

Ben and I both remember vividly the day that Kennedy was shot. And our younger colleagues are going to share with us their thoughts about what it means to them.

But, Ben, what was -- what was that day like for you?

CARDIN: Well, Newt, I was on the college campus at the University of Pittsburgh. John F. Kennedy was the inspiration to our generation. He was the one who told us we could do pretty much anything we wanted to do. And America's days were ahead of it.

It was -- it motivated me and motivated others into public service and for me into elected office. So, he was an incredible person motivating our country. And then in one second, he was gone.

And I must tell you -- I think we were in shock. For several days, nothing happened. We were just in front of the television set watching every minute. It's hard to comprehend.

What had happened and what did it mean? What did it mean for our country? What did it mean for our dream?

It was a tough time.

GINGRICH: I think that's -- you captured it exactly. I was -- had a part-time job. I was working and went straight home as soon as we heard about it. And for three days I was glued to the TV. And I think Walter Cronkite became the dominant figure in a sense because he was so stable and so authoritative during that period.

And I think for our generation, the country never recovered. There's -- prior to that, we've been the country that won World War II, the country that had Eisenhower as a very distant and competent president. We're not much -- frightened any of us.

Kennedy seemed to be -- I was a supporter of the Republicans, but nonetheless, he seemed to be a new, fresh, dynamic leader and then boom, your world changed just like that.

For what -- if you don't mind, what did you think?

SCOTT: When I think about Kennedy, one of the things that comes to mind is aspirational leadership. I think of Jack Kemp in my lifetime -- a man who has loved people, loved his country and wanted us to aspire to do more.

And for me, one of the things we're working on is eradicating poverty in our country.

JONES: That's right.

SCOTT: There's a way for us to take a look -- for me, it's a free market approach. There is a way for us to encourage people toward earned success, talk about education reform that gets to a place where kids that grew up in neighborhoods like I grew up in look in the future and believe that this country, this day can change the entire rest of their lives. I think it's possible.

GINGRICH: In 10 seconds, what are your thoughts?

JONES: Well, no, I mean -- I grew up with, I had action figures, I named them JFK and RFK and MLK, because my parents were such big supporters of the Kennedys and the Kings.

And, you know, I just -- look, I join hands with you in terms of eradicating poverty and doing all those great things.

I want to thank both of you for being here. It just means so much to have you on a day like today.

Listen, if you want to be part of this conversation, it doesn't end here. You can to go Facebook or Twitter.

You can weigh in on our fireback question: which president will history view more favorably? Right now, 64 percent of you say Bill Clinton, 36 percent say Barack Obama.

The debate will definitely continue online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. From the left, I'm Van Jones.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.