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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, April 9, 2012

Read the transcript to the Monday show

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Guests: E.J. Dionne, Jonathan Capehart, Ezra Klein,
Karen Finney, Charles M. Blow, Natalie Jackson, Dana Milbank


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: "Saturday Night Live" has zeroed in on the
core weakness of the Romney campaign, and that weakness turns out to be
Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: It`s all coming together for the Republican
Party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, when people ask me, Mitt, just how many
piercings do you have, I always say, more than I need, but less than I
want.

SHARPTON: Looks like they found their nominee.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: This guy is not a good politician.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A detached guy.

WAGNER: Wildly out of touch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not one of us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A terrible candidate.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Can you win a party`s nomination for
president when hardly anybody in the party likes you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt is not a perfect candidate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Republican base and party is never going to
be in love with Mitt Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has a number of problems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s a business guy.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Corporations are people, my
friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He needs more than that.

ROMNEY: I`m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net
there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t see very much else to work with.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC PARTY: We`ve tried charm. Let`s go
boring and dull.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: He offers at this point such a stark
contrast to the president`s record.

MATTHEWS: I`m stuck with him and he ain`t Obama. There you`ve got
the drift.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Presidential politics are about personality as
much as anything else.

ROMNEY: I love cars. I love American cars.

I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.

O, beautiful, for spacious skies --

It seems right here. Trees are the right height.

For amber waves of grain --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney actually criticized President Obama
for being out of touch with the American people.

ROMNEY: Out-of-touch liberals like Barack Obama say they want a
strong economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then Romney added, and I mean all Americans,
millionaires and billionaires, everybody.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O`DONNELL: The Obama re-election campaign is encouraged by a new
poll out today that shows President Obama leading Mitt Romney among swing
state independent voters. Now, these are the voters who usually decide the
outcome in the general election, and it seems the president is ahead of
Mitt Romney with these voters, mostly because they like President Obama and
they just don`t much like Mitt Romney.

The poll from the Third Way surveyed independent voters in these 12
swing states. Among those voters, President Obama leads Mitt Romney 44
percent to 38 percent; 57 percent view President Obama favorably and 35
percent view him unfavorably. While only 41 percent view Mitt Romney
favorably and basically the same amount, 40 percent, view him unfavorably.

"Saturday Night Live" opened the show this weekend with a rendering
of Mitt Romney that seizes on the with one constant in Romney`s 20-year
political career. He will always try to say whatever his audience wants to
hear, whether that`s an audience of liberal Massachusetts voters in 1994 or
conservative Republican primary voters this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Following his primary victories last Tuesday in Wisconsin,
Maryland, and Washington, D.C., Republican front-runner Mitt Romney made
campaign stops in a dozen cities across the country, where he claimed to be
interested in things with we know he is not interested in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me tell you here and now, there is one issue
on which I will never back down, never cut a deal, never compromise,
because it`s the core of who I am, cat spaying. It`s simply the right
thing to do. And quite frankly, the reason I got into this race, I want to
be known as the cat neutering president.

You know, in all honesty, I can`t remember a time when dungeons and
dragons wasn`t important part of life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don`t believe you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. All right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: BuzzFeed posted this photo today from January 1995 of
Mitt Romney at a Massachusetts women`s political caucus award ceremony, a
group dedicated to increasing the number of pro-choice women elected to
office. Romney famously converted to the extreme anti-abortion position
favored by Republican primary voters before his first run for their
presidency.

Joining me now is "Washington Post" opinion writer and MSNBC
political analyst, Jonathan Capehart, and "Washington Post" opinion writer
and MSNBC political analyst, E.J. Dionne, who is a senior fellow at the
Brookings Institution.

E.J., I want to play for you something Romney said last week, echoing
a Bill O`Reilly cheerleading thing about the war on religion, which he
assigns to President Obama. Let`s listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Well, I think, I think there is in this country a war on
religion. I think there is a desire to establish a religion in America
known as secularism. And I know that based upon reports, the Obama
administration gave this a lot of thought, a lot of discussion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: E.J., as our senior religion analyst here, here we`ve
moved beyond any suggestion that the president is a Muslim. The only thing
that polls worse among voters in terms of what makes them uncomfortable in
a candidate religiously than Muslim is, of course, being an atheist or an
agnostic. In this country where we claim to have no religious test, you
must pass the religious test as a candidate, that you believe in some
version of religion, preferably Christianity, according to all the polls.

So here`s Romney saying that the Obama administration is trying to
establish a religion in this country known as secularism. Where does he --
what`s he trying to do with that?

E.J. DIONNE, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, with all those clips
making fun of Romney, you almost had me feeling sorry for Romney. And then
you showed that particular clip.

I thought what was particularly troubling about it is when he said,
there are reports that, you know, as if the government of the United States
can declare a new religion. It`s just very strange. And it`s not an issue
that he ought to get into and it`s not an issue that Obama should get into.

I mean -- and Republicans have been saying rightly, some of them
Orrin Hatch, for example, that Romney`s Mormonism shouldn`t be an issue in
the election and it shouldn`t be an issue in the election. And so why he
would want to play on this terrain at all is beyond me.

But, you know, if I could just say something about all that stuff you
ran before. I think there are Velcro candidates and there are Teflon
candidates. Teflon candidates like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan where
nothing sticks, and then Velcro candidates like Al Gore never even said
that "I invented the Internet," and yet that stuck to him.

And Romney, from the ease to which you can play those reels, two
Cadillacs, you know, the trees are right height and all of that, he is
looking more and more like a Velcro candidate. And that I think is his
core problem.

O`DONNELL: And, Jonathan Capehart, he spent Easter weekend at his
southern California beach mansion, the place I guess where he`s trying to
put in the elevator for the four cars. But he apparently did body surfing,
which my guess is, that`s a less politically damaging than wind surfing was
for John Kerry.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, because lots of
people do body surfing. I`ve never done it, but I know people who have
done it and I`ve seen people do it. It looks fun, but it`s not for me.

O`DONNELL: And, Jonathan, to the "SNL" thing, I think E.J. raises an
important point that in 2000, "Saturday Night Live" did some penetrating
stuff on al gore that I think gave the electorate a vocabulary in a certain
sense for what made them uncomfortable about Al Gore. And it seems like
they`ve zeroed in on the essential defect in the Romney candidacy, which is
that pandering, which is that willingness to say anything -- which I think
as much as anything, was at work in him accusing the president of trying to
invent a new religion, that that was just him working his way through some
kind of pander.

CAPEHART: Right. I`ve called it in the past, you know, Mitt Romney
has a problem with being ideologically promiscuous. You know, people don`t
mind someone who will change one bedrock principle, because people evolve,
people change their views through experience and other things.

But when you change your bedrock principles on gun rights, on
abortion rights, on gay rights, on immigration, you change all of them --
you render yourself suspect to the American people, whether they`re in your
party or not in your party. And clearly, we know that Democrats are not
going to go out and vote for Mitt Romney.

But as we`ve seen through the primary process, Republicans don`t seem
all that eager to go out and vote for Mitt Romney, and this is the one of
the reasons why.

O`DONNELL: E.J., in the Third Way poll, we showed -- it actually
shows that these independent voters in these swing states align slightly
closer to Mitt Romney`s positions than they do to President Obama`s
positions, which makes the ultimate outcome of the polls so much more
interesting. That it isn`t so much about their positions, that`s why we`re
theorizing that it is about how they perceive these individuals.

DIONNE: I think one of the things about that poll is if you are
undecided between Obama and Romney now, you probably tilt a little bit
Romney`s way, because Obama has a pretty big lead in some of the polls in
the swing states. So I would have a hunch that these voters are more
ideologically similar to Romney.

And so, yes -- I mean, I think that what is intriguing about the
poll, and there have been others like it, is that when you put all politics
aside and just basically ask favorability questions, which is questions, do
you like the guy or not, is what they come down to, Obama still has a
substantial lead.

And I think Jonathan is right in pointing to this inconstancy on the
issues, because there are politicians who lost elections, but people
respected a lot and liked personally because they were consistent. Barry
Goldwater and George McGovern are two examples. Romney gets none of that.
And that`s why he`s had problems with the right end of the Republican
Party, and I think will have problems with swing voters who just want to
know what does he really believe.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan, there`s good news for the Romney candidacy in
this poll, based on the basic pitch that they`re making to the electorate.
They`ve polled the issue of opportunity versus the issue of fairness. And
this week, we`re going to hear a lot from the Obama administration about
fairness, the Buffett Rule, paying your fair share.

And opportunity would be the case that Romney tries to make all the
time, that he`s going to give you a playing field where you will have the
opportunity to some day pay his very low millionaire`s tax rate.

And so, opportunity actually polls with these voters at 51 percent.
Fairness polls at only 43 percent. Now, that seems like an area that with
these kind of swing voters, the Romney campaign should be able to get in
there and gain some ground.

CAPEHART: Yes, there is an opening there and it`s a very surprising
opening, because we have seen since basically last summer, last August,
when the president pivoted after the debt ceiling crisis to, you know,
people paying their fair share, having the wealthy pay more. He`s still on
that message.

And what this poll shows is that the people that they interviewed,
that they polled in these swing states, that message doesn`t reach them.
It`s not that they favor one or the other. They just think that he`s not
talking to me.

But if you start talking about opportunity, then you`ll get there --
then the president will get their ear. He needs to pivot to that message.
Which is what Third Way was saying.

DIONNE: Could I say, Lawrence, if you look at that poll, however, it
also shows that in he end, higher taxes on the wealthy are actually
popular, either for fairness or to balance the budget. So -- and I don`t
think the administration is going to -- or Obama`s going to make an
argument just for fairness. He`s often linked it to opportunity. I think
you can`t run in American politics without talking one way or another about
opportunity.

O`DONNELL: E.J. Dionne gets the last word on this one tonight.
Thanks to E.J. and Jonathan Capehart for joining me tonight.

CAPEHART: Thanks, Lawrence.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, as America closes in on the annual tax paying
deadline, Democrats plan to spend the week highlighting Romney`s absurdly
low income tax rate of 14 percent, and they want to do something about it.
I will reveal my federal income tax rate, which is way more than Mitt
Romney`s.

And we`ll have the latest in the investigation in the killing of
Trayvon Martin and why the special prosecutor decided not to take the case
to a grand jury.

And in the "Rewrite," the brave Catholic priest who is trying to
rewrite the church rules that he believes are sexist and outdated.

And later, will the cult of Ryan get Paul Ryan the Republican vice
presidential nomination? We`ll take a look at Sarah Palin and Herman
Cain`s ridiculous list for the vice presidential nomination.

And we`ll look at the real short list -- who has the real chance at
the Republican vice presidential nomination.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: NBC News is reporting tonight that the special prosecutor
could reveal her decision in the Trayvon Martin case as early as tomorrow.

And coming up, why the prosecutor is keeping the case away from a
grand jury.

Next, Joe Biden sends his first tweet today. And tomorrow the
president will turn that little tweet into a full speech about the economy
and taxes and how Mitt Romney gets away with paying a lower federal income
tax rate than you and I pay.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Do you think the millionaire
ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver or less?

AUDIENCE: More!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The Obama re-election campaign is betting that you have
taxes on your mind this week, as the days tick down to the deadline for
filing your tax returns.

The Obama team is hoping that you will at some point take a break in
your frustration of wrestling with that tax return software that you use
once a year and then when you take that break, you will focus on the
outrage that the richest, major party nominee for president in history pays
a lower tax rate than you do.

You`ll be hearing a lot about the Buffett Rule this week, from the
president and his re-election teammates. The tax rule that they want to
impose to keep the super rich, like Mitt Romney, from continuing to get
away with paying, as Romney has, only 14 percent in federal income taxes.

Vice President Joe Biden sent his very first tweet today. "I`m for
the Buffett Rule because it just makes sense. Like the president says,
it`s not class warfare. It`s math." Signed by Joe.

Tomorrow, President Obama will go to the key campaign state of
Florida where he will make a speech on the economy, focusing on the Buffett
Rule. Today, the Obama re-election campaign had this conference call with
reporters.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JIM MESSINA, OBAMA CAMPAIGN: While middle class families are working
to make ends meet, Romney has millions of dollars of his personal wealth
and investment funds set up in notorious tax havens like the Cayman
Islands. He also had $3 million parked in a Swiss bank account -- a Swiss
bank account.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: When`s the last time a presidential
candidate for the United States had a Swiss bank account? I think the
answer is never!

MESSINA: Romney supports tax policies that reward people like him
and now he`s just trying to obscure just how much he would benefit by
hiding his own financial records.

Our message to Mitt is simple: If you don`t have anything to hide,
release your taxes just like every other candidate for president does.

(END AUDIO CLIP)(

O`DONNELL: Because April 15th falls on a Sunday this year, the IRS
has graciously extended you two more work days to get your taxes done.
Your official deadline for mailing your tax returns is now midnight, April
17th, if you can find a post office open before midnight on April 17th.

On Monday, April 16th, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid has
scheduled a Senate vote on the Buffett Rule.

Joining me now are Karen Finney, former DNC communications director
and an MSNBC political analyst, and Ezra Klein, a "Washington Post"
columnist and MSNBC contributor.

Ezra, I`m going to give you a quick second to guess what my federal
income tax rate is this year. I just signed the document yesterday.

EZRA KLEIN, WASHINGTON POST: I`m going with 28 percent.

O`DONNELL: You know, it`s been 28 percent frequently.

KLEIN: See.

O`DONNELL: And actually, last year, it was over 30. And now this
year it`s 33. I`m hitting 33.

KLEIN: Wow. All right.

O`DONNELL: Which viewers should know, even though we have a 35
percent top tax rate, no one pays it, absolutely no one pays it. I have a
big fat mortgage deduction that pulls me down and I`ve thrown in a bunch of
charitable contributions.

But, Ezra, I mean, that`s an important point. All these rates we
talk about at the top end, no one ever pays. But they tend to pay
something much closer to it than Mitt Romney does.

KLEIN: Right. Not only does nobody ever pay it, but if you actually
do your taxes -- I`m always struck by it every year when you do it. If you
have basic salary income, don`t do a lot of deductions or you don`t charity
stuff, you don`t have a huge house or all of that, the tax code isn`t very
complicated. You sort of just, here`s your salary, you divide it by -- you
multiply it the marginal rate you pay and you`re pretty much done.

Where the tax code gets complex is people who have a lot of money and
thus have to think of a lot of ways to shield that money. And tax code
gets into all kinds of things related to charitable deductions, ways to
hide your money, have a Swiss bank account, what kind of interest rate you
take, what type of capital gains you have. The complexity, you always hear
people complaining. But it`s largely people on the top end.

And it`s largely people in the top end to some degree complaining
about how difficult it is for them to lower their tax rate much more than
middle class people can do. If we actually had a simple tax code that
people would really end up hurting on it, assuming that we didn`t give them
a big tax cut are the risk because on a simple tax code, they wouldn`t be
able to hide so much of their income.

O`DONNELL: Karen Finney, the Romney campaign is now being pressured
to release nor tax returns than they`ve already released. The Obama
campaign is interested in seeing all of the returns that apparently Romney
provided when he was vetted as a possible V.P. choice four years ago.
That`s many more than he`s already returned.

Do you suspect the Obama campaign is going to succeed with this
prosecution of turn over your returns?

KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know what? Here`s the
reality, and I`m sure they know it -- they don`t have to succeed. In the
end game, they don`t actually have to get Romney to release those returns.
They keep pressing the question, and he`s the one who continually will look
like he`s hiding something, right?

And when you talk about Cayman Islands and Swiss Bank accounts, that
also alludes to this idea that someone`s hiding something. So, it`s a good
message frame for them in any number of ways, not the least of which this
idea of fairness and income inequality, and that Romney is essentially
running to be president on a platform that says, hey, I want to keep my tax
breaks. I mean, that`s essentially what the Republicans are going to have
to continue to defend, is that he deserves to continue to pay a lower tax
rate than most of us.

And so, that`s going to put them on the defense on these issues.
That`s what the Democrats are hoping.

O`DONNELL: And, Ezra, beyond tax returns, "The Washington Post" Tom
Hamburger delivered a really disturbing report about Romney`s assets and
his ability to even within the disclosure requirements for a candidate for
president, in the so-called full disclosure, he`s able to hide tremendous
amounts of his actual assets and we will never know what he actually owns
through the assets he owns through Bain Capital.

That seems to me to be as strange a situation for a presidential
candidate to find himself as paying this absurdly low income tax rate.

KLEIN: Romney`s finances, in a way that I think is very hard to
explain, are more different than the average person`s, and almost any
presidential candidate -- certainly that I can remember, or frankly that I
know of. And what`s weird about that, it`s not just that Romney is rich.
We`ve had a lot of rich presidential candidates -- in fact, pretty much by
the standards of most people, almost every presidential candidate from a
major party we`ve seen has been rich.

But what`s interesting to me, despite Romney having run four years
ago, he hasn`t simplified his financial life. How is it that after running
four years ago, after basically who expected to be the nominee, he wasn`t a
long shot candidate that suddenly got vaulted into this position -- how is
it that he still has a Swiss bank account? How has he not figured out how
to pay his taxes so that he doesn`t have a 14 percent rate?

What is certainly remarkable is actually the entitlement in it, the
degree to which he didn`t make his taxes look normal to people before he
ran, because just there are ways to make your taxes lower, there are ways
to make them higher, to not take all these deductions, to not run your
finances this way, and he chose or he was never advised or -- he chose to
not take all of those avenues out of his problem.

O`DONNELL: Karen -- go ahead, Karen.

FINNEY: Well, I was going to say, I think ultimately what`s going to
be important in the context of the election is that this is all connected
again back to this idea of fairness. And as your previous conversation
showed in this poll in independents showed and reconnected to a vision
about opportunity, which I think the president has done. I mean, for
Romney, to continually be out there.

I mean, he says the word opportunity, but at the same time, he`s
defending this idea that, well, if we keep taxes low for everybody at the
top, that`s going to create jobs. Well, "the Wall Street Journal"
basically showed us today that`s not actually the case, because they show
that the top corporations, they`re doing very well, making a lot of money.
And where are they creating jobs? Outside of this country.

O`DONNELL: Karen, do you have your taxes done yet?

FINNEY: I`m getting there. I`m working on it.

(LAUGHTER)

O`DONNELL: All right! Then you got to go. You got to go. You can`t
come back until your returns are done.

Karen Finney and Ezra Klein, thank you very much both for joining me
tonight.

KLEIN: Thank you.

FINNEY: Thanks.

O`DONNELL: Coming up in the "Rewrite," why the pope used his Holy
Thursday homily to criticize a Catholic priest who has been criticizing
him? We`ll see how priest versus priest and priest versus Pope arguments
have always occurred in the Catholic Church. They`ve occurred publicly and
why the church is stronger for it.

But first, we learn today that that there will be no grand jury
convened to investigate the killing of Trayvon Martin. That means the
future of the case is up to the special prosecutor. Charles M. Blow and an
attorney for the family will join me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAL UHRIG, CO-COUNSEL FOR GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: For 26 years, this
prosecutor, while she`s been called fair and tough, has always in non-
capital cases not used a Grand Jury. She figures she`s elected to make
those decisions; she`s going to make the hard decisions and take the heat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That was Hal Uhrig, co-counsel for George Zimmerman,
responding to Special Prosecutor Angela Corey`s decision today not to bring
the killing of Trayvon Martin to a Grand Jury. Attorneys for Trayvon
Martin`s family issued this statement.:"we are not surprised by this
announcement, and, in fact, are hopeful that a decision will be reached
very soon to arrest George Zimmerman and give Trayvon Martin`s family the
simple justice they have been seeking all along."

Special Prosecutor Angela Corey met with student protesters who
marched 40 miles to Sanford, Florida, calling for justice for Trayvon
Martin. When they temporarily shut down the Sanford Police Department,
Angela Corey -- she didn`t meet with them. She arranged to speak to them
by phone, presumably in the hopes of diffusing tensions.

A few of the students were invited into the police station to speak to
the prosecutor on the phone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m sure, as many of you have tried to talk to
her, she -- she didn`t give us much details, but sort of seemed to hint
that something will be coming very shortly. So we are very excited by that
and very bolstered by that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now are Charles M. Blow, "New York Times"
columnist, and Natalie Jackson, co-counsel for the Martin family. Natalie,
what do you make of the prosecutor`s announcement that she will not convene
a Grand Jury?

NATALIE JACKSON, CO-COUNSEL FOR MARTIN FAMILY: Well, we think that
that is what -- that is the right thing to do. This is not a capital case.
It`s not a case for a Grand Jury. The only reason that this would have
gone to a grand jury is if there was a passing of the buck, where you
didn`t want to be involved in something political or publicity.

It`s courageous of her to do this. She`s going to make the decision.
She has the power and she`s going to own that decision.

O`DONNELL: Charles, the prosecutor`s office warned us today to not
use this as a factor in any way trying to figure out where this is going.
But all the pros I talked to, they see it as an increasing likelihood that
she will bring charges, since the Grand Jury is the easier way to just wash
your hands of the responsibility.

CHARLES M. BLOW, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": That`s one way to look at it,
right? It`s all, at this point, speculation. As Natalie just pointed out,
only if it was a capital case would it go before a Grand Jury. No one, not
the attorneys for Trayvon Martin, or for George Zimmerman, are suggesting
there was premeditation in this case.

It wouldn`t even make sense, actually, that he would call the cops,
then stalk, wanting to kill right before the cops arrived, and then, you
know, try to get his way out of it. So that doesn`t even make sense. So
no one is even suggesting that. That just takes that off the table.

It could be the case that this -- you know, the state`s attorney wants
to make an arrest. In fact, the local television station in that market,
WFTV, has, you know, a story today saying that two sources have told them
that there is likely to be an arrest this week. They`re unnamed sources.
You take that with a boulder of salt, not just a grain of salt, but there
may be an arrest.

It`s just as likely that there is some debate within that office as to
whether or not they have enough evidence. Do they -- you know, do they
have enough evidence to prove this case beyond a shadow of a doubt? Or do
they want to just compile as much evidence as they can to make sure they
have an airtight case?

All of those things are possibilities. We can only speculate at this
point. I think it`s really prudent for us to step back and say, we don`t
know at this point. We have to let the investigation play out and the
state attorney will make the decision when they`re ready to make that
decision.

O`DONNELL: Natalie, you`re in touch with some of the witnesses in
this case, for example, Trayvon`s girlfriend. Has the special prosecutor
talked to her?

JACKSON: They have. That office has spoken to the girlfriend. And
really, she`s the connection of all the dots here. We`ve had the 911 tape.
And when I say the 911 tape, I`m talking about George Zimmerman`s own
words. So we`ve had that.

When that tape came out, we were sure there would be an arrest. And
there wasn`t. And then the next thing that we saw, we saw videotape. And
we once again were sure that an arrest would be made. It wasn`t. Once we
saw the phone records of the teenager, we thought, surely, there`s an
arrest. The dots have been conducted.

This teenage girl says that she heard the argument and that George
Zimmerman was the provoker. So at this point, we believe that if people
just listen and look at the evidence -- or it`s not even evidence right
now. What`s in the media,. with their own eyes and ears, there`s enough
case -- there`s enough information to bring this to a trial and let a jury
decide.

O`DONNELL: And Charles, the advantage the prosecutor has that none of
us have is that in her ability to round up all of these witnesses that we
know about and evaluate their credibility, which is not something you can
really do in the ways that they`ve appeared on television. And I`m not
faulting anyone. It`s just the way it is. You don`t really cross-examine
them. You don`t really find out every little bit of the way they think
about it.

So it would seem that the special prosecutor -- again, I`m trying to
imagine what she had in mind today, for example, when she reached out to
those protesters and got on the phone with them, other than trying to
diffuse tensions at the scene. She seemed to be trying to communicate
something positive, in a sense, to that side of this story.

BLOW: Well, I mean, I think you raised the crucial point, which is
the state attorney and the special prosecutor have a vantage point that
none of us have. You know, there`s interest. There`s information that
comes from people speaking anonymously, speaking behind screens, speaking
in shadows. But they have a different vantage point.

They get to talk to the person. They get to question them in the way
that a defense attorney would question them, to see if there are holes in
their testimony, in what would become their testimony, if it were to go to
trial. They get to kind of cross-tab all of what they`re hearing, one
thing against another, and hear from people that we may not even be hearing
from.

And most importantly, they get to see the medical examiner`s report,
which none of us have seen, and all the forensic information that none of
us have seen. So they have just a higher level of information that anyone
in the media can possibly have.

So at that point, you do have to step back and say, we must wait until
they present whatever they have gathered to the public, to even make some
sort of evaluation as to whether or not we believe that they should have
gone forward with charges, if they choose not to do that.

O`DONNELL: Charles M. Blow, that`s the perfect summary of where we
stand tonight. Thank you for joining us tonight, Charles. And Natalie
Jackson, thank you for joining us.

JACKSON: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, a Catholic priest is criticizing the Pope and
the Pope is criticizing him right back. The Pope is trying to manage a
protest by priests over barring women from the priesthood. That`s next in
the Rewrite.

And later, does Chris Christie`s trip to Israel improve his position
on Mitt Romney`s vice presidential short list? Will Romney bet that Marco
Rubio can win Florida for him? Or will the cultish worshippers of Paul
Ryan force Romney to choose Ryan as his vice presidential candidate?
That`s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In tonight`s Rewrite, God`s Rottweiler. Who has earned
the nickname God`s Rottweiler? Well, first of all, let`s take a look at a
Rottweiler. That might help. There`s a nice Rottweiler.

Actually, that`s not really fair to Rottweilers. They can be kind of
scary, almost as scary as Pit Bulls sometimes. But Rottweiler owners will
tell you, correctly, that they can be very obedient and very loyal.

OK. So who is God`s Rottweiler? Is it, A, this man? Or B, this man?
Or C, this man? Or perhaps D, this man? Or could it be E, this man?

Those of you who guessed E have really got to start watching HBO. The
answer is D. Pope Benedict XVI earned the nickname God`s Rottweiler,
according to "the New York Times," which have that in the lead of their
coverage of the Pope`s Holy Thursday homily last week, a homily that was
directed at this man, the Reverend Helmut Schuller, an Austrian priest who
is the leader of a group called Preachers Initiative, which has issued a
call to disobedience, demanding that the Catholic Church allow the
ordination of women priests allow priests to marry, and allow priests to
give holy communion to Catholics who have divorced and remarried without
the cover of an annulment.

Reverend Schuller has the support of 400 Austrian priests, as well as
priests throughout Europe and the United States. Father Schuller has
pointed out that the ban on women priests and the ban on priests marrying
is not, in his words, "a matter of theology, but of history and tradition.
And those are constantly evolving," end quote.

Vatican watchers were struck that the Pope decided to call out one of
his many dissenting priests from his throne in St. Peter`s Basilica. The
Pope said, "recently a group of priests from a European country issued a
summons to disobedience and at the same time gave concrete examples of the
forms this disobedience might take, even to the point of disregarding
definitive decisions of the church`s magiserium (ph), such as the question
of women`s ordinations, for which blessed Pope John Paul II stated
irrevocably that the church has received no authority from the lord."

Though the Pope believes he has received no authority from the lord to
allow women priests, he did not cite any authority from the lord forbidding
women priests. And Father Schuller told "the New York Times" that he was
untroubled by the Pope`s words. "I don`t think they were very harsh.
There was no threat or sanction implied in his words."

Many Catholics, including Catholic priests like Father Schuller, have
been watching with worry the dramatic decline of the number of priests,
especially in the United States, where the number of priests has declined
by a third since 1975, and it was declining before that.

Father Schuller insists that Rewriting the rules of the priesthood,
liberalizing those rules, is necessary for the very survival of the
priesthood, and therefore for the survival of the church. Because without
the priesthood, there is no Roman Catholic Church.

Father Schuller`s criticism of the church`s rules is aimed at
strengthening the Catholic Church, not weakening it. And it follows a rich
history of such criticism of the Catholic Church from within the Catholic
Church.

The Roman Catholic Church`s strength and vitality today worldwide is
attributable in part to its ability to absorb and react to centuries and
centuries of thoughtful criticism from inside and outside the church.
Father Schuller knows what he`s up against. He doesn`t sound like a priest
who expects quick action from his church.

He has called the Vatican, quote, "an absolutist monarchy." But
Father Schuller has reason for optimism. He told "the Times," "I think
that in the history of the church, a lot has changed, even if not always
voluntarily. There has been new science, new technology, new practices.
The teachings are always changing."

Vatican watcher Palo Rodari (ph) of the Italian newspaper "Il Foglio"
seems to believe history may be on Father Schuller`s side. He said, "in
spite of the tough response of the Pope, I think that the calls for reform
won`t diminish. They will only grow. It`s a problem that the Vatican will
increasingly have to come to terms with."

The first married priests and the first women Pope will owe prayers of
thanks to Father Helmut Schuller.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is well spoken. He is
direct. People in Florida love him. He has a huge following. He is from
Florida. Florida is going to be one of those key states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That was Herman Cain on who he wants to see get the
Republican nomination for vice president. Another vote for Florida Senator
Marco Rubio. And remember now, this is Herman Cain talking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAIN: He is from Florida. Florida is going to be one of those key
states. But more importantly, Colonel Allen West is a dedicated patriot.
He served in the military and he`s willing to serve his country some more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Now, Herman Cain is not the first irrelevant Republican to
give Mitt Romney this kind of advice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: Top of my list is Allen West.
I love that he has that military experience. He is a public servant,
willing to serve for the right reasons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Allen West and all the other freshman Republican
congressmen will not even make it on to the very longest list of Republican
vice presidential nominee possibilities. And as of tonight, according to
online futures market, Intrade, here are the top five likely names on the
real short list: Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and
Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.

Joining me now to try to shorten the short list is Dana Milbank,
columnist for "the Washington Post."

Dana, let`s go to Rob Portman first. He was the U.S. trade
representative in the Bush administration, so he negotiated all these deals
with China that Romney really hates. And no one outside of those people
who just heard me say the words Rob Portman know who he is, right?

DANA MILBANK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, and he was also Bush`s
budget director, and we know that went very well. But in fairness, he is
from Ohio, which is a crucial state. And he`s very highly regarded. He`s
a serious man. He`s the kind you`d actually want to have involved in
government and politics.

The problem is, he`s extraordinarily boring. And when you have a guy
like Romney, who`s got this sort of lack of charisma, going to add somebody
like that to the ticket could be problematic there as well. But he`s a
serious guy and I`ve been touting him for some time. In fact, I call him
Mr. Vice President whenever I see him, and he doesn`t seem to mind.

O`DONNELL: OK. Vice President Marco Rubio, who didn`t actually win a
majority vote in the state of Florida. He got that seat with 49 percent of
the vote.

MILBANK: This is one of those picks, Lawrence, that looks good on
paper, because he could conceivably bring some Latinos back into the
Republican party. And they sorely need them. And certainly, Romney will
need Florida. But this guy`s untested. He`s only been around a couple of
years.

Things have emerged about his own life story, about his family that
suggest he hasn`t had all the vetting because of that quirky race down
there in Florida, that he got in it in sort of an unexpected way. There`s
a sense that he could be highly risky and there could be some skeletons in
the closet that have yet to emerge.

O`DONNELL: Now, Governor Chris Christie, I guess Republicans have to
be reminded that he`s the governor of New Jersey. And so how does that
help a Republican presidential ticket?

MILBANK: Well, I`ll tell you, Lawrence, I saw Christie appear as sort
of the warm-up act for Romney up in New Hampshire. He stole the whole
show. I mean, people love him. Audiences love him. And he`s definitely
got some pizzazz there. Not entirely clear that he could even carry his
own state for Romney, and not clear that he wants the job and would like to
do it.

But he certainly has to be put in a serious camp as opposed to the
Allen Wests of the world, who we just entertain ourselves with during this
VP stakes. In fact, at "the Post," one of these cycles, I did a VP of the
week. We could come up with dozens of them and actually get it wrong at
the end.

O`DONNELL: I don`t know. I think two northeastern governors isn`t
the ideal Republican ticket. But -- and anyone`s a better speaker than
Romney, so yes, I`ve seen -- I`ve seen him be better than Romney. Now, of
course --

MILBANK: Low expectations.

O`DONNELL: -- Paul Ryan, the cult of Paul Ryan. When is the last
time we put a House member on the VP slot?

MILBANK: It doesn`t happen very often. I mean, we -- things worked
out well for Gerry Ford at some point. But Paul Ryan has the serious
credentials. He brings the conservatives into the party. They`re very
fired up about him.

But you know what else he brings into the party is written on paper
ending Medicare as we know it, Food Stamps, all these other programs. Does
Romney really want to sign onto that?

O`DONNELL: I just don`t see who the good choice is on this list.
Romney`s going to have to I think use a little bit longer list. Dana
Milbank gets THE LAST WORD tonight. Thanks for joining us, Dana.

MILBANK: Thanks, Lawrence.

END

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