March 16, 2014— -- Below is the rush transcript for "This Week" on March 16, 2014 and it may contain errors.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Sabotage -- was Malaysia Flight 370 hijacked? Did a pilot bring it down? More than a week after the plane vanished, investigators zero in on foul play. As the massive search continues this morning we have all the breaking news from our global team.
Also developing right now, Russian troops mass on the Ukrainian border before today's key vote in Crimea. Will they invade Ukraine and split the country? We're live on the ground with the latest on the showdown between Putin and the west.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We won this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: The GOP's warning shot in Florida.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS, ACTOR: What is it like to be the last black president?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Seriously?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: And the president's health care hangover. All that, Bill Gates and the Powerhouse Roundtable right here this Sunday morning.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: From the moment Malaysia flight 370 signed off with a simple good nigh it's been a mystery. Solving it now, a worldwide criminal investigation. Intense focus this morning on the pilots, but with no sign of motive, no claim of responsibility, nothing is being ruled out. And just hours ago, the Malaysian defense minister revealed that the search zone is actually expanding. So many questions this morning.
And our team of correspondents and experts have all the latest details and analysis starting with ABC's David Curley in Washington. Good morning, David.
DAVID KERLEY, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: George, this map released by the Malaysian officials shows the possible arc locations of where Flight 370 sent its last hourly transmission, which we now know happened more than seven hours after initial takeoff.
Malaysian officials say they're searching both of these areas, both of these arcs north and south equally, but according to two sources close to the investigation who have talked to ABC News, searchers will intently focus on the area off western Australia. Their hunt for this missing aircraft is a search area of at least 1,200 miles.
KERLEY: Nine days and counting and still no physical sign of Malaysian air flight 370. But this weekend, confirmation from the Malaysian government that this mysterious disappearance was almost certainly no accident.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This movement consistent with deliberate action.
KERLEY: The prime minister confirming the report by ABC News the communications gear was deliberately shut down. Now we have learned from a source close to the investigation that whoever was controlling the plane preprogrammed that sharp left turn right off of the flight path, convincing investigators that someone was in control of the jetliner, either a rogue pilot or a hijackers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone taking command of this airplane or already having command and going rogue. And I'm afraid the intent obviously is lethal.
KERLEY: Malaysian military radar confirming that the plane did fly back over the country.
But then what? Hourly satellite pings from the plane, which we just learned can't be turned off now showing that Flight 370 made another turn before flying at least another six hours, far longer than first thought.
But which direction did it turn. If it flew to the north, that would take it over land towards Kazakhstan. Sources view this scenario ass highly unlikely.
But to the south is open water, no radar over the Indian Ocean with depths of up to 15,000 feet. And beyond that, Australia.
A source close to the investigation tells ABC News, that's where the search will be concentrated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to have to have some luck to find this aircraft. The search area is so gigantic.
KERLEY: And what then? Did the plane run out of fuel before crashing into the ocean, or more farfetched but still possible, did the plane land somewhere under the cover of darkness.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all consistent with somebody who wanted to simply vanish from the face of the Earth and make sure that the ultimate crash site was never found.
KERLEY: So while the search will have a higher profile here west of Australia in the southern Indian Ocean, all those moves to shut off cockpit communication systems, the major changes of direction, all those things are bringing a new scrutiny to the two pilots -- George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Thanks. And we want to get more on that criminal investigation right now from our senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas. He's in Washington as well. Good morning, Pierre.
PIERRE THOMAS, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, George.
Finding everything there is to know about the pilots is clearly a top priority.
THOMAS: More than a week after the plane's disappearance, authorities search the homes of the captain and co-pilot of the now infamous Malaysia airlines flight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was shocked that they waited so many days to do it.
THOMAS: Malaysian authorities confirm they are still investigating all passengers. Sources tell ABC News these two men are one of the primary focuses of this early international investigation. The reason, authorities say the plane did a series of maneuvers, and there may have been an attempt to avoid radar.
So far, U.S. intelligence have found no evidence any of the other passengers or crew had any flight training or skill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd look at the pilots first, obviously, they're in the cockpit. I'd get their information. But given the lack of information we have, then I'd start looking at who else is on the airplane.
THOMAS: There is an urgent effort to see whether the pilots had any ties to extremists or any personal, financial or psychological issues that could have made them commandeer the plane.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do sort of an initial assessment of their life -- religion, athletics, social events, social clubs. In other words, how do they spend their time?
THOMAS: But there are still many questions. The captain is described as a family man who worked for charity, someone who would never hurt passengers. And authorities have to resolve whether one of the passengers could have forced one of the pilots to hijack the plane or had flight training they have yet to uncover.
Pilots have been accused of intentionally downing planes before. U.S. investigators concluded a co-pilot of an Egypt Air flight intentionally rammed the plane into the Atlantic Ocean in 1999. In 1997, a pilot from Singapore was accused of crashing his plane into a river.
The U.S. investigation has not yet found anyone on board who had ties to terrorist organizations. And sources point out that once the plane was redirected whoever took control had ample opportunity to crash a huge aircraft into populated areas and did not.
THOMAS: There are now questions about why it took so long to search the homes of the pilots. And George, the FBI still has not been invited inside the country to help.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Pierre Thomas, thanks very much.
Let's dig into this now with our experts. Congressman Peter King from the House committees on intelligence and homeland security; and ABC's aviation consultant Steve Ganyard.
And Congressman King, let me begin with you. This is a real frustration for the FBI.
KING: It really is. The fact is the FBI was not asked in. And you know these pilots they should have been -- pilot and co-pilot -- should have been the focus from the start. That would be ordinary law enforcement, investigatory procedures. The FBI could have been called to help that, Interpol could have been called in, our intelligence agencies.
But my understanding is that Malaysia is not really cooperating at all, are very reluctant to lay what they have out on the table.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you have been briefed on this. Is everything you heard consistent with what we were just reporting there? The focus is on the pilots. Basically, everyone else on the plane has been looked at. No terrorist connections, according to U.S. officials.
KING: Now there's been no terrorist connections whatsoever, there's been no terrorist chatter. There's nothing out there indicating it's terrorists. Doesn't mean it's not, but so far nothing has been picked up by the intelligence community from Day One.
I still have questions about the two Iranians who were on the plane. But again that could be a side issue.
The fact is nothing has come out indicating a terrorist connection.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What's your biggest question about the Iranians?
KING: Just the fact that they were there and written off so quickly as having any threat. I mean, why did they have to get on that plane to seek asylum? The fact that it was so easy for them to get on with stolen passports. I just creates a terrorist atmosphere.
Having said that, there's nothing showing it. I just wouldn't rule it out now is all.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Steve, we heard from the Malaysians this morning. They were saying that there's equal weight on both this northern and southern search zone for where the plane could have been. But you say it is extremely unlikely that this plane could have gone to the north and over that landmass.
STEVE GANYARD, AVIATION EXPERT: We're being directed that the focus is going to shift to the south. There's good reason to think that scientific reason that the search needs to be in the south.
But if you look at that area, it's still 5 million square miles. It's a near practical impossibility to find a small piece of wreckage in that size of...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But do we know enough now to know -- I know we can't fully rule out anything, but are we reasonably convinced that the prospect that this plane landed and landed intact on one of those landmass is very farfetched?
GANYARD: We're being guided to look 1,000 miles off the coast of western Australia at seven-and-a-half hours into the flight. There's no fuel left on that airplane and they are 1,000 miles from the closest piece of land.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you combine that ping seven-and-a-half hours in with the fact that the plane was -- route was preplanned before the transponders were turned off, before the two communication systems turned off and that all but rules out mechanical failure?
GANYARD: Three deliberate actions in the cockpit that would suggest premeditation. It's -- this was not an accident.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So what is the next step now for U.S. authorities?
KING: Basically we have to get involved, we have to use all our intelligence. And I wish there was more FAA, NTSB, FBI involvement. I wish the FBI were over there.
This is going to be a criminal investigation as far as those -- the pilot and the co-pilot. We should use as much international law enforcement as possible. The FBI is the best at that.
But also other -- other -- again Interpol, a basic unit should be used. Malaysia, for whatever reason, has been resisting. There's obviously something with the pilot and the co-pilot. And that has to be drilled down on.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to drill down on that now with Steven Ganyard as well. I'm going to give the other possibility if the pilot or the co-pilot didn't do this themselves. Of course there's the chance that someone got into the cockpit and forced them to do this at gunpoint.
But let's talk about that a little bit. Had that happened wouldn't the pilot have been able to switch the transponder to the hijacked distress signal?
GANYARD: Well, if somebody is looking over his shoulder and knew enough to say I want to go in this direction or I want to go to this waypoint. I mean, there's so much here that you would just say, look, this had to have been a trained pilot. Somebody had to know what they were doing.
The -- all these things occurred at the handoff between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controllers. They knew there was this dead zone in there. They knew that they had some time to do all these premeditated actions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess my question there, though, is if there was a hijacker on the plane, wouldn't we have some kind of other indication of distress on that aircraft?
GANYARD: You would. You would. But at this point, we just don't. Everything points to one of those two crew members in the cockpit as a premeditated action.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And -- and Congressman King, as far as I understand, they've been able to look back at everyone else on the aircraft and only, perhaps, one other person who had even the kind of aviation expertise...
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- to know all this.
KING: Yes, so far, nothing is showing up at all. I mean I agree with the colonel, this right now, has to focus on the pilot and the copilot.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And one other thing I was struck by, Colonel, again, by the defense minister this morning, he said, this case is so unprecedented, it may change aviation history.
GANYARD: Nothing like it. Nothing hopefully ever again will be like it. Uh, I think the real concern right now, George, is we have to find those black boxes. This will be forever a mystery unless we find the black boxes on that airplane.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we have only about 20 days left?
GANYARD: We've got that 20 days left.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Congressman King, Steve Ganyard, thanks very much.
KING: Thank you, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We want to turn now to the Ukraine.
The stand-off in the Ukraine at a fever pitch this morning, with the people of Crimea voting on how much to pull away from the Ukraine and toward Russia.
And Russian troops making moves to strengthen their presence across the region.
ABC's Alex Marquardt is right in the middle of it all and he joins us now -- good morning, Alex.
ALEX MARQUARDT, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, George.
Voters have been coming to polling stations like this one across Crimea all day. There is little suspense in this historic vote. Crimeans, those who aren't boycotting, expected to vote overwhelmingly in favor of joining Russia, amid new fears President Putin is looking to expand his grip in Ukraine.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): This morning, we drove with 27-year-old Damian Koslauf (ph) as he went to cast his vote to join Russia.
DAMIAN KOSLAUF: It's a real holiday.
MARQUARDT: For Damian, the vote means going back home.
KOSLAUF: I'm Russian and I want to live in Russia. And it's a real holiday. It's a real event. It is one of the most important days in all my life.
MARQUARDT: The process was simple and quick, the voters quiet, but determined.
(on camera): So how does it feel?
KOSLAUF: Yes. We are going to Russia.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): The United States and Europe have slammed the referendum as illegitimate.
Russian and Crimean leaders, like Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov, argue it is simply about Crimeans choosing for themselves where they belong.
"I think that President Obama is a smart man who understands that it's impossible to ignore the will of the majority of Crimeans," he told us. "I hope Americans will understand that today, Crimeans also have a right to a free choice."
Already, the international focus is shifting from Crimea to Eastern Ukraine. Almost 9,000 Russian troops have massed along Ukraine's border, while in eastern cities, dueling protests have grown deadly.
And now, Russia says it is considering calls to intervene.
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MARQUARDT: In the first sign that Russia may be moving beyond Crimea, scores of Russian troops have seized a natural gas terminal outside Crimea, in Ukraine. We've learned that Ukrainian troops have surrounded the area, setting up a tense and potentially explosive stand-off -- George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.
Very tense there.
I'm here now with "GMA WEEKEND" anchor Bianna Golodryga -- and, Bianna, we're getting some confusing reports from the region this morning.
You see there, the military moving in the Crimea. You were able to talk to Ukraine's foreign minister this morning.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, GMA WEEKEND HOST: Yes. The foreign minister, he didn't mention any of the cease-fire. But he said he's hopeful, but not optimistic, that this will end peacefully. And I did begin the interview by asking him about whether or not that gas closure was seized (ph).
ANDRII DESHCHYTSA, UKRAINIAN INTERIM FOREIGN MINISTER: We do see it as a provocation and one of those many provocations that the Russians are trying to organize on the territory of Ukraine. We will not go for provocations, since we want to, uh, go for a peaceful solution of, uh, this crisis.
GOLODRYGA: And your ministry actually issued a statement saying that Ukraine reserved the right to use all necessary means to stop a military invasion by Russia.
Do you have the military to back up that statement?
DESHCHYTSA: Uh, look, if you compare the military arsenals of Ukraine and Russia, of course, the Russians' position is much better, over a -- overwhelming position, so, and strength.
But however, what we have on the Ukrainian side is something that is very important in confrontations and this is all the nation is proud of is the spirit of the Ukrainian people.
GOLODRYGA: And on a scale of one to 10, 10 being the height of war, where would you say you feel the situation is right now?
DESHCHYTSA: Quite high.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
GOLODRYGA: Quite high. And equally disturbing, I asked if he had a chance to speak with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. He said no, that John Kerry was trying to orchestrate a meeting.
Remember that the Russians have not, uh, recognized this legitimate government now in Ukraine. But of course, they have been recognized in the U.S., that the prime minister and the foreign minister warned Washington last week, where they said they got bipartisan support.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And meantime, we -- we have learned that the acting defense minister, one report that a -- that -- of a possible truce now between Russia and the Ukraine, at least until March 21st.
But as you said, the foreign minister knew nothing of it.
GOLODRYGA: And the foreign minister, the last I spoke with him, was about to get on a flight to Brussels to be with his EU counterparts. So I had reached out to him. And, of course, we'll update if we hear anything.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Bianna Golodryga, thanks very much.
With that, let's bring in Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He just got off a plane from Ukraine.
Senator, thank you for joining us this morning.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You were there all day yesterday.
Well, the mood is tense. Uh, clearly, they were watching events in Crimea, this sham referendum isn't fooling anyone. You see additional troops being mustered by the Russians on the eastern border.
But the Ukrainians that we talked to, both government officials and folks who were really the people who drove the Maidan movement in Kiev are clear, the Ukrainians are not going to go down without a fight, that if Russia really does decide to move beyond Crimea, it is going to be bloody and the fight may be long.
And they need help from the United States...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's what I...
MURPHY: -- and I think they'll be very glad to hear that from us.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I wanted to get that to you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I mean is the United States prepared to send military aid to the Ukraine?
I know there's an economic aid package that's gotten bogged down in some internal politics in the Senate.
Is military aid on the table?
MURPHY: Well, I think as soon as we get back to Washington, you'll see the Senate and the House pass an economic aid package, along with sanctions. Um, I think there are a lot of ways that we can assist in the resistance. I'm not sure that we're to the point of providing arms, but they need all sorts of non-lethal assistance, like MREs, that we can put on the ground.
And then I think it is appropriate to work with the Ukrainians on a longer-term effort to try to rebuild their military, which had been gutted by President Yanukovych over the past three or four years.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned that if the Russians move further into Eastern Ukraine, it could be bloody, that the Ukrainians are prepared, uh, to fight.
But we're having this vote in the Crimea today. I think everyone has a good idea of where it's going to go. One way or another, the Crimeans are going to vote to be closer, uh, to Russia.
Is that a fait accompli?
Is there anything that can be done to reverse that right now?
MURPHY: Well, I do think there's anything that can be done to reverse the vote. I mean I'd be surprised if it's not 70, 80, 90 percent given the fact that the Russians have shut down all of the Ukrainian media inside of the region.
But I don't think that Putin's ambition is Crimea here. Ultimately, his ambition is to try to keep control of the entirety of Ukraine. If he controls Crimea and loses the rest of Ukraine, which is 95 percent of the population, that's a loss for Russia's world power and prestige.
So I think he may stop after this rendem -- referendum and try to negotiate something with Ukraine that would pull them away from the European Union. But in every single meeting that we did while we were on the ground in the last few days, there is no appetite from the new Ukrainian government to do a deal with Russia that forestalls their plan to join the European Union.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The question is, then, though, if -- if -- if Putin moves further into the Eastern Ukraine, is there anything the U.S. and the rest of the West can really do to prevent that?
MURPHY: Well, I don't think there's anything that we can do militarily. Clearly, this is a longer-term effort to build up the Ukrainian military. But if on Monday, we announce, with the European Union, a set of crippling sanctions coming after not only individuals, but Russian business entities, I think that sends a strong message to Putin.
I think he marched into Crimea because he didn't believe that the United States and Europe would actually take a chunk of flesh out of his economy. And if we stand together on Monday, that gives us a chance, at least, to change the calculus in Moscow.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You think these sanctions can bite deep enough?
MURPHY: Well, I mean, we have to wait for our European friends to tell us if they're willing to move forward. I mean there's no doubt that if you, uh, cut off Russian gas to Europe, it will hurt. There's no doubt that if you freeze Russian assets in places like Germany and Great Britain, it will hurt them.
But this is a threat to the territorial integrity of Europe.
Who knows who's next?
It was laughable five years ago to think that Russia would march on Ukraine. Five years from now, it may be a NATO company -- uh, country that's in jeopardy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, thanks very much for your time this morning.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Up next, Bill Gates on the brewing backlash against new national standards in our classrooms.
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BILL GATES: America is the land of equal opportunity. And the reality is we're not delivering on that promise.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Plus, the powerhouse roundtable on all the week's politics.
We're back in two minutes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is a new ad being launched today by big business groups supporting the Common Core, controversial education reform requiring more rigorous teaching in math and languages, picking up across the country and as the new standards take hold, they're also taking fire.
America's biggest backer of the Core, billionaire Bill Gates met with me Friday to fire back.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you know you were going to stir up such a hornet's nest?
BILL GATES, FOUNDER, MICROSOFT: No, I think it's such an exciting thing to have high standards, to have quality standards and to have consistent standards.
I'm thrilled this is moving forward and disappointed that, through confusion and various groups, its implementation is actually at risk in some states.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): The opposition is fierce.
GLENN BECK: This is the progressive movement coming in for the kill.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Support is forceful, too.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER NYC MAYOR: To want to condemn our kids to a life where they can't compete is just -- it's sick.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): With bipartisan backing from Barack Obama to Jeb Bush, the Common Core standards were adopted in 45 states. But many of those states are now looking to delay or do away with the Core, under pressure from a diverse coalition of teachers' groups, parents and the Tea Party.
(on camera): You've got a conservative element who say this is federal control over education.
How do you respond to that?
GATES: Well, the Common Core is not a curriculum, it doesn't tell you how to teach. It's not a federal takeover. Nobody's pushing for that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Tea Party's convinced it is.
GATES: Well, but then we need to get the facts out. I mean, if they want the Congress to pass a bill saying they'll never tell us what to do, that's fine.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you've got the head of the NEA saying the rollout has been completely botched. The head of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, said, boy, if you -- the rollout of healthcare.gov is nothing compared to the rollout of Common Core. So that leads to your supporters, who say that this is just not working the way it's supposed to work.
GATES: Well, the rollout is state by state. This is local stuff and in some locations, they have a legitimate point. That's a very different question than saying we should move towards the Common Core.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Take New York: legislators there are calling for a two-year moratorium on the Core after student test scores tanked.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Only a third of the elementary and middle school students passed. That created a lot of horror on the part of parents.
GATES: Right. So whenever you have a test, you can bridge from the old test to the new test and set a cut level that matches and see, you know, be able to compare this group of students with previous students.
GATES: You don't have big drops.
So when we go to higher standards, there is a transition where you'll see the way we've been teaching math is not good enough. And so to meet these high standards, we actually need to do it in a smarter way.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): And Gates argues that's exactly what Common Core does, enabling American students to catch up to the competition in China, South Korea and Japan.
GATES: Their textbooks are a lot smaller. They teach you less per grade, but they make sure you really understand it.
We have these gigantic textbooks and so you're getting shallow knowledge on a regular basis of too many concepts.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Still, Indiana Governor Mike Pence suggests that he'll soon sign a bill to scrap Common Core. Other states are heading in that direction, too. But Gates believes that most will keep the new standards.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If this kicks in, if you can overcome this initial opposition, get Common Core working across the country, where do you expect us to be in 10 years, in 20 years?
GATES: I believe 10 years from now kids' competence in math, kids' scores in math can be improved a lot, where you feel like, yes. I get this. I'm not discouraged. It is so important and these standards are the foundation for that. I think this is going to be a big win for education.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you can see more of our interview at abcnews.com/thisweek.
When we come back, are Republicans heading for big midterm wins after that Florida victory?
And why is the Senate at war with the CIA?
Our powerhouse roundtable takes on all the latest politics, plus ESPN's Jeremy Schaap on the concussion crisis in these sports. We're back in two minutes.
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ZACK GALIFIANAKIS (voice-over): What did you come here to plug?
OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it's fair to say that I wouldn't be with you today if I didn't have something to plug.
Have you heard of the Affordable Care Act?
GALIFIANAKIS: Oh, yes; I heard about that. That's the thing that doesn't work.
Why did you the guy that created the Zune to make your website?
OBAMA: Healthcare.gov works great now. And millions of Americans have already gotten health insurance plans. And what we want is for people to know that you can get affordable health care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Obama taking his health care pitch to the two firms' lions' den of Zach Galifianakis, created all kinds of buzz, both good and bad for the White House.
And the roundtable's here to weigh in on that and the biggest political news of the week.
A GOP win in a key special election in Florida. Let's get the backstory first from ABC's Jeff Zeleny.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.
JEFF ZELENY, ABC NEWS SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That sound is the sound of Republicans winning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.
ZELENY (voice-over): Congressman David Jolly, handing Democrats their first loss of the season in a Florida district President Obama narrowly won.
All the talk of ObamaCare --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): ObamaCare.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ObamaCare.
ZELENY (voice-over): -- dominated the race.
ZELENY: How big of a political weight is the health care law on Democrats?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that the Republicans are wasting their time, using that as their electoral issue. And they will find that out.
ZELENY: So the Democrats shouldn't shy away from it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Absolutely not.
ZELENY (voice-over): But privately several Democrats tell ABC News they're increasingly worried the health care law is political poison.
Their worries may be well founded, with polls showing the president and his top achievement are still highly unpopular.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.
ZELENY (voice-over): Republicans smell a wave.
ZELENY: Is there any chance the Republicans could overplay their hand on health care?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) OHIO: Don't underestimate the amount of impact that Obamacare is having on the job market.
ZELENY: The congressman calls his victory an early sign of GOP strength.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your win is good news for your party.
DAVID JOLLY, REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN-ELECT: I think it spells good things not just for holding the House for Republicans in November but actually taking the Senate.
ZELENY: And now Republicans even more optimistic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to make 2014 a great Republican year.
ZELENY: With former Senator Scott Brown jumping into the Senate race in New Hampshire, Democrats are defending one more seat in hopes of protecting their ever fragile Senate majority.
For This Week, Jeff Zeleny, ABC News, The Capitol.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let's get to the roundtable now here with ABC Matthew Dowd, Greta Van Susteren from Fox News, Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, Bill Kristol editor of the Weekly Standard, and Katrina Vanden Heuvel editor and publisher of The Nation. Welcome to you all.
Matthew, let's begin with this special election. Sometime these special elections are a real sign of things to come, sometimes they aren't. This time?
MATTHEW DOWD, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I think this is a big sign of what's going to happen in November election. I think when you had this, everything was lined up actually in this district for the Democrats to pull out this victory. They had the better candidate, better name idea. They actually had more money in this. And the Republican candidate actually was very flawed, a former lobbyist in all of this.
And they, Democrats tried to use the playbook that they used in 2012, which is big data, all of the logistics. But what happens in these races is big wave always big data. And this wasn't about some big pro-Republican candidate, it is that the president's job approval, where the country -- where the people see the country in this sets it up very badly for November.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Katrina, this was a district that President Obama won. And his former campaign manger David Plouffe called it a screaming siren for Democrats, this loss.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, THE NATION: I think it's a wakeup call not for the reasons Matthew mentioned. I mean this was a -- this has been a Republican district since 1983.
Listen, I think any party needs to turn out its core voters. And I think the Democrats need to think very hard, and they are thinking hard about how you go on the offense around not only Obamacare, but in economic agenda.
Repeal is not a policy. Repeal provides no economic security for anyone. So I think the Democrats need to go on the offense, explain how the Republican Party wants to repeal healthcare, which is a right, wants to take back those policies that would prevent discrimination against women, against people who have preexisting conditions and then lay out a robust economic agenda, minimum wage, better jobs which are being obstructed by Republicans in congress, pre-K, all kinds of things that will turn out core voters.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But Bill Kristol, that is what the Democratic candidate tried to do in this race, Alex Sink. She said the issue with health care, don't repeal -- mend it, don't end it.
BILL KRISTOL, WEEKLY STANDARD: Right. And Jolly, the Republican candidate, his key ad at the end went as follows, it's very short. She supports Obamacare. I don't. I'm David Jolly. And I approve this message because we need someone to look out for our interests not President Obama's.
Pretty simply message, pretty strong message. She was a respectable candidate. She wasn't a member of congress, so she never voted for Obamacare. So this ad was potent in Florida 13. How does this ad read if you can't just say she supports Obamacare, but she voted for Obamacare repeatedly, which is what they can say about Democratic House candidates and Democratic senators.
I think Obamacare -- you know, you can talk about different agendas. I agree Republicans need a more energetic economic agenda, Republicans need to be for replace as well as repeal. I think that's very important in health care. But at the end of the day, the Obamacare vote is a huge thing.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: I always think -- look, this is just going to scare the loser. It's a special election, only two names on the ballot. Only one race. There's a long time between now and November. So this was a Bill Young Republican district for a long time. And while, of course the Republicans are going to use this against the Democrats, the Democrats are going to be scared because they lost. This is just a special election. November is a long way off. Lots can happen. This was a Republican seat for...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Picking up one what Katrina, Michael Eric Dyson, it does seem like the big problem for the Democrats here not just having to defend Obamacare, but the fact that the voters that came out for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, particularly young voters, do not seem motivated this time around. It's hard to get them out in mid-term elections.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, there is a charisma gap. So you have to acknowledge that. Obama for all of the faults that people have assigned to him certainly can galvanize the base. And I think Katrina is right, the Democrats have to figure out a way to galvanize their base.
But let's not overplay it. If we can paraphrase Shakespeare it's much ado about something. The something is not necessarily the fact that the Democrats are just losing. It is as you just indicated, you know, these special elections are special, that means that they're district laden. That means that, look, in 2009 and '10, the Democrats had three special elections that they won, but they go beat badly in the 2010 mid-term election. So it doesn't necessarily (inaudible) well or ill for respective candidate depending upon the special elections. I think we have to...
VANDEN HEUVEL: Jolly also ran as a kind of false populist. It's interesting...
DOWD: This really wasn't about Jolly. In my view, this really wasn't about Jolly and this really wasn't fundamentally about Obamacare, what this is about is the mood of the country. And I think Democrats at their peril ignore the mood of the country out there. And as the mood changes, and it's changed this year. The president has a job approval rating in the low 40s. And when a president has a job approval rating in the low 40s, the Democratic incumbent looses seats.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One person who seems to agree with that is Scott Brown. Two days after the election, three days after the election decides to set up his exploratory committee in New Hampshire. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT BROWN, FRM. U.S. SENATOR FROM MASSACHUSETTS: It wasn't so long ago -- I remember it like you do -- that the Democratic establishment in Washington was feeling very, very comfortable. A big political wave is about to break in America. And the Obamacare Democrats are on the wrong side of that wave.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: He feels confident enough, Greta Van Susteren, to move to another state to become a Senator right there.
This really opens up the map for Republicans and gives them many more routes to a Senate majority.
VAN SUSTEREN: And he's going to have a lot of support from Republicans nationwide. I don't know how much support he's going to get from voters in New Hampshire. I don't know if they'll see him as a carpetbagger, but he's going to get a lot of support nationwide, because Republicans really want and need that seat.
VANDEN HEUVEL: There is a disconnect in this country, there is a disconnect between the Beltway and the people. It is a populist moment. If you look at the polls, majority support minimum wage, more fairness, taking on a rigged system that's working against working people. The Democrats and the progressive, the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party is ascendant. And it needs to speak more forcefully.
It's a special election didn't have that. She may have been a good candidate, but she was also a former corporate lobbyist. And Jolly used false populism against her. He kept talking about this falsehood that Obamacare is going to cut Medicare.
The Republican candidate was we need more Medicare, we need more Medicare. I like that. We need Medicare for all down the road. But I'm just saying it's a populist moment, let's not forget it and let's not buy these polls out of Washington.
KRISTOL: I agree with Katrina, the Republicans need to run as populists. I think they're intelligent enough to do so. And I think it's true populism -- Obamacare cuts Medicare Advantage, that's a fact.
VANDEN HEUVEL: That is an insurance -- that is a policy for insurance companies. That is...
KRISTOL: ...in this free country of ours, 30 percent of seniors have chosen to buy Medicare Advantage. Obamacare takes money from Medicare Advantage...
VANDEN HEUVEL: Medicare Advantage is favoring the insurance companies. And that's a big issue in Florida with the demographics.
DYSON: But victory is the lens through which people perceive positives and defeat is the negative lens.
Look, the reality is Walton (ph) who is in charge of the 2004 campaigns in the congress said of Republican, look, before the special election it's not going to matter either way. People have to galvanize their bases, they have to go forward. This is not a referendum on Obamacare so much as it is dictated by the districts. Now after he wins of course it's a referendum.
I think we can't overplay what's going on here, but the populism that Katrina responds to and is talking about the tea leaves, if we read the Tea Party leaves, they have commandeered populism in a farm more effective way than have Democrats. And I think we have got to figure out is what goes on in terms of galvanizing that base.
SUSTEREN: You can't underestimate, though, the importance of Medicare in the state of Florida and winning the state of Florida.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Medicaid you can't underestimate. Bobby Jindal -- no, Medicaid in Louisiana right now, Bobby Jindal is suing MoveOn for putting a billboard saying Bobby Jindal is going to take away your Medicaid. If the Democrats could expose how Florida's governor and other governors are taking away Medicaid, you'd get a lot of low income...
DOWD: This is not -- look, I watched in 2012. I've seen and been involved in a series of elections. And every -- in 2012, the main criticism from the conservative wing of the party was Mitt Romney wasn't conservative enough. If he had been more conservative and had more points in this I believe -- I agree, the country is a populist country -- but when you have a D on your back in a bad year it doesn't matter what you say you're probably going to lose. And when you have an R on your back in a bad year, like 2012, and 2006 you're going to lose. That's why Scott Brown is (inaudible) -- I don't know if he's going to win or lose, he's a flawed candidate, but he's got an R on his back and he's cresting in a wave this year when people are frustrated with the president.
DYSON: That doesn't take into account unpredictable forces and crises that might emerge.
Look, it's like in football, they say that's why you play the game. You can stack up the states before a game, but something has...
DYSON: Well, we can see what happens.
VANDEN HEUVEL: But a C on your back is a bad thing, too, as my friend, longtime Texas populist Jim Hightower likes to say. The only thing in the middle of the road are dead armadillos and yellow stripes.
So I think it's, you know, better to pump up and move forward and turn out the base.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's true -- unless, as Matthew pointed out, unless President Obama can get his approval ratings up back into the mid to high 40s, there's very little chance for Democrats to hold on to the Senate I think this year.
I do want to turn onto something else happening in the Senate this year. There's kind of remarkable moment. We had Senator intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein go to the Senate floor in what turned out to be a rage this week doing a broadside against the CIA, suggesting that the CIA had inappropriately monitored the computers of senate staffers, taken documents from Senate staffers. She had said she had grave concerns about that. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: The CIA search may well have violated the separation of powers principles. I have asked for an apology and recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee, was inappropriate. I have received neither.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: This is all about the Senate investigation into the CIA interrogation practices, back in the first decade of this century. Now you've got a remarkable situation right now, Greta van Susteren, where the senate is suggesting that the CIA broke the law by looking at their computers. The CIA is suggesting that the Senate broke the law -- Senate staffers broke the law by taking away documents. And you have got a major confrontation.
VAN SUSTEREN: I know. Everyone thinks that Senator Dianne Feinstein did this incredible assault. You know what, she's asking for it -- she's asking like inappropriate monitoring, it's called breaking the law, is about bad manners. And she wants an apology.
She should demand an investigation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: She has asked for an investigation.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, the CIA needs to be investigated in a criminal investigation. I see Bill shaking his head.
But you know we let the intelligence community get away with murder. You have got the DNI committing perjury, lying before the Senate and it just goes away.
You know happens if you steal a ham from the grocery store? You get prosecuted. You know what happens if the CIA does domestic spying on the Senate? Senator Feinstein wants for an apology, so it's bad manners.
KRISTOL: And part of me thinks you know what if Senator Feinstein wants to attack Leon Panetta and the Obama administration's conduct in the CIA, go right away.
STEPHANOPOULOS: She wants the Panetta documents released.
KRISTOL: I'm saying this is an administration launched after President Obama takes office, totally controlled by a Democratic-appointed CIA director. And the staff, the Senate staffers who are all Democrats who are writing this one-sided report.
I will defend the intelligence community against a bunch of Senators and their staffs, though. I will defend the interrogation program that was...
VANDEN HEUVEL: First of all, Bill, it's not an interrogation program. It's torture. Second of all, Senator Feinstein has been a great defender of the intelligence community. She is now saying without effect oversight, secret government is not justified in a democracy. There should have been prosecutions...
KRISTOL: Isn't President Obama supposed to oversee the CIA?
VANDEN HEUVEL: All right, we now have two administrations or more implicated in this. President Obama should have prosecuted, held accountable -- what we now need, and write about in The Nation is a new Church Committee, the committee that in the '70s exposed abuses of the NSA, CIA, FBI and try to reorient our intelligence community to be what it should be.
KRISTOL: What about Eric Holder, President Obama's attorney general, did a criminal investigation, in my view a disgraceful investigation, looking backwards, at CIA officials who were doing their job. He found nothing illegal. Nothing illegal.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Why is there 6,000 pages of this report which would be declassified.
DYSON: Either we're going to be transparent or not.
Now here's news flashes, spies, spy. Oh, my god. But they also lie...
SUSTEREN: This is domestic spying, too. Don't forget that.
DYSON: I understand that. But, the reality is, yes, it is a battle between -- a pitched battle between Feinstein and the CIA director, but it's also about the degree to which the legislative branch shall exercise oversight over an executive branch appointee, in terms of the CIA.
So secondly, though, when we talk about the CIA, it -- regardless of who is in the office there, whether it's a Democrat or a Republican, the fact is they will remain there after the president is gone and you have to deal with the persistence of a shadow government established by a spy agency.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You get the last word here. I do you think the CIA is going to be trying to mend fences.
DOWD: Well, I think there's three points here. First, this feels like a Walter Cronkite moment. When you lose Walter Cronkite in a Vietnam War, you know you're on the bad side. When you lose Dianne Feinstein in this fight you know you're wrong side of this.
The second thing, it seems very hypocritical in all of this that members of Congress and the members of the Senate defend all of these programs when they're spying on average Americans, but as soon as it comes on them, they start saying, oh my gosh this is awful program.
Three is, this what happens...
KRISTOL: They're not spying on average Americans?
DOWD: ...culture where we argue that the ends justify the means. When we have this whole culture that basically says we can do whatever it takes so that we don't have terrorism, and to preserve security, these kind of things happen when you have a culture where the ends justify the means.
DYSON: It's coercion and intimidation. And it has to be dealt with.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Got to take a quick break. It's time for our powerhouse puzzler now.
You all saw that selfie of Colin Powell that went viral this week -- dapper Colin Powell. So here is the question, his appointment to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff firsts, three milestones. This is a tough one. You win if you guess two. And we're back in two minutes with the answer.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. We're back with the Powerhouse Puzzler. Who knows two out of the three milestones set by Colin Powell when he became Joint Chiefs Chairman? This one was too tough Bill Kristol. What do you have?
KRISTOL: Obviously first African-American to be chairman of the Joint chiefs, first former White House national security adviser to become chairman of the joint chiefs.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We've got to check on that second one. I think he may be right about that. But I'm not positive.
VANDEN HEUVEL: First African-American appointed and I believe first who was involved in (inaudible).
DOWD: First African-American. And I only could come up, first in line at the mess hall.
VAN SUSTEREN: I did first African-American and then tried to copy from Matthew Dowd but his writing was too awful. I couldn't read it.
DYSON: II put first African-American, first Caribbean heritage chief of staff and first black man over six feet to hold office.
STEPHANOPOULOS: First African-American, the youngest, and the first one to come out of ROTC. That...
KRISTOL: Oh, that surprised me.
VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, I was going to say that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: When we come back, congress takes on concussions. Are they poised to act?
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are back now with new questions about sports and safety. Those dramatic headlines about head injuries in the NFL aren't the only concern. Each year, more than 250,000 American kids get serious head injuries while playing sports. And that startling fact grabbed the spotlight in Congress this week.
ABC's Jim Avila was there.
JIM AVILA, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Six million kids play tackle or flag football, absorbing an average of 650 hits to the head every season. The most wicked carry 150 Gs, the force of a bowling ball being dropped on the player's head from eight feet above.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Consider a big hit between a running back and a linebacker at full speed. The force each player exerts on the other exceeds three quarters of a ton.
AVILA: On Capitol Hill this week, officials from the NHL, NFL, doctors and athletes all agreed the sports' culture of win at all costs and playing hurt must end.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of sports, at the youth level, suffer from a, uh, misplaced, you know, macho attitude.
AVILA: Surprisingly, studies show soccer is second on the list for concussion danger. And one of the game's most famous players, former Team USA goalie Briana Scurry, who helped the U.S. win its first World Cup, can no longer play, suffering this head injury at age 38.
(on camera): What was the effect of that on your life?
BRIANA SCURRY, FORMER ATHLETE: Issues with my balance, loss of memory, concentration, difficulty focusing, sensitivity to light and sound.
AVILA (voice-over): The NFL has already changed kick-offs, penalized and suspended players for using the head as a weapon, but admits the league has not developed safer equipment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Football helmets were not designed to protect against concussions. I know that the helmet manufacturers are working on it. We're not there yet.
AVILA: Congress urging the leagues to continue rule and equipment changes. And most importantly, a change in culture.
For THIS WEEK, Jim Avila, ABC News, Washington.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
STEPHANOPOULOS: And ESPN's Jeremey Schaap joins us now.
Jeremy, thanks for coming in.
As Jim pointed out, Congress is nudging the NFL to make more changes.
But is there anything more that Congress can or should do?
JEREMY SCHAAP, ESPN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think what Congress has to do is continue to nudge. The NFL has made significant changes, as Jim pointed out in the piece. There are fewer full contact practices now. They're working on technology, diagnostic technology that can determine just how hard a hit was, whether a player needs to come out of the game.
But the NFL exists to make money. And if it doesn't get pushed, it might stop pushing for those advances. It might stop funding the research that it is funding now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And in some ways, an even bigger question, what to do about use force right now.
SCHAAP: There is some regulation out there. We have new laws on the books, but it's not enough, clearly. And this is where the NFL comes into it, as well.
The NFL is sending a message out there that football can be played safely, tackle football, even for very young kids. And the evidence that we have now suggests that the youngest kids should not be playing any sports where they can suffer real head trauma before, let's say, the age of 15. And the people who know the most about this, the best neurologists in the country, say ban tackle football under the age of 15, ban full checking in hockey before the age of 15. That's not where we are yet, on regulation and that's, perhaps, where we have to go.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we're seeing a lot of parents take and make the decisions themselves.
Jeremy Schaap, thanks very much.
We're going to be back some -- with some final thoughts from the roundtable on the Malaysian flight mystery still gripping the world. That's in just one minute.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Quick final thoughts from the roundtable here.
Actually, they're talking already.
But I do want to bring this back to the Malaysian plane mystery, because Matthew Dowd, this is kind of a rare, uh, situation where the entire world is watching and it's a true, true mystery. You almost believe that can't be possible anymore.
DOWD: Well, it's captivating. And I think it's sort of a sign of a lot of things. First, we -- we love a mystery. The country and the world loves a mystery.
But I think it's also a contrast to what we've seen over the last 10 years. We think we know everything that's going on -- the NSA, with our arguments that we have about the spying and everybody knows everything, Google and every -- all of that. And here we have a plane with two -- a 777 with 239 people aboard disappear off all the radars and we can't seem to find it a week or eight days later.
It really does, though we thought the world was small, the world is really big and still mysterious.
VAN SUSTEREN: And, of course, it's terrifying, because many of us actually do fly. You know, we do board the planes and so we're all worried. So, of course, we're consumed with it, could this happen to my plane?
You know, it's just too bizarre. And -- and we see how even the United States, you know, we were unable to get Malaysia to let us get in there fast enough and the trail does get colder and so it does show a little bit about how, you know, this investigation needs to move fast and we need to have a little more world cooperation on this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, well, you know, if "Non-Stop" was a hit at the theaters, this -- this particular conundrum, paradox, whatever it is, this kind of colossal Bermuda Triangle is fascinating because we do fly. We feel vulnerable and the knowledge limit -- we think we know everything, but the military, you know, had some pings there.
It does suggest that the absorption of knowledge into the military-industrial complex is a rather interesting one here. And we've got to use that not only for spying on other people, but figuring out natural catastrophes.
VANDEN HEUVEL: In my household, George, I have to admit, we've been transfixed by one thing these last few weeks and that's Ukraine. If there is a new cold war, there are only going to be losers, no winners, especially Ukraine.
And so we desperately need less bluster, more realism.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We only have 10 seconds left.
Do you take any hope from his announcement, perhaps, of a truce this morning?
VANDEN HEUVEL: I do. I think there's a negotiated -- a negotiation that can be done.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. That's...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to say Happy Saint Patrick's Day. For all the Irish out there and all the people that want to be Irish.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy birthday to my mother today?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we've got a...
(CROSSTALK) VAN SUSTEREN: Happy birthday to his mother. I'll say it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Erin go bragh. Erin go bragh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all we have time for today.
Thank you all very much.
And we do announce some welcome news. There were no deaths of any service members in Afghanistan reported this week.
We want to let you know that ESPN's Nate Silver is back with 538.com. Its unique data-driven blend of politics, sports and culture launches around lunchtime tomorrow, including Nate's interactive March Madness bracket. You can look for that tomorrow on ABCNews.com, also.
And thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us.
Check out "World News Tonight" with David Muir tonight.
And I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."