Interviews with Sen. Rockefeller & Sec. Napolitano

Interviews with Sen. Rockefeller & Sec. Napolitano

By The Situation Room - September 29, 2009

BLITZER: Let's discuss what's going on with Senator Jay Rockefeller. He's a Democrat of West Virginia. He's a key member of the Finance Committee, was the author of one of the amendments defeated today.

Senator, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: Is the public option dead?

ROCKEFELLER: No. And actually, the big story coming out of today is that I got eight votes and Chuck Schumer got 10 votes, and, in effect, that's like getting all the Democrats to vote for it. It's -- or most the Democrats to vote for it.

The public option is a very simple concept. In most places in this country there's very little private health insurance competition. In some places there is, but most places there's just one insurance company, two insurance companies, maybe three.

And do they compete? No. They collude, they merge, they grow bigger so that they don't have to -- you know, they can get their way.

BLITZER: Well, you know, one of the arguments that the other side makes is, why not allow health insurance companies to compete nationally, not just within a state, open up the borders and then you get more competition?

ROCKEFELLER: You wouldn't. They'd just merge in different ways. But let me come to the point.

Private health insurance profits have increased 400 percent in the last several years, while premiums for average American families and people, like we all represent here in the Senate, have gone up by 200 percent.

That's not right. And the reason that the profits go up from the for-profit insurance institutions is that there is no non-profit competition.

BLITZER: It -- it seems...

ROCKEFELLER: The public option...

BLITZER: It seems to me, Senator -- excuse me for interrupting -- but, given the math in the United States Senate -- and you know this as well as anyone -- you really need 60 votes to break a filibuster. And the Republicans say they will filibuster.

And given the conservative or moderate Democrats who themselves say they oppose a public option, where do you get 60 votes?

ROCKEFELLER: Well, Wolf, I'm -- I'm sorry to come back at you like this, but you also know how the -- the Congress works. And it shifts as the debate is better known, as the public option is seen for what it is.

BLITZER: It would really require the president to get in there and fight with all of his being...


BLITZER: ... for the public option, when I don't see the White House doing that.

ROCKEFELLER: Well, that may be the case.

But what -- what -- what has to be said is that the public option is a concept which is right for the American families, is right for my people in West Virginia, is right for the people of California. It's right.

The competition is right. It does not exist. As a result, health insurance, private health insurance companies are cutting people off. They are making up excuses. They call it purging, just to get rid of people who are high risk, so they don't have to insure them. That's a very bad thing in something that's -- it's in 16 percent of the American economy.

BLITZER: If it's not included in the final version of the language, the public option, which would create a government-run health insurance company to compete with the private health insurance companies, if it's not there, will you still vote for it?

ROCKEFELLER: Let's -- let's wait on that. I care very strongly about it, obviously. We had the -- we had five hours of debate on my amendment. That's the longest debate that's ever been held that I can remember.

But the point is, it -- it's going to change. We have to negotiate with the Health Committee, Teddy Kennedy's former committee. They have a public option in their bill. That's in the Senate. All the House committees have a public option in their bills.

And, so, there's conferences. There's all kinds of things that happen between now and what you say, the point at which I will either vote yes or no.

BLITZER: Are you disappointed the president has not been more aggressive in saying, this is a sine qua non; this is absolutely essential for any piece of legislation?

ROCKEFELLER: A little bit. A little bit, I'm disappointed.

I mean, I know he's strongly for it, and I know that his tactic has been to let the Congress do its work, and then he will come in when the crunch really counts.

What I'm saying is that the crunch is really beginning to count now, and I think he's -- I know he's for it, and he said so publicly. He campaigned on it. So, I think it's important that he come in at this point strongly. BLITZER: Help me understand West Virginia for a moment. You know the state as well as anyone. There are only a few major health in -- private health insurance companies that operate in West Virginia; is that right?

ROCKEFELLER: That is correct.

BLITZER: Now, what if -- if they allowed every -- there's 1,000 private health insurance companies across the United States -- what if you broke down the state barriers, and you said, all 1,000 or more, come in and try to get -- try to get the people to subscribe to your health insurance company? Why wouldn't that create greater competition and bring down costs?

ROCKEFELLER: It would create vast, monumental confusion, because they all have the way of selling their products. Most of their products are explained in -- in papers that are too small to be read and language which nobody can understand.

So, just enlarging the number of insurance companies competing, they are all in the same game: Cut covering people, increase making money. And I'm sorry to put it so baldly, but that's exactly what it is.

We had a -- a top executive of Cigna come in to the Commerce Committee and tell us that. He said people are paid...

BLITZER: If you feel that strongly about that, Senator...

ROCKEFELLER: ... people are paid, Wolf, to cut people off.

BLITZER: I understand what you're saying, but, if you feel that strongly, why not just go for what Senator Bernie Sanders wants, of Vermont, which is a single-payer option, which is what they have in Canada or in England or in France, where the -- the government provides health insurance for everyone?

ROCKEFELLER: Well, the government does provide a lot of health insurance for everybody through Medicaid and Medicare, the VA, and a lot of other things.

And, you know, the Republicans praise that. But then they don't want government involved in competition in the private health insurance market. No, we're not -- we're not at the point of a -- a single-payer system.

But what I said in my closing remarks was that the Republicans are doing the best job possible to drive us to exactly the point they don't want us to go, which is a single-payer system, because, by constantly saying, no, we're against this, we're against that, no, no, no, no, they -- they are just saying the status quo works for the American people, when the American people, at the rate of about 67 percent, know it doesn't, and want the public option.

So, there's obviously very fertile ground to be tilled out there. That's part of my responsibility. BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: A congressman calls President Obama "an enemy of humanity" -- a direct quote -- "an enemy of humanity." Was it a slip of the tongue or an unacceptable slap at the commander in chief? Stand by for a discussion in our "Strategy Session."

And the federal government is going to new lengths to stop you from texting while driving. I will ask the NTSB chairman about the danger for all of us on the roads rights now.


BLITZER: The government says he wanted to blast weapons of mass destruction in the United States, allegedly involved in a plan to bomb a target in New York City. How worried should we be?


BLITZER: And joining us now from the North Lawn of the White House, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano.

Madam Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Let's talk about terrorism, though, right now. This arrest of this Najibullah Zazi, it sounds like a -- a big deal, because this was not part of a sting operation, an FBI insider operation. It sounds, at least according to the allegations, as if he was trained by al Qaeda, was -- was -- was preparing some sort of major attack here in the united states.

Was it?

NAPOLITANO: Well, without commenting specifically to the case, I think what it shows -- or may show -- assuming the allegations are proven, is that there are individuals within the United States who have now been trained, are -- are operational and who ascribe to al Qaeda or al Qaeda-type beliefs.

BLITZER: Does this appear to be the biggest al Qaeda-related arrest on U.S. soil since 9/11?

NAPOLITANO: Oh, I don't think they can be rated like that.

I think the -- the case will continue. It's been a multi-agency investigation over the past weeks involving both city and federal agencies. And there no doubt will be other investigations, both in the coming weeks and the coming years.

BLITZER: I know you're limited what you can tell us given the nature of the -- the sensitivity in what's going on, but there have been a lot of reports that there are three other -- at least three other suspects at large right now connected to this Najibullah Zazi. Is that true?

NAPOLITANO: Look, I -- I really don't want to comment right now. This is an ongoing investigation. The investigative process needs to take priority.

BLITZER: What about the -- overall, the bigger picture? What does this say about al Qaeda and its intentions on U.S. soil?

NAPOLITANO: Well, as I said earlier, what it says is that there are individuals in the United States who ascribe to al Qaeda, al Qaeda-type beliefs, and who may indeed have been trained by al Qaeda.

Bush, beyond that, I -- I think we shouldn't speculate. And, again, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, working jointly with state and locals, our job is to make sure that we are pursuing investigative leads, not just in this case, but in other cases as well, and nailing them down to prevent any danger to Americans.

BLITZER: That homeland security bulletin or alert that you released the last week warning of potential threats to stadiums or to luxury hotels, was that related to this recent wave of arrests that we have seen?

NAPOLITANO: What it was, was telling state and local officials to watch out for targets that have been used by al Qaeda or al Qaeda- like organizations in -- in other countries and in other operations, so that we were on alert. Everybody is watching. Everyone is being vigilant. That is the way you prepare and that is the way you prevent.

BLITZER: We hear about all these drills taking place all across the country, what-if kinds of drills. I guess the bottom-line question a lot of Americans are asking, is the country ready, God forbid, for another massive attack?

NAPOLITANO: Well, you know, God forbid is right, but the plain fact of the matter is, is that we are much better prepared than we were prior to 9/11.

We practice. We do these exercises so that we are prepared. And, if you're prepared, you don't have to react in fear. You act out of a sense of control of the -- and -- and what you need to do to respond and to recover.

BLITZER: It sounds as if you're saying, better prepared, but not as perfect as we should be. There's still plenty of work to do; is that right?

NAPOLITANO: I would agree. I think this is something that you never say -- step back and say, well, we're done now.

This is an ever-changing threat environment, and it can affect big cities and rural areas alike. They all have different ways of conducting law enforcement, different emergency response capabilities.

Our job at the Department of Homeland Security is to work with all of them, so that there is this sense of shared responsibility and shared preparedness.

BLITZER: You have got a huge plate in front of you, a huge agenda, including the H1N1, the so-called swine flu.

People are getting ready for the vaccines that should be beginning over the next week or two. How confident are you that anyone getting this vaccine for the H1N1 will not become sick as a result of the vaccine?

NAPOLITANO: Well, that's probably a question better addressed to the CDC. But, given the testing, it would -- the -- the vaccine obviously is safe, or they wouldn't be asking millions of Americans, particularly American children, to get vaccinated.

BLITZER: Because a lot of parents are clearly going to be nervous about giving this brand-new vaccine to their kids.

NAPOLITANO: Well, the vaccines have been tested, and, again, approved through the process that's used, albeit somewhat more quickly than normal. Why? Because the circumstances command so.

But, again, I think that the vaccine would not be being prescribed if it were not safe.

BLITZER: Are you, the secretary of homeland security, ready to get the vaccine?

NAPOLITANO: I will get it, but I won't be in the first group. So, the first groups will be those that are more susceptible to the virus, and that will be school-aged children, including college age, and also some particular groups, such as pregnant women.

BLITZER: Finally, if there's a major outbreak across the country over the coming weeks or months, are the hospitals ready for, potentially, this kind of situation?

NAPOLITANO: You know, the hospitals have been preparing throughout the summer months.

You know, we saw the spring outbreak. We had a respite while the -- the -- while the virus circulated in the Southern Hemisphere. And the hospitals had some time to prepare. So, I think they are as prepared as they can be.

But, again, when the -- this is something that we will have to be flexible about. Certain areas of the country, undoubtedly, will be hit harder than other areas. And so we're going to have to be able to -- to be flexible there as well.



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