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PoliticsNation, Monday, February 13, 2012

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Guests: Richard Wolffe, Maria Teresa Kumar; Ed Rendell; Chris Van Hollen, Chip Saltsman, Bob Shrum, Reed Gusciora, Ken Sunshine

REVEREND AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to "Politics Nation. I`m
Al Sharpton.

Tonight`s lead, the Republicans are on the losing end of the fight for
fairness, and they know it. Today, House Republicans backed down from
their ultimatums and said they extend the payroll tax cut to millions of
working class Americans. It`s a sharp reversal from just last week when
they argued that any breaks for the middle class had to be paired with deep
budget cuts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We want to extend this
program, but we`re going to continue that this spending ought to be offset
with reductions in spending elsewhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Wow. Looks like Speaker Boehner has seen the polls. He
should be fighting for the middle class just as President Obama has been
doing for months now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do we want to keep
these tax cuts for wealthiest Americans or do we want keep investing in
everything else? Education, clean energy, a strong military.

Some people go around and say, well, the president is engaging in
class warfare. That`s not class warfare. That`s common sense. That`s
common sense.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Today, the president released his budget for 2013. It`s a
plan that creates jobs by investing in schools and infrastructure. To pay
for it the president would let the Bush tax cuts expire for wealthy
Americans. He`d cut tax breaks for oil, gas and coal companies and impose
a big tax on big banks to recoup costs from the bailout. This is fair.
This is common sense. But the GOP must not have seen the polling on this
one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Today, President Obama
released a budget that isn`t really a budget at all. It`s a campaign
document. So this is a charade. A charade.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: A charade? Good luck with that argument.

Joining me now is Congressman Chris Van Hollen, democrat from
Maryland. And Governor Ed Rendell, NBC news political analyst and former
DNC chairman.

Thank you both for coming on the show tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to be with you.

SHARPTON: Congressman, let me start with you. Democrats want --
wanted to pay the payroll tax cut by asking the wealthy to sacrifice a
little more. Did the Republicans back down on this simply to protect the
rich?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Well, looks like they have
backed down in the sense they are finally willing to bring the payroll tax
cut to the floor of the house for a vote. We said that if you`re going to
offset this, you have to ask millionaires to help pay for it and
Republicans decided, you know, when it comes right down to it, they don`t
want to ask the wealthy to pitch anything more. And so we`ll just pass the
payroll tax cut without offsets.

But at least they appear to have backed off their efforts to try and
pay for that payroll tax cut by socking it to the middle class and middle
income taxpayers. We haven`t seen the details of their proposal, but
hopefully we can move this along at last.

SHARPTON: Governor Rendell, you know what is amazing to me about this
Bush tax cut debate is that the Republicans talk about the deficit. If --
and I want to show you this on the screen. If the Bush tax cuts expire, we
would add $5.4 trillion to the deficit.

So how -- and this is over the next decade, of course. How, on the
one hand, they argue about the deficit and the debt and on the other hand
argue about not receiving over the next ten years $5.4 trillion while
protecting millionaires?

ED RENDELL, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: Well, you`re absolutely right,
reverend Sharpton. Although that figure, I think, is for the entire Bush
tax cuts expiring, including the middle class. But regardless, what the
president has done here, they -- the Republicans can talk about it being a
campaign document. But, he`s done three basic things.

Number one, he`s increased revenue, and increased revenue in a way
that 75 percent of Americans agree with. All the things he did. Closing
the loopholes, letting the millionaires pay more. All Americans -- you
know, almost all Americans agree with that number one.

Number two, he`s continued to invest. The budget, invest in things
that will actually produce jobs, research and development, energy. But
more importantly, infrastructure where we know $1 billion in investments,
use 25,000 well-paying jobs.

And thirdly, it has cut entitlements. If you look at the budget and
Chris can give you the specifics. But there are significant reductions in
both Medicaid and Medicare in the president`s budget.

So it`s really a budget that is a real budget because it cuts
entitlements, cuts entitlement costs. It invests in things that we need to
be investing in for job creation. And it produces revenue in a way that
Americans agree with.

SHARPTON: Now I agree, congressman that we need to increase revenue
and all. But how much does it cut into Medicaid and Medicare? That raises
a lot of concern.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, the governor is right. It does make some changes,
some modifications to Medicare, but most of it is asking the pharmaceutical
industry to pay more in terms of --

RENDELL: Not ordinary people.

VAN HOLLEN: Right. To simply go back to really where we were in 2003
when pharmaceutical companies had to pay more in terms of what are known as
rebates when the federal government is purchasing prescription drugs for
people who are on Medicaid.

So, it would simply go back to that. That would save the taxpayer a
lot of money as opposed to the Republican proposals which tend to hit
Medicare beneficiaries whose average income, of course is about $23,000.
So while Republicans have been trying to hit Medicare beneficiaries at the
same time as you pointed out, they`ve been protecting these tax loopholes
that benefit folks at the very top.

RENDELL: So, in short, congressman, we`re saying that the Republican
proposal would cost beneficiaries, the middle class. The people that could
least afford it. The president`s proposal would hit the pharmaceutical
companies so therein lie is the difference?

RENDELL: Right.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that`s right. And if you look at the president`s
proposal compared to the Republican budget, we saw last year and which we
expect to be reintroduced again this year, the Republicans whacked Medicaid
by about $700 billion. That`s a lot of seniors in nursing homes that would
be negatively affected and they also ended the Medicare guarantee pushing
all the increased costs in Medicare that are projected in the future on to
the beneficiaries. That`s what the Republican plan did.

SHARPTON: Now, governor, in all of that, does this explain why the
president seems to be increasing in popularity among the voters because
they seem to be feeling he is fighting for the middle class?

If we look at the fight for fairness, maybe began in September. The
president has surged in approval while the GOP has had a big drop.
President Obama is up seven points, Republicans in Congress down seven
points. Is it because this fairness fight that the president has been
talking about? These voters and the public seem to be saying that they are
with him on this?

RENDELL: No question. The voters are, again, to a tune of over 70
percent with him on the fairness fight. And I think voters also think that
the president actually has some plans to create jobs. Voters are smart
enough to know, if you rebuild a bridge, there are going to be people
working on the bridge. There are going to be people back in steel plants
working on the steel to reinforce that bridge. We can understand that.
Ordinary folks can understand that.

So I think it`s twofold. It`s fairness and that the president has an
answer for investing in things that will create jobs and get our economy
back on track and get people working.

SHARPTON: Now in the middle of all of this, Congressman Van Hollen,
I`m hearing that there is a little infighting going on, on the Republican
side. I don`t know how much you can look into these things, but there was
an op-ed on the hill that really talked about -- well, let me be blunt.
Some jealousy and back stabbing between Eric Cantor and Speaker Boehner.

So if that is the case, are we seeing a lot of the infighting in the
Republican Party causing them to be more unreasonable and playing to a
certain wing so that they can one up the other one and not really thinking
about the American public who gets trampled on in the middle of all of
this?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, reverend, I haven`t seen that particular article
about the jockeying among Republican house leaders. We, of course, see all
the infighting among all the Republican presidential nominees who seem to
be focused on everything except trying to get our economy going and focused
on jobs. As the governor said, and he`s been focused on this
infrastructure investment piece for a long time --

RENDELL: Forever.

VAN HOLLEN: The house Republicans as we talk here at this moment are
still sitting on the president`s jobs plan. He introduced that back in
September.

SHARPTON: Right.

VAN HOLLEN: $50 billion of new investment in roads and bridges and
broadband. All the things that help build the backbone of our
infrastructure. And meanwhile, as you pointed out, Republicans seem to be
fighting among themselves on these different issues rather than focused on
the American people and jobs.

SHARPTON: Congressman, let me ask you before we have to go. Will
they, Republicans, have to back down on this budget, on his infrastructure
investment like they backed down on the payroll tax cut seeing the lead,
seeing the polls? Will they have to ultimately back down?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it is simply common sense. As Governor Rendell
said, that when you invest more in roads and bridges, you are putting
people in the construction industry back to work. And we have 14 percent
unemployment. However, I would say this, reverend. Common -- never bank
on common sense moving a lot of the house Republican leadership. It hasn`t
worked so far when it comes to taking a balanced approach to the deficit.
Asking the folks at the very top to put in more. And it hasn`t worked with
respect to the president`s jobs plan. They continue to sit on that and
passing that would be common sense.

So I -- we need to keep pushing. The American people are clearing on
the side of investing in our infrastructure and modernizing our bridges and
roads and building and repairing new schools.

RENDELL: Yes.

VAN HOLLEN: They just need -- the American people need to keep
calling their members of Congress and hopefully common sense will prevail.

SHARPTON: We`ll have to leave it there. You`re right. My mother
used to always tell me common sense is not all that common. Congressman
Van Hollen and Governor Ed Rendell, thanks for coming on the show tonight.

RENDELL: Your mom was a smart woman.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

SHARPTON: Yes, she was.

Ahead, new poll numbers show the president surging. This is the cost
of the GOP primary. The president is up, and the Republicans are down.

Plus, a milestone day for the fight for equality, Democrats defy Chris
Christie and pass a gay marriage bill. We`ll talk to the lawmaker who is
in a very public feud with the New Jersey governor.

And we say good-bye to a legend. A special look at the life and death
of Whitney Houston.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Good news for President Obama. In a new poll, and why the
Republicans are hurting their own cause. That`s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Welcome back.

President Obama said the contraception controversy could become a
wedge issue. And it is, for the Republican Party. Today, Republican
senator Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe called the revised birth control
rule, a good one. Under the compromise, religious institutions are not
required to pay for birth control. The senators aren`t the only ones
praising the move. A majority of Catholics support it. Fifty seven
percent are for it. But you`ll never guess who`s not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: The fact that the White House thinks this is about
contraception is the whole problem. This is about freedom of religion.
It`s right there in the first amendment. We will be voting on that in the
Senate and you can anticipate that that would happen as soon as possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s a distinction without a difference. It`s an
accounting gimmick or fig leaf. It`s not a compromise. The president has
doubled down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What has to be protected here is the faith-based
rights of conscience. And that`s what this debate is about. You`re either
for religious freedom or you`re not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: And on trial, and on the trail, the culture wars are red
hot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There`s no compromise
here. They are forcing religious organizations either directly or
indirectly to pay for something that they find is a deeply morally, you
know, wrong thing. And this is not what the government should be doing.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have a president who has
launched an assault on religious conviction. I find it extraordinary that
he feels he can tell the Catholic Church what they have to provide for
their employees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Joining me now is MSNBC analyst Richard Wolffe and MSNBC
contributor Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino.

Great to have you both with us tonight.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC ANALYST: Thanks reverend.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, VOTO LATINO: Thank you
reverend.

SHARPTON: Richard, let me put this number back up. Fifty seven
percent of Catholics like the plan. How did this bill winning play for the
Republicans?

WOLFFE: Well, it`s not, but it could fire up their base, you know.
So, there are some Christian conservative voters who want to believe
there`s a war on religion and that this president is faithless and
communist and all the rest of it. And this feeds into it.

The problem is it`s a zero-sum game and maybe not even that because
it`s also firing up the very voters Republican need to get into the White
House and to hold on to the house in the fall. And that means especially
suburban women voters, independent voters and, yes, Catholics, too in these
battleground states.

So, whatever they are gaining on one side, they are losing in droves
on the other. And you that there are catholic institutions and groups who
support the president`s compromise, it`s not just a very diverse group of
Catholics you are looking at, but they are divided on these issues and
siding with the president.

SHARPTON: Now, Maria, what is very troubling to me is when you hear
the Republicans opposing this saying it`s about religious freedom, but what
about the religious freedom of the employees of these institutions? It`s
like their religions, their convictions don`t matter. And then when you
look at the fact that the catholic support for the president`s new rule,
Catholic health association and association of Jesuit colleges and
universities. Catholic charities USA all support the move. So they don`t
have religious conviction? What are they saying?

KUMAR: Reverend, you hit the nail on the head. That`s absolutely
right. This is really where I think the Republicans go down a rabbit hole.

First of all, the more the president can actually frame this not as a
moral religious issue but in fact, a pocketbook issue. We -- at the end of
the day, regardless of religion, want to make sure the American people are
able to afford contraception. That`s about $500 extra saved by working
women everywhere, number one.

But number two, the more -- and this is really an example of the Obama
campaign. I don`t think it was intentional, but turning lemons into
lemonade. The more he can keep this social issue at the forefront between
Santorum and Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney who seems to be the front-runner, he
immediately loses. Why? Because Santorum is the darling of social
conservatism. He`s a catholic and can speech so much to the base.

I bet my money, had this issue had been really had it heated up before
CPAC, as they had decided who their delegates went, to they would have gone
to Santorum. And Santorum would have walked out with those delegates.

And that`s why I think that for the short term this is a smart move by
the Obama administration. The more he can keep this on the front page.

SHARPTON: Well, Richard. Maria mentioned Rick Santorum. Santorum
said he had problems with birth control before this mandate was even an
issue. He said this back in October.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: The dangers of contraception in this country. The whole
sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, well,
contraception is OK. It`s not OK. It`s a license to do things in a
sexual, sexual realm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: So, are we now to have government decide on people`s
religious beliefs, on people`s motive for contraception when contraception
is used for any number of health reasons as well. The majority of American
women and the majority of catholic women have used contraception. I mean,
does that even matter to this crowd?

WOLFFE: Yes, it is a curious contradiction. They are saying on the
one hand government shouldn`t tell the Catholic Church what to do. But on
the other hand, government should tell every voter what to do in the
bedroom.

And you know, I think people understand there`s not just attention
there, but a complete downright contradiction and confusion. And by the
way, all of this is off topic. Voters want to know about jobs and the
economy. That`s how Republicans sold themselves to voters in 2010. That`s
how they took back the house. Maybe for some parts of the primary voting
population in this Republican contest, this really matters. But for the
rest of America, this is an extremist kind of approach to what is actually
seen as, for most people not a moral issue but a health issue.

And if you care about abortions, let`s face it. The takeaway
contraception birth control you make it harder to get. You are going to
end up with more abortions.

SHARPTON: Well, Maria. You know, I look at it a little different.
And I have some firm religious beliefs. But I don`t want to see the
government tell the Catholic Church or any other church what to do. But I
don`t want to see the Catholic Church or any other church tell the
government what to do. Aren`t we talking about they are saying to the
government in effect, we want your money. We want your Medicaid or
whatever, our institutions use, but we`ll tell you what we`ll abide by
according to government laws or not. How can we have a society that`s run
like that?

KUMAR: Well, reverend, that`s where the big contradiction is. Is
that, actually the majority of catholic health care providers do provide
contraception. It`s the bishops really pushing this forward.

And what I would advise the Obama campaign to do is keep that
conversation open with the bishops but say, you know, we will continue the
conversation but where we will not compromise is that we`re going to strap
more -- strap more so that the American people are actually paying more of
their bills instead of sharing the cost.

I actually think it`s also an important opportunity for the Obama
campaign to start dissecting the health care benefits of his health care
package. Such as the fact that you can all of a sudden have health care
with pre-existing conditions. The fact if your 26-year-old is still living
at home, they can still have health insurance. And now, you can also have
contraception.

I mean, they can really use it. And to drive the point home that
Wolffe was saying earlier, that Richard was saying earlier is that, as long
as this campaign, the 2012 campaign is about social issues, Obama wins
hands down because he doesn`t have to get into the meat and potatoes of job
creation, keeping your homes and so on and so forth.

SHARPTON: Richard Wolffe and Maria Teresa Kumar, thanks for your time
tonight.

KUMAR: Thank you reverend.

WOLFFE: Thanks, reverend.

SHARPTON: Still ahead, Republicans love to bash the safety net. But
they may be surprised by who actually gets government help.

Plus, New Jersey takes a historic step toward marriage equality.
Chris Christie needs to get on board or get out of the way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Welcome back.

For months now, GOP candidates have been attacking president Obama for
allegedly trying to make us all dependent on the government. But as "The
New York Times" points out, even government critics are among those
benefiting from the safety net.

In fact, it`s the Republican leaning states that tend to take in more
in federal benefits than they pay out in federal taxes. GOP critics in
places like Kansas, Alabama and Arizona denounce Uncle Sam. But they are
more than happy to pocket federal money to keep their states up and
running. And despite what some Republicans think, the poor are getting
less and less from the government.

The poorest fifth of Americans receive just over one-third of
government benefits down from more than a half in 1979. The "Time" says
the middle class has been receiving the difference.

So, Republicans claim they care about the middle class Americans. But
then attack the safety net that keeps them from sliding back into poverty.
Nice try, but we got you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Welcome back to POLITICS NATION. Mitt Romney may have won
the caucus in Maine this weekend, but Republicans are losing faith in him
as a front-runner. A new pew poll shows Rick Santorum now leading Romney
nationally. Surging in the first place from the back of the pack. Romney
muddles along with support from less than a third of republican voters.
This GOP primary has turned into a free-fall. That`s hurting the party and
these candidates. It`s showing in their matchups with President Obama.
The pew poll shows the President now has an eight-point lead over Romney
and the President beats Rick Santorum by ten points. It`s clear some
Republicans are in a state of panic. Worried that Romney may not be as
severely conservative as he is claiming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I have never heard anybody say
I`m severely conservative. I`ve never heard it said.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I am not convinced. And I
don`t think that the majority of GOP and independent voters are convinced.
And that is why you don`t see Romney get over that hump.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He seems around conservatives to be like a well-
meaning, earnest tourist in a lot of country where he doesn`t speak the
language.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: And republican columnist David Brooks writes, quote, "Many
people fear that Romney is a suck-up. If he can`t fix that problem, he may
win the republican nomination, but it won`t be worth much."

Joining me now, Bob Shrum, the democratic strategist and a professor
at NYU. He just wrote a column for the week called Romney on the
precipice. And Chip Saltsman, a republican strategist who was Mike
Huckabee`s campaign manager in 2008. Thanks for being here tonight.

CHIP SALTSMAN, FMR. HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Good to be with you.

SHARPTON: Bob, let me ask you, how much is this anyone but Romney
primary hurting the whole overall GOP race?

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don`t know if it`s hurting the
overall GOP race. I think it`s hurting Romney a lot. I mean, we`ve seen a
remarkable, over a period of time, a remarkable revelation of character and
record and a self-immolation of gaffes like severely conservative. And
maybe, that he is too severely phony to win a nomination or earlier to win
a nomination ultimately at all. People think that he is out of touch, that
he`s untrustworthy. This is a guy who abandons issues of conscience,
throws them away like an old pair of sneakers so he can run in the opposite
direction. And I`m not here to defend Rick Santorum but I`ll say this.
The fact he`s ten points behind and Romney is eight points behind, people
know a lot about Romney. They don`t know a lot about Santorum yet. And so
I wouldn`t render a final judgment on him. Look, Romney is upside down on
his favorable/unfavorables with independents. He`s 44/43 in the PPP poll
with Republicans. And he`s now behind, according to PPP by 15 points in
Michigan. If that happens, this race is thrown up in the air.

SHARPTON: Now, let me ask you, Chip, I mean, how -- how do you get
around what even David Brooks says in "The New York Times," which I
consider conservative, that even if Romney gets through all of this with
Santorum, that the nomination may be worthless because of the damage being
done in the process of him trying to win.

SALTSMAN: Well, we always have this in very tough primaries that we
say, oh, whoa is me. This tough primary is hurting the party, it`s going
to destroy the nominee. We thought that four years ago when Barack Obama
and Hillary Clinton were clubbing each other. We thought that was great.
That didn`t turn out to be so good for us. And even go tack back-to 2004
in a tough primary for the Democrats. While we had the republican
president. That tended to be good for us. So, you never know what`s going
to happen. One thing we found out for sure of this cycle is these polls
change not just day-to-day, week to week, month to month, who is up, who is
down. You never know. Probably the one person sitting out there is Jon
Huntsman. He`s the only one that didn`t get to lead the polls. And so,
this is the time for Rick Santorum to make something out of it. But I
think at the end of the day, a tough primary makes you stronger. Is it
pretty? No. Is it fun for us? No. But this is how we choose a nominee
and ultimately the winner will be stronger for our party.

SHARPTON: But let me show you this. Fifty percent say he is not a
strong conservative. Forty eight percent says, he doesn`t take consistent
positions. Bob, you were involved in 2004. I ran in 2004.

SHRUM: I remember.

SHARPTON: We were not in a tough primary where people didn`t believe
that whatever we were saying we didn`t really believe or that we weren`t
democrat enough. There were differences maybe on the war. There were
differences on who could get votes. You are talking about people don`t
trust Romney as a person. That he doesn`t really say what he means and
means what he said. That`s different, 2008, Obama and Hillary weren`t
arguing about whether they were authentic. They were arguing about policy,
not integrity.

SHRUM: The biggest difference and this is where I disagree with Chip
between 2008 and now. Is in 2008, the process went on and on and on
because Democrats like both candidates, they wanted to nominate both
candidates. In 2012, Republicans seem to want to nominate none of these
candidates. They are supposed to nominate Mitt Romney. He`s the choice of
the establishment. He`s the next guy in line. He`s raised such
fundamental questions about his character that Republicans are pulling back
from him. So, in Michigan, what he`s going to have to do is channel
Santorum on social issues. Smear Santorum, which I`m not sure will work.
It could backfire. And hope that the suburban vote thinks that he doesn`t
really mean what he says. That`s a tough combination to pull off.

SHARPTON: Well, let me give you an even tougher one, Chip. When you
look at what is happening to independents, because you can`t win a general
election without independents. November, President Obama was 41 percent to
Mitt Romney`s 53 percent. Now, President Obama is 51 to Willard Mitt
Romney`s 42. That`s not bad enough news for you. Forty one percent of
Republicans say they want another candidate. Twenty five percent of
conservatives not excited about voting in November. If you have got that
level of non-enthusiasm, lack of enthusiasm and independents now turning
the other way on you, how do you paint that as a good picture?

SALTSMAN: Well, I think right now there`s a lot of battle going on in
our primary. There`s been millions of dollars spent against Mitt Romney
that causes some of that. And once we get this nomination taken care of
whether it`s Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, whoever, we`ll right that ship.
And Reverend Sharpton, I`m getting the feeling that you may not like Mitt
Romney a little bit which is too bad. Because I think you may be on his
short list for VP. But you should say some nice things about him
occasionally.

SHARPTON: If I really wanted to hurt Mitt Romney, I would release
that you just said that I was on the short list. That would finish him off
with all of the right wing Republicans.

SALTSMAN: I think you could kind of add a little awesomeness to his
campaign.

SHARPTON: I`m sure I`m on his short list, but not for VP.

SHRUM: I tell you what you would add, you`ll ass some authenticity to
his campaign. And I`m going to say Chip is being a really good sport here
because in the last race, the role that Romney played by staying in was to
prevent Mike Huckabee from beating John McCain. He siphoned off just
enough votes in South Carolina, just enough votes from Florida that the
nomination settled on McCain. That`s the role Newt Gingrich has right now.
If I were the Romney campaign, I might tell Sheldon Adelson, the casino
magnate in Las Vegas, keep giving Newt money because whatever bad he says
about Romney, he sakes votes away from Santorum.

SHARPTON: But Chip, let me ask you. He did get the CPAC straw vote
which surprised some, at least in -- outside the republican circles. But
then Santorum and them tried to poo-poo that and say he just stacked the
room. Will the CPAC straw poll win help him in some of the right wing
counties in Michigan and the states coming up?

SALTSMAN: Yes, it can`t hurt.

SHARPTON: It means is that -- Washington.

SALTSMAN: No. It can`t hurt. And look, we`ve all been involved in
straw polls before. That`s how you win a straw poll. You pack a room with
your supporters so they`ll vote for you. That`s how you do it. And so, it
shows that Mitt Romney has got an organization, he knows how to do that.
Now, will it help in Michigan? It should help a little bit. But I think
Romney`s record and his family tradition in Michigan will help him more.
Santorum is going to take it right to him in Michigan which I think is a
gutsy move. It could be a smart move and talk about the issues that are
important to him.

And look, I think what Mitt Romney`s real problem is right now is what
you started the show off with. Is he still hasn`t told us who he is what
he believes and why he`s doing this. He talks his talking points, he gives
his speech, he`s severely conservative. I don`t care about that. I want
to know who this man is. He`s got a great life story. He`s raised a great
family. He`s started a very successful business. He went into the
Olympics. Turned that around. He`s done some good things. That`s what he
should be talking about, not the talking points that he`s been following in
his speeches of late.

SHARPTON: But Chip is telling us all these great things about
Willard, but Willard is not telling us what makes us believe maybe it`s not
true.

SHRUM: Well, I don`t think he can do his biography alone. I think
he`s got to get out there and say, here`s what I stand for. One of his
problems is that he was depending on the economy being in deeper and deeper
and deeper trouble so he could be the CEO who could go fix it. If the
economy is getting better and continues to get better, this isn`t me. This
is "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page, saying Mitt Romney`s got to go
out there and tell people what he`s about. We know what Santorum is about.
This campaign is moving to social issues and I think that helps in the
republican primary Rick Santorum.

SHARPTON: Well, I asked Mitt Romney to one time. I asked him, what
is he all about. He asked me, what time is it? Bob Shrum, Chip Saltsman,
thank for your time tonight.

SHRUM: Thank you.

SHARPTON: Ahead -- big news about marriage equality in Washington and
New Jersey. There`s something happening in many parts of the country, but
Chris Christie is vowing to stop the progress in his tracks.

And saying good-bye to a legend. Remembering a life and analyzing
what her death means. Whitney Houston. All that up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: We`re back with a major step forward in the fight for
equality. And a showdown coming in New Jersey. Today the New Jersey State
Senate approved a bill that legalized same-sex marriage. It goes to the
state assembly Thursday where it`s expected to pass. And then it goes to
Governor Chris Christie who has vowed to veto it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Rather than having stalemate and
deadlock on this issue which is inevitably where it will lead if they pass
the legislation and send it to me because I will not sign it. It will be
vetoed. Let`s let the people of New Jersey decide what`s right for the
state. Let`s put the question of same-sex marriage on the ballot this fall
in the hands of the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Washington`s governor promised to try to persuade Christie
to change his mind. Today she signed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage
in her state. Washington is now the seventh state along with the District
of Columbia, to recognize same-sex marriage. But New Jersey is not one of
them. And Chris Christie is in a tough spot.

We`re joined now by New Jersey State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora. He`s
the sponsor of the gay marriage bill. State Assemblyman, it`s a pleasure
to have you with us. The bill goes to the State Assembly Thursday. If it
passes, how tough of a position does it put Governor Christie in?

REED GUSCIORA (D), NJ STATE ASSEMBLYMAN: The governor at the end of
the day is a moderate. He can talk red state and throw out red meat all he
wants. But he has to decide whether he wants to play to the red staters or
moderation in the state of New Jersey.

SHARPTON: Now, what surprised a lot of observers today is you got
republican votes in the Senate today for same-sex marriage.

GUSCIORA: I think that was a pleasant surprise for all of us. We had
two republican senators voted. And we expect many more republican assembly
people to do the right thing and stand up for equality.

SHARPTON: So, if you have Republicans in the assembly and in the
Senate, voting for it, how does he then veto it and not look like he`s not
even listening to some of the members of his own party.

GUSCIORA: Well, I hope like scrooge he changes his mind and comes
with an epiphany. I think that this is the right thing to do. This is --
speaks for many of our constituents in the state who want moderation. New
Jersey should be the eighth state to recognize same-sex marriage. And we
hope that at the end of the day, the governor changes his mind.

SHARPTON: You challenged him when he tried to say we should put this
to a referendum that if civil rights had been put to a referendum it would
have been avoided a lot of things. And he called you a name for that, did
you?

GUSCIORA: Well, I`m not too bothered. I think my college friends
used to call me that as well. But the seriousness of the issue --

SHARPTON: Well, he`s not one of your college friends. But go ahead.

GUSCIORA: The seriousness of the issue was that civil rights issues
should not be on the ballot. You shouldn`t -- you should not object to the
Madisonian principle that majority wins should never be over the minority
rights. And this issue or any kind of civil rights issue should never be
on the ballot. It`s not appropriate.

SHARPTON: Let me show you. I was on a show the other night with --
where that came up between a conservative and I. And let me show you the
encounter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REIHAN SALAM, NATIONAL REVIEW: If you have a situation where state by
state people`s minds are changing. If you look at people under the age of
40, they favor same sex marriage far, far more than people over that age.
If you have it happen in a way where people feel, "You know, we heard the
argument," and people embrace this, fair enough, that argument is lost and,
you know, you`re not going to be able to reverse that by referendum.

SHARPTON: No, but you have tyranny by the majority. You cannot have
rights voted on. If you, if you do not, the role of government is to
protect people. And if, if you had civil rights voted on, I`d be sitting
in the back of the bus and with a bad eye driver, you`d be sitting next to
me. So, don`t think about voting for rights.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: I mean, the fact is that there would have been so southern
state that would have voted for civil rights. And what are we talking
about setting this kind of precedent here. Another area. But he`s
comparing it to the civil rights movement in the south.

GUSCIORA: And that was my point that segregation laws or any other
civil rights law is not appropriate to be on the ballot. And even his
clarified statement of perhaps there should be a better time. The question
is, when is that better time? Even now or later? So, I think that we need
to take the tough decisions and vote on them.

SHARPTON: I don`t see how he compares the two or how we deal with any
of these issues like that. Thank you though for coming tonight, State
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora and thank you for your fight.

GUSCIORA: Thank you.

SHARPTON: Ahead, the tragic death of Whitney Houston and the
difficult questions that linger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: We lost a legend over the weekend. Whitney Houston, one of
the greatest voices of her generation died Saturday in Beverly Hills. She
was 48. Whitney was in a league all of her own. A voice transcended
genres and pierced the soul.

Yesterday, I took part in a service in Los Angeles honoring Whitney,
remembering what we loved most about her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: A lot of artists can hit notes, but they don`t hit us.
Sing words, but they have no meaning. Yes, she had problems, but she sang.
And long after all of the scandals and gossip and innuendo is gone and the
garbage pail of time, we will remember that voice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Her rise to stardom was fast. She racked up countless
awards. But her fall and unsuccessful efforts to come back are well
chronicled. It`s hard to believe it`s been more than a decade since her
last big award. Whitney Houston was an unusual talent. Even in her
negative times, she was someone that all respected. I think he unsung
heroes are those that tried to stand with her. Her mother, the legend
herself, Cissy Houston, and others, should be given credit. Those that
used her should be exposed.

Joining me now is Ken Sunshine, president of Sunshine Sachs. He
represents, as an adviser and press representative, pretty much anyone who
is anyone in Hollywood. Ken, could someone in the music industry, an
executive or producer have prevented this tragedy? Where is the industry
missing in these countless tragedies we keep seeing?

PRES. KEN SUNSHINE, SUNSHINE SACHS: See, I think it`s not a
simplistic answer that one can give. The fact is a lot of people made a
lot of money because of the brilliant artistry of Whitney Houston. And
unfortunately, she`s not the first great talent to die tragically young and
to have been afflicted with problems of substance abuse. And I just think
as opposed to pointing fingers, I think we as an entertainment business
have to do better. This tragic spiral where you see the greatest among us
go downhill and I don`t think anybody was shocked at what happened,
unfortunately.

SHARPTON: Even though we don`t know it`s connected with drugs and
alcohol, we know the problems that she had a history of. And that`s all
we`re hearing. I mean, we`re not hearing any of the positive.

SUNSHINE: That`s right. And that`s not fair either. But I think the
entertainment industry once and for all needs to take stock of what it does
to some of our greats. And it`s not an easy answer. And, you know, adults
can do what they want in the end, but there`s something about brilliance
and drugs that seems to lead to a downward spiral and death at a terrible
young age among the best.

SHARPTON: Look, can the industry do something about the environment?
I mean, I have known a lot of artists, and I had a friendship with a lot of
them. I knew Whitney not as well as I knew others, but she came and
performed at National Action Network`s dinner. I knew her mother, a
legendary singer. The environment, Cissy Houston really tried to work with
her daughter, and as her daughter said, the environment, though, seems to -
- like the guys at the top of the industry see these talents as cash cows.
Ka-ching. That`s it. They don`t care about anything. We`ve got to
challenge. It`s not about finger pointing but about how many funerals do
we have to go to before we have say, wait a minute. What`s going on here?

SUNSHINE: I couldn`t agree more. Amy Winehouse, you know, dead at a
terribly young age who was about to become a super, superstar. The numbers
go on and on and on. And, yes, the industry must take responsibility.
It`s not as simple as, these are adults. You know, we`re just in the
business to make money. It`s not that simple. It`s also an industry
filled with the most creative geniuses in the world who don`t want to
tolerate that. Nobody is happy about this. This is a terrible tragedy.
But if there`s any good that can come out of this, maybe once and for all,
the industry will take some more responsibility and the tolerance of the
drug culture. We`ve got to do something about that.

SHARPTON: I think that the industry should use this as a wake-up call
because there was no one who had more of a beautiful voice and a beautiful
story. And I think that we should say, wait a minute. Let -- I don`t know
what the answer is, but I know that we need to start asking the right
questions.

SUNSHINE: I couldn`t agree more.

SHARPTON: Thank you Ken Sunshine for your time tonight. I want to
also give our condolences to her mother and her daughter. People forget
that they are our superstars but they are somebody`s daughter, somebody`s
mother. And I know that Cissy Houston did all she could for her daughter.
I wish the environment of the industry was there to support Cissy. We
stand with her and will always remember that voice. The voice of Whitney
Houston.

Thanks for watching. I`m Al Sharpton. "HARDBALL" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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