updated 3/24/2010 10:50:11 AM ET 2010-03-24T14:50:11

Guest: Sen. Chris Dodd, Ezra Klein, Eugene Robinson, Melissa Harris-

Lacewell

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)              

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

will you be talking about tomorrow?

A day for the history books.  Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 -- the day

health care reform became the law of the land.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Our presence here today

is remarkable and improbable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  President Obama praises the fortitude of every American

who helped win this battle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We don‘t fall prey to fear.  We are not a nation that does

what‘s easy.  That‘s not who we are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And for those who chose to lie about the bill, time will

expose them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I heard one of the Republican leaders say this was going to be

Armageddon.  Well, you know, two months from now, six months from now, you

can check it out.  We‘ll look around.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  And we‘ll see.  You don‘t have to take my word for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Our special guest tonight: Senator Chris Dodd, on being

inside the White House today as a witness to history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This is a big

(EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, Mr. Vice president, this is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

deal.

The Senate takes up the reconciliation fix.  Can Republicans succeed

in changing anything to force another vote in the House?

More than a dozen states join forces to try to block reform now that

it‘s law.  Do they have any chance of convincing the court, reform is

unconstitutional?

John McCain couldn‘t stop health care reform so he says he‘ll just

stop working on any other legislation.  So why not quit, Senator?  Don‘t

run for re-election.

And speaking of quitters, Sarah Palin‘s rhetoric gets more incendiary. 

Not only does she tell opponents of reform it‘s time to reload, she

announces her list of Democrats to target and she uses crosshairs, gun

crosshairs, to target them.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

for Keith Olbermann.

The first hand that President Obama shook this morning after signing

the health care into law was that Marcelas Owens, an 11-year-old boy, who,

in recent weeks, has become a national advocate for reform, in memory of

his mother Tiffany.  She lost her life to a treatable illness because she

did not have insurance and could not afford the basic care that she needed.

Today, the fifth grader, Marcelas, wearing a tie matching the

president‘s, said, “It‘s tough not having my mom around, but she‘s been

with me in spirit.  Every time I talk, I hope I‘ve made her proud.” 

Marcelas was standing at the president‘s side when he put pen to paper,

make that pens, plural, 22 of them.  Each of them an invaluable gift the

president traditionally gives to the luckiest and most powerful dignitaries

in the room.

With his signature, President Obama made what once seemed impossible

the law of the land.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Today, after almost a century of trying, today, after over a

year of debate, today, after all the votes have been tallied—health

insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Earlier in the proceedings, Vice President Biden still not

accustomed to standing near open microphones, after he introduced the

president, Biden apparently let a very strong word slip into his feelings

about the moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Ladies and

gentlemen, the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BIDEN:  This is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal.

OBAMA:  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  No bleeping necessary from there on out.  Nearly every

president since Teddy Roosevelt has tried to enact health care reform of

some kind.  The 44th president of the United States thanked all of them—

plus Teddy Kennedy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

OBAMA:  I‘m signing this bill for all the leaders who took up this

cause through the generations—from Teddy Roosevelt to Franklin

Roosevelt, from Harry Truman to Lyndon Johnson, from Bill and Hillary

Clinton to one of the deans who‘s been fighting this so long, John Dingell.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  To Senator Ted Kennedy.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  And it‘s fitting that Ted‘s widow, Vicki, is here.

I remember seeing Ted walk through that door in a summit in this room

a year ago—one of his last public appearances.  And it was hard for him

to make it.  But he was confident that we would do the right thing.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

O‘DONNELL:  When it came time to talk about the legislation, the

president said health care reform would soon speak for itself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

OBAMA:  In a few moments when I sign this bill, all of the overheated

rhetoric over reform will finally confront the reality of reform.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  This year, tens of thousands of uninsured Americans with pre-

existing conditions, the parents of children who have a pre-existing

condition, will finally be able to purchase the coverage they need.  That

happens this year.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  This year, insurance companies will no longer be able to drop

people‘s coverage when they get sick.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  They won‘t be able to place life time limits or restrictive

annual limits on the amount of care they can receive.  This year—

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  This year—all new insurance plans will be required to offer

free preventive care, and this year, young adults will be able to stay on

their parents‘ policies until they are 26 years old.  That happens this

year.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

O‘DONNELL:  President Obama talked about the many who had doubted that

this day would ever come.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Our presence here today is remarkable and improbable.  With

all the punditry, all of the lobbying, all the game-playing that passes for

governing in Washington, it‘s been easy at times to doubt our ability to do

such a big thing—such a complicated thing; to wonder if there are limits

to what we, as a people, can still achieve.  It‘s easy to succumb to the

sense of cynicism about what is possible in this country.

But today, we are affirming that essential truth—a truth every

generation is called to rediscover for itself, that we are not a nation

that scales back its aspirations.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  We are not a nation that falls prey to doubt or mistrust.  We

don‘t fall prey to fear.  We are not a nation that does what‘s easy. 

That‘s not who we are.  That‘s not how we got here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  The president concluded by saying health care reform isn‘t

about doing what‘s easy.  It‘s about doing what‘s right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We‘re a nation that does what is hard, what is necessary, what

is right.  Here in this country, we shape our own destiny.  That is what we

do.  That is who we are.  That is what makes us the United States of

America.

And we have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core

principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to

their health care.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  And it is an extraordinary achievement that has happened

because of all of you and all the advocates all across the country.  So

thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Among those at the White House for the signing ceremony

was Senator Chris Dodd, chairman of the banking committee.  Earlier

tonight, I spoke with the Democrat from Connecticut about this historic

day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Mr. Chairman, thank you for joining us tonight.  This is

an historic day and I appreciate that you‘re busy on the Senate floor

tonight.  We really appreciate your time.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT:  Thank you, Lawrence.  Good to be

with you.

O‘DONNELL:  You were Ted Kennedy‘s best friend in the Senate.  When I

was looking at the images today in the East Room, with his widow Vicki

there, his son Patrick, his niece Caroline, you there in the room—I just

expected at some point the camera was going to pick up that shock of white

hair and Teddy was going to move in there and throw his arm around you.

If Teddy had been there today, Senator Dodd, what would he have told

you about what you accomplished?

DODD:  Well, I think he had a great sense of history.  And I think he

would have reached back and talked about the fact that, you know, we got

Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, even Richard Nixon. 

Teddy appreciated, I‘m sorry that the president didn‘t mention Nixon.

Lawrence, you‘re a great student of this institution and government. 

But Richard Nixon actually tried to do something on national health care in

the first administration.  Never succeeded.  But he—Teddy appreciated

the efforts and, of course, appreciated the efforts as I worked with him in

‘93 and ‘94, you may recall, when Bill Clinton—President Clinton

obviously tried valiantly in the same vein.  So, I think he had a great

sense of that.

And the president graciously mentioned his appearance in that East

Room about a year ago, maybe one of the lasts, other than a couple of votes

he cast later that spring.  It was the last real public appearance he made. 

It‘s kind of an appeal once again to try and get this off the ground.  That

is the national health care debate and the victory we saw today.

So, I couldn‘t help but think of him sort of reaching back to all of

the battles, some won, some lost, the piecemeal efforts over the years.  He

was around for Medicare.  That battle in the ‘60s.  He was, of course, the

author of the children‘s health initiative.

It was a great help when I wrote the Family and Medical Leave Act.  It

was a great help to me when I did autism, premature birth, infant

screenings, children care legislations—all of these pieces of trying to

fit the puzzle together.

What was missing was this gap, and that is the notion that every

single American had a right to health care.  And so, I think today, he

would have been thinking about all of those efforts over the years.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, Senator Kennedy, Chairman Kennedy, in your committee,

literally handed you the gavel when he just could no longer carry on

physically.  You had to get this bill through that committee in the Senate. 

And you gave up on Republicans.

At what point did you know you weren‘t going to get any Republican

cooperation in that committee and did you then believe that there was no

chance of Republican cooperation the rest of the way?

DODD:  I think, in retrospect, I knew pretty early on.  I mean, you

can tell—as you recall, Lawrence, from your days here, you can tell

pretty early on whether or not you‘re going to have someone you can work

with, or whether or not this is going to be a struggle.  And that they made

a conscious decision really not to be part of the final effort here, and

that was clear early on.

Now, I know Teddy Kennedy, Senator Kennedy, early on, in fact, really

tried to work with the minority in his committee, as he had done on so many

other issues.

O‘DONNELL:  It seems—

DODD:  But he wasn‘t getting—I‘m sorry.

O‘DONNELL:  Sorry, sorry.  It seems like the last two months maybe the

most dramatic part of this story.  Roughly two months ago, Scott Brown was

elected to Massachusetts.

DODD:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  There were plenty of Democrats, good Democrats, who were

strong supporters of this bill, who believed it was dead.

How did you get this thing back up off the floor and moving?

DODD:  You know, I‘ll tell you something.  And I don‘t know if maybe

I‘ll be the only person with this view.  I actually think the election of

Scott Brown helped Democrats, because all of a sudden, it wasn‘t 60-40, it

was something less than that.  I think it reinvigorated the party.  Instead

of relying on just producing the numbers, I think it caused us to step back

and try to figure strategically how we were going to get this over the

finish line.

And almost had a sense while we had—I think the period between the

election in Massachusetts and the events of the last couple of weeks, it

was kind of a hiatus.  It was a quieter period.  There was that—

obviously, that conference at the Blair House which I strongly recommended. 

And I thought it was wise to kind of calm down a little bit, take a breath,

step back, regroup and then go forward.

And candidly, I almost think that election in Massachusetts actually

helped produce the results we saw today.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, quickly before we go—turning to financial

reform bill, the next big crusade in the Senate.  You are the chairman of

the banking committee.  You have a horrible problem out there on the Senate

floor where you need 60 votes to move the bill on the Senate floor.  You‘re

going to have to get at least one Republican to go forward.

In what may be the most politically polarized era the Senate has ever

seen with Republicans and Democrats just completely opposed to each other -

- do you think there‘s any way you‘re going find that route to 60 votes in

the Senate to move that bill forward?

DODD:  I do, Lawrence.  And I actually think the events of today and

the last couple of days are going to help in that effort.  I can tell you

the number of Republicans I know in this body who frankly were never overly

enthusiastic about this “just say no to everything.”  They didn‘t jump (ph)

here, they didn‘t get elected, they didn‘t spend the time to come here just

to not be at the table to work on issues like the health care debate and

like this one.

And I frankly think that “just say no” strategy was the political

equivalency of a high wire act and it failed.  Now, the question is: are

you going to get to the table and be part of fashioning a product in the

key area of financial reform?  And I think I‘m going to find some partners

willing to do that.

Bob Corker of Tennessee has already indicated that, wanted to work on

this bill.  Richard Shelby and I had worked on a number of bills together. 

I think he wants to work with us on this one, too.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, thank you for your time

tonight and congratulations on this historic health care victory.  And

please, for me, pass on my congratulations to all the committee staff and

the Senate floor staff involved in getting that through the Senate.

DODD:  That‘s a true Senate staffer that made that comment.  I‘ll do

it as well.  Thanks, Lawrence.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: the final front in the health care fight.  The

reconciliation fix is being debated in the Senate at this hour.  Can the

Democrats beat back every Republican challenge to change the bill?

And Sarah Palin‘s latest tweet, urging followers to reload on the

health care fight.  Reload what, Sarah?  Any coincidence that in her list

of House Democrats to target she actually uses crosshairs?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: the Senate gets to work on the reconciliation

fix to health care reform.  The biggest drama isn‘t whether the Democrats

have the votes to pass it.  The big question is: can they get it past the

parliamentarian with every word intact?

And later, Senator John McCain is ready to give up on the Senate, but

he still wants to stay in his job.

And is there any truth to the claims the new reform law is

unconstitutional?  That‘s next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Health care reform, even if you consider it mostly just

insurance reform, is now a reality.  But the House only passed the Senate

version after the Senate assured the House it would pass a package of fixes

and the debate on those fixes began today.  The trick for Democrats is,

that if a single word changes in those fixes, it goes back to the House for

yet another round at a time when Democrats are eager to move on to other

issues.  For that reason, Republicans are trying to force change, any

change, no matter how trivial.

It‘s up to the Senate parliamentarian Alan Frumin to rule on those

changes.  If he sides with Republicans on any of them, the Democrats can

overrule the parliamentarian, but that takes 60 votes.  Another theoretical

option is for Vice President Joe Biden to overrule the parliamentarian,

which happens so infrequently, it would be—in Biden‘s speak—a big F-

ing deal.

But Republicans can do more than challenge whether the existing bill

meets the budget reconciliation guidelines.  They can also offer amendments

to the bill and that‘s what they were doing today.

Republican Judd Gregg wanted to block the use of savings for Medicare

for anything but Medicare, but began his remarks by reiterating GOP talking

points about the bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JUDD GREGG ®, NEW HAMPSHIRE:  I wish I could stand here and

agree with the senator from Montana.  I wish as I looked at the bills just

passed the House, and now that we‘re getting the trailer bill, the buy-it

bill, the bill that was used to purchase the votes in the House to pass the

big bill, that I could say that America‘s children are going to be better

off, that the people who have health care issues in this country are going

to be better off, but that‘s impossible to say.

Why is it impossible to say?  Because this bill, as it passed the

House, was an atrocity.  It was an explosion of government, the likes of

which we‘ve never seen in this country before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the finance

committee, pointed out the elephant in the room, that Republican opposition

to the original reform bill in the Senate is now moot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA:  This is a debate we had when we were on

the bill.  The Senate has already considered the arguments made by the

senator from New Hampshire and others.  The Senate decided against those

arguments.  The Senate has decided to pass health care reform as has the

House of Representatives, as has—and the president signed it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And Democratic Senator Tom Harkin took aim at the recent

Republican chorus for repeal of the bill, essentially daring Republicans to

do what they say they want to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA:  In the near term, however, it is

disappointing that some Republican legislators, I think, may be taking

their cue from the more extreme voices on talk radio or FOX TV, are

pledging to repeal this new law.  In fact, the distinguished minority

leader, Republican leader, a couple of weeks ago at a press conference,

said that their motto was going to be this year, that if we pass this bill,

their motto was going to be: elect Republicans.  They‘ll repeal it.

Well, this strikes me as bad public policy and, I think, quite frankly

bad politics.  Do Republicans really want to repeal the ban on denying

insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions?  Do they really want to

repeal the ban on insurance companies canceling your policy if you get

sick?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Baucus conceded to “Roll Call” that one or two

parts of the fix package might have to be changed, which would send it back

to the House.  And that could cause from the left for Senator Michael

Bennet, who led an effort to revive the public option by inserting it into

the reconciliation fix—an option that seemed shut off when Democrats

insisted on no changes to the fix, but not might now be open if the bill

has to go back to the House anyway.

We are joined tonight by Ezra Klein, columnist at “Newsweek,” who

covers domestic and economic issues for the “Washington Post.”

Good evening, Ezra.

If the Democrats succeed in changing the reconciliation bill, what

happens to the public option issue in the Senate?  Will Bennet be under

pressure?  He has a primary challenger in Colorado, putting him under

pressure to then raise the possibility of inserting the public option as an

amendment in the Senate bill?  How will—how might that play out?

EZRA KLEIN, THE WASHINGTON POST:  My understanding is Senator Reid has

made a deal with Senator Sanders and others to consider the public option

later.

My guess at this point is that Democrats had decided they want this

reconciliation bill passed.  They are very, very happy coming off of the

signing of the bill today and that they‘re probably going to stick together

procedurally here.  They‘re not going to be tricked by Republicans into

sort of tying themselves back into knots and reopening old debates.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, you know, I had heard from staff yesterday who had

met with the parliamentarian that they felt there were maybe one or two

pieces of the bill that might not make it past the parliamentarian.  I was,

though, surprised, I think, today to hear Senator Baucus say that publicly. 

Because it seems to me that will give great encouragement to Republicans on

the floor, that if they haven‘t found it yet, there must be something in

there that they can get struck up by the parliamentarian.

KLEIN:  My hunch is that a lot of the Democrats in the Senate were

surprised to hear Senator Baucus say that publicly.  But I think that‘s

correct.

On the other hand, what you‘re going to see is that Republicans are

going to attempt every challenge they can make.  Senator Gregg began this

process by saying he had dreaded 310(g) challenge, the Social Security

challenge, that is going to derail the whole reconciliation, and that been

at works.  And now, they can just sort of go after little bits and parts of

it.

And at the end of the day, if they do get a little bit or a part of

it, a provision struck out and it goes back to the House, it just isn‘t the

biggest deal in the world.  The House doesn‘t have the difficulties passing

things that the Senate does.  Nancy Pelosi has the votes and Democrats are

feeling pretty good right now.

So, at the best, Republicans can annoy the Democrats.  I don‘t know if

they can do too much to harm them on this reconciliation bill.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  You know, and sending it back to the House, I‘ve

never thought that was a big deal.  That‘s what normally happens on these

things.  And I suspect that maybe if Baucus was thinking about it, after a

big signing ceremony at the White House where this is law, there‘s nothing

to worry about, maybe he let it be known that there might be one or two of

these things so that the House could prepare psychologically for that

possibility, rather than have them come out of the blue and it looked like,

wait a minute, the Senate is out of control.

Might that be what he was doing—was really kind of talking to the

House saying, hey, guys, don‘t worry if this happens?

KLEIN:  It‘s always possible.  At the end of it, I think that Senator

Baucus might have also just been engaging hypothetical.  Yes, it‘s possible

some things change and it goes back to the House.  Again, I think what‘s

relevant for Democrats right now is sort of how up they are feeling.  I

almost feel like the House Democrats would be happy to take another crack

at things.

So, I think you‘re probably right that Senator Baucus was saying,

look, this may happen.  Nobody should be surprised.  It‘s not even really

our fault.  It‘s how the parliamentarian rules.

But at the end of the day, it just doesn‘t strike me as a big deal for

either chamber.  A lot of tension of reconciliation has died down now.  I

think, actually, Democrats felt better about signing the basic Senate bill

than they thought they were, and that‘s done a lot to ease the difficulties

between the two chambers.

O‘DONNELL:  The other was the time when the thought was the Senate

bill would be signed in the dark, in the middle of night—

KLEIN:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  -- because it‘s such an embarrassing document.  But there

was a complete change of strategy on that to make, I guess, what‘s going on

in the Senate just seem like a redundant, unnecessary thing for anybody to

watch which may be exactly the way they should try to treat it.

KLEIN:  It‘s a very smart move by them, because it really took the air

out of the Republican tires on this.  What Republicans figured they could

do was the Senate bill could pass.  They knew they could that.

If they could stop reconciliation, that was actually the point of

vulnerability, because potentially, they could do that procedurally.  They

could draw it out.  They could force Biden to come in and do a ruling (ph)

nobody is really that comfortable of him doing.

And maybe they could derail reconciliation.  They would never sign the

Senate bill and health care reform would never become law.

Now that health reform is already law and now that the newspaper

headlines have been written and the word “historic” has been used, the

Senate bill is just fixes.  You really heard Republicans saying today that

they think this will come into law by the end of next week.  So, they don‘t

seem to really be trying to fight this one out too much longer either.

O‘DONNELL:  Ezra Klein of “The Washington” and “Newsweek”—thank you

for watching the Senate floor for us tonight.

KLEIN:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: Senator John McCain gets the “sore loser of the

year” award.  Now that health care reform is law, he doesn‘t want to help

make any more laws.  Why is he promising to be the laziest lawmaker in

Washington?

And later, why does Sarah Palin insist on playing with words that

could incite violence?  She tells opponents of health care reform to reload

and then puts out a Democrat target list full of gun crosshairs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Country first or revenge?  Now that the health care reform

bill has passed, Senator John McCain actually admits he has settled

comfortably on the latter.  He has decided to continue to take a big

government salary, which his wife‘s wealth renders meaningless, and do

absolutely no work for it for the rest of the year. 

The former Republican presidential nominee is now, of course, in a

primary battle to retain his Senate seat, and yesterday, he went beyond

merely condemning the health care reform bill.  Speaking to Arizona radio

station, he declared his intentions for the long term.  “There will be no

cooperation for the rest of the year.  They have poisoned the well in what

they‘ve done and how they‘ve done it.” 

White House senior advisor David Axelrod responded, “you know, that‘s

OK on the sandlot, but that‘s not really OK when you are trying to govern a

country and move a country forward.  It is a disappointing attitude.” 

The McCain camp, now in the business of nothing but issuing press

releases, immediately shot back.  McCain spokeswoman saying, in a

statement, “Senator John McCain will always stand on the side of the

American people.  Get used to it, Mr. Axelrod.  That is what strong,

independent members do.  You‘d know that if you had ever worked for one.” 

Harry Reid couldn‘t resist taunting McCain in the middle of his

tantrum.  Reid‘s spokesman saying, in a statement, “for someone who

campaigned on country first and claims to take great pride in

bipartisanship, it‘s absolutely bizarre for Senator McCain to tell the

American people he is going to take his ball and go home until the next

election.  He must be living in some parallel universe, because the fact

is, with very few exceptions, we‘ve gotten very little cooperation from

Senate Republicans in recent years.” 

Senator McCain, deep breath.  Calm down.  You are not the only senator

who lost the presidential election and returned to work in the Senate. 

There is a model for how to do this with dignity, while fulfilling your

oath to serve the people without violating your loyalty to your party. 

He‘s a bit younger than you are, but served in the same war.  Like you, he

is a decorated Navy man.  And he has much to teach you about controlling

your temper and preserving your dignity. 

He‘s right there across the aisle.  You can talk to him.  He still

likes you.  The Navy bond is stronger than the Senate bond.  Go ahead.  Ask

John Kerry how he does it.

Let‘s bring in “Washington Post” associate editor, Pulitzer Prize

winning columnist and MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson.  Good

evening, Gene. 

Gene, we are looking at a 73-year-old senator, who will be 74 by the

time he is re-elected, if he is re-elected, and he is asking the voters of

Arizona to keep him on as their senator until he is 80 for what possible

reason, after just confessing that he is no longer capable of doing the

job? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, Lawrence, you remember

Tip O‘Neill said all politics is local.  For John McCain, all politics is

personal.  I think clearly the defeat at the hands of President Obama in

2008 still rankles—really rankles for Senator McCain.  And I think he

has decided that he wants to leave the Senate on his own terms, not on J.D. 

Hayworth‘s terms, his certain primary opponent in Arizona. 

And so he has taken a stand.  It is a bizarre stand to say, send me

back here, and by the way, I‘m not going to do anything. 

O‘DONNELL:  With McCain, there is always the question of his

personality, of his character, of what is really going on here.  In his

case, the question arises, is this just pure bitterness?  The people who

know him say that he‘s capable of steaming for a while and holding a grudge

and acting this way just out of his own emotional reaction to things. 

ROBINSON:  Well, you saw it at the end of the campaign, Lawrence.  You

saw his, frankly, erratic reaction to the financial crisis.  It is one of

the main reasons he lost the election, or lost the election by the margin

that he did.  He didn‘t give the impression of being a cool, steady hand in

a crisis.  And he—

You know, emotion fuels him.  At times, it has served him well.  And

at times, it has served him ill.  I believe it is not at all serving him

well now, either in his primary contest or in terms of his pledge to serve

as best he can for the citizens of Arizona. 

O‘DONNELL:  Eugene, for me, as a watcher of politicians, they never,

never become more interesting to me than they do in defeat.  Because it is

in defeat where you see where the real character is or what is left of the

real character.  And the McCain performance in defeat has been far below

the dignified reactions we‘ve seen by others. 

Al Gore, for example, who had plenty of reason to be bitter, to be

angry, left the stage without rancor when the final vote was cast, in

effect, in the Supreme Court.  Where does McCain rank in the recent models

of how to lose gracefully?

ROBINSON:  Well, clearly, well below average.  You mentioned John

Kerry and Al Gore.  You saw the classy way in which Hillary Clinton handled

her defeat in the primaries.  It‘s—it does tell us an awful lot about a

politician‘s character to watch them deal with disappointment.  And John

McCain is not dealing with it well now. 

And again, I think it‘s going to hurt him.  I think it‘s going to hurt

him in his primary battle. 

O‘DONNELL:  And in history.  Eugene Robinson, of the “Washington Post”

and MSNBC, thank you for your time tonight. 

ROBINSON:  Good to be here, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, John McCain‘s running mate crossing the line

yet again.  The half governor Tweets that it is time to reload in the

health care fight.  Melissa Harris-Lacewell on the dangerous path we are

going down among the Tea Party followers. 

Is the reform law President Obama signed today constitutional?  More

than a dozen states filed suit to block it.

When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, she will be a guest on

her own show, responding to fears from Senator Scott Brown that she will be

his opponent in 2012.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  How a bill becomes the law.  First, the vote, then the

president‘s signature, and now the lawsuits.  More than a dozen states have

filed legal challenges to the health care bill, claiming that it is

unconstitutional.  It should be noted, however, that the complaint filed by

the state attorneys general lacks any specific case law.  As Marc Ambider

notes, there is no case law in the complaint to buttress the claim that the

bill is actually unconstitutional. 

For an overview, our correspondent is Pete Williams. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We simply can‘t have Washington make the rules and

we get stuck with the bill. 

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Fourteen states

and counting. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  An unprecedented expansion. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have the individual mandate held unconstitutional. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It does trample the Constitution.

WILLIAMS:  Attorneys general from every part of the nation, nearly all

of them Republican, are challenging the health care law in court. 

BILL MCCOLLUM FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Congress has exceeded its

powers, in terms of its requiring the individual mandate, that anybody has

to buy a health care policy or suffer a penalty. 

WILLIAMS:  The new law does something the government has never tried

before, requiring nearly everyone to buy something sold by private

companies, in this case health insurance. 

The Constitution gives Congress broad powers to regulate commerce, the

business of selling.  But opponents of the law say, while that allows

Congress, for example, to regulate how cars are made and sold, it doesn‘t

mean that government could require everyone to buy one. 

PROF. RANDY BARNETT, GEORGETOWN LAW SCHOOL:  Congress can no more make

you buy insurance than it can make you buy a GM car in order to help out

the government, who have now subsidized GM. 

WILLIAMS:  But supporters of the law say Congress has broad power to

regulate things that end up having an effect on the economy.  They point

out that it adds up when people without insurance go to the emergency room

for their health care. 

PROF MARK HALL, WAKE FOREST UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL:  It‘s part of the

whole scheme of things to say that, you know, you can‘t just slack off and

assume that somebody‘s going to take care of you, if you have some sort of

emergency. 

WILLIAMS (on camera):  Tonight, the Justice Department says it will

vigorously defend the law.  Some legal experts defend the lawsuits as a

long shot.  They do raise a question the courts have never directly

answered. 

Pete Williams, NBC News, at the Supreme Court.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m not a lawyer, but I occasionally play one on TV.  In

my humble opinion on this, the case will not turn on the commerce clause,

but the power to tax.  In a previous life, I wrote tax law, and I can

assure you there is no question that the federal government has the power

to tax.  The Obama administration doesn‘t like to call the penalty for not

having health insurance a tax, but that is exactly what it is.  It is

enforced by the IRS, and that‘s what they will call it in court. 

They will simply argue that having health insurance allows you a small

tax credit that you won‘t get if you don‘t have health insurance.  And a

minimum of five justices on the Supreme Court, if it ever gets to them,

will see it that way. 

Coming up, Sarah Palin releases a target list of Democrats to go after

in the next election.  In marking the districts she uses gun cross-hairs. 

And in a separate message, she tells supporters to reload.  Melissa Harris-

Lacewell joins me with more on what‘s wrong with this disturbing picture.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  In case you needed another sign that the rage from the

right is rising to a dangerous boiling point, a new poll shows that nearly

40 percent of Republicans believe President Obama is doing many of the

things that Hitler did.  And now the half term governor of Alaska is

encouraging those angered by the Democrats in health care reform to reload. 

Sarah Palin taking time off from negotiating a multi-million dollar

reality show deal to Tweet “common-sense conservatives and lovers of

America, don‘t retreat; instead, reload.” 

Palin directing followers to her other social media outlet, Facebook,

“with the president signing this unwanted and transformative government

takeover of our health care system today, with promises impossible to keep,

let‘s not get discouraged.” 

Instead, Palin supplies her flock with a hit list of 20 Democrats to

target in the midterm elections, “all House members who voted in favor of

Obama-care and represent districts that Senator John McCain and I carried

during the 2008 election.  We‘re going to fire them and send them back to

the private sector, which has been shrinking thanks to their destructive

government-growing practices.” 

Palin then provides supporters with a map of the districts currently

held by the targeted Dems, location through gun cross-hairs.  With three of

the 20 Dems retiring, Palin wants to focus attention on holding the others

accountable for their disastrous vote.  “Warning, we‘ll aim for these races

and many others.” 

Meanwhile, some disturbing numbers unearthed by the latest Harris

poll, showing the majority of Republicans believe that President Obama is a

socialist and a Muslim; 45 percent of the GOP believe the birther line,

saying Mr. Obama was not born in the U.S.; 38 percent of Republicans

believe the president is doing many of the things Hitler did.  And perhaps

the most demented group a major polling firm has ever exposed, 24 percent

of Republicans say that Obama may be the anti-Christ. 

Joining me now is associate professor of politics and African-American

studies at Princeton, columnist for “The Nation Magazine,” Melissa Harris-

Lacewell.  Good evening, professor. 

Polling results rather troubling.  You have written in “The Nation”

recently about a vicious new Jim Crow terrorism.  In those polling results,

do you have what you need to almost prove it? 

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY:  Well, not quite.  One

of the things I would like to know is who else they might think the anti-

Christ is. 

O‘DONNELL:  Some follow-up questions for the poll. 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  That‘s right.  I would like to know a little more. 

What I will say is one of the sort of biggest steps that America took over

the past 50 years was enormous sea change in American public opinion,

particularly on questions of race, gender roles, a kind of opening in the

American system.  Where in the 1940s and ‘50s, you had people willing to

say all sorts of racially discriminatory things, gender discriminatory

things. 

By the time you got to, for example, 2008, even to the extent people

harbored those feeling, they were really unlikely to report them in a poll. 

So the reason I find these poll results so sort of anxiety producing is

that it is an indication that the kind of socially acceptable lid that we

have kept on these kinds of beliefs may be bubbling off the pot, with some

boiling anxiety underneath. 

O‘DONNELL:  There was a lot of over-boiling in Washington this

weekend.  We saw the spectacle of Congressman John Lewis, a former civil

rights marcher, being spat on, yelled at, exactly the kind of thing that

happened to him when he was marching for civil rights.  Much worse happened

to him then, very severe physical violence.  What were your feelings

watching that?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  That one was very hard, I think, for Americans who

know that history to watch.  To actually see this same person, this same

body being attacked on questions of race. 

For me, there was also this interesting shift, because, remember, when

he was marching as a young demonstrator, he was marching against the state,

against the government, saying that he had the right, as did other African-

Americans, to be full citizens.  Now—

O‘DONNELL:  And was being beaten by agents of the government from

those states. 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Absolutely.  Now, in this context, it is the racists

who are the outsiders and he is an agent of the state now, right?  On the

one hand, you see enormous change, this enormous transition.  But I also

think it calls us to say that this is not just a matter bigotry or

prejudice.  But this is people who are challenging the right of President

Obama, Representative Lewis to actually be making policy.  They are duly

elected leaders in our country.  We have folks saying they don‘t have the

right to levy taxes. 

O‘DONNELL:  Was it your sensation that part of this notion that they

don‘t have the right to do this has to do with their race and holding those

positions? 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  I have to say it looked so much to me like—

O‘DONNELL:  I mean when you hear the epitaphs, it raises that

question. 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  It does.  Because it looks like the turn of the

century film “Birth of a Nation,” 1915, which looked back on the period of

Reconstruction, when the anxiety was different kinds of people holding

public office, this idea that somehow the country had been lost, and the

fact that all of that had backed up with states rights language. 

The same kind of secessionist language that we heard going on, that we

see in this lawsuit, saying the federal government doesn‘t have the right

to tell us what to do, that is actually what the Civil War was about.  It

was about establishing that the federal government does have the right to

make policy for the nation. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now turning to Sarah Palin.  I‘m not one who believes

she‘s trying to incite violence.  I mean, I‘d have to give her a very big

benefit of the doubt that this is what it sounds like when you are a hunter

from Alaska.  But there are enough people around her to say, you know what,

when you say target a politician in a country that suffered assassinations

of our politicians, and recent ones, you don‘t use cross-hairs.  You have

to use other symbols. 

Is she just out of it or this is also an indication that this movement

actually likes to move in that provocative direction. 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  I appreciate she said she is going to fire them and

send them back to the private sector. That is a little different language. 

That is what democracy is.  You are meant to, if you don‘t like the

representatives, go out and run for office or vote for someone else.  I do

know that there should be a kind of carefulness about people in public

life. 

I think this is part of what Sarah Palin made a decision to do when

she quit the role of an elected leader, one who had the responsibilities of

being careful.  She went rogue and made a decision that she is going

organize on Facebook and Twitter.  I love Twitter, so not to demean it. 

O‘DONNELL:  How many followers do you have? 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  I think I‘m up to 12,000 now.  Come on, join the

party.  Yet, this notion that she has so little responsibility that she

would use cross hairs to talk about an appropriate action, a democratic

action—people who disagree should vote against representatives they

don‘t like. 

O‘DONNELL:  Melissa Harris-Lacewell of Princeton University and a

contributor to MSNBC, thank you for your unique insights into this subject. 

That will do it for this Tuesday 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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