'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Read the transcript to the Wednesday show
Guests: Ann Thompson, Ron Mott, John Heilemann, Allan Lichtman, Frank Rich, Rachel Figuiroa-Levin
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: There is no way Obama can lose, no
way. And tonight we`re going to prove it, we really are.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: The White House dropping a political
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is the right time to
O`DONNELL (voice-over): President Obama brings the fight for jobs
directly to Congress.
TODD: Asking Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for
time to address a joint session of Congress.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH: That`s exactly when the Republican debate is
scheduled to air on this network.
TODD: The NBC News/"Politico" debate.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: At practically the same time.
TODD: Boy, we picked a pretty good time to have a debate, what do
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No doubt.
LIMBAUGH: John Boehner, speaker of the House, can reject this
O`DONNELL: Republicans attack not just what the president wants to
say but where and when he wants to say it.
SMERCONISH: Tries to rain on the Republicans parade.
LIMBAUGH: This rank immature.
CARNEY: The venue is appropriate because the actions that need to be
LIMBAUGH: You are obviously trying to disrupt the plans at the
CARNEY: We are at a moment when we need to take significant action.
LIMBAUGH: Boehner should say, Mr. President, I`m not going to assist
you in your political games.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`re getting bits and pieces about what might
be in that plan.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president is considering a number of
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s going to be more aggressive.
TODD: The president`s base is calling for additional spending.
O`DONNELL: The president is still working to help victims of
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The water is still rising in some places.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Passaic River is supposed to run under the
bridges. Today, in some cases, it`s running through those bridges.
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: Those moneys are not
TODD: Be very careful, politicians, playing politics with FEMA.
O`DONNELL: And an oracle is already predicting an Obama victory.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had Sarah Palin explode in the fall.
MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC HOST: Step aside, Mitt, there`s a new
frontrunner in town.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I spent most of my life
BASHIR: A pistol packing politician with a Texas-sized swagger.
SMERCONISH: He compared gay people to alcoholics.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Perry`s attack on gay scout masters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s running, what, since `92, `93.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Perry is Bush without the charm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s been employed by the government for a
O`DONNELL: Good evening.
We have breaking news in Washington. White House staff and Speaker
Boehner`s staff are meeting to head off an unprecedented public conflict
between the president and the speaker of the House of Representatives. It
began today when the president surprised Republican Speaker John Boehner
with this sentence in a letter hand delivered to the speaker. "I
respectfully request the opportunity to address a joint session of Congress
on September 7th, 2011, at 8:00 p.m."
The president`s letter told Boehner, "It is my intention to lay out a
series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to
continue to rebuild the American economy by strengthening small businesses,
helping Americans get back to work, and putting more money in the paychecks
of the middle class and working Americans, while still reducing our deficit
and getting our fiscal house in order."
The president made his letter public before Boehner could even
respond. Boehner`s response came in a letter to the president hours later.
"I respectfully invite you to address a joint session of Congress on
Thursday, September 8th, 2011, in the House chamber at a time that works
best for your schedule."
John Boehner doesn`t mention it in his letter, but the real reason he
doesn`t want the president to speak next Wednesday at 8:00 p.m., as the
president requested, is that a Republican presidential candidates` debate
is scheduled for exactly the same time. That debate, which will be
sponsored by "Politico" and NBC news, will be the first to include the new
Republican frontrunner, Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Technically, the president cannot address a joint session of Congress
whenever he feels like it. Joint sessions may not even meet unless both
chambers agree to a concurrent resolution and invite the president to
speak. Normally, a selection of the date and the time for a presidential
address to a joint session is done privately and it includes back-and-forth
of this sort. Wednesday`s good for us, what`s good for you? Well, how
about Thursday? Well, we can`t do Thursday, and so on and so on.
A historian for the House of Representatives tells NBC news that
because these scheduling discussions are normally secret, a public
rejection of a president`s request for a joint session is essentially
unprecedented. Speaker Boehner`s spokesman, Brendan Buck, just released a
statement reading, "No one in the speaker`s office -- not the speaker, not
any staff, signed off on the date the White House announced today.
Unfortunately, we weren`t even asked if that date worked for the House.
Shortly before it arrived this morning, we were simply informed that a
letter was coming."
Earlier today, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the
president was not deliberately trying to overshadow the Republican
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARNEY: It is coincidental. There is -- the president committed to
speaking next week after the Labor Day holiday, and immediately upon
Congress` return. And there are a lot of factors that go into scheduling a
speech before Congress, a joint session speech, and again, you can never
find a perfect time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The chairman of the Republican National Committee did not
see it the same way. Reinhold Priebus -- yes, his real first name is
Reinhold -- tweeted, "Barack Obama`s request to give jobs speech the same
night as GOP presidential debate is further proof this White House is
politics all the time."
Speaker Boehner ultimately took the advice Rush Limbaugh gave him
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIMBAUGH: This is intended to disrupt the Republican debate. It`s
intended to make Obama look bigger than the Republicans, to look bigger
than politics. And this is part of the presidential election campaign, and
the House Republicans are going to have to realize they are part of it.
Somebody in the intelligence, somebody smarter than we, somebody is going
to write a piece or post a blog and say, Mr. Boehner, Mr. Boehner, you are
going to send the independents running right back to Obama if you don`t
grant him the speech, because all the American people care about right now
is jobs, they don`t care about the Reagan Library, they don`t care about
the Republican presidential debate, all they care about jobs. And if you
tell the president he can`t come up on the day he wants, you`re just going
to send independents running back. That`s what they`re going to say to
him, how they`re going to try to intimidate Boehner.
Boehner should say, Mr. President, I`m not going to assist you in
your political games.
(END VIDEDO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, the co-author of "Game Change," national
affairs editor for "New York" magazine, John Heilemann. Also, author of
"Revival: The Struggle for Survival," MSNBC analyst Richard Wolffe.
Thank you both for joining me tonight.
Richard, is this the night where I have to begin this program by
saying Rush Limbaugh is right, the president was trying to upstage the
Republican debate? Is there any real working theory to the contrary?
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, you don`t have to say
that Rush Limbaugh is right. This is, obviously, a campaign season, and
the next day with the football game, and who really cares anyway? You can
schedule both on the same day, doesn`t have to be the same time. What`s
curious about this is not just the back and the forth, because I think
people who don`t tune into politics will think they are a bunch of
squabbling school kids.
The interesting question is: what is it about the president that has
ripped away the veneer the respect that normally accompanies the office of
the president? Why do the Republicans think this president is
unpresidential and shouldn`t dare request this kind of thing? It strikes
me that it could be the economic times, it could be he won so big in 2008,
or it could be, let`s face it, the color of his skin?
This is an extraordinary reaction to a normal sequence of events when
the economy is in trouble and we`re entering a political season. And the
reaction is out of all proportion.
O`DONNELL: John, how would Democrats react if we had a Republican
incumbent president who had already announced his reelection campaign and
the campaign was well underway and being funded, as this one is, and he
wanted to give a speech, which would be easily seen as both a campaign
speech and a governing speech, and wanted to do so at exactly the same time
that the Democrats would have been meeting to have a presidential primary
debate in which presumably those Democrats would be given a primetime
opportunity to be criticizing that Republican president.
How would Democrats have reacted if we just reversed this whole
JOHN HEILEMANN, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": Well, I think Democrats,
Lawrence, would probably have rolled over and granted the Republican
president the night, but not out of respect for the office but just because
they don`t play politics with the same kind of relentless hardball attitude
that a lot of the Republicans have played politics against President Obama
so far in the first two and a half years of his time in office.
I think the one point I`d take exception to what Richard said, the
White House also deviated from the normal course of events here, as you
pointed out, Lawrence, normally, the White House would have gone to
Republicans quietly beforehand. It was -- Rush Limbaugh was right in one
respect, at least the White House was playing politics here, clearly
intended to upstage the Republican debate, thought that it was doing
something smart and clever and tough politically, thought that Boehner
would fold and now is in the middle of this fight.
The main point that I see here is that if this is the kind of fight
we`re having, this kind of squabbling childish fishing match that we`re
seeing already over just this speech, does anybody really think there`s a
chance that there`s going to be any way for these two parties to come
together and actually pass any legislation that will actually help the
economy come out of this speech? I think not.
O`DONNELL: We`ll be checking with MSNBC standards during the break
to see whether we can call it that kind of match. But the rest of the time
Richard, this is -- I think I want to go to John`s point about the
White House`s first move here, sending this letter up without the
consultation, without the normal process.
WOLFFE: Wait a second, as I understand it, that is in serious
dispute here. These two accounts do not stack up. White House officials
say there was actual notice paid. No matter what the speaker`s spokesman
says, they were notified. Whether or not they raised objections to it
privately before raising their objections to it publicly is also a matter
And again to John`s point, if they cannot agree on this, then they
all look bad. This is small ball politics for both sides. But let`s
pretend this letter was sprung on these people. There`s a dispute over
what the reaction was when they were first informed, but the letter was not
how this thing broke between the two parties.
They should have made it clear beforehand. The fact that they cannot
make it clear isn`t just about Democrats playing more softball politics
than Republicans. Democrats hated President Bush, they loathed everything
he stood for, particularly in the second term, yet they still respected the
presidency when it came to these kinds of ceremonious moments.
I just -- this isn`t happening with this president and with this
Republican Party, and there`s a basic question why not.
O`DONNELL: John, I got to think that the White House saw it as a win
either way. Either Boehner says yes and we semi-humiliate him with the
Rush Limbaugh crowd and the president gets to completely upstage the
Republican debate, or Boehner says, no, in what becomes this unprecedented
public response to the president wanting to do a joint session address and
the White House wins again because the unreasonable Republican once again
looks like an unreasonable Republican.
HEILEMANN: Certainly, it would be consistent with the White House`s
theory of the case that we`ve seen over the course of the past -- really,
the whole Obama first term, but especially since the midterms where the
White House sought to elevate President Obama and make him look like the
reasonable, responsible, adult in the room. They could portray Boehner`s
response as kind of petulant and childish and certainly, they will do that.
There`s no doubt that, as Richard is representing, he`s representing a real
feeling among people in the Democratic base that are very upset.
And if you go on Twitter and if you listen to what people are saying
right now, this notion President Obama has been dissed in some fundamental
way is very much out there and the White House would capitalize, the since
that he is being disrespected in some unprecedented way, they gain
politically from that, too. Not just those in the middle for those who
want the president, who want to see politicians to be above this petty
squabbling, but also among people who are the loyalists who believe the
Republicans have basic respect for the office as long as Barack Obama holds
O`DONNELL: NBC`s Chuck Todd is reporting to us that the White House
aides and Boehner aides are meeting right now, as we speak, trying to come
to agreement on the time and date.
How will this turn out? And is there going to be a winner and a
loser on the scheduling fight?
WOLFFE: Well, I seriously doubt the White House wanted to have a
dispute about the date or put John Boehner on the spot. I`m sure they were
quite happy to have a split screen and have Republican presidential
candidates respond in the moment to what he will be trying to say.
So, you know, the White House is not going to be coming out of this
great because the president doesn`t want to have this dispute. They`ll
find a compromise on another day or another time and the left is going to
say the president caved again.
So, I don`t think this is going to be a winner for him, just in terms
of the scheduling dispute.
O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, is there a way for anyone to win the
scheduling -- the fight about scheduling a speech?
HEILEMANN: Well, I don`t -- I mean, I think in the narrow sense,
there are ways in which the White House will try to capitalize on it. But
I actually do agree with Richard. I think that most Americans who don`t
watch cable television and don`t read the political Twittersphere, most
Americans looking at this will once again look at this as pox in both their
houses, and will look at these people and say, I can`t believe with 9.5
percent unemployment, 15 percent real unemployment, these people can`t get
it together to schedule a speech, that they can`t agree on something that
basic and that pedestrian.
O`DONNELL: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and John Heilemann of "New York
Magazine" -- thank you both very much for joining me tonight.
WOLFFE: Thanks, Lawrence.
HEILEMANN: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, we fast forward to election night November
6th, 2012. Tonight, THE LAST WORD officially projects President Obama will
win reelection 433 days from now.
And later, Frank Rich on our country 10 years after September 11th.
Why instead of being a united country, we`ve ended up with what he calls a
O`DONNELL: Coming up, why one historian says President Obama is
definitely going to win reelection. It`s called the 13 keys to the White
House and it has predicted every presidential election since 1984.
And later, the New York woman who took to the Twitter -- took the
Twitter to poke fun at Mayor Bloomberg`s Spanish during his announcements
about the hurricane. She is now in the middle of her 15 minutes of fame.
She will make her national television debut later in this hour.
O`DONNELL: A new Quinnipiac Poll shows Republican presidential
candidate Mitt Romney gaining ground on President Obama, up four points
from their last poll, Romney now ties the president in a head-to-head 2012
matchup with 45 percent. But when pitted against Rick Perry, President
Obama wins 45 percent to 42 percent. That`s within a margin of error, of
When asked if President Obama deserves to be reelected, 51 percent
said no, only 42 percent said yes, he deserves to be reelected. Those are
very intimidating numbers to the Obama reelection campaign.
But our next guest can see right through them. He has an election
formula that has correctly predicted every presidential election since
Ronald Reagan`s reelection in 1984.
Joining me now, American University professor, Allan Lichtman, author
of "The Keys to the White House: A Surefire Guide to Predicting the Next
Allan, thank you very much for joining me tonight -- and I just
cannot thank you enough for relieving me of this burden of reading every
one of these Quinnipiac polls between now and next year and checking the
margin of error and the size of the sample. I mean, you know, we study
those polls to try to figure out what`s going to happen next. You`re
telling me it`s all over.
ALLAN LICHTMAN, PROF., AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: That`s right. Look, you
might as well read the entrails of birds as read these early polls. They
predict absolutely nothing, and in fact, are more often wrong than right.
I`ve developed a system that doesn`t require projection from
unreliable polls, but rather is based upon how presidential elections
really work. And that is the electorates are a lot smarter than the
pollsters and the pundits and the ad men give credit. We have a very
pragmatic American electorate which basically decides presidential
elections according to the performance of the party holding the White
And the 13 keys to the White House gauge the strength and performance
of the incumbent party, and it`s real simple. You don`t have to take your
shoes off to use the keys.
Out of the 13 keys, if six or more go against the party holding the
White House, they lose, and as you said, that system has predicted the last
seven elections in a row.
If there are fewer than six keys out against the party in power, they
O`DONNELL: And so, according to your research so far -- the Obama
administration, as I read your piece, they have won nine of these keys and
they are losing on four of these keys. But do all these keys weigh the
same in your evaluation? And what are the key keys that Obama is winning
in so that you can guarantee his reelection?
LICHTMAN: All the keys weigh equally, and there`s a reason for that,
because ahead of time, before an election, you can`t know which key might
count for more or which key might count for less. Moreover, if a key has a
major impact, it has within the system a trigger effect on other keys.
Now, the pundits who think Obama is in trouble are basing that, of
course, on the economy, and let`s presume he loses the two economic keys in
the system, that`s only two out of 13. He loses what we call the mandate
key because he lost in the midterm elections.
But look at all the things he has going for him, he had a foreign
policy triumph in the killing of Osama bin Laden. He hasn`t had a major
foreign policy disaster like losing the Vietnam War. He`s the sitting
president. He`s going to be unchallenged within his own party. There`s
going to be no third party campaign.
The administration is free of scandal. He has major policy change on
which to run, even if it`s controversial. And there`s no social unrest
roiling the country. And finally, he faces a weak field of Republican
So, when you put it all together, things look really good for Obama`s
reelection. So, forget the polls, forget the pundits, look at the keys
which tell you how elections really work and have a track record.
O`DONNELL: So when you hear people say it`s all about the economy
and you really don`t have to look at anything other than the unemployment
rate and some economic data, you`re saying, no, no, no, look at things like
is there scandal in the administration? How strong is the challenging
field? All those things you just listed.
LICHTMAN: Exactly, the economy is important, but the electorate is
not that narrow. The electorate is smart. They make an overall judgment.
Look, take 1968. If you look at the economy only, the Democrats
should have a landslide victory in 1968, except, of course, that you had
the disaster in Vietnam, the division in the parties, and social unrest.
Ronald Reagan won 49 states. Unemployment was still well over 7 percent.
So, those folks who say it`s the unemployment rate would have missed
1984. In fact, the straight economic models, while generally correct, miss
a number of recent elections and cannot be relied on because they are too
narrow and they don`t understand how smart the American people really are.
O`DONNELL: All right, that`s it. We`re done. We`re done for the
night. I don`t even have to finish the show.
American University professor, Allan Lichtman, thank you very much
for joining me tonight and releasing burden on studying these polls.
LICHTMAN: Anytime, Lawrence. And remember, this is non-partisan. I
predicted Bush in 2004.
O`DONNELL: That`s why you`re here, it`s the truth. Thank you.
LICHTMAN: Take care.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, what`s happened to America in the 10 years
since September 11th. Frank Rich joins me.
And later, you now live in a country where corporations pay their
CEOs more than the corporations pay in federal taxes. That`s in the
O`DONNELL: The National Climatic Data Center is the nation`s
scorekeeper of severe weather events. It`s still tallying from Hurricane
Irene and already says it is certain the storm will rank as the 10th
billion dollar weather event of just this year. The president will travel
to New Jersey on Sunday to inspect the damage.
This will give Republican Governor Chris Christie a special
opportunity to build his credentials within the Republican Party by telling
the president he don`t need no damn help from the federal government, or by
at least embracing the Eric Cantor principle that whatever disaster help
New Jersey gets from the federal government should come from cuts in other
federal funding that goes to New Jersey.
Much of the damage in New Jersey now is from flooding. Many towns are
still under water. NBC`s Ann Thompson is there.
ANN THOMPSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Paterson, New
Jersey, woke up to rapids in its streets. The Passaic (ph) River out of
its banks and out of control. The crest Tuesday night set a new record,
over 24 feet, swamping nearby Wallington.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can`t get to our home.
THOMPSON: The Gorsky (ph) family among the 1,000 residents forced to
evacuate, their town now engulfed in water and despair.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t know where to begin. We lost
THOMPSON: It is only from 1,000 feet above that you can see the true
scope of this disaster.
(on camera): -- drains north of New Jersey. And New Jersey recorded
its wettest August in history even before the rains of Irene. Then you add
another 11 to 12 inches of rain that Irene brought, and it was just too
(voice-over): The damage in New York alone will approach one billion
dollars. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano pledged federal aid.
JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We`ll be helping you
with this recovery and bringing this community back.
THOMPSON: It is moving day at this shelter in Paramis (ph), New
Jersey, but no one is going home. They are trading a cot here for one in
Paterson, nomads in their own town.
(on camera): Do you have any idea what happened to your house?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
THOMPSON (voice-over): April Evans (ph) has two daughters.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to cry, but I can`t cry. So I got to
keep strong for my kids.
THOMPSON: Clinging to the few things they have left, including hope.
Ann Thompson, NBC News, Paterson, New Jersey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Vermont, baby, no man left behind.
RON MOTT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Ron Mott in
Vermont, where contractor Kurt Marshall dropped his business duties today
to lend a hand to neighbors. Though the rapids still run through Linda
Guirerro`s (ph) property, her driveway washed away to rubble, Marshall
started pumping water out of her basement.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s a great sound to hear it pumping out.
MOTT: In Woodstock, road repairs are underway. Patched up enough in
places to free people trapped by damage left by torrential rains here that
ripped open large chunks of pavement and tore historic covered bridges from
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we have two roads in the whole district
that are passable, both lanes, without any damage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I used to live in Florida. And I`ve been
through three hurricanes. I`ve never seen anything like this in my life.
MOTT: Relief supplies, once again, were delivered by helicopter,
food, water, other emergency aid for people still trapped tonight.
Officials say access was reopened to all but one community.
Recovery and reconstruction efforts will take time across this flood-
ravaged state. Residents say they are heartened by how quickly everyone
came together to help.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s been an amazing community effort.
MOTT: While the financial loss is unknown, the Crossick (ph) family
already knows its loss; the deaths of hundreds of birds and no flood
insurance will be tough to overcome.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my income, and we`ve lost the farm.
It`s very hard.
MOTT (on camera): It is hard to believe that a small babbling brook,
no deeper than a few inches tonight, could cause all of this damage. But
on Sunday it roared and swelled to a size large enough to take down part of
a base lodge here at the Killington Mountain Ski Resort.
Power remains the big issue tonight; about 12,000 still in the dark
here in Vermont, more than 807,000 up and down the east coast.
That`s the latest here in Killington, Vermont. Back to you.
O`DONNELL: Still ahead, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave some of
his hurricane warnings in imperfect Spanish, which led to the Twitter
sensation "el Bloombito." That`s coming up.
And next, Frank Rich joins me with a look at the fleecing of America
over the last 10 years since September 11th.
O`DONNELL: In tonight`s Spotlight, the hard realities about the 10th
anniversary of the September 11th attacks. The day that some believed
would unify the nation going forward has done no such thing. Frank Rich,
in a piece for "New York Magazine," asks the questions, if the terrorists
lost, who won?
He writes, "the connection between the 10-year-old war in Afghanistan
and our new civil war over America`s there year old economic crisis may
well prove the most consequential historical fact of the hideous decade
they bracket. The hallowed burial grounds of 9/11 were supposed to
bequeath us a strong nation, not a busted one. In retrospect, the most
consequential event of the past 10 years may not have been 9/11 or the Iraq
war, but the looting of the American economy by those in power in
Washington and on Wall Street."
Joining me now, Frank Rich, writer at large for "New York Magazine."
Frank, thanks for joining me tonight.
FRANK RICH, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": Nice to be with you.
O`DONNELL: You mention in your piece something that I had forgotten
in the flow of history, that the Enron scandal broke just about a month
after 9/11. And it seems we actually had at least as big a lesson in the
Enron scandal about what was to come in this decade than what had happened
RICH: If you go back, indeed, and look at the Enron scandal, it had
all the features of the subprime crisis that would come and the housing
bubble, you know, phoney bookkeeping, worthless paper, credit agencies that
fell down on the job.
And it was very embarrassing to President Bush at the time because of
his long association with Enron as a political donor. And he promised a
lot of the cleanup of Wall Street that we`ve heard about in recent years.
And none of it happened.
He was going to have a SWAT team that would go against Wall Street
crime. As soon as it faded from the headlines, nothing happened. We know
what did happen; basically, Wall Street and the banks and mortgage lenders
and all the rest were given the green light to go ahead with impunity,
O`DONNELL: You talk about how 9/11 was used, kind of pulled off the
shelf in certain situations politically and in governing, in the instance,
for example, of helping to justify the invasion of Iraq. But much of the
piece is about what`s happened to the economy, what`s happened to the
politics of the economy.
You make a point here about taxation when you say if we don`t need new
taxes to fight two wars, why do we need them for anything? That, as much
as anything else, informs where our tax debate has gone.
RICH: Exactly. I think in the end, the most crucial decision that
Bush made right after 9/11 -- and he said it explicitly by the end of
September of that year -- was we don`t want the American people to
sacrifice. You know, maybe longer lines at airport check-in, but that was
that. Go to Disney Land, go shopping. And there would be no taxes to pay
for what would turn out to be two wars.
I think that injected a cancer into the American political culture
just as you were saying. If we don`t pay for wars, why do we have to pay
for anything? And I think you see the seeds now of this anti-government
movement that`s in some ways paralyzing the country.
O`DONNELL: And the not paying for anything Bush style could not go on
forever. You mention that he delivered this very large Medicare
prescription drug benefit completely unpaid for, large and expensive new
benefit. But you also say it is that America where rampage and greed usurp
the common good in wartime, the country crashed just as Bush fled the White
House that we live in today.
It did crash by the time Bush had fled the White House, the whole
scheme of doing things without paying for them. That has been visited
entirely on President Obama as a burden. Has there been any better way for
him to have managed that burden, given the Republican resistance of the
last couple of years?
RICH: There probably has been. For instance, I wish, as I think many
do, that he had talked about jobs and the connection between the loss of
jobs and this whole crisis and what happened to Wall Street much earlier
and more concretely than he is by this late date, giving this speech, the
starting time of which is so contended, next week.
But Republicans were out to destroy him. As we know, Mitch McConnell
said their main goal is to keep Obama from being reelected. But this
comes, again, out of the post-9/11 lapse in this country. This country was
ready to sacrifice. Bush had an approval rating that was almost perfect.
People after that very contentious 2000 election were willing to give
him another chance and unite behind him. Instead, everyone went their
separate ways and here we are.
O`DONNELL: It`s hard to say what`s most surprising about the
aftermath of 9/11. But I think in your piece, the thing that most jumped
out as the -- wouldn`t have predicted that is that turn of events where we
saw some legislation pending that was to help the first responders to 9/11
who developed health issues after being in that rubble and breathing in
that dust and the dangerous elements that were in the air down there.
That was being blocked by Republicans in Congress. And you write,
"the most vocal champions of the surviving 9/11 victims and their families
were New York officials and celebrities like Jon Stewart, most of them
liberal Democrats. The righteous anger of the right had moved on to the
cause of taking down a president with the middle name `Hussein.`"
Who would have predicted that it would have fallen to Jon Stewart to
be the champion of those victims?
RICH: It`s amazing, particularly since you had a Republican party, as
epitomized by people like Rudy Giuliani, who were 9/11 -- a noun, a verb,
911, as Biden said. They were all guarding this horrible tragedy, and you
know, enforcing a kind of political correctness. And we get to a point not
that many years later where you have Tom Coburn, a conservative Republican,
leading the charge to keep the federal government from helping first
responders and their families from 9/11.
That`s an enormous sea change, matched, by the way, by the new
isolationism in the Republican party, because that`s the other big change.
The McCain, Lindsey Graham view about -- neoconservative view, the Bush
view, the Bush-Cheney view, is now also not the mainstream of the GOP
anymore. It`s going back to its isolationist, pre-9/11 mind set, as they
O`DONNELL: It is a compelling and grim piece. Frank Rich, writer at
large for "New York Magazine," thank you very much for joining me tonight.
RICH: Delighted to be with you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, how corporations pay their CEOs more -- more
than they actually pay in federal taxes. That gets tonight`s Rewrite.
And later, Mayor Michael Bloomberg`s hurricane briefings in Spanish
provoked what has been called the best thing about Hurricane Irene, the
Tweets of El Bloombito. The Tweeter behind those Tweets joins me.
O`DONNELL: Time for tonight`s Rewrite. Corporate America has now so
successfully rewritten the tax code in their favor that in many of our
biggest companies, CEOs are now paid more money than the companies pay in
federal taxes. A new study out today by the Institute of Policy Studies
shows that of the 100 highest-paid CEOs in America, 25 of those highest-
paid CEOs took home more money last year than their company paid in federal
The 25 CEOs averaged -- they averaged 16.7 million dollars, while
their companies not only paid no taxes, no federal taxes, they actually
ended up collecting tax refunds averaging 304 million dollars.
Ford paid no federal taxes last year and paid its CEO 26 million
dollars. Verizon paid no federal taxes last year and paid its CEO 18
million dollars. Prudential paid no federal taxes and paid its CEO 16
GE paid no federal taxes last year, as I`ve already commented on this
show, and paid its CEO 15 million dollars. E-Bay paid no federal taxes
last year and paid its CEO 12 million dollars.
How did the tax code get so rigged in support of corporate greed?
Most of these companies also spent more on lobbying -- more on lobbying
than they paid in corporate taxes. Most of them gave more to political
campaigns than they paid in corporate taxes.
Now these companies are free to relocate to any other country in the
world if they find American corporate taxation so onerous. Remember that;
nothing prevents them from relocating.
Republicans are relentlessly pushing the lie that this country is
overtaxed, that corporations in this country are overtaxed. Their plans
for economic recovery all include reducing -- reducing the supposedly
horribly burdensome tax on corporate America.
At the Republican presidential candidates debates, someone has got to
ask them, how far below zero should corporate taxation go?
O`DONNELL: During hurricane weekend, New York`s Mayor Michael
Bloomberg gave clear, detailed, reassuring instructions to New Yorkers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK CITY: Let me summarize very
briefly in Spanish. (SPANISH)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The city`s Spanish-speaking residents were as well-
informed by the mayor as the English-only community was. But some in the
Spanish-speaking community were also amused.
A Twitter account suddenly popped up named El Bloombito and delivered
mayoral-sounding alerts like (SPANISH) "flood warning until" (SPANISH).
And no walko (SPANISH). And (SPANISH)
El Bloombito picked up followers very quickly. And the "New York
Observer" called El Bloombito the best thing about Hurricane Irene. Here`s
Mayor Bloomberg on Monday thanking New York City firefighters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And now for the actual Spanish version of what the mayor
was trying to say, we turn to THE LAST WORD`s Anthony Reyes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY REYES, NOT MAYOR BLOOMBERG: (SPANISH)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: OK, that`s the first time that I`ve seen the Anthony tape.
I could watch that all night. This morning, "the New York Times" revealed
to the world the identity of El Bloombito. She is Rachel Figueroa-Levin,
and she joins me now by phone.
Rachel, thank you very much for joining me tonight.
RACHEL FIGUIROA-LEVIN, @ELBLOOMBITO: Thank you for having me. I`m
kind of excited. I`m a huge fan of your show.
O`DONNELL: Oh, great. Now, Rachel, you are in the middle, or perhaps
just the very beginning of your 15 minutes of fame. And I understand it`s
been so disorienting to you that you`re kind of staying in an undisclosed
location and dealing with us hounds in the media just by phone.
O`DONNELL: So great things have happened. You`ve got agents reaching
out to you saying, you know, is there a book here. Kind of amazing stuff
has happened, right?
FIGUIROA-LEVIN: Yeah, I really can`t believe, you know, this is
happening. I never expected this. You know, this was really just a joke
for my friends on Twitter.
O`DONNELL: And I saw the picture of you and your baby in "the New
York Times" today. As soon as I saw the story, I said can we possibly get
Rachel on the show. You`re holding your baby in one hand, and you`re
Tweeting the other. You never expected any of this. And you picked up a
bunch of followers, including the mayor of New York, right? Mike Bloomberg
is following you now?
FIGUIROA-LEVIN: Yes, for a brief time period he was. I don`t think
he is anymore.
O`DONNELL: We are here to commend the mayor, aren`t we, you and I,
because actually I love his Spanish. His Spanish is my Spanish. After
taking Spanish courses in college, he`s about -- my best Spanish is about
half as good as Bloomberg`s Spanish.
So I applaud him. He started doing this a couple of years ago. He
went public with his Spanish after deciding to study it as mayor. And was
it -- did you find that it was helpful? Have you found people tell you
that it was actually helpful to hear him giving some of these announcements
FIGUIROA-LEVIN: Some people have told me it`s helpful. I think it`s
very helpful, I`m happy that he`s trying to reach out to the Latino
community. I`m happy that he`s trying to speak.
So I was just poking a little fun.
O`DONNELL: And what advice would you have for politicians as they try
to make this transition into the bilingual world of press conferences.
FIGUIROA-LEVIN: I would say, you know, try to immerse yourself in the
language. Maybe watch Spanish television shows or listen to Spanish radio
or surround yourself with Spanish speaking people so that, you know, your
diction can improve and you can pronounce words.
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