Guests: Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, David Schapira, Chris Hayes, Maysoon Zayid
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
More death panels in Arizona. Jan Brewer‘s proposal to insure those who need transplants by cutting Medicaid to 280,000 others and mental health aid to 5,000 more. And the transplant patients are still on their own until July 1st.
Nationally, people with pre-existing conditions—don‘t worry about it. The insurance industry will look out for them.
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REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: I think, again, this is an issue for the marketplace, that the marketplace has dealt with in the past and that they can again.
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OLBERMANN: Gabby Giffords‘ daily miracle. Her husband says she is trying to talk.
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MARK KELLY, REP. GIFFORDS‘ HUSBAND: I am extremely confident that she‘s going to be back here and back at work soon.
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OLBERMANN: But an outrage from the right—a blogger linked to by David Frum, demands—just 12 days into her recovery before her rehab has even begun—demands that she resign from the Congress.
Reforming the filibuster: Democrats gear up hoping that once again to hold the floor indefinitely, senators will have to—you know, get up, hold the floor, and talk.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you‘re going to obstruct, if you‘re going to oppose something, you have to come out of the shadows.
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OLBERMANN: And why this is exactly like the “Star Trek” episode “A Taste of Armageddon.”
The latest “It‘s your fault, you‘re offended” apology from the new Alabama governor for saying, “Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I‘m telling you, you‘re not my brother and you‘re not my sister.”
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GOV. ROBERT BENTLEY ®, ALABAMA: I want to tell people that I am sorry if I offended anyone in any way.
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OLBERMANN: Speaking of offending in any way, the “prince of peace” over here makes an oopsies about what Democratic leaders would have to do to their followers.
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GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: You‘re going to have to shoot them in the head.
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OLBERMANN: All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening in New York. This is Thursday, January 20th, 656 days until the 2012 presidential election.
Confronted with the reality that her party‘s cuts to insurance guaranteed for transplant patients put 98 Arizonans at risk, two of whom have already died, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona has now offered a solution that will leave them at that risk until July and then pay for their transplant insurance by denying other medical coverage to 285,000 more people in her state.
Our fifth story: It‘s the death panel somehow made worse. And for Republicans nationally, like Michele Bachmann, it may be a template.
Arizona first—the governor‘s plan for those the Republican legislature cut off from transplant insurance created an uncompensated care pool of $151 million, which would be paid for in part by cutting 280,000, mostly childless adults from the state Medicaid rolls—according to the governor‘s budget summary. Also by cutting 5,200 more seriously mentally ill individuals from Medicaid, according to “Bloomberg News.”
The problem, other than denying coverage to the seriously mentally ill in Arizona and other than kicking another few hundred thousand people off Medicare, is that those individuals would then fall into the new uncompensated pool.
As explained by Arizona State Representative Anna Tovar, through her spokeswoman, quoting, “All those people will be making use of that fund”—which drains that fund. So then, quote, “the likelihood of receiver transplants is very low.”
Governor Brewer‘s proposal also is for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, meaning that until July of this year, the governor doesn‘t even have a bad idea on how to cover these life and death cases. And even then, the state would have to get a waiver from a federal law that prohibits states from changing Medicaid eligibility for two years.
Let‘s turn first to the State Senate minority leader in Arizona, David Schapira.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
STATE SEN. DAVID SCHAPIRA (D), ARIZONA: Thanks for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: What is your opinion of this proposal by the governor and whether it would or would not achieve this claimed goal of covering these life or death cases for the transplant patients?
SCHAPIRA: The worst part about the story is it does not solve the problem. It does not pay for the transplants. And so, you know, I appreciate my colleague, Representative Tovar, saying that, you know, this might help but it wouldn‘t really help enough—I actually talked to the budget chief of the governor today, and this plan does nothing for these transplant patients.
And here‘s the reason. Because what they‘re going to do is they‘re going to kick 280,000 people off of ACCCHS, off of our state‘s Medicaid program. These are lots of people that are going to still be out there seeking medical services. And they‘re not going to be able to pay their doctors.
And so, what‘s going to happen is that we‘re going to create this $150 million pool, which, by the way, we can only do with approval from the federal government—which I don‘t believe they‘re going to give us—and approval from our state‘s voters. And then doctors who maybe give transplants are going to go seek to get compensated out of this fund which they will only get compensated to the tune of pennies on the dollar. So, what will happen is doctors just aren‘t going to do these transplants. They‘re still going to say back to the patients, you‘ve got to pay for it and if you can‘t pay for it, we‘re not going to perform the procedure.
OLBERMANN: As I understood it, if you were gaining some momentum and there were even some Republicans in the legislature who were appalled at the fact that for want of a $1,400,000 that 98 lives were imminently at risk in your state because of the cancellation of this ACCCHS coverage for these transplant people—what happened to that? What chance do you have legislatively of overturning the governor‘s decision without going into this Rube Goldberg solution that isn‘t even a solution?
SCHAPIRA: I would love to say we‘d have a great chance, but I don‘t know that that‘s true, and unfortunately, it‘s again because of the governor. I‘ve actually introduced a bill, Senate bill 1001, and Representative Tovar has introduced a companion bill in the House to try and restore the transplant coverage. I‘ve gone and talked to the appropriations chairman, who is the chair of the committee this bill‘s assigned to and asked can we get a hearing for this bill, and can we do it urgently because there are still 96 people counting on us to restore this funding.
And my response from that person was that the governor has told him, representative—Senator Biggs, the chair of that committee, the governor has told him not to hear the bill. So, the governor does not want this transplant funding restored, and no matter what kind of solutions we can come up with, she is basically so against it that she‘s actually telling the legislature not to hear the bill.
OLBERMANN: But your state, like most obviously, has budget issues, and we don‘t have to get into the weeds of the particular budget issues. But the governor‘s still making choices about—there is money to spend p. It‘s not like the pockets are absolutely empty. And she‘s still pushing for tax cuts for corporations as opposed to $1.4 million to potentially save 96 lives.
SCHAPIRA: Here‘s the saddest part of the story. The saddest part is, this is a very small amount of money relative to our overall state budget. And it‘s actually $1.2 million, and then we get a $3 million match from the federal government, which we‘ve now lost because we‘ve cut that money. If we restore that $1.2 million and get the $3 million match, we could potentially save these 96 people‘s lives.
There are so many different options out there of things that we could do, and the governor is unwilling to consider any of those things—regardless of the point that this could actually potentially save lives.
OLBERMANN: Last point. Did she potentially propose this solution and attach it to the issue of the transplants to cover the fact that she just had a good opportunity here to cut another, you know, quarter million people‘s state Medicaid to some significant degree?
SCHAPIRA: Keith, sadly, I think this was the plan all along. All along, the governor has been holding on to this transplant issue so that when the state seeks the waiver for Medicaid, we could say, well, you‘ve got to give us this waiver because if you don‘t, then we are not going to be able to restore this transplant money.
The sad part is, if that was the trade-off you would think that she would be directly restoring this money as a process of asking for this waiver, and she‘s not. She‘s creating this uncompensated care fund which doesn‘t even solve the problem. So, she‘s using literally 96 people‘s lives as a political bargaining chip.
And all I ask and the Senate Democrats are asking is for the governor and the leadership of the capital to set partisanship aside, set politics aside, take into account the real human capital that we‘re talking about here, and let‘s just stop playing politics and deal with this issue.
OLBERMANN: Yes, apparently, you had 12 days of that in Arizona and that was this year‘s allocation, unfortunately, of putting politics aside and people first.
Arizona State Senator David Schapira—thanks for your time tonight, Senator.
SCHAPIRA: Thank you, sir.
OLBERMANN: To the likely macro version of this, if the Republicans got their wish on a national scale, from Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Arizona, when it was suggested that Democrats wanted the GOP to offer its so-called health care reform replacement.
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BACHMANN: We‘ll be happy to. We have all sorts of plans. We‘ve already been signing up on bills yesterday that we‘re going to be introducing to replace Obamacare and we‘re all too happy to come up with our free market solutions.
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OLBERMANN: Free market solutions. Congresswoman Bachmann confessed that free market solutions would extend even to this.
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BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS: Will you allow pre-existing conditions, under a new plan, at which point it‘s unveiled to the American people, that pre-existing conditions will be included in that?
BACHMANN: Well, I think, again, this is an issue for the marketplace that the marketplace has dealt with in the past and that they can again. The real issue on pre-existing conditions deals with people who could go into a high-risk pool. We already have a number of states that do that.
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OLBERMANN: And it‘s worked like a charm.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are about 50 million Americans with a pre-existing condition based on the definition used by those high-risk pools. When using the guidelines established by the marketplace, the insurance companies, there are 129 million Americans with a pre-existing condition and therefore subject to denial. Never mind those tawdry little numbers, Ms. Bachmann is eager to press her point for the next c election cycle.
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BACHMANN: This is not symbolic. This is why we were sent here. And we will not stop until we repeal a president and put a president in the position of the White House who will repeal this bill; until we repeal the current Senate, put in a Senate that will listen to the American people.
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OLBERMANN: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Besides which, in Tuesday‘s “Washington Post”/ABC News poll, only 18 percent of Americans still support full repeal.
As for the GOP backslapping over its repeal of health care reform, it was Congressman Joe “You lie” Wilson tweeting in all caps yesterday, quote, “We just repealed Obamacare.” All you need to know about substance and message and I.Q.s less than 50.
Let‘s turn to the senior political editor at “The Huffington Post,” MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman.
Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: This was obviously one of those moments longed for by those congressional Republicans, as we could tell, especially from Ms. Bachmann‘s kind of repeal Tourette‘s right there.
The day after the big repeal, how‘s the repeal road show going?
FINEMAN: Well, I don‘t think it‘s going that well. You cited the poll numbers in the new “A.P.” poll. And I think there‘s been some loss of steam in the repeal movement, as it runs into reality and it runs into politics—because the fact is, as even the FOX News interviewer indicated, the administration has managed to get across the point, the Democrats have managed to get across the point that the reform bill does, say that people, all people with pre-existing conditions are entitled to insurance coverage. That‘s a reform that most of the American people understand, and I think basically like.
Ditto with allowing kids up to the age of 26 to be covered by their parents‘ plans. People also understand that for the near poor, there will be other subsidies allowing them coverage, which I think a lot of people support. And the administration has gotten across the notion that there are real cuts that would save money and that Medicare and Medicaid, two of the most problematic programs in all of the federal government, are subject to reforms that might help them both.
So, all of that‘s gotten across. And even though there‘s still some support for the overall idea of repeal, these individual pieces have gotten through to the American people and made the situation a lot more complicated politically for the Republicans.
OLBERMANN: How low does the support for the repeal have to drop before the Republicans change the subject? Or are they going to try to ride this for two years and just futz around with, you know, big symbolic victories that don‘t mean anything in the real world?
FINEMAN: No, I don‘t think they‘re going to. In talking to the Republicans in both the House and the Senate—they‘re aware that they don‘t want to make the mistake that they think the president made and that they campaigned on during the last election. They said he spent too much time talking about health care, he took a year on health care and ignored jobs.
Now, the president in the State of the Union, as I understand it, is going to—among other things—do a kind of Sputnik II thing where he talks about technology and education and innovation and the long haul to compete with the Chinese economically. He‘s going to move on and the Republicans, I think, some of them, at least the leadership knows that it will be making a mistake if it spends the next year on health care. And I don‘t think they‘re planning to do it.
OLBERMANN: Thus, are Democrats—particularly House Democrats—looking better by default? I mean, we saw what happened when this bill went out there and the Democrats came back with hard-hitting facts and quick, terse rebuttals of the Republican points on this, where they just suddenly looked like—well, these are actual politicians with some backbone to them.
I mean, is that because they‘ve actually seen something or because the thing is popular, therefore they can support it, or has it just been made easy for them because the Republicans seem to be, you know, beating the proverbial dead horse?
FINEMAN: Well, the thing is, as you‘ve pointed out and as others have pointed out, the Republicans haven‘t yet come with any kind of thorough-going replacement. They‘ve got all kinds of pieces out there, some of which make sense, but they haven‘t bothered to put them together into a whole if they were serious about selling it.
So, a lot of people in the middle who are—who are just looking at citizens at this don‘t take the Republicans seriously, number one. And number two, the Republicans‘ effort to, quote, “defund,” which they may try next through the budget process, to defund health care reform, is impractical. If you look at it carefully for technical reasons I won‘t bore you with, it‘s pretty much impossible to do it.
So, they‘re left with nothing. They‘re left with one symbolic vote with no real change in the program, and looking like they‘re opponents rather than supporters of anything, and their opposition makes the Democrats look noble even in defense.
OLBERMANN: And at least Congressman Wilson got to send a tweet.
FINEMAN: That‘s right.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman, the senior political editor of “The Huffington Post”—as always, great thanks, Howard.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The other Arizona health story tonight almost defies description in both directions. While Gabby Giffords‘ recovery astounds even specialists in her field—tonight, there are calls from the right for her to resign from the House. Gene Robinson joins me next.
OLBERMANN: As she makes more progress still, the right wing has begun the drumbeat that she should resign from the House of Representatives.
Senate Democrats finally moving to fix the filibuster so you at least have to try as Jimmy Stewart did in the movie. There‘s no violent rhetoric out there unless you count him saying of Democrats you‘ll have to shoot them in the head.
And a shake-up puts the greatest name in British politics in the spotlight. I‘d say I‘d be making sophomoric jokes about his greatest name, but that would be an insult to sophomores.
OLBERMANN: Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords will leave the hospital tomorrow, says her family, 13 days then after being shot in the face at close range with a 9 millimeter bullet, piercing her skull and tearing a hole through her brain. Her husband says she‘s begun to try to speak. Tomorrow, she‘s expected to be flown by air ambulance to Houston where she will enter a rehab facility for what is expected to be months of therapy to recover whatever motor and cognitive function she can—could be quite a lot. All this just 13 days after being shot.
But in our fourth story tonight: the right-wing blogosphere says, “Too long, time to step down.” The blogger in question is an alumni—alumnus, rather, of Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell‘s office and a regular contributor at “Hip Hop Republican.” His blog post attracted little notice until former Bush speechwriter David Frum, who appeared on this program this week specifically denouncing violent rhetoric, posted the call for Giffords to resign on his own Web site, “Frum Forum.” and giving it a headline on his home page.
The original post was entitled “Who Controls Representative Giffords‘ Seat, Her or the People of Arizona? Constituents shouldn‘t have to wait for representation.” Among its extraordinary assertions: “There is no doubt her constituents mourn for her and her family, but does that mean they should also go without representation in Congress? Certainly not.”
“Should constituents,” it says, “allow members to hold on to their seats like,” still quoting this now, “political Brett Favres with no concept of when it is time to go?”
There is more of this crap. “Stepping down from one‘s office is nothing to be ashamed of. In actuality, the shame lies in not being honest with one‘s own self about the responsibilities that voters have entrusted in one and the expectations that they have. Constituents should expect that an official will either be appointed or a special election held within six months, not years. This current Congress should take this issue up immediately and in consultation with Giffords‘ family and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer come to an appropriate remedy.”
Thank goodness, Governor Brewer‘s office, to her credit, has already rejected such discussion as, quote, “entirely inappropriate.” Amen, Governor.
Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson, also associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of “The Washington Post,” author of “Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America.”
Good evening, Gene.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: It is rare to get 100 percent recovery from a bullet wound to the head but it can happen. And if it happens, as I understand it from the experts who understand this much better than any of us could, it tends to happen quickly, it could happen within two to three months, full recovery. But even if she doesn‘t get full recovery, 95 percent might mean conceivably she‘s clear as a bell mentally and she might have a limp or she might need a cane or she‘ll have trouble with smells or who knows what.
This whole question of how much better she gets is completely open right now. How can anybody with a soul not let some time pass before trying to rush her out of Congress?
ROBINSON: You did say with a soul, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Yes, I get it.
ROBINSON: I think that qualifier might be the answer to the question. I mean, you know, look, it—I could say classless and—but you know that. I could say tasteless. But you know that.
What we also know is that Giffords‘ recovery, thus far, has been described as, at the low end, remarkable. At the high end, miraculous. So, the idea that after 12 days it‘s time to start calling for somebody else to fill the seat is not only heartless but also stupid.
OLBERMANN: What does Mr. Frum or anybody on the right—what does he gain by linking to, putting out these inflammatory stories?
ROBINSON: Perhaps censure.
ROBINSON: Opprobrium. You know—look, I know David Frum, and I disagree with him on just about everything. But frankly, I‘m surprised that this sort—that he would feature this sort of thing on his Web site. It‘s not appropriate. And I think it brings him—brings the kind of attention that‘s not good.
There is such a thing as bad publicity, I hope, left in this world.
And this should bring some of it.
OLBERMANN: The original point of this blogger, and this has also been raised in other forums with far less responsible people—that‘s a relative term, obviously—is mental incapacity really the issue here? I mean, the same week that Ron Reagan talked about his belief that his father had Alzheimer‘s while president. I mean, this is the same day—Leslie Stahl today again addressed having witnessed President Reagan so completely lost mentally in 1986 that her words were “doddering space cadet,” that she was going to go on the air that night and report it on the “CBS Evening News.”
I mean, is this really about, in that context, is this really Gabby Giffords‘ potential intellectual capability as she recovers from this?
ROBINSON: You know, I guess maybe it is, although the irony is rich. I mean, you want other examples. For how many years was Strom Thurmond in the Senate without really knowing what he was casting his vote for or against?
But again, we have no idea what the end point or event mid-point of Gabby Giffords‘ recovery is going to look like. And so, until we have a little more experience, it just doesn‘t make any sense to talk about mental incapacity.
OLBERMANN: Something else. The right today is also trying to blame Michelle Obama because there‘s been a slight increase in pedestrian deaths. Their claim being her—the anti-obesity campaign encourages walking.
What‘s the right responsible thing to do with stories like this, with this level of asininity? I mean, you smack them down right away or does that help them get in the mainstream and give them traction? What do you do with these things?
ROBINSON: You know, I think you say—yes and yes. I mean, frankly, talking about these stories does give them wider circulation and thus I guess more currency. But I go back and forth on this, as I know you do, Keith.
ROBINSON: Right now, I‘m in smackdown mode. I think you—you know, you—when you see something like this, when you hear something like this, you‘ve got to call it out. You‘ve got to call out the people who are responsible for it and say, look, this is—this is—this is asinine.
OLBERMANN: Hopefully, Gabby will have the final word on this.
OLBERMANN: Gene Robinson of “The Washington Post”—always a pleasure, Gene. Thank you.
ROBINSON: Great to talk to you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Senate Democrats move toward actually doing something to reform the filibuster. You might want to start by changing the name since it does derive from the Dutch word for pirate.
Plus, the woman who fell into the mall fountain while she was texting, she‘s suing. And it turns out she‘s got a rap sheet.
OLBERMANN: Trying to reform the filibuster—so if you‘re going to filibuster, you at least have to stand up and pass out like Jimmy Stewart. Next.
First, the tweet of the day. It‘s from Title of Magazine. “Glenn
Beck on Democrats, June 10th, 2010: ‘You‘re going to have to shoot them in
Really? From the man who claimed to be pledging against using violent imagery but wouldn‘t admit he ever used it. And there‘s a video link?
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BECK: The radicals that you in Washington have co-opted and brought in wearing sheep‘s clothing, change the polls. You‘ll get the ends. You‘ve been using them?
They believe in communism. They believe and have called for revolution—revolution. You‘re going to have to shoot them in the head. But warning: they may shoot you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Nice guy. Insane.
Let‘s play “Oddball.”
OLBERMANN: We begin in Oberhausen, Germany. If you thought the story of Paul the Prognosticating Octopus was over as I did when we memorialized him with the help of our friend Anne Akiko Meyers, it looks like we were wrong—horribly, horribly wrong. The aquarium where Paul rose to fame has unveiled a commemorative statue in his honor. Coming over at over six feet high, the plastic—wait, plastic? No marble, bronze? Plastic?
Anyway, the statue shows an apparently hung over Paul sitting atop a soccer ball—touching tribute to a classy cephalopod. In case you‘re wondering—yes, the golden urn inside contains Paul‘s ashes and some olive oil and oregano.
And this Oddball update. Monday, we played this video of a woman taking a texting tumble. Release. Rotation. Splash.
If the act alone was not embarrassing enough, the lady of the lake has decided to reveal her identity on national TV. Cathy Cruz Morero (ph) appeared on ABC this morning with a bruised ego and a not bruised attorney. She says she was texting a friend from church when the fountain jumped out of nowhere.
She claimed she‘s getting ready to sue the mall because security did not come to help her. She also wants to sue whoever took the video and uploaded it.
If you‘re wondering how she snagged an attorney so quickly, turns out she had one handy. Ms. Morero‘s been out on bail since 2009 after being charged with running up more than 5,000 dollars of purchases on a co-worker‘s credit card.
She went from morning television to morning court. Plus, turns out she‘s a golden-voiced drifter.
Fixing the filibuster with Chris Hayes, next.
OLBERMANN: There are not a lot of analogies between the United States Senate and “Star Trek.” But the one good one is a doozy. The crew finds itself on the planet Imanear (ph), which has been at war with the planet Vendekar (ph) for so long that they found a more efficient way to fight. Vendekar has just dropped an atomic bomb killing half a million people.
But the crew noticed no damages to any Imanear city.
Turns out the actual weapons are inside a simulation. The computer simply calculates how many would have died if there had been an actual bomb and that number of residents then dutifully walk into suicide booths to be disintegrated. But fortunately no buildings are damaged.
Apparently there are Republicans on the planet.
The episode ends with William Shatner destroying the computers and explaining that war needs to be horrific to motivate nations to stop it. Destruction, death, disease, horror.
In our third story, same goes for the filibuster. Chris Hayes joins me in a moment as Spock. Among other reforms, Democrats are about to try to end the computer simulation version of the thing. If you‘re going to blow up Imanear, you‘re going to have to use real bombs. And if you‘re going to filibuster, you‘re going to have to stand on the Senate floor and talk until you topple over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, sir. I guess I‘ll just have to speak to the people of my state from right here. And I‘ll tell you one thing, that wild horses aren‘t going to drag me off this floor until those people have heard everything I‘ve got to say, even if it takes all winter.
SEN. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” I think most Americans saw that movie. And really what that was all about is that he was very uncomfortable with something that was going on, with the direction the Senate was moving. And he stood up for a long period of time, tried to rouse the American people to his cause. And that‘s what we want to see.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): Far from trying to rouse the American people to a cause, the GOP minority in the 111th Congress wielded the filibuster as a weapon to help run out the clock, even when Republicans overwhelmingly supported the legislation in question.
In November 2009, Republicans filibustered the Worker, Home ownership and Business Assistance Act, a bill to extend unemployment compensation. After days of inactivity, the bill passed 98 to nothing. No Republicans voting against it. They filibustered a bill they fully intended to support.
Same goes for the Credit Cardholders‘ Bill of Rights, created to protect consumers from practices like arbitrary rate increases. That bill filibustered. Then it passed 90 to five.
Or how about the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, which allowed harsher punishment for financial mortgage and securities fraud? Filibustered. Passed, 92 to four.
Martha Johnson waited nearly eight months while the minority delayed her confirmation as administrator of the General Services Administration. End result of that, confirmed, 94 to two.
Wait, scratch that. Senator Jim Bunning and Jeff Sessions subsequently changed their two no votes to yes votes. Eight months of filibustering, no opposition.
Senator Franken was left questioning the sanity of his fellow lawmakers.
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: This month, my colleagues forced a cloture vote—they forced a cloture vote to approve a judicial nominee for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. She was then confirmed unanimously, 99 to zero. And yet we were forced to vote for a filibuster. That‘s nuts.
OLBERMANN: It was not always like there. For the better part of 200 years, the Senate was rarely exposed to the filibuster. In fact, were it not for Aaron Burr, we may never have had any filibusters. As vice president, Burr proposed doing away with a little-used Senate procedure that ended open debate on legislation.
In 1806, the Senate changed the rules, creating the potential for endless debates on bills, later called filibusters. Rarely was the filibuster enacted over the next century, mostly because the majority could just change the Senate rules if the filibuster was used to thwart legislation, which is exactly what happened in 1917, when 12 anti-war senators managed to kill a military arms bill.
President Woodrow Wilson urged the Democratic Senate to change the rules. They adopted cloture of debate, in which a two thirds vote would end a filibuster. That lasted through 1975, when a procedural battle led to a compromise agreement that lowered the cloture threshold to only 60 votes. The rule change coincided with a new system that allowed two or more pieces of legislation to be considered on the floor simultaneously.
The Democratic majority leader of the time, Mike Mansfield, thought the two-track system would make it harder for the minority to hold up Senate business. Instead, he wound up making a filibuster easier. Now all a senator needed to do was announce an intention to filibuster and the issue would be set aside until a cloture vote could be held.
This type of procedural filibuster was enacted 136 times by the 111th Congress in 2009 and 2010, which is why Senator Udall and other Democrats want the Senate to go back to its roots.
UDALL: If you‘re going to obstruct, if you‘re going to oppose something, you have to come out of the shadows. You have to go to the floor of the Senate and tell the American people why you‘re slowing everything down.
OLBERMANN: If the filibuster rules are not changed, Senate Republicans will continue their strategy of block and delay, even for legislation they intend to support. Each tied-up bill brings them closer to the goal Senate Minority Leader McConnell outlined in October: “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
OLBERMANN: Let‘s bring in Chris Hayes, the Washington editor of “The Nation,” and MSNBC contributor. Chris, good evening.
CHRIS HAYES, “THE NATION”: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I‘m advised the “Star Trek” planet is pronounced Imanear. I just remember the guy with the goatee. That‘s the only part of it I actually remember. That‘s not your problem. It‘s mine.
The Senate will debate the new proposals next week. And the Democrats said they‘re going to take several days to do it. They only need a simple majority to change the rules.
Are there must-haves in this? Is the talking filibuster resurrection the essential priority?
HAYES: So there‘s a number of things that are part of this package. And as is often the case in Washington, right, they kind of go in ascending order of importance. And that‘s also the order of likelihood. OK?
So the easiest things, the kind of lowest-hanging fruit, are these procedural mechanisms that there‘s complete broad consensus I think are just out of bounds, like, for instance, secret holds. So one senator says I am blocking the nomination secretly of this nominee. I think there‘s generally a consensus we have to do that.
Another thing that they‘re talking about that I think there‘s some consensus on is getting rid of the filibuster on the motion to proceed. A lot of the examples you gave—a lot of the places in which you have wide consensus for legislation that ends up passing by broad margins but is filibustered, they‘re actually filibustering the motion to proceed to get to the actual question.
If you got away with that, you might—then you might be getting somewhere. The hardest thing is going to be reinstating the kind of talking filibuster. And right now, the people who are whipping for that are playing it very close to the chest about whether they have the votes for it.
OLBERMANN: Well, do they? I mean, Mr. Prior of Arkansas made some noise this week about protect the minority‘s rights. Do they have 51 votes at this point?
HAYES: I don‘t know. I don‘t know if anyone knows, to be honest. I don‘t know if there‘s a hard vote tally. I know the people that are engineering this want to keep this very secret until they think they have the votes. I don‘t think they have them now. I think that‘s what that means.
I don‘t think it‘s outside the realm of possibility. But I think what you‘re going to end up seeing is what is going to get 51 votes. Because at this point, I think everyone‘s on board there‘s got to be some changes. So my sense is that something is going to pass.
Now, at this point, they‘re also talking about passing it with two thirds and having it be a bipartisan deal, and the Democrats and Republicans come together and say this is the way we‘re going to do it. And if that doesn‘t work, then they go the Constitutional option and they get that majority.
I think something is going to pass in terms of rules reform. The question is, it‘s like the same story with the public option and financial reform, what compromises are going to have to be made at the margins to get the 51st vote.
OLBERMANN: Do we need to put a little blame on Mr. Smith‘s shoulders here? I mean, hasn‘t that movie been used to give the filibuster some sort of undeserved sanctification? Is this not really all Frank Capra‘s fault?
HAYES: It is by far the most iconic cinematic representation—the most iconic representation, period. The most—in some ways, the most revealing actual filibuster is the famous Strom Thurmond filibuster against the Civil Rights Act, in which—and the fact of the matter is the history of the filibuster has been quite reactionary.
I mean, the two things it was marshaled most often for, particularly in the ‘50s and ‘60s, was labor—any kind of law that would increase the power of organized labor and any kind of law that would empower African-Americans and civil rights legislation.
So it doesn‘t have a wonderful history. And I think actually there‘s fundamentally something small C conservancy, almost reactionary about it. The fact that you have this super majority requirement is one of the things that separates America from parliamentary democracies. And when we look at those parliamentary democracies across the ocean in Europe, we see they‘re actually much more social democratic.
OLBERMANN: Yeah. I mean, the House of Lords laughs at the Senate at this point. Chris Hayes, the Washington editor of “The Nation.” great thanks for your time tonight.
An update, Vendekar two, Imanear nothing. That‘s not a final. Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Ohio has elected a genius governor. He has declared Martin Luther King Day March 17th.
Alabama has elected a genius governor. He‘s shown religious bigotry and then blamed you if you were offended.
And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, it‘s a hat trick.
Her guest is former RNC Chairman Michael Steele.
OLBERMANN: It has not been done in Ohio since 1962. But former Fox News guest host John Kasich ends the streak, becoming the first Buckeye State governor to name an all-white cabinet in nearly half a century. And yet in our number two story, the Republican shows he is open to diversity by signing a resolution to honor Martin Luther King on St. Patrick‘s Day.
The mistake, proclaiming the holiday for the slain black civil rights leader, to be held on a day normally reserved for excessive drinking and green clothing in public, March 17th, first pointed out by the progressive blog PlunderBund. A Kasich spokesman acknowledging the error was out there for a time.
The date has since been corrected to January 17th. However, the proclamation still states that Dr. King helped break down the barriers of racial and economic justice. This comes on the heels of state black and Hispanic leaders criticizing the new governor for a lack of diversity in the new cabinet. So far, the members of Kasich‘s cabinet are all white. Only five of the 22 are even women.
The governor telling the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” that pursuing a diverse administration is not a top priority. “I don‘t look at things from the standpoint of any of those sort of metrics that people tend to focus on.” Adding “I don‘t pay attention to my critics.” Or calendar apparently.
And yet in Kasich‘s swearing in last week, in the Ohio Senate chamber, the “Plain Dealer” reports that two African-Americans appeared to take the oath of office that Mr. Kasich administered. One, an interim director, not an official cabinet member, the other a volunteer for the swearing in event.
As the “Plain Dealer” reports, it is not clear why she walked in with the cabinet leaders.
Yeah, it‘s clear.
And one note from the politics of the United Kingdom. Juggling in the so-called shadow cabinet, the opposition said of spokesmen who parallel the governor ministers. As the shadow chancellor of the exchequer, Alan Johnson is out. Ed Balls has replaced him.
Did we include this story just so I could say that? You might very well think so. I could not possibly comment.
The governor of Alabama on who are his brothers and who aren‘t, next.
OLBERMANN: The new governor of Alabama is now saying he was speaking as a private citizen, not as an elected official, when he referred to non-Christians as people who were, quote, “not his brothers and sisters.” In our number one story, he made the remarks an hour after being sworn in as governor.
Robert Bentley made it clear during his run for office that in addition to being a conservative Republican, he was also a Baptist deacon. At his inauguration in Birmingham on Monday, unfortunately the Birmingham in this country, Bentley promised to be the governor of all Alabamians. Then he went and spoke at a Baptist church in honor of Martin Luther King Day.
It gets better and better. “The Birmingham News” printed some less inclusive text from Bentley‘s speech in church. Quoting, “if you‘re a Christian and you‘re saved, it makes you and me brother and sister.” Now, I will have to say that if we don‘t have the same daddy, we‘re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I‘m telling you, you‘re not my brother and you‘re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”
Roll tied? It turns out some of the thousands and thousands of non-Christian citizens of Alabama were not happy about being disinvited to the Bentley Christian family picnic. The head of the Birmingham Islamic Society said the governor‘s words were quite disturbing. The head of the Birmingham Jewish Federation said such comments tend to disenfranchise those of a different religious view.
The president of the American Atheists called the remarks disgusting and bigoted.
Yesterday, on day three of his administration, Governor Bentley held his first full-on crisis mode news conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ROBERT BENTLEY ®, ALABAMA: I want to tell people that I am sorry if I offended anyone in any way. Whether you are a Baptist or whether you‘re Jewish, whether you‘re Muslim, whatever you are, I‘m going to be your governor.
The people in the church understood because I was speaking as a evangelical Christian who is a Baptist, speaking to fellow Baptists. And we use some terminology that other people of other religions may not at times understand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: I‘m joined now by Maysoon Zayid, the executive producer of the New York Arab American Comedy Festival. She‘ll also be appearing later tonight at the Broadway Comedy Club here in New York City. Hi.
MAYSOON ZAYID, COMEDIAN: Hi. Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: My pleasure.
Just for background, you‘re not from Alabama and you‘re not a Baptist, correct?
ZAYID: No. Unfortunately, I‘m neither of those things. But I am from New Jersey, so I can identify.
OLBERMANN: Does this offend you? Are you offended either that you can‘t be the governor‘s sister or that he‘s talking about this stuff?
ZAYID: I mean, first and foremost, I‘m shocked because this is crazy even for Alabama. It really is. And I find it offensive that this was done on Martin Luther King Day, in a place where Martin Luther King spoke. This man is using the fact that he‘s a bigot to prove that he‘s not a racist. Because his initial comment was “I don‘t see skin color, just religion.”
OLBERMANN: Yes. Very good. He can see through the skin color and be prejudiced without even that easy marker, right?
OLBERMANN: And he still seems to be digging. Besides the lovely “I‘m sorry if you were offended” apology, he now says that—at the end there, that non-Christians don‘t understand his Baptist language. Let me read it to you again. “Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I‘m telling you, you‘re not my brother and you‘re not my sister.” What am I missing there?
ZAYID: What I got from that statement was that I‘m not his sister.
ZAYID: And I also was very creeped out by the use of the word “daddy.” But I think he left out something important, because he‘s saying we‘re not his brothers and sisters because we don‘t have the same daddy. What if we have the same mom? What about that? Is this a backhanded slap at half-siblings that he‘s taking?
OLBERMANN: That‘s it. It‘s not just religious. We‘re also hitting brothers and sisters.
ZAYID: I think that, in reality, that apology was—it was really him just saying I didn‘t mean it because you heard it. Not I didn‘t mean it. Because when they say I was speaking as a private citizen, they‘re saying, you know, I did say this, I did mean it, you‘re just not supposed to hear it.
Frankly, I‘m happy that I heard it, because I‘d rather know his real intentions, you know, than have someone pretending that he actually wasn‘t a bigot.
OLBERMANN: Yeah. I once had a basketball coach deny a story of mine because he said it in front of 200 boosters after a game, and he claimed it was off the record. There were more boosters than there were fans in the stands.
It is a funny thing in the governor‘s case that in the apology, he left out atheists. Isn‘t that odd?
ZAYID: He also left out Scientologists. And I think that that‘s really divisive.
OLBERMANN: I have to ask you this. For all the crap that Muslims take in this country, if a politician of Muslim faith, if Congressman Keith Ellison as a leading example, said something parallel to this, he would have had to have resigned the same day, right?
ZAYID: If Keith Ellison had said the exact same thing, he‘d actually be in an orange jumpsuit badly fitting right now. But I think that like what this points to is the fact that separation of church and state is kind of an illusion, because the fact of the matter is people talk about God every day in whatever context they want.
Our former president said—invoked the name of God so much that if I took a shot every time he said God, I would have died of alcohol poisoning. And you know, to say that it‘s not part of it is a lie, because, you know, if Obama had put his hand down on a Koran on the inauguration instead of a Bible, there would be rioting.
So I think that when he speaks out, it reminds us we haven‘t really gone that far from George Wallace.
OLBERMANN: Really. And our covering this of course will be interpreted entirely as part of an anti-Christian backlash of this huge prejudicial nation against Christians.
ZAYID: Exactly. And it will also be considered pro Muslim, especially when you mention the fact that Muslims believe in Jesus and the Virgin Birth. Shocking.
OLBERMANN: One last thing; you blanched as this, as I did, as we actually heard the tape. What‘s the name of his religion? I thought he was a Baptist. Did he say baddist (ph)? Is that something else I‘m not—is that like some spas in Germany you? Worship at spas in Germany?
ZAYID: I‘m not sure. I‘ll have to look that up on Wikipedia. But I think baddists are people who have completely lost Christ‘s message.
OLBERMANN: That‘s for the ones who don‘t know that it‘s named for Jesus Christ.
OLBERMANN: Exactly. It‘s such an extraordinary commentary that a guy like this becomes governor, and then it‘s our fault that we‘re offended when he said that.
ZAYID: It‘s really amazing. And like when I sit there and say, you know, I grew up in an Italian Catholic town. I was never, ever treated as an other. I used to go to Christmas Eve, midnight mass. They would show me off to their friends. They‘d be like she‘s from where Jesus was born.
And when I hear the things that he‘s saying, we laugh, but sometimes it does get scary. You know, and when Rick Lazio‘s screaming, when this guy is like talking seriously—seriously about people not being his brothers and sisters, I don‘t want you to be my brother. I‘d have to make excuses for you all the time.
OLBERMANN: This is my crazy brother. Maysoon Zayid, appearing later tonight at Broadway Comedy Club in New York, great thanks for coming in.
ZAYID: Thank you for having me.
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