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Msnbc Live at 6 p.m. ET, Thursday June 16, 2011

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

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Guests: Ed Rendell, Dana Milbank, Bill Press, Pat Buchanan, Joshua Trevino,

Jane Hamsher, Jonathan Capehart, E.J. Dionne

CENK UYGUR, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And we‘ve got a GOP double fail.  Romney tells voters he‘s just like them, but in the most condescending way possible.  And remember that cool video for Jon Huntsman‘s people?  Well, there‘s an awesome surprise about that, and it‘s bad news for their campaign.

Plus, George Bush a liberal?  We‘ll you why he is when compared to the Republican field today.

Good evening.  I‘m Cenk Uygur.  Welcome to the show, everybody.

One of the most absurd scandals in recent memory has ended in appropriately absurd fashion.  That‘s our lead story tonight.  Today, Anthony Weiner walked into a circus where legitimate reporters were joined by hecklers, joining (ph) to a frenzy by the taste of political blood on the water.  Weiner drew a national audience as he finally ended the scandal that launched a thousand puns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ANTHONY WEINER, (D) NEW YORK:  Today, I‘m announcing my resignation from Congress.  So my colleague can get back to work, my neighbors can choose a new representative, and most importantly, that my wife and can I continue to heal from the damage I have caused.  To repeat, most importantly, most importantly, so that I can continue to heal from the damage that I have caused.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  What a crazy scene.  Weiner now returns to private life, and voters in the New York ninth Congressional district will face a special election to fill his seat.  For Democrats on Capitol Hill today, the relief was palpable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m glad the resignation is happening.  That‘s eminent.  That the hemorrhaging will stop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s been a while coming, but I think he‘s acted appropriately in this case as far as resigning from the House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s the straw that broke the camel‘s back.  And I think that we pray for his family.  It‘s important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Democrats were sick of the endless headlines and jokes that took them off of message and forced him to answer for someone else‘s behavior.  Nancy Pelosi made that clear at a news conference today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA:  As usual, we‘re here to talk about jobs, about protecting Medicare, and protecting the middle class.  If you‘re here to ask a question about Congressman Weiner, I won‘t be answering any.  I‘ve made the statements I‘m going to make.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Look, there‘s no question that this story has been a distraction for the Democrats.  Before Weiner-gate, the top story, it was the public‘s rejection of the Paul Ryan budget and the stunning Democratic upset in a New York special election, but in the week after Weiner admitted the truth, he pushed that narrative out of the news.  Seventeen percent of news stories were about Weiner.  Much more than issues like the economy, the Middle East, and the 2012 election.

But is being a distraction good enough reason to resign?  This was a new media scandal, one where the sin was less important than the sizzle.  It‘s very clear if there are photos or tweets or text messages of your misbehavior, you‘ll be forced out.  We‘ve seen it with Weiner along with Chris Lee and Mark Foley.  Their sin wasn‘t what they did as much the way that they did it.

The pictures and the texts helped make them a punch line that kept the story going in the media.  With the Weiner, the funny name was, of course, an added bonus that proved irresistible to all of us in the national media.  Now, if you cheat on your wife or break the law, but there are no pictures or text, then, it appears you will survive, at least, the initial exposure. 

That‘s part of why David Vitter is still in the Senate and why John Ensign and Larry Craig stayed in office long after their scandals erupted.  So, apparently, there‘s a new standard in Washington.  Who cares what you did, just make sure there‘s nothing for the media or your political opponents to make fun of it later, then you‘ll be safe.

All right.  Let‘s talk about it now.  Joining me is former Pennsylvania governor and DNC chair, Ed Rendell.  Now, of course, he‘s an MSNBC political analyst, and Dana Milbank, national political correspondent for the “Washington Post”.  Governor Rendell, is this the new standard make sure you don‘t take any picture, but you know, if you‘re like Vitter and you‘re with a hooker is solely OK?

ED RENDELL, FORMER DNC CHAIR:  look, there‘s no question that David Vitter shouldn‘t be a member of the U.S. Congress today.  It was an outrage that the Congress didn‘t move to not only censor him but reject him.  He broke the law.  It‘s what Eliot Spitzer resigned from office for.  He broke the law.  Going to a prostitute, paying money to a prostitute is illegal.  We should not have a congressman who did that.

So, his sin in many ways, is greater than Anthony Weiner.  You can make a case that Anthony Weiner hurt himself and his wonderful wife, most of all, but having said that, I think the key message was the message that some of Anthony‘s colleagues gave and he gave himself.  It had become a distraction that was hurting making progress on the things that Anthony Weiner has fought so hard and so well and so ably for throughout his whole career.

If Democrats would have had to vote on an ethics resolution, censoring him or dismissing him from the House, it would have been a very difficult vote for any Democrat to resist, casting an vote (ph).  Otherwise, it would have jeopardized the reelection.

UYGUR:  Right.

RENDELL:  I think Anthony understood that, and I think he did the right thing.  Is he finished in politics?  I‘m not sure.  If he gets treatment, we‘re a country that redeems a lot of people.  We‘ve seen that over and over again.  Forty-one percent of New Yorkers say they‘d like to see Eliot Spitzer as governor.

UYGUR:  Right.  You know, look, I think that‘s exactly right on the issue of the politics of it.  Later for Weiner‘s career, I think stepping down probably helps him rather than hurts him in maintaining his career.  But having said that, you mentioned something very important, governor, that I want to discuss with both of you guys.  How does this process work?  Like, what does that mean that it‘s a distraction, Dana?  Like, what consequences does that have?  Let‘s talk about that.  What is the process by which that Democrats think that it hurts them?

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, I think there‘s a couple of things here.  One is that the Democrats aren‘t in control in the House, and they really felt that the Republicans could use this to their advantage in the election, stretch out the ethics process to really hammer away at the Democrats.  So, I think that played into this quite a bit.  I think the other element you‘ve got to add in here is that Weiner wasn‘t particularly popular with his colleagues.

So, one of the reasons people survive is, you know, take Charlie Rangel for example, people will rally to his defense.  So, yes, he got punished, but not in the same way that Weiner did with the punishment that arguably is much greater than the crime.  So, I guess the moral of the story here is, if you‘re going to do something bad, you want to make sure you have a good base of support.  So, you know, Governor Rendell very popular with his peers.  He could probably tweet out anything he wanted.

(LAUGHTER)

RENDELL:  I don‘t tweet.  I‘m not on Facebook.  Never ever, ever.  But let me just say one thing, Cenk, to what Dana said because it‘s right.  Maybe Anthony wasn‘t popular, but let me tell you, I didn‘t always agree with him on every single issue, but for progressive politics, nobody, and I want to underscore nobody.  Nobody defended the position of progressive Democrats better and more effectively than Anthony Weiner.

Nobody have the courage to stand up and say things that other people thought, but we‘re too afraid to say than Anthony Weiner.  He will be a huge loss.  Did he do the right thing for the party and for hopefully regaining the House of Representatives?  Yes, he did.  Did he do the right thing for his future?  I believe he can come back if he goes through treatment.

And clearly, Anthony had a compulsion, and a compulsion that made him do things that he‘s smart enough to know were absolutely guarantee to destroy his career.  So, he‘s got to get back on track.  And I think, you haven‘t heard the last of Anthony Weiner and that‘s a good thing.

UYGUR:  You know, and one of the things that I‘m discouraged by is that this is, you know, a popularity contest.  And by the way, one of the ways you get popular is by making deals, right?  I mean, you got a politician who‘s standing up to some of the powerful interests so he doesn‘t have a lot of friends in Washington, and next thing you know, he‘s under a bus.  So, but, you know, I want to talk about the precedent created here, Dana.

So, now, since—he didn‘t actually do anything wrong.  It was nothing illegal or anything like that.  Is the new precedent that, OK well, just go and dig up dirt and find some pictures or texts or whatever of your political opponents, and then, they‘ll become a distraction, and then, they have to go.

MILBANK:  I think that part of that, the new rule is the technology here, and that is if we, in the press, have an image to play with, then, the guy is going to be in a great deal of more trouble.  The other thing here is that Weiner made himself a bigger target because he was so aggressive and out there and in the Republican‘s faces.  You know, from my point of view, that was terrific.

He was really brilliant in the way he would take it to the Republicans weather whether on the floor, you know, having that poster of click and clack when he was defending NPR during the healthcare vote.  I was outside there in the balcony outside the house chamber.  He came out when all the House Republicans were out there riling up the crowd.

And he said I feel like Mussolini as he stood there and waved to the crowd.  This is a guy who really took it to the Republicans, and when you make yourself so visible out there, you‘d become that much more of a target.

UYGUR:  That‘s what I‘m worried about, right, because this guy went after the Republicans, and they were looking at his account the whole time, and then, they got him with this, which he sent it out.  It‘s his fault, I get that.  No question about that, right?  But at the same time, he made himself a target.  You look at Alan Grayson.  They spent a tremendous amount of money to target Alan Grayson to make sure he lost in Florida.  Does that send a very bad message to the Democrats, keep your head low, don‘t attack Republicans?

RENDELL:  No, because remember, you said—Cenk, I don‘t think you meant it, you said Anthony didn‘t do anything wrong.  He did do something wrong.

UYGUR:  I mean legally.

RENDELL:  No, he didn‘t break any laws.  I don‘t know about the investigation with the 17-year-old.  I think that‘s closed.

UYGUR:  It‘s closed.  Absolutely.

RENDELL:  But he did do something that was wrong.  And believe me, I love his politics, I love his courage, but he did do something wrong.  And he also showed incredibly bad judgment and a behavior that borders on compulsion, self-destructive behavior.

UYGUR:  Governor, let me say something controversial about that, so what?  FDR had mistresses.  JFK had ton of mistresses.  Would it matter during the Cuban missile crisis?  Would it matter during the new deal (ph)?  I don‘t give—I really don‘t care at all what FDR, JFK, or Weiner‘s personal life was.

RENDELL:  And I agree with that.  And you can go even further down the litany of American presidents and American leaders, but he did something in the public domain.  It was weird, it was strange, and I think it was offensive to a lot of people.

Now, you can say the women who received it weren‘t offended, but still, it‘s something that I don‘t think its conduct, especially now, one of our biggest problems in the Pennsylvania legislature, who should be doing other things, but they‘re really cracking down on sexting, particularly among teenagers.  It‘s not a great thing for our leaders to be doing something that we‘re telling young people not to do.

UYGUR:  Look, what I‘m worried about is that new standard is if you do something that causes giggles, you‘re gone.  Otherwise, you can do anything you like.  You can invade a country illegally.  You can do torture.  You can sleep with prostitutes.  None of it matters if there aren‘t funny pictures.  That‘s what I‘m worried about, but this is a great conversation.

RENDELL:  Remember, remember, Anthony could have stuck it out.  I‘m not sure that the votes would have been there to force him to resign.  I don‘t know what Dana thinks about that.  He could have stuck it out, but I think he did the right thing for the party, and the causes he believes in, and in the long run, I think he did the right thing for himself.

MILBANK:  All right.  I am not going to join—I am not going to join Governor Rendell in making any more puns about Anthony Weiner.

(LAUGHTER)

RENDELL:  Did I make a pun?  I‘m sorry.  But I want to say one thing before we cut out, Cenk.  Everyone watching us today should read Dana‘s column today.  It was in the “Philadelphia Enquirer.”  It‘s about Governor Romney.  You heard me say good things about him.  I was co-governor at the same time, and I like him.

But Governor Romney told one of the worst jokes, one of the corniest jokes, maybe in the history of the country, and it‘s detailed in Dana‘s column today.  You should read it.  It‘s just hysterical.  

UYGUR:  And I like it.  I like it because it helps everybody and that‘s a good tease for us because we‘ve got that story coming up in a little bit right here on this program.

All right.  So, MSNBC political analyst, Ed Rendell, and Dana Milbank from “The Washington Post,” thank you both guys.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Cenk.

UYGUR:  All right.  Now, when we come back, Congressman Weiner is gone, so what about David Vitter and why does he get a pass?  And what was he up to today?  And what was the precedent set by the Weiner scandal?  We‘re going to discuss that a little bit more.

Plus, as we just said, Mitt Romney claims to be the big jobs creating candidate.  So, why was he laughing at the unemployed today?

And Chivalry is not dead as it turns out.  Newt Gingrich defends his wife.  How?  He says it‘s because she‘s like Nancy Reagan and he‘s like Ronald Reagan.  Oh, classic news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Senator David Vitter did not speak at any press conference today.  He wasn‘t heckled or hounded by the press.  He went to work in the U.S. Senate and vote a yes on amendment to end ethanol subsidies.  That‘s rare a good vote for him.  Good for him.  Very rare.  Nearly four years after Vitter admitted to breaking the law and cheating on his wife by sleeping with prostitutes, he still has a job.

Now, one of the reasons is that DC Madam‘s Phone Records are not at all interesting.  They are evidence that Vitter cheated and broke the law, but they are no crotch shots on Twitter.  So, what precedent does the Weiner scandal set?  Is the message that we get that it‘s OK to cheat on your wife as long as there are no pictures?  Think about that, is that a defensible principle?  Should we go around like, OK, any texts?  OK, break the law.  Who cares?  Where is the juicy pictures?

Is the new standard that you just can‘t be a distraction?  Is that what it is?  But doesn‘t that just encourage people to dig into all of the congressman‘s personal lives to find embarrassing material, and then, whether they did anything wrong or not, whether they broke the law or not, apparently, they have to resign so they can stop being a distraction.  Look, I think that‘s a really bad precedent, and God knows what can happen with it in the future.

Let‘s talk about it now.  Let‘s bring in Bill Press.  He‘s the host of “The Bill Press Show” on Sirius XM Radio and also joining me, MSNBC political analyst, Pat Buchanan.  All right.  Bill, let me start with you.  I mean, what kind of precedent is this?  So, I mean like, let‘s say we have funny pictures of nothing wrong whatsoever.  Let‘s say he sent it to his wife.  Do we also get to giggle (LAUGHTER) OK, he‘s got to resign, it‘s a distraction.

BILL PRESS, RADIO HOST:  Now, listen, I don‘t think it‘s clear at all.  First of all, I think there are two standards maybe that we see here.  The first is, you‘re right.  If there are pics, you‘re out.  If there are no pics, you‘re in.  Look, there were no pictures of Larry Craig, none of Mark Sanford, none of John Ensign, none of David Vitter.  The other three waiting their own time, but they‘re allowed to finish their term.

Ensign just resigned to avoid the Senate ethics investigation, and David Vitter, of course, is still on the job.  The other standard is, if you‘re a Democrat, the Democrats are the first, too quickly, in my opinion, too eager to throw their own under the bus.  Republicans will stand by their people.  And, of course, insist that the Democrats got to go.  And that‘s the hypocrisy we saw with ranks free (ph), the starting within, the Republican national chair, the first to call for Weiner to resign and refuse to even comment on David Vitter.

UYGUR:  Both things that Bill just smashing is they‘re both important.  So, for example, we had a picture of Larry Craig in that bathroom in Minnesota doing, you know, goopy (ph) things, or Vitter, I mean, some of the charges I won‘t even repeat on air.  If we had pictures of that, of Vitter, I mean, they‘d be gone, right?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think so.  And if you had pictures of Bill Clinton in the oval office, I don‘t think 50 Democratic senators would have voted to sustain him in office and almost all the Democratic members in the house, that‘s correct, but the key point here, Cenk, is you guys threw him under the bus.  They threw him under the bus.

UYGUR:  Great point.

BUCHANAN:  Because he was expandable (ph).

UYGUR:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  He was expandable, and because you are opportunistic, because it was an embarrassment because the Republicans are going to use it against you.  And here is Weiner, who did something bizarre and weird and dead wrong as Ed Rendell said, but who is fighting for you guys everyday on the floor of the House in the face of the Republicans?  He‘s not my guy.  He‘s your guy.  And you threw him under the bus.

UYGUR:  Pat, I can‘t believe I‘m about to say this.  But Pat Buchanan, I love what you just said.  I think that‘s exactly right.

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  Wait a second.  Pat, I want to stay with you for a second, because I want to ask you, you‘re a Republican.  Would Republicans have done that to their own or would they have circled the wagons?

BUCHANAN:  Well, Cenk, I spent 18 months defending Richard Nixon who did do some things wrong because he‘d been like a father to me and a friend to me, and he was my leader, and he had made mistakes.  And your guys, they didn‘t stay with him.  You didn‘t retrieve your wounded.  He‘s your own man.  I‘m not saying you defend what he did at all, but what I am saying is, why were you guys the ones pouring the water in the face of a drowning man when he was your guy?

PRESS:  Hey, Pat, let me jump in, Cenk, I agree with Pat.  You won‘t hear me say that very often as well, but the reason we do it is because too many Democrats are weenies.  Look, I‘m sorry resigned, but I understand when you got the president of the United States, the Democratic leader, you know, Chris Van Hollen, the chair of the Democratic National Party, Steve Israel, head of the DCC, and most of his colleagues telling him to resign, it‘s hard it resist.

Now, I just want to point out one thing, President Obama suggested and called for, in fact, Anthony Weiner to resign.  He never called for David Vitter to resign.  He never called for Charlie Rangel to resign.  He‘s the only one of all these people them that got in trouble.  Why did the president of the United States have to get involved in that?

UYGUR:  That‘s a great point, Bill.

BUCHANAN:  The question is, why did Anthony Weiner resign?  And the answer is, he was friendless.  Why was he friendless?

UYGUR:  I‘ll tell you why, because he fought.  Because he came out and made people uncomfortable by fighting back against Republicans.

BUCHANAN:  Why was he friendless in the Democratic Party, Cenk?  I understand why—

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  Hey, listen, I‘ve seen this a hundred times.  Hold on.  Let me just say.  Look, I saw with Howard Dean.  I saw it with anybody that challenges the establishment.  What happens is Democrats get more uncomfortable than the Republicans.  They‘re like, oh, My god, he‘s actually challenging everybody.  We were just having so much fun agreeing with the Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  You are the party, Cenk, that argues, you know, voluntary sexual relations between consenting adults are don‘t have any moral content, whatever, and that nobody‘s business.  And this guy didn‘t consummate anything.  He sent in some joke over the e-mails, and you got a hold of him, and then, you drown him.

PRESS:  Yes, go ahead.  I just want to say, for the record, I have to agree with Pat again.  That voluntary sexual relations between consenting adults is OK.  I mean, I don‘t think that‘s too radical.

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t agree with that, but that your guys‘ morality.

UYGUR:  Look, and I agree, that is my morality.  So, Pat, you characterize it accurately.  I think that‘s exactly right.  He is the only guy on TV saying what are we doing here?  This is crazy.  But Bill, when you look at this, when we look at this, a year from now, are we going to go, what the hell did we do to this guy?  He did something in his private life.  Why did we care so much?  Why dud we force him to resign?

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS:  Hey, listen.  Pat, hold on a second.  Pat, Pat, hold on a second, OK?  Look, Cenk, a year from now, we won‘t even be talking about Anthony.  We wonder, you know what, we will miss him.  We will miss him in the fights on the floor.  We will miss him in the fights around the country because nobody fought like he did.  And let me tell you, in 2012, here is where the Democrats made a mistake.

They thought this was going to be a distraction in 2012.  In 2012, people aren‘t going to be thinking Weiner‘s wiener.  They‘re going to be talking about jobs, and the economy, and maybe Libya, I hope, and Afghanistan, and this is going to be behind us, and we‘ve lost a good man.

UYGUR:  Pat, last question for you.

BUCHANAN:  What Bill said is correct here.  Look, this was and they use the term distraction.  It was a distraction for eight or ten days.  I haven‘t been reading about Weiner for the last week.  Nobody has.  It‘s all gone.  Basically.  Until you guys kept pushing him and pushing him.  The president, himself, grabbed the rug and pulled it and said, get out of here.  And that‘s why he‘s gone.

UYGUR:  Yes, I know, that‘s what I was going to ask you the last question.  As you, guys, see this, and you know, initially, you know, conservatives who broke the story, and then, they sit back and let the Democrats, you know, go after each other.  Do you sit back and kind of snicker and go, Democrats, you know, they won‘t help each other at all.  They do our job for us.

BUCHANAN:  Well, you know what I would say is I told you, look, I‘m a conservative Republican and I‘m a traditionalist.  And what I think what Weiner did was immoral and wrong.  Now, you folks don‘t, but I do think this—

UYGUR:  Pat, whoa, whoa, whoa.  That‘s not fair.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS:  Pat, you can‘t go there.  We all said it was wrong, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  I would be glad to go to the House Ethics Committee.  And you guys couldn‘t take the heat.  That‘s why he‘s gone.

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  As we go here, I‘ve got to clarify.  What he did in his personal life was morally wrong.  Everybody agrees to that, right?

PRESS:  Yes.

UYGUR:  The question is, does that affect his Congressional life and his political life, and that‘s where I think we all agree that he shouldn‘t.

PRESS:  And he did not break the law.

UYGUR:  Absolutely right.

Bill Press and Pat Buchanan, fun as always.  Thank you, guys.

BUCHANAN:  OK.

UYGUR:  All right.  Now, when we come back, Speaker Boehner and his crew are vowing to cut debt and get fiscally responsible?  But they should look at their own freshman class, the great Republican debt hypocrisy revealed in our “Con Job of the Day.”

Plus, the radical righties are moving the goal post.  So far, some liberals are longing for the days of push.  Can you believe that?  That is scary thought.  We‘ll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  The Republican rookies worried about our public debt who have huge chunks of private debt themselves.  Well, that‘s our “Con Job of the Day.”  “The Washington Post” reports the new financial records show that 30 GOP house freshman had at least $50,000 in debt last year.  Now, plenty of that debt was in the form of mortgages on rental property and car and student loans.  That‘s understandable.

By the way, mortgages on their own houses were not counted, OK?  But some members had huge amounts of credit card debt, making their calls for fiscal responsibility ring a little hollow.  For example, our conservative Representative Tim Griffin owing at least $15,000 in credit card debt.  But that‘s in his personal life.  In D.C., he is pushing for a balanced budget.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN:  Ultimately yes, we have a spending problem but the root of the spending problem is a discipline problem. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  I wonder if he has a discipline problem.  Florida‘s Dennis Ross has at least $25,000 of credit card debt but he says Uncle Sam has to live within his means. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS ROSS ®, FLORIDA:  If we are going to at least pay in first and live within our means, then we can start cutting away at other expenses. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  And Blake Farenthold of Texas might be the biggest spender.  He had between 45 and $150,000 of credit card debt.  But Farenthold has a different take on public spending.  He says quote, “like the rest of America, the government needs to tighten its belt and work within its means.”  The rest of America apparently does not include Congressman Farenthold.  But look, I want to be clear on this.  I‘m not judging them for having debt.  Look, most of us have it, right?  In fact, I‘m actually pleasantly surprise that they‘re not all millionaires.  By the way, records show that a lot of them are.  But the problem here is that these guys say that our country having debt is totally unacceptable.  But in their own private lives, they obviously believe that debt can be useful. 

For example, Congressman Stephen Lee Fincher owes between 1.6 to $6.4 million on his family‘s farm in Tennessee.  So, obviously he thinks incurring debt as an investment in his farm works.  Then why not allow us to make an invest many in the American people.  To try to fix our infrastructure and create jobs while we‘re at it.  Look, that kind of GOP hypocrisy of debt is good for me but it‘s bad for you is our con job of the day.       

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Welcome back to the show, everybody.  For today‘s biggest news that does not involve Congressman Weiner, we are going to bring out our Power Panel.  Jonathan Capehart, editorial writer for The Washington Post and MSNBC contributor.  Also with us Jane Hamsher, founder and publisher of FireDogLake.com.  And finally, Josh Trevino, vice president of Communications at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Think Tank. 

First question for the panel.  Do republicans have an authenticity problem?  Today, Mitt Romney met with a group of unemployed people in Florida, when they finish talking about their situation, he said this.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, 2012 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, you know, I should tell my story.  I‘m also unemployed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Ha ha ha, so funny.  I‘m unemployed.  He is worth, as you see there, between 109 to $250 million.  I don‘t think that‘s funny.  Josh, do you think that‘s funny. 

JOSHUA TREVINO, TEXAS PUBLIC POLICY FOUNDATION:  It is certainly a category of jokes that multimillionaires shouldn‘t be making.  But what I do think is funny is that we actually got to see Debbie Wasserman-Schultz criticized somebody for a faux pas today, that‘s funny. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Nice deflection—OK.  But Jane, come on.  That has got to rub people in the wrong way, right?  And that Mitt Romney‘s problem.  I mean, isn‘t it like when he tries to come across as authentic, it comes off like ten times worse?  How condescending did that sound?  

JANE HAMSHER, FOUNDER, FIREDOGLAKE.COM:  It sounded really condescending.  It draws attention to the fact that Mitt Romney had been in capital made his money by selling off corporate assets and firing people.  It is like Mitt Romney looks like the guy who fired your dad, no, Mitt Romney is the guy who fired your dad and it‘s entirely ironic. 

(CROSSTALK)

Exactly.  And entirely ironic that the whole Tea Party movement came together to protests all over the bank bailouts and government being owned by the banks.  And all now they are rallying behind Mitt Romney, the guy who ran the Hedge Fund.  

TREVINO:  The Tea Parties are rallying behind Mitt Romney?

HAMSHER:  The polls have. 

UYGUR:  Josh, you got to see that poll.  The last one that came out, Romney is at 30 percent.  Way above everyone else.  

TREVINO:  Cenk, first of all, you and I both know the field is incomplete.  And secondly, right now, the polls are measuring mostly name recognition.  Mitt Romney is not a Tea Party choice.  Nobody could.

UYGUR:  All right.  Fair enough.  And look, the Tea Party has got issues with him.  But Jonathan, let‘s go to that point, right?  So, here‘s the guy who ran a Hedge Fund, basically, you know.  Been in capitals, there is a lot of ways to categorize that.  But he obviously worked with Wall Street.  Here is a guy who is 47th in the country in creating jobs when he was in Massachusetts.  And his main platform is creating jobs.  Is it just that, you know, they are immune to facts or he is saying, I don‘t know.  I will turn my weakness into a strength by repeating it as many times as I can?  

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Oh, I don‘t know if he is—well, look, he‘s made the economy and jobs, you know, his number one issue.  The number one focus of his campaign.  Which politically speaking is the right thing to do.  No matter if you agree—who the republican nominee is going to be.  They have to go with the economy and jobs if they want to have any chance of hammering a weigh at President Obama and maybe taking the White House from him.  But I think as the campaign goes along, the republican primaries go along, and we start seeing who his primary opponents will be. 

I would be very surprised if you didn‘t see one of his opponents come out there and start talking about his Wall Street connections and how committed he is to creating jobs when he was someone, you know, part of bank capital who got rid of jobs, who ended people‘s jobs.  And, you know, quite frankly, reading, I‘m also unemployed, comes off differently than actually hearing the joke.  I didn‘t take it as condescending.  But what I do take it as Mitt Romney being someone who is desperately trying to seem like an everyday regular guy and coming off as completely corny.  

UYGUR:  At least corny.  By the way, I know why Jonathan pronounced the economy jonomy (ph).  Because like Cenk, the C is pronounced like J in Turkish.  So, I know you were just trying to be respectful.  And I appreciate that.  Right.  Now, all right.  I‘m going to bring in another, you know, Republican into this mixed now.  Huntsman came out with a video, for his campaign, where he is riding a bike across the desert and there is country music and he so super cool.  Except we find out today, that wasn‘t Huntsman.  What is their problem?  I mean, OK.  I start again with you.  Josh, I mean, that‘s a bad idea, right?  To put that out there like it‘s him and then all of the sudden, we find out it‘s not him?

TREVINO:  Well, you know, the guy who made that video of course, is Fred Davis, who has a long and checkered history of making bizarre and sometimes, remember GOP campaign spots.  Fred Davis, I‘ve had many people who worked and described him as something like the Greek economy, he needs a strong outside hand to produce anything good.  You know, those of us who were in California in 2010, remember the bizarre and crazy stuff that he did for the arena campaign. 

UYGUR:  Yes.  The demon-ship.  

TREVINO:  Yes.  Exactly, the demon-ship.  He may be heading down that road with Huntsman.  We‘ll see. 

UYGUR:  OK.  Look, there is the demon-ship with the crazy eyes.  I love that ad.

TREVINO:  An awful ad.

UYGUR:  But Jonathan, we can‘t just put this on Fred Davis.  Huntsman obviously signed off on it.  You know, it seems like when you go, when you turn over there, all you got is, you know, authentic.  

CAPEHART:  Well, look, Jon Huntsman, we‘ll start seeing more and more of Jon Huntsman.  He is supposed to announce on Tuesday at statue of liberty.  And look, what our ads supposed to do, they‘re supposed to create buzz, get you talking.  And whether you like the commercial or not, we‘re talking about the commercial, we‘re talking about Jon Huntsman and insist another vehicle for Huntsman and his campaign to get his name out there and keep it out there.  Because remember, I mean, we are talking about people who all share a stage in New Hampshire on Monday, he wasn‘t there. 

(CROSSTALK) 

He‘s isn‘t as bad as you think, Cenk. 

UYGUR:  No, I hear you.  And look, I get the value of that.  At the same time, when we‘re all talking about a what fake he is, I‘m not sure that helps a lot.  All right.  But we have to move on to the next question. 

CAPEHART:  OK.

UYGUR:  All right.  Will Medicaid be the sacrificial lamb?  Today, the Wall Street Journal‘s both parties expects Medicaid to be the biggest source of cuts and budget negotiations.  And democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller says, quote, “There has been an unsettling silence around Medicaid even from members of my own party.  Medicaid suddenly looks like the sacrificial lamb.”  And look, Medicaid‘s cut, we‘re kind of impact with that half.  Do you know that Medicaid covers 68 million Americans?  Coupled with the children‘s health insurance program that is about one in four Americans.  First, Jonathan, on the story itself.  Do you get a sense that that is the direction that they are heading here in the Democrats are conceding to big Medicaid cuts?

CAPEHART:  Well, look, I only know what I read in that Wall Street Journal article.  In terms of politics and negotiating and what is happening with the Biden group and everyone trying to figure out what to do about the deficit, I‘m not surprised in that regard.  Look, I mean, as all of the shows on MSNBC and everyone‘s talking about, you know, there are huge deficit, huge budget issues that have to be resolved.  And, you know, kicking the can down the road and saying, no, you can‘t cut mine, cut someplace else.  That‘s just going to have to end.  It‘s just a matter—things will have to be cut.  It is just matter of how you cut.  How responsibly you cut and right now, until someone produces a final document and shows where the cuts are coming from and how they‘re being done, will we actually be able to know and talk intelligently, about  whether those cuts are actually end up costing more money rather than saving.  

UYGUR:  Right.  But let‘s keep it real, Jane, right?  They are cutting Medicaid, if the story is true and I believe it is.  I think there‘s good evidence.  Senator Rockefeller wouldn‘t say that if they, you know, if they weren‘t cutting Medicaid and fairly deeply at that, right?  And if they are, isn‘t it an easy target?  Aren‘t they say, oh well, come on, you know, Medicare, Social Security, you‘re going to, you know, anger older voters as a Senate.  But with Medicaid, it is just the poor, you know?  We can kick them any time we want.  

HAMSHER:  This was always the plan.  Fully half of the expansion of coverage from the health care bill, came from the expansion of Medicaid.  But they always knew that that was something to just get liberals to be able to support the bill.  And that they would going to yank the carpet out from underneath them when it came time to deal with raising the debt limit and closing the deficit.  So, basically, they were always planning to do this.  And they are absolutely going to do it.  And it means, what they are doing is calling the maintenance of efforts requirements that that states have to comply with in order to be able to get this money. 

They have to guarantee certain enrollment and benefits within the state.  But now they are saying, you can take the money, but all you have to do, but you don‘t have to meet those any more.  So, it means all of the old people who are currently in retirement, you know, in nursing homes, that that money is going to be cut.  Dave Dayen today on FDL, called this the, you know, force your mother-in-law to move in with you act.  And that really is what‘s going to be.  

UYGUR:  Ezra Klein points this out all the time on the Washington Post about how Medicaid affects senior citizens a lot too.  But Josh, one last thing here.  You have to be ecstatic about this.  So far, no tax cuts, I‘m sorry, no tax increases, no revenues discussion yet, OK.  But huge cuts in Medicaid.  Republicans got to be ecstatic about it. 

TREVINO:  Well, it‘s a good start and certainly I‘m willing to sign on with Jane‘s liberals always duped thesis.  I‘m happy to go with that.  Look, one thing on the Medicaid though and one policy aspect that I think is  driving it heavily that isn‘t well reported, is that Medicaid, although it takes up, and correct me if I‘m wrong in this.  I think it takes up around seven percent-ish of the total federal budget with federal spending and matching addend.  It takes over 20 percent of the average state budget.  And of course, that goes a lot higher and a lot lower depending on the state.  That is a major driver, what‘s happening here.  And we can‘t ignore that when we talk about it.  

UYGUR:  I hear you.  Well, we‘re going to have to apparently talk a lot about it as they go to cut-in.  So, Jonathan Capehart, Jane Hamsher, Josh Trevino, thanks for a great Power Panel, guys.  We appreciate it.  

TREVINO:  Thanks.

CAPEHART:  Thank you.  

UYGUR:  Now ahead, do the current crop of GOP candidates make George Bush look like a liberal? My next guest makes a compelling case for that.             

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Have you told that about eight years ago, that Republicans stand previous chances of winning in 2012, and that Bush would look like a liberal compared to those Republicans?  I would have said oh, no what‘s happening to the country.  Well, that‘s where we are.  We‘ll talk about that when we come back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Now here is something I never thought I would say.  President Bush seems like a moderate these days.  But of course that‘s only within the context of the insanely right wing crop of GOP candidates that we have now.  There‘s no question, Bush did plenty of radical things while in office like basing his case for wars on Iraq a little more than lies and propaganda.  And endorsing the torture of terror suspects.  And warrantless wiretapping.  And the illegal renditions.  Bush turned the dial far to the right. 

But Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne makes a great point today.  The Republican Party has gone so far right that in comparison, Bush really does looks almost moderate.  Think about it, Bush signed into law Medicare part D giving prescription drug benefits to seniors.  He joined Ted Kennedy in passing no child left behind.  He pushed immigration reform including path to legalization.  And listen to this piece of reasonable rhetoric from Bush back in 1999.  Quote, “there is a destructive mind-set, the idea that if government would only get out of our way, all of our problems would be solved.  And approached with no higher goal, no nobler purpose, then leave us alone.”  Wow, that was Bush defending government.  That‘s an automatic disqualification in the republican primary these days.  Look at how far right we‘ve gone. 

All right.  Let me bring in the man who wrote that today.  E.J.  Dionne, columnist for “The Washington Post” of course, and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.  His column is called, after GOP debate, feeling nostalgic for George W. Bush.  

E.J., great to have you here. 

E.J. DIONNE, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  It‘s great to be with you.  Not a feeling I anticipated actually.  

UYGUR:  Yes.  No, not at all.  So, let‘s talk about one other example.  Now, a lot of that was from your article.  But global warming to me is a great example of what is going on here, right?  So, Bush has the same policy as Romney which is don‘t do a thing about global warming.  Remember, it was radical when he said we we‘re not going to do protocol.  But now, even if you say, I kind of believe in global warming.  That‘s almost to disqualify.  Rush Limbaugh called Mitt Romney‘s nomination death.  

DIONNE:  Right.  And I mean, Tim Pawlenty has also flip-flopped on that.  It is remarkable that if you want government to do anything at all, you can‘t be a candidate for the republican nomination.  And I think one of the reasons, Michele Bachmann look so reasonable in that debate, is the whole party has moved her way.  When she basically said that it is time to get rid of the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, nobody challenged her.  And I think you are seeing the steady progression in the Republican Party.  The Republican Party used to be a party that believed in using government to solve some problems.  Going all the way back, dare one say to Abraham Lincoln with LaGrange (ph) Colleges and other things he did.  And now, if you want to use government for anything, you can‘t be in the Republican Party.  And I think that‘s a real long-term problem for them.  They are abandoning some of their own best traditions. 

UYGUR:  Well, you know, I want to show you along those lines.  An act for 2000 for George Bush when he was running for president, let‘s look at that ad.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  I believe that government should do a few things and do them well.  My top priorities will be to preserve Social Security and Medicare, and strengthen our education and on military.  I believe that once priorities have been funded, we should pass money back to the taxpayers.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Now, as it turned out of course, Bush five years later tried to privatize Social security.  So, I‘m not saying he‘s a good guy.  I‘m not saying, he‘s actually in any way really moderate.  But when you look at that, the rhetoric has changed so much.  Now it seems that you know, the Republicans if they say that, Rush Limbaugh is going to be breathing down their necks.  

DIONNE:  Well, no.  That‘s exactly right.  And you know, Bush was able to pass that tax cut of course, because of the big surpluses that bill were created when Bill Clinton was president.  But that clip you showed from that Indianapolis speech, that speech was really remarkable because he talked a lot about compassion.  He talked about a role for government.  Saying he was against, leave us alone.  Leave us alone is Grover Norquist‘s favorite slogan.  So, it was really hard getting back to another kind of republicanism.  And there‘s another irony here, I think because in certain ways, if Bush looks moderate compared to this crowd, Ronald Reagan almost looks like liberal.  I think Ronald Reagan when the deficit was going up, was actually willing to raise taxes.  He signed a bunch of tax increases, Ronald Reagan did.  Bush and Reagan would use republican primaries this year.  

UYGUR:  No question.  No question.  And that‘s you know, I‘m going to talk a little bit about that in the next segment, too.  But that‘s one of my favorite topics.  Reagan would have no chance in the primaries today.  He is the one who did amnesty for illegal immigrants.  He negotiated with terrorists.  I mean, he‘d be blown out of the water, they would laugh at him out of room.  They can call the biggest, you know, liberal in the history of mankind.  That wouldn‘t be right.  But then when you look back to Nixon, you know, he created the EPA.  He had price controls, et cetera, it goes on and on.  So, doesn‘t that say something about the country more than even the Republican Party?  Or in fact, it is not really the country, but Washington.  Washington has moved the political spectrum so far to the right that we have lost track of all of this. 

DIONNE:  Well, actually, I think the polarization is asymmetric.  I think that the Republican Party has moved very substantially to the right.  The Democrats have always been a kind of center left party.  A little bit of a mishmash party.  And that‘s pretty much what they still are.  There‘s always been a left in Democratic Party, there‘s always been a big center.  Some of the old southern segregation, a longer day, which I think is good for the party.  But you‘ve just got the Democrats kind of where they were but the Republicans going off to one side.  And that‘s making for a very strange debate in Washington.  

UYGUR:  Right.  E.J., we‘ve got to go unfortunately.  But I actually, I don‘t think it got polarized.  I think the Democrats got dragged to the right with the Republicans.  But we‘ll talk about that another day.  E.J.  Dionne, great article.  Thank you so much for joining us. 

DIONNE:  Thank you so much.  Good to be with you.  

UYGUR:  All right.  Now, ahead.  Newt Gingrich takes a ridiculous and shameless turn.  We‘ll explain.     

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  We‘ve been reporting since the beginning about the implosion of Newt Gingrich‘s campaign and the mutiny of his senior staff.  OK.  NBC News reported yesterday that the main reason behind the mass exodus of his staff centered around his wife, Callista.  NBC stands by reporting that was a source by some of former Gingrich staffers.  But of course, that didn‘t stop Gingrich from lashing out last night anyway.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  And I believe NBC owes Callista an apology.  The fact is, my campaign, is my campaign.  Yes, we make decisions as a couple.  But in the end, I take full responsibility. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  That actually sounds like he is acknowledging that they were right.  But that‘s OK.  Look, Newt is standing by his wife, no problem with that.  But of course, he couldn‘t help himself.  He had to take his defense of her and their relationship one step further.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH:  Callista and I have a very similar relationship to Nancy and Ronnie Reagan.  And people blame Nancy Reagan for things that Ronald Reagan did.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Oh, come on.  These guys are unbearable.  Everything must be compared to Reagan.  Did you know Reagan used to take showers?  And so do I?  That‘s why my wife‘s proxy and I should be president.  But, look, Newt is not alone.  Because one prerequisite they‘re running for the republican nomination is to compare yourself to Reagan.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I probably consider myself a western conservative in the spirit of Ronald Reagan.  

UNIDENTIFIED MAN:  I‘m reminded of another time where our country faced similar challenges.  But an important thing happened.  Ronald Reagan won the presidency of the United States of America. 

UNIDENTIFIED MAN:  We need it stand by these principles of Ronald Reagan laid out.  

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN:  I‘m just telling you what happened after Jimmy Carter?  Ronald Reagan.  We are posed for a second Ronald Reagan. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  By the way, Reagan raised taxes 11 times, negotiated with terrorists, in fact sold them arms.  He ran from Lebanon and gave illegal immigrants amnesty.  He would get crushed in today‘s GOP primaries.  No matter how many times he said, he was like Reagan.  In fact, I would love to see the debates now with Reagan under it.  He would be like, no, but guys I actually am Reagan.  But look, yes, right, run along, you damn lib.  God, this country has gone so far right wing.  The country has, Washington has, and the Republican Party has.  And that‘s the problem.  

Thank you for watching everybody.  “HARDBALL” starts right now.   

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