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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Thursday, June 2, 2011

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Guests: Jonathan Alter, Robert Reich, Steve Schmidt, Dana Milbank

           

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  If you‘re a former investment banker, where do you announce your campaign for president?  Well, these days, you really don‘t want to do it at an investment bank.

If you‘re a former governor who‘s ashamed of what you did as governor, then you don‘t want to do it at your state capitol, especially if the very name of your state is a joke in your party.  Taxachusettes.

I know.  How about pretending you‘re a farmer, a New Hampshire farmer? 

Don‘t worry.  You won‘t have to wear overalls.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m running for president of the United States.

(CHEERS)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS:  Mitt Romney makes it official.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Here we go again.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  Investment banker, job killer, former liberal Governor Mitt Romney tells us he is running for president again.  This time as a real American.

ROMNEY:  Doug and Stella, thank you so much for opening your farm.

TODD:  He is more comfortable speaking like a guy who can talk about the economy, speaking like a businessman.  Four years ago, he didn‘t speak like a businessman.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  That was then, this is now.

ROMNEY:  President Obama‘s European answers are not the solution to America‘s challenges.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL” HOST:  Very subtle statement of distinction there.  This whole thing about “We love America”—well, who doesn‘t?

ROMNEY:  I see a lot of friends here.

MATTHEWS:  Really diverse crowd, wasn‘t it?  Lily white crowd.

O‘DONNELL:  Romney wants Republicans to forgive him for his liberal record.

EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST:  Clearly, he is placing a larger bet on the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Romney still has a problem with social conservatives.  And it‘s not because he‘s a Mormon.  It‘s because of, quote-unquote, “Romneycare.”

TODD:  Republicans aren‘t ready to throw him and the plan under the bus yet.

O‘DONNELL:  But Republicans are not in a forgiving mood.

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  More of an explanation coming from former Governor Romney on his support for government mandates.

MATTHEWS:  She is riding her dog sled right over Mitt Romney‘s face.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Still has trouble getting attention because of all of the other candidates who are sort of crowding him out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani are both in New Hampshire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sarah Palin is on a bus and right now she is manipulating in terms of—

PALIN:  We are in the same territory at the same time.  But best of luck to him.

O‘DONNELL:  John McCain‘s campaign manager joins us.

TODD:  Imagine if the September of ‘08 collapse happened in September of ‘07.  Probably would have seen a Mitt Romney and not a John McCain rise.

O‘DONNELL:  And Chris Christie is forced to pay for his helicopter ride to his son‘s baseball game.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  There are times that it is literally impossible to do that by car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This was definitely a private trip.

MATTHEWS:  Republicans run (ph) for a room.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from Los Angeles.

It was an almost perfect piece of phony campaign stage craft.  This afternoon in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney officially announced that he is running for president.  The stage, a 300-acre farm with hay bails and American flags in full view of the cameras, was perfect.  Even the weather was perfect.

But as Romney‘s event was underway, Sarah Palin‘s road show arrived in a New Hampshire town only 10 miles away to steal his thunder.

But Palin did not wait until she arrived in New Hampshire to attack Romney on his most vulnerable issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I think that he‘ll have maybe a bit more of a challenge with the independents who make up the Tea Party movement.  In my opinion, any mandate coming from government is not a good thing.  So, obviously—and I‘m not the only one to say so—but there will be more of an explanation coming from former Governor Romney on his government mandates.  Even on a state level and a local level, mandates coming from a governing body, it‘s tough for a lot of us independent Americans to accept.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  She was at Bunker Hill in Boston this morning when those comments were recorded.

Rudy Giuliani is also in New Hampshire today, and he too took a swipe at Romney while speaking at a Republican luncheon this afternoon, saying, quote, “The reality is that Obamacare and Romneycare are almost exactly the same.  It‘s not very helpful trying to distinguish then.  I would think the best way to handle it to say it was a terrible mistake and if I could do it over again, I wouldn‘t do it.”

During his announcement, Romney made brief mention of his best known achievement as governor, the health care reform bill he signed into law in Massachusetts—although without ever saying the words “reform,,” “Massachusetts,” or “mandate.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  The state was giving over $1 billion away in health care, much to people who could have paid and were just gaming the system.  You won‘t be surprised that a lot of Democrats thought we should give them even more.  I took on this problem and hammered out a solution that took a bad situation and made it better.  Not perfect, but it was a state solution to our state‘s problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL: Romney did not mention Congressman Paul Ryan, the Ryan Republican budget bill, or Medicare.

Joining me now, Berkeley professor of public policy and secretary of labor under President Clinton, Robert Reich.

Thank you very much for joining me tonight, Robert.

ROBERT REICH, BERKELEY PROFESSOR:  Well, good evening, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  You can imagine back in the Clinton health care wars of 1993 and 1994, if there had been a state—if there had been a state like, oh, say, Massachusetts that had actually already passed a bill very similar to the structure of the employer mandate bill that the Clinton administration, you and the Clinton administration were trying to pass, how helpful would that have been to getting something through the Congress?

REICH:  Well, it would have been very helpful.  I mean, Harris Wofford

you may remember—in Pennsylvania, won an election, a special election, to the Senate because he campaigned on health care.  Health care has suddenly become very popular.

           

And Bill Clinton who had not much of a health care bill going into the campaign suddenly decided, as many Democrats and even some Republicans, that this was the year, 1993, to actually finally do something about health care.  The public was clamoring.  We were coming out of a recession.  And it would have been enormously helpful if there was support in the form of a model state that actually had done it and was showing some results.

That‘s why President Obama is going to point to Massachusetts as an example of how this kind of a health care system can work.  It‘s going to make life very difficult for Mitt Romney if he is the Republican candidate.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, you lived in the Boston area for a very long time.  You‘ve seen this kind of politics move through the region.  But have you ever seen anything like the—the kind of well paved road that presidential candidacies usually have towards their announcement day, which tends to clear the field in terms of the news of the day?  Have you ever seen anything like two Republicans of Giuliani‘s stature, Palin‘s stature, coming up and specifically trashing the candidate who‘s announcing that day in New Hampshire?

REICH:  No.  In fact, it‘s remarkable.  The disarray among Republicans at this stage is really quite extraordinary when you think about it, Lawrence.

I mean, go back to the beginnings of the George W. Bush campaign.  I mean, remember back in the year 1999, the Republicans had already decided on George W. Bush.  They decided on him a year and a half before the election.  Everybody was rallying around him.  Republicans tend to be very good at picking their candidate or at least allowing the candidate to emerge early on.

This time, however, everybody is in.  Those who are getting out are still taking potshots at people who are in.  The Republican Party is in complete and total disarray—which obviously is good news for President Obama because otherwise he would have to face some bad news on the economy.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, now, on the economy, on this unemployment rate, which is now so sticky, so difficult to bring down, with the amount of time left in the campaign, is there—do you see a way for the president to make the kind of dent in that number that may not necessarily get him to 7.2, the magic number for re-elect and below, but a number that gives him an argument to make going into re-election?

REICH:  Well, it‘s going to be very hard for the president to come up with an initiative to get through Congress that actually has much of an effect on the employment numbers.  I think the best he can do right now is to show that he is fighting for Americans, for jobs and for wages.  He‘s got to get out of the straitjacket he is in right now, where all of the press attention and all of everybody‘s attention is on raising the debt limit and on the long-term budget deficit.

I mean, most Americans—yes, they care about the long-term budget deficit to some extent.  But what they really care about are jobs right now.  They care about wages right now.  They care about paying the bills, about paying their mortgage.

And he has got to show that he is on the side actively of taking a position that will help most Americans.  And if he can‘t get it through Congress, that‘s OK, just show that he has some proposals, you know, exempting the first $20,000 of income from the payroll tax for example, or a new WPA for the long-term unemployed, or changing the bankruptcy loan—so people can declare their private homes in bankruptcy, giving them more leverage with the banks that are basically stalling on renegotiating a lot of home loans.

There are a lot of things he could do.  There are a lot of things that he should be at least putting on the table right now.

O‘DONNELL:  How—pardon the expression—how professorial should he go in this campaign?  And just in terms of actually trying to teach in fundamentals, like, for example, we are not in fact a very high tax country in relation to other tax structures elsewhere in the world, especially countries we‘re competing with around the world.

Is that a place for him to go to try to actually make a dent in public understanding of what the realities are in our economy?

REICH:  Well, Lawrence, one of the real ironies and paradoxes of this presidency so far is that Barack Obama looked like in the campaign of 2008 that he was going to be America‘s teacher in teach.  He was going to be using his tremendous oratorical skills in explaining to Americans the economy and everything that was happening to them.  He has not done all that much as president, and he has not even done it that much going into the campaign, getting into the gravitational pull of this next election campaign.

I think he should do more.  He should explain to the country why we got into the mess we are in, why it‘s so hard to get out, why jobs are coming back so slowly.

Not just blame the Republicans, but go back over the last 30 years.  I mean, give the bit picture.  Connect the dots for people.

And then also—don‘t stop there.  Also show that he is fighting for very specific policies to get jobs back.

O‘DONNELL:  On Medicare, what should the Democrats‘ counter be to the Ryan plan on Medicare?

REICH:  A Democrat should say, number one, no cuts in Medicare.  Number two, the problem of the budget deficit is related to rising health care costs, but Medicare is not the source of that problem.  In other words, Medicare costs are rising because health care costs are going out of control for everybody.  Not just for seniors, but for everybody in the country.

And, therefore, what Democrats ought to be saying is, number one, you know, you have already a health care bill we passed that is going to do something to reduce long-term growth of health care costs.

But, number two, we ought to use Medicare to help do more.  I mean, for example, give Medicare the power—it has huge bargains leverage—give it the power to negotiate lower drug prices, lower hospital costs, lower overall medical prices with medical providers.  Allow Medicare to pay doctors, not for fee for service, which is the system we have now, which is bankrupting everybody, but for results, for actually health results—encouraging accountable care organizations.

I mean, Medicare can be the solution, not the problem.  And that‘s what Democrats ought to be saying.

O‘DONNELL:  Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, you may not be America‘s teacher, but you are best teacher we have here on THE LAST WORD.  Thank you for joining me tonight.

REICH:  Thank you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: more on Mitt Romney‘s biggest campaign problem, his support for the individual mandate in health care.  Jonathan Alter joins me to talk about the politics of health care in the presidential campaign.

And in “The Rewrite,” I will suggest that people who live in glass houses like Bill O‘Reilly should stop throwing stones at Anthony Weiner‘s Twitter account.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: will the health care individual mandate keep Mitt Romney from winning the Republican nomination for president?  Answer:

yes.  I‘ll be joined by Jonathan Alter and later, former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt.

           

Also ahead: Chris Christie‘s chopper debacle.  He reversed course today and will pay for his helicopter rides to his son‘s baseball game.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  When Sarah Palin criticized Mitt Romney‘s Massachusetts health care law today, she became the latest voice to emphasize the biggest challenge Romney will have in his campaign.  That is his support for the bill he signed into law in Massachusetts.

But Romney is not the only Republican who will have some explaining to do to his base.  Listen to what Jon Huntsman said when asked four years ago about a proposal that would have required people in Utah to either pay for their own health insurance or be covered by the state if they couldn‘t afford it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s a mandate of health insurance.  Are you comfortable with that?  With requiring every Utahan to get health insurance?

JON HUNTSMAN ®, FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR:  I‘m comfortable with a requirement.  You can call it whatever you want.  But at some point, we‘re going to have to get serious about how we deal with this issue.

There is a mandate today, let us not forget, and it‘s called the emergency room.  And you show up at the emergency room, and you get covered.

And who pays the bills?  You know, taxpayers pay the bills.  Companies pay the bills.

So, we‘re living today in an environment to be sure where there already is a mandate in place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  While that bill didn‘t pass, the head of Utah‘s Department of Health says that huntsman told him in 2004, quote, “I‘d like everyone in Utah to have health insurance.  It‘s something that all of us long for.  This business of the uninsured costs us a lot of money.”

Joining me now MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter, columnist for “Bloomberg View.”

Thanks you for joining me tonight, Jonathan.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  If Romney wasn‘t the king of the health care mandate in Republican politics, then Huntsman would be right up there at the top with those statements, wouldn‘t he?

ALTER:  He would.

But, you know, those were the days when Republicans made sense.  They were grappling with real issues.  They were governors.  They understood the real consequences of having uninsured residents of their state.  So they actually told the truth about this.

Nowadays, they can‘t.  I don‘t think it hurts Huntsman nearly as much as it hurts Romney, because in Utah, which is a much more conservative state than Massachusetts, a market-based health care plan went through without a mandate, and Huntsman can now say that on his watch, a much more Republican-sounding health care plan was enacted in Utah.  And you can expect him to drive that message all through the campaign.

Look, when you see them up there on a stage all together, Huntsman, who right now is, you know, polling in the asterisks, is nowhere right now.  But he‘s going to seem quite impressive to, I think, a fair number of voters, especially of a more independent ilk, when they see him next to Romney.  And he will hammer Romney over and over again on the fact that Utah has a much more Republican plan than Romney care in Massachusetts.

Romney will try to counter with what you just showed.  But that‘s old video, and that doesn‘t work nearly as well as Huntsman‘s argument that he has a better plan.

O‘DONNELL:  It doesn‘t work as well, but it‘s better than nothing. 

And so, they‘ll be the crossfire between those two.

ALTER:  Yes, better than nothing.

O‘DONNELL:  And then towering above it all will be former Governor Tim Pawlenty, who did not get entangled in the health care mandate mess that Romney is sinking in.

ALTER:  That‘s true.  But, you know, he also can‘t brag as Huntsman can that he has a, quote, “market-based” health care plan in his state, since he comes from a fairly liberal state.

But the larger point, Lawrence, is that this issue of the Massachusetts plan, which was essentially the predecessor plan to the Obama health care plan, is like a deadweight on the ankle of Mitt Romney.  It‘s akin to what Hillary Clinton had to put up with when she was for the war in Iraq, you know, during the 2008 campaign and she got hammered by Obama and the other Democrats on that—except it‘s much worse, because this is an issue that unites the entire Republican Party, contempt for the Obama plan, a pledge to repeal it if they take power.

And so, they will gang up on Romney on this.  And I‘m not sure he‘s going to be able to survive it.

O‘DONNELL:  And it is not Romney‘s only bit of liberal history.  When he ran for Senate against Ted Kennedy, he made statements saying he wanted to be to the left of Kennedy on certain subjects.  And so, if the health care mandate were somehow his only transgression to current—and as you point, only current Republican orthodoxy, it might be survivable if he had a bunch of conservative goodwill built up some other way.

But he has absolutely none, doesn‘t he?

ALTER:  That‘s true.  So, he‘s going to argue that he‘s the best candidate for creating jobs, which in a general election pretty good calling card.  The problem is there are so many flip flops here on TARP, on the auto bailouts, on mandates, the list goes on and on, that even in the Republican primaries he‘s going to be easy to depict as a flip flopper which they did last time, they‘ll do it again.

And even though, you know, he may not in polls necessarily be a clear front-runner, my sense is that when these debates start later on this year, he will be perceived by, you know, the seven dwarfs or however many others are running, as being the front-runner.  And he‘ll take a lot of incoming.

His firewall is New Hampshire.  But remember, he didn‘t do that well in New Hampshire in 2008.  So, if somebody can take him out there, they‘ll knock him out of the race.

O‘DONNELL:  And, Jonathan, on the investment banker history of his that is his claim of being—of knowing something about economics, much of that activity involves acquiring companies and then immediately cutting the workforce.  Immediately killing jobs in order to make those companies leaner and somehow salable and manipulatable some way into some kind of profit position that isn‘t there when they get them.  It‘s as much a job killing activity as anything else.

I have a feeling in a Republican primary—that probably won‘t get emphasized very much by his opponents.  But if he ever made it to running against a Democrat, that would clearly be a big deal.

ALTER:  Well, you just saw today, the New Hampshire Democratic Party started going after him for his years at Bain & Company, when he killed a lot of jobs, as you said.  That‘s how Ted Kennedy won that 1994 race against Romney when he was the underdog.

And it plays into what Mike Huckabee famously said about Mitt Romney in 2008, which is that he reminds you of the guy who fired you.  And that‘s not the public impression you want to carry into an election year when there‘s high unemployment.

So, I think a lot of the Republicans looking at this field, this is why they wanted, you know, Mitch Daniels.  They see Mitt Romney as a very flawed frontrunner.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, they‘re going to have to settle for Tim Pawlenty.  Jonathan Alter of MSNBC and “Bloomberg View”—thank you for joining me tonight.

ALTER:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: the fight inside the Republican Party as 2012 looms.  Steve Schmidt, formerly of the McCain for president campaign, joins me in an exclusive interview.

And in “The Rewrite,” I‘ll explain why Bill O‘Reilly should really calm down about Anthony Weiner‘s Twitter account.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Still ahead in this hour: the infighting gets worse.  Former McCain presidential campaign adviser Steve Schmidt joins me for a closer look at the fight for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

And earlier today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was forced to reimburse the state for taking a police helicopter to his son‘s baseball game.  That‘s coming up.

And Bill O‘Reilly is back in “The Rewrite” tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS:  Barack Obama has failed America.  He says this: I‘m just getting started.  No, Mr.  President, you‘ve had your chance.  We the people on this farm and citizens across the country are the ones who are just getting started. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  That was Willard M. Romney, the Republican front-runner for the presidential nomination, this afternoon in New Hampshire, where he finally, officially announced that he is running for president.  But while Romney was attacking President Obama, Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani were attacking him for the Massachusetts health care reform bill he signed into law as governor. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now in an exclusive interview is Steve Schmidt, a senior campaign adviser to Senator John McCain‘s 2008 presidential campaign, currently a vice chairman at Edellman, a public relations firm. 

Steve, I have never seen a first-day announcement like this in the Republican party.  Here‘s your front-runner, the guy who is leading in the polls, who gets attacked by two very prominent Republicans, obviously the most prominent of them all Sarah Palin.  Rudy Giuliani throwing his shot at Romney.  What has happened to your party? 

STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER MCCAIN CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Well, I think that the Romney campaign is very well aware that this is a heavy load in the backpack that he‘s going to have to carry for the balance of the campaign.  And, you know, look, I think it‘s somewhat analogous to Senator McCain in the ‘08 race. 

Comprehensive immigration reform was an issue that he supported.  It was deeply unpopular with the base of the party.  And it was an issue that he was attacked on throughout the campaign.  Obviously, we overcame that. 

Senator Clinton, her vote in favor of the Iraq War, you know, deeply unpopular with the base of her party.  And it was an issue that she was not able to overcome.  And as you look forward to these debates in the Republican party, every day Mitt Romney is going to be attacked on this issue. 

And I think the way he‘s going to try to remedy it is by the tough speech he gave on Obama.  He‘s going to try to position himself as a turn-around specialist on the economy.  And I think you‘re going to see him try to mitigate the issue with that type of messaging. 

O‘DONNELL:  Steve, when we spoke here on the program last month, you said that the Republican presidential race was, as you put it, a serious campaign being overshadowed by a reality show and nonsense.  What do you make of the reality show part of today, with Sarah Palin‘s bus tour? 

SCHMIDT:  Well, it‘s remarkable to watch.  And it‘s amazing to observe, you know, frankly, the media fascination with it.  But, you know, part of the dynamic that you have is when you have candidates that are unelectable attacking the candidates that are electable, it creates a dysfunction in the party. 

But I just think that that is part of the equation now.  And I think it‘s one of the big strategic challenges that the three serious candidates for president—Pawlenty, Huntsman, and Romney—are going to have to deal with.  How do you navigate on a day-by-day basis the reality show that surrounds you, as you‘re trying to talk about issues in a serious way, at a serious time at a moment—at a serious time in the history of the country? 

O‘DONNELL:  Steve, Sarah Palin is not just unelectable in the Republican world.  But she has, as we know, the highest negative rating of any politician or political figure on whom we do national polling, the absolute highest, and the highest we have possibly seen since, you know, the likes of Nixon kind of negatives, when he was going down. 

And so she steps in to the party‘s front-runner announcement day, and does everything she can to ruin it.  Does she have any goodwill left in the Republican party after something like this? 

SCHMIDT:  You know, it‘s hard to tell.  She certainly has a fan base out there.  And a lot of that fan base are Republican primary voters.  If she runs, she will not be the nominee.  If she were nominated, Barack Obama for sure would be re-elected to the presidency. 

But, you know, at the end of the day, if she chooses to go out there and speak, she‘s obviously going to be covered.  She‘s going to be covered in a pretty big time way.  And if she chooses to intervene in the contest, it‘s just something that the candidates are going to have to learn to get used to and are going to have to figure out how to respond to as the campaign goes forward. 

O‘DONNELL:  Steve, you worked with Sarah Palin in the last presidential campaign.  You‘re sitting here tonight looking at any version of a Sarah Palin candidacy in the Republican field, and it is your view she would have no chance at getting the Republican nomination, even against what people are calling a weak field of Republican candidates? 

SCHMIDT:  At the end of the day, I have faith in the process.  And when you look at the early states, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, all of these states and the citizens in them, both Republicans and Democrats, take this process very, very seriously.  And I think because they take it very seriously, she will have a very difficult time. 

And at the end of the day, this is a process that culminates in election days, where the eventual nominee has to garner more votes than their opponent.  So on that basis, I don‘t think she is going to be successful if she decided to run the race. 

And, again, I think it‘s impossible to predict what she‘s going to do.  You know, this is one of the central challenges again that our candidates are going to have.  If you are working for Governor Huntsman or Governor Romney or Governor Pawlenty on a daily basis, you‘re going to have to figure out how to communicate serious things in a serious way to people who, you know, demand to hear that, you know, around this circus atmosphere. 

And that is just the way it is.  I think it‘s the new normal in politics. 

O‘DONNELL:  Steve, I don‘t know Republican presidential primary dynamics nearly as well as you do, not half as well.  But from my perspective, as you know, I‘ve been picking Pawlenty all along, through a process of elimination.  I‘m seeing some of it working today, the attacks on the front-runner immediately when he announces. 

This today I‘ve got to say looks like another good day for the Pawlenty campaign. 

SCHMIDT:  There‘s no doubt that when you look at the race, that, you know, Governor Romney is going to be subjected to a pile-on by every other candidate in every debate, where people say that there‘s no difference between Romney care and Obama care.  And I think that just factually—I think that‘s a bit unfair.  But I don‘t think fairness is going to matter much in this equation. 

And obviously, if governor Romney falters, you know, one of two people in the race thus far, either Huntsman or Pawlenty, will be the beneficiaries of it.  But, you know, for certain, I think that the field as presently constituted, our nominee will be out of one of those three candidates. 

O‘DONNELL:  Steve Schmidt, formerly with the McCain for President Campaign, thank you for your invaluable insight on Republican presidential politics tonight, Steve. 

SCHMIDT:  Thank you, Lawrence. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  In a scathing editorial about Chris Christie‘s controversial helicopter ride, “the Star Ledger” of New Jersey wrote, quote, “now we know why he can‘t imagine what it‘s like to walk a mile in the shoes of regular New Jerseyans.  He doesn‘t even walk a hundred yards in his own.”  That‘s coming up.

And Bill O‘Reilly says the liberal media is protecting Congressman Anthony Weiner.  That gets Bill O‘Reilly tonight‘s Rewrite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Bill O‘Reilly returns to tonight‘s Rewrite.  Apparently if you‘re a white man in America, you are going to have your own TV show eventually.  And, of course, you are going to have your own sex scandal eventually.  Those of us who are lucky enough to already have our own TV shows, but are still patiently awaiting our first sex scandals are really the only ones who should comment on the sex scandals that keep coming our way in the flow of the day‘s news. 

If you already have had your own TV show and you already had your open sex scandal, it is really, really uncool for you to do this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  We‘ve known Congressman Anthony Weiner for years, and believe he has totally botched the Twitter-gate story.  Weiner is a smart guy.  But telling the press that he doesn‘t know if the picture in question is him is eye roll material. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  No, Bill, Bill, Bill.  When you have provided the eye roll material in your own sex scandal, even if it was a few years ago, even if it was in September of 2004, you really don‘t want to tread into this territory.  When these stories come across your Fox News desk, it‘s just the classy thing to do.  You don‘t do this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘REILLY:  Now predictably some in the left-wing media are protecting Weiner, as the congressman is a very liberal congressman. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  OK, Bill.  Go to our website, TheLastWord.MSNBC.com, and watch my segment on Anthony Weiner from last night.  I talked about him for about 10 minutes.  And I made no attempt to protect him, because I don‘t think there‘s anything to protect him from. 

I‘ve said there‘s nothing in his Twitter account that offends me in any way.  There‘s nothing in it that I find scandalous.  There‘s nothing in it that has anything to do with his ability to do his job.  As a member of Congress.  If his wife has questions about his Twitter account, I leave it to them to deal with that. 

There‘s nothing—nothing at stake in this story for us. 

Now, Bill, what you‘re half right about is that Anthony Weiner is protected because he is a liberal.  That‘s true.  He is not an anti-gay Republican who has been caught enjoying gay sex.  He is not a gay hating fundamentalist preacher who has been caught loving gay sex.  He is not an abortion banning Republican who has been accused of paying for an abortion. 

Anthony Weiner‘s political currency is not stamped with phony Republican puritanism.  And so he cannot be convicted of hypocrisy for preaching some kind of right-wing sterile puritan code that he may or may not have now violated. 

Now, Bill, I want to give you a lesson in taking the high road.  Here‘s what I could do right now.  Here‘s what everyone‘s expecting me to do right now.  They‘re expecting me, yeah, to flip open the official filings of the 2004 lawsuit against you for sexual harassment and hostile work environment that you settled for millions and millions of dollars and read the memorable passages, some of which the people in your audience and mine have memorized. 

You know, the stuff involving the loofa and the falafel.  But I‘m not going to do that.  Not me.  Especially since this is so easy to find online, and it will be there for the rest of time. 

I‘m putting down this weapon.  I‘m not going to do that kind of personal attack here.  I‘m taking the high road.  And I‘m going to try to continue to take the high road, no matter what you do or say about Anthony Weiner.

But I‘m going to keep this civil complaint right here on my anchor desk for as long as this silly Twitter controversy stays alive.  I‘m not going to take on anyone who attacks Anthony Weiner who has never had his own sex scandal.  They can take as many shots at Weiner as they want.  I do not care. 

But you, Bill?  Come on.  You know what it‘s like to be falsely accused in a sex scandal.  Well, actually, we couldn‘t find any record of you saying that these were false accusations, that you were falsely accused.  But you did say that the lawsuit was, quote, “the single most evil thing I have ever experienced, and I‘ve seen a lot.” 

Of course, if you‘d have the courage to go to Vietnam like John Kerry and hundreds of thousands of others of your generation, you would have experienced a little more evil.  But you‘re as afraid of combat as I am, so you missed out on your chance to risk your life for America, just like I did. 

But I digress. 

Bill, you really should take a pass on this Twitter story.  You know, there‘s nothing in it that offends you.  You know that.  You know that there‘s nothing in it that is in any way relevant to Anthony Weiner‘s ability to serve in government.  You know that. 

I know that you see this thing the same way I do.  I know you do.  Now, I‘m not saying you can‘t comment on it at all.  I‘m just saying you‘re in no position.  None of us really are in any position, but you especially are in no position to judge Anthony Weiner‘s Twitter traffic. 

So, Bill, please, don‘t make it too difficult for me to continue to take the high road.  Don‘t make me go there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie agreed to reimburse the state 2,151 dollars for using a 12 million dollar state helicopter to ferry him to his son‘s high school baseball game.  The New Jersey Republican party also agreed to reimburse the state 1,332 for the trip from the game to a meeting with Republicans. 

The decision is a reversal from yesterday, when Christie insisted that the flights were a justified taxpayer expense.  That was before the “New Jersey Star Ledger” weighed in with an editorial on the subject.  “Call it sanctimonious one.  The taxpayer funded helicopter which Governor Chris Christie didn‘t hesitate to use at our expense for a joy ride, or several, while everyone else, by the governor‘s decree, must tighten belts and do without things like healthcare for women and tax rebates for seniors.  For example, Christie thought it was OK for taxpayers to cough up a grand or two so he could take the flying limousine to a battlefield.  Now we know why—to a ball field.  Now we know why he can‘t imagine what it‘s like to walk a mile in the shoes or regular New Jerseyans.  He doesn‘t even walk 100 yards in his own.”

That is a reference to the governor traveling 100 yards in a limousine from the helicopter landing spot to his son‘s game.  After reimbursing the state, Governor Christie held a press conference and never said I‘m sorry. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  If you want to try to do all the things that people want you to do as governor, and also be a father, and try to make sure that you get to as many of the things for your kids that you want to be at, there are times when it is literally impossible to do that by car. 

And two of those instances came up in the last week.  And if me writing a check for 2,100 bucks and a 1,200 dollars check from the state committee to pay for these two helicopter rides will allow us to focus on the really important issues to the people in the state of New Jersey, then I‘m willing to do it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is Dana Milbank, a columnist for “the Washington Post.”  Thanks for joining me tonight, Dana. 

DANA MILBANK, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Hello, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  Dana, Chris Christie has four kids.  17, 14 -- seven-year-old boy, 14-year-old girl, 10-year-old boy.  He is going to be going to a lot of piano recitals, a lot of ballet recitals, a lot of games.  That‘s going to be a lot of helicopter traffic. 

MILBANK:  The tally could run up quite a bit.  I mean, the problem here is the state of New Jersey spent 12 million a pop on these helicopters, supposedly for homeland security, not for the domestic tranquility of Chris Christie‘s family.  Now, everybody can understand as a parent you want to get to these ball games. 

But, OK, Chris Christie went to this ball game and then left in the fifth inning on the helicopter, so he could go sit down with some wealthy guys from Iowa who are trying to get him to run for president.  So you have to make certain sacrifices here, which he has not been willing to make. 

And this for Chris Christie is unfortunately part of a long history.  When he was the U.S. attorney from New Jersey, he was known for spending 475 dollars a night at the Four Seasons here in Washington, 800 bucks for rides back and forth from the airport. 

And I know that Governor Christie is probably listening to your show tonight.  I want to say I‘m willing to put him up for half that price in my house the next time he comes to Washington. 

O‘DONNELL:  Be careful, Dana.  Be careful.  Now, he is hiding and using the family as his defense.  He is saying this is all in service to my family.  Now, given that he has done that, I feel compelled to point out that the best service to his family could—may have been to choose not to be governor during these developmental years of those children. 

Why not wait until they made it into college and then pursue this new career? 

MILBANK:  Well, look, he made that choice.  And I think some people would fault him for it.  Many others wouldn‘t.  What‘s really getting him in trouble is not the fact that he‘s used these helicopters 33 times.  Some of his predecessors used helicopters thousands of times.  The point is, as the “Star Ledger” was pointed out, he has asked other New Jerseyans to do without. 

So for example, half of these 33 flights, more or less, were to appointments he had in New York.  This is the guy that killed the Hudson River Tunnel to New York.  What does he care about traffic in the Hudson River Tunnel if he can take a helicopter to New York? 

That‘s the sort of thing that is going to sit very badly with voters, and gives a sense of hypocrisy to this. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yeah.  In New Jersey, which has the slowest moving vehicle rates in the country, you spend more time in the car there even than southern California, to helicopter around is to be completely oblivious to the reality of life in New Jersey. 

MILBANK:  It is.  Although it may actually be necessary if you‘re the governor.  I have often wanted to do that while driving up to New York from Washington.  But it is not to be for mere mortals. 

But it may be something that the governor needs to do.  But he has to be sensitive to this because so many of his predecessors, half a dozen, have had some version of helicopter scandals of their own, buying the helicopters, selling the helicopter, using private helicopters, literally thousands of flights. 

O‘DONNELL:  It just shows he is politically tone deaf on this sort of things.  Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post,” thank you very much for joining me tonight. 

MILBANK:  Thanks, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog, TheLastWord.MSNBC.com.  And you can follow my Tweets @Lawrence.  I still don‘t know how to attach photographs to Tweets.  Maybe Anthony Weiner can teach me that next time he‘s on the show.  “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is up next.  Good evening, Rachel.

END   

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