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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Coverage of Obama's Speech; Obama Signs Executive Orders on Equal Pay; Court Adjourns When Pistorius Breaks Down

Aired April 8, 2014 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Working just as hard, probably putting in more hours. But she was getting systematically paid less. And so she set out to make sure this country lived up to its founding. The idea that all of us are created equal. And when the courts didn't answer her call, Congress did.

The first time Lilly and I stood together in this room was my tenth day in office. And that's when we signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The first bill I signed into law. And some of the leaders who helped make that happen are here today, including Leader Pelosi, Senator Mikulski, and Congresswoman DeLauro.

And I want to thank all the members of Congress and all the state legislators who are here, and all the advocates who are here, because you all contributed to that effort. And I want to give a special thanks to the members of the National Equity Equal Pay Task Force who have done outstanding work to make workplaces across America more fair.

Now, we're here because today is Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day. And it's nice to have a day. But it's even better to have equal pay. And our job's not finished yet. Equal Pay Day means that a woman has to work about this far into 2014 to earn what a man earned in 2013. Think about that. A woman's got to work about three more months in order to get what a man got because she's paid less. That's not fair. That's like adding an extra six miles to a marathon. It's not right. It ain't right. It's not right and it ain't right.

America should be a level playing field. A fair race for everybody. A place where anybody who's willing to work hard has a chance to get ahead. And restoring that opportunity for every American, men and women, has to be a driving focus for our country.

Now, the good news is today our economy's growing. Business has created almost 9 million new jobs over the past four years. More than 7 million Americans have signed up for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. That's a good thing too.

And I know it's Equal Pay Day and not Obamacare day, but I do want to point out that the Affordable Care Act guarantees free preventive care, like mammograms and contraceptive care for tens of millions of women, and ends the days when you could be charged more just for being a woman when it comes to your health insurance. And that's true for everybody. That's just one more place where things were not fair. We'll talk about dry-cleaners next, right, because I know that -- I don't know why it costs more for Michelle's blouse than my shirt.

But we've got to make sure that America works for everybody. Anybody who's willing to work hard, they should be able to get ahead. And we've got to build an economy that works for everybody, not just those at the top. Restoring opportunity for all has to be our priority. That's what America's about. It doesn't matter where you started off, what you look like, you work hard, you take responsibility, you make the effort, you should be able to get ahead.

And we've got to fight for an opportunity agenda, which means more good jobs that pay good wages and training Americans to make sure that they can fill those jobs and guaranteeing every child a world class education and making sure the economy rewards hard work for every single American. And part of that is fighting for fair pay for women, because when women succeed, America succeeds. When women succeeds, America succeeds. It's true. I believe that. It's true. It's true. It's true.

Now, here's the challenge. Today, the average full-time working woman earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. For African-American women, Latinas, it's even less. And in 2014, that's an embarrassment. It is wrong. And this is not just an issue of fairness, it's also a family issue and an economic issue because women make up about half of our workforce. And they're increasingly the breadwinners for a whole lot of families out there. So when they make less money, it means less money for gas, less money for groceries, less money for child care, less money for college tuition, less money's going into retirement savings.

And it's all bad for business because our economy depends on customers out there. And when customers have less money, when hard working women, you know, don't have the resources, you know, that's a problem. When businesses lose terrific women talent because they're fed up with unfair policies, that's bad for business. They lose out on the contributions that those women could be making.

When any of our citizens can't fulfill their potential for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent or their character or their work ethic, we're not living up to our founding values. We don't have second class citizens in this country, and certainly not in the workplace.

So tomorrow, the Senate has the chance to start making this right by passing a bill that Lilly already eluded to, the Paycheck Fairness Act. They've got a chance to do the right thing. And it would put sensible rules into place, like making sure employees who discuss their salaries don't face retaliation by their employers. And here's why this is important. There are women here today who worked in offices where it was against the rules for employees to discuss salaries with one another. And because of that, they didn't know they were being paid less than men, just like Lilly didn't know, for doing the exact same work. For some, it was years before they found out. And even then it only happened because a manager accidentally let it slip. Or, as in Lilly's case, a sympathetic co-worker quietly passed a note. She only found out she earned less than her male colleagues for doing the same work because somebody left an anonymous note. We can't leave that to chance. And over the course of Lilly's career, she lost more than $200,000 in salary, even more in pension and Social Security benefits, both of which are pegged to salary, simply because she was a woman.

And Lilly and some of the other women here decided it was wrong. Set out to fix it. They went to their bosses. They asked for a raise. That didn't work. They turned to the law. They filed suit. And for some, for years after waiting and persisting, they finally got some justice.

Well, tomorrow the Senate could pay tribute to their courage by voting yes for Paycheck Fairness. This should not be a hard proposition. It should not be that complicated.

Now, so far, Republicans in Congress have been gumming up the works. They've been blocking the progress on this issue and, of course, other issues that would help with the economic recovery and help us grow faster. But we don't have to accept that. America, you don't have to sit still. You can make sure that you're putting some pressure on members of Congress about this issue. And I don't care whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, if you're a voter, if you've got a daughter, you've got a sister, you've got a mom -- I know you've got a mom -- this is something you should care about.

And I'm not going to stand still either. So in this year of action, I've used my executive authority whenever I could to create opportunity for more Americans. And today I'm going to take action, executive action, to make it easier for working women to earn fair pay. So first I'm going to sign an executive order to create more pay transparency by prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay with each other. All right. Pay secrecy fosters discrimination. And we should not tolerate it. Not in federal contracting or anywhere else.

Second, I'm signing a presidential memorandum directing the Department of Labor and our outstanding Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, to require federal contractors to provide data about their employee compensation so pay discrimination can be spotted more easily.

Now, you know, I want to be clear that there are great employers out there who do the right thing. And there are plenty of employers out there who are absolutely certain that there's no pay discrimination happening in their offices. But then sometimes when the data's laid out, it paints a different picture. Many times they then do everything they can to fix the problem and so we want to encourage them to fix these problems if they exist by making sure that the data's out there.

So everybody who cares about this should pay attention to how the Senate votes tomorrow on this Paycheck Fairness Act because the majority of senators support this bill. But two years ago, a minority of Senate Republicans blocked it from getting a vote. Even worse, some commentators are out there saying that the pay gap doesn't even exist. They say it's a myth. But it's not a myth, it's math. You can look at - you can look at the paychecks. You can look at the stub. I mean, Lilly Ledbetter didn't just make this up. The court, when it looked at the documents said, yes, yes, you've been - you've been getting paid less for doing the same job. Just the court then said, you know, it's been -- as Lilly said, it's been happening so long, you can't do anything about it anymore, which makes no sense and that's why we had to sign another bill.

It's basic math that adds up to real money. It makes a real difference for a lot of Americans who are working hard to support their families. And, of course, the fact that we've got some resistance from some folks on this issue up on Capitol Hill just fits with this larger problem, this vision that the congressional Republicans seem to be continually embracing. This notion that, you know what, you're just on your own, no matter how unfair things are.

You see it in their budget. The budget the Republicans in Congress just put forward last week. It's like a bad rerun. It would give massive tax cuts to households making more than $1 million a year, force deep cuts to things that actually help working families, like early education and college grants and job training, and, of course, it includes that, you know, novel idea of repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Fiftieth time they've tried that, which would mean the more than 7 million Americans who have done the responsible thing and signed up to buy health insurance, they'd lose their health insurance and the 3 million young adults who have stayed on their parent's plan, they no longer have that available. Take us back to the days when insurers could charge women more just for being a woman on minimum wage.

Three out of four Americans support raising the minimum wage. Usually when three out of four Americans support something, members of Congress are right there. And, yet, here, Republicans in Congress are dead set against it. Blocking a pay raise for tens of millions of Americans. A majority of them women. This isn't just about treating women fairly, this is about Republicans seemingly opposing any efforts to even the playing field for working families.

And, you know, I was up in Michigan last week and I just asked, I don't understand fully the theory behind this. I don't know why you would resist the idea that women should be paid the same as men and then deny that that's not always happening out there. If Republicans in Congress want to prove me wrong, if they want to show that they, in fact, do care about women being paid the same as men, then show me. They can start tomorrow. They can join us in this, the 21st century, and vote yes on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Vote yes.

And if anybody is watching or listening, if you care about this issue, then let your senators know where you stand, because America deserves equal pay for equal work. This is not something we're going to achieve in a day. There's going to be a lot of stuff that we've got to do to close the pay gap. We've got to make it possible for more women to enter high-paying fields that up until now have been dominated by men, like engineering and computer science.

Women hold less than 6 percent of our country's commercial patents. That's not good enough. We need more parents and high school teachers and college professors encouraging girls and women to study math and science. We need more businesses to make gender diversity a priority when they hire and when they promote. Fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies have women at the helm. I think we'd also agree we need more women in congress.

(APPLAUSE)

Fewer than 20 percent of congressional seats are held by women. Clearly, Congress would get more done if the ratio was evened out a little bit, so we got to work on that. And we've all got to do more to make our workplaces more welcoming to women, because the numbers show that even when men and women are in the same profession and have the same education, there's still a wage gap, and it widens over time.

So, we're going to keep making the case for why these policies are the right ones for working families and businesses, and this is all going to lead up to this first ever White House summit on working families on June 23rd.

Equal pay is not just an issue for American families. It's about whether we're willing to build an economy that works for everybody, and whether we're going to do our part to make sure our daughters have the same chances to pursue their dreams as our sons, and whether or not we're willing to restore to the heart of this country that basic idea you can make it, no matter who you are, if you try.

And that's personal for me. I've said this before. I've got two daughters, and I expect them to be treated just like anybody's sons.

I think about my single mom working hard, going to school, trying to raise two kids, all at the same time. I think about my grandmother trying to work her way up through her career and hitting the glass ceiling. And I've seen how hard they've worked. I've seen how they've sucked it up. And, you know, they put up with stuff and they don't say anything.

And they -- they'll just take care of their family, and they take care of themselves, and they don't complain a lot, you know, but at a certain point, we have the power to do something about it for the next generation. And this is a good place to start.

So, for everybody out there who's listening, ask your senator where you stand on paycheck fairness. If they tell you that there's not a pay gap out there, you tell them to look at the data, because there is. It's time to get this done, and I'm going to do my small part right now by signing these executive orders.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And the president sits down to sign both an executive order and an executive memorandum, you could effectively say, "Happy National Equal Pay Day," unless you're one of those people out there who happens to be a woman who across the board on average is earning 77 cents next to the guy beside you who's making a dollar.

So, in the president's words, it's about building an economy that works for everybody because women make up nearly half of our nation's workforce.

And one of those people working right now is Jim Acosta, our senior White House correspondent, standing by live at the White House. This is a critical part of the president's plan all along. This was -- he came into office talking about fair pay. He worked this into the State of the Union address. Take it from there, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ashleigh. This was his very first bill that he signed into law back in 2009. He's still swinging away at this issue.

And, you know, you saw these executive orders signed in just the last couple of seconds there, targeting, basically, federal contractors, basically saying that federal contractors cannot retaliate against employees who ask about pay and whether or not they're being paid equally and instructing the Labor Department to start doing some studies on this.

So, the president using his pen, as he's been trying to say lately, using his pen and his phone to take executive action when Congress won't move on his agenda.

But one thing that we should point out, and I think it was striking in the last several minutes as the president was wrapping up his remarks, Ashleigh, the president got personal there, talked about his daughters, talked about his single mother, saying that his daughters shouldn't be treated any different than in the workplace than anybody else's sons, and talked about his single mother, being raised by a single mother and what that's like, basically trying to show empathy with other single mothers out there.

We should point out, as the president was making these comments, he was sort of making this pivot to the midterm elections, giving this midterm election pitch, going after Republicans and saying that they're basically against all efforts to level the playing field for working families.

And he's making the case today that these efforts do go toward that effort, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right, Jim Acosta, live for us, as we see the hugs, the kisses, and the wrap-up of this event.

We're going to move on to a couple of big, top stories we're working on at this hour.

The make-or break moment in the Blade Runner murder trial, Olympian Oscar Pistorius tearfully telling what drove him to shoot his girlfriend through the bathroom door and then breaking down as he describes what he saw on the other side. But do his details really add up? It's also a make-or-break time in the hunt for Flight 370, those fading pings, more than 50 hours since search teams heard the last one. And this is Day 32 for those pinger batteries. Could today be their last hope?

We've got more on those stories just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: For the first time, we're hearing from Olympian Oscar Pistorius about the night he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The prosecution has argued that he shot her on purpose after a fight. But Pistorius says he believed that she was a burglar. The Blade Runner claims it all started when he heard a window open in the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Listen to him as he describes it in his own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSCAR PISTORIUS, OLYMPIAN ACCUSED OF MURDERING HIS GIRLFRIEND: That's the moment that everything changed. I thought that there was a burglar that was gaining entry into my home. The first thing that ran through my mind was I needed to arm myself, that I needed to protect Reeva and I, that I needed to get my gun.

When I entered the passage where the closet is to the bathroom, it was at that point that I was just overcome with fear, and I started screaming and shouting for the burglar or the intruders to get out of my house.

I heard a door slam, which could have only been the toilet door, so I started screaming again for Reeva to phone the police. And then I heard a noise from inside the toilet, what I perceived to be somebody coming out of the toilet.

Before I knew it, I'd fired four shots at the door. My ears were ringing. I couldn't hear anything. So I shouted. I kept on shouting for Reeva to phone the police.

I retreated back to the point where I got to the corner of the bed, and -- on the bed, trying to lift myself up. I was talking to Reeva. And it was nobody. No one responded to me. I flung the door open, I threw it open, and I sat over Reeva and I cried. And I don't know how long. I don't know how long I was there for.

She was (inaudible) --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'll take an adjournment. Court will adjourn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: It's just an unbelievable moment in that courtroom, Oscar Pistorius just simply breaking down in sobs, unable to continue, and the court decided to adjourn for the day, as well. The reason you're not seeing Oscar Pistorius as he's testifying is because he's got the right to do that. All of witnesses can opt to be on camera or off camera.

But everybody inside the courtroom, including our own Robyn Curnow, was able to see that, up close and personal. And Robyn Curnow joins me live now to talk about that moment.

Look, for us watching on television, it's just -- it's gut-wrenching. It's horrible to hear his voice. Can you give me a little bit more color and fill out the richness of what it must have been like in that courtroom?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you didn't really need to see anything, did you? It was just so powerful, hearing his voice. So, being in the courtroom, it was. It was very dramatic. It was gut- wrenching. It was very difficult, being part of the gallery.

Even though you don't have a personal affiliation with either side, you really got a sense of the personal drama, the personal tragedy that has been playing out over the past year, whether or not you think he's guilty or not.

I think what was also so key, you know, Oscar Pistorius initially tried to tell his story coherently. He turned his body to the judge. He looked her in the eye. He was quite composed most of the day.

It was just when he hit that really crucial part of the story about what happened and what he felt and saw when he realized it was Reeva, and, as you saw, I mean, he just absolutely collapsed, howling, inconsolable.

And the key thing is that he's got to get himself together and come back and finish telling his story. He has a legal responsibility to do that.

BANFIELD: Robyn Curnow, live for us, thank you, from Pretoria. I do appreciate that.

I want to get the LEGAL VIEW on this right now with CNN's legal analyst Paul Callan and Sunny Hostin.

All right, you two, up until now, I've been pretty brutal on this. I've watched a lot of court cases as you both have in your history. I have felt all along that he was extraordinarily reckless at the very least.

And then, seeing this, it felt like it was a bit of a game change; I've got to be honest. Emotion, though, does not overcome fact, so, Paul, I'll start with you. Problems?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, first of all, I agree that this is not a premeditated murder case. It's not a planned murder. This is -- if it's a crime, it's a crime of passion, of extraordinary passion. And murders often are crimes of passion.

I think you could say --

BANFIELD: But they're still called murders. They're not called accidents.

CALLAN: Well, this is -- there's a charge here called culpable homicide, and that includes reckless conduct as a possibility. This behavior on the witness stand, one could say, indicates that here is somebody who is so passionate, who is so controlled by his emotions that he's blinded by it.