A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday morning, November 3, 2013 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Welcome to This Week.
It's a perfect storm.
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KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: You deserve better. I apologize.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Outrage over Obamacare.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We only spy for valid foreign intelligence purposes.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: A spying circus.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: The president's lowest poll numbers yet. Is Obama's second term slipping away? Has he lost control? What will it take to get it back?
This morning, the only show where the White House responds. Tough questions for the president's top strategist.
Plus, Republican Senator Rand Paul in a This Week exclusive.
And the analyst who nailed it in 2012, reads this year's tea leaves. Nate Silver makes his debut on our roundtable.
And that and Rob Lowe plays his presidential hero right here this Sunday morning.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello again. One year ago this week, President Obama was coasting toward re-election, now he's coming off one of the toughest weeks of his second term.
Let's start out with our chief White House correspondent Jon Karl with more on that.
So you've got the Obamacare troubles, you've got the NSA spying controversy and now this new book "Double Down" goes inside the campaign of 2012 and shows that even winning campaigns aren't pretty on the inside.
JON KARL, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, George. And perhaps more disturbing for a White House that prizes secrecy so much, is how apparently some of the president's top aides leaked so much information to authors of this book.
KARL: In the president's weekly address, no mention of Obamacare or veep switches.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to cut through that noise and talk plainly about what we should do right now to keep growing this economy and creating new jobs.
KARL: Just an effort to turn the page after one of his toughest weeks of his second term. Who would have thought this joke over a week ago on Saturday Night Live.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Millions of Americans are visiting Healthcare.gov, which is great news. Unfortunately the site was only designed to handle six users at one time.
KARL: Would turn into something of an actual prediction when Friday a congressional committee revealed only six Americans were able to sign up on Obamacare's flawed website on the first day. And with some unable to keep its health plans as the president promised over and over again.
OBAMA: I said this once or twice, but it bears repeating, if you like your health care plan -- if you like -- if you like -- if you like your plan, you keep your plan -- you can keep your plan -- period.
KARL: The oft repeated promise suddenly changed. The president now saying most, if not all, could keep their health coverage.
OBAMA: For the vast majority of people who have health insurance that works, you can keep it.
KARL: Then there are the new bombshells in the book "Double Down" including campaign staffers resorting to an intervention after Obama's disastrous first debate. The president telling them, I don't think I can do this.
His supposed take on Bill Clinton. I like him, in doses.
And the splashiest claim, the Obama campaign secretly did research on the possibility of replacing Vice President Biden with Hillary Clinton.
(on camera): Did Vice President Biden know that the campaign was conducting polling and focus groups on the possibility of replacing him?
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jon, I don't know the details of that. It was something that the president would never have accepted.
KARL: And all of this is weighing heavily on the president's poll numbers, which George, this week, are approaching levels almost as low as George Bush in the aftermath of Katrina.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Jon Karl, you're coming back for the roundtable.
Let's join now to the top strategist for President Obama Dan Pfeiffer. Thanks for coming in today.
And begin with this book and try to clear some things up. First of all, the bottom line on this potential switch between Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, research was done, correct?
STEPHANOPOULOS: But what happened next?
PFEIFFER: This was never seriously considered. Never taken to the president. I can tell you, no one in the campaign as well as the president ever serious considered this in any way shape or form.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But then why was the research done?
PFEIFFER: Research is done on a lot of things. Is, I think, Bill Daley, who was chief of staff at the time, said the other morning on another network, it wasn't taken to the president. He said anyone who took it to the president probably have been thrown out of the office. I believe that to be true.
STEPHANOPOULOS: No matter what the research would have shown?
PFEIFFER: No matter what the research said.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Cover of New York magazine also has that line from President Obama "I just don't know if I can do this." It goes inside the debate prep. In the second debate, you saw in Jon Karl's piece, those relatively dismissive comments about President Clinton.
And first of all, did this happen the way it's portrayed in the book? Was the president this rattled after the first debate?
PFEIFFER: Well, look I haven't read the book. So I don't know all the details of it. There's no question the first debate did not go as well as anyone would have hoped. But he bounced back in the second and the third. It took work to get there. It took work from the president and his team.
So, I think all of that is sort of half history.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it also includes a scene where the president had to dramatically cut back on his strategy meetings because of leaks. The president very, very angry about that. I can only imagine what he's thinking as he sees all of these details in the book?
PFEIFFER: Well, look, we are not the first White House to deal with leaks. Every White House has dealt with it. I think we have been more leak-free than most. And where we find them we try to stop them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is he angry about this?
PFEIFFER: He -- the president is always frustrated about leaks. I haven't talked to him about this book. I haven't read it. He hasn't read it. But he hates leaks. Everyone hates leaks. Because the point is we should be able to work together to get the American people's work done.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So no one is going to pay a price for this?
PFEIFFER: I think anyone who leaks has to pay the price. I don't know who leaked in that book.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The president also frustrated about the problems with the health care launch. The website was down again overnight for maintenance. Apparently it's back up right now. But given these challenges, and you had Jeffrey Zients even admit to those. He's now running the punch list for Obamacare. Given these challenges, are you still confident the website's problems are going to be fixed by the end of November?
PFEIFFER: Yes. Jeff Zients has said that to us. He said it to us as recently this week that based on the work they've done, that they believe they can get the website working smoothly for the vast majority of Americans by the end of this month. And if we do that, while we have lost some time obviously for the last three months -- last month here -- we're going to be able to get...
STEPHANOPOULOS: You'd have lost almost two months there?
PFEIFFER: Right. Here's -- the good news here is that, the history of programs like this, like in Massachusetts, is that most people sign up toward the end. And Massachusetts in the first month, 0.03 percent of the overall population who ended up signing up signed up in that first month. So there's time here. There's no question we have to get this done by the end of this month.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, the clock is ticking.
PFEIFFER: No question.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We saw that report, the internal notes showing only six people signed up on the first day. You've set out this goal that 7 million people will sign up by that first big deadline of March 31st. Are you still committed to that goal? Are you going to reach that goal?
PFEIFFER: Well, that's a goal that CBO said is what they thought would happen. Our goal is to get as many people done as possible. I can promise you that the first enrollment numbers, which were released later this month, are not going to be what we want them to be. There's no question about that. The website hasn't worked the way we want it to work. But we take responsibility for that, take responsibility for the errors, take responsibility for fixing it.
And if we get the website working as expected we do by the end of this month, then I think we're going to be in a good place.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to show something, you said just a couple of days before the launch of the website on CNN, talking about how the website was ready to go.
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PFEIFFER: Starting on October 1, people are going to be able to go to these marketplaces Online, compare plans. They'll have access to plans they've never had before. And when people see that, they're going to see this is going to be a consumer experience unmatched by anything in the public, but also in the private sector.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Clearly didn't turn out that way. I mean, couple of big questions here, and people are still struggling with this, how is it possible -- and we have seen all these reports, the president was asking about this website every single day, how is it possible that he and you at top levels of the White House, did not know? And given that, why should we believe your confidence now?
PFEIFFER: Well, I'd say a couple of things, one, we did believe that was the question -- the president asked these questions -- those are the answers he was given. These results do not match up to his expectations or the American people's expectations. It is inexcusable. There is no question about that.
Since then, we have made serious changes. We sent Jeff Zients in who is someone who is a close adviser to this president, someone who has a long history of fixing problems like this in the public and the private sector. He has gone in, he has made some management changes. He's brought in a team of technological experts from Silicon Valley and elsewhere who are looking at this. They've done an analysis of what went wrong and how to make it work.
And so, you know, he has confidence and we have confidence we can get this done. But it's not easy. It's going to take a lot of work.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One thing that is also clear is that the president's signature promise on health care, if you like your health care plan, you're going to be able to keep it, but that is not literally true, it is not true. And the president has taken a lot of heat for that this week.
In The Wall Street Journal reported this week that there was actually a lot of debate behind the scenes whether or not the president should actually make that promise. You see the headline from yesterday's Wall Street Journal right there. And they quote, one former senior administration official said that as the law was being crafted by the White House and lawmakers some White House policy advisers objected to the breadth of Mr. Obama's keep your plan promise. They were overruled by political aids, the former official said. Is that true?
PFEIFFER: That is not my recollection at all of that. And let's talk about that promise for a second. If the president didn't intend to keep this promise, why would he have gone out of his way to put a provision in the law specifically says that if you have a plan before Obamacare passed you can keep that plan?
Now if you're plan has been downgraded or canceled, you can't. But if the president were to allow people to have those plans be downgraded, or insurance companies to keep selling barebones plans -- but George, if he had done that he'd be violating even more important promise to the American people, that everyone would have a guarantee to access of quality affordable health insurance.
It's important to understand who we're talking about and the kind of plans we're talking about. It's 5 percent of the market, this is the individual market. 80 percent of people have health care through Medicare, their employers or Medicaid. 15 percent don't have health insurance, they don't have access to it for the first time, and 5 percent if you have your plan and it hasn't changed or canceled, you can keep it.
50 percent of this -- of this group are going to be able to get access to tax subsidies to make their plans cheaper. And most of them will get a better plan for less for the same or less. And many these plans, were cut-rate plans that didn't cover hospitalization, doctor's visits...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's stipulate what you just assume -- it's true, but it still doesn't meet the literal promise the president made right there. And your policymakers knew that then. Why didn't the president say during the campaign what he said this week, for the vast majority of people, if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.
PFEIFFER: Look, I can't go back in time on this. And like I said, I don't recall this debate the Wall Street Journal talks about in any way, shape or form.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Never came up inside?
PFEIFFER; Not that I remember. But here's the point, is that -- is that if you had a plan before the Affordable Care Act passed, it hasn't been changed or canceled, you can keep it. And, look, I understand that there's controversy and confusion, that's why the president went out and addressed it in Boston this week.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Jon Karl also talked about in his piece about how the president's poll numbers have taken a hit in the wake of this. And the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this week shows his approval rating, only at 42 percent, lowest I believe of his second term and its matched by a series of headlines about how the president seems to evading responsibility or not in the loop on major issues.
New York Times, "Where the buck stops, some see a bystander."
"The Washington Post," "Controversies show how the president's inattention to detail may hurt his presidential legacy."
How is the president going to fix this problem?
PFEIFFER: Well, it's two things. One, our concern right now, the president's concern is not poll numbers or political standing, it's getting this Web site working so that Americans -- million of Americans have access to quality affordable health insurance. If we do that, everything else will take care of itself politically.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don't think there are any questions that the president has to address about his -- the White House confidence or White House credibility?
PFEIFFER: Well, I think that, look, the -- I -- the Web site failures are absolutely inexcusable and we own that. That is -- as a president, that's on him. We have to fix it. And we owe it to the American people to fix it, no question.
And to this notion of a bystander, that is an absurd character that flies in the face of everything I've seen in working with this president in every day of his five years in office.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Although, the president was not aware, as we learned this week, also, about the tapping of the cell phone of Angela Merkel. This NSA controversy continues to spread, as well. And in the wake of it, Edward Snowden has actually had a meeting with a German legislator where -- and he presented that person with a letter where he says that, "Speaking the truth is not a crime. I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of United States will abandon this harmful practice."
He's seeking some kind of clemency.
Are there any conditions under which President Obama would consider clemency?
PFEIFFER: None -- none that have been discussed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: None at all?
STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not on the table?
PFEIFFER: Not that's been discussed. He -- look, Mr. Snowden violated U.S. law. There -- and, uh, and our belief has always been that he should return to the U.S. and face -- and face justice.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, Rand Paul is our next guest, Senator Rand Paul.
Do you agree with Jay Carney, your White House colleague, that it would be, quote, "awesome" if Rand Paul runs for president in 2016?
PFEIFFER: I suspect that the 2016 Republican nomination is going to be awesome no matter who runs.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Dan Pfeiffer, thanks very much.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Dan Pfeiffer, thanks very much.
Let's go to Senator Rand Paul right there.
Senator Paul, you just heard Dan Pfeiffer, it's going to be an awesome race.
Are you going to be a part of it?
PAUL: I guess that wasn't quite an endorsement from the White House, but we're still working on them. But we actually are working with the White House. And the last time I was with the president, I told him there are some things we can agree on. One is, let's let companies bring money back home, repatriate it and let's put the tax proceeds into infrastructure. We could double the amount of money in infrastructure if we did that. And that's something we can find an agreement on. I think we should do it next week.
STEPHANOPOULOS: There we go. That's one -- one point that Rand Paul and the White House could be agreeing on. We'll see what happens with that.
Let's talk about the NSA. We just heard Dan Pfeiffer weigh in on that, as well. And he says that clemency for Edward Snowden isn't under consideration at all.
Should it be?
PAUL: You know, I don't know the facts enough to know, because I don't know whether any information has been distributed to foreign powers, and that would be a great deal of concern.
I do know that I'm also concerned, though, that the national defense director lied to Congress. And I haven't heard of anybody talking about repercussions for him. I think he's seriously damaged out standing in the world. Now, we're seen to be spying not only on foreign leaders, but there's an accusation that we spied on the pope, as well.
So I think really, that there are problems. And we've lost a lot of credibility. The only way I think you could start afresh is with somebody new in charge of your intelligence.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Somebody new in charge of intelligence. There's also the suggestion from one of the former NSA chiefs, Bobby Inman, General Bobby Inman, in today's "New York Times," in an extensive review of the entire NSA program. He says the National Security Agency should get out ahead of all of this and put out everything they knew Snowden to have.
Do you think that's a good idea?
PAUL: Maybe. But I think the fundamental question about whether or not this is constitutional or not should not be decided by the administration, shouldn't be decided by a secret court, the FISA court. It needs to get into the Supreme Court. So with Senator Wyden and myself, we've introduced a FISA bill that would allow cases like this to be challenged in open court, of the Supreme Court. And we should determine once and all whether or not a single warrant can apply to every American. I don't think it does and I think the Supreme Court will side with us.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you've taken some heat from inside your party for your views on privacy and the fourth amendment and the national security administration, including from congressmen like Peter King, who says people like you are trying to exult Edward Snowden.
And "The New York Times" reported that one of your potential rivals, Ted Cruz, thinks it could be disqualifying in a presidential run. This was in yesterday's "New York Times."
It says that, "When Mr. Cruz went to New York City to meet with donors this summer, he told them the Kentucky senator" -- that's you -- "Rand Paul, can never be elected president, because he can never fully detach himself from the strident libertarianism of his father, former Representative Ron Paul of Texas."
How do you respond to that?
PAUL: You know, what I would say is it's actually an advantage for me to talk about the right to privacy, because, you know, you look at the president's numbers dropping. With the young people, they've dropped 20 points in the last two months. I think the reason is because he's not protecting their privacy. Young people don't care so much about taxes and regulation, but they've all got a cell phone and they're all on the Internet and they do care about their privacy.
So do I. And I will defend it and I will correct these policies, if I were ever the one to make the decision.
And I think that will attract new people to the party, not less people.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don't think it's disqualifying.
How -- what do you think, though, about Senator Cruz?
He seems to be catching on. More Republicans now seeing him as a leader in the party than see you as a leader in the party, particularly catching on in Iowa.
Do you think he's your chief rival if you choose to run?
PAUL: I think we're a long way away from that. I haven't even convinced my wife yet whether I should do this. So we're a ways away from making a decision. So, uh, but no, Ted and I are friends. And he's a limited government conservative. We don't always agree on everything, but we agree on a lot of things. So I won't be coming on television to try to disparage him, whether we're ever rivals or not.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard Dan Pfeiffer there say that he is confident that the Web site problems are going to be fixed by the end of November. And one of the success stories, it appears so far, is that in your own state, the Kentucky Web site seems to be doing pretty well. Twenty-six thousand Kentuckians have signed up for the exchange.
What do you make of that fact that so many Kentuckians are signing up?
And does that tell you that this program can be a success?
PAUL: Well, nearly 90 percent of them are signing up for Medicaid, free health insurance from the government. My concern is not that we shouldn't help people. I do want to help these people to get insurance. But there is going to be a cost.
And in my state, we have a lot of rural hospitals that teeter in the balance. My fear is that these hospitals may be bankrupt by overwhelming them with Medicaid patients. The same with doctors. Some may leave the community. Some may discontinue seeing Medicaid patients if they're overwhelmed.
So I see the -- the positive, but I also see the negative. And the real problem is we're driving everyone out of the individual market and there's going to be four plans. Where there were once hundreds of plans that you could choose from, there's now four government-mandated plans. If your insurance doesn't meet, because it's not as good as them, you can't buy it. But even if it's too good -- I had people all across Kentucky come up to me last week and say, I had great insurance, but mine's better than the president says I should have and I've got to either pay a tax or step down to a less good insurance plan.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're saying even if the Web site problems are fixed, you're not confident that ObamaCare is going to work?
PAUL: You know, I think government is inherently inept, because they don't work on a profit motive. Government has to do certain things. There's a certain safety net. There's national defense. There are roads. There's a judiciary. There's Congress. I'm plus-minus on whether we should fund Congress.
But I would say that there are fundamental things government can do. But government shouldn't take on new opportunities or new things to do when it's not managing what it has now.
For example, Medicaid is $35 trillion to $40 trillion short, currently. So when we add a new entitlement program onto another one that's already struggling, I just don't think it was a good idea.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You faced some questions this week about your speeches and whether or not you were committing plagiarism, after reports that language in some of your speeches was lifted directly from Wikipedia, including from our colleague, Jorge Ramos, of Fusion.
Here's what -- that exchange.
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JORGE RAMOS, FUSION: They accused you of stealing four lines from Wikipedia from -- for your speeches at Liberty University.
So is this true?
PAUL: We borrowed the plot lines from "Gattaca". It's a movie. And I gave credit to the people who wrote the movie. There are technicalities to this, but nothing I said was not given attribution to where it came from.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you -- you dismiss that as making a mountain out of a mole. But since then, Politico reported that there were more instances where you used words that first appears in other places. And I know you dismiss those questions.
But do you concede, at least, that this is pretty sloppy?
And don't you have to tighten up your speechmaking operation if you, indeed, do want to have a presidential run?
PAUL: Well, you know, the footnote police have really been dogging me for the last week. I will admit that. And I will admit, sometimes we haven't footnoted things properly. In fact, I've given thousands of speeches and I don't think I've ever footnoted any of those speeches.
In the speech in question, I quoted from "1984," "Gattaca," "My Left Foot," Michelangelo, Einstein, and Ray Bradbury, among maybe a dozen others. And I attributed everything or attributed everything to them.
But I didn't get into the secondary sources and say I quoted Einstein as according to an AP story or as according to Wikipedia.
So I think the spoken word shouldn't be held to the same sort of standard that you have if you're giving a scientific paper. I've written scientific papers. I know how to footnote things.
But we've never footnoted speeches. And if that's the standard I'm going to be held to, yes, we will change and we will footnote things.
Everything in that paper, if I had presented it for an academic -- or that speech for an academic publication, would have had footnotes next to it.
In smooth things that are now going to pop up under thousands of things that I've written, yes, there are times when they have been sloppy or not correct or we've made an error.
But the difference is, I take it as an insult and I will not lie down and say people can call me dishonest, misleading or misrepresenting. I have never intentionally done so. And like I say, if, you know, if dueling were legal in Kentucky, if they keep it up, you know, it would be a duel challenge. But I can't do that, because I can't hold office in Kentucky then.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So what's the fix?
PAUL: Well, we're going to have to footnote things, like I say. But here's the problem, George. Ninety-eight percent of my speeches are extemporaneous. I spoke for 13 hours on the floor extemporaneous. And so it is a little bit hard to footnote things accurately. And I will give you an example.
I love the quote from Niall Ferguson, you know, referring to the president, saying, the deficit is declining, and now Ferguson says, yes, from super-enormous to really, really gigantic. And I love the quote.
But is that enough or do I have to say, as I heard or read on an AP story about Niall Ferguson, or as I heard when he was on with George Stephanopoulos? I mean, there is a sort of a certain degree when we're going to say, is that nitpicking?
So is referring to the person enough or do I have to refer to the original source, where I got the quote from, the person? In an academic paper, even if you paraphrase something, don't even use the same words, anything paraphrased has to be sourced.
So when I wrote scientific papers, I sometimes had statements with eight footnotes for one sentence. Is that what you want me to do for my speeches? If it's required, I'll do it. But I think I'm being unfairly targeted by a bunch of hacks and haters. And I'm just not going to put up with people casting aspersions on my character.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. That's an extensive answer. Thank you very much, Senator Paul.
Up next, it's the "Roundtable's" turn. Matt Dowd, Van Jones, Jon Karl, and Peggy Noonan, on the president's second-term slump. Then stats star Nate Silver, brand new to ESPN and ABC News, takes a look at this Tuesday's elections, what clues will they for 2016 and the midterms exactly one year away?
STEPHANOPOULOS: The "Roundtable" ready to go. Their take on the president's troubles and the new "Game Change," "Double Down," right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": The rollout has been one disaster after the next. Actually, you can't even get to the next disaster, you get an error page that says "404 disaster not found."
JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": They ought to take all the guys at the NSA who are so good at hacking into these phone calls and should put them to work fixing healthcare.gov. We need to reallocate our nerds.
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": The U.S. has been listening in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone. At this point I feel like the only world leader our government doesn't listen to is President Obama.
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Today Obama is in so much trouble he called Hillary Clinton and he said, could you start early?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Tee-ball for the late night comics this week. Let's talk about it on the "Roundtable." I'm joined by Peggy Noonan from The Wall Street Journal, ABC's Matthew Dowd, Jon Karl is back, and Van Jones from CNN's "Crossfire."
And, Peggy, let's begin. This is kind of pile-on time now for the president. I want to show some magazine covers this week as well. You see The New Yorker cover right there, the president trying to -- with a huge cell phone trying to get healthcare.gov working. Bloomberg Businessweek, "Can Obama reboot?". And then Forbes, and this maybe the most interesting one, Vladimir Putin comes up on top of President Obama as the most powerful leader in the world.
And, Peggy, one of the things they point out is the president has entered his lame-duck period early.
PEGGY NOONAN, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes, this whole -- the Obamacare thing, it appears to me, has kind of scarred -- at least the beginning and perhaps more than the beginning of the second administration, it is the headline, even as Obamacare was the headline of the first administration.
You know, Bill Safire once said, advice to all journalists, never join a pile-on. But at this point, that pile-on is not getting smaller, it's just growing because there's nothing to say about Obamacare except from the moment the site debuted, straight through to the point that the American people day-by-day started learning how Obamacare was changing their lives, and cancelling their coverage and changing it, it has just been a disaster. I have never seen a story quite like this.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC CORRESPONDENT: And the turnaround has been astounding. Think of where we were just a few weeks ago, the Republicans were blamed for a government shutdown that went on and on. And it was all this, you know, are the Republicans doomed to, you know, extinction? Poll numbers as low as you've ever seen. And now it's all -- that's over. The focus is on the president.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I pressed Dan Pfeiffer about this a little bit. You're at the White House every single day, behind the scenes how do they explain how they missed this?
KARL: You know, they don't have a good explanation behind the scenes, either, I mean, they -- and, George, we sat through presentations before this went online, just days before it went online, top people at the White House talking to us about how amazing this Web site was going to be.
And it was not just, oh, this is one portal where you can sign up for the health care plan, this was what it was all about.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And even the president's top allies getting anxious, Van.
VAN JONES, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, sure. But -- well, first of all, we say that there is nothing good to be said about Obamacare. I think that's not true. If you're a woman, there's a lot of good stuff to be said about Obamacare, because you can't be overcharged. If you're part of the 14 percent of people who are getting dumped and denied and duped who can now get health insurance, there's a lot of good stuff to be said.
There's a bigger picture here, we cannot have an adult conversation now in Washington, D.C., about anything. You're right, we have gone from the Republicans are finished to now Obama is finished.
Here's what's really going on, there were winners and losers under the last system, and there are winners and losers under this system. The Republicans were completely indifferent apparently to the losers under the last system who were getting dumped and denied.
The Democrats now sound tone deaf to the losers, potentially, under this system. And neither side can come to the table and say, what are we going to do to upgrade Obamacare? What you've got now is either defend it at all costs, defund it all costs, but nobody wants to fix it at a reasonable cost.
MATTHEW DOWD, ABC POLITICAL ANALYST: The difficulty, I think, right now for the president on this, and obviously there are some good things and there are bad things in all of this, but every answer that the president and the administration gives to, like, here's the problem, they given a anecdote.
So they say, here are all of these problems. They say, let me tell you the story of this woman that got this health care thing, as if the plural of anecdote is proof. The plural of anecdote is not proof. The plural of anecdote is many anecdotes.
Until they show the data, this is what's going on, how's it working, how many people are signed up.
But bigger problem for the president, and I faced this with the president that I worked for, at the same time--
STEPHANOPOULOS: Coming out of Katrina.
DOWD: Coming out of Katrina, it wasn't all about Katrina. The president's problems have been brewing for a while. What the Republican circus did was cover up a lot of the president's problems. That circus that went on with the Republicans for a while. And then once that was over, it revealed a deeper problem with the presidency.
And I think what you have right now is you talked about the floor of the president's approval numbers, which are almost exactly where President Bush's were. Every time you establish a new floor, you establish a new ceiling.
DOWD: And when you have a new ceiling that causes the president problems for the next three years.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Peggy I want to bring this to you because it seems like one of the things that ties together Katrina and this situation right now is that for the first time in President Obama's case, I think in a serious way, his competence, and the competence of the White House is being questioned--
STEPHANOPOULOS: As opposed to more of an ideological objection.
NOONAN: I really agree and I think the heart of it is this, the president can talk, the administration is wonderful at talk. They never miss a talking point, a speech. They never forget to feed the audio. They never forget to do, forgive me; you know how I speak of it, the propaganda. But execution and getting it done and creating the program and making it run and making it work has been a complete failure.
So I think there's the sense around there that the people around the president or the people in the White House or the administration have a magical sense that if they say something that things will will itself into being.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring this to Van. How do you explain this question of execution? Here one of the things we're reading in "The Washington Post" this morning is actually; there was a lot of warnings ahead of time that maybe the president should bring in a healthcare czar to run this whole thing, because the execution problems were going to be so serious.
You were a czar in the White House--
JONES: Czars are very popular in the White House.
JONES: All the people criticizing the president now said they wanted more czars. And this is part of the problem, this is silly season. Literally they have this sort of almost Obama-derangement syndrome. Where Obama is absent, weak, ineffectual, a dictator and tyrant who's destroying America.
No matter what this president does, they roll out a narrative that says either he's absent, he's not paying attention or he's a dictator and tyrant trying to steal your rights. These things can't be true at the same time.
Part of what is going on, what I'm disturbed about, is I know this president is not a hands-off leader. He is a famously engaged, I'll tell you what, when you work in the White House, you write something, you know one person in that building is going to read it and his name is President Obama.
And so something went wrong here. But the idea that somehow he's inattentive, he's not paying attention. All that's ludicrous.
KARL: Well he's certainly engaged now. And I'll tell you Jeffrey Zients who's taking this on, he's the, I guess the new czar and Chief of Staff McDonough went up to the Hill to talk to Democrats who are very nervous about this.
And what Democratic Senators said, I am told, can we go back and tell our constituents, promise them, that this website will be up and running by November 30? The answer was absolutely.
So now we have the real test on this. And I'll tell you, they are worried about this. And one Democratic Senator who was in that meeting said that what they're also worried about George is the next shoe to fall is will employers start dropping Obamacare.
DOWD: George one thing and I agree with Van on this, this mix of conflicting ways they describe the president is just so ludicrous it's at opposite ends of the table. The president isn't a dictator. The president actually has great intentions. The president wants to help the American public. The president wants to solve healthcare. The president wants to do all that. Much of it has been done incompetently.
And the president is not a Socialist. I mean you don't turn over our healthcare system to the major insurance companies of the country, which is what has happened with insurance with this new healthcare.gov, it's given to the insurance companies. He's not a Socialist--
STEPHANOPOULOS: There's a lot of regulation.
DOWD: The problem for the president is though, on competence is, one time is a fluke, two times is a coincidence and three times is a trend. And when you, every response to every major crisis you say, I didn't know it was going on. Or the president didn't know what was going on. That builds a trend that is not good for the president.
NOONAN: And the bottom line guys, 3-1/2 years to execute the central promise and the central meaning of your own administration, and it flops. That's, you almost have to try to fail with 3-1/2 years, I've got to tell you.
JONES: Two things. First of all they tried to do too much on this website. You could just have a website where you allow people to shop and then they could call in. I mean they tried to do too much. And I think part of it was because it was a central theme, they tried to do too much.
But it is amazing to me now to see the Republican Party now become the party of Ralph Nader. They're the biggest consumer protection operation in the world now. But six months ago we had people who were getting these same cancellation notices and the Republican Party was silent. There's a problem when you're indifferent to the losers the last time.
I want to make one thing perfectly clear. You look at the numbers here. Fourteen percent, only 14% of Americans were able to keep these individual market plans for two years before. In other words, 80% almost of Americans were being thrown off these plans before.
KARL: A promise, the president made a promise.
JONES: And he over--
KARL: A promise he could not keep.
JONES: And he overpromised. And he will, listen he will pay a price. Mission accomplished, you pay a price. No new taxes, you pay a price. You keep your plan, you pay a price. But we went from 14% losers to 3% losers. It's not 100%. Let's work together to get to 100% and stop the politicking.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to have to take a break right there. A lot more coming from you guys in just a little bit. We're also going to be joined by Nate Silver; he's new to ESPN and ABC News. After his star turn analyzing the 2012 election, he makes his "This Week" debut.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The winners of the White House turkey pardon were chosen through a highly competitive online vote. And once again, Nate Silver completely nailed it. The guy's amazing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Obama with a little shout out there for Nate Silver, brand new to ESPN and ABC News. Also the Editor in Chief of FiveThirtyEight.com. Welcome to ABC, great to have you here Nate.
NATE SILVER, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Of course, good morning.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you did nail the 2012 election so we want to talk about this year's elections and then how we see things playing out going to next year. Starting with something that Jon Karl mentioned in this first roundtable.
We've seen two big storylines this fall. The government shutdown clobbers Republicans the beginning of the fall. President Obama, Democrats getting clobbered by healthcare the last several weeks. How do you see this playing out as we head toward the mid-terms next year?
SILVER: Well these are maybe the two biggest lines that each side has. The thing about the Obamacare rollout problems is it plays in this whole notion that Senator Paul was talking about where, how competent is big government? Is there overreach here, execution issues?
On the other hand Democrats can say almost running an anti-incumbent campaign saying the GOP is so dangerous, when they get power, we need to dis-empower them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We're already seeing that in ads right now.
SILVER: And these are stories. You know, I do kind of use the Jon Stewart test, is that--because more Americans are watching comedic shows, they're watching Leno and Letterman and Jon Stewart. And when things become a punch line there, and resonate with people outside the beltway, that's when the issues might resonate forward to next Tuesday.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Two key numbers you're also looking at as we head into next year, and I want to broaden out the conversation. Number one, congressional approval right now, down to 12%, 85% disapprove of Congress.
And then when you look at the 2014 elections, a generic ballot we call it, Democrats versus Republicans, Democrats have about an 8 point lead. But that doesn't tell the whole story.
SILVER: Yeah there are a couple issues with these numbers. Number one these are numbers right after the shutdown. There's been another poll, the NBC poll we've seen Democrats retreating from their peak in that poll. But also these are numbers among registered voters and not likely voters. Usually there's a turn out gap that favors the GOP in midterm elections.
Plus we have to remember too that the way Congressional districts are configured, most of them are somewhat Republican leaning. Democrats are concentrated in big cities. That means Mitt Romney actually won the majority of districts last year. So although those numbers look good for Democrats superficially, very challenging for them to win back the House.
KARL: And you on that point, if you look at where those numbers were before the Republican wave in 2010, Democrats had an advantage on the generic ballot in Congress. Even in 1994 with the Gingrich revolution. I mean you had, Democrats had that advantage. So it wasn't quite as big as it is now, but it wasn't much different.
DOWD: And the great thing about Nate which is something I referred to earlier, is it's data driven as opposed to sort of like, here's an anecdote, wow, there's a big rally going on in Richmond, Virginia, it's going to change the nature of this.
The other conflicting data point that I think we have to look at is the president's approval number. Because when you look at the president's approval number, you usually say, just singular looking at that, oh it's going to be bad for the Democrats.
But then you look at the Republicans approval number, it's really bad for the Republicans. So I think 2014 is not going to be a wave election in my view. It's going to be fought out battle by battle by battle by battle. And redistricting is going to affect that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And two big battles coming up right now in 2013 on Tuesday we see governor's races in both Virginia and New Jersey. A little bit of a surprise in Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, Democrat, grew up in New York. Seems to be heading towards victor of Ken Cuccinelli, a Tea Party favorite. Both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton will be campaigning for him today.
In New Jersey, Chris Christie seems to be coasting to re-election in a big blue state. Despite those revelations in double down and he's making no secret that he's at least looking at a president run.
Peggy Noonan, you spent some time with Governor Christie this week.
NOONAN: Yeah he was beginning his big 7-day bus tour of New Jersey, you know, to end on Election Day.
I found him to be an example of the lost joy, the lost pleasure of politics. He's out there having fun. They love him. He's going to win by, we don't know, 20, 25, whatever, points. He is feeling triumphant, that is a rare thing to see in a Republican these days. So it was wonderful to witness him.
Let me tell you something I've been thinking about though with regard to New Jersey and Virginia. New Jersey is about to, we believe, it looks like, re-elect a Red State figure who is pro-life and he's about to win by a lot of points it appears from the polls.
Ken Cuccinelli, down south in Virginia if that's still called the south, is a pro-life guy who is expected, according to the polls, to go down. So he's going to go down in a mixed state and Christie is going to win in a deep blue state. I'm trying to make my point here. It's that, wow pro-life politics and social issues can be very interesting.
JONES: Well, first of all I think that Chris Christie should really enjoy this moment. When you read "Double Down" and you see the kinds of stuff that has not come out about him yet, and when you actually talk to people who live in New Jersey about property taxes going out, the bond rating going down, poverty growing.
I think the myth of Chris Christie is going to pop like a big balloon. I think this is his last great moment. I think when you want to run as a fiscally conservative guy and your property taxes are going up and you've got the worst bond rating in the state--
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's separate those questions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I've read the, I've read the parts about Chris Christie, what are you specifically referring to? I mean I saw the stuff on his vetting file. You know, it's stuff that could be uncomfortable, it has to be answered. But it doesn't seem to be disqualifying.
JONES: I just (inaudible) out there.
JONES: Listen, I, the stuff that I've seen, I haven't read the full book. The stuff that I've seen, you talk about the kind of, the temper-- when you can put together a roll of tape, you've got to have a DVD full of the greatest hits of this guy yelling at people and screaming at people. I don't think it's been packaged together yet--
KARL: That's his brand though.
JONES: Listen, if that's such a great brand then why wasn't he the Vice President--
DOWD: Here's what I think, Wednesday morning, next Wednesday morning we'll be reflecting on Virginia and New Jersey. What I think they signify more than anything else is not some sort of thing that's going to tell us 2014. Virginia and New Jersey never tell you about what the future is.
If you look back at the elections what they do say is, the environment in the state or the geography matters. And both of the environments have helped--
STEPHANOPOULOS: And ideology matters.
DOWD: And competence of candidates matter.
SILVER: So Chris Christie is a conservative on some issues like abortion. But other issues that are important to suburban voters in New Jersey, immigration, the environment, gun control, he takes a more moderate stance. So I think it's kind of a fairly simply story where in a purple state a Tea Party candidate's going to be a disadvantage even if it's a very mediocre Democratic nominee.
DOWD: And Hurricane Sandy.
DOWD: His ability, what he did, obviously we're now having a New York Marathon today which we didn't have last year because Hurricane, how he handed Hurricane Sandy basically determined his election.
NOONAN: Can I tell you, he, Christie said, I asked him about these issues. He said, you know what you guys all misunderstand about politics, it's not about ticking off boxes and this issue and that issue. He said, at the end it's personal, it's a personal, visceral judgment about your leader. He said politics is personal.
We'll see. But I, it was an interesting little analysis of what a leader is.
DOWD: He wants into Iowa and New Hampshire; he's going to have to do that.
NOONAN: Yeah, that's true.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Talk about Virginia for a second. Because if Terry McAuliffe does indeed win, Republicans will be shut out of all the top offices in Virginia. President Obama targeted it earlier. Is this state completely transformed?
KARL: Well it's astounding. You're going to have the Democrats, if we go the way we think, controlling both senate seats, the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor and the Attorney General. We haven't seen that since Watergate. So this could be a moment in time. But what a wakeup call for the Republicans. They couldn't win anything in Virginia.
JONES: And I think that it is a telling thing about the Tea Party in that you have all this energy but its energy that seems to be hurting the Republicans in the long-term. You're going to have to do an autopsy on the autopsy.
Remember the autopsy? Where the Republicans said, listen we've got to do better with women. We've got to do better with minorities. Cuccinelli points in the opposite direction. I think that, again, you have a Chris Christie, people are excited about it. I think he's a lot weaker than people think. And I don't think the Republicans have anybody else who's going to be able to win a national election.
DOWD: If Chris Christie goes, yeah.
SILVER: It's a telling sign about the democracy. Virginia is a symbolic sign of the democracy of the country--
DOWD: That's where we're going.
SILVER: Which hurts Republicans. We've had 8 or 9 states over the last nine years which have moved from solidly Republican to lean Democratic. We've had one state that has moved from leaned Democratic or solidly Democratic, West Virginia, to the Republican. So you have 8 one way, 1 the other, demography in this country really is not a good sign for the Republicans.
KARL: But candidates matter. I mean Republicans nominated far right candidates.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Lesson for the Tea Party Peggy Noonan?
NOONAN: Lesson for the Tea Party? Well I'll tell you, I think something big may be coming. A lot of people may be cruising for a bruising here. Big difference between the Tea Party now and say '64 and Goldwater or '76 and Reagan both wanted to seize and control and win over the Republican Party. The Tea Party now shows signs of not wanting to win it but of wanting to topple it over. Wanting to do away with it. That is something new in our politics. It's going to get fought out over the next few years.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What should we be watching Tuesday night?
SILVER: So these races aren't terribly competitive. The one contingency of Virginia, McAuliffe is a heavy favorite. You do have a Libertarian candidate though, where his vote combined with Cuccinelli 's would be ahead of McAuliffe so if you see a lot of last minute defectors, people saying, I don't like Cuccinelli but I'm a Republican, I'm going to not waste my vote, then he might have an outside chance. But most of these races are kind of baked in, I think, at this point.
KARL: The one thing I'm looking for is New Jersey. The gender gap. In the last (inaudible) poll, Christie had exactly the same level of support among women he had among men. No gender gap whatsoever. He's running against a woman. If he comes anywhere near that close, that will be the central argument (inaudible) that he is a Republican who can win.
JONES: I think the fact that de Blasio is going to win by such a big blowout--
STEPHANOPOULOS: New York Mayor's Race.
JONES: Yeah New York Mayor's Race is very important. Why? Because the theme of income inequality. If this is the theme that I think if the Democrats can't nationalize, if you can see in 2014, look the Republicans get power, they abuse it, and we've got income inequality, we want to do something about it. It's going to be a big, big year for Democrats.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm afraid Peggy Noonan and Matt Dowd are going to have tweet their--
STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you everyone. Get ready for Nate's new website, FiveThirtyEight.com, that's launching in the New Year. And coming up, Rob Lowe (inaudible) playing JFK. And his friend Charlie Sheen's take on Dallas conspiracy theories.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROB LOWE, ACTOR: Charlie has since taken it to the level that he also believes the moon is hollow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's next in our Sunday Spotlight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINNIFER GOODWIN, ACTRESS: Look at the lead you've got.
ROB LOWE, ACTOR: Well yeah sure in the Northeast. We need to wait for the Midwest, and the West. It's going to be a long night.
GOODWIN: Well tell me in the morning who wins Mr. President.
LOWE: Don't say that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Scene there from "Killing Kennedy" based on Bill O'Reilly's best-selling book. It stars Rob Lowe as JFK and in our Sunday Spotlight, Rob tells us it's the role of a lifetime, one he's been preparing to play for years.
LOWE: And I told them I was ready and they trusted me. He's the most recognized face and voice, arguably, in history. And so as an actor you have to service that. Because if you don't have the look and you don't have the voice, you don't have anything.
I am today announcing my candidacy for the Presidency of the United States.
So you do that. And then you just begin the real work, making him a real human being.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the most fascinating scenes to me is during the Bay of Pigs crisis, when he really reveals his insecurities.
UNKNOWN ACTOR: In a matter of days, those missiles will be operational. We have to--
LOWE: I will not be pushed. Not by Khrushchev, not by you.
That's why you fall in love with this character. Because you realize he's a man, just like you and me. He just happens to be John F. Kennedy. We all have stresses around our jobs. His stresses just happened to have the entire world hanging in the balance.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Especially in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. And it's one of the tragedies of the Kennedy Presidency that he was struck down at the moment he seemed to be--
LOWE: Finding his footing.
LOWE: Both politically and personally. I think there's a lot that speaks to his relationship with Jackie being sort of on the rebound. And them re-connecting with each other. Which I always found really moving about it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: "Killing Kennedy" also takes on a lasting debate, siding with the Warren Commissions conclusion, Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
Are you convinced?
LOWE: I don't think we'll ever know. I've been back and forth--
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it true you and Charlie Sheen used to go back and forth and argue about whether or not it was a conspiracy?
LOWE: Not only did we argue about it, but we actually had a couple of the leading authors come and speak to our little salon of friends. You know Charlie has since taken it to the level that he also believes that the moon is hollow.
LOWE: I'm not really sure what the significance of that would be. But you know, I've got what I do is I go, here's the list of believers in conspiracies, here's the list of believers and I'm going with Vince Bugliosi, Warren Commission, Kennedy family instead of Charlie Sheen.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What was the biggest thing you learned about John F. Kennedy throughout all this?
LOWE: You realize that why he is held in such reverence when you watch these White House press conferences.
PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: I listened to Mr. Meter's (ph) record but I thought it sounded like more Teddy than it did me.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Such style, such wit.
LOWE: Such wit. He was so fast. He had the common touch and yet he traveled the world and had every privilege. I mean he was the unique original that everybody from President Clinton to Barack Obama or any of our leaders that we feel are great communications, Ronald Reagan, all of them come directly from JFK.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: "Killing Kennedy premier's November 10 on the NatGeo channel. And now some welcome news from Afghanistan, this week the Pentagon did not announce any killings of service members.
That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World News with David Muir" tonight and I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."