updated 1/6/2011 1:45:48 PM ET 2011-01-06T18:45:48

Guests: Rep. Allen West, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Gov. Mitch Daniels, Richard

Wolffe

           

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, GUEST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks a lot.

Seconds after John Boehner took the speaker‘s gavel from Nancy Pelosi, Mr. Boehner told the applauding Republican-controlled Congress, “it‘s still just me.”  But he now has the heaviest responsibility of anyone in Congress, explaining to the new Tea Party House members why they are going to have to start breaking their promises.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS:  John Boehner‘s big day.

LORRAINE MILLER, HOUSE CLERK:  Therefore, the honorable John A.

Boehner is duly elected speaker of the House of Representatives.

(CHEERS)

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  John Boehner becomes the 61st speaker of the House.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  It‘s still just me.

O‘DONNELL:  As soon as Nancy Pelosi finishes celebrating her four years as speaker.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER:  The historic honor of being the first woman speaker, the first Italian-American speaker—the largest ever commitment to making college more affordable, enacted Wall Street reform with the greatest consumer protections in history, repeal of the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy.

O‘DONNELL:  And then, Nancy Pelosi dared the new Republican speaker of the House to try and repeal her crowning achievement.

PELOSI:  A strong Patients Bill of Rights.  Young people can stay on their parents‘ policy.  Pregnant women and cancer patients, seniors are paying less.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Is Pelosi gunning for another shot at the speakership?

PELOSI:  I now pass this gavel to the new speaker.

O‘DONNELL:  And with the new speaker, the emotional drama that follows him.

BOEHNER:  After all, this is the People‘s House.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS:  Your brother tends to get emotional. 

What‘s that all about?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think he‘s always been that way somewhat.  I

think -

O‘DONNELL:  But even as the new Republican speaker outlines his agenda

-- 

           

PELOSI:  Hard work and tough decisions will be required of the 112th Congress.

O‘DONNELL:  -- his lieutenants are already explaining a way their promise to America.

REP. PAUL RYAN ®, WISCONSIN:  No, we‘re not reneging.  Half of the spending caps are already out of the bag and that is why that number has become compromised.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ ®, UTAH:  I‘ve only been here two years.  We can‘t even cut a $1 million annual subsidy for mohair for goodness sakes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I know.

O‘DONNELL:  Republicans try to claim their reward.

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Republicans recognize that they didn‘t win a beauty contest here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The business of governing actually starts.

PELOSI:  We all wish you great success.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from New York.

The Republicans assumed control of the House of Representatives today in a theatrical production of giant gavels, tears and immediately backpedaling on big campaign promises.

Tomorrow, the Constitution will be read aloud in the House for the first time in history.  That performance will be led by Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who demonstrated a less than confident grasp of the government‘s founding document on this program last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Is the minimum wage constitutional?

REP. BOB GOODLATTE ®, VIRGINIA:  Well, I have not looked at the constitutionality of that issue.

O‘DONNELL:  You don‘t know if it‘s constitutional.

GOODLATTE:  Well, that‘s correct, and that‘s why it‘s good to have a clear debate about the Constitution.

O‘DONNELL:  So, you voted for an increase in something that you don‘t even know has constitutional authority to exist?

GOODLATTE:  That‘s correct, and that‘s why it‘s good to reinstate this focus on the Constitution as we debate these bills.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Next week, the Republicans plan to vote on the, quote, “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.”  And according to Howard Fineman‘s reporting in “The Huffington Post” this evening, they might never vote on cutting $100 billion in federal spending this year, as Republicans promised to do during the campaign.  Senior House Republicans are now saying they will have trouble cutting even $50 billion, and may have to settle for as little as $30 billion.

But will the new Tea Party purists in Congress allow Republicans to break their first spending cut promise?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now Republican congressman from Florida, Representative Allen West.

Congressman, thank you very much for joining us on this very busy day for you.

REP. ALLEN WEST ®, FLORIDA:  Thank you very having me, Lawrence.  It really is an honor.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, many of the Tea Party candidates, like yourself, and other Republicans, ran on a pledge to cut at least $100 billion from the budget as their first budgetary act here in Washington, where you‘ve joined today.  The word is, coming out of reports on the Hill today, that that number may be as low as $30 billion.  The leadership telling the members won‘t be able to get $100 billion out of this budget.

Will you vote for any budget that cuts less than $100 billion?

WEST:  Well, I think that one of the I think in that I have to do is to have the opportunity to sit down and assess why it was that we did not reach the goal and objective of $100 billion.  I think that we need to put forth all the exertions that we possibly can to reach that number.  And if we cannot reach it, we need to be able to explain that to the American people.  And in subsequent measures, we need to continue to make sure that we are doing the things that cut the wasteful spending up here from the government.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, you used to be a very plain talker before you took that oath of office.  That sounded like a politician‘s swerve on a broken promise.

WEST:  Well, I don‘t think it‘s a politician‘s swerve.  I think that as you‘re asking me to make that decision right here, right now.  You need to give me the opportunity to sit down and look and see where we are, making those cuts, and allow me to do the assessment of the programs that I see maybe we can make even further cuts before I can give you a definitive answer.  So, all that I will say is, right now, I couldn‘t sit here and tell you, you know, yea or nay as far as falling short of the $100 billion.  But I want to make sure that we can do everything that we possibly can to reach that goal.

O‘DONNELL:  Let me quote to you some of your plainspoken language that has gotten you so much attention up until now.  This is right after you won your election.  You said that when you get to Washington, your mission is “that this liberal, progressive, socialist agenda, this left-wing vile, vicious, despicable machine that‘s out there is soundly brought to its knees.”

That is your declared mission in Washington.  I guess, starting with the vote on repealing health care reform, right, that‘s where you‘d want to begin?

WEST:  Absolutely right.  I think that when you look at the health care laws as it stands right now, there are some good parts to it.  You know, as far as the pre-existing conditions‘ coverage.  You look at the pooling of small businesses, and as well the closing of the donut hole.  But I could take the good things out the health care law, probably capsulize it in about five to 10 pages.

It‘s the other 2,049 pages when you start to look at 16,000 new IRS agents, 150 government agencies bureaucracies, $500 billion cuts in Medicare, I could continue to go on.  And I think that‘s why we need to scrap this plan, find the parts that are good, and come up with a new plan.

And as far as what I said in my mission, you‘ve got to look at what happened in our congressional campaign.  In some of the vicious and ugly attacks that were leveled against me, putting my Social Security out in the public domain.  Just because I ride a motorcycle, claiming that I‘m part of a white motorcycle gang, and I‘m a drug dealer and the leader of a prostitution ring.  So, those are the type of things that really did not sit well in my stomach.

We stay focused on the issues, but I want to make sure that that time agenda does not proceed on as we take care of the business of creating jobs and getting this economy back on track.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman West, as a former motorcycle rider myself, I‘m not letting anyone attack you for that.

Let‘s go to health care.  Have you—did you sign up for the congressional health care plan today?

WEST:  Not today.  I have not signed up for the congressional plan.

O‘DONNELL:  Are you going to use—are you goings to use the congressional health care plan or your military veterans benefits health care plan that you‘ve earned after 21 years of service in the Army and reaching the rank of colonel?  Which government plan are you going to use?

WEST:  I‘ll probably go, you know, seek to continue on with the tri-care plan that I have.  I think that that provides good service for my family, as well my wife.  As a financial planner, she has a private insurance planner as well.  So, I think we have good health care coverage.

And the most important thing is I take care of myself.  This morning, I got up at 5:00 and had a nice seven-mile run, knocked out some push-ups and crunches.  So, I think that health care is an individual responsibility and that‘s what I‘m going to continue do.

O‘DONNELL:  And in terms of veterans benefits, is that one of the areas that you would absolutely never touch and never cut when you‘re looking at this budget and the areas that you can cut?  Or is everything on the table, including the benefits that you personally receive from the government?

WEST:  Well, I‘ve got to tell you something—we made a commitment to the people who wear the uniform that protect our country, that stand on the wall, and make sure that we are safe here with the liberals and freedoms that we have.  And that commitment goes all the way back to my father who served in World War II, my older brother who served in Vietnam, myself for 22 years, and also my young nephew who is serving as a captain.

So, I don‘t think that we need to break the promises to our veterans.  You know, one of the things that we said that the military will continue to have their health benefits taken care of, but now we came with the tri-care program.  We need to make sure that we‘re doing the right things for the people to keep us safe and secure.

So, no, veterans benefits should not be part of the cuts and spending.

O‘DONNELL:  Can we break the promises that we‘ve made to Social Security beneficiaries?  And can we break the promises we‘ve made to Medicare beneficiaries?

WEST:  I think that thing that we have to look at with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  If we continue to not have any type of budgetary controls and allow these programs to be on autopilot, by 2045, out to 2050, those three programs will take up all of our government spending, our entire GDP.  So, we need to start looking at how do we take these programs, reform them, and focus them toward the people who truly does do need those services.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, you have very strong feelings about the president of the United States.  You have said, you think Barack Obama, quote, “is probably the dumbest person walking around in America right now.”

You‘ve also said, “I can‘t stand the guy.  I absolutely can‘t stand him.”  And this week in “The New York Times,” you criticized him for traveling to Afghanistan and landing the plane in the middle of the night for safety reasons.  You said you thought that if soldiers are willing to put their lives on the line, that the president should put his life on the line when he goes to visit battle sites.

Do you really believe that the president should literally put his life on the line, risk his life, and the life of everyone else in that aircraft in order to make what point?

WEST:  Well, I guess I‘m coming from the fact that I was a commander on the ground, and I think one of the most important things is that leadership is by example.  Now, if you disagree with the fact that I believe that leadership‘s about leading from the front, then you can do that.

But I think that if we‘re asking our young men and women to put themselves in harm‘s way, we as elected leaders, we as a people here in Washington, D.C., when we go over there spend one week, or, you know, two, three days, we need to be willing to go out there to some these forward-operating bases, some of these remote places and spend some time with them.  So, that‘s my concept of leadership.

And let me tell you, when we look back at the Bush administration, when he had $1.85 trillion of deficit spending over eight years, so many people said that he was quite a dumb individual and he did not do well as president.

Well, this president, his first two years, he‘s had $1.42 trillion of deficit spending and in the second year, he had $1.9 trillion.  So, if you take a very bad situation and you make it even worse, I don‘t call that smart.  I think that we‘ve had some very dumb policies that have come out of this administration and we‘re up here to make sure that we can get those policies reversed so that we can create the economic additions for the future and the legacy of this republic.

O‘DONNELL:  And, Congressman, as you know, when George W. Bush was

president and he visited the war zones, he did so under the cover night,

using all of the same protections that Barack Obama did.  But you also know

--

           

(CROSSTALK)

WEST:  But I‘m not saying—I‘m not saying that that was right either.

O‘DONNELL:  In your lifetime, you‘ve never once had the opportunity to vote for a president who would, as you put it, put himself in harm‘s way as president.  You want to retract that.  I‘m going to you a chance to retract that suggestion that the president of the United States should put his life in harm‘s way while president when visiting war zones.

This is a chance to just apologize for it and move on.

WEST:  Lawrence, I‘m not going to retract that statement, because I will tell you this—if I was sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I would fly into a combat theater and I would get out there and visit those troops wherever they are.  That‘s just the type of leader that I am and that‘s what I believe in, and that‘s the type of leadership that was instilled in me and my father who, when I was commissioned as a second lieutenant back in 1982, he said that the number one job for you, Lieutenant West, is to take care of your man and especially when you go into combat.

O‘DONNELL:  OK.  And in your lifetime, just so that we get the record straight, you‘ve never, ever seen a president do that you‘re suggesting that the president should do—never once?

WEST:  Well, you know, if you want to go back and forth about this, you continue how you feel that it should be done, but I‘m sticking with my guns in saying—

O‘DONNELL:  OK.

WEST:  -- that sometimes you have to have a different style of leadership and I think that our men and women in combat require individuals who are willing to go out there and be with them in harm‘s way at times.  And understand this no one is going to allow the president of the United States to be in a dangerous situation.

O‘DONNELL:  All right, I‘ll take that as your apology.  I‘ll take that statement as your retraction.

Congressman Allen West, Tea Party Republican of Florida, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

WEST:  Well, you have a great night.

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Next, we‘ll talk about the new normal for the Democrats in the House.  Do minority leader Pelosi and the rest of the Dems have a plan to derail House Republicans?

And later, Republicans take control of the House today.  Will the next stop be the White House?  Governor Mitch Daniels is emerging as the man to watch.  He gets tonight‘s “Spotlight.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: with Democrats in the minority in the House now, what can they do to counter the Republican agenda?  I‘ll be joined by Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen.

And will the Republican governor from Indiana be his party‘s biggest hope in defeating President Obama?  Governor Mitch Daniels would have to survive the primaries with a tax policy that could drive the Republican base crazy.

Ahead on THE LAST WORD.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Now that the Tea Party era of Congress has officially gotten underway, with Republicans holding a 242-193 majority in the House of Representatives, will the new Democratic minority show the same kind of discipline and unity that swept the Republicans back into power?  And what strategies can leader Nancy Pelosi and her team use to defend their achievements against Republican assault?

Joining me now is Congressman Chris Van Hollen, former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and now the ranking minority party member on the House Budget Committee.

Congressman, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND:  Good to be with you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, we just heard in our first segment from a new Tea Party member of the House, Allen West, sounding very much, very suddenly, like a politician, trying to spin his way out of a promise.  In this case, the spending cut of $100 billion in the first year.

Did you think the Republicans would be treating—would be retreating from that promise on day one?

VAN HOLLEN:  I did not, and I caught a little piece of that last interview and we‘ve been hearing it all day now—excuses for what‘s been a dramatic scaling back in what was a campaign pledge, a pledge laid out in their blueprint for America.

And what‘s happening is the reality of the budget process is catching up with that rhetoric.  Because people are finally figuring out that when you‘re talking about slashing the budget, as much as they‘ve been talking about over a short period of time, you are impacting the lives of people in a very negative way.  You‘re either cutting early education money, you‘re getting rid of college loans, you are denying money to the NIH to do research into finding cures and treatments for cancers and diabetes and other kind of diseases.  And people are finding out that it‘s one thing to talk about these things in the abstract, it‘s a whole other thing to talk about hurting people in their daily lives.

O‘DONNELL:  Can you take us through the new House rules that John Boehner has been talking about?  And are they important?  Do they affect the way the House will operate today, in any real and important ways inhibit the minority, now the Democratic strength in the House?

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, I‘m glad you raise that—because Speaker Boehner, in his opening comments, said all of the right things about trying to find common ground.  But, unfortunately, within two hours of that statement, the Republicans bought their rules package to the floor that really calls into question, a lot of statements they were making on the campaign trail for the last four months, especially as it relates to the deficit and reducing the debt.

You know very well from your time on Capitol Hill that rules, especially in the House, set the blueprint for action.  And what they did in this rule with no hearings or anything else is gut the existing provisions that relate to PAYGO and those rules currently said—at least before today—that if you‘re going to increase the deficit by adding a new program, maybe in education, you have to pay for it, as you should.

The rules used to say that if you add it to the deficit by provide a big tax break for big hedge fund managers or from some special interests that had great lobbyists in Washington, that you also had to pay for that.  Today, the Republicans said, when it comes to special interest tax breaks, they don‘t count.  You don‘t have to pay for them.

And under the statutory PAYGO rule, they were going to allow the chairman of the budget committee to substitute his own budget estimate for that of the Congressional Budget Office, which is, of course, the nonpartisan, sort of umpire that call little the balls and the strikes on the budget.

That is a huge politicization of the budget accounting process.  I mean, that is a substituting—that‘s substituting Enron‘s style accounting for the professionals at the Congressional Budget Office and opens up a very dangerous door, I believe.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, I don‘t know if it‘s possible to stress to the public enough just how shocking that is, the idea of abandoning CBO‘s impartial budgeting scoring that they‘ve done—that both sides don‘t like.  No ones ever happy with the way it scores.  But CBO always does their best to say, OK, one party‘s going to make that decision for now on, it‘s absolutely shocking.

On the health care repeal, Congressman, do you—are the Republicans going to be allowed to have a clean vote on health care repeal in the House?  Or will you, in any way, be able to amend it or attach to that vote the opportunity for some Republican House members to vote to retain some portions of the bill that we know many Republicans actually favor?

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, first of all, this bill will come to the floor of the House one week from today.  By all accounts, they‘re going to be no hearings.

We‘re not going to have an opportunity to hear from many of the people who are beginning to benefit from the patient protections that were in the health care reform bill, you know, whether they‘re seniors or having their prescription drug benefits enhanced and not falling into the donut hole or families who have kids with pre-existing conditions who can now get health insurance—we‘re not going to hear from any of those folks.

And it also looks like despite their pledge of full openness and full debate, there‘s not going to be any opportunity for Democrats to have any amendments.  We‘ll find out.  We‘ll all go to the rules committee tomorrow, and people will offer the amendments that they want to make an order on the floor of the House.  But every indication we‘ve got is that those amendments will not be made in order.

And on the budgeting point, the rule that passed today said that you can totally ignore the Congressional Budget Office‘s estimate on the impact of the deficit on repealing health care reform, because despite all of the misinformation out there, there were provisions in that bill that will overtime reduce the cost of health care to the government.  And CBO has said that that comes to a little over $100 billion in the first 10 years and a little over $1 trillion dollars in the second ten years.

Under the rule of the Republicans passed today—I don‘t know if—you know, Allen West and the Tea Party guys realize what they were doing—they said, we‘re not going to care about what the CBO said.  We‘re going to substitute our own estimates.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland—thank you very much for joining us tonight.  And good luck this year.  I know that there are a few things in Washington more frustrating than being a member of the minority in the House of Representatives.

VAN HOLLEN:  You‘re right about that, Lawrence.  Thanks.

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you.

Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana has earned the first ever “Fiscy” award in Washington today for his fiscal responsibility.  That has some saying he could be the Republicans‘ best candidate against President Obama.  The governor gets the LAST WORD “Spotlight” tonight.

And his best friend, Haley Barbour, shows up in tonight‘s “Rewrite.” 

Was he playing politics with his pardon powers?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Ahead on THE LAST WORD:  On Sunday, George Will declared Governor Mitch Daniels one of the Republicans‘ best hopes to beat President Obama in 2012.  But can Daniels‘ party live with his take on taxes?

And, do what do you get when you mix John Boehner and a big personal achievement today?  Yes, the tears again and again and again.  What up with that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  The race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination is getting a late start, by 2008‘s standards.  The usual suspects have been dropping hints about running, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty.  It‘s not easy for any of them to get much media attention, as long as Sarah Palin continues to pretend to think about running. 

Meanwhile, some thoughtful Republicans, worried about the weaknesses of those usual suspects have begun to float a new name, and Democrats are taking notice. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WILL, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  The person who wins the White House usually wins a majority of the electoral votes in the Mississippi Valley.  To me, that says Pawlenty, Thune perhaps, Mitch Daniels certainly. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The governor of Indiana. 

WILL:  Yes. 

DONNA BRAZILLE, CNN ANALYST:  Mitch Daniels, I think he‘s an interesting candidate.  I think he would make a strong Republican nominee.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now in tonight‘s Spotlight, the Republican governor of Indiana, and potential 2012 presidential contender, Mitch Daniels.  Governor, thank you very much for joining us tonight. 

GOV. MITCH DANIELS ®, INDIANA:  Glad to be here. 

O‘DONNELL:  Governor, the—you‘re in Washington this week to bask in the glow of George Will‘s endorsement for your candidacy for presidency—for the presidency, and to accept an award, a national award for fiscal responsibility.  That‘s a bipartisan award. 

And one of the ways you achieved that award for fiscal responsibility was raising the sales tax in Indiana.  What are you going to say on a presidential debate stage in the Republican primaries when everyone else in the stage is accusing you of betraying the taxpayer by raising a sales tax? 

DANIELS:  Well, careful, Lawrence.  The sales tax increase was offset almost two to one by the biggest tax cut—net tax cut in Indiana history, as we cut property taxes to less than one percent, and capped them, and now have the lowest property taxes in America. 

So it was a re-balancing of taxes, but a huge net reduction.  And I think with regard to the national situation, the way forward really is through reductions in spending, first and foremost. 

O‘DONNELL:  Governor, I complete—I, for one, completely understand

re-balancing tax burdens.  And I wasn‘t one who would jump out there and

attack you for what you did on the sales tax.  But Grover Norquist and the Club For Growth, who dictate to Republican presidential candidates what they must say on taxes, did attack you for it.  He said that you betrayed the Indiana taxpayer. 

If you run for president, Grover Norquist will present you with a written pledge that you must sign in order to advance your candidacy, saying that you will absolutely never, under any circumstance raise any tax.  Will you sign Grover Norquist‘s—Grover‘s pledge? 

DANIELS:  Well there‘s no certainly that I‘ll ever be a candidate for national office.  But I‘ll answer your question, Lawrence.  I personally think, especially given the emergency our nation faces, genuinely, a republic threatening emergency posed by the presence of the debt we‘ve amassed, and that which is out in front of us here, that anybody running for president should pledge to take one and only one oath: and that‘s the one that involves the Bible and the west front of the Capital. 

That‘s the only pledge that I believe our candidates should be taking, and the one that I would. 

O‘DONNELL:  Governor, that is a brave answer in the political climate of running for president in Republican primaries.  And I‘m just going to mention Grover Norquist one more time.  And I promise you, we‘re moving on to spending after that.  Grover Norquist has said that your thinking on taxes is—and I‘m quoting him—“outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought.” 

He said that “absent some explanation, such as large quantities of crystal meth, this is disqualifying.” 

I think large quantities of crystal meth is disqualifying also.  So he‘s trying to put you in a box, governor, if you don‘t take that pledge to never increase taxes in any way on any tax.  And I haven‘t seen any Republican in presidential primaries successfully get out of Grover Norquist‘s box.  Do you think you can?  Or some other candidate can running in Republican primaries? 

DANIELS:  Oh, I don‘t know.  I know Mr. Norquist.  And his instincts are right and his intentions are good.  I think his understanding of what happened in Indiana‘s factually flawed.  One day, he‘ll catch up to that. 

But let me just say that the—the problem facing the country, the dominant problem, in my judgment, the one that threatens the American dream and the American prospect as we‘ve always known it, is our national debt.  It ought to be addressed.  It can best be addressed through policies, all-out policies of economic growth and policies of dramatic reductions in spending, changes in the so-called entitlement programs.

But you know, it must be solved.  And if it has to be solved in the second or third best way, as opposed to watching the nation we love go over Niagara Falls, then I‘m from Plan B or Plan C.

O‘DONNELL:  Governor, today‘s “New York Times” has a favorable article about you, something that Republican candidates don‘t often see, and about your fiscal responsibility.  And it talks about your attitude toward Social Security and Medicare, about which you know a great deal, having served as OMB director for President George W. Bush. 

You say in “the New York Times” that we have to change Medicare and change Social Security, not just cut the spending of it, but actually change the way it works.  How would you both reduce the costs of Social Security and Medicare, as well as change the structure of it?  You‘ve already indicated we should raise the eligibility age for both of those programs.  But beyond that, what structural changes would you make? 

DANIELS:  First, I wouldn‘t change it for those in the program or near the program.  People over some age, 50 let‘s say, ought to be allowed to stay in exactly in the situation that they‘ve anticipated.  But we need a Social Security 2.0 and a Medicare 2.0 for the new century that will work for the young people who are going to pay the bills for all of this, for the old and for themselves. 

And you know, there are a lot of ways you can do this.  I personally think that you start by means testing.  There‘s no reason we should be sending pension checks to Warren Buffett or to me, for that matter.  Secondly, yes, we should, over the long hall, raise the retirement age to something that more closely comports with the much longer lives that our children are going to lead. 

We should compensate or protect fully for inflation, but not over-protect as we do today.  Now, you can do these things or a variety of alternatives.  Those are the ones that come first in my mind.  But I‘m interested in seeing this problem solved.  And if someone wants to replace one of my approaches with something else, I‘d sure listen.

O‘DONNELL:  Governor, one of your proposals is to cut down how much money is spent at the end of life in the Medicare program.  This was an extremely controversial area during the health care reform debate.  Republicans accusing Democrats of creating death panels.  You say in today‘s “New York Times” that people are spending way too much money in those last few weeks of life on futile treatments that aren‘t going to work. 

And you go on to say that—that Medicare beneficiaries should understand that if they choose to spend on these expensive procedures in the last weeks of life, it‘s going to have to cost the Medicare beneficiary.  You say that they need to understand that the “inheritance you will leave to your kids going to be wiped out, cut in half or something.” 

Now that, I have to say, seems like a particularly Republican frame of thinking, given that we live in a country where 92 percent of us will never inherit anything.  So who is it that you think has all this money that they can spend, of their own, on these final treatments as they lay dying or as they lay in the last year or two in their lives on our Medicare program? 

DANIELS:  Lawrence, let‘s just agree that this is the most heart-rending and excruciating issue of all, that when infinite desires, in this case for immortality, collide with finite resources, which we have as individuals or as a country, something has to give. 

And as opposed to the government deciding who lives and who doesn‘t, who gets the most extreme and so often unavailing, expensive treatments, and who doesn‘t—I‘d rather that toughest of all decisions be with a person and his or her family. 

Again, all of our programs should be tilted in a way they‘re not today, toward poor people and low-income people, many of whom ought to be fully able to avail themselves of these practices.  But when we try to do everything for everybody, we know the machine goes tilt.  And this is not compassionate for everyone. 

O‘DONNELL:  Governor Mitch Daniels, Republican of Indiana, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  And please come back as soon as you‘ve made your decision about entering the presidential race. 

DANIELS:  Thanks, sir. 

O‘DONNELL:  John Boehner‘s shed many a tear on camera.  So why should today, the day he becomes Speaker Boehner, be any different?  Richard Wolffe joins me to discuss the politics of manly crying. 

If you were in prison, you‘d pray for a pardon, right?  Tonight, thousands of worthy candidates for pardons remain ignored, and their prayers are unanswered.  And the reason is in tonight‘s Rewrite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s rewrite.  Mississippi‘s Republican governor made headlines over the holidays when he issued an indefinite suspension of the life sentence of two sisters, Gladys and Jamie Scott.  As Benjamin Jealous, the head of the NAACP, pointed out on “the Huffington Post,” “they were each condemned to this extraordinary sentence as teenagers, for a first-time offense in which 11 dollars was stolen and no one was hurt.  The Scott sisters were convicted of luring two men to be robbed by three teenaged boys.  The boys each received eight years and served—that served less than three.  Moreover, there are compelling reasons to believe the sisters are innocent.” 

This case got national attention, especially when Governor Barbour made the stipulation that in order to win her freedom, Gladys Scott must donate a kidney to her ailing sister Jamie, something she had already planned to do.  I would like to be able to commend Governor Barbour for rewriting these unjust life sentences, particularly after his outrageous statements that he didn‘t remember segregation in Mississippi, quote, “as being that bad.” 

But these women don‘t just deserve their freedom.  They deserve a full pardon without the morally and legally questionable condition involving an organ transplant.  Governor Barbour‘s act of clemency is tainted, like so many that have come before it by governors and presidents. 

The Founding Fathers knew that wise compassion was necessary to temper our justice system.  In the “Federalist Number 74,” Alexander Hamilton wrote this about pardons: “the criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance to sanguinary and cruel.”

But pardons have become a third rail issue in American politics in the television age.  And over the years, presidential compassion has all but evaporated.

From 1945 to 1953, President Truman granted over 38 percent of the pardons from the petitions he received.  From 1969 to 1975, President Nixon granted more than half of those he received.  By the 1980s, that number fell below 19 percent under President Reagan.  President George W. Bush granted less than eight percent of the pardon petitions he received. 

And at this point, from the hundreds of petitions he has received, President Obama has issued just nine pardons during his two years in office, all of them just last month.  Barack Obama, former president of the Harvard Law Review, a Constitutional law professor, well versed in the long litany of extreme cruelties visited upon African-Americans and other defendants in our judicial system, has found in his heart room for compassion for only nine victims of that system, nine. 

Is it really possible that a professed believer in a merciful God could find only nine people deserving of his mercy in two years of looking for them in our imperfect judicial system?  The Associated Press report on the Obama pardon says, “no one well known was on the list and some of the crimes dated back decades or had drawn little more than a slap on the wrist in the first place.” 

So why have our last two presidents been so reluctant to right more of the obvious wrongs of the judicial system?  One reason, the tainted pardons of the Clinton presidency.  After issuing 178 pardons over his first seven years in office, President Bill Clinton granted 218 in his last year, most of them on his last day. 

Those getting mercy, a fugitive financier, a drug trafficker, and a mail order scam merchant, many with connections to people close to Bill and Hillary Clinton, and one involving a 400,000 contribution to the Clinton Library. 

In February of 2001 “the New York Times” wrote, “even the most devoted and vociferous backers of Bill and Hillary Clinton are now refusing to defend their messy exit from the White House.” 

Messy is a very, very kind word for a 400,000 dollars pardon.  A pardon is a Rewrite of the overly harsh and unfair outcomes of the judicial system.  It is not a favor to a friend or a contributor from an outgoing president.  It is not something that a president should fear using because of the mistakes of his predecessors.

But President Obama clearly does fear using his clemency power because of the stain Bill Clinton left on it that has not yet worn off.  Thanks to President Clinton‘s ugly abuse of the power, and Presidents Bush and Obama‘s shallow political fear of using that same power, hundreds—no, thousands of men and women fully worthy of presidential pardons are suffering needlessly at our expense tonight, in our federal penitentiaries.

And the humanity of the presidency suffers with them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  When House Speaker John Boehner took the gavel from Nancy Pelosi today, two things were all but certain.  It was going to be an emotional moment for Boehner.  And Boehner wasn‘t about to hide it from the world, a handkerchief never far from his reach.  It is a side of the new Speaker we‘re starting to grow accustomed to. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER:  What‘s in the best interest of our country?  Not what‘s in the best interest of our party, not what‘s in the best interest of our own re-election; what‘s in the best interest of our country? 

I‘ve spent my whole life chasing the American dream.  And I poured my heart and soul into running a small business. 

Making sure that these kids have a shot at the American dream like I did.  It‘s important. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Those moments have made the most powerful member of the GOP a target for many a comedian. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, “THE LATE SHOW”:  The guy will—will—will cry like he‘s on drugs.  On “60 Minutes,” was it Leslie Stahl. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

LETTERMAN:  She says to his wife—everybody got fed up with it.  She said, after a while, is he always like this?  Because he was sobbing.  I‘m not suggesting that he‘s anything less than masculine.  I‘m suggesting that he needs some sort of counseling.  This guy can‘t get an elevator, he starts to sob. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Speaker Boehner does have his defenders.  Dan Rather told “the New York Times,” he thinks that the criticism of Boehner for crying is, quote, “ridiculous and insensitive.”  Dan Rather added, “and I certainly don‘t agree with him about lots of things.”  “Crying,” says Rather, “is genuine.  It‘s authentic.  We live in a society where authenticity is very hard to come by.” 

So the tears of John Boehner, authentic or unstable?  Who better to turn to than THE LAST WORD‘s senior crying analyst, Richard Wolffe, the author of “Revival: The Struggle For Survival Inside the Obama White House.”

Richard, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  I defended Boehner on the election night when the first—the first time I saw him crying.  I just thought it‘s the weight of this new office, he can feel it.  But he‘s done lot of crying since then. 

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  He has. 

O‘DONNELL:  More than I have expected.  And it is something we haven‘t really seen before in his position, isn‘t it? 

WOLFFE:  Well, not from a woman speaker, that‘s for sure.  And we can discuss how women face different rules on this.  But, you know, if there was a watershed moment—and I guess that probably is an intended pun—it came with President Bush.  Because here was a guy who not only blubbed (ph) on—when he lost the New Hampshire primary, but he blubbed several days after the terrible events of 9/11, inside of the Oval Office.  And you know what?  Nobody said that was unstable or unseemly.  People thought it was genuine and moving.  And he was speaking, albeit it through choked emotions, for the nation. 

So maybe things have changed.  It‘s not the 1970s anymore.  And let‘s face it, even for women, what happened with Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire—obviously, New Hampshire brings out the worst in politicians, or maybe the best—actually humanized her.  So I think it‘s no bad thing for a Republicans who is going out there cutting budgets to be out there showing that he has a heart too. 

O‘DONNELL:  It could in the Hillary and the Bush cases that they both had a lot of non-crying moments on the record publicly.  And John Boehner, who is new, has been seen crying an awful lot.  Some people haven‘t seen him do anything else.  “The New York Times,” Richard, recently had a piece where they talked to psychologists who say that men become more inclined to tear up as they get over 40.  

WOLFFE:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, I—you know 39, I wouldn‘t know. 

WOLFFE:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  But what do you make of that, Richard?  As you get over 40, do you feel a little—a little softer? 

WOLFFE:  I‘m getting a little emotional right now.  I mean, are you suggesting this is a kind of male menopause or something?  I guess some people at “30 Rock” who could tell us more.  But the question here I think is not about age.  It‘s the ease with which John Boehner turns on those tears, albeit obviously unintentionally. 

You know, the Leslie Stoal interview was interesting because it wasn‘t about his experience.  It was just about kids and the American dream.  It seemed so abstract.  You know, when he‘s talking about his experience as a small business owner and the struggles he‘s faced, I think you have to give him a pass. 

It‘s tough.  He‘s reached the pinnacle and—but talking about kids in general, that‘s something out of the “Hudsucker Proxy.” 

O‘DONNELL:  Richard, thank you.  I‘m going to give him a pass, because I know my moment is going to come on this show.  I know it‘s going to happen, and I don‘t want to get criticized by you or anyone else for it. 

Richard Wolffe, author of “Revival,” thank you very much for joining us tonight.

WOLFFE:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  You can follow the show on our webpage, TheLastWord.MSNBC.com.  Once you‘re there, you can find all the information you need to donate money to the KIND Fun, Kids in Need of Desks, for school children in Africa, where we‘ve raised 1.7 million dollars so far.

“COUNTDOWN” is up next.

END   

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