updated 8/3/2009 11:01:54 AM ET 2009-08-03T15:01:54

COUNTDOWN

July 31, 2009

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

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

Guests: David Axelrod, Markos Moulitsas, Chris Kofinis, Christian Finnegan

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Ugly tactics in the health care fight. As the Democrats take on big insurance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The glory days are coming to an end for the health insurance industry in our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: . the playbook from the other side? Pack town halls with angry people hell-bent on stifling intelligent debate.

Tonight: White House senior advisor David Axelrod on the high stakes of the health care message wars.

The arrested development of the birthers: As Eric Cantor tries to deflect blame for the birther conspiracy from his party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no idea where he was born.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: Tonight-we see how the fringe is taking over the GOP. The right-wing rumor mill is working so well that 28 percent of Republicans actually believe the nonsense that the president was not born in the United States.

The surprise success of "cash for clunkers."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm happy to report that it has succeeded well beyond our expectations and all expectations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: A billion dollars spent in one week and more cash is on the way. Will it finally silence the stimulus critics who said the money wasn't working?

And political plays of the week: From the breathless hypes surrounding the beer summit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, TV HOST: Top 10 things overheard at the White House beer summit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: . to Sarah Palin quitting again-this time the Tweeter of the North is a no-show at a fundraiser for the Reagan Library. How very mavericky.

All that and more-now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, ALASKA'S FORMER GOVERNOR: I'm where I need to be today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

To all Democrats in Congress who are planning to spend their part of the August recess talking about health care reform at town hall-style meetings back home, we offer this friendly COUNTDOWN public service announcement in our fifth story: Those angry protestors who will disrupt your attempts to talk with your voters-and trust us they will-are being coordinated and coached by industry funded, right-wing operatives. Their stated goal will be to rattle you, not to have an intelligent debate.

And there's a good chance they don't even live in your district.

One conservative front group is now busing people from all over the country to protest against Democratic members-a strategy endorsed by Republican Congressman Pete Sessions of Texas, who told Politico.com that the days of civil town halls are now over.

A leaked memo from the folks who brought you the tea bag protest gives step-by-step instructions for disrupting town halls, including advice to prevent members of Congress from informing their constituents. Quote, "The goal is to rattle him. Stand up and shout out and sit right down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions."

The memo also talks about how to artificially inflate their numbers. Quote, "Spread out in the hall. The rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience opposes the socialist agenda of Washington."

Do these people have any idea what socialism is or do they secretly support their own idea of socialism?

Last night, Democrat Anthony Weiner of New York introduced an amendment that would have abolished Medicare-you know, evil, socialized medicine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: This amendment is simple. It gives my Republican friends the chance they've been waiting for, to vote against government-sponsored, government-run, government administered health care. It's your dream amendment. This is put up or shut up time. If you don't like national health care, if you don't like government-run health care, this is your amendment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: But when it came time to put up or shut up, not a single Republican voted to abolish Medicare. In fact, one GOP congressman called Weiner's amendment a farce.

In the Senate, one of the Democrats playing a lead role in the health care fight, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, announced that he has early stage prostate cancer and that was detected during his annual physical. Senator Dodd said the diagnosis has made him even more committed to health care for all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: As a member of Congress, I have a very good health care plan. My health care plan allows me to get paid an annual physical. And because I have an annual physical, I was able to detect this prostate cancer very early.

But the benefit of being in Congress and having a good health care plan is not available to everyone. Today, 100 people in this state of Connecticut will lose their health care coverage; 14,000 people across the country will today in the United States lose health care coverage.

For a person to lose his health care coverage, that physical may not be something you can afford.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: White House senior advisor David Axelrod met with the House Democratic Caucus this morning to discuss the health care fight going forward. He joins us now from the North Lawn of the White House.

Good evening, David.

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: Good evening, Keith. But why are you talking with that phony British accent? I don't know.

WOLFFE: You figured me out already. So-OK, jokes aside, what did you tell the Democratic lawmakers today and what concerns did they have for you especially as they head back to face voters and those rabble-rousers in their districts?

AXELROD: Well, what we spoke about was a very, very strong case we have to make to the American people. You know, while there is still work to be done to complete this health care reform plan, this health insurance reform plan, it is embedded in all the versions of it are really significant protections for consumers in the health care system.

And these are things that we want to call people's attention to, if they haven't been well-covered, but they'll make an enormous difference. The fact that under this bill, under this law, people would not be excluded from insurance because they had preexisting conditions. They can't be dropped if they have a serious illness. It would cap their out-of-pocket costs and do a series of other things that will give people more security and stability if they have insurance.

And we have a very, very strong bill, or very, very strong case to make to the American people about what we're trying to do to bring about that security.

WOLFFE: Let me try a blunt question for you. Have you lost control of the framing of this debate?

AXELROD: Let me try and give you a blunt answer-no. I don't think so. I feel that, by definition, when the focus is on-you know, five different committees of Congress and their differences over technical aspects of the legislation, that diverts attention to some degree.

But I'll tell you why I don't think we've lost control of the debate, because I think every month people are still paying their health care premiums and they know that they've been going up 10 percent a year. Every day, people are dealing with these growing out-of-pocket costs for their health care. Every day, small businesses are dropping people. Large businesses are cutting back what they're willing to cover for their employees.

This is a problem that people live with every single day, and as a result, they want us to do something about it.

WOLFFE: Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but the White House seemed to shift its language from health care reform to health insurance reform this week. Why the shift? Have you narrowed the focus for reform or have you just identified an enemy that's maybe easier to hate?

AXELROD: No, Richard. I think that the-that people interact with the health care system through their insurance. This is about making sure that those who don't have quality, affordable insurance can get it and those who do have it are treated fairly within the system. So, I think it's an apt description of what we're trying to achieve.

WOLFFE: Now, I'm sure you heard today-progressives in the House think way too much has been given away to a few blue dogs and Republicans who probably aren't going to vote for this in the end anyway. So, these progressives, I think, are the people who believed in change more than anybody else.

How do you keep their hope alive when they read about the kinds of compromises in the works that we see in the newspapers every day?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, I would say that 90 percent of what's in the different renditions of this-of this plan that are being passed by various committees of Congress are identical. So, let's start from the premise that we're going to achieve 90 percent of what everybody involved wants to achieve. There are differences and they're going to have to be harmonized as we move along in the process.

But our point is, let's just keep moving. Let's keep pushing this

process forward and we'll have those discussions in the coming weeks and

months, and we'll resolve those issues. But there is no doubt that if you

if you're a progressive, then you want a system where every American has access to quality, affordable health care and where health care consumers are protected in that system. And I think that we will have such legislation and we will have such a plan, and they'll vote for it.

WOLFFE: And we saw in "The Hill" newspaper, a report about a health care lobbyist who admitted a key strategy to defeat reform is to, quote, "delay it" and then, quote, "kill it." We've already seen the "delay" part in action.

How do you stay away from the "kill" when Congress comes back in September?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, it isn't just the insurance lobbyists-some of the insurance lobbyists who are saying that. But we've heard some opponents in the Congress say, "You know, let's delay it and if we kill it, we can pin a loss on Obama" and so on. That would be a shame if that philosophy prevailed because the losers would be the American people who are struggling in this health care system.

I think, members of Congress are going to go home and meet many of those Americans during this break and I think they're going to come back with resolve to get this done. I'm very optimistic that we're going to get something done.

WOLFFE: So, you don't think the delay has left you sort of in a wounded state, a vulnerable state coming back in the fall?

AXELROD: I think-I think we've made great progress, and I think that over this break, Americans are going to have a very frank discussion about their struggles within the system and the rising costs that are crushing families and businesses across this country, and they're going to ask their legislators, "What are you going to do about it?"

And-because we know one thing for sure, Richard, whatever you think of the various plans that have been offered, there is one that we know is guaranteed to cause your rates to skyrocket. There's one that's going to result in more people who are uninsured. There's one that's going to put more and more businesses in jeopardy and lead to greater deficits, and that's the system we have now-that's the status quo. And those who want to stop reform are essentially embracing what we have now.

I don't think the American people are going to stand for that.

WOLFFE: David Axelrod, senior advisor to the president, joining us from the White House tonight-thank you for your time.

AXELROD: Thanks, Richard. Good to be with you.

WOLFFE: For more now on the state of the health care fight, let's turn to our MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson. He's also a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and associate editor for "The Washington Post."

Good evening, Gene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Richard.

WOLFFE: So, who has the tougher job when Congress comes back in September: the White House and Democrats pushing through significant health care reform or the Republicans trying to defeat it?

ROBINSON: Define "significant," because I think that's the key there. Clearly, the Democrats with their majorities in the House and the Senate have the votes to get a bill through and get a bill through, they can get it to the president's desk, he can sign it, and they can all declare victory.

The question is: what is significant health care reform? And, you know, I'm not sure we have an agreed on definition of that.

Mine would be that you'd have to have the principle of universality, that finally this country has decided that the way we ration health care now is wrong and then, in fact, people should have essentially a right to health care through health insurance, and that would be historic, not just significant, if that were obtained.

And then also, the question of a public option-a public plan of some sort, and, again, you could call it whatever you want. But that also, I think, would certainly make this significant reform.

You know, if you take my definition of "significant," then the Democrats are going to have the tougher time because the Republicans have an easy one word answer to everything which is "no."

WOLFFE: Well, of course, a lack of definition-as you rightly point out-isn't going to stop the opponents of the White House and Democrats in general. So, you know, these step-by-step instructions to the right-wing rabble-rousers, those protestors who are going to be bussed around all over the country, does that kind of tactic show why bipartisanship was actually never going to happen?

ROBINSON: It was not going to happen. If the Republican idea of health care reform is no health care reform, and if their main goal is to damage the Obama administration and weaken it for the, you know, so that it's weakened for the remaining three years of his mandate, then bipartisanship is a fool's errand.

So, you know, the question now for the Democrats, of course, is to get the blue dogs onboard. If they can get them, I think they'd be willing to forget about bipartisanship.

WOLFFE: And for these lawmakers going on their vacation in August, how much of it's going to be spent reassuring constituents about health care while shooting down the scare tactics and the fake protests? I mean, how much-how much relaxation are they going to get here?

ROBINSON: I don't think they're going to get much relaxation. And, you know, you mentioned, the problem is for the Democrats at least, is, what's the story they tell? There is-there is not a bill, now, that they can go out and defend. And so, they kind of have to say, "Well, we're going to do this. We're not going to do that but we don't exactly know the shape of it is going to be, but don't worry, we're not going to-we're not going to hurt you."

They have to find some way to be on offense here, and to remind people why this whole health care effort is being undertaken in the first place-what Americans have to lose if we do nothing and what they have to gain if there is significant reform.

WOLFFE: And just briefly, if more Americans understood that Medicare was government-run, government-sponsored, socialized, quote-unquote, "health care," could the whole debate look pretty different about now?

ROBINSON: I think it could. I mean, maybe we could call it, you know, "Medicare light" or something like that, the public option-because everyone loves Medicare. That'd be-that was a brilliant move to put up that amendment to try to get the Republicans to vote yes or no on Medicare, which is much closer to socialized medicine than anything the administration now is talking about.

It is amazing that people don't draw that connection and maybe proponents of reform should do more to draw it for them.

WOLFFE: Medicare light. I guess that goes with a can of Bud Light.

Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of "The Washington Post"-thanks for your time, Gene.

ROBINSON: Good to be here, Richard.

WOLFFE: The GOP's birther problem comes full circle. After starting the whisper campaign about Obama's birth records over a year ago, now, Republicans are doing everything they can to not take responsibility for the mess they created.

And fixing the mess in the U.S. auto industry-the White House and Capitol Hill are forced to go into overdrive today to extend the wildly successful "cash for clunkers" program. Will that finally force critics of the stimulus to admit that it's working?

Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE: Live by the birthers die by the birthers-shocking new poll numbers show just how much the lies about President Obama's birth certificate are taking hold.

And Sarah Palin's RSVP problem: This time, she disses the library of Ronald Reagan. Perhaps William Shatner can replace her-coming up on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE: In 2002, Journalist Ron Suskind met with a senior advisor to President Bush. Quote, "We are an empire now," the unnamed advisor said, "and when we act, we create our own reality, and while you're studying that reality we'll act again, creating other new realities which you can study, too. And that's how things will sort out."

Now, in our fourth story tonight: A stunning new poll shows just how high a ransom the Republican Party is paying for taking reality hostage-the issue, of course, President Obama's citizenship.

A new Research 2000 poll for "Daily Kos" shows that only 42 percent of Republicans believe Mr. Obama was born in the U.S., 30 percent aren't sure, and 28 percent do not believe he was born in the U.S. In other words, most of the Republican Party membership in the United States is incapable of recognizing the reality of a state-verified birth certificate, two contemporary birth announcements in Hawaiian papers, and the fact the U.S. Congress itself certified President Obama's election.

Nor is it just voters. Several GOP members of Congress admitted to "Fire Dog Lake" their adherence to the new reality.

So, today the second most powerful Republican in the House, Eric Cantor, said he does not question Mr. Obama's citizenship-which, of course, stopped short of affirming his status as a natural-born American. The Cantor spokesman goes on to blame the phenomenon, the birther movement, on the media.

Is Cantor turning on FOX News? Nope. Here's the quote, "Cantor finds it ironic that those most eager to talk about the president's citizenship are in fact some of his biggest cheerleaders, whether it's Chris Matthews or others on MSNBC, 'The Huffington Post,' or camera toting liberal bloggers."

So, they're slamming the debunkers of a false rumor that started how exactly? Well, first with the Muslim theory spread by these men and picked up by the conservative "Free Republic," then in a book from a conservative editor Mary Matalin who's also first floated the claim that Obama's birth certificate was forged in August last year on FOX News when he was not refuted.

Let's bring in the "Daily Kos" founder and editor, Markos Moulitsas, also the author of "Taking on the System: Rules to Radical Change in the Digital Era." thanks for your time tonight.

MARKOS MOULITSAS, DAILYKOS.COM: Thanks, Richard.

WOLFFE: We're going to get to your poll in a minute, but I wanted to ask what you think in the political calculation is for Cantor as he distances himself from the birthers and then bashes those who challenge the birthers?

MOULITSAS: Well, I think most people would recognize, even Republicans, that there's a certain percentage of the Republican base that's a little off. That's a little crazy. I just think they didn't want anybody to know-half of them. I mean, that's crazy.

So, it's a problem for them because what they're realizing is that they're a southern regional rump party that their leadership is heavily based in the south and the rest of the country is sort of looking at them and wondering what the heck is going on down there?

WOLFFE: So, do you think now, we're in a point where Cantor and maybe a certain segment of the GOP want the whole birther thing to go away now? Is that what's happening?

MOULITSAS: Oh, absolutely. I mean, for a while, you know, as long as nobody knows about it, then they could sort of feed it. They could introduce legislation in Congress quietly to sort of appease this rabid radical right.

But suddenly now, this is a national story because it's getting credence. I mean, you have Lou Dobbs on CNN making it his personal crusade. You have FOX News, obviously, pushing this very heavily. Talk radio.

And you suddenly realize that you have Republicans who are going on campaign swings, they're going on television, they're doing interviews, and they're being asked about Obama's birth certificate. And really, not the kind of thing they want to be asked about. It's not the kind of thing they want to encourage.

WOLFFE: Yes. I guess Lou Dobbs needs a new crusade now. But, you know, one thing I found fascinating in your poll is this detail about older southern Republicans being the most likely to believe this stuff. Glen Thrush of "Politico" wrote today, quote, "when do we start a serious dialogue about the birther movement being a proxy for racism?"

So, how about now? Is the birther movement a proxy for racism?

MOULITSAS: I think there has to be a correlation. I mean, a lot of the birther movement is fixated on what his name is in that so-called original birth certificate.

Is it Barry? That the radical black nationalist Barack Obama changed his name from good old American Barry to Barack. What was his middle name? Was it maybe Muhammad instead of Hussein? I mean, this is nonsensical stuff.

And-but, really, for a party and a movement that is really convinced that Obama is not American like them, this is really natural stuff. And what's amazing about that poll, if you look at the southern numbers, is that over 70 percent of southern whites believe that Obama is not-was not born in the United States. And what does that come from? I mean, clearly, race has to be an issue here.

WOLFFE: So, just briefly, I'd like to go back to how we started this story. Suskind's reporting about the Bush Republicans creating their own reality, shouldn't Republicans now be worried about this legacy, about membership, a party incapable of fact-based analysis? Because that membership might quite like the idea of one President Sarah Palin.

MOULITSAS: One of the last few moderate Republicans in the Senate, George Voinovich of Ohio, was recently quoted as saying, "We have a real problem in the Republican Party with the southerners," because people in Ohio look at this party and they see these southerners talking for the party and they don't know what that has to do with Ohio.

And I think we're seeing that nationwide, because in this poll, if you look at the regional numbers, the South really is apart from the Northeast, the Midwest, and the West-the rest of the country is pretty sane and pretty normal. The South is a little crazy.

And when the Republican Party is focused in catering to that crazy southern base, the rest of the party is just going to continue to flock and run away from the Republicans as quickly as it can.

WOLFFE: Yes. That didn't end too well last time. But Markos Moulitsas of the "Daily Kos"-have a great weekend.

MOULITSAS: Thank you very much.

WOLFFE: Does the fact that the president drank a Bud Light at last night's beer summit give him any street creed with the birthers? Coming up: Behind the scenes at the meeting with Gates and Crowley. What may or may not have been said around that picnic table.

And in "Oddball," the police chase that gives the phrase "holy roller" a whole new meaning-next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE: On this day in 1975, a bizarre vanishing act. Teamsters' president, Jimmy Hoffa, disappears in Detroit, Michigan. Once rumored to be buried somewhere in the Meadowlands, the fact that Mr. Hoffa's life ended in mystery is somewhat fitting, considering it began with a riddle. Literally, it began with a riddle.

Riddle was Hoffa's middle name-which can only mean it's time to play "Oddball."

We begin in the main streets of Plain city, Utah, with the "Oddball" car chase of the week. The Plain City P.D. got an early morning call about some crazy driver blowing through stop signs. Cops caught up to the reckless racer, chasing the low life behind the wheel who was clocking speeds of 40 miles per hour right into his lair.

The pursuit ends as our perp ditches his wheels and hooves it. But he does seem kind of small. Yes, the life of kiddie crime is short lived as 7-year-old Preston Scarbrough runs into his house and calls for his mommy. Preston says he stole his parents' car because he didn't want to go to church. No charges will be filed, but rumor has it that Preston was taken to confession, where the priest promptly gave him ten Hail Maries and one speeding ticket.

To the Internets, where this young lady is overcoming a life long phobia, a fear of horses. She had been terrified of Mr. Ed and his posse since she was small. So standing next to this horse is a very big deal. Fortunately, the horse is very gentle, making things much easier.

Yes, that is until it sneezes on her. The girl recovers her composure when she realizes there's no risk of her getting Swine Flu. But the horse's owner was very embarrassed, saying he thought he taught the animal better. He said that's, nay way to treat a lady.

And finally, to Washington, D.C., with more ground breaking work in the annals of human civilization. Meet Brian Ptereken Vertinesium (ph) and his eyebrows. If you haven't guessed it by now, this plucky individual is trying to groom his way into the Guinness Book. The category, longest individual strand of hair, eyebrow division. Measuring at 6.5 inches, his lucky strand has even got a name, Wally. But Wally's got company. and needs to grow another half inch to beat the reigning champ, name unknown.

Mr. Vertinesium will continue to grow his lucky brows, to which we say, heck of a job, Eye Brownie.

Speaking of eyebrows, a lot of them raised by the latest high profile no show from Sarah Palin. She is turning her back on a Reagan Library fund raiser after toying with attending. Does Miss Wasilla need to read up on her Miss Manners?

Bipartisanship hits D.C. Capitol Hill sets a new speed record to allow Americans to turn in their gas guzzlers in record numbers. A big stimulus win for Obama and the auto industry, if the Senate doesn't get in the way, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE: After all the Republican sniping about how President Obama's recovery package was not working, for our third story on the COUNTDOWN, there is encouraging economic news and a wildly successful car incentive program. The president today citing better than expected GDP numbers, told reporters that the U.S. economy is finally headed in the right direction. But added his main concern is still jobs, jobs, and more jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: As far as I'm concerned, we won't have a recovery as long as we keep losing jobs. And I will not rest until every American who wants a job can find one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: Also today, the House voted to inject another two billion dollars into the government backed Cash for Clunkers Program. The Senate is expected to follow next week. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell takes a look at the stimulus program so successful it nearly went broke.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY O'DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, with unusual speed, Congress found another two billion dollars to keep new car sales coming.

A rushed vote after the unexpected announcement last night that the popular new car incentive program, Cash for Clunkers, was out of cash. Today, the president said it had exceeded all expectations.

OBAMA: It's working so well that there are legitimate concerns that the funds in this program might soon be exhausted.

O'DONNELL: Concern that had top White House officials scrambling.

CHRISTINA ROMER, WHITE HOUSE ECON. COUNCIL: I can tell you there's a flurry of activity this morning, working with the agencies, working with Congress to make sure there are the funds for it.

O'DONNELL: The plan? Move money already set aside for a different project, renewable energy research, and use it now to extend Cash for Clunkers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're working that through.

O'DONNELL: The program gives consumers up to 4,500 dollars to buy a new, more fuel-efficient car, when they trade in an old gas guzzler. Officials expected 250,000 new cars would be sold, but were stunned the demand drained the program in less than a week.

So today, the House tripled the size of Cash for Clunkers, and notably both Democrats and Republicans voted for it.

REP. DANIEL MAFFEI (D), NEW YORK: Finally, we have a bailout not for the big businesses, not for Wall Street, but a bailout for Main Street.

REP. JOHN CAMPBELL ®, CALIFORNIA: It is the one thing we have done here in this Congress that is absolutely working.

REP. JOE DONNELLY (D), INDIANA: This is a win-win-win for our country. It's one of the great programs to create jobs.

REP. CANDICE MILLER ®, MICHIGAN: Most of the nay sayers are even admitting that it's the best one billion dollars in economic stimulus funds that the federal government has ever spent.

O'DONNELL: But there are critics, who argue taxpayers have already done too much, especially for the auto industry.

REP. JEB HENSARLING ®, TEXAS: Maybe we should have a cash for cluckers program and pay people to eat chicken. Then after that we can have a program to pay people to buy TVs, and then a program to pay people to buy lumber.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOLFFE: Well, if we can't pay people to buy TVs, let's bring in Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. Chris, thanks for taking the time to be with us.

CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thank you, Richard.

WOLFFE: The Cash for Clunkers program was so successful that it ran out of money in a week. How badly did the administration need to show this country this tangible example of a stimulus success?

KOFINIS: Well, you know, I think we've had tangible examples of the stimulus success, in terms of saving jobs, whether teachers, police officers, you know, firemen. I think you've had other examples where jobs were created, construction or green jobs.

I think what was so great about this program was how dramatic it was.

The program was supposed to last months ran out of money in literally days. I think it just shows what a great program, not only in terms of creating an incentive to trade in old cars for more fuel efficient cars, but to spur that demand.

I'll tell you the other I think key point a lot of people are talking about is just psychologically this is what this country needed. Seventy percent of our GDP is consumer spending. It is motivated by people waking up one day and saying, I want to buy a car. What they saw by this great program is other people wanting to buy a car. I think that just creates more demand. It's just a really powerful sign for the Obama administration.

WOLFFE: As you know, the bill has just passed the House, the new bill. But there are big road blocks ahead in the Senate. John McCain says he'll filibuster. Do you think Majority Leader Harry Reid can actually push this through?

KOFINIS: I think he can push it through. I'll tell you, I'll never completely understand some Republicans, like John McCain, who are opposed to this program. Just a few months ago, they were critical of an auto bailout because they said people didn't want to buy American cars. And now you have an incentive program that shows people are buying American cars and other cars, and that is I think just a strong example of a government program that works.

So why Republicans are opposed to it I don't completely understand, other than I think some ideological battle they seem to be having. Or, even worse, if you want to take it into a more cynical direction, there are Republicans who seemingly want to hope the economy worsens to gain some kind of political value out of it.

But I think what you saw from the GDP numbers and from this program is that not only is I think this recession bottoming out, but I think you're starting to see real signs that we're starting to turn the corner. That's a great thing for the Obama administration and for President Obama.

WOLFFE: You know, Chris, it's not just Republicans that are against this. Some Democrats are, too. What would it mean about Reid's leadership if he couldn't get funding for this kind of program? And could he then expect to push through health care reform?

KOFINIS: Well, some of the Democrats-you know, I wouldn't necessarily call it opposition as much as they have a different idea for the program. Senator Feinstein, you know, has an idea where you should have more fuel efficiency requirements in the program. I don't think that's a bad idea.

The question is when you have clearly growing and overwhelming demand out there to buy cars, that has an enormous ripple effect through this economy-you're talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs in the auto industry, as well as millions of jobs in the related industry. That is a program we need to fund. I don't think you'll find a lot of opposition at the end of the day.

If they want to make the program better in phase two or three, I say go for it. But let's keep this program a model of success going forward.

WOLFFE: Just briefly, Chris, when they ran out of cash again in a couple weeks time, car buyers might stay home again. Does Congress just keep coming back for more? Do they have to keep funding this program?

KOFINIS: I don't know if they can keep funding this program forever. But it's amazing to me that we seem to have found trillions of dollars for bank bail outs or hundreds of billions of dollars-or actually billions of dollars, to be more accurate, for defense projects that we don't need. But here we have an example of a program that's successful. Let's keep funding it, at least in the short term.

WOLFFE: Chris Kofinis, Democratic strategist, many thanks.

KOFINIS: Thanks, Richard.

WOLFFE: Coming up, cameras were kept at a distance during last night's beer summit at the White House. But David Letterman has the inside scoop of what was said during the meeting.

And another reason why Florida has a problem. Pet pythons are taking over the Everglades, and if left unchecked could begin an invasion of the north.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE: The beauty of the Florida Everglades, ravaged by a slithery menace. Yes, I know it may sound like science fiction, or perhaps a sequel to a Samuel L. Jackson movie. But in our number two story, it's actually a pet population run amok. As residents and lawmakers attempt to get their arms around the problem, our correspondent, Kerry Sanders, fins out what happens when animal lovers realize their cuddly little pet python is actually a python.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It may have been a bit of luck. But on the first day hunters hit the Everglades, they wrestled an immense snake lurking under a board walk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was on the move. He had seen us out here.

SANDERS: It's not just that the snakes are big and powerful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I grabbed him and he came around, he just nicked me with a tooth.

SANDERS: Biologists say they're rapidly upsetting the balance of nature. Alligators were once the top of the food chain here. In this series of photos, the battle is revealed. The most vivid example? The python that tried to swallow a gator. The snake exploded and then died.

Just this month, a pet albino python slithered into a child's bedroom and killed the two-year-old.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: This is what we have been saying was going to happen.

SANDERS: Florida Senator Bill Nelson says it's only a matter of time before there's another attack.

NELSON: Sooner or later, for an unsuspecting tourist in the Everglades National Park, there will be an encounter with a human.

SANDERS: Attempts to rid Florida of these exotics have included beacons implanted in captured snakes to track them back to their nests.

Dogs like Python Pete, trained to sniff out the serpents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There it is. Good boy.

SANDERS: And classes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the way to do it. Get yourself where you can lunge at the head. Don't miss.

SANDERS: Where increasingly pythons are showing up. The battle is so serious there are federal plans to take it high tech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a possibility of using remote controlled airplanes with thermal sensors to detect pythons.

SANDERS: Experts warn, unchecked, the pythons will spread beyond Florida. But they say even killing every snake they can find may be a case of too little to late.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is just one tool that's in the tool box. I mean, this is not going to be the silver bullet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOLFFE: From the Florida Everglades to the Alaskan Tundra; if Sarah Palin really does harbor national ambitions inside the GOP, perhaps her first unofficial act as a private citizen should be something other than backing out of a fund raiser for the Reagan Library. That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLFFE: Brouhaha; ale to the chief; the audacity of hops; touch of glass. In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the so-called beer summit has come and gone, though the puns linger on like a bad hangover. The world may breathe a sigh of relief now that the summit communique-I'm sorry-now that the meaningless photo op, turned national obsession, has gone away.

There they are relaxed and sanguine under the full flower of the late July sunshine, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Sergeant James Crowley, President Barack Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden. Though apparently the vice president was late or something, since he's not present in the official White House photo of the event.

No worries. Let the healing begin and cue the late night jokes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW": Top ten things overheard at the beer summit.

Here we go. Number ten, don't worry, Biden will clean up the empties.

Number nine, guys, stop me if I try to drunk dial Nancy Pelosi.

Number eight, smoking, drinking, suddenly our president is Artie Lang.

Number seven, let's call Limbaugh and take this party to the next level.

Number six, I feel dizzy and confused, just like Bush.

I don't want to freak anyone out, but I just saw Nixon walking down the hall.

Number four, tell Geithner to put his shirt on.

Number three, Senator Larry Craig asked if he could have his beer brought to the men's room. Still a reference, people.

Number two, you guys want to see where Clinton used to get freaky?

And the number one thing overheard at the White House beer summit, excuse me while I take a presidential leak.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFFE: Meantime, back at the ranch, or rather, the vast Alaskan ice sheet, former Governor Sarah Palin has gone AWOL. Not literally, but her fans are upset that she has not Tweeted on Twitter for five whole days. That's right, not a peep from the new national poet since she resigned her post on Sunday.

Which means that Palin has broken a promise of sorts, because on July 17 she Tweeted this: "ten days until less politically correct Twitters fly from my finger tips outside state site." Since then, there was a posting on Palin's Facebook page, but that was from her spokeswoman. It announced that the former governor would not be attending an event at the Reagan Library next month, despite prior indications that she would attend.

"As repeatedly stated to several in the media over the last week, former Governor Sarah Palin is not committed to attend the Simi Valley Republican Women's event at the Reagan Library and, in fact, is not attending the event. Neither the governor's state staff nor Sarah Pac has ever committed to attending this event or speaking at this event and even requested that the governor's name be removed from the invitation several weeks ago."

Me thinks she doth protest too much.

Let's bring in comedian Christian Finnegan. Good evening, Christian.

CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, COMEDIAN: Hello.

WOLFFE: So this beer summit, first. It all went down rather smoothly and refreshingly, don't you think?

FINNEGAN: I guess, since there were no fisticuffs. But it was a little awkward. It looked like they were all like animatronic robots, like you'd see at the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride. Like it is so wonderful to be sitting around this picnic table, drinking Earth beer. My Earth beer is delicious. We are four humans drinking beer. Now let us discuss this sporting event. It'll do I guess.

WOLFFE: I missed the giant octopus, too. But I guess the photographer missed Vice President Joe Biden, because he wasn't there at the start. What do you think he added to the festivities once he got there?

FINNEGAN: You get the feeling about a quarter of 5:00, Obama got a knock in the Oval Office door, and Biden being like, hey, did I hear something about a beer summit? Obama's like oh, you didn't get the e-vite? Gee. Yes, sure. Of course, he was drinking a non-alcoholic beer, which I can't help but imagine was not Biden's choice. I'm sure like all right, guys, I got two words for you: Yager and bomb.

And at a certain point, he'd lean forward and some awkward story about keeping the night going, where he'd say, seriously, dudes, I know a guy.

WOLFFE: Do you think they kept the pretzels from him as well?

FINNEGAN: Perhaps.

WOLFFE: So Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates are talking about additional private meetings. But they say this time they're going to drink Kool-Aid or iced tea. Is that what passes for progress now?

FINNEGAN: We almost got through this event without some sort of awkward racial moments, where the white police officer offers to get Kool-Aid for the black professor. I really think Gates is more a pinot grigio guy. But I do hope that they sort of hang out more. Professor Gates could bring Officer Crowley to a Maya Angelou reading. The officer could bring the professor to a Bruins game. They could both see a Tyler Perry movie, and both feel insulted and ashamed.

WOLFFE: That one's going to stick with me. Turning to former Governor Sarah Palin, not a Tweet, not a peep, not a chirp. What will her fans, her Tweets, as they like to call themselves, do now?

FINNEGAN: I feel terrible for these people. For Sarah Palin's most hard core fans, that Twitter feed may be the only reading they do, other than, of course, like Toby Keith CD inserts and the instruction manual that came with their brand new crossbow.

WOLFFE: Ouch. And this idea of having a radio show; you know, they floated this this week. I guess they were trying to see if any offers came in. Is she any closer now to being the shock jock hockey mom?

FINNEGAN: All right. Obama needs to get his grass roots mobilized. This must happen. You have to remember, these mangled Tweets that she sends out, these are things that she types herself and then says yes, that looks good, and hits send. Can you imagine what three hours of extemporaneous speaking would bring?

MSNBC would have to spin-off into an entirely new network. I'll tell you who should give her a radio show, Air America. Awesome.

WOLFFE: It would also, I guess, give William Shatner work for several more months to come. You know, this Reagan event that she's blown off, how can-I'll put this delicately. Is she thinking straight?

FINNEGAN: Well, I mean, you know it's not a smart choice. It's sort of like Miley Cyrus blowing off the Teen Choice Awards, although with the excitement they have about Reagan-Reagan and Palin together, their heads would explode nearly. You know, who knows? Maybe she is hoping to replace him one day.

WOLFFE: Comedian Christian Finnegan, many thanks for your time tonight.

FINNEGAN: Good night, Mr. Wolffe.

WOLFFE: That will do it for this Friday edition of COUNTDOWN. I'm Richard Wolffe, in for Keith Olbermann. You'll be glad to know Keith is back on Monday. Thanks for watching. Have a great weekend everyone.

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

END

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