updated 1/24/2011 1:12:35 PM ET 2011-01-24T18:12:35

Guests: Ezra Klein, Jonathan Alter, Josh Marshall, Dr. Jonathan Slotkin

           

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KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Republicans Mensheviks revolt against their House economic czar.

Paul Ryan wants tax rates for the rich to be lower than tax rates for the middle class.  “Not enough,” says the Republican Study Committee.  “We want $125 billion cut from this year‘s budget.  Rescind the stimulus.  Cut the federal workforce by 15 percent.  We want $2.5 trillion cut in the years to come.”

Please don‘t ask us to show our math.

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NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS:  In other words, the real meat upfront cuts are still substantial, about $330 billion, ain‘t the $2.5 trillion.  So, what is the more—I don‘t know—realistic figure?

REP. JON CAMPBELL ®, CALIFORNIA:  The more realistic figure than the two—oh, you mean, other than what‘s listed on here?

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OLBERMANN:  Advice to the fired up GOP freshmen from the Tea Party‘s key astroturfer?

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DICK ARMEY ®, FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  The first thing they can do is to manage their enthusiasm.

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OLBERMANN:  Was that a cub reference?

Ezra Klein on the numbers, Josh Marshall on the political infighting.

The president and the State of the Union and cutting Social Security and/or Medicare.  New polling overwhelming against it and liberal activists tell the president, “Don‘t do it, we got your back against the Republicans who will do it.”

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  At 59, I‘m just trying to make it until I can retire at 62.  Now, Senator Lindsey Graham says he wants to raise the Social Security retirement age.

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OLBERMANN:  Arizona wears its heart on their sleeve for Gabby Giffords.  After her office release this photo, she leaves for Houston and one of the world‘s best brain trauma rehab centers.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She has great rehabilitation potential.  I think those three words will sum it up—great rehabilitation potential.  Great rehabilitation candidate.

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OLBERMANN:  One politician knows all about that kind of recovery.

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JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As devastating as Gabby‘s injury is, it does not surprise me—believe it or not—that she‘s making the progress she‘s making.

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OLBERMANN:  Can Giffords come all the way back, too?  We‘ll ask an expert.

Repealing health care reform.  The poll numbers sink again.  The repeal, any of its number, drops from half to 40 percent.

All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.  This is Friday, January 21st, 655 days until the 2012 presidential election.

And the battle has begun between the House GOP leadership and the Tea Party-infused House new Republicans over how much to cut the federal budget.

In our fifth story: House GOP economic czar, Paul Ryan, whose road map would privatize Social Security for the rich and impose a middle class tax hike while congressman of the study committee wanted to roll back spending levels to 2006 and slash the federal workforce by 15 percent.  With that group‘s chairman hoping that Democrats will actually, quote, “find Jesus.”

The economic GOP economic czar, first.  Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan will deliver the Republican response to President Obama‘s State of the Union address next week.  The chairman chosen by the Republican leadership for fiscal bona fides, as well as for his now infamous roadmap, though even some Republicans don‘t want to talk about that, much less implement it.  But the roadmap includes raising taxes on Americans making between $20,000 and $200,000, cutting taxes in half for those making more, the wealthiest Americans, to the point where the average tax rate for the middle class would be higher than that for the wealthy—according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.

Also, replace Medicare and Medicaid with a voucher system and privatize Social Security for the wealthy—namely and practically speaking, the end of Social Security as it is drained of funds.

Do you think that Republicans will have a hard time enacting their devious (ph) schemes?  You could be right.  You‘ll recall that Chairman Ryan, the czar, and the GOP leadership backed off the Republican pledge to cut $100 billion from this year‘s budget because the fiscal year will be halfway over by the time they got a crack at it.

But the Republican Study Committee, which boasts 2/3 of the Republican caucus and 74 of its freshmen, is crying foul.  That committee‘s chairman, Congressman Jim Jordan and its members, unveiling their own budget plan to reduce spending not to 2008 levels, as suggested by GOP leadership, but rather to 2006 levels and keep them there for 10 years—cutting $2.5 trillion in spending.

Just one example of how they would achieve that—reducing the federal workforce by 15 percent they claim by attrition.  Will that affect unemployment?

And the Republican Study Committee doesn‘t care about half year versus full year.  They still want their $100 billion cut this year and then some.

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REP. JIM JORDAN ®, OHIO:  We also grab unspent stimulus dollars to get to $125 billion for this fiscal year.  We think it‘s important we meet that number, $100 billion, to see our discussion and debate that is starting to unfold as we speak.

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OLBERMANN:  In case you missed it, the soft-spoken congressman said we also grab unspent stimulus dollars.

Tea Party-backed freshman, Congressman Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina insisting he did not speak for all GOP newcomers proceeded to all GOP newcomers.

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REP. MICK MULVANEY ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  The pledge, the $10 billion, was simply a start.  It was simply a floor.  We want more.

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OLBERMANN:  As for the Democratic-controlled Senate, Chairman Jordan remains full of hope.

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JORDAN:  Who knows?  You know, some of these Democrat senators may have—may have seen the light and found Jesus and realize they need to cut spending in light of what the American people said last fall.  So, I think you let the process work out.

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OLBERMANN:  It‘s Democratic, Mr. Member of the Republic Party.

Meantime, one of the members of the Republican Study Committee, Congressman John Campbell should perhaps not be a point person for this effort.

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CAVUTO:  So, in other words, the real meat upfront cuts are still substantial, about $330 billion, it ain‘t the $2.5 trillion.  So, what is the more, I don‘t know, realistic figure?

CAMPBELL:  The more realistic figure than the two—oh, you mean, other than what‘s listed on here?

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OLBERMANN:  Oh, boy.

Finally, former House majority leader and Tea Party astroturfer, Dick Armey, is calling on GOP freshman to curb their enthusiasm.  Lest they repeat mistakes by the Republican House circa 1994, quoting, “We didn‘t manage our enthusiasms and the fact to the matter is, it ended us—getting us in trouble.  We ended up with that horrible nightmare called the government shut down.”  And that hat.

Let‘s bring in “Washington Post” staff reporter, “Newsweek” columnist, MSNBC contributor, Ezra Klein.

Ezra, good evening.

EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is it part of the dynamic here that many of the GOP freshmen want to force exactly the kind of government shut down that Mr.  Armey now just so retrospectively deems a nightmare?

KLEIN:  They want to credibly threaten to force it.

OLBERMANN:  OK.

KLEIN:  So, if you‘re going to—if you‘re going to take a hostage and if you‘re going to try to get what you want because you‘ve taken a hostage, you need to be credible when you say, I‘m going to shoot him.

So, you can‘t say, we would never let the debt limit expire and then assume the White House is going to give you everything you want.  You need to be so clear that you would let the debt expire, that you have no conception of how horrible that will be, the White House says, you know, we can‘t let that happen.  These guys over here, they‘re really crazy.  They give in to your demands.

OLBERMANN:  Before we dissect these extraordinary, competing Republican plans, the first interparty showdown, is this going to be about this $100 billion number with the leadership saying, we can‘t possibly do that, not half of fiscal year, and the rank-and-file, you know, sort of going glassy-eyed and you just seeing dollar bills dancing in their head more?

KLEIN:  It‘s going to be very difficult for the establishment, the sort of the elders in the House GOP caucus.  What‘s in that figure, that $100 billion or $125 billion figure is pretty amazing.  They‘ll privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in one year.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the only things keeping the housing market afloat right now.  They are backing nine out of every 10 new mortgages being sold.  They are the only people essentially backing mortgages.  You think them away, housing collapses.  Housing collapses, the economy goes into a dip.  The economy goes—gets back into a dip because the Republicans did something, Republicans don‘t remain in power for very long.

I mean, this is a world in this bill where there‘s no Amtrak, with no PBS.  It‘s really dangerous stuff.

And one last thing on this—an unspent stimulus fund, what that generally means: people in your community are building a road.  When that road is finished, they get money.  An unspent—when you take that money back, they stop building that road.  You just have an unbuilt road there.

These aren‘t—it‘s not money people are just walking around with in their pocket.  And again, this is stuff that makes real people and real communities mad when they have a half finished road that‘s supposed to go by their house.

OLBERMANN:  A road to nowhere.

KLEIN:  A road to nowhere.

OLBERMANN:  We haven‘t talked much about Chairman Ryan‘s authority to set the spending levels once the current stopgap budget expires in March, but before they pass a new budget.  And it really is kind of—to use that favorite Republican term—a czar.

How does that work and does it give the GOP and Mr. Ryan sort of outsize leverage to slash spending?

KLEIN:  Well, they still need the Senate and the White House to agree. 

So, it gives them no more really leverage than they would have before.  It‘s a bit of an odd set up in there.  But Paul Ryan is going to have an interesting couple of months here.  He‘s giving the State of the Union response.  He‘s got his own plan, which honestly is going to be a very, very difficult thing to defend if too much of it comes out, if it becomes too much a portion of public attention.

And meanwhile, he‘s going to have these people who are even further to his right pushing for something, unlike his plan that doesn‘t delay the pain for a long time but moves it right now.  All these folks who have to somehow manage the competing demands of being part of the Tea Party, part of the Republican Party and part of the government, the folks who are right in the middle of that triangle there, are going to have a real tough time with it because from what you saw from the Republican Study Committee today, these guys don‘t want to disappoint the folks they promised the massive cuts, the massive change in Washington to and they‘re probably not going to listen to the folks who‘ve been there a little bit longer and say, no, no, no, you got to rein it back, you got to be calm.  We‘re the—we‘re the adults now.

OLBERMANN:  And by the way, Ryan is giving one of the State of the Union responses will get into later on in the hour.

Ezra Klein of “The Washington Post”—great thanks.  Have a good weekend.

KLEIN:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Now, let‘s look at the politics, the internal politics.  I‘m joined here by the editor and founder of “Talking Points Memo,” Josh Marshall.

Good evening, Josh.

JOSH MARSHALL, TALKING POINTS MEMO:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  Policy obviously begets politics.  We touched on some with Ezra Klein just there.

But are House Republicans fast appointing some sort of conflicts, some sort of actual get the popcorn popping and let‘s sit back and enjoy this?

MARSHALL:  Absolutely.  I mean, you know, some of this is natural when you come in on a big wave and enthusiasm.  And Democrats have some elements of it in 2009 and 2010.

I think the key is, though, is that, you know, there‘s the difference between what the Democrats want and what John Boehner wants, Paul Ryan wants.  But a lot of what we saw in the campaign trail last year wasn‘t so much like a platform.  It‘s like performance are.  This is like—this is Primal Scream kind of stuff.

And it‘s very—you know, it‘s Boehner and the leadership of the Republican Party, they‘re in a bit of, you know, a very tough place, as Ezra is saying, that you—you know, you have people who want to be reelected next time, too.  And you got those Tea Partier who is—who would like for all the Tea Party stuff, it‘s kind of nice to be a member—you know, member of the House.

So, it‘s a classic issue of, you know, letting some of your core supporters down easy if you can, or ending up with a situation like Bill Clinton was able to maneuver the Republicans into in 1995 where they walked themselves right off a cliff.  And so, a lot of it is going to come down to Obama and whether he has the finesse to manage them into a jam.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m tickled, by the way, by the image of the Primal Scream.  That was the second choice of the name of the party, the Tea Party or Primal Scream.

MARSHALL:  They went back and forth.  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  We quoted and this is an interesting segue from Primal Scream, we quoted Steven LaTourette from Ohio, ironically enough, who says, “Constituents want cuts, but not my spending.”  But having thrown them out of the Republican Party, just for acknowledging that, but is that the greatest political dimension to this that the GOP has to somehow find a solution to?

MARSHALL:  Yes. I mean, it‘s the classic issue with the heart of a lot of politics.  There is a lot of broad unhappiness about the fact that the federal budget is sort of chronically out of—out of balance.  But people actually—there is a reason why we have a lot of this spending.  A lot of different people rely on it.  Some of it is - some of it, they shouldn‘t rely on and other of bit is very key.

But it‘s not there for nothing.  And he‘s—you know, that‘s the essential issue and, you know, that‘s the key problem and it‘s part of what they‘re going to confront starting in like a week.

OLBERMANN:  As we know always with the Republicans particularly, but Democrats do this, too, politicians do it, too—the easiest way to solve an internal problem is to find an external enemy.

MARSHALL:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Is there a goal, is there one goal that they share that maybe they can pin all of this in this entire issue of cuts, or either they‘re not enough, or they too draconian, or they hurt the wrong people?  Is it all going to wind up being sort of hung, you know, around the image of Barack Obama, it‘s all his fault, no matter what the outcome is?

MARSHALL:  I think that will be tough and President Obama will have to play his cards pretty poorly to get to that place.  I mean, what President Obama needs to be thinking of and the White House needs to be thinking of, is you want to—you want to seem reasonable.  You know, federal budget is in bad shape, we‘ve got to do this and that, but he can‘t go so far in their direction that when the reality of what these cuts do start dawning on people and people are unhappy that the Republicans say, like, you know, me and Barack.  We‘re re like this.  You know, we‘re right together.

So, but I would—you know, the Democrats are finding out that there‘s something to be said for being in the minority sometimes.  It‘s not all bad.

OLBERMANN:  Government shut down or holding the debt limit hostage?  Are these realistic possibilities or is there just too much common sense even in the GOP?

MARSHALL:  I actually think it‘s a pretty realistic possibility.  I‘m not so sure about it.  I think—not raising the debt limit is too insane even for—even for some of the new folks on Capitol Hill.  But the government shut down, I think, you know, you listen to what some of the folks were saying a few moments ago and a lot of the new people in the House are not—you know, a lot of them didn‘t take it quite far enough.  That was the problem back in 1995.

OLBERMANN:  When they were running Amway.

MARSHALL:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Josh Marshall of “Talking Points Memo”—a pleasure. 

Have a good weekend.

MARSHALL:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Allowed to pick only one thing to cut to try to reduce government spending, a new CBS News poll suggests 13 percent would cut Social Security, 21 percent would cut Medicare and 55 percent would cut the military.  As the State of the Union looms, is the president listening?

And the extraordinary news conference in Houston by the rehab specialist who‘s just gotten their chance to examine Gabby Giffords, quote, “She looks spectacular.”

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OLBERMANN:  Is it possible that a Democratic president would actually use part of his State of the Union address to advocate cuts in Social Security?  Jonathan Alter on what looms next week.

Doctors are now confirming, as she left Tucson for the rehab center in Houston, she heard the applause, she smiled and teared up.  The doctors in Houston say she looks spectacular.  So, how much better can Gabby Giffords get?

Support for the full or just partial repeal of health care reform drops again in the polls, and we‘ll close it out with one more Friday with James Thurber.

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OLBERMANN:  Get your dirty government hands off my government-issued Medicare.  A new poll asking U.S. citizens if they would rather reduce the deficit by paying more in taxes or by cutting funds for programs from which they directly benefit, 62 percent of respondents say, cut my programs, to only 29 percent who say, raise my taxes.  Fifty-five percent calling cuts to important services.

But despite the theoretical willingness to sacrifice when it comes to the government services people are willing to slash, there are two areas that remained untouchable: Medicare and Social Security.

And our fourth story tonight: what those poll numbers mean for President Obama‘s State of the Union address and for the future of the Democratic platform.

The poll conducted by “The New York Times” and CBS News shows an overwhelming reaction against the idea of cuts to Medicare and Social Security.  In fact, respondents would rather cut military spending and by a huge number than either social program and by a margin of almost two-to-one.  Americans are also strictly opposed to raising the retirement age to help offset spending.

And benefit cuts and a higher retirement age are both recommended by the president‘s deficit commission, and we know what they had a deficit of.  It was led by Republican Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles.

When presented with those recommendations, the president said all options are on the table.  But before he delivers his State of the Union next Tuesday, he might want to listen to this guy.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When you look at how we should approach Social Security, I believe that cutting retiring—cutting benefits is not the right answer.  I meet too many seniors all across the country who are struggling with the limited Social Security benefits that they have, that raising the retirement age is not the best option.

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OLBERMANN:  Ahem!

Putting those limits or off limits options back on the table has contributed to an erosion of the public‘s trust.  When it comes to Democrats and Social Security, November 2010 poll found that Americans then trusted Republicans, the party that tried to dismantle Social Security only six years ago, more than Democrats when it came to Social Security.  First time that happened since the program became the defining issue for the Democratic Party in 1930.  A loss of that support has prompted liberal lawmakers and advocates to push back.

Today, the Congressional Progressive Caucus led by Congressman Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison issued a letter to the president saying, quote, “We urge you to send a clear message in your State of the Union address:

Hands off Social Security.”

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee also today releasing a new ad they plan to air in Senator Lindsey Graham‘s home state of South Carolina, proving they will go to bat against politician who threaten Social Security benefits.

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AGNES POMATA, CHARLESTON, S.C.:  I work at a local library in Charleston.  I love my job.  But I‘m in pain every day at work.  I have a torn rotator cuff from carrying books.  My hands have been numb at work.  There are times when people come up with stacks of books and I want to cry.

At 59, I‘m just trying to make it until I can retire at 62.  Now, Senator Lindsey Graham says he wants to raise the Social Security retirement age.

Senator Graham, people like me just won‘t make it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us now, Jonathan Alter, national affairs correspondent for “Newsweek” and, of course, MSNBC political analyst.

Hello, Jon.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Good to see you.

These groups as in the ones behind that ad against Graham, are they trying to show the president they will have his back if he stands up in defense of Social Security and Medicare?

ALTER:  No.  They are trying to show him that they won‘t have his back if he doesn‘t.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

ALTER:  It‘s a not-so veiled threat from the left.

OLBERMANN:  Either what works, though, right?

ALTER:  Well, it works to a certain extent.  Look, he is going to speak up strongly for Social Security.  Remember how well it works for Bill Clinton to say save Social Security first.  He‘ll ill speak out strongly against privatizing.  He will make everybody think in that speech that he has, you know, nothing at all critical to say about the Social Security program.

But he will also indicate, as he said when the commission report came out, that all options are on the table.  Why does he have to say that?  Because you can‘t get from here to there in terms of getting control of our fiscal future without dealing with entitlements.  And you can‘t deal with entitlement problem in general, not just talking about Social Security, but all entitlement programs if you start saying, well, we‘re not even going to talk about this, this, or this.

So, it doesn‘t really make any sense to say, take off the table the idea of extending—raising the retirement age in 2040 or 2050 when Social Security will be 100 years old and there an awful lot of people who actually are healthier if they retire a little bit later, contrary to that woman in the ad, which, by the way, that ad—I mean, she made it seem as if Lindsey Graham wanted to take away her Social Security.

OLBERMANN:  But wait—

ALTER:  They‘re talking about way in the obvious.

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OLBERMANN:  Except the statistics are clear that the life age length, longevity is going up significantly only for the upper 50 percent of income earners.

ALTER:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  For the lower of 50, for lower 50 percent, it‘s been like an improvement of two years over the last 50 years.  So, those—that added retirement age is not going to do (INAUDIBLE) for people who aren‘t making a lot of money in 2040.

ALTER:  Actually, it‘s—I don‘t want to quibble over statistics, but I think the numbers are better than that.  But, clearly, they—I don‘t want you to think that I‘m for raising the retirement age right now.

OLBERMANN:  What?

(CROSSTALK)

ALTER:  This is a problem with the debate, Keith, is that, you know, to say that - to take things of the table for people who are not even born yet, I studied Franklin Roosevelt, as you know, and what Roosevelt considered to be bedrock was what Bush tried to destroy—guaranteed return.  The idea of privatizing is appalling.

OLBERMANN:  Right.

ALTER:  You can expect the president as well he should to come out against putting yourself at the fate of the stock market.  But the idea of working around the margins of the various complexities of Social Security, it‘s not set in amber.  There are all sorts of other ways that they can—beyond the retirement age, that they can solidify the system.  And so, you don‘t want to tell them that they can‘t go to any fashion at all.  And that‘s not particularly—

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  But you heard those numbers.  I have them in the opening of the show.  And now, it‘s here in my file somewhere -- 55 percent, given a choice of one thing to cut, 55 percent said the military.

ALTER:  The military, I know.

OLBERMANN:  And then the number for it, Medicare I guess was 21 percent and Social Security was about 15 or something.  That‘s a lot.  And that implies there are Republicans and Democrats and young and old people and it‘s more than the others combined.

Why is there not—does anybody—does this president have the guts to talk about cutting the military?

ALTER:  It‘s a great question.  And, you know, they just cut the F-22, but he has not cut nearly deeply enough in the military budget.  It‘s a real test of Obama.  How far to the center is he going to move?  Is he going to get to a point where he‘s pandering on military spending?

I think he wants to cut everywhere and he feels like, given the deficit picture, not in the short-term, but the medium and long-term, he has to cut virtually everywhere.  But he‘s going to let the Republicans make their suggestions.

So, think you‘ll hear him say, as he said before, I‘m open to all your suggestions.  I‘ll listen to what you have to say.  That way they make the politically unpopular proposals and he gets to stay above the fray.  So, you‘re not going to see him go out there and put his neck out and say, you know, we‘re going to cut Social Security.  That‘s not going to happen.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Well—Republicans are not going to lead on the military cut, any way.  In any event, Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC—great thanks.  A pleasure.

ALTER:  Yes, thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Congresswoman Giffords moved today from the hospital she‘s been since she was shot two weeks ago tomorrow, to one of the finest head trauma rehab centers in the world.  The new doctors are stunned.  They say her ability to respond puts her in the top 5 percent of brain gunshot victims—how much better can she get and how quickly?

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OLBERMANN:  Gabby Giffords and her recovery and the new phase that began today, coming up.

Historically, though, not hellos, but goodbyes for January 21st, and ranging the entire political spectrum, from King Louis XVI of France, executed on this date in 1793, to Lenin, who died, perhaps poisoned, in 1926, though he still looks pretty good under glass.  To Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell in 1950, to the most infamous totalitarian of them all, Colonel Tom Parker in 1997.  Thank you, thank you very much. 

Let‘s play Oddball. 

We begin in Bakersfield, California with an invention that really exemplifies the idea that just because you can make something does not mean it‘s a good idea to do so.  Say hello to the double-decker bike.  It provides the control of a high wheel bike with the pleasant smell of sitting next to somebody‘s feet. 

It‘s quite simple to operate.  You just get a running start and then climb up to the top seat.  Then it‘s just a matter of having the second rider run after the bike and get on without throwing off the balance.  I can‘t wait to see how he improves the car when he gets his driver‘s license. 

To the Internets.  Let‘s meet Stefan Houser (ph) and Luka Sulik (ph), a pair of Croatian cellists.  Hi.  They have decided to use their incredible talent to do a cover of “Smooth Criminal,” complete with cello twirls and a fight scene.  Could be the best string cover of a Michael Jackson song that you will hear at least today. 

(MUSIC)

OLBERMANN:  Clearly they do not have the dance moves of those Filipino prisoners who do the Jackson tunes.  But listening to them was a real “Thriller.”

And Madrid, Spain, hola.  Hola.  Where we find a flea bag hotel I‘m not sure even a flea would sleep in.  Conceived by artist H.A. Schult (ph) and sponsored by Corona, the hotel was constructed using litter collected from beaches in Spain, Italy and France.  Designed to bring awareness to the plight of the world‘s coastlines, but the hotel isn‘t just for show. 

Corona selects individuals who get to stay a night in one of the five double rooms the hotel has.  I guess they need to be careful with who they let in.  I mean, you don‘t want somebody trashing the place. 

Time marches on. 

The specialists in brain injury rehab who saw Gabby Giffords for the first time this afternoon seemed elated and stunned at their first news conference.  We will have the key moments and we‘ll talk to an expert about what that which they said means, next.

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OLBERMANN:  They came out today by the hundreds to show their support, carrying flags and signs reading “We Love You, Gabby,” “Tucson Goes With You,” “Come Home Soon.”  They watched an ambulance carrying Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords pass.  Less than two weeks ago, they did not know if she would survive. 

Today, we learned from one of her doctors that inside that ambulance, she could hear their applause and it made her smile and tear up.  Our third story, as the congresswoman begins her long and arduous rehabilitation process, her doctors offer unusually frank and hopeful insight into what‘s already a remarkable recovery. 

This morning, the congresswoman was escorted from the Tucson University Medical Center to begin rehab in Houston.  She was able to catch one glimpse—that is she looking at the Santa Catalina Mountains before she left.  The photo released by the congresswoman‘s office, showing Giffords in her hospital bed, with her husband Mark Kelly at her side. 

Accompanied by her husband and her mother, two staffers and a doctor and a nurse, the congresswoman was then taken first by emergency flight, then air ambulance to Memorial Hermann Hospital, a world renowned brain trauma facility in Houston, at which she will begin her rehab process.

This afternoon, doctors there gave an update, offering stunning details of a transfer described as flawless.  Doctor Randalle Friese traveling with Congresswoman Giffords. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. RANDALL FRIESE, UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER:  When we were traveling through the streets of Tucson, there was several time we could hear applause in the ambulance with Gabby.  And she responded very well to that, smiling and, in fact, even tearing a little bit.  It was very emotional and very special. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Friese explained how the congresswoman was fit for a special helmet to protect her brain during the transfer. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRIESE:  We had one fitted for her.  The first thing that Mark asked us was, hey, can you make us another one with the Arizona flag on it, because that‘s what she would want.  And we immediately got one the next day. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The team of rehab doctors at Memorial Hermann sharing their observations on how well Giffords is doing. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. GERARD FRANCISCO, MEMORIAL HERMANN HOSPITAL:  She has great rehab potential.  I think those three words will sum it up: great rehabilitation potential, great rehabilitation candidate.  She will keep us busy and we will keep her busy as well. 

DR. DONG KIM, MEMORIAL HERMANN HOSPITAL:  She looks spectacular in all ways.  From a neurological point of view, first, she came into the ICU and she was alert, awake, calm.  She looked comfortable.  Very good movement on the left side of her body, and was very purposeful. 

We were testing her vision and she didn‘t like us shining the light in

her eye and wanted to keep them closed.  These are all very good signs

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But the most emotional testimony of the afternoon came from her nurse at University Medical Center in Tucson who traveled with her, Tracy Culbert.  Giffords arrived in Texas wearing Culbert‘s ring and she did not want to give it back. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRACY CULBERT, UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER:  She was taking it off my hand and it was fitting tightly, so I took it off and asked her if she wanted to see it.  She took it into her hand.  And she was looking at it and turning it to see all sides of the ring.  And then she put it on her finger to hold on to it. 

I am going to miss her a lot.  She is a very gentle person and her personality is coming out.  With her touches, the way she touches us, the way that she looks at us—I‘m very luck to know her. 

I have a lot of hope for her and I know she is going to do great.  She is a very strong woman.  You can just see it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That strength and personality seemed to amaze everyone in the room.  Dr. Friese and Ms. Culbert adding the perfect anecdote to end it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRIESE:  I‘m happy to share with you that my exact words were “Gabby, I‘m proud to say I voted for you before and I will vote for you again.” 

CULBERT:  And she smiled really big that time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn to Dr. Jonathan Slotkin of Washington Hospital Center.  He‘s a neurosurgeon with advanced training in brain and spinal surgery.  Dr. Slotkin, thanks for your time tonight. 

DR. JONATHAN SLOTKIN, WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  I want to ask you first not about the patient so much, but about those doctors, the ones in Houston.  She looks spectacular, great rehabilitation potential, great rehabilitation candidate.  She is going to do remarkably well over the next few months. 

Aren‘t most doctors in this situation, especially with a high profile patient, really circumspect?  I mean, these guys were just a little short of jubilant.  What does that tell you about this? 

SLOTKIN:  Yes.  You know, the first thing I would say about the doctors involved is that, from everything I can see, the treatment has been first-rate, text book treatment.  In terms of why the jubilance, I have thought about that myself over the last couple of days. 

I think it‘s three-fold.  The first is that she does have an excellent rehabilitation potential and she has made a remarkable recovery.  Even from the get go, when she was following commands the day of surgery, very, very promising. 

I think there is probably two other factors at play, too.  One is that we doctors are human.  I think we are looking at her outcome and feeling a real sense of joy inside.  Her doctors have to really feel jubilation. 

But the third thing I have wondered about is to what degree—because I have said to myself, sort of like you are implying, maybe you want to play your cards closer to the vest.  So I have wondered if there has been a little bit of a public or media pressure to sort of start to push things in this direction in a positive light. 

But I think, by all means, she does have an excellent rehabilitation potential, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  They got very, very specific.  Her left side motion is really good.  Her right leg is weak, but there is good tone, which suggests she might not walk on it, but she could stand on it.  They are not sure about the right arm. 

I know I‘m asking to you guess about a patient you have never actually seen, but does any of the detail that you‘ve heard tell you anything about what her recovery ceiling might be? 

SLOTKIN:  If she was my patient, with that description that you give, that we learned right now, I would say that the chance of a full recovery, from a motor perspective, is still on the table.  For me, if I was her doctor, I would think it was a home run if she ended up walking with a cane or walking with crutches.  I would consider that to be an outstanding result given that description. 

OLBERMANN:  For want of a better term, what about the parts of her that make her Gabby Giffords.  Everything we‘ve heard has hinted at this.  She has vision clearly, strong hearing.  She is smiling, tearing up.  She is responding to applause.  So that part of the politician is intact. 

She is massaging her husband‘s neck and doing these complicated motor skills things with the nurse‘s ring, with the iPad, with an iPhone.  Frankly, she seems, in some cases, to be goofing on people already.  Can you assess by that how much of a patient like her has had their personality survive this trauma? 

SLOTKIN:  At this stage, that would be very advanced.  Not unheard of, but advanced.  The emotion and personality pieces do seem like they are progressing very, very well.  To me, the biggest question over the next few months—and there is no way to answer it now—is I think we would all say there is a significant interval between functioning in society, I‘m a good family member, I can carry on a conversation—to—the difference between that and a cognitive rehabilitation potential that allows you to perform as a U.S. congresswoman. 

I don‘t think there is any way to know that now.  But that will be questions about decision making, concentration, memory, things of that nature, that there is no way we can know at this stage. 

OLBERMANN:  The last part of this—the doctors say they have seen lip movement, but they‘d only examined her for a half an hour, and they weren‘t willing to say that was an attempt to speak yet.  Her husband said she is trying to speak.  Do you have any guesses based on what we‘ve seen, on her potential ultimate speech capacity? 

SLOTKIN:  Sure, that‘s a great question.  So, you know, if you look at this brain model, everything in the brain is location.  Speech production would be more far forward.  Speech understanding would be sort of in this area.  We know from the fact that she can follow commands that speech understanding seems to be fine.  Because she has a tracheotomy in place, a breathing tube in her neck, the type she has in doesn‘t allow speaking.  So we don‘t yet know if speech production is intact. 

I think one of the next moves over the next couple of days is going to be transitioning that tracheotomy to what we loosely call a “talking trach.”  And then we‘ll really get a sense.  But I don‘t think that‘s known right now. 

OLBERMANN:  Neurosurgeon Jonathan Slotkin, it‘s been extremely helpful.  And thank you kindly for spending some of Friday night with us. 

SLOTKIN:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Thinking about voting to repeal health care reform?  The poll numbers supporting that have dropped again. 

And on Friday‘s with Thurber, “The Scottie Who Knew Too Much.” 

And at the top of the hour on “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW,” with Joe Lieberman going, who will succeed him as most hated by Democrats?  I didn‘t write that either.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  So they don‘t believe in the fairness doctrine, but conservatives are still going to give two rebuttals to the State of the Union next week, including one by her. 

And we will wrap it up with James Thurber, Friday‘s with Thurber, and “The Scottie Who Knew Too Much.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There‘s news about the future of the Tea Party tonight, news about people who wants nothing to do them, and the possible presidential candidate who speak for them after the State of the Union.  But, leading our number two story tonight, we begin with a look backwards to jobs lost under the Bush administration. 

One job in particular.  Teresa Chambers was the head of the U.S. Park Police in the early days of the Bush administration.  Then she told “the Washington Post” that budget cuts to the park police, who patrol the monuments in Washington, could make the public less safe.  The Bush administration fired her in July of 2004. 

Miss Chambers spent the subsequent years fighting in court to get her job back.  “Politico” reports the merit system‘s protection board just ordered her reinstatement, and that Obama Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will not appeal that ruling.  Ms. Chambers returns to Washington just as Republicans are pushing budget cuts which would bring spending back to the levels of the Bush administration. 

And Republicans may claim that voters sent them to Washington with a mission to repeal Obama-Care, as they call it.  But as with any time you are dealing with health insurance, it turns out you better read the fine print.  The last poll suggested American support for the repeal of health care reform had dropped to about half. 

Now, in a CBS News poll, it‘s down to 40 percent.  Here‘s where the fine print comes in.  This time, the pollsters also asked a series of telling follow-up questions.  When they asked whether Congress should try to repeal all or just some of the reform, only 20 percent said all of it;

18 percent said just repeal parts of it. 

When asked what part of the program they most wanted to see repealed, only eight percent said everything; 11 percent naming the insurance mandate.  No more than one percent calling for the repeal of any other element of the reform.

Mitt Romney‘s health care plan from Massachusetts, a model for the national system, has turned a lot of Tea Partiers off his campaign.  But the “Boston Globe” reports he may not want their help anyway.  The Globe saying that even in the key early primary states of Iowa and Romney‘s neighbor, New Hampshire, he has made virtually no outreach to local Tea Party leaders, suggesting Romney has settled on a strategy of running as the mainstream alternative to Palin, Huckabee or whoever wins the Tea Party‘s favor.

One potential rival, Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, is a Tea Party favorite.  And just like the Republicans will have its official rebuttal to the State of the Union speech, Bachmann has announced now that she too will give her own on the website of the Tea Party Express. 

That‘s correct.  The first State of the Union Tea-buttal.  This will be the last edition of COUNTDOWN.  I will explain that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I think the same fantasy has popped into the head of everybody in my business who has ever been told what I have been told, that this is going to be the last edition of your show.  You go directly to the scene from the movie “Network,” complete with the pajamas and the rain coat, and you go off on an existential, other-worldly verbal journey of unutterable profundity and vision.  You damn the impediments and you insist upon the insurrections.  And then you emit Peter Finch‘s guttural resonant “so,” and you implore—will the viewer to go to the window, open it, stick out his head and yell—you know the rest. 

In the mundane world of television goodbyes, reality is laughably uncooperative.  When I resigned from ESPN 13 and a half years ago, I was literally given 30 seconds to say goodbye at the very end of my last edition of “Sportscenter.” 

As God as my witness, in the commercial break just before the moment, the producer got into my earpiece and he said can you cut it down to 15 seconds so we can get in this tennis result, Stuttgart?  So I‘m grateful that I have little more time to sign off here. 

Regardless, this is the last edition of COUNTDOWN.  It is just under eight years since I returned to MSNBC.  I was supposed to fill in for the late Jerry Nachman for exactly three days; 49 days later, there was a four year contract for me to return to this nightly 8:00 p.m. time slot, which I had fled four years earlier. 

The show gradually established its position as anti-establishment, from the stage craft of “Mission Accomplished” to the exaggerated rescue of Jessica Lynch in Iraq, to the death of Pat Tillman, to Hurricane Katrina, to the nexus of politics and terror, to the first Special Comment, the program grew, and grew thanks entirely to your support, with great rewards for me, and I hope for you too. 

There were many occasions, particularly in the last two and a half years, where all that surrounded the show, but never the show itself, was just too much for me.  With your support and loyalty, if I may use the word insistence, ultimately required that I keep going. 

My gratitude to you is boundless.  And if you think I have done any good here, imagine how it looked from this end as you donated two million dollars to the National Association of Free Clinics, and my dying father watched from his hospital bed, transcendentally comforted that his struggles were inspiring such overwhelming good for people he and I and you would never meet, but would always know. 

This may be the only television program wherein the host the much more in awe of the audience than vice-versa.  You will also be in my heart for that, and for the donations to the Cranich family in Tennessee and these victims of governmental heartlessness in Arizona, to say nothing of every letter and email and Tweet and Wave and hand shake and online petition. 

Time ebbs here, and I want to close with one more Thurber story.  It is still Friday.  Let me thank my gifted staff here, and just a few of the many people who fought with me and for me, Eric Sorenson (ph), Phil Alangie (ph), Neal Shapiro (ph), Michael Weissman (ph), the late David Bloom, John Palmer, Alana Russo (ph), Monica Novatny (ph), my dear friends Rachel Maddow and Bob Costas, and my greatest protector, and most indefatigable cheerleader, the late Tim Russert. 

Let me finish by turning again to this ritual of reading Thurber stories to you.  I read these to my late father in the hospital last winter and then to you, at his specific suggestion.  It is from “Fables For Our Time and Modern Poems Illustrated,” published first in 1940, when they taught those—they taught these kinds of things, “The Aesop‘s Fables,” much more than they do now. 

This one is called the “Scottie Who Knew Too Much” by James Thurber.

“Several summers ago, there was a Scottie who went to the country for a visit.  He decided that all the farm dogs were cowards because they were afraid of a certain animal that had a white stripe down its back. 

“You are a pussycat and I can lick you,” the Scottie said to the farm dog who lived in the house where the Scottie was visiting. 

“I can lick the little animal with the white stripe too.  Show him to me.” 

“Don‘t you want to ask any questions about him,” said the farm dog? 

“No,” said the Scottie.  “You ask the questions.” 

So the farm dog took the Scottie into the woods and showed him the white striped animal, and the Scottie closed on him, growling and slashing.  It was all over in a moment and the Scottie lay on his back.  When he came to, the farm dog said “what happened?” 

“He threw vitriol,” said the Scottie, “but he never laid a glove on me.” 

A few days later, the farm dog told the Scottie there was another animal all the farm dogs were afraid of.  “Lead me to him,” said the Scottie.  “I can lick anything that doesn‘t wear horseshoes.” 

           

“Don‘t you want to ask any questions about him,” said the farm dog.” 

“No,” said the Scottie.  “Just show me where he hangs out.” 

So the farm dog led him to a place in the woods and pointed out the little animal when he came along. 

“A clown,” said the Scottie, “a push over.”  He closed in, leading with his left and exhibiting some mighty fancy footwork.  In less than a second, the Scottie was flat on his back.  And when he woke up, the farm dog was pulling quills out of him. 

“What happened,” said the farm dog? 

“He pulled a knife on me,” said the Scottie.  At least I have learned how you fight up here in the country.”

And now I‘m going to beat you up.  So he closed in on the farm dog, holding his nose with one front paw to ward him off the vitriol, and covering his eyes with the other front paw to keep out the knives.  The Scottie couldn‘t see his opponent, and he couldn‘t smell his opponent, and he was so badly beaten that he had to be taken back to the city and put in a nursing home. 

Moral?  It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all the answers.” 

“The Scottie Who Knew Too Much” by James Thurber. 

Chris Hayes, filling in for Rachel Maddow on “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW,” is next.  Again, all of my greatest thanks.  Widen the shot out just a little bit, so we can do one of these a last time.  Thank you, Brian.  Good night and good luck. 

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

END   

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