tv Washington Week With Gwen Ifill PBS November 16, 2013 1:30am-2:01am PST
gwen: a presidential mea culpa on health care. lit stop the bleeding or cost him the credibility he needs on other issues like iran? tonight on "washington week." the president falls on his sword. >> ultimately i'm the head of this team. we did fumble the ball on it and what i'm going to do is make sure that we get it fixed. gwen: and his opponents smell blood. >> this wasn't a small mistake. this wasn't a scaling mistake. this was a monumental mistake, to go live and effectively explode on the launch pad. gwen: even before the president's admission that he should have known but didn't, that his health care plan was not ready for prime time, democrats were joining the criticism. >> i personal lip believe, even
if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people. gwen: how much of a hit did the white house take this week and is it too late to sal rage the health care plan or the president's credibility? that could be an important question for the u.s. as it seeks to negotiate a deal to freeze iran's nuclear program without imposing new sanctions. >> our hope is now that no new sanctions will be put in place that could set us back in dialogue that's taken 30 years to be able to achieve. gwen: what can and can't be done. covering the week, dan balz of the "washington post." john harwood of cnbc and "the new york times." indira lakshmanan of "bloomberg news" and jeff zeleny of abc news. >> reporting and analysis,
covering history as it happens. live from our nation's capital, this is "washington week with gwen ifill." corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we went out and asked people a simple question -- how old is the oldest person you've known? we gave people a sticker and had them show us. a lot of us have known someone who's lived well into their 90's and that's a great thing. but one thing that hasn't changed, the official retirement age. the question is how do you make sure you have the money you need to enjoy all of these years? >> additional corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by northrop grumman. additional funding is provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by
contributions to pbs stations from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. this week's health care meltdown provided an intriguing look into all things washington. a self-confident president reduced to rueful apology and an unpopular congress with an eye on midterm elections and the realization that big, sweeping change can collapse on itself. the president said repeatedly that his folks fumbled the ball by promising everyone could keep the policy they liked. >> my expectation was that for 98% of the american people either it genuinely wouldn't change at all or they'd be pleasantly surprised with the options in the marketplace and that the grandfather clause would cover the rest. that proved not to be the case.
and that's on me. gwen: but for the staunch opponents who early on branded the plan obamacare, the botched rollout was about more. >> for millions of americans, it's cancellation today, sticker shock tomorrow. for the last six weeks, the white house stood itly by, ignoring the pleas of millions but as the administration's allies panicked, the white house went from attacking our thoughtful bill to making an end around congress with a universal fix. gwen: congressmen allowed policy holders to keep the plan permanently passed today. what was more telling, the angst it caused democratic supporters or what it revealed about barack obama himself? >> i think clearly what we saw about the president was the most important thing of the week.
we've known that the website was having significant problems. we've known that this has provided an opening for the republicans. what we saw this week was a president is was as contrite as we've ever seen him, clearly on his heels on this and i think recognizing how the situation he's anyhow in is different than anything he's really faced as president and unless they can get both the health care plan fixed and restore some measure of credibility more generally to his presidency, his second term is at risk. gwen: john, what exactly -- you're sitting at home and kind of paying attention to this you know that something went wrong with the plan and a lot went wrong with the website. but what happened with thanpl that the president felt he had to fix? >> well, the way the health care law is working is actually -- if you set the website aside, is how it was expected to work, how they knew it was going to work. they anticipated -- because the president and the law -- on
purpose -- turned other the individual market. now, we're in a situation where all of the people who think they're hurt by that know it and are complaining very loudly and because the website is not working, all of the people who might be helped by that can't find it out and so you have a huge imbalance. we have a political system where people who make the most noise get the most response so that was putting tremendous pressure on the white house, on democrats in congress. republicans took advantage and what the with the -- president was engaged in was an exercise of trying to put up a heat shield for himself and for democrats with this fix. in terms of what it means for insurance policies, probably not all that much because the president didn't compel anyone to do anything. what he did was say to state insurance commissioners, if you're willing to do this and if the insurance companies are also
willing to do it, then those insurance policies can be extended as late as september 20 15. but many states and many insurance companies don't want to do that and the white house knew that they're trying to stop the steamroller of the bill that fred upton was talking about in the clip you just played and give democrats something to hang onto to say we're going to stand with the president. he's dealing with this issue and we'll see how successful that has. gwen: the upton bill probably wouldn't pass the senate and if it did the president would veto it. >> not probably, it definitely wouldn't. gwen: it gave the republicans more ammunition. john boehner came out and talked in advance of the president about everything that was wrong with this. >> when it comes to obamacare, it's clear that the american people simply can't trust this white house. the white house said americans
could trust them when they submitted their personal information that the website was tested and was secure. well, that hasn't happened. gwen: john boehner a couple of weeks ago was at the bottom of the pile after the government shutdown. now the republicans see a little daylight. >> a lot of daylight and one month tomorrow is when the government shutdown ended. girlfriend. is that all? >> things really hang in a hurry. the white house is hoping this will change in a hurry but probably not so fast. i had heard speaker boehner say similar things throughout the year but this time is different. the president, a failed website have ginn republicans a huge opening and today 39 democrats voted with the republicans on the upton bill to basically defy the president and their house leadership and they want to cast a vote. even as the president was speaking yesterday for a pretty
long time answering a lot of questions on purpose to try and show people that he is sorry and get the trust back . senate democrats were like we actually want a vote on this. we want part of our voting record to include some kind of a fix for obamacare because they're running for re-election next year. gwen: and the leader of that movement was senator mary landrieu. let's listen to her. >> we're going to be working across the aisle not to repeal or defund the affordable care act, not to undermine the affordable care act, not to gut it but to fix it. gwen: but isn't fixing it undermining it? >> right before she said that she said what the president did today was a good first step. she is one of those democrats on the front line of a tough re-election campaign in louisiana. i was standing next to her when she was saying that and she made clear that she is going to go
ahead with this. some of it is window dressing for her constituents at home. but the white house is worried about her bill. her bill would allow americans to keep their policies indefinitely. that changes the whole balance of all this not all that many democrats are signing on with her. i think seven have now. but even the others, like the senator from new hampshire has a bill. tom udall has a bill. so many different bills out there. but people want to vote on something. >> i want to ask about the president's proposed fix. if the idea is to allow people to keep their old plans that was -- that were supposed to be phased out for a year, isn't that kicking the can down the road and we'll have the same decision to make right before the 2014 election. is that any different for democrats at that point? >> john was right. the president wasn't compelling anyone to do anything.
it was very much a message yesterday at the white house. he's fallen on his sword. we've use than metaphor so many times. you're right, it is kicking the can down the road, not solving anything but gives people more time to deal with this. >> this is one place where gridlock is the president's friend because getting the republican house and the democratic senate to agree on a bill, changing this law is going to be impossible. they simply -- republicans want to kill it and democrats want to fix it like mary landrieu said. the other thing is, on your question, the answer is yes. a fix would, in fact, undermine the law and that's because for the law to work, you have to have people who have had these canceled plans, many of whom are healthy people who benefited from the facts that they don't have many medical needs so they can pay a small amount for a thin policy.
those who get sick a lot of times would have their insurance canceled or face caps on the benefits. but those people need to be in the system because their premium money is necessary to pay for the older, sicker people who can now buy insurance who couldn't buy it before. so if you misalign and mess up that risk pool by taking younger healthy people out of it, you undermine the law. gwen: one of the things that was fascinating about that news conference yesterday was kind of an insight to not only the way the president's mind works but also the way the white house works in which he admitted on several occasions he just didn't know. let's listen to that. >> we didn't go far left and choose an approach that would have been much more disruptive. we didn't adopt some more conservative proposals that would have been much more disruptive. we tried to choose a way that built off the existing system,
but it is complicated. it is hard but i make no a apologizes for us taking this -- apologies for us sooner or later had to do it. gwen: i call that the goldilocks defense. >> right now the porridge doesn't taste good to a lot of people. i think what was most telling about that press conference was not simply that he said he was sorry, that we fumbled, it was on his shoulder, on me, etc., but a couple of other things. one was the degree to which he did not know the problems as they were about to launch. but the second that i thought was more revealing and more damaging was when he said what we've learned is that buying insurance is very complicated. which was, in essence, a gentle way of saying we bit off a lot more than we were able to do and we did not realize at the time
how difficult this was going to be. almost any way you parse that it's not good for the president and the white house. gwen: back to 1993, all of us who were there covering the last time they tried to do big health care with hillary clinton's health care task force. they also bit off more than they could chew and collapsed as a result of that. he was saying we tried not to do that and still got tripled up. >> but the same thing is tripping up this president that trimmed up bill clintonnle earlier in the process. the reason it failed under clinton's administration is that ultimately the americans became convinced that it was going to cost them money to provide insurance to other people. the people complaining are now making that same complaint. you're messing with my situation in order to help somebody else. ose complaints are happening
at the same time the techologyal failure is preventing people? finding out whether they come out ahead. >> i was surprised by bill clinton inserting himself in the process. obviously he and his wife fail told do it but don't the clintons have a rooting interest in this working in a way by his saying let's figure out a way that people can keep their policies for a year. gwen: old man advice. when you're in a hole, stop digging, barack. >> it's in his interests for this to work. otherwise it's going to reflect badly on his wife? >> it's bad for democrats, bad for any notion of progressive change that it requires the government to get involved in a big way and obviously would spill over on hillary clinton from 2016 and -- -- if she runs. >> --
gwen: he blamed information technology, the procurement process. all these things are true but he blamented the bureaucratic process and blamed us or for him for not being able to find a way to filter through us. he used fumble what a half a dozen times? sports analogy. is the game over? >> let's not forget that he's a basketball player, not a football player. >> but i asked him at the white house after that hourlong press conference was he intending to talk that long? it seemed like the more he was explaining -- if you're explaining you're losing. they said yes, he was always planning on talking at least an how were because he really wanted to put it all out there and try and fix this trust deaf sift. they think if the public sees and they still generally like him -- see that he's trying to do a good thing.
i'm not sure. as he went through that lust list of people he's blaming. yes, it may be true but there was sort of the buck stops -- gwen: there was. there were several of them. >> how many times can you fumble? >> i thought it stretched on so long are people listening? gwen: if it were shorter would he have been accused of hiding something? >> but are people listeninging to him anymore? >> no, the game is not over. but if they can get the web soot working -- jeff, who's trying to fix the website reported substantial progress. they said it would be worklinging when it startled so we don't know if november 30 they're going to achieve that. but that's the key to this whole process. gwen: why did it work in the state exchanges and not on the federal? why were so many more people
able to register through the states but not the federal? was it just a technology problem? >> i think the scale problem. if you have a state government dealing with only its own citizens and not having the layers of complexity introduced by the federal government having to interact with a variety of entities, including 30-some states at one time, i think that's a lot of it. >> i-agree with john. the game is not over. we're six weeks into this and as we know, we were talking about the republicans, but i think that getting the remember site fixed and getting the program operating smoothly is the bare minimum that she's going to -- he's going to need. he made a very telling comment yesterday which was i have to regain my credibility on people with health care and a number of other issues. i think that was an acknowledgement that the problem for him is broader than the health care issue and the
feeling of people who i've talked to in the last two days who are loyal to him is that no more mistakes. they cannot afford more mistakes. they think this will work. they think that they have some time. they think it's not going to turn around for him instantly but they believe there is a path back but if something further goes wrong, if there's some other unexpected problem, it could take a terrible toll. gwen: it's funny how you mentioned things can leak over into other topics. it seems this time last week john kerry had a deal. after france and israel objected, a plan to get iran to freeze nuclear enrichment went off the rails. john mccain says he knows who's to blame. >> i'm told yesterday that secretary kerry refused to give any details of the negotiation's position of the united states in these negotiations and yet at
the same time wants to rely on our good will. look, this guy has been a human wrecking ball. gwen: whoo. the democrats were resisting too, which is why kerry flew back from geneva to washington to try to mollify members of his own party. we've heard this before. what's at stake here? >> everything is at stake. the most serious foreign policy is the risk of on a iranian nuclear weapons capability and i think there are so many elements of this last week we were in geneva. you're right. when john kerry got on a plane and showed up, followed immediately by every other foreign minister in the six nations because no one wanted to be left out of this game. we all thought ok, this means there's going to be a deal. i think what happened was kerry thought he was very close to getting a deal. perhaps he would have except for
the fact the french foreign minister showed up -- gwen: wasn't the iraqi foreign minister telegraphing they thought he had a deal? >> yes, the u.s., the european chief and iran had been working on a -- an agreement. france said wait a second, we haven't weighed in on this. france, britain, germany, china and russia hadn't been brought in as much so they wanted to strengthen some of the language in regards heavy water reactor at iraq and also to the levels of enrichment and stockpiles of enriched uranium. we have france introducing at the last minute some changes. although the u.s. was annoyed at first, in the end, the u.s. and the other members of these six powers said you know what you're right. these are good changes. the p-5 plus one partners agreed
on a new text. they handed it back to iran and they said this is not what we agreed upon and the iranians at that point were unable to sign off. they had to take it back to teheran. that doesn't mean there's not the possibility of a deal now but there's a gap of 10 days during which israel and hots of opponents of the deal on capitol hill who feel that the bill would not be tough enough gives them time to regroup and put the administration on the defensive. >> the trip next week, is that a last-shot deal? >> i think, administration officials and others have told me that they're going to geneva and they're going to sit there until they get a deal. >> how long is that? >> we could be stuck there for a while. i packed extra clothes last time and i was glad i did because it did go on extra.
>> you talked about objections from israel. jing mini netanyahu said this is not just a bad deal, this is a crazy bad deal. what should a fair-minded person think about just on its face whether this was a huge concession by the united states or not? >> there are several problems here. there are different red lines involved. netanyahu's is that iran should not be able to have a nuclear weapons capability. obama's red line is iran shouldn't be able to have a nuclear well and there is a difference between those two. obama is saying we want to have complete safe guard, verification, make sure that iran is not diverting any nuclear material rushing towards a bomb. so far there are inspectors on the ground and we know that iran hasn't diverted anything yet. the problem is you can't wipe out knowledge. those nuclear citizen cysts know
how to enrich uranium. so do you get a deal that you can get that is realistic? and the obama administration feels that a realistic deal is one that would loewen richment at a low level, just for power plants -- >> just a quick question. has this intervening time given the opponents enough momentum to be able to stop this? gwen: including some democrats. >> exactly. a democrat who has been one of the big hawks on capitol hill. it's given them time to assail the plan and put the administration's plan on the back foot. what kerry hasn't been able to do is even in closed door sessions explained to members of congress exactly what is in the deal and what is in the sanctions release package. the opponents have had a chance to put their own assessments
out. gwen: thanks, everybody. it's shocking, we're out of time. online, our "washington week" webcast extra at 8:30 p.m. eastern streams live and all weekend long. while there, keep up with our new project, a chance to talk back. tell us what you could ask your member of congress. keep it classy, people. you may see us during our thanksgiving week show. keep up withous -- our developments seven days a week on the pbs news hour and we'll see you here next week on "washington week." good night. >> corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> at northrop grumman we've
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