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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, January 30, 2012

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Guests: Karen Finney, John Heilemann, Adam Smith, Rep. Jack Kingston, Steve Kornacki, Sen. Jeff Merkley

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: The Republican clown car picked up one more
clown this weekend, the chairman of the party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: I called him Captain Schettino.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: What did you call President Obama?

PRIEBUS: We`re going to talk about our own little Captain Schettino,
which is President Obama, the captain that fled the ship.

MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC HOST: You can add disgraced ship`s captain to
that catalog of epitaphs.

Thanks to man who is the face of the Republican Party.

PRIEBUS: Captain Schettino.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL), DNC CHAIRWOMAN: To compare the
president to with someone who has been charged with manslaughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Captain Coward, Captain Schettino.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The captain of that stricken cruise ship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cruise ship disaster.

PRIEBUS: The reality is, it`s a fair analogy.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: That ship captain is facing charges,
including manslaughter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Schettino under house arrest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not only did he make this inappropriate analogy.
He chuckled about it.

PRIEBUS: More interested in campaigning than doing his job as
president.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: An analogy that Michael
Steele deems inappropriate.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: I think it`s an unfortunate
analogy. I mean, people died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Steele was the most gaffe-prone RNC
chairman in history.

PRIEBUS: I think it`s awful. I mean, people have died, of course.
It was terrible.

STEELE: Again, you know, cute by nowhere.

MATTHEWS: Jay Carney called Priebus, quote, "desperate for
attention".

CARNEY: So desperate for attention.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I couldn`t agree with Jay Carney more.

MATTHEWS: There`s some Shakespearean justice coming in this drama.

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS: Democrats and the Obama campaign armed with
new ammo.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know the speaker is not
real happy.

MATTHEWS: The day will come this year when Romney pays for what he
did to Newt here in Florida.

AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: He`s got a Newt-iny on his hand.

ROMNEY: The speaker has been attacking me all over the state.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is for all practical
purposes a liberal. And I am a conservative.

ROMNEY: I wish I could claim that I`m a Hispanic. That would help me
in the Latino community.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: So, if for no other reason,
rage against the machine, vote for Newt. Annoy a liberal, vote Newt.

HERMAN CAIN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hereby officially
and enthusiastically endorse Newt Gingrich.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One day he`s Isaac Newton. The next day, he`s fig
Newton.

BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: I am here to tell you the state of our union is
ridiculous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O`DONNELL: The Republican Party continues to do everything it
possibly can to reelect President Obama. The Republican candidates for
president have been savaging each other for months now.

All of the Republican candidates now have disapproval ratings that are
higher than their approval ratings according to the latest "New York Times"
poll. The relentless Republican negative advertising against Mitt Romney
and Newt Gingrich is doing no harm to the president, while guaranteeing
that the Republicans will be pretending to be excited about a horribly
damaged nominee at their convention in August.

As if that wasn`t helpful enough to the president, the chairman of the
Republican Party said this yesterday:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRIEBUS: We`re going to talk about our own little Captain Schettino,
which is President Obama, who`s abandoning the ship here in the United
States and is more interested in campaigning than doing his job as
president.

SCHIEFFER: What did you just say, what did you call President Obama?

PRIEBUS: I called him Captain Schettino -- you know, the captain that
fled the ship in Italy. That`s our own president who`s fleeing the
American people and not doing his job and running around the country and
campaigning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Reince Priebus got his job as the chairman of the
Republican Party because Republicans grew weary of his predecessor, Michael
Steele, saying things that they thought he shouldn`t say. And now, here is
Priebus, comparing the president to a cowardly ship`s captain who left his
passengers to drown and is now charged with manslaughter.

This is the kind of thing that could only appeal to people who already
deeply hate the president and would never vote for him. It`s wasted on
people when you`re trying to persuade them to vote Republican. It doesn`t
appeal to moderates and independents and Democrats. And without some of
those votes from some of those peoples, a Republican cannot possibly win
the White House.

There are people going to bed in several states in this country
tonight who almost lost their lives on that Italian ship. And there are
Americans trying to go to sleep in this country tonight who are still in
the throes of grief at the loss of loved ones on that ship.

The chair of the Democratic Party had to remind Priebus of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: To make light of a tragedy and to compare the
president with someone who has been charged with manslaughter is
outrageously disrespectful to the families who lost their loved ones and to
the families whose loved ones are still missing. It was an incendiary
comparison, inappropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Outrageously disrespectful, inappropriate and incendiary
comparison, yes. That is all true.

And yes, it is beyond outrageous to compare the most careful and most
deliberative president we have had in Mr. Priebus` lifetime to a reckless
killer of innocence. And, yes, Mr. Priebus should have immediately
apologized as Debbie Wasserman Schultz insisted he do. Instead, he went on
FOX News and said this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRIEBUS: An analogy was made and it was an analogy of leadership that
in a time of crisis, in a time of crisis, this president is leaving the
White House and campaigning nonstop all the time. I think it`s pretty
clear. But, you know, if people out there, you know, especially on the
Democratic side, want to try to make hay of it -- I mean, they`re going to
be able to do that. The reality is, it`s a fair analogy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now from Miami, MSNBC political analyst and
national affairs editor for "New York Magazine," John Heilemann, and from
Washington, MSNBC political analyst and former DNC communications director
Karen Finney.

Thank you both for joining me tonight.

KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: John, I want to start with you as the nonpartisan judge of
this Priebus moment. The guy`s job is to get independents to go
Republican, to get Reagan Democrat, as they used to be called, to vote
Republican. He`s going to need them for Republicans to win the White
House.

And he says something hateful and stupid and not funny and
disrespectful to both the president and to the victims of this ocean liner
disaster. And he thinks that that is the way to appeal to the middle.

In your study of the American electorate, John, call it fairly now, is
that the way to appeal to the middle?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYS: Lawrence, I`d go further than
that -- further than just saying no. I`d say it`s just plainly dopey.

And it`s dopey and ineffective and foolish. And it`s foolish on a
bunch of different levels. Not only does it not appeal to the middle. I
mean, think about the argument he was making in the follow-up today on FOX
News where he says, you know, it`s an apt analogy in terms of leadership,
the president`s leaving the White House too often to campaign.

At its core, it`s a process argument. He`s trying to say, the
president should lose some points because he`s out campaigning too much.
How many American voters care about that kind of process argument, whether
they`re centrist voters, base voters, any kind of voter? It`s a terrible,
terrible mishandling.

And on top of the fact that it doesn`t work with independents, it also
inflames the president`s base. There`s nothing that David Plouffe and
David Axelrod and the White House worry about more than the Democratic base
deciding to stay home in November. This just inflames them in a way that
is just going to motivate them to turn out, out of anger and ire directed
at a Republican Party that they see as being disrespectful and inflammatory
toward the president.

O`DONNELL: And, Karen Finney, there`s an insult to voter intelligence
in here. His complaint, as John just said, that the president is out
campaigning for reelection, which every incumbent president has done. They
go out campaigning for reelection.

FINNEY: Sure, of course. But, look, I think there`s two parts to
this, right?

On the one part, it is true that it was just stupid because it does
galvanize the president`s base, the supporters` base. And it makes us
remember why we`re in this thing.

It also, as a chairman of the party who is supposed to grow the base
of the party and as you say -- you cannot win a national election in the
United States of America without some portion of the African-American vote,
the Latino vote, you know, independents, conservative Democrats. And that
kind of ignorance doesn`t get you there.

But there is another piece to this that supporters feel that I think
is really important that we not let slip by because it can easily just
dispelled as how disrespectful it was. But the level of disrespect that
they have continually shown this president -- I mean, these guys have been
so focused on undermining the president of the United States of America
that they are undermining the presidency of the United States of America,
in the same way that they`re so focused on defeating Barack Obama, they`ve
been willing to thank our economy.

I mean, it is really shameful. I mean, you don`t wag your finger in
the face of the president of the United States. You don`t yell out during
the State of the Union. You don`t do the kinds of things we have seen from
day one from the Republican Party to this president.

It`s not just insulting. It is undermining him as the president.
It`s gone on far too long.

O`DONNELL: All right. I want to take a look at an ad that Mitt
Romney is running in Florida. And the reason I want to take a look at this
tonight, the case I`m presenting tonight is that everything -- truly
everything that the Republicans are doing is helpful to President Obama`s
reelection.

Let`s take a look at this Romney ad as a case in point. Let`s watch
this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: From debates, you`d think Newt Gingrich was Ronald Reagan`s
vice president.

GINGRICH: I worked with President Ronald Reagan. I worked with
Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan playbook, President Reagan, Reagan, Reagan.

NARRATOR: Gingrich exaggerates dropping Reagan`s name 50 times. But
in his diaries, Reagan mentioned Gingrich only once. Reagan criticized
Gingrich, saying Newt`s ideas, quote, "would cripple our defense program".
Reagan rejected Newt`s ideas on leadership and character.

Gingrich is no Ronald Reagan.

Restore Our Future is responsible for the content of this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: John, that`s from the Romney super PAC attacking Gingrich.

Now, here`s the Romney super PAC and the Romney campaign in Florida.
With a big lead at the polls over Gingrich and they`re not campaigning
against President Obama. Here`s an opportunity for them to soften up
Florida voters against President Obama and they`re campaigning against Newt
Gingrich. That`s exactly what the president needs them to do, isn`t it?

HEILEMANN: Well, yes. And it`s like they`re -- what they`re really
trying to do is run up the score here. There`s no one who doubt that is
Mitt Romney is going to win and is going to win a decisive victory here in
Florida. So, they`re really just trying to flex their muscles and drive
the margin up as high as possible to try to demoralize Gingrich and keep
him from fighting on further.

But you`re exactly right. This is a huge important swing state. Mitt
Romney had done well through most of 2011 to stay focused largely on
President Obama. Now, at this moment, when he basically has this state
locked up, he could be making arguments against the president but instead
he`s making -- he`s basically stamping on the dead corpse of Newt Gingrich
rather than trying to pivot towards where he needs to pivot to, which is
the general election.

O`DONNELL: And the front-runner Romney campaign is not demoralizing
Newt Gingrich. It`s demoralizing Rush Limbaugh. Let`s listen to what Rush
had to say about the Romney campaign today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: If you are deciding that you like Romney`s
toughness the way he`s taking out Newt, I got a thing for you. He isn`t
going to do that against Obama.

Do you think the Republican Party has the guts to do that against
Obama? You think so? You think so? It`s interesting you think so.

Have you seen any evidence -- no, you haven`t. Have you seen any
evidence of any Republican going after Obama the way the Republicans are
going after each other? You haven`t. In fact, when Romney`s have a chance
-- oh, gosh, you know, I just think he`s in over his head. Has he said
something as innocuous as that about Newt?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Karen Finney, you know things are going well for the
Democrats when the Republican campaign has Rush Limbaugh so flummoxed.

FINNEY: Well, that`s true. You know, but Lawrence, here`s the other
part of the strategy here, right? So, I think -- I hate to say this -- God
forgive me, I sort of agree with Rush in that in a general election, I
would imagine what you`ll see, the tone from Mitt Romney towards President
Obama -- it will be like the strategy he initially had with Newt where
he`ll say one thing but leave it to others to really do the dirty work. I
think that`s going to be the super PACs.

And I think the level of racist, ugly, hateful, nasty ads that we`re
going to see from those super PACs is going to make what Reince Priebus
said look like small potatoes. I think to your point, it will absolutely
further galvanize the base for the president.

O`DONNELL: Karen Finney, MSNBC political analyst, thank you very much
for joining me tonight.

And, John Heilemann, stick with us. We`re going to talk more Florida,
coming up.

Coming up, a look ahead at what happens in November if Mitt Romney is
running against President Obama.

And later, Newt Gingrich says the best thing he could do for the
Republican Party is stay in the race until the convention, which is, of
course, also the very best thing he could do for the Democratic Party.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

ROMNEY: The banks aren`t bad people. They`re just overwhelmed right
now. Banks are scared to death, of course. They are feeling the same
thing you`re feeling.

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Yes, the banks are feeling the same thing
that you`re feeling. When they look at your house, they also think, that
belongs to me.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: If you say to someone who maybe voted for
Obama in 2008 and is on the fence now, why he deserves the second term.

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA STRATEGIST: He`s led the country through a very
difficult time. We have a long way to go. We`re in a much difference
place than we were when he got there.

And he has the vision to build a country, as I said, and an economy in
which hard work pays off, responsibility is rewarded, everybody place by
the same rules and everybody gets a fair shake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Of course you could also say, don`t let the people who
hate the president win, don`t let the racists win, don`t let the racists
win, don`t let the protectors of billionaires win, don`t let the "bomb Iran
tonight warmongers" win.

But the Obama campaign will, of course, say none of those things.
They will take a higher road, along the lines of what David Axelrod just
said.

And with the political world focused on who`s going to win Florida
tomorrow, let`s think about the much more important question of "who`s
going to win Florida in November?"

President Obama won Florida in 2008 with 51 percent of the vote. A
new NBC News/Marist poll of Florida voters shows them evenly split on
President Obama`s job performance, with 46 percent approving and 46 percent
disapproving. That`s not normally a good sign for an incumbent president.

But when matched in a one-on-one against Republican Mitt Romney,
President Obama runs comfortably ahead right now with 49 percent to
Romney`s 41 percent.

Joining me now to discuss who has the best chance at Florida`s 29
electoral votes in November, "New York Magazine`s" John Heilemann and Adam
Smith, the political editor with "The Tampa Bay Times."

Adam, to what`s happening in Florida, as it stands today with that 49
percent to 41 percent Obama lead, and Florida with still a very high
unemployment rate, 9.9 percent, what does the president have to do to hold
onto that kind of lead going into November?

ADAM SMITH, TAMPA BAY TIMES: Well, we had a poll out with "The Miami
Herald" -- "Tampa Bay Times"/"Miami Herald" poll that showed Romney up a
few points. So, it`s going to be a close race. This is going to be tough
race.

Obama can absolutely win the electoral votes. But it`s not going to
be easy. It`s going to be a lot harder than it was last time.

O`DONNELL: And, John, to go back to what we were talking about
before, how the Republican primary campaign is not helping whoever the
Republican nominee is in Florida, this is that moment where the Romney
campaign could start to get a much more solid footing for November. But
they`re just not going to get that opportunity this time around.

HEILEMANN: Yes, I think, Lawrence, you know, they`ve unfortunately
ended up with a challenge in Newt Gingrich here that ended up being much
stiffer than they expected. I think the Romney campaign had planned for a
long time on the possibility of losing South Carolina and having to use
Florida as a firewall.

But the Gingrich thing put them in a position where they really had to
win here. And I think they are concerned about the possibility that
Gingrich will go on and try to fight them for months and months into the
future, which is why I think they`re trying to be as decisive or as brutal
as possible in beating him here. But it does hurt them because Romney has
certain problems.

I think it`s going to be very close in Florida, as Adam said. I think
the president is going to have a hard time winning here. I think Romney is
also going to have a hard time winning here. I think it`s going to be very
narrowly fought. I know that strategists on both sides think that`s true.

But it will be very good for Romney to be able to start trying to fix
his problem particularly with Hispanic voters and Latino voters here. But
he doesn`t have that opportunity right now as he`s trying to trounce
Gingrich.

O`DONNELL: And he does have a problem with Latino voters there.
There are polls showing that he will do well with Republican Latino voters
tomorrow night.

But in the NBC poll statewide, among Latinos, Obama leads Romney now
58 percent to 38 percent. And also among independents, Obama leads Romney
56 percent to 36 percent. Among voters 45 and under, Obama leads Romney 57
percent to 35 percent. That`s 45 and under, 57 percent to 35 percent -- a
huge lead for President Obama.

Adam Smith, those are some very important demographics in which the
president has some real power.

SMITH: Yes, and you`re going to see the Obama campaign put a lot of
emphasis particularly along the I-4 corridor in central Florida, on largely
Puerto Rican Democratic-leaning Hispanics who maybe are not frequent
voters. But that`s going to be a big effort to try to drive up that
turnout.

O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, the big subject that has not been
discussed at the volume level certainly that Democrats are going to want it
discussed in Florida are Social Security and Medicare -- what congressional
Republicans have tried to do to Medicare through the Paul Ryan plan,
something that Mitt Romney has said he supports.

I want to show some tape of Mitt Romney just tonight in Florida
talking about Medicare. Let`s listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I understand a few of you here are on Medicare, is that true?
That being the case, I hope you tell your friends who always fear that
Republicans somehow might go after Medicare, you can tell them a couple of
things. One, we will never go after Medicare or Social Security. We`ll
protect those programs.

But also, you make sure and tell them this -- there`s only one
president in history that`s cut Medicare $500 billion and that`s Barack
Obama. And guess what he did it for? He did it to pay for Obamacare.

So if I`m president, I will protect Medicare and Social Security for
those that are currently retired or near retirement and I`ll make sure we
keep those programs solvent for the next generations coming along. We will
protect America`s seniors and America`s young people with programs that are
designed to keep them well and safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, the Republican debates in Florida did not
really get into Social Security or Medicare, but the Obama campaign, when
it goes to Florida, might just be talking about nothing else.

HEILEMANN: I think that`s right, Lawrence. And you know what? Mitt
Romney has had a problem, as we know, for the entirety of this campaign
with the conservative base. One of the ways in which he`s tried to remedy
that problem was by coming down four square in favor of Paul Ryan`s plan.
And Paul Ryan`s plan is one of the -- what the president`s people think is
one of his biggest weapons, one of the biggest clubs in his bag that they
are going to try to use to beat Mitt Romney on the issues of Social
Security, entitlement reforms and Medicare.

I Also think that when you heard Romney make that argument, first of
all, it`s inconsistent with the Paul Ryan plan. And second of all, it
leads him into a discussion of health care reform. I don`t see how a
discussion of health care reform is a discussion he`s going to be able to
win versus President Obama, given everything we know about the similarities
between Obamacare and Romneycare. That is favorable turf for the
president.

O`DONNELL: We`re going to be hearing an awful lot about those
vouchers in the Paul Ryan plan for Medicare and how much they do not buy
you in today`s health care market for seniors.

John Heilemann, MSNBC political analyst, and Adam Smith of "The Tampa
Bay Times" -- thank you both very much for joining me tonight.

HEILEMANN: Thank you, Lawrence.

SMITH: Thanks.

O`DONNELL: Coming up: Newt Gingrich promises to drag out the
Republican nomination process as long as he possibly can. But will
Democrats really get that lucky? Newt is not that great about keeping
promises. And I`m not going to do any ex-wife jokes.

And tonight, the Senate actually voted on something the president
asked for in his State of the Union address. He asked for it last week.
They voted tonight. The result was shocking: a huge, huge bipartisan vote
in favor of what the president asked for.

And in tonight`s "Rewrite," Herman Cain and Mitt Romney each rewrite
themselves.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Newt Gingrich knows that the polls don`t look good for him
tomorrow night in Florida. But he promises to stay until the Republican
convention, which is the best thing he could possibly do for President
Obama`s reelection. There`s a story out tonight that Newt might drop out
sooner than that. But that`s going to be refuted by one of his spokesmen
coming up. That`s next.

And in the Rewrite tonight, Mitt Romney says he wishes he could claim
he is Hispanic. He actually said that. What made him say that? That`s in
tonight`s chapter of stuff Mitt Romney doesn`t want you to know.

And a shocking vote tonight in the United States Senate. A huge
bipartisan vote in favor of something President Obama asked for in last
week`s State of the Union Address. How did that happen?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I think Romney has got a very real challenge in trying to
get a majority at the convention. And just to repeat something I said the
other day when somebody asked me, we will go all the way to the convention.
I believe the Republican party will not nominate a pro-abortion, pro-gun
control, pro-tax increase moderate from Massachusetts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That was Newt Gingrich promising to drag out the
Republican nomination process all the way to the party`s convention in
August. Can President Obama possibly get that lucky?

Joining me now from Florida is Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston, who
has endorsed Newt Gingrich, and here in New York, Salon.com`s political
columnist, Steve Kornacki. Thank you both for joining me tonight.

Jack, first of all to you, I know you`re from Georgia. And I know
there`s a lot of pressure when the local guy, your Georgia guy is running.
But how does it feel to be one of the lone Republican members of Congress
endorsing former Speaker Gingrich?

REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: Lawrence, I feel good about it. You
know, I did serve with him when we were in the minority and then when we
won the majority and he became speaker. We did, working with President
Clinton, reform welfare, pass most of the Contract with America and balance
the budget. We did a lot of good things.

It wasn`t pretty. It wasn`t picture-perfect. Neither was the style
of Bill Clinton`s at the time. But things got done. And what I think
voters want right now is somebody who will get it done. So I feel good
about endorsing Newt. He`s an activist. He`s a very smart guy.

And so let`s see what happens. I think that the Florida situation was
he didn`t have the money equity until South Carolina. And unfortunately
Romney`s been down there for a long time. He spent something like 17
million dollars. And Newt spent about four million. That`s a big gap in a
short period of time.

But I think he`s going to do a lot better than people think.

O`DONNELL: I`m just going to take your word for it that this is a
voluntary act, and it`s not that Newt has some deep, dark Georgia secret
about you that he`s forcing you into this.

KINGSTON: He`s a good guy.

O`DONNELL: I have to get something important from you, Jack, before
we move on. CNN tonight, a little while ago, ran a -- what they called a
breaking news story. They had a breaking news banner up that said,
"Gingrich campaign strongly suggesting it plans to cede Nevada and Michigan
to Mitt Romney." Now in response, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said,
"our capacity to tell the truth about Romney`s record is limitless. We
will challenge Mitt Romney and his lies in every state, in every context."

Jack Kingston, Democrats around the country are hanging on every word
you say right now. Please promise Democrats that Newt Gingrich is going to
stay in the race in every state all the way to the convention.

KINGSTON: Well, I have to say this to my Democrat friends: be careful
of what you wish for, because, remember, the more Newt is in the public eye
-- his critics, there may be more critics out there. I don`t know. It
seems like they`ve already shown their cards, so to speak.

What more can be thrown at him? I don`t know. But what we`re seeing
is he`s a tough guy. And he has good responses. And he has a great grasp
of all the issues. Down here in Florida, he can talk about space station
and space exploration with a long-term record about it.

He can talk about Cuba. He can talk about Israel. He can talk about
Medicare. He was the only speaker of the House that reformed Medicare.
And the incumbent president, as you know, cut Medicare 500 million dollars.
So I think Newt is a guy who, with each and every state, can get down to
the weeds of some of their local hot buttons.

And unfortunately, I think that the Romney folks got here first with
big money. And Newt`s coming from behind here. But I think he`s going to
do better than what people think.

O`DONNELL: Steve Kornacki, Sarah Palin is defending Newt Gingrich.
On her Facebook page, she has said, "what we saw with this ridiculous
opposition dump on Newt was nothing short of a Stalin-esque rewriting of
history."

If I am reading that correctly, Sarah Palin is accusing Mitt Romney of
being Stalin-esque. This can`t -- can this get any better for Democrats?
I don`t think it can. Stalin-esque, Mitt Romney from Sarah Palin -- this
is -- .

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Yes. And I think that the language she`s
using there sort of underscores the nightmare scenario for Republicans here
if this thing plays for a little while. I think there are three factors
here that have to worry Republicans and maybe buoy the hopes of Democrats a
little bit.

One is you look at where Gingrich is sort of in his political life
right now. The guy is 68 years old. This is not a guy who a lot of the
usual calculations of a presidential race sort of apply to. He`s not
looking for next time. He`s not looking for his long-term future in the
party. This is sort of the last show for him.

So the idea of leaving now to preserve options for the future, not
necessarily on the table with Gingrich. The second thing is this is
unusually personal to him. This race is becoming unusually personal. You
have the example on the Democratic side of the Clinton/Obama race from
2008. That went all the way to June. You can look at that.

That wasn`t nearly as personal as what we`re seeing in this race. The
third factor is, I can`t see a scenario where Gingrich doesn`t, any time
before Super Tuesday, which is going to be early March -- I can`t see a
scenario where Gingrich folds his tent before then. Because there just
aren`t enough contests between now and then, Not nearly enough delegates
will be chosen between now and then.

And Super Tuesday, in middle March, are going to bring a bunch of
these southern states, the old Confederacy states, where there`s hints in
the polling that Romney is particularly vulnerable there, that Gingrich
does particularly well there. So I can`t see, given how personal this is,
given that he really doesn`t have anything to lose, that he`s going to pull
out anytime before Super Tuesday.

That means Sarah Palin talking about Stalin-esque between now and
Super Tuesday at least.

O`DONNELL: And Jack Kingston, we`re running out of time for me to
show -- I wanted to show the latest Gingrich super PAC ad that just bombs
Mitt Romney and really just whacks him, which is just a joy for Democrats
to watch. But, Jack, this is just you and me talking, OK? I`ll turn off
the sound so America can`t hear your answer to this one, OK?

What about the Gingrich empire, that three million dollars that he
makes, which is largely Washington dependent income? Can`t come people in
Washington kind of get to Newt and say, hey, Newt, all your avenues to
income after this campaign will dry up if you don`t stop bombing Romney on
his way to this nomination?

KINGSTON: Well, I don`t think that`s going to be a problem. This is
what my view is: whatever Romney and Newt throw at each other now, it`s
nothing compared to what`s going to hit one of them come the nomination.
And so, to me, I think that they`re making each other better candidates.
And you know, it`s interesting, for your listeners, as long as Newt stays
in there, Romney looks more moderate, therefore more appealing to the swing
voters.

So I think there`s an advantage. Remember, it`s just the first of
February.

O`DONNELL: Quick, Steve, the -- Romney is -- Newt continues to pull
Romney to the right. So this making Romney look moderate thing, I don`t
think that`s --

KORNACKI: I don`t think polling bears that out. I mean, Romney`s
standing with swing voters has dropped substantially in the last month. I
mean, I think Republicans are probably on their way to finding out what
Democrats learned with Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter in 1980. There is such
a thing as too ugly a primary.

O`DONNELL: Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia, I can`t thank you
enough for joining us tonight. You come back any time to push the
candidacy of Newt Gingrich on this show. Thank you very much, congressman.
And "Salon`s" Steve Kornacki, thank you for joining me tonight.

Next in the Rewrite, Mitt Romney likes to tell a sanitized story about
his family coming to America. The trouble is, he tells less than half the
story, because his actually came to America twice. His family gave up
living in this country when they decided they just could not abide by the
laws of the United States of America. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": So what exactly are we supposed to do
with this Moon base?

GINGRICH: When we have 13,000 Americans living on the Moon, they can
petition to become a state.

STEWART: But the -- 13,000, that`s not a state. That`s like a condo
development! You want to be a condo developer on the Moon. You want to be
like a lunar Trump.

And may I say this: like Earth Trump, you will not be president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In tonight`s Rewrite, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney Rewrite
themselves. First, Herman Cain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here is my
unconventional endorsement, not a candidate seeking the nomination, not
someone that`s not running. My unconventional endorsement is the people.
We the people of this nation are still in charge. That`s who I`m
endorsing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That was Herman Cain endorsing you on January 19th. How
did that feel? Then Herman Cain woke up on January 20th realizing how
stupid that was, and more importantly, that it left us with no reason to
aim a television camera at him again, ever. And here`s how he dealt with
both of those problems.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAIN: I hereby officially and enthusiastically endorse Newt Gingrich
for president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Newt made the mistake today of not only accepting Herman
Cain`s endorsement but actually appearing on the same stage with him,
thereby putting the targets of all of the adultery accusations in the
Republican presidential primary campaign side by side on the eve of the
vote in Florida.

And Mitt Romney tried to Rewrite himself today in a much more
important way. He tried to Rewrite who he is. I don`t mean Rewrite
himself from liberal to conservative. He`s already done that. This is
something much more basic.

Romney tried to Rewrite his whiteness. He tried to Rewrite his
ethnicity. Now Romney is not just white. He`s whiter than white. So the
only direction he could go was something that required a little less
sunscreen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: You know, I wish I could claim that I`m Hispanic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Self-loathing Republicans are usually not that open. It
took the grand inquisitors of "Fox and Friends" to show us that side of
Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The other night when I saw you at one of the
debates down there in Florida, you mentioned for the first time in my
memory that your father was born -- where you were talking about that anti-
immigrant allegation by Newt Gingrich. You were talking about how your
father was born in Mexico.

That`s the first time I`d heard you say that. Is that helping you
with the Latino community in Florida?

ROMNEY: You know, I wish I could claim that I`m Hispanic. That would
help me in the Latino community here in Florida and around the country.
But my dad was born of American parents living in Mexico. So he was Anglo
at the time.

And yet I`m very proud of the fact that he came to this country at a
critical time, was helped to get on his feet by folks in this country. He
and his dad went around America, started a construction business.
Ultimately, my dad went off and ran a car company.

It`s an amazing land, of course. People coming here from all over the
world seeking opportunity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Yeah, it really is an amazing land. And those people who
come from all over the world seeking opportunity rarely turn against this
country and decide to leave, decide to go to another country that they like
better. But that is exactly what the Romneys did.

After joining the Mormon Church, the Romneys came from England in
1841. Mitt Romney`s great grandfather, Miles Park Romney, so hated the
laws of the United States of America that he moved his family and his four
wives to Mexico in 1885. A few years later in Mexico, he brought a fifth
wife into the family.

Mitt Romney`s great grandfather remained a polygamist long after it
was declared illegal in the Utah territory by federal law in 1862, and
after -- even after the Mormon Church turned against polygamy. But the
Mormon Church was still torn about the issue of polygamy after they
officially turned against it. And Brigham Young actually sent Miles Park
Romney to Mexico in order to build a polygamist colony there populated by
American Mormons.

The Romney settlement is still there in Mexico. NBC`s Mike Taibbi
recently reported on the Romney cousins still living there. Mitt Romney`s
branch of the family returned to the United States in 1912 not for any love
of America, but simply because they feared the Mexican Revolution more than
they feared living under the laws of the United States, which denied them
their freedom to marry as many women as the founder of their religion did,
48.

Mitt Romney doesn`t like to tell the story of how many times his
family came to the United States, and how many times his family left the
United States in its attempt to preserve the practice of polygamy. He
prefers to pretend his family came to the United States just once from
Mexico. But the truth is profoundly weirder than that.

And it is a truth that Romney speech audiences and "Fox and Friends"
viewers will never know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Send me a bill that
bans insider trading by members of Congress. I will sign it tomorrow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: We have breaking news tonight from the United States
Senate. Shocking news, really. Last week, the president asked Congress
for a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress and their
staffs. And tonight with shocking speed, the Senate reached the 60-vote
threshold to proceed to floor debate on the bill, which virtually
guarantees passage of some version of that bill.

The vote count tonight in the Senate was something we have not seen on
anything, on any bill that is on the Obama wish list. It was well above
the 60 vote threshold need. The final vote was 93 to two, with only two
Republican senators opposing action on the bill.

Joining me now, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who cast
one of the 93 votes to move the Stock Act to the Senate Floor. Thanks for
joining me tonight, senator.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: You`re welcome. It`s great to be with
you.

O`DONNELL: Senator, the Stock Act, as it`s called -- it`s the Stop
Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act. Count me as shocked that there
were over 90 votes in the Senate for this. If you got 62 or 63, I would
say, OK, I see why they couldn`t really lay down in front of this and try
to stop it.

But I`m stunned by the 90. How did this happen?

MERKLEY: Well, it just defies common sense and proprietary that there
should be one set of rules for the public and there should be a different
set of rules for Congress and that insider trading should be allows for
members of Congress, when they have access to so much information. It`s
outrageous that it`s been this for so long. I`m -- I think that Congress
looked at it and realized, no, we -- this must be done.

O`DONNELL: Pardon me for being surprised that something making sense
was enough to get over 90 votes in the Senate these days. I had a
discussion with Elizabeth Warren on this show about this very bill. And I
want to play you a tape of that, and see if I can get you to go along with
what I convinced her of. Let`s listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: I have to tell you, having worked in the Senate and seen a
lot of the financial disclosure forms, I would tweak it beyond that. I
would say, if you`re in the Congress, while you`re in the Congress, you
simply cannot own stocks. Why own stocks? There are plenty of other
things to do with your wealth if you have wealth when you go into the
Congress.

ELIZABETH WARREN (D), CANDIDATE FOR SENATE: You know, I`m with you on
this. Either don`t own it or put it in a blind trust, you know, where
someone else manages it and you literally can`t see what`s in there. I
realize there are some wealthy individuals -- I`m not one of them, but some
wealthy individuals who have a lot of stock portfolios.

But you`re exactly right. I don`t understand how people can be out
there in the House, in the Senate, they get inside information and they`re
making critical decisions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Senator Merkley, the new bill doesn`t prevent ownership of
stock. It simply says you can`t trade the stocks based on information
you`re gaining through the legislative process.

MERKLEY: Yes.

O`DONNELL: What about just banning the ownership of stocks by members
of Congress?

MERKLEY: Absolutely. The insider trading is very, very difficult to
demonstrate. And we have rules in many other settings, in the executive
branch, for the staff of our committee, that say, conflict of interest is
unacceptable. It should not be the case that I`m thinking about an energy
bill or an amendment on an energy bill and knowing I also have stock in a
company that might be affected.

That`s a conflict of interest that inspires no faith. It`s
inappropriate. And we should ban the ability of members to hold any
individual stocks. Let them have broad, diversified portfolios, mutual
funds, if you will. That would be just fine. But individual stocks, that
is a conflict of interest that needs to be ended.

I want to note that Sherrod Brown and others, as well as myself, have
been working on this issue. And I think Sherrod Brown -- and I will be
backing him -- will be bringing an amendment forward to have a debate on
this very topic.

O`DONNELL: Great. I`m glad to hear that amendment is going to come
up. Look, I think the bill as written with no amendments is still
absolutely worth doing. It is still a step-up. It is still an
improvement. It addresses something the president specifically asked to be
addressed.

But I commend you for wanting to tighten it even further. What do you
think the prospects of that are, senator?

MERKLEY: I hope they`re pretty good. In my town halls, I`ve been
raising this idea and saying, what do you think, step forward or step
backwards? Shouldn`t we go further? Shouldn`t folks be banned from
individual stocks -- from holding them? And the response has been
virtually 100 percent, from every audience I`ve been in front of. I think
it`s just a straightforward issue for Americans, just as the issue of being
subject to insider trading.

O`DONNELL: Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, congratulations
on the vote tonight. Good luck with that amendment. Thank you very much
for joining us tonight.

MERKLEY: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog,
TheLastWord.MSNBC. And you can follow my Tweets @Lawrence. "THE ED SHOW"
is up next.

END

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