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Msnbc Live at 6 p.m. ET, Thursday May 19th, 2011

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

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Guests: Bob Shrum, Mark McKinnon, Richard Wolffe, Alex Wagner, Martin Indyk, Hisham Melhem, Steven Clemons

CENK UYGUR, HOST:  Good evening, everybody.  I‘m Cenk Uygur.

Watch out.  Mama Grizzly may be coming out of hibernation.  Uh-oh. 

We‘re all in a lot of trouble. 

Now, we haven‘t heard much from Sarah Palin since all that talk about blood libel and whatnot, but with Newt Gingrich imploding, and Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump both out, all of a sudden Palin decided it was time to get back to her friends at Fox and talk about her presidential ambitions. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I‘m still seriously considering it and praying about it, and talking about it with family.  Still talking about it and assessing, yes, the field, looking for others who are ready to go rogue and fight against the machine on both sides of the aisle. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  How is Palin fighting the machine?  Palin?  Please. 

She described the kind of candidate that‘s right for the party, a candidate that, coincidentally, seems to match her, at least in her own mind. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  I want to make sure that we have a candidate out there with Tea Party principles.  We need to look at every one of these potential candidate‘s and declared candidate‘s records, see if they‘ve had opportunity to veto overspending in their city or their state, see if they have in their own personal lives lived a fiscally and socially conservative life. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Now, look at this.  A new poll shows Palin solidly in second place behind Mitt Romney.  Here she comes from behind!  And look, if he jumps in, she has got at least a threat to win the nomination at this point, which is amazing. 

Well, right now the GOP is facing a big choice—put your money on Palin, Michele Bachmann, and the rest of the far-right clowns of the earth, or bet on a moderate, or at least as moderate as a Republican can get.  “The New Yorker” calls this group “The Respectables”: Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels and Jon Huntsman. 

Today, the least known, but perhaps most interesting member of that group, Huntsman, is launching a four-day trip across New Hampshire.  His resume includes time as Utah governor and ambassador to China for President Obama, and some positions that might horrify the Republican base.

He called President Obama “a remarkable leader.”  He said the stimulus wasn‘t large enough.  He supported civil unions for same-sex couples.  And as governor, he supported a cap and trade initiative. 

Of course, now that he‘s in the race, he has furiously backpedaled away from that last position.  But look, all those positions make sense, and hence, they‘re total heresy to the conservative base.  Can someone with that record really win the GOP primary?  Well, that is the existential question facing this Republican Party.

Now, let‘s try to figure it out together.  Joining me now is Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, former adviser to John Kerry‘s 2004 presidential campaign; and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, cofounder of the No Labels movement, and former adviser to John McCain‘s 2008 presidential bid. 

Welcome both. 

MARK MCKINNON, CO-FOUNDER, NO LABELS:  Glad to be here. 

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Hi, Cenk.

UYGUR:  All right.  Let me start with you, Mark.

I mean, you‘ve got Huntsman over there sounding somewhat reasonable. 

Does he have a prayer in a Republican primary? 

MCKINNON:  Well, I hope so.  Jon Huntsman is my kind of candidate, and I think that there‘s a lot of Republicans out there who have been—want a message like that, have been hungry for a message like that.  And we haven‘t been hearing it lately.

So he‘s a very good guy.  I like him a lot.  And he‘s charismatic, has a lot of good ideas.  And he‘s got some money, and he‘s putting together a very good team.  He‘s got a great team, and he‘s been very aggressive, so he‘s going to run hard.  So obviously it‘s going to be difficult given the dynamics of history in Republican primaries, but he‘s got a good shot. 

Now, to your point about Palin, nature abhors a vacuum and so does politics.  And there‘s a vacuum right now in the social conservative space.  We‘ve got social conservative space, we have an establishment space, and a progressive space. 

Nobody‘s in there now in the social conservative space, so there‘s a being opening for a Bachmann, a Santorum, a Palin, a Herman Cain.  Somebody is going to jump in and try to fill that. 

UYGUR:  Well, Bob, let‘s talk about whether Sarah Palin has a chance there, because look at these numbers.

Her name recognition is 96 percent.  That‘s not surprising, but that‘s obviously a huge advantage.  And then within Republican voters, look.  Seventy-two percent still have a favorable opinion and only 26 percent with an unfavorable opinion. 

So, if you‘re looking at a Republican primary, why not?

SHRUM:  Well, look, first of all, I think her 12 percent is a pretty poor showing for someone who has the level of name recognition she does and was the vice presidential nominee the last time.  I think Mark is right that there‘s an opening for her or for Michele Bachmann, who may take up her space in that social conservative area, but I think that she‘s probably, in the end, more interested in accumulating dollar bills than sitting in the Oval Office and appointing the secretary of treasury who signs them.  So I don‘t think she‘ll do it. 

I think that Jon Huntsman is someone Democrats ought to take very seriously.  I think Mark is entirely right about it. 

He actually fills the space that George W. Bush filled in 2000.  We all see Bush now from a different perspective, but in 2000, he ran as the compassionate conservative, the reasonable conservative.  I think Huntsman is a conservative, but he is a conservative who has a record and  positions that make people more comfortable with him in a general electorate.  I don‘t know whether he can get by a Republican primary, because a party that was capable last year of nominating Christine O‘Donnell, who had to deny she was a witch, for the Senate in Delaware, may not be willing to nominate someone like Huntsman. 

UYGUR:  But you know, Mark, you‘re more familiar with this than almost anyone else.  When you look at what Bop just said, which is a good point—remember, Bush ran—of course you remember better than anybody else that he ran as a compassionate conservative.  And then John McCain was theoretically the most moderate out of all the candidates last time around.

So if that‘s the trend, shouldn‘t these guys actually by running as moderates? 

MCKINNON:  Well, in my view, yes.  I mean, compassionate conservative was a great message for Republicans in 2000.  I think it still is.

You know, the mistake that parties and candidates make is looking to the past about the vision for the party or the candidacy.  Huntsman is the guy that‘s looking around the corner.

He is the guy that‘s got evolving evolutionary positions for Republicans, which I think is the right direction for the party.  It‘s about the future, and so, you know, there‘s some fundamental principles that I think are important for Republicans.  But it‘s important to reinvent ourselves and make sure we‘re looking to the future, and Jon Huntsman is doing that. 

UYGUR:  Well, I want to read you a quote from Huntsman people in “The Washington Post.”  Actually, “The Washington Post” quotes him here as saying, “Huntsman‘s aides reject the suggestion that he is a moderate.  One called it the M-word and describe the former Utah governor as a mainstream conservative.”

So, Bob, you know, again, it‘s the same question that they have been wrestling with this whole time.  On the one hand, you had the so-called moderates within that race in 2000 and then 2008 winning the presidential primary.  On the other hand you have the Christine O‘Donnells and you have Bob Bennett getting run out of the Senate in Utah.  You‘ve got all these new primaries where the radicals seem to be winning. 

How do you position yourself if you‘re a Republican?  How do you figure that out, especially if a guy like Huntsman, who is clearly the most moderate in the race, is running away from the moderate label? 

SHRUM:  Well, I think what you don‘t do is try to change everything that you were.  Even when Huntsman backed away on cap and trade, he didn‘t back away on principle, didn‘t say he disagreed with it in principle.  He said it was the wrong time given the condition of the economy to move ahead on this.  I think Mitt Romney has done himself a huge amount of damage by coming across as incredibly inauthentic and constantly trying to adapt himself to the primary electorate. 

What was clever about what Bush did—and Mark was very much part of it in 2000 -- was he said he was a conservative, but he said he was a compassionate conservative.  And it made him sound like a different kind of conservative.  You can debate whether he was or he wasn‘t, but that‘s how he came across to the electorate.  And I think when they use the term “mainstream conservative,” they actually want to say he‘s conservative, but that mainstream is there to also position him as someone who could win a general election.

And let me tell you, when they turn the Obama stuff against him and say he was Obama‘s ambassador to China, he‘s probably going to say, no, I was America‘s ambassador to China.  And then he‘s going to use that foreign policy credential to critique the Obama foreign policy. 

I wouldn‘t write him off.  I just don‘t know whether Mark‘s right or Mark‘s hope will come true that a Republican primary electorate can accept someone like this, this year. 

UYGUR:  Mark, let‘s stay with that point, because the president obviously thinks giving a big old bear hug, speaking of grizzlies, to Huntsman and Romney is a smart strategy so that it suffocates them in the primaries.  He‘s done that previously with Huntsman, he just did it again with Romney.  I want to show it to you.

Let‘s watch it first. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  With a little assist from the former governor of Massachusetts, we said that health care should no longer be a privilege in this country.  We said that in the United States of America, just like here in Massachusetts, you should never go broke because you get sick. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Mark, is that a smart strategy, or does that maybe help them in some way if they make it out of the primary? 

MCKINNON:  Oh, I think it‘s a good strategy on the president‘s part, but Bob‘s point was a very good one about authenticity. 

The problem for Romney in the last election was that he didn‘t really run as who he was.  He was a good governor with a strong business background, and he went around and kissed all the rings on the right and turned into a pretzel. 

Jon Huntsman is not doing that.  He‘s a very authentic guy, and he can say, when I got called to serve, I didn‘t get called to serve a party, I got called to serve a country, and I‘m a patriot and I stood up and served the country.  So I think that‘s a great message for him.

And again, he comes across as very authentic.  So, in the end, what people are looking for and what voters are looking for is somebody who‘s real, who‘s consistent and credible, and human. 

UYGUR:  Mark, real quick, in the final analysis, even though Palin has a huge lead right now above somebody like Huntsman, do you think Huntsman has a better chance than Palin?

SHRUM:  Oh, yes.  I think Huntsman has a much better chance than Palin. 

I think Palin‘s sell-by date has already come and gone.  I think people basically are not going to see her as presidential.  I don‘t think she can—if she wins Iowa, if she enters Iowa and wins it, I think she‘ll fall flat in the subsequent primaries.  She may open that social conservative space, but then I don‘t think a social conservative will be the nominee. 

UYGUR:  Right.

SHRUM:  You know, sometimes you can look at people.  Newt Gingrich is another example.  You can look at her and you could say, maybe it was plausible at some point in the past, it‘s not plausible now. 

Frankly, I‘m hoping that Huntsman doesn‘t take off, because I think he would be the most serious threat to the president in the general election. 

UYGUR:  Mark, real quick, do you agree? 

MCKINNON:  I do.  I think that, actually, Michele Bachmann is more likely to win the Iowa caucus right now.  But even if she does, and she can win South Carolina, she‘s not going to win the nomination, unlikely.  And the reality is that somebody like Jon Huntsman would be a much better general election candidate. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Bob Shrum and Mark McKinnon, fascinating.  Thank you both for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it. 

SHRUM:  Thanks, Cenk.

MCKINNON:  Kick it hard and carry on, regardless. 

UYGUR:  All right. 

Now, here‘s a news flash.  It turns out things are not going well for Newt Gingrich.  First, he lost the entire conservative movement.  Now his donors are leaving as well.  But wait until you hear his unbelievable excuse today on his Paul Ryan comments. 

And President Obama delivers a big speech on the Middle East, and the right-wingers of course are already on the attack. 

You know what?  I‘m going to attack back. 

And the head of the Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa, needs to launch an investigation on himself.  He gets or “Con Job of the Day.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left wing social engineering. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH:  There are things you can do to improve Medicare.

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  But now what Paul Ryan is suggesting is completely changing Medicare? 

GINGRICH:  I think that that is too big a jump. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Newt Gingrich can‘t run far enough from his Ryan-bashing comments on “Meet the Press.”  First, he tried to take them back.  Then he apologized for them.  And now he‘s denying he was even talking about Ryan to begin with.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH:  My wife Callista has known him since he was an intern.  I mean, we‘re big fans of Paul Ryan.  It was not a reference to Paul Ryan.  There was no reference to Paul Ryan in that answer.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Really?  You were answering a question about Paul Ryan, but not referring to Paul Ryan? 

Come on.  That‘s just pathetic. 

First, there was the flip-flopping, then the groveling.  And now the latest strategy of course is just to deny reality.  That‘s Republican 101.

But luckily, he had someone to step up to his defense.  Here she is comes again, the Mama Grizzly. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  There‘s got to be the preparation on all the candidates‘ parts for those “gotchas.”  That‘s what the lame-stream media is known for nowadays, is the “gotcha,” trip-up questions, and you just have to be prepared for it and overcome it.  Don‘t even participate in that goofy game that‘s been played now for too many years with the leftist lame-stream media, trying to twist a candidate‘s words. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  That‘s classic Palin.  Blame the media for quoting someone accurately. 

You know, they keep calling it the “lame-stream media.”  First of all, who says that?  What are you, a third grader?  “That‘s the lame-mainstream media.”

Second, you know what‘s lame?  Crying about the press asking you the simplest questions of all time. 

These people are running for president, and they cry like babies the minute they screw something up.  Oh, the media made me do it.  They asked me a question that prompted a dumb answer from me.  Why did they do it to me? 

Look, if you can‘t take the heat, then get out of the race. 

That‘s what it looks like might be happening to Gingrich anyway, because his Ryan comments have now hit him where it counts the most, his pocketbook.  His real problem is not Rush Limbaugh or “The Wall Street Journal” beating him up.  It‘s that he‘s losing his one advantage—money. 

Remember, Newt raked in $32 million between ‘09 and 2010, but after all of his missteps, Newt‘s fund-raisers are apparently running for the hills.  “The Huffington Post” reports that in the 24 hours after appearing on “Meet the Press,” Newt lost 13 of the 18 co-chairs involved in an upcoming fund-raising event. 

One Republican strategist tells The Huff Post, “The last 48 hours have called into question if Newt can even make it to July 4th, because his fund-raising is going to dry up.”

And that‘s why you see the panic in his eyes as he goes on a sad, sad apology tour. 

All right.  Joining me now, MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe and “Huffington Post” reporter Alex Wagner, who‘s also, by the way, an MSNBC analyst. 

All right.  Great to have you guys here. 

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Thanks, thanks. 

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC  POLITICAL ANALYST:  Thanks, Cenk. 

UYGUR:  All right.

Richard, let me start with you.  I mean, I know Republicans do this all the time, where they just deny reality.  That led to the hilarious line from Stephen Colbert nobody could forget, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”  See, I almost forgot it.

Anyway, but is this an effective strategy, to say don‘t believe your lying eyes even though I‘m on tape?  Believe me instead? 

WOLFFE:  Well, it‘s not effective, because he‘s made himself look weak and inauthentic.  In fact, he‘s turned himself into Mitt Romney.  Who would have predicted that Newt Gingrich would have had to have pulled a Romney on us and denied what he said or denied his previous positions.

The irony here is that Gingrich, of course, told the truth, that, actually, the reasonable position is not to go for radical change on either side.  He‘s given a gift to all Democrats, because if Ryan‘s plan is too radical for Gingrich, then it‘s too radical for most voters in America. 

But on top of that, the echoes of the ‘90s are just unmissable.  When you have Gingrich going out, saying that somehow, he didn‘t mean to talk about Paul Ryan, even though it was a Paul Ryan question, it just makes you remember what kind of arguments they made about Bill Clinton and his legal quibbling, and why he couldn‘t tell the truth.  He‘s doing it all over again, except he‘s the subject of his own movie. 

UYGUR:  Right.  Well, he also attacked Clinton for having an extramarital affair while having an extramarital affair. 

WOLFFE:  It‘s funny you should bring that up. 

UYGUR:  Right.  Funny, I know.

Alex, so let‘s talk about those funders.  I mean, that‘s the real analysis here, because it‘s one thing to get criticized by the “lame-stream media,” or by conservative media.  But it‘s another thing when you lose the money.  Right?

WAGNER:  Right.  I think that there‘s two sides to this coin.  One is the public perception which, you know, Gingrich is trying to counter with pictures of Iowa supporters coming out and rallying to his speeches.  But the other side is that there‘s some real blowback from the GOP base, and that includes funders.

And we know, just based on previous numbers, that the donor base has been slow to come to this race.  There‘s a lot of hesitancy all over the table in terms of who is going to endorse whom and who is going to actually pony up with some dollars. 

The fact that, as Jon Ward from “The Huffington Post” reported today, that 13 of the 18 donors he had lined up for a southern fundraiser were bailing is a testament to just how completely volatile this entire race is.  I mean, on Saturday, it‘s we love you, Newt.  And on Tuesday, it‘s an ugly divorce.  I think it‘s a testament to people not knowing who is going to be the lead horse in this, and fundamentally, the candidates not having a real grasp on the base and their own messaging.

UYGUR:  And Richard, I think most of all it speaks to the spectrum shift, not in the country, but in Washington, D.C., because Newt Gingrich, for all his flip-flops, in the end his actual position on Medicare is exactly where it was in the mid-1990s, when it was considered totally radical.  And now it‘s considered too liberal for the Republicans. 

Haven‘t we seen this giant shift in the spectrum? 

WOLFFE:  We have, but the most dramatic shift has been among Republicans.  Remember that this is a party that now wants to say that everything in health care reform, in President Obama‘s health care reform, is outrageous, radical and socialist.  The biggest piece of it is actually cutting the cost of Medicare. 

That should be something that Republicans agree with and stand up for.  Instead, they try and pretend that it‘s socialist and out of the mainstream when it‘s exactly what they had been preaching from the Gingrich period onwards. 

As you suggested, David Gregory‘s question was not peripheral.  It wasn‘t a “gotcha.”  This is what Republicans have nailed their colors to.  This is what they have voted for.

It is totally on point and right at the heart of this debate about what government should do, what our obligations are to each other.  So this is what they should be thinking about.  And for Gingrich, he‘s very familiar with the subjects, not like he came to health care last week. 

UYGUR:  Alex, I want to show you a video put together by the DNC.  They want to hit Gingrich on this, and of course all the Republicans as well.  Let‘s watch it first then get your reaction. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

ANNOUNCER:  On Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said this --  

GINGRICH:  I don‘t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. 

ANNOUNCER:  On Monday, the Republicans and the right wing fought back. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He did nothing less than attack a sacred cow in the Republican party. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  With allies like that, who needs the left? 

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  The attack on Paul Ryan—folks, don‘t ask me to explain this. 

ANNOUNCER:  So, on Tuesday night, this happened --  

GINGRICH:  I made a mistake. 

ANNOUNCER:  Newt learned the hard way.  Ending Medicare is the new GOP litmus test. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UYGUR:  Alex, are what they are doing here, really not going after Gingrich, but making sure all the other Republican candidates have to stick to the Ryan Plan, which is disastrously unpopular? 

WAGNER:  Absolutely.  I mean, as Richard said, this is a gift to the Democrats. 

I mean, you look at what happened to Paul Ryan when he was out in the country selling this plan, and you had these riotous town halls.  The Democrats loved that.  This is only furthering that. 

I mean, the idea—and I think to the earlier points, look, this idea that somehow this was a “gotcha” question for Newt Gingrich, this was something that he should have been prepared for.  And this is a bedrock social program that the Republicans are proposing to drastically alter. 

To not be prepared for that, or to pretend that somehow he‘s a blushing bride on this issue, I think is a huge stretch.  And again, Jon Stewart pointed this out—that was his 35th appearance on “Meet the Press.”  This guy is not new to this game. 

UYGUR:  Right.  And everybody calls him brilliant.  I think he‘s very, very far from that. 

But Richard Wolffe and Alex Wagner, thank you both for joining us tonight.  A great conversation, as always. 

WAGNER:  Thanks, Cenk. 

WOLFFE:  Thanks, Cenk. 

UYGUR:  All right.

Now, when we come back, Darrell Issa is the last guy that should be in charge of oversight based on how much his company kept from the government.  We‘ll tell you why his job of oversight is a total con job.  That‘s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Now for our “Con Job of the Day.” 

The House Republican in charge of oversight apparently didn‘t do much oversight of his own company as they were cheating the U.S. government out of money that they owed.  Before Darrell Issa was elected  to Congress, he owned a car alarm company  called DEI Holdings. 

His family still has a stake in it and Issa still sits on the board.  But somehow he didn‘t notice that for years, DEI was only paying about half of the tariffs for products imported from China, which of course saved them millions of dollars. 

“The San Diego Union-Tribune” reports that just this year, DEI finally paid $2.5 million in back fees.  Issa issued a statement saying, “Once these issues came to the attention of the board of directors, we called for an independent review by expert counsel.”

Well, that seems plausible, right?  They did some wrong accounting, and then they fixed it, and look, that‘s how it goes.  Right?  That happens all the time, except that‘s not what happened. 

The fact is Issa‘s company paid Uncle Sam a year after it discovered the underpayments, and only after executive Mike Wilhelm filed a whistleblower complaint.  Wilhelm said, “They weren‘t going to do it unless I forced them to.  Frankly, I became ashamed to work there.”

How do you like that kind of oversight?

But, undeterred, Issa is still the point man for the Republicans in making sure no one cheats the government. 

Man, they‘ve got a sense of humor.  In fact, look at what Issa ironically said about the president. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. DARRELL ISSA ®, CALIFORNIA:  There will be a certain degree of gridlock as the president adjusts to the fact that he has been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Now, since then, Issa has walked those comments back a little bit, maybe after he realized that he lives in a giant glass house. 

Issa‘s claims to care about corruption as he hid millions from the U.S. government is our “Con Job of the Day.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)  

UYGUR:  In a broad speech today, the president sought to address the huge changes taking place in the Middle East.  He chided allies like Bahrain for tamping down democratic uprisings, and he announced economic incentives and the supporting democratic change in places like Egypt and Tunisia.  That was all good and fairly uncontroversial, but what everyone is talking about is this call for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES:  The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  I think that‘s the most uncontroversial think I ever heard, but the Republicans are in a rage over it.  But the president also tried to dissuade the Palestinians from trying to form their own state through the United Nations. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure.  Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won‘t create an independent state.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Which makes no sense to me.  Israel got their state through the United Nations, why shouldn‘t the Palestinians?  But then he also asked Israel to compromise to resolve the conflict.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Precisely because of our friendship, it‘s important that we tell the truth.  The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.  The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  That also seems incredibly obvious to me, but of course the Republicans are also steaming mad about that.  I guess they are for a permanent occupation and oppression of millions of people.  Perhaps, I shouldn‘t be surprised by that. 

Joining me now is a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, he‘s now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.  Martin Indyk, thank you so much for your time tonight.  We appreciate you coming on with us.  

MARTIN INDYK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE:  Thanks for having me.  

UYGUR:  All right.  First, I want to start with this question of the 1967 borders, I don‘t know why that‘s controversial.  Didn‘t the Bush administration basically back that as well and the whole international community is behind it.  Is that a sort of controversy?

INDYK:  Well, in this sense, that is the first time that a president of the United States has said definitively that the borders of the Palestinian state should be based on the 67 lines with agreed swaps.  That means that the settlement blocks, which comprise about 70 percent of the Israelis settlers, those blocks are along—to the 67 lines in the West Bank, that they would be annexed to Israel in exchange for equivalent territory from Israel.  That‘s been the basis for the negotiations ever since Camp David back in 2000.  The president has never explicitly stated that before.  

UYGUR:  Right.  But it doesn‘t seem controversial.  It seems that‘s exactly where they driving the whole time.  And then the other second part was that his mentioning of the permanent occupation that there should not be one.  Is the controversial?  Obviously, there shouldn‘t be a permanent occupation.  Is there anybody arguing, yes, let‘s occupy the Palestinian people forever?

INDYK:  No, I don‘t think so, and I think your first point is right, too, that the Palestinian state is going to have to be established on the West Bank in Gaza if there‘s going to be a two-state solution, which most Israelis and most Palestinians accept.  You know, it‘s not going to be based on the moon.  It‘s going to be in the West Bank.  And so it shouldn‘t be controversial, but the 67 borders have a whole lot of connotations that have grown up over the years, and so there‘s kind of a demystification process going on here.  But I think the other thing that should be borne in mind is not only the president put that down as a term of reference for negotiations but he also put down some very clear markers about Israel‘s security.  And that‘s the critical trade here between territory and security.  There has to be a way of reconciling the need for the Palestinians to have a sovereign  contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank based on 67 lines and assurances for Israel‘s security that that  makes sure that that territory does not become a springboard for attacks on Israel proper.  

UYGUR:  Right.  And we‘ve been talking about that for decades now, and apparently Israel—I don‘t know if they‘re ever going to be assured of that security.  The president mentioned it again about how Hamas et cetera have to recognize their right to exist, actually we‘ll show you that right now.  That‘s our clip number two here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel.  How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  But ambassador Indyk, there‘s a tremendous irony here.  Israel is constantly saying, hey—right now has the right to exist while not allowing the Palestinians a right to exist, literally.  Not theoretically, not rhetorically, literally. 

INDYK:  No, I think that‘s right.  I mean, you‘ve got the Oslo Accords, which make clear a recognition  of Palestinian legitimate rights and then subsequent statements by Israeli prime ministers, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, that Israel is prepared to accept a two-state solution and have an independent Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state of Israel.  The question is, where is it going to be?  And that‘s what the negotiations have to be about, and what the president has done here is delineate the borders that that—the state will have to be based on with adjustments to take account of those settlement blocks.  That‘s the basic terms of reference for a deal that will separate Israelis from Palestinians.  I think the majority was raise, the majority of Palestinians want that or ready for that, the problem is how do we get there?  How do we get in these negotiations so that we can resolve this conflict once and for all?  And that still is elusive.  And the president didn‘t in his speech outline any kind of road map for actually getting negotiations started.  He basically said it‘s up to the parties themselves.  

UYGUR:  Right.  Unfortunately that‘s where we‘re stuck, where it‘s the leaders of both sides who won‘t come to an agreement, even though it seems everybody roughly agrees what the agreement should be, whether it‘s the Palestinian and Israeli people, whether it‘s the international community.  We‘ll see what happens with those leaders next of course.  Ambassador Martin Indyk, thank you so much for joining us.  We really appreciate it.  

INDYK:  Thank you.  

UYGUR:  And now, joining me, Washington Bureau Chief of Arabiya News Channel Hisham Melhem.  Also with us, senior fellow at the New America Foundation Steven Clemons.  Great to have you guys here. 

Steven, let me start with you.  Even though as we just discussed, I think the comments seem incredibly uncontroversial, the Republicans are in a rage anyway.  Let me give you some of their comments, so, and have you respond.  Here‘s Michele Bachmann.  She says, once again, President Obama has betrayed our friend and ally Israel.  Romney says, President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus, and Santorum says the current administration needs to come to terms with its confused and dangerous foreign policy.  What on God‘s green earth are with they talking about?

STEVEN CLEMONS, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION:  Well, I think they‘re trying to, you know, in a wrongheaded way, do a better fundraising for their campaigns.  The real story that they haven‘t looked at it is Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, leaders in the American Jewish Committee, the National Jewish Defense Council, have all issued statements today in the last couple of hours applauding President Obama‘s speech.  So, they are these republican contenders for the presidency are at odds with the community they think they‘re trying to help. 

I think the president‘s speech was bold complex, there certainly lot of questions it raises, but I think as you said, most of the lines you raise should be noncontroversial, but he went off and he checked off taboo box after taboo box, and opened up the door on other issues, and of course Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to be speaking here this week in Washington.  And I think he wanted to basically say, we‘re still in this action.  You know, George Mitchell just resigned this past week, but you know, I think the president wanted to say we‘re not out of the Arab-Israeli peace business and he‘s going to keep an ore in the water and I‘m very pleased to see leading Jewish organizations in the United States come out and praise the president‘s speech. 

UYGUR:  You know, I think it was Andrew Sullivan that said it looks like the Republicans are now on the same side as the most ardent West Bank settlers.  So, they‘re beyond the right wing—the Israeli governor. 

CLEMONS:  Beyond the Likud. 

UYGUR:  Yes, it‘s crazy.  But, all right.  So, Hisham, let‘s talk about one part of the speech I actually disagreed with.  When he said that the Palestinian should not pursue statehood in the United Nations, I don‘t see why not.  That‘s what Israel did.  Why shouldn‘t the Palestinians do? 

HISHAM MELHEM, AL ARABIYA NEWS CHANNEL:  Well, I mean, that‘s his concession to the Israelis.  I agree with you.  I think the United States should not veto under resolution like that because United States has been calling for a Palestinian state.  This president has been calling for a Palestinian state.  And he reiterated today the obvious, which would be based on the 1967 border.  And by the way, let me remind everybody that Hillary Clinton gave a speech where she formulated the same issue almost verbatim, word for word, that the states should be based on the 1967 borders, and of course the president today used the word “full withdrawal” from the West Bank with minor swaps. 

Now, I think the president was criticized, and I think correctly, in the region for not standing up to the Israelis, for not vetoing resolutions condemning settlements and for not being very critical of Israel in the international arena.  And people are going to say, this is your fourth eloquent speech and now it‘s time for you to translate this beautiful rhetoric into reality.  And I think today, he tried to do that, and I think it was an interesting balance when he tried to convince the Israelis and the Palestinians that they should start with the issue of territory and borders, to deal with issue of settlements.  And leave the harder issue of refugees and Jerusalem to later.  And I think the president is going to be criticized by Israel‘s amend corner in the United States, but essentially I think thoughtful Israelis and Palestinians should see that there is enough in this speech to resume the negotiations.  Obviously, there‘s no road map here, but the president here is restating certain basic principles, reminding everybody that we know what is the contour for final peace, a Palestinian state and an Israeli state.  

UYGUR:  All right.  Steve, look, I want to ask you the same question.  Because there‘s two different perspectives here, right.  There‘s the U.S.  perspective, where I guess some of the Republicans are outraged at the simplest things he said about Israel.  And then there‘s the international perspective, which thinks that Palestinians going to the United Nations to ask for statehood is perfectly reasonable.  And I honestly don‘t even see the argument against it.  What is it?  What‘s the argument for, no, you shouldn‘t ask for your rights in the United Nations?

CLEMONS:  Well, you know, you‘re asking me to argue a side I don‘t agree with, but the side I would agree to understand what they go is that the president framed it as an effort to deal legitimate Israel and its rights and security and I think what the president was trying to do is say to Palestinians that we can‘t have an  effort that is part of something other than Palestine trying to achieve its interests in a responsible and coherent way that recognizes Israel‘s right to exist on its borders, and that both sides can sort of fairly and squarely live right next to each other.  What I think is the real fundamental flaw to some degree in the way the president sees this, however, the other side of this is, the Palestinians have been told for 20 some odd years, you know, be part of this process, behave, don‘t fire rockets at Israel, don‘t do—and Hamas of course has not agreed to this. 

Hamas has often been the winner in the eyes of many Palestinians and see very frequently as a more legitimate force, because it refuses to sort to be buckled under.  And why other parts of the state were somewhat acquiescing, and so Hamas for years has been the one inventing leverage with Israel.  They are the ones that got concessions from Israel, or prisoners released or able to push Israel one way or another.  Now, we‘re seeing a nonviolent creation of leverage, a kind of civil disobedience if you will, by Mahmoud Abbas, doing not what‘s being asked of him, and I think it‘s extremely important in this age of the Arab spring that what Abbas is doing is he‘s using the levers of international civil society, not through violence, but using the U.N. and other ways to say, we are here, take us seriously and he‘s inventing political leverage.  And I think President Obama is worried about it, because what he‘s doing is very credible and very important. 

UGYUR:  Look, Steve and Hisham, I couldn‘t agree more with you guys.  I think that is exactly the right way to go.  Finally nonviolence, civil disobedience and asking for your rights.  I don‘t think there‘s anything wrong with that.  So, if anything, I think the president‘s speech was, you know, too much leaning towards Israel.  Of course, the Republicans will lose their minds if they hear that, but that will be fun to watch either way.  But Hisham Melhem and Steve Clemons, again, both of you, thank you so much for joining us this evening. 

CLEMONS:  Thank you, Cenk. 

MELHEM:  Thank you.

UYGUR:  All right.  Now, remember these pictures?  Union workers in

Wisconsin fighting for their collective rights?  It inspired a group in California who fought back and just might get a big win.  

And was Newt Gingrich raise baiting when he called President Obama, quote, “the most successful food stamp president in the American history.”  Sarah Palin is coming to his defense.  Again, don‘t worry, I‘m going on the offense.                          

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Is newt Gingrich race baiting?  Sarah Palin doesn‘t think so. 

You‘ll never guess who she‘s blaming.  We‘ll be back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Democrats got bid bad in the fall midterms, but now in local battle across the country, there are new signs every day that the tide is actually turning.  Look, in Jacksonville, Florida, Mayor-elect Alvin Brown is the first democrat in nearly two decades to win office.  A Florida Times-Union columnist writes a state GOP leaders are, quote, “in shock.”  Who‘s to blame?  Many point the finger at Republican Governor Rick Scott.  In New Hampshire, Republicans crushed Democrats in the fall, taking a nearly 200 seat majority, but this week, a democrat won a special election for a seat recently vacated by a republican.  A result local papers are calling a big upset.  At a congressional race in Upstate, New York could be the biggest shocker of all.  A district that‘s been republican nearly the whole time since the civil war could flip in next week‘s special election. 

Democratic Kathy Hochul is actually in the lead according to one poll. 

And finally, remember those union-crushing bills in Ohio and Wisconsin?  Well, union workers at one hospital in California are showing everyone how to fight back.  They were asked to take layoffs and cuts their pension and health benefits instead of accepting the cuts, they asked why the outgoing CEO of the hospital was getting a nearly $4 million payout.  Now, in order of the hospital, has been ordered and there have been no cuts yet.  You see that?  Victory is possible. 

With me now is John Borsos, vice president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, part of what made that victory possible like union represents 850 workers of the Salinas Valley Memorial, the hospital where this is all playing out.  Thanks so much for joining us.  We really appreciate it. 

JOHN BORSOS, NATIONAL UNION OF HEALTHCARE WORKERS:  I appreciate being here.

UYGUR:  All right.  So, tell me about what was initially going to happen and how you guys fought it? 

BORSOS:  Yes.  The hospital came to us and proposed significant cutbacks on staff as well as pension and health care.  And we began to research the hospital and found out in the last five years, and made $100 million in profits.  The more we dug, we found out that the CEO was making double what the president of the United States makes, four times what the governor of California makes and it turned out that he had several rates pension plans, and we begin to bring up public attention to that, just as caregivers and facility came together and united, and said that if the hospital goes forward and insists on cuts, they‘re going to stand up and fight including taking strikes actions if necessary. 

UYGUR:  I mean, look at that.  They‘re asking you to take pension cuts, while the guys getting seven or eight different pensions.  I don‘t even know how they justify that.  And I mean, this is also a public arena.  So, how is this guy getting $4 million?  What‘s their justification?

BORSOS:  Well, they said that it‘s necessary for them to remain competitive, but we‘re not aware of anyone else in the state who has that kind of exorbitant pension plan.  And then on top of that, they hired consultants where they‘re paying last year $10 million to do the same exact job that they‘ve overpaid this gentleman and his executive team to do.  So, from our perspective, they seem to have a lot of money to pay for executives and consultants when it comes to having caregivers at the bed side.  They‘re available to take care of patients, that‘s where they want to scrimped and safe, and we think that‘s just completely inappropriate.  

UYGUR:  You know, I know a lot of businesses do this.  But I think if you‘re paying a CEO $4 million, then he shouldn‘t need $10 million in consulting.  He‘s the CEO.  He should be able to figured out before million bucks.  But look, I want to talk about how you got to a point where you‘re at a bit of a stalemate here, how you fought back.  What did you do?  Did you go to the papers?  How did you get this stop on its track?

BORSOS:  Well, we did a number of things.  Under the California Public Records Act, we requested an amount of information to get some of these details.  We began to talk to the newspapers.  We began to do actions outside of the hospitals, we spent a lot of time talking to our members and educating them about what was going on at the hospital.  And we began to stand up and fight.  Unfortunately the same thing that‘s happening, in Salinas is happening in other employers in California including Kaiser Permanente where yesterday, 2500 NUHW members stood up and struck actually for a day to protest these kinds of actions.  So, it‘s bringing caregivers together to stand up, to hold public officials, executives accountable.  And that‘s what we did at Salinas and that‘s what we‘re doing at Kaiser Permanente as well. 

UYGUR:  Yes, that‘s the whole point of unions is to stick together.  So, John Borsos of the National Union of Health Care Workers, thank you so much for joining us tonight.  We really appreciate it.  

BORSOS:  Thank you very much for having me.  

UYGUR:  Thank you.  A lot to learn from that case.  Now, when we come back, is Newt Gingrich using race-based attacks against President Obama?  We‘ll show you the comments and let you be the judge.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Well, there have been some questions about how some of the republican candidates have gone after President Obama.  I have some of their tax been raised based.  While I think with Trump it was fairly clear when he questioned the president‘s background, he questioned his education, even though his investigation is stellar, and then he said he should get off the basketball court.  I don‘t think it was really that subtle.  Well, Newt Gingrich hasn‘t been that much more subtle, and now there are questions regarding him as well. 

Remember, he told “The National Review” quote, what if Obama is so outside of her comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan anti-colonial behavior can you begin to piece together his actions?  That is the most accurate predictive model for his behavior.  Really?  The Kenyan model?  He never lived in Kenya.  Nothing about Kenya.  That‘s unbelievable.  So, I don‘t know, maybe for some white Republicans that are in the primaries, they think, well, that‘s subtle, and I‘m not sure where he‘s going with it.  I think for a lot of minorities in this country, it‘s not that subtle.  But if that was the only thing, you say, all right, you let it go, but look at all the other things that have added up.  When he talked about food stamps, for example, let‘s look at that.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  President Obama is the most successful food stamp president in history.  More people are in food stamps today than at any point in American history.  And he‘s proud of it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  A second bizarre reference.  But then, when David Gregory asked on “Meet The Press” for him to explain that, he had this bizarre answer.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH:  He follows the same destructive political model that destroyed the city of Detroit.  I follow the model that Rick Perry and others have used to create more jobs in Texas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Detroit versus Texas, hmm, what is he referring at?  Detroit, who lives in Detroit?  And who lives in Texas?  I can‘t quite make it out.  Well, one person did step up to his defense.  And it was a bizarre one. 

It‘s Sarah Palin, look at what she said.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  Well, talking about racism. 

That was a racist-tinged question from David Gregory. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UGYUR:  So, it was racist to ask him whether he was being racist by bringing up the food stamps?  That is the most bizarre defense I have ever seen.  Look, that‘s what they love to do.  They throw it out there and go, what us?  Oh, never that. 

All right.  That‘s what we‘ve got time for today.  Thank you for watching.  “HARDBALL” starts right now. 

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

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