By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- PLAYING THE BLAME GAME: The contractors who helped build the new health care website are not to blame for the problems that countless users have encountered at HealthCare.gov, company representatives told the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday. According to ABC’s JOHN PARKINSON, Cheryl Campbell, who testified on behalf of CGI Federal, the key contractor behind the construction of HealthCare.Gov, conceded that issues arising in the federal exchange “made the enrollment process difficult for too many Americans.” But she directed blame at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), which integrated the work of multiple contractors as the final product was launched. http://abcn.ws/18g82Fx
- ‘REALLY KIND OF A LAME EXCUSE’: Both Republicans and Democrats at yesterday’s committee hearing pressed the contractors for a credible explanation of the botched start. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said, “There are thousands of websites that carry far more traffic. So I think that’s really kind of a lame excuse. Amazon and eBay don’t crash the week before Christmas and ProFlowers doesn’t crash on Valentine’s Day. “Are you saying that you didn’t test? That the test worked very well, both inside and out? Or that you turned it all over to CMS? Anybody want to answer?” Eshoo continued, drawing a long period of silence from all of the witnesses. “If you don’t have an answer, just say that you don’t.”
- SEBELIUS: ‘I DON’T WORK FOR’ THOSE ‘CALLING FOR ME TO RESIGN’: Yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rejected the onslaught of demands, leveled most prominently by Republican lawmakers, for her to resign over the botched rollout of the new Obamacare website. “The majority of people calling for me to resign, I would say, are people who I don’t work for and who do not want this program to work in the first place,” Sebelius said during an appearance at a Phoenix, Ariz. Health and Human Services call center. “I have had frequent conversations with the president and I have committed to him that my role is to get the program up and running and we will do just that.” When asked if any heads have rolled in the administration over the problem-plagued website, she responded: “No one — no one has been fired.”
THIS WEEK ON ‘THIS WEEK’: Former Vice President Dick Cheney gives his take on the latest dysfunction in Washington and the state of the Republican party, and discusses his new book “Heart: An American Medical Odyssey” on his 35-year battle with heart disease, Sunday on “This Week.” And our powerhouse roundtable tackles all the week’s politics, including the fight over Obamacare and the looming budget battles. Plus, anchor Jorge Ramos discusses the Monday launch of the joint ABC News-Univision cable venture Fusion, and his new program “America with Jorge Ramos.” Check the “This Week” page for full guest listings. Be sure to use #ThisWeek when you tweet about the program. TUNE IN SUNDAY: http://abcnews.go.com/thisweek READ AN EXCERPT OF CHENEY’S NEW BOOK: http://abcn.ws/16xC5ZV AND CHECK OUT THE “THIS WEEK” QUIZ WITH ESPN’S JEREMY SCHAAP: http://abcn.ws/1fVrSil
–THE NOTE’S #FF: “This Week” executive broadcast producer Jonathan Greenberger: @greenbergerj
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: On one level, the Obamacare sales pitch has showed remarkable consistency: Close your eyes to ignore the gray hair, and President Obama sounds like he did in 2009, making the same case for his signature health care initiative that he has from the start. But isn’t it time for a new tune? Administration efforts to explain what’s wrong with the Obamacare exchanges, and what’s being done to fix it, have become totally entwined with continued efforts to sell the public on the wisdom and urgency of the law. In that context, the tone-deaf comments by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last night – saying that most people calling for her resignation “are people I don’t work for and who do not want this program to work in the first place” — are enlightening. Of course the law’s critics are pouncing on the broken Website. But that doesn’t mean the Website isn’t broken. At this point in time, is it possible that Obamacare doesn’t need to be sold nearly as much as it needs to be fixed?
ABC’s ABBY PHILLIP: DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz announced the creation of a new initiative focused on further targeting women voters and potential activists: the Democratic Women’s Alliance. At the opening session of the 20 year old Women’s Leadership forum this morning Wasserman-Schultz said the initiative’s focus will be on making the 2012 campaign’s ground game and engagement of women voters a “permanent part of the Democratic Party.” On top of using and growing the number of women on the DNC’s voter rolls, the initiative will engage in research, polling and grassroots engagement in all 50 states. “The primary focus of the Democratic Women’s Alliance would be to increase the number of women involved in the party at all levels,” Wasserman-Schultz said.
ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Ted Cruz has spent his time since the shutdown ended on a victory tour of sorts in Texas. Despite actually losing this battle he has been greeted by big, enthusiastic crowds in the Lonestar State. Tonight, he makes another trip back to Iowa, where he will speak before hundreds of conservatives at the Iowa GOP’s Ronald Reagan dinner, a fall fundraiser for the state party. This is just Cruz’s latest visit to the state where voters get the first say in presidential politics. He’s been a frequent visitor to the first caucus state and on Saturday he will go pheasant hunting with Rep. Steve King, a fellow tea partier and important endorsement on the Iowa campaign trail. King’s pheasant hunt has become a must-stop for presidential hopefuls. Rick Santorum accompanied him right before the 2012 caucuses, but King decided against endorsing. Cruz is sure to be greeted just as enthusiastically this weekend, but it will do little to allay the fears of establishment Republicans that the shutdown hurt the GOP brand and could hurt the party in both 2014 and 2016. That concern is real and easy to see in all the polling since the shutdown began. The polls don’t look great for Democrats, but it’s clear that Americans put more of the blame on the GOP.
ABC’s MICHAEL FALCONE: What does it take to be seen as credible presidential candidate by the voters in the all-important early caucus state of Iowa? Here’s what you’ll need to do: Develop a taste for rubber chicken dinners from Sioux City to Cedar Rapids, learn how to flip pork chops at the State Fair, bring an extra set of tires for all the miles of road you’ll travel in a quest to visit every single one of Iowa’s 99 counties (a feat only a few presidential hopefuls have accomplished). This weekend Sen. Ted Cruz plans to participate in another one of the state’s political rituals — an annual pheasant hunt organized by GOP Rep. Steve King. Election cycle after election cycle Iowa holds on tight to its front-row seat in the presidential nominating arena. 2016 appears to be no different. And the hurdles the potential candidates have to jump — especially in what could well be a very crowded Republican field — are only getting higher.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
MEGHAN MCCAIN DISHES ABOUT HER ‘PAIN IN THE ASS’ DAD. Sen. John McCain says his daughter Meghan can be a “giant pain in the ass.” But the 29-year-old daughter of the Arizona Republican is laughing off her father’s comment, which he makes in jest during an interview with Meghan in an upcoming episode of her new reality show, “Raising McCain.” “I feel like McCains are pains in the asses!” McCain told “Top Line.” McCain, who first rose to prominence by keeping a blog during her father’s 2008 presidential campaign, said that she and her father are both working through a shared frustration with the current state of the GOP. McCain said the emotional toll of her father’s frustration rivals the disappointment he experienced after losing the 2008 election. “I’ve never heard him this depressed other than maybe after the ’08 election,” McCain said. “He’s so depressed, so down-trodden. The way he’s talking about it, he’s never seen it this bad in his 30-plus years in office.” http://yhoo.it/168sMSW
HILLARY CLINTON DENOUNCES ‘EVIDENCE-FREE’ POLICY DEBATES IN DC. Calling for a more inclusive, ideas-driven policy in Washington, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton feted the progressive think tank, the Center for American Progress, at its 10th anniversary reception last night, ABC’s ABBY PHILIP notes. “We are careening form crisis to crisis instead of having a plan, bringing people to that plan, focusing on common sense solutions and being relentless in driving toward them,” Clinton said at the reception in Washington. Clinton reiterated a condemnation of the recent government shutdown, which she said left families dealing with the fallout of a “scorched earth over common ground” philosophy. “We’ve seen unfortunately what happens in our public debates when they occur in what I call an ‘evidence-free zone,’” Clinton noted. “When people make claims and arguments that have no basis in evidence.” “Families have felt the consequences,” she added. http://abcn.ws/17gACuG
–ALL ROADS LEAD TO HILLARY: In addition to Clinton, the day-long Center for American Progress conference featured a slew of speeches from rising stars in the party — and potential political rivals for Clinton if she runs for president in 2016. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is emerging as a favorite among progressives, focused her remarks on the economic needs of women and families. She is often included among a short list of Democratic women who may have presidential ambitions, although likely only if Clinton declines to run. And Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is also thought to be interested in a presidential run, focused his remarks on his efforts to steer Maryland in a more progressive direction on economic and social issues, as well as on immigration. But if anything, the showcase of the progressive movement’s biggest names highlighted even more that Clinton remains the person to beat. Few others engender the same passions among Democratic base activists. And even fewer have the range of experiences to bring to the table. http://abcn.ws/17gACuG
HAPPENING TODAY: President Obama spends the day in New York City, focusing on education and fundraising for Democratic candidates, according to ABC’s MARY BRUCE. This afternoon, he delivers remarks on education and the economy at the Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn. The president will highlight “the importance of ensuring that the next generation of middle class American workers and entrepreneurs have the skills they need to compete and win in a global economy,” according to the White House.
HARRY REID SAYS NO TO GRAND BARGAIN: ‘THAT’S ALL HAPPY TALK’. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ruled out a grand bargain, dismissing it as “all happy talk” in a Nevada public radio interview Thursday, according to ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ. ”That’s all happy talk. I would hope that were the case, but we’re not going to have a grand bargain in the near future,” Reid told KNPR radio today. “I hope that we can do some stuff to get rid of sequestration and go on to do some sensible budgeteering. I’ve got a wonderful leader of my budget committee, Patty Murray from the state of Washington, and I feel pretty comfortable that she’ll do a good job for us…. I would hope there would be a grand bargain, but I don’t think that’ll happen.” Asked if cuts to Social Security and Medicare could be part of the grand bargain, Reid admonished the radio host, saying, “You keep talking about Medicare and Social Security. Get something else in your brain. Stop talking about that. That is not going to happen this time. There is not going to be a grand bargain.” http://abcn.ws/1d419wn
–REID ON OBAMA: ‘HE DOESN’T LIKE CONFRONTATION’: In yesterday’s radio interview, Reid said he regrets being “too lenient” in negotiations with Republicans in the past and intends not to repeat the same mistake this time around. “If you give a bully a dollar today, they want a dollar and a half tomorrow. You cannot do business with bullies,” he said. “It’s taken a while for all my caucus to come to that understanding and I think quite frankly, the president, the wonderful man that he is, he doesn’t like confrontation and he likes to work things out with people.” http://abcn.ws/1d419wn
TED CRUZ ANGERS NIGERIAN-AMERICANS WITH OBAMACARE REMARKS. Sen. Ted Cruz’s sense of humor is earning him some ill will from near and far, notes ABC’s DANA HUGHES. A Nigerian-American organization wants the Texas Republican to apologize for comments he made Monday about the problems with the Affordable Care Act website. “You may have noticed that all the Nigerian email scammers have become a lot less active lately,” Cruz said at a gathering with supporters in Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle. “They all have been hired to run the Obamacare website,” he joked. But the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, also known as CANAN, isn’t laughing. “Cruz has maligned all hardworking, decent and outstanding Nigerian-Americans who add value and bring goodwill to their different communities, especially in Texas, with the largest concentration of Nigerian-Americans in this country,” the group said in a statement released Thursday. And that’s not the only place where Cruz’s joke fell flat. The Nigerian ambassador to the United States, Ade Adefuye, told Politico that Nigerians are “disappointed and shocked” by Cruz’s comments. “We deplore the statement, and we demand an apology, and we demand it be withdrawn,” Adefuye said. http://abcn.ws/16wLy98
RAHM EMANUEL PREDICTS DEMS CAN WIN IN 2014 IF… Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who helped Democrats retake the House of Representatives in 2006, said his party can do the same in 2014 if Republicans stay on the course that led to the 16-day government shutdown, ABC’s ABBY PHILLIP reports. “If they stay on course, Democrats have a good chance,” Emanuel said at a Center for American Progress conference in Washington yesterday. “If they reverse course, then it’s a district-by-district scenario.” Democrats believe they need to gain 17 seats to retake the majority in the House-a tall order after Republican-led redistricting helped fortify incumbents and made very few seats competitive. Emanuel, who was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the Democratic takeover of 2006, said Democrats will also have to recruit candidates who can succeed in districts drawn to favor Republicans. http://abcn.ws/1alihND
KERRY BLASTS SHUTDOWN: WARNS WASHINGTON ‘THE WORLD WILL NOT WAIT FOR US’. Secretary of State John Kerry used his remarks at yesterday’s Center for American Progress’ 10-year Anniversary Policy Conference to sharply criticize the U.S. government shutdown this month, saying that it hurt America’s credibility abroad, ABC’s DANA HUGHES writes. Kerry relayed stories about global leaders on a trip he took during the shutdown, making jokes about pay for the U.S. delegation’s dinner since they weren’t sure the delegation was being paid. But he said the undertones of the message were no laughing matter. “As we negotiate with Iran, as we negotiate with the Middle East peace process in Israel, can we be counted on? Will the Congress come through? Can the president make an agreement which will be held?” said Kerry. “The shutdown, and the dysfunction and the simplistic dialogue that came with it, didn’t impress anyone about the power of America’s example.” Kerry pointed to the world’s media headlines, which he said didn’t seem concerned with blaming Republicans or Democrats for the problems, but all of Washington. “None of these assessments blamed one political party or another,” he said. “They took no interest whatsoever in opinion polling, hypothetical electoral consequences, 2016, who won the news cycle, who would win the Senate. …They simply wanted to know: Will America be a credible partner tomorrow?” said Kerry. http://abcn.ws/1eObn4o
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
WHITE HOUSE BUNGLES LEAK ABOUT GOP LEADER TRASHING OBAMA. The White House and Senate Democrats may need a refresher course on how to leak a juicy story. The White House yesterday was forced to backtrack on a rumor Obama administration officials started about a Republican House leader who purportedly insulted President Obama to his face, telling the president, “I cannot even stand to look at you.” As ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ reports, it turns out, it never happened. How do we know? The same White House that was responsible for starting the buzz now says there was a “miscommunication” and a “misunderstanding.” Here’s how it went down: http://abcn.ws/16ypdTc
@russellberman: Tom Cole #immigration:”We’re not sure we can chew gum, let alone walk & chew gum, so let’s just chew gum for a while” http://thehill.com/homenews/house/330527-gop-comfortable-ignoring-obama-pleas-to-move-to-immigration-reform …
@bterris: How Kirsten Gillibrand Shed Her Past on the Way to Liberal Stardom http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/how-kirsten-gillibrand-shed-her-past-on-the-way-to-liberal-stardom-20131024 … via @nationaljournal