'This Week' Transcript: WH Senior Advisor David Axelrod and Sen. Lindsey Graham

Transcript: "This Week" with White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) plus Anita Dunn, Ed Gillespie, George Will and Cokie Roberts.

March 14, 2010 —

TAPPER: Good morning, everyone. It is zero hour for health care reform. Democratic leaders are scrambling for votes so they can pass the Senate bill. A vote they said could come by next weekend. Well, tomorrow, the president heads to Ohio for another campaign-style event to sell his plan to the public. Joining me now, senior White House adviser, David Axelrod. David, thanks so much for being here.

AXELROD: Good to be here.

TAPPER: So, David, by the end of the week, will you have the votes and how are you going to get them? House Democrats say they're not there right now.

AXELROD: Look, I -- I believe we will have them. It's been a long and arduous debate. It's a tough issue for members of Congress, because there is an enormous lobbying campaign going on the other side. Lobbyists from the insurance industry descending on Capitol Hill like locusts and trying to pressure people to vote against this bill. There is a lot of pressure on people. But I believe that we'll be there at the end of the day.

TAPPER: OK. Well, the man whose election in January changed the political scene here in Washington, Republican Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, over the weekend had this to say about health care reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Somehow, the greater the public opposition to the health care bill, the more determined they seem to force it on us anyway. You know, their attitude shows that Washington at its very worst, and the presumption that they know best and they're going to get their way whether the American people like it or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: David, pluralities, if not majorities of the American people do oppose this bill. Doesn't he have a point?

AXELROD: Well, first, let me note that Senator Brown comes from a state that has a health care plan that is similar to one that we are trying to enact here, and that people in his state are overwhelmingly in support of it. He voted for it and said he wouldn't repeal it. So we're just trying to give the rest of America the same opportunities that the people of Massachusetts have to get health insurance at a price they can afford.

This bill is important to the American people, Jake, and when you get underneath the numbers and you ask people, do you support giving people more leverage against insurance companies so that they -- if they have preexisting conditions, they can get coverage, so if they get sick, they don't get thrown off, so they don't have these huge premium increases of the sort we've just seen announced in states around the country, they say yes. When you say, do you want to give small businesses and people who don't have insurance through the job the chance to get insurance in a competitive marketplace where they can get it at a price they can afford and give them tax credits to help them do that, they say yes. And when you say, should we reduce the overall costs of the health care system over time, they say yes.

But that's the program. That's the plan. And it is important to the American people that we have the fortitude to go ahead against it, to leave the politics aside, to leave the partisanship aside, to resist the special interests and get the job done.

TAPPER: But according to polls, the American people do not agree with what you think--

AXELROD: The polls are split, Jake. I mean, one of the interesting things that has happened in the last four or five weeks is that if you look at -- if you average together the public polls, what you find is that the American people are split on the top line, do you support the plan? But again, when you go underneath, they support the elements of the plan. When you ask them, does the health care system need reform, three quarters of them say yes. When you ask them, do you want Congress to move forward and deal with this issue, three quarters of them say yes. So we're not going to walk away from this issue.

The biggest thing, though, is -- and this is the way Washington measures these, by how it will affect the election, how it will affect the president. The question is how will it affect the American people. We know what's going to happen if we don't enact it. We saw in California, 38 percent rate increase just announced. In Illinois, up to 60 percent. We know that 10 million more people will lose insurance in the next 10 years if we don't act. We know small businesses, there is a new study coming out that says a third of small businesses that currently give insurance to their employers are going to have to drop it in the next decade if we don't act. We know what's going to happen if we don't act. So the real question is, will the American people win or lose, not how it affects the politics of this town.

TAPPER: And act this week. If it does not work this week, is that the last chance for health care reform?

AXELROD: Well, I believe it is going to happen this week. I think we're going to have a vote, and the American people are entitled to an up or down vote. We don't want to see procedural gimmicks used to try and prevent an up or down vote on this issue. We've had a long debate, Jake. It's gone on for a year. The plan the president has embraced and has put forward is one that takes ideas, the best thinking from both the Republican and Democratic sides. This marketplace where people can buy insurance who don't have it today, a competitive marketplace -- that's an idea that both sides embrace. The place where we don't agree is on whether there should be some restraint on insurance companies and whether they should be allowed to run wild. We believe there should be some restraint, some on the other side don't think so.

TAPPER: One of the things that the president has acknowledged the American people don't like about the bill as it exists right now, the Senate bill with all the special deals that are in there for individual senators to win their vote. The president has directed the House and Senate to remove those from the fixes that you guys are creating, but some members of the Senate and the House are pushing back. They want those deals. Are you ready to pledge that none of those deals or any other deal that other members may be trying to get as this is being pushed through the House, that none of them will be in this final bill?

AXELROD: Well, the president does believe that state-only carveouts should not be in the bill. There are things in the bill that apply to groupings of states who satisfy -- for example, in Louisiana, the -- what has been portrayed as a provision relating to Louisiana says that if a state, if every county in a state is declared a disaster area, they get some extra Medicaid funds. Well, that would apply to any state that--

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: -- talking about Montana, talking about $100 million for a hospital in Connecticut--

AXELROD: The principle should be, the principle should be, do those provisions apply to everyone? In other words, are there things that pertain, that if a state satisfies a certain set of circumstances, they would -- they would qualify. And I think that is different than a special state-specific thing. In the case of Nebraska, what everyone was outraged about was that it seemed to be a special deal just for one state. That is not going to be in this bill.

TAPPER: So none of the things that are state-specific to win the votes of individual senators. Louisiana not counting as that, but none of the others will be in the final bill.

AXELROD: The principle that we want to apply is that are these -- are these applicable to all states? Even if they do not qualify now, would they qualify under certain sets of circumstances.

TAPPER: I don't want to get into a whole debate about reconciliation, because I know that Republicans have used it in the past, that's the measure to pass a bill in the Senate with a majority vote instead of 60 votes. But the provision is supposed to be used to reduce the deficit. So, is the administration saying that the fixes will reduce the deficit more than the Senate bill already does?

AXELROD: Well, the CBO is still running through--

TAPPER: But doesn't it--

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: Well, it certainly will. We believe that it will be similar to the Senate bill in the sense that it will reduce the deficits over the first decade by something on the order of $100 billion, and over a trillion dollars in the second decade. So there is no doubt that what we're doing here will help reduce the deficits, and that's of course one of the reasons why it's important that we act, because health care costs are the single greatest upward pressure on the federal deficit.

TAPPER: House Democrats are talking about using a procedural maneuver to pass the Senate bill in the House and then the fixes without ever actually having a vote on the Senate bill. Here is Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, a Democrat of California.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOOLSEY: I don't need to see my colleagues vote for the Senate bill in the House. We don't like the Senate bill. Why should we be forced to do that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Can the president support a procedure where members of the House pass the Senate bill without ever voting for the Senate bill?

AXELROD: Well, look, I think everybody is going to be on the record by the end of this week on these matters, and of course in answer to Congresswoman Woolsey, the president's proposal is not the Senate proposal. With the corrections that have been made, with the improvements that have been made, some including Republican ideas, some including Democratic ideas, this is -- this is a different proposal, and I think it addresses some of the concerns that people have had.

TAPPER: But when pushing reconciliation in the Senate, the president has talked about how the Senate bill deserves an up or down vote. Shouldn't--

AXELROD: Health care, Jake, health care deserves an up or down vote, and health care will get an up or down vote. Remember, we already had up or down votes in the House and Senate, 60 votes in the Senate, the bill passed the House as well. Now the question is do we pass the requisite improvements to this bill, corrections to this bill to make it even stronger, and I think we will.

TAPPER: So the parliamentary stuff doesn't matter. It's just a question of whether or not the overall package--

AXELROD: What does matter is that people cast or are allowed to cast an up or down vote on the future of health insurance reform in this country. We have had a year. Enough game playing, enough maneuvering. Let's have the up or down vote and give the American people the future they deserve.

TAPPER: I want to change to a couple of other subjects. First of all, President Obama during his state of the union address criticized the Supreme Court decision, with the Supreme Court sitting there. This week, Chief Justice John Roberts had this to say about how he felt at the time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering, while the court, according to the requirements of protocol, has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Doesn't Justice Roberts have a point? Not on the substance of what President Obama was saying about the decision, obviously the president can say whatever he wants. But doesn't he have a point about the appropriateness of that setting?

AXELROD: You know, I really don't think so, and I think Justice Roberts is a student of history. You know, if he looks back 100 years, Theodore Roosevelt said of Oliver Wendell Holmes after he made a decision on an antitrust case that he didn't believe in, that Roosevelt thought was a bad decision, he said, I could carve out of a banana a judge with a stronger spine than him. So things have been said about justices by presidents in the past that were far more personal than anything the president said here. But thinking about Teddy Roosevelt, I wonder what he would think about a bill that essentially allows for a corporate takeover of our elections, or a court decision. And that's what we're dealing with here. Under the ruling of the Supreme Court, any lobbyist could go into any legislator and say, if you don't vote our way on this bill, we're going to run a million-dollar campaign against you in your district. And that is a threat to our democracy. It's going to further reduce the voice of the American people, and it's something we have to push back vigorously on.

TAPPER: All right, last question. Vice President Biden went to Israel this week and he was greeted by a slap in the face, the announcement by the Israeli government of the approval of new housing units in an Arab section of Jerusalem. President Obama was said to be very upset about it. Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton made very strong comments about it. Will there be any consequences, tangible consequences beyond the tough talk? And does Israel's intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?

AXELROD: Well, look, what happened there was an affront. It was an insult, but that's not the most important thing. What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process. We've just gotten proximity, so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was -- that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace and security in the region.

Israel is a strong and special ally. The bonds run deep. But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave. That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president. I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we've had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward.

TAPPER: I hate to say this, but yes or no, David, does the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue, yes or no, does it put U.S. troops lives at risk?

AXELROD: I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I'm not going to put it in those terms. But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.

TAPPER: All right, David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama, thanks so much for joining us.

AXELROD: Good to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: And joining me now from Clemson, South Carolina is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Senator Graham, thanks so much for joining us.

GRAHAM: Thank you, Jake. Good to be with you.

TAPPER: Now you have said that if the Democrats use reconciliation to pass the fixes to the Senate bill, it will be catastrophic to attempts to have any sort of bipartisan cooperation. But you have voted for reconciliation in the past when Republicans were in the majority, the 2003 Bush tax cuts, more than $300 billion worth in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 which slowed the growth of Medicare.

Those votes seemed to pass without catastrophe. So why has this changed?

GRAHAM: Well, number one, they related to income and spending. And this is one-sixth of the economy about to be affected here. Under reconciliation, you can't make any changes to Social Security because Senator Byrd understood it was never meant to be used for a purpose like this.

Senator Byrd said you couldn't pass Senator -- President Clinton's health care plan through reconciliation. It was never meant -- and you can repeal the Bush tax cuts if you don't like it. If they use this device called reconciliation to deal out Republicans, it will open up Pandora's box.

And the interview I just heard is spin, campaigning. I thought the campaigning was over. Are you trying to tell me and the American people that Scott Brown got elected campaigning against a Washington bill that really is just like the Massachusetts bill?

The American people are getting tired of this crap. No way in the world is what they did in Massachusetts like what we're about to do in Washington. We didn't cut Medicare -- they didn't cut Medicare when they passed the bill in Massachusetts. They didn't raise $500 billion on the American people when they passed the bill in Massachusetts.

To suggest that Scott Brown is basically campaigning against the bill in Washington that is like the one in Massachusetts is complete spin. I've been in bipartisan deals, I was in the "gang of 14" to stop the Senate from blowing up when the Republicans wanted to change the rules and use the majority vote to get judges through.

If they do this, it's going to poison the well for anything else they would like to achieve this year or thereafter.

TAPPER: I want to move on to a couple of other topics because you've been involved as the White House's best friend among Senate Republicans in a lot of ways, working with Democrats and independent Senator Joe Lieberman on energy and climate change legislation, on closing Guantanamo, and other matters.

You met with President Obama on Thursday, in fact, to talk about immigration reform. After the meeting, President Obama said his commitment to the issue was unwavering, but he needs you to bring Republican votes. Can you bring Republican votes and what is your take on his commitment being unwavering?

GRAHAM: Well, I have worked with this administration to solve hard problems because I want to for the good of the people of the country and for the state of South Carolina. But this idea that the president has been unwavering on immigration doesn't really pass the smell test.

One line in the State of the Union that was unnoticeable is not unwavering. A hastily called meeting Thursday because of a rally next weekend is not unwavering, is CYA. Unwavering is sending two cabinet members over to the House and the Senate two hours a day for two months with dozens of senators trying to write a bill.

That's what President Bush did. President Obama has not been unwavering on immigration reform. He has pretty much ignored it because he has been consumed by health care. And there will be no way we'll be able to go to the Senate after you blow it up with risk-averse Democrats and Republicans upset to deal with something as important and controversial as immigration.

Chuck Schumer has been a great partner. We're going to release a document soon about our way forward on immigration. He understands the politics and the substance. But this idea that this administration has been unwavering on immigration reform is just political spin and the people at the rally ought to know that.

TAPPER: Well, the leader of the Republican charge, other than President Bush, for immigration reform last time was your dear friend Senator John McCain, who, as far as I can tell, is completely AWOL from the debate.

I know he has a tough primary against a more conservative -- arguably more conservative challenger there. But shouldn't -- I mean, where -- what is his commitment? It certainly doesn't look unwavering.

GRAHAM: Well, to me, his commitment is what it has always been. He has done the heavy lifting on immigration. He has been fighting the health care bill that the country dislikes and Republicans can't tolerate. He has fought the stimulus package. And he has worked with the president on (INAUDIBLE).

Here is my advice to the administration, I will release a document with Senator Schumer about my views on how to fix immigration. The campaign is over, you told Senator McCain. President Obama, lead. You write a health care -- immigration reform bill. You do the heavy lifting. You put together a comprehensive immigration reform package. You bring it to the Senate and House and see how many Democrat and Republican supporters you can get.

All you have done is talk about what we should do, now is the time to lead. Tell the people at the rally next weekend that your administration will write a comprehensive immigration reform bill. I will be glad to look at it. If I like, I will sign on. If I oppose it, I'll tell you where I disagree. And see how many votes you can get.

TAPPER: To be fair, Senator Graham, the reason that immigration reform didn't pass last time, even with you, Senator McCain and President Bush pushing for it, was because of the Republican Party. The Republican Party seems in no --

GRAHAM: That's not fair.

TAPPER: Why is that not fair?

GRAHAM: That's not fair at all.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Even Republican members who are part of the coalition voted against it.

GRAHAM: I can show you 10 Democrats in the Senate today who voted against immigration reform: Tester, Baucus, Bayh, Webb --

TAPPER: And how many Republicans voted against it?

GRAHAM: It was a bipartisan --

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM: A lot of us voted for it. We got over 60 votes at one time. It fell apart because the bill was attacked from the left and the right.

Senator Obama was part of the deal to create the bill. He was in the photo op. When it got to the floor, he introduced an amendment to sunset the temporary worker bill, which was -- temporary worker program -- which was part of an overall deal. And as you remember, my views of him were not very good at that time.

(LAUGHTER)

He undercut the grand bargain. There's plenty of blame to go around. If you want to look forward, you've got to look forward with the reality. If they jam through health care, through the House, and try to use a trick or a gimmick called reconciliation, which is playing with 12 people on the field if it were a football game, you're going to have a hard time convincing Democrats or Republicans to do the hard things because you've poisoned the well.

There will be a price to be paid to jam a bill through, the American people don't like, using a sleazy process.

TAPPER: OK, I hear what you're saying. But let me ask you a question. You are without question trying to work across the aisle, trying to work with Democrats.

GRAHAM: As hard as I can.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: I don't see a lot of Republicans behind you. And in fact, if you look at the Republicans who have tried, in the past, to work in a bipartisan fashion, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Utah Senator Bob Bennett, you, Senator McCain, you're all under attack in your home states from conservatives.

Why should any Republican follow your lead if they have an ounce of self-preservation?

GRAHAM: Well, why should Blanche Lincoln try to work with us?

Why should Joe Lieberman try to help President Bush?

It's about leadership. There are people on the right and the left -- Joe Lieberman got ran out of the Democratic Party trying to work with President Bush on the war. Blanche Lincoln has a political opponent because she was against the public option. That's the way it is.

There are plenty of Republicans -- Corker was trying to work with Dodd on financial regulation.

The environment that exists today -- President Obama promised to come to Washington to deliver change we can believe in. The way he's doing things; the way he's governing on this health care bill, this arrogance, ignoring the American people and trying to jam through a bill that nobody likes and deal out Republicans, is going to make it virtually impossible for me or anyone else.

I've been working with Lieberman and Kerry. We've come a long way on the climate-energy issue. This is one issue where the president's been great. He's saying all the right things to give us a chance to become energy independent, clean up the air and create jobs. But when it comes to health care, he's been tone deaf; he's been arrogant; and they are pushing a legislative proposal and a way to do that legislative proposal that's going to destroy the ability of this country to work together for a very long time.

And that's not necessary. There's a better way. Get a field goal, Mr. President, on health care; then let's go to energy and climate, do financial regulation and let's try to work together to reform our laws and close Gitmo.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about Gitmo in the couple minutes we have left. You have proposed a deal to the White House that, in exchange for their canceling plans to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other alleged 9/11 plotters in criminal civilian courts and instead put them in a military commission, you can help them close Guantanamo.

But here's a quote from one of your colleagues, Republican Senator Jim Inhofe. He said, "Don't be fooled. If anyone tells you they do not want terrorist detainees in the United States but they want to close Gitmo. Closing Gitmo will result in terrorist detainees being sent to U.S. soil, gaining U.S. constitutional rights reserved for our citizens and increasing risk of terrorist activity in this country."

That is a -- that is a not unpopular belief among Republican senators. What's your argument back to Senator Inhofe?

GRAHAM: Well, there's plenty of Democrats who oppose closing Gitmo. My argument back to Senator Inhofe and to the American people is it's not just about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed coming back into military court. It was a major misstep to put him in civilian court in New York. It made no sense.

We need laws on the books that will allow terrorist detainees to be held without trial, give them due process, treat them as any prisoners, not common criminals. We need laws on the books that, if a judge orders ones of these terrorists released, they won't be released into the United States.

We need legal framework to move forward on the war on terror that will keep us safe. And if we get that legal framework, closing Gitmo could be done safely. General Petraeus, our commanders in the field, tell us that this jail called Gitmo is not -- is an image being used against our troops in the field. It hurts our ability to win the war, and our allies will not turn over prisoners to us thinking they may go to Gitmo. But it's just not about KSM coming back into military courts. It's about a legal framework that will allow us to assure the American people these detainees are going to be looked at as warriors, not common criminals.

But back to my basic idea. President Bush said it would be good to close Gitmo. President Obama is on the right track if we do it smartly and safely. And most importantly, our commanders tell us this jail is not being fully utilized. We don't have a place to put prisoners captured in the war on terror. I'd like to create a place that is safe and secure and is within our values. This is complicated. I would look forward to working with the president to create this legal framework, but I want to win this war, and closing this jail safely could help us win this war. But if we're going to dump people into civilian court out of this jail, it would be better to keep it open.

I look forward to arguing with anybody on the other side about the benefits of closing it if you can do it safely, but it's going to take team work, it's going to take working together, and it's going to take listening to our commanders.

TAPPER: Very quick yes or no question. Keeping Guantanamo Bay open, you've said it's a recruiting tool for Al Qaida. Does keeping Guantanamo--

GRAHAM: Yes.

TAPPER: -- open put U.S. lives at risk, yes or no?

GRAHAM: Depends on how you close it. I can't give you a yes or no. If you do what they're doing closing it, we're less safe. If you close it smartly, we're more safe. And allies won't turn over prisoners over to us because they don't want anyone in that jail. There is a better way to start over, with a secure facility within our values that allows us to get better intelligence and fight this war. This is a big issue, shouldn't be partisan. Young men and women's lives are at risk in this war on terror. Let's stop arguing among ourselves about everything and focus on the one thing we should all agree on, come up with policy that allows this country to be safe. Closing Gitmo safely is the right way to go.

TAPPER: Senator Lindsey Graham, thank you so much for joining us today. Have a great rest of your weekend. The roundtable is next, with George Will, Cokie Roberts, Ed Gillespie and Anita Dunn. And later, the Sunday Funnies.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MASSA: Now they're saying I groped a male staffer. Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe, and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday.

It's in the townhouse -- we all live together. All the bachelors and me.

I'm going to show you a lot more than tickle fights. That's a crossing the line ceremony. Can you imagine transporting back to this today? It looks like an orgy in Caligula.

The only thing I can do is slit my wrists and bleed out here on -- I'm telling you, I was wrong. I was wrong.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: I think this is the first time I have wasted an hour of your time. And I apologize for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Welcome back to "This Week." I can't promise any tickle fights, but we're joined here at the roundtable by, as always, George Will, Anita Dunn, former Obama White House communications director, about to take a contract with the Democratic National Committee. Ed Gillespie, formerly of the Bush White House. And of course, Cokie Roberts. Thank you all so much for joining us. We have a lot to talk about. George, at the White House, I have reported three or four times that the White House says they're about to pivot from health care reform to jobs. And here we are, a quarter of 2010 is almost over, and we're still talking about health care.

WILL: We're still waist deep in health care monomania. It's amazing. We're right where we were last summer when the president tried to present an aura of inevitability about this. He said he wanted it on his desk by August. We're halfway to the next August and we still don't have it.

The president said in on one of the clips at the beginning of the show, it's time to vote. Republicans should say, good, let's vote Monday. Because if they had the votes, we would be voting on Monday. The fact is, they want this over with before March 26th so they don't have a repeat of last year.

March 26th is a recess. The members are going to go home and meet their constituents. And that was an unpleasant experience last summer because of health care.

TAPPER: Anita, is it going to pass?

DUNN: Yes, it will, Jake. And here -- I am not going to say when, of course. But here is the deal. I totally agree with George. Let's have an up-or-down vote. If the Republicans truly believe that this is going to hurt Democrats in a midterm election, why won't they put it to a vote? That is what we do when we have disagreements in this country, you know, political disagreements. We let the majority decide. And this one, in particular, let's just have that up-or-down vote this week. I think it will pass. And then the Republican can go out in the midterm elections and explain to people why they felt that folks who had pre-existing conditions should not be able to afford insurance. They can explain why small businesses shouldn't get a tax credit to help buy insurance for their employees. They can go out there and explain why they were against all of the very fundamentally popular things that are in the bill. So, let's have a vote.

TAPPER: Ed, you know what they say about Speaker Pelosi is that she doesn't have the votes a week before the vote, she doesn't have the votes the morning of the vote, but then the vote comes and she has the votes. You worked in the House. Do you think that she's not going to be able to get the votes?

GILLESPIE: I think she may not be able to get the votes. But it's also true, I know, that usually you bring a bill to the floor when you get the votes. Sometimes you don't get the votes until you bring a bill to the floor, and I suspect that's where they're going to be at the end of next week.

(UNKNOWN): Sometimes you have to keep the vote open.

GILLESPIE: And you have to keep the vote open for a couple of hours, or three. And that may be where they are. But the contortions they're going through to get this bill done tells you everything about it. The fact is, they are going to abandon their formerly principled opposition to using reconciliation for things like health care, which they opposed when President Clinton was president. They wouldn't use reconciliation for the Medicare reform bill when President Bush was president, now they're going to use it for this and they're going to take it down to 51 votes to get it passed. And then they're going to use this deeming rule in the House maybe to sneak -- so they're going to ram it through the Senate and try to sneak it through the House. That tells you everything about where the public is on this bill.

ROBERTS: The truth is, the public is divided on this bill. And when you go into questions about how they feel about particular aspects of it, there's a lot they like.

The Democrats have calculated, I think, correctly, that they have nothing more to lose on the whole sort of process questions. The Republicans are going to characterize this as a bill passed by a corrupt Congress that has tickle parties, that has, you know, does things in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, and it's thousands of pages and on and on and on. And that ship has sailed, so the Democrats might as well get the substance and go to the American people and say, we've brought a change in health care because the status quo is unacceptable.

TAPPER: Ed was referring to the deeming resolution. That's when the House doesn't actually vote on the Senate bill. It's deemed to be part of the rule when they introduce the fixes to the Senate vote.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: You have now just thoroughly confused the American people.

The truth is, though, these process votes do matter in terms of election. I remember very well in 1961 -- I wasn't covering Congress then, but I knew it well -- when some Democrats, Southern Democrats voted to expand the Rules Committee, and the purpose of that was to get civil rights legislation passed. And several of them lost their seats. It was a very principled vote, a process vote, and they did lose their seats.

The same thing will happen this year. The Democrats will lose their seats over process. But they will take the chance because of the substance.

TAPPER: George, Congressman, former Congressman Ray LaHood, who is now the transportation secretary, but was a Republican member of Congress, he has an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune saying -- talking about why, as a member of the House, he would have voted for this bill, because this bill reduces the deficit and also brings down health care costs, and it will make insurance more affordable. Do you believe he would have voted for it as a Republican congressman?

WILL: Not a bit. It reduces the deficit because you have ten years of taxes and six years of benefits and other accounting gimmicks. You have said a moment ago essentially what Mr. Axelrod said there, which is, gosh, the American people like elements of this bill so let's pass this bill. I like sauerkraut and I like ice cream. I don't like sauerkraut ice cream. When you put this mish-mash together -- the public has looked at it. Now, Nancy Pelosi said this week, we have to pass this bill so we can find out what's in it. I think the American people already know what's in it.

DUNN: I'm not actually sure you ever tried sauerkraut ice cream and I'm not sure anybody has.

TAPPER: It is quite scrumptious.

(CROSSTALK)

DUNN: It could be very good.

I think the reality is that the American people want health reform. We've all seen bills that pass Congress in a very divided atmosphere. NAFTA is a good example. Frankly, Medicare part D when it passed was not all that popular either.

TAPPER: The prescription drug benefit.

DUNN: The prescription drug, (inaudible) unfunded entitlement, when a vote was held open for five hours on the House floor in order to browbeat somebody into passing it, under the Republicans in this last Congress.

Here is the deal. The American people want health reform. We believe that when this is passed and becomes law, it will be a popular bill, and it will be popular because it does reduce costs. And it's not just accounting gimmicks.

The Republicans like to quote CBO when they're talking about costs. They don't like to quote CBO when they're talking about the cost savings. They have estimated that in the second ten years out, the savings will be over one trillion dollars. And of course, CBO can't even calculate the savings from some of the private-sector savings.

So the reality of is it's going to reduce costs. That average Americans are going to get a tax credit. Small businesses will get a tax credit. Americans will be able to have the same choices that their members of Congress have. Those are good things.

TAPPER: Here's a question, and both you and David Axelrod earlier today, you're making the case for the bill. I don't begrudge that. That's one of the reasons why you're here. You're making the case for the bill. It's a year later. Why do you still have to be making the case for this bill?

DUNN: There's a reason nobody has been able to do this for 70 years. It's a big, big thing to do. It's an important thing to do, but it's definitely a tough thing to do.

(CROSSTALK)

GILLESPIE: It's a big, big tax increase of $500 billion. It's a big, big cut in Medicare of $500 billion. It's the Louisiana purchase. It is the Cornhusker Kickback. It's the sweetheart deal for the unions.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Let's be fair, the Cornhusker Kickback and the sweetheart deal for the unions they say are going to be removed.

GILLESPIE: They say are going to be removed. Look, this is the classic-- the Senate bill -- this is the problem they have, by the way. It's not Democrats versus Republicans right now. This is House versus Senate, trying to get these House members to--

ROBERTS: As you well know, it's much more vicious than Democrats versus Republicans.

GILLESPIE: Dick Armey, when he was the majority leader, said -- would tell the caucus, remember, the Democrats are our opponents; the Senate is our enemy. And that's what we're seeing right now. And these House members are going to vote for that, whether they like it or not. They can't pretend they're not, and then say, oh, we're going to erase it later, we're going to fix it. And the check is in the mail.

ROBERTS: The truth is, the reason it's a year later, is that they totally lost control of the message, and they, instead of going out and saying what they're saying now about the uninsured and all of that, it got all bollixed up in the public option and all kinds of terms that nobody had a clue of what they meant. And it was irrelevant to the much bigger picture. And that was the fault of the White House and the Democrats in Congress.

WILL: The theory of reconciliation is that the House will vote for a bill full of things they hate and the public hates, and later they'll clean it up. They will vote against those things. 2004, John Kerry got in terrible trouble by having said I voted for this before I voted against this. Every Democrat running this fall is going to have to say, well, I'm going to vote -- I have voted against it or I am going to vote against it, even though I voted for it. Now, that is just not good politics.

ROBERTS: Well, except that it might be good substance. And the truth is, American business and American states can no longer afford the health care they're paying. And unless something is done, it really does affect our competitiveness. And I think in the end, that that will be the argument that makes the difference. But the process argument right now is clearly going to be very difficult.

TAPPER: Speaking of the process argument, in the last few weeks, this town has been obsessed with this palace intrigue story of whether or not the fact that the bill has had such troubles getting passed, is the fault of the president's advisers, whether David Axelrod, who was here earlier, or White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. In fact, Rahm, if you look at the covers of the New York Times magazine and the New Republic, he is quite the cover boy. And Anita, having worked with these two men, Axelrod portrayed as something of the president's liberal conscience, Emanuel portrayed as the pragmatic deal maker. Is this story of in-fighting and palace intrigue, is it fair?

DUNN: It's a very overblown story. Are there disagreements among the president's advisers? Of course. They're human beings and everybody brings different things to the table.

But you know, David and Rahm, who are very old friends, are kind of like the Oscar and Felix of the White House. Right? They are different stylistically, but they're not all that different when it comes to their approach. And where they are totally united is in their commitment to the president and what he wants to get done. So I think these stories, you know, when things -- when White Houses hit a rough patch in this town, people go from being smart to being stupid in about a nanosecond. And I think that's kind of where we are right now. I'll put myself in the realms of the stupid right now, but the reality is that I think this is one of the more overblown stories you're going to see.

WILL: There are big differences among the White House staff, in any White House staff. But all White House staffs have one thing in common. Every one of them was hired by the president. If they're having problems, it's because of the man who hired them.

GILLESPIE: I think that President Obama might consider firing his own press secretary and hiring Rahm Emanuel's press secretary.

(LAUGHTER)

GILLESPIE: Rahm's done an incredible job of getting his take on things out in these magazines this week and in the Washington Post.

Look, I have got to tell you, I couldn't imagine having to go and sit at the senior staff table every morning and think, gees, who around here is going to leak something on me in the Washington Post or the New York Times? It's debilitating, it is demoralizing. And I think it reflects the kind of year they have had. They reached the point of exhaustion to a certain extent and a point where they have got to wonder, how did we get here?

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: You have White House intrigue stories when things are going badly. When things are going well, it's a well-oiled machine and everything is, you know, and everyone is behaving well and all that. When things start to fall apart, you get these stories. And--

TAPPER: Except in the Bush White House, things started to fall apart, and the only people really casting aspersions on people inside the building were people who had left. Scott McClellan--

GILLESPIE: At least they waited until they left.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Paul O'Neill. I mean, you--

GILLESPIE: That's a decent thing to be -- that's a decent way to be indecent.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: You did heave leaks from the Pentagon, though. I mean, you did have people--

GILLESPIE: There were leaks from agencies and things, but the White House was airtight. It really was. And I --

ROBERTS: Which was just disgusting. I mean--

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: -- who needs an airtight White House when you're reporting on Washington?

(CROSSTALK)

DUNN: The reality is that I don't think people sit at that senior staff meeting in the morning and worry about this. Rahm has never been shy about making his views known in this town, whether he was a political operative or whether he was a member of the House, or whether he has been the president's chief of staff. The real question is, what happens once the president's made a decision? And there's no one in this town who can say that Rahm's given less than 110 percent to this president's agenda.

TAPPER: And this is a perfect segue for this delicious film clip that one of our researchers found. This is from a 2008 documentary called "Taking the Hill" about members of -- veterans running for office. And here's then Congressman Rahm Emanuel visiting then candidate Eric Massa in upstate New York, telling him -- giving him advice on how to be a better candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MASSA: Congressman. Thank you, sir.

EMANUEL: How are you.

MASSA: Thank you for being here today.

EMANUEL: No problem, how are you doing?

MASSA: I'm doing well.

EMANUEL: I don't want you tonight on TV to be angry.

MASSA: All right.

EMANUEL: OK, just take it down a notch.

MASSA: OK.

EMANUEL: OK?

MASSA: I never had an admiral walk on my ship that wasn't inspecting me.

He wants to fine-tune me, he wants to refine me, and my problem is, I am who I am, and that's -- I'm not very refinable.

EMANUEL: You have got to smile. Have fun. If all people see is anger, they'll see anger. Do you ever remember a person not likable winning? OK, be likable.

MASSA: All right. Got it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The greatest thing about that is that Massa is wired for the documentary and he doesn't tell Rahm, who takes (ph) him off to have these private conversations.

ROBERTS: He didn't tell him not to have a tickle party, you know? He left that out.

DUNN: Exactly. Boy, Rahm is really guilty of malpractice in this one.

(CROSSTALK)

GILLESPIE: At least you know he wasn't wired in the shower.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: One would hope.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: One would hope, but this does bring up a serious issue, which is Eric Massa, ex-Congressman Eric Massa, and Republicans in the House have brought up a resolution to condemn him, and also to find out what Democratic leaders knew about his behavior and when they knew it. And, George, I wonder, do you think this actually has legs?

WILL: I think it's part of -- the question is--

TAPPER: Yes, pardon the pun.

WILL: -- is this one brick over a load? Are we reaching a critical mass with a public sense? Washington on the one hand wants to expand its role in my life here, here, and here, and Washington is terminally weird. This is going to get worse in June when Blagojevich's trial begins in Illinois. So this is going to be an ongoing soap opera, and it's not helpful to the Democrats.

TAPPER: Anita?

DUNN: No, I think that the House leadership by all accounts acted very properly. It got brought to them. They said, take it to the Ethics Committee or we will. It went to the Ethics Committee. He was gone quite quickly.

One of the funnier things in this last week, and you showed the Glenn Beck clip from -- at the beginning of this segment was how quickly some of the conservative leaders were to embrace Eric Massa, as long as he was couching his being driven out of Congress in the context of opposition to the Obama health care. It kind of tells you that for the conservative movement right now, the bar is pretty low for personal behavior. As long as you're willing to say the Obama health care is a problem.

TAPPER: Very quickly, just short, is this going to be a problem for Democrats?

GILLESPIE: I think it's a nagging injury. Massa's gone, but I think this question about what did the speaker know, when did she know it? We saw that when Mark Foley had the problems under the Republican control of the House. Denny Hastert had these problems. And it was a problem for them. I think it's going to be a problem for the Democrats. And it's not just Massa. It's Charlie Rangel. It is this perception that they are buying votes left and right with these side deals. And it's a broader problem and this reinforces that broader problem.

TAPPER: Very quickly, 10 seconds, is this another Mark Foley or no?

ROBERTS: It's a problem for the Democrats, but there's also clearly something in the water in New York.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: All right, well, the roundtable will continue in the green room on ABCnews.com.

END