Skip navigation

'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Thursday, January 5, 2012

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

  Most Popular
Most viewed

Guests: Howard Fineman, Melissa Harris-Perry, Richard Cordray, Charlie Black

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: President Obama has finally found something
that he thinks is worth risking an all out war with congressional
Republicans -- a war about one person. That person joins me tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Our message to President Barack Obama
is, you can run but you can`t hide.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think in terms of
beating Obama --

MCCAIN: He is the one who can defeat Barack Obama.

ANNOUNCER: Rick Santorum is ready to take on Barack Obama and restore
America`s greatness.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Democratic National
Committee and Barack Obama --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re not going to let
that happen.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have to have Richard
Cordray in place.

OBAMA: Republicans in the Senate have blocked Richard`s confirmation.

CARNEY: They don`t even want the Consumer Financial Protection
Bureau.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: I`m very proud of the president of
the United States.

OBAMA: I`m not going to stand by while a minority in the state puts
party ideology ahead of the people.

CARNEY: Our legal standing here, we are very confident.

OBAMA: They refuse to even give Richard an up or down vote.

CARNEY: In order to protect American consumers.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: Republicans just want to have fun.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a quirky
process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know the boring white stuck-up guy you see in
every Tyler Perry movie?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rick Santorum has moved into fourth place.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How do I get to where I
am?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He usually wears a sweater vest.

SANTORUM: So many problems and so little time, huh?

GINGRICH: Look, I think Rick is a fine person.

WAGNER: Newt and Rick versus Mitt and John. Frenemies forever.

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS: Frankly, they just hate Mitt Romney so much.

GINGRICH: Governor Romney is a moderate Massachusetts Republican.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: John McCain at his side, it was awkward.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR: John McCain had to pick the person
that he hated the least.

MITCHELL: It`s Newt Gingrich on a kamikaze mission to destroy Mitt
Romney.

GINGRICH: Next question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He might be getting ready to pull the pin.

CALLISTA GINGRICH, NEWT GINGRICH`S WIFE: Newt has been preparing for
this challenge his entire life.

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: But you left him alive and alone with his
first love.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O`DONNELL: The New Year gives us a new President Obama, especially in
his dealings with Congress. White House aides have been suggesting to
reporters that the president would find his way around Congress when he
needs to. And yesterday, in a move that shocked Senate parliamentary
experts and made perfect sense to everyone else, the president Republican
obstructionist in the Senate and swore in the first director of the
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau without having him confirmed by the
Senate as required by law.

The president used his power to make a recess appointment, which
allows him to bypass Senate confirmation, something the Constitution allows
him to do only when the Senate is in recess. The problem here is, the
Senate is not technically in recess. It has been holding pro forma
sessions, better described as utterly fake sessions that last minutes or
less per day. Republicans have forced the Senate to do this in the belief
that it would prevent the president from issuing any recess appointments.

The president has, in effect, declared the pro forma Senate sessions
to be fraudulent and, therefore, the Senate is, in the president`s view at
least, indeed in recess.

The outrage from Senate Republicans was instantaneous. Senate
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "President Obama, in an unprecedented
move, has arrogantly circumvented the American people by recess appointing
Richard Cordray as director of the new CFPB."

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking member of the Senate Finance
Committee said, this is a very grave decision by this heavy-handed
autocratic White House, circumventing the Senate and tossing out decades of
precedent to appoint an unaccountable czar to appease its liberal base is
beneath the Office of the President.`

One Republican senator fully supports the president`s action.
Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown said, "I support President Obama`s
appointment today of Richard Cordray to head the CFPB. I believe he is the
right person to lead the agency and help protect consumers from fraud and
scandals. While I would have preferred it to go through the normal
confirmation process, unfortunately, this system is completely broken."

In the latest "Boston Herald" poll, Scott brown is losing badly to
Elizabeth Warren in his campaign for reelection, 42 percent to Elizabeth
Warren`s 49 percent. Scott Brown`s statement is simply following Elizabeth
Warren`s lead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIZABETH WARREN (D), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: He`s a former Ohio
attorney general. He recovered $2 billion for pensioners in Ohio. He was
the first A.G. on the front lines in the mortgage servicing scandal. He`s
a former state treasurer.

There`s nothing here to object to unless you really believe we ought
to stick with the failed regulatory policies we had.

REPORTER: Would you vote for him if you were in the United States
Senate?

WARREN: Boy, you bet. I would not only vote for him, I would speak
on his behalf and wear a Rich Cordray for head of the CFPB button.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now is the man at the center of the
constitutional storm. The newly sworn director of the Consumer Financial
Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

RICHARD CORDRAY, DIRECTOR, CFPB: My pleasure.

O`DONNELL: And congratulations on making history and provoking a
constitutional crisis simply by trying to fill a position created by the
Congress by law that the Republicans apparently just don`t want anyone to
have in that job. They made it very clear it wasn`t personally against
you. They just believe this agency shouldn`t exist in this form and no one
should fill that job.

CORDRAY: Yes, they did not make it personal about me and I
appreciated that and I never take anything personal in these types of
issues. My position here is that there`s an important job to do. People
know that they need a consumer watchdog to help them navigate the financial
marketplace to stand on their side to prevent fraud and to see that people
are treated fairly. That`s what we`re going to do and that`s what I`m
going to do.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what President Obama said in describing
the job that he`s asked you to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: His job will be to protect families like yours from the abuses
of the financial industry. His job will be to make sure that you`ve got
all of the information you need to make important financial decisions.
Right away, he`ll start working to make sure millions of Americans are
treated fairly by mortgage brokers and payday lenders and debt collectors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Now, this is the bureau that was originally one of the
ideas that Elizabeth Warren suggested and many thought that that type of
job, the job that you`re getting, should go to her. The president and
others believe that she could be confirmed and then it turned out no one
could be confirmed and here we stand here tonight.

How do you expect to go forward with an agency that has this much
resistance from Republicans?

CORDRAY: Well, Lawrence, I`ve always had good success at the state
and local level of working across the aisle in a very bipartisan way. In
Ohio at times, we had to work on some really difficult problems, some
financial issues when I was state treasurer and then as attorney general.

I feel that I can do that at the federal level as well. I have
reached out to the congressional leadership, both sides of the aisle, both
chambers. I`ve given them by personal commitment that they will have the
information and input that they need to understand what we`re doing, how
we`re working to serve the same constituents that they work to serve. And
I intend to fulfill that commitment.

O`DONNELL: This -- just getting this bill passed in the first time
that created this was a real bill battle for the president, getting the
agency set up. Obviously, getting you into office has been an incredible
battle.

I want to listen to what Elizabeth Warren said about how the president
achieved this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: I want to be clear, if we didn`t have Barack Obama sitting in
that White House behind me here, we wouldn`t have this agency. He fought
for it to make it happen. And he (INAUDIBLE) a level that really matters
to me. There were a lot of grand bargains offered. They never hit the
press. You know, if only you`ll rip off one of its arms, if only you`ll
make it weak and shackle it, we`ll be glad to let you have something called
a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

You know what he said every time? No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: She is right about the powers that have been preserved as
you read the powers that you now have having been sworn in. It does seem
very powerful. Your position seems very powerful. You`re able to create
rules of the road for financial institutions.

In effect, what is the effective difference between your powers and
Congress` power to legislate?

CORDRAY: Well, I think like every independent agency, congress has
delegated us authority to make some rules that fill in the gap in
legislation. But frankly when I was attorney general of Ohio and I was
trying to help people with their consumer problems, seniors who were being
scammed and defrauded of their life savings, people losing their homes to
foreclosures, people who were drowning in credit card debt, I often was
frustrated because we didn`t have the tools we needed to be able to try to
make problems right for consumers and make the financial marketplace work
in a fair manner.

At this -- at this bureau, we`ve now been given the authority to work
on those types of problems. Mortgages, credit cards -- these are not going
to dictate rules in the American economy. They are things that are going
to make the market work for people so that they can make better informed
decisions, decisions that they can live with and take responsibility for.
I think that`s pretty straightforward and I think the American people
appreciate the importance of having someone stand on their side and help
them navigate the financial marketplace.

O`DONNELL: I didn`t find anything in the establishing statute here
that prevents your Republican successor -- let`s say five or six years from
now, there`s a Republican president, the Republican doing your job, I don`t
see what would prevent that Republican appointee from reversing virtually
all of your rulings.

Is there something in this law that prevents that?

CORDRAY: No. As with any independent agency, as you know, Lawrence,
with Congress itself, there will be an ebb and flow in the policy and
outlook of this country over time. But the nature of the job here is
protecting individual consumers.

Who are we talking about? We`re not talking about I am personal
people. We`re talking about our mothers and fathers, our sisters and
brothers, our sons and daughters.

We know people who suffer financial problems or struggle or make
decision. If we can improve the marketplace for them, I think we will
continue to win the approval of the American public over time. And I think
we`ll win over our critics.

O`DONNELL: Please tell me you`re going to create the first user-
friendly agency in the history of the federal government and that consumers
are going to be able to go to your Web site and find out what their rights
are in relation to credit card companies and mortgage companies and such
things?

CORDRAY: Lawrence, they already can. One thing that we`ve already
set up at our Web site, ConsumerFinance.gov, there`s a "tell your story"
function. People can go there and tell us about the struggles, the
problems, the issues that they are confronting face to face in their real
lives and we`ve already been hearing thousands of those stories, which are
going to be very important to us because they`ll tell us what is important
to the people of this country, what we need to do to make the marketplace
work for them, and we`re working also very cooperatively with financial
institutions, to help them understand the problems people are facing and
how we can improve this marketplace.

We do intend to use technology to be very user-friendly. We talk
about and take seriously our goal of being a 21st century agency. We want
people to feel comfortable coming to us because we work for them and what
we`re going to do for them I think will be very important to both improving
their lives and strengthening our economy.

O`DONNELL: Will you please come back to the show in six months just
to talk -- five minutes, five minutes only -- just to talk about how user-
friendly this consumer protection bureau is? Consumers in the title of it,
I just want to see something established in 2010, 2011 with all of our
modern computer capabilities. I just want to see how user-friendly the
federal government can finally be in one agency.

CORDRAY: All right. That`s a deal. And I`ll be glad to come back
any time.

O`DONNELL: Great. Thank you very much.

I just want to point out, you got 53 votes in the United States
Senate. But in the new United States Senate, 53 is no longer a majority.
And so, the president had to go the way he went if you were going to get
this job.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Richard Cordray, the
director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

CORDRAY: My pleasure.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, only eight more people in Iowa like Mitt Romney
more than they like Santorum. Frank Rich joins me to talk about Romney`s
enthusiasm problem.

But, first, the leader of the pack of people trying to take down Mitt
Romney -- Newt Gingrich`s new job. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were only eight votes separating me from the
second place finisher, Rick Santorum. That`s cutting it pretty close. In
fact, if there had been just nine more Duggars, I would have lost.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: As we spent this last weekend explaining what it was like
to have a Massachusetts moderate as governor, I think his support melt
pretty rapidly. I thought it was very telling after the millions he spent,
he only got 25 percent in Iowa. Three out of four Iowa Republicans said
no. So, I don`t see him as much of a front-runner, frankly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The stop Romney movement heads to New Hampshire where
stopping him seems impossible, but cutting into his huge lead is the best
Republicans can hope for.

Today, Newt Gingrich who had previously promised to stay positive in
this advertising ran this ad in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Romney`s plan, timid. Parts of it are virtually identical
to Obama`s failed policy. Timid won`t create jobs and timid certainly
won`t defeat Barack Obama.

Newt Gingrich`s bold leadership, balanced the budget, reformed
welfare, helped create millions of new jobs. The Gingrich`s job plan, a
powerful plan for growing our economy and creating jobs. Rebuilding the
America we love with bold, conservative leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The New Hampshire "Union Leader," which has endorsed
Gingrich, is still pushing hard for Gingrich against Romney. "Reagan beat
Bush but he might have lost had New Hampshire conservatives not coalesced
around him instead of splitting their support among several candidates.
This time they need to get behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich."

"Politico" reports that the Gingrich campaign may be trying to build
an anti-Romney alliance with the co-winner of the Iowa caucus, Rick
Santorum. "Two sources confirmed that there have been discussions within
Newt Gingrich`s camp about forging a nonaggression pact with Rick Santorum
at the debates, though it wasn`t immediately clear whether one had been
reached or that the teams had discussed it."

Joining me now from New Hampshire, editorial director for
AOL/"Huffington Post," and MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman, former
McCain presidential campaign senior advisor and current Romney campaign
informal adviser Charlie Black, and MSNBC contributor and soon to be host
of her own MSNBC weekend program debuting in February, Melissa Harris
Perry.

Thank you all very much for joining us.

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Melissa, first to you in honor of your new status here as
the new shining star in the building, hosting a new program, I want to go
to this Rasmussen poll. It`s a robopoll. So, it`s not the most reliable
poll in the world.

But Santorum has shot up. He shot up in this poll from 4 percent to
21 percent. This is a national poll. It`s not New Hampshire. It`s not
what`s going to happen next week.

And then you see Romney at 29 percent within striking distance of
Santorum`s 21. Gingrich down there at 16, which in this poll it`s still in
the game. Ron Paul hanging in there at 12.

Is the Santorum bubble, Melissa, is your sense of it that it is going
to have an expiration date like the others, some two weeks or three weeks?
Or is this the one that can go?

We`ve all been asking that question for a while but I ask it every day
because every day there`s a new sensation about this.

HARRIS-PERRY: Well, look, this matters. It in fact matters in
primary politics when your bubble hits. The fact is, that even in a
presidential election if you look over and over again, there`s -- let`s
take the McCain-Obama race. Had that race been decided in late December,
it`s possible that John McCain and Sarah Palin would have beaten Barack
Obama. It`s only because it`s November when that election happened.

So timing absolutely matters and in this case, particularly in
primaries, because momentum matters, because it`s so quick these early
primaries, the fact is that Santorum is benefiting from his timing. I
don`t think that poll is telling us people agree with the policies. I
think what it tells us is people are paying attention to a candidate whom
they had not been paying attention to previously.

O`DONNELL: Howard Fineman, what is the feeling in New Hampshire? And
is there a sensation of momentum for Santorum? Is there chinks in the
Romney armor?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple of things.
First of all, as to Santorum, I just got off the phone with his national
communication guy who told me, who claimed, at any rate, that they had
raised $2 million in the Santorum campaign within the last 2 1/2 days.
That`s pretty remarkable.

They do have a TV ad on up here in New Hampshire now. I think it`s
the first. They are about to make a very heavy buy in South Carolina, TV
buy in South Carolina, which shows what they are aiming at beyond New
Hampshire. They want to try to slow the momentum here.

With all due respect to "Politico," they do a lot of great stuff. A
couple of people inside the Newt Gingrich campaign talking about an
alliance with Santorum doesn`t really mean there`s going to be one. I
don`t think there`s going to be one because I don`t think Santorum wants
one and quite frankly, I don`t think Gingrich wants one.

Newt Gingrich is not alliance-making kind of guy. He wants to be in
the field to try to slow down Mitt Romney as a matter of tactics and a
matter of personal revenge.

Romney`s not here right now. Interestingly, he went down to South
Carolina. He`s confident enough about his standing here in New Hampshire
that he took a day or two to dip down to South Carolina because that`s
where he hopes to close out the campaign.

Now, I went to a Santorum event last night, a lot of undecideds. They
like what he said but they don`t know necessarily enough about his deep
conservative Catholicism. New Hampshire is 60 percent Catholic but it`s
not pre-Vatican II Catholic, Lawrence?

O`DONNELL: It`s not Latin mass Catholic.

FINEMAN: Exactly. These are tolerant people up here. There`s not
the fight about gay marriage here that there was out in Iowa, for example.

So the more people learn about Santorum`s personal side and religious
faith, that may give them pause. But they like what he said about the
culture of dependency. They like his anti-government rhetoric, even though
the "Union Leader" regards him as a, quote, "big government conservative."

I was talking to Joe McQuaid, who is the editor of the "Union Leader,"
last night. He said, well, we don`t like Santorum either because he`s a
big government conservative. So, "Union Leader" is going to attack
Santorum as well.

You don`t feel overwhelming surge for Santorum here. You don`t feel a
surge for anybody right now. I think you feel maybe point by point air
going out of the Romney 41 percent lead. But you don`t feel an earthquake
happening here yet.

O`DONNELL: Charlie Black, I assume you power brokers in the Romney
campaign are sneering at that little $2 million trickle that has rolled
into the Santorum campaign finally, and you`re just thinking, oh, OK, kid,
you`ve got 2 million bucks. Go ahead and spend it and we`ll say good-bye
to you in a few weeks.

CHARLIE BLACK, ROMNEY INFORMAL ADVISOR: Yes, Senator Santorum got a
great boost out of Iowa, well-deserved for what he accomplished there. But
he is going to have to raise a lot more than $2 million to compete with the
organization, national political organization and fundraising
infrastructure that Governor Romney has methodically put together.
Governor Romney is in very strong position in New Hampshire.

Sure that margin will be cut as people focus on the race this weekend
and maybe Senator Santorum`s in a position to finish second there. Who
knows?

But Governor Romney will win New Hampshire and that will give him
significant momentum going into South Carolina and Florida.

Give Rick Santorum credit for a great accomplishment in Iowa but he
doesn`t have the organization or financial infrastructure underneath his
personal campaign to be competitive down the stretch.

O`DONNELL: Charlie, that sounds like a corporate presentation as to
why he should invest in this stock rather than that stock. Is there any
enthusiasm in the Romney campaign and is there any real governing
difference between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum as presidents?

BLACK: Well, I think there`s a big difference. And I respect Rick
Santorum. He`s been a great senator and obviously a personal campaigner.

But the issue before American people is jobs. Mitt Romney has the
right experience and leadership skills to turn the economy around, create
jobs, and bring a big spending, big federal government, big regulatory
federal government under control. That`s what he`s done his whole life.

Rick Santorum, with all due respect, does not have that business
background. And jobs is the number one issue in New Hampshire. Jobs is
the number one issue in South Carolina.

South Carolina is one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
They care more about jobs and the social issues in South Carolina.

O`DONNELL: Melissa Harris-Perry, I don`t see any real difference
between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney as presidents. They do have
differences in their past but I don`t see what the differences as
presidents. Am I missing something in their campaign?

HARRIS-PERRY: Well, you know, it`s probably because you recognize
that the president is not in fact an authoritative dictator who can simply
implement whatever policy is in his head. There`s a kind of juvenile
element to the presidential campaigns where candidates present themselves
as though, you know, these are my beliefs and because this is my belief,
this is what I will do in my office.

But if anything, the last three years should be a civics lesson to
Americans, that in fact, there is there`s other little thing called, you
know, the Congress. In fact, when I was listening to Romney speaking on
Iowa caucus night about what his plan would be for budgeting, it was
striking because it was how a CEO talks about budgeting. You know, you
take a look at it, you cut what you don`t need.

That`s not how government budgeting works and it`s not how government
budgeting is going to work under President Romney, President Santorum,
President Gingrich or any of them. So, there is a little bit of fantasy
play that goes on here.

And so, in that sense, I think you are think you`re right. I think
there are real differences in policy positions between Santorum and Romney,
but as president, I think they are both constrained by the realities of the
American president.

O`DONNELL: Howard Fineman, I can`t remember a buildup more exciting
to Republican presidential debate than what`s coming this weekend. We`re
going to have one on "Meet the Press" on Sunday morning.

Here`s Karl Rove in "The Wall Street Journal" talking about that,
saying that the former Massachusetts governor should prepare to be the
pinata at Saturday`s debate in Manchester, New Hampshire. It won`t be
pleasant, but he can solidify his lead if he deflects the attacks in a
dignified, confident manner and avoids looking irritated or rattled."

And, Howard, we know that this promised attack from Newt Gingrich
that`s coming and we were all on the edge of our seats dying to see those
explosions.

FINEMAN: Right.

O`DONNELL: I`m starting to get the feeling that it just can`t work
out as wonderfully as we`re hoping and that Gingrich will somehow end up
muting himself and -- how do you think it`s going to go?

FINEMAN: Yes. This -- you know, that`s true, Lawrence. These guys
have always talked a bigger game than they end up playing when they get on
the stage because they`re thinking also, hey, I`m running for president and
there is some residual desire to be dignified in that situation.

It`s also been way oversold. I mean, it`s true that pro-wrestling is
one of the most popular things on cable. So, you know ,we`re partly in the
role of wrestling promoters here in New Hampshire.

But I do agree with Karl. I do agree with Karl on the tone of the
thing. A lot of the people think that Mitt Romney behind the scenes is
kind of thick-skinned and he showed occasionally on the stage that he can
be that way, because he likes to have everything a certain way. When it
doesn`t go his way, he can get very irritated.

People in New Hampshire, you know the people in New Hampshire,
Lawrence, they love to mix it up, they love the rough and tumble. They
read the "Union Leader" newspaper, even if they don`t like the "Union
Leader" newspaper`s politics because they like the style. They like the
combative style.

This is a state that`s got a House of Representatives with 400 people
in it or 500. I forget, 500, 600 people. Almost everybody is elected to
something here. They love the fight, they love to debate. They like to do
it with good humor, with intensity, with good humor.

If Mitt Romney comes off as a stiff that can`t stand the heat in the
little kitchen, to use the phrase that he, Mitt Romney, used, then it will
be a bad night for him. But I don`t expect Newt Gingrich to spend all his
time going after Mitt Romney. I don`t.

BLACK: Fifteen debates, Governor Romney`s been attacked in every one
of them. He has never showed irritation or anything other than calm.
Don`t worry. It`s not going to be a big event on Saturday or Sunday.

O`DONNELL: All right. Charlie Black gets THE LAST WORD on New
Hampshire but Melissa Harris-Perry, before you go, I have a very quick
question for you. In your new starring role here on the weekends at MSNBC,
will you still, I beg you, have the time to host this program occasionally?

HARRIS-PERRY: Any time you ask, of course.

O`DONNELL: Because without you, I never get a day off.

HARRIS-PERRY: Of course. Any time you ask.

O`DONNELL: All right, MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, former
McCain presidential campaign senior advisor and current Romney campaign
adviser, Charlie Black, and MSNBC contributor Melissa Harris-Perry, thank
you all very much for joining me tonight.

(CROSS TALK)

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the late-night comedians are back just in time
for caucuses and debates and primaries.

And in my Rewrite, why Mitt Romney might want to learn a little bit
more about the words of "America the Beautiful." That`s in the Rewrite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: There has been much talk of an enthusiasm gap that
President Obama may suffer in his re-election campaign since he is now an
incumbent, with successes and failures to his credit. The theory is he
cannot possibly capture the enthusiasm of young voters, first-time voters
who energized his first presidential campaign the way he did last time.

But if you think President Obama has an enthusiasm problem, then Mitt
Romney has created an enthusiasm disaster. Finding Romney voters isn`t
hard among Republicans, but finding Romney enthusiasts is something else.

Joining me now is "New York Magazine`s" writer at large, Frank Rich.
Frank, the tape was great. That was -- 2008 Obama, there was some
enthusiasm in the room. In fact, we could have found a tape with even more
enthusiasm in the room, but we only had a few minutes. And that was the
most enthusiastic Romney moment we could find.

FRANK RICH, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": What does it say about Romney that
the most enthusiastic brand-name Republican for him is Dan Quayle.

He is the only person who has given a completely lauding speech about
Romney. It`s not only, by the way, that they are unenthusiastic about him,
as one might add, is also true of Democrats and independents. But also,
the Republican party actively wants something else, or 75 percent of them.
They want a bomb thrower, whether it be Michele Bachmann one minute, Newt
Gingrich or Ron Paul the next.

So he doesn`t fill the bill, even if he were a charismatic human, as
opposed to sort of the android he is. I`m not sure that they`d like him in
that party.

O`DONNELL: Yes. George Will did a column the other day indicating a
little bit of Republican jealousy of that feeling that Democrats get to
have with the likes of Barack Obama. He said Republicans want to have fun.
He used that word, fun.

RICH: Fun.

O`DONNELL: And indicated in this very same column that fun might be
spelled Santorum, which is kind of -- I don`t know. That`s a pretty low
grade fun.

RICH: Sort of an oxymoron. Fun for Dan Savage, who put him on the
map in Google. If Santorum is your idea of fun, it`s time to go to
Disneyland or anyplace, a bowling alley, whatever. But maybe George Will,
whose wife, as he reminds us in ever column, is an adviser to Rick Perry,
has had enough of wild spirits for this season.

O`DONNELL: But is there -- what happens to all that Tea Party
enthusiasm -- and they have what you can call enthusiasm and/or madness.
It`s there. It`s tremendous energy. It`s being just completely crushed by
the Republican presidential campaign.

If we`re into Romney inevitability after New Hampshire, then what
happens to Tea Party enthusiasm?

RICH: I think it`s very good news for Obama. I think a lot of them
will be minimally active and possibly some of them, if not a substantial
number, will stay home next November. And of course, should Ron Paul
actually run as a third party candidate, then --

O`DONNELL: He`s not going to do us that favor, is he?

(CROSS TALK)

O`DONNELL: Where do we send him the notes begging him to do that?

RICH: Well, it`s interesting to me that "the Wall Street Journal," as
good a barometer -- their editorial page of conservative thought as
anything, has been practically begging him to announce that he`s not going
to run in a third party. So they are obviously worried.

O`DONNELL: Yes.

RICH: And Ron Paul, he`s so quixotic, who the hell knows.

O`DONNELL: Right. What happens if they get Romney? If after South
Carolina, Republicans it`s sunk in, they`ve got Romney. Don`t you
anticipate -- I anticipate a massive buyer`s remorse, like a gigantic grief
will take over the party.

RICH: I think you`re right. I think you already see it. Also, they
don`t really -- for all of Romney`s campaigning for four or five years now,
we still haven`t seen the guy`s tax return. He`s presenting himself as
this sort of Tom Joe defending the working America, when his real record --
it`s been in high brow, sort of mainstream media, his record at Bain. But
most Americans don`t really know it.

So buyer`s remorse, yes. And I think it`s a really lucky break for
the Democrats in a bad economy.

O`DONNELL: But isn`t he, of all of the Republicans, the one who can
cause President Obama the most trouble for searching for votes in the
middle?

RICH: I guess. But I feel that people just -- because people don`t
warm to him, and because no one believes he has a core, I think that`s --
if there`s anything that unites this country, from the left to the right
and everything in between, people find him a phony. It gets back to your
original point. No one has enthusiasm for him.

It`s not even flip-flopping. A lot of politicians flip flop. It`s
that he seems canned. He can`t really relate to people. And so it`s hard
to imagine -- yes, if there are a lot of independents who are really
disgruntled about Obama, he`s much more plausible than the clowns that he`s
been running against.

But still, you have to wonder if they wouldn`t prefer the Devil they
know to this android.

O`DONNELL: Do you think there`s any other Republican who could do
better in a general election against President Obama?

RICH: The theory has always been Huntsman. But he has absolutely no
--

O`DONNELL: Completely a theory?

RICH: Remains completely a theory, yes. He`s like a hologram that
mainly people like us talk about, and columnists and so on, because he has
no following in that party. And I`m not sure -- you know, people like him.
And he`s smart. He`s like a better version of Romney.

O`DONNELL: And he does seem human.

RICH: He does seem human. I`ve interviewed him. He is human. He`s
not awkward with people. He`s a little bit more moderate politically than
what Romney is purporting to be now, but not by much. But he doesn`t have
a chance. So what`s the point of even discussing it.

O`DONNELL: OK. We`re not talking about him again. Frank Rich, thank
you very much for joining us tonight.

RICH: It`s great to be here. Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Katherine Lee Bates wrote "America the
Beautiful" and Mitt Romney recites it, badly, on the campaign trail when
he`s pretending to speak from his pretend heart. But Mitt Romney obviously
doesn`t know much about "America the Beautiful" or Katherine Lee Bates.
But we do, thanks to Lynn Sheer`s book, "America the Beautiful, The
Stirring True Story Behind Our Nation`s Favorite Song." And that`s next in
the Rewrite.

And the late night comedy writers will get THE LAST WORD.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Nation, personally I cannot
wait for this weekend`s debates in New Hampshire, because when Mitt Romney
least expects it, Newt Gingrich is going to turn to him and say --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, my name is Newt Gingrich. You killed my
campaign. Prepare to die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m convinced that what makes
America such a great nation is not just our beautiful land and our
mountains and our waving -- what is it, waving fields -- no, how is it?
Beautiful for spacious skies, pearly mountain majesties and -- what is it?
Amber waves of grain. Amber waves of grain. And green waves of grain,
with the beans and the corn, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That was Mitt Romney trying to Rewrite corn into a grain
back in 2008 in Iowa, when he first ran for president. Romney`s handlers
just don`t trust him with any ad libbed attempts at sounding human anymore,
since those usually go awry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I`m running for office, for Pete`s sakes. I can`t have
illegals.

Corporations are people, my friend. We can raise taxes. Of course
they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. So
where do you think it goes?

(CROSS TALK)

ROMNEY: Whose pockets? People`s pockets.

Come closer. Come closer.

No. No. I was just teasing him.

Rick, I tell you what, 10,000 bucks? Ten thousand dollar bet?

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m not in the betting
business but --

ROMNEY: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: And since Romney`s handlers, like all Republicans, want to
criticize President Obama for using teleprompters, as if every Republican
president before him didn`t use them, Romney has been avoiding
teleprompters. Just like me right now. There`s no prompter. It`s all up
here.

So now that Romney`s avoiding teleprompters, when Romney is trying to
sound like he`s speaking from the heart, he relies on a semi-memorized
version of "America the Beautiful."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I love this country. I love the hymns of America, "America
the Beautiful." "Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for ambers wave of
grain. Corn counts, doesn`t it, as an amber wave of grain. Yes. Another
favorite verse, "oh beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife. Who
more than self their country loved and mercy more than life."

One more verse, let me just quote, "oh beautiful patriot dream that
sees beyond the years."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The poem that Romney pretends to love so much actually
came from the heart and mind of Katherine Lee Bates in 1893. It was first
put to music in 1910 at Lake Avenue Baptist Church in Boston. As Lynn
Sherr`s book, "America the Beautiful, the Stirring True Story Behind Our
Nation`s Favorite Song," reminds us, "America the Beautiful" has verses
that none of us remember, such as "America, America, God mend thine every
flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, they liberty in law."

"America the Beautiful" is mistaken by people like Romney as being a
boastful song of praise for America. It is actually a prayer for America`s
future. Katherine Lee Bates recognized that America had flaws that could
lead it in some very, very bad directions.

"God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy
liberty in law."

Katherine Lee Bates believed that our laws, fairly written and
observed, created our liberty, confirmed our liberty. Mitt Romney, while
trying to peal off some Ron Paul libertarian votes here and there, like all
Republicans this season, pretends that our laws are robbing us of our
liberty.

Katherine Lee Bates grew up poor on Cape Cod, in the town of Falmouth.
Today, Katherine Lee Bates Road takes you from the main road into town
directly to the Falmouth Public Library. I passed Katherine Lee Bates Road
more times than I could ever count in the three decades that I went to
Falmouth visit my mother.

Katherine Lee Bates once described her home town and my mother`s last
town in a way that accorded with my mother`s observations. Katherine Lee
Bates said, Falmouth was, quote, "a friendly little village that practiced
a neighborly socialism."

Katherine Lee Bates was, as Lynn Sherr put it, a born and bred
Republican. But she certainly was not a Romney Republican.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: The Iowa caucuses did much to enliven the week in comedy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLBERT: Tonight is the biggest story of the century, the Ohio -- no,
I`m sorry. That is the Iowa caucuses. The caucasi? Check on that one.

Either way, it is the Super Bowl of old Midwestern people in a high
school gym sitting in folding chairs.

JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Ron Paul, could he, the pro drug
legalization, anti-war obstetrician, be the brief Republican flirtation
that could lead the flock astray?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ron Paul has disavowed newsletters with his name
on them, newsletters from the 1980s and `90s with racial insults toward
African-Americans and others.

STEWART: OK, probably not.

DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW": When you`re out there committed to
running for the nomination, everybody has to pitch in and do their part.
Marcus Bachmann getting it done. Watch.

(SINGING)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Yesterday, when we were out on
Main Street in Des Moines, he was buying doggie sunglasses for our dog
Boomer.

(SINGING)

CONAN O`BRIEN, "CONAN": In her concession speech, Michele Bachmann
said -- this is a quote -- "I mean what I say and I say what I mean."

Yeah. Then she thanked her speech writer, Popeye.

When asked if he was dropping out, Perry said quitting is not in my
vocabulary and neither be most other words.

COLBERT: Santorum scored an even bigger victory last night because
this morning, for the first time in eight years, when I Googled the word
Santorum, the first result was for Rick Santorum.

What exactly lifted Santorum above the froth?

It was fashion.

SANTORUM: The sweater vest. It was like, fear the vest.

COLBERT: Yes, fear the vest. In Iowa, that look is fierce.

Plus, we all know, throughout history, electoral power has hinged on
partial coveraged torso clothing. Remember Eisenhower`s cummerbund,
Woodrow Wilson`s rainbow suspenders, and Theodore Roosevelt`s tube top.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The comedians get tonight`s LAST WORD. The big get of the
day tomorrow here t MSNBC, Herman Cain will be Alex Wagner`s special guest
on her show Friday at Noon, 9:00 Pacific time.

"THE ED SHOW" is up next.

END

<Copy: Content and programming copyright 2012 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2012 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>




Watch The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell each weeknight at 10 p.m. ET


Sponsored links

Resource guide