updated 2/11/2009 9:33:00 AM ET 2009-02-11T14:33:00

Guest: Steny Hoyer, Chris Cillizza, Jared Bernstein, Chris Kofinis, Tony Blankley, Rep. Kendrick Meek, E.J. Dionne, Amy Nelson High: the Senate passes the President‘s economic recovery plan, and the high-wire negotiations are underway between the Senate and the House.

Spec: Congress; Politics; Policies

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, the Senate passes the President‘s economic recovery plan and the high-wire negotiations are underway between the Senate and the House.

Meanwhile, President Obama hits the road warning that we need action to stave off a catastrophe.  His tone is infuriating Republicans and fueling debate.

In “Muck Raker,” the evidence against baseball slugger Alex Rodriguez.

In “Hypocrisy Watch,” an international edition, Zimbabwe‘s President is now planning an unprecedented birthday binge as his nation starves.

And back home, phase 2 of the Wall Street bailout plan.  The Treasury Secretary says the new price tag could be up to $2 trillion.

On a related note, our music video of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  “I want some TARP, they‘re giving money away for free.  I want some TARP, save a little bit for me.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  All tonight on “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.”

Welcome to the show, everybody, I‘m David Shuster.

The negotiations have begun.  Congressional Conference Committees usually don‘t get this much attention but this time the House and Senate negotiators are trying to reconcile their differences over the biggest legislation in U.S. history.

And earlier today, the Senate version passed with only one vote to spare.  The final tally on the $838 billion economic recovery plan was 61-37.  Just three Republicans crossed the aisle.

And after the vote, Republican Senator Arlen Specter said his support would evaporate if the Senate version is altered.  We will get to that in a moment.

But first, President Obama learned about today‘s critical Senate vote while he was on stage in Ft. Myers, Florida, trying to build support for the plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  That‘s good news, and I want to thank all the members of the Senate who moved the process forward.  We‘ve still got—we‘ve still got to get the House bill and the Senate bill to match up before it gets sent to my desk.  So we‘ve got a little more work to do over the next couple days but it‘s a good start.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Joining us live from Capitol Hill  is House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.  And Mr. Majority leader, Senator Arlen Specter says he will not support this if there are major changes.  Will there be major changes?  And how do you hold him into this?

REP. STENY HOYER, (D) MAJORITY LEADER:  Well, I think the key to that is major changes.  I was just with Arlen Specter and just about half an hour ago.  We didn‘t talk substance.  We were honoring John Dingell.

But the fact of the matter is you have a Senate version and a House version.  The Senate version is about $40 or $20 billion more than the House version.  So they appropriated more money.  But we create more jobs, about 3.9 million to their 3.4 million.

And so there obviously are going to be discussions between the House and the Senate as the best way to get this economy moving and to create jobs.  The bills are very, very similar in many respects.  There are substantial differences.  They‘ll be under discussion.  And hopefully we‘ll resolve those differences within the next couple of days.

SHUSTER:  Well, I want to show our viewers who will be leading those discussions.  And here is the members of the Senate Conference Committee:

Senator Harry Reid, of course, the Majority Leader; Daniel Inouye, Max Baucus, Chuck Grassley—those are the two Republicans.  The House Conference Committee Members, Representative David Obey, Representative Charlie Wrangle, Representative Henry Waxman, and the two Republicans there, Jerry Lewis, and Dave Camp.

Senator John Ensign today suggested this process would be served through accountability and transparency.  I want to play his request and then get your reaction.  Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN, ® NEVADA:  This new President and the Democrat Congress have promised transparency and accountability.  What we‘re challenging the Democrat Congress to do is to televise the conference meeting.  When they‘re working out the difference between the House and the Senate, it should not be behind closed doors.  It should be out in the open.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Mr. Majority leader, how about that, why not televise the Conference Committee?

HOYER:  Well of course, John Ensign, with all due respect to the Senator, didn‘t practice what he‘s now preaching.  As a matter of fact the Senate was very reluctant to go to conference over the last two years of the Congress.

Here, we have a crisis situation as has been projected by the President.  I agree with him.  We need to act quickly.  There are meetings going on now.  And those meetings are intense.  Not necessarily conference but meetings between individuals to try to resolve differences on particular programs.

We are very hopeful that this could get done.  And that we can come to agreement.  And then there will be a conference.  Now, whether or not—I presume, that it‘s going to be televised—whether or not it‘s a very long conference clearly the economy can not wait.

We‘re losing some 600,000 jobs per month; 20,000 jobs per day.  Americans being out of work.  There is not time to fiddle while Rome is burning, frankly.  So we have to move quickly.  In order to move quickly we‘re going to have to have a lot of meetings in a lot of different places.

This bill is a very large bill with a lot of items.  And they‘re going to have to get resolved by a lot of people.  The conferees themselves, obviously will be the ultimate resolvers of the differences but there are going to be many other people involved.

SHUSTER:  Well, Congressman, you mentioned the intensity.  I‘m told that there are already a number of governors which are already lobbying hard because they want this $70 billion in discretionary spending to the states, they want that put back in.  It was taken out to a certain extent by the Senate.  And underscoring sort of these differences that you talked about, here‘s the House Speaker earlier today.  Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE SPEAKER:  Our colleagues are excited about the prospects, concerned about some of the differences between the House and the Senate.  And we promised that because our bill, the House-passed bill produced more jobs will go to conference to fight for those jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Mr. Majority Leader, how do you reconcile all these different interests?  Would you acknowledge that this is extremely sensitive?

HOYER:  Well, there isn‘t any doubt it‘s sensitive.  You‘re absolutely right, David.  But the fact is we‘ve got to get this bill done for the American people.  The American people want us to get it done.  They believe it needs to be done and we‘re working very hard to do that.

It‘s not unusual for there to be differences between the Senate and the House.  Sometimes very serious differences and people hopefully of goodwill can come together and there‘s going to have to be compromises.

We believe, as you know, as you said and as the speaker pointed out that the states are in real trouble.  We want to make sure they don‘t have to lay off police, or fire, or teachers.  And keep our education system going.  They have to meet balanced budgets.  Their revenues are very substantially down.  We think we need to give them some help.

And we gave them more help than the Senate has given them.  And that‘s why the governors are weighing in, and that‘s why Governor Crist, a Republican Governor of Florida, was with President Obama today.

But we hope we can resolve the differences.  We hope we can do that within the next hours, couple of days and so that by Friday and if we haven‘t done it by Friday we‘re going to stay here.  This needs to be done.

SHUSTER:  Congressman Steny Hoyer, part of the Democratic leadership. 

Congressman, thank you very much.  We appreciate you coming on tonight.

HOYER:  Thank you.

SHUSTER:  As you just heard this will be one of the most dramatic and important conference committee negotiations in a long time.  With Republican senators insisting there‘ll be no changes to what the Senate just passed, the sensitivities and stakes are incredibly high as you just heard.

And joining us now; Chris Cillizza, Washington Post and White House reporter and author of the “Fix” on washingtonpost.com.

Chris, it was so striking, just there at the end, when he talked about how he thinks this will be done in hours and then Hoyer sort of caught himself.  Because we know that the Senate Majority Leader said this could be done in 24 hours.  And you don‘t want—and Hoyer doesn‘t want to be insulting the Senate Majority Leader right out of the gate.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST:  Well, you know David, what‘s interesting I thought in there, to your point, is you have Steny Hoyer saying that this is something that absolutely has to get done quickly.  But then also saying it‘s very complicated, it‘s very delicate, it‘s a lot of money, there are a lot of egos and pride involved.  Typically in Congress those are not the kind of things that make it something that gets done at the drop of a hat.

They recognize, I think, Democrats do that given that they control both the House and the Senate they have to produce something out of a conference that can get voted on and approved and signed by the President.  Bit it‘s not as easy are some people are presenting it to be at the moment.

SHUSTER:  Chris, I was also struck when he said that he had a conversation with Arlen Specter within the past half an hour.  Clearly Arlen Specter is already signaling this needs to sort of stay intact.  One can only wonder what does Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine are sort of thinking in their effort to keep the Senate Bill to their liking.  What do you make of it all?

CILLIZZA:  Well, you know David, the bill passed with 61 votes today in the Senate.  And a lot of people look at it and say well, that‘s 11 more.  And well, what—that‘s more than 50.  They have plenty of votes.  But it‘s not necessarily.  And remember, they have to keep this thing away from being filibustered which means they need 60 plus votes.  Democrats have 58 votes, if Senator Ted Kennedy as he did today and as he did last night votes with them.

So they need at least two Republicans to cross the aisle.  The problem is that as our own Specter said, if the bill doesn‘t resemble what he voted for today in the Senate he‘s going to be skeptical.  It‘s a very delicate balance.  You‘ve got to keep those things that are going to keep Republicans involved and get them to vote for the bill without alienating some of the more liberal elements of the Democratic caucus and losing their support especially in the Senate where it‘s a really delicate balance.

SHUSTER:  And the politics as you‘ve written about is so intriguing.

And I want to play for you Mitch McConnell the Senate Minority Leader.  Again, the strategy with Republicans seems to be to try to not pin any of the blame on President Obama but to go after the Democrats in the House side.  Here‘s Mitch McConnell from today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, ® MINORITY LEADER:  And to his credit, our new President has committed himself to working with Congress to fix the economy, a top priority for both parties.

What many of us did not expect, however, was that President Obama wouldn‘t be the author of that plan.  In an odd turn of events the bold economic plan that President Obama called for ended up being written by some of the longest serving Democrats in the House of Representatives and it showed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Chris, that strategy of going after the House Democratic leadership, is that the Republicans‘ best play given the incredible popularity, of course, of President Obama in the midst of all of this?

CILLIZZA:  You know David I was just going to say it, that shows that Mitch McConnell and other Republican Congressional leaders know how to read polling which essentially says that Barack Obama is extremely popular.  And Democrats in Congress, while more popular frankly than Republicans in Congress are not anywhere near the level of popularity of the President.

I think the Republican goal here is, as you point out, to bifurcate this.  To say, look, we want to work with President Obama.  We believe in bipartisanship.  But at the same time, this bill is just more of the same, this is more of the sort of old Democratic bulls getting their hands on a piece of spending legislation and trying to grow the government and handle their constituencies in ways that they haven‘t been able to do with George Bush in the White House.

So I think Republicans are going down the right path.  Doesn‘t necessarily mean they‘re going to win.  I think they‘re very likely to lose at least in the short term as I said, I‘m almost sure this bill winds up passing in some way, shape or form in the relatively near future.

SHUSTER:  Chris Cillizza, White House reporter for the “Washington Post.”  Chris thanks for joining us.

CILLIZZA:  David thanks for having me.

SHUSTER:  Coming up next, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner announces a new plan for rescuing the country‘s banking system and has a $2 trillion price tag.

And later, the remarkable personal rescue today in Florida when a woman who lost her home explained her struggles to the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUGHES:  We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom.  Please help us.

OBAMA:  Ok, Ms. Hughes.  We‘re going to do everything we can to help you, but there are a lot of people like you.  And we‘re going to do everything we can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  It had a big impact on the audience and on President Obama.  We will talk live with a Congressman who traveled to Florida with the President.  Ahead on “1600.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Zimbabwe‘s unemployment rate is at 94 percent, but the president of that country is still hoping for a swanky birthday party with tons of champagne, caviar and chocolate.  And important international edition of “Hypocrisy Watch” is coming up on “1600.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Welcome back to “1600.”

Today, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner rolled out the financial institution recovery plan part two.  This involves the second part of that $700 billion bailout known by critics as the Wall Street bailout.

It was authorized by Congress last fall, to rescue ailing banks and restore access to consumer credit.  Today as part of the Obama administration‘s effort to resurrect the program‘s awful reputation, Secretary Geithner promised new accountability.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY:  We believe that access to public support is a privilege, not a right.  Government support has to come with strong conditions to protect the tax payer and with transparency that allows the American people to see the impact of those investments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Will the new Obama program be answerable to American taxpayers?  And can the plan work?

Joining us now from the White House, is Jared Bernstein, chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden.  And Mr. Bernstein, welcome.

JARED BERNSTEIN, CHIEF ECONOMIST FOR VP BIDEN:  Thank you.  Nice to be here.

SHUSTER:  To make it clear to our viewers we‘re talking about trying to unclog our financial system by buying up toxic assets.  And here are the nuts and bolts of the plan as announced today: $500 billion to sort of buy up bad bank assets; $100 billion for bank capitalization; $50 billion for foreclosures; $1 trillion for reserved lending.

The original plan last fall was to buy out the toxicity asset by asset.  That didn‘t work because nobody could figure out how to value them.  How does bulking the assets together as this plan suggests change that?

BERNSTEIN:  Well, actually a critical part of this plan is the treasury doing a much more careful, more detailed job involving consultation with outsiders as to how to value these assets.

And the first part of the TARP, as implemented before we got on board, there really wasn‘t much asset purchasing going on.  It was really a recapitalization where we try—where Paulson et al tried to boost the balance sheets of the banks by injecting some of that money in exchange for stock shares.

In this case, we‘re going to be quite careful about valuing these assets to make sure that we‘re not subsidizing banks at taxpayer expense.  Yet we‘re also not paying fire sale prices.

SHUSTER:  But what about the argument that they couldn‘t be valued in the first place?

BERNSTEIN:  Well, it‘s not that they can‘t be valued ever.  It‘s that at a given point in time there is no market for these assets.  That‘s why you have to have a set of analysts to figure out what‘s that balance between a price that pays too much, subsidizing banks and a price that pays too little leading us back where we started.

SHUSTER:  The stock market, today, dropped by 381 points or 4.6 percent after Secretary Geithner‘s proposal.

Here‘s what Simon Johnson, the former chief economist said of the plan announced today.  “The market is responding to vagueness.  This is not a plan.  In the annals of plan-announcing, this is very vague.”  How do you respond to economists and people in the markets who feel that the Treasury today essentially punted?

BERNSTEIN:  Look, I understand that on a day like this you‘re going to look at the market outcome and you‘ll say the market has spoken.  There‘s no way you can judge the quality of this plan, and how far this plan is going, it‘s effectiveness by one day in the stock market.

I mean, if you think about that for a second it really sounds pretty ridiculous.  This is a plan with a lot of moving parts.  It‘s very, very carefully put out by a guy who knows the guts of financial markets extremely well.  A guy who‘s been around those markets, understands the public policy.  This plan absolutely deserves a good chance to work.

And by the way, this is a one-two punch.  We‘re talking a lot about the financial plan.  This is an integral part with the stimulus package of getting 3 million to 4 million Americans back to work.

That‘s what we‘re focusing on inside these buildings here.

SHUSTER:  Mr. Bernstein, I agree on your point that one day does not render a verdict.  But, again, there did seem to be a lot of criticism today that it wasn‘t very detailed.

But let‘s move on.

On the issue of accountability, some of the banks who got the money last year have not been able to essentially say where it got spent.  I wonder if you can say where is the accountability this time?  What does the particular part of the plan have that the original plan did not?

BERNSTEIN:  This is something that the treasury secretary has been quite specific about.  I‘m not going to go into details and let him articulate that.  But you will see and the American public will see a much higher level of accountability both in the financial plan but also the recovery package as well.

We talked a lot about our recovery package website where we‘re going to be tracking the kind of activities that we‘re doing with the stimulus.  Remember, these two plans have to work together.  We have to stimulate demand in the economy, get people working again.

You know, the president has been traveling around, the vice president has been traveling around to towns with double digit levels of unemployment.  These folks get what we‘re about here in terms of getting this economy moving again with job creation on the one side, financial stability on the other.  The two really do complement each other.

SHUSTER:  Jared Bernstein, chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden.  Thanks for coming on tonight.  We appreciate it.

BERNSTEIN:  My pleasure.

SHUSTER:  As the Obama administration tries to deal with a variety of domestic challenges, there‘s still a lot waiting for them in foreign policy.

In Africa, for example, a key issue now involves mass starvation in Zimbabwe.  The nation is led by Robert Mugabe and he is the subject of tonight‘s “Hypocrisy Watch.”

First some background.  Zimbabwe is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.  The nation used to be one of the more successful in Africa until Mugabe took over, corrupted the government, squandered resources and began murdering his own people.

The situation has now become so horrific the country is literally starving to death.  Seven million citizens depend on international food aide.  Unemployment is up to 94 percent and inflation is at 10,000 percent.

But Robert Mugabe‘s 85th birthday is this month and he wants a big party.  According to the “Times” of London Mugabe and his cronies want 2,000 bottles of champagne, 8,000 lobster, 4,000 portions of caviar, 4,000 packets of sausages, 500 kilograms of cheese and 8,000 boxes of chocolates.

Western diplomats have long been horrified and disgusted by the Mugabe regime.  And in an ideal world Mugabe would be thrown in prison or taken out, so to speak.  But until our government and others can figure out how to get rid of him, it‘s worth remembering that the people of Zimbabwe are starving to death in the latest antics of their president are hypocrisy, revolting and wrong.

Coming up, President Obama is threatening doom and gloom if Congress doesn‘t pass an economic recovery plan.  Republicans say his tone is inappropriate.  We‘ll get into that debate.

Plus, the intriguing relationship between President Obama and Vice President Biden, what exactly did the president mean last night with this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  You know, I don‘t remember exactly what Joe was referring to. 

Not surprisingly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  We are told the two leaders still get along well.  Nonetheless, we‘ll have an amusing look at the rhetorical strain and on “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  In selling his economic recovery plan to the public, President Obama faces a delicate balance.  He must convince members of Congress the economic situation is so dire they need to take action, his action, in order to begin solving the problem.

The president doesn‘t want to frighten the public to the point that they freak out, horde their cash under mattresses and lose confidence at a time when economic recovery may depend on it; and so a few remarks over the past few days are generating a lot of attention.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The situation we face cannot be more serious that a failure to fact in the face of this crisis will only worsen our problems.

If we don‘t act immediately then millions more jobs will disappear.

And as I have said, this is an unprecedented crisis.

Our nation will sink into a crisis at some point we may be unable to reverse.

If we don‘t move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Joining us now, Democratic strategist and former Edwards communication director, Chris Kofinis and Washington Times columnist, Tony Blankley.  Tony‘s also the author of “American Grit: What it will take to survive and win in the 21st century.”

I have a feeling Chris Kofinis is never going to forgive me for dragging him into this segment.  But Chris let‘s start with you; national catastrophe is what we‘re facing, is that appropriate for the president?

CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I think what‘s happening here is, listen, you had eight years of a president that basically used rhetoric to manufacture crisis.  And now you have, I think, a president who‘s speaking very directly and honest about the situation we face.

Part of this is obvious.  Part of this is stressing the urgency upon Congress to get something done and get something done quickly.  As every day passes the scope of this crisis, I think, expands.  Part of that is the strategy and I think that‘s justified.

I think what you‘re going to probably see in the coming weeks and months is the rhetoric then starts shift and really kind of create a narrative that we‘re going to rise above this.  This is America.  You know, we‘ve gone through incredible challenges before, now we have this moment we‘re going to rise above this.  I think you‘re going to see the shift in language.

But right now, I think it makes political sense, you know, and it is unfortunately the reality we face.

SHUSTER:  Tony?

TONY BLANKLEY, AUTHOR, “AMERICAN GRIT”:  Let me give the president sort of a theoretical benefit of the doubt on this.  That he doesn‘t intend to have the effects I think he‘s having with this excessive language.

When you shift from being a candidate to being a president or from a candidate to being a prominent speaker, the magnitude of your voice expands in a way that you can‘t imagine.  You‘re used to talking in a certain way and people don‘t that pay much attention to the adjectives and the adverse.

Suddenly, you‘re the President of the United States, it goes around the planet when you say every syllable.  And so maybe either both Obama and his team haven‘t yet really quite calibrated themselves to the tremendous voice that a president has.

The alternative argument is that he tends to use this language to be as terrifying he is.  I think that‘s a bad judgment call if in fact these were intended to have the effects they‘re seemingly having.

SHUSTER:  And yet, the reality is, this is a terrifying time for a lot of people.

BLANKLEY:  You want to have two things.  On the one thing, you want to maintain your credibility.  You don‘t want to be a Pollyanna.  On the other hand, you have to maintain some plausible view of a positive future, maintaining hope.  I believe that was a theme of his campaign.  I think he has got that balance wrong.  When he said it could be irreversible—for one thing, there is no historic precedent for that assertion.  Two, it‘s just an appallingly pessimistic way to talk about our future. 

SHUSTER:  That was a mistake the other night, when he said this could beer irreversible, wasn‘t it? 

KOFINIS:  I don‘t think it was a mistake.  Again, I think it‘s him stressing the urgency of it.  Listen, I think what they did this week was very smart, in terms of the strategic shift of going out there and selling the president‘s strategy. 

The powers of the presidency are formal and informal.  The informal powers of President Obama can really maximize.  Those are the powers of rhetoric, the powers of the office and basically the imagery that comes along with the president.  I think what you saw in those town halls, in listening to people—listen, there are people out there who are incredibly terrified and going through some incredibly tough economic times. 

To go out there and, again, be Polly Anne-ish about it and paint this rosy, no, it‘s not that bad, I think would be completely delusional.  At the same time, I think you have to be honest.  I think it‘s kind of unfair to say he‘s only painted a negative picture.  I think this is a short term strategy.  I think what you‘re going to see, again, as the weeks—we‘ve only been here for three weeks, for goodness sake.  I think you‘re going to see in the coming weeks and month is a president that does what he does best: sell a very positive image of where this country is and where this country needs to go. 

SHUSTER:  Tony, you get the last word. 

BLANKLEY:  I think one of the other mistakes he‘s making is continued to say, don‘t pay attention to the Republicans, because they made a has of things.  That‘s another mistake that fledgling presidents make.  It‘s no longer a campaign.  The point of beating up on the guy before—who the people threw out is no longer a very persuasive case.  You‘ve got to start making the case for yourself.  They haven‘t fully shifted.  He still—at his press conference the other night, still beating up on Bush and the Republicans. 

KOFINIS:  That‘s Tony being too negative. 

SHUSTER:  I agree with Tony.  But I do think the Republicans are not in a great position to wage the sort of war of words, given the way that so many of them looked the other way, or supported President Bush when he was talking about mushroom clouds.  Chris Kofinis, Tony Blankley, thank you both.  We appreciate it. 

Coming up, President Obama today took another trip away from 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE to try and sell his economic recovery plan.  There was a dramatic moment at the Florida town hall with a woman who has no home.  We‘ll play it for you in full and talk about the impact it had on President Obama with the Congressman who traveled with him today. 

Plus, the battle in the GOP between Republican Senator Arlen Specter and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham.  They spoke of wining, dinging and baloney.  We‘ll explain in our briefing room.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Welcome back to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.  President Obama traveled to Florida today to talk about his economic recovery plan.  The town hall style event was held in Ft. Myers, where the home foreclosure rate is among the highest in the nation.  Emotions were running high, even more so when a homeless woman tearfully explained her plight. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Unemployment and homelessness, a very small vehicle for my family and I to live in.  We need urgency.  Housing authority has two years waiting list.  We need something more than a vehicle and park to go to.  We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom.  Please help us. 

OBAMA:  Well, I—listen, what‘s your name?  What‘s your name? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Henrietta Hughes. 

OBAMA:  Ms. Hughes, we‘re going to do everything we can to help you.  But there are a lot of people like you.  We‘re going to do everything we can. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  As emotional as that moment was for some of the Floridians in a room, a college student struggling to make ends meet was granted the final question today.  He was practically overcome by the opportunity to talk with President Obama. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, this is such a pleasure to see you, Mr.  President.  Thank you for taking time out of your day.  Oh, god, thank you so much. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  With us now, live, Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek of Florida, who traveled to Florida with President Obama today.  Congressman Meek, first of all, talk about the impact of this event on the president.  What did he say about it today? 

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA:  Well, when you‘re in here in Washington, D.C., sometimes you‘re insulated from what‘s going on in the real world.  Ms. Hughes and also the young man that worked at McDonald‘s—how many times would they have an opportunity to speak with the commander in chief?  It‘s really an example of what‘s out there once we leave Washington, D.C., the people that are in need. 

Six hundred thousand people lost their jobs in January.  We know that between 15,000 and 20,000 are losing their jobs every day in February.  The president is ringing the bell and saying, we must act soon. 

SHUSTER:  What did you make, in terms of how the president was impacted or affected by specifically those emotional moments today? 

MEEK:  Well, it invigorated him.  We got back on the plane.  He was very excited about getting back to Washington to work with conferees and also work with other members of Congress to get this package through.  The sooner he signs it, the better this country will be, so that we can start moving forward. 

We had a number of mayors, city council people there, sheriffs, firefighters, and a number of small business people that were waiting to see something happen and something coming out of Washington, D.C.  The fact that the president was able to take questions for a second day from real Americans is something that we all should do when we go home. 

SHUSTER:  You mentioned that this invigorated him.  You saw it when he was on the aircraft when you were coming back.  Talk a little bit more about that.  And what is it about leaving town that you think is sort of helping President Obama leave right now? 

MEEK:  Well, when you‘re at 1600 PENNSYLVANIA, if I can say that, you‘re insulated.  When you can only go down the street to the Capitol or get a chance to go to Camp David, you don‘t get an opportunity to go out and see and feel Americans.  It‘s good for him to see it, so that he makes sure that him and his administration isn‘t doing something the American people doesn‘t want them to do. 

They‘re fresh off the campaign trail.  He‘s been out there for 24 plus months plus.  He‘s heard from Americans throughout the country.  We were impressed by his knowledge of Florida on the way down.  He knows about the foreclosure rate in Florida.  He knows about the insurance problems we have in Florida.  He knows about the loss of jobs in Florida.  It‘s good to have a president that has a pretty good idea on what‘s going on in this country, but especially going on—what‘s going on in southwest Florida. 

People were able to feel that knowledge that he had.  And on the way back, with him possessing the power that he picked up today, coming back to speak to lawmakers, I think it is going to be better for the country. 

SHUSTER:  Finally, Congressman Meek, what was the impact on you?  I mean, Henrietta Hughes there, the homeless woman, she is living out of a car.  She asked the president for help.  It was clearly such an emotional moment for everybody when the president hugged her.  She seemed so relieved.  What was the impact on you to see that? 

MEEK:  Knowing that that is a reality in Florida for many families.  When you go to one of the hardest hit areas in the country for foreclosures and also those that apply for public assistance—I spoke with a young lady who runs a food program there, along with a school teacher.  They said they‘re starting to see more families now than individuals.  They‘re starting to see people who were once working who are having to depend on the free food that they‘re giving out at their food distribution programs. 

So this is going on.  I‘m glad America had an opportunity to see it. 

It‘s definitely a blessing.  We need to reach out to those individuals.  That she was able to be assisted—but there are hundreds of thousands of people like her throughout the country. 

SHUSTER:  Congressman Meek, thank you so much for joining us.  We appreciate it.

MEEK:  Thank you. 

SHUSTER:  For more on the president‘s big push, we‘re joined now by “Washington Post” columnist E.J. Dionne.  E.J., first of all, what do you make of the emotions that were running over today and the way the president handled it by hugging the woman and trying to comfort her? 

E.J. DIONNE, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I don‘t see what else he could have done.  It was a very human reaction.  I think it goes to the discussion you had earlier in the show, whether the president is exaggerating the problems we face or if that‘s dangerous.  I think most Americans know how much trouble we‘re in.  I think they know it in their bones.  So I don‘t think there is that much danger of exaggerating it. 

It was particularly dramatic in her case.  But there are a lot of people losing jobs, a lot of people who have lost their homes, and a lot of people very worried that something bad is in their future.  So I don‘t think there‘s a danger of exaggerating the turmoil we‘re in. 

SHUSTER:  There was an interesting other picture that happened politically for all of us.  That is Governor Crist, a Republican, was there at the event.  President Obama spoke about that.  Watch. 

Well, he talked about—he talked about Governor Crist sharing my conviction that creating jobs to turn this economy around is a mission that transcends parties.  There is a real sort of tension right now between Republican governors and Republicans here in Washington in the House and Senate. 

DIONNE:  There‘s a total disconnect.  You have four prominent Republican governors, Crist in Florida, but also Governor Schwarzenegger, Governor Douglas in Vermont, Governor Rell in Connecticut; they all support the stimulus package.  Granted, all governors want money.  Barack Obama is offering them money in this stimulus package, substantial money, even more money in the House bill than in this bill that passed the Senate today.  But I think it‘s also a reflection of the fact that Washington Republicans have chosen to take a largely ideological or if they—if you prefer, philosophical stand against all this. 

These governors know that if the federal government doesn‘t inject money in this economy, including in their own states, you‘re going to have cut backs.  You face either—governors face either tax increases or cutting programs, neither of which is good for an ailing economy. 

SHUSTER:  The visit to Florida underscored the popularity, the immense popularity that President Obama continues to have across the nation.  Here‘s the latest Gallup poll, “do you approve of President Obama‘s handling of the stimulus?”  Sixty seven percent approve, 25 percent disapprove.  When the same question is asked about Democrats, 48 percent approve, 42 percent disapprove. 

When the question is asked about Republicans‘ handling of the stimulus, 31 percent approve, 58 percent disapprove.  What do you make of the numbers, and how it ties in to Obama leaving Washington and reminding Congressional Republicans of just how popular he is out there in all this? 

DIONNE:  You know, I think that he lost some ground in the first week when he really didn‘t try to defend either the House Democrats or the stimulus package.  To hear the attacks on it, you would have thought that thing was primarily about the federal government paying people to distribute birth control pills on a re-sodded national mall.  That‘s all people were talking about. 

So I think Obama really needed to answer his critics, which he has really started to do.  He was pretty tough on the Republicans, without using the word Republican, at that news conference yesterday.  Then to start defending the basic components of the bill.  He wants the numbers on the stimulus to catch up with his numbers.  Those Republican numbers are interesting, because the Republicans aren‘t doing themselves much good in the broader electorate.  But I bet that 31 percent approval comes from conservatives and Republicans. 

Guess what?  Most of the House Republicans represent conservative Republican districts.  So they‘re probably not very worried yet. 

SHUSTER:  E.J. Dionne of the “Washington Post.”  E.J., thanks so much for coming in. 

Coming up, a lighter moment at the president‘s first news conference, and all at the vice president‘s expense.  The psycho-analyzing of the relationship between the president and the vice president is ratcheting up again.  That‘s next on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.

But first, Senator Ted Kennedy returned to Capitol Hill this week to cast votes on the stimulus.  A few of his colleagues from the other side of the aisle caught sight of him today.  Senators McCain, Graham and Thune all gave Kennedy a thumb‘s up.  McCain followed with a raised fist, as if to say, be strong.  We at 1600 join them in wishing Senator Kennedy good health. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  We‘re back with a look inside the Briefing Room.  President Obama‘s first prime time news conference last night was mostly somber, dealing with the economy crisis, wars, even steroids.  Except, there was the moment when a reporter asked the president about this quote from Vice President Biden. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJOR GARRETT, FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  “If we do everything right, if we do it without absolute certainty, if we stand up there and really make the tough decisions, there‘s still a 30 percent chance we‘re going to get it wrong.”  Since the vice president brought it up, can you tell the American people, sir, what you were talking about?  And if not, can you at least reassure them it wasn‘t the stimulus bill or the bank rescue plan?  And if in general you agree with that ratio of success, 30 percent failure, 70 percent success. 

OBAMA:  You know, I don‘t remember exactly what Joe was referring to, not surprisingly. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Ouch.  That appeared to be a reference to the vice president‘s pension for verbosity and gaffes.  There have been several since Biden joined the ticket last summer.  The first happened a couple weeks before the election, when Biden said Obama would be tested by foreign countries if he was elected.  This is how Obama responded. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I think that Joe sometimes engages in rhetorical flourishes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The next so-called rhetorical flourish happened the day after inauguration day, after Chief Justice Roberts flubbed the Oath of Office. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My memory is not as good as Justice Roberts. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Well, you can see how the president reacted and he did not seem amused.  Aides say the two men eat lunch together once a week.  Insert your own punch line. 

Next up, Senator Arlen Specter is one of just three Republicans supporting the administration‘s economic recovery plan.  Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham is not very happy about Specter.  She interviewed him on her radio show, and things got quite interesting after Ingraham accused the senator of supporting the bill because of pressure from the president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Is it nice to be wined and dined at the White House?  You‘re treated pretty well when you‘re a Republican bucking other Republicans. 

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  Let‘s get off it, Laura.  I‘m not drinking any wine at the White House and I don‘t dine at the White House.  The president wanted to talk to me.  I talked to him.  I make my own independent judgment.  Don‘t give me the wine and dine baloney, young lady. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Baloney, young lady.  Senator Specter said of the stimulus, quote, it‘s a bitter pill, but one I think that has to be swallowed. 

Finally, we found another video on the web that you have to see.  It‘s actually a music video about the 700 billion dollar Trouble Asset Relief Program, or Tarp.  The talent here is Bill Zucker, a 53-year-old struggling musician from Hollywood, Florida.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The song has gotten more than 108,000 hits on Youtube since it was posted three weeks ago.  If you want to help Mr. Zucker, you can buy a copy of his song on iTunes or at Amazon Music stores. 

Baseball star Alex Rodriguez says he is sorry for using performance enhancing drugs a few years back.  Who‘s to blame?  The athlete or the coach?  We‘ll be right back with our Muckraker of the day, only on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Welcome back to 1600.  Houston Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada is expected to plead guilty in US District Court here in Washington tomorrow on two charges of making false statements to Congressional staffers last year while giving testimony as part of the Mitchell Investigation of steroid use in baseball.  This is just the latest in the steroid scandal plaguing Major League Baseball. 

Yesterday, Yankee star Alex Rodriguez admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs for three years, ending in 2003.  Today‘s Muckraker wrote in December about the conundrum coaches face in the new word of drug tests, quote, “strength coaches more than anyone else are faced with a conundrum, rat a player out and lose all the players‘ trust if word gets back to the club house.  Lose the club house and you‘ll eventually lose your job.  Don‘t report a transgression and your job is gone anyway, if it‘s discovered you withheld information.”

Joining us now is Amy Nelson, ESPN.com‘s baseball writer.  For her extensive work throughout this story, she is our Muckraker of the day.  Amy, thanks for joining us. 

AMY NELSON, ESPN:  Thanks for having me. 

SHUSTER:  Amy, how broad is the conspiracy that kept A-Rod‘s steroid use quiet until recently? 

NELSON:  You know, that‘s debatable.  I think what is clear is that there‘s always whispers about players over the years, because what we‘ve learned is no one is immune from the pressures of taking these performance-enhancing substances, from Roger Clemens to Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Tejada and now Alex Rodriguez.  So certainly there have been whispers all throughout the years about many of the big time players.  It makes sense.  Look at the numbers.

SHUSTER:  Amy, I don‘t think we should cut any slack, of course, to Alex Rodriguez.  He did what he did and he deserves all that comes his way, all the negative stuff.  How much—give us an insight in terms of these coaches and the strength coaches.  How much of the culture in terms of weight training and the need to be strong was created by these coaches?  And sort of—do you get a sense as far as how many were looking the other way? 

NELSON:  Well, you know, many of the strength coaches have told me that in the days of the wild, wild west, which is what they would call it, pre-steroid testing, and really pre-1998, before Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had the historic run at the time, that, in retrospect, seems perhaps performance-enhanced fueled, that they certainly had serious issues with knowing certain players were perhaps using performance-enhancing drugs. 

Even in the Mitchell Report, there were plenty of examples from trainers to strength coaches who had seen needles on the clubhouse floor to over-hearing conversations.  It‘s always been very difficult for strength coaches to try and tow that line of health and nutrition and trying to keep these guys really healthy and in shape throughout the course of a very long season.  Baseball is the longest season of all professional sports. 

SHUSTER:  Amy, this is the time of year when so many Americans turn to baseball for relief and a distraction from the daily struggles, whether it‘s the economy or anything else.  Do you get the sense that baseball players realize how much damage has been done? 

NELSON:  Absolutely.  This isn‘t anything new.  This has been going on for at least five years now.  That‘s always been the concern with baseball players, is when is this ever going to end?  When are the Congressional inquiries going to end?  When are the Mitchell-Report type investigations going to end?  Now with this news in the past 72 hours, I think there are a lot of baseball players going to Spring Training within the next week or two, sort of taking a deep breath saying, OK, I‘ve got to prepare myself.  Now again, I have to answer all these similar questions we‘ve been facing over the last five to six years. 

SHUSTER:  Amy Nelson, ESPN.com‘s baseball writer, our Muckraker of the day.  Amy, thanks so much for coming on. 

NELSON:  My pleasure. 

SHUSTER:  That is the view from 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE tonight.  I‘m David Shuster.  Thank you for watching.  We‘ll see you back here tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.  Remember, you can get the latest political news and a sneak peek of what‘s coming up on the show sent to your inbox with the 1600 Daily Briefing.  Plus, you can join one of the fastest growing communities online.  Go to Shuster.MSNBC.com. 

If you‘re into twittering, I‘ll be online right after the show to tell you which segment I liked the most.  Go to Twitter.com/Shuster1600.  I‘m David Shuster.  “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts now. 

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