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Msnbc Live at 6 p.m. ET, Thursday June 23, 2011

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Guests: Bernie Sanders, Dana Milbank, Michael Steel, Peter DeFazio, Baratunde Thurston, Bob Franken, Kiki McLean, Dan Choi, Brian Ellner

CENK UYGUR, HOST:  Republicans walk out on budget talks.  Is this another trick to get Democrats to do what they want? 

Tonight, Eric Cantor shuts Biden‘s budget meeting down over taxing millionaires and billionaires. 

Senator Bernie Sanders responds, live, tonight. 

And in New York City, President Obama is expected to speak out on gay marriage at a fund-raiser with gay supporters.  Will he deliver for gay rights, or do they have to keep holding his feet to the fire? 

Plus, America, meet one of the most unpopular Republicans in the world.  Literally.  Why is Paul Ryan still so popular in Washington when the American people can‘t stand him? 

And Newt takes a page from Sarah Palin‘s con job playbook.  You don‘t want to miss his latest hilarious excuse for failure. 

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

And tonight‘s lead, sometimes there‘s no talking to the Republicans, literally, because they will storm out of the room like little kids.  I‘m taking my budget and going home! 

Today, a major breakdown in budget negotiations as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor flat-out bailed on the talks.  He says he can‘t deal with anymore talk about raising taxes on billionaires.  Poor Cantor. 

Moments ago, Nancy Pelosi responded to Cantor‘s move in an exclusive interview with our own Lawrence O‘Donnell. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER:  It‘s an interesting tact.  It doesn‘t happen to be valid, because the point is, is that we‘re willing to have a balanced package.  They‘re not.  They‘re not. 

They don‘t want to talk about taxes.  You can‘t—but it‘s interesting.  I knew, and we all said, what they‘re going to do is say, even though we can agree on certain cuts, you won‘t go for them unless we raise taxes for the American people. 

No, we‘re not.  We‘re just saying to make our tax system fair so that everyone pays their fair share. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Now, hours after Cantor pulled out, Republican Senator Jon Kyl did the same—apparently, they‘ve got budget interuptus—until, finally, planned talks led by Vice President Biden were simply canceled for the day. 

John Boehner said he understands Cantor‘s hissy fit. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I know the frustration that he feels when Democrat members continue to want to bring tax hikes into this conversation, and I think Mr. Cantor‘s made it clear that these conversations could continue if they‘d take the tax hikes out of the conversation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Now, the obvious reality is that the GOP thinks they can push the Democrats around.  So they‘re drawing another line in the sand on taxes.  And honestly, who can blame them? 

The White House, as usual, had an inexplicably horrible strategy in these so-called negotiations.  They agreed to at least $2 trillion in spending cuts before they even started talking about taxes. 

And now they‘re expecting Republicans to discuss taxes, after they already gave them the spending cuts?  Why would they do that?  Can anyone really be this bad at negotiations? 

By the way, if that negotiating strategy sounds familiar, it‘s because it is.  Obama gave Republicans more than they originally asked for when he agreed to roughly $38 billion in budget cuts to avoid a government shutdown. 

Now, who gives their opponents more than they ask for?  Months before that, the president agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich. 

These guys are like a reverse Priceline.  They go in and make the highest bid against themselves, and then wonder why they didn‘t get a good deal.  And that‘s exactly why Republicans now believe the White House will roll over every single time. 

But don‘t take my word for it.  Take Mitch McConnell‘s. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, MINORITY LEADER:  They could not get a tax increase on people making $1 million and up through a Congress that they had overwhelming control of.  Taxes aren‘t going to be raised.  If they couldn‘t raise taxes when they owned the government in the last Congress, you know they can‘t do it now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Oh, he‘s rubbing their faces in it!  But the really scary thing, Democrats are signaling that they might not only back away from raising taxes on the rich—are you ready for this? -- they might also be willing to lower taxes on corporations. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The way we‘re dealing with revenues is not raising taxes, we‘re actually going back to the Reagan approach, which is, you know, lowering tax rates, getting rid of a lot of the tax exemptions. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Or, to sum it up, they‘re going to slash spending on programs that help the middle and low-income families while lowering corporate taxes. 

So you tell me—are Democrats the worst negotiators in human history, or is everyone in D.C. playing a game on us where they know the outcome is, where we‘re going to take the hit again, and the rich and the powerful are going to slide again? 

All right.  Let me pose that question to a man who doesn‘t play those games, Independent Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. 

Senator, great to have you here. 

As I look at this, I think, I mean, wasn‘t this the most obvious, to be expected move of all time, when you first give away the spending cuts, and then, gee, I wonder why the Republicans didn‘t go along with the tax cuts? 

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT:  Well, Cenk, I think you hit the nail right on the head.  And here‘s the pity of it all. 

By overwhelming numbers in every single poll that I have seen, the American people believe that deficit reduction must be accomplished through shared sacrifice, that the wealthiest people in this country can no longer enjoy huge tax breaks, that corporations making billions of dollars in profits and not paying a nickel in taxes have got to have those loopholes addressed.  That‘s what the American people believe in overwhelming numbers. 

My view is that the president has got to use this Republican walkout as an opportunity.  And what he has got to do now, very firmly, is go to the American people and make it clear that he will never support deficit reduction, which does what the Republicans want.  And that is move toward a balanced budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor. 

And you know what?  If he does that, he‘s going to have the American people in huge numbers on his side. 

When Mitch McConnell says, oh, they want tax increases, what we are talking about is undoing Bush‘s tax breaks for the rich, plugging loopholes which allow millionaires and billionaires to stash their money in the Cayman Islands and not pay a nickel in taxes.  When we say we want to address those issues, the American people are with us.  The president must take that fight to the people. 

UYGUR:  You know, Senator Sanders, I wish the president listened to you.  That would be awesome.  That would be perfectly logical.  You would have the people behind you. 

I really doubt it.  So I‘m going to ask you a question about whether you think the White House is a little naive or if somehow—because I want to show you a clip from earlier. 

After we gave away all the tax cuts again to the rich, the president was asked about what‘s going to happen during these negotiations.  And an interesting response. 

Let‘s look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When you say it would seem they‘ll have a significant amount of leverage over the White House, what do you mean? 

Look, here‘s my expectation, and I‘ll take John Boehner at his word, that nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse, that that would not be a good thing to happen. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  You know, Senator Sanders, when I saw that happening when it happened, I was like, really?  He‘s going to take Boehner at his word? 

You know, I look at that and I really wonder.  And, I mean, you‘re in Washington, you‘re a senator, you know better than I do.  Can he possibly mean that?  Does he really think that Boehner would say, oh, yes, I‘ll do whatever you want, I‘ll just do what I told you I was going to do, sure I‘ll put—

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  You can‘t believe that, can you? 

SANDERS:  The president understands that the for the first time in our history, not paying our debts in a world economy which is on very shaky grounds would be a very bad thing.  And the president is clearly right. 

But on the other hand, what we also know, Cenk, is the Republicans are tough.  And, yes, they understand the repercussions of this, but they are prepared to take it to the president. 

And I think the dynamic of it is that they assume that they‘re going to be firm and that they are going to prevail and that the White House and the Democrats will collapse.  And again, the absurdity of this is the vast majority of the people support the Democratic proposal.

And what the president has got to say is, if you choose Republicans to not raise the debt ceiling, if you refuse for the first time in American history not to pay our debts, and if we enter a depression, or huge kinds of financial instability, the American people will know that that responsibility is on your shoulders.  You are the ones who have done it.  You refused to compromise and you have done it, and we‘re going to take the case to the American people.  But to keep backtracking, to keep capitulating, I think, is not what the American people want. 

You know, we talk in a general sense of a trillion dollars in cuts.  You know what we‘re talking about?  We‘re talking about throwing millions and millions of people off of Medicaid.  We‘re talking about making it impossible for working class families to send their kids to college.  We‘re talking about cuts that are in nutrition which will increase the amount of hunger. 

This is a lot of pain that the Republicans are tossing out while they want to protect their rich friends.  The president has got to stand tall, take the case to the American people, and hold the Republicans responsible if the debt ceiling is not raised and the repercussions of that. 

UYGUR:  All right, Senator Sanders.  Just to your point, I want to give you another poll about Paul Ryan‘s plan. 

The American people hate it.  Fifty-seven percent saying that we‘d be worse off, 34 percent saying we‘d be better off. 

Those are terrible numbers, obviously, for the Republicans.  So we‘ve got the wind at our back. 

But my guess is, my very, very strong hunch is, that we‘re going to come out of this—they‘re going to take some tax loopholes away, and there‘s going to be a deal at the end, but they are going to actually lower corporate taxes.  When that happens, you know, I can‘t begin to tell you the disappointment in real Americans.  I‘ve seen it in poll after poll. 

What‘s going to happen in Washington?  Are they just going to—

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS:  Well, all I can tell you, Cenk, is I‘m going to be on the floor, I believe, Monday at 4:00 speaking at some length about this issue. 

The idea—number one, this is terrible public policy.  The middle class is collapsing.  They don‘t deserve cuts.  The rich are getting richer.  They have got to pay their fair share of taxes. 

And second of all, this is what the American people believe in.  They believe in the concept of shared sacrifice, not balancing the budget on the most vulnerable people in this country. 

So I‘m going to do my best, and I think the American people have got to chime in very loudly and say, hey, Mr. President, stand with us.  Stand with us and be prepared to take on the big money and trust.  We‘ll be back at your back. 

UYGUR:  All right.  That would be fantastic. 

Senator Bernie Sanders, as always, a great pleasure.  Thank you for joining us. 

SANDERS:  My pleasure. 

UYGUR:  All right.

Now with me, Dana Milbank, national political correspondent for “The Washington Post,” and Michael Steele, former RNC chairman and MSNBC contributor. 

I want to talk to you guys a little bit about why Cantor did this, why the Republicans did it, and how does this all play out. 

First of all, Dana, it‘s also possible, of course—and not just possible

certainly at least a part of the equation is that Cantor is doing this in relationship to John Boehner.  Tell the audience how that plays out.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, right.

At first blush, it sounds like it‘s take your children to work day up there on Capitol Hill with Eric Cantor being petulant.  But there is a sense that he may be doing the bad cop thing so that Boehner can do the good cop thing.

Look, everybody knows what the deal involves.  They‘ve got these basic cuts that they want to do.

If the Republicans can yield on tax revenues—that doesn‘t mean higher tax rates, it just means getting rid of these loopholes—then Democrats will yield on entitlements, particularly Medicare.  Then you have a deal.

You can‘t get a deal otherwise.  So, the idea is that this allows Eric Cantor to build up his credentials with the Tea Party crowd that he‘s very popular with.  Let John Boehner go in there and take the hit for a deal that ultimately has some sort of tax revenue increases it has to have.

UYGUR:  Right.  And that‘s the inside politics of it within the Republican Party, too.

But Michael, as you look at the actual budget negotiations, so you‘ve got -

they‘re taking away these loopholes.  Isn‘t that the most reasonable thing in the world?  Don‘t we have to look at the revenue side?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Oh, I think you do down the road.  And the question is, at what point on that journey do you do that? 

UYGUR:  How about right now?

STEELE:  Well, but that‘s where we always like to start.  And it‘s an easy place to start. 

The hard place to really start is with the cuts.  How much are we willing to pare back on in terms of our spending?  And I think that, you know, what Dana laid out there is good on the inside the politics side.

I think on the taxes, spending, and what the American people perceive more broadly, they want—the Republicans at least want that to be a part, a serious part of the discussion.  I mean, Cenk, in a real sense, your problem is less with Republicans and more with the Democrats in terms of what they‘re willing to come to the table with and how firm they‘re prepared to stand so that we do have this very, I think, important discussion about the relative role of spending with respect to entitlements and all the other programs that are on the table right now. 

UYGUR:  Well, you‘re mostly right, Michael.  My problem is with the Democrats, because they won‘t kick the Republicans‘ ass. 

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  They‘ve got the American people behind them.  Why don‘t they just actually go and fight?  Because it looks like their heart‘s not into it. 

STEELE:  But, Cenk, what are you kicking our ass with and over? 

UYGUR:  Taxes. 

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  A majority of Americans want to raise taxes on the rich.  If you raises taxes on the rich, you create 23 million jobs over Clinton.  If you lower taxes, as Bush did, you lose one million jobs over 10 years.  I‘ve got the facts, I‘ve got the American people.

STEELE:  You don‘t have the facts, man.

UYGUR:  I‘m ready to fight. 

STEELE:  Look, you‘re all loopy on the facts because --  

UYGUR:  What do you mean loopy?  There they are.

STEELE:  But you‘re not taking into account that under that period you‘re talking about --- and there are two good periods to contrast—look at the level of spending by the government when you had Clinton and the Republicans working together to reduce spending and increase the revenue through lower taxes, and you have, you know, more spending under the Bush terms, while you‘re at the same time cutting taxes. 

You just can‘t do it both that way.  So the reality of it is—

UYGUR:  No, no.  But Michael, here‘s what everybody always tells me on the Republican side.  If we just cut taxes, the economy will magically—

STEELE:  It‘s not just cutting taxes.

UYGUR:  But we did.

STEELE:  It‘s not just cutting—

UYGUR:  We cut taxes for 10 years and it tanked.  You guys were wrong.

I wish the Democrats would actually make that case. 

I‘ve got to go to Dana. 

STEELE:  Yes.  Go ahead.

UYGUR:  Dana, listen—

MILBANK:  I don‘t want to get in the middle, guys. 

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  No, no, no.  I‘ve seen the history.

Dana, when you look at the Democratic side, isn‘t the real problem they don‘t really believe any of this?  I mean, they never take the fight to them. 

I mean, look at Mark Warner saying he wants to cut corporate taxes.  Is that what we‘re going to get on the end?  Is this all kabuki theater, and at the end, all the Democrats and the Republicans have made a secret deal anyway?  Then they‘re going to come out and say, yes, we‘re going to raise the debt ceiling and, by the way, we‘re going to lower corporate taxes? 

MILBANK:  I think the silliest part of all of this is the Democrats don‘t even have to be on this position of raising taxes for anybody.  They can just say, look, we‘re just getting rid of all of these loopholes.

UYGUR:  Right.

MILBANK:  If you do that, you can actually lower taxes for everybody.

But what I don‘t understand here is it does seem that Obama is almost sticking it to the left here, almost like it‘s some humiliation here.  And it‘s been going on with the budget cuts, with tax cuts.  It‘s going on with Libya, it‘s going on with Afghanistan. 

You can see the Democratic members, particularly in the House, are just livid with what‘s going on.  But they feel powerless.  There‘s nothing they can do.  They can‘t challenge him, and so they can scream and yell like Bernie Sanders did, but ultimately, they‘re stuck and they really can‘t persuade this White House. 

UYGUR:  They‘re stuck with a Democratic president who isn‘t really progressive.  And as you said, he‘s almost rubbing it in their face. 

All right, that‘s great.  I love being stuck that way. 

So—by the way, I bet that really works out for him when he‘s looking for votes  Yes, that‘s a great winning strategy. 

Anyway, Dana Milbank, Michael Steele, we‘ve got to leave it right there. 

We‘re out of time. 

STEELE:  All right, Cenk.

UYGUR:  I love you guys.  We‘ll talk again soon.  OK?

STEELE:  You got it, buddy. 

MILBANK:  OK.

UYGUR:  All right.

Now, when we come back, Washington loves Paul Ryan, but that‘s about it.  So why does D.C. love this guy when the rest of the country has no interest in him? 

Plus, under fire.  President Obama has a position on gay marriage that is drawing some protest.  I might actually be on his side on that one.  We‘re going to debate it.

And Newt blames his implosion on the fact that his ideas are too good and too large.  God, his excuses are hilarious.  That con job‘s coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.  Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm‘s way. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Now, as usual, the president said all the right things last night when talking about Afghanistan—the tide of war is receding, as you just saw, time to do nation-building here at home.  Fantastic.  Great. 

But when you look at his actions, the results were not quite as encouraging.  Obama‘s decided to go with a “centered course.”  Of course he has, but as a result, no one is happy. 

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn‘t seem on board with the plan today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF:  The president‘s decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Shocking that the Pentagon wanted more troops for a longer period of time.  That‘s what they always say. 

Now, let me say something really shocking on television.  The chairman of the Joint Chiefs is wrong.  Dead wrong.  And there‘s a reason for that. 

He looks at it from only a military perspective.  He‘s not in the peace business, he‘s in the war business. 

We need civilian leaders with strength to stand up to the eternal quest for war coming out of the Pentagon.  And here‘s where you‘re not going to find that—in the Republican Party. 

What a surprise.  The Republicans didn‘t like President Obama‘s plan either. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM PAWLENTY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I thought his speech tonight was deeply concerning.  When America goes to war, America needs to win.  We need to close out the war successfully. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I think that the president is taking an unnecessary risk tonight with what he is doing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  These guys want perpetual war.  And if the president was looking for support from his own party, he didn‘t get much of that either. 

The great majority of Democrats wanted him to take more decisive action for quicker withdrawal. 

Representative Nancy Pelosi says, “We will continue to press for a better outcome.”  Senator Kirsten Gillibrand calls the plan “disappointing and not good enough.” And Representative Barbara Lee believes it is “unacceptable.”

Now, let me break down why this didn‘t work out for President Obama.  I think he made two mistakes. 

The first was thinking that by choosing the middle ground he‘d make more people happy.  He won‘t.  That almost never works. 

Look, 56 percent of American people want us to remove troops as soon as possible.  Who cares what the people in Washington think?  Your position should be in the center of the American people, not the center of D.C. 

Now, that leads to the president‘s second mistake.  He thinks that this plan is the middle ground.  It isn‘t even close.  Even if the president removes all the surge troops by the end of 2012, as he has promised, there will still be twice as many troops fighting in that country than when he first took office. 

Look, that isn‘t progressive, that isn‘t pro-peace, that isn‘t centrist. 

That is decidedly center-right. 

His rhetoric in this speech was great.  I listened to him and I go, wow, that‘s great, that‘s what I like to hear.  But his actions leave us in a situation that is more right wing than when he came into office.  That is unfortunately so often the problem for this administration. 

All right.  Joining me now, Democratic Representative from Oregon, Pete DeFazio. 

Congressman DeFazio, great to have you here. 

REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D), OREGON:  Thanks, Cenk. 

UYGUR:  Let me just first get your simple take on the speech.  Enough?  Not enough? 

DEFAZIO:  Look, you know, the Afghan tribal factions, inter and intra tribal, have been fighting and feuding for hundreds of years.  There has never been a strong central government, there never will be. 

We can stay 12 months, 36 months.  We can stay 120 months, 1,200 months.  We are not going to nation-build there and make it into an image of a modern state. 

I believe we should draw down much more quickly.  And as the president said, the one point of his speech which I agree with, is it‘s time to nation-build here at home. 

Just think, over the next three years, we‘ll spend over $300 billion, borrowed, in Afghanistan.  Just think what we could do here.  If he gave me half that money, I could put about four million people to work rebuilding our infrastructure.  That might not be a bad thing. 

UYGUR:  You know, the Senate Democrats passed a jobs bill, or wanted to pass a jobs bill that had $200 million extra—not billion, $200 million extra—and the White House said it was too much.  And yet, we‘re going to stay in Afghanistan until 2014 and kids are going to die there for what purpose?  No one knows.

Look, let me give you a poll from the Republican side.  Last year, only 18 percent were in favor of withdrawal.  This year for the Republicans, 64 percent want withdrawal. 

So who does the president think that he is appeasing?  Who does he think he is making happy?  Is it the Pentagon?  Who is it?  Why is this, by almost all estimates, such a low withdrawal? 

DEFAZIO:  I guess he‘s trying not to look, as Democrats are accused of being, weak in face of the military and the Pentagon.  He‘s the commander-in-chief.  He showed with the assassination of Osama bin Laden he‘s not weak. 

And he could have taken them on, but he chose not to.  And it‘s a tragedy here. 

It‘s a tragedy for the extended involvement of our troops in an area that is no longer critical to our national interests.  Guess what?  Is al Qaeda going to flood back into Afghanistan when they can go to Yemen and Sudan and they‘re already in Pakistan?  No. 

Why would they go to such an isolated place? 

So, you know, this is not in the national interest.  Draw down quicker, bring the money home, bring the troops home, and spend it putting our people back to work and rebuilding our economy, not theirs. 

UYGUR:  And concessions to the Pentagon or the Republicans don‘t look strong, if you ask me. 

And by the way, the Republicans, they‘re even worse, as always.  Right?

So look at what Mitch McConnell says.  I want to play you a clip real quick here, where he talks about their position on Afghanistan is dependent on which party‘s in charge.  Amazing.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL:  I do think there is more of a tendency to pull together when you are—when the guy in the White House is on your side.  So I think some of these views were probably held by some of my members, even in the previous administration, but party loyalty tended to kind of mute them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  So, great, because we have a Democratic president, now they‘re more likely to oppose Afghanistan.  I mean, that seems grotesque to me. 

Like, do they have any principles? 

DEFAZIO:  You know, after 9/11, we all tried to draw together.  Bush tried to have a resolution that said he could go anywhere, any time, at his discretion, for anyone he identified as being an enemy of the United States. 

I was key in the Democratic Caucus at that time in saying, let‘s focus in on war powers and let‘s limit the action to people who were involved in 9/11, aided and abetted or harbored them.  And that‘s what we did, on a bipartisan, almost unanimous vote, one dissenting vote.  So we came together when we were in crisis. 

I think when people realize something that‘s going on is not directly a threat to the United States, or not necessarily directly in our national interest, then they feel free to engage more in politics, and that‘s what‘s going on here.  The president‘s playing politics in one way, the Republicans in another. 

The American people are being disserved, our troops are being disserved.  We need a quicker drawdown.  We need to bring the troops and the money home. 

UYGUR:  I don‘t want one more U.S. soldier or troop dying in Afghanistan.  It‘s a waste.  I feel sick about it.  We got bin Laden.  It‘s time to come home. 

Congressman Peter DeFazio, great talking to you tonight.  We really appreciate your time. 

DEFAZIO:  Thanks for the chance. 

UYGUR:  All right. 

Now, when we come back, Newt says it‘s not his fault his campaign‘s falling apart, it‘s that damned liberal media.  So, ironically, or appropriately, we‘ll rip him again.  Newt‘s whiny excuses is our “Con Job of the Day.” 

Herman Cain shows his thin skin, and he (ph) said Jon Stewart is a racist. 

Conservatives love playing the victim card. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CENK UYGUR, HOST, MSNBC LIVE:  Next, Washington loves Paul Ryan, but he‘s not winning popularity contests anywhere else, so why does D.C. love this guy while the rest of the country can‘t stand him? And President Obama looks for donations from the gay community tonight.  But some gay rights activists say he doesn‘t deserve their money.  Whether he‘s delivered for the gay community is a very interesting question and we‘ll going get both sides of that debate, ahead.       

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Welcome back to the show, everybody.  We‘ve got the Power Panel now.  We‘ll going to discuss some of today‘s biggest political stories.  There it is, the Power Panel.  With me is Baratunde Thurston, co-founder of Jack and Jill Politics Blog, as well as digital director for “The Onion.”  Also with us, syndicated columnist Bob Franken.  There‘s the Power Panel again!  Man, we‘re very powerful tonight.  And finally, Kiki McLean, a founding leader of the No Labels Group, and a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton during her 2008 presidential run.  Great to have all of you here. 

KIKI MCLEAN, FOUNDING LEADER, “NO LABELS”:  Hi, Cenk.

UYGUR:  Hey, guys.  First question, why is Congressman Paul Ryan still liked in Washington but so disliked in the rest of the country?  A new Bloomberg poll found that Congressman Ryan is the nation‘s third most disliked republican with 26 percent of people viewing him unfavorably.  He finishes behind only Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. 

So, Bob, let me start with you.  What‘s going on here?  You know, the polls are disastrous for Ryan, but in D.C., everybody‘s like, oh, he‘s so serious, he‘s so great.  It‘s not just Republicans, Obama, Clinton, et cetera, they‘ve all given him, you know, compliments and comments.  Why the disconnect?

BOB FRANKEN, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Well, first of all, I think that there‘s a realization out there, meaning outside the beltway, that what he‘s doing is just another backdoor attempt to privatize something that is probably better handled as a government program.  In this case, he seems to be saying, oh, you can trust the insurance companies.  I think that there‘s a belief in Washington that at least he is coming out to say we have to do something about the problems with Medicare.  The problem is it‘s sort of in the do something, even if it‘s wrong category. 

UYGUR:  Baratunde, though, why the love in D.C.?  I mean, normally, aren‘t politicians supposed to say, well, OK, look at the polls, and you know, and if the America people aren‘t in favor, but though we live in democracy, are they suppose to run away from this guy?  Why all the love?

BARATUNDE THURSTON, POLITICAL BLOGGER:  The idea that Washington loves a bad idea is not news at all.  In this case, Paul Ryan just happens to be the recipient of this misplaced love.  Members of his own party are pretty much evenly split about his plan to quote/unquote “voucherize Medicare.”  Obviously, liberals and independents are far less favorable about the entire idea.  So, I think it‘s, you know, things are finally coming back to him.  Yes, it was bold, but it was also wrong.  And this is the same Washington that loves the idea of deregulating every financial institution, so they can engineer the biggest heist in American history.  Not always a sign of leadership when you disagree with your constituents. 

UYGUR:  Absolutely right.  But Kiki, what‘s your take on this?  What‘s going on?  Why is Ryan still getting love in D.C.?  Shouldn‘t they be running from him?

MCLEAN:  Well, he might be a nice guy who‘s fun to have a beer with, but I think as others have said here, what this shows is that most Americans don‘t like his idea.  But here‘s the other thing.  He didn‘t do this in a bipartisan fashion, Cenk.  He didn‘t show up with an idea and show why lots of different people might agree with it.  And what he did was he came out with it in a very hyper partisan attitude when he put this out there.  And I think that‘s where some of the negativity from the public comes from. 

UYGUR:  Right.  That is no no-label way to go.  OK? 

MCLEAN:  Exactly.  Exactly!  Now you get it, Cenk.  Now you get it. 

THURSTON:  I also love the idea that the number one on that list is Newt Gingrich.  And I think what happens there is that people realize that he can‘t even pay people to like him, his own campaign won‘t stick around.  That‘s not a good sign of leadership. 

UYGUR:  But, you know, to be fair, actually, Sarah Palin is number one, Newt Gingrich is number two. 

THURSTON:  Oh, I got confused. 

(TALKING OVER EACH OTHER)

UYGUR:  A little difference.  Let‘s do the next question.  Do conservatives love to play the victim? Herman Cain is the latest in a long line of thin-skinned Republicans that insist on playing the victim card.  Last week Jon Stewart poked fun at him to promising to sign no bill longer than three pages, which is literally a comical idea.  Now Cain is claiming that Stewart took a shot at him because he‘s African-American. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN, 2012 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Look, I‘ve been called every name in the book because I‘m a conservative, because I‘m black.  So, the fact that he wants to mock me because I happen to be a black conservative, I does not care. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  You know, actually, I call him an African-American, but he doesn‘t like that title.  He likes to be called black.  For some reason, he‘s against the title “African-American,” but Baratunde, as you look at that, isn‘t there a great irony in conservatives coming out and playing the race card?  Oh, Stewart is making fun of me because I‘m black and conservatives.

THURSTON:  I‘m actually going to be slightly more fair to Herman Cain in this case.  I think part of what he was saying was general.  He said, look, Sean Hannity asked him, what do you think about Jon Stewart making fun of you and calling you out.  He said, I‘ve been called out for a lot of things in my life, been called out for being a conservative, for being black.  I think the irony for me is not so much him playing the race card in response to Jon Stewart, it‘s in light of what he said in the debate just two weeks ago, where despite his history of being a black man in America, he‘s going to blindly discriminate against Muslim-Americans demanding loyalty oaths from them, not demanded from other religious groups and saying he doesn‘t feel comfortable with that.  So that for me is much more of a problem with Herman Cain and race rather than the thickness or thinness of his skin with respect to Jon Stewart. 

UYGUR:  Right.  Now, let‘s broaden out a little but, Bob.  Because I‘ve seen this movie before, for example, with Sarah Palin.  She said, you know, in the “Runner‘s World magazine, one page profile, for which this photo was taken was all about health and fitness.”  Referring to this controversy about her cover on Newsweek.  She said, “The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh, so expected by now.”  You know, so you‘ve got conservatives saying, oh, you know, liberals, they love to play the race card and the sex card and stuff, but the minute they‘re out there, oh, “Newsweek” is sexist, et cetera. 

FRANKEN:  Well, look.  First of all, this is one of the few bipartisan things we have in the United States.  Both sides play the politics of victimization.  You‘re either blaming blacks, gays, or Newt Gingrich‘s secular socialists or socialist sexists, I don‘t know.  And we on the other side will sometimes talk about some of the abuses of the conservative movement.  Personally, I frequently believe that our society has been victimized by some of the bad people in the business or financial sector.  The difference, of course, is that I‘m correct and the others are wrong. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCLEAN:  You know, here‘s the thing about it, though.  Whether somebody believes something has been sexist or racist is very personal.  It‘s not my place to tell them how to feel.  But you know what, he just  missed a great chance to talk about his whole proposal that legislation‘s too many pages, too long, too weighted down, not realistic, and he had a chance to turn it and do something with that conversation.  And he took it in different direction. 

UYGUR:  All right.

THURSTON:  So Bob‘s point about victimization, he‘s making a victim right now out of the oil industry.  Saying that he would have them write the environmental legislation that would restrict their excessive and damaging behavior.  That‘s the wrong type of victimization, I think, with Herman Cain, that‘s what I‘m much more worried about. 

UYGUR:  Yes.  Baratunde, great point.  He thinks Shell oil should run the EPA.  That‘s the craziest idea I‘ve ever heard in my life.  All right.  Now, let‘s go to the last question for tonight.  Is it high time to legalize pot?  Now, I had couple of democratic Congressman Barney Frank and republican Congressman Ron Paul have  introduced legislation that would, quote, “limit the federal government‘s role in marijuana enforcement, allowing people to legally grow, use, or sell marijuana in states where it is legal.”  Kiki, you know, I know Democrats don‘t want to touch this.  Republicans of course are against it.  But, come on, isn‘t it time?  This war on drugs has been incredibly counterproductive. 

MCLEAN:  Well, this just goes to show there‘s room for bipartisanship on every issue out there, right? If you can have this kind of conversation here, because there are a lot more complicated factors in this today.  We have medical use of marijuana.  Regulated at the state level in some countries.  But what‘s interesting is look at the two people who are having this conversation and leading it.  You have Ron Paul, clearly, the most conservative favorite, right?  If Paul Ryan is not the favorite, he must be the favorite of true conservatives across the country.  And Barney Frank, a real liberal.  They found something that they can work together and maybe that‘s a little bit of a model for the rest of us to look at. 

FRANKEN:  Well, I would not be looking at a presidential ticket that will have Ron Paul and Barney Frank on the same ticket.  But I do think in this particular case, this shouldn‘t be really looked at as a surprise.  On the one hand, you have Barney Frank who strongly believes that government should stay out of personal matters, and you have Ron Paul, who believes that government should stay out of all matters. 

UYGUR:  Right, it makes sense.  I actually wouldn‘t mind that ticket.  I think it‘s a fascinating ticket.  Baratunde, last point here, look, we‘re spending $300 million extra, that was just announced on the war on drugs.  Isn‘t this futile?

THURSTON:  We ran an article in “The Onion” over a decade ago, front page headline, “Drugs Win Drug Wars.”  That sort of settled law and settled fact, and when you look at the amount of money we‘re spending, with the lives we‘re throwing away, with mass incarceration, and with the tax revenue we could generate in this economy, it‘s pretty obvious, we should loosen up those regulations a bit. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Great panel tonight, guys.  Baratunde Thurston, Bob Franken and Kiki McLean, thank you all so much.  Power Panel!

All right, when we come back, President Obama‘s in New York tonight for a fund-raiser with the gay community.  But as New York State moves closer to approving gay marriage, some gay rights activists say the president‘s evolving stance on gay marriage isn‘t good enough.  We‘ll talk/debate that, next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Does President Obama have a gay marriage problem?  Look, that‘s a really interesting issue and we‘ll going to get both sides on it and I‘m curious to find out which side is right, just along with you guys.  We‘ll discuss that, next.        

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  It‘s a lovely day to be gay in the empire state.  Legislators in Albany are on the verge of making New York the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.  With legislation only one vote shy of passing, they‘re very, very close.  Further south, the president is wining and dining the gay community at a re-election fund-raiser in Manhattan.  He‘ll likely tout some of his first-term accomplishments to the crowd, like repealing “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell,” calling for the repeal of the defense of marriage act, and signing hate crime legislation, specifically protecting gay lesbian and transgender Americans.  It‘s a pretty solid list.  But those successes aren‘t enough for everyone.  Protesters are rallying outside tonight‘s fund-raising event, angry over the president‘s failure to come out fully in support of marriage equality.  He‘s expected to address the issue tonight, reiterating his support of civil unions nationwide while letting the states decide marriage on their own.  But he‘s indicated recently that that stance may change some day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES:  My feelings about this are constantly evolving.  My base line is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have.  And I think—and I think that‘s the right thing to do.  But I recognize that from their perspective, it is not enough.  And I think this is something that we‘re going to continue to debate and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  So has the president done enough on this?  Let‘s talk about it.  Joining me now to discuss this issue, Lieutenant Dan Choi, he‘s a former army officer who was fired under, “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.”  He was forced out last year after serving an extended tour in Iraq.  And Brian Ellner, a senior strategist for Human Rights Campaign.  He‘s joining us from Albany, where he‘s on the front lines of the battle for marriage equality in New York.  Great to have both of you here. 

Dan, let me start with you.  Has the president done enough?

DAN CHOI, FORMER ARMY LIEUTENANT:  No.  And I believe for gay rights and for LGBT community, the alarm clock is blaring.  Blaring and telling everybody to wake up.  This president continues to push this snooze button and I think it is a grave insult to those people who have worn this uniform, who fought for all-Americans, in every state.  Whether in New York State or in Kansas, where I‘m at today.  I think we need to be treated as equality citizens in all of the states.  And let me tell you one thing, Cenk.  Gay people from the very first moment that we‘re born, are told subliminally that we‘re never going to be good enough.  And the Democrats or President Obama to tell me that I am not good enough because I‘m not democratic enough or because I don‘t donate enough money.  I think is a perpetuation of that second class citizenship and it really urge the people deep down in their core.  

UYGUR:  Brian, how do you balance this out, right?  Because it is a fairly long list of accomplishments for President Obama on the gay rights issue, probably more than almost on any other issue.  On other hand, you know, Dan makes a good point.  Why do I have to accept anything less than marriage equality?

BRIAN ELLNER, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN:  No one should accept anything less than marriage equality.  And that‘s why I‘m here in Albany fighting for it in New York.  And we should point out, this is an extraordinary moment for us as you mentioned in the opening, we are in the process of passing marriage equality in New York.  We expect a vote shortly.  We‘re cautiously optimistic that we‘re going to win.  We have an extraordinary governor in Andrew Cuomo who has been championing this.  We have the people on our side.  We have supported over 60 percent.  And we‘ve created a quite an amazing movement in the state. 

Look, there‘s no question that the president should support marriage equality.  That having been said, no president has done more for LBGT Americans than this president, than Barack Obama.  And the list is impressive.  From a hate crimes bill, to repealing “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell,” which, you know, Dan Choi, Lieutenant Choi did a lot of work on it.  And we command him and we are grateful for that work that he did on that.  And very soon, lesbian and gay services members will be able to serve openly in the Armed Forces.  And that is a result of our president, and it‘s a result of our president cobbling together, a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats to repeal that.  And of course, most recently the president has said that he will stop defending the so-called defensive marriage act.  He‘s also said that he is evolving on the issue.  We want him to evolve all the way.  But when you look at the totality of his record, it is clear to us that the president deserves to be re-elected, deserves to be supported and commended for so much of that work.  

UYGUR:  So, Dan, you know. 

CHOI:  Brian, I like that. 

UYGUR:  You keep the president‘s feet to the fire, you know that, right?  But Brian makes a pretty good point.  That is a long list of accomplishments. 

CHOI:  No, I actually disagree.  And it is not impressive because when we judge a president we should not say that this president is so amazing that he is better than George Washington with his powdered wig.  We judge a president based on the demand for equality as well as the promises made or kept or denied.  I don‘t agree with his assessment of how “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” actually did get erased.  It actually hasn‘t been erased yet.  And until I can finally say that this uniform is not only the uniform of straight Americans, or white Americans or eighth generation Americans, this is the uniform of all-Americans.  And I conserve my country again.  Then we can celebrate.  But right now is not the time Brian to celebrate.  I would take a page from Dr. Martin Luther King‘s play book.  He did not endorse a president named Eisenhower or named John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson or even Hubert Humphrey in 1968. 

What kind of lessons can we move from the civil rights movement and apply them today?  If anybody is tolerating the silence of this president on our marriage equality, as Brian you are working so hard out there, you deserve that battle buddy of President Obama, particularly if he‘s going to say that he is a fierce advocate.  If you going to keep on giving money to him, then you should watch out.  Maybe we will see just as we did in 2009, a Rick Warren pop up again.  This is the way that the president treats those people who put themselves on the frontlines.  And I don‘t think I want to give my endorsement cheaply, I don‘t think I want to prostitute myself to a president‘s agenda because I am an American and I am good enough.  For anybody who says that that‘s not good enough, they are the ones who are perpetually indulgent and perpetually dissatisfied.  

UYGUR:  All right.  Brian, real quick.  Ten seconds here.  Isn‘t this the way to get change though?  And hasn‘t the gay rights community done a great job in getting change by putting a lot of pressure on, as Republicans do?

ELLNER:  Look there‘s no question pressure needs to be put on.  And we are here putting pressure.  And we are here not celebrating but working very hard up in Albany to pass marriage equality in New York which we fully expect will happen.  

UYGUR:  Right.  I got you.  Unfortunately, we got to leave it right there, guys.  I‘m sorry, we‘re out of time. 

ELLNER:  All right.  

UYGUR:  But you guys are great.  Lieutenant Dan Choi and Brian Ellner. 

Thank you so much.  We‘ll be right back.           

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  As Newt Gingrich sabotages his own presidential campaign, well his goofy executions is our con job of the day.  Newt Gingrich said, the media attacks him because he is President Obama‘s most formidable opponent.  Quote, “I didn‘t think they would realize this early just how dangerous this campaign is and go after it so hard.”  What is he, Tom Cruise from Top Gun?  Yes, I‘m dangerous.  I don‘t know if Tom Cruise did it that way.  Look, the reality is that his campaign is only a danger to itself. 

A new Bloomberg poll shows, New Gingrich is the second most unpopular republican in the country.  Fifty one percent view him unfavorably, second only to Sarah Palin.  And Newt also has an interesting take on why he has lost so many top staffers.

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  Philosophically, in a way that many of you who have known me in a long time understand, I am very different than normal politicians.  And normal consultants found that very hard to deal with.  I believe in big ideas.  I actually think that‘s part of how you campaign.  You talk to the American people about big things.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  I love that idea.  So, here is how that meeting goes.  Newt says, “I have a grand new idea.”  We should lower not only personal taxes but also corporate taxes.  And staffers are like, what?  I don‘t understand that idea.  It is too big.  I can‘t fit it into my head.  Newt is too much after genius, I have to quit immediately.  Is that really how it goes?  All right.  Now, I‘m going to clue Newt into a couple of real problems with his campaign.  There is a fact that he can‘t raise money and his campaign is reportedly up to a million dollars in debt.  He thinks he is being frugal as he‘s rose a million dollar credit line at Tiffany‘s.  He went on a Greek cruise in the middle of his campaign.  And he alienates other Republicans by doing things like criticizing Paul Ryan‘s budget.  He have to give Newt credit, he comes up with ideas that are too large to fit in anyone else brain.  He goes on Greek cruises in the middle of a presidential campaign.  He buys million bucks worth of jewelry just to show that he can.  He is the most interesting candidate in the world.  Stay thirsty, my friends.  Newt‘s entire campaign is our con job of the day. 

“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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