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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

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Guests: Ezra Klein, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ari Melber, Melissa

Harris-Perry

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  The war in Afghanistan provoked entirely by Osama bin Laden and the war in Iraq partially and mistakenly provoked by Osama bin Laden have cost the United States in real economic terms, trillions of dollars.  Osama bin Laden is dead.  So, shouldn‘t that make balancing the budget a lot easier?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Osama bin Laden will never again threaten the United States of America.

(CHEERS)

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  In the post-bin Laden era, how should we cut the deficit?

Here‘s an idea.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO:  We need to get our troops out of there and get them out of there as fast as we can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A bipartisan group of eight lawmakers calling for him to remove all troops from Afghanistan that are not directly connected to the war on terror.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We declare victory and let‘s get out of there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Fifty-nine percent of Americans think that the mission in Afghanistan is fulfilled and it‘s time to bring the troops home.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  In July of 2011 where we begin to drawdown U.S. forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  America is not broke.  Its priorities just aren‘t in order.

O‘DONNELL:  But Republican leaders refuse to cut military spending or raise taxes.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER:  Big spending cuts.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  The budget deadlock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everything they‘re talking about ignores the underlying problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Boehner, the other night, in a room full of billionaires categorically refused to raise taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No tax increases on anyone.

CARNEY:  We obviously have big differences.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND:  For goodness sakes, let‘s get rid of these—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Subsidies, the tax breaks that big oil gets.

DYLAN RATIGAN, MSNBC HOST:  It makes me wonder if anybody‘s actually serious about this debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sheer craziness.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  I don‘t believe that this is just about two people squabbling, or two groups squabbling.

O‘DONNELL:  And there‘s more success from one of the president‘s most criticized decisions.

CARNEY:  On the broader point about capitalism and our support for it

-- 

           

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  General Motors is working to add 4,000 jobs.

CARNEY:  General Motors announced that it would hire 4,200 workers. 

This was an industry that was on its back.

O‘DONNELL:  Gingrich is in, but the Republican Party is still hoping for someone else.  Anyone else.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  No, my God, I‘m not running for president.

MITCHELL:  The newest candidate in the race, it‘s Newt.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Accentuate your strength, you downplay your flaws.

CHRISTIE:  You can‘t get me anywhere near that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I just have a sense that we‘ve been there, done that with Gingrich.

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MAGNATE:  Torture.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Until this announcement, Chris, it‘s been Michele Bachmann and the seven dwarfs, Trumpy, Sleepy, Crazy, a bunch of those and Pawlenty.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from New York.

This afternoon, President Obama met with the Senate Democratic Caucus to discuss a path forward on the budget, deficit reduction and a vote on the debt limit.  The president is expected to meet with Senate Republicans tomorrow.

Also, today, the chairman of the president‘s Council of Economic Advisors, Austan Goolsbee, said in a speech to the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, “To tie deficit reduction to the debt limit in my view is quite insane.  If we hit the debt ceiling, we default.  It‘s like trying to lose weight by cutting off your head.”

But, congressional Republicans are insisting on linking deficit reduction to the debt limit.  Here‘s House Majority Leader Eric Cantor talking about the debt limit at a news conference this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANTOR:  I started off the week with a visit to the New York Stock Exchange, and while there, talked to many individuals engaged in our capital markets, investors, traders and the rest.  The message that I heard was: keep at it, don‘t back down, cut spending, reform entitlements and make sure we get our fiscal house in order.  And in particular, they were focused on the issue before us as far as increasing the debt ceiling in this country.  What I heard and what I believe is, it is reckless for us to increase the credit limit of this country without cutting spending, without reforming entitlements, without getting our fiscal house in order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  That is a new belief for Eric Cantor.  Eric Cantor did not believe it was reckless to increase the credit limit of the country without cutting spending, reforming entitlements or getting our fiscal house in order when he voted multiple times to raise the debt limit when President Bush was in office.  It is either reckless to increase the debt limit without cutting spending or it isn‘t.

Nothing reveals the emptiness of Congressman Cantor‘s words more than his own voting record on the debt limit.

Joining me now is independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a member of the Senate Budget Committee who met with President Obama today.

Thank you for joining us tonight, Senator Sanders.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT:  Good to be with you.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, what happened in that meeting with the president today?

SANDERS:  Well, I don‘t know that it‘s useful to talk about what happened at a private meeting.  What I can say is that many of us are sick and tired of seeing this country being blackmailed by Republican demands.  These people are apparently willing to plunge the entire world into a financial crisis by not lifting the debt ceiling if they don‘t get their way.

And I think enough is enough.  They blackmailed us in terms of shutting down the government.  They blackmailed us in December about extending unemployment benefits.  And I am sick and tired of that.  I think the American people are as well.

We need a good debate on the budget, but we don‘t need blackmail.

O‘DONNELL:  Have you found in these meetings a way around this blackmail, which I think is the perfect word for what‘s going on in the House of Representatives?

SANDERS:  Lawrence, I think the answer is, yes.  I think that every poll that I have seen suggests that the American people want shared sacrifice in helping us reduce a very serious deficit problem.

They think it is—makes no sense at all that at a time when the wealthiest people in this country are doing extremely well and while the middle class has been really hurt by the recession that you give huge tax breaks to the wealthy and you cut back on programs that the middle class desperately needs like Medicare, Medicaid, Pell grants, et cetera.  People want shared sacrifice, which means that the wealthiest people who have enjoyed hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks, who have seen their effective tax rate go down to the lowest level in recent history, they‘ve got to pony up.  They‘ve also got to help out in deficit reduction.

Corporations that make billions in profits and pay nothing in taxes, you know what?  They also have to corporate.

We need shared sacrifice not simply massive cuts in programs for low and moderate income Americans.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Sanders, there seems to be confusion in the public, generally, about what the debt ceiling is and what it does.  It does not incur any new debt.  It simply accepts the fact that debt has been incurred over the last 10 years, over the recent times, and that this is a way of assuring that the debt that has been incurred will actually be paid.  It‘s paying our bills.

SANDERS:  Exactly.

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s fiscal sanity.

Do you think you have enough time between now and the moment when the debt ceiling will have to be raised sometime this summer to actually get the public educated to the point where there can be that political pressure brought on Republicans to get this thing done?

SANDERS:  Lawrence, I think the answer to that is absolutely, yes.  I think the word has got to go out that in fact for the first time—here‘s what you are saying in English—for the first time in the history of this great country the United States will not be paying its bills.  We will default.  We will be a deadbeat.

And everybody knows that will have huge international consequences on international finance.  It will raise interest rates in this country.  It could perhaps bring about a depression worldwide.

I think what we have got to do is put pressure on the Republicans and say to them, you can‘t do this.  Yes, we‘ve got to have a debate about the budget.  But you can‘t blackmail the president of the United States and the American people in catastrophic terms unless you get your way.

We‘re tired of bullying.  We‘re tired of babies saying give it to us all or else we‘re going to wreck the whole house.  I don‘t think that is what the American government should be about.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, I would to put up on the screen a chart of what‘s happened with the debt ceiling over the last decade from 2001 to 2008.  It‘s been raised several times.  It‘s had to have been raised.

And as I say as we talked about here, it doesn‘t in any way increase spending.  It simply acknowledges that the government has done this spending already.  That the government has committed to this spending.

And it takes legislation to change the spending—the debt ceiling has nothing to do with incurring one additional dollar of spending.

SANDERS:  That‘s correct, Lawrence.  And again, I think we need a good debate about how we move toward deficit reduction.  But you cannot hold hostage the American people by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.

The other point that I would make is I think if you look at polls out there, the American people have a pretty good idea about how they want to move toward deficit reduction and it is certainly not the Republican plan.

People want us to take a hard look at military spending.  Start bringing the troops home from Afghanistan.  Start closing some military bases around the world that we may not need to maintain anymore.  Do away with corporate loopholes.  Ask the wealthy to start paying their fair share.

So, there are ways that we can move toward a balanced budget that are fair and responsible, not simply do it on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the children and the poor.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Sanders, we‘re going to discuss military spending and the possible drawdown in Afghanistan with Congressman Kucinich in another segment.  But given that we have now gotten Osama bin Laden, do you think that affects the possibilities of military spending cuts in a way that we haven‘t—we wouldn‘t have been able to achieve before getting Osama bin Laden?

SANDERS:  I mean, that‘s hard to say, Lawrence.  My own view before and after the killing of bin Laden is that after 10 years of war in Afghanistan, after spending this year perhaps $100 billion, the time is now for the Afghan government and the Afghan military to defend themselves.  I think we can‘t leave tomorrow.  I think we‘ve got to support their military and their police.

But I think we need to move out of Afghanistan as quickly as we possibly can.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont—thanks for joining us tonight.

SANDERS:  Good to be with you.

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now, MSNBC contributor, Ezra Klein, columnist for “The Washington Post.”

Thanks for joining me tonight, Ezra.

EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Good evening.

O‘DONNELL:  Ezra, the Republican demands on the debt ceiling have shifted.  There‘s different groups asking for different things.  And one of the things they want is a balanced budget amendment.

This seems to me like something you could just say, OK, sure, we‘ll do a balanced budget amendment.  You‘ll never ratify a balanced budget amendment.  It‘s impossible to do it, amendment to the Constitution to balance the budget.

KLEIN:  Bruce Bartlett is a former Reagan economic official and he looked at this.  And he said, this amendment, he said, is the dumbest proposed amendment I have ever seen.  It looks like it was written on the back of a napkin.

And it does.

Here‘s how extreme the balanced budget amendment the Senate Republicans passed is—it would rule the Ryan budget, the GOP budget unconstitutional because it‘s too profligate.  It spends too much money.

So, one of the current ways you can sort of sum up the Republican position on the debt ceiling is that in order to raise the debt ceiling, we need to pass a balanced amendment that will make the Republican budget unconstitutional.  It‘s not serious policymaking.

O‘DONNELL:  But you could promise them a vote on it and it will never become an actual amendment to the Constitution.  Would that satisfy them to just have a vote on it?

KLEIN:  I don‘t know if it would satisfy them, I would prefer not to have a vote on it because, you know, you can have things pass unexpectedly.  You can have bad consequences out of the financial crisis, a secondary recession coming from, you know, an unexpected spike in energy prices and then there‘s some sort of movement in the states you just don‘t expect.

That balanced budget amendment, I don‘t know if people have taken a close look at it.  But in effect, it would control—it would hold spending down.  It‘s not just budget.  What it really does is it says spending can‘t be above 18 percent of GDP in the previous year, which means about 16.7 percent of GDP in any given year.

Right now, spending is 24 percent of GDP.  So, you would essentially have to cut the federal government by 1/3, almost to half in order to get there.  We have never done anything like that before.  You can‘t do that and keep Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security and the military.  It wouldn‘t be possible.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, do you believe anyone on Wall Street actually told Eric Cantor, hey, yes, don‘t worry about raising the debt ceiling, it‘s not important to us?

KLEIN:  I want to put Eric Cantor in a room with a bunch of folks on Wall Street who will them that we need some revenue in this country.  And see if he comes back and says, well, just on Wall Street, we need tax hikes.

Look, as you can see in the graph we‘ve got here, the single largest policy contributor to our deficits going forward are the Bush tax cuts.  You extend those and you‘re looking at $4 trillion in new debt.  Boehner is saying to raise the debt ceiling, he wants $2 trillion in spending cuts.  So, if you add those policies up, his tax cuts are double, on the debt, what the spending cuts would take away from the deficit.

It‘s really important to realize that we‘re not having a deficit conversation on both sides here.  The Republicans are having a conversation about tax cuts and the size of government.  And Democrats are, I think, actually more broadly having what they think is a deficit conversation.  But that‘s dangerous not to be actually having a dangerous conversation over the debt ceiling, because when the two parties aren‘t speaking about the same thing, that makes it harder to reach an agreement.  And as Senator Sanders pointed out I think quite correctly, if we don‘t reach an agreement on the debt ceiling, the consequences of that will be functionally unimaginable for the global financial system.

O‘DONNELL:  Though a lot of us have been, I think, possible to some of the audience, troublingly non-specific when we get into what the disaster of the debt ceiling would be.  And partially, that‘s because we‘ve never seen it happen.  We‘re talking about a catastrophe that we‘ve absolutely never bothered to chart out before because this was always, as you know referred to in the Congress as a must-pass bill, which meant both parties knew it had to pass.

They could stump about it.  They could make speeches about it.  But they couldn‘t get in the way of it actually passing.  They had to make sure there‘d be 51 votes in the Senate and just enough in the House to get the thing passed.

It seems that the Republicans in the House do not understand—I mean, genuinely do not understand that.

KLEIN:  Well, let me—it‘s useful to be specific as you say.  So, take the financial crisis we had two years ago, three years ago now.  And imagine it basically 1,000 times worse.

What happened in the financial crisis is we had a class of assets, these bonds backed by houses.  We thought it was safe.  It wasn‘t safe.  And when it wasn‘t safe, when it turned out to be risky, the entire financial system froze because nobody knew how much money they really had and nobody knew if they were going to get paid back.  That‘s in the real simple terms what happened.

The singular safest asset in the entire global financial system, the asset on which everything else is based upon, is the treasury security.  It is our government‘s debt, our government‘s capacity to pay back creditors.  If that goes into doubt, if the financial system cannot trust the bedrock of the entire system, we will have a financial crisis that makes what we just went through look like child‘s play.  It will be nothing compared to what we‘ll see.

O‘DONNELL:  Ezra Klein of “The Washington Post” with that good news—thank you very much for joining me tonight, Ezra.

KLEIN:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Still to come, how much money can we save if we withdraw from Afghanistan now that bin Laden is gone?

And Melissa Harris-Perry on the fury from Republicans over a musician‘s visit to the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  You‘ve got to wonder why it took the CIA so long to find Osama bin Laden.  They can afford HBO.  In fact, you know, even if they can‘t afford HBO, they‘re the CIA.  They could get HBO.

If they‘ve been watching Bill Maher‘s show two and a half years ago, CIA might have found bin Laden a lot faster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I wish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s in a cave somewhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He‘s not.  I just talked to somebody very knowledgeable.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This woman who is -- 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  By the way, Sarah Palin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  -- a villa in—it‘s in a nice comfortable villa in Pakistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kabul?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Up next, how much longer should U.S. troops stay in Afghanistan now that bin Laden is gone?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  When federal deficit reduction measure receiving increased support since the killing of Osama bin Laden is reducing military spending.  Through the draw down of the over 100,000 United States troops currently in Afghanistan, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defined the commander-in-chief‘s position on possible withdrawal today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The president has a policy in Afghanistan.  It very explicitly contains within it a transition point in July of 2011 where we begin to drawdown U.S. forces.  The pace of that drawdown, the scope of that drawdown depends on conditions on the ground.  And the president has yet to receive a recommendation for the first—the number for the first movement of troops out in that drawdown.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  According to “The Wall Street Journal,” U.S. military offices will propose the president withdraw a whopping 5,000 troops by July, and as many as another 5,000 by the year‘s end.  Though troop levels would go down, the president‘s 2012 budget request for military operations in Afghanistan would remain about the same about $11,000 billion, roughly the amount we‘ve spent in 2011.

That request sounds excessive to the combat veteran who currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  It is fundamentally unsustainable to continue spending $10 billion a month on a massive military operation with no end in sight.  The good news is: I believe we don‘t have to.  I‘m convinced that we can achieve our core goals at a more sustainable cost in both lives and dollars and structure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  But today, the House Intelligence Committee chairman suggested that now is not the time to apply fiscal restraint to the effort in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE ROGERS ®, MICHIGAN:  Al Qaeda is alive and well.  They are hurt.  They‘re damaged.  They‘re inspirational and operational leader has been taken off the battlefield, which is a huge opportunity for us.

The confusion with them is opportunity for us.  And this is the time to step on the gas and break their back.  This is the wrong time to back off on funding the intelligence committee—community, excuse me, when they‘re very close to technological breakthroughs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now Democratic congressman from Ohio, Dennis Kucinich.

Thanks for joining me tonight, Congressman.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO:  Thank you, Lawrence.  Good to be with you.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, we just heard John Kerry say that the $10 billion a month sun sustainable, but we could achieve the core goals with a less expensive presence there.  Then we hear the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rogers saying, no, no, now is the time to—now that Osama bin Laden‘s out of the picture, they‘re weakened.  Now is the time to go after them even harder, presumably spend more money if necessary.

What is the right way to go on this?

KUCINICH:  That, in a sense, my friend Congressman Rogers, to follow his logic, we‘re look at a second surge, then.

Look, this war in Afghanistan has become a nightmare.  The occupation has fuelled the insurgency just like in Iraq.  We don‘t have any honest partner to deal with there.  People we fund one day are fighting our soldiers the next.

We have to get out of there.  We cannot afford it in any way.  And we‘re—if you look at the rate of withdrawal that the White House is talking about, “The Wall Street Journal” reported, they‘ll slow walk this war right through 2020-2021, at the cost of another $1.2 trillion.  We can‘t afford it, and the blood, treasure—by every measure, this is wrong.  And now is the time to get out.

O‘DONNELL:  According to “USA Today”/Gallup poll released today, the majority of Americans, 59 percent now believe that the mission is accomplished in Afghanistan, and we should bring the troops home, 36 percent say keep the troops there.  And also, Republicans are now split on whether to withdraw or keep troops in Afghanistan, 47 percent straight Republican Party split on it.

Congressman, it seems like there isn‘t a political price to pay for withdrawal.  It seems like the popular political choice would be withdrawal at this point.

KUCINICH:  Well, you know, sometimes it‘s worth respecting the innate wisdom of the people as is being expressed right now.  An overwhelming majority of Americans feel our work is done in Afghanistan.

And we also have to keep in mind that with over 10 million Americans unemployed, with 50 million Americans still without health care, with millions of Americans losing their home, with people worried about their retirement security, this is the time for us to come home and start taking care of the economic problems here, which are quite formidable.

So, I think the American people if asked, would you rather take care of things here at home or would you rather spend another trillion dollars in Afghanistan, I think the numbers would go much higher than 59 percent, 60 percent approval for that position.

O‘DONNELL:  One of the new theories of engagement in Afghanistan—I mean new literally in the last fortnight, is that this is where we base our moves into Pakistan.  This is where SEAL Team Six launched from to go into Pakistan, to go get Osama bin Laden.  And so, even if what we need to do is these kinds of strikes inside Pakistan, we need to hold a base in Afghanistan in order to launch those.

KUCINICH:  OK, let‘s look at that.  What the underlying assumption is there we‘re going to have more war with Pakistan.  There‘s a point at which Pakistan may start to fight back.  We‘ve got to be very careful about spreading ourselves so thin that we not only weaken our military, we also leave American vulnerable.

And, you know, we‘re—we have our drones over Pakistan, over Yemen, over Libya, over Iraq.  We are—we‘re in Afghanistan.  We are right now at war throughout the region.

It‘s time that we put the brakes on this impulse towards war before we get sucked into more war.  And if you look at this, this so-called Detainee Security Act, that they‘re having hearings on right now, Lawrence, it‘s a license for never ending war.

When do we say enough is enough?  Stop the wars and start taking care of things here at home.  When do we say that?  When we do just let‘s take care of things here at home, mind our own business and have a strong enough security at home that no one would dare mess with us?

O‘DONNELL:  Now, you co-signed a letter with other House Democrats to the Armed Services Committee chairman, asking for these hearings on the Defense Authorization Act.  The letter read, in part, “By declaring a global war against nameless individuals, organizations and nations associated with the Taliban and al Qaeda, as well as those playing a supporting role in their efforts, the Detainee Security Act—what you just mentioned—would appear to grant the president never unfettered authority to initiate military action around the world.”

So, this otherwise obscure Detainee Security Act would actually, in your view, expand the president‘s war-making authority?

KUCINICH:  There‘s no question about it.  I mean, you know, there‘s a point at which this very intricate balance of power which the Founders of our country put together and enshrined in the Constitution is about to be totally dismantled.  It‘s not—it‘s bad enough that President Obama ignored the Congress in taking us into a war in Libya.  But it becomes even worse when members of Congress are talking about changing the very structure of our laws so that the president can at, you know, at his instance just initiate war against anyone because we say, well, there‘s terror suspects in this country.

We‘ve got to be very careful that we don‘t ruin our democracy with this seemingly insatiable instinct to use aggression as a means of trying to settle our differences with groups and other countries.  Should we pursue terrorists?  Yes.  But as an army?  No.  As an international police force?  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  One of the strangest power dynamics of the second half of the 20th century has been watching the Congress slowly surrender its war-making authority to the White House.

KUCINICH:  Absolutely right.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Democrat from Ohio—thank you very much for joining us tonight.

KUCINICH:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Still to come, a radio host who‘s telling all who will listen when the end of the world will come.  He got the date wrong the first time he tried it.  This time, he‘s absolutely sure the world‘s going to end next week.  That‘s in the “Rewrite.”

And Newt Gingrich is running for president.  How soon will he drop out?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  One more Republican has finally officially and without surprise joined the weak field of candidates hoping to win their party‘s nomination for president of the United States. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  I‘M Newt Gingrich.  And I‘m announcing my candidacy for president of the United States because I believe we can return America to hope and opportunity, to full employment, to real security, to an American energy program, to a balanced budget.

As speaker of the House, I worked to reform welfare, to balance the budget, to control spending, to cut taxes, to create economic growth.  Unemployment came down from 5.6 percent to under four. 

And for four years, we balanced the budget and paid off 405 billion dollars in debt.  We‘ve done it before.  We can do it again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy via Facebook and Twitter this afternoon. 

Joining me now, “The Nation” magazine‘s Ari Melber.  Ari, thanks for joining me tonight. 

ARI MELBER, “THE NATION”:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  It seems to me his running mate should be Bill Clinton.  The thing he‘s claiming credit for there—it was a kind of Clinton-Gingrich combination at that point in our government, wasn‘t it? 

MELBER:  Right.  And he would have been backseat in that car.  In fact, it was Clinton who ultimately got more credit for a lot of those economic benefit from that period. 

I think when you look at Newt Gingrich‘s entry into the race here, he‘s a joke of a candidate, but he‘s the most serious joke in this Republican field. 

O‘DONNELL:  What‘s the joke part?  That he‘s just not going to win. 

He doesn‘t have a chance. 

MELBER:  His credentials here, although the media won‘t tell you this, most of the media—his credentials don‘t lead to the presidency under any historical precedent.  He has not held statewide office.  He has not served in a cabinet.  And he‘s not served in the military. 

If you find someone without any of those qualifications who ended up becoming president, you have to go back over 120 years.  So we just don‘t have a precedent for this. 

That is to say he‘s only appealed to the most conservative elements of his party. 

O‘DONNELL:  One congressional district in Georgia.  That‘s all he‘s ever won.

MELBER:  That‘s all he‘s ever won.  He has never aspired to make himself a broader appealing candidate.  Just as a comparison for viewers who may not recall, he was minority whip during this radical right wing period for the Republicans.  His predecessor was Dick Cheney in that job.  His successor was Tom Delay, who‘s experience after that was going to jail. 

That‘s not a job that we associate with great national appeal. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now Michael Steele said today I think it‘s going to push everybody‘s game up a little bit.  I think what he means is Newt is known or thought to be a good debater, that with Newt Gingrich on the debate stage, everyone else is going to have to sharpen their game. 

MELBER:  He came up with drill, baby drill.  He came one the Contract With America.  To me, that feels a little bit like those “Fast and Furious” movies where they had an idea and then they‘re always doing the sequel, because his next book was “Renewing the Contract with America.” 

I‘m not sure in this new era whether we want to continually renew America‘s contracts and whether that has any meaning to people. 

He‘s good with slogan.  He did, to be fair, author not only 17 books, but also he is on the top 500 lists of Amazon book reviewers online. 

O‘DONNELL:  It occurs to me I‘ve never seen him actually debate.  I‘ve seen him do Republican talking points without anyone contesting it and certainly not without another Republican contesting it.  So as this thing unfolds, where will he drop out?  How far will he get? 

Will he be a Giuliani candidacy that flames out in Florida or sooner, later? 

MELBER:  I think he will play hard into the early states.  I mean, he has shown a prowess to raise money, over 20 million dollars for his partially for profit entities, which include a sort of health care consulting fund. 

Do he has a lot of those relationships.  That gives him the time.  If he pulls out of his business ventures, then he‘s got to make some kind of showing. 

So I think we‘ll see him through the conservative states, Iowa, down in the Carolinas if he can.  I don‘t see him dropping early, because part of the way he stays relevant, assuming this is all for more book deals and more Fox contracts, is having an impact on this. 

O‘DONNELL:  I actually think he‘s in it to win, which is part of the joke. 

MELBER:  Really? 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  I think he‘s serious and I think that‘s part of the joke of it.  He doesn‘t know it‘s hopeless. 

Ari Melber, thank you very much for joining me. 

MELBER:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, 89-year-old radio host Harold Camping says the world is going to end next Saturday.  That is the Rewrite of his original prediction that the world would end in 1994.  Now I have to Rewrite his new prediction. 

On Fox last night, Karl Rove suggested that inviting hip hop artists Common to the White House poetry slam somehow diminished the president‘s call for unity after the death of Osama bin Laden‘s death.  We‘ll show you part of Common‘s performance coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  In the Rewrite tonight, once again the end of the world.  You may have seen billboards and subway ads like this one.  This picture was taken by THE LAST WORD‘s Nick Ramsey on his commute to work today on the R Train. 

It says that the end of the world is coming on May 21st.  Yes, that‘s May 21st, 2011.  Yes, that‘s next Saturday. 

Are you listening now?  Yeah.  The end of the world is coming next Saturday.  You can read all about it in a book called “The Doomsday Code,” which the poster says is available at Barnes and Noble or you can download it, as we did today, free at websites run by this man, 89-year-old radio host Harold Camping, Who says his bible study has led him to make a series of calculations that have determined with exactitude that the world is coming to an end next Saturday at about 6:00 p.m. Pacific time. 

An NPR report that brought Harold Camping to our attention points out that he‘s been wrong about this kind of thing before.  He actually predicted in a book entitled “1994?” that the world would end in 1994.  When it didn‘t, instead of moving on to something easier, like predicting the weather or outcomes of elections like I do, he went back to recalculating when the end of the world would come. 

Mr. Camping says he found the clues to our real expiration date in the Book of Jeremiah, a book of the Bible he had for some reason neglected to study when he made his erroneous 1994 prediction. 

This would all be laughably ignorable if no one was taking Mr. Camping seriously.  But people are taking him seriously, too many people are actually taking him seriously.  NPR found a New Jersey accountant who says he stopped thinking about his 401(k) because he knows the world is going to end on May 21st

And a pregnant woman with a two-year-old daughter whose second child is due in June, after it the end of the world, who with her husband is spending the last of her savings, every dollar, so that they will be absolutely penniless on May 21st, when Harold Camping has convinced them that the world is going to end. 

I have had to tell Glenn Beck‘s audience that the world is not going to end.  And now it falls to me to tell Harold Camping‘s audience that the world is not going to end. 

           

Specifically it is not going to end on May 21st.  Any plans you have made for the world to end on May 21st are a mistake, a terrible mistake.  You should go back to putting money in your 401(k)s. 

When the world doesn‘t end on May 21st, and you realize Harold Camping is a complete fraud, and you feel confused and adrift in the world and don‘t know where to look for guidance, just know that on May 23rd at 8:00 p.m., the man who told you the truth about the end of the world will be once again sitting in this chair telling you more truth. 

And from that day forth, having renounced the teachings of Harold Camping, you will always have this program to come to help you see the light.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Welcome to the White House.  I‘m going to be brief, because on a night like tonight, my job is to get out of the way and let the professionals do their job.

The power of poetry is that everybody experiences it differently.  There are no rules for what makes a great poem.  Understanding it isn‘t just about metaphor or meter.  Instead, a great poem is one that resonates with us, that challenges us, and that teaches us something about ourselves.

(BEND VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  There is at this hour a celebration of American poetry at the White House.  The president and the First Lady welcomed accomplished poets, musicians, artists and students to the White House today for a celebration of American poetry and prose, which of course has provoked a political fire storm. 

Karl Rove, among other Republicans, is objecting to the inclusion of one of the artists showcased.  Let‘s see if you can guess which one.  The group includes Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Kenneth Goldsmith, Alison Knowles, Amy Mann, Jill Scott, Steve Martin and Common. 

That‘s right.  You guessed it.  It‘s not Steve Martin.  The right wing is outraged that Grammy-winner rapper Common has been invited to the White House for any purpose.  Karl Rove has gone so far as to link Common‘s appearance at a White House poetry event with 9/11. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR:  President Obama last week said he wanted to recapture that special moment we had after 9/11.  And here a week later we have an example of how this White House thinks it can recapture that moment, by inviting a thug to the White House. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  About an hour ago, Common performed this piece at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMMON, RAPPER:  Destiny‘s children, survivors, soldiers, in front of buildings, their eyes look older.  It‘s hard to see blessings in a violent culture, face against weapons, sirens, holsters. 

That ain‘t the way that Langston Hughes wrote us, soul controllers on the shoulders of Moses and Noah.  We go from being precious to Oprah, cultivated to overcome, ever since we came over.  Seize the day in the way that you can see the way to be determined. 

The soul that keeps burning, shorties know to keep learning.  Lessons in our life are like stripes that we earning.  I took Grant‘s advice that Christ is returning.  Like a thief in the night, I write for beacons of night, for those of us in dark alleys and parched valleys, street hits spark rallies of the conscience. 

Conquerors of a contest that seams beyond us.  Even through the unseen, I know that God watches.  From one King‘s dream, he was able to Barack us.  One King‘s dream, he was able to Barack us.  One King‘s dream, he was able to Barack us. 

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER:  I have a dream. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is Melissa Harris-Perry, an associate professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton and an MSNBC contributor.  Thanks for joining us tonight, Melissa.

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY:  Aren‘t you just frightened after that scary, scary poem? 

O‘DONNELL:  I did not see how that harmed the nation or the White House.  But that apparently is not the thing that has Republicans upset.  They found somewhere in Common‘s song book one—it‘s exactly one song that they have some lyrics in it that they don‘t like.  Isn‘t that it?

HARRIS-PERRY:  Well, you know, I suspect that Common is really just standing in here for hip-hop.  In other words, it‘s not really Common.  It‘s them sort of making a point about hip-hop culture.  And so calling him a thug is a way of saying that basically all of hip-hop culture is thuggish. 

It‘s kind of outside of the respectable limits of a president.  And of course, what they‘re missing here in that kind of critique is exactly that hip-hop is like all poetry, like all art, dare I say, like the Bible that Common evoked in that poem.

It‘s complex.  It‘s full of some positive images, some negative, some grotesque.  But many that make us uncomfortable in precisely the ways that art forms should make us uncomfortable. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  They have—they seized on particular lines in this one piece where he says “tell the law my oozy weighs a ton.  I walk like a warrior.  From them I won‘t run.” 

Which is not representative—as people who know Common‘s work, it‘s not representative of most of what he does.  In fact, the White House had to respond today specifically to those lyrics that the Republicans isolated.  Let‘s listen to what Jay Carney had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I would say that while the president doesn‘t support the kind of lyrics that have been raised here, we do think that the—some of these reports distort which Mr. Lynn stands for more broadly in order to stoke controversy. 

One of the things that the president appreciates is the work that Mr.  Lynn has done with children, especially in Chicago, trying to get them to focus on poetry as opposed to some of the negative influences of life on the streets. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Common‘s legal name, which I learned today, Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.  That‘s who Jay Carney was talking about.  Melissa, did you ever expect you‘d see a White House press secretary having to respond to individual lines in a Common song? 

HARRIS-PERRY:  Well, in that way, I suppose it‘s actually sort of great.  I‘m not that surprised given that a very common sort of youth cultural moment like the fist bump that the president and the First Lady gave one another during the campaign got called into question as a terrorist activity, and had to be sort of described and explained and critiqued for the American public. 

So in that sense, I guess I‘m not surprised.  You know, what I‘ll say is, that line, that oozy line, that notion of being armed against a government that is—that you consider to be illegitimate, that could be the theme song for the Tea Party, right? 

The question I think in part here is why is it OK for one group to have a critique of the federal government, and to have that critique and say that their response is to armed as individuals.  But when it‘s a young African-American man making a similar critique, its somehow beyond an acceptable limit of what the president should put up with. 

It does feel to me like there‘s a question here about again who has the legitimacy to offer a critique of their own government.

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m going to give Common THE LAST WORD, reading what he put on his Facebook today.  “Politics is politics and everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  I respect that.  The one thing that shouldn‘t be questioned is my support for the police officers and troops that protect us every day.  Peace y‘all.” 

Peace Melissa.  Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

HARRIS-PERRY:  Peace, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s all the time we have, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is next.  Thanks.  It‘s your turn, Rachel.  Take it over.

END   

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