All-Star Panel: Reaction to word that WH knew ObamaCare launch would flop

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," November 19, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDNET BARACK OBAMA: I was not informed directly that the Web site would not be working the way it was supposed to. Had I been informed, I wouldn't be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great. You know -- I'm accused of a lot of things, but I don't think I'm stupid enough to go around saying this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity a week before the Web site opens if I thought that it wasn't going to work. So, clearly, we and I did not have enough awareness about the problems in the Web site.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president was briefed regularly on the aspects of implementing the ACA including the recommendations from this review and the steps that CMS and HHS were taking in response to those recommendations.

We never expected it. He was certainly not told and nobody here was told because there was not this expectation that the site would perform as poorly as it did.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: This review from McKenzie and Company, a private consulting firm that was brought in happened in March. The briefings happened in early April. In those briefings, some of the risks from McKenzie and Company, implementation risks, marketplaces unavailable with system failure, long manual processing times, failure to resolve post launch issues rapidly, no viable marketplace in large volume states, plans not approved and loaded in selected markets.

It goes on and on and on, as you scroll through this list. Next page, there's a bunch of them. They were all briefed to HHS, senior administration officials, and as you heard there, the president was briefed in the spring.

What about all this? Let's bring in our panel. Nina Easton, columnist for Fortune magazine. Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of the National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, to quote the president, I'm not stupid enough to hear -- to not react when I hear the president of the United States say, as we just heard him say, I was not informed directly that the Web site would -- now what in god's name does that mean directly? The historian Bea Kristol was once asked if she read a certain book, and she said, yes, but not personally.

So what does that mean he was indirectly told? How was he told? What did he hear?

Look, what we're having here is this sort of -- well, that's Clintonian way for him to protect himself in case there's a memo that comes out in which he was informed through another person. But what's happening here is unraveling of the cover-up. This is not a cover-up of corrupt misconduct. This is a cover-up of cosmic incompetence of the fact that they began to be told in March and nobody acted and nobody said.

So we now know that the secretary of HHS knew, high officials in the White House knew, way back in December and then pretended in a hearing two weeks later to Congress, it's all working well.


BAIER: In March and then April is the --

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly. And then in the run-up, there's all these reassurances and we know that the president had been briefed himself about that McKenzie study. So he knew, how much he knew, we are not sure. But this is really incompetence of a level that is indescribable. And it stands to reason. We've got a president who never ran anything, who was never a governor, he never ran a hotdog stand in his life, and he presumed that his team could remake a sixth of the American economy and this is what happens.

BAIER: Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes, I think that every day that more and more stories like this come out just reinforces the biggest political problem that the president is having now, which is that his ratings for competence, credibility trustworthiness, strong leadership are dropping and that's what this is doing for him. And there's only one answer. The Web site has to be fixed immediately and ObamaCare has to start working and getting more popular. I don't see any other way out.

BAIER: This is the Sebelius testimony in April and reaction from Congressman Upton today.


KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We have the federal hub on track and on time. We are moving ahead with the marketplaces that we will be individually responsible for. We are on track and the contracts have been led and we are monitoring it every step along the way.

I can tell you that we are on track. We've judiciously used those resources and we intend to be open for open enrollment around the country October 1st.

REP. FRED UPTON, R-MI, HOUSE ENERGY AND COMMERCE CHAIRMAN: But we now know that the secretary's testimony did not match what was happening behind the scenes. Two weeks before she testified before this committee, Secretary Sebelius was present in an April 4th meeting where experts identified significant threats and risks launching the site on October 1st.


BAIER: Nina.

NINA EASTON, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Well, in fairness to the secretary, this report, which is basically a corporate PowerPoint full of corporate sort of, you know, consultancy gobbledygook language, it did not say this is going to crash and burn. It was not -- it didn't have that level of clarity. But what it did do, and this is what I found -- find even more compelling, it kind of -- it portrays, if you read through all this, this sort of seat of the pants operation that was going on.

That 180 days out, the design was still evolving. The requirements were still evolving. There was core contracts still hasn't been led out to contractors. And then the other thing that the real glaring moment was, it says that there was no significant person, chain of command, there's no buck stops here person, there's nobody kind of taking control of this entire operation like you would -- you would see in the private sector.

And I think that's what is -- so she probably didn't even -- she's so part of the process, she didn't even see this coming. That's what's scary.

KRAUTHAMMER: The idea that they were evolving the requirements and the architecture, it was not accidental, it wasn't only incompetent, it was a political decision in an election year to postpone the regulations so that they would be protected from any attack, political attack in election.  It was a political decision, a partisan decision which postponed everything until it was extremely late and that's why you had the chaos.

BAIER: When you postpone the regulations, obviously, it makes it tougher for the people putting up the Web site dealing with those regulations.

When we come back, there is more to be done with that Web site, a lot more. Wait until you hear that after the break.

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