Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Interview With Congressman Robert Pittenger; Interview With New Jersey Senator-Elect Cory Booker; Washington Reopens; Interview with Senator-Elect Cory Booker of New Jersey; Obama Picks New Homeland Security Head; Plotting Against the Tea Party

Aired October 17, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It took 16 days, but those little luxuries like cancer research and inspecting food imports are getting back up and running.

I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

The national lead. In a rare display of actually getting something done, our elected officials reopened Washington for business today, but not, critics say, without a little something for themselves in return.

The politics lead. He's coming to Washington at a time when the American people could not be more sick of the games in this town. New Jersey senator-elect Cory Booker joins us fresh off his special election win last night.

And the world lead. One minute, it's just another day at the mall, the next, a life-and-death scramble as gunmen invade and open fire. Exclusive video that will take you inside the terrorist attack in Kenya like nothing else.

Good afternoon. And welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the national lead. I'm sorry your government was partially closed for more than two weeks and many of you weren't paid. Would some complimentary muffins make up for it? Vice President Joe Biden dropped off some baked goods at the EPA earlier today as furloughed workers made their way back in.

They were just a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of federal employees whose unplanned, unpaid 16-day vacation just came to an end. Washington reopened for business today now that the partial shutdown is over. And like a bunch of C students with a paper due, our elected officials waited until the last possible minute to cut a deal last night.

The two parties came to an agreement to fund the government through January 15 and raised the debt ceiling until February 7. If they had not raised the limit by today, the government would not have been able to borrow more money, which means they would have run out of the money they need to pay all of their bills.

Now the barriers around our monuments and national parks are being removed and our federal agencies are finally reopening. President Obama, while claiming there were no winners in this standoff, made it pretty clear whom he considers to be the losers in the same breath.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are no winners here. These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy. We don't know yet the full scope of the damage, but every analyst out there believes it slowed our growth.


TAPPER: House Speaker John Boehner, meanwhile, decided this was a good time to cut out of town. Olivier Knox of Yahoo! News, a frequent guest on THE LEAD, snapped a photo showing the speaker boarding a plane for Denver earlier today. And, as you can see, he decided to make this a casual Thursday, mom jeans of a sort.

The speaker had to rely on Democrats to help drag the deal through the House that originally came out of an amendment between the two party leaders in the Senate, Senators Harry Reid of Nevada and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Since there's a good chance you were asleep during the last minute wheeling and dealing, you might be surprised to learn what actually made it into that finished product.


TAPPER (voice-over): Great news. Panda Cam is back. More importantly, the federal government is open for business. But in order to get that compromise bill done, there were, of course, some shoehorned extras. Some conservatives cried pork after a $2 billion authorization for the Olmsted Lock and Dam project was added to the bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here on the Ohio River, on the Olmsted Lock and Dam project.

TAPPER: The money will continue to pay for this massive Army Corps of Engineers project on the Ohio River along Kentucky's border. The Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee, dubbed it the Kentucky kickback, blaming the addition on Kentucky's own Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I'm pleased to get this kind of firsthand briefing of a project that I and others have been working on providing the funds for.

TAPPER: McConnell has long supported the dam project. Here he is on a visit in 2009. But this morning, he fired back at critics on WVLK Radio in Lexington.

MCCONNELL: There was no earmark. The Army Corps of Engineers requested the Olmsted Lock funding. Both the House and Senate passed an authorization for it. Every single member of the Senate had a chance to review it and none asked for it to be taken out.

TAPPER: McConnell's negotiating counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, agreed last night.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: This is not an earmark. It saves the money -- the taxpayers lots of money.

TAPPER: It turns out, officials say, stopping and restarting the project would have cost over $200 million if the authorization had not gone through. Oh, and President Obama had the same provision to continue the project in his 2014 budget.

TOM SCHATZ, PRESIDENT, CITIZENS AGAINST GOVERNMENT WASTE: Rather than talking about shutting down the government, it's time to talk about shutting down the waste.

TAPPER: Tom Schatz is president of citizens against government waste.

SCHATZ: Adding a provision to fund a dam opens the door for similar projects in the next C.R. This project has tripled in cost. It's behind schedule and if regular order had prevailed, it's unclear whether that would have been funded at all in the normal energy and water appropriations bill.

TAPPER: Other additions to the bill to reopen the government include $175,000 which will be paid to the widow of Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died last year. Such a payment is standard practice, but it might be worth noting Lautenberg was one of the wealthiest members of Congress. "Roll Call" reported he was worth more than $50 million in 2011.

And, finally, let's call this the Edward Snowden effect. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board will get $3.1 million. They are a White House oversight group set up to guard Americans' right to privacy against overreach by government cyber-intelligence.


TAPPER: Senator John McCain did not mince words about some of these added provisions. He told The Daily Beast -- quote -- "These people are like alcoholics. They can't resist taking a drink. It's ridiculous. It's absolutely ridiculous. It shows that there are people in this body who are willing to use any occasion to get an outrageous pork barrel project done at the cost of millions and billions of dollars. It's disgusting."

So how did these extras get added on and, perhaps more importantly, where do we go from here?

Here to give us an inside view on the negotiations, Congressman Robert Pittenger, Republican from North Carolina. He serves on the House Committee on Financial Services and he voted for this deal.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

How did these funds for this dam in Kentucky, how did they get attached, and does that concern you at all?

REP. ROBERT PITTENGER (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, Jake, I wasn't part of that negotiation process.

I will say to you that perception wise, it would be far better to go through the normal process of legislation. But, really, the big issue on the table right now that should be of concern to every American is the $17 trillion debt and $60 trillion of unfunded liabilities.

That weight has enormous implications for our future. If you were to talk to Peter Orszag, who was the budget writer for Mr. Obama for four years, or to Erskine Bowles, who I have known for over 20 years, or Paul Ryan, they will all tell you the same thing. Until we get our fiscal house in order and really redirect the trajectory of our spending, we will end up collapsing like Greece.

That's what we need to be about. That's what we have got to focus on.

TAPPER: Right. Let's talk about that. President Obama today said that he is ready to move on to some real issues. Let's play some of that sound.


OBAMA: Passing a budget, immigration reform, farm bill, those are three specific things that would make a huge difference in our economy right now.


TAPPER: Let's talk about passing a budget. House and Senate Democrats and Republicans are going to meet to discuss the nation's finances. President Obama has said he wants a big deal to reduce the deficit and start chipping away at the national debt. He wants -- he says he's willing to include trimming social safety net programs or entitlements, but that Republicans need to be willing to raise some taxes.

He says everybody needs to be in this together. Are you up for a deal like that?

PITTENGER: You know, I wrote a letter -- I co-chair a bipartisan group called United Solutions of freshmen. We wrote a letter to the president right after we were sworn in imploring the president to address the debt and imploring the president to go after entitlements, which are the single biggest factor. Medicare will be insolvent within a decade. Social Security needs to be addressed.

These are very key components. And, yes, I am totally in favor of taking real specific measures to address this so that we have a future for the next generation. We cannot allow this type of obligation to continue. Unfortunately, when the president has had the megaphone to the American in his inauguration or his State of the Union, he didn't bring up the debt or the deficits.

When we met with him as House Republicans, we met an hour-and-a-half. When he walked in the room, we stood and we clapped because he's president of the United States, but in that hour-and-a-half, Jake, he never brought up the debt, never brought up the deficit. Still, we did. He said, I'm really not that concerned about deficits.

Well, that's got to change. We need a clear understanding that we cannot spend $3.5 trillion and take in $2.5 trillion. That's why we had to raise the debt ceiling.


TAPPER: I hear you. I hear you and I agree with you. But I think President Obama, he makes two points about why increasing taxes need to be part of this, and I would be asking a Democrat the same question about trimming social safety net programs if I were interviewing one right now.

But the sticking point for Republicans is increasing taxes. President Obama says, one, I can't ask for seniors to make sacrifices without asking the wealthiest Americans to do so as well. And then he says, two, politically, he can't ask Democrats to -- in the House and the Senate to vote for something that trims these programs without asking for them -- asking Republicans to vote for something they don't want to do, which is raise taxes.

Are you willing to enter into a deal, hypothetically? I'm not saying commit to any one piece of legislation, but hypothetically, if there were cuts to some of these programs, would you be willing to contemplate, entertain the notion of tax increases?

PITTENGER: Jake, the president asked for and he received a $600 billion tax increase from the wealthiest of American people.

He got that the beginning of this year. That was a major concession and commitment from realizing from many Republicans that it was a hard bite to swallow, because the Republicans believe that lowering the tax burden, lowering regulations stimulates the economy.

We are never going to get there, Jake, by increasing the tax burden. You could double the corporate and marginal tax rates in this country and you still would barely cover the current deficits. We have got to grow our economy. When Ronald Reagan lowered the tax burden and lowered the regulation early in the '80s, we were creating 300,000 or 400,000 or 500,000 jobs a month. One month, we created a million jobs. That's remarkable.

We are sputtering along right now at 1.8 percent economic growth. We have unemployment is 7.45 percent. And, in reality, it's probably 13 percent if you consider the people who have quit looking for jobs. This is terrible. We have to do better. We have to grow our way out of this problem and create and generate revenue back in the federal Treasury.


TAPPER: I'm going to take that as a no. And I thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it. Say hi to the beautiful Tar Heel State for me.

PITTENGER: Thank you. Great to be with you. TAPPER: Our money lead. Just how much did this partial government shutdown end up costing us? Keep in mind that this is Washington, where even doing nothing is a pricey proposition.

The estimates vary widely. According to Macroeconomic Advisers, our economy took a $12 billion hit. The estimate from Standard & Poor's is twice as high, $24 billion. "The Atlantic" suggests we split the difference at $18 billion. To wrap our heads around it, that is more than $1 billion higher than the 2014 budget for NASA, so give or take a space program. That's how much we lost in productivity, temporary layoffs, interest payments and so on.

As long as we're talking numbers, I should mention, $14.7 trillion, that's the amount of our national debt as of last week, according to the Treasury.

Coming up next, one lobbyist is calling them the Taliban minority. What are the consequences for the Tea Party Caucus after the government shutdown, if any? Our panel will weigh in next.

And, later, his campaign mastered the use of technology to help lift him to presidential victory. So how did his team drop the ball on the Obamacare rollout? I will ask President Obama's former chief of technology ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Now, it's time for the politics lead.

You know him as a Twitter fanatic who is quick to shovel out a snow- bound car, maybe perform a superhero act like pull a neighbor from a burning building, or show up on a late night talk show.

But now, Newark's celebrity mayor, Cory Booker, is also New Jersey's senator-elect after an 11-point special election victory over his rival, Republican Steve Lonegan, last night.

Senator-elect Cory Booker of New Jersey now joins me from New York.

Senator-elect, it's a pleasure. Congratulations.

SENATOR-ELECT CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Thank you very much. It's great to be here.

TAPPER: So, we just watched political dysfunction bring this town here that you're moving to to a screeching halt. Had you been here in Washington, do you think you would have done anything differently than what you saw and what will you try to do for future fiscal fights? There's probably going to be one welcoming you on your doorstep as you move here.

BOOKER: Yes. I can't say what I would have done. I'm one of those people that had a sideline seat like you did, but I did know right here in New Jersey, I saw firsthand how so many people, tens and tens of thousands of New Jerseyans were directly impacted, hurt, had their lives in many ways put in deep insecurity as a result of it.

So, it's something that's just unacceptable. I think I agree with what the president said. There were no winners in this. There were just a lot of losers, starting with the American people.

I just came from a press conference where we brought yet another development project creating hundreds of jobs in Newark, it was the governor and I together, the governor, a Republican and me a Democrat. We built New Jersey -- New Jersey's biggest city, Newark, back because of bipartisanship.

Chris Christie and I disagree on more stuff than we agree on. In fact, we were going at each other with the Giants versus the Cowboys at the press conference. I don't have that much to defend right now at 0-6, but --

TAPPER: Right.

BOOKER: -- the reality is this is my history. Newark is coming back now because of left and right working together. People said it couldn't be done, the problems were too big.

TAPPER: Right.

BOOKER: I'm hoping in Washington I can really just join with others of both parties who share my spirit.

TAPPER: Senator, you have worked with Chris Christie very closely. You two are famously or infamously close both professionally and you're also friends. I assume you're not going to vote for him, however, next month when he is up for re-election.

If he's so good and you preach bipartisanship, why not endorse him? He's already up 24 points in the polls. He's going to win anyway, probably.

BOOKER: I don't necessarily agree with that. There's a large lead right now but there's still time. Look, when I draw the issues up, I see issues I disagree with, whether the earned income tax credit, Planned Parenthood, regional greenhouse gas agreements. Whether it's basic issues, frankly, when it comes to things like marriage equality.

So, when I look at all the issues, Barbara Buono was clearly my close and she's in line with the voters of New Jersey. But I tell you this. When the people elect somebody, they expect us to work with those people and the people elected Chris Christie. He was the governor of the state. I am the mayor of the largest city.

And so, look, I love how Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan in days of old had a real relationship, a real friendship. Would they have voted for each other? Probably not.


BOOKER: But their relationship helped move America forward. And that's my philosophy. TAPPER: Fair enough.

You have lived in public housing in New Jersey to raise awareness on poverty issues and crime issues. Where do you think you will live in Washington, D.C.? Will you consider moving to a disadvantaged neighborhood like Anacostia?

BOOKER: Absolutely. I will be down there now that I won, taking a good look about where to live. You know, there's a lot of America now that --

TAPPER: Is that your phone?

BOOKER: That was my phone. I apologize.

TAPPER: You want to get it?


BOOKER: No. It's probably your producer calling me to tell me to turn off the phone.

TAPPER: Right.

BOOKER: But look, you know, at the end of the day, I really savor living in neighborhoods where there's great people struggling to make America real for all Americans. And I just want to be in a neighborhood in D.C. that keeps me focused on the urgencies that I'm fighting for.

We live in a nation now that's more stratified economically, where social mobility is an index if you measured against our peer nations is going down in America. We're losing middle class jobs and unfortunately, a lot of them are being replaced with minimum wage jobs.

TAPPER: Right.

BOOKER: If you know areas like mine, minimum wage won't help you escape poverty.

So I like being part of communities that are on the front lines of that fight, and I'm not sure where I'll live in D.C. but I'll look at the whole city. It's the city of my birth. Many people don't know that. I didn't move to New Jersey until I was 4 months old. Butt it's where my parents met, got their first jobs, and had their first kids.

So I'm looking forward to being a part of that community in the days that I'm down there and spending actually as much time as I can back in New Jersey --

TAPPER: It might have been a real estate agent on the phone calling.

BOOKER: Yes. TAPPER: Last question, Senator, is that President Obama today told a reporter that he left you a message last night. Let's play that sound.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did. I think he's going to do a great job.


TAPPER: I think he's going to do a great job. What kind of advice did President Obama have to offer?

BOOKER: Look, I have to say the president was my friend before he was my president. He left a message for me last night which was incredibly gracious after midnight, I'm sorry I missed his call.

But I'll never forget my first really long conversation with him which was in a hotel room in Newark. He was up to give a speech. I came in to meet him. He'd just been elected senator.

And we went right to talking about the unfinished business of America and the fact that there are still a lot of disadvantaged communities that we as a country need to focus on, because the truth is, when everyone just does well in America, everyone does well in America. So, I appreciate a guy like the president who seems to be concerned in many ways with those people still struggling in our nation, trying to fight to be in the middle class, who might be facing difficulties now, and I hope that we can partner on expanding this economy, growing our GDP, and making our nation more of a nation of abundance for everyone.

And I'm -- let's be real and you know this probably better than I do. I will be the 100th senator in seniority. I have a great senior senator in my state, Menendez. My first months down there, if not more, I look forward to learning as much as I can, trying to find ways to gain my knowledge base so that I can be a great senator in the long term.

And I'll say this, and with a wonderful statement from African history, there's an old statement that goes true for the Senate which I think is going to be true for me. If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. And I hope to join with other people to take that institution far in service of this nation.

TAPPER: All right. Newark mayor and New Jersey's newest senator- elect, Cory Booker, thank you and congratulations on your win.

BOOKER: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me on.

TAPPER: Coming up next, is big business really coming to Speaker Boehner's aid by trying to take out the Tea Party? Our political panel will weigh in.

Plus, terror doesn't even begin to describe it. Chilling, frightening new video obtained by CNN from inside the Kenyan mall while gunmen take aim. That's coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Some breaking political news: CNN has confirmed that tomorrow, President Obama will nominate Jeh Johnson to replace Janet Napolitano as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Johnson previously served as general counsel for the Department of Defense during President Obama's first term.

As to whether there will be a battle over his confirmation, well, if you thought the bipartisan slap fight in Washington might finally be over, then you obviously didn't hear the president say this today.


OBAMA: Last night, I signed legislation to reopen our government and pay America's bills, because Democrats and responsible Republicans came together --


TAPPER: Hmm. Democrats and responsible Republicans.

One hundred forty-four Republicans voted no last night and with fewer than three months to go before the next budget battle, the White House doesn't seem quite ready to make complete nice.

Let's bring in our panel.

Tim Pawlenty, president and CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable and, of course, former governor of Minnesota. CNN's chief congressional correspondent, the tireless Dana Bash. And former Clinton White House press secretary, Joe Lockhart.

I want to start with this "Washington Post" report. Business groups stand by Boehner, plot against Tea Party. There's a quote from a man named Dirk Van Dongen, long-time chief lobbyist for the National Association of Wholesale-Distributors, who has known Boehner since the lawmaker's first election. He says, "I don't know anybody who takes the side of the Taliban minority." I assume he's referring to the Tea Party.

Tim, is that how the business world views what happened over the last three weeks, the Taliban minority seized control of the House Republicans?


First, I don't think people should put a Taliban label on any elected representative or public servant. I think that's over the line, just in terms of rhetoric and what that implies.

Two, the business community, of course, is more pragmatic than, say, the Tea Party in terms of their politics and desired outcomes. But the idea that they are going to come in and take out Tea Party members is probably misunderstood. The Tea Party members for the most part are in districts or states that lean pretty substantially in their direction and the idea that they're mostly politically vulnerable is probably not going to materialize. There will be some groups that will try that but I suggest to you, Jake, it won't be successful.

And then, lastly, as to the Tea Party, keep in mind, you know, it's one slice of a broader coalition. They overplayed their hand here. One of the adages you have to keep in mind is when you negotiate, the person with the leverage wins.

TAPPER: Right.

PAWLENTY: They didn't have the leverage here.

TAPPER: Or any -

PAWLENTY: But, you know, there's an analog in the Democratic Party to the Tea Party, when you look at groups like Occupy, when you look at groups that want to just recklessly defund the Department of Defense. They don't represent the whole Democratic Party and the Tea Party represents only one slice of the Republican Party.

TAPPER: Is that a fair analogy?

JOE LOCKHART, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is, but it misses an important point, which is within the Republican Party, the Tea Party does have the leverage. We just spent 16 days painfully, Dana hasn't slept in 16 days, because of the leverage they had.

The business community doesn't have that much influence with the Tea Party. The Tea Party and most Republicans are more worried about someone coming from their right, coming from the Tea Party to challenge them, than anyone on the left.

So, this all has to be resolved. I think it's very fair analysis, but the difference between the Tea Party and Occupy or a group on the left, those groups don't have leverage within the Democratic Party right now. The Tea Party does. And that's the fundamental problem for the party.

TAPPER: And, Dana, let's talk about the future of Democrat, Republican negotiations because that's obviously where this is going to go now. There's going to be negotiations over a budget.

When President Obama came out last night before the House vote had finished, there were a lot of House Republicans who were very worried that he just was misreading House Republicans all over again.