updated 2/23/2009 9:55:53 AM ET 2009-02-23T14:55:53

Guest: Jeffrey Sachs, David Cicilline, Baratunde Thurston, Cenk Uygur, Nia Malika-Henderson, Chris Hayes, Chuck Todd, Joe Watkins

DAVID SHUSTER, HOST:  A five-year recession?  The news goes from bad to worse as our communities prepare for the government money that‘s coming.

Day 32 of the Obama administration.

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

There was a frightening new report this morning about the potential depth and length of our recession.  We will get to that in a moment. 

But first, President Obama today stressed the government help that‘s coming soon.  He spoke to America‘s mayors at the White House about how the nearly $800 billion stimulus plan will address their cities‘ needs. 


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Please join me in welcoming the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama. 


BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Welcome my own hometown mayor, my friend, Rich Daley. 

BIDEN:  My mayor in the city of Wilmington, Jim Baker. 

OBAMA:  My other hometown mayor—Mufi, it‘s great to see you, all the way from Honolulu. 

You govern very different cities, but you‘re on the front lines in our communities. 

This plan does more to lay a new foundation for our cities‘ growth and opportunity than anything Washington has done in generations. 

We‘ve done more in 30 days to advance the cause of health care reform than this country has done in a decade. 

Together, we will tackle the urban challenges of our time and foster diverse, creative, and imaginative economies that provide our children with every chance to learn and to grow, that allow our businesses and workers the best opportunity, that let our older Americans live out their best years in the midst of all that metropolitan life can offer.  So now it falls to us to seize the possibilities of this moment and convert peril into promise. 

The American people are watching.  They need this plan to work. 


SHUSTER:  The toughest and loudest critic so far to President Obama‘s stimulus plan may be the stock market.  Today, the Dow closed below 7,400, and this week hit its lowest closing in more than six years, even after the White House shot down reports that the president was considering nationalizing some banks. 

Let‘s bring in NBC News chief White House Correspondent and Political Director Chuck Todd. 

Chuck, how much pressure is the White House feeling in terms of what‘s happening on Wall Street? 


DIRECTOR:  You know what?  I actually think they are feeling a little bit of pressure today. 

It was interesting.  Number one, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, came out very prepared to take on the criticism, specifically of our colleague over there at CNBC, Rick Santelli, who went on that rant about the housing plan.  They had a very—Gibbs had a prepared response there.  And then he did his best to talk a little bit more about the markets. 

Now, they want to say that they don‘t want to let the day-to-day movement of the markets somehow influence decisions that they make.  At the same time, it wasn‘t nearly—it wasn‘t nearly with the same dismissiveness about whether they have to start worrying about the markets that he has shown in previous briefings.  And I think that that‘s—I think they realize that the markets do represent a form of confidence.  It may not be the type of measurement they want to deal with, but it‘s a form of confidence, and of course that‘s been something they‘ve been trying to restore. 

SHUSTER:  Chuck, a lot of investors and a lot of the markets, of course, very nervous about this potential bank nationalization, and even just the sort of confusion over what the plan is.

How did Gibbs deal with that today? 

TODD:  Well, it‘s interesting.  He was asked specifically about whether the administration would rule out nationalizing banks.  And he was asked twice.  And he very carefully said the administration believes in the private banking system with plenty of government regulation. 

And then specifically, people pushed back and said, wait a minute, you have not ruled out nationalizing banks.  He goes, no, I did not say that.  Don‘t play those games with the words.  But he never took the opportunity to say the administration would never nationalize banks. 

And I think when you‘ve got, for instance, Chuck Schumer, a Democratic senator from New York, saying some banks may have to be nationalized, I think that‘s where the line that Robert was trying to walk here.  The entire banking system is not going to get nationalized, but there are going to be some banks that might be fully taken over by the government. 

SHUSTER:  NBC News White House Correspondent Chuck Todd.

Chuck, thanks, as always.  We appreciate it. 

TODD:  All right, David. 

SHUSTER:  There was a dramatic reminder today that the efforts by President Obama may not be ambitious enough to jolt the horrifying U.S. economy.  This morning, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman reported the minutes of the most recent Federal Reserve Open Markets Committee meeting - - “All participants anticipated that unemployment would remain substantially above its longer run sustainable rate at the end of 2011, even absent further economic shocks.  A few indicated that more than five to six years would be needed for the economy to converge to a longer-run path characterized by sustainable rates of output growth and unemployment, and by an appropriate rate of inflation.”

Are we really headed towards a five-year recession?

For that, let‘s bring in economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth

Institute at Columbia University, and author of the book “Common Wealth:

Economics for a Crowded Planet.”

Jeffrey, let‘s start right there, this theory in the Fed now that we may be looking at a five or six-year recession.  How realistic is that? 

JEFFREY SACHS, ECONOMIST:  A long period in which consumers are going to be restrained, to say the least.  It sounds pretty euphemistic. 

After all, the loss of wealth of American households is on the order of $15 trillion of declines in housing values and in the stock market.  And that‘s taken the wind out of the sails of consumers.  And that‘s not going to balance back.

Even if we clean the banks and do other things, we‘re not going to get the rapid rebound of spending.  So it‘s not a sharp, short jolt that‘s going to get us back. 

What we‘re going to have to do is find ways to convert our lower consumption, and therefore, more potential saving into more investment for the future.  That‘s what the president‘s talking about, but we‘re only at the start of that. 

SHUSTER:  What about the argument, therefore, that if this is going to be

an even deeper and longer problem than a lot of people had thought, that

that argues for an even larger government response?  Given that they‘ve

lowered rates as low as they can go, that it‘s really only the government -

the government is the only player now, that President Obama and Congress are going to have to come back again with another massive plan in order to get this thing going? 

SACHS:  I think there are two ways for the U.S. economy to recover faster than the consumer.  And one is more exports.  That‘s going to have to be part of this over time, more exports to China, to Asia, which will come out of this crisis faster than the United States. 

The second way is more investment.  The kind of investment we need, infrastructure, sustainable energy for our national security and for the climate.  Our investments that are going to involve both the public and the private sector. 

Now, the stimulus legislation has a little bit of that, but we‘re going to have to have new ways to increase our investment spending in this country over time.  And that is meaning that the government is going to have to come back.

Where the Senate was so funny about this and our public discussion was so inadequate about this is that the Congress, and especially the Senate, said, look, if you‘re not going to spend it by September 2010, don‘t even think about it.  But precisely, we need the kind of spending that‘s going to last through 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, because it‘s that kind of investment spending that‘s going to offset many years of restrained consumer spending. 

SHUSTER:  And Jeffrey, as far as the other thing that you mentioned, exports, for example, to China, the U.S. automakers are actually doing pretty well in terms of their sales overseas.  There was this meeting today between the automakers, Treasury Secretary Geithner. 

Explain what the way out is for the automakers and for our government on that issue. 

SACHS:  I think what people really need to agree on, I mean, for our country, is we‘re not just bailing out some companies.  Indeed, some companies that made some bad decisions in the past.  But we are going to help make a technological transformation. 

This is going to be the age of electric vehicles, whether it‘s the hybrid, the plug-in hybrid, fuel cell, the all-battery.  We‘re moving worldwide to a new kind of automobile that‘s much more up to date, much more sophisticated electronically, also, to very smart cars that communicate with each other and so on. 

This is a national effort, because we ought to be in the technological lead worldwide in this.  We have great engineering potential.  We have an ability not only to turn these companies around, but to have our industry once again in the global forefront.  But that requires, again, a public/private partnership to make that work. 

SHUSTER:  Economist Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University. 

And Jeff, thanks so much for coming on.  We appreciate it. 

SACHS:  A pleasure to be with you.

SHUSTER:  While the long-term outlook is increasingly frightening, in the short term, our city and state leaders face immediate challenge of injecting some of that government money into the local economy as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Today, President Obama acknowledged that America‘s mayors are on the front line, grappling with a range of decisions related to the $789 billion the administration and Congress just approved. 

How will the checks actually get distributed?  What jobs will be created?  And how soon will you, in your community, see any impact from Uncle Sam‘s investment? 

David Cicilline is the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island.  He was at the White House today. 

And Mayor, the White House says the stimulus could create 6,000 jobs in your city.  Do you believe it? 

MAYOR DAVID CICILLINE, PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND:  Yes.  We had a great meeting today with the president and five cabinet officers to really talk about the way that this recovery plan will be implemented. 

The president made it very clear and we understand the urgency of this, getting Americans back to work, to do the work that America needs done.  That it will be done with unprecedented transparency and accountability.  And that with this incredible privilege of managing this kind of public investment to create jobs, to rebuild our economies, to rebuild the infrastructure, to do all the things that this recovery plan will do, comes great responsibility.

And it was a really frank discussion today about the urgency.  Every city mayor who was there and every mayor I‘ve spoken to has projects ready to go that are investments in schools and infrastructure and technology and renewable energy that will get people back to work fast.

SHUSTER:  The president today was pretty forthright in terms of talking

about the oversight.  There‘s this recovery.gov Web site in which everybody

for example, in your city—can go on and see how the money is supposed to be spent.

Here‘s what the president said about accountability today, and I‘ll get your reaction.



OBAMA:  They expect to see the money that they‘ve earned, that they‘ve worked so hard to earn, spent in its intended purposes without waste, without inefficiency, without fraud.  And that‘s why I‘m assigning a team of managers to ensure that every dollar is spent wisely. 


SHUSTER:  Mayor Cicilline, how do you deal with your legislature, though, in making sure that the money that goes to Rhode Island is properly diverted to cities like yours without somebody—I don‘t know, somebody corrupt in the state government meddling around with it? 

CICILLINE:  The president is absolutely right.  Every single mayor has to develop in his or her own city a system for measuring exactly where the money is going, for being certain the public knows about it.  This is an unprecedented opportunity, this incredible investment in infrastructure and schools and technology, and all the things we need to do to put Americans back to work. 

And in order for this to be successful, we have to do it in a way that demonstrates to the public that we‘re fully accountable for this by linking to the Web site that the federal government has created, by in our own cities creating Web sites, creating accountability measures, being very transparent so every single penny that is spent, that belongs to the taxpayers of our respective cities and this country, is known by the communities that we serve.  That they know that in every single instance, we would be proud to bring the president of the United States to our city and say, “Mr. President, this is what we‘ve done with the economic recovery resources, these are the jobs we‘ve created, these are the long-term investments we have made to rebuild the infrastructure of our city, to help stimulate economic growth, and to pull us out of this recession.”

This is an unprecedented investment of public dollars.  And I think everyone recognizes it.  Certainly the president, and certainly all the mayors, recognize there‘s an enormous responsibility that comes with this, a privilege of managing this investment.  We have to do it right, do it in an accountable and transparent way, and do it in a way that continues to respect the investment that‘s being made by taxpayers. 

SHUSTER:  And then finally, Mayor, as far as visitors to your city, apparently there are a lot of people in your city who are not proud of the zoo.  There was an effort to renovate the Roger Williams Zoo, but it was stripped because critics said, well, that would amount to pork for polar bears. 

Nonetheless, are you disappointed that those funds are not there?

CICILLINE:  No.  You know, I‘m very pleased at what‘s in this economic recovery plan.  And I think most mayors would agree that zoos and parks and museums are an important part of the fabric of a city, but this bill focuses on infrastructure—roads, bridges, technology—things that will leave a lasting and permanent foundation to rebuild the economies of our cities and of our country.

Cities in metro areas are the economic engines of this country.  We‘ll find other ways to do museums and parks and zoos. 

But what‘s very important is, that this is a real investment that will create 3.5 million jobs all across this country, will get Americans back to work, which is urgently needed in all cities across this country.  And, you know, I think when we develop priorities, you know, the zoo in Rhode Island, in Providence, is the largest tourist attraction in the state.  The loss of certain exhibits cost it $750,000 a year in revenue. 

So, zoos are economic engines for cities, but I‘m delighted with what‘s in this bill.  And I‘m delighted with the kinds of investments it‘s making not only to get people back to work, which is the first priority, but also to lay the foundation for rebuilding the infrastructure in our cities so that we can compete in the global economy of the 21st century, so that will lead to later and greater job growth.  So this is important for cities and important for our country. 

SHUSTER:  Mayor David Cicilline, thank you so much for coming on.  We appreciate it. 

CICILLINE:  Thank you, David. 

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome.

Coming up next, the cartoon that appeared to compare President Obama to a chimpanzee.  “The New York Post” has issued another clarification, but their latest half-baked apology is almost as infuriating as the cartoon itself. 

Plus, month one of the Obama is now on the record books.  Our panel will grade President Obama‘s performance in several categories.

And at the end of the show, we‘ll be taking your questions via Twitter. 

Just check us out at twitter.com/shuster1600. 

All of this, plus “Hypocrisy Watch,” ahead on 1600.


SHUSTER:  Welcome back to 1600.

“The New York Post” has now issued a conditional apology for a cartoon that appeared to compare President Obama to a chimpanzee.  But the latest statement by the paper is only adding fuel to the fire.  More on that in a moment. 

First, on Wednesday, “The New York Post” published this cartoon showing a police officer shooting at a chimpanzee.  Another police officer is saying in a caption, “They‘ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”

Here‘s the paper‘s latest statement: “Wednesday‘s Page Six cartoon was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill.  Period.  But it has been taken as something else—as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism.  This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.”

“However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past, and they see the incident for a opportunity for payback.  To them, no apology is due.  Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon, even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.”

Al Sharpton called The Post‘s apology a conditional statement of regret.  Sharpton is himself a controversial figure, so here‘s what Spike Lee said today. 


SPIKE LEE, FILMMAKER:  I think that all Americans should be appalled by this cartoon, racist and sensitive cartoon that was in “The New York Post.”  But “The New York Post” also had a history of doing stuff like this. 


SHUSTER:  Joining us now with their views on “The New York Post” statement today are Baratunde Thurston, co-founder of JackandJillPolitics.com, and Cenk Uygur. 

Baratunde, let‘s start with you.  The Post says, “To those who were offended by the image, we apologize.”

How is that? 

BARATUNDE THURSTON, JACKANDJILLPOLITICS.COM:  Well, first of all, I‘d just like to say it‘s pretty appropriate to have a conversation about race with David Shuster, Baratunde Thurston and Cenk Uygur.  I think we‘re kind of halfway there already. 

Look, we all know that when someone says, I‘m sorry if certain people are offended, what they‘re saying is, I‘m not really sorry.  And what Spike said, I say what he said to that.  “The New York Post” does have a history in this case, so the apology is a formality, but it clearly wasn‘t very sincere.

SHUSTER:  Cenk Uygur, your view?

CENK UYGUR, THEYOUNGTURKS.COM:  I think it‘s a bad idea to call this racist.  Is the cartoon offensive?  Of course.  Is it insensitive?  Certainly. 

But once you call something racist, everybody starts backpedaling away, and we don‘t have that dialogue that Eric Holder, our attorney general, told us to have.  He said we‘re a nation of cowards, but people are scared of being called racists or other names.  So I think it‘s a bad idea to shut off conversation that way. 

SHUSTER:  But Cenk, why is it so difficult for “The New York Post” simply to say “We‘re sorry” and leave it at that? 

UYGUR:  I think partly because they feel they‘re under attack.  Now, I don‘t want to defend “The New York Post”.  I don‘t like “The New York Post”.  I take issue with them on many other issues, and I take issue with the cartoon itself.  I think it was a bad idea. 

But once you get somebody under attack, then they go back to their foxholes and they say, hey, you know what?  Then I‘m going to fight back and I‘m going to stand up, and I‘m not going to give you the apology that you‘re looking for. 

And I‘ve seen it happen with people that I‘ve discussed this with throughout L.A.  When I talk to white people about it, they go, “What‘s the big deal?  I mean, why is everybody calling it racist?”  You see how they‘re instantly defensive, when you want to ask them the question, “Can you not see how it might be offensive?”

SHUSTER:  Baratunde, here‘s what Governor David Paterson said today.  He

said, “I think that what some who are offended are saying is that the

reference to President Obama seemed rather obvious to a lot of people.  The

Post has said that was not their intention, and I think that at this time, when tensions are running high, with an economy down, and also, you know, even the media outlets having to lay off people, it is an act of sensitivity that I applaud because it is very easy to get into these types of fight.”

“People are easily offended.  I mean, I‘ve indicated that I‘ve been offended by a few things that have gone on and on and on,” et cetera, et cetera. 

What do you think of Governor Paterson‘s statement?

THURSTON:  Well, I think Governor Paterson does make a solid point, and I‘d really like to return to what Cenk was saying. 

What I tried to bring up on Wednesday when we talked about this is less about perceptions and feeling and more about the real harm.  And I cited a UCLA professor, Philip Atiba Goff (ph). 

And what he studied is, you know, the actual racial disparities and discrimination, not whether white people feel guilty or whether black people are too insensitive, but why there are so many in prison, why police are more violent toward those who have browner skin than they need to be based on all available evidence and all the rules of the land.  So that‘s the conversation that I think the country should be courageous enough to have.  I think sensitivity is important, but it‘s the real harm that I‘m much more concerned about. 

SHUSTER:  And Cenk, doesn‘t “The New York Post” get in the way of that conversation when “The New York Post” can‘t even issue an apology correctly?  I mean, that‘s a great conversation, as Baratunde said, that we ought to be having.  Instead, “The New York Post” has again made it about “The New York Post.”

UYGUR:  I understand what you‘re saying, David, but in this case, I‘m not buying it, to be honest with you, because, look, we get into two different camps, and we get entrenched in those positions. 

I read what Baratunde is talking about that Dr. Goff (ph) published.  I went to jackandjillpolitics, his Web site.  And he makes a great point. 

But “The New York Post” and the people, much more importantly—because I don‘t really care about “The New York Post”—the people who support “The New York Post,” or other people who feel like, hey, why is this offensive, are not going to hear any of that if, like you see with Spike Lee and Al Sharpton, in that case, you yell racism.  Then they won‘t have the conversation, and that conversation is critical.  I agree with Eric Holder. 

THURSTON:  And I agree with...

SHUSTER:  But then how do we get to the conversation that Baratunde is saying we obviously need to have? 

THURSTON:  I mean, if I can jump in, I think cartoons like this, although they were muddy, I think the satirical point was pretty much loss. 

And I do comedy.  I actually like a lot of offensive comedy that‘s out there if there‘s a clear point, if there‘s a target, and if it‘s saying something constructive. 

I think this was pretty unclear for those who defend it and very clear for those who were offended by it.  But I do think the cartoon served a purpose that, we actually are having this conversation.  We‘re talking about psychological studies, we‘re talking about police brutality, we‘re talking about the role of satire in society.  So even though this began as a confusing and potentially destructive act, it turns into a more constructive conversation than the one that was happening a week ago. 


SHUSTER:  Well, Baratunde, you changed my mind on this.  Maybe “The New York Post” can continue with their crazy statements to keep this story going, because it is a conversation that we need to have.  And if The New York Post‘s own stupidity is the reason we‘re going to keep going, then I guess, God bless them. 

In any case, Baratunde, thank you so much.  Appreciate it. 

THURSTON:  Thank you.

SHUSTER:  Cenk Uygur, we appreciate you coming on as well.

Good stuff.

UYGUR:  Thank you.

SHUSTER:  Coming up, a former resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has some advice for President Obama.  Bill Clinton‘s words of wisdom were intriguing. 

Plus, conservatives are invoking Jesus when it comes to the $787 billion economic stimulus bill.  They say the budget deficits are wrong. 

So where were they doing the Bush years? 

“Hypocrisy Watch” is coming up next on 1600.


SHUSTER:  Tonight, in our “Call for Change,” we have an update on the growing foreign policy challenge facing the Obama administration in Africa.  As we‘ve been reporting, Zimbabwe is starving, its ruler is a tyrant, and this man, a key opposition leader, has been kept in jail for over a week.

Last night, you heard Roy Bennett‘s wife urge the Obama administration to help free her husband and other political prisoners.  They were supposed to be part of a coalition government, not thrown in jail. 

As it stands, several western governments are issuing warnings to Zimbabwe‘s president, Robert Mugabe.    

But there‘s now fresh evidence that Mugabe doesn‘t care.  Late yesterday, he packed his cabinet with 61 ministers, 15 more than the law allows.  Several of the new members of Mugabe‘s cronies from his previous corrupt administration.  Last year, Mugabe lost the election but refused to leave office.  He agreed to a coalition government.  Since then, Mugabe has repeatedly proven the deal is a sham.  It‘s time for Western government to take out Robert Mugabe one way or another and free Roy Bennett, who has now been in jail eight days and counting. 

Back here at home, a growing number of conservatives are complaining that the economic recover recovery plan President Obama signed this week is too expensive.  That takes us to tonight‘s “Hypocrisy Watch.”  First, some background.  The economic recovery bill is nearly $800 billion.  Here‘s the ad from a conservative group called the American Issues Project.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Suppose you spent $1 million every single day starting from the day Jesus was born and kept spending through today, $1 million a day for more than 2,000 years.  You would still have spent less money than Congress just did.


SHUSTER:  Well, that‘s an interesting perspective.  But conservatives, let‘s take your method and put some other things in perspective.  If you created $20 million in wealth every single day since Jesus was born, that still would not cover the wealth created in the U.S. economy each year.  You know, the economy we‘re trying to save?  How bad were the credit losses in the U.S. economy last year? Imagine every day since Jesus flushing $2 million down the toilet. 

Conservatives, do you now understand the scope of the economic problem? In any case, the supporters of the group behind the ad say they are deeply concerned about the growing budget deficit.  Remember the Iraq war?  It‘s going to add at least $1 trillion to the deficit.  Or $1.3 million in deficit spending every day since Jesus was born. 

Did conservatives complain and run ads about that deficit-swelling item?  Nope.  When you stay quiet about President Bush‘s spending and then invoke Jesus while distorting and complaining about President Obama‘s actions, that‘s hypocrisy, and it‘s wrong.

Next up, it‘s been one month since Barack Obama was sworn in as the nation‘s 44th president.  So how‘s he doing so far? President Clinton has weighed in.  Plus, you will hear from our panel.

Later, the Canadian government has released thousands of documents about UFOs.  Will President Obama do the same? It‘s all coming up on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you give the administration a grade so far, what would it be?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hope index, zero being no hope, 10 being 100 percent confident we‘ll get through it.  Where are you on the hope index?

CLINTON:  Nine plus. 


CLINTON:  Absolutely.


SHUSTER:  That was former President Bill Clinton giving his assessment on how President Obama is doing so far, 32 days on the job. 

For more on that, let‘s bring in our panel, Chris Hayes, Washington editor for “The Nation.”  Nia-Malika Henderson, “Politico” White House reporter and Joe Watkins, Republican strategist and MSNBC political analyst.  Nia, President Clinton gave his unequivocal support to the stimulus plan.  He said he may have even spent more money.  Does that help President Obama and get the president, perhaps, even more cover?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, POLITICO:  Well, it certainly could.  If you look at the poll numbers, it looks like most people are kind of on Obama‘s side in terms of this stimulus package.  You know, kind of having Bill Clinton come out and give his stamp of approval on this is, you know, kind of an immediate response being that he gives him an “A.”  I mean, it certainly won‘t hurt where he is right now. 

SHUSTER:  I want to play a sound bite for you, Joe Watkins, because you‘re going to love this.  This is Bill Clinton on terms of whether Barack Obama is not being hopeful enough, which is I think a point that you‘re going to make.  But here‘s what President Clinton said, watch. 


CLINTON:  I like the fact that he didn‘t come in and give a bunch of happy talk.  I‘m glad that he shot straight with us.  I just want the American people to know that he‘s confident that we are going to get out of this and he feels good about the long run.  I just would like him to end by saying he is hopeful and completely convinced we‘re going to come through this. 


SHUSTER:  That‘s a very diplomatic way of what Joe Watkins, I think is going to see in a non-diplomatic manner.  But Joe?


SHUSTER:  The sky is falling, right?  But is it bad for the president to say things are really bad out there?

WATKINS:  I think that President Clinton makes a good point.  We want our American president, whether we‘re Democrats or Republicans, to be hopeful about our future as a country.  And it‘s a good thing Barack Obama is such a great communicator and instills confidence in Americans. 

We want that.  We‘re all Americans.  We want our country to succeed.  We want to get past this tremendous economic struggle that we‘re in right now and we wall want us to win.  All of us do. 

I think the president gets—President Obama gets certainly an “A” for his communication skills, but I don‘t agree with the stimulus package.  I think we could have done much better.  There could have been a lot more in the way of tax cuts, putting money in the pockets of working Americans.  That‘s a better way to stimulate the economy than by having excessive and in some cases wasteful spending.

SHUSTER:  And yet, Christopher Hayes, how do we know if somebody gets a tax cut, how do we know they‘re going to take that money and actually inject it into the economy as opposed to I don‘t know, hiding it under their mattress or spending it some place outside the United States?

CHRIS HAYES, THE NATION:  Well, most likely what they‘re going to is pay off credit card debt.  The best estimates we have when we passed the stimulus last year, which $65 billion, was that somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of that went right towards paying down outstanding loans. 

So we could have essentially just passed a bill in which the U.S.  government wrote a check to the credit card companies and would have accomplished much of what the last stimulus bill does.  And that‘s the problem with what Joe is saying.  You can cut taxes all you want.  You can create a payroll tax holiday.  You can give people cash.  If people are up to their eye balls in debt as the American household is at this moment and has been actually for about a decade, it‘s not going to do much stimulative good. 

SHUSTER:  Chris Hayes, what‘s your grade for President Obama?

HAYES:  You know, I‘d give him a B, B plus.  I think that they handled the stimulus, all things told, fairly well.  I think some of the early executive orders about torture, about creating a commission to close Guantanamo have been encouraging.  I think the noises he‘s made on foreign policies have been pretty good.  I think the one place where they‘ve misstepped and it really concerns me is how they‘re approaching the financial rescue package and the second half of the TARP dollars. 

I think they‘ve been insufficiently willing to consider the proposition that some form of receivership is going to be necessary in order us out of this kind of zombie stage we‘re in and actually get the economy recovered. 

So I think that‘s been the big black mark so far.  And it‘s a significant enough problem that it lowers the grace.

SHUSTER:  Nia, I want you to give a grade as well.  But first, here‘s the latest poll in terms on how the public grades the president.  The poll ratings on the president in terms of approval, disapproval of his handling of the economy, 68 percent approve, 27 percent disapprove.  And when you consider those numbers with the fact that nine out of 10 Americans are frightened and terrified in terms of the direction of the country, that‘s an impressive grade from the American public, isn‘t it?

HENDERSON:  It is an impressive grade.  I think what the president has been smart enough to do over these last weeks and he‘s going to do more of this traveling next week is really to kind of set himself against the backdrop of regular Americans, taking his show on the road, taking brand Obama on the road and really showing the American public that he cares, an I feel your pain tour of the swing states. 

And so that‘s been really smart on his part.  I would maybe give him a B and maybe a plus because he was smart enough to do this and he‘s got this political capital and he‘s certainly spending it and we‘re going to see more of him doing that next week.

SHUSTER:  Nia, Chris and Joe are sticking around.  Just ahead on 1600, Congressman Jim Clyburn says Republican opposition to the president‘s stimulus plan is a slap in the face to African-Americans.  Is that a fair or unfair statement?

Plus, President Obama pulls a Stephen Colbert and puts the nation‘s mayors on notice.

And just a few minutes from now, we‘ll be taking your questions via Twitter.  Check us out at twitter.com/shuster1600.


SHUSTER:  The president‘s $700 and $800 billion economic recovery plan, the Republican Party and race relations.  They‘re all connected now.  The controversial position of a leading African-American in Congress, that‘s next on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.



REP. JIM CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA:  It‘s kind of interesting. 

There‘s a common thread of gratitude that the governor of Louisiana express

opposition.  Louisiana has the highest African-American population in this

country.  The governor of Mississippi expressed opposition.  The governor

of Texas and the governor of South Carolina, these four governors represent

states that are in the proverbial black belt.  I was particularly insulted

by that.


SHUSTER:  Welcome back to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.  That was South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn, who yesterday called the opposition of Southern Republican governors to the stimulus, a slap in the face to African-Americans. 

Today, Clyburn‘s home state governor, Mark Sanford, who has tangled with him in the past had this to say.  “Spending money at the federal level that we do not have represents a future tax on all South Carolinians regardless of their color.  And in the process of doing so, he‘s ripping off everyone he claims to represent.” 

I talked to Congressman Clyburn on the phone this morning and asked him if he stood behind his comments. 


CLYBURN:  One of the things Eric Holder was talking about yesterday about us being a nation sometimes too coward to discuss the whole differentials that exist because of race, this is what he‘s talking about.  So this is not playing the race card.  This is discussing what the actual facts are and what we ought to do to address those facts, and avoiding it, pretending it doesn‘t exist, will not serve anybody‘s useful purpose. 


SHUSTER:  Let‘s welcome back our panel, Chris Hayes, Nia-Malika Henderson and Joe Watkins.  And Chris, first to you, what do you make of Clyburn‘s comments? Did he go too far?

HAYES:  Well when I first heard the comments, I thought perhaps he did.  But I actually think that the original point he made which is that the politics of the Southern Republican governors who postured that they were going to turn down this money has to it an unfortunate, I think, racial sub text, which is the long tradition in the south of kind of radicalizing notions of being on the dole or receiving government help. 

And clearly in taking a stand against that, I think is not an insane thing to conclude that there was some racial element.  I think regardless of what the specific racial politics are, the general politics of saying we‘re not going to take this federal money, and, then, of course, taking it, we should stipulate was kind of insane, frankly. 

SHUSTER:  Joe Watkins, your view?

WATKINS:  Well, you know, Bobby Jindal is doing a great job as a governor of Louisiana.  He happens to be the first Indian-American elected to be governor of that state.  And I don‘t think for him and for the other governors that it is so much about race as it is about how you spend peoples‘ money, people‘s hard-earned money and what we‘re passing on to the generations yet to come. 

You can disagree with this president.  I‘m proud as an African-American that we have a person of color in the White House.  I think it‘s a good thing for America.  I think it‘s wonderful that we‘ve gotten past that hurdle where it‘s about color.  It ought to be about where people stand on the issues.

And Barack Obama won the election fair and square and he is the president of the United States and he deserves the support that every American president deserves. 

That being said, it doesn‘t mean that everybody is bound to agree with him and to agree with him on every political measure that he puts forward.  And certainly with regard to the economic stimulus package, we‘re talking about a package that a lot of Republicans felt was very, very wasteful in terms of its spending measures.  And if you‘re against, for instance, the whole issue of spending of money for sex education, what does that have to do with race? Why can‘t a Republican say I‘m opposed to taxpayer dollars being spent that way without it being a racial issue?

SHUSTER:  Nia, we can all have an honest disagreement about some of these issues and about the priorities, but, again, doesn‘t it become a problem if somebody who opposes what the administration has done or what the states, what the state governors say they may do in terms of possibly turning down the money, that to suddenly suggest as the congressman did, that this is a slap in the face to African-Americans.  Doesn‘t that go too far?

WATKINS:  I think so. 

HENDERSON:  Well, I mean, it‘s been an odd week in terms of kind of racial rhetoric around politics.  On the one hand, you had Eric Holder kind of calling America out, calling us a nation of cowards for our inability to kind of talk about race to each other and kind of on the weekends, for instance, we go to our own corners.

And then of course, we had the “New York Post” cartoon.  And then with this.  So it‘s been a really kind of weird week. 

And I think going forward, it is going to be interesting to see, does this kind of continue? This, you know, very kind of charged racial rhetoric when talking about politics?  Because I think, you know, Clyburn‘s statement really kind of—a lot of the conversations that people are having around this. 

You had, for instance, Steele kind of talk about, you know, this whole idea of bling bling which is kind of a racial kind of coded language for you know, maybe this is being people on the dole and maybe they want to buy gold jewelry or something.  So it is going to be interesting to see how this plays out and to see if we kind of continue having these kind of racial conversations. 

SHUSTER:  Well, speaking of what a weird week it is, we‘re going to end the segment with something that Alan Keyes said, who always makes things exceptionally weird.  Here‘s Alan Keyes talking about President Obama.  Watch.


ALAN KEYES, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Obama is a radical communist and I think it‘s becoming clear.  That‘s what I told people in Illinois and now everybody realizes it‘s true.  He‘s going to destroy this country.  And we‘re either going to stop him or the United States of America is going to cease to exist. 


SHUSTER:  He‘s going to destroy this country.  Wow.  We‘ll get back to our panel on that.

And coming up, the Obama administration is promising to be transparent.  But just how transparent?  Some UFO enthusiasts are asking the president to bare it all.  They believe the U.S. government has answers to some unsolved mysteries.  Conspiracy theorists unite ahead on 1600.


SHUSTER:  Welcome back to 1600.  Here‘s a look at what‘s on our radar tonight.  President Obama has promised transparency in his White House.  And some Canadians have a specific request, release classified documents on UFO sightings.  UFO enthusiasts in Canada believe answers to the questions are in these so-called x-files. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you look at all the files, the theme is don‘t let the information out, play it down, it‘s really nothing important.  Although these crafts are, in fact, under intelligent control. 


SHUSTER:  If President Obama needs advice to release the information, ask his new friend, Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada.  His government just released nearly 10,000 documents about UFOs.  They show we‘ve been visited by martians.  Actually, it‘s not clear.  Critics say the documents raise more questions than they answer.  More on that, perhaps, next week.

When Barack Obama was running for president, he made a pit stop on “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central.  He spoke about political distractions while on the campaign trail saying, well, they were a distraction. 


OBAMA:  Stephen, I would go so far as to say I want to put these political distractions On Notice. 


OBAMA:  Boys, bring out the On Notice board.


SHUSTER:  In case you don‘t watch “The Colbert Report,” On Notice is a regular segment on the show.  Well today, President Obama recalled his inner Colbert and put the nation‘s mayors on notice. 


OBAMA:  I want everybody here to be on notice that if a local government does the same, I will call them out on it and use the full power of my office and administration to stop it. 


SHUSTER:  For the record, distractions are still at the top of Colbert‘s On Notice board.  But maybe they‘ll be replaced by the nation‘s mayors.

And today, our nation lost a national treasure from the Clinton White House, Socks the cat.  The 19-year-old died this morning after a long battle with cancer in his jaw.  Socks was a cute and friendly pet and was kind to everybody from the first family to the Clinton White House staff to reporters.  He was preceded in death by Buddy, the Clintons dog.  There will be no visiting hours for Socks.  His caretaker, former Clinton Oval Office secretary Betty Currie says the cat will be cremated.

It‘s Twitter time.  The panel is back with us to answer your questions.  Chris Hayes, Nia-Malika Henderson and Joe Watkins, I‘ve gotten a lot of questions for all of you about what‘s going to happen to Roland Burris.  Nia, you take it away, what is going to happen?  Is he going to be forced to resign?

HENDERSON:  Burris is kind of like—he‘s kind of Teflon.  He might, you know, kind of just ride this one out.  We first saw him in Chicago kind of claiming to be a senator even before he was.  And then, of course, his trip to the Hill in the rain that day with the umbrella.  And he seems to just have this real kind of way of really, you know, being able to ride things out, so that could happen.  It looks like maybe there is some wiggle room in the testimony he gave.  So we‘re just going to have to wait and see what happens with this guy. 

SHUSTER:  Christopher Hayes, a Twitter question to you.  Somebody wants to know what Barack Obama will do with the political capital that he still has. 

HAYES:  Well, that‘s a really good question.  I think we‘re going to see much of it invested in the budget fight.  I think one of the things that got a little obscured by the stimulus because of the size and because of its chronological priority is that it represents a very small percentage of the total government spending. 

The budget is going to be where a lot of things are going to happen, a lot of fights are going to play out.  And those fights are going to be on a scale and of an order of magnitude quite a bit larger than the stimulus.  And I think he‘s going to be investing a lot of his political capital in passing a budget, that makes as they like to say, in the White House, a down payment on some of the policy priorities like regulating carbon in some way and getting towards some universal health care.

SHUSTER:  And Joe Watkins, the final Twitter question for you.  A couple people want to know, the next four years, are we going to talk about race and is that good or bad?

WATKINS:  I think it‘s a good thing.  I think it‘s never easy to talk about race.  But we‘ve made so much progress as a nation and we still have some distance yet to travel.  I think that this is a good thing for us to talk about, for us to get past our issues with race.  And it‘s good that we have somebody in the Oval Office who happens to be of color.  Hopefully going forward that means that running for the presidency won‘t be about the color of somebody‘s skin and somebody it won‘t be about the gender of a person, it will be about where they stand on the issues and how good they are at seeking out office.  So I think race will continue to be an issues.

SHUSTER:  Well said.  Joe Watkins, Christopher Hayes, Nia-Malika Henderson, thank you very much, we appreciate it. 

That is the view from 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE tonight.  I‘m David Shuster.  Thank you for watching, we‘ll see you back here Monday, same time.  You can always go to shuster.MSNBC.com or Twitter us at twitter.com/shuster1600.  I‘m David Shuster.  “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts now.



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