updated 4/22/2010 1:36:58 PM ET 2010-04-22T17:36:58

Guest Host: Lawrence O‘Donnell

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Chris Hayes, Markos Moulitsas

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

President Obama says no more business as usual for Wall Street, and that‘s a good thing—even for banks.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  People will have confidence that when they‘re dealing with banks, when they‘re dealing with these institutions, that they, in fact, are playing it straight.

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O‘DONNELL:  This as a Senate committee passes strict new measures governing derivatives and another group of senators moves to make sure big banks get broken up to avoid the need for more bailouts.

The calm before the supreme storm—

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OBAMA:  I‘m confident that we can come up with a nominee who will gain the confidence of the Senate and the confidence of the country.

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O‘DONNELL:  With the White House gearing up for a confirmation battle and Republicans ready to fight whoever the president nominates—are the chances getting better he will choose a real liberal?

Colonel Sanders, move over.  It‘s Dr. Sanders to the rescue.

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SUE LOWDEN ®, NEVADA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  In the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor.

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O‘DONNELL:  Chickens for your co-pay?  How is she beating Harry Reid in the polls?

And FOX News swats at the hornet‘s nest by going after Jon Stewart again.

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BERNIE GOLDBERG, FOX NEWS:  Clearly, you want to be a social commentator more than just a comedian.  And if you want to be a good one, you better find some guts.

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O‘DONNELL:  And no surprise, Stewart has a killer response.

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JON STEWART, TV HOST:  FOX News, you‘re the Lupus of news.

(LAUGHTER)

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O‘DONNELL:  All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

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STEWART:  I‘m not fair!  I‘m not balanced!  (INAUDIBLE)

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

Democrats in the Senate are now planning to hold a key procedural vote on Wall Street reform tomorrow.  And the Republicans‘ point man on the negotiations indicated this afternoon that the bill will get substantial GOP support.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: After the health care fight—could this really be this easy?

A senior Democratic aide told “Reuters” that Senate Democratic leader plan to move Thursday on the financial reform bill that came out of Chairman Dodd‘s banking committee.  Since Democrats have 59 votes in the Senate, they will need at least one Republican vote to proceed.  Once that happens, Democrats are aiming for a final vote on Monday.

Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, who is representing the Republicans in talking with Senator Dodd, told reporters that an agreement is close at hand and that a substantial number of Republicans will go along with it.

Elsewhere in the Senate, the agriculture committee, led by Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln, approved its own portion of the bill, which would limit derivatives trading and make it more transparent.  It received just one Republican vote in committee, but an important one, Chuck Grassley of Iowa.  Those rules on derivatives will get folded into the banking bill.

In an interview with CNBC‘s John Harwood, President Obama said that stronger financial regulations would be good for everyone, including, especially for Wall Street itself.

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OBAMA:  We have gotten into one of those places where we need to update those rules of the road.  And if we do so, not only is that good for the economy, not only does it protect consumers and investors, it‘s also good for the financial sector, because it will rebuild trust, and people will have confidence that when they‘re dealing with banks, when they‘re dealing with these institutions, that they, in fact, are playing it straight, above board, and they‘re competing on the basis of who‘s providing the best services and the best products—as opposed to who‘s got the most creative accounting rules or who‘s able to concoct the wildest derivatives that may serve no economic function whatsoever.

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O‘DONNELL:  Wall Street firms have been hiring big guns to lobby on Capitol Hill.  Goldman Sachs just brought on former White House counsel Greg Craig to help fight those civil fraud charges.  And the former Democratic leader in the House, Dick Gephardt, is now a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs.

Right here on MSNBC, our own Andrea Mitchell asked Chris Dodd of the banking committee if lawmakers-turned-lobbyists were cause for concern.

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SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT:  I think have you a two-year ban before you can actually come back and lobby the Congress on these matters, if you‘ve been a former member of Congress.  So it‘s better than it was in the past.  But clearly, there may be steps that will be taken to improve it, the situation, so you don‘t have the opportunity to have an insider kind of access and ability to influence the outcome of legislation.

In the end, though, it depends upon the members here.  If you‘re—if you‘re so silly as to just succumb because a former colleague of yours asks you to do so, you shouldn‘t be here in the first place.

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O‘DONNELL:  Other Democrats in the Senate have announced a new bill that would prevent megabanks from being too-big-to-fail and would ensure they have the resources to cover their own losses.  It‘s called the Safe Banking Act of 2010.  And one of its sponsors, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, also a member of the banking committee joins us now.

Senator Brown, does the very existence of your safe banking act indicate, as I think it might, that you think the banking committee bill that Chris Dodd has does not do enough, or is not tough enough in some way?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO:  Well, of course it can be improved.  I want to see a more freestanding consumer protection agency.  I think Senator Dodd‘s bill is generally very good, but there are always opportunities to strengthen it.

I‘m very concerned about the too-big-to-fail, that we‘ve got to make sure that banks—if they‘re too-big-to-fail, they‘re too big, period.  And we‘ve got to make sure that those banks are simply not so big that they threaten the whole viability of the financial system in this country.

One real quick statistic: 15 years ago, six banks in this country had

their assets totaled 17 percent of GDP.  Today, the six largest banks‘ assets total 63 percent of GDP.

           

So, clearly, we can‘t let them continue to get bigger and bigger and bigger, because when they engage in far too risky behavior, it begs the question of what‘s going to happen to our economy.  The last time we did real reform—real reform in this country—was in the 1930s and it protected the financial part of this country for five decades—well, really, six decades.

And we‘ve got to look long-term and do it right.  Keeping banks from getting too big is one of the ways of doing that.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, this sounds like a tough legislative needle to thread.  How do you calculate exactly how big a bank should be allowed to be?  And if you‘re putting some kind of limitations on them, might that make them more vulnerable to collapse?  I mean, you should—I mean, it sounds like there could be many unintended consequences to trying to define -- the government trying to define the size of banks.

BROWN:  Well, we listen to people.  For instance, we listen to a lot of people who are experts on this, who are very mainstream economists who have worked for the Fed, some still do, and got their views, and all kinds of people who really understand this industry say that it does threaten us if they‘re too big.

We do things like the leverage ratios instead of 30 to one.  It should be 16, no more than 16 to one.  We‘ve limited banks in this legislation that—no more than—the deposits should be no more than 10 percent of the deposits for all banks in the country.  That‘s still very big, but it does put some limits around how big these banks can be, and the risks they can pose to the system.

We‘re relying—I think that when you look at this, we‘ve got to make sure that these banks don‘t continue to threaten the economic system and the financial system.  And if they get too big, they can.  It‘s pretty simple.

O‘DONNELL:  As the bill moves to the floor, do you expect it to move more in your direction, or possibly now more in a Republican direction, if Republicans are coming on board with the bill?

BROWN:  Well, no, I think they—I think they continue to move and improving this bill, improving it for consumers, for investors.

I had a dozen manufacturers—small company manufacturers in Ohio—visit me today.  They‘re concerned about this banking system, and they want to see more credit flowing, and they know we—they know we need to change the way Wall Street does business.

And that tells me, when I saw Senator Grassley, who‘s up for election in 2010, vote for our stronger derivative bill—derivatives bill, regulation bill on the agriculture committee today, that says, if we do this right, if this bill is strong as it should be and can be, Republicans are going to vote for it.

This isn‘t the bipartisanship that some argue we should have done in health care.  Bipartisanship in health care was give the—let the Republicans have the insurance companies help write the bill, we‘ll call it bipartisan.

No.  This is going to be strong consumer bills and Republicans are going to go along because they don‘t want to be on the wrong side of this.  They know this is only a choice between Main Street and Wall Street, and they don‘t want to go home and argue that with—being charged with supporting Wall Street over Main Street.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, how did bipartisanship suddenly become so easy with the Republicans?  You mentioned Senator Grassley voting in the agriculture committee today.  That‘s not just—he doesn‘t represent just one Republican vote, he‘s a leader of Republicans—the Republican leader of the finance committee.

I mean, you‘ve got to figure, if the Grassley vote is there, there have to be at least 10 other Republicans, maybe 15 or more.  How did this become suddenly so easy with these guys?

BROWN:  It became—it‘s not easy, but it became easier, Lawrence, because Democrats—our caucus understands, finally—it took some of my colleagues six months to get there.

But understand—the question is not liberal, conservative, centrist, middle of the road, move to the center.  The question is: whose side are you on?  And, you know, whether it‘s on health care or whether it‘s on this bill, or whether it‘s something down the road, it‘s whose side are you?  Are you going on Main Street and Wall Street?

And that‘s a pretty easy call for a whole lot of Republicans, too, that they don‘t want to be tagged as being on the side of Wall Street.

So, once we get that issue across, and message across, and we talk that way, we act that way, and we legislate that way, you‘re going to se a lot more Republicans, I think, voting with us.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio and the banking committee—thanks for finding the time to join us tonight.

BROWN:  Glad to.  Thank you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  For more on the politics, let‘s turn to Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation.”

Chris, a Wall Street reform bill that looks likely to have substantial Republican support, that‘s—that‘s Richard Shelby talking.  We have Chuck Grassley getting on board today.  I‘m a little disoriented, Chris.

How did this happen?  How do we go from the “party of no” on health care reform to “let‘s make a deal”?

CHRIS HAYES, THE NATION:  Well, I think that the answer is the answer that Senator Brown pointed to, which is that politics of this are pretty clear cut.  I mean, I think basically that there are a few things.  One is that, it really in this short of strange way has helped that this has sprung on to public consciousness so quickly and so close to reform (ph) so that it didn‘t get dragged into the process minutia that happened to health care.

Basically, this was going along a parallel track.  Suddenly, it‘s the public‘s imagination, and it has been defined crisply by the Democrats and by the White House as sort of a choice between Wall Street and Main Street.

I hate the Main Street thing because I grew up in the Bronx and we don‘t have a Main Street.  But that‘s another story.

So, I think that—I think that the politics really are pretty powerful.  I mean, we did have the biggest financial crisis we‘ve had since the Great Depression.  The banks are not very popular—and being associated with them is politically problematic.  And I don‘t think it‘s a whole lot more complicated than that.

O‘DONNELL:  Was there a breaking point for Republicans somewhere along the line in this story?  I mean, for example, was it them feeling too much heat about this controversy of what kind of meeting did McConnell and John Cornyn have with the Wall Street interests, and were they looking suddenly at risk of being obvious sellouts to Wall Street?  I mean, was there a spot somewhere in this story in the last week that broke it for Republicans?

HAYES:  I don‘t know if there‘s anything that broke it.  I think there are a few things.  There were some obvious defections.  I mean, I think it‘s clear that Corker was unwilling to tow the party line.  We saw that yesterday.  Grassley‘s actually up for re-election.  And so, there‘s actually some calculations.

But I also think there‘s an interesting inversion of the political strategy if you compare this to health care.  In health care, the White House started out very conciliatory and what they got back was aggression from Republicans.  In this case, the White House started aggressive.  They went after the Republicans from day one for standing with the banks, and what they‘ve gotten in return is a lot more conciliatory behavior.

I think there‘s a lesson there about how you kind of forge compromise or conciliation from the other side.  It‘s not sort of reach out a hand.  It‘s to actually imperil them politically.

O‘DONNELL:  And what might it mean for the Democrats‘ legislative agenda going forward after financial reform?

HAYES:  Well, I mean, that‘s a really interesting question.  I mean,

in some senses, I think, financial reform is so generous just because—

the banks blowing up the financial crisis, it‘s so much as kind of own

thing.  And the banks are such villains in the public imagination that it

has a special kind of political resonance that maybe other issues such as -

you know, clean energy—don‘t.

           

I do wonder if this is going to muddy the waters a little bit for the message the Republicans are going to try to run on the midterms, which is that the president—everything the president touches is horrible and he‘s a foreign socialist who‘s going to take away your guns.  If they‘re voting with him on this bill, they‘re presumably going to be at the signing ceremony.  And so that, I think, is going to complicate a little bit the political message that they want to—they want to drive home in the midterms.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Dodd had addressed this issue of lobbying and Democratic heavyweights lining up on the sides of Goldman Sachs, you know, Dick Gephardt, Greg Craig.  How awkward is this for Democrats?  And what does it mean for the culture of Washington that you can so quickly and easily move from one side to the other and it‘s just this constant churning back and forth?

HAYES:  It means the culture of Washington—that the culture of

Washington is totally and completely corrupt and that the country is ruled

and I know this sounds radical, but true—by a very intense financial oligarchy that basically has purchased on both parties.

           

I mean, what you see here—and I don‘t want to downplay the import of the derivatives bill that passed out of the committee and financial regulation, some of the measures of which are quite strong and built because of this public anger.  But the fact of the matter is, drawing these lines between who‘s on one side of Wall Street and who isn‘t, every single one of these members is talking to people from Wall Street every day and raising money from them and having them whisper in their ear.  And over the years, we have seen finance metastasize so that it‘s 40 percent or 50 percent of corporate profits and funneling that money back into purchasing the ascent of elected representatives in a way that brought us to this crisis point.

So, we can make technical fixes to regulation.  What we have to do is break that political economic power of the banks.  And that I don‘t see on the horizon.

O‘DONNELL:  Chris, were I ever to moderate a candidate‘s debate on running for the Senate or the House, I guess my first question would now be: will you become a lobbyist after you leave office?  I mean, it is just crazily out of hand.

Chris Hayes of “The Nation”—thanks for joining us tonight.

HAYES:  Thanks a lot, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Still ahead: the Supreme Court nomination battle.  Should the White House court Republican support?

And the Republican front-runner to defeat Harry Reid in Nevada, her plan to reduce health care costs to chicken feed.

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O‘DONNELL:  President Obama‘s Supreme Court nominee is not just a liberal but a radical, a socialist.  Or will be when the Republicans get through with him or her.  So, does that mean the president is free to nominate someone who actually is a liberal?

And you‘ve heard of Republican chicken hawks.  Meet the chicken doc. 

She thinks health care—her health care plan is finger licking good. 

That will make sense later.

Plus, the tea party adds to America‘s unemployment rolls.  They just got the Geico announcer fired.

That‘s all ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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O‘DONNELL:  President Obama is on track to make his second nomination to the Supreme Court—and in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The latest White House buzz is that he is free to nominate exactly who he wants, regardless of ideology since the GOP will give the president a fight no matter who he chooses.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden today met with Senate leaders from both parties, including members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  And the president laid out his timeline—

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OBAMA:  The last time the nomination went up at the end of May, we are certainly going to meet that deadline and we hope maybe we can accelerate it a little bit so that we have some additional time.  But my hope is, is that we‘re going to be able to get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed in time for the next session.

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O‘DONNELL:  The president was asked the perennial question about the issue of abortion rights and how that related to his nomination.

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OBAMA:  I will say the same thing that every president has said since this issue came up, which is: I don‘t have litmus tests around any of these issues, but I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights and that includes women‘s rights.  I think part of what our core constitutional values promote is the notion that individuals are protected in their privacy and their bodily integrity, and women are not exempt from that.

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O‘DONNELL:  The president also said he expects the same civil process that he says accompanied the nomination of his last Supreme Court pick, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  But an unnamed administration official has told “TPM” that, quote, “It doesn‘t matter who he chooses, there is going to be a big old fight over it.  So he doesn‘t have to get side tracked by those sorts of concerns.  That realization is liberating for the president.”

Meantime, a federal judge from Chicago, Judge Ann Claire Williams, has been added to the working list of about 10 candidates.  She was the first African-American woman to serve as a district judge in the seventh circuit after being appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1985.  That appointment was made on the recommendation of former Congressman Henry Hyde, a Republican.

Williams was and is considered to be tough on crime.  She was elevated to the appellate court under President Clinton.

Let‘s bring in the founder and publisher of “The Daily Kos,” Markos Moulitsas.

Good evening, Markos.  Do you think that the president sees it that way the word is leaking out of the White House, that Republicans are going to battle here no matter who he puts up, so he might as well choose someone he really wants on the court?

MARKOS MOULITSAS, DAILYKOS.COM:  Well, Lawrence, I really want to believe those reports, and I hope they‘re not getting their hopes up by hinting that they‘re going in that direction.  Because, clearly, it doesn‘t matter who he puts up, Republicans are going to make a big stink about it.  So, he might as well do something to solidify his legacy, placate the base, make us happy moving into this upcoming election, and put a jurist on the Supreme Court who will be a force for positive progressive change in this country.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, do you think there‘s any chance that today‘s movement by Republicans on financial reform might tempt the president to lean more in their direction than he might otherwise on the Supreme Court nominee?

MOULITSAS:  I hope not.  I mean, I don‘t think you can argue that Republicans are coming aboard on the financial reform stuff because Obama‘s reaching out and watering down the legislation.  I think as you and Chris were talking earlier, they—Democrats came out with fairly strong legislation, not perfect, but stronger than I think I would have expected, and dared the Republicans to oppose it.  Suddenly, they‘re not so confident anymore and they‘re sort of falling in line.

So, I think, in this case, Supreme Court justice battles are fairly contentious events, and I don‘t think we can expect the same kind of sort of falling in line that we‘re seeing from Republicans on financial reform.

O‘DONNELL:  And in an election year with the conservative group Judicial Watch now coming out and saying that all of the names on the president‘s short list are unacceptable—isn‘t that as clear a signal as the White House could ask for, that Republican senators are not going to be allowed—especially Republican senators running for election—they‘re not going to be allowed to get on board an Obama nominee for Supreme Court?

MOULITSAS:  Yes, I think Obama could nominate zombie Ronald Reagan and these guys would still oppose that kind of nomination.  So, the fact is that they make a lot of money.  They do a lot of fundraising off of these Supreme Court battles.

And it‘s a way to motivate the base, rally the base, and it‘s actually fairly low cost politically way to do it—because, you know, by and large, the American people in general don‘t really pay attention to these sorts of nomination battles the way they might pay attention to health care reform or financial reform.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, there‘s a new poll that says that a majority of Americans trust the president to make this kind of choice.  When Republicans look at a poll like that, does that give them second thoughts about some of the filibuster threats that have been leaking out of the Senate?

MOULITSAS:  No, I don‘t think they care about things like that.  You know what the Republicans are good at—they‘re good at sort of changing the reality of a situation.  So, it didn‘t matter that polls showed that the public option was popular during the health care debate.  They were able to convince a large enough segment of the population that Obama wanted to kill their grandmother.

And I think, in this case, like I said, it doesn‘t matter who they put out.  It could be zombie Ronald Reagan and Republicans will make it seem like Obama is putting an unreconstructed communist on the Supreme Court and they‘ll do it as a way to rally the base, raise some money and sort of rally the troops leading into November‘s election.

O‘DONNELL:  And, Markos, quickly before we go—who are the people on the short list that you think the president should really fight for?

MOULITSAS:  Well, I mean, Diane Wood is one name that is obviously good.  You know, I think it‘s good for progressives.  There is a Pam Carlin, who‘s a professor at—law professor at Stanford who would be fantastic.  And I think it‘s important to look beyond just her voting record, are they going to vote good.  That‘s nice if somebody votes the right way on key legal issues.

I think progressives want somebody who will be a forceful, passionate, and vocal advocate for progressive legal principles.  Conservatives have that in a Sam Alito.  We do not have that right now.

O‘DONNELL:  Markos Moulitsas of “The Daily Kos”—thanks for joining us tonight.

MOULITSAS:  Thank you very much.

O‘DONNELL:  The Republican running to defeat Harry Reid has a message for sick people: Go pluck yourselves.

And, Jon Stewart has a new musical message for FOX News that rhymes with “go pluck yourselves.”

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O‘DONNELL:  Ahead on COUNTDOWN: Forget co-pays, are chickens the answer to solving the soaring cost of health care?  The candidate who‘s actually beating Harry Reid in the polls thinks so.

And later, a man wondered in a voicemail if the group that created the tea party had a strategy ready for if one of those members killed someone.  Now that man, the GEICO announcer, is out of a job.

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O‘DONNELL:  The year before the Great Depression, Republican campaign ads for Herbert Hoover boasted falsely that Republicans had put a chicken in every pot.  Now as the country begins to emerge from a near depression, Republicans are campaigning on chickens again.

Our number three story—I‘m not making this up, we have the video—the Republican front-runner against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is advancing a health care system in which you would pay for your check ups, your X-rays, mammograms, your kid‘s stitches, with chickens.  Did I mention that I‘m not making this up?

Her name is Sue Lowden and she has been beating Reid handily in the polls.  So far on Monday, the wealthy former TV news anchor and current gambling executive appeared on local television and outlined her vision of health care reform.  The interview aired following remarks she made last week in which she suggested using the barter system to pay for health care and reasonable minds suspected she meant to say patients should haggle with their doctors.

Nope.  As she confirmed in this interview, she meant barter.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  People walk into a doctor‘s office and the first thing they ask you for is your insurance card.

SUE LOWDEN ®, NEVADA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  Yes, they do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And when you make an appointment—

LOWDEN:  And as soon as you say you don‘t have one, “Can I speak to the doctor?  Can I speak to someone who‘s in charge?”

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They want that insurance card—

LOWDEN:  Yes, they do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  -- before you get past go.

LOWDEN:  Of course, they‘re used to doing that.  But let‘s change the system and talk about what the possibilities are.  I‘m telling you that this works.

You know, before we all started having health care in the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor.  They would say, I‘ll paint your house.  They would do—I mean, that‘s the old days of what people would do to get health care with their doctors.  Doctors are very sympathetic people.  I‘m not backing down from that system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Not backing down.  Lowden is an executive at the Archon Corporation, a gambling concern.  No word yet on whether she‘s been able to convince her employer to accept chickens as payment for gambling debts.

Democrats left to ridicule Lowden, launching a Web site called Check Ups for Chickens.  The Reid campaign sent out a press release asking whether Lowden had lost her mind.

Lowden stands by her plan and today sent “Plum Line” a link to a letter to the editor from a Nevada doctor supporting her plan—a Nevada doctor who just happens to have been a Republican opponent of Harry Reid.

Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson, also associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post.”

What are you laughing about, Gene?  This is serious American politics here.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I would suspect you of having made this up, if I hadn‘t, you know, gone and checked it out myself, and, yes indeed, what you just said did, in fact, happen.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, should we—should we take a moment to perhaps praise candidate Lowden for actually coming clean in a sense, for letting us know that Republicans, or at least this Republican running for Senate, has actually no idea—no useful idea at all about what to do about health care costs, about how to help people afford an absolute necessity like this when they can‘t afford it?

ROBINSON:  First, we should praise her for showing “Monty Python” how it should be done.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  I mean, you can imagine them sitting around, tossing around ideas for sketches and saying, “I‘ve got it.  A bloke comes in and tries to pay his doctor bill with a chicken,” and the other saying, “No, no, no, that‘s a little too far out.  Let‘s go with a dead parrot in the pet store instead.”  I mean, it‘s just—it‘s just breathtaking.

But I guess she‘s done a favor to the voters of Nevada who now know her health care plan, which is poultry for physicians.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, she makes no apologies for this.  She doesn‘t try to back off.  She‘s at least tripling down on it in the number of opportunities she‘s had to back off.

And you know, as we laugh about it, my second reaction after that was thinking about the world of Harry Reid.  We watched Harry Reid for a year pursue something that was unpopular in Nevada politics, as this candidacy clearly shows.  She‘s in the lead in Nevada.  Harry Reid pushed health care reform.

What does it say about the political climate in Harry Reid‘s home state that someone can get up and say something like this about health care reform and actually be ahead of Harry Reid in the polls?

ROBINSON:  You know, I cannot imagine, Lawrence.  I mean, obviously, Harry Reid has political problems in Nevada, and the health care reform bill was not popular there.  We knew all that.

We suspected perhaps that a candidate would come out and say what other Republicans are saying, which is that—let‘s take an incremental approach and we should have started from scratch, and this and that.  I don‘t think anyone believed that this would be the idea coming out of the mouth of a candidate who in a recent poll was 10 points ahead of Harry Reid.  It—you know, you feel that he‘s in a world of hurt right now, and you‘ve got to feel sorry for the guy, if this is the idea that‘s going to defeat him.

O‘DONNELL:  I want to test your memory here, Gene, if you can think of something that I can‘t, and that is the—I‘ve never seen a senator carry a bill like this, that he knew was very unpopular in his state.  And I‘m leaving content aside.  I mean, in neither party, I‘ve never seen a senator, a leader in the Senate, carry a bill that he knew was so politically risky for him in the Senate.

This—what Harry Reid did, for me anyway, from where I was sitting, was the most extraordinary profile in courage I have seen a senator do in a chamber that is not known for political courage.

ROBINSON:  Lawrence, I was thinking about that earlier, and I can‘t come up with a counterexample either.  I—if he knew and he must have known the way the political wind was blowing in his state, that it was this deeply unpopular that, you know, this sort of barnyard solution to health care reform would gain traction, it is extraordinary.  And you have to look back at the health care fight and say that was indeed a courageous thing to do.

But you also have to wonder—what is to become of this great nation of ours, Lawrence, if someone who actually believes this is an idea for health care could possibly be elected to the U.S. Senate.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, this comment may be the thing that gets Harry Reid back in the race.  If Nevadans listen to this and realize what an idiotic thing this candidate is pushing, Harry Reid may still have a chance.

Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post”—thank you very much for joining us on this very peculiar story.

ROBINSON:  Great to be here, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: the announcer voice for GEICO commercials has been fired after going after the tea party in a voicemail message.  Did the tea party go too far in going after a man you‘ve never even seen?

And Jon Stewart versus FOX News.  He told FOX News to go “F” themselves last week.  Now, he‘s repeating the message, only this time in song.

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, she‘ll expose a group that pretends to be for Wall Street reform.  They‘re so convincing they duped an economist from MIT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: FOX News tries to finally beat Jon Stewart but instead they only get beaten down again—and this time in song.

And the announcer for the GEICO commercials had had it with the tea party, so he leaves them a nasty voicemail.  Now, the tea party big wigs have made sure he‘s out of a job.

Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Members of the tea party say they‘re upset about the unemployment rate, but it turns out they‘ve just added to the problem.

In our number two story: the voice of GEICO insurance now finds himself out of a job over a voicemail he left for tea partiers.

Voice-over actor Lance Baxter, also known as “D.C. Douglas,” says he‘s been fired because of a voicemail he left for members of FreedomWorks, the tea party organization run by Dick Armey.  For those keeping score at home, Mr. Baxter isn‘t the voice of the gecko.  He‘s “the real service, real savings” guy.

Here‘s his message to the tea partiers.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LANCE BAXTER, VOICE-OVER ACTOR:  Hi there.  I‘m doing a paper about FreedomWorks and I was wondering if somebody could give me a call back.  I‘m wrapping up and I just have one more piece of information I need to get from you guys—just need to know what the percentage is of people that are mentally retarded who work for the organization, and are members of it.  And oh—and one final thing, wondering what your plans are, how to spin it when one of your members does actually kill somebody, wondering how, if you‘ve got an actual P.R. spinning routine planned for that or are you just going to take it when it happens.

Just curious.  So, give me a call when you get a chance.  Thanks so much.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Hey, that is a really good voice.

Mr. Baxter writing about the message on his blog, “Yeah, I know—stupid!  And certainly not constructive.  Unfortunately, in my haste, I used the phrase ‘mentally retarded,‘ which ultimately drags me down to their level.”

Mr. Baxter also gave his phone number on the voicemail, which got posted on the conservative Web site BigGovernment.com.  FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe elevating the rhetoric by writing an accompanying post: “Feel free to contact Lance.  He was so kind to provide his number in the voicemail.  Call his employer, too.  Let them know that you, in fact, are not a mentally retarded killer.”

In a press release, Mr. Baxter says he made the phone call because he was upset about tea partiers using gay and racial slurs against members of Congress.  He also believes that his connection to GEICO is the primary reason he was targeted.  GEICO pulled its ads from Glenn Beck‘s show after Mr. Beck made racially-charged comments about President Obama.

Mr. Baxter says he was calling as a private citizen but doesn‘t blame GEICO for, quote, “protecting themselves, they have a business to run and can‘t waste time getting caught up in the FreedomWorks circus.”

Hey, GEICO, why are you guys firing this guy?  He exercised his First Amendment right of free speech, then had the class to instantly apologize for the bad choice of words.  What‘s wrong with that?

Now, I understand why Marilyn Chambers could not continue being the face of Ivory Snow laundry detergent after she did a five-way behind the green door.  But this guy isn‘t the face of anything.  He‘s just a voice.  Firing him is like firing a ghost.  No one will know you changed the voice-over guy in your commercials.

Of the people who do know, surely some of them might prefer doing business with a company that respects the First Amendment.

Coming up: FOX News tries to one-up Jon Stewart after he tells them to go “F” themselves.  Not only did FOX fall flat, we‘ll find how Stewart found new ways to embarrass them—next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Just about every night on Comedy Central, “The Daily Show” writers find new, hilarious ways to expose bias and hypocrisy in the media.  And if none of that works, Jon Stewart has his own gospel choir to back him up, as he tells you off.

The bottom line?  Don‘t pick a fight with Jon Stewart.  Do not do it. 

You cannot win.

In our number one story: Bernard Goldberg of FOX News found that out the hard way.

The Stewart/Goldberg tussle began with a bit on “The Daily Show” last Thursday.  Stewart played sound bites of outraged FOX Newsers who were upset about the lefts generalizing regarding racism in the tea party.  Some of that outrage came from former CBS newsman turned fair and balanced analyst, Bernard Goldberg.

Jon Steward agreed that generalizing about political groups is bad all the time.  He then demonstrated that FOX News and Bernard Goldberg only dislike some of the time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JON STEWART, “THE DAILY SHOW” HOST:  By the way, the anti-generalizers at FOX want you to know generalizing is the least of the liberals‘ problems.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAL THOMAS, AUTHOR:  The left in this country is invested in American defeat in Iraq.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS:  The left always paints Christians as hate mongers.

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS:  The far left does not want the USA to defeat terrorism.

BERNARD GOLBERG, FOX NEWS:  Liberals don‘t have five kids, one of them has Down syndrome.  Liberals certainly don‘t allow that to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  You know, I‘ve said it before and I‘ve said it again.  Go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) yourselves.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Goldberg, faced with proof of his own double standard, admitted his guilt on Monday‘s “O‘Reilly Factor.”  He then turned to confront Mr. Stewart directly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOLDBERG:  If you just want to be a funny man, who talks to an audience that will laugh at anything you say, that‘s OK with me, no problem.  But if, clearly, you want to be a social commentator, more than just a comedian, and if you want to be a good one, you better find some guts.

Because even though you criticize liberals as well as conservatives—congratulations on that—when you had Frank Rich on your show, who generalizes all the time about conservatives and Republicans being bigots, you didn‘t ask him a single tough question.  You gave him a lap dance.

Here‘s my final word: you can do whatever you want.  But if you don‘t do that, guess what?  You‘re not nearly as edgy as you think you are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Last night on “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart thoughtfully replied.  We‘ll direct you to their Web site to watch the entire 11-minute segment, but here‘s the part you absolutely must watch right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Look, I‘m sorry I told you to go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) yourself that week and that other time like six months ago I told you to go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) yourself.  I know I criticize you and FOX News a lot, but only because you‘re truly a terrible, cynical, disingenuous news organization.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  Oh, wait.  You know what?  No.  That‘s the wrong approach!  That‘s the wrong approach!  That‘s not—I‘m not going to do!  This I‘m not going to be confrontational!

I‘m going to take a minute to talk directly to Bernie Goldberg.

(MUSIC)

STEWART:  Baby, I don‘t want to fight, baby.  And I know you‘ve been hurt before by them liberal elites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  They done you wrong, Bernie.

STEWART:  Don‘t let that close your heart, brother.  I don‘t hate you. 

I mean, you‘re not Dick Morris.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, what is wrong with that guy?

STEWART:  Yes, seriously.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s starting to look like the guy from “Men in Black.”

STEWART:  Which one?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know, from the first one, the guy who came down and started walking around in other people‘s skin.

STEWART:  What, Shalhoub?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  The Vincent D‘Onofrio guy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s the one.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  You see, I‘ve learned people are complicated, Bernie, and hard to categorize.  I mean, I‘ve got some conservative views.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s a pro-military (EXPLETIVE DELETED), peace to the troops.

STEWART:  I‘ve got some libertarian views.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Legalize it.

STEWART:  Gay marriage!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

STEWART:  Pot!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

STEWART:  Gay pot marriage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now, you make (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

(CHEERING)

STEWART:  And I know that I can be intolerant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Lactose and otherwise, don‘t let this man eat any blizzards.

STEWART:  And I believe this country should provide some kind of socials safety net for our most vulnerable citizens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Communist.

STEWART:  And I also believe power should be passed down to the first born son of the reigning king.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Monarchist.

STEWART:  And I believe in ghosts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Boo.

STEWART:  But I will tell you this, Bernie Goldberg.  Oh, Bernie Goldberg, I will tell you this.  I will tell you this.  I will tell you this.

CHOIR (singing):  I‘m telling you, Bernie, I‘m telling you Bernie, I‘m telling you, Bernie.

STEWART:  Oh, yes, Bernie Goldberg, you can criticize my interviews.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE).

STEWART:  Yes, they can be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Incoherent.

STEWART:  That‘s the editing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not funny.

STEWART:  I try to be funny.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Time that you watch the movies.

STEWART:  I don‘t have time to watch all the guests‘ movies.

My point is this—

CHOIR:  I‘m telling you, Bernie.  He‘s got a point now, he‘s got a point now, he‘s got a point now, he‘s got a point now.

STEWART:  Bernie Goldberg, I don‘t need to satisfy your version of what fair satire is or should be.  I‘m not fair.  I‘m not balanced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s unstable.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  That‘s not what I meant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s coco loco.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  You‘re criticizing me for not living up to your tag line.  And you dismiss any criticism and further evidence of how the rest of the media persecute you.  You like to pretend Bernie Goldberg and FOX News that the relentless concern of activism of FOX News is the equivalent—oh, the equivalent of the disorganized liberal influence you find on NBC, ABC and CBS.

But, FOX News, you may be able to detect a liberal pathogen in their blood stream, how ever faint.  But FOX News is such a crazy overreaction to that perceived threat.  You‘re like an autoimmune disorder.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  I‘m not saying the virus doesn‘t exist in some small quantity.  But you‘re producing way too many antibodies.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  FOX News, you‘re the lupus of news.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

STEWART:  So, I guess what I‘m saying is this.

CHOIR:  Go.

STEWART:  As long as fair and balanced is how you sell yourselves—

(EXPLETIVE DELETED)

STEWART:  I guess what I‘m saying is this—

CHOIR:  Yourselves.

(EXPLETIVE DELETED)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  COUNTDOWN is out of time.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is next.

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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