updated 11/19/2009 11:12:14 AM ET 2009-11-19T16:12:14

Guest Host: Lawrence O‘Donnell

Guests: Chuck Todd, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Ezra Klein, Bill Halter, Nate Silver, Richard

Wolffe

           

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Reid: The bill.  The wait for the numbers is over.  Tonight, the Democratic Caucus in the Senate has met to hear the health care reform bill details from the majority leader himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER:  It saves lives, it saves money, and protects Medicare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the really hard part begins, keeping all the Democrats together to get health care to the floor for debate.

Justice and fear: President Obama and Attorney General Holder with strong words for those spreading fear and taking offense over the planned trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I‘m not scared of what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has to say at trial, and no one else needs to be afraid either.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don‘t think it will be offensive at all when he‘s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  But the lawyer in Obama is forced to do backtrack.

Battle ground Michigan—where hundreds have lined up since early morning, hoping to meet a Facebook blogger from Alaska.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sarah Palin is inspiration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Is the book tour going to inspire a bid for the White House?  Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com joins us with his prediction.

And should she run, could he really be her running mate?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST:  Psych wards are now having nurses say, “Turn it off, quick.  He upsets the patients.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, that‘s the ticket.

All of that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BECK:  Uh-oh!

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from Los Angeles.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.

Lobbyists have been spending an estimated $1 million a day to influence proposed changes to the nation‘s health care system.  And on Capitol Hill tonight, the lobbying is turning even more intense.  Not by lobbyists who are working for the health care industry nor by Republicans who are hoping kill reform, but—in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN—by Democrats who are, tonight, lobbying each other as the party and the Obama administration tries to reach a consensus of getting a bill through the Senate.

In a moment, we‘ll be joined by Senator Chuck Schumer for his assessment of where things stand as of this hour.  But we begin with the latest details.

Earlier tonight, Majority Leader Reid was walking his caucus through the basics of the health care reform bill, especially the score done by the Congressional Budget Office.  Its assessment—that the cost of the health care bill would be $849 billion, that 94 percent of Americans would be covered, that it would reduce the number of uninsured Americans by 31 million, and that it would reduce the size of the deficit by $127 billion over the first 10 years.

This afternoon, Senator Reid invited three conservative holdouts for their own private previews.  Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu—all walked into majority leader‘s office together.  When Senator Reid‘s spokesman was asked if the majority leader was looking for commitments on a vote from the three holdouts, he responded, quote, “The leader is always looking for commitments.”

Senator Nelson told reporters afterwards he wouldn‘t commit to a vote but he hinted that he might agree to start the debate.

It seems that the conservative Democrats have already received one big concession.  Senator Conrad told “The Associated Press” tonight that the Senate bill does have a public option but only with an opt-out provision.

Meanwhile, administration officials were also on Capitol Hill today, including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, as well as another former Democratic senator, Vice President Joe Biden.  At an evening news conference, most Democrats in the Senate said they felt the final bill adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), FINANCE COMMITTEE:  Almost everyone in our caucus felt the health committee bill was a great bill, the finance bill was a great bill, but this bill is better than either the finance bill or the health bill, taking the best of both, and weaving it into something that really works.

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-IA), HELP COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  It is a team effort.  We‘re all pulling together.  And what‘s not to like about this bill?  I mean, when you look at this bill—number one, we cover more people, we‘re making sure it‘s more affordable, we take away a lot of the abuses of the insurance company with a lot of the reforms that we have, we reduce the deficit.  So, as far as I can see, there is a great victory for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Lots to talk about tonight with the senior senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, who is also a member of the all-powerful finance committee.  He joins us now from the Capitol.

Thanks for your time tonight, Senator.

First of all, what went on in that meeting?  What are the basics of the Reid bill?  Is there an opt-out.

SCHUMER:  OK.  Well.

O‘DONNELL:  . public option?

SCHUMER:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  And does it—have on taxes, Senator—does it have the finance committee tax on union health insurance or the House income tax increase?

SCHUMER:  OK.  First, it does have the public option opt-out level playing field that we proposed earlier.  It‘s a strong public option.  It‘s been supported by so many people who are fighting for public option.

It does have the tax on the high-end health care plans, but there are some good exceptions for some of the union folks and we‘re fighting to get them better.  Instead of starting at 21 in the finance committee, it starts at 23.  If you‘re in a dangerous profession, police, fire, construction work, that‘s a lot of the union member, it goes up to 26.  Seventeen states get another $2,000, high-end states.  That brings you up to 28, and that will leave out most union people.

So, that‘s pretty good.  The good news here.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, what does the floor schedule—what does the floor schedule look like, Senator?  How soon do you think this can get to the floor?

SCHUMER:  Well, we‘re hopeful that we can bring the cloture motion that Republicans are trying to block us every step of the way and they‘re not giving us an inch.  They may make us actually read the bill, you know, on Sunday and Monday, just all 1,000 pages, even though it‘s going to be online tonight.  Everyone can look at the bill tonight.  It‘s going to be online and out there for a while.

But the schedule would be to file for cloture tomorrow and then we probably couldn‘t vote until Saturday morning on cloture, which means, you know, the blocking of a filibuster to move to the bill.  And then they get another 30 hours if they want to debate moving to the bill, although we‘d only need 51 votes for that.  That‘s almost never done.  We‘ll see if they do it.  And then, any senator can get to read the bill, which will take two days.

But we don‘t intend to start debating and amending this bill until the Monday after Thanksgiving.  So, whether they want to read it or not is their business.  We‘re happy to have them read it.

The bill—I just have to say this, Lawrence—it is one strong bill.  It covers many more Americans.  If you include Medicare, 98 percent of all Americans will be covered with health care.  It actually cuts the waste and fraud and abuse that many of the suppliers have been doing.  Cost cuts are $503 billion.  It reduces the deficit by $170 billion.

At the same time, it provides lots of protection against the insurance companies, such as, you know, putting limits on how much they can spend on you, not insuring you because you have, you know, say, a child with diabetes, and early condition.  And it does all that and still reduces the deficit.  Plus, public option, which, you know, is something that will bring cost down greatly and provide competition.

So, you put all of that together, it‘s a darn good bill.  I thought the finance bill was good.  I thought the health bill was even a little better.  This bill is better than either one from a progressive perspective.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, the biggest difference between this bill and the House bill, as I think, on the tax side. We talked about that already.

SCHUMER:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  Have you had a chance to talk to your New York colleague, Charlie Rangel, who is author of the income tax increase in the House bill?  Have you talked to him about how you might reconcile that with the taxes that are in the Senate bill?

SCHUMER:  Well, the problem we have in the Senate bill, we do increase the Medicare tax on the very wealthy by 0.5 percent.  In other words, if you‘re above $250,000 in your family, your Medicare tax will go up from 1.45 to 1.95.  But other than that, there‘s not many other tax increases except as on the “Cadillac” health care plans that I mentioned earlier.

The House bill, of course, has the millionaire‘s tax.  It‘s something that I could very easily support.  But I don‘t know if we can get our 10 or 12 moderate Senate Democrats to support it.  That‘s what we‘re going to have to test.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, speaking of your moderate Democrats, Senator, obviously, they have their own meeting, the three who everyone is worried about in the Democratic Caucus, had their own meeting with Harry Reid today.  But despite that meeting, Senator Nelson has said that he is perfectly comfortable being the lone holdout, stopping the movement of this bill.

SCHUMER:  Well, look.

O‘DONNELL:  What do you have to say to Senator Nelson at this point?

SCHUMER:  Well, look, I‘m not going to say anything to Senator Nelson

he‘s my friend—or anything publicly over your airwaves, as much as I like your show.  Bottom line is, I think, every Democrat, from the most conservative to the most liberal, knows that we need a bill and that means no one is going to get their way completely.  I am very hopeful.  I am very optimistic we can get the 60 votes on Saturday on the motion to proceed, but you‘ll have to talk to each of the three to get their own personal views, the three who haven‘t committed to voting on the motion to proceed yet.

           

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, you watched from the House of Representatives in 1994 when the health care reform bill died on the Senate floor after about five days of debate.  That was masterminded by George Mitchell, one of the great Senate strategists of all time.

SCHUMER:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  What have—what have you learned in the Senate since then to prevent that from happening again this year.

SCHUMER:  What we‘ve learned is basically that we‘re all going to have to come together in a room and put together a bill that stays true to our principles and passes with 60 votes.  And I think we‘re on the road to doing it.

George Mitchell was a great strategist.

Harry Reid is about the best vote-counter—the best vote-counter I have ever met, and I‘d bet on us getting the 60.  I‘d bet on the conference committee, which is difficult because of the tax issues, as you say.  And I‘d bet on the bill being on the president‘s desk pretty soon.

I‘m pretty hopeful after tonight.  The mood in the caucus was positive.  I don‘t think there was not a single real complaint.

O‘DONNELL:  The optimistic senior senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, thank you.

SCHUMER:  Right.  We didn‘t get into all of the substance but we will get there.  We are going to do it.

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you very—thank you very much for your time tonight, Senator.

SCHUMER:  Thanks, Larry.  Good to talk to you.

O‘DONNELL:  For more on the politics, let‘s turn to Ezra Klein, staff reporter for “The Washington Post,” who also blogs about economic and domestic policy for the newspaper‘s Web site.

Good evening, Ezra.

EZRA KLEIN, WASHINGTON POST:  How are you?

O‘DONNELL:  I understand that Senator Baucus had to rush back to Montana this afternoon to deal with a family matter.  That‘s 59 votes in the Senate as of today.  Do you have any indication whether he‘d be around for that vote that Chuck Schumer thinks that‘s going to come out on Saturday?

KLEIN:  Well, I heard from Reid‘s people earlier today and this was after the Baucus news broke, was that t they are indeed planning to vote on Saturday.  I don‘t know if that means that Baucus is planning to come back for that vote in the next day or two.  Or if that means that Senator Snowe or Senator Collins or another Republican will join with the Democrats on the vote.  But, as it is, they do seem to think they‘ll be able to move forward with cloture on Saturday.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Byrd was in the Capitol today.  He was being honored for his longevity of service in both the House and Senate.  But doesn‘t that go to remind us of how precious each one of these votes are when the Democrats are trying to add things up to 60?

KLEIN:  Absolutely.  They should—the Democrats really should expect no mercy on this bill.  I mean, you see this with Kennedy earlier in the year.  Ted Kennedy, I mean, he was legendarily well-liked in the Senate, dear friends across the aisle like Orrin Hatch.

But when he was falling ill at the end of his life when the great cause of his whole career was coming to a vote, none of them ever said, you know, “I will vote against this bill but I won‘t let it be derailed on cloture because Senator Kennedy fell ill.  And to honor my friend, I will, you know, vote to break the filibuster and let it go forward, as people of the Massachusetts and he would have wanted.”

And if they weren‘t going to do it for Kennedy, they are not going to do it for anyone else.  I mean, Republicans really need to hope that they don‘t fall prey to any bad luck, any car accidents, any missed flights, anything along the way here.  They‘ve no margin for error.

O‘DONNELL:  Ezra, no one knows the nuts and bolts of this bill better than you do.  So, I‘m going to force you to focus on my obsession about the taxes and the discrepancy between the House and the Senate on taxes.

KLEIN:  Sure.

O‘DONNELL:  How do they resolve it?  An income tax in the House versus a whole package of new taxes that we‘ve never seen before in the Senate—how do they resolve that?

KLEIN:  OK.  So, the Senate just got a little bit near to the House during Reid‘s—his merger negotiations.  Originally, for viewers out there, it was all of this tax on high-end plans and that tax doesn‘t actually raise how much money in the first 10 years.  It‘s about $200 billion, the way that it used to be.

The big deal is that it cuts the deficit in the second 10 years because it essentially affects more plans and more money goes to wages, less money goes to health care.  It‘s a big cost-cutter.  So, they took, I think, about $50 billion out of that and put it out on to a payroll tax hike for the rich.  That‘s more like what the House does.

So, you could really imagine something here where what they—the final compromise ends up being something like: you have the excise tax but in a weakened form, which is already what‘s beginning to happen and you have some type of surtax on the rich, payroll tax hike on the rich, something in the income-related category for the rich that comports with the House wants.

And what I would like to see happen is that two don‘t just replace lost revenue from the other, that they actually bring the total amount of money in the bill up a little bit because where we are right now in the Senate bill, at $850 billion, experts I talked said that‘s going to be a little bit low to make this affordable for everybody with subsidies and everything else.

O‘DONNELL:  Ezra Klein, the first one to show me how they might resolve the tax differences between the House and the Senate—thank you very much for your time tonight.

KLEIN:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: The next free health care clinic is in Little Rock, Arkansas, this Saturday.  That state‘s lieutenant governor joins us on the political pressure to get Senator Blanche Lincoln to support Harry Reid‘s bill.

President Obama talks about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the death penalty.  But did he go too far?

Meantime, Rudy Giuliani is still playing up the fear factor.

And, the “Sarah Says” parade continues.  Now, she‘s heading the road waving, winking and signing books.  Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com predicts whether Palin is running in 2012 and whether she‘ll win or not.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: Getting conservative Democrats to support health care reform.  The latest pressure point is the free health care clinic in Little Rock this Saturday.

President Obama puts politics ahead of the law in talking tough against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  And Republicans continue to cower in fear at the thought of following our own Constitution.

That and Palin/Beck in 2012 -- ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Blanche Lincoln says she is, quote, “responsible to the people of Arkansas,” yet remains noncommittal on health care reform for the people of Arkansas.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: As the pressure mounts on Senator Lincoln, another free health care clinic will be held this weekend.  This time, for the very people Senator Lincoln represents.

The man responsible for helping the National Association of Free Clinics to secure a venue for Saturday‘s free clinic in Little Rock, Arkansas, Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, will join me.

But, first, as mentioned earlier, Senator Lincoln remains one of three Democratic holdouts who can block the Senate reform bill from reaching the floor for debate.  The state‘s senior senator is facing a tough reelection campaign next year.

Senator Lincoln telling “The New York Times”: “I think what is most important for me is to take a look at what is presented on behalf of Arkansas and figure out whether it is something that really makes sense.  I am responsible to the people of Arkansas and that is where I will make—take my direction.”

And while Senator Lincoln makes up her mind, the dedicated team at the National Association of Free Clinics is moving ahead.  We witness your generosity in action last weekend in Louisiana where over 1,000 people without insurance received care.  Already over 900 patients have registered for another free health clinic.  That will be held this Saturday at Little Rock‘s Statehouse Convention Center from noon until 7:00 p.m.

Joining me now, as promised, the lieutenant governor of Arkansas: Bill Halter.

Thanks very much for your time tonight, sir.  You‘ve been—your office has been instrumental in helping secure that location for Saturday‘s event.  Why did you get involved in this?

LT. GOV. BILL HALTER (D), ARKANSAS:  Well, because there‘s a compelling need, Lawrence.  In Arkansas, we have over 450,000 Arkansans that are not insured.  We‘ve brought together 25 different groups and associations to help with this event.  I‘m extraordinarily proud of the Arkansans.  We‘ve got over 1,200 volunteers that have signed up to help in the space of just a few weeks.

And I want to take this opportunity to express gratitude on behalf of the entire state of Arkansas for what Keith Olbermann and the entire team at COUNTDOWN have done working together with the National Association of Free Clinics.  This is an opportunity for us to serve well over 1,000 people, we believe.  And more importantly, not just serve them for one day but then to connect them to health care on an ongoing basis going forward.

That‘s it‘s important to us and that‘s why we‘ve got folks coming together on a nonpartisan basis to push ahead with this clinic.  I participated in the past, in a similar clinic, focused on dental care, and the stories that you saw there and the things that you saw were really heart-wrenching.  I mean, there is just no acceptable reason why the richest country in the history of our planet has 450,000 Arkansas without health insurance and 45 million Americans without health insurance.

O‘DONNELL:  We‘ve been seeing a lot of political polling on where Arkansas is on health care reform.  Where do you think the people of Arkansas are on health care reform as of today?

HALTER:  Well, I think, a lot of what you get back in terms of polls is dependent upon how the questions were ask and there‘s a lot of misleading information out there.  But I think, more than anything else, if I was going to summarize where Arkansans are, they really want action.  They‘re going very impatient with all the talk.  They want to see reform.

It‘s been on the agenda—the political agenda for Democratic Party

for literally decades.  A president from our home state made valiant

attempts to push forward health care reform—as you know well, Lawrence -

in 1994, and there‘s a belief that now is finally the opportunity to get a great thing done, to do what we have been trying to do for decades, which is to correct many of the significant problems we have in our health care delivery system.

           

O‘DONNELL:  There are political organizers on the left, to the Democratic Party, who are looking for a candidate to challenge Blanche Lincoln in a primary next year, if she does not vote with the Democrats on health care reform.  Are you that candidate?

HALTER:  Lawrence, I certainly appreciate the hopes that a lot of people have expressed for me and—but I want to focus on what we‘re doing on Saturday.  This is not about politics.  It‘s certainly not about my political future.

We are—we are trying to do as much as we can in a shorter period of time to provide health care for Arkansans and then to connect them with a source of continuing care.  And we a group, as I said, of over 25 organizations from all political stripes that are participating in this event.  And out of respect for them, I‘m not—I‘m going to keep politics out of this.

O‘DONNELL:  Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter of Arkansas—thank you very much for your time tonight and for your time this weekend in helping us get that free clinic going in Little Rock.

HALTER:  Thanks to you, Lawrence, and all the folks at COUNTDOWN.

O‘DONNELL:  It was on this program where many of you learned of the good and important work done by the National Association of Free Clinics.  Through the generosity of people like you providing free health care to the uninsured, giving hope to thousands who haven‘t seen a doctor in years.  But progressives have no monopoly on generosity, such charitable impulses as those that drove our own Keith Olbermann to put his money and passion into the free clinic program occur all across the political spectrum in this country.

Hear now the compassionate conservatism of Mr. Rush Limbaugh when confronted today on his radio circus with the harsh realities of the nearly 16 million unemployed in this country.  While speaking to an out-of-work listener, he was moved to do something.  Not a jobs fair, no large scale approach.  Rush offered, not a job, but something he thought the 49-year-old man would like even better.  Of course, the unemployed man had to pass a political test first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  You didn‘t vote for Obama, did you?

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER:  No.  No, I didn‘t, sir.

LIMBAUGH:  All right.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER:  And I couldn‘t imagine voting for him.  It just kind of—you know, more of a gut feeling than anything.

LIMBAUGH:  You know what I want?  I want to give you something.  I want to give you something.  I can hear the stress.  I can hear the nervousness.  I‘m going to give you a much of HoMedics massagers.  I am going to send—they are one of our best sponsors here.  They‘re Snerdley‘s favorite sponsor, and they are fabulous, and the price is not that expensive at all.  They start at $29.99.  Hold on to Snerdley to get your address.  At least while you‘re looking for a job, you can get a massage at the same time on us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: The president‘s tough talk on terror.  He says the country won‘t be offended by the terror trials when the death penalty is applied.

And Attorney General Eric Holder goes to the Hill to tell Republicans they don‘t have to be scared.

Speaking of fear, forget the doomsday scenario that has the planet self-destructing on December 21st, 2012.  There are much bigger worries, like, Palin/Beck in 2012.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Republican senators today complained that trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City is dangerous and gives him a public forum to air his views. 

And in our number three story tonight, they are right.  But democracy has always been dangerous and America was founded by men who preferred the risks inherent in a free society to the security of tyranny, a point made only imperfectly by Democrats today.  Lapsing at times into simplistic GOP-style bluster. 

Speaking with NBC‘s Chuck Todd, President Obama first said that giving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed legal rights attendant with the trial should not cause offense because he will be convicted.  Mr. Obama then tried to walk that back by claiming he said if not when he is convicted. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don‘t think it will be offensive at all when he‘s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  But having that kind of confidence in the conviction—I mean one of the purposes of doing the justice system—going to the legal and not the military court is to show off to the world our fairness of our court system. 

OBAMA:  Well, it‘s. 

TODD:  But you‘re also... 

OBAMA:  Let me. 

TODD:  You also now just said that he‘s going to be convicted and given the death sentence.  Do you worry about the credibility of. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Go ahead. 

OBAMA:  Look.  What I said was that people will not be offended if that‘s the outcome.  I‘m not prejudging and I‘m not going to be in that courtroom.  That‘s the job of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Attorney General Eric Holder today at first also testified acquittal is not an option, later saying that in that event Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would not be released in the U.S.  He faired better rebutting the Republican fears of what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will say in court. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  When the 9/11 conspirators are brought to trial, I have every confidence that the presiding judge will ensure appropriate decorum.  And if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed makes the same statements he made in his military commission proceedings, I have every confidence that the nation and the world will see him for the coward that he is. 

I‘m not scared of what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has to say at trial and no one else needs to be afraid either. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And when Republicans said the Obama administration considers 9/11 a crime rather than an act of war, Mr. Holder neatly turned the tables pointing out that Democrats are using all America‘s resources while Republicans seem to be afraid to rely on the American way. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLDER:  Prosecuting the 9/11 defendants in federal court do not represent some larger judgment about whether or not we are at war.  We are at war.  And we will use every instrument of national power, civilian, military, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, and others to win.  We need not cower in the face of this enemy.  Our institutions are strong, our infrastructure is sturdy, our resolve is firm and our people are ready. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Time now for Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University. 

Professor Turley, can you explain why constitutional law professor, Barack Obama, tried to rewrite what politician President Obama said about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed getting the death penalty? 

(LAUGHTER)

PROF. JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Well, he certainly came across as the queen of hearts calling for a sentence first and a verdict later.  And he knows that‘s a problem.  The great irony is that, in defending this noble decision of his, to give a fair trial to these men, he then crossed the line and is likely to be cited by the defense that it‘s not quite so fair. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now if Republicans really want to do whatever will be the least offensive approach, least and raging approach to al Qaeda, why not just set Khalid Sheikh Mohammed free? 

TURLEY:  Right.  I find that the most amazing line of rhetoric.  You know, if you really want to make al Qaeda mad, then don‘t be a hypocrite.  These are people who love hypocrisy.  They live in hypocrisy.  They kill innocent people and say that God wants them to. 

What we have to do is give an alternative.  Do you really want to make them angry?  Show that we brought one of their members to the rule of law and applied it fairly. 

O‘DONNELL:  The greatest claim that monarchy had on the public mind was the claim of stability, was this claim of security, was the claim that tomorrow will be just like yesterday and by the way, you won‘t be any richer or better off tomorrow under the tyrannical monarchies. 

But the founding fathers of this country looked for something else.  They were willing for a certain of instability to occur.  They were willing to live with a certain amount of unpredictability in certain situations, especially in the judicial system, weren‘t they? 

TURLEY:  Yes.  You know what John Adams actually called the best piece of service he ever rendered his country?  It was not his presidency, not his helping draft our founding documents.  It was representing the British soldiers in the Boston massacre in 1770.  He called it (INAUDIBLE) and generous, disinterest to justice. 

He defined himself and this country—the country that was being born just soon after that trial by that ad.  And it makes you wonder, when you listen to these critics, whether we weren‘t the better people, when we had less power but more principles. 

O‘DONNELL:  Jonathan Turley, whose reach goes as far back as the Boston massacre.  Thank you very much for your time tonight. 

TURLEY:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, your Sarah Palin‘s headlines of the day—headlines of the day as “Going Rogue‘ goes to the battle ground states.  First stop, Michigan. 

Nate Silver, the guy who picked nearly every state correctly in the last election, joins us with his assessment on Palin‘s chances in 2012. 

And if she does win the nomination, what if her running mate is Glenn Beck?  She praised Beck today when asked if he could possibly be her VP pick. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Still ahead on COUNTDOWN, the official Palin book tour kicks off in Michigan.  She‘s pushing it in the battleground state.  Nate Silver joins us to discuss the chances the PR blitz is all a precursor to a Palin presidential campaign. 

And really getting deep into the political crystal ball   If she runs, would she really consider Glenn Beck to be her running mate? 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, Senator Tom Harkin, the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee on the state of the health care reform bill. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Sarah Palin finally makes good on her promise to visit Michigan.  It‘s day one of her book tour.  Is it all an audition for her own presidential aspirations? 

And on the very day the Anti-Defamation League calls out Glenn Beck for fostering dangerous extremism in this country, Palin actually entertains the notion Beck could be her running mate?  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:   Alaska blogger Sarah Palin‘s testing the presidential waters—I mean book tour kicked off today in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  There were truly crowds of FOX, friends of Palin.  Again raising the question in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, whether Palin will run for president in 2012. 

More than 1,500 people actually camped out overnight outside of the Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the first stop of Palin‘s book tour.  Michigan is also, you will recall, the state where Palin wanted to keep campaigning after then presidential candidate John McCain gave up on it. 

And today, some people had driven for hours to get in line for an orange wrist band and instructions to return and line up once again later, according to our NBC correspondents there, Andrea Mitchell and Nora O‘Donnell. 

Palin is expected to sign books for three hours this evening.  The mall operators say she would have to sign one book every 15 seconds to get through everyone with a wristband.  The Palin fans there are reportedly hard core.  Some people actually said they had made the event a holiday, taking a motel room nearby, and while some saw Palin more as a celebrity than presidential material, others said they wanted to see her in the White House. 

And many wore their McCain-Palin campaign buttons.  Palin‘s book publisher Harper Collins said that mall‘s Barnes & Noble had already sold more than 1,000 copies of “Going Rogue” and have run out of those special orange wristbands. 

After signing books, Palin is expected to take yet another interview, this one with Pat Robinson‘s “700 Club.” 

Let‘s bring in founder of the political Web site, Fivethirtyeight.com, Nate Silver. 

Good evening, Nate.  OK.  You‘re the numbers guy.  Tell us now what the odds are in that Palin will run in 2012. 

NATE SILVER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT.COM:  Well, she‘s doing everything that a candidate would ordinarily do if they wanted to run for president four years from now, where she‘s—you know, she has a book out, she‘s visiting spin states, she‘s endorsing candidates.  She has a pack.  I mean I would say probably about 70 percent if I had to lay money on Vegas on it. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  But let consider this.  You‘ve got history to consider here.  Let‘s listen to the following names.  Henry Cabot Lodge, William Miller, Edmund Muskey, and Sergeant Shriver, Bob Dole, Walter Mondale, Geraldine Ferarro, Lloyd Benson, Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Sarah Palin‘s name comes at the end of that list of losing vice presidential candidates. 

Not one of them even made it to the presidency.  Two of them, Dole and Mondale, managed to get the nomination.  But that‘s as far as they‘ve got.  How does—doesn‘t the weight of that history say that this isn‘t possible for Sarah Palin? 

SILVER:  Well, you know, politics is always relative.  You just have to be the best candidate from among whoever you‘re competing against.  And I think, you know, Palin‘s history may not be great so far as far as she emerged on the campaign last year .

But, you know, Mitt Romney also lost in the primary, so did Mike Huckabee.  If you have someone who is a fresher face, someone like a Bob McDonnell in Virginia maybe.  If we will rate him in 2012, that would be more of a worry.  But I think Mitt Romney is the (INAUDIBLE).  The base doesn‘t trust him particularly. 

Huckabee doesn‘t do well, the kind of club for growth crowd.  I think Tim Pawlenty has no real political acumen to speak of.  So you have a pretty poor field and I think within that field she might be one of the strong candidates.  As we see today, she gets people excited.  I don‘t think Mitt Romney gets people up off their chairs and going to stand in line for—overnight for a book tour. 

He seemed mundane for the kind of populist mood of the country.  I think we see right in the GOP. 

O‘DONNELL:  I agree that every one of the people who ran last time around and didn‘t get that nomination in the Republican Party showed there was something wrong with their candidacy that prevented them from getting it.  And that is still wrong with their candidacy. 

But you mentioned the possibility of Pawlenty, now there‘s a lot of people focusing on John Thune, senator. 

SILVER:  Sure. 

O‘DONNELL:  . from the Dakotas as the new, you know, handsome guy on the scene who nobody knows anything about and comes from out of nowhere to do it.  What are the odds of someone in the Republican Party, in effect, coming from the shadows like that and grabbing the nomination? 

SILVER:  Well, I think those odds are (INAUDIBLE) than people might.  I mean people have to remember that Barack Obama was barely even known by anyone four years before he became the Democratic nominee, was not considered a favorite against Hillary Clinton.  So I think someone—if they‘re smart, they will put some like a Thune or bob McDonnell, I mean these people haven‘t necessarily been in the national spotlight. 

They could some growing—a learning curve just like Palin did, but I would be looking toward outside the box alternatives, I would think.  I think that, you know, this kind of boiler-plate, Romney-Huckabee-Palin candidates have kind of proven that they‘re not particularly capable of winning, I think, a national election. 

O‘DONNELL:  If Sarah Palin is following the proven route to the nomination, what is her next move after the big book tour? 

SILVER:  I think she‘s going to make some tactical endorsements for 2010.  I think 2010 would probably be a pretty good cycle for the GOP that when, you know, a fair number, maybe a couple of dozen House seats. 

If she‘s smart about who she endorses, she‘ll look like a winner in November 2010.  That‘ll be the next step.  Just to a team player for a while.  Then once that happens, shortly after that, you have some good buzz for conservatives and you announce your candidacy maybe January, February of 2011. 

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s become a difficult year to find your way to being a team player in the Republican Party, Nate?  With what them deciding you‘re not conservative enough in a primary, you know, there‘s this civil war that‘s broken out in Florida now over the Republican nomination in the Senate race.  So this is not going to be an easy course for her to navigate, is it? 

SILVER:  Well, I mean, I think there a couple of wild cards here.  One of which could be that she could say I‘m going to run as a conservative or as an independent.  That wouldn‘t be totally out of the question, I don‘t think. 

But I think if the Republican establishment tries to beat her down and part of what makes (INAUDIBLE) is that she‘s seen as a kind of a victim, as a martyr.  And so the establishment if they think she is not electable, which they probably might think, if they try and restructure the primary process to make things harder for her, try and, you know, appoint someone else at the convention, that could backfire, I think, very easily here. 

So she‘s a tough candidate to run against for all her flaws.  It‘s hard to know how to campaign against her.  We saw how a handcuff, for example, Joe Biden was during the debate last year.  Was very afraid of kind of—seeming like an attack dog.  So, you know, I wouldn‘t count Sarah Palin out.  Maybe not for the general election but for the nomination, it‘s kind of right with the mood that we see in the country right now, I think,  She‘s quite dangerous, I think. 

O‘DONNELL:  We‘ll have to leave it there for tonight.  Thanks, Nate Silver, founder of Fivethirtyeight.com. 

Coming up, if Palin does win the GOP nomination in 2012, could Glenn Beck really be her running mate?  What a Palin-Beck ticket could mean.  Next on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  To our number one story on the COUNTDOWN where the only thing scarier than Palin for president is Palin for president, Glenn Beck for vice president.  And Palin hasn‘t exactly dismissed the idea. 

The former governor, asked my “News Max” about such a dream team, she initially chuckled but then said, quote, “I can envision a couple of different combinations if ever I were to be in a position to really even seriously consider running for anything in the future.  And I‘m not there yet.  But Glenn Beck I have great respect for. 

“He‘s a hoop.  He gets his message across in such a clever way and he‘s so bold, I have to respect that.  He call it like he sees it and he‘s very, very, very effective.” 

The drill-baby-drill ticket would obviously be anti-health care reform and probably advocate abolishing or privatizing Medicare and Social Security.  It would surely insist that global warming is a farce.  It would see communist art in Rockefeller Center and worry that FEMA might be setting up detention camps for Obama dissenters.  It would call President Obama a socialist, fascist, communist, and totalitarian, all of that.  And certainly such a ticket would produce tears. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  I‘m just a guy who cares—I‘m sorry. 

I‘m just a guy who cares an awful lot about my country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  By the way, the Anti-Defamation League has cited Beck as the most important, mainstream media figure who has repeatedly helped to stoke the fires of anti-government anger. 

Let‘s call in political analyst and author of “Renegade,” Richard Wolffe.  Also senior strategist at Public Strategies. 

Thanks for joining us tonight, Richard.  This is a dream ticket, for sure.  But who is the constituency for this particular dream ticket, other than of course the media? 

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, right.  Well, I think you probably have to be Sigmund Freud to interpret this particular dream.  But in the end, the best analysis of what kind of constituency they‘re appealing to comes from none other than Glenn Beck. 

He is the seminal text here.  If you recall, and I‘m sure you do, the emotional moment, I‘m choking up just thinking about it, when he introduced Sarah Palin back in January on his then new show, he said that Sarah Palin had convinced him that actually he wasn‘t a fringy nut job and that they out there were the fringy nut jobs and his first question pretty much to Sarah Palin was, is Barack Obama your president?  So this is the crowd who doesn‘t believe that Obama is American or in fact president, and thinks that everyone else is the nut jobs, and not them.  Really, honestly, not them.

O‘DONNELL:  Now I mentioned some of the possible elements of a Palin-Beck platform, but what do you think their essential message would be?  What would their 30-second ad be? 

WOLFFE:  The 30-second ad is you‘re surrounded.  Come out with your hands up.  And I think actually. 

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFFE:  I actually think that there is something, look, we can have fun with this but there is—and the first instance, this is a commercial enterprise.  This story went out on “News Max” which is incidentally handing out free Sarah Palin books with a subscription to the magazine, and if the commercial enterprise goes well, then either you sell a lot of books or get people watching your show, and who knows, maybe it takes you to the presidency. 

It‘s the sign of the president turning into a sales pitch for whatever you want to sell. 

O‘DONNELL:  And how painful must this be to watch for poor old Rush Limbaugh who does not seem beyond Sarah Palin‘s short list? 

WOLFFE:  Oh, yes, poor Rush Limbaugh.  Those words that we all love to say.  He‘s doing just fine.  This is a symbiotic relationship.  The only question we have to answer is, who is the parasite and who is the host? 

O‘DONNELL:  Now is it possible that this statement she made, I‘m reading, Glenn Beck, I have great respect for, that that could—if she was a serious candidate, that would definitely come back to haunt her.  Glenn Beck would become her Reverend Wright.  He would be saying things every other week that she would have to disown if she was really running for office, wouldn‘t she? 

WOLFFE:  Well, that would be a rich irony especially considering that it was NewsMax which pumped the Jeremiah Wright story more than anyone else.  Has promoted this more than anyone else.  So yes, Glenn Beck could come back to haunt her.  I suspect, though, they are representing this inchoate, angry force out there and consistency, credentials, it doesn‘t really mean a whole lot.  It‘s a spectacle. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks for joining us, Richard. 

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  Richard Wolffe.  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC, author of “Renegade,” and also with Public Strategist. 

Coming up, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”.  That will do it for this edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.  Continuing our MSNBC coverage now is 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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