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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, June 27, 2011

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Guests: Howard Fineman, Ryan Lizza, Joe Solmonese, E.J. Dionne, Michael Isikoff

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  One Minnesota Democrat who has watched her closely summed up Michele Bachmann‘s presidential announcement this way: “I think she‘s crazy, but she‘s real.”



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did you feel you have misled people?

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS:  Are you a flake?

BACHMANN:  As a matter of fact, I have a titanium spine.  I don‘t know if you can see that.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  First, she steals the limelight.  Then she jumps ahead in the polls.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST:  We knew Michele Bachmann was kind of a buzzy candidate.

BACHMANN:  I am Michele Bachmann.

I‘m a serious person.

I am a Christian.

I am 55 years old.

I stand for the proposition that marriage is between a man and a woman.

I‘ve been married 33 years.  I‘m not only a lawyer.

I have a titanium spine.

I‘m not pigeon holed.

Everything I need to know I learned in Iowa.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  Bachmann is in.  Romney is challenged, and Pawlenty is in big trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She‘s all about Iowa.


WALLACE:  Are you a flake?

BACHMANN:  Well, I think that would be insulting.

MITCHELL:  Chris Wallace has now apologized.

WALLACE:  I messed up.

O‘DONNELL:  In Washington, there is one force blocking any movement on debt and taxes—House Republicans.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER:  Leader Cantor can‘t handle the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The president in his radio address this weekend says, well, you can‘t just cut your way to prosperity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Republicans could propose military spending cuts.

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA:  You have got to close these deficits with revenue.

O‘DONNELL:  And anti-gay activists are already plotting against the four New York Republicans who voted for marriage equality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ayes 33, nays, 39.


RACHEL MADDOW, “TRMS” HOST:  Gavel of the presiding officer no match for the cheers and in the New York state Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  New York for many, many years has served as the progressive beacon for this country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We will sustain this victory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s time for marriage equality all across this country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Forty-one states that have laws banning same-sex marriage.  So, this victory here puts pressure on everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thousands of gay couples in New York are getting ready to tie the knot.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  I am not a fan of same-sex marriage.  Not a fan.


O‘DONNELL:  Two weeks ago, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann stood on the primary debate stage, and in her first response announced the obvious, that she was running for president.  Today, in Waterloo, Iowa, she went beyond the obvious to the completely unnecessary and announced again what she had already announced.


BACHMANN:  We can win in 2012, and we will win.  It may have started small, but our voice is growing louder.  Our voice is growing stronger.

And it‘s made up of Americans from all walks of life, like a three-legged stool.  It‘s made up of peace through strength conservatives, and I am one of those.  It is made up of fiscal conservatives, and I am one of those.  It is made up of social conservatives, and I am one of those.  And it‘s made up of the Tea Party movement, and I am one of those.


O‘DONNELL:  Wen she says we can win in 2012, she, of course, does not mean that she can win the presidency, but she is now the most colorful Republican candidate in the field and will make it all the more difficult for the rest of the none-so-colorful candidates to command any media attention.

Bachmann‘s announcement comes just two days after she took a statistical tie for first place in Iowa‘s “Des Moines Register” poll of Republican likely caucus-goers.  Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann top the poll with 23 percent, 22 percent respectively.  Herman Cain came in a distant and meaningless second with 10 percent, followed by Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul and Tim Pawlenty.

Yesterday, on “FOX News Sunday,” Chris Wallace asked Michele Bachmann this.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS:  Are you a flake?

BACHMANN:  Well, I think that would be insulting to say something like that because I‘m a serious person.

WALLACE:  Do you—and I think it‘s important to say that, but do you recognize that now that you are in the spotlight in a way that you weren‘t before, that you have to be careful and not say what some regard as flaky things?

BACHMANN:  Well, of course, a person has to be careful with statements that they make.  I think that‘s true.  I think now there will be an opportunity to be able to speak fully on the issues.  I look forward to that.


O‘DONNELL:  After Bachmann‘s supporters complained, Wallace issued an apology on the FOX News Web site.


WALLACE:  I messed up.  I‘m sorry.  I didn‘t mean any disrespect.  I simply was trying to put an issue that‘s out there directly to her because some people do dismiss her as a flake.


O‘DONNELL:  And Bachmann‘s response?


REPORTER:  Do you accept his apology?

BACHMANN:  Well, I think that it‘s insulting to insinuate that a candidate for the president is less than serious.  I‘m a very serious individual.  I have a very strong background, a strong resume.

REPORTER:  But do you—but do you accept his apology?  He apologized to you.

BACHMANN:  Well, those are the small issues.  I‘m focused on the big ones.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now, Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for “The New Yorker” magazine, and Howard Fineman, editorial director for “The Huffington Post” and MSNBC political analyst.

Ryan, you were in Iowa for the big announcement this morning.  You jumped on the plane, followed her up to New Hampshire.

How was the reception in Iowa?  And what‘s happening for her in New Hampshire?

RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW YORKER MAGAZINE:  Well, in Iowa it was tremendous. 

I mean, last night, she had 400, 500, 600 people at an event on a Sunday.  And this morning, you know, modest size crowd, but pretty—you know, you interview any one at her events and they‘re excited about her, and excited about her in a way that you can‘t get out of people who, you know, at a Pawlenty or Romney event.

And she‘s definitely this story of the Republican primary right now.  And she hasn‘t done anything in New Hampshire today, at least anything public.  And she‘ll have something tomorrow.  I would anticipate that, you know, the New Hampshire Republican electorate is very different.  This is not going to be, you know, her ideal state.

Iowa is her state, and that‘s the state she‘ll need to win.

O‘DONNELL:  Howard, you know her in Minnesota district well.  How far can her excitement take her in this campaign?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, Lawrence, I was here at a Democratic event in suburban Minneapolis yesterday talking to Democrats about Michele Bachmann.  These are political activists.  These are very sophisticated people who know a lot about politics in this state.

And they said, look, we think she‘s crazy.  We think she‘s sometimes making squirrelly statements.  One person said she‘s not systematic, trying to understate things.

But they also said, look, she‘s for real, as I quoted that one person saying.  She‘s smart.  She‘s very smart, they said, and she‘s very effective.

She‘s an excellent campaigner.  She‘s a very good organizer.  She‘s very focused.  She knows how to use the slogans of politics.

In other words, she‘s very good at the game of politics, and she showed that.  She‘s hired some top staff people here.

This is not a flaky—to use Chris Wallace‘s term—this is not a flaky campaign.  She‘s certainly capable of saying flaky things, but it‘s not a flaky campaign.

LIZZA:  Could I just—

O‘DONNELL:  Ryan, go ahead.

LIZZA:  Could I just add one thing to that?  That look, I had a—I would say I had a certain stereotypical view of Bachmann before I started doing a little travel with her, reading about her, and I thought, you know, she‘s maybe a—just a message candidate, right?  Someone who is out there, doesn‘t really think that they have a shot at winning this thing, isn‘t really organizing or hiring a staff that‘s a professional level.

And that is just not true at all.  Her campaign, you know—this is the fourth presidential campaign I‘ve covered.  It is a, you know, high grade professional caliber operation.  These guys are taking it seriously, and she‘s not in this just to, you know, make a splash and then go away.  She‘s serious.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.  Exactly.  That‘s what the people here said.  They followed her in the legislature.  They know that, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Howard, you mentioned that question that Chris Wallace asked about “are you a flake?” which got all the attention.  It seemed to be one of those questions the host designs to get this kind of sound byte attention, even if it might require a little apology afterwards.

But there was a substantive question in there that the flake question managed to cover up for her in the follow-up coverage, and this was her and her family‘s relationship to government hand-outs and government subsidies, foreign subsidies in particular.  I think we have sound of that from the Chris Wallace interview.  Let‘s listen to that.


WALLACE:  A counseling clinic, run by your husband got almost $30,000 in state and federal funds.  A farm in which you are a partner got almost $260,000 in federal subsidies, and over the years, you sought more than $60 million in state earmarks and more than $3.7 million in federal earmarks.

Question: that‘s a fiscal hawk?

BACHMANN:  Well, let‘s go through them.  First of all, the money that went to the clinic was actually training money for the employees.  The clinic did not get the money, and my husband and I did not get the money either.  That‘s mental health training money that went to the employees.

Number two, regarding the farm, the farm is my father-in-law‘s farm.  It‘s not my husband and my farm.  It‘s my father-in-law‘s farm.  And my husband and I have never gotten a penny of money from the farm.

Regarding the earmarks, I believe that the right place to build projects is in the state, and the states have to build roads and bridges, and I don‘t apologize for building roads and bridges.


O‘DONNELL:  Ryan, do her Tea Party supporters think that her—the employees at the husband‘s clinic, it‘s all right for them to get direct government subsidies?

LIZZA:  Well, I would defend her on the clinic.  I don‘t know all the details of every one of those, but if it‘s her husband‘s clinic, you know, I‘m not sure that she can be personally responsible for, you know, her spouse‘s profession, but, look—

O‘DONNELL:  Well, she does—she does enjoy the income of her spouse‘s profession and files a joint tax return with him.

LIZZA:  No, that‘s true, but I would just say, look, as a congresswoman, you are—and as a libertarian, you are going to run up against these contradictions, right?  Because you‘re always going to be trying to bring home something for your district.  And, I mean, the interesting political question for me on this stuff is how she‘s handling these little issues.

And on the Wallace thing, I thought it was fascinating just how she didn‘t really back down, didn‘t really say, oh, I accept his apology.  In fact, I‘m not sure her campaign thinks he really apologized to her.  If you read what he said, he basically said I apologize.  You know, it was one of those—I apologized if you‘re offended apologies, and she‘s showing a certain toughness here.  I mean, compare her reaction to this stuff with Pawlenty‘s reaction at the debate.

FINEMAN:  Lawrence—

O‘DONNELL:  Howard, I think she‘s—go ahead, Howard.

FINEMAN:  OK.  Let me just say it‘s toughness, but also she‘s got a huge ego, and talking to people here who know her, this is a person who—one of her weaknesses might be that if she‘s attacked, yes, she‘ll be tough, but she might also overreact.

I think the gracious thing to do probably would have been to, you know, accept it for whatever Chris Wallace said and move on.  Her very combativeness, which makes her attractive, is also the thing that she‘s going to have to watch more than the flakiness or the gaffes or whatever.  It‘s the way her ego can take control of her in ways she might not like—the professional handlers, notwithstanding.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, I think she will get away with those answers on the pure socialism that her family enjoys.  And those payments to her husband‘s workers are direct income supplements to herself.  She‘ll get away with them as long as people keep asking the flake questions to deflect it.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

O‘DONNELL:  Before we go, I want to remind us all of the names of the winners of this early Iowa poll in past presidential elections.  Last time around, in 2007, it was Romney on the Republican side.  Edwards, John Edwards, won it last time around on the Democratic side.

This particular poll, Richard Gephardt won it in 2003.

Presidents don‘t actually win these early Iowa polls.  We should all keep that in mind when we‘re getting excited about tonight‘s early Iowa poll.

MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman and Ryan Lizza of “The New Yorker”—thank you both for joining me tonight.

LIZZA:  Thanks, Lawrence.

FINEMAN:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, the victory for marriage equality in New York, and what it means for the Republicans who voted for it.  And the debt ceiling negotiations go to a new level as the president steps in.

And in “The Rewrite,” Governor Chris Christie uses his kids for political cover then gets angry at a constituent who asks about his kids.


O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: New Jersey‘s Republican Governor Chris Christie doesn‘t like it when you use his kids to make a political point because he is the only one who‘s allowed to do that.  That puts him in “The Rewrite.”



GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK:  I believe New York has sent a message to this nation loud and clear.  It is time for marriage equality all across this country.  New York for many years -- 



O‘DONNELL:  That was Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo before walking in New York‘s 42nd annual gay pride march yesterday.  Those comments come two days after Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill that made his state the first with a Republican-controlled Senate to legalize same-sex marriage.

Four Republican senators who provided the votes necessary for the bill to pass, 33-29, are now facing a backlash from opponents of marriage equality.  The chairman of the New York conservative party told “The Daily News” that Republican votes for the bill were “absolutely a betrayal.  They accepted the conservative party endorsement.  They knew where we stood on the issue.”

The chair of the National Organization for Marriage wrote in “The National Review,” “The national organization for marriage has committed $2 million to persuading Republicans voting for gay—voting for gay marriage has consequences.”

Joining me now Joe Solmonese, who is the president of the Human Rights Campaign, a group that was pivotal in this legislation passing in New York.

Thanks very much for joining me tonight, Joe.


O‘DONNELL:  Joe, I was at the gay pride parade yesterday on Fifth

Avenue.  I have been to it before.  There was a completely different feeling there yesterday.

Is the euphoria justified in terms of what you think is achievable going forward in other state legislatures?

SOLMONESE:  Unquestionably.  New York was a pivotal moment, as you know.  We doubled the number of people in this country who now live in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

But I think, to your earlier point, one of the most powerful things that happened in the debate I think was those Republican members coming to the floor, voting with their heart, leading with their conscience, speaking so powerfully about the fact that, quite frankly, they couldn‘t find reason not to be for this.  You know, the barriers that stood in their way had come down, and they wanted to be on the right side of history.  And I think that‘s something that is going to resonate all across the country—particularly with Republicans in other legislatures that are considering this bill like Maryland, for instance.

O‘DONNELL:  What is the lesson for politicians on both sides of the aisle in terms of their political future here?  Here, you have these Republicans making this move.  They are now being threatened on their conservative side in New York state.  Is there some way for you to rush to the aid of Republicans who have helped you in this bill?

SOLMONESE:  We will be there for these members in New York.  But what I think is so powerful is that they understood they were standing on the right side of history.  And what they said when they talked about the fact that it was hard to find reasons not to be for marriage equality—don‘t forget, I think they were also mirroring what they were hearing from their constituents.  You know, they said to us over and over, they wanted to really understand that the will of their constituents is there, that the will of the people of New York was with them in this vote for marriage equality, and it was and it will be when they stand for re-election next year, but we will be with them as well.

The National Organization for Marriage made a lot of noise in this fight, and they really under-performed in terms of what they said they were going to do.

Now, they had every right to be in these elections next year, but we will be there as we were in New Hampshire following those marriage votes and as we were in Massachusetts.  We will be in New York for these brave members.

O‘DONNELL:  There is a tremendous positive reaction for politicians on this vote, too.  I saw a lot of “Cuomo for president” signs yesterday on Fifth Avenue.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, thank you very much for joining me tonight.

SOLMONESE:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talks tough before a meeting with the president.  E.J. Dionne and I will discuss whether there‘s any chance of Democrats and Republicans reaching a fair agreement on how to raise the debt ceiling.


O‘DONNELL:  He made his first movie “12 Angry Men” in 1957, starring Henry Fonda. Fifty years later, he made his last movie, “Before the Devil Knows You‘re Dead,” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He made over 40 other movies, including the most gripping film about the presidency in the age of mutually assured destruction, “Fail-Safe” in 1964 with Henry Fonda and a young Larry Hagman.

He made “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” and “Prince of the City” the most honest cop movies of our time.  He delivered the tension of the courtroom in “The Verdict” starring Paul Newman and exposed the madness of the television business in “Network.”

He started directing television before anyone knew how to direct television.  His technical precision, his artistic vision, and his kindness were remembered today in a memorial and celebration of his life at Lincoln Center and included affection and funny memories shared by writers like David Mamet, who worked with him, and actors who loved him like Lauren Bacall, Christopher Walken, James Gandolfini, Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

No director has had a stronger grip on his audience than Sidney Lumet.  And for two hours today, the audience at Lincoln center was in his grip once again.


UNIDENTIFIED AMLE:  It‘s always difficult to keep personalities out of a thing like this.  Whenever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Russians have come up with a way to mask their real position of Group Six.  Maybe Group Six is flying back to the States right this minute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And what‘s on the board?  Northern lights?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Maybe a group of Soviet planes up there for just that reason, to convince us that we‘ve accidentally lost a bomber group against them.  The forward purpose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s an excuse to retaliate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  To do a grand discovery.  You have a mercantile heritage.  You  are merchants.  You are known as a user, a man with secret resources, a witch, a porn broker.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  If you hate it so much, why don‘t you get out?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s crossed my mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Attica, Attica, Attica.  Attica.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m as mad as hell, and I‘m not going to take this anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I wasn‘t wearing a wire.  Drop your shorts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why don‘t you kiss my ass?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If we got to have faith and justice, we need only to believe in ourselves and act with justice and that was justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not fair!  It‘s not fair!  All my life, I‘ve been afraid of becoming like him, all my life.  All my life with you and it‘s not fair.

You can‘t just say he is sorry and make it all go away.  It‘s too late.  It‘s not that easy.  It‘s not fair.  It‘s not fucking fair.



O‘DONNELL:  In tonight‘s Spotlight, President Obama met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Senator Leader Mitch McConnell in separate meetings today to nudge them towards an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, which Senator McConnell incorrectly describes as granting a request of the president. 


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, MINORITY LEADER:  A little later today, I‘ll sit down with President Obama to discuss his request to raise the nation‘s debt ceiling.  When I do, I intend to make a request of my own.  I intend to ask the president what he is prepared to do, outside of raising taxes, about the massive deficits and debt that have accumulated on his watch. 


O‘DONNELL:  Technically, the president does not request increases in the debt ceiling, so much as notify the Congress of when we will hit the debt ceiling if we do nothing.  In every Congress in history up until now, the reaction to that notification has been to raise the debt ceiling.  The Treasury monitors our debt and is the only entity that can run calculations of it with any real accuracy.

So it falls to the Treasury secretary to notify the president and the Congress as we approach the limit on our debt, which is set by Congress.  The current limit on our debt is 14.3 trillion dollars.  It was set by Congress on January 28th, 2010.  Senator McConnell wrapped up his meeting with the president around 6:00 p.m. today and issued no statement about what occurred in that meeting. 

Here is what McConnell said he planned to tell the president. 


MCCONNELL:  I will tell him the truth about requests by some in his party that we increase spending and raise taxes as a way of solving the debt and jobs crisis that precipitated the president‘s request to raise the debt limit in the first place. 

Not only are they counterproductive from the standpoint of an economic recovery, they‘re also politically impossible, since Republicans oppose tax hikes and Democrats have already shown they won‘t raise taxes in a down economy either. 

O‘DONNELL:  The president and no other Democrats involved in the negotiating with Republicans have suggested raising tax rates.  What they have suggested is raising tax revenue by closing some tax loopholes or reducing some tax deductions and tax credits. 

Some Democrats say that revenue raisers they have proposed include reducing tax deductions for people earning over 500,000 dollars a year, reducing corporate tax subsidies for the oil industry and for ethanol production, closing tax loopholes for corporate jets. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked if there was any way to reconcile the Republican position of no deal that includes any form of tax revenue increase and the Democratic position of no deal that does not include a tax revenue increase. 


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  We are confident that Congress, members of Congress, if and when presented with a balanced approach to solving—to significantly reducing our deficit, will do the right thing. 

Will there be some members of Congress for whom in absence of 100 percent of what they want will be unacceptable to them.  I wouldn‘t be surprised if that‘s the case.  But I believe that there are majorities in Congress—the president believes there are majorities in Congress for reasonable compromise that achieves this very important goal. 


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is “Washington Post” columnist E.J. Dionne.  He is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.  Thanks for joining me tonight, E.J. 

DIONNE, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good to be with you.  It‘s not fair.  You put me—as the man said in the movie, you put me on after all those great Sydney Lumet clips, you know. 

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s an amazing career. 

DIONNE:  It‘s hard to live up to. 

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m keeping my body of work narrow enough so that it—my

commemorating my career will take about five minutes. 

DIONNE:  We‘ll do that. 

O‘DONNELL:  E.J., you know, when I was working in the Senate staff, I used to hear senators and public spokesmen make these statements of confidence that we would find a solution to a certain legislative problem that I was convinced was absolutely hopeless.  There was no way through it.  Half the time, I turned out to be right, and it was hopeless and there was no way forward.  And the other half of the time, something appeared miraculously. 

What does your gut tell you about where we are now?  Jay Carney has to do that confidence thing.  He has to come out and say we‘re confident something will happen.  This is one of those situations.  I can‘t see it.  I don‘t see how these two sides come together. 

DIONNE:  See, I actually think if John Boehner could, he probably would make a deal.  I hear that from Democrats, not just from Republicans.  But Boehner has all kinds of problems among his own Republicans.  And Mitch McConnell seems not to want to deal.  I think part of the problem is that because the president has so far stayed above the fray, the Republicans have really won three big arguments. 

First, they won the argument that it‘s OK just to hold up raising the debt ceiling, when they did—when they raised it themselves over and over again.  They seem to define bipartisan as whatever it is they want.  And they persuaded Americans that just cutting spending will be really good for the economy. 

As long as they are winning those arguments, Democrats are going to have a problem breaking through, even though the Republican position I think, that you can get all out of tax cuts, is ridiculous. 

O‘DONNELL:  And E.J., what about the debt—

DIONNE:  I mean, a lot of spending cuts, I‘m sorry. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  What about the Democrats‘ position on what is fair?  The president has been offering them three dollars in spending cuts for every one dollar in revenue increase.  The last time there was a big deficit reduction bill, the Democrats were putting it together themselves, and they defined fair—this is the Clinton administration—as one dollar of spending cuts for one dollar of revenue increase. 

DIONNE:  Well, one for one is fair, especially since, when you look at where the deficit came from, a lot of it came from the Bush tax cuts.  And some of it came from the two wars.  If you look closely at what the administration has actually suggested, they made it look like three to one. 

It‘s not really three to one, which actually makes me happy.  But I think they should be taking a harder public line, saying, look, one for one is a reasonable—a reasonable thing.

And the other thing is it‘s got to be a fight over what is it you cut?  Are you really going to slash Medicare or Medicaid?  Are you really going to slash Pell Grants?  What is it?

People—it‘s easy to sell spending cuts in the abstract.  Everybody thinks the government is bloated.  But when people look at what the government actually spends its money on, they say, well, don‘t cut this or that or the other thing. 

So let‘s get specific.  All this has been behind closed doors. 

O‘DONNELL:  E.J. Dionne of the “Washington Post,” thank you very much for joining me tonight, E.J. 

DIONNE:  Good to be with you. 

O‘DONNELL:  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said that it was no one‘s business where his kids went to school.  However, in January, he used those same kids to defend why he didn‘t return to his home state during a blizzard.  That‘s tonight‘s Rewrite.


O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s Rewrite.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants you to know he really loves his children.  He also wants you to know you are not allowed to ask him any questions involving his children.  But he wants to be able to use his children as a political shield whenever necessary. 

Remember the criticism he got for being in Florida at Disneyworld with his kids when his state was buried under a blizzard?  He didn‘t take any questions about his state‘s snow removal emergency until six days after the storm hit, when he got back from Florida. 


Here‘s how he handled it on a local radio talk show. 


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  Listen, my number one priority,

Jim, you know, is to be a husband and a father.  I mean, that‘s got to be -

everybody‘s number one priority. 


Jim, first of all, the plan was already in place. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, so what? 

CHRISTIE:  If you look at—well, no.  And I was still providing exactly the type of leadership that need to be provided by doing exactly what I‘ve been doing if I was here.  And 95 percent of all the state roads were cleared—absolutely cleared by Tuesday morning.

And we did, I think, a very, very good job.  I would not have been on the back of the snowplow, Jim, plowing any of the roads in the state. 


O‘DONNELL:  That earned Governor Christie his first starring role in our Rewrite.  Here‘s some of what I said then. 


O‘DONNELL:  All mayors and governors can really do during a blizzard is pretend to be helpful.  They know nothing more about snow removal than you or I do.  And if you vote for them on the basis of what they pretend to know about snow removal, then you have been played for a fool. 

So tonight‘s Rewrite is not for Governor Christie, who kept his promise to his family at absolutely no cost to his state.  It‘s for the people attacking him for not doing any of the ineffectual phony stunts that they seemed to impressed by when other politicians summoned the media to watch them shoveling snow. 


O‘DONNELL:  Yeah, that‘s right.  I defended Chris Christie for putting his family vacation above the media‘s need for pictures of politicians pretending to be useful during the snow removal process.  But then he took the family first thing a little too far. 


O‘DONNELL:  Yesterday, Christie decided to avoid traffic and take his state‘s brand new 12 million dollar state police helicopter instead, and take it to his son‘s high school baseball game. 


O‘DONNELL:  And here‘s how Governor Christie defended that one. 


CHRISTIE:  I decided that, you know, my son is starting at catcher in a state tournament game.  I want to be there.  I want to see it.  He wasn‘t starting the whole season.  He started the season on the bench.  And he broke into the line-up halfway through the season.

So it‘s been a really exciting half season for our family to see our kid starting in a really competitive high school baseball program.  I wanted to be there for that. 


O‘DONNELL:  Watching his son‘s game was so important to him that he left during the fifth inning and got back in the helicopter on his way to dinner with Republican donors from Iowa, who were hoping to draft him into the 2012 presidential race. 

Governor Christie‘s children came up again yesterday on “Meet the Press.”


DAVID GREGORY, “MEET THE PRESS”:  The question having to do with why you send your kids to parochial schools.  You did a recent show.  Here‘s a portion of it. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You don‘t send your children to public schools.  You send them to private schools.  So I was wondering why you think it‘s fair to be cutting school funding to public schools? 

CHRISTIE:  Gayle, you know what, first off, it‘s none of your business.  I don‘t ask you where you send your kids to school.  Don‘t bother me about where I send mine. 


O‘DONNELL:  None of your business.  Nice.  Suddenly, the new Christie policy on issues involving his children is none of your business.  That‘s after using his children publicly as his defense, a defense I accepted, about why he was absent from the state during a snowstorm.  And it‘s after using his son as an explanation for why he used the state helicopter for non-governmental business.

And he used his son in great detail, more detail than anyone was asking for.  He told us his son is a catcher.  He told us his son didn‘t make the starting line-up at the beginning of the season, was on the bench.  He told us all that stuff. 

He told us his son was recently moved up into the starting lineup and that was very exciting.  He was starting catcher that day, had to go to the game.

That‘s a lot of information for a politician who suddenly wants to claim, for the convenience of one particular political answer, that that same son is now none of your business.  Christie went on to restate his new none of your business position on “Meet the Press.”


CHRISTIE:  What I said to her was don‘t question my wife and my parenting decisions.  That‘s the most personal thing that you can say to someone.  You are a father.  You know this. 

These parenting decisions we make from the heart.  There‘s no one more precious in my life than my wife and my four children.  And when we make those decisions, that‘s not appropriate for public inquiry. 


O‘DONNELL:  Governor, the decision you made to stay in Florida during your state‘s snow removal emergency was appropriate for public inquiry.  That was a decision involving your children.  And it was appropriate for public inquiry. 

And the public inquired, and the press inquired, and you answered those inquiries.  And I, for one, accepted and defended your answer to those inquiries. 

Others did not accept your answer to those appropriate inquiries about you and your children and snow removal. 

It was also appropriate for public inquiry to question you about why you were using a state helicopter to go to your son‘s high school baseball game.  I did not accept your answer to that inquiry.  I think you should not have used the state helicopter to go to your son‘s baseball game.  And I think it is an indication of your misplaced priorities as a governor, as a politician, and, yes, as a father. 

If going to your son‘s baseball game was that important—and I as a father agree with you that it was important—then you should not have scheduled a pointless, schedule conflicting political dinner with Iowa Republicans to further discuss the fact that you‘re not running for president. 

And yes, governor, it was appropriate for public inquiry, for Gayle to ask you if, as she put it, it‘s fair to be cutting funding for public schools given that you don‘t send your children to public schools.  That is appropriate for public inquiry. 


CHRISTIE:  And I‘m not going to let people question my parenting decisions in public. 


O‘DONNELL:  That is the new Christie rule that you invented for David Gregory on “Meet the Press,” even though you have let people question your parenting decisions in public, and you have answered those questions, both about snow removal and your son‘s baseball game.  And in the case of the baseball game at least, you answered the question revealing publicly more information about your son than any of us asked for, than any of us needed. 

It turns out Governor Christie is no better at following rules than most politicians, including the rules that he sets for himself.  Here he is this morning violating his own rule and answering questions about his parenting decisions in public. 


JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR:  You‘re in charge of the public schools of New Jersey.  Are they not good enough for your kids? 

CHRISTIE:  No, listen.  You when they don‘t do?  They don‘t teach religion.  And my wife and I want to make sure that our children, every day, are getting part of the values that we‘re trying to teach them at home reinforced at school. 

We made that decision.  I made the choice.  My wife made the choice to pay for our kids to go to a parochial school. 


O‘DONNELL:  So Joe Scarborough quickly and smartly goes straight to what Chris Christie had declared, a forbidden zone on “Meet the Press” the day before, and asked him why he doesn‘t send his kids to New Jersey public school.  Are they not good enough for your kids?

And Chris Christie doesn‘t dare say to Joe Scarborough, it‘s none of your business.  He simply answers the question, says he wants his kids to go to religious schools and be taught religion every day.  He says that—he gives that answer to that question about his parenting decisions the day after telling David Gregory, I‘m not going to let people question my parenting decisions in public. 

He had no problem allowing Joe Scarborough to question his parenting decisions in public.  And last week on “the Today Show,” he had  now problem allowing Matt Lauer to ask about that same parenting decision, about where he sends his kids to school. 

In Chris Christie, the Republican‘s dream candidate for president who will never be president, we can now see an inconsistent temperamental man who is capable of showing flashes of anger at his constituents like Gayle, the woman who asked him about his children not attending New Jersey public schools, but is very well behaved in formal interview settings. 

Now that we know that Christie has no rule about discussing his parenting decisions in public, let‘s look at how he treated Gayle one more time.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You don‘t send your children to public schools.  You send them to private schools.  So I was wondering why you think it‘s fair to be cutting school funding to public schools. 

CHRISTIE:  Gayle, you know what?  First off, it‘s none of your business.  I don‘t ask you where you send your kids to school.  Don‘t bother me about where I second mine. 


O‘DONNELL:  So now we know what Christie really was thinking.  Hey, Gayle, you know what, first off, it‘s none of your business, because you‘re a nobody.  You‘re just a constituent.  If you want me to actually answer your question, get your own TV show.  Who do you think you are?  Joe Scarborough? 


SCARBOROUGH:  You‘re in charge of the public schools of New Jersey. 

Are they not good enough for your kids? 

CHRISTIE:  Listen, no.  You know what they don‘t do?  They don‘t teach religion.  And my wife and I want to make sure that our children every day are getting part of the values that we are trying to teach them at home reinforced in school.  We made that decision.


O‘DONNELL:  Today, a Chicago found former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich guilty of trying to sell Barack Obama‘s Senate seat in 2008, after Obama vacated it to become president.  Blagojevich had pled not guilty to 20 counts of wire fraud, racketeering, bribery and attempted extortion, but a jury found him guilty of 17 of the charges, not guilty of one, and failed to return a verdict on two of the charges. 

Before the verdict was announced, Blagojevich quoted Elvis. 


ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS:  My hands are shaky.  My knees are weak.  I can‘t seem to stand on my own two feet. 


O‘DONNELL:  After the verdict, Blagojevich confronted the pretty close to worst case scenario. 


BLAGOJEVICH:  I, frankly, am stunned.  There‘s not much left to say, other than we want to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort things out. 


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is NBC News national investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff.  Michael, what is the big difference between the first trial and this second trial? 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, they streamlined it.  They really honed in on the strongest counts.  And they obviously won a resounding verdict here. 

Look, the—Blagojevich‘s misfortune was that he got himself wiretapped.  You know, those tapes are so damning.  The comments on them—you know, “I‘ve got this F-ing thing that‘s golden, and I‘m not going to give it up for f-ing nothing.”

Comments along those lines made it pretty hard to imagine he was ever going to get acquitted.  But, to be fair to him, look, you know as well as anybody, Lawrence, like every night here in Washington, lobbyists are throwing fundraisers for members of Congress who are making decisions about the fate of those lobbyists‘ clients.

And the critical difference is people are rarely as explicit and rarely as crude as Rod Blagojevich about the nature of those transactions.  Patrick Fitzgerald said today that the message from this verdict will be that corruption will not be tolerated.  You know, I‘m afraid that the real message will be be careful what you say.  You never know when the feds are going to be listening. 

O‘DONNELL:  And this is the second Illinois governor that federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has gotten convicted. 

ISIKOFF:  Right.  Yeah, exactly.  I mean, George Ryan, the Republican predecessor of Blagojevich, was convicted as well by criminal charges that Fitzgerald has brought.  Fitzgerald has really become the most feared, if he was not already—this only reinforces it—the most feared prosecutor in the country. 

George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, Scooter Libby, the list is getting pretty long.  And it has made hem the ultimate untouchable.  And that‘s the reason Fitzgerald, a Republican appointee of George W. Bush, is still in office. 

O‘DONNELL:  What is Blagojevich facing in sentencing time? 

ISIKOFF:  You know, the judge—I was there for part of the trial and listened in.  And that Judge Zagil (ph) was pretty tough on the defense.  I would suspect he would be pretty tough in sentencing. 

You know, the conventional wisdom is we are talking about ten years, which is a lot of time in federal prison for a sitting governor.  But there will be appeals for a while.  But I think it‘s no doubt at this point he is going to prison. 

O‘DONNELL:  NBC national investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff, thank you very much for joining me tonight, Michael. 

ISIKOFF:  Thank you, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  Tomorrow, a LAST WORD exclusive, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be my guest.  “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is up next.  Good evening, Rachel. 


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