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GOP in a Civil War?

Aired February 13, 2014 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER; Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the GOP civil war. Republican leaders abandon Tea Party loyalists on the debt ceiling and place all their bets on Obama care. But will it pay off in November?

On the left, Sally Kohn. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, the message chiefs from both parties. With Congress on the line, are Republican leaders steering their party to victory or falling into a trap? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

SALLY KOHN, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Sally Kohn on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, the top spokesman for each party.

Now, Democrats are positively giddy about a win in Congress this week after successfully raising the nation's debt limit without even debating ways to lower our ballooning debt.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: It's encouraging some of my Republican colleagues seem to be regaining their grip on sanity this week. I believe many of my Republican colleagues would like to be reasonable; I really do believe that. If they weren't so beholden and afraid of their Tea Party overlords.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: They don't want to vote for these things because the Tea Party is so strong in their primaries, but they want it to pass because they know it will hurt the whole Republican Party if they keep following this extreme group off a cliff.


CUPP: OK. Not so fast, guys. Republicans have Democrats right where they want them. And here's why. Speaker Boehner is taking a page right out of the very successful Tea Party playbook. He wants to win 2014 by running on Obama care just like the Tea Party did in 2010. We all remember how that worked out. Democrats are falling into a GOP trap, not the other way around.

KOHN: You know, that sounds like a nice story, if only it were true. But let's not forget, congressional Republicans have the lowest approval rating in history and they can't shake this reputation, well- earned, of being the party of no.

CUPP: Hey, you don't have to like it, you just have to agree with it. And the American public does on this.

KOHN: You can't win elections if you don't actually do something.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Mo Elleithee, communications director for the Democratic National Committee, and Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee.

CUPP: That was a mouthful.

KOHN: So -- I know, I got it out, though. Thank you.

CUPP: Congrats.

KOHN: So Sean...


KOHN: ... every Republican pretty much acknowledged they needed to raise the -- the debt ceiling. Otherwise it was going to be catastrophic to our country. And yet Republicans in general were so reluctant to do it. Not only did they make Mitch McConnell and John Boehner walk the plank, embarrass them, basically, but they even made -- they had the mikes turned off on the Senate floor during the vote. Is this not an incredibly pathetic and embarrassing week for Republicans?

CUPP: Yes, Sean, is it?

SPICER: Well, gosh, you're right.

KOHN: Well, we're done here. All right.

SPICER: No, look, the fact of the matter is, is that I think what's embarrassing is the fact that every one of these Democrats who has been complicit in raising the debt, $6.7 trillion since Obama's in, think this is funny or not to be taken seriously.

The idea that they didn't want to -- not one Democrat -- we'll look at it the other way, which is not one Democrat wanted to join with Republicans and say, "I get it. The nation's spending is out of control. We are crippling not just the next generation but probably two generations." But that's not a big deal. It's just wrong.

And so the idea that Democrats don't care, didn't do one thing to say, "You know what? While we've got this opportunity, let's at least cut or reform or do anything..." Not one would...

KOHN: Wait a second. Historically, we don't do that around raising the debt ceiling. So that's fine. It's not that Democrats don't play ball.

SPICER: You don't do it with the ceiling. We don't do it. KOHN: Arguably the president's a deficit hawk, for crying out loud, but you don't hold the debt hostage. You don't hold the nation's full faith and credit hostage.

SPICER: Right. And when we tried to address Obama care, I think, last time, there's never a time that Democrats ever want to talk about it. These are the guys who believe -- they're like a guy who wants to lose weight on a diet. Hold on, hold on. This is the problem with Democrat, though. You guys are like the guy who wants to go on a diet and says, well, there's never a good time to talk about it. I just want to keep hanging out at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

At some point you have to address the root cause of gaining weight. Our deficit is getting bigger and bigger and fatter and fatter. Because you guys don't want to get out of the way of the all- you-can-eat buffet and keep gnawing at it.

CUPP: Get in here, Mo.

MO ELLEITHEE, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, DNC: You're living in some sort of winter wonderland right now. What we are simply asking is that Congress do its job. That Congress actually just simply do its job, which is to pay the bills it already racked up. Not to attach a bunch of conditions on it. Not to take us to the brink of default. Because that's not who we are as Americans. No, no, we are not a nation that skimps on our bills. That's not what we do.

Now, time and time again, Republicans, although historically, they never had a problem with raising the debt ceiling under a Republican president, but now that there's a Democrat in the White House, have been trying to slap condition after condition after condition.

Let me remind you that it was this president that sat down with leaders from Congress to try to come up with a grand bargain that would deal with our debt, that would deal with it both on the spending side and the revenue side, and it was Republicans that walked away from the table. So we don't need a lecture; we just need...


SPICER: Let's talk about this president. When he was campaigning in 2007 said that the $4 trillion under eight years of George Bush was, quote, "unpatriotic." Unpatriotic. That was what your president said -- our president said. And when he got into office, he ran up $6.7 trillion in 5 1/2 years, and you guys are sitting there saying Congress's job.

You know what Congress's job is? To do what's in the best interests of this country. Not just pay the bills. But at some point to say, enough, we need to address the bills.

CUPP: OK. And so let's look ahead and talk about the repercussions of what just happened this week. To me, Mo, it seems like without the Republican brinksmanship and obstructionism that you guys like to complain about, we kind of just took the wind out of your sails. How will you ever win another election if you don't have Republican obstructionism to blame for Obama's failed policy?

ELLEITHEE: I -- there isn't enough Republican obstructionism out there for us to run on. It's time and time again. They passed it this time only because Democrats helped them pass it this time. Not because Republicans did. Remember, 200 members of the House, Republican members of the House voted no. Not one member of the Senate actually voted to increase or to pay our bills.

CUPP: So even now this was Republican obstructionism?

ELLEITHEE: My point is, you know, they did it with Democratic help, but it got done after the last two times they tried this, bringing us to the brink. Shutting down the government.

CUPP: I know you want to talk about the last time. But we just got a clean debt ceiling.

ELLEITHEE: You don't get a gold star for doing your job.

CUPP: We just took it off the table for you guys. Don't you -- wouldn't you have preferred the Republicans...

ELLEITHEE: You know what I want to talk about?

CUPP: ... threaten to shut down the government again?

ELLEITHEE: I'll tell you what I want to talk about.

CUPP: I know what you want to talk about. Anything other than the question I just asked. Wouldn't you have...

ELLEITHEE: Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no. Do not get me wrong. Do not mistake me one little bit, S.E. I absolutely want to talk about the fact that we are trying to move forward with an economic opportunity agenda. Republicans refuse to talk about that, that Republicans refuse to talk about any...

CUPP: When we talk, Obama won't negotiate. Obama says...

ELLEITHEE: There are bipartisan bills on the speaker's desk he will not touch. Why? Because an obsession with the Affordable Care Act, because of this repeated brinksmanship on the -- I'm glad that there were a couple of Republicans out there that allowed Democrats to help carry them across...

SPICER: One thing I want to -- We're in the business of politics. And S.E.'s question and your question deal with politics. So let's look at it. One, we've got the second largest, the third largest majority in the House of Representatives, and we're likely to make gains. OK, so as far as...

ELLEITHEE: Under what scenario?

SPICER: Under, like, every one of them.

ELLEITHEE: Your internal polls? Those worked out well for you. KOHN: All right, all right.

SPICER: But my point is that I think even your boss and most Democrats have admitted that the House is not able to be taken back, right? And they're now playing for a Senate strategy. They're playing a prevent defense. So -- but let's look at who's critical to the Senate making -- keeping the -- the Dems keeping the Senate. Pryor, Landrieu, Kagan, every one of your folks is running from the president.


KOHN: Let's wait, wait. Let's take on this conversation. And I would note that Cook says that the Republicans -- that the Democrats may be enough to gain eight seats in the House.

But regardless, you know, let's go back to this issue, which I think is fascinating, right, which is you -- the Republicans put some cuts on the table. Couldn't even pass them, couldn't even get your own measure passed through the House.

And meanwhile, you have your own members of the party sabotaging themselves. This is so cannibalism going on in the Republican Party. Tell me, to be honest, the Republicans right now, it seems their biggest problem isn't President Obama and his policies and what you think he is or isn't willing to do. It's people like Ted Cruz, who are embarrassing the leadership of their own party.

SPICER: I think -- look, what you're seeing on our side and what Speaker Boehner put forward as a plan was to say we need 218 votes. We're all committed to cutting spending. But one of the biggest drivers of spending, frankly, is Obama care. It's already projected to add $2 billion to the deficit, and the CBO report that came out this week says it will add another 20...

KOHN: Is Ted Cruz helping your party or hurting it?

SPICER: Absolutely.

KOHN: How?

SPICER: Because he commits to ending Obama care, which is the largest driver in this deficit. It's something that we can all agree upon. There are days when Ted Cruz and other members of our party say, "I think we should go this way, and some folks think we should go this way."

But at the end of the day every one of those Republicans believes that we will end up in the same place.

KOHN: You don't have to listen to me. I know I'm just a liberal. But I think he embarrassed your party. But let's also look at what the Republican -- the conservative "Wall Street Journal" said just today in their editorial page about Ted Cruz.

They said Ted Cruz "had no alternative strategy if the bill had failed other than to shut down the government again and make Republicans even more unpopular. If Republicans fail again this November, a big reason will be their rump kamikaze caucus."

Again, how is this...

CUPP: By that logic if we win, can we give him free credit?

SPICER: At the end of the day, here's what I'm going to tell you, and I just said it before. But we are on the brink of taking back the Senate. Every one of their guys -- Pryor, Landrieu, Hagan -- are all running literally on the record saying, "I will not be in my state if he shows up." Senator Begich in Alaska said that he would drag him through the state to show him how his policies are negatively...

ELLEITHEE: I mean, I will put money -- I will put money -- maybe not a $10,000 bet, but I will put money on the table that Democrats pick up seats in the House, that we hold the Senate and we will pick up governorships. Why? Because the Republican brand is...

SPICER: You guys just went to all of your...

KOHN: All right, all right, we're going to hold it right there. Hold it right there. Let's compete over on popularity. That's a good conversation.

There's also one other problem with trying to run -- with Republicans trying to run exclusively on the failure of Obama care. The program's actually working.


KOHN: My warning to Republicans next.


KOHN: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Mo Elleithee and Sean Spicer.

So good news. The Republicans are falling right into Democrats' trap. While Republicans are busy beating up on Obama care, the president is fixing the kinks and getting America enrolled.

This week we learned that 3.3 million Americans have signed up for health care, and that's in addition to the millions who are already benefiting from the law. This news is so good that not even my Republican friends can continue to deny it.

Every single day that Obama care succeeds is one less day Republicans can use it as a punching bag. And every single day America -- every single American helped by Obama care is one less voter for the Republican Party.

Sean, let's be honest. You guys have tried to repeal and repeal and destroy this law. You can't anymore. It's working. Even you aren't trying to repeal it any more. What's your Plan B here? SPICER: Our Plan B is to take the Senate back and then really repeal it.

KOHN: And until then, let's assume...


SPICER: I think we're going to make -- I think what we've done is make it very clear to the American people. If you give us a Republican Senate, we will take care of this.

You have story after story in state after state of people paying higher premiums; not being able to keep their doctor and their plan dropping them; a condition that they had, whether it's cancer, some other fatal disease, that they're not getting the treatment that they want. So the stories abound from people throughout the country that this law's having a massively negative effect.

The CBO announced last week that you're talking about 2.5 fewer jobs that will be created another trillion dollars added to the deficit. So, I mean, part of this is to make sure that people understand what's going on with Obamacare and the negative consequences.

KOHN: Yes, you're supposed (ph) to give them facts.

ELLEITHEE: Come on, come on first of all, I want to thank you for giving me the YouTube moment that we'll blast out across the Internet how your plan is to win back the Senate and repeal, because people don't want repeal. There are very few metrics that are more clear right now than all the polling that says the American people do not want repeal. They want to strengthen.

SPICER: I can't find a poll that shows anyone likes this.

ELLEITHEE: Really? Because every poll I have seen says they like it more than the Republican Party.

SPICER: You must be reading the polls --

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Low bar, low bar.

ELLEITHEE: At the end of the day --

SPICER: Why are you guys running from it?

ELLEITHEE: If it's so bad, then why are you making up facts?


ELLEITHEE: No, no, no.

SPICER: I'll make an offer.

ELLEITHEE: The CBO report that you're saying is creating 2.5 million fewer jobs or however you put it, that's not at all what it said. What you guys are doing -- let's be clear, what you all are doing is railing against a law that the CBO just said, after it corrected your false attacks, that the CBO says is giving people more flexibility.

CUPP: That's the spin.


CUPP: What CBO said was that it disincentivized work.

KOHN: You want people's health care to be tied to their jobs. You want people to be forced --


SPICER: Is there a targeted race in the House and the Senate where you can name one person, just one, that's in a competitive race that says I will promote the fact that I ran on Obama care? Because all the people that I mentioned before, Pryor, Landrieu, Hagan, you name on the Senate side --

ELLEITHEE: I'll tell you what they'll say.

SPICER: The things they're trying to alter.


ELLEITHEE: Their message is very clear and they're unified in this.

SPICER: Yes, but --

ELLEITHEE: What they're saying is we want to fix it where it needs to be fixed but we don't want to repeal it. You do.

CUPP: OK. Let me --

ELLEITHEE: You want to move on so we can focus on other issues, you don't. I'll win that. We'll win that fight.

CUPP: What those other issues are, though, it seems to me, Mo, Democrats really want to focus on low priority issues like felony voter rights, the war on women, birth control for solar panels, whatever it is. Republicans want to focus on an issue that affects all Americans. And there's no bigger pocketbook issue than Obamacare and its affect on the economy. Why are you guys playing small ball?

ELLEITHEE: I mean, you're in the news business.

CUPP: Yes.

ELLEITHEE: I thought you had actually read some of these headlines how we're out there talking about education.

CUPP: Felony voter rights, the war on women, yes, minimum wage.

ELLEITHEE: Equal pay for women.

CUPP: Bigger issues that are small ball. They will not create jobs. They will not put people back to work. These are small ball issues. We're focusing on a big issue.

ELLEITHEE: You don't tell that to the family in the Midwest right now that is getting short changed on their income because the wife is not being paid what she is worth. It is a family economic issue. That's what we are focused on.

SPICER: People in the White House where the women don't get the same pay as the men there?

ELLEITHEE: You keep bringing that up. Every time we sit down, you bring that up and it's not true.

SPICER: It's actually a fact. It's actually true.

ELLEITHEE: No, no, no.

SPICER: Or education, the fact that Bill de Blasio is trying to get rid of charter schools that are popular up there, so you're taking less educational choice away from parents up there. I would encourage some of these issues show go forward, because on issue after issue --

ELLEITHEE: No, you wouldn't. On issue after issue, you guys are on the wrong side of the polls, on the wrong side of the message. That's why you were so singularly focused on repealing Obamacare. That's all you guys want to talk about.

SPICER: It deals with jobs, it deals with health care, it deals with the economy.

ELLEITHEE: It doesn't do any of that.

CUPP: Of course, it does deal with jobs.


SPICER: Candidates campaign on things that voters want. If that's such the case why aren't your guys out there talking about how proud they are to vote for Obamacare and how they're going to keep on --

KOHN: Sean, it's early. Here's an argument I'll make to you which is partly that it's early. No, no, no one here will argue that the rollout didn't stink, that it was botched. I would note that even before then, the majority of Americans, including the majority of Republicans, like the components in the law, right?

But regardless fast forward to November 2014, right, the law has been implemented. It has been working. Millions of Americans are seeing the real benefit.

CUPP: We have to suspend disbelief. KOHN: Your candidates will be up against a 24-hour reel of ads showing people's lives who were saved because of Obamacare. I want to know, you're a message guy, how are you going to respond to that? This real people's lives being helped.

SPICER: You're asking me to respond to something that's not going to occur.

KOHN: No, it already is occurring.

SPICER: No, it's not. No, it's not. So, I think we're doing pretty well with the strategy we've got, I appreciate your help on that, but I'm pretty confident we're going to do pretty well.

CUPP: And let me just point --


KOHN: Thank you for that. Thank you for that (INAUDIBLE) moment.

ELLEITHEE: -- and lost in both those elections?

SPICER: First of all, let's look at the state like Virginia, which you guys --

ELLEITHEE: Which you lost!

SPICER: We did.

And as soon as the issue became Obamacare, we close a 12-point deficit down to two.

ELLEITHEE: That's not true.

SPICER: It absolutely is true.

KOHN: Let me just stop them. If they want to run --

ELLEITHEE: That's a good point, please.

CUPP: Let me just point out, I just want to say for the record, doctors save people's lives, Obamacare does not. Just want to point that out. But let me just tell you, we have the trump card of all ads, it's already cut, it's ready to go, let's roll that ad.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will keep this promise, to the American people, if you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period.


(END VIDEO CLIP) CUPP: Mo, you're not concerned that the president lied, straight faced, to the American people on camera? You're not worried about having to defend that this year?

ELLEITHEE: The amount of lies that come from the other side --

CUPP: Well, let's talk about this lie.

ELLEITHEE: Let me be very clear about this. This is exactly what I'm talking about, when I say the American people want people who are going -- leaders who are going to focus on fixing the law, making the law work --

CUPP: So this lie doesn't matter?

ELLEITHEE: So when the president stood up and said, you know what, there is a problem here, I am going to fix it, people said, thank you. They didn't say, you know, stop it, we want to repeal it.

SPICER: Here's a question I have. The funny thing is, you always like to tout the number of people signing up. But when it comes to the number of people that were actually enrolled, how many people are paying for it? Are they actually able to get service?

CUPP: We've got to go.

If you thought the political debate was heated -- I thought it was -- next, we'll get to what's truly the dirtiest debate of the day, the New York City weather wars between Al Roker and Bill de Blasio. If you haven't heard about this, it's amazing. One of our outrages of the day.

It's also our "Fireback" question. Weigh in. Who do you side with the New York weather wars? Reply with Roker or de Blasio? I'm team Roker.

KOHN: I'm team de Blasio.

CUPP: Using #crossfire.

We'll have the results after the break.


KOHN: We're back with the DNC's Mo Elleithee and RNC's Sean Spicer.

Now, it's time for our outrages of the day.

So, I'm the mom of a kindergartner in a New York City public school. Today, NBC weatherman Al Roker decided to criticize New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for his decision to keep the public schools open in the snow. Roker took to Twitter and said, "Why are schools all around New York City closed. It's going to take some kid or kids getting hurt before this goofball policy get changed." Now, I've been in D.C. for a few days, I'm not going to second- guess the mayor, I am going to second-guess Al Roker, who should know for New Yorkers who aren't millionaire TV stars, if schools close, that means parents are missing work and in lots of cases not even getting paid. Plus over 700,000 kids in New York rely on schools for free, hot meals.

I'm outraged that Al Roker unleashed a blizzard of privilege and stuck his shovel where it doesn't belong.

CUPP: Don't mess with Al Roker, man.

KOHN: I just did.

CUPP: I like it.

OK. The snow didn't stop Hillary Clinton today. She and her daughter, Chelsea, were at an event for women and girls in New York. Now, the sexist anti-Hillary campaign hasn't even happened yet, but that isn't stopping Democrats from accusing Republicans of bashing the presumptive 2016 Democratic candidate, just because she has lady parts.

The evidence, you ask? Well, "The Daily Beast's" Sam Kleiner didn't like it when RNC chairman Reince Priebus promised to be very aggressive against Hillary on Benghazi, Obamacare, and the like. Apparently, very aggressive is dog whistle for woman-hating Neanderthal. Liberals in the media also didn't like it when Hillary was recently referred to as ruthless. Never mind that the comments derived from voters in a 1992 Clinton poll, not Republicans, but repeating it was apparently sexist.

"Newsday" columnist Ellis Henican declared, "If gender were flipped, it would be very different." Fascinating.

So, Democrats can call Chris Christie fat, George Bush Hitler, Sarah Palin, caribou Barbie, Michele Bachmann crazy, Tim Scott a dummy, and Nikki Haley the Sikh Jesus, but calling Hillary ruthless, now, that's a step too far. It's going to be a long two years.

KOHN: I've got to say, for the record, I think all those things that Republicans -- or the Democrats called all those people are offensive.

CUPP: Thank you, Sally.

KOHN: For the record. For the record.

SPICER: Finally, we come together.

CUPP: Thank you!

KOHN: It's nice to come together.

Anyway, and by the way, we asked about our "Fireback" question, team Roker, team de Blasio? SPICER: I'm with al on this. At the end of the day, you've got to put kids first. One kid gets hurt, that's not worth it. I get it, it's a challenge --

CUPP: All right, we've got to go, guys. Thanks to Mo Elleithee and Sean Spicer.

Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Who do you side with in the New York City weather wars? Right now, 77 percent of you replied Roker! That's right. Twenty-three percent replied de Blasio.

This debate continues online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

KOHN: From the left, I'm Sally Kohn.

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

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.