updated 7/27/2009 8:11:23 AM ET 2009-07-27T12:11:23

Guest Host: Richard Wolffe

Guests: Robert Gibbs, Michael Eric Dyson, Chris Kofinis, Lawrence

O‘Donnell

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD WOLFFE, GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The president versus the Cambridge police.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The Cambridge police acted stupidly.

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WOLFFE:  Today, the police stand by their man and escalate their very public dispute with the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE KILLIAN, BOSTON POLICE PATROL OFFICERS ASSOCIATION:  I think the president should make an apology to all law enforcement personnel throughout the entire country who took offense to this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE:  The president tries to tone things down with a surprise walk-on at the White House briefing.

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OBAMA:  I could have calibrated those words differently.

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WOLFFE:  Will those words finally put this controversy to rest?  Not for Rush Limbaugh, whose rantings are stoking racial resentment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Here you a black president trying to destroy a white policeman.  Before Obama‘s through, folks, we‘re all going to have a mug shot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE:  A special guest tonight: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

The health care slugfest: Will more time for talks lead to a better bill or just more political problems?  Key conservative Democrats are seen as divided as ever.  And by the awesome power of Twitter, we learn Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is egging on the Democratic dogfight.  We have White House reaction to that as well.

The “First Grandmother” breaks her silence.

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MARIAN ROBINSON, PRES. OBAMA‘S MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Grandma is beginning to feel left out.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE:  Rare public comments from Marian Robinson on Sasha and Malia growing up too fast, and what it‘s like to move from a bungalow on the South Side of Chicago to the executive mansion known as the White House.

And Sarah‘s swan song: This Sunday, Governor Palin bids adieu to the highest office in Alaska and hello to her national ambitions.

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GOV. SARAH PALIN ®, ALASKA:  Life is about choices.

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WOLFFE:  But with her latest poll numbers at an all time low, can she save her party or will she put the twit back in Twitter?

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  It‘s pretty insane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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WOLFFE:  Good evening from New York.  I‘m Richard Wolffe.  Keith Olbermann got the night off.

A knock on the door just after dawn from government officials who forcibly removed a small boy named Elian Gonzalez from his home in Miami, and in places like Ruby Ridge and Waco, standoffs between federal agents and right-wing radicals both ended in violence.  All three stories are the kind of government intrusion that conservatives rail against as the enemy of American freedom.

But in our fifth story on THE COUNTDOWN: when a police officer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, arrests someone, a Harvard professor no less, in his very own home, and President Obama speaks out against that arrest, guess whose side the conservatives are on now?

Another day of blowback from the president‘s comments on the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, President Obama making an unexpected remarks in the White House briefing room this afternoon in an attempt to tamp down the controversy.

And this morning, in Cambridge—where Professor Gates was arrested last week, after he and a car service driver tried to force open the door to his home which had been stuck—police officers gathered in a show of support for the arresting officer, Sergeant James Crowley.  Union officials called on President Obama to apologize, not just to Sergeant Crowley but to all law enforcement personnel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KILLIAN:  Cambridge police are not stupid.  I am proud to represent the officers of the Cambridge Police Department.  It is a great department.  I think everybody that knows us knows that.

I‘m a third generation Cambridge police officer of my family.  And I‘m very proud to be a police officer.  And I think if you ask any of the officers in Cambridge, they‘ll tell you they‘re proud to be here.

As far as the president‘s comments, I think the president should make an apology to all law enforcement personnel throughout the entire country who took offense to this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE:  One of the reporters asked why if Sergeant Crowley did nothing wrong, they dropped the charge of disorderly conduct against Professor Gates.  Union officials replied bluntly that they disagreed with that decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN J. MCDONALD, LAWYER FOR POLICE UNION:  That was a decision that was made without our input.  We think, in retrospect, given the publicity that has transpired, it would have been better to let the matter go forward to a trial of fact so that the truth could have been disclosed by means other than debates and media that we have expressed or that we have seen over the last few days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE:  Sergeant Crowley did not speak at today‘s news conference, but in a conversation with our NBC affiliate in Boston, WHDH, Sergeant Crowley defended his actions and said he was just doing his job, investigating a report of a robbery in the area.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. JAMES CROWLEY, ARRESTING OFFICER:  I asked him if he could step outside and speak with me and he said, “No, I will not,” and again words to that effect of “What‘s this all about.”  And I said, I‘m Sergeant Crowley from the Cambridge Police Department and I‘m investigating a break-in-progress.”  And he responded, “Why, because I‘m a black man in America” in a very agitated tone.

I was radioing in his name to our dispatcher so they could record it.  As I did that, he was continuing his rant about that I was doing this because he‘s a black man in America, that I was a racist and—to the point where as I was reading his name off the identification card, I couldn‘t even hear myself say it, he was yelling that loud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE:  Professor Gates, who has left Cambridge for a summer home, told WHDH in a statement, quote, “It‘s time to move on to another story.  Barack said it all.”

All of that with at backdrop to President Obama stepping up to the microphone at the White House this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I actually just had a conversation with Sergeant Jim Crowley, the officer involved.  And I have to tell you that as I said yesterday, my impression of him was that he was an outstanding police officer, and good man—and that was confirmed in the phone conversation.  And I told him that.

And I—because this has been ratcheting up, and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically.  And I could have calibrated those words differently.  And I told this to Sergeant Crowley.

I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station.  I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well.  My sense is: you got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved and the way they would have liked it to be resolved.

The fact that it has garnered so much attention, I think, is a testimony to the fact that these are issues that are still very sensitive here in America.  My hope is, is that, as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what‘s called a teachable moment, where all of us, instead of pumping up the volume, spend a little more time listening to each other, and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities—and that instead of fleeing accusations, we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity.

There are some who say that as president I shouldn‘t have stepped into

this at all because it‘s a local issue, I have to tell you that, that thing

that part of it I disagree with.  The fact that this has become such a big issue, I think, is indicative of the fact that, you know, race is still a troubling aspect of our society.  Whether I were a black or a white, I think that me commenting on this and hopefully contributing to constructive as opposed to negative understandings about the issue is part of my portfolio.

           

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE:  In response to the president‘s unscheduled remarks, tonight, union officials in Cambridge have released a statement.  Quoting from it, “Sergeant James Crowley and President Barack Obama had a friendly and meaningful conversation this afternoon.  Sergeant Crowley was profoundly grateful that the president took time out of his busy schedule to attempt to resolve the situation.  We appreciate his sincere interest and willingness to reconsider his remarks about the Cambridge Police Department.”

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLFFE:  We‘re joined now, from the White House, by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Robert, thank you for your time tonight.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Happy to be here, Richard. 

How are you?

WOLFFE:  I‘m good.  Now, I got a couple of questions about what we saw today.  Does the president walking out to your podium this afternoon means that he said and did the wrong thing on Wednesday night?

GIBBS:  Well, look, Richard, I think he wanted to make sure that everybody knew the full context and understood what he was trying to say on Wednesday.  And I think—as he said out there—we had a situation that was becoming wildly overheated.  He described it yesterday as two individuals that probably needed to step back, and I think he believed the situation needed that today and felt it important to go out and tell the country that.

WOLFFE:  As you know, the Cambridge police came out this morning with some pretty strong criticism of your boss.  Did he feel he had to respond personally and publicly to that?

GIBBS:  Well, again, Richard, he didn‘t see the press conference, but I think he felt, again, like the situation was one that he needed to step into.  He said in the press room today that he had contributed unnecessarily to this becoming a bigger incident than it probably needed to do.  He decided to call the officer and to call Professor Gates and had good conversations with both.

WOLFFE:  And you didn‘t feel that the pressure from them was enough to put you out again?

GIBBS:  Well, look, I think the president wanted to go out there and speak directly to the country today and tell the American people why he thought this was an important moment.

WOLFFE:  Now, he called it today a “teachable moment,” that‘s what he hopes.  In Illinois, as you know, as a state senator, one of his major achievements was that legislation to correct the abuse of racial profiling.

Beyond having this kind of conversation that we‘re having right now in the wake of the Gates arrest, are there concrete steps the administration can take to minimize racial profiling across the country?

GIBBS:  Well, look, as you know and as you mentioned, the president worked on legislation that raised awareness by publishing statistics, working with communities and police officers to become aware of the situation, and the situation has gotten better in Illinois.  I don‘t know what specific remedies that the administration is looking at on this issue right now.

But I think what he said today—and I was asked this later on about sort of an ongoing discussion on racial issues in this country—I think because of who he is as president, and because it‘s obvious these issues are still very raw in our society, I think he believes that he can help bring these type of teachable moments to the forefront, allow our dialogue to take over and communicate better with each other, and make society a little bit better because of it.

WOLFFE:  Well, speaking of communicating better with each other, we‘re going to play a sound of this in a moment.  But Rush Limbaugh says this is all about ethnic politics.  He said the same pretty much about Judge Sotomayor and the white firefighters.  He even compared the president and the prosecutor in the Duke rape case today, and he said the president was playing the race card.

So, how do you respond to someone with a bullhorn who‘s trying to stoke racial fears and resentment?

GIBBS:  Well, I think you asked me like seven things, I can‘t even imagine which one I would respond to first.

Look, I think that the president wants to have constructive dialogue with people that clearly want to have constructive dialogue on issues that are as important as race.  Whether or not Rush Limbaugh wants to be part of a constructive dialogue or whether he wants to get ratings to sell commercials on a radio show, I‘ll let him answer that question.

WOLFFE:  And is there a danger in opening up the subject because it allows people like Rush to fan the flames?

GIBBS:  Well, I think Rush has paid a lot of money to fan the flames, again, so he can tell advertising on his radio show.  I don‘t think that‘s what‘s important.

I think what‘s important is, obviously, these are important issues.  They have been over the lifetime and the history of our country, and the president takes them seriously and wants to deal with them seriously.  I think that‘s what it is going to take.  I think that very few of our issues are going to be solved yelling at each other on talk radio.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOLFFE:  Thanks to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

More of my conversation with Gibbs on health care later in the show.

We don‘t yet know whether the Gates arrest will evolve into the teachable moment Obama wants or whether this will all resolve itself over or be through a lawsuit.  But the president‘s critics are doing all they can to prevent the controversy from going away.  From Rush Limbaugh‘s two days of glee (ph), he‘s been caricaturing the president as an angry black man, no matter how reasonable the president actually sounds.

Has the president regained control of this debate?

Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE:  President Obama wants to take the arrest of Professor Gates and turn it into a teachable moment.  Rush Limbaugh wants to take the comments of President Obama and rip open the festering sore of rational relations in this country.  Did Obama‘s comments today do enough to turn back the likes of Limbaugh?

And later, Sarah Palin‘s final weekend as governor.  With her approval ratings plummeting since her rollout last year, what can she possibly do to turn things around?

That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE:  The situation was ratcheted up by the president and now, it may have been toned down by him.  In our fourth story on THE COUNTDOWN: Do you think the remarkable 48-hour rollercoaster might have played out differently if the president had not used the word “stupidly” or if the same words had come from a white president—or if the president‘s critics had not twisted his words into an ugly caricature?

The president chose his words more carefully today but there was also some light relief, the suggestion that he, Professor Gates, and Sergeant Crowley might sit down for a beer at the White House.

Now, Sergeant Crowley meantime has defended himself without invective.

But the usual suspects have taken full advantage of the story, like the de facto head of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, who continues on his personal jihad to portray the president as an angry black man.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH:  When Obama is faced with a political setback, even one of his own makings, he plays the race card.  This is something I have figured out watching ever since the campaign began.  Anybody who wonders what Obama accomplished with that statement had better realize it reduced the focus on his failed before the August recess demand.

Now, I don‘t know that he was purposefully trying to do that.  I think he‘s genuinely revved up about race.  You know me, I think he is genuinely angry in his heart and has been his whole life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE:  And President Obama made his surprise appearance at the White House daily briefings during the last hour of Limbaugh‘s show, Limbaugh acted like he was happy.  He said it proved his prediction right.  But Obama would ultimately back down and even throw Professor Gates under the bus.

Let‘s bring in Georgetown University professor of sociology, Michael Eric Dyson, also, author of “Debating Race.”

Good evening, Michael.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY:  Good evening, Richard.  You‘re welcome.  I‘m glad to be here.  And congratulations on “Renegade,” it‘s a great read, brother.

WOLFFE:  Thank you.  I appreciate that.

Now, the president, by his own admission, helped to ratchet up this matter and he clearly wants to tone things down and elevate the discussion.  Did he do enough today to move that in the right direction?

DYSON:  Well, he pointed the needle in the right direction, if you will, on the larger compass of race.  The question is, when you play the bigotry of the pomposity without predication, the vile Obama-bashing and invective of a Rush Limbaugh, Rush Limbaugh has perverted the nature of the conversation.  To call Barack Obama an angry black man is as ridiculous as calling Rush Limbaugh a first class intellectual.

So, the reality is that President Obama with equanimity and poise articulate his viewpoint, talked about the competing forces that made this situation untenable and then tried to resolve it, by acknowledging that perhaps tempers flared on both sides, but not denying the legitimacy of the point that it must not be lost here on all of the discourse.  That is to say that racial profiling doesn‘t have more equivalence between black people on one side and police people on the other.  Police people have often acted with lethal force against the lives of African-American and Latino people and that issue must ever remain before us.

And I think the president is committed to using his bully pulpit to inform, to enlighten and elevate the conversation beyond the trashy character that Rush Limbaugh is addicted to.

WOLFFE:  Michael, President Obama has also said he wants this to be a teachable moment.  Do you think he also has himself in mind here?  Has he maybe learned something about how we all handle this?

DYSON:  Well, no question.  I think, one of the things that President Obama has been is loathe to talk about race.  And we can understand why.  Here it is, he makes an honest statement about his perception of a matter, and he is thoroughly lambasted in the media.

So, the reality is that he has to tread water very carefully—but tread it he must.  He takes abuse from the right-wing when it comes to health care; he takes abuse when it comes to being criticized for his actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And so, I think, as the big man in charge, so to speak, on campus, he‘s got to ftake the heat for having a racial discussion.  But he must not run from it.

The real challenge here is to Mr. Obama.  As he said before the NAACP last week: no excuses—no excuses to black people now that they have to come full force into the American mainstream and stand for their own right to be heard; there are no excuses for the president who must now step up and address the issue of race, not be afraid of it.

We elected him because he was the most capable person for the job.  He also happens to be an African-American.  Use the accident of birth as a springboard to intelligently educate and enlighten the broader populous.

Most white people just don‘t get it when they say why is it that black people are mad that Professor Gates was mistreated.  It‘s because most of us have been mistreated in our lives at some point without any ability to have the president or anybody else give us a hearing.

WOLFFE:  Michael, let me ask a political question here, because the president‘s reaction was seen by many people through the prism of race.  But some of his critics have twisted it.  I hate to bring up Rush Limbaugh again, but he did say that Obama played the race card.  He said, “Here, you have a black president trying to destroy a white policeman.”

So, the political question: How do Republicans win back African-American voters, or even suburban independent voters, when this is the kind of debate they‘re listening to?

DYSON:  Well, they got to be self-critical.  They got to understand that Rush Limbaugh does not play to the better angels of their nature.  Rush Limbaugh is—his total modus operandi is to deconstruct the sheen of genius and of incredibility popularity around this president.

And what we ask white people to do is to flip the script and as Republicans do the same.  If this were not Henry Gates, another Harvard professor, Henry Kissinger, and not President Obama but George Bush I, and a black sergeant came to the house of Henry Kissinger and treated him rudely and arrested him—I can guarantee you, this would not be the same reaction.

President Obama pointed a powerful spotlight to this issue.  The Republicans must be willing to be self-critical.  We‘ve heard of driving while black, now housing while black, being housed while black, is that a sin as well?

What they‘ve got to do is say, “Look, we believe in law and order.  But we also believe in the dispensation of justice when it comes to African-American and Latino people.  Let‘s find a happy medium between imposing restraint on law officers and also asking communities to be responsible for their behavior.”  And in that sense, the Republicans will have at least a good start on a viable public conversation around the issue of race.

WOLFFE:  Michael, just briefly here, do you think the president can go beyond the teachable moment here?  Can he do something to address the policy that could correct the problems of racial profiling?  Is there something he can do that is more than just a debate?

DYSON:  Absolutely.  He can empanel a blue ribbon commission to address this issue.  He can call upon the genius of Eric Holder, who has been committed to this issue of racial profiling, and also dealing with the disparities and laws that attach themselves punitively to African-American people and Latino people.  And then furthermore, he can begin to insist on local municipalities and governments that they take seriously this issue.

If we can fix it in the local arenas in which it occurs.

WOLFFE:  Yes.

DYSON:  . then the nation at large will be better for it.

WOLFFE:  Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University and author of “Debating Race”—great thanks for your time.

DYSON:  Thanks for having me.

WOLFFE:  Marian Robinson is the mother of Michelle Obama, never dreamed she‘d see the day where her daughter would be first lady of the United States.  Coming up: Rare public words from the first grandmother on life inside the White House.

And what is the world coming to when frogs are marrying other frogs? 

An “Oddball” special report—next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE:  On this day in 1969, after the world witnessed the original moon walk, the crew of Apollo 11 returned to Earth, safely slashing down in the Pacific.  The three astronauts were taken by helicopter aboard the USS Hornet, where they were greeted by President Nixon and quarantined, but not in that order.

And on that note—let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Chatra, India, where dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join this frog together with this frog.  Meet Ram and his beautiful bride Sita.  However, don‘t expect a lifetime of wedded bliss for these two.  This marriage is an arranged one.

The village is in a drought.  So, the groom‘s appointed father commissioned the wedding to appease the rain gods.  The ceremony was elaborate.  Celebrity invitees included Kermit, the Budweiser trio and Michigan J. Frog.

When asked to comment on the frog on frog nuptials, (INAUDIBLE) declined, but the night ended on a rather sound note.  After kissing Ram, Sita had hoped she turned him to Prince William.  She got Prince Charles instead.

To Kobe, Japan, where the competition is stiff and the stakes are on sale.  It‘s a battle for cashier of the year, with top store clerks flexing their price scanners.  There are three categories for the judges: customer service, technical skills and speed.  To scan with the smile, extra points.  Miss an item or miscalculate the cost and you‘re out.

After five hours, the scan-to-scan combat concludes and this fine lady checks out as the winner.  She‘ll get her tiara after the steroid test comes back negative.  Although the title doesn‘t come with that controversy, the crowd favorite was knocked out after she failed to call in that spill on aisle nine.

To Binghamton, New York, where we join you‘re double-A Mets in a nail-biter against the Erie SeaWolves.  The team‘s star slugger just hit a grand slam, and mascot, Bingo the bee, who wants to join in the festivities.  After a series of victorious gallops, Bingo attempts to jump over a railing and gets his baseball bashed, proving that the spectacle of someone getting stung in the stinger never gets tiresome, especially when they‘re dressed as a bee.

President Obama says he‘s fine with not making his original deadline for the health care reform.  But, is another month of talks only going to trigger more problems for conservative Democrats who aren‘t yet on board with the president‘s plans?  More of my conversation with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

And later, Sarah Palin‘s final weekend as governor of Alaska.  Less than a year after she bolted onto the national scene, she‘s quit her job, her approval ratings are at an all-time low.  But inside the GOP, she‘s still a leading contender for 2012.

Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE:  Health care reform talks almost fell apart today.  And Republicans had nothing to do with it.  Well, almost nothing.  In our number three story tonight, Blue Dog Democrats, self-described fiscal moderates, walked out of health care negotiations today.  And a top Republican in the health care fight cheered them on. 

Democratic Congressman Mike Ross of Arkansas, the Blue Dog leader on health care, emerged from his first meeting today with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman claiming that Waxman back pedaled on prior commitments.  Ross was unhappy with Waxman before the meeting, when Waxman said he might bypass the Blue Dogs, and take a health care bill, without their support, straight to the House floor.

Waxman eventually got Ross and the Blue Dogs back to the table.  But no thanks to Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, the GOP leader on health care, who was cheering on the Blue Dog rebellion in a Twitter posting.  Here is what he wrote, filling in some abbreviations and vowels, quote, “praise the lord.  Blue Dogs keep barking.  Pelosi bill is government take over of health care.  Breaks Obama promise to keep what you have.  Puts Washington bureaucrats in charge.  Must stop.”

We should note that Washington bureaucrats are already in charge of Senator Grassley‘s health care, which apparently must not stop.  The Senate‘s leading Democrat in the way of health care reform, Max Baucus, chair of the Finance Committee, went to the White House today for a meeting with the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  The three men reportedly discussing what they can achieve on health care on Baucus‘ committee before the Senate‘s recess next month. 

Though nobody has finalized what a reform will actually do, at least one Republican governor said yesterday he‘s considering ways to block it from his state.  Texas Republican Rick Perry proclaims his love of states rights, which means that more than 5.5 million Texans currently without health insurance, more than any state in the nation, would not get health insurance.  Quote, “I‘m certainly willing and ready for this fight, if the administration continues to try to force their very expensive government philosophy down our collective throats.” 

Also ready for the fight, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, responding to today‘s remarks by GOP Senators Jim Inhofe and Jim Demint, predicting health care will prove Democrats‘ doom. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  I‘m OK with politics, as you well know.  Senator Inhofe—I don‘t have the exact quote, but basically the thrust of the quote was the political importance of defeating this, because of what it would do to President Obama.  They‘re seeing it in political terms.  And they decided that if they can beat the president on health care reform, they have scored a big political victory. 

But what they have also guaranteed in policy terms is that you have a status quote.  I actually appreciate what Senator Demint said and Senator Inhofe.  I‘m different than everybody.  I am not going to criticize them.  I complement them.  They‘re honest.  Now—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you telling Democrats there is actually some truth to that, if you guys don‘t stick—

EMANUEL:  No, no.  You asked me about what they said.  No, no.  But they‘re being honest about what they see as the stakes.  What I find interesting is I haven‘t heard a lot of people on their party criticize them. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you enjoying this fight? 

EMANUEL:  I‘m enjoying this interview.  Am I enjoying this—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE:  In my earlier discussion with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, we also looked at the politics behind the health care battle. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE:  I understand the need for a deadline, but was an early deadline the best idea here?  Haven‘t you spent political capital when you didn‘t need to? 

GIBBS:  Well, look, getting health care reform through is going to take a significant amount of political capital.  Whether we set a deadline or not, I think the president was clear and I think he was right about having a deadline to poke and prod Congress to move and to act. 

I think we have seen that happen.  The president is very encouraged that we have continued to make progress.  If you compare this to where we were 16 years ago in the fight for comprehensive health insurance reform, that cut costs and provided accessibility for those that aren‘t fortunate to have health insurance, we have made significant progress.  We‘re closer than we have been in 40 years, and the president is encouraged by that. 

WOLFFE:  Let me ask you about a piece of the Democratic party today, because the talks with the Blue Dog Democrats almost blew up.  Is the president willing to let those people walk away if need be?  Isn‘t your House majority big enough to do this without them? 

GIBBS:  Well, look, I think the president wants to be inclusive.  The president spent an hour here with the Blue Dogs earlier in the week.  Staff was there for an additional two hours after that. 

We can see consensus here, Richard.  We just have to keep people in the room and keep people at the table.  I know that the Blue Dogs have some good ideas.  They‘re concerned about the direction of our country.  And Mike Ross said today, he thinks we‘re going to get health reform legislation this year. 

WOLFFE:  Robert, as I‘m sure you know, Rahm Emanuel said today he‘s glad to hear Senators Inhofe and Demint speak openly about their political goals in all this.  We all know the Republicans want to defeat the president on health care.  Is your battle with them or isn‘t it really with conservative Democrats? 

GIBBS:  Well, look, obviously there are members of both parties that have concerns that the president and his team want to work through in order to get comprehensive health care reform.  I think Rahm was absolutely correct in appreciating the honesty with which Senator Demint and Senator Inhofe spoke very freely about the notion that killing health care reform was all about playing a political game. 

Richard, that‘s why we haven‘t had health care reform in this country for 40 years.  That‘s why people are paying more for their insurance now.  That‘s why people are losing it.  And that‘s why people are being discriminated against for having a pre-existing condition. 

That‘s the status quo.  I think it has been interesting to watch that very few people on that side of the aisle have come out and criticized Senator Demint or Senator Inhofe.  I think there are certainly a group of people that believe this is all about scoring political points.  I don‘t believe that‘s where the American people are. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE:  Joining me now is Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis.  Good evening, Chris. 

CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Good evening, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Now we have both Rahm Emanuel and Robert Gibbs essentially thanking Senators Inhofe and Demint for their comments.  What‘s up with that? 

KOFINIS:  Well, you know, Republicans are serving up a political enemy on a silver platter with this.  What has happened in this debate, with the Republicans‘ rhetoric of not only politicizing this, but not offering any real substantive counter-proposal, is they become the perfect enemy in this. 

And this perfect enemy, by the way, if you look at the recent polls, is one of the most unpopular political parties in recent history.  So they are a perfect foil to the White House.  And politically, from a strategic perspective, you have the president, the administration out there saying, we have to confront a serious crisis, the health care crisis that affects tens of millions of Americans, that is untenable in terms of the costs.  And what they‘re doing in terms of the—in terms of contrasting that with Republicans is you have the Republicans going out there trying to obstruct, obstruct, obstruct.  So politically it helps the White House.

WOLFFE:  Chris, Press Secretary Gibbs says the president wants to be inclusive.  Now that‘s a political goal.  Can the president get it without making policy sacrifices?  And would those sacrifices actually be worth it? 

KOFINIS:  You know, bipartisanship and working with the other side is always, I think, something to be commended.  I think the president was right in the press conference when he said, you know, listen, if the Republicans have good ideas, you know, I‘m going to listen and we‘re going to incorporate them. 

I think what is unfortunate about this whole political discussion around such an important public policy problem is it has become overtly political.  And the Republicans have a political agenda here that has to do more with 2010 and 2012 than it has to do with solving the health care crisis. 

So at some point, you know, I think the White House is going to have to decide—and I know—I understand from political perspective why they don‘t want to do that right now.  But at some point they are going to have to decide that it is better to steam roll over them than to basically have to sacrifice good policy for pleasing Republicans that, at the end of the day, are still going to criticize you, no matter what. 

WOLFFE:  During the first stimulus talks, progressive economists ripped their hair out and they said it wasn‘t enough.  Sure enough, now there is lots of concern that the first stimulus wasn‘t big enough.  Are we seeing the same dynamic happening here?  Is health care reform going to end up too piecemeal, too timid? 

KOFINIS:  Well, I don‘t think so.  I think it depends on how the negotiations go.  I know a lot of people are making a big political story about the August recess and this August deadline.  I don‘t think it is a big secret to believe that there is not going to be discussions and negotiations going on during the month of August between the various key parties and key elected officials. 

So in terms of those negotiations and coming back in September, I think it really depends on everyone keeping their eye on the ball.  I think the president, again, did the right thing by making this about the crisis that we face.  We‘re talking about 47 million people, plus, that don‘t have health care.  We‘re talking about a health care level of spending that is now going to potentially double in less than eight years. 

You‘re talking about a health care spending that is going to reach potentially 20 percent of our GDP.  These are not acceptable.  This is not a crisis that we can accept and ignore.  I think if everyone focused on what needs to be done to solve the problem, then we‘re going to get good policy.  If it breaks down in politics, then I think we have a repeat of the stimulus. 

But I think what has happened is the White House and Democrats have learned a lesson; don‘t necessarily compromise and sacrifice with Republicans who don‘t want to achieve what needs to be done to solve the key problem at hand. 

WOLFFE:  Chris Kofinis, Democratic strategist, thanks for your time tonight. 

KOFINIS:  Thank you. 

WOLFFE:  Sarah Palin could soon be in waders full time.  It is her final two days in office as governor, unless she gets mavericky again and decides to keep her current day job at the last minute. 

As Senator Ensign tries to deal with his shrinking office staff, coming up at the top of the hour, Rachel will look at why the secretive group the Family was paying for overseas travel for the senator. 

And the grandmother in chief, Marian Robinson‘s transition from a grandmother on the south side of Chicago to living in the White House.  Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE:  She‘s a very private person, with a very modest past, who now lives at a very public address, in very comfortable digs, with a very public family.  Our number two story, Marian Robinson, mother-in-law to the president, talks about life in the White House, opening up about her time with the First Family, and discussing her role as grandmother in chief.  Our correspondent is Norah O‘Donnell. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How does it feel to have a daughter that is married to the president of the United States? 

MARIAN ROBINSON, MOTHER IN LAW OF PRESIDENT OBAMA:  You know—excuse me—that‘s an overwhelming feeling. 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR (voice-over):  America‘s first grandma for the first time talked about the honor of living in the White House. 

ROBINSON:  Especially when you come from the south side of Chicago.  She ended up marrying a person who lived the same kind of life that he did, but they both had great ambitions. 

O‘DONNELL:  Her son-in-law campaigned on change.  But to her, he‘s still the same man. 

ROBINSON:  I remember President Obama being a very hard working individual.  And believe you me, he still is the hardest working person I know. 

O‘DONNELL:  Marian Robinson was reading a book to elementary school students. 

ROBINSON:  On that bed, there is a granny, a snoring granny. 

O‘DONNELL:  When she was asked about the president‘s daughters. 

ROBINSON:  Malia and Sasha cannot watch TV.  I think they can only watch an hour a day.  But they are at an age now where they would rather read books or play games with themselves.  So grandma is beginning to feel left out. 

O‘DONNELL (on camera):  The first lady‘s mother has always helped take care of her grand daughters, but family members say she really didn‘t want to move into the White House.  Now she says it is great.  And she‘s got a very busy social schedule. 

(voice-over):  The first grandma was front and center this week as the White House celebrated country music.  But it was the first lady who turned heads with her new do, which officials said was just a pinned up version of her usual style.  Both the first lady and her mom are looking forward to more quality time with the girls, taking much of the month of August off. 

ROBINSON:  My life is wonderful. 

O‘DONNELL:  Norah O‘Donnell, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOLFFE:  As the clock ticks down on the final days of Sarah Palin‘s governorship, her approval numbers are also going down.  Can Palin turn those numbers around before 2012?  Will there be a Palin invasion in the lower 48?  Who will keep an eye on Russia?  Next on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE:  Richard Nixon, who quit his presidency 35 years ago this August, once said “a man isn‘t finished when he‘s defeated.  He‘s finished when he quits.”  We‘ll have to wait and see if that holds true for Sarah Palin. 

In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, with a new poll showing Palin‘s popularity plummeting, Alaskans get ready to say farewell to Miss Wasilla 1984.  Still Governor Palin is to officially resign at a picnic in Fairbanks on Sunday, transferring power to Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell.  Today, Palin marks her last working day in office with a picnic in her home town of Wasilla, with another one tomorrow in Anchorage. 

The Russians might breathe easier, but the salmon surely won‘t.  Palin quit on July 3rd because of what she called the politics of personal destruction, aimed at her and her family, including numerous ethics complaints and mounting legal bills. 

Just three days ago, an independent investigator said that a trust fund created to pay those legal bills may itself violate Alaska‘s ethics law.  Meanwhile, a new “Washington Post”/ABC News poll shows a complete turn around in the way Americans look at the governor, with just 40 percent viewing her favorably, down a whopping 28 percent from 10 months ago. 

Also, just 40 percent of Americans think she‘s a strong lead and only 37 percent thinks she understands complex issues. 

But the poll might contain some good news, at least for the governor‘s political ambitions.  With 70 percent of her party viewing her favorably, she ranks third among Republicans in their pick for the 2012 presidential nomination, just behind Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. 

Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst and “Huffington Post” contributor Lawrence O‘Donnell.  Thanks for being with us, Lawrence.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to be here, Richard.

WOLFFE:  This new poll shows a huge drop in her popularity, but she‘s obviously still a force in the GOP.  Would the party really nominate someone with those kinds of numbers? 

O‘DONNELL:  No.  I don‘t think there is any chance.  Remember, those numbers exist in a pre-campaign mode.  We haven‘t seen Romney campaign against her.  We haven‘t seen Tim Pawlenty campaign against her.  It will be very easy to drive her numbers into much more negative territory by putting her in a presidential primary campaign, which I hope she joins.  It would be a lot of fun. 

But, you know, she would be up there on the panel with seasoned and experienced debaters, including Huckabee, who I think would run rings around her.  And I think she would be in trouble very quickly. 

WOLFFE:  Yes, would be fun for us, maybe not so much for her consultants and advisers.  But some poll numbers also stand out here; 52 percent of Americans feel she is honest; 48 percent say she shares our values; and 47 percent say she understands their problems.  Do these numbers make up for all the negatives?  Is there some reason for hope there? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, there is something to build on there.  What those numbers say is people—when you talk about her as a person, people like her better.  They‘re more drawn to her as a person than they are to her as someone who can govern.  And her numbers on competence and ability to govern are very low. 

That‘s the big problem now, in leaving office, is that exactly how is she going demonstrate the competence that America doesn‘t believe she has, if she doesn‘t have a state budget to manage anymore. 

WOLFFE:  There are some other numbers that are important here.  Because, on one hand, she‘s polarizing, seems to have no ability to grow the party.  And, on the other hand, she‘s a big time money raiser.  So what do the party leaders actually do with her? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, we have seen this before.  We have seen people who are very popular within the party, not popular outside the party.  And those people are used for fund-raising.  You bring them in, hopefully with as few cameras around as possible, and they raise money for you.  She‘ll always have that role, presumably, until the novelty wears off. 

There is a certain point in time where it is not going to be all that much fun to pay 2,000 dollars to meet Sarah Palin.  But for a while it will work. 

WOLFFE:  Dick Cheney as a hockey mom, maybe.  So Palin has threatened to unleash her true self on Twitter when she is no longer governor.  What do you expect of her liberated Tweets? 

O‘DONNELL:  Oh, I can‘t wait.  The Tweets so far have been pretty strange.  And I just wish Twitter didn‘t have such a limited word count and character count, so she could let herself go on Twitter.  She promised that her first day out of office, suddenly the Tweets are going to be, I guess, honest for the first time. 

We‘ll see.  She‘s really—she‘s got a lot to live up to in her promises about Twitter. 

WOLFFE:  Right, putting the twit back in Twitter.  What do you make of all those screen door parties they‘re having in Alaska this weekend?  Are these happy days in Anchorage? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, you know, the screen door phenomenon is get out before the screen door hits you in the back.  There is a real negative.  Her negatives have been run up very, very high, compared to where they were in Alaska.  Alaskans didn‘t like a lot of the attention.  You don‘t move to Alaska to get—to draw attention to yourself. 

And so Alaskans seem like they‘re going to be very, very happy to watch the national media take their cameras and go home or take their cameras and follow Sarah Palin on either the campaign trail or the fund-raising trail or the book tour trail.  And I think Alaskans are going to be very happy that that trail is not in Alaska, but somewhere down there in the lower 48. 

WOLFFE:  And just briefly, if Alaska loses Palin and Palin flames out, is there someone else to take up the mantle she represents? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, she‘s in that Pat Buchanan section of Republicanism, that pitch fork brigade, that angry working class, so they would say, section of Republicanism.  It is not immediately clear who that is. 

Huckabee is the person who lives closest to it.  But he doesn‘t pander to it as much as Palin does.  Romney clearly is not that.  The guy is a multi-millionaire.  Tim Pawlenty is not that, from Minnesota, perfectly reasonable Republican man of government. 

And so it really looks like that‘s her zone.  If she can command that zone, then she has a base in the party. 

WOLFFE:  Lawrence O‘Donnell of the “Huffington Post” and MSNBC, have a great weekend. 

That will do it for this Friday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Richard Wolffe, in for Keith Olbermann.  Have a great weekend.  And now time for “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”  Good evening, Rachel.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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