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Msnbc Live at 6 p.m. ET, Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Read the transcript from the Thursday 6 p.m. hour

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Guests: Ann Curry, Charles Ferguson, Mike Wallace, Paul Gunter, Peter Welch, John

Nichols, Anthony Weiner

CENK UYGUR, HOST:  Good evening.  I‘m Cenk Uygur.  And we‘ve got breaking news right now, a potential breakthrough at Fukushima.  This is very good news. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency is reporting there is now electrical power in place at the reactor site, and pressure inside the reactors has begun to fall as water has been pumped through them.  That is fantastic news. 

Now, it doesn‘t mean it‘s over.  OK?  And it doesn‘t mean that we‘ve solved everything.  And there is a lot of uncertainty still today, and you saw that in the events of today that I‘m about to explain to you.  But the fact that they have reconnected power is exactly what we‘ve been waiting for. 

So, as worried as we were yesterday, we‘re now feeling much, much better.  OK? 

And it looks like they‘re going to restart the cooling pumps.  Do you understand that?  The reason why power is so important is because if we don‘t—if we can‘t cool the reactors, reactors 1, 2 and 3 can melt down.  They were the active ones.  But you‘ve got to cool them all. 

Remember all the problems we had with reactor number 4.  If the electricity is working, and we‘ve got power back on, then you can cool all the reactors. 

And now a lot of these reactors actually take a long time, perhaps up to a year, to cool.  But if you have got power, you can spend that year because you have got the power in there. 

Now, remember what they were trying to do. 

One, they were trying to fix the old lines that had broken.  And, number two, they were actually trying to bring in a new line so that you could get electricity in there. 

And remember the bravery of the people that were inside the plant in Fukushima.  They were doing all of this, and today we have people outside the plant trying to drop water from helicopters.  Now, that was silly.  They knew that wasn‘t going to work.  That looked like an act of desperation. 

Most of the water dissipated before it hit on the reactors.  But the whole point of the guys inside the plant was, keep it going before the meltdown comes so that they could reconnect the power.  And it looks like they might have done that. 

Now, look, this comes after another long day as authorities in Japan were using unconventional means that I was just telling you about in their desperate race to cool down the reactors.  And it keeps the crisis in Fukushima from spiraling out of control. 

Helicopters with water and trucks with water cannons were sent in to spray the reactor, but none of that worked until we got the power reconnected.  They couldn‘t even get within 50 yards of the plant with the water cannons. 

Now, the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sounded the alarm yesterday that the water at reactor number 4 had dried up and that‘s why we were so concerned.  But also today, efforts were zeroed in on reactor number 3, and it keeps switching around as to which one is the worst every day. 

This video was released today by the Tokyo Electric Power Company showing a fly-over over the crippled Fukushima plant.  Now, you can see there is some major structural damage, to say the least.  So maybe that‘s part of the reason why they were in such bad shape. 

Now, authorities are just trying to keep control of the situation while they work to restore the power to the reactors.  And that‘s what they‘ve been trying to do all day.  And it looks like, according to that breaking news we just got, they might have just done that. 

So they‘re hoping that the cooling system will work, and once the electricity is back on, as I explained to you, all of a sudden we‘re back in business.  That plan makes sense.

So, now a senior official with the International Atomic Energy Agency, well, they took a cautiously optimistic view of the events of today saying, “The situation at Fukushima hasn‘t gotten worse, which is positive, but it is still possible that it could get worse.  We could say it‘s reasonably stable at the moment compared to yesterday.”

That‘s what had us encouraged in the beginning.  And now with the power being restored, we‘re even more encouraged. 

So, here at home, the president made his first statement about the nuclear situation in Japan, and he wanted to emphasize that America is not at risk. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I want to be very clear, we do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States whether it‘s the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska, or U.S. territories in the Pacific. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Look, you know how worried I‘ve been all week about what‘s happening in Japan, and I told the people in that perimeter, you‘ve got to go.  Don‘t listen to the government when they tell you, oh, just seal your house up. 

And my family is on the West Coast of the United states but, honestly, I‘m not worried about it.  I think our government is telling the truth here.  I think our officials are correct.  I don‘t think the radiation looks like it‘s going to affect us here at all.  So that‘s a good story. 

But it‘s a different story for Americans in Japan.  The U.S.  government is advising its citizens to stay out of Japan, and the U.S.  launched the first voluntary evacuations of Americans today. 

Also today, officials at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport confirmed to NBC News that trace amounts of radiation were found on cargo arriving from Japan.  But officials stress that there is no threat from that, and that these levels are extremely low and routinely detected. 

All right.  Now we‘re going to go to Ann Curry.  She‘s at Akita, Japan, northwest of Tokyo. 

Ann, tell us about this power line situation.  How encouraging is this? 

ANN CURRY, NBC NEWS:  It is very encouraging, Cenk.  Good evening. 

The bottom line is that this has been a major effort by those workers inside this power plant for some time to get this power back on.  And it‘s very important, because as you mentioned, it is a possibility—it raises the possibility that the generators can be restarted and the cooling system that was knocked out can be restarted. 

However, we don‘t know at this point what the status of those generators are.  It‘s probably fair to assume that they were filled with water during the tsunami.  So the question now is, do they have to be replaced? 

Also, I think this really says something about those workers who have been staying inside this power plant.  I mean, we‘ve had an estimate of about 50 workers, maybe even more, maybe a little bit less, but that those workers have been staying on the job when the radiation levels are not off the charts and trying to do their very best to bring this thing under control.  It really says a lot about their courage in stepping up to this. 

There‘s another big story that‘s developing, Cenk, that I probably should tell you about.  And that is that the State Department has said that there is a large pocket of Americans north of Sendai.  Sendai, of course, is one of the hardest hit areas in the northeastern part of Japan, the hardest hit areas by the earthquake and the tsunami. 

Now, the interesting part of this is that Sendai is above the nuclear

power plants.  And the goal now is to take this large pocket of Americans -

they now have got 14 buses en route to the Sendai region to pick up these Americans. 

They‘ve now got to drive by, alongside in some way, these nuclear power plants to get them further south.  They can take the coastal routes, but the bottom line is they‘re going to be going past in some distance from those nuclear power plants to bring them back to Tokyo.

And these buses, we‘re told, have the capacity for up to 600 people, Cenk.  So—and we do know that a flight of U.S. civilians has left.  Already, one flight has left.  Another is planned potentially for tomorrow. 

So a lot—oh, one more point I want to make.  Yesterday we were reporting all day about the helicopter drops.  The Japanese government has been dropping via helicopter and also using water cannons, trying to put water on to cool these reactors.  And that now has stopped because the Japanese government is still assessing whether or not that actually even worked. 

So that is where we are at this moment—Cenk. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Ann, here is the thing.  So, obviously, the power lines, if they‘re connected, is great news.  We‘re still obviously concerned because we‘re doing evacuations.  And if we‘re doing evacuations, that means we‘re very significantly concerned. 

And the Japanese government has been saying all along we‘re about to reconnect the power lines.  And we were dubious of that because there‘s been a growing mistrust of the Japanese government. 

Talk to us about that.  How much do you think our government is really taking the Japanese government at their word? 

CURRY:  Well, what‘s happened is in assessing the same information, there is a difference in how the Japanese and the Americans assess the risk.  The Japanese are saying that the risk is such that people within 12 miles of the plants need to be evacuated, and up to 19 miles they should stay inside their houses. 

The American read of the same data is that actually, no, no.  It‘s much more of an issue.  We want people 50 miles away from the plant to be evacuated if they‘re Americans, and the inference there is that all people within 50 miles should be evacuated.

And also, the United States government, in another discrepancy, is saying that it‘s probably a good idea for Americans to leave, not come to Japan.  And, you know, it‘s probably a good idea to leave, whereas a Japanese official, a very high-ranking Japanese official, said late yesterday that, in fact, there is no reason to leave Tokyo, that everything is safe. 

So these discrepancies have increased—created a kind of credibility problem.  And a lot of Japanese people, not just Americans, but a lot of Japanese people here, are increasingly becoming more vocally criticizing of their government and worrying about whether they are being told the facts about what the true risks are. 

The fear is high.  The streets in Tokyo are empty, we‘re told.  And the airports and the trains are filled. 

So there you are.  I think that‘s evidence there that at least some Japanese people—and I think it‘s probably fair to say a growing number of Japanese people—are really wondering if the government is telling them the truth—Cenk. 

UYGUR:  All right.  NBC‘s Ann Curry.

Thank you so much for joining us. 

CURRY:  You bet. 

UYGUR:  Joining me now is Charles Ferguson, the president of the Federation of American Scientists. 

Well, Charles, I want to start with this.  First of all, we‘re getting conflicting reports.  They say that the power has been reconnected.  Whether reactor number 2 is back up and working is an open question. 

So it is hopeful.  It doesn‘t mean that the problem is solved by any stretch of the imagination. 

But for a second, let us assume that they can get the power working again in reactor 2, and then eventually in all of the reactors.  Would that solve the problem? 

CHARLES FERGUSON, PRESIDENT, FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS:  Well, Cenk, first, this sounds like great news.  It lifted my spirits when I heard you talking about it.  But I think you‘re right, this is not over yet. 

In reactor number 2, explicitly, there seemed to be a rupture, a part of the primary containment system, from just a couple days ago.  Remember that the steam suppression system that absorbs all that steam energy, that got saturated, and there was an explosion, apparently, in that system.  So that may have breached the containment structure.  So even though electricity is back, and there‘s some type of core cooling starting to happen again, apparently, in reactor number 2 I think there‘s still cause for concern, that they need to make sure there‘s not a bridge to that containment structure. 

UYGUR:  All right.  And how about reactor number 4?  Because it was leaking radiation before from what we heard.  Even if you get the power back up, how do they plug that leak in the radiation? 

FERGUSON:  Exactly.  That was my next concern.

And reactor number 4, there‘s a spent fuel pool.  Yesterday, we heard the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, say to Congress that he had information that that pool was empty.  And then there was conflicting information.

We‘ve heard that a U.S. industry representative said, well, there might be some water still in there.  And the Tokyo Electric Power Company said that they had indication there might be some water in there, but they weren‘t sure. 

So, I think let‘s put that aside.  Still, we have got to make sure that adequate cooling is for that spent fuel at reactor number 4.  So even if we have power back to that reactor, we‘re not sure whether we have adequate cooling for that reactor. 

UYGUR:  Now, let‘s assume for a second that they get all of it under control.  And that‘s an assumption, it hasn‘t happened yet, right?

FERGUSON:  Right.

UYGUR:  And that the power is working again.  How much damage would we have already suffered?  First, obviously, we have got the workers in the plant.  How bad a situation are they in?  And then the people in the 12, 50-mile perimeter, et cetera, what kind of damage are we looking at? 

FERGUSON:  Well, so far, based on what we know—and as you pointed out, there‘s a lot of uncertainties here, but, still, it looks like there‘s been at least partial core meltdown in two or three reactors.  There is concern about reactor number 4, where the spent fuel—and so there‘s been some radiation releases. 

There have been exceedingly high radiation levels at times.  But I want to point out to our viewers, this doesn‘t seem nearly as bad as Chernobyl.  In Chernobyl, what we had was total lack of a containment structure.  That Soviet design didn‘t even have that type of feature, and it used a different type of system. 

The graphite in the Chernobyl reactor, which this Japanese reactor doesn‘t even have, the graphite caught fire.  It was kind of like a chimney effect.  It was releasing radioactive materials, lofting it into the air. 

That settled in parts of Ukraine and Belarus, creating those exclusion zones.  And also, the readings read out in various parts of Europe. 

We‘re very far from that kind of situation here in Japan.  We‘ve seen these excess radiation levels, but they‘re far, far less than what we experienced in Chernobyl 25 years ago. 

UYGUR:  Now, the last thing here is that for the guys inside the plant, the guys and girls inside the plant, it‘s not just the amount of radiation they‘re exposed to, it‘s also the length of time that they‘re exposed to the radiation.  So does that mean that they‘re in much worse shape than the people that are experiencing the radiation obviously outside of the plant?  But really, the question is, how bad a shape are they in?  Can we tell from our vantage point? 

FERGUSON:  I don‘t think we can tell from our vantage point.  I‘m pretty sure that they have had dosimeters, radiation meters on each one of those people.  So they‘re monitoring that.  They have health physicists who can monitor the effects of radiation for those people. 

It‘s not the clear whether they suffered such an acute dose of radiation, they might get radiation sickness or show signs of nausea and vomiting and hair loss.  That‘s very high doses.  But it‘s almost assuredly, they‘ve experienced excess doses well into—above the low-dose regime, but probably not in the very high-dose regime.  So their probability of developing cancer over the years I think has increased, unfortunately. 

UYGUR:  Right.  And I heard that—I had read earlier today that one of them did get radiation sickness already. 

FERGUSON:  That‘s too bad. 

UYGUR:  Right.  But if they can stop it here, obviously that would be a great thing, and it would be a heroic effort.  And we hope that they‘re all right, obviously. 

Charles Ferguson, thank you so much for your time tonight.  We really appreciate it. 

FERGUSON:  You‘re welcome. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Now an alarming new report on Japan‘s nuclear energy oversight emerges.  It turns out that they weren‘t that forthcoming on earlier safety issues.

So how safe are our plants?  We‘re going to get actually both sides of that question next, and it should be a really interesting conversation. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Our nuclear power plants have undergone exhaustive study and have been declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies.  But when we see a crisis like the one in Japan, we have a responsibility to learn from this event and to draw from those lessons to ensure the safety and security of our people. 

That‘s why I‘ve asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do a comprehensive review of the safety of our domestic nuclear plants in light of the natural disaster that unfolded in Japan. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  President Obama‘s call for enhanced scrutiny of America‘s nuclear facilities comes in this alarming revelation that the company in charge of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has a history of negligence and cover-ups. 

In 2002, it came out that Tokyo Electric Power Company was suspected of falsifying safety repair records for decades.  The company admitted it had routinely failed to accurately report cracks in its nuclear reactors.  Obviously, that sounds disastrous. 

And in 2007, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake caused contaminated steam and water to escape from one of the company‘s plants.  Tokyo Electric was once again caught misinforming government officials about the extent of the damage.

An WikiLeaks cable recently revealed that the company admitted it miscalculated the amount of radiation that leaked out.  It seems like an important miscalculation. 

Now, this consistent lack of transparency from Tokyo Electric illuminates the question of what President Obama‘s investigation may reveal about the security of our own nuclear plants here in America.  We already know we have plants that have suffered radiation leaks, that sit on fault lines, but that are still allowed to stay up and running. 

Companies almost always cut corners on safety.  Look, it happens all the time.  If you‘re making sneakers, all right.  We might get away with it.  If you‘re in the business of nuclear power plants, we might not get away with it. 

There are some things that we can take risks with.  But when there‘s human error involved and human greed involved, do we really want to take risks with nuclear power?  That‘s the question at hand. 

Now here to help me answer that question is Paul Gunter, director of Reactor Oversight for Beyond Nuclear, a public advocacy group; and Mike Wallace, vice chairman and COO of Constellation Energy and the former chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute Security Working Group. 

All right.  Well, then, let me start with you. 

Obviously, we‘re concerned about some of these plants.  We have got Indian Point that sits on a fault line.  Why do you think that that is not an issue? 

MIKE WALLACE, CONSTELLATION ENERGY:  Cenk, we do analysis of our plants under the watchful eye of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and they, by the way, are the gold standard for regulation of nuclear energy in the world and emulated by many others.  Under their eye, we do analysis, and the criteria that are set fore our seismic analysis come to us from the U.S. Geology Survey.  And then, through the processes that the NRC has approved, we analyze these plants for the worst possible earthquake within 200 miles, and then we add margin to it, and then we carry out a conservative analysis. 

So we have quite significant confidence about the ability of our plants to withstand any sort of seismic event.  But we go well beyond that in the way that we put our procedures, our equipment, and train our people to assure that we can meet any sort of event that might unfold at one of our plants. 

UYGUR:  All right.

Paul, are you assuaged by that?  Do you think that that‘s—I mean, he‘s saying it‘s the gold standard.  Do you think that‘s enough? 

PAUL GUNTER, BEYOND NUCLEAR:  Well, I think that Tokyo Electric Power Company basically said the same thing until the earthquake they hadn‘t figured on showed up.  And certainly the same is true for the Japanese Nuclear Safety Agency.

Look, Japan is a very highly-technical society.  These power plants were not fly-by-night operations.  In terms of the overall operation, they‘re very, very mindful to keep these plants running and mindful of a production schedule. 

It‘s our concern that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear industry similarly have their eye on production schedules, and all too often that‘s meant that safety margins and profit margins have competed against each other.  And there are numerous examples of where production has outweighed the safety margins at U.S. nuclear power stations. 

UYGUR:  All right.

Mike, I want to ask you about that.  Look, because I think the average American is looking at this and going, hey, look, didn‘t we have the same with oil drilling?  They told us it was safe and then, the next thing you know, it turns out it wasn‘t safe and all of those people died on the Gulf of Mexico and we had that huge spill. 

And then in nuclear power, they told us that the Japanese really had this thing figured out.  John McCain said that during the campaign, et cetera.

So, obviously, you can see why people are concerned.  So how do you answer that question?  How can we have any degree of certainty when it looks like that has not been the case in the past? 

WALLACE:  U.S. nuclear power plants are safe.  I speak for the U.S.  and not for what might be exactly the case elsewhere in the world. 

Safety is never compromised—never compromised for production.  And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not look at production.  They look at safety, and it‘s all done with tremendous transparency. 

Moreover, we have developed a culture, a very rigorous culture, that is safety-focused in everything that we do.  That‘s why the U.S. nuclear plants perform the best in the world.  It‘s why the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the gold standard for regulators.  Our plants are safe. 

UYGUR:  I know.  But Mike, the thing is, look, that‘s what we were told before Three Mile Island, too, and then that happened.  And then we‘ve got some plants that are on fault lines that can withstand 7.0 earthquakes, but what if it‘s more than a 7.0 earthquake?  What do we do then? 

WALLACE:  Sure.  Good question. 

Our plants have been analyzed for beyond the design requirements.  They‘ve been so analyzed by the NRC, and then after 9/11, we took extraordinary measures with the members of the NRC, Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, Department of Energy, to look further at our nuclear plants for any sort of additional opportunity that made sense for us to improve how we would be able to respond were we to have an event that was even beyond what we‘re supposed to be able to handle.  And the result of that analysis was some significant improvements in our ability to cope, which if Japan had today would have helped their ability. 

UYGUR:  All right.

Paul, here‘s the thing.  Of course a lot of people make money from nuclear power, and it‘s an important tool.  And lot of people say, hey, it limits global warming. 

So my last question to you is, how—if the NRC is saying that it‘s safe, how are we to know otherwise? 

GUNTER:  Well, if anybody tells you that building Diablo Canyon on the San Andreas fault is safe, I think that should raise questions right there. 

You know, when we‘re told that production margins are not the priority, we should look at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station just outside of Toledo, Ohio.  Both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and First Energy Nuclear basically allowed corrosion through boric acid leaking out of that reactor for years to eat through 6.75 inches of steal, down to three-sixteenths of an inch of a terrible accident that would have blown the reactor out into the containment and challenged that containment system.

And, you know, they had rust, pictures of rust, flowing off the top of the reactor vessel head when the plant was allowed to go back on line for two years.  And the NRC had those inspections.  So, I mean, they have been setting aside the clear indications of safety violations for production issues. 

UYGUR:  Right. 

Look, Paul and Mike, I appreciate both of you coming on tonight.  It‘s an interesting conversation.  I‘m sure it‘s a conversation that‘s going to continue throughout the country. 

Thank you both. 

GUNTER:  Thank you.

WALLACE:  Thanks, Cenk. 

UYGUR:  All right.

Now, as the crisis in Japan unfolds, we‘re also looking at our priorities here at home.  Republicans want to cut tsunami tracking systems and other disaster response agencies. 

Is that a good idea?  I don‘t know about that.  Well, we‘ll find out next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Now there‘s a part of the republican budget proposal that‘s just going to drive you crazy.  I know it drives me crazy.  It has to do with the cuts first reports before the earthquake shock in Japan to be fair.  The proposal called for $454 million in cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that includes $126 million in cuts for the National Weather Service which operates the pacific tsunami warning center in Hawaii.  And that might be pretty relevant.  Keep in mind, the tsunami warning center issued widespread warnings minutes after the earthquake in Japan and issued guidance throughout the day. 

The chairman of the union representing workers of the center says the cuts could be disastrous.  Quote, “people could die, it could be serious.”  And Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye said, quote, “This disaster displays the need to keep the pacific tsunami warning center fully funded and operational.”  Bu the truly scary thing is that the horrific disaster in Japan isn‘t making a dent in the Republicans‘ plans.  All right.  Look, you cut it before the tsunami, I didn‘t agree with that at that time.  The tsunami happens, and you still want to cut it? That doesn‘t make any sense at all.  But take a listen to Congressman Steve King. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE KING ®, IOWA:  The tsunami warning center is really the timing of that is puts attention on the subject matter.  I don‘t know that I would go back and look at that.  I have asked people to come forward with the facts on this.  And I think we often overreact to emergencies especially natural disasters before we assess the limit of the damage and particularly with the nuclear part of this. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  He‘s asking people to come forward with facts.  Here‘s a fact, an earthquake just caused a massive tsunami that we think has killed 10,000 people in Japan.  That‘s a troublesome fact about tsunamis.  And people are overreacting?  Now how bad did the tsunami have to be for Congressman King to think that our concern would be appropriate?  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also added, quote, “All of us need to be tempered by the fact that we‘ve got to stop spending money we don‘t have.”  The seemingly different attitude about a potential for a disastrous tsunami is not just astounding, it makes you question their view of reality. 

Look, do we live on the same planet?  You know, on this planet we have gigantic tsunamis that sometimes kill tens of thousands of people.  They often hit the Pacific Ocean.  Do you know what else is by the Pacific Ocean? Hawaii and the entire western seaboard of the United States.  And now this is also eerily similar to the republican attitude about nuclear power.  Now, again, this was before the events of Fukushima.  Here is John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign mocking Barack Obama for being concerned about safety of nuclear power. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We talked about nuclear power.  Well, it has to be a safe environment, blah, blah, blah, and the fact is—the fact is, I have news for Senator Obama, nuclear power is safe.  We ought to do it now. 

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

The British, the French, the Japanese all have reprocessed, spent nuclear fuel.  We can do that, too. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Oops.  Nuclear power has to be safe, blah, blah, blah, blah. 

And then they cheer like crazy.  Did you see the crowd?  Nuclear power!  And by the way, that Japan example was a winner.  Nicely done, Senator McCain.  Now, of course, after witnessing that earthquake in Japan that affected their nuclear power, McCain has taken a slightly different tack. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I‘m not prepared, by the way, to say we should abandon nuclear power, but I certainly am prepared, as all of us are, once this is over to make an evaluation as to whether our nuclear power plans, as very modest as they are, can continue. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  All of a sudden, did I say nuclear power plants?  Did I say they were safe?  Did I say that?  Backpedal, backpedal, backpedal.  Try to get out of there.  Of course, he meant we should reconsider it.  Yes.  Convenient. 

With me now is Congressman Peter Welch, he‘s a democrat from Vermont.  Congressman, we just got news of the Senate has passed more cuts, $6 billion in cuts, 87 to 13, including cuts to the NOAA that we were just discussing.  How big of a mistake do you think that is? 

REP. PETER WELCH (D), VERMONT:  Well, it‘s huge.  I mean, Mr. King and Mr. Cantor really didn‘t reflect the republican point of view that any cut anytime any place for any reason in any amount is a good thing.  You know, there‘s two problems with their approach.  One, it won‘t work.  Two, it‘s very dangerous.  It won‘t work because they‘re applying 100 percent of their attention to 12.5 percent of the budget.  The nondefense discretionary budget, that‘s like for hurricane and tsunami warning is for weather reports, it‘s to give us information we need.  And even if you isolate, even if you wiped out the entire debt portion of the budget, we would still have a $1 trillion deficit. 

Second, their approach that is indiscriminate is going to do real damage.  You know, you have to apply judgment on cuts just like you have to apply judgment on spending.  And why are we hollowing out these institutions that are essential to our safety?  They would acknowledge that you need a military that‘s prepared, but why don‘t we need a weather service that‘s prepared, that has competent staff, that‘s trained and is ready to go?  You know, nature has a way of working its own will.  And John McCain, I think, is a victim of his own hubris when it comes to the absolute, inviolate statement he made about the sacrosanct safety of nuclear power.  Nature has a will and power of its own.  We have to take that into account. 

UYGUR:  You know, Congressman, I‘m amazed by the Republicans.  Because look, if you said at some point the NOAA budget is too large, I mean, I think you could probably make an argument for that.  You‘d have to make and argument on both sides.  But to look after the tsunami and say, no, we should cut money to tsunami awareness, maybe we are caught off guard, I can‘t believe it.  Right now, having said that, how does a person at home know how much is too much or too little for the National Weather Service, for example?

WELCH:  Well, I mean, bottom line, that is the job that we have in Congress.  So you know just take an indiscriminate meat-ax to a budget, and cut and then say because we cut, it is a good thing.  You actually have to kick the tires of the program.  If you‘re going to make a cut or in addition in either case, you should really be assessing whether you‘re getting your bank for your buck and if you‘re cutting, you have to be very precise about where you need less but how you can meet your basic mission. 

UYGUR:  I‘m sorry, did the Republicans say, why they assessed the National Weather Service needs less money, like they say hey, you know what?  We looked into it and it looks like they‘re five percent over on this budget and 12 percent over—I got cut, I got a Tea Party told me I have to cut, boom, I‘m cutting.  

WELCH:  Well, you know, it reminds me of Sierra Madre.  We don‘t need no stinking reason.  They want to cut.  And if they were sitting down and actually taking a sharp pencil in figuring out where we could cut and do it without damage, then I‘d be with them, in fact.  We have a deficit problem.  We have to bring our budget into balance.  But if all you‘re doing is taking a meat-ax and you‘re suspending judgment and you‘re saying anything we can cut is good, then you‘re going to have things like cutting the heart out of the tsunami warping system.  I mean, that‘s obviously reckless and irresponsible.  

UYGUR:  Right.  Congressman Welch, thank you for your time tonight.  We appreciate it.  And by the way, one other thing we do to balance the budget is we can raise revenue in Congress.  And Congresswoman Schakowsky is suggesting that for raising taxes above million dollars.  It makes a lot of sense.  Congressman, thank you for joining us tonight.  We really do appreciate it. 

All right.  And we‘ve got a lot of breaking news today.  Breaking news again.  The U.S. Security Council has just voted for a no-fly zone over Libya and that was a unanimous vote, 10-nothing.  So, that is very important news, no-fly zone over Libya and it includes the ability to take all necessary measures.  A dramatic day of news today. 

And when we come back, Michigan‘s governor took their attack on the American worker to a whole new level.  And that was also dramatic news.  And I‘m talking about the power to fire mayors, break union contracts, and eliminate school districts.  That‘s just amazing.  John Nichols of The Nation has some new information on that, next.                       

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Wisconsin Democrats are moving full speed ahead with the effort to recall the GOP state senators who took away collective bargaining rights from state workers.  Today, several progressive groups launch a new ad campaign urging recalls.  And the state Democratic Party says, they already have half of the signatures that they need to force recall elections and they‘ve got a month and a half left to finish the job.  So, it looks like they‘re in good shape on that front.  Meanwhile, the state senators who are in jeopardy were in Washington, D.C., getting paid for a job well done at a fund-raiser organized by corporate lobbyists.  They got no shame.  Totally brazen.  Give me the money.  Give me the money.  I did what you wanted.  Now, speaking of recalls, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder could be recalled as soon as July.  And the emergency financial manager bill actually passed late yesterday in Michigan. 

Now, more than 5,000 people turned out in Lansing, Michigan yesterday to protest that bill.  His budget would cut the state‘s business taxes by 86 percent, 86 percent.  Meanwhile, he‘s getting rid of earned income tax credit for lower income families slashing credit for seniors and cutting $1.2 billion in funding to schools, universities, and local governments.  So, his paying poor people, old people and students pay for corporate tax cuts.  That‘s not an exaggeration.  You just saw the numbers.  It‘s exact.  And insult on top of that entry is the bill he signed yesterday.  And republican described it as financial martial law.  The bill gives the governor the power to declare a financial emergency in struggling cities and school districts.  Then he can appoint an emergency financial manager to take it over. 

Congressman Conyers has made the point that that sounds an awful lot like czars.  So let‘s call them Snyder‘s czars.  The czars have the power to void or break union contracts.  Of course, that‘s what they always do.  Seize and sell assets, eliminate local services, and even remove elected officials.  So, Snyder‘s budget means local governments and school districts with a lot less money and then if they go bankrupt under those circumstances, a state-appointed official can come in and take them over.  Republicans do a lot of complaining about unelected czars that have too much power and supposed government takeover in Washington.  Maybe they talk about it so much because they can‘t wait to do it themselves.  And that‘s exactly what‘s happening in Michigan. 

With me now is John Nichols, he‘s the Washington correspondent for The Nation.  John, first question for you.  Whether it‘s Walker in Wisconsin or Snyder in Michigan, did they promise us in their elections, they say hey, you know what, as soon as I come in, seniors, I‘m going to cut you.  Students, I‘m going to cut you and I‘m going to give it all to corporate tax cuts.  

JOHN NICHOLS, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  You mean, did they run and say, look, I want to be a monarch who appoints Viceroys?  No.  I did not hear that.  In fact, I covered both of those campaigns and the weird thing is, that both Walker in Wisconsin and Snyder in Michigan were the moderate republican candidates in their primaries.  They beat people who everybody thought were the draconian, you know, kind of way out there right wingers.  So these were bait and switch campaigns.  And now, they are out to do tremendous damage to communities.  And I want to emphasize, you know, I like Congressman Conyers a lot and I like that Czar term.  I understand what he is trying to do, term, push back at some of the Republicans.  But this is much more than a Czar.  This really does go to the sort of thing that we fought a revolution against back in 1776.  This is a monarch appointing a ruler, a Viceroy to take over local government. 

UYGUR:  I mean, the great irony of this, is that the Tea Party people are talking about, oh, we have to take our government back and we have to have real representation.  And then this guy comes and says oh, whatever your local government, whatever you voted for your local government, I don‘t give a damn.  I‘m going—it sounds like Putin, doesn‘t it?  That‘s what Putin did in Russia with the local governors. 

NICHOLS:  Well, I think that‘s a little unfair to Putin.  The fact of the matter is, that as bad as he is, you know, he still wants to keep in the international community.  Have a little bit of regard.  These guys are pushing much further and, understand, this is the United States of America.  We set a higher standard for democracy than other countries, I hope.  And the other thing that I think really important to understand here is that when  you‘re going into local government, to school boards, town boards, town councils, village boards, city councils, you are taking power away from representatives who are closest to the people, who feel the greatest responsibility to deliver services and to make things right.  This makes government more disconnected from those in need and also from the taxpayers themselves.  It is a breaking point for democratic structures and this is something we ought to be fundamentally concerned about. 

UYGUR:  You know, I think they had a term for that back in the revolution.  It was taxation without representation.  So, if you voted for a local representatives and your governor takes them away from you, what‘s happening there?  So, but, John, let me ask you about the recalls because, look, these guys, they sold voters a bill of goods, right?  And do this switch-a-roo and this switch-in-bait and all of that.  So, are recall efforts real?  I mean, do they have a real chance at recalling whether it‘s, you know, Snyder in Michigan in July or it‘s whether it‘s Walker, you know, a year after the election?  Is that a real possibility, do you think?

NICHOLS:  I think it‘s a real possibility.  The recall was created by the progressive movement at the start of the last century for precisely moments like this.  It‘s not just to remove somebody if they commit a felony, it‘s to remove someone who is doing damage to the state, and also someone who is in violation of their oath to protect and defend the state national constitutions.  So, these are very legitimate efforts. 

UYGUR:  Right.

NICHOLS:  In Wisconsin, I think the recall of the state senators will definitely move along and, frankly, I think there‘s simply no question at this point that both Walker and Snyder deserve a recall. 

UYGUR:  All right, thank you, John Nichols, we appreciate it.  And we‘ll be right back.           

NICHOLS:  Thanks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Breaking news out of the U.N. moments ago, the Security Council voted 10 to nothing to authorize a no-fly zone and all necessary measures to protect civilians against attacks from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his forces.  This is very important.  The Arab league was in favor of it.  France and Britain were in favor of it.  And now, it is a ten-nothing resolution.  So, a no-fly zone over Libya.  Very dramatic news.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Here at home, the budget battle continues.  And now some Democrats are calling for President Obama to finally get tough with Republicans.  Hallelujah.  Congressman Anthony Weiner, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  The Republicans are advancing on all fronts.  They‘re leading a budget slashing offensive in Washington and a war on union rights in a number of states.  Now, some progressive lawmakers are starting to get frustrated that President Obama isn‘t making the counter argument clearly enough.  Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio said, he wants to see more backbone from the president, quote, “The problem is the negotiator in chief and where he‘ll end up and whether we can put some steel in his spine.  I assume he caved on tax as it in December because he was blackmailed on the treaty with Russia with nuclear weapons which was absolutely critical but that‘s pretty pathetic, also.” 

Wow!  Those are strong words and that‘s going to leave a mark.  Congressman Weiner says, quote, “We spent a lot of time waiting for Godot when it comes to the Obama White House.  And we kind of to some degree have to internalize the idea that you know what?  That‘s probably not the way to go.  We have to start initiating some of this.”  Now, if you watch this show on a regular basis, first of all, God bless your heart.  We appreciate it.  Secondly, you know I couldn‘t agree more with that statement.  And now, we‘re in a fight over at NPR, and the Republicans as usual have landed the first punch.  Today, the House voted to defund NPR and, of course, partisan vote of 228 to 192.  Congressman Weiner pointed out absurdity of the NPR budget threat on the House floor today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  This is the problem.  It‘s Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.  They talk about master cylinders and slaves cylinders.  It‘s kinky.  And so I am glad my republican friends are finally getting to the bottom of this.  And then with all the giggling and snorting that they do every weekend on their show, it‘s got to be some kind of a code.  They‘re clearly talking to the Russians and the Chinese or something with all that giggling and snorting.  It is why I am so relieved that we had this emergency session that we waived the rules of the House that a require 72 hours, so we finally get these guys off my radio. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Congressman Weiner—and of course Congressman Anthony Weiner is joining us now. 

First, you know, on the Republicans, they‘re complaining that Obama is filling out brackets when there are so many more important things going on.  The Japan situation, we got a not-fly zone in Libya and worry about the threat of NPR? 

WEINER:  Yes, that‘s pretty much a summary.  You know, they are kind of adrift in their own right because they‘re pretty good on what they‘re against.  They know they are against a health care bill, they know against their financial patrol.  They know, they‘ve already achieved one of the things they wanted to do which is giving tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires.  Beyond that, they‘re kind of wandering trying to figure out  what to do each day, so the idea that they‘re finally cracking down on wait, wait, don‘t tell me and morning edition and Click and Clack, I guess they finally found their cause for the week. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Now, Congressman, there‘s been some tough quotes, some of which I read.  Dennis Kucinich had another tough quote about the president.  Is the impression that President Obama isn‘t showing up enough to fight on these issues?

WEINER:  Well, first, let‘s be clear, you know, I‘m very much want the president to be a success.  I‘m going to work hard to make sure he serves a second term.  And his record of success in the first two years has been pretty remarkable.  You know, the counter thrust that what they would say to people like me and Peter DeFazio is yes, you may not like the way we‘re proceeding, maybe you want to see more fight but we‘re getting a lot of things done.  The problem is that when we‘re having this debate about the budget, it can‘t just be to the American people about numbers.  It has to be about what our values are as a party and what it is that we‘re prepared to fight for.  And that‘s kind of what we need a little bit more from the president but, you know, I think you‘ve got to realize, you have to make a distinction. 

You‘ve got people like Senator McConnell who wake up every morning thinking about how they make sure the president fails.  And the rest of us in the democratic base who really want the president to succeed and I think the problem that we have now is we‘re all watching this debate over budget numbers in Washington.  We know clearly what the republicans stand for, smaller government, less taxes, reduced deficits and things like that.  The Democrats have to articulate in a much better way what it is we‘re fighting for, Medicare, Medicaid, you know, the environment, education.  These are things we‘re not going to give on.  And I think that‘s where we can use the president‘s health. 

UYGUR:  Well, you see, Congressman Weiner, the problem is and you know this, look, on the tax cuts the Republicans got what they wanted.  Now, on the budget, the president gave away $40 billion, got no credit for it, you know, on the cuts, the heating oil, et cetera, et cetera.  Four billion was the second cut.  Six billion the second cut.  Still the Republicans haven‘t moved an inch.  So, how do we get the White House to realize, hey, you know what, this is not the right way to constantly give in?

WEINER:  You know, but it‘s also important to know that a lot of the things the president is doing, he‘s got some good things to fight on.  You know, over the summer, he said he wanted to have every federal agency reduce its waste by five percent.  That‘s a big thing.  The budget he just proposed for 2012 is the smallest on defense discretionary budget since Eisenhower.  It‘s not like he doesn‘t have good things to go out and pitch and to sell and to fight for.  I think that we can‘t see these budget negotiations as simply being kind of transactions and I think, you know, the president needs to understand that one of the things that gets us all fired up and gets us in Congress, in a place that we can defend the things we care about is that he leads us and that‘s what we‘re asking him to do a little more of.  

UYGUR:  I couldn‘t agree more with that.  Congressman Weiner, thank you so much for your time tonight. 

WEINER:  Thank you. 

UYGUR:  And I want to thank everybody for watching.  “HARDBALL” starts right now. 

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