Skip navigation

'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

  Most Popular
Most viewed

Guests: Lena Taylor, Richard Trumka, Cory Booker, Howard Fineman, Richard

Wolffe

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  Tonight, Governor Scott Walker tells Wisconsin there‘s only room for one way—that‘s right—his way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

GOV. SCOTT WALKER ®, WISCONSIN:  The bill I put forward isn‘t aimed at state workers.  And it certainly isn‘t a battle with unions.  But missing Senate Democrats must know that their failure to come to work will lead to dire consequences very soon.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  With the Friday deadline looming, new threats of job losses if the Wisconsin Senate doesn‘t vote.

TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is now threatening to layoff 1,500 state workers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is his bill, his proposal or nothing else.

DYLAN RATIGAN, MSNBC HOST:  A toxic mix of collapsing revenue driven by falling home prices and rising unemployment that then matches up with rising debt.  Left in the middle: hardworking Americans.

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS:  Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin are still MIA as they try to stop a vote on that tough budget bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We decided last night that we need a little more time to persuade our Republican colleagues.

O‘DONNELL:  In the fight of his life, the president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, joins us.

MIKE DEGARMO, RACINE FIREFIGHTER:  We stand together or we fall together.  And we are asking the people of Wisconsin to stand with us.

RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO PRESIDENT:  This isn‘t about balancing the budget.  This is about making political choices.  It‘s about hurting workers, about taking away their rights.

O‘DONNELL:  And the war on unions is spreading in the streets.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  Labor unions across the country are stating their own protest in support of Wisconsin‘s government workers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are we in the middle of a watershed moment?

O‘DONNELL:  And in the statehouses.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  And in Wisconsin and Ohio, they have decided there can no longer be two classes of citizens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They want to—for Wisconsin to win this battle, and then try to strip collective bargaining rights from the public sector in state after state.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  There are people on the hard right, they do want to use this moment to eradicate and crush unions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Good evening.

When Wisconsin‘s Republican Governor Scott Walker said he wanted to have a fireside chat with the people of his state tonight, he intended apparently nothing more than a one-way chat with not a word of compromise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALKER:  As more and more protesters come in from Nevada, Chicago, and elsewhere, I‘m not going to allow their voices to overwhelm the voices of the millions of taxpayers from all across this state who know we‘re doing the right thing.  This is a decision that Wisconsin will make.

Fundamentally, that‘s what we‘re elected to do, make tough decisions.  Whether we like the outcome or not, our democratic institutions call for us to participate.  That is why I am asking the missing senators to come back to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Walker‘s so-called “budget repair bill” would require more than 300,000 state workers to pay more toward their health and pension plans, and eliminate most of their collective bargaining rights.

He says if the bill isn‘t passed by Friday, he could start sending layoff notices as early as next week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALKER:  Now, some would question why we have to reform collective bargaining to balance the budget.  The answer is simple: the system is broken.  It costs taxpayers serious money, particularly at the local level.

As a former county official, I know that firsthand.  For years, I tried to use modest changes in pension and health insurance contributions as a means of balancing our budget without massive layoffs or furloughs.  On nearly every occasion, the local unions empowered by collective bargaining agreements told me to go ahead and layoff workers.  That‘s just not acceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Governor Walker and the Republican-run state legislature tried to go on with business as usual today, day eight of the protests.  State troopers stood outside the state assembly and the state Senate started approving non-budget bills, all in hopes of getting the 14 Democratic state senators back to the state capitol.

Joining me now: Democratic Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor from an undisclosed location.

Senator Taylor, you just heard Governor Walker‘s so-called fireside chat tonight.  He is obviously not budging in any way.  He‘s indicating that with the Friday deadline looming, if you don‘t come back and debate this bill and allow the Senate to vote on it, he will start layoffs next week.

Do you think that those layoffs really will happen next week?  And is there anything you can do to stop that?

ST. SEN. LENA TAYLOR (D), WISCONSIN:  First of all, if he chooses to do the layoffs, those are really his choices.  And to suggest that he has to do them and that‘s the only alternative is completely incorrect.  He already has the concessions from the unions.  He can balance his budget.  He doesn‘t have to move forward in that fashion.

He‘s doing it as a bully or as a threat.  And it really is inappropriate—no different than saying we need to pick up our checks if we want to be paid.

And, you know, you got it right at the top of your show when you said that he didn‘t do a chat.  He did a one-way, you know, conversation, and it really was not a chat at all.  He didn‘t embrace any of the things that he‘s heard from nearly, you know, growing to a half million people who have come to the capitol to be able to speak about what their concerns are.

And it‘s really sad to see that as our governor, that his leadership skills are so lacking that he doesn‘t see the need to not have the states so divided.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, what do you say to the Republican argument in Wisconsin that this is in effect democracy in action?  That the governor ran on exactly this proposal and he got 52 percent of the vote running on this proposal.

It was a—it was a good year for Republicans that election year.  Russ Feingold got thrown out of his Senate seat at the same time that this governor was elected.  And that the people of Wisconsin spoke in the election this is what they want.

TAYLOR:  First of all, what we‘re doing is also part of democracy.  What all of those individuals who have been at the capitol are doing is part of democracy, is part of the Constitution, it is their First Amendment right to free speech.

The concept that the election that we had when Governor Walker ran, you know, the amount of turnout was not really what it needed to be.  But regardless of that, I think the issue at hand is that it‘s democracy what we‘re doing to make sure that individuals have a right to be heard.

This—you know, fast—I thought he didn‘t like high-speed rail.  But he‘s moving this train real fast and he‘s trying to move this train fast over the Wisconsin workers and right over the Wisconsin people who have come and asked to be heard, and he‘s refusing to do that.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, I‘m listening very carefully to everything the governor says about why he needs to change the collective bargaining agreements, and basically reduce the unions‘ collective bargaining rights to almost nothing.  I have yet to hear him explain that in a way that makes any sense.  He tried it tonight by saying, you know, whenever I get into these budget negotiations, it‘s very difficult.

But that doesn‘t make any sense.  He just won the budget negotiation with the unions.  The unions have conceded all of the financial points of the negotiation.  So, I‘m still waiting to hear, am I missing something in what he is saying about why he needs to change the unions‘ rights to negotiate?

TAYLOR:  You know, I‘m wondering the same thing because frankly the governor has won, you know, as you stated.  They‘ve given him everything he needs in order to do his budget.  So he said he ran on this.

Well, that‘s a lie.  He didn‘t run telling people that he was going to take their rights.  He never said that in his campaign.

What he did say is he wants to balance the budget.  Well, they conceded to allow him to be able to balance his budget, you know—and when he talks about the challenges of collective bargaining, I understand that often it takes, I don‘t know, 15, 18 months before contracts often are negotiated.  Well, he can come to the table and have those conversations.

You know, when I was a little kid, my mother would always say nothing beats a failure but a try.  I‘m saying to the governor, it‘s his job to try.  He asked in December to be able to negotiate these contracts.  He should come to the table.  He never has.

And to deny Wisconsin workers an opportunity to be heard by their governor is really not acceptable.

O‘DONNELL:  Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor—thank you very much for joining us again tonight.

TAYLOR:  It‘s our—it‘s my pleasure.

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Richard Trumka.

TRUMKA:  Take the monitor off, please.

O‘DONNELL:  I heard—we just listened to the governor‘s statement, and I played at the beginning of this broadcast what he said about why he needed to change the collective bargaining rights of these unions.  In fact, I‘d like to play it for you one more time, because I‘m trying to find an answer that makes sense in any way in what the governor says about that.

Let‘s listen once again to what he says about why we have to reform the collective bargaining process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALKER:  Now, some will question why we have to reform collective bargaining to balance the budget.  The answer is simple: the system is broken.  It costs taxpayer serious money particularly at the local level.

As a former county official, I know that firsthand.  For years, I tried to use modest changes in pension and health insurance contributions as a means of balancing our budget without massive layoffs or furloughs.  On nearly every occasion, the local unions, empowered by collective bargaining agreements, told me to go ahead and layoff workers.  That‘s just not acceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Now, whatever difficulty he‘s had in the past negotiating with unions, he can‘t claim that‘s the present situation in Wisconsin.  He has won the financial negotiation with these unions already, and he‘s saying, I have to change the way—the rules by which they negotiate because they‘re such tough negotiators.  He just won it all.

TRUMKA:  I can understand why he‘s had trouble negotiating.  He doesn‘t understand the concept.  It‘s not “all my way or no way,” which is what he has shown to date.

Lawrence, it‘s pretty pathetic when he says the system that‘s been in that state for 80 years served that state exceptionally well, doesn‘t work.  And the workers of that state, what he‘s saying is they don‘t understand, they can‘t contribute anything, so I don‘t want their input.  That‘s just not right.

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s look at the ad that the AFL-CIO put out today on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE DEGARMO, RACINE FIREFIGHTER:  When our crew is face to face with a fire, we stand together or we fall together.  It‘s that simple.

Now, nurses, teachers and other public employees have come together to stand up for Wisconsin workers.

Governor Walker, public employees have agreed to the cuts you asked for and now they‘re simply asking that you not take away their rights.  We stand together or we fall together, and we‘re asking the people of Wisconsin to stand with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  My guess is that your hope is that this ad can help shape public opinion in Wisconsin and that people getting in touch with their Republican senators in Wisconsin can somehow affect some sort of reasonable compromise.

TRUMKA:  Absolutely, Lawrence.  This is all about the workers in Wisconsin.  It‘s about the nurses and the teachers and firefighters and EMTs.  It‘s about the snowplow driver.

And I think that because they‘ve stood together, they‘ve really moved the entire nation by their determination to stand together, stand up for the right to bargain collectively for a middle class life.  And what they‘re saying and what I believe is, we need to be doing more to build the middle class, not less as Governor Walker is trying to do.

Governor Walker and others like him have just gone too far.  They were elected to create jobs, not to take away rights from everybody, but to create jobs.  And we‘d like to sit down and help him do that.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, we‘ve been make the case here that as far as anyone can tell, staring at what this is about, it seems to have since the unions conceded the finances of the negotiations, it seems to have come down to the governor is intent on union-busting.  He has actually confessed to that in George Will‘s column.

George Will went to Wisconsin, sat down, did a praiseful column about the governor in which the governor says that, eventually, if you can control the collective bargaining rights of the unions, and if you don‘t help them collect their dues through the payroll system and all the things that he‘s trying to change, that eventually, union members will look at their unions in Wisconsin and say, why do we need these unions?

TRUMKA:  Absolutely.  You know, this isn‘t about balancing the budget.  It‘s about payback for his rich contributors.  People like the Koch brothers who are sending millions of dollars into Wisconsin to take away rights from Wisconsin workers.  And what he‘s doing is he‘s hurting every worker right now in Wisconsin, whether you‘re a teacher, an EMT, or a public employee, he‘s hurting their ability to maintain a middle class way of life.

And he shouldn‘t be doing that because as I said earlier, he got elected to create jobs, not take away rights from everybody.

Think about this: what if he decided, in order to balance the budget, that he should—that employers could pay females less than males that do the same work, or if he said let‘s do away with minimum wage or let‘s do away with child labor laws because it will help us balance the budget?  Even though it has nothing to do with balancing the budget as you acknowledge, and he can‘t explain.

O‘DONNELL:  The—as we‘ve been making the case repeatedly, the attack on these unions is the attack on the labor movement as we know it, now that most—majority of union members in this country are public employees now.  I am not sure that people out there watching understand how important the public employees are to the American labor movement as we know it today.

If this governor were to succeed at what he‘s trying to do in Wisconsin, what is the future of the American labor movement?

TRUMKA:  Well, it‘s also the middle class.  What would be the future of the middle class?  Can you imagine a country with no labor unions?  Who would be the last line of defense against corporate America, people like the Koch brothers, who make millions of dollars and want to make more billions of dollars by eliminating the rights of those workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere?  That‘s a future for America that I don‘t think any of us want.

O‘DONNELL:  Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO—thank you very much for joining us tonight.

TRUMKA:  Thanks for having me on.  I really appreciate it.

O‘DONNELL:  Ahead on THE LAST WORD: Democrats in other states are worried Republican governors will follow Wisconsin‘s lead and use budget cutting to threaten unions in their states.  Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker is next.

And later, Glenn Beck wants us to be very afraid of what he says is the real goal of Wisconsin protesters: mob rule—by which he means, of course, democracy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  The president is in Ohio talking green jobs, but is he talking unions?  Howard Fineman is ahead with the politics of the president‘s stand on the Wisconsin protests.

And next: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie warned today that his state budget is in crisis and that major cuts are coming.  Some Democrats think that sounds too much like the argument from the governor of Wisconsin.  Newark Mayor Cory Booker is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  In New Jersey today, Governor Chris Christie talked about the tough budget choices being made nationwide as he unveiled his own controversial budget.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  In New York, a Democratic governor has proposed dramatic reforms to Medicaid, because that program left on auto pilot will leave state and federal governments straight into a crash.  In California, a new Democratic governor has proposed to cut the number and pay of all state employees.  And in Wisconsin and Ohio, they have decided there can no longer be two classes of citizens, one that receives rich health and pension benefits, and all the rest who are left to pay for them.

(APPLAUSE)

CHRISTIE:  Democrat or Republican, it doesn‘t matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Christie says those states and others are now following New Jersey‘s example.  His budget plan calls for putting a half billion dollars in the state pension plan, but only if the retirement age for state workers is raised to 65 and those workers pay more into their pension plans.  He also wants their health care contribution to jump from around 8 percent to 30 percent.

Joining me now, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker.

Thank you very much for joining me, Mr. Mayor.

MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D), NEWARK, NEW JERSEY:  Good to be here.

O‘DONNELL:  This is a difficult time to be working with public budgets.  What do you make of Governor Christie‘s speech today?

BOOKER:  Well, again, a lot of details have to be worked out exactly what they mean.  And my staff—trust me—are ripping through the documents right now, trying to find out what its impact are on us because we had to make some God awful decisions last year as well, putting people on four-day work weeks at the end of the year, cutting hundreds of employees out of our workforce, even after the police union refused to negotiate with us, having to layoff 163 officers.

So, from Detroit to Newark to New York City to Los Angeles, cities are really reeling right now as states are trying to course-correct on their budgets.

O‘DONNELL:  And how much is the public employee health care and the public employee pension plan the problem?

BOOKER:  Well, it is one of the problems, and we can‘t get into this reflexive, almost—in New Jersey, you‘re seeing this volume get up or beating up state workers.  In many ways, they bargain for this at the bargaining table, and they came and many of them putting into their pension for 10, 20, 30 years.

But the reality is we have to reevaluate that system.  We cannot afford it as it is right now.  I watch what‘s happening in Wisconsin, and it frustrates me, because I think the governor is going way too far.  But one thing he did achieve is cost savings.  And you should not eviscerate collective bargaining.

But the reality is, the unions there are making concessions to give more givebacks on pension and health benefits is what could save New Jersey, which could save local budgets for cities all around my state.

O‘DONNELL:  Do you think collective bargaining in government with public employees is any more difficult than collective bargaining in the private sector?  Is there any evidence of that?

BOOKER:  Well, look, union do have a lot of political power, and often play a significant role in elections.  But at the same time, other interest groups, corporations and others, also play a significant role.  And so, we‘ve got to be very careful.

There‘s a lot of things I believe in New Jersey we do need to change -

ideas of binding arbitration that caused local executives like myself, Democrats and Republicans, to be put in very, very difficult situations.  And we continue to pass pain onto taxpayers, which in this economy we can‘t afford.

           

But to put forth this idea that we should eviscerate the right to collective bargaining, to get rid of unions all together, to me is really going way too far.  We have to find a way to balance.

But there‘s no easy choices now.  You cannot have a situation where people are getting the fixed benefits that unfortunately over the long term our state just won‘t be able to afford.

The reality is, right now, my costs in my city for personnel, my employees—my police department is a great example—my employee costs are squeezing out every other bit I could spend on public safety.  Ninety-nine percent of my public safety budget right is just paying for the employees and 68 percent of the employee salary is being spent on fringe benefits.  And that‘s incredibly high and very much out of whack when you look at the private sector.

So, we have to have reform.  We have to have change.  But the problem I see right now, especially in Wisconsin, is you got a governor playing on the extremes as opposed to coming to the middle and finding sensible reforms to move their state forward.

O‘DONNELL:  And one of the complaints is that government is underfunded.  Meaning that in Wisconsin, for example, when the governor cuts some corporate taxes that then created a budget deficit that we now have to shrink the payroll because of that, I would argue at the federal level, we are undertaxed in the top end of incomes, that there are higher brackets to have at the highest end of incomes.

And so, when we start laying off people in a system that has not collected the right fair balance of revenue from the taxpayer, the complaint becomes: this is a completely unfair structure where these middle class workers are suffering because the rich are getting away with low tax bills.

BOOKER:  But again, I try to get out of sort of simplistic views of this, tax the wealthy or not tax the wealthy.  It‘s not that much of a zero sum game.  I‘m a big believer that you shouldn‘t give tax breaks to the wealthy, especially when you‘re cutting back on schools and other things, long-term investments in your economy.

But on the flip side of that, I‘m a big believer that you should give tax breaks on those people who are creating wealth.  We‘re driving businesses out of our nation right now, putting them overseas.  We‘re driving businesses out of New Jersey because of our high tax rates.  And I am one, on a daily basis, trying to woe businesses to our state and to my city and have a hard time doing it when they look at their bottom line compared to other places in the United States or other places outside of our country.

Capital is now very, very mobile.  So, it‘s not a zero sum game.  We‘ve got to find a way, especially in cities like mine, that have huge unemployment rates.  The black male unemployment rates, over 20 percent, 25 percent.  We‘ve got to find a way to grow the economy.

Unless you give incentive to capital to grow and work, you‘re not going to be able to create jobs.

But as soon as our nation starts to engage in what‘s happening in cities like Detroit, which is just cannibalizing public education, I see other states cutting back on higher education, which is America‘s competitive edge globally, as soon as we start doing that to balance today‘s balance, we‘re selling tomorrow‘s future.

So, we got to start having a much more nuance conversation.  It‘s not about the extremes on any edge, it‘s about coming together to figure out what‘s going to best invest in our tomorrow through education, going to best grow businesses and going to best grow our middle class, because right now, we are creating a stratified country and we‘re creating a very shallow and narrow political conversation that‘s separating our country and not bringing us together around common values.

O‘DONNELL:  Newark Mayor Cory Booker, trying to make government work on some of the toughest streets in this country—thank you very much for joining us tonight.

BOOKER:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Still ahead: another potential candidate for the Republican presidential primary says he‘s not running.  The need for Republicans to rethink their presidential front runner list is tonight‘s “Rewrite.”

And next, Donald Rumsfeld‘s attempt at rewriting history runs into our own Andrea Mitchell.  And he also talked to Letterman about the difference between a mule and a donkey.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  This afternoon, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ran into the toughest questions he‘s faced so far on his book tour, when he took a seat across from Andrea Mitchell on “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS,” which you can see every weekday here on MSNBC at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. 

Andrea, who is NBC News chief foreign correspondent, knows a thing or two about what Rumsfeld used to do for a living. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  You actually created for the first time a special unit, this Office of Special Plans.  It has been described—

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY:  I didn‘t create it.  The policy office created it.  And the implication of your question I think is inconsistent with what I understand to be the facts. 

MITCHELL:  That analysis uniting the Pentagon was stove piping information, intelligence information. 

RUMSFELD:  What does that mean, stove piping. 

MITCHELL:  Mr. Secretary, you know what stove piping means. 

RUMSFELD:  I don‘t know. 

MITCHELL:  You don‘t take any responsibility? 

RUMSFELD:  For what? 

MITCHELL:  Any responsibility for the fact that information was—there was misleading information that got to Colin Powell and others, before that U.N. presentation on weapons of mass destruction.  He has said he was basically blind sided, that was—there was pressure from the vice president.  There was pressure from Pentagon officials. 

RUMSFELD:  There was no pressure from Pentagon officials.  I don‘t believe he said that either. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  What does that mean, stove piping?  Oh, got to love that.  When David Letterman got his shot at Rumsfeld last night, went an entirely different direction. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, “THE LATE SHOW”:  And do you have—is it a farm? 

Is it a ranch?  What is it. 

RUMSFELD:  It was an old dairy farm.  For Joyce‘s 70th birthday, I bought her a mule. 

LETTERMAN:  A mule is a donkey and a horse?  Is that correct?

RUMSFELD:  A mule is a product of a donkey and a horse. 

LETTERMAN:  That‘s right. 

And what is a donkey? 

RUMSFELD:  A donkey can reproduce a donkey.  No, two donkeys. 

LETTERMAN:  Is it possible to have a female mule and a male mule?  It is getting more like “Meet the Press” every minute, isn‘t it? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  When asked about the president‘s reaction to the on-going Wisconsin protests, Press Secretary Jake Carney referred reporters to the president‘s interview from last week.  How much should the president say?  Howard Fineman is next. 

And later, with the governors of Wisconsin and New Jersey getting so much Republican attention, Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann are now having to out-crazy themselves just to get noticed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Today, more Democrats went on the lamb, this time in Indiana where Democratic state senators, like their counterparts in Wisconsin, want to delay a bill that would limit collective bargaining.  The Indiana Democratic party chair Dan Parker told “the Washington Post‘s” Plumline blog, quote, “Republicans have decided to bring their Wisconsin assault to Indiana and we‘re not going to just sit around and take it.” 

Next door in Ohio, Democratic state senators didn‘t have the option to flee their state because they don‘t have a large enough group to prevent a quorum.  But protesters in Columbus, Ohio gathered inside the state capitol while the legislature held hearings on a collective bargaining bill similar to the one in Wisconsin. 

President Obama made an appearance in Ohio, but stuck to his winning the future message at a small business forum at Cleveland State University. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It is small businesses like yours that help drive America‘s economic growth.  They are the cornerstones of America‘s promise, the idea that if you have a dream and you have the work ethic to see it through, you can succeed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  He did not get any more controversial or bold than that in his speech.  Not a word—not a word about the labor protests in Wisconsin or the similar situation in the very state he was in at the time, or in neighboring Indiana. 

A new “USA Today”/Gallup poll finds the rest of the country firmly—firmly on the side of those state Democrats who are fighting to preserve collective bargaining rights. 

The poll says that 61 percent would oppose a law in their state like the one proposed in Wisconsin, and 33 percent would favor such a law.  Joining me now is MSNBC analyst and “Huffington Post” senior political editor, Howard Fineman.  Howard, thanks very much for joining me. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “THE HUFFINGTON POST”:  Hi, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  Howard, the president is in Ohio.  It is if not the perfect place, awfully close to the perfect place, closer to the perfect place, Wisconsin, than Washington, D.C. is.  How could he not se a word about the most important political story happening in America today? 

FINEMAN:  Well, partly because of that poll number you just showed.  It showed that the public is already on the side of the public employee unions.  A few points, Lawrence: first of all, the president is on this pro-business message.  He wants to speak to small business.  That‘s important to him as he tries to maneuver to get business support and independent voters.  That‘s number one. 

Number two, a lot of state and local officials around the country, such as Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, are really concerned about benefits for public employees and they want to do some cutting, not destroy collective bargaining, but they want to cut.  The president doesn‘t want to undercut people like Cory Booker.  That‘s number two. 

Number three, the president doesn‘t want to turn this into Democrats versus Republicans.  He would rather have it be the Republican governor of Wisconsin against working people, in this case public employees. 

The last point is, you know, the rule in politics, as you know, Lawrence, is don‘t get in the way of an enemy who is in the process of destroying himself.  The fact is lots of other Republican governors, Mitch Daniels in Indiana, Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, Rick Scott in Florida, all have said, to one degree or another, that they would not go after employee bargaining rights in order to cut the budget. 

So the governor of Wisconsin is way out there on a limb and Obama wants to just leave him there. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, doesn‘t presidential politics play a role here, Howard?  There is surely nothing more important politically to President Obama than his own re-election.  He needs to win Wisconsin to do that.  He won Wisconsin once.  Now he just watched a Republican governor win Wisconsin with 52 percent of the vote. 

Doesn‘t he just want to wait a couple weeks?  This thing is too volatile.  To see how the voters of Wisconsin actually think about this.  In the one poll we‘ve seen, it‘s roughly 52 percent think the governor has gone too far.  But that‘s not exactly a decisive majority and a permanent majority for Obama to bet on. 

FINEMAN:  No, I totally agree with that.  There are 19 Republicans in the Senate in Wisconsin, and 14 of the 19 districts they represent voted for the president in the last presidential election.  So the Republicans have to be careful, too. 

The governor is threatening all kinds of furloughs and layoffs and so forth, thousands of people in the weeks ahead if it comes to that.  Who knows where the politics is going to head. 

I think the president and his advisers feel that they‘re getting some political benefit out of this nationally.  One way they are is a fired up labor movement. 

Lawrence, you and I have been around a long time.  I can‘t remember the last time college kids thought labor unions were cool.  Well, in Madison, it‘s a college town.  So part of it is that just that they‘re out there demonstrating for their teaching assistants who are unionized. 

Beyond that, according to the AFL-CIO people I talked to, they say we haven‘t seen anything like this in a long, long time.  They said they wish the president had said something in Ohio, but they understood why he didn‘t.  They are just happy, almost giddy at all the support they are getting from people under 30. 

The economy is bad.  People are going to look to unions.  At least that‘s what the AFL-CIO thinks. 

O‘DONNELL:  It seems to me that the governor has handed the smoking gun to George Will in George Will‘s column today, where, to George‘s delight, the governor says that he thinks eventually—if he gets his way, eventually most of the public employees in unions will wonder why they‘re paying their dues.  And as he puts it, they‘ll eventually say what do we need this for. 

In other words, he is very specifically hoping to destroy the unions in the future with this bill.  You couldn‘t ask for a cleaner confession than that.  I don‘t see how that works in his favor, as this argument goes forward. 

FINEMAN:  We will see.  Now it is going to be an election issue all the way through 2012. 

O‘DONNELL:  MSNBC analyst and “Huffington Post” senior political editor, Howard Fineman.  Thank you for joining us tonight. 

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  In tonight‘s installment of Right Wing Weirdos, Glenn Beck democracy—slams democracy, Bachmann nominates Beck to solve the budget crisis, and Limbaugh takes the high road and calls the First Lady, well, something I don‘t even want to say here.  That‘s all coming up. 

And earlier today, Republican Senator John Thune announced he would not run for president in 2012.  My suggestion for the Republican frontrunner, and the only politician with any chance—any chance to beat Barack Obama is in tonight‘s Rewrite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  At this hour, it appears that the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi has lost control of the eastern half of his country, as protesters continue to risk their lives demanding an end to his 40-year rule.  NBC‘s Richard Engel will be reporting from Libya on “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” at the top of the hour. 

And while people around the world are risking their lives for democracy, Glenn Beck is mocking it.  Richard Wolffe is here with the Republican fight for attention. 

And next, the current line of Republican front runners gets a Rewrite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s Rewrite.  If Republicans really thought they could beat Barack Obama in 2012, more of them would be running for president.  Normally, everyone who thinks he or she can win the presidency runs for it.  Politicians who think they can‘t win don‘t run. 

Deciding not to run last week was last week‘s darling of the right, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  Announcing his decision not to run today was South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune.  The outcome of the crisis he created in Wisconsin will no doubt determine Governor Scott Walker‘s plans for the White House. 

For most politicos, today‘s news that John Thune has decided not to run is not even a blip on their radar, because the conventional wisdom is Mitt Romney will be the nominee. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Look, he is probably the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination right now. 

JON STEWART, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  GOP 2012, what are you doing to help Mitt Romney? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think if the debate in 2012 is about the economy, I think he will be the nominee of the Republican party. 

STEPEHN COLBERT, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  Gone to your head. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  History says Mitt Romney will be the nominee in 2012. 

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If you ask me, I couldn‘t tell you.  We like Mitt Romney.

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Obviously, Mitt Romney is going to run.  And I think he has a pretty good chance for the nomination this time around. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  To think that Mitt Romney will be the nominee, as Bill O‘Reilly does, one has to think that Republican primary voters will have absolutely no problem voting for someone who as governor enacted the same kind of health care law that Barack Obama signed into law.  And to think Mitt Romney will be the nominee is to think that Republicans are unable to recognize what Ann Coulter sees in him, a loser. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST:  If you don‘t run, Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee and we‘ll lose. 

(END VIDEO CLP)

O‘DONNELL:  It has been the official position of this program from the start that the list of Republican front runners should be rewritten with Tim Pawlenty‘s name at the top, because every other Republican candidate for president has a Romney sized flaw in their candidacy.  George Will joined my view in October when he said, in a praiseful column about Pawlenty, “the candidate who carries the states of the Mississippi Valley, basically the Midwest, usually wins the White House.” 

Now comes the younger generation of Pawlenty praisers, Ramesh Ponnuru, who in the current edition of the “National Review” adds his praise of Pawlenty.  “Compared with his competitors, Pawlenty is either more conservative, more electable or both.  His campaign will probably emphasize two colors, blue and purple, describing respectively the color of his family background and the political alignment of his state.” 

George Will and Ponnuru are right.  Conservatives pay attention to what Will and Ponnuru write, even if the mainstream media doesn‘t.  The Pawlenty boomlet is officially under way.  No amount of media attention paid to Republicans who aren‘t going to run, like Chris Christie and Sarah Palin, or two losers like Romney and Newt Gingrich, will prevent more serious minded Republicans from joining the Pawlenty for president movement.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s hard out there for a wacky right winger these days.  With a new crop of Republican governors stepping up to the microphones with bold, attention getting policy pronouncements like this—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  Here is the truth that nobody is talking about: you‘re going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security.  Oh!  I just said it, and I‘m still standing here.  I did not vaporize into the carpeting. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And, of course, this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SCOTT WALKER ®, WISCONSIN:  Simply put, the president of the United States should start focusing on balancing the federal budget, because it is a horrible mess.  It is what‘s driving these massive problems.  It is about time people at the federal level started to fess up to the fact that the federal government is broke. 

The last thing he should doing is sticking his nose in any state‘s problems, let alone Wisconsin‘s, when they have failed miserably at the federal level. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  It is a difficult time for wacky Republicans to be heard.  Ann Coulter got heard last week by saying no Republican could win the presidency, except a Republican who isn‘t running.  Unfortunately, when she realized that I invited her on this program just to get her to trash every Republican who is running, she wouldn‘t play that game. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  What is the flaw—

COULTER:  I can‘t do this. 

O‘DONNELL:  OK.  This would be violating the right wing conspiracy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Michelle Bachmann, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are struggling to get attention by saying crazier and more offensive things every day.  Bachmann actually tried to get attention last weekend by throwing the ball to Beck.  She said that Glenn Beck could solve the country‘s budget problems.  “We need to simply tell people the facts, like Glenn Beck with that chalkboard.  That man can explain anything.  I think if we give Glenn Beck the numbers, he can solve this.” 

Of course, Glenn Beck and his crack research staff have all the numbers.  They‘re right here, in the Budget of the United States of America.  Let‘s take a look at what Glenn did with these numbers. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Let me explain something.  Here is democracy and here is a republic.  Which one are we? 

Who‘s calling for democracy?  Well, you got the Muslim Brotherhood. 

You have Iran.  You have China.  You have the communists.  You have unions. 

You have students.  You have Hollywood.  You have Chavez.  You have Castro. 

You have Van Jones, I could go on. 

Who is calling for a republic?  There‘s me.  You.  See the problem?  Democracy means one man, one vote.  Sure, sounds great.  But when you have powerful people organizing for America, for Egypt, for Madison, for the unions, it means mob rule. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I mean, I guess he could explain the budget if he could read the budget, which is public information.  It is all in these volumes right here.  But—

I know that sounded like quintessential Beck, but it is actually Beck gone even crazier than usual.  Beck has stolen so much of the Limbaugh limelight that now Rush can‘t get the attention he‘s used to unless he really goes on the offensive.  I mean really, really offensive, like finding fault with people‘s bodies. 

Now, of course, he knows that‘s going to get him attention because, well, look at him.  Here is Rush yesterday talking about Michelle Obama. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Problem is—and dare I say this—it doesn‘t look like Michelle Obama follows her own nutritionary advice.  Then we hear that she‘s out eating ribs at 1,500 calories a serving, with 141 grams of fat. 

I am trying to say that our first lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Now, here is Rush today defending himself for what he just said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH:  Highly civil comments, for crying out loud.  Some people are suggesting that my comments are below the belt.  Well, take a look at some pictures.  Given where she wears her belts—she wears them high up there, around the bust line.  Isn‘t just about everything about her below the belt, when you look at the fashion sense that she has? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now to analyze how below the belt all of this is, MSNBC political analyst and “Daily Beast” columnist Richard Wolfe.  He is the author of “Revival, the Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House”. 

Thanks for joining me tonight, Richard. 

RICHARD WOLFFE, AUTHOR, “REVIVAL”:  Lawrence, I‘m wearing my belt below my armpits.

O‘DONNELL:  Richard, the thing that Rush obviously doesn‘t understand and apparently other Republicans don‘t is it is not exactly what you eat, it is how much you eat; it is how many ribs you have.  Is anyone going to explain that to Rush? 

WOLFFE:  Yes, and whether you can keep it in your mouth or you have to spew it everywhere.  No one is going to explain it to him because that‘s not the point.  The point here is to be outrageous.  And by the way, we shouldn‘t just dismiss it as crazy.  You have to understand why this is crazy. 

This is a crowded marketplace for him.  The spectrum of the party is filled with people like him.  And the party itself moved to a spectrum.  The whole movement moved to a place where, you know, they worship Reagan.  But as Rahm Emanuel once told me, Ronald Reagan couldn‘t get the nomination of that party anymore. 

So everything is out of kilter.  And it doesn‘t matter what you eat or wear.  Rush has got to break through. 

O‘DONNELL:  Out of kilter.  And Richard, I‘m sorry to say, we are out of time.  Richard Wolffe, thank you very much for joining us.  That‘s tonight‘s LAST WORD.

END   

<Copy: Content and programming copyright 2011 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Copyright 2011 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.  All materials herein are protected by

United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,

transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written

permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,

copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>

PASTE THE TRANSCRIPT HERE, LEAVE THE LINK

Watch The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell each weeknight at 10 p.m. ET


Sponsored links

Resource guide