Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Beck: Denying Climate Change is a "Sin"; 1.8 Million Pounds of Beef recalled E. Coli Risk; Obama Speaks about Veterans Affairs Scandal

Aired May 21, 2014 - 10:30   ET

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


REV. EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: The church for a long time now has been talking about climate change as a moral issue. John Paul II way back in 1990 was talking about it. Benedict followed. We know that Benedict even said it's a sin against the commandments to be a polluter against the environment.

And so we have to see the earth as we're stewards of creation. We need to care for it this is God's gift to us. And if you abuse it, then you're really maligning that gift.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You know, it's easy to blow off comments like Pat Sajak's tweet but tweets like that resonate among some people. So Father Beck what would you like to say to Pat Sajak?

BECK: Well what's interesting to me is the racist-unpatriotic, how you link the two. I think the argument could be made that it is more racist to deny climate change because those being affected by it are the poor. The global poor are affected most by climate change, not the rich who can afford air conditioning and can get around all the deleterious effects of climate control -- climate change.

COSTELLO: Father Edward Beck and Reverend Mitchell Hescox thank you so much for both being here. I appreciate it.

REV. MITCHELL HESCOX, PRESIDENT EVANGELICAL ENVIRONMENTAL NETWORK: You're welcome. God bless.

BECK: Thank you.

COSTELLO: We are just minutes away from President Obama. He's expected to speak about the VA scandal after meeting with VA Secretary Shinseki. You can watch it live right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Checking some "Top Stories" for you at 34 minutes past the hour. We're just minutes away from hearing from President Obama on the Veterans Administration scandal. The President's remarks will follow his meeting this hour with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. Shinseki is under fire over cooked books surrounding care failures at VA hospitals. Eight former players are now suing the National Football League claiming the league put profit over their health. The players say they were given huge amounts of painkillers during their careers just so they could continue playing while hurt. And they say were never told about the side effects or the risks associated with those pills. No comment yet from the NFL.

A scary sight in suburban Minneapolis. A school bus catches fire no students onboard the bus. But take a look at that. The driver actually was able to exit safely. Investigators believe the fire may have started in the engine compartment.

A nationwide recall now in effect for nearly two million pounds of ground beef that could be infected with the dangerous E. coli bacteria. Federal officials say the recall now includes restaurants as well as distributors around the country. They're recalling 1.8 million pounds of ground beef. That's a whole lot of beef.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is tracking it.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a lot of beef.

COSTELLO: It makes me sick to think about it.

GUPTA: You know it's interesting. The one good thing in all of this is this happened pretty fast. It seems like sometimes it's been weeks tracking these food outbreaks. May 12th is when they identified the first person who became ill from this E. coli by May 19th there was this recall was in place. So it did work pretty quickly. But it is extensive four states now they've identified sick people. We have a map there showing roughly to get an idea of where in country they first started focusing their efforts.

But as you point out, it's pretty much shifted now to the country. And Carol part of the reason is this distribution centers right. They're not going to all of these individual retail stores or restaurants. They go to these big distribution centers and centers of the country and then it goes from there. They thought it was just restaurants but it could be on store shelves as well.

COSTELLO: The most disturbing part is they don't know which restaurants.

GUPTA: I know and that's one of the challenges with tracking these sort of things. But first normally you track backwards from sick patients and trying to figure out all the various steps where they may have gotten their food.

But now you're seeing it going forward. Where does all this food eventually end up and do you have middle men who are then selling it to other people and selling it to other retailers? They can be difficult to trace.

But there is a lot number with this particular beef. I think we have the lot number. You put it up. You see it there. If you have ground beef in your refrigerator. Look for that. If it says on that, throw it away. Don't take any chances, don't think you can cook it away. You know just throw that particular beef away.

COSTELLO: And I'm sure the restaurants will be looking too. But I'm not going to be eating -- I'm just not going eat hamburger in a restaurant especially in those four states affected.

GUPTA: Yes you know when things like this happen, it automatically they do the recall. So you're not going to have that stuff on shelves or in restaurants because of a shelf life to it, it's going to be out of there pretty quickly.

But you know it does raise concerns and it raises a level of scrutiny that you know maybe some of that is deserved. So that's why I point out that in this case it did seem to work fast. It happened. That's obviously bad news. But they're getting a little better at tracking this sort of thing.

COSTELLO: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.

GUPTA: You got it.

COSTELLO: As I told you earlier, President Obama speaks in just minutes about the VA scandal. This comes right after a meeting with VA Secretary Shinseki. We'll bring the President's comments to you live right here on CNN in just about ten minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: In just about five minutes President Obama will speak -- he'll speak on the VA hospital controversy so I'm going to hand it over to my colleagues in Washington. Jake Tapper is here. So Jake, take it away.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Thanks Carol. That's right. As you just said we are waiting for President Obama to speak. He's just wrapped up a meeting with Veterans Affairs Department the Secretary Eric Shinseki. Shinseki is under fire following reports that some VA hospitals had been cooking the books, hiding wait times as long as two years for some veterans and also that a number of patients may have died while waiting for medical treatment. That information first revealed here on CNN.

We are following the story with White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski and also chief political analyst Gloria Borger. Michelle I want to go to you because there's some breaking news we just learned about the head of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Hospital, the director Sharon Helman.

She's been put on leave following this controversy following CNN's Drew Griffin's report but we have some breaking news about her. What is that Michelle?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes that she received a bonus. Just got this bonus of more than $8,000 and got a bonus the prior year. so this just compounds the embarrassment in the light of you know just months after that she's put on leave along with others at this same hospital. The same place where more than 40 veterans it's been said have died while they were awaiting care.

I mean we don't know what was the causality there but that's really been the kind of Ground Zero for this story where it all started coming to light and that like I said it compounds the embarrassment. I mean the administration has repeatedly stood behind Shinseki and repeatedly talked about his achievements so to hear that one of the people at the very center of this scandal was getting bonuses two years in a row, it doesn't look good.

It's just more fodder for people to jump on this and say why we're just going on so long since this administration knew about these problems, the VA itself knew about these exact types of problems for so long. Makes it much harder to say hey, there was a cover-up at some level. We didn't really know the extent of it. I mean, the whys just keep growing by the day as the scandal expands -- Jake.

TAPPER: And we have Drew Griffin on the phone from Phoenix. Drew Griffin of course is CNN reporter. He's live. I'm sorry -- not on the phone. Drew Griffin of course is the reporter who broke this story three weeks ago about the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Hospital.

Now Drew, the whistle-blower you spoke with, the Doctor Sam Foot, he said that at least 40 patients died while waiting for treatment. Tell us your reaction to the news that the director of the Phoenix VA Sharon Helman received a bonus last month. This is of course in addition to money she received as a bonus in 2013.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Yes I mean it just adds to the outrage here in Phoenix and quite frankly across the country. This was the same month that these allegations broke. This is April. In that same month, Sharon Helman gets an $8,493 bonus. This is at the same time that the office of inspector general is out here in Phoenix trying to determine if quite frankly Sharon Helman and others at the hospital were trying to destroy evidence.

That is a very strong allegation, which is why she may have been removed and placed on administrative leave. Our sources are telling us that it is a fact that there were administrators in that hospital tried to hide that information just before the OIG investigators were coming out here and now we learn that the VA is handing out bonuses to this person at the same time the allegations are being made.

I think it -- you know don't know what the explanation is because obviously we haven't had a direct communication with the VA brass back in Washington. But it's confusion at the least and it's just outrage at the worst.

TAPPER: If you're just tuning in, we're waiting for President Obama who will deliver remarks about the V.A. hospital scandal after a meeting with the current V.A. Department Secretary, retired General Eric Shinseki. President Obama meeting with him right now; we're expecting his remarks any minute.

I want to go to our political analyst, Gloria Borger. Gloria, certainly there are hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers at the V.A. and the community health centers that tend to veterans who are honorable and who work for low wages and who do their best to help our nation's heroes. But there is -- it does seem some problem when it comes to the system and when it comes to accountability for administrators.

We hear this news breaking right now that director of the Phoenix V.A. which is beleaguered and she's on administrative leave right now, that she got this bonus from the V.A. This comes on the heels of other stories of other administrators at V.A. hospitals around the country who had spotty reputations and who had accusations of misconduct at their hospitals who also received bonuses. How does this -- how does President Obama address this in this scandal?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, this is a real problem for him, Jake because as you know, the President has been speaking about the V.A. and how he needed to build what he called a 21st century V.A. since he began running for president in 2007. It's been a huge issue for him. It's been very important to him. It's been very important to Mrs. Obama, to Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president's wife. They put these issues taking care of our veterans front and center.

And so I think this is a very difficult issue for him and it also goes to the core of his presidency in another way, Jake. And that is that this is a president who has been talking about how government can be reformed and it can work well for you. Republicans say he's a big government president but if you look at the rollout of health care reform which was another governmental solution on health care -- that got botched. Questions about what the President knew on the IRS controversy. This seems to just sort of be one more layer that he has to peel away when he is trying to defend government as something that can actually work well on behalf of all American citizens and it's been a problem for him throughout his presidency.

I think this particular issue with the V.A., Jake, is really very personal for him.

TAPPER: Michelle Kosinski at the White House. One of the reasons we were told President Obama picked retired General Eric Shinseki to become the Secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs was in addition to his managerial experience as former chief of staff of the army, this was somebody who (AUDIO GAP 10:48:09 to 10:50:40)

KOSINSKI: -- as the White House has described him and as Shinseki said that he himself was -- Jake.

TAPPER: I want to bring in the former special assistant to the V.A. Secretary, Darin Selnick. He's also senior veterans affairs advisor for the group Concerned Veterans for America. Mr. Selnick, thanks so much for joining us. What do you and your organization want to hear from President Obama today?

DARIN SELNICK, CONCERNED VETERANS FOR AMERICA: Well, what we want to hear is that the V.A. is going to be accountable. And truthfully although I'm the last person normally to want Shinseki -- the secretary fired, I worked for three of them -- he's just not done anything. He's just -- I talked to veterans and staff at the V.A. facilities, he's like the ghost secretary. No one hears from him. No one talks to him. He sets the tone. The tone he's set is being part of the problem and not part of the answer.

So he needs to go. I hope the President will say that. I also hope the President will support in congress the V.A. Management Accountability Act which is being voted on today which will give a secretary whether it's Shinseki or any secretary the ability to actually fire these incompetent destructive career employees that are the bad apples that are ruining it for good employees.

TAPPER: To play devil's advocate for one second, those who defend General Shinseki would argue that the wait time problem, the backlog, those have been reduced. But I want to ask you, you worked for the V.A. in the previous administration. A lot of these problems were taking place then as well in terms of long wait times and in terms of patients not being able to get the care they needed when they need. What was it -- how was it treated during the Bush years when you were at the V.A.?

SELNICK: Well, my experience is that the department wasn't as bad. I was there during the transition with the Obama team and my office transitioned and we were given explicit orders from President Bush to put everything on the table -- the good, the bad and the ugly and everything that was going on and everything that needed to be fixed and that's come out that Dr. Katzman (ph) and his staff did that in the transition.

So you know, when you're a lame duck, there's only certain things in the V.A. bureaucracy freezes up because they're waiting for the next group. These problems are systemic. They go across administrations. That's why the V.A. needs fundamental reform.

But what happened was -- and I've read the memo, the nine-page memo. This should have stopped. I mean in 2010, the nine-page memo came out. It was cease and desist order to all directors to all the medical center directors and told them what the problems were and told them to stop it and root it out and they didn't do it. Instead they just let it go. That for me shows that they either just didn't care or they didn't know what to do and that shows a level of incompetence.

It's more than Shinseki, it's more than Petzel. It's an epidemic failure of leadership in the V.A. that needs to be rooted out and fixed.

TAPPER: Darin, stay with us. I want to go to the phone. We have the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Chairman Jeff Miller, congressman, Republican from Florida. Congressman, thanks for joining us. What do you want to hear from President Obama today?

REP. JEFF MILLER, (R-FL), VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I want to hear him take responsibility and say they're going to restore accountability and transparency within the department and what we're finding now is every rock that we turn over, we are finding that there is a problem. Just 30 minutes ago I finally got confirmation from the central office that the Phoenix director received an $8,500 bonus last month while there was an open IG investigation into Phoenix and they're trying to say that it was a low level person made an administrative error that resulted in the payment to the director. This has got to stop.

TAPPER: What are the biggest problems? How does one solve the problem that the V.A. poses right now? Obviously these are systemic problems. There are as I'm sure you said before, I've said earlier today, hundreds of thousands of employees of the veterans administration hospitals -- more than 300,000, most of them assuredly are good people doing the best work they can for not great wages. What is the problem? How would you attack it?

MILLER: The most important thing is for the department to be able to use the very things that congress has provided them and that is the authority to go outside of the system to provide the healthcare for veterans when they need it and where they need it. They will not use fee basis care in a timely fashion and unfortunately it's causing harm to the veteran community.

The Phoenix hospital says that they feed out $8 million worth of care last year for the veterans in that area and that's a good thing. They look at it as a bad thing because they say that they took an $8 million hit to their budget instead of saying we provided $8 million worth of care for the veterans.

When the new policy was instituted last year, sir, to make it so any new veteran seeking medical care would have to get an appointment within 14 days. There were people sounding an alarm saying the V.A. system is not prepared and cannot meet that requirement and now we hear stories of these fake lists so that the fact people could not get health care within 14 days was hidden from the V.A., from the federal government. Was it a mistake for them to institute that new policy?

MILLER: I think it probably was. Look, if you set the metric that you have to meet, folks are going to find a way to manipulate the numbers to make their numbers look good. Nothing wrong with saying we can't do it in 14 days. We have to have 21 days. I think people want to be told the truth and not lied to as they have been over and over again. We're finding it now in hospitals all across the country. And it's just not acceptable to the veterans that they're supposed to serve.

TAPPER: Congressman, I noticed that you said -- we're getting two- minute warning for anybody wondering why someone is putting up bunny ears on the camera. We're getting the two-minute warning for President Obama to come out and address this V.A. scandal.

Congressman, I noticed when I asked you what you wanted President Obama say, you want him to take responsibility and to institute accountability. You did not call for resignation of General Shinseki. Why not?

MILLER: I've always said we have to wait until we have the final product as far as the investigation into Phoenix. But this problem is more than just Secretary Shinseki and once Secretary Shinseki leaves, you take away the situation that has applied pressure to the department. You give somebody then a six or year-long grace period in order to try to get things fixed and the secretary needs -- if he's mad as hell, he needs to show it.

TAPPER: In other words, you think keeping him onboard might actually be the best thing in this situation because now he has something to prove and he doesn't -- of course, he's been there for six years -- he doesn't have to learn his way around the neighborhood.

MILLER: What I'm saying is that I don't believe the problem is totally the secretary. I do know that they (inaudible) in the central office, they will not deliver him bad news that he needs in order to make an appropriate decision. It's much deeper than the secretary but I have always said let's wait until the investigation comes out and we know exactly what happened in Phoenix. We're having to get it drips and drabs. They nearly need to be transparent and get ahead of this thing and they're way behind the curve and it's harmed veterans.

TAPPER: How has your committee found getting information from the V.A. when you sought information about whether it's the situation in Phoenix or the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the Pittsburgh -- I'm sorry, here's President Obama right now. Let's take it live.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning, everybody. I just met with secretary Shinseki and Rob Nabors who I temporarily assigned to work with Secretary Shinseki and the V.A.

We focused on two issues: the allegations of misconduct at Veterans Affairs facilities and our broader mission of caring for our veterans and their families. As commander in chief, I have the honor of standing with our men and women in uniform at every step of their service. From the moment they take their oath to when our troops prepare to deploy to Afghanistan where they put their lives on the line for our security to their bedside as our wounded warriors fight to recover from terrible injuries.

The most searing moments of my presidency have been going to Walter Reed or Bethesda or Bagram and meeting troops who have left a part of themselves on the battlefield and their spirit and their determination to recover and often to serve again is always an inspiration. So these men and women and their families are the best that our country has to offer. They've done their duty and they ask nothing more than that this country does ours, that we uphold our sacred trust to all who have served.

So when I hear allegations of misconduct, any misconduct, whether it's allegations of V.A. staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books, I will not stand for it.