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CNN Larry King Live

House Passes Health Care Reform

Aired March 21, 2010 - 23:59   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry.

Lots to discuss. Lots to absorb and digest as we will over the next hour. But I want to go right to our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry. He's in the East Room of the White House where we just saw the president speak. The vice president was there with him. He laid out his agenda for the coming days and weeks that he minced no words, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly right. The president saying boldly, this is what change looks like. When you talk to his top advisers they realizes -- realize this is someone who has faced a lot of criticism, recent weeks, recent months, that maybe he hasn't delivered on the change that he promised in the campaign.

This was a president coming out with a -- as you noted earlier, maybe a little bounce in his step. I think John King noted. And came out with the vice president, very clearly, very directly saying that they feel this is a major victory. Not for a political party, he said, but for the American people.

Let me just take you a little bit behind the curtain. You saw the president, the vice president. But on the other side of the room as the president walked in, some of his top aides walked in. You may not have seen this. Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, Robert Gibbs, his press secretary, David Axelrod.

Many of his lieutenants who have been working Capitol Hill in these final hours trying to make sure it would get through the House. And you could see all of them looking tired. It's late in the evening here, obviously. A lot of long days, long nights for them.

But Rahm Emanuel, in particular, had this beaming smile throughout. He was looking over at the media. Almost as if to say we told you so, after many, many months of prediction that this would not happen.

You can see that after some of the talk about internal strife here at the White House, talk about the president maybe not being able to deliver on this, they were sending the message very clearly, very directly. They think they delivered, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because when they thought only within the past few weeks it was dead health care reform. There were articles galore appearing. This is a president who's weak. He can't deliver. He can't finish. He can't close the deal. And there were a lot of articles critical of Rahm Emanuel saying, you know what? He just didn't have a good strategy, he was not necessarily up to the job, himself. But they won. They won big today, Ed.

HENRY: They did. And they're going to be very aggressive. You saw the president, himself, doing this, but in talking to some of his senior advisers this evening before his remarks, I was told he is now going to be hitting the road. In fact later this week he's going to start traveling. He's going to travel to several cities in the next few weeks.

If you thought the road show, if you thought the barnstorming was over, not by a long shot. He's going to go from trying to sell this to the Congress to trying to sell it to the American people in terms of benefits of what he believes it's going to deliver for individuals, for small businesses.

Thirty-two million people now who are not covered will be covered. If you believe the estimates of this legislation.

Until I think it's very clear that when in his remarks as well, the message he's going to be taking to the American people. He has been accused of taking the country to the left, of wanting a government takeover of health care, and what he was saying in those brief remarks right there was this is middle of the road, this is not a government takeover, and when the American people see all this laid out they're going to see that some of these charges were erroneous.

And so he's very clearly trying to recalibrate the message very quickly, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, stand by. The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is getting ready to speak. Let's listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Good evening. I know you're there. I can hear the --



PELOSI: Is it morning? Not yet.


PELOSI: Almost. Not in California.


PELOSI: Which is what my watch is set to. As great as -- as we have all said, many times, it's great proud and great humility that we undertook this great act of patriotism that occurred on the House floor tonight. It honored the vows of our founders for us to be a land of opportunity. All the way back to before we were a country in the "Declaration of Independence" talking about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That defines opportunity. So, too, did this bill tonight. Opportunity for affordable education, to lower the cost of higher education. That's one part of the bill. And the other part of the bill, the main part of the bill, to provide quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

Enabling people to have the freedom, have life, a healthier life. To have the liberty to pursue their own happiness. They could change jobs without losing health care, they can become self-employed. They could start a small business. They could follow their passion.

And wouldn't that be great for them and for our economy and for our society?

So we believe that this act that was passed tonight is an all-American act, honoring our founders' vows to the future and honoring our commitment to the future by making it a healthier one and a fiscally sound one.

Thirty-two million more Americans having access to health care. $1.3 trillion saved for the taxpayer. And accountability for the insurance companies so they cannot come between patients and their doctors.

This happened because we had the leadership of the president of the United States as a visionary, as a strategist, and as a persuader. It happened because in the House our leadership worked not as a team but as a close partnership and with teamwork with all of the members of the Democratic members of the House.

Now we send the bill to the Senate and I salute Senator Reid for his leadership in bringing the Senate members together, majority of the Senate, around this legislation.

And so with, again, humility and pride, and great optimism for what will happen in the next week I'm pleased to yield to our distinguished majority leader. And without his leadership and strategic thinking this evening the success would not be possible.

I could say that about Mr. Clyburn. (INAUDIBLE) do you like that 220?


PELOSI: A lot of bets were made on the numbers. Sort of like a pool. No money exchanged hands. Of course. Steny?


REP. STENY HOYER (D), MAJORITY LEADER: For all of you who've pursued all of us, we had the votes.

(LAUGHTER) HOYER: I was a second-year law student in 1965, just a few blocks from here. At Georgetown Law School. And the Dean of the House who served over half a century was in the chair and he lifted a gavel and brought it down to announce to the House of Representatives that Medicare had been adopted.

He is here with us today. John Dingell.


HOYER: And he will be our cleanup here, our speaker. But this morning he came forward in the caucus with a gavel in hand and delivered it to our speaker. The single most responsible person for this night's success. Speaker Nancy Pelosi.


HOYER: And she, tonight, gaveled a continuation of that commitment to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable, quality health care.

Tonight, or this morning, is not for speeches. It is to savor the victory, not a party, nor of this leadership, but for the American people.

And I am pleased to now yield to the gentleman from South Carolina. He and I started out together in the young Democrats over 50 years ago.




HOYER: Well, 45 or 46.

PELOSI: That's a big difference.

HOYER: Mark, you remember? Who did an extraordinary job in answering the question of whether we'd have the votes. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.


REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), MAJORITY WHIP: Thank you, thank you, thank you very much, Mr. Leader. Let me just take a moment to say how proud I am to be serving this particular juncture with this group.

Speaker Pelosi is as tenacious a tactician that I have ever been associated with. She has the tremendous amount of compassion for this work that is almost contagious. In fact, I think it is contagious. We all caught it. And I really appreciate her leadership.

Steny and John Larson and all the others here, (INAUDIBLE), my classmate. This has been a real labor of love. Someone asked me earlier this afternoon how tough this was. I said, you know, I can't quite figure it out because I've enjoyed every single moment of it.

PELOSI: That's absolutely right.

CLYBURN: And I do mean that. I said earlier that -- during my talk on the floor that I consider this to be the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century, because I do believe that this is the one fundamental right that this country had been wrestling with now for almost 100 years.

I think tonight we took a giant step toward the establishment of a more perfect union. And with that I'm pleased to yield to Chair John Larson, and to say to you all that last evening I saw no one worked as hard as he worked trying to nail down the moment.

PELOSI: And where was that?


REP. JOHN LARSON (D), CONNECTICUT: With the members of the caucus. Thank you, Jim, and let me say on behalf of our --

BLITZER: Democrats are taking a -- Democrats of the House of Representatives, they have passed health care reform. They passed the Senate version of health care reform. It will now go to the president for his signature and become the law of the land.

At the same time they passed a sweeping set of changes to the Senate version. It's called the reconciliation bill. That now goes to the Senate for consideration. We'll see what happens in the Senate over the course of the next few days. Maybe longer.

If there are any changes made it will then have to go back to the House of Representatives.

In the meantime health care reform has been passed. We have a lot to assess. A lot to digest on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Two key members of Congress, Republican Darrell Issa of California, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, they are here. I will assess with them what's going on.

Much more of our coverage on this important day in Washington right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to this special LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry.

A big day in the House of Representatives today. Health care reform has been passed. It's gone to the president for his signature.

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, watched every second of it unfold.

Dana, the Democrats taking a little bit of a victory lap. But let's keep this in some sort of perspective. The changes still have to go to the Senate. The focus of attention now will go to the U.S. Senate.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The focus will go to the U.S. Senate, which is all the way down the hall from where I am right now. And you can also already feel the momentum shifting to the other side of the capitol.

I want to show you this, Wolf. This is what they're going to be dealing with. This is the package of changes and a little bit more in here.

Interestingly enough -- and maybe Congressman Wasserman Schultz can tell you about this -- this is also what was being handed -- many of those copies were being handed out on the House floor almost as momentums and members were signing each other's bill.

So it serves as that, but more importantly, in terms of what's next, it is as follows. We expect, we're hearing from Democratic sources that the president will likely not sign the health care bill, the Senate's health care bill, that the House just passed, until Tuesday.

And my understanding is that the Senate can't take up the changes until it's actually signed by the president. Until it's actually the law of the land. So that is probably going to start Tuesday, maybe even Wednesday, but before that there's actually a lot of very technical meetings that have to go on with Democratic and Republican aides and leaders with the parliamentarian.

And the reason is because what seems like maybe a simple process going forward in the Senate, because what they're going to be able to do it pass these changes with a simple majority -- 51 votes -- it's going to be anything but simple because there are very strict limitations on what they can and cannot do through this process known as reconciliation.

And that's what they're going to be trying to maneuver on the Democratic side and the Republican side try to use those limitations to their favor to try to torpedo this or at least, you know, slow this down in a big way.

BLITZER: Dana, there was one ugly moment, and we have the tape. And I'm going to play it for our viewers. I want everyone to listen carefully because at one point you could hear barely on this tape, but if you listen closely you might hear it, someone shout out "baby killer" at Congressman Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, who's one of the most fiercely antiabortion members of the House of Representatives.

But he did reach an agreement with the other Democrats and the president for this executive order, clarifying from the White House perspective that no federal money will be used to fund abortions.

I'll play you the tape and then we'll discuss. Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: It is the Democrats who have stood up -- it is the Democrats who have stood up --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suspend. Those who are shouting out are out of order.


STUPAK: Mr. Speaker --


BLITZER: And there you heard it. You could barely hear it. Someone shouting out "baby killer."

Do we know, Dana, who that member was? Presumably a Republican?

BASH: Our team has been talking to dozens of members of Congress. All of whom were in that chamber and all of whom say that they don't know who it was who screamed that. Some say that they might have some idea, but don't know for sure.

The hunt is on to try to figure out exactly who that was. And it certainly was a remarkable moment because, as you said, Bart Stupak is one of the most staunchly antiabortion members of Congress what happens to be a Democrat.

But it certainly was a moment, the kind of moment that we have been seeing outside the capitol and maybe in the halls where we've seen protesters, but the fact that it happened on the House floor really was offensive, not only to Democrats but many Republicans who I've been speaking to coming off of the House floor, walking in these halls saying that they believe that that was inappropriate.

So the answer is we don't know who it was yet, but many of that congressman's colleagues on both sides of the aisle are not happy about it.

BLITZER: Sort of reminiscent to a different degree -- reminiscent of Joe Wilson, Congressman Joe Wilson's shouting "you lie" at the president when he was addressing a joint session of Congress. Joe Wilson, the Republican congressman from South Carolina.

All right, stand by. Ed Henry is standing by over at the White House. We'll take another quick break.

Darrell Issa, the Republican congressman from California, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic congresswoman from Florida. They are here. We're going to assess what is going on on this historic day with them when we come back.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DAVID OBEY (D), WISCONSIN: On this vote the ayes are 219, the nays are 212. The motion to concur in the Senate amendment is adopted without objection. The motion to reconsider is laid on the table.


BLITZER: David Obey, the veteran congressman, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, sitting in the speaker's chair, making the announcement that the health care bill has passed the House of Representatives, 219-212.

Joining me now, two members of Congress. Republican Darrell Issa of California and Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.

Congressman Issa, it's a huge setback for the Republicans right now.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, it's certainly one that we expected. We expected to lose. What we didn't expect, quite candidly, was to be shut out of the process from the very beginning all the way through today when the Rules Committee considered yesterday and into the night 80 amendments, none being allowed to even be considered on the floor.

BLITZER: Why did you do that, Congressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: That is a brazenly false statement. From the very beginning --

ISSA: Is that like you lie?

SCHULTZ: No, it's a brazenly false statement.

ISSA: It's true. We committed 80 amendments and none --

SCHULTZ: With all due respect there are 200 amendments that were offered and accepted by Republican -- offered by Republicans, accepted by Democrats, incorporated into this bill.

This is a bill that is bipartisan in content. Unfortunately not bipartisan in the outcome of the vote. We gave every opportunity over and over again. The American people saw President Obama extend his hand, saw Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid ask Republicans repeatedly to sit down with us at the negotiating table and we were repeatedly rejected.

The American people deserve this vote tonight.


ISSA: First of all, we were never invited to the table. The closest we had was when the president came to the retreat and told us, Paul Ryan had some very good ideas. Certainly told Jason Chaffetz, well, maybe we should break this up into parts we could agree on and vote for, something that we wanted.

So -- and you know, look, I've served in committee with Debbie for a long time. In committee if you say we'll accept this amendment or that amendment, that's nice, but before the entire floor, asking for things that maybe a committee shut down and didn't accept is typical.

It is very unusual of any piece of legislation, including the two major pieces of legislation that the speaker talked about -- Social Security and Medicare -- these were not put out with no amendments allowed on the House floor. They certainly were not put out in this way.

BLITZER: It is fair to say, Congressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, that for a major piece of social legislation, in health care reform, they've been working on this for decades, as you know, to pass it without any Republican support is extraordinary because Social Security or Medicare or the civil rights legislation, there was bipartisan support.

SCHULTZ: It passed without any Republican support by their choice. In fact, president -- former President Bush's own speechwriter, tonight, David Frumm wrote an essay talking about how the Republicans passed up an incredible opportunity to sit down after being offered over and over again to compromise.

He pointed out that this legislation is very close to Mitt Romney's proposal on health care reform. He also pointed out that they have blown this historic opportunity to reach consensus with Democrats. So if there was any exclusion it was self-exclusion.

BLITZER: So Congressman Issa, where do you go from here? The president is going to sign this health care reform into law within the next 72 hours. Let's say by Tuesday. The Senate will consider the changes and the reconciliation bill.

Where do the House Republicans go from here?

ISSA: Well, I think it's very clear that Americans should prepare to pay $560 billion of additional taxes. People should expect their capital gains to go up 23-plus percent, 60 percent increase in the capital gains rate.

These are certain.

Will there be some ways to take failed portions and fix them? In the future will we be able to take some parts that were not included and get them included? I hope so, either under this president or a future president.

But what we really have here tonight is we have a time in which the American people said get the economy right, get us competitive again. Get jobs. And instead we have a huge tax increase now. And a huge offer of benefits starting in four years. None of which is going to get America more competitive.

Wolf, we have to make America more competitive. Canada spends half as much on health care as we spend and yet this bill actually will raise the cost of health care, not lower it.

BLITZER: Very quickly because I want to take a break.

SCHULTZ: What's going to happen in the next 90 days to six months people will finally see that insurance companies can't drop them when they're sick anymore. Children are going to be able to be covered and not excluded for a preexisting condition.

We're going to close the Medicare doughnut hole and finally make sure that seniors get affordable prescription drugs. And we're going to pass -- and we passed the largest tax cut for small businesses in American history so they can provide insurance for their employees and not be forced to choose between laying them off and -- and providing them with benefits.

BLITZER: All right, I want both of you to stand by because we're going to continue this conversation. Lots more to discuss, including someone -- we don't know who. Someone shouting out "baby killer" at Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan.

Our assessment of what's going on with these two members of Congress will resume right after this.



REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEASER: And look at how this bill was written. Can you say it was done openly? With transparency and accountability? Without backroom deals that's struck behind closed doors hidden from the people?

Hell no, you can't!

Have you read the bill? Have you read the reconciliation bill? Have you read the manager's amendment? Hell no you haven't.


BLITZER: Wow. That's the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner. The minority leader getting a little emotional there in summing up what was going on just before the roll call.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Darrell Issa are here still with us.

You hear him. He's passionate about this. But you know what, there are a lot of Americans who are very passionate about this and they're very nervous that the health care that they enjoy, that they like, that that's going to change.

SCHULTZ: The health care that people enjoy and the health care that people have now, if they like it, they can keep it. If they want to make sure -- what we wanted to do is make sure that we could cover the 47 million Americans that don't have health insurance. We've covered 94 percent of them.

Provide security and stability to those that had health insurance, particularly small business owners like the one in my district, Wolf, who stopped me a few weeks ago at the airport and said that last year with 30 employees his premiums went up 172 percent because he has one sick employee.

BLITZER: What's wrong with spending some money, a lot of money for that matter, to get 30 million or 32 million Americans health insurance?

ISSA: What I said before the break still goes. We cannot afford to do health care reform wrong, to go up in cost, rather than down in cost. It's very clear that there are things that we agree on.

Certainly creating large pool capability so that the same health care that I enjoy, that Debbie enjoys, where we have no preexisting condition, no age discrimination and so on, I pay the same amount as some of the younger, older than me within the federal workers pool.

That is a reasonable goal --

BLITZER: That's going to be the law of the land.

ISSA: That certainly could have been achieved. But let's remember that there is going to be a lot of gaming in this system. First of all, someone can choose to pay 2 percent if that's a better deal than actually having insurance. You've got people that will only pay $700 for the penalty for not having it.

There's a lot of questions there. What we do know is taxes are going up. Not only does nothing in this bill drive down the cost of health care overall but there are actually new loopholes in tort so there will be more suits.

BLITZER: You represent a district in Florida, including Hollywood, Florida. A lot of seniors live down there. I've been getting a lot of e-mails from seniors who are worried about their beloved Medicare because this legislation will cut in growth -- Medicare growth half a trillion dollars over the next 10 years. That's $50 billion a year.

How do you cut that kind of Medicare expenditure without reducing benefits for seniors?

SCHULTZ: We're absolutely not reducing benefits. In fact, seniors will -- who on Medicare will see improvements in Medicare. Again, by closing the part D prescription drug doughnut hole, by making sure that we get rid of deductibles and co-pays for preventative care.

It is going to be easier to focus on health care and wellness for seniors instead of the Medicare system which has always been treated as a sick care system where seniors only go when they are feeling ill.

I mean just because Darrell says it doesn't make it true. This is legislation that will give $143 billion in deficit reduction and also add nine years of solvency to Medicare which is hugely important for seniors.

(CROSSTALK) ISSA: Only in Washington do we call it deficit reduction when we have $1 trillion in new taxes and $500 billion of cuts and then we say, well, it's neutral. The fact is this is a large tax increase and the claims under Republicans and Democrats that in the future we're going to save money on Medicare have never come to pass.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time. But -- we're almost out of time. And I want you to weigh in, both of you to weigh in. Were you there when you heard someone, I don't know who it was, screaming out "baby killer" at Congressman Bart Stupak?

ISSA: I was off the floor but I did hear the recording you just played. And I denounce whoever said it. I certainly hope that if someone said it on the floor that it was a staff person or someone in the gallery. But if it was a member of Congress absolutely would denounce it.

BLITZER: Because you know Bart Stupak. And he's --

SCHULTZ: I know him.

BLITZER: And he's firmly against abortion.

ISSA: Well, you know, it doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with somebody making a statement. We are a place where decorum historically is maintained. And that includes the statement that you mentioned earlier about while the president was speaking.

Quite frankly, it includes the president calling the justices out when he was a guest at the House.

We've got to get back to the expectations of the people in the House of Representatives and it has certainly failed to be reached.

BLITZER: Someone who supports a woman's right to have an abortion, how worried are you about this whole colloquy and the executive order the president will sign basically saying there will be no funding, federal funding for abortion?

SCHULTZ: As a pro-choice member of Congress I think that we have simply maintained the status quo, not allowed for federal funds to pay for abortion coverage, and not changed any either direction the way we handle abortion coverage.

And, look, at the end of the day, Wolf, this legislation, any time you can cover, you know, 32 million Americans and get $143 billion in deficit reduction it's a win/win for the American people. That's what this bill will be.

BLITZER: The American people will have a chance to assess it over the next several weeks --


BLITZER: -- and months getting ready for the midterm elections in November. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Darrell Issa -- to both of you, I know it's late. Thanks for coming in.

All right. We're going to continue our coverage of this historic day here in Washington. We have an outstanding panel standing by for some insight and analysis right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to this special LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry.

Joining us now to discuss this historic night and what it means, our panel, our special guest, Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist and former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton.

Leslie Sanchez, she's a Republican strategist. Also Tanya Acker, political analyst and contributor of the, takes a liberal point of view. And Ron Bonjean, he's a Republican strategist and owner of the PR firm, The Bonjean Company. Appropriate name.

Maria, what happens -- and it's a huge what if. What happens if the Senate doesn't pass this reconciliation bill and the law of the land is the Senate, the Senate language as passed?

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think that would be very problematic. But I don't think that's going to happen. We have seen many members of the Senate already say that they are committed to passing the package of reconciliation fixes that the House passed today.

In fact they are already saying that they have 52, maybe even 53, members of the Senate that are going to pass this. I don't think we're going to be there. I think that everybody understands the magnitude of this. The importance of what passed today in the House.

All three votes taken together, that it is a historic day and I think the Senate is going to follow suit.

BLITZER: Ron, do you think the Senate will follow suit without changes and that this is a done deal?

RON BONJEAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I'm not so sure about that. Senator Kent Conrad said late last week that the Senate reconciliation bill is likely to change and be sent back to the House.

It's really hard with all the special deals in the bill to be able to push that thing through with 51 votes.

BLITZER: It's a huge problem from the House Democrats, Tanya, because they were working on good faith. They took a risk, a very tough vote under the assumption that the Senate version would be fixed, would change, that they would get rid of some of those special benefits. The cornhusker kickback, for example which got so much publicity.

But the Republicans in the Senate, they -- I think they have a strategy to try to deal a setback.

TANYA ACKER, CONTRIBUTOR, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, I think that the Democrats really have to stay on message here. I mean, look, there are two tracks that this bill is going down. One is the political play. And we see that that isn't over. But what we're seeing, and I think the bigger picture issue is, and what the country should be really proud of, is that we have passed a monumental piece of legislation.

I think it's incumbent on the Democrats to really explain to people how good this is for them and then to really throw it back on the GOP. Let them explain to voters why they don't believe that people with preexisting conditions should be covered. Or why people should be dropped from their insurance once they get sick or why being a woman and being a victim of domestic violence should be considered a preexisting condition.

So you know, we can have that conversation about the politics and the legislative maneuvering. There's a big substantive issue here. And I think that that's what the Democrats have to stay focused on.

BLITZER: And the Democrats will argue, Leslie, that the more people start to see this bill that now becomes the law of the land, the more they might like it.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I thought there was something very telling in what she said. And that was, stick to the Democratic talking points. I think that is really the key here.

ACKER: That's not what I said.

SANCHEZ: That it's a political ruse. To paraphrase a little bit. It's a political ruse. That they're going to try to sell something that the American public fundamentally did not support. The challenges --


SANCHEZ: It's interesting. I spoke to a Democratic pollster Tom Really who said nothing succeeds like success. He is hoping, and I think as many Democrats are, that once this measure is moved forward the economy will become the focus, that they will basically -- it's hard to pull back a benefit.

BLITZER: All right.

SANCHEZ: That's the challenge.

BLITZER: I want everybody to hold on for a moment. We're only getting started. We have a lot more to assess. Our coverage will continue with the panel right after this.


BLITZER: Tanya Acker, it was only a few weeks ago after Scott Brown was elected, the Republican senator from Massachusetts, the Democrats lost their super majority. A lot of people thought health care reform was dead in the water. But you know what, the president, the vice president, Nancy Pelosi, they brought it back to life.

ACKER: They did. I think that what you've seen is both a lot of maneuvering, a lot of political maneuvering. I think that this really shows that both the president and Speaker Pelosi, that they really were able to do the fine tuning that was necessary.

But I'm sorry, I really have to jump back to the point that we're making before because I find it deeply offensive that the notion that now sick people who are now going to be able to get coverage after being denied that opportunity, that's not a talking point.

I'm actually one of those Anthem customers whose premiums just went up 39 percent -- or I'm sorry, will shortly go up 39 percent next month. Those cost increases, that's not a talking point. The fact that 62 percent of Americans are now facing -- 62 percent of bankruptcies in this country are due to health care costs.

That's not a talking point either. So I do think that we need to separate the political maneuvering that folks like Leslie and I may like to do on shows like this from what this bill is really going to do and the impact it's really going to have more Americans.

BLITZER: Because for a lot of people, Leslie, it will have a positive impact. If they're worried if they get sick, their insurance companies could dump them, under this new law, they couldn't be able to do this.

SANCHEZ: Sure. And let's keep it in perspective. You can't pull the political out from this. This is such a dramatic shift politically, economically, in the role of government, and the intrusion or expansion of government. You can't untangle all those things. And I think Republicans and Democrats would agree.

And fundamentally let's be clear. Republicans believe in incremental support. There are many things that Republicans supported in that. Don't forget it was Republicans who supported SCHIP, which was health care for low-income children. Republicans with prescription drug, part D in Medicare in allowing diabetes testing in Medicare.

Republicans passed these measures with both a Democrat and Republican presidents. It's not that. It's that this was far reaching, very few Democrats, Republicans actually know what's in this measure and it's the cost. That's the challenge.


CARDONA: Wolf, this is probably the most debated bill in history. People do know what's in it. And I'd actually like to talk about a little bit of a myth going to a Republican talking point. They love to say that this is something the American people don't want.

In most of the polls that we have seen about what the American people thought about Obama's plan, 10 to 15 percent of those people didn't like it because they didn't think it went far enough. Because they didn't think it was liberal enough.

So we can presume that those people now support this because they understand that it's going to be better than nothing. So at the end of the day the Republicans are going to have to defend not wanting to give 32 million people coverage, not wanting to give single mothers coverage.

BLITZER: It is a pretty poisonous atmosphere right now. You heard one Republican congressman from California, the debate on the House floor, basically suggest that what the Democrats are trying to do is Soviet-style socialism out there.

Ron, you've been around the Senate for a long time, worked for some Republican senators. Have you seen such a climate before?

BONJEAN: I haven't seen such a climate before. Maybe impeaching -- the impeachment of President Clinton almost matches it. But you have to think about what's missing in this picture. And it's the creation of jobs.

And that's why people in this country are so fed up with what's going on in Washington is that President Obama and the Democrat congressional leadership, they aren't listening to the American people.

BLITZER: We'll pick up on that thought in a moment. I want to take another quick break. Our coverage will continue on this special LARRY KING LIVE right after this.


BLITZER: Let's get right to Leslie Sanchez.

Leslie, you heard the tape. We played if for our viewers a little while ago. Someone shouting the words "baby killer" at Congressman Bart Stupak, a very fiercely antiabortion Democrat from Michigan.

It underscores, first of all, the issue of abortion, how raw and sensitive this issue is. But it also underscores how ugly this debate has become.

SANCHEZ: I don't think anybody would accept that type of behavior. I think we were talking about that just in the greenroom. It's a really sad state of affairs. Nobody condones that. That's unacceptable especially from our leaders in that sense.

But, of course, there's a tremendous amount of frustration. I talked to some folks in the pro-life coalition, they would say. Very frustrated with where Stupak went on this. They felt that this could have been profiling courage and instead he was not.

He let a big part down with this new executive order which they feel doesn't really have the magnitude or depth.

BLITZER: Republicans say this executive order the president will sign, now sort of clarifying, he says that the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal money from being used to pay for abortion, will remain in effect. And Bart Stupak and the other Democrats who oppose abortion say that reassured them enough to vote for this legislation.

CARDONA: Absolutely. It reassured them of something that actually is already in the legislation. You know I've talked to a lot of Catholics. The Catholic nurses last week came out last week on this network basically saying they didn't understand why Catholics were against this legislation because nothing in it actually allows federal funds going towards abortion.

I'm glad that this reassured Stupak and the group of Democrats that were worried about this. I think that it is something that will underscore the importance of the Hyde Amendment. Nothing in the Senate legislation ever changed that.

BLITZER: You agree?

BONJEAN: No, I don't agree at all. The group of nuns is known as a fringe group and being investigated by Rome. In fact their National Council of Bishops came out later that day and they clarified they are against this bill.

This is -- this executive order will not overturn law. What it's doing is trying to give Stupak political cover back in his district because he's going to face some very angry pro-life.

BLITZER: It wasn't just him. It was Marcy --

BONJEAN: Yes. These are the people who pushed the bill across the line. And they're probably going to be the first to go in November.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say, Tanya, these six or eight or 10 Democrats who oppose abortion who came around like Bart Stupak -- Marcy Captor of Ohio and the others. They were the decisive votes getting this legislation passed.

ACKER: Well, certainly they were. And look, I mean, I'm a strongly, ardently pro-choice Democrat but I do think that what we all agree is that this bill is far bigger than simply abortion.

I mean that is simply divisive hot-button issue that's been used to distract from some of the larger issues that are really at hand here. I mean this bill is not about -- this bill does not provide federal funding for abortion.

That is a Republican talking point that I frankly have heard too much of. It's just a lie. But notwithstanding that, I think that the president has done far more than simply give political cover. He's articulated, further articulated and clarified what federal law has been on this issue for decades.

Nothing about this bill is going to change that.

BLITZER: All right. I think Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, Republican, will disagree with you on that point but we'll continue our coverage of this and our assessment right after this short break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: White House just released this photo of the president and the vice president and the senior staff. They're in the Roosevelt Room of the West Wing of the White House applauding as David Obey announced that health care reform has passed the House of Representatives.

Maria, you know, they picked the Roosevelt Room, I -- nothing is coincidental because Teddy Roosevelt, they go way back trying to get health care reform passed. This was a symbolic moment.

CARDONA: I think that's exactly right. And I think the importance of this is to underscore how tough this task was. We've been trying to do it for decades. It was a hard task. It was a difficult vote.

But it was an essential task and it was the right vote. And I think at the end of the day what was so satisfying about this is that these legislators understood that politics is not about getting elected just to get re-elected. It's to make people's lives better.

BLITZER: You're a student of the Senate. You worked in the Senate, Ron. Put aside all the politics right now. This is a historic moment.

BONJEAN: It's a historic mistake for the -- that the Democrats have just made. They have spent all their capital on passing health care reform when Americans, especially independents and centrists left-wing Democrats, wanted jobs in this country.

They wanted job creation. Instead, they took the football and pushed it down the line and passed health care. Now they have six months left. And it's going to be hard to explain to people in the polls why they didn't do and listen to what the American people wanted.

BLITZER: Tanya, will this energize the Democratic base? Because they certainly have not been all that energized over the past few months.

ACKER: I think that people have been frustrated over the tone and tenor of this debate. I think that the Democrats still have a lot of work to do in terms of explaining a lot of the nuances of this bill.

We've heard Sanjay Gupta do probably a better job of explaining some of the nuances, for instance, of the Medicare aspects of it than a lot of the legislators have. So I think they have to do that work. But I do think that the party got a big bump tonight. There's no question.

BLITZER: I think success breeds success and, Leslie, as you take a look at this, I suspect at least based on the tweets that I'm getting. I know you do a lot of tweeting, yourself. A lot of Democrats are all pumped right now because they sense this is a new beginning.

SANCHEZ: I would agree with you on that point, definitely the question is will this embolden the Democrats to take on other efforts, immigration reform? Will they go back to cap and trade or are they going to limp through 2010? That's what I think many are watching. Don't forget, it was independents that came around in the last two weeks that basically kind of reasoned out and they're going to wake up tomorrow or in a few hours and realize this is done and probably give the benefit of the doubt to the Democrats on this one.

BLITZER: The president is going to waste no time. He's got this health care bill passed. They still want to get the reconciliation. The fix-it bill, as it's called, passed. But as we heard our own Ed Henry say, he's going to go out on the road and continue the selling which he does well.

I suspect he's very happy he did not go to Indonesia and Australia today as he was supposed to go.

All right, guys, thanks very much for coming in. We're going to continue our coverage. I'll be back here in the "SITUATION ROOM" tomorrow. There will be more, of course, on LARRY KING LIVE throughout the week.

Thanks very much for joining us. Don Lemon picks up our coverage right now.