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Are The Republicans A "Party of No"?

Aired December 2, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, curing the president's second-term blues. The Web site is up and running better.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We are working to make sure that site works well for the vast majority of Americans.

ANNOUNCER: Can President Obama get beyond Obamacare?

On the left, Van Jones. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Bill Burton, a Democratic strategist who worked in the Obama White House. And Bob Ehrlich, the former Republican governor of Maryland.

Three more years. Will President Obama bounce back? Is he a lame duck already? 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, a White House veteran and a state house veteran.

In today's daily briefing, the White House continued to glorify the 80 percent succeeds rate of the governor -- of the government's health- care Web site. Let's put that in normal American context.

For a teenager working at McDonald's, 80 percent accuracy gets you fired that day. For an airline pilot, 80 percent accuracy and landing at the right airport gets you fired that day. Only the government and this administration would call a Sunday press event, claiming the president's health-care Web site is 80 percent accurate, and expect applause.

Actually, what we're getting a tutorial in the disastrous results of government-run bureaucratic incompetence.

JONES: I just -- you just -- we can't do it. Please, look, we're making progress. We're not 100 percent there, but you're always bragging on the private sector. I want to point out that today, was down while was up. Even the private sector is not perfect. We're making progress, and I'm proud of it.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got Democratic strategist Bill Burton, who used to work in the Obama White House, my good friend, and we have the former mayor -- former governor from Maryland, Bob Ehrlich.

To you. And also -- also want to brag on your book. You've got a new book out called "American: Hope and Change."


JONES: Check out the book. It's a good thing for us to be checking out. But look, you're talking about hope and change. I'm for hope. I'm for change. I'm also for success.

EHRLICH: It's a slogan. We're all for success.

JONES: Well, then if you're for success, why won't you stand with us? Now listen, you guys --

EHRLICH: We're grading on a curve? I wish -- I wish this curve was here when I was in college, in law school. I needed the curve.

JONES: Now, listen, we have made real progress. We're moving toward. I feel like the healthier this Web site gets, the sicker you guys look.

EHRLICH: We just heard a few weeks ago, this is fixable.

JONES: Yes. And we're fixing it.

EHRLICH: That's the bad news. This is the part that's fixable. Now we're going to get to the numbers, to middle America, the middle class. We're going to get to a sticker shock. We're getting to generational theft.

JONES: You mean, the middle is finally going to be able to stop being discriminated against when it comes to health care?

EHRLICH: More narrow networks.

JONES: Kids are going to be able to get health care?

EHRLICH: Higher deductibles, and you lose your doctor, which is something I didn't hear -- I must have missed that, Mr. Speaker.

JONES: You don't have one positive thing to say about the fact that this Web site is moving forward? In the private sector, the first 90 days of a Web site is called beta.

EHRLICH: I have not --

JONES: You expect it to have some --

EHRLICH: I have not gotten into -- although nobody has been fired. Somebody is in charge, I hope, but forget that. I'm a Republican. I actually like holding people accountable.

JONES: Tradition.

EHRLICH: I do think that the governor is making an important point. JONES: I'm sorry.

EHRLICH: But my thought is this is a big story about generally nothing, because the Web site is fixable. The denominator, the underlying numbers, how this works in the long run is what's the problem, in my view.

BILL BURTON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Well, I think you're right in that the problems that we're seeing right now are fixable. And as we go into 2014, you are going to see a health-care system that is getting better and better, and the program working more and more. More women having access to mammograms on Medicare, not having lifetime limits on insurance, keeping your kids on until they're 26. But all of those things are just get better.

The Republican problem can't be fixed, which is that the only solution that they've offered is repeal of Obamacare. And even in the polls that are the very worst for President Obama and for Democrats in Congress, the American people want Obamacare to succeed. And so the answer is to fix Obamacare, not to repeal it.

EHRLICH: Men don't need mammograms, by the way. That's part of the problem, as we know.

BURTON: I don't think anybody is offering that. It's required.

EHRLICH: It's how the numbers work. You need to do it.

JONES: Women have been buying plans that include stuff for erectile dysfunction. These things get bundled together. You guys score these points, but women have been paying for stuff that they don't need. These packages get bundled together.

But I really do think that we're in a situation now where people are going to start seeing you guys as cheerleading for failure for American programs.

GINGRICH: Now, I love all this happy talk, but the part of the Web site that is 80 percent fixed is the consumer side.

Now, the back of it is still not fixed. You had a very contentious discussion today with the news media -- as the government tried to explain that they sort of have it fixed, but they don't -- actually can't tell you how much of it.

And here's why it matters. There are a substantial number of people who think they have insurance, and the insurance companies can't identify who they are. In fact, the latest thing this afternoon was you should check with your insurance company to see whether or not you're actually insured.

EHRLICH: Four out of five times you'll have the right person. I hope you're not the fifth, Van. I hope you're not. I hope you're not the latest victim here.

JONES: I don't want to steal your thunder. BURTON: The question is -- the question is, who's actually doing things to fix it. And the president and the administration, Democrats in Congress are actually trying to fix it, not root for failure, as Republicans have done from the day that it even came up as an idea.

GINGRICH: This is a little bit of a cheap shot. I concede in advance. You were in the White House when this was being done, did you ever -- did you ever in your wildest imagination think the first 60 days would be this screwed up?

BURTON: I think that I've been surprised by a lot of things that Republicans have done in Washington, and the amount of noise that they've been able to make about this is, once again, quite surprising.

But no, I don't think anybody went into this thinking --

GINGRICH: I wasn't --

BURTON: -- oh, there's going to be a lot -- oh, there's going to be imperfections and a lot of problems, but people know that when you do something big, when you do hard things, they're hard.

EHRLICH: And that's the truth. Because they took a system that was 15 to 20 percent broken, uncovered or uninsured, or not -- not the appropriate amount of insurance, and tried to fix 100 percent. And now we're paying the price.

And by the way, as iPad comes in and Medicare rationing occurs and the 22 new tax increases occur, and the Medicare advantage cuts occur, it is going to be the bad gift that keeps on giving through the holiday season and onto next year. And that's why all those red state Democrats are scared to death.

JONES: Well, let me ask -- first of all, I disagree with everything you just said, other than -- just to be thorough about it. Everything you just said.

But I am concerned, though, when Medicare Part D was passed, with no support from us, and it wasn't working, we worked with Republicans to fix it.

Now, here's what we've got from your great friend, Erick Erickson. I want to put this up on the screen for everybody to view. The strategy now, he says, should be "The Web site they can fix, but we must deny them the opportunity to fix the new law itself. Let the American people see big government in all its glory. Then offer a repeal."

In other words, hold back support, root for failure, sabotage. Is that your strategy?


JONES: Do you sign on to Erick Erickson's strategy? Yes or no?

EHRLICH: I don't root -- no, I don't root for failure.

JONES: Well, that's what he's doing -- what he's saying: you should not try to help. We helped Bush.

EHRLICH: Help. Help, there's an interesting term.

BURTON: Then what's the fix?

EHRLICH: Portability. Let me just take you back when you were in the White House. All the dozens of Republican bills that would have garnered 300 votes in the House easy: portability, preexisting conditions, disclaimers out, writing insurance across state lines. Maybe, who knows? Medicaid expansion? For tort reform? Who knows, with negotiation?

But there was no negotiation. One party passed this. It was, 'You, minority, no way. We're passing our bill. We're going to reinvent the wheel here, and now the wheel is screwed up."

BURTON: What you're saying is 100 percent not true.

EHRLICH: Oh, man.

BURTON: Because I was in the White House and I was there when Republicans were called for meetings. Republicans were solicited for advice. There are Republican ideas in the health-care bill. You may have heard of the individual mandate. Someone at this table thought that that was a good idea at one point. That's a part of the bill.

And so the difference here is that it has been rare in American history that the opposing party has been so opposed to some massive change to government that they don't even show up to have a conversation. Once it's put into law, all they do is root for its failure.

What Erick Erickson said is where the Republican Party is right now. And that's why the politics are not --


BURTON: -- in the hoppers.

GINGRICH: Wait a second. Having a fair amount of bipartisan legislation that was signed by President Clinton, I think that is a total mischaracterization of what went on. I don't know of any House Republican who believes there was an honest effort by the White House ever to have a serious conversation about amendments.

And the fact is it's very dangerous to pass really large legislation by a very narrow margin. It didn't happen with civil rights, didn't happen with Social Security, didn't happen with Medicare.

Look, there was consistently bipartisanship in all the major -- big major changes. But let me ask you one other thing. What I'm fascinated with as a conservative is you had the president's top computer guy say, "We're getting up to the velocity of the private sector."

You had the president the other day say you couldn't do in government what he did in the campaign, because all those federal regulations screw up everything, and you really can't get it done right.

Now, the question I have is, if getting up to the velocity of the private sector is successful, and if in fact, the presidential campaign could be creative and remarkably effective, but the government can't be, isn't that sort of an argument against having the government try to run health care for 315 million people?

BURTON: OK. So for starters, let me address the first point. What has changed in Washington isn't a president's interest in reaching out to the other side. It is the opposing party's 100 percent intransigence to working with the president's party.

When you have the Senate majority leader -- the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, saying that his No. 1 job was to stop President Obama from getting a second term, you get a sense of what kind of climate there is in Washington.

Second, I think people think Medicare works pretty well, right? I think that there's a lot of things in government that work pretty well, but the fact that there are -- the way that you have to solicit contracts and things like that for vendors is --

JONES: Wait, we're going to come back to this. You know, you talked about the idea of stopping Obama, him being a one-term president. They failed.

In fact, President Obama's critics have been writing his obituary for years. Take a look at these headlines from 2009, 2010, 2012. Guess what? They're all wrong. And I'm going to explain to you why, next.


JONES: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got Bill Burton and Bob Ehrlich.

Here is something to consider. The next time you see a headline asking, "Can Obama recover?" As "The National Journal" points out, that exact headline showed up in 2008 during the primaries, and in 2009 during the health-care fight. And in 2010 after Scott Brown won that victory in Massachusetts. And after the BP oil spill. And after the midterm elections. And during the 2011 bad economic news. And during the 2012 election. And even this year when the president took on Syria.

So the next time somebody asks you, can Obama recover? I think the smart bet is, yes, he can. So to you --

EHRLICH: Can I just point out to you, they're going to run that same story about 43, about any second-term president, because -- and you're part of the problem --

JONES: I'm --

EHRLICH: It's the 24/7 news cycle, and I think you may agree. people watch this show for a reason.


EHRLICH: And it's real-time politics. I think you may agree with this, that the speculation has to be who's in trouble, who's on the wrong side of the Speaker, is the president going to be reelected?

JONES: You are making my point, sir. If, in fact, it is the case that betting on the failure of this president, every time there is an up or down, isn't it reckless and foolish on the part of the Republican Party to have one strategy, which is to hope Obama fails? That's their only strategy, as best as I can tell.

EHRLICH: Well, we want the president to succeed, but the track record here, remember the shovel-ready projects? The shovels were missing. The shovels weren't there, $1.2 trillion worth of hope.

But we got change. We have little pocket change for that. We have Obamacare. We have demonstrated weakness around the world. We have generationally thief occurring --


JONES: Again, this is your whole strategy.

EHRLICH: Here's a deal, it's not a strategy.


JONES: But what is your strategy? You have no strategy for getting jobs for the country, no strategy for immigration. No strategy for anything. Your strategy is hope the president -- am I wrong?


EHRLICH: The next time I do this show, I'm bringing a couple hundred bills with me that Republicans have offered in the Senate --


EHRLICH: -- to show you.

BURTON: On the stimulus, last I checked, the economic is in fact growing. Jobs are getting added to the rolls. And I have to say that this Republican Party is a lot different than the one you ran, Speaker Gingrich, because Republicans back then were actually bringing why is to the table.

As Van is saying, the only ideas the Republicans have are Barack Obama should fail. Let's do everything we can do derail him.


GINGRICH: Let me ask you --

EHRLICH: Can I defend my friend here? You guys tortured him. You guys tried to demonize him every day, every second. So, don't fall for that, Speaker. BURTON: I was in high school.

EHRLICH: Not you, generically.

GINGRICH: I was going to blame Bill. Let me ask you a question.

Presidents can recover. And as you know, I believe they have enormous assets. Usually if they get in deep trouble, they recovered by getting a new team. Now, your former boss, Mr. Gibbs, who just had a great weekend --

BURTON: Got a good Saturday.

GINGRICH: -- in the Auburn victory.

He said something very clear today about what ought to be happening. I think we should look at it.


ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I do think it is -- it will be inexplicable if somebody involved in the creation of the Web site doesn't get fired.


GINGRICH: So, you know the team. If you were there right now, who would you recommend gets fired (ph)?


BURTON: Well, the way you phrase that question --


GINGRICH: I'm making the serious point, this is a two-month -- billion dollars according to Bloomberg, two-month-long -- you can't blame the Republicans. This is a two-month-long public meltdown.

Look, shouldn't somebody be held accountable?

BURTON: Look, this is a big thing. Big things are hard to get done. Just like Part D, just like Medicare, just like Social Security, there are always bumps in the road along the way, and what we're seeing is, you know, some of the difficulty, and actually trying to bring change to the healthcare system.

Now, I will tell you what? Having worked at the White House, having worked for President Obama, that there is probably nobody madder than him that this has not gone as planned. And whether or not there's going to be accountability at a staff level where people lose their jobs, I don't know the answer to that.

GINGRICH: Let me just --

BURTON: But I do know the most important thing right now is fixing the problems and making sure that health care gets delivered in the way --

GINGRICH: Let me say one thing, anger without action means therapy, and it's not leadership.

BURTON: I'm pretty sure you've seen actions over course of the last couple weeks, if you look at how the Web site is doing today, you look at 575,000 people being able to go to the Web site and trying to enroll --


EHRLICH: I've seen Democrats running to the White House saying, hey, red state Democrats, help me, I'm in trouble, I voted for this, now you stuck me with it.

Quarterbacks, did you not move the ball, Mr. Speaker? What happens to them? They get benched.

I don't want to appear mean, and I don't think it's the secretary. She's got a huge job. But somebody somewhere had the job every day of waking up and reporting to someone else, this is the status, here's where we are, we're in trouble.

That person should be removed. It's not that hard.

JONES: Let me ask a question, you talk about moving the football, this time of thing. I am very curious of your assessment. You're a governor. You've been in Congress.

How do you assess where the Republicans are at this point? As best I can tell -- again, I'm not coming back to beat a dead horse. You guys are literally now a party of no. You literally are a party of rooting for failure. And I still have not heard from you how it is you deal with the branding problems that you guys have.

EHRLICH: In all seriousness, there are hundreds of bills that are just in the hamper, that Harry Reid won't take up. They are dead. The House passes. It can't get anywhere in the Senate.

But you're right. There is a communications problem and the historian here knows it very well. When you do not have the bully pulpit, it's much more difficult to communicate your message. The Democrats speak with voice, that guy. One voice.

Republicans speak with a lot of voices.

It's not just good enough. I agree conceptionally, it's not good enough to be the party of no. But you also have to communicate --

JONES: Yes. But right now, I don't think Ted Cruz is having any trouble being heard. Will you support Ted Cruz when he goes forward with the shutdown strategy again? What -- listen, you guys have spokespersons. The problem is the spokespersons are not attractive to the American people, especially, you're talking about your congressional leadership, who have been more interesting in wrecking Obamacare than helping Americans. EHRLICH: We're interested in stopping the person who had cancer treatments a few weeks ago who no longer has cancer treatments. We're interested in stopping this one-size-fits-all, you'll save 2,500 bucks, you'll have your doctor, you'll have your network.

And I won't use the term "lie". I don't think the president lie, I don't. I think he was told by his staff, this was going to happen. It was a staff failure. He repeated it. And now, these folks in the individual market are paying the price, and folks in the employer market, after January 1st, will pay the same price.

GINGRICH: Let me ask about that. There is a brief point where David Plouffe was asked how this was going to go. And his answer was, if I were a Democrat running for reelection in '14, his answer when he said, "Oh, I think this will all be fixed by 2017," that would not have encouraged me a lot. Now --

JONES: Slightly out of context.

GINGRICH: There are 29 days to the date when 5.5 million people who have had their insurance taken away by Barack Obama are faced with the question with whether or not they're going to have insurance. The Web site is not completely fixed. The insurance companies have no idea whether or not these people are registering.

Who's going to be held accountable on January 1st when that first person walks in to the emergency room thinking they have insurance, and they don't? Now who's accountable to that?

EHRLICH: How about that question (INAUDIBLE). Go ahead.


JONES: There are so many things wrong with that question.


BURTON: It is very difficult to, all of the difficult facts or misfacts.

GINGRICH: I like it --

EHRLICH: Difficult facts.


BURTON: But here's the fundamental question. You've got two different parties in Washington. And you've -- and the American people come 2014 will have a fundamental choice, right? It's a choice. And you're choosing Democrats, Republicans. Not the Democratic plan versus the absolutely perfect.

And Democrats are, individually, those red state Democrats, blue state Democrats, they actually are coming to the table and they've got ideas to fix some of the problems. Nobody thought when Obamacare got passed that it was going to be 100 percent perfect. GINGRICH: (INAUDIBLE) percent --

BURTON: But all of these things take time to --

GINGRICH: Forgive me. Stay here.

Next, the final question for both of our guests.

We also want you to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Can President Obama recover in his second term? Tweet yes or no using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.


GINGRICH: We're back with Bill Burton and Bob Ehrlich.

Now, it's time for the final question.

Bill, there's some talk about the impact of the two-term limit on presidents. Now, I'm curious in your opinion, if there was no term limit and presidents can run for more than two terms, do you think that Bill would run, or he'd still let Hillary run instead?


BURTON: I think should Hillary Clinton choose to run for president, she'd be an amazing one. But I would also say that despite all these problems, I bet you if President Obama could run again, nine out of 10 Democrats would want him, and he'd win. JONES: Very good.

And now to you. There has been a lot of talk about what has Obama accomplished? He hasn't accomplished anything in the past year. What does the GOP accomplish in the past year?

EHRLICH: We're the minority party. Harry Reid hasn't let us pass anything. Well, we've certainly improved in the polls an awful lot in the past few weeks.

JONES: The past couple weeks maybe, but seriously. Minority parties can put forward ideas. They can make things happen.

EHRLICH: And we have. And we're talking off air. If something -- if the president would do something dramatic, stop the regs.

JONES: Stop the what?

EHRLICH: Stop the regulations. Just stop it. And say, you know what, let's talk. Let's have a conversation, let's have a beer conference again. I think that might help his numbers and Republicans -- the onus would be on them.

BURTON: And even though a lot of that makes sense, even Republicans today just would not support it.

EHRLICH: I think they would. Make something dramatic. JONES: But I'll tell you what? It would be wonderful, and I think we could all work together. If we could get the IT regulations fixed, I think Democrats and Republicans should work together on that.

I want to thank Bill Burton and Bob Ehrlich for this discussion.

You can go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Can President Obama recover in his second term?

Right now, 43 percent of you say yes, 57 percent of you say no. The debate will continue online at CNN/crossfire, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich. Be sure to join us tomorrow. The heads of both political parties, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Reince Priebus, will be on the CROSSFIRE for a very rare joint interview.

JONES: It's going to be hot.