updated 10/12/2009 10:23:18 AM ET 2009-10-12T14:23:18

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Eugene Robinson, Tom Costello, Alan Grayson, Devin Gordon

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LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The Peace Prize surprise.

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THORBJORN JAGLAND, CHAIRMAN, NORWEGIAN NOBEL COMMITTEE:  Barack Obama.

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O‘DONNELL:  Shock-and-awe from the Nobel committee catches even the White House off guard.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel committee.

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O‘DONNELL:  A rare win for a sitting U.S. president brings congratulations from some, and disgust from others.

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RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Obama gives speeches trashing his own country and he gets a prize for it.  This is a greater embarrassment than losing the Olympics bid was.

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O‘DONNELL:  Tonight, the Nobel‘s committee‘s reasons for the pick, the reaction to it, the president‘s call to action to the world, and the new political pressures this presents—with Richard Wolffe; and Eugene Robinson on today‘s bizarre convergence that puts the right-wing in agreement with the Taliban.

Congressman Alan Grayson who, last week, said the Republican health care plan is, “If you get sick, die quickly,” returns to the House floor and rips both parties apart.

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REP. ALAN GRAYSON (D), FLORIDA:  Olympia Snowe was not elected president last year.

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O‘DONNELL:  To his fellow Democrats: “We‘re in power, enough with the process, just get reform done.”

To Republicans: “Enough with obstruction for obstruction‘s sake.”

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GRAYSON:  If Barack Obama were somehow able to cure hunger in the world, the Republicans would blame him for overpopulation.

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O‘DONNELL:  Tonight, Representative Grayson‘s challenge to Congress in its entirety and then he‘ll join us as our special guest.

Seventy-nine million dollars to bomb the moon and all we get is this?  NASA‘s big bang is a big bust visually.  Will it still be a success scientifically?

And from the joker to punch line: David Letterman leads the late-night laughs at his expense.

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DAVID LETTERMAN, TV HOST:  I got into the car this morning and the navigation lady wasn‘t speaking to me.

(LAUGHTER)

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O‘DONNELL:  After week one of the scandal, is David Letterman going to survive?

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

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LETTERMAN:  I would give anything to be hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

(LAUGHTER)

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O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from New York.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for the Keith Olbermann.

You shouldn‘t need to consult etiquette books to know the appropriate response when someone wins an award is to offer congratulations—failing that, as we‘ve all been taught—if you can‘t say something nice, better to say nothing at all.

Our fifth story on COUNTDOWN: In response to the stunning news today that President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize, all but a handful of Republicans and the right-wingers seem to have taken awards show etiquette lessons from Kanye West.  No, they did not storm the stage and insist that Nobel Prize should have gone to Beyonce.  That would have been too classy for them.

President Obama was asleep when he got the call about the extraordinary and surprising honor this morning.  How surprising was it?  Just listen to the gasps when the chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee made the announcement in Oslo.  Don‘t worry; you‘ll get it even though he is speaking Norwegian.

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JAGLAND:  Good morning.  (SPEAKING NORWEGIAN) President Barack Obama - - (SPEAKING NORWEGIAN)

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O‘DONNELL:  Even though nominations for this year closed on February 1st, only days after President Obama took office, the Nobel committee claims its decision was based largely on achievement, not expectations.

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JAGLAND:  We have—we have not given the prize for what may happen in the future.  We are awarding Obama for what he has done the preceding year.  And we do hope that this can contribute a little bit to enhance what he is trying to do.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Mr. Obama is in the middle of a major decision, as you know, on—and we‘ll probably end up increasing troop levels in Afghanistan.  How does the committee feel the about that at this time?

JAGLAND:  The conflict in Afghanistan concerns us all.  And we do hope that an improvement of the international climate and the emphasis on the negotiations could help resolve that.  I do not claim that it must help or will help, but we could hope that this could help resolving that conflict as well.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  And what—do you have an opinion about raising the troop levels, increasing the.

JAGLAND:  Well, I could have an opinion, but the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

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O‘DONNELL:  The president himself said he was humbled by the recognition.

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OBAMA:  I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel committee.  Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.  To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who‘ve been honored by this prize—men and women who have inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women and all Americans want to build—a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents.  And I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement, but it‘s also been used to give momentum to a set of causes.  And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action—a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

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O‘DONNELL:  Former Vice President Al Gore who won the Peace Prize in 2007 for his work on climate change today echoed the Nobel committee‘s praise of President Obama.

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AL GORE, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  Much of what he has accomplished already is going to be far more appreciated in the eyes of history as it has been by the Nobel committee in their announcement early this morning.

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O‘DONNELL:  Also proud of the president, Senator John McCain, who lost to Mr. Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Nobel committee, I can‘t divine all their intentions, but I think part of their decision making was expectations, and I‘m sure the president understands that he now has even more to live up to.  But as Americans, we‘re proud when our president receives award of that prestigious category.

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O‘DONNELL:  Among the first to speak against the president‘s Nobel Peace Prize today, the Taliban, who suggested that President Obama be given the “Nobel Prize for violence” instead.

While everyone everywhere was surprised overall, world reaction to the news was largely positive.  Here in the U.S., however, right-wing radio hosts immediately found easy agreement with the Taliban.

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GLENN BECK, RADIO AND TV HOST:  He has to turn it down, because it is such a joke that he‘ll turn it down and it‘s the only way for him to make a win out of this.  Only his arrogance will stop him from doing it.

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LIMBAUGH:  I think that everybody is laughing.  Our president is a worldwide joke.  Folks, do you realize something has happened here that we all agree with the Taliban and Iran about, and that is, he doesn‘t deserve the award.  Now, that‘s hilarious, that I‘m on the same side of something with the Taliban, and that we all are on the same side as the Taliban.

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O‘DONNELL:  Worldwide joke, all on the same side as the Taliban.

Lots to talk about tonight with MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, author of “Renegade: The Making of a President” and senior strategist at Public Strategies.

Good evening, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  You can medicate me now.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  Listen, the Nobel committee seems to be insisting that the award was what—was for what President Obama has already done and not in anticipation of what he might do.  But at the same time, they seemed to hedge that a little bit or maybe be nudging him toward future accomplishment.  Do you see it that way?

WOLFFE:  Well, that‘s one way to put it.  I actually think this is a work in progress and that‘s what the Nobel Prize Committee were actually suggesting.  And this is not the first time they have done this kind of thing.

Remember when they gave the award to Yasser Arafat, no less, and Yitzhak Rabin, it was a peace process.  Now, admittedly, they had gone a lot further on that particular path, an extraordinary transformation that they engaged in, but Yasser Arafat obviously turned his back on peace.

And what you have now, you know, never mind what Rush said, there were a lot of pundits who, at the start of the day in Washington, was saying, “Look, President Obama hasn‘t achieved anything, so what‘s this all about?”  That‘s a really shortsighted view of what we‘ve seen since Obama took office.

Foreign policy has changed out of all proportion.  The fact that we‘re talking about negotiations with Iran instead of seeing saber-rattling; the fact that the world has transformed its opinion of the United States, of this president, is an extraordinary shift in and of itself, and that‘s what this prize is actually recognizing.  It isn‘t just forward-looking.

O‘DONNELL:  And, Richard, has the Obama election transformed their view, Europe‘s view in particular, of our presidency?  I mean, to some extent, is this an award for simply not being George W. Bush?

WOLFFE:  Well, the committee itself talked about engaging in rare politic and they‘ve done this before.  This is a more political award than any of the others, although I got to tell you, there‘s politics involve in just about every single one of the other awards, even in the scientific ones.

But the politics—the pure sort of partisan politics, if you will, of this kind of award was also present when they gave the award to Jimmy Carter.  They didn‘t give it for Camp David.  They gave it because the trigger, if you will, was because of his opposition to the war in Iraq.

Al Gore—why did he get it at that time?  Again, because he was not George Bush when it came to the environment.  So, you know that transformation is real.  But it also shows that the world is uniting for American leadership.  I think that‘s very hard for the people in the right to accept, that for all the bluster, the world still wants a different kind of American leadership, but they want America—it‘s not that they hate America—they just didn‘t like the leadership under President Bush.

O‘DONNELL:  Richard, someday you‘re going to have to explain to me how Henry Kissinger got it while the Vietnam War was still raging.  But staying with the present winner, to what extent might the Nobel committee simply have been going for big-time relevance, the Obama‘s coattails in effect, going with the biggest, hottest political star in the world?

WOLFFE:  You know, I‘m not going to argue that they‘re consistent with themselves.  But I think there is some of that sort of fame-hunting there.  On the other side, though—look, this is a tremendous amount of—to be blunt—free publicity to the United States.  One of the problems the Bush administration had for so long was what they called “public diplomacy,” which we used to call propaganda.

How do you get the passage across—you can give a good speech and Obama has done that and he‘s done a speech to the Muslim world, that of Cairo—but what actually reaches people here?  In this sense, you‘ve got the word peace prize and the world‘s United States president together instead of war and the United States president.  That is a priceless piece of advertising.

O‘DONNELL:  Richard, knowing the president as you do, you have great access to him on the campaign trail.  You‘ve written a book that gets more inside of his head, I think, than anybody else has been able to so far.  How do you think he reacted personally, 6:00 a.m. this morning, when he gets that call?

WOLFFE:  Well, I suspect I couldn‘t probably repeat his reaction on the family side this time.  You know, he says that the award is not about himself.  I suspect that‘s his second reaction.  The first reaction is going to be, “Well, gee, you know, I‘ve actually done quite a lot here and this is a huge honor for me and my vision of foreign policy.”

But he does have this check on frankly this sort of overconfidence problem he might have, and if he needed sobering up, he had that meeting about Afghanistan in the afternoon, and that should have working him up no end.

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  MSNBC‘s Richard Wolffe, author of “Renegade,” and the senior strategist of Public Strategies—many thanks for joining us tonight.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  For more on the right-wing response, let‘s bring in our own Eugene Robinson, associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at “The Washington Post.”

Good evening, Gene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MNSBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Gene, Rush Limbaugh seems to find it absolutely hilarious

·         hilarious—that he is on the same side as the Taliban.  Now, if roles were reversed, if, say, a Democrat, somehow found an agreement with the Taliban, imagine for us please the Limbaugh reaction?

           

ROBINSON:  well, that‘s kind of a rhetorical question.  We know what the Limbaugh reaction would be.  And there would be much speculation.  There would be—there would be punching of the air with the cigar.  There would be pounding of the table and there would be, you know, cries of treason.

And you know what it would—what it would be like.  It would be like a regular “Rush Limbaugh Show,” actually.

O‘DONNELL:  So, one week to the day after the right-wing goes wild, cheering because the USA loses a bid to host the Olympics, they then go nuts in wild objection because the American president has taken home the Nobel Peace Prize.  I mean, aren‘t these guys just completely marginalizing themselves with any reasonable voters now?

ROBINSON:  Conservatives hate America.  They should—they should love it or leave it, essentially.  And, you know, the substance of Limbaugh‘s argument, as I understood it, if there is—if you can call it substance is that—this shows that Obama is indeed—you know, has adopted some sort of bureaucrat, socialist, one world view of America‘s place in the world and thus, you know, tying our hands and preventing us from achieving our manifest destiny.  And perhaps, even sapping and purifying all that precious bodily fluids, I don‘t know if—you know, but that‘s kind of the argument.

Well, you know, the IOC is—the International Olympic Committee is kind of like the sports division of the one world conspiracy.  So, one week, they all jump up and down that Obama has been rejected by the one-worlders.  And now, they jump all up and down that he‘s been praised by them.  But, of course, I‘m looking for consistency here.  And I don‘t think we‘re going to find it.

O‘DONNELL:  Gene, you‘re a closer listener than I am being able to find something called substance in what Rush Limbaugh had to say today.

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  Now, Glenn Beck also said today that the Nobel Prize should have gone instead to the tea party-goers and everyone who protested the president on September 12th, the people who want the president to fail in his mission to accomplish things like, oh, peace in the Middle East, nuclear disarmament, peaceful things like that.  Now, I mean—these people, I guess, don‘t understand what a Peace Prize is to be awarded for, do they?

ROBINSON:  No, they don‘t.  As Richard, I think, quite ably pointed out in the previous segment, it is—it is understandable that many people around the world would think it is notable and laudable that an American president, the most powerful figure in the world, has endorsed and embarked on a program of multilateralism, of international cooperation, rather than retaining the kind of cowboy ethos that we certainly saw in the last eight years and that we‘ve seen in the past.  This is a—this is a huge change.

You know, I have the perfect candidate though for Glenn Beck.  I think Joe the Plumber.  Joe the Plumber should have won the Nobel Peace Prize, obviously, and I demand a recount.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, you know, there you go.  They‘ve had all day.  They haven‘t come up with a single credible candidate for the Peace Prize better than Barack Obama.

Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post”—great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

ROBINSON:  Great to be here, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Irony abounds today, President Obama gets the Peace Prize on the same day our space agency bombs the moon.  The mission didn‘t have the promised visible fireworks.  Will it have the promised scientific benefits?

But first, the fight for health care reform.  Congressman Alan Grayson lets them have it on the House floor, putting the Republicans and Democrats on notice: “Americans want reform, so either lead or get out of the way.”  The freshman congressman‘s remarkable speech up next, and then, he‘ll join us live from Florida—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: Congressman Alan Grayson‘s powerful message to the politicians on Capitol Hill: “Americans don‘t care about your strategies.  They don‘t care about your parliamentary process.  They care about health care reform.  So, either get it done or get out of the way.”  The representative‘s speech in its entirety, and then, he will be our special guest.

And later, the week that was in the David Letterman extortion scandal, and what this week can tell us about Letterman‘s future.  That‘s next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

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O‘DONNELL:  It has been 48 hours since Keith Olbermann devoted this hour to the single subject of health care reform as he sees it, concluding with a call to action.

In our fourth story tonight: A progress report and the return of the newest and possibly strongest voice in this debate, the still unapologetic Alan Grayson.

Last night, Keith was joined by the executive director of the National Association of Free Clinics to discuss the plan for the group to stage more of its massive free health care fairs, like the one with more than 1,500 people in Houston last month.  Only these fairs would be held in the states represented by Democratic senators who have yet to say they will stand up against a Republican filibuster of the public option.  Keith will contribute $10,000 for each one that the group is able to stage.

They are now taking donations at FreeClinics.us, or you can find a link to them through our webpage at COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.

And as of tonight, and only two full days of fundraising, the group has raised more than $225,000 from 28,012 donors.  I‘ll be making my contribution as soon as I get out of this chair tonight.

A controversial voice in the health care debate spoke up against yesterday.  Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, who drew Republican fire for saying their health care plan was, “If you get sick, die quickly” joins us presently.  Republicans back down trying to make him apologize and yesterday, Grayson said he never will.

But, first, as you will hear in his remarks on the House floor, he had some words for Democrats seeking a bipartisan bill just a week after a Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll found that 52 percent of Americans would rather have a health care bill with a public option even if it means not a single Republican votes for it.

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GRAYSON:  Madam Speaker, I have words for both Democrats and Republicans tonight.  Let‘s start with the Democrats.

We, as a party have spent the last six months, the greatest minds of our party, dwelling on the question, the unbelievably consuming question of how to get Olympia Snowe to vote for health care reform.

I want to remind us all: Olympia Snowe was not elected president last year.  Olympia Snowe has no veto power in the Senate.  Olympia Snowe represents a state with one-half of 1 percent of America‘s population.

What America wants is health care reform.  America doesn‘t care if it gets 61 votes in the Senate or 80 votes in the Senate or 83 votes in the Senate.  In fact, America doesn‘t even care about that.  It doesn‘t care about that all.

What America cares about this is: there are over 1 million Americans who go broke every single year trying to pay their health care bills.  America cares a lot about that.  America cares about the fact that there are 44,780 Americans who die every single year on account of not having health care.  That‘s 122 every day.  America sure cares a lot about that.

America cares about the fact that if you have a preexisting condition, even if you have health insurance, it‘s not covered.  America cares about that a lot.  America cares about the fact that you can get all the health care you need as long as you don‘t need any.  America cares about that a lot.

But America does not care about procedures, processes, personalities. 

America doesn‘t care about that at all.

So, we have to remember that as Democrats.  We have to remember that what‘s at stake here is life and death, enormous amounts of money, and people are counting upon us to move ahead.

America understands what‘s good for America.  America cares about health care.  America cares about jobs.  America cares about education, about energy independence.

America does not care about process or politicians or personalities or anything like that.

And I have a few words for my Republican friends tonight as well.  I guess I do have some Republican friends.

Let me say this: Last week, I held up this report here and pointed out that in America, there‘s 44,780 Americans who die every year, according to this Harvard report published in this peer-reviewed journal, because they have no health insurance.  That‘s an extra 44,789 Americans who die whose lives could be saved.  And their response was to ask me for an apology—to ask me for an apology.  That‘s right to ask me for an apology.

Well, I‘m telling you this, I will not apologize.  I will not apologize.  I will not apologize for a simple reason: America doesn‘t care about your feelings.  I violated no rules by pulling this report to America‘s attention; I think a lot of people didn‘t know about it beforehand.

But America does care about health care in America.  And if you‘re against it, then get out of the way.  Just get out of the way.  You can lead, you can follow, or you can get out of the way.  And I‘m telling you now to get out of the way.

America understands that there‘s one party in this country that‘s in favor of health care reform and one party that‘s against it, and they know why.  They understand that if Barack Obama were somehow able to cure hunger in the world, the Republicans would blame him for overpopulation.  They understand that if Barack Obama could somehow bring about world peace, they‘d blame him for destroying the defense industry.  In fact, they understand that if Barack Obama has a BLT sandwich tomorrow for lunch, they will try to ban bacon.

But that‘s not what America wants.  America wants solutions to its problems and that begins with health care, and that‘s what I‘m speaking for tonight.  I yield the rest of my time.

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O‘DONNELL:  Wow.  Congressman Grayson‘s speech on the House floor yesterday.

Up next: The congressman will join us to talk more about the message in his remarks and to share his thoughts on the right-wing reaction to President Obama‘s Nobel Peace Prize win today.  Representative Alan Grayson live—next on COUNTDOWN.

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O‘DONNELL:  Mr. Grayson goes to Washington; at a time when Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress, but find themselves playing defense much of the time against a minority numerically incapable of sustaining a filibuster, the appearance of an elected Democrat putting the Republicans on the defensive with simple but powerful language and unapologetic passion has galvanized much of the Democratic grass roots, at least if Internet praise is any indication. 

And when it come with a link to make a campaign contribution, and those contributions are pouring in, that‘s a real indication.  Joining us now is Florida Congressman and Internet sensation Alan Grayson.  Congressman Grayson, great thanks for joining us tonight. 

REP. ALAN GRAYSON (D), FLORIDA:  Thanks, it‘s great to be here.  I love the show.  I watch it all the time.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, how did you turn out to be apparently the only member of Congress who knew that there are Democrats out there in the country who have been waiting to hear some tough push back against Republicans?  How did it fall to you? 

GRAYSON:  I just listened to what everybody is saying.  You know, these are things that are on our minds.  A lot of people feel the same thing.  I just happen to be the one who is in Congress to say it.  That is all.  I am just saying what everybody else has been thinking. 

O‘DONNELL:  You began yesterday by reminding your party that Olympia Snowe was not elected president, that America doesn‘t care if it gets 51 votes or 60 votes for health care reform.  I sense that you were speaking for many of your House colleagues, who are growing very weary with Senate 61 vote strategies? 

GRAYSON:  I‘m speaking for everybody in the country.  We‘re losing 122 Americans every single day, as Keith pointed out a few days ago, to the fact that they have no health coverage.  They get sick, they die.  This is happening every single day.  How long can we wait? 

O‘DONNELL:  Having worked in the Congress for several years myself, it strikes me, Congressman, that you are a freshman.  You‘re new at this.  This is your first year.  Do you think if you had been there for a while, if you had done, I don‘t know, five or six terms, that you would be sitting there kind of playing the game, trying to get along strategically, trying to help find the center here, the compromise position, rather than getting out there and really letting some bombast go on the floor? 

GRAYSON:  I think there was a memo about that when we began.  I missed the memo.  There was a memo that said freshman should be seen and not heard.  I just missed it.  I‘m sorry. 

O‘DONNELL:  Do you find in what‘s happened to you a lesson for 2010, possibly a campaign lesson, both in how to attract support, raise money?  What is it?

GRAYSON:  Yes.  It was the same lesson last year, the way we ran our campaign.  You cannot beat a Republican by being one.  People deserve a choice.  And they like a Congressman with guts.  Since we made our statement last week, over 10,000 people have made individual contributions at GraysonForCongress.com.  The number grows every minute.

People love to see a fighter who fights for them.  That‘s what the Democratic party traditionally meant.  That‘s the way it‘s going to be.  We ran on a campaign platform of change.  That‘s what people expect from us.  That‘s what we have to deliver. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, in one of your better lines yesterday on the House floor, you said that if President Obama had brought about world peace, the Republicans would blame him for killing the defense industry.  And here today, President Obama gets the Nobel Prize, and the right wing, as you predicted, is howling.  Pretty easy for you to predict, aren‘t they.

GRAYSON:  Listen, I‘m often proved right, but usually not this quickly.

O‘DONNELL:  Just on health care reform, before we leave the subject.  The financing mechanisms are greatly different between the Senate and the House.  The House Ways and Means Committee voted for an income tax increase, which is an equitable tax that is based on ability to pay.  The Baucus tax is a tax on health care plans. 

Do you think there‘s any way that the House will accept the Baucus plan, given that there‘s about 150 of your members who said they absolutely will vote against a bill with the Baucus tax in it? 

GRAYSON:  No.  We won‘t.  But America expects us to go ahead and reach a conclusion anyway.  Of the five different Democratic bills that are out there, they‘re 90 percent the same.  And we have to move ahead to save people‘s lives and to save money. 

O‘DONNELL:  If you had to choose between these two taxes, which way would you go on it? 

GRAYSON:  The bill in the House is paid for.  We don‘t need to tax people, middle class people, over their benefits.  It‘s not necessary.  It‘s really not prudent.  People are suffering.  And we understand that in the House.  There‘s no need to make their suffering worse.  This bill is supposed to make people‘s lives better, and it will. 

The 47 million people in this country who have no insurance, they‘ll get insurance.  The people who have insurance, but they find that they can have all the health care they need unless they actually need it, the people who have preexisting conditions, the people who have lifetime caps, chronic conditions, all these people will be better off under this bill. 

And senior citizens will be better off because we‘ll eliminate the doughnut hole under Medicare.  And we‘ll also eliminate co-payments for routine treatment. 

So everyone will be better off, except for those people who feel they must say no to everything, these no-mongers who dominate the Republican party.  They‘ll be disappointed because America will be better off. 

O‘DONNELL:  The honorable Alan Grayson of Florida, thank you very much for your time tonight, sir. 

GRAYSON:  It‘s great to be on this show.  Thank you too. 

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, if you got up early to see the explosion on the Moon, all you got was disappointment.  But NASA scientists aren‘t apologizing.  They say the controlled explosion was a success.  We‘ll tell you why. 

And later, Rush Limbaugh in his own words, his true motivation for doing his radio show, and his humble opinion on whether he leads the Republican party.  Ahead, on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Earth attacks Moon, leaving no visible evidence.  So who won?  In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, two parts of a NASA spacecraft slammed into the south pole of the Moon this morning.  And despite the visual disappointment, the mission might still be a success.  Our correspondent is Tom Costello. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  After years of hard work and high anticipation, it all came down to this. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All stations flight, mark, impact. 

COSTELLO:  At 7:31 Eastern time, NASA‘s Centaur rockets slammed into a crater on the lunar south pole at 3,500-mile-per-hour.  But despite expectations of a grand explosion—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We should be looking for some signs of impact. 

COSTELLO:  Nothing.  At least not from the cameras on-board the satellite trailing behind.  The “Today Show‘s” Matt Lauer was left wondering if we had missed something. 

MATT LAUER, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  I guess if people were expecting some major plume of something visible to the human eye, I‘m not seeing that. 

COSTELLO:  In Boulder, Colorado, a group of school kids woke up before 5:00 a.m. for the big event. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But I didn‘t see any plume or anything.

COSTELLO:  Lewis wasn‘t alone.  No one saw the plume of dust, rock and ice depicted in the NASA animation.  But that doesn‘t mean there wasn‘t one.  NASA insists it was a great success. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think the science colleagues, the exploration colleagues around the world are dazzled. 

COSTELLO:  Dazzled because NASA has thermal imaging of the explosion, and photos showing the crater.   

(on camera):  And that trailing satellite translated streams of data back to Earth that now could take weeks to decipher.

ANTHONY COLAPRETE, NASA ENGINEER:  We need to go back and look at the data and see what it says.  Exploration has surprises in it. 

COSTELLO (voice-over):  This mission is all about ice and water.  Finding it could prove crucial for a future Moon base and provide new answers about the solar system. 

PROF. DOUG DUNCAN, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO:  It just reminds us about how important it is to explore, to explore the unknown. 

COSTELLO:  Back in Boulder, nine-year-old Lewis had a hard time staying away, but insisted it was still worth it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right there, in that crater.

COSTELLO:  The view was spectacular. 

Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, Rush Limbaugh is one of the—no, he is the biggest anti-feminist out there.  So wait until you hear what event he‘ll be judging, and we‘ll have a sneak peek at his interview with NBC‘s Jamie Gangel. 

Late night‘s reaction to the extortion plot against David Letterman.  He‘s the butt of jokes everywhere, even on his own show.  What could all this mean for Dave‘s future? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Today, while NFL players are vowing not to play for the St. Louis Rams, if Rush Limbaugh succeeds in his bid to buy the team, the Miss America organization announced that the same Rush Limbaugh will be a judge for the 2010 pageant.  It has not yet announced the remaining six judges for that competition.  But in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, since—

wait, we have lost this prompter screen.  Let‘s see—but in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, perhaps this is, after all, the perfect match.  Since neither Miss America nor Miss USA have ever fit comfortably into a feminist or even a post-feminist world, why not admit what the pageant is really all about and choose as a judge the biggest, I mean literally the biggest anti-feminist of them all. 

We could fill a week of shows with examples of Mr. Limbaugh‘s misogyny.  But none of us could stand that.  So here is just one toxic quote from last year‘s presidential campaign: quote, “you have to understand the mindset of a lot of these feminists.  They have been married two or three times.  They have had two or three abortions.  They have cut men out of their lives.  They have devoted themselves to causes and careers.  And this, the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, is the culmination of all these women‘s efforts.” 

Mr. Limbaugh has been interviewed by Jamie Gangel for the “Today Show‘s” Monday edition.  Here is some of that interview. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  For my audience, for ratings.  I will admit it.  Let me shock the world right here on NBC.  I am doing my radio show for ratings.  I want the largest audience I can get, because that‘s how I can charge the highest advertising rates.  Which means, what else do I want?  Money.

LIMBAUGH:  I am not the leader of the Republican party.  Don‘t want to be the leader of the Republican party.  It‘s silly for them to keep talking about I‘m the leader of anything.  It‘s just creating more curiosity about me.  Twenty one years, more popular than ever.  Lord, thank you for my enemies. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  You can watch the entire Rush Limbaugh interview Monday on “The Today Show.”

Coming up, the week that was for David Letterman.  The extortion scandal as a punch line on his show and practically every other late-night program.  We‘ll have the best one-liners and discuss how Letterman survived week one of the scandal, and what could it all mean for his future.  Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  It was a running joke on the old “Tonight Show,” Johnny Carson was married four times.  And whether it was in his monologue or in a bit, joking about his own wives and divorces and alimony payments was a part of the show.  Johnny Carson, however, didn‘t have to worry about anyone else poking fun, because Johnny was the only game in town, the only show on the dial. 

In our number one story, after the Letterman scandal broke, O‘Brien, Ferguson, Fallon, Leno, and others had a chance to take a whack at their late night colleague.  Most did the minimum and moved on. 

In a moment, the week that was in the Letterman/Halderman scandal.  First, some of the noteworthy zingers made at David Letterman‘s expense, the best of which, of course, came from Letterman himself. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG FERGUSON, “THE LATE LATE SHOW:  Ike, I‘m sorry.  I keep trying not to be sexy.  It can get you in trouble in my line of work. 

JAY LENO, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  If you came her tonight for sex with a talk show host, you have the wrong studio. 

JIMMY FALLON, LATE NIGHT SHOW:  There‘s a new book out called “Why Women Have Sex,” that has a list of 237 reasons why women have sex.  And Letterman knows the top ten. 

LENO:  I myself was once the victim of an extortion plot.  How do you think NBC got me to do a 10:00 show. 

BILL MAHER, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”:  I was shocked that Letterman has been having affairs.  I had no idea he was even running for office.

LENO:  I have never had a sexual relationship with any of my staff members. 

FERGUSON:  Let me just say that my relationships with my employees are strictly professional.  Isn‘t that right, Gunter. 

DAVID LETTERMAN, “THE LATE SHOW”:  As a matter of fact, Alan Calter (ph) kept wanting to know if we had sex.  Did you remember that, Alan? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I did and I don‘t remember.

MAHER:  And I just wanted to say, so you know here, I have never had sex with anyone on my staff.  The guests, of course.  Yes.  That‘s part of the job. 

STEVE MARTIN, COMEDIAN:  I had a great weekend. 

FERGUSON:  I was Castor (ph) on Letterman.  I mean the band Castor, not the other thing. 

MARTIN:  I was going to make a few jokes, but it‘s really not funny. 

A little bit.  It‘s a little bit funny. 

LETTERMAN:  It‘s fall here in New York City.  I spent the whole weekend raking my hate mail. 

Cold too.  It‘s chilly outside my house.  Chilly inside my house. 

Normally when I‘m shaken down for money, it‘s—you know, it‘s my relatives. 

OK, let‘s look at the news.  First of all, Bill Clinton says—no. 

Good news for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford because he—

How about that Eliot Spitzer.  Would you take a look at that? 

I still feel like I did the right thing.  And now, also, because what can it hurt, once again, I would like to apologize to the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.  I‘m terribly, terribly sorry.  So there we go. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is the editor of Newsweek.com Devin Gordon. 

Devin, welcome.

DEVIN GORDON, NEWSWEEK.COM:  Thanks for having me.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, late night hosts seem to each take their shot at Dave and then pretty much leave him alone.  Is this some kind of honor code among late night hosts.

GORDON:  Yes, I think their job is to be funny.  You get a shot above the belt, not below the belt, and then you move on.  That‘s their job.  You can‘t leave this alone.  You got to take your shot and go. 

O‘DONNELL:  Conspicuously absent from our clip file is Conan O‘Brien.  I know Conan holds Dave in great awe, and has a lot of respect for him.  Is that what Conan‘s decision is about?

GORDON:  I think respect is putting it mildly.  He reveres the guy.  Before he moved into “The Tonight Show,” he spoke at length and quite eloquently about how he was humbled by even the prospect of being a competitor with David Letterman. 

I do think there is something else going on here, which is that, of all those guys, Conan is the only one who competes directly against him in the time slot.  So there is the danger that him making a joke about this could be seen as him trying to capitalize on Dave‘s misfortune, rather than simply having sport with it. 

O‘DONNELL:  On the first night when Dave revealed this last week, he kept repeating the word terrible.  He had done these terrible, terrible things.  Did he, in that process in the follow up apology on the air to his wife and staff—did he diffuse this bomb? 

GORDON:  I‘m not sure this was ever really a bomb.  He definitely diffused it.  I don‘t know how much this was ever really going to hurt hi.  What surprised me about this whole thing is some of the shock out that—to find out that David Letterman wasn‘t a nice guy.  I think you can kind of tell when you‘re watching someone on television.  You, for instance, Lawrence, you seem like a nice guy.

But with Dave, I think there was always this veneer, that maybe he could—he could kind of be a mean SOB.  He‘s been on television for 20 years.  He‘s very cutting.  He‘s acerbic.  I don‘t think it would shock people to find this out.  It always surprised me that people discovered, to their shock and awe, that maybe he wasn‘t such a nice guy all the time. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let me see if I can continue to fool you through the rest of the show.  A minute left, about me being a nice guy.  It‘s been a ratings boom for Dave.  How long does that keep up?  When do people calm down about this. 

GORDON:  I think it‘s going to come back to Earth pretty soon.  I think the ratings are going to go back to normal, which is to say he‘s going to be beating Conan O‘Brien pretty soundly in the ratings.  So that‘s a pretty good thing for CBS. 

O‘DONNELL:  He had already just started to do that on a steady basis, hadn‘t he? 

GORDON:  Yes, he was running pretty consistently ahead of him.  Then he really shot up in the wake of this, which is one of the things that is worth noting, is that David Letterman understands television.  And I think somewhere inside of him, he knew that the episodes in which he was talking about this and the ones right after it were probably going to be pretty got ratings episodes. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, Dave is 62.  He‘s approaching the American retirement age, the official Social Security 65.  Johnny Carson was 67 when he retired.  If Dave wasn‘t dealing with this scandal, do you think he would go on beyond Johnny, or do you think that this scandal might start to suggest to him exactly when he should call it quits? 

GORDON:  I don‘t know.  You know, he‘s got a contract through August

2010.  He‘s been in negotiations all summer to go to 2012.  My suspicion is

·         what‘s interesting about something like this is that it‘s Dave with assistance, people on staff.  It‘s not him canoodling with movie stars.  This show is his life.  You work like a dog to do a show like this every night.  So it‘s hard for me to imagine, except for health reasons—Dave has had a few—why he would hang it up early.  It seems like there‘s no sign that he plans to. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right, we‘ll stick around and watch this one, Devin. 

Devin Gordon, thank you very much for joining us tonight. 

GORDON:  Thanks for having me.

O‘DONNELL:  That will have to do it for this Friday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.  A final reminder on Keith‘s behalf.  If you would like to donate to the cause to help provide free health care for people in need, you can go to COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com, where a link to the National Association of Free Clinics is provided.  As of tonight, 225,000 dollars donated to far. 

I‘ll be making my contribution in a minute, while watching “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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