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CNN "Piers Morgan Live" - Transcript: Debt Ceiling

Interview

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I want to bring in two congressmen now from opposite sides of the aisle. Republican James Lankford, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, and Democrat Jim Himes of the Financial Services Committee. Gentlemen, welcome to you.

Let me start with you if I may, James Lankford. We've spoken a few times through this process. You two are standing next to each other which I guess is a vaguely encouraging sign. But is there any real sign of movement here? Or has everything moved to now a debt ceiling debate which will be resolved around that deadline?

REP. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: I think it's more likely now that we'll have some debt ceiling and some CR conversation. Obviously, we all wish this would have been resolved a week ago and then get this done two weeks ago so we've never actually walked into it. The closer we get to the debt ceiling the more likely is to say, OK let's do some of this together probably not long term, probably short term and to try to get some resolution and then continue to be able to negotiate and get things solved long term. I would like to be able to get America fully back to work again.

MORGAN: Jim Himes, you were with the President tonight, word is leaking out that he was pretty on a vaguely conciliatory terms saying, "Look, if it takes an extension, I'll say six weeks, to resolve the debt ceiling situation and we can alleviate some of the problems through that period and that maybe the way to go so the Republicans can save face so we can get the government again." Is that your understanding of how it went?

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes, I think that's very accurate. I think the President showed some flexibility of the Democratic caucus tonight and he made it a point that he's made all along which is that he is not going to negotiate as long as one party is saying that they will bring down the global economy through a default on our debt by not paying our bills or that they will hold up a shutdown of the government with all of the horrible implications that that involves. But then, if we can get pass that, he is completely open to a six-week discussion about how we move forward on the real issues of the day. How do we make this country long term physically sustainable.

He is more than willing to negotiate but rightly so and this would be true if it was a Republican president as well. He's not willing to negotiate when one party brings a hand grenade and puts it on the table and says, "Here are our demands. Meet those demands or this grenade goes off."

MORGAN: Tell me this so, Jim Himes. I mean, you're with the President today. Did he any stage mention this appalling situation involving the payments to dead servicemen and women? Because there were clear warnings put out, it was not a secret, there were Pentagon public briefing saying this is what was going to happen. How could the President fame ignorance about this? And how do you feel personally that the ...

HIMES: There is no ...

MORGAN: ... these poor families have been treated in this way.

HIMES: No. No, look, there's absolutely no famed ignorance about this at all. None of us are under misapprehension about what a government shutdown means. And yes, it is a horrible situation for as you point out Lincoln, you know, bringing us to the notion that we owe an immense debt of gratitude to those people who have given the ultimate sacrifice abroad. But it's not just them, right? I mean it is head start families in my district who are now choosing between keeping their job or looking after their kids at home.

The pain is massive around this country and the President knows that as well as anybody else. As he pointed out tonight, he regularly writes to those who have lost limbs, or lost lives abroad and so he understands how very painful this situation is that we find ourselves in.

MORGAN: Well, he may understand it, James Lankford, but, you know, collectively the Republicans and Democrats by continuing the shutdown have directly led to an appalling situation. You know, one that I think most Americans find just completely indecent. Now, the idea that you could lose your life on the battlefield fighting for your country and your loved ones were left behind and deprived of payments because of scrupling on Washington. I mean it's frankly sickening, isn't it?

LANKFORD: Well, it's heart-wrenching when a loved one is lost either way. There's no way to be able to repay the debt that America owes to all those families and again their sons and daughters for the freedom of people around the world. But as we walk through this process two weeks ago, the House passed unanimously a resolution to be able to make sure that all of our militaries are paid and that we continue to move forward on that.

The Senate took that up, passed it unanimously and the President signed it. And then for the next week, Eric Holder and the Department of Justice and the lawyers in the Pentagon interpreted this one page bill that said, "All military, all civilians that connect to the military, and all civilian contractors continue on as normally." It was very straightforward, very clean and for a week, we had all these bases on slow down, we had all of these civilian contractors lay off, we have all of these debate. We still believe that the original bill that we passed two weeks ago took care of all the issues about this reimbursement to all of these families -- these payments to these families and for the loss of a loved one.

But we passed another bill today reinforcing again to say we felt like that this is already been taken care of two weeks ago. If somehow this was missed, let's make it clear again. This should be paid for. And so this is one of those many issues that as we're walking into this trying to lay the ground work to say, "We don't want a shutdown but in case it occurs, this should not affect our military." They were the hardest hit during the sequestration. They shouldn't also have taken thing during slow down.

HIMES: But, Piers, the other day that happened two weeks ago of course is that the Speaker of the House John Boehner went to Harry Reid and said, "Look, I can get you an extension, a CR, a Continuing Resolution at the Republican budget number which is where we are today so that we can then negotiate a deal." And then the Speaker went back to his Republican conference and they said no to him.

So we find ourselves in this world where the next step became, wait a minute, instead of just passing a clean CR we need a repeal of ObamaCare. And oh, by the way, if you want to raise the debt ceiling we need the excel pipeline passed, we need EPA regulations removed.

And so two weeks ago, had that failure, had John Boehner's promise to Harry Reid then fulfilled we never would have gotten to this shutdown which is why what we're trying to do right now and what the President's trying to do is to find a way for everybody to back down from this tree that the Speaker climbed up of and get back to a point where we restart the government, we take the debt ceiling off the table and then we have that six or seven to eight 10-week negotiation which allows to deal with the long term stability of this country.

MORGAN: OK, I mean, James Lankford, you're going to be with the President tomorrow with the Republican ...

LANKFORD: Yes, sir.

MORGAN: ... delegation. Clearly the President has made it crystal clear, repeatedly, that any amendments to ObamaCare are not on the table. He will not have this held as some metaphorical gun to his head. Given that you know this before you go into that room tomorrow. What were the strategy be from the Republicans to get through this on path that is now causing such havoc to so many Americans?

LANKFORD: Well, we are actually very hopeful that this is actual negotiating time. The President went to all 233 members of the House Republican conference to come over and then meet with him. We didn't think that will be productive that's not a real negotiation, that's more like a lecture time or a Q&A session that isn't a negotiation.

So we're going to bring over about 17 people to be able to sit down with the President hopefully have some positive negotiations from this. We've asked for that for two weeks and in fact before the shutdown started and at the moment that has started we said, "Let's just conference. Let's work this out the way that every House and the Senate and President has worked this out since the 1700s."

Now, when he gets an in pass, you assign negotiators between the two, those negotiators meet, they work out the differences, they bring it back to the House and the Senate and we pass that. Senate's been unwilling to do that, the President said over and over again, he won't meet, he won't negotiate which is odd to us. Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton talked every single day during that shutdown in time period when Tip O'Neill closed down the government on Ronald Reagan they spoke every single day during that shutdown ...

MORGAN: OK. Well, you will be ...

LANKFORD: ... we want to be able to sit down and actually negotiate this.

MORGAN: Well, that's exactly what you'll be doing tomorrow and hopefully we can talk to you again after you spoke with the President tomorrow that would be fascinating. Thank you both very much indeed in joining me.

LANKFORD: Thank you.

HIMES: Thank you, Piers.

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