updated 7/31/2009 10:20:47 AM ET 2009-07-31T14:20:47

Countdown

July 30, 2009

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Guests: Howard Fineman, Clarence Page, Joan Walsh, David Waldman, Margaret Carlson

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

The White House beer summit: Two weeks after the racially charged arrest of a Harvard professor, the president holds peace talks between the two men in the middle of a culture war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is three folks having a drink at the end of the day, and hopefully giving people an opportunity to listen to each other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: Can he bury this distraction once and for all?

Not if the race-obsessed right-wingers get their way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: They're finally hearing me. Why, he's an angry black guy. I do believe that about the president. I do believe he's angry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: Why the vitriol from the right says more about them than it does about the president.

Turning health care into health scare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It won't pay for my surgery but we're forced to pay for abortions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFEE: Have the blue dogs Democrats fallen for a Republican ruse with their August time-out?

The birther battle inside the GOP.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ROY BLUNT ®, MISSOURI: What I don't know is why the president can't produce a birth certificate. I don't know anybody else that can't produce one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: When Ann Coulter and Rudy Giuliani are the voice of reason, you know the Republican Party just got hijacked.

More than a month after the death of Michael Jackson, a custody agreement is reached for his kids-just as Joe Jackson drops a bombshell:

Michael Jackson has another child-an older biological one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S FATHER: He looks like a Jackson, he acts like a Jackson, he can dance like Jackson.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: But who's getting custody of Sarah Palin? A new poll says most Americans don't want her in the White House ever; almost half of Republicans agree. Maybe she has a future in poetry? Cue the tweets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM SHATNER, ACTOR: No drought threat down here ever, but consistent rain reminds us: no rain, no rainbow.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: All that and more-now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

On hot, humid summer evening, the kind of night that Washington, D.C. is famous for this time of year, who doesn't enjoy winding down with a beer or two?

In our first story on THE COUNTDOWN: Cooling off with a few cold ones took on multiple meanings tonight in the White House Rose Garden, where President Obama held his so-called "beer summit" with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and the police officer who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley.

Beer delivered on a tray, one of many good things about life in the White House. Vice President Biden, a surprise guest at tonight's proceedings. The White House described the interaction between Gates and Crowley as friendly and warm, unlike the beer.

More interest, if not importance, it also detailed the beer preference of each man at the table. The president, Bud Light. Sergeant Crowley, Blue Moon. Professor Gates, Sam Adams Light, and for the vice president, Buckler, that's a non-alcoholic beer beloved of one George W. Bush. Peanuts and pretzels were also served, note the pretzels. Didn't they read the note from the last guy?

Late this afternoon, during a meeting with the president of the Philippines, the president tried to get away from the term "beer summit," telling reporters, quote, "It's a clever term but this is not a summit." He also said he's, quote, "fascinated" with the fascination about tonight, adding that he hoped the media would make his meeting with President Arroyo the lead story instead of the non-summit where there's free beer.

Bad news, Mr. President. We just heard the latest cover of "Foreign Policy" magazine-it's Obama's beer diplomacy.

There was one surprise after tonight's less than happy hour, a press conference driven under the influence of a few beers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. JAMES CROWLEY, CAMBRIDGE POLICE DEPT.: I think what you had today was two gentlemen agree to disagree on the same issue. I don't think that we spent too much time dwelling on the past. We spent a lot of time discussing the future.

That wasn't the first we encountered-the professor and I encountered each other while we're both on individual tours of the White House, and the professor approached me and introduced his family. I introduced my family. And then we continued on with the tour, but as a group. Two families moving together, and that was the start.

So, it was very cordial. I'm still not - haven't caught up with this. I'm going to need a few days maybe just to reflect on the events of the past couple of weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: Lots to talk about with Clarence Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and member of "The Chicago Tribune's" editorial board.

Good evening, Clarence.

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Good evening, Richard.

WOLFFE: So, the White House tried to play down expectation. But how did a few beers in the Rose Garden come to be as big a deal, at least in the media as Begin and Sadat or even Reagan and Gorbachev?

PAGE: Well, it's such a great, easy story for us to grab onto, because all of the drama and the symbolic value. It just presses all the hot buttons of the culture wars, as you mentioned. And, by the way, I was just over there at the White House awaiting in vain for the news makers to come out and talk to us. And there was no beer served to the press group.

WOLFFE: There are, I guess, downside to covering the White House.

Before I ask about whether anything was actually accomplished, though, was there supposed to be some kind of a communique out of all of this or was the whole point really just to get a photo of these two men, Gates and Crowley, sitting down together?

PAGE: Yes. That's-it was really a photo-op situation and I think the images of last week were so negative, and played badly for the president, you know, after he referred to Crowley's actions, you know, said the police behaved stupidly and then he withdrew the stupidly, while still making the same point, that it wasn't necessary to arrest Professor Gates in his own house.

Nevertheless, though, we've seen in NBC polling and elsewhere, it's played badly because it was the kind of Obama that he tried to avoid showing during his campaign-that of taking sides, that of being perceive as taking sides, especially with black Americans as opposed to being the honest broker in this cultural war, these racial disputes, these disputes over police power, et cetera.

So, it was important to show, "Hey, let us all come together," this kumbaya moment over a few cold ones.

WOLFFE: Well, that begs the question, Clarence: was it about tone or do you think the president should never have got engaged in this in the first place?

PAGE: Well, I don't know what his thoughts are, but I think everybody around him says that he can benefit on a night when he was trying to focus and sell his health care plan and proposal, to suddenly, you know, the very last question of the night, the one that he visibly was more animated about, was this issue of racial profiling. That this suddenly-you know, grabs all the attention, because-let's face. It's more exciting to talk about race and class and professors versus cops than it is to talk about the nuts and bolts of, what, 16 percent, 17 percent of the American GDP, which is what health care amounts to.

So, you know, getting the debate back on track wasn't easy.

WOLFFE: OK. So, let's turn this on ourselves, in the media. Beyond all the questions of what kind of beer they would drink, what should our teachable moment be? Can the media actually debate race in any meaningful way at all?

PAGE: No, Richard. I've given up.

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE: I've been in the media for 40 years now and I was a little baby when I got started back in the '60s, and I've been covering, you know, social issues, police issues, courts, et cetera, and certainly racial uprisings from Jesse Jackson's early days through O.J. Simpson, to the present day, and I think what we're seeing is that one of our pathologies in the press is that we are geared towards the visual, not towards the conceptual. We're geared toward conflict, not kumbaya moments. And unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that really, I think society has to work upstream to try to come together.

And I think that was why, you know, Barack Obama's election night was so exciting, even for people who didn't vote for him. Just the fact that we saw some kind of a comity, a coming together of Americans and we saw celebrating of people around the world of America and our democracy, our way of life, that we hadn't seen. It was kind of like America is back.

And now, all of a sudden, we're seeing the bad old days are back.

WOLFFE: Right.

PAGE: . where we're having these culture wars.

WOLFFE: Well, it's great to know the media is really uplifting in this discussion.

Clarence Page of "The Chicago Tribune"-thank you for your time tonight.

PAGE: Oh, my pleasure, Richard. Thank you.

WOLFFE: One man's attempt to start a dialogue between two parties is another man's, quote, "angry black guy" trying to destroy a white policeman. Guess who that man is? Yes-our old friend Rush Limbaugh.

The conservative talk show host is the leader of a mob of right-wingers who are openly attacking President Obama, not because of his politics, but because of his skin color, kind of the same way they tried to attack his Supreme Court nominee for being Latina and a woman during her recent confirmation hearings.

The most telling comments about Judge Sotomayor's heritage came from the white Republican men on the Senate Judiciary Committee. For the right-wing these days, the rise of minorities are so unsettling that they seem to be suffering their own identity crisis, as if their biggest question is: I know who you are, but what am I?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH: They're finally hearing me. Why, he's an angry black guy.

I do believe that about the president. I do believe he's angry.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don't know what it is. This guy is, I believe, a racist.

LIMBAUGH: This guy that they elected, who they thought was all of these wonderful, perfect things, is now behaving as a community organizer and is fanning the flames of race.

Here you have a black president trying to destroy a white policeman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: Time to bring in Salon.com editor-in-chief and columnist Joan Walsh, who's written be about this race subject for her Web site. This afternoon, in response to that column, Rush Limbaugh called her a racist and a, quote, "magic honky." Sorry to bring that up.

Good evening, Joan.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Good evening, Richard. Thank you.

WOLFFE: It's quite a badge of honor you got there. He actually called recently me a dunce or an idiot or something sophisticated.

So, I just want to ask: Does him calling you a racist pretty much confirm the exact point you were making in the column, that Limbaugh and others are merely projecting their own racism on to the president?

WALSH: Absolutely. It is all about projection. He is clearly showing his fear at seeing a black man as an equal, as a leader.

And, you know, to Rush, this goes back quite a ways. Remember, he was fired by ESPN because he disparaged Donovan McNabb and insisted that he was only a black quarterback because of affirmative action.

WOLFFE: Right.

WALSH: when he was one of the stars at the time.

He also has a really kind of alarming habit of making sexual references and sexual paranoia, talking about having to bend over and grab his ankles for this black president, and he wouldn't do it. I mean, the man is frightened of black people and projects it on to Obama, who-whether you like him, whether you're a Democrat or Republican-the notion that he hates white people is ludicrous.

And they are just trying to throw everything at him that they can, and race has been divisive in our society. We know this and they think it's going to work.

WOLFFE: You know, one of the most interesting things to me is that, it sounds like the usual coded messages and the veiled comments have thrown aside in favor of really blatant racial attacks.

WALSH: Yes.

WOLFFE: Do you think this kind of talk is accessible to Middle America, to the suburban independent voters, who have really decided in recent elections?

WALSH: No, and I thought that the Crowley, the beer summit-I know we're not supposed to call it that-and also his press conference, was really kind of a wonderful moment. I know it was all staged, Richard, and I don't mean to be naive, but you know there was a moment last week when both Rush and other right-wing blowhards were trying to kind of recruit and use Jim Crowley.

And you could really have imagined perhaps a different sort of man, maybe falling for it, feeling aggrieved and saying the problem is this black president. But instead, you have this guy come out and really say very gracious thing about both Professor Gates as well as the president and vice president.

And so, I think it is failing. I think Middle Americans, like Jim Crowley, don't want to hear this racist talk. They're not falling for it.

And, you know, some day we may find that Rush and Glenn Beck were paid by the Democratic Party. That's only way I can think in terms of why they'd be out here doing such damage to the Republican Party.

WOLFFE: We'll have to add that conspiracy to all the others floating around right now and there is more on the right-wing blogosphere. Some are suggesting that the president's health care plan is a back door for slavery reparations.

How fringy is this going to get and when and how does it go mainstream?

WALSH: Well, you know, it is fringy, but I will tell you, that thing

that is the thing I worry about. I mean, you and I both know that race and ethnicity has been used to divide us, and specifically, to create fear around people getting jobs that someone else deserves or people getting support. NPR featured an interview with a man who said that Obama wants to take health care away from whites and give it to minority-which, of course, isn't true.

So, in a time of economic crisis and chaos, there is a little bit of -

a little bit more potential for these scare tactics to make people think, "They're going to take it away from me and give it to them." I worry about that. Not the overt racism so much being widespread, but a kind of economic insecurity and tribalism that is-that can be fanned in times of trouble.

WOLFFE: Well, that's supposed to be another reason why we all hope this economy gets better sometime soon.

WALSH: We do.

WOLFFE: So, Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com-thanks for your time tonight.

WALSH: Thank you, Richard.

WOLFFE: And speaking of time, Republicans and blue dogs just bought more of it. With no one predicting a health care bill out of the Senate Finance Committee before the August recess, both sides of the debate will have another whole month to waste their money or the airwaves. Case in point: A new ad from the Family Research Council adding to the list of people who will die under Obamacare.

And-will the GOP obsession where Obama was born end up hurting the party that's formed the conspiracy theory? More video of Republicans caught in the headlights-next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE: Coming up on COUNTDOWN: The Christian right has a new ad using abortion to oppose health care reform. And naturally, it will kill old people, too. Let's see if they can work on gay marriage next time.

And Sarah Palin's new ambition. It seems she's not only thinking about the troops. We've also got numbers on how Americans especially Republicans feel about her, as well as more of Palin's Twitter thoughts delivered in dramatic style by the great thespian William Shatner-up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE: Republicans already won the most important health care battle. Unlike much of the rest of the developed world, Americans will not get free health care on demand, nor will all Americans even get insurance. Now, what Democrats-at least some Democrat are fighting for now is to create a new insurance program run by the government, like Medicare, for the rest of us. But in our fourth story tonight: Just the prospect of a new competitor is touching off a firefight that will last through next month.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid claimed today that Republican leaders are undermining efforts to come up with bipartisan health care reform, saying the GOP's point man on health in the finance committee, Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi, are, quote, "under great pressure." Committee Chairman Max Baucus, according to "Roll Call" today, has been warned by Reid, "Wrap this up by next week" or Reid takes over the talks.

Enzi admitted yesterday he was fielding calls from Republicans concern about reports that he had actually struck a deal on health care. Now, just as the blue dogs and Republicans wanted, the bill is not expected to emerge before the August recess, giving time for the GOP and insurance companies to stoke public fears about any government intervention.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the insurers the villains of this drama. And House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said the Democrats will go on offense next month.

But Republicans will, too. The man formerly known as Bush's brain, Karl Rove, accused President Obama of, quote, "trying to sell his health care proposals on fear."

Now, who was it again who perfected the politics of fear? Oh, yes.

Karl Rove.

So, instead of fake scares about WMDs, the president is talking about the real scares of losing coverage or going bankrupt to pay medical bills.

Rove's allies on the other hand, Tony Perkins of the Family Research

Council is rolling out an ad explicitly written to create new bogus fears -

and while we're at it-tying health care to another ongoing battle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They won't pay nor my surgery. What are we going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But, honey, you can't live this way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And to think that Planned Parenthood is included in the government-run health care plan, and spending tax dollars on abortions. They won't pay for my surgery but we're forced to pay for abortions.

NARRATOR: Our greatest generation denied care. Our future generation denied life.

Call your senator. Stop the government takeover of health care.

Family Research Council Action is responsible for the content of this advertisement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: Let's bring in MNSBC political analyst Howard Fineman, my good friend and former colleague at "Newsweek," where he's political columnist and senior Washington correspondent.

Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Richard.

WOLFFE: Help me out here, please. The ad says the problem with the new health care plan is that it would kill old people and young people. I guess that's one way to control costs. Is that about right?

FINEMAN: Well, first, let me say since we're friends, I know that you grew up in the bosom of national administrative health care in the U.K., I'm amazed.

WOLFFE: Socialist health care.

FINEMAN: I'm amazed that you escaped alive, you know?

Yes. No. The ad is really something. Well, first of all, there's nothing in any of the bills about abortion. That's a highly theoretical fear, which, of course, the research council is stoking. And as far as medical care for seniors, insurance companies are the ones who have gotten very tough about denying procedures and all kinds of other things late in life.

So, it's a fear machine and they're good at it.

WOLFFE: Well, the ad sounded to me like, actually, an argument for universal health care-because the only way to make sure everyone gets all the surgery they could ever want is Medicare for everyone. But the Family Research Council sent us this statement saying, no, quote, "We'll only obtain universal coverage through the private sector where competition for service will contain costs."

Now, Howard, don't we already have competition for service in the private sector? Why are they talking in the future tense about what we have today?

FINEMAN: Well, we do have some and, in fact, what most of the bills do-what all of the bills that are out there now do is try to increase competition. They talk about creating market places either regional or even national to do that. That's the whole point of what-what the president and the Democrats are trying to do in many ways.

But what the insurance companies' fear and what they're going to focus on is the idea of a public competitor in that marketplace. In many sense, there already is one. It's called Medicare.

WOLFFE: So, let's talk about politics on this one. How does this fight play out over the next month? Why was it so important for the opponent to win this delay?

FINEMAN: Well, they're going to try to drag the carcass into the alley, if I can get a little too vivid and pick it apart.

Here's the thing, Richard: The president successfully explained to everybody that we can't afford the system that we have. But that is a national concern, and it's in some ways not theoretical but in the numbers as much as in the individual people.

In the alternative, the Republicans are going to be able to pick at individual proposals in the myriad of bills that have been out there-three of which have been under consideration, two of them-three of them passed. They're going to try to pick each individual piece apart.

So, it's the president going at a national solution and his opponents picking individual pieces to attack, just the way the Family Research Council did.

WOLFFE: So, let's get just a bit more (INAUDIBLE), but it's also kind of strategic. Do you think the White House could go for the so-called reconciliation option, that would need 51 votes, not the full 60 to break the filibuster?

FINEMAN: I think that could be where this is heading. So, what will happen in the end: the Republicans will pull the plug on their own participation, not every Democrat will take part. In the Senate, they will probably use reconciliation. The only problem there is, certain parts of the law that would be signed into law under reconciliation would expire years later.

I think you'll se people, like Rahm Emanuel and the president himself trying to tinker with that to expand the permanent reach of whatever they pass in that way.

WOLFFE: Which means, I guess, that we'll be arguing about this all over again in a few years, right?

FINEMAN: Of course. Absolutely.

WOLFFE: Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC-thank you very much.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Richard. Talk to you soon.

WOLFFE: When Republicans aren't trying to scare you about health care reform, some are trying to scare each other about President Obama's nationality. Why the fringe birthers are growing into a bigger problem for the GOP.

And take a look at this. You know it isn't going to end well. The jaw-dropping finale-ahead in Oddball.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE: On this day in 1936, make way for dresses made of drapes and romantic jaunts of the staircase. Margaret Mitchell sells the film rights for "Gone with the Wind" to MGM. But the deal between Mitchell and studio head David O. Selznick wasn't always a sure bet. Selznick originally blanched that Mitchell's $50,000 asking price. To which Mitchell responded, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." You could see that coming, eh?

On that note, let's play "Oddball."

We begin on the Internets. And if you've ever been curious as to what happens when mom gets her own dirt bike, behold the evidence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Too fast, too fast, too fast. Too fast.

(INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh.

(BLEEP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Damn it. I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm OK. Don't worry.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm OK. I'm OK. I'm OK. I am OK. I am OK.

I'm OK, I'm fine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody's OK. You're OK.

(INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is your ass broken?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: Yes, it was all going so well until grandma and her pesky wheelchair came out of nowhere. For those concerned about the condition of grandma's ass, I'm happy to report that it's not broken, it's just fine, thanks. As for Shirley, next time she hops on a dirt bike, she'll aim for the kids, who can run away.

To Tewkesbury, England, where the good folks at the local mattress warehouse have an interesting way of showing off the merchandise. It's an afternoon game of dominoes. And if you think your boss is getting heavy, you don't know pressure from above until you've had a co-worker strapped to a 40 pound mattress fell on top of you.

But this mattress flipping isn't just for fun. Oh, no. The warehouse folks are hoping to make it into the Guinness Book of Records. Forty-one colleagues were part of the event. I hear there would have been even more had the box spring department not shown up three sheets to the wind.

Coming up: The return of William Shatner.

And some breaking news from tonight's White House beer summit. We'll have reactions from Professor Gates after the break.

Also ahead: William Shatner-first, it was Sarah Palin's farewell address as governor, now, he's turned her tweets into iambic pentameter-kind of.

Also, the latest from the GOP birther conspiracy. Some in the party desperately want it all to stop, while others are still signing on to legislation for future presidents to prove their citizenship. Details on the big birthing divide in the GOP-next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE: Some breaking news; Professor Henry Louis Gates has just released a statement tonight, after his meeting over beers at the White House. It's long, but it reads in part, quote, "I would like to applaud President Obama for bringing Sergeant Crowley, me and our families together. Sergeant Crowley and I, through an accident of time and place, have been cast together inextricably as characters, as metaphors really, in a thousand narratives about race, over which he and I have absolutely no control. Narratives about race are as old as the founding of this great republic itself.

"But these new ones unfolded precisely when America signaled to the world our country's great progress by overcoming centuries of habit and fear and electing an African-American as president. It's incumbent upon Sergeant Crowley and me to utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for daily perils of policing, on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling, on the other hand.

"Let me say that I thank god that I live in a country in which police officers put their lives at risk to protect us every day. And, more than ever, I've come to understand and appreciate their daily sacrifices on our behalf. I'm also grateful we live in a country where freedom of speech is a sacrosanct value. And I hope that one day we can get to know each other better, as we began to do at the White House this afternoon over beers with President Obama."

In other news, the Obama birther movement has managed to produce another two-headed monster within the Republican party, the enablers, versus those who are realizing that the party needs to move away from this nonsense as fast as possible.

But in our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the enablers are still dominating the conversation. Indeed, Congressmen Louie Gohmert of Texas is the latest Republican to sign on to the so-called Birther Bill. The proposed law would require future presidential candidates to provide copy of their birth certificate to the Federal Election Commission. When Congressman Gohmert was asked if he believed that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, he said, quote, "I don't know if it's true or not, but I read that Lou Dobbs said Obama's original birth certificate was destroyed."

That's Lou Dobbs as his source. Meantime, Mike Stark of Fire Dog Lake, has once again tried to get rank and file Republicans to answer some straightforward questions. Here are some of the results.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JEAN SCHMIDT ®, OHIO Talk to you-

MIKE STARK, FIRE DOG LAKE: I'll run with you.

SCHMIDT: No, no, no.

STARK: Quick question.

SCHMIDT: Nope.

STARK: Do you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States?

SCHMIDT: You know, I've got to go right now. I wish I could talk to you right now, but-

STARK: People are going to think I'm tugging you.

SCHMIDT: Well, I know.

STARK: That doesn't require that much thought. Does it? Was Barack Obama born in the United States? That's a yes or a no. He's president of the United States, right? He swore a Constitutional oath to uphold the Constitution. If he is not a natural born citizen, he can't be president. You must care about your oath? Where do you stand?

SCHMIDT: Sir, I'm on the way to a very important meeting. And you can make an appointment with my office and we'll discuss it. OK? Thank you very much.

STARK: Congresswoman, take care.

STARK: There's been a lot of news about Barack Obama's birth certificate. Do you believe he was born in America? Anyone that believes otherwise is a little bit cuckoo?

REP. NATHAN DEAL ®, GEORGIA: I wouldn't say that. I have no idea where he was born.

STARK: I didn't know it when we talked to you the first time. But you are number four in the leadership of the Republican party. Do you want to offer a clearer answer on whether or not you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States? Are you still looking forward to seeing documents?

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS ®, WASHINGTON: I'll tell you what, why don't-she has to get to a vote. Do you have a card?

STARK: Basis in fact or reality for this kind of stuff?

DEAL: The best way to do it, I think, is to produce the birth certificate and let that be the end of it. I don't think that's been done yet.

REP. ROY BLUNT ®, MISSOURI: What I don't know is why the president can't produce a birth certificate. I don't know anybody else that can't produce one. I think that's a legitimate question.

STARK: Can you give me clear answer? Was Barack Obama born in the United States?

REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA: Yes, I believe he was.

STARK: Unequivocally, right? People that believe otherwise are absolutely crazy.

PENCE: Right, yes. I'm willing to stipulate he's from Hawaii. I just don't know where he is coming from on health care.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOLFFE: Along with Congressman Pence, Congressman Tom McClintock of California agreed that there was no question about Obama's birthplace. But Congressman Blunt's office complained that Fire Dog Lake took him out of context. So the website released the unedited video. And in it Mr. Blunt says he does not have, quote, any reason not to believe that Obama was born in the U.S. Then he proceeds to raise questions, as seen in that video.

What does it say when this lot is actually taking the same side of the issue, trying to dismiss the birther theories as nonsense; Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and House Minority Leader John Boehner.

Let's bring in a contributing editor Daily Kos, and editor of Congress Matters, David Waldman. Good evening.

DAVID WALDMAN, DAILY KOS CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: Good evening, Richard.

Thanks for having me.

WOLFFE: Is Congressman Gohmert typical of the Republicans supporting this birther bill, in that his legislation sounds reasonable, but then he goes off the rails when he tries to explain his reasoning. After all, Lou Dobbs is his source here. Why are they even bothering to try to sound reasonable?

WALDMAN: Well, that's the dodge they all play. I mean, yes, absolutely, Congressman Gohmert is typical of the people who are co-sponsoring this legislation. There's this kernel of interesting truth in the heart of the thing. Yes, there is this Constitutional requirement. But there are a million ways to deal with it. And we've dealt with it up to now without ever asking any kinds of questions formally like this.

It's interesting that they now design the answers to the questions in such a way that they can have it both ways. They won't say unequivocally either what they believe or what they believe actually means, so that they don't risk alienating the people who are driving this really crazy crusade.

WOLFFE: Well, that brings us to the conservative pundits and the politicians who are willing to dismiss the conspiracy theory. Do they see the danger in allowing the party to be linked to this kind of fringe?

WALDMAN: They very well may. I mean, the danger is pretty clear. I don't know-I'm surprised, I should say, at some of the people who are suddenly able to see danger for the Republican party so clearly. This is a new phenomenon for some of them.

What it shows, I guess, is that everyone, from top to bottom pretty much, who speaks on daily basis for the party and for conservatives in general has their own particular psychosis. But the problem is that, in many cases, it's kind of nuts from top to bottom. It doesn't matter who you ask, they'll give you one crazy theory or another. If it's not birtherism, it's racism.

WOLFFE: The conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt blames the whole thing on the media, which likes to make fun of what he says are, quote, people with a marginal grasp of logic. Which strikes me as a funny way to talk about actual Republican office holders, or even Roy Blunt. Not very polite, is it?

WALDMAN: No, not very polite, but also another day and another reason for Hugh Hewitt to blame to the media for something. I mean, that shows he's learned almost nothing from this episode and he blames everything on the media. There is a sense in which we may be spending a little bit too much time talking about this lunatic fringe. But the problem is that it goes from top to bottom, as I said. If you have half a dozen, now a dozen or more United States congressman jumping onto this bill that's really this thinly veiled of birtherism-the purer stuff you see on the streets.

But in the halls of Congress, you see this veiled thing. And it's not that they don't know how to dismiss people like this. They dismiss crazy nuts and people they just don't like, who really do have ideas that have some merit, but they just disagree with very strongly. They dismiss them at town hall meetings every day. Try talking to one of these guys about the fact that the previous administration tortured people for political gain. You won't get very far. They find a way to distance themselves from you when they want to.

WOLFFE: That's a good point, David Waldman, of the Daily Kos and blog Congress Matters. Thanks for joining us.

WALDMAN: Thank you very much.

WOLFFE: And a clarification to last night's COUNTDOWN. In a conversation about the financial industry and Tarp, our guest, Arianna Huffington, said Citigroup is basically insolvent. Citigroup contacted us today and said Huffington's comments were 100 percent wrong.

Sarah Palin is out of politics for now, but can she ever return? A new poll from NBC News is bad news for her if she's dreaming of the White House.

And Michael Jackson's children. A month after his death, a custody deal is reached. Joe Jackson confirms, meanwhile, that Michael actually had an older biological son. Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE: As a custody agreement is reached, new revelations about an alleged secret son. Yes, you probably already guessed it. Our number two story is, indeed, about Michael Jackson. Family patriarch Joe Jackson, in his latest round of interviews, claims those rumors circulating about the late pop star's illegitimate son are true.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S FATHER: Yes. Michael has another son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he looks like a Jackson.

JACKSON: Oh, yes. He looks like a Jackson. He acts like a Jackson.

He can dance like a Jackson.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: The Jackson doppelganger in question is 25-year-old Omer Bhatti. Bhatti had a front row seat next to Jackson's family at the singer's memorial. But Bhatti himself denies that Jackson is his biological father, which can only mean that Bhatti's mother is a woman named Billie Jean.

MSNBC's "The Scoop" reports that a Jackson family friend says the only person who knows her true identity is dame Elizabeth Taylor. You can't make this stuff up. Taylor's rep denies this. But adds, if the actress has something to say about the situation, she will Twitter about it. OK, you can make this stuff up.

Meanwhile, a custody deal involving the pop star's the three other kids was announced earlier today between Katherine Jackson and Debbie Rowe. Our correspondent is Jay Gray.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAY GRAY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): According to his will, if anything happened to Michael Jackson, he wanted his mom to raise his three young children. It now appears that will happen. Lawyers for Katherine Jackson and the singer's ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, have released details of a custody agreement. Jackson's mother will be the permanent guardian of 12-year-old Prince Michael, 11-year-old Paris and seven-year-old Blanket.

Rowe, the biological mother of the two oldest children, has agreed not to seek custody, but will retain her parental rights and will get visitation. Attorneys also made it clear there was no financial component to the agreement.

NEAL HERSH, CHILD CUSTODY HEARING: I think this puts to rest a lengthy protracted piece of litigation. And I think the children are going to benefit from that.

GRAY: Quoting a release from lawyers now, "the timing, frequency and manner of Rowe's visits will be determined by a child psychologist." There are reports that only since their father's death have the two oldest children learned that she is their mother. And apparently, Rowe now believes she can develop a bond with the kids.

KAI CHASE, MICHAEL JACKSON'S CHEF: It's good to have a mother figure around.

GRAY: Jackson's personal chef, Kai Chase, talked about the children during an exclusive interview this morning on "The Today Show," and provided some insight into their perspective during the frantic last moments of their father's death.

CHASE: We're all panicking and wondering what's going on. Parents are screaming and crying, daddy, daddy, daddy.

GRAY: It is a horrible memory for Jackson's three young children that they will now apparently work through with the help of both their grandmother and their biological mom.

Jay Gray, NBC News, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOLFFE: Sarah Palin is enjoying more time with her family, and a growing number of Americans think that's a good thing. New poll numbers show many don't want her in the White House. But thanks to the wonderful William Shatner, maybe she'll leave politics aside and turn to poetry, next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE: I know you may be feeling a little less safe now that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin can't keep an eye on Russia. But Palin may need to turn her attention to threats other than Putin rearing his pretty little head. As her political capital fades away, our number one story on the COUNTDOWN is what's next for the polar-based pit bull?

A new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows two-thirds of all Americans don't want Palin to ever become president; just 21 percent say they wouldn't mind a Palin White House. You might expect an overwhelming majority of Democrats to oppose the notion of President Palin, but 43 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of independents, even 46 percent of self-confessed conservatives, say the same thing.

What's a former governor to do? She's already got a big, fat book deal. But there's word Palin may be looking to join the media she despises so much. Insider Radio reporting she could be setting her sights on a syndicated radio show, where she will no doubt quit making stuff up.

Whatever Miss Wasilla 1984 decides to do, she says she'll still be Tweeting, the gift that keeps on giving to NBC's "Tonight Show," courtesy of last night's Poet Laureate, William Shatner, and host Conan O'Brien.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONAN O'BRIEN, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": In her fair-well speech, Palin promised to stay in touch with her followers using Twitter. She said, yes, I'm going to stay in touch using Twitter. Some people, though, have been reading these Twitters, and they found her Tweets to be a little rambling, confusing and off topic.

I spent the day today reading through all of Palin's Tweets several times, and it dawned on me, she's writing poetry. These are not Tweets. This is beautiful free verse. That is what she's writing. So, once again, here to read Sarah Palin's Tweets verbatim, as they were intended to be heard, is Emmy away winner and master thespian, Mr. William Shatner.

WILLIAM SHATNER, EMMY AWARD WINNER: From sea life near a lush, wet rain forest, to energy housed under frozen tundra, atop permafrost; god most creatively displays his diversity in Alaska.

Tourists from across America here loving their 49th state; I'm reminded one heart, one hope, one destiny, one flag from sea to sea.

Awesome Alaska night; sensing summer already winding down, with fire weed near full bloom, finally sitting down to pen, listening to Big and Rich.

Left you no lack heat warmth for rain in Juneau tonight. No drought threat down here ever. But consistent rain reminds us: no rain, no rainbow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: Who else could follow the surrealism of Captain Kirk but Margaret Carlson, "Bloomberg News" political columnist and Washington editor for "The Week Magazine." Good evening, Margaret.

MARGARET CARLSON, "THE WEEK MAGAZINE": Good evening, Richard.

WOLFFE: So the new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows that Palin's political capital is in steep declined. Among the many lessons of Richard Nixon is that you're never really out of the arena. Is that true for Governor Palin as well?

CARLSON: Well, Richard, I don't know about you, but I would like to yield the remainder of my time to William Shatner. That was so good. And I missed it in the original.

Maybe we do not have, you know, Sarah Palin to kick around anymore as governor. However, in this guise, if she is going to go on the radio, where it's a shame she won't be able to wink-and apparently it is radio talk show akin to Rush Limbaugh, is what she would like to have. You know, she's going to be-she's going get the exposure that she was missing in Alaska.

She was-you know, hungered for it. How many times, Richard, did she do something and we would spend, you know, days talking about it from Alaska? Now it will be all Sarah all the time, just the way we talk about Rush Limbaugh many nights.

WOLFFE: So she said she was quitting because of a higher calling.

Does this possible radio gig qualify as one of those?

CARLSON: If she were coming to this show, Richard, we could call it a higher calling. But radio? I don't know. Rush Limbaugh-when we were looking for a leader of the Republican party and all of those polls were being taken and the Republicans couldn't find one; consistently Rush Limbaugh was at the top of the list. So there is one way to become a leader of the Republican party.

And it seems that actually the leaders of the Republican party are in the media: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck. These are the people we know best in the Republican party, given the vacuum at the top, and given that the people who are the natural leaders, say Mitch McConnell and some others, Eric Cantor, they're not necessarily TV or radio ready.

WOLFFE: So let's do this last one for the troops, as Palin likes to say. She does have charisma and a following. Could she actually bring disillusioned Republicans back into the fold in time for 2012?

CARLSON: Well, I don't know about yours, Richard, the people who love Sarah Palin and find her charismatic-and she does have that it thing-they are passionate about Sarah Palin. There may not be enough of them. We opened with that poll. There aren't enough of them, perhaps, to drag her across the finish line.

But she is going to be a formidable presence, because the people-there's nobody else in the Republican party that stirs passions right now. She's the only one. And she's likely now to do it, to stir those passions even more.

WOLFFE: And briefly, for those Palin backers out there, should they be worried by those poll numbers?

CARLSON: Well, you know, the ones I hear from, the more she has detractors and the less well she's doing among the mainstream Republicans, the better they like her. So, in a sense, she's down, she's up to them. And they're going to try to drive, you know-find solace and energy from her lack of favorability, and build her up, so that all of us see what they see in her.

WOLFFE: Margaret Carlson of "Bloomberg News" and "The Week Magazine," many thanks.

CARLSON: Thanks, Richard. Good night.

WOLFFE: That's it for this Thursday edition of COUNTDOWN. I'm Richard Wolffe, in for Keith Olbermann. Have a good night, everyone. Our coverage continues now with "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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