updated 3/4/2010 11:04:16 AM ET 2010-03-04T16:04:16

Guest: Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Nitya Hernandez, Harry Shearer>

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories

will you be talking about tomorrow?

The way forward: After a year of debate and GOP mind games, President

Obama gives a final push on health care.  He calls for an up or down vote

and says the time is now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I believe the United

States Congress owes the American people a final vote on health care

reform.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Meanwhile, the Republicans dig in.  Senate Minority Leader

Mitch McConnell warns that if legislation passes, the Democrats will pay in

November.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  There‘s an overwhelming

likelihood that every Republican candidate will be campaigning to repeal

it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  The president‘s message with Howard Fineman, the

legislative plan with Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Harmless or hazardous?  Air traffic control audiotapes reveal a child

directing planes at JFK Airport.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD:  Jet Blue 171, contact departure.

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT:  Over to departure, Jet Blue 171.  Awesome job.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Two employees have been suspended.  The FAA is

investigating.  But isn‘t the tape proof beyond a reasonable doubt?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  Hey, Jay, we‘re going old

school tonight.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  With her potential 2010 rival, Mitt Romney on Letterman,

Sarah Palin tries her hand at stand-up on “The Tonight Show.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  I think that the mainstream media is quite broken and I think

that there needs to be the fairness, the balance in there—that‘s why I

joined FOX.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Wait—was that part of the routine?

And President Obama gets a late-night visit and a lesson on financial

reform from his predecessors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Besides, when I put the Iraq War on my credit

card, I never dreamed I would be paying 28 percent in interest rates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  The folks at Funny or Die bring together “Saturday Night

Live‘s” presidential players for a reunion of comedic chief executives.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t tell Cheney I was here.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

for Keith Olbermann.

Tonight, how you, right now, can fact-check the most powerful

Republican in the Senate without even getting off your couch.  I want you

to recall what issues were on your mind prior to the 2006 elections.  Now,

hold that thought.  We‘ll get to it presently.

But, first, President Obama today said the time for talking about

health care reform is done.  Now, it‘s time to do something about it,

calling for Congress to send him final legislation this month, even if

Democrats can only get a simple majority vote in the Senate; telling the

Republicans, in essence: thanks for playing.

Mr. Obama said he has heard Republican input and said his health care

reform will include some of their ideas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Every idea has been put on the table.  Every argument has been

made.  Everything there is to say about health care has been said.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  And just about everybody has said it.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  The reason federal employees get a good deal on health

insurance is that we all participate in an insurance market where insurance

companies give better coverage and better rates, because they get more

customers.  It‘s an idea that many Republicans have embraced in the past—

before politics intruded.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And in a break from his previous pronouncements, the

president laid out not just a timetable, but also signaled clearly his

approval for using the reconciliation process as part of the final passage

strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  No matter which approach you favor, I believe the United

States Congress owes the American people a final vote on health care

reform.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  We have debated this issue thoroughly.  Not just for the past

year, but for decades.

Reform has already passed the House with a majority.  It has already

passed the Senate with a supermajority of 60 votes.  And now, it deserves

the same kind of up or down vote that was cast on welfare reform, that was

cast on the Children‘s Health Insurance Program, that was—that was used

for COBRA, health coverage for the unemployed, and by the way, for both

Bush tax cuts—all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a

simple majority.

I have, therefore, asked leaders in both houses of Congress to finish

their work and schedule a vote in the next few weeks.  From now until then,

I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell quickly

responded, claiming that reconciliation votes have proved to be electoral

doom for those parties that have used them.

And here‘s where you, the viewer, can fact-check Mr. McConnell.  Do

you remember what influenced your vote in 2006?  See whether your own

memories jive with Mr. McConnell‘s description of how the elections of both

2006 and 1994 turned on voter outrage about legislative parliamentary

procedures the years before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL:  The Democrats in ‘93, with what we described at the time

as the largest tax increase in history, and the Republicans in 2005, with a

Deficit Reduction Act that made what seemed like at the time modest

reductions in the rate of increase of Medicare, paled in comparison to the

half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts we‘re talking about here.

What happened after the ‘93 vote in 1994?  The Congress switched

hands.  What happened in 2006 after the 2005 vote?  The Congress switched

hands.

So, we have some examples here of when this device was used on a

narrowly partisan basis by each side and we know what happened the next

year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And if Mitch McConnell trying to erase from your memory

the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, and President George W. Bush were not

enough, the Republicans today tried a new tactic.  They‘re attacking a

quiet, private man who has never said anything political in his 33 years in

the Senate.

Alan Frumin was chosen by Republicans to be the Senate parliamentarian

after Republicans fired the previous parliamentarian because they did not

like his interpretations of Senate rules.  But now, because Frumin will be

establishing the rules of the road to reconciliation in the Senate, some

Senate Republicans have already decided, if he rules against them, it‘s

because he is biased.

Quote, “I think clearly the Democratic majority leader has his ear and

I‘ve got concerns.  I would think that reconciliation would make or break

the perception of his objectivity.”

“I personally think he‘s an honest man, but we‘ll see.”

Republican John Thune, having the decency to tell “Politico” about

Frumin, quote, “From what I‘ve seen so far, he‘s doing everything he can to

be as even-handed and fair about it as possible.”

I know Alan Frumin and Thune is right about this one.  Alan Frumin is

fair about parliamentary procedure in the Senate.

McConnell focused today on warning wavering Democrats and previewed

the Republican congressional campaign slogan, “If health care reform

passes, repeal it.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL:  Every election in America this fall will be a referendum

on this issue.  And there‘s an overwhelming likelihood that every

Republican candidate will be campaigning to repeal it.  The Democratic

leaders are misleading their members and suggesting to them that somehow by

approving this, they will get it behind them.  Approving it guarantees that

it will be ahead of them.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  If, in the chance that Republicans regain

control of Congress, would that be something, though, that you would, as a

potential majority leader, would pursue?

MCCONNELL:  Well, I‘m not going to predict the outcome of the fall

election.  Many of you tried in other encounters to get me to put a number

on that.  We hope to be in a better position next year than we are now. 

And I think all of our candidates will take their campaign commitment

seriously and try to enact them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  President Obama claimed, in effect, not to let fear of

November stand in the way of a march for health care reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The American people want to know if it‘s still possible for

Washington to look out for their interests and their future.  They are

waiting for us to act.  They are waiting for us to lead.  And as long as I

hold this office, I intend to provide that leadership.  I do not know how

this plays politically, but I know it‘s right.

And so I ask Congress to finish its work, and I look forward to

signing this reform into law.  Thank you very much, everybody!  Let‘s get

it done!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman,

also, senior Washington correspondent and political columnist for

“Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, President Obama will go on the road next week to Pennsylvania,

to Missouri, to stump for this.  Now, is he actually trying to talk to the

voters in those states, or is he really just trying to hold on to

Democratic House members in possible swing districts that might be wavering

on health care?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, he‘s trying to hold on

to them, Lawrence, but also, to convert some of them.  Sure, he‘s going to

be speaking to voters in those states.

You‘ve said Pennsylvania and Missouri, for example, but there are key

members in those states, for example, Pennsylvania, in western

Pennsylvania, Jason Altmire, Dahlkemper, you know, those are two no votes

that Obama is hoping to convert to the yes column.  There‘s—that‘s the

outside game.

The inside game is going on tonight in the White House, as we speak,

Lawrence.  The president invited about 30 members of Congress over to

celebrate the passage of that legislation called PAYGO to try to control

spending.  Forget most of the people there, the senators and so on, the

real focus for the president and Rahm Emanuel are about 10 blue dogs—

blue dog conservative Democrats—who voted no earlier on the bill.  The

president is beginning the process, first the schmoozing, then the offers,

then who knows what, to try to get those people to switch.

O‘DONNELL:  And Republicans now are sending robocalls out into the

districts of many of these Democrats who the president is working on,

trying to rouse support for the Republican view of this, which is the old

“kill the bill” strategy.

FINEMAN:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, what is the—will the—is the president‘s

approach effective in countering the robocalls which are going directly

into the homes of voters?

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s micro versus macro.  I think the president has

the bully pulpit.  The president is the one who keeps saying, this is

reform.  The president is the one who‘s speaking to the Democratic base.

If you‘re a conservative Democrat or if you‘re a Democrat in a swing

district, you‘ve got to balance the fact that you need Democrats to turn

out in low turnout elections, midterm elections, Lawrence, versus the anger

of the tea party crowd and a lot of conservatives and Republicans.  The

president is going to say, I‘m going to be with you, we‘re going to try to

get those people out, we‘re going to talk about reform.

And I think the president made an effective argument about how, can

Washington do anything?  Can we get anything done?

Now, that‘s something that will appeal to the base of the Democratic

Party, and that‘s what he‘s going to do with his ability to speak and with

the bully pulpit.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the president got an instant review for his speech on

Wall Street today with health insurance stocks dropping immediately after

the president‘s speech.  What does that tell us about how forceful he

seemed today?

FINEMAN:  Well, it has less to do with the theatrics and based on the

calls and the people I‘ve been talking to today on the Hill, it‘s the fact

that the president signaled that it‘s game on.

They have their strategy, Lawrence.  The strategy is to try to pass

the Senate bill in the House, to then have a reconciliation bill in the

House and the Senate that would do two things.  It would honor the House‘s

wishes to expand coverage and subsidies, but also try to force the House to

accept the Senate‘s abortion language.  That‘s basically what‘s going on

here.

But the point is that the strategy is set, the wooing has begun.  As I

said, the president‘s got these 10 blue dogs in there tonight who voted no. 

First, he‘s going to schmooze them up, then he‘s going to plead with them,

then he‘s going to maybe threaten them, then he‘s going to offer them who-

knows-what.  Ground war, member by member—with Rahm Emanuel of Chicago

in charge of flipping enough people to make sure they get the votes in the

House.

O‘DONNELL:  And finally, Howard, what impact is there on health care

legislation for Charlie Rangel, surrendering the gavel at the House Ways

and Means Committee, which is the principle committee of jurisdiction on

this in the House—

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Well—

O‘DONNELL : -- to Fortney Stark, Pete Fortney Stark.  What happened in

that transaction?

FINEMAN:  Well, I don‘t think it matters a whole lot mechanically. 

The horse is out of the barn, it‘s through the committee.  They don‘t need

the committee for the reconciliation bill that they‘re trying to craft to

mollify everybody.

It‘s more symbolic.  It‘s symbolic in the fact that the Democrats have

a problem, as the party in power, the establishment, if you will.  Rangel

became an inconvenient—to say the least—symbol of the weakness of the

political establishment here in Washington.  Anything the Democrats can do

to get away from looking like they‘re the insiders and they‘re the insiders

of questionable ethics in some cases, is got to be helpful to them as they

try to argue that this health care bill is something they‘re doing on

behalf of the people, not on behalf of the special interests.

O‘DONNELL:  There‘s something in the water fountain at that committee,

Howard.  In 1994, when they were trying to do health care reform, Denny

Rostenkowski committee was under indictment.  There‘s something going on

over there.

Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC—thank you very much for your

time.

FINEMAN:  Spoken by a guy who has tied to the Senate Finance

Committee.

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Howard.

FINEMAN:  OK.

O‘DONNELL:  The president‘s marching orders to congressional leaders

are clear: get health care reform done.  Our guest: Senator Debbie Stabenow

of Michigan on how she sees the way forward on Capitol Hill.

And later, Sarah Palin‘s done with the governor thing.  She signed on

to FOX News to be an analyst and now she‘s trying out stand-up on “The

Tonight Show.”  Harry Shearer will tell us what‘s going on with Sarah Palin

and the renewed late-night wars—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  How will health care reform finally make it through the

House and the Senate?  I‘ll discuss that with Michigan Senator Debbie

Stabenow.

The debate over the kid inside the air traffic control tower at JFK

airport: Did his father go too far when he let his child talk to pilots? 

And new information tonight that this was not a one-time incident.

And later, we‘ll show you a piece of presidential comedy history—

ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  The junior senator from Michigan prevailed upon the

opposition from the floor of the Senate, challenging them yesterday

afternoon: don‘t block democracy, just vote.  Democrat Debbie Stabenow was

referring to Senator Bunning‘s effort to block the emergency unemployment

extension, but her words could just as easily have referred to health care

reform.

As we‘ve reported, President Obama this morning called on Congress to

schedule a final up or down vote on health care legislation, rejecting

Republican requests to start over, saying he doesn‘t see how another year

of negotiations would help.  Without using the word “reform,” the president

made it clear that he would be willing to pass reform by a simple majority

vote if necessary—without using the word “reconciliation,” is what we

meant to say.

Senator Stabenow, a member of the both the finance and budget

committees, joins us now.

Senator, the final process must begin with the House passing the

Senate bill as is.

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI), BUDGET COMMITTEE:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  Then you would immediately amend that bill—in effect,

substitute the reconciliation process for what would have been your

conference between the House and the Senate to get to an identical bill.

STABENOW:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  Bob Dove, the former Senate parliamentarian, has said he‘s

never seen anything like that happen before.  Will it work?

STABENOW:  Well, I believe that it will, Lawrence.  And it‘s wonderful

to be with you tonight.  And it will happen because we are using the

democratic process.  We passed in the Senate health care reform with a

supermajority—that as we know, in a democracy, it takes a majority.  We

all know that.

When we vote, when we go to the polls, when we‘re participating in

various organizations, it‘s one more than the opposition.  That‘s how we

make decisions in a democracy.  So that‘s what this is about.

And I want to just say that the reason we are so motivated to do this

Lawrence, 14,000 people got up this morning with health insurance and

will go to bed tonight without it, and most of them because they lost their

job.  Five thousand people lost their homes today because of a medical

bankruptcy and most of them had insurance.

               

So, we are committed to tackling and bringing down health care costs

and making sure that people who have health insurance are getting what

they‘re paying for.

O‘DONNELL:  Is the—is the House demanding of the Senate some form

of guarantee—I don‘t know what that could be—that the Senate can pass

the reconciliation before the House votes on passing the Senate bill? 

Meaning, do they want you to say something to them that gives them the

confidence, then, to allow them to pass the Senate bill?

STABENOW:  Well, I think it‘s fair for the House to know.  And, in

fact, what we‘re doing right now, is negotiating agreements as to, you

know, what changes in the bill would be acceptable to all sides.  And I

think it‘s reasonable that they know what we agreed to and that we know

what they agreed to.  And then we will need to indicate that—to indicate

that we‘re ready to go forward.  And so, I think we can get this done.

O‘DONNELL:  We saw something develop today that you rarely see in the

Senate, maybe once a decade or less.  Attacks—public attacks on the

Senate parliamentarian, Alan Frumin.  What you make of that?

STABENOW:  Well, I find it very perplexing, Lawrence, because this was

a parliamentarian that was appointed by the Republicans when Trent Lott was

in the majority.  And they said that he was being appointed because he was

fair, that he adhered to the Senate rules, that they totally trusted him. 

So, I think, unfortunately, for Alan—who is somebody that I think is

very fair—he‘s getting caught up in what is just a continuing effort to

stop everything.

You know, it‘s so easy to throw sand in the gears.  If that‘s all you

want to go, throw sand in the gears and stop everything.

But the people in this country expect us to get things done, jobs, at

the forefront.  Health care, which relates to jobs, because we‘re losing

jobs because of health care costs.  And they expect us to do things that

are going to make a difference in their lives.  Not just for a few people,

but for the rest of us.

And that‘s really what we‘re about as Democrats.

O‘DONNELL:  Just to stay on the parliamentarian for another minute,

Senator.  And you and I both know, there‘s no one more uncomfortable being

discussed this way than Alan Frumin.

STABENOW:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  But do you—do you sense that what‘s going on here is

that there‘s actually something going on here in the Republican‘s attempt

to communicate with wavering House members?  What they‘re, in effect,

saying to them is: remember, in reconciliation in the Senate, the

parliamentarian has to rule on several procedural motions that require 60-

vote thresholds sometimes to pass.  So, you can‘t be guaranteed of getting

out of the Senate reconciliation bill what you think you might get out of

it because the Senate parliamentarian has extraordinary powers to rule

things out of order.

A wordy way for me to say it, but that seems to me to be what the

Republicans in the Senate are trying to communicate to House Democrats: Be

wary of that Senate parliamentarian, he can ruin all of your plans.

STABENOW:  Well, Lawrence, they‘ll say whatever they need to say to

stop us from solving this problem and getting this done.  So, I‘m not

surprised.  I‘m not surprised at bullying or intimidation.

But I can tell you this: we have some pretty smart people in our

caucus that understand the rules of this process going forward.  And we

will adhere to them and we will do everything possible and respect the

decision of the parliamentarian.

But in the end—again, this is not about games on the floor of the

United States Senate.  This is about the people of the country who deserve

to have health care that they could afford and that they can count on it

when they‘re paying for it, and that they‘re not going to lose their job as

a result of spiraling health care costs.  And that‘s what we‘re focused on.

O‘DONNELL:  Can I just go back to one quick technical point?  You just

said that you will respect the rulings of the parliamentarian.  There has

been public speculation that if Joe Biden is presiding over the Senate and

the parliamentarian advises him to rule a certain way, that he might, if he

doesn‘t like the parliamentarian‘s advice, simply rule the way he wants to.

Are you saying now, publicly, that the Democrats are going to stay

with whatever the Senate parliamentarian‘s ruling is on any one of these

questions in the reconciliation bill?

STABENOW:  Well, I‘m saying that we respect the process.

Now, I can‘t on any individual situation speak for the vice president

or speak to what might happen.  But I will say that we are working very

hard, studying the rules, and intend to work within the parameters of

what‘s allowed.

As you know, very, very well, this is a process that only allows for

changes in budget processes.  You can‘t do insurance reform through this

process.  It has to be items related to deficits and to budget issues.  And

so, that‘s the parameters under which we are working.

It‘s a limited number of changes.  I mean, we‘ve passed health care

reform with a supermajority.  This is a limited number of changes to

improve the bill, things that I think are very important to make health

insurance more affordable and do some other significant things.  And we are

going to move ahead within the rules that are available to us to get this

done.

And I would say finally this, Lawrence, people in my state care don‘t

care if all Republicans solve problems, all Democrats solve problems, all

people with red hair solve problems.  They just want us to get things done

that affect their lives, so that the middle class know that they can look

to a future and be confident that they‘re going to be able to prosper in

America.  And that‘s what I‘m focused on.  That‘s what we‘re focused on as

Democrats.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan—thanks for your

time and insights tonight.

STABENOW:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: a historic moment in presidential comedy. 

“Saturday Night Live‘s” President Obama gets visited by “SNL‘s”

presidential characters of the past.  We‘ll show you the Funny or Die skit

and let you know what cause brought all the actors together.

And this is no joke.  An air traffic controller at a busy airport lets

his child take over the headsets to let airplanes know they‘re cleared for

takeoff.  A former government investigator says it‘s one of the worst

violations of federal rules he‘s ever seen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Still ahead on COUNTDOWN, controversy in the control tower

at JFK Airport.  A father lets his son give instructions to planes ready to

take off.  Now the dad and his supervisor are both suspended.  Is that

punishment enough?

And later: Palin goes on Leno, Romney does Letterman.  Guess who won

the ratings battle?  Harry Shearer on that and his latest project.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  It is supposed to be the voice of authority at one of

the world‘s busiest airports.  So why would an air traffic controller allow

his children to give instructions to pilots at JFK Airport?  The FAA is

investigating the controller and a supervisor suspended.

Our correspondent is Tom Costello.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It was February

16th when pilots at New York‘s JFK Airport heard an unfamiliar voice coming

across the radio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jet Blue 171, clear for takeoff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Clear for takeoff, Jet Blue 171.

CONTROLLER:  This is what you get, guys, when the kids are out of

school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Wish I could bring my kid to work.

COSTELLO:  It was a controller‘s child.  LiveATC.net recorded the

child relaying controller instructions to taxiing pilots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jet Blue 171, contact departure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Departure, Jet 171.  Awesome job.

COSTELLO:  For their part, the pilots seemed to go along with it all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  0-3, clear for takeoff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  403, clear for takeoff.  Thank you very much.  You

have a great day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Air Mex 403, contact departure, adios.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Contact departure, AeroMexico 403, Adios.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Contact departure Adios amigos.

COSTELLO:  JFK handles 1,100 flights and 130,000 passengers each

day.  Today the Transportation Secretary called the incident outrageous.

RAY LAHOOD, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION:  This, in my opinion, is just

a lack of common sense and a total disregard for the safety of the people

on the airplane.

COSTELLO:  At JFK today, mixed feelings.  Passenger Nitya Hernandez

(ph) said it was inexcusable for a child to be on the radio.

NITYA HERNANDEZ, PASSENGER:  Well, if he told the kid exactly what to

say, but kids don‘t always do what you tell them to do.

COSTELLO:  While a 20-year-old veteran pilot wasn‘t concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:   Nothing happened to the planes that took off and

I don‘t see a problem with that at all.

COSTELLO:  Then late today, word the controller‘s 8-year-old daughter

was in the tower the very next night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Jet Blue 57, contact New York departure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jet Blue 57, thank you.  Good day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s the next generation of air traffic

controller going here.

COSTELLO:  Safety experts are not amused.

MARK ROSENKER, NBC NEWS AVIATION ANALYST:  I think this is one of the

most egregious violations of federal rules and regulations I have ever

seen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO:  The FAA has now suspended both the controller and the

supervisor on duty and the union says it cannot condone or defend what

happened.  Effective immediately, the FAA has also suspended all unofficial

tower visits following what experts call a father‘s serious lapse in

judgment.

Lawrence, back to you.

O‘DONNELL:  Tom Costello, thank you.

From one bad idea to another: Sarah Palin, as stand-up comedian.  It

seems it was at least a good idea for the ratings face-off between Leno and

Letterman.

Harry Shearer joins us next.

And the idea behind this—the folks at “Funny or Die” pull off a

huge casting feat.  What brought all the living presidential characters

from “Saturday Night Live” together?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  There are a lot of ways we might know that the 2012

presidential campaign has begun and one of those markers came last night in

late-night.  Former half-term governor Sarah Palin appeared on “The Tonight

Show” with Jay Leno and former one-term liberal Republican Governor, Mitt

Romney, sat down with David Letterman on the “Late Show”.

Governor Palin, in fact, really went out of her way to be self-

deprecating.  She poked fun at the whole fiasco of writing notes on her

hand.  And after chatting with Leno for a while, she was reintroduced so

that she could do a stand-up routine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  Thank you.  I am

so happy to get to be here.  This is a thrill of a lifetime, really and

Alaska being so different from Los Angeles.  Here, when people have a

frozen look on their face, I find out its botox.

It is so beautiful here, though, so warm and beautiful, back

home, it was freezing.  It was five degrees below Congress‘s approval

rating.

But great show tonight.  Shaun White on the show, what an amazing

athlete.  I watched him do a double McTwist 1260 and the other people to do

a double McTwist 1260 was last week—the White House on health care.

I watched the Winter Olympics.  Skiing, fighting on the ice,

skating, bobsledding.  In Alaska, that‘s our morning commute.

And how about that amazing closing ceremony?  It was beautiful. 

The minute I saw the giant moose, I remembered, hadn‘t cooked anything for

the kids‘ dinner and that‘s because I‘ve been really busy.  And I have been

really busy.

I‘ve picked up a gig in Las Vegas at the “Legends” show playing

Tina Fey.  And next, next I get to headline.  I‘ll be the speaker at the

NRA Convention.  So be there, or else.

The truth is, though, I‘m glad that I‘m not vice president.  I‘m

glad, because I would not know what to do with all that free time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  On the other coast, Governor Romney did his best to

charm.  He relayed the story of a recent flight in which he was slapped by

an agitated passenger.  Romney said the guy, quote, “broke my hair”. 

Romney also fended off questions about, well, you know—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  It

sounds to me like you‘re going to run for president again in 2012.

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER GOVERNOR, MASSACHUSETTS:  No plans for that at

this point.

LETTERMAN:  Yes.

ROMNEY:  I‘ll keep the door open.  Of course he‘s running.  Are

you available?  Are you available, David?

LETTERMAN:  I can tell by the cologne.  I—and what about that Sarah

Palin?  She‘s not ready to be president, is she?

ROMNEY:  She‘s terrific.  She really is.  She‘s terrific.  She‘s got

energy, she‘s got energy, passion.  And by the way, you know, be careful

what you say about her, by the way, I mean—

LETTERMAN:  No, I‘ve had my—

ROMNEY:  No, she—

LETTERMAN:  I‘ve had my—

ROMNEY:  She has—she has a rifle, you know?

LETTERMAN:  Yes, I know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  It was, of course, Leno‘s second night back on his

late-night throne and the ratings reflected that Leno trounced Letterman

and/or Palin trounced Romney.

Let‘s bring in actor, author, satirist, musician, radio host,

Harry Shearer.  His latest CD is called “Greed and Fear”.”  It‘s now

downloadable.  Harry, you are also a television historian.

HARRY SHEARER, AUTHOR, “GREED AND FEAR”:  I‘m a sage, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  And so my question is—

SHEARER:  I‘m a freaking sage here.

O‘DONNELL:  -- Sarah Palin doing stand-up on “The Tonight Show”—

SHEARER:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  -- is that the first time in “Tonight Show” history

that someone was doing stand-up for the first time?  You usually have to be

a successful—you have to do years to get to do stand-up.

SHEARER:  You have to do it 1:00 a.m. at the Improv -- 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.

SHEARER:  -- and kiss Bud Friedman‘s you know what for awhile. 

Yes, I would say—all I could think of when I saw that was Bill Clinton

on the “Arsenio Hall Show”, probably the first network gig he‘s ever had as

a saxophone player.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.

SHEARER:  You know.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.

SHEARER:  Kind of—kind of congruent.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.

SHEARER:  It‘s like that paved the way for this.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, you know, I am—I am, as you know, the hardest

working substitute guy in show business.

SHEARER:  You are, indeed.

O‘DONNELL:  I was in the building yesterday, in Burbank, hosting this

show while Sarah Palin downstairs was appearing on the Leno show.

SHEARER:  And now here you are with me tonight.

O‘DONNELL:  When she was on “Saturday Night Live”, I was across the

street in the studio when she was doing “Saturday Night Live”.  It‘s just -

-

SHEARER:  I just wished I owned—I just wished I owned American

Airline stock.

O‘DONNELL:  But what this means is I didn‘t—I took the red eye and

I didn‘t get to see her on “The Tonight Show” or Romney, but I mean, so—

judging stand-up—you‘ve seen a lot of stand-ups going on “The Tonight

Show” for the first time—

SHEARER:  Yes, yes.

O‘DONNELL:  -- judging stand-ups, what did you see?

SHEARER:  Well, I give her a “B” for delivery and a “C minus” for

material?  I would fire her writers—

O‘DONNELL:  Aren‘t they the Leno writers?

SHEARER:  I don‘t know, were they?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, well have to get up that.

SHEARER:  Well, I mean, we don‘t know for sure.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.

SHEARER:  But I mean, that was—that was lame material.  I

thought, you know, watching her perform, I now understand why TLC canceled

the Miss America pageant.

O‘DONNELL:  Have you been to Alaska?

SHEARER:  I have.

O‘DONNELL:  You‘ve been everywhere in the world.  That‘s right.  I was

confident you‘ve been there.  I‘ve never been to Alaska, so I don‘t—

SHEARER:  I have been there, it‘s beautiful.  I don‘t speak Alaskan.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.

SHEARER:  I don‘t know—

O‘DONNELL:  Well, she doesn‘t speak Alaskan.  What does wee weed me?

SHEARER:  Oh, Democrats should—we should explain.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.

SHEARER:  She said, I‘m going to keep writing on my palm, because

it gets the Democrats—the liberals all wee weed up?

O‘DONNELL:  And she‘s said that before, this wee-weed thing.  It‘s a

verb that I don‘t get.

SHEARER:  I think that‘s code to the non-TEA party Republicans to say,

I‘m going to be, contrary to what you think now, I‘m going to represent the

restoration of the George H.W. Bush era of kinder, gentler Republican, he

of the doo-doo.  He used to say, oh, deep doo-doo.  It‘s wee-wee equals

doo-doo in Republican speak.

O‘DONNELL:  Ok, all right.  Now, what about the—

SHEARER:  It‘s all code.  You‘ve got to read the code.

O‘DONNELL:  What about the late night war in day two of—now day

three, of Leno versus Letterman again—

SHEARER:  Leno versus Letterman day three.

O‘DONNELL:  -- again—

SHEARER:  Ok.

O‘DONNELL:  Again, back to your professor of television history,

how do you see it at this stage?

SHEARER:  This is a restoration.

O‘DONNELL:  Oh, yes indeed.

SHEARER:  This is like English history—

O‘DONNELL:  Yes indeed.

SHEARER:  -- this is like Oliver Cromwell had 60 years and then -

good night.  We‘re going back to the monarchy.

You know, they always say that late night and early morning are

the two most habit-dominated area of television, because, obviously, you‘re

here in another time slot and you‘re doing fine, so habit isn‘t an issue

here.

O‘DONNELL:  Right.

SHEARER:  But it‘s like, ok, Dave ruled while, you know, the

Cromwell era was going on at “The Tonight Show” and now the monarchy has

been resumed.  I think you have to see it in royal terms.

O‘DONNELL:  And what do you—in terms of last night‘s rating, is

that a Palin versus Romney rating or a Jay versus Dave rating?

SHEARER:  It‘s a Baptist versus Mormon rating.

O‘DONNELL:  And so for the—

SHEARER:  Don‘t invest in the special garment, is what I‘m saying.

O‘DONNELL:  -- and so for the potential Republican primary, if that‘s

the first night of it?

SHEARER:  I‘d bet on Romney, I just because I believe in the

Republicans‘ proclivity to always elect the next person in line.

O‘DONNELL:  And he‘s been very—

SHEARER:  He‘s the guy.

O‘DONNELL:  -- relatively patient as things go.

SHEARER:  Yes, she‘s—she‘s 2016, wait your turn, babe.

O‘DONNELL:  And isn‘t it for them, it seems when you look at every

Republican, there is something—within Republican—terms, something

seriously wrong with that candidate.  You know, within their own

measurements for these things.

SHEARER:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  And so—

SHEARER:  Well, he‘s got the Mormon thing.  What do you think is

wrong with her?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, he also has the liberal thing.  He was a liberal

governor who passed a liberal—

SHEARER:  Oh Scott Brown—Scott Brown was a liberal, but they forgot

that in a second and a half.

O‘DONNELL:  But can they forget Romney‘s health care plan, in a year

that they want to run against health care?

SHEARER:  Didn‘t Scott Brown vote for it in the Massachusetts senate?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, he did.

SHEARER:  Thank you.  And you forgot about it—

O‘DONNELL:  I forgot—it took you to jet in here and remind me.

Harry Shearer, my Santa Monica neighbor who I only see in other

parts of the world.

SHEARER:  In New York, that‘s right.

O‘DONNELL:  Harry Shearer‘s new CD is “Greed and Fear”, its‘

available now.  A great pleasure to talk with you, Harry.

SHEARER:  Thank you Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m glad you could make it in the Studio.

SHEARER:  It‘s my pleasure.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, comedy history.

The first time ever the presidential characters from “Saturday

Night Live” assembled for one skit.  What cause brought them all together? 

The answer, along with the whole skit next on COUNTDOWN.  Quiet, Harry

Shearer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Right now the Congress is considering the creation of the

Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the CFPA.  That agency, if created

and if it is strong and independent, would help protect average Americans

from financial institutions which have been taking advantage of them,

thanks to decades of deregulation.

In a new web short, FunnyOrDie.com is trying to spread the word

about the CFPA.  The Web site reunited every living “Saturday Night Live”

presidential player for a skit calling for real financial reform.

From Carter through Obama, you will recognize all of the “SNL”

alumni with one exception.

The late, great Phil Hartman did “Saturday Night Live‘s” best

Ronald Reagan, so to fill the fake Gipper‘s shoes, they used a guy from “In

Living Color”.  You may recognize him.  Ron Howard shot it in 15 hours on

Sunday, which is very quick shooting for what you are about to see.

Ladies and gentlemen, FunnyOrDie‘s presidential reunion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Exclusive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m just tired of getting my butt kicked from both

sides on this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘ll be all right.  Are you smoking cigarettes

in there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  These banks and the credit card companies,

they‘re ripping off the people, it‘s almost no regulations.  I‘m trying to

make a consumer agency to protect the families and the lobbyists and

Senator Shelby act like I want to change the national anthem to, I got 99

problems and a bitch aren‘t one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You go to bed, sweetheart.  Your heart will tell

you what to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ok.  Come here, snuggle up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:   Boo. Boo. I‘m the ghost of Dick Cheney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Relax.  It‘s just us.  Man, Michelle has got some

legs on her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How‘d you two get in here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The security code is still 1234 from when I was

Pres.  Only it took me five times to remember it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We heard you were tossing and turning over whether

to push for federal regulations so we‘re here to give you some advice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, what he said?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You two are the one who is stripped out all the

regulations.  Why would I want advice from you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Dude, it was the ‘90s.  People did all kinds of

crazy things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, I‘m still waiting for a bunch of e-Toys that

never showed up.  Besides, when I put the Iraq war on my credit card, I

never dreamed I would be paying 28 percent in interest rates.  It‘s

astronomical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, well if you‘d listened to me, it would have

raised taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, then I would have had one term.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes and that second term of yours was a real

victory lapper, wasn‘t it, Dubbers.  Now, listen, Borat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s Barack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sorry, but you‘ve got to listen to these fellows,

Babar.  What you‘ve got to understand is that we‘ve got a regulatory issue

here and we‘ve got to regulate that and we‘re going to get more bubbles,

going to get bigger and larger and then, pop, money goes to the weasels.

Sometimes you‘ve got to do the right thing.  You‘ve got to take

those approval ratings there and screw them.  Ratings, screw.  Right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m taking them to nasty town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I know a thing or two about doing what‘s

right and being unpopular.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, great, if it isn‘t “Mr. Let‘s get the party

started”.  What do you say we open up a bag of malaise potato chips.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President, you‘ve got to establish the

Consumer Finance Protection Agency.  People are tired of being ripped off

by credit card companies and banks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I never could get this right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There you go again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This can‘t be.  You‘re dead.  I saw them lower

your coffin into the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I am dead, but I‘ve come back as a spirit. 

To help “Mr. Reach across the aisles” here grow a pair.  Now, listen up,

you son of a man.  I went up against Tip O‘Neill with nothing but a psychic

oracle and these pendulous balls, but I pushed through the competition.  I

clobbered everybody and I took down them all.

Now, grab those eight balls and push the Consumer Protection

Agency through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Betty, did you change the locks again?

Live from New York—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This isn‘t live.  This is FunnyOrDie.com.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, the only way to stop these corrupt banks and

credit card companies is to pardon Richard Nixon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He means you got to get that Customer Protection

Act through Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jimmy Carter, you‘re dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, Jerry, you‘re dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, well, I‘m dead, but I‘m going to be a guest on

“Dancing with the Stars” this season.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ok.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I hope this little talk has helped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So what you‘re saying is I should clean up this

mess that you all created, take on the banks and all their trillions of

dollars, how is this helpful?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a bitch.  It‘s a bitch.  But as George

Washington once said to John Adams, “Tag, you‘re it.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Grow some nuts for the Gipper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s going to be hard.  Never going to be easy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s nothing wrong with one term, Barack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Just do me a solid and don‘t tell Cheney I was

here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Am I dead or alive?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Can I be ambassador to Cancun?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What is it, honey?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m going make a pot of coffee, wake the cabinet;

we‘ve got work to do.  Oh, and honey—

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The nicorette‘s in the sock drawer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sweet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The banks have billions of dollars to spend to get

their message out, but your speech is free.  Contact your senators about

the CFPA.  Nothing annoys them more than having to do their jobs.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  The real test of TV comedy is was the crew laughing? 

And in this TV studio, the crew was laughing from start to finish at the

brilliant work of the twisted minds at FunnyOrDie.com.

That will have to do it for this Wednesday edition of COUNTDOWN.

I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.  Our MSNBC

coverage continues now with the “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”.  Good evening,

Rachel.

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

BE UPDATED.

END   

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