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Msnbc Live at 6 p.m. ET, Tuesday May 31st, 2011

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

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Guests: Richard Wolffe, Shushannah Walshe, Ken Vogel, Steve Kornacki, Susan

Crabtree, Michael Steele, Ed Rendell, Jeffrey Rosen

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

Tonight, Sarah Palin is having dinner with Donald Trump, and the gravitational force of that media black hole may, in fact, cause the universe to implode.  Palin is meeting “The Donald” at the Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan.  The two will then break bread at a secret location somewhere in the city. 

Oh, the excitement.  It‘s getting to me. 

No doubt, Palin will be taking copious notes on how exactly to run a fake presidential race.  Remember, she was supposed to be going on a tour of important historical sites in America.  Does she think that Trump Tower is one of those?  Oh, golly, gee, I remember when Washington climbed the Trump Tower. 

Well, to be fair, earlier today, the Palin bus tour did stop in Philadelphia, where she visited the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  She says this is just your typical family vacation and has nothing to do with presidential politics. 

Yes, I know.  My family usually rents a giant bus with the Constitution on it when we go on vacation. 

Who‘s buying that?  But Palin says she is just that unconventional. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FMR. VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The mainstream media are looking for a kind of conventional—a campaign-type tour.  And I‘ve said from the beginning, this isn‘t a campaign tour.  It‘s not about me, it‘s not a publicity-seeking tour. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Wait.  If it‘s not a campaign tour and it isn‘t to seek publicity, then what the hell is it?  Why are you in that giant bus? 

Now, that clip was, of course, from an interview with Fox News. 

That‘s just about the only media outlet Palin is talking to these days.  The rest of the press corps is reduced to shouting questions from the sidelines. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you think the odds are that you will run? 

PALIN:  I don‘t know.  I honestly don‘t know.  It‘s still a matter of looking at the field. 

I think that there will be more strong candidates jumping in.  Truly, there is still a lot of time for folks to make up their mind and jump in and get their campaigns together.  The field isn‘t set yet, not by a long shot. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  I mean, there‘s just a lot of time for me to keep grabbing those headlines and charging more for my books later. 

Well, look, in the end, that giant sucking sound you just heard, well, that‘s all the oxygen leaving the room in the Republican presidential race and focusing on Sarah Palin. 

So, look, 2012 is starting to heat up, right?  It‘s a powerful show.  You know what we‘re going to start with?  A powerful panel.  In fact, “The Power Panel.”  I like starting with it. 

Richard Wolffe is an MSNBC political analyst and author of the “Revival” about the Obama presidency, or just “Revival.”  And Shushannah Walshe, “Newsweek” contributor and co-author of “Sarah From Alaska.”  She‘s been chasing Palin for the last three days.

Good luck catching her. 

And Ken Vogel, chief investigative reporter for Politico. 

My first question to our panel, who picks up the check at the Palin/Trump dinner? 

Richard, let met start with you.  Seriously, like, is this a way—doesn‘t this seem like, my God, it‘s her hanging a sign around her neck saying, please pay—I mean, both and more less attention to me, but don‘t treat me as a serious candidate? 

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Oh, I don‘t know here.  You know, what people think of as serious candidates is a relative measure.  And, you know, the irony here is not just about the bus, it‘s the whole dynamic of Sarah Palin‘s career to date and campaign if she chooses to do so.

It‘s going to be about beating up the media.  So, you attract the media to beat them up, you carry on the cat and mouse game.  There are only three things that a Republican candidate has to do—beat up Obama, beat up the press, and promise to cut taxes.  And she‘s got the trifecta going right there. 

So, I don‘t think you can say, well, compared to what a presidential candidate should do, she is not doing it.  She is making a different set of rules for a different world, and she can come in at any stage.  She can come in, in December, and it will be just fine for this Republican Party as it stands today. 

UYGUR:  So, Ken, is it working, given that she has got all the coverage? 

KEN VOGEL, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, POLITICO:  I mean, it‘s working to the extent that she is getting coverage, but I have to disagree with Richard that she can wait as long as she wants and get in right at the last minute.  I mean, not only are there filing deadlines, which is what the Palin folks are really looking at here, where you have to—when you have to file statements of candidacy to get on the ballot in these individual states, but beyond that, she really needs to assemble some kind of a more comprehensive, robust organization if she is going to be taken seriously as a candidate. 

And what this tour is showing is that she doesn‘t have that.  I mean, Shushannah is trying to tag along and figure out where they are going next, and they don‘t even know where they are going next.  And you can‘t run a presidential campaign like that. 

UYGUR:  Well, Shushannah, what is it—right?  I mean, there was the book that said she wouldn‘t show up to all these events when she was governor, when she was supposed to show up.  And now, nobody knows where she is going.

Is there a method to this madness, or is it just madness? 

SHUSHANNAH WALSHE, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, that‘s good question.  And I have to agree with Ken that some of these stops, they are just deciding on their way, and we are all scrambling to keep up.  And really, the decisions and the stops are being made on the bus as they go.  She is driving the bus, metaphorically. 

But I have to disagree about whether she can do it differently.  I think that if there‘s anybody out there that can do it differently, whether it be enter the race late, as Richard said, or not having the traditional trappings of a campaign, whether it be press on a vacation, I think she can do it.  I mean, she has so much press and so much coverage, and we have no idea where she is going. 

Good or bad, there is an immense amount of frenzy and interest in this person. 

UYGUR:  Right.  I‘m in the camp of she doesn‘t know where she is going.  She‘s just like, let me just soak this all in, and I will figure out how to make money from it later.

But it also affect all the other candidates.  I want to play you a clip by Mitt Romney where he‘s talking about “Twilight” and “South Park,” and ask you guys if it has to do with trying to grab attention, too, while Palin is sucking it all up. 

Let‘s watch first. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I like silly stuff, too.  I mean, I like the “Twilight” series.  I thought that was fun. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You like vampires? 

ROMNEY:  I don‘t like vampires personally.  I don‘t know any. 

“South Park” is funny.  The Beatles were phenomenal.  We also watch “American Idol.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  “South Park” rip Mormons, so that is a fascinating thing to like for—I don‘t believe he likes “South Park.”

What‘s he doing here?  Is this some degree of Sarah Palin effect, as they try to reach out to try to grab some attention, Richard? 

WOLFFE:  No.  He‘s going through this terrible process that candidate go to when they struggle, which is humanizing.  Any time someone needs to be humanized, it suggests that they probably aren‘t human to begin with, and so he is trying to be familiar and trying to push some buttons.  And no doubt, the whole plaid (ph) shirt and the opened collar thing has also been focus-grouped.  And it‘s just inauthentic. 

His problem is inauthenticity.  And every time he tries to be liked, it‘s just kind of like your dad saying, I‘m really cool. 

And so, whatever the measure is in terms of what you‘ve got to do—and by the way, I don‘t think keeping the press happy or running a good press operation really matters to any of the Republican voters.  But seeming real, having that authenticity, that direct contact, connection with voters, is very much the measure.  It‘s not something we can decide, because we‘re not the filter anymore. 

UYGUR:  Now, I want to ask one more thing, whether her being in the race hurts Romney more or Bachmann more.  But let‘s watch Bachmann talk about Palin as well.  Let‘s look at that first. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”:  What is the one thing that sets you apart from Sarah Palin? 

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  Well, again, I compare myself to Barack Obama, not to any of the other Republican candidates.  First of all, I want to say that I like Sarah Palin a lot, we‘re friends.  And I don‘t consider her a competitor, I consider her a friend. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Ken, can Michele Bachmann stay in the race and be competitive if Sarah Palin is in there taking away all those social conservative voters? 

VOGEL:  Well, that is the question.  And she can consider her a friend, but she‘s definitely a competitor for that social conservative vote. 

And if Sarah Palin does get in the race, and if—it‘s a big “if,” but if she‘s able to unite social conservatives, she has a real chance of winning the nomination here.  If nothing else, she could at least pull Romney or Pawlenty, these candidates who are kind of positioning themselves as more moderate, to the right.  However, if she gets in and the social conservative vote fractures even more, it could make it even easier for Romney or Pawlenty to win without really catering to that social conservative vote as much as they might have to in some of these states like Iowa and South Carolina. 

UYGUR:  All right.  That‘s a good question.  I actually have more Palin question, but we do have to move on to the next topic. 

And the next question for the panel is, are Republican governors Obama‘s new BFFs for 2012?  Of course that means “best friends forever.”  I explained that on the show on Friday.

In some key states, GOP problems could boost the president in the next election.  New polls show Florida Governor Rick Scott has just a 29 percent approval rating, and Ohio governor John Kasich has a 33 percent approval rating. 

On the flip side, the president‘s poll numbers keep climbing.  A new CNN poll shows 54 percent of Americans like the job be that he Obama is doing. 

Richard, this has to be as good a combination for the president as he could have possibly hoped for given that Ohio and Florida are such critical swing states. 

WOLFFE:  Well, it does suggest that the politics are changing.  I have always been skeptical that governors come in with these big machines and can guarantee you as a presidential candidate to deliver their states.  It happens extremely rarely.

And in Obama‘s case, he attracts really a different set of voters that would normally come to a Democratic candidate.  But it does suggest that, you know, this idea of cuts being popular, of small government conservatism being popular in these states, is not a surefire way to get elected.  And certainly that 54 percent number of the president‘s approval ratings creeping up way over the 50-point mark, that is the most substantial piece of news right there. 

UYGUR:  Shushannah, was this a blessing in disguise for the Democrats that the Republicans won some of these governorships and then wound up telling the voters of those states, here is our real agenda? 

WALSHE:  Well, I mean, I don‘t think that they would have ever thought of it as a blessing in disguise, but it does seem that way now, strangely enough.  And I think we are still far away from 2012, even though it doesn‘t seem like it.  I think if it continues where the electorate in states like Ohio and Florida are upset, that it could definitely help Obama. 

But I think that we are still too far out.  We need to see if the governors like Rick Scott in Florida continue with their agenda, the electorate stays upset, stays unhappy, and then Obama could reap those benefits. 

UYGUR:  Ken, any way the Republicans can look forward to a turnaround in those states, or—meaning is there anything substantive thing that would change the equation here, or are they really going to head into this 2012 election with two incredibly unpopular governors in Ohio and Florida? 

VOGEL:  Well, certainly, a lot can happen in both those states.  We saw how quickly things could change in the Democrats‘ favor with this plan that was pushed by Governor Walker in Wisconsin, for instance, a crackdown on the unions.  And that‘s another state that I would add to that states with Republican governors where Democrats might be on the upswing, and President Obama, in particular, might benefit from some of the aspects of the agenda being pushed by those Republican governors.

And certainly that is something that Democrats are prepared to run against.  Not just a crackdown on unions, but the Paul Ryan budget plan and how it would shape Medicare, I guess you could call it. 

So Democrats are prepared to make this case, and we already hear them making it in some of these special elections like in western New York, that Republicans‘ agenda is tantamount to clamping down on working people.  And so, to the extent that there are governors in these states who are the titular heads of the Republican parties, that could be a reminder for Democrats and Democratic voters that this is what they are against. 

UYGUR:  Right.  I think you are all right.  I think Obama has always been blessed by great enemies.  His enemies, politically, are so awful, he seems wonderful in comparison, obviously, to some voters. 

And apparently now to 54 percent of voters.  We‘ll see if that keeps up in 2012. 

MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, Newsweek‘s Shushannah Walshe, Politico‘s Ken Vogel, tonight‘s “Power Panel.”

Thank you all. 

WALSHE:  Thank you.

WOLFFE:  Thanks, Cenk. 

VOGEL:  Thank you.

UYGUR:  All right.

Now, when we come back, Republicans have heard the outrage over the Ryan plan, they have seen how badly it polls, and they have even lost a congressional seat because of it.  So, will the GOP‘s fatal attraction give Democrats control of the House next year?  At least one Republican thinks it might. 

And after voting to seriously cut funding for the EPA, Republican Representative Lou Barletta now says that he is outraged that the agency isn‘t doing more for his district. 

That hypocrisy is perfect for our “Con Job of the Day.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Now even some Republicans are acknowledging that the Paul Ryan plan to destroy Medicare might actually cost them the House, which is pretty big, obviously.  But they are still headed for that cliff at 100 miles per hour anyway. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he is still firmly behind the Ryan budget plan. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  There‘s going to be a deal on the debt ceiling, on Medicare reform. 

Would you concede it‘s got to look a lot different than the Ryan plan? 

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, MINORITY LEADER:  No.  It‘s on the table. 

I‘m personally very comfortable with the way Paul Ryan would structure it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  And Democrats are saying thank you very much.  “The New York Times”  reports today that Kathy Hochul‘s win in a conservative district in New York is giving Democrats across the country newfound hope for 2012 and spurring more viable Democrats to get into the congressional races in that election. 

And Republicans themselves are acknowledging that Ryan‘s plan could cost them the House majority.  Congressman Phil Gingrey said, “To back away from this or to get skittish for fear of losing a few seats or even the majority would be pretty darn irresponsible.”

Look at that.  He is already talking about losing the House, all of which has to make you wonder, why are they so committed to a plan that Americans clearly do not want?  Why not give it a rest? 

Well, here‘s one answer.  Perhaps they are blinded by an ideological crusade that‘s been around forever.  In 1961, then private citizen Ronald Reagan was fighting Medicare, even before it had become law. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, ACTOR:  We can write to our congressmen and to our senators, we do not want socialized medicine.  If you don‘t, this program, I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Now, he didn‘t win that fight and Republicans have never forgotten it.  They keep going back to it over and over again.

In the ‘90s, Newt Gingrich infamously hoped that Medicare would “wither on the vine.”  And now with Paul Ryan‘s plan, they‘re at it again. 

Look, is it this ideology, or could the driving factor be something else—the money?  How do their donors feel about this plan?  Well, they love Ryan‘s plan. 

Let‘s talk about that now. 

Joining me now is Susan Crabtree, senior editor and reporter for “Talking Points Memo,” and Steve Kornacki from Salon.com.  His new article is called “When Toxicity is a Political Strategy: The Political Calculation that Convinced Republicans to Walk off a Medicare Cliff.”

Now, Steve, you‘ve written about it.  Let‘s start with you.

Do you think it‘s more the ideology or more the donors?

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM:  Well, I think ideology is a part of it.  I think there is a big chunk of the Republican Party in Congress and a big chunk of the Republican Party when you just talk about sort of the activists in the party who believe this is the right thing, who believe it‘s important to do this, and who are ideologically committed to it like you outlined. 

But I think the key decision, a decision from a guy like John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, to actually put this plan forward, to push it to the floor of the House, and to make his members vote about it, I think when you talk about the leadership of the Republican Party and why they did this, I think then you‘re talking about politics.  And you‘re talking about a balancing act that we really haven‘t seen in modern politics to the degree we are seeing it right now with the Republicans, where Republicans who run Congress recognize, based on all of the carnage that took place in the Republican primaries last year, when just random Tea Party-backed candidates were winning because they were more pure than the establishment choices that they were confronted with, the Republican leadership in Congress recognized it needed to do something truly big, bold-seeming.  And it was just going to attract a horrific response from Democrats and from the media to prove to their own base that they actually meant it, that they weren‘t compromisers, that they weren‘t sellouts, that they weren‘t the same guys who voted for TARP with all the Democrats a few years ago.

And this is really the only way to prove it.  So I really think the calculation you hear from the leadership was, you do it early, you take the heat, you get credibility with your base, and you hope it goes away by November, 2012. 

UYGUR:  But Steve and Susan, there is a great irony there, because the Tea Party is supposed to give you legit street cred in politics.  But when you look at who funds the Tea Party, you have got FreedomWorks, for example.  They are now handing out all this instructional stuff on how to fight back and sport the Ryan plan, but they got $12 million from the Koch brothers. 

I mean, this isn‘t grassroots.  This is the richest people in the country that are funding this campaign in a lot of ways.

Isn‘t that right, Susan? 

SUSAN CRABTREE, “TALKING POINTS MEMO”:  Well, I look at it—you know, I have been covering Congress now for about 10, 15 years, and this is an ideology that members of the House leadership have advocated for a long time.  They always have wanted to privatize health care. 

You look at Eric Cantor‘s plan for medical savings accounts, he was always trying to get the burden of paying for health care off of the employers and privatize these issues.  And so now we see that coming into fruition.  But right now there is a reality. 

They were in the minority before.  Now they are controlling the majority. 

Do they have what it takes to stick with this Ryan plan until November of next year?  That‘s what we are going to really see, whether they are committed to this or not, because 18 months is a very, very long time in politics, and anything can happen from now until then.  We are seeing the public poll and a public outpouring of negativity, negative reaction to this Ryan plan. 

The public, like you said, does not want it.  So I‘m really going to be watching the tea leaves here and the machinations as to whether they stick with this program or not. 

UYGUR:  So, guys, look, I‘m not sure that this is an either/or thing, right? 

So, Steve, for example, they have this ideology, but the ideology might be based in the beginning on, well, how do we get rich people richer?  How do we get the companies that sell this stuff to make money off of this instead of people just getting treated? 

And at the same time, today, it might be ideological and it might be, hey, you know what?  The guys backing the Tea Party with millions of dollars also get paid off of it. 

Could it be that combination or am I being too cynical?  What do you think? 

KORNACKI:  Well, no one could ever be too cynical when you‘re trying to analyze the motives of politicians.  But I think there is a longer-term story here to be told.

You know, it‘s true when you go back to the very early days of the debate over Medicare.  Sort of the conservative movement in this country was against it against, and it‘s pretty much been against it all the way through. 

But there was a very period I think in the last 15 years, when the last time the Republicans really went after Medicare as a party.   That‘s when Newt Gingrich did it in 1995, and they paid a dear price in the 1996 elections for that.

And what emerged from that was a Republican establishment that embraced what George W. Bush called—do you remember this term? -- compassionate conservatism.  And the idea was, we‘re going to run as Republicans, we‘re going to talk about conservative things, but we‘re not going to actually do a lot of the things conservatives want us to do,  and that would include going after Medicare. 

And so Bush actually oversaw in a lot of ways an expansion of the government when he was president, he oversaw the prescription drug benefit -- the addition of more benefits to Medicare.  And I think the mood of the Republican Party base today is a reflection of that choice that the establishment made to sort of be big government conservatives.  That‘s the bind that they are in right now. 

UYGUR:  Susan, one more quick question here, right?  Is there any chance that these guys will win just through obstinance?  Because thank FreedomWorks, they‘re handing out pieces of paper and telling them how the Republicans should double down on this, and saying, oh, no, no, our effort is to save Medicare, which turns things on its head.  And they say, oh, tell the—you will see this now across the country, because once the Tea Party—the FreedomWorks gets behind it, they spend millions doing it.  And they‘re telling congressmen to hold up, like, blank pieces of paper and say, oh, this is the Democratic plan to save Medicare, so we‘re actually on the side of Medicare.

Any chance that that works? 

CRABTREE:  Well, I think that in the primaries, that part of the campaign season, it‘s much better for them to appeal to the Tea Party base and to the ultra-conservative side of their party.  So, right now, like I said, it will be interesting what comes around next summer, when the primaries are over and we see the general election. 

Of course, they have cover for this, because this can never get through this White House.  They have a Democrat in the White House, so he would veto any kind of Ryan plan, I would think. 

And so they have the ability, they have the best of both worlds right

now.  They can run against the Democratic White House with this and appeal

to their conservative base, but we‘ll see what happens next summer when the

--

UYGUR:  All right.  That certainly is going to be the thing to watch for.  Let‘s see how it plays with the voters.  Everybody is on pins and needles on that, obviously.

Susan Crabtree and Steve Kornacki, thank you both so much for joining us this evening. 

CRABTREE:  Thanks so much. 

UYGUR:  All right.

Now, up next, Representative Lou Barletta is just a freshman in Congress, but he has already mastered Republican hypocrisy.  Congratulations to him.  We‘ll show you what he‘s done to the EPA to earn our “Con Job of the Day.” 

And later, the Republican base is all over the board.  What are the three main categories of Republicans?  Which candidate will be able to outwit and outlast all the other tribes?  And what will that say about what the Republican Party really stands for? 

Ed Rendell and Michael Steele join me on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  And now for our “Con Job of the Day,” we have freshman Congressman Lou Barletta‘s astounding hypocrisy on the role of the EPA. 

Barletta ousted a Democrat from his seat in November and quickly hopped on the Republican bandwagon to gut the Environmental Protection Agency.  In February, Barletta voted for the GOP budget to cut the EPA‘s funding by about a third.  He also voted to ban funding for the EPA to enforce any regulations related to greenhouse gas emissions. 

But as Think Progress reports, Barletta suddenly thinks the EPA matters.  Huh.  Isn‘t that interesting? 

Several of Barletta‘s constituents allege a cancer cluster has formed near a superfund site in Pittston, Pennsylvania, and Barletta was outraged that the EPA isn‘t planning to test the area for health hazards.  Barletta wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, quote, “I was surprised to hear an EPA official basically tell residents of the Carroll/Mill neighborhood that they would not conduct soil and water testing to find answers.  It is absolutely the EPA‘s job and I‘m going to make sure that that job is done.”  You know what might have helped them do their job?  If you didn‘t try to cut their budget, but that is the things that get me about these guys, how can you be outraged the EPA is not doing  enough when you just voted to  make sure they could do as little as possible.  Maybe Congressman Barletta has  finally figured out that he needs to be a little bit more responsive to his constituents after he was basically caught laughing at them at a recent town hall event. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN:  You‘re a congressman, don‘t laugh at us. 

(INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Public policy polling just found that 7 0 percent of Barletta‘s voters did not approve of his vote to block the EPA from setting limits on carbon dioxide, including 53 percent of Republicans.  Maybe that‘s why Congressman Barletta isn‘t laughing anymore.  Either way, Lou Barletta‘s feigned outrage over the lack of action by the EPA is our con job of the day.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Sarah Palin is all anyone is talking about after launching her one nation bus tour this weekend but the reason she has become such a factor is because there‘s now a void in the republican field.  The GOP was rocked and shocked when Mike Huckabee dropped out.  He was the obvious candidate for social conservatives so they were left scrambling for a new person to represent them in the race.  Now, Sarah Palin is pushing for those voters, as well as Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain.  So, who will they go for?  Obviously, make a huge difference in the race.  

Remember there, at this point, about three main categories for the Republicans.  So, you got the social conservatives, that‘s why Huckabee dropping out was so important, you‘ve got the money guys and you have got the Tea Party.  The other brackets are also looking for Mr. and Mrs. Right during this process.  The Tea Party is splintered, will they go with Ron Paul, for example, who‘s the more principled fiscal austerity candidate or will they go for people claiming to represent the Tea Party like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. 

Herman Cain another wildcard in this category as well, and even Wall Street can‘t decide who they want to run, is it Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty or Newt Gingrich?  These are all guys that have big money backing and on the republican side, of course, that‘s always a huge, huge factor.  So, who will form the alliances?  Who will get voters off the island?  And which faction will win the fight at the end?  It is a hell of a question and a hell of a race.  Now to help us discuss it, we are going to bring in the chairmen. 

Joining me now is Ed Rendell, the former head of the Democratic National Committee.  He is now an NBC news political analyst.  I‘m also pleased to welcome Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and now an MSNBC contributor.  Gentlemen, as always, great to have you on. 

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN:  Good to be here. 

ED RENDELL, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN:  Cenk, nice to be back.

UYGUR:  All right.  Governor, let me start with you.  I have broken down those three categories and then I think whoever wins in those categories will basically butt heads.  Do you think I have that roughly right and do I have the people in the right categories?  Let‘s start with that discussion first?

RENDELL:  Well, I think social conservatives and tea party, those two categories sort of blend a little bit.  I would put them into one broad category and then on the other side, the more moderate, although these days, calling  any republican moderate, except for Michael is probably, a little absurd.  But yes, I think that is where it is.  And if you look back four years ago, John McCain came from the, at that point, the moderate wing of the Republican Party and emerged over the social conservatives.  I don‘t think that can happen because I think the Republican Party has gotten exponentially more crazy over the last four years.  So, I think someone is going to defeat the Romney‘s, the Pawlenty‘s, the Huntsman from the far right, it could be Sarah Palin, it could be Michele Bachmann, could even be Newt if he can right the ship, but it‘s a crazy bunch. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Michael, obviously, there‘s a lot to response to you there.  But as you do so, please tell me where you think the Tea Party fits into all this.  It is a category of itself?  Is it too easy to say there were these social conservatives given—they care so much about other stuff as well?

STEELE:  I think you guys way, way, overdramatize the importance of all of this right now.  I think you are seeing a couple of things happen.  One is a continuation of what we saw emerging out of the ‘08 cycle and that is the party getting its legs again.  Now on the national stage for the presidential, we went through the first phase of this during my chairmanship where we had to right the grassroots and get that reconnection going.  I think you are seeing this played out a little bit on the national stage for the presidential.  And that‘s perfectly normal.  I think let this thing settle down. 

Sarah Palin is a factor, yes but more broadly speaking, not as

important a factor as some of the other players are going to be going

forward because there is this dynamic with the Tea Party, social

conservatives, the fiscal conservatives, we haven‘t even talked about the -

those who have very strong views on international affairs in the Middle East, for example.  So, I think you are going to see emerging, beginning probably the next week, when you have the candidates coming together for their first summer debate, those stakes being made and you will get a better sense of exactly who is going to have an impact going down the road as they try to pull together those various strings and tie them into the nomination opportunity. 

RENDELL:  But the problem is—the problem is Cenk, for the Republicans is to win the republican primary, to appeal to the base vote, which is eventually the radical right.  You are going to have to say things that are going to make you untenable in the fall.  And that is the challenge facing the Romney‘s, the Huntsman‘s, the Pawlenty‘s, who on their own I think could be attractive fall candidates but they are going to have to take such positions that are so absurd, the litmus test on the Ryan budget, the social litmus tests that are so absurd, getting rid of Planned Parenthood, things like that, is going to make them untenable candidates in the fall.  It is a great position for Democrats.  We don‘t have to do anything but sit back and watch them destruct. 

UYGUR:  Michael, Michael, I want to ask you a specific question about that, though, because Mitt  Romney, you know, he is not backed by some of the Tea Party guys at all, it‘s clear, freedom works has almost declared war against him. 

STEELE:  Right.  

UYGUR:  And so, can he win this thing without really—he is not a social conservative guy, no question about that and he doesn‘t have Tea Party backing, can he win without those?

STEELE:  Yes.  I think he can and I will tell you why, because I think what the governor just stated was the conventional wisdom, was the typical old model that would be applied.  And, yes, that would be the case, but this is not that model.  This is not that time.  You have seen a very different dynamic at play here.  You have got candidates who are coming at this differently where they are not—you know, some are emphasizing Iowa, others are not.  You have got a lot more going on here than the conventional approach.  This is the republican version of what you saw played out in 2008 between Hillary and Barack Obama at the time. 

RENDELL:  But Michael, I don‘t think that‘s pretty accurate, when you think of Mitt Romney, who was a very successful governor, a good governor and the thing that he did, perhaps the best thing did he was bring universal health care to the people of Massachusetts, something that I wished I was able to accomplish as governor of Pennsylvania and he is being excoriated by the base republican voters because he has a mandate.  And he is the strongest candidate I think in the fall. 

STEELE:  But wait a minute, no, again, you‘re.

RENDELL:  You don‘t think he is?

STEELE:  No I‘m not saying, you‘ve totally misleading the tea leaves here, the 2010 election. 

RENDELL:  Excoriation. 

STEELE:  Wait a minute.  But it is not just the base republican vote that voted in November of 2010, which was a repudiation of Barack Obama‘s health care bill and big government health care. 

RENDELL:  November 2010 was light years away.  Haven‘t you been reading the polls?

STEELE:  Again, again, again, I think you‘re talking—I think you are talking an apple and an orange here.  If you‘re saying that there light years apart.  There is not that much ground that separates from where we are to where we are now.  

RENDELL:  But Michael, answer the basic question, answer the basic question.  Is Mitt Romney being excoriated by the vast majority Republicans because he.

STEELE:  But not social issues, not the social issues.  That is the implication that you have is that you are saying that this vast conservative base. 

RENDELL:  Yes.  I‘m not talking social issues.  No, I think. 

STEELE:  Conservatives have a very strong view about the government interference on health care, yes. 

RENDELL:  But Michael, government interference on health care and then you have got the litmus test to get rid of Medicare.  Essentially, replace it with a voucher system that is laughable. 

STEELE:  It‘s not a voucher system. 

(TALKING OVER EACH OTHER)

RENDELL:  It is a voucher system. 

UYGUR:  I am enjoying this conversation.  I am enjoying this conversation.  

(TALKING OVER EACH OTHER)

UYGUR:  You‘re trying to misdirect by saying, hey, they are not beating him up on the social issues.  They are beating him up on health care, they are beating him up on all of the things that the government. 

RENDELL:  He‘s your best candidate, Michael.  He‘s your best candidate.

UYGUR:  I‘m not even sure about that. 

STEELE:  Wait a minute, excuse me.  Governor, I appreciate your affinity for Mitt Romney but the reality of it is he is not just our best candidate.  There are a lot of candidates who are good, who have shown themselves and will prove themselves in this race.  

RENDELL:  See, Michael.

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  All right.  So let me ask Michael about one other candidate.  Look, guys—I‘m sorry, person we haven‘t brought up yet is Sarah Palin, right?  Obviously, she‘s getting a lot of attention, but you guys haven‘t talked about her at all.  You know, George Will says, it‘s totally unacceptable, I will skip the clip.  You guys have seen, you know, what people have said about her either way.  Michael, how about Sarah Palin?  I mean, do you think she is a serious candidate, meeting with Donald Trump today, et cetera?

STEELE:  Look, I think they are just having dinner and you guys are making a lot more of it than it really will amount to, the reality... 

UYGUR:  Could she win?

STEELE:  The reality of it is, you know, I‘m still not convinced at this point that Sarah Palin is going to run for the presidency.  I think that Sarah Palin is probably in a stronger position to be more the kingmaker than the king.  And I think that she is going to leverage a lot of the assets that she brings to the table, largely with the base to make sure that the nominee is consistent with those principles on the fiscal front and I think that‘s going to be an important voice for her. 

UYGUR:  Yes, I don‘t see who unifies these people.  They are so far apart on so many different issues, I think the governor makes a good point there, but both points of view are very appreciated.  Ed Rendell and Michael Steele, the chairmen, thank you as well, always guys. 

RENDELL:  Thanks, Cenk.  See you, Michael. 

UYGUR:  Have a good night. 

STEELE:  Take care, Gov.  

UYGUR:  All right.  Now, when we come back.  While you were headed out for your Memorial Day weekend, Congress was quietly renewing the country‘s authority to spy on its own citizens.  The question is, why weren‘t more people in Congress standing up to what is a radical law?  We will tackle that when we come back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Now for a new segment we are calling, of course.  You will see why in a second.  Goldman Sachs just snagged another Washington insider, former Senator Judd Gregg.  Now, this news shouldn‘t surprise anyone, because that is how the system works.  You do favors for Goldman while you are in office.  And they do favors for you when you get out.  Senator Gregg was an outspoken critic of the Obama administration‘s effort to tighten oversight of the financial industry, gee, I wonder why.  He wanted to let investment banks like Goldman Sachs to take bigger risks to make bigger profits.  Did Gregg care about how this might endanger the American economy as it did in 2008?  Of course not, wasn‘t to get paid, son.  Paid by the same industry that contributed close to $1.1 million to his campaigns during his career. 

This revolving door between government officials and Goldman Sachs is why they call the company government Sachs.  So, when I saw that the man who fought tooth and nail to protect the banks, while in the Senate was about to get paid a huge sum of money by Goldman Sachs, I thought, of course.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  During the Bush years, we fought hard against radical ideas, like signing their signature bill after 9/11, the patriot act.  Well, now some of what used to be consider radical departures from American tradition have become normalized, even hardly noticed.  For example, quietly and quickly, Congress reauthorized the patriot act last week just before ducking out for the holiday weekend.  The Senate passed the bill 72 to 23.  The house followed suit just hours later, passing it 250 to 153.  All in all, more than 80 Democrats supported the bill.  What happened?  I thought Democrats didn‘t like this bill under Bush.  Did something change?  In fact, one of the bill‘s biggest opponents was a republican, Senator Rand Paul fought to amend the bill last week to take out some of the civil liberty abuses in it.  And he got hammered for it by none other than Harry Reid. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA:  Unless the senator from Kentucky stops standing in the way, our law enforcement will no longer be able to use some of the most critical tools and need to counterterrorist and combat terrorist.  If they cannot use these tools, tools that identify and track terrorist suspects it could have dire consequences for national security. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Now, that‘s quite a switch from how Senator Reid felt about people who fought against the patriot act during the Bush years.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REID:  Think of what happened 20 minutes ago in the United States Senate.  We killed the patriot act. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Senator Reid seemed quite proud to oppose the patriot act back then.  So, why is he one of its biggest supporters today?  Has the bill actually changed or has the Democratic Party changed?  We really want to know what happened.  And that‘s what we are trying to figure out tonight. 

So, to help me do that, we are going to bring in Jeffrey Rosen, he‘s a law professor at George Washington University.  He is also the legal affairs editor at the new republic.  Jeffrey, thanks so much for joining us.  Really appreciate it.  Let me start with that fundamental question.  Is there something significantly different about this patriot act as opposed to the one during the Bush years?

PROF. JEFFREY ROSEN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Absolutely not.  In fact, the three most controversial provision of the patriot act were reauthorized with barely any debate.  These are the provisions that authorize roving wiretaps, the infamous section 215, which allows the government to seize any tangible thing, datas, cell phone records, what have you, nearly by saying that it‘s relevant to a terrorism investigation.  And then finally, this secret national security letters that also allow the government to seize any data and if you receive this letter, you are not even allowed to mention it to anyone else.  And investigations are in 2007 found serious and widespread abuse of these letters.  It found there were 140,000 of them issued between 2003 and 2005, many with people with no connection to terrorism.  These are the very provisions that Harry Reid and other Democrats properly denounced during the Bush years and this past week, as you said would barely any debate, the same people just voted to reauthorize these terrible provisions.  

UYGUR:  You know, throughout this entire time for what‘s been about ten years now, I have never understood why this is remotely constitutional.  So without a court order, they are going and telling people, OK, I want to have your records whether they are going to a business, whether they are going to a doctor‘s office.  These national security letters for example that, you know, part of what you mentioned, how‘s that anyway, constitutionally, isn‘t it an obvious violation of the fourth amendment?

ROSEN:  You know, you might well think so.  After all the fourth amendment says, the right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizures shall not be violated.  But the Supreme Court in the 1970s said that there may be a national security exception to the fourth amendment.  It hasn‘t said definitively that these national security letters are constitutional.  But seizing on this possibility of a national security exception, essentially the Bush and now, I guess the Obama administration, too, have allowed the police, the government to do what these national security letter what they can‘t do in ordinary investigations.  And merely by saying, my cell phone records might be relevant to a terrorism investigation, those records can be seized and I might not even ever know about it. 

UYGUR:  I‘m—you know, I‘m stunned by it.  This is the stuff that we used to be outraged by.  I mean, without any probable cause, if you got probable cause from somebody, by all means, of course, you should do an investigation of them.  That‘s why we have the FBI, that‘s why we have the authorities.  But to say hey, you know what, I don‘t know, Professor Rosen looks kind of fishy, let me go grab all these records.  I don‘t see why any conservative liberal or moderate or any American should be in favor of that, but it gets worse.  Senator, why in this talking about how the government issues that he is using the patriot act in a secret way we might not even know about?  What in the world is that about?

ROSEN:  That was just extraordinary.  In the debate over the patriot act, Senator Wyden, the Oregon democrat, said he was very troubled that the government, the Obama administration had embraced an interpretation of the act that might allow data that had nothing to do with terrorism to be seized.  And Wyden wanted to propose an amendment requiring, at the very least, the government to say what its interpretation of the patriot act was.  But even that simple transparency requirement was too much for his fellow Democrats and Republicans and they refused to bring that to the vote. 

You know, really, what is so distressing about this, it shows that the Democrats, the big government Democrats are no more consistently devoted to civil liberties than the Republicans.  There‘s really a small coalition of civil libertarian Democrats like Senator Wyden, like Senator Russ Feingold, who was the only senator to vote against the patriot act the first time around.  And then even libertarian conservatives like Rand Paul, who as you said, really did very good work on this subject, they were the ones who were against this.  But the vast majority of Democrats and Republicans are going to let it sail through without any objections.  

UYGUR:  Just real quick, last question and I don‘t know if you can answer this, but why?  You know, people say there‘s no bipartisanship but this is bipartisanship in the wrong direction.  Why do they all agree to do things that seem so unconstitutional?

ROSEN:  Because it‘s popular.  Senator John Ashcroft liked to cite a poll that said that 50 percent of the country thought the patriot act was just right, 20 percent thought it didn‘t go far enough.  And only 20 percent thought it went too far.  That 20 percent minority are the civil libertarians and libertarian conservatives but like it or not, it‘s the sad truth is that majorities of Americans are not troubled by this patriot act.  And they should be because it could be fix so easily, we can still get the terrorist and also protect civil liberties as Senator Wyden says.  And I really hope that President Obama, the former constitutional law professor will think the better of it and at some point, fix these dreadful provisions.  

UYGUR:  Right.  And, you know, what?  People might change their mind if they knew what was in the patriot act and if somebody pointed it to out to him.  But Jeffrey Rosen, law professor at George Washington University, thank you for pointing it out to us tonight.  We really appreciate it. 

ROSEN:  Pleasure, thanks.  

UYGUR:  We will be right back.                                         

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Federal authorities are taking a new approach to fighting health care fraud.  Instead of just asking for a big cash settlement when a corporation cheats Medicare or Medicaid, the Feds are going after corporate executives.  I love it.  Why?  Because it‘s not the little guys who are running Medicare fraud scams that are killing us.  It is fraud on an industrial basis that costs us the bulk of the money.  The big health care companies commit more Medicare and Medicaid fraud than anyone else, by a long shot.  That‘s not just conjecture, it is fact.  In 2010, the Department of Justice recovered $669 million from Pfizer, $302 million from AstraZeneca and $193 from Novartis.  And that is just the money they recovered under the false claims act.  So, now, why go after executives?

Because the fines seemed to offer no disincentive at all, they just see it as a cost of doing business and they move on with their lives.  It is the executives getting rich off of these scams.  Now the health care says, punishing executives isn‘t fair but authorities say, is the only way to get these companies to insist on real accountability.  If it‘s the executive‘s ass on the line, believe me, he will be checking twice to see if the company is ripping off the government.  Now, just think about it, if these policies had been in place in the 1990s, Rick Scott might have faced jail time.  Instead, he ended up in the Florida governor‘s mansion.  

And Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones points out, Florida Governor Rick Scott‘s company, ACA Columbia had to pay a record $631 million for a huge Medicare fraud case in 1997.  Scott resigned but he said he didn‘t know any about the fraud and he didn‘t face any charges.  He didn‘t know that they were running a record-breaking Medicare scam in his company?  Come on.  Of course he knew about it.  And that‘s why the executives should be held responsible.  They are the ones that are pushing these programs and they are the ones making money off of it, so they should be—hey, if you‘re going to do the crime, you got to do the time.  So, I love this new program.  

And thank you for watching this program.  We will see you tomorrow. 

“HARDBALL” is next. 

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

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