'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, May 17, 2012
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Guest Host: Ezra Klein
Guests: Eugene Robinson, Jarred Bernstein, Keith Ellison
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC ANCHOR: Thank you to you at home for sticking around for
the next hour. Rachel has a well-deserved night off.
It is common for Republicans to venerate Ronald Reagan, for them to laud
his achievements, his record, to try and name everything in sight after
him. What is not common, what was, in fact, really surprising was when at
the height of the big Obama-Hillary primary battle back in `08, Obama began
trying to win over Democratic voters by talking up the gipper.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Ronald Reagan
changed the trajectory of America in way that, you know, Richard Nixon did
not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally
different path because the country was ready for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of American conservatism, was a
transformational president according to Barack Obama, more successful that
even in the really successful recent Democratic president, Bill Clinton.
Now when Obama said that, the strategy at work was pretty clear. Mr. Obama
was at once diminishing the impact of Bill Clinton and therefore taking a
shot at the idea of nominating another Clinton, and he was trying to appeal
to conservative-leaning moderates, people he would eventually need to win
the election. And he was trying to appeal to liberals who wanted their own
Reagan, their own transformational leader.
But Obama praising Ronald Reagan was part of what has become a common trend
now. Happens a lot that presidents who are controversial at the time
become unifying icons in retrospect. But the rallying around the retiree
effect happens through a kind of selective forgetting.
We make these former presidents unifying by forgetting who they were and
what they actually did. We forget about the things that divided us about
them when they`re actually in office. The nation`s 39th president found
himself -- seemingly out of nowhere -- injected right into this year`s
presidential race just a month ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, would you have gone after bin Laden?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would have given the order, Governor?
ROMNEY: Well, of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Now, look, Jimmy Carter`s reputation as a peace nick is undeserved.
He presided over a military build-up against the Soviet Union and he
himself served on a nuclear submarine, which is quite a bit more military
service than Mitt Romney has offered the country.
Nevertheless, it is unusual to see a Republican candidate ever saying a
nice thing about Jimmy Carter, much is said about his instincts on foreign
policy and his willingness to take the fight to America`s enemies, even to
the point as only to make the current president`s success in killing the
most wanted man alive look less impressive.
But Mitt Romney does have a Democrat who he now compliments without having
so much hidden meaning. Mr. Romney does have a Democrat who he compliments
unabashedly on the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: President Clinton made efforts to reform welfare as we know it.
President Clinton, remember, he said the era of big government was over.
President Clinton was signaling to his own party that Democrats should no
longer try to govern by proposing a new program for every problem.
President Obama tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: That Clinton sounds like a good guy. And Mitt Romney has been
traveling the country in recent weeks singing his praises. What he seems
to have forgotten and maybe just slipped his mind or something about Bill
Clinton is what Republicans actually thought of Clinton`s program back in
the 1990s specifically what they thought of his economic plan.
When Bill Clinton came into office pretty much the very first thing he did
was he tried to pass a budget to reduce the deficit. You would have
thought that is exactly what Republicans would have wanted from him. Here
comes a Democratic president and immediately he takes an axe to the
nation`s budget deficit.
But Bill Clinton didn`t get one Republican vote for his 1993 budget. Not
one. Not a single Republican anywhere in the House or Senate voted for his
economic plan. In fact, they went even further than not voting for it.
They actively predicted that Bill Clinton`s 1993 budget would spell doom
for the nation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I believe this will lead to a
recession next year. This is the Democrat machine`s recession and each one
of them will be held personally accountable.
PAUL COVERDELL, FORMER SENATOR: It`s going to slow the economy. It`s
going to put people out of work, I`ve been saying for the last week the
person I feel the worst about in all this is that person who`s filling out
a job application. Because It`s an a tight job market now and it`s only
going to get tighter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The proof will be in the pudding. We`re going to come
back here next year, there will be higher deficits. There will be more
spending. We`ll continue to have a very slow economy. People aren`t going
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: By the way, did you catch Newt Gingrich`s tie in that? That was
OK, so did it lead to a recession? Did the Clinton budget leave us with
fewer jobs? It did not. In fact the exact opposite happened. During the
Clinton administration, 23 million jobs were created. And President
Clinton took the massive deficit of the late `80s and early `90s and turned
them into giant surpluses, quite the contrary of what now Ohio Governor
What did Republicans hate so much about Bill Clinton`s economic plan,
though? Well, it raised taxes. His 1993 budget created new top tax
brackets for the nation`s highest income ear earners, it raised the
corporate tax rate to 35 percent, it raised the gas tax, it raised taxes, a
lot of them, all at once.
And one of the effects of that is that it helped Bill Clinton close the
deficit because -- and this is an important principle of budgeting -- taxes
close deficits. That is what they do. What Bill Clinton believed in was
responsible fiscal management. Yes, he also cut spending, that was crucial
to it as well.
But he understood that in order to close the deficit, part of the deficit
that was partially the result of previous tax cuts, you had to be willing
to increase taxes, that`s half the budget there. Republicans warned that
would tank the economy, though, that it would cause a recession, that it
wouldn`t close the deficit and they were dead wrong.
And now all of these years later, they have forgotten all those lessons.
In their rush to make Bill Clinton the good Democrat and Barack Obama the
bad one they`ve forgotten all of what Clinton actually did and everything
they should have learned from it. Since the Clinton administration,
Republicans took economic policy in this country in the exact opposite
direction. That they are trying to create an experiment.
They decided to pass multiple rounds of tax cuts, the Bush tax cuts both
version 1 and 2, resulted in a massive increase in the deficit between 2001
and 2011, they added more than $1.8 trillion to the debt, making them the
single largest policy contributor to today`s debt. Much bigger than the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the stimulus or Medicare part B. And this
chart which Talking Points Memo made using the data from the nonpartisan
Congressional Budget Office shows the Bush tax cuts, if extended, are
projected to be the main policy source of deficits in the next decade,
adding more than $5 trillion to the national credit card. $5 trillion.
Every Republican I`m aware of favors extending those tax cuts. But you
know that Social Security crisis you`re always hearing about? To put them
in perspective, you could fill the program`s budget hole for the next 75
years with less than half the Bush tax cuts. Less than half.
And if you want more evidence that lower taxes lead to higher deficits,
here are tax receipts over the last few years. As you can see when the
recession hits in 2009, they plummet and not coincidentally, that is
exactly when deficits explode.
So we have had both a policy experiment and a natural experiment in
lowering taxes and both have led to higher deficits. And under Clinton we
had a policy experiment in raising them and we got a balance d budget and
we still had a decade of frankly extraordinary growth.
And yet when President Bush`s former budget director, Rob Portman, was
asked on Tuesday what caused the deficits in the Bush administration, he
didn`t mention the Bush tax cuts. He said instead that, quote, "After 9/11
more were spent on homeland security, on defense."
Tax cuts? What tax cuts?
Now Romney, by the way, wants to increase defense spending by $1 trillion
over the next decade. So that lesson hasn`t been learned either. But put
it aside. Tax cuts, not defense spending, was the main contributor of
budget deficits in the Bush years. And Bush`s budget director of all
people should know that.
This is not at this point for the Republican Party, though, a matter of
budgeting or economic evidence. It is a matter on taxes of religion and
dogma. On taxes Republicans refuse to learn the lessons of even really
recent history. Even the predictions they were caught on tape making.
And you can be assured that if Barack Obama win reelection and follows
through on his promise to extend all the Bush tax cuts for the middle
class, and to reduce the deficit by raising taxes on the rich and cutting
spending, that one day, not too long from now, Republicans will look back
and will say, you know, that Obama wasn`t so bad. This guy got the
economy, got the importance of lower taxes, who`s willing to make tough
choices. Why can`t Democrats today be more like him?
Joining us now is Jarred Bernstein, former chief economic adviser to Vice
President Joe Biden, and now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and
Policy Parties, and an MSNBC contributor.
Gerald, it is good to see you.
JARRED BERNSTEIN, FORMER ECONOMIC ADVISOR TO VP BIDEN: Good to see you,
KLEIN: So, has Romney proposed anything like a return Clinton`s policies?
Is there anything there?
BERNSTEIN: No. Far from it. If anything, he`s proposed, and quite
explicitly, a return to the policies that we associated with the George W.
Bush part of the experiment. That`s the experiment that works off the
trickle down supply side notions, the idea that if you cut taxes sharply
for those at the top of the scale, that`s going to create enough growth and
economic activity not only to offset your tax losses but to uplift the
middle class and lower-income people.
As you very carefully took us through just then, it absolutely doesn`t work
on either one of those counts. Your tax charts show that, amazingly, when
you cut tax rates, cut tax revenues fall and you`re stuck with big
deficits. But I think particularly importantly, and I`d underscore this
part of your introduction, the economy of the supply-side trickle down Bush
years was so different for the broad middle class, for low-income people,
than the economy of the Clinton years particularly the second half of the
There you saw middle class income rising at the rate of economic growth,
rising at the rate of productivity, for the first time in decades. Poverty
falling sharply. Very different outcomes in the trickle down Bush years
where the middle class face stagnant incomes.
KLEIN: Right. And that was the first economic expansion for his business
cycle I think post-war where you had poverty increase and median wages
decrease. I mean it was somewhat uniquely bad.
But I want to get your budget expertise here. Let`s say you wanted to do -
- what you really wanted to go the whole Republican here to term a phrase.
You want to balance a budget without touching revenues at all. You just
keep them where the Bush tax cuts left them. What sort of cuts do you need
BERNSTEIN: Well, let`s talk about the revenues as a share of the economy.
That`s the best way to look at this. So if you want to collect something
like 18 percent of GDP and revenue, you`d have to cut spending, which is
right now elevated, 24 percent or so, a great deal, you know, 6 percent of
GDP to get those even.
But Mitt Romney wants to go below that. His tax cuts would take us down to
revenue levels that were probably in the 15 percent range, actually about
where we are now largely because of the recession. That would mean
massive, massive -- massive, massive spending cuts.
Now you also have to appreciate something you pointed out. He wants to
significantly increase defense spending. That means you have to cut the
heck out of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, everything else government
does. The only thing you`re really going to be able to keep up with is
defense and interest on the debt.
We simply wouldn`t recognize government and it -- and it would come nowhere
near the ability to meet the challenges it faces whether it`s retirement,
security, climate change, you name it.
KLEIN: Well, one of the arguments Mitt Romney makes is that what Bill
Clinton did so effectively was he reformed welfare. I mean that was the
specific policy he pointed out there.
KLEIN: And he says -- Mitt Romney says he will do a similar thing to what
Bill Clinton did with welfare, to Medicaid, to housing assistance, to job
re-training, to food stamps. Largely he`s sort of saying he`ll welfare
reformize the entire federal government. That is primarily the only way to
really explain how he`ll get cuts.
So I know the Center on Budget and Policy Parties where you work and
studied this pretty extensively.
KLEIN: So can you get major savings out of -- exporting the welfare reform
model in so many different areas of the budget?
BERNSTEIN: You can get significant savings from there and it`s a terrible
mistake. Look, I happen to be a big fan of Bill Clinton and his legacy.
But there`s a couple of things that I think if you look back at them, have
not gone well. When you do what Bill Clinton did to welfare, which is you
turn it over to the states, you turn it into a block grant, you give the
states a fixed sum year after year, and you say, good luck, deal with it,
even if we hit a recession.
That works pretty well. Welfare reform actually works better than people
thought it would when the economy was booming in the latter `90s. But when
we hit the recession and particularly when he hit the great recession the
one we`re coming out of now, welfare performed terribly. it really didn`t
provide a safety net at all.
And if you start -- taking the food stamps and training programs, all the
other benefits and the safety net, you will lose their counter cyclicality.
You will lose their ability to catch people when the economy stumbles. And
you might get some savings but that`s precisely the type of gutting of
government that we need if we`re going to have a kind of economy, a kind of
society that I think you and I and many of our viewers recognize as fair
KLEIN: It always seems remarkable to me that after a recession in which we
needed counter cyclical spending so much and which state budget deficits
prove so unable --
KLEIN: -- to handle these programs if people want to go to something what
they -- the federal government has less flexibility to help in a recession.
BERNSTEIN: Exactly. Be very -- be very weary of this block granting
notions, the savings are illusory because the costs are steep.
KLEIN: Jared Bernstein, former chief economic advisor to Vice President
Joe Biden and now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy
Parties, and an MSNBC and CNBC contributor, and a budget wonk. Thank you
BERNSTEIN: So are you.
KLEIN: Next up, a way overdue legal challenge to the gridlock
dysfunctional mess that is our Congress.
And later, the best new thing in the world with extra geekiness. Yes.
KLEIN: This just in, the presumptive Republican nominee stands up for what
he believes in, sort of. You can`t quite say exactly what that is. Some
trouble at the way back machine on the campaign trail today. That story
coming right up.
KLEIN: We have never had a president who knew the Senate better than
Lyndon Baines Johnson. I mean no one. The third volume of Robert Caro`s
remarkable series of biographies of Johnson is called simply "Master of the
Senate." And so you`d better believe when LBJ chose someone to act as his
go-between in the Senate that staffer knew exactly what he was doing. And
knew he couldn`t mess it up.
That staffer`s name was Mike Manatos. And after the 1964 election, the one
where Johnson routed Barry Goldwater, putting 44 stats and 486 electoral
votes, Manatos issues a memo to the Johnson campaign. That memo is one of
the most remarkable telling documents in the story of how Washington became
The memo`s subject was Medicare. Johnson planned to pass a bill after the
election. And Manatos knew -- and Manatos was gaming out how it might fare
in the Senate. After going through all the new Medicare supporters who
have won in the election, and all the old Medicare supporters who had lost
it, Manatos comes to his bottom line. If all our supporters are present
and voting, we would win by a vote of 55-45.
Do you see what is so crazy about that? What makes that one sentence so
remarkable, 55-45, 55 votes to pass Medicare, not 60. Neither Manatos nor
Johnson were worried about the filibuster. This is the key fact of the
modern Senate. The one thing you need to understand before you can
understand anything else about it. It was not always like this. You did
not always need 60 votes for everything you did.
This graph shows a number of cloture filings since 1919. Cloture is a vote
you take to break a filibuster. So it`s a good way of tracking how many
filibusters there are. And there are a lot more now than there have ever
been before. In fact there have been more filibusters during Obama`s time
in office during than in the `50s, `60s, and `70s combined. During the
time of Vietnam civil rights, during the time we created Medicare and
Medicaid and welfare and Head Start.
This is not what the founders intended at all. They thought about it,
actually, during the constitutional convention the idea of requiring
Congress to use a two-thirds majority vote came up. But it was rejected.
In Federalist 22 Alexander Hamilton savaged the idea of a super majority
Congress writing that, quote, "Its real operation is to embarrass the
administration, to destroy the energy of government and to substitute the
pleasure of an insignificant turbulent or corrupt junta to the regular
deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority."
In Federalist 58 James Madison was more temperament but not much kinder to
the concept. Quote, "In all cases where justice or the general good might
require new laws be pursued, or active measures to be pursued, the
fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It`ll be no
longer the majority that would rule. The power would be transferred to the
So if they didn`t intend it, how did we get the filibuster? In 1806, after
being prodded by Aaron Burr, the Senate chose to clean up its rule book
which was complicated and redundant. One change it makes is to delete
something called the previous question motion. That was a motion senators
used to end the debate and whatever they were talking about and move to the
next topic. They recommended axing it because it was hardly ever used.
Senators were gentlemen, they knew when to stop talking. But that was the
moment the Senate created the filibuster. Nobody knew it at the time.
It`d be three more decades before the first filibuster was actually mounted
which meant it was five decades after the ratification of the Constitution.
But the filibuster was an intended consequence, a mistake. Folks like to
quote George Washington in saying the Senate is a cooling saucer of
democracy, but when he said that, if he said that, there was no filibuster.
It was a cooling saucer because Senators weren`t directly elected by the
people but were chosen by the state legislatures because their terms were
six years long, because each state got two senators no matter its
population because only a third of them were up for re-election at any
given time. All that made the Senate a cumbersome and deliberative body
protected from the passions of a quick majority.
But adding the filibuster has turned the cooling saucer of democracy into a
freezer. It has eroded accountability because voters are no longer judging
the majority on what they did. But without quite knowing if they`re the
majority on what the minority allowed them to do or kept them from doing.
That is not how Washington is supposed to work which is why the
organization Common Cause has launched a lawsuit arguing that the
filibuster is unconstitutional.
Joining me now is one of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit, Minnesota
Democratic congressman, Keith Ellison.
Thank you for being here, Congressman.
REP. KEITH ELLISON (D-MN), JOINED FILIBUSTER LAWSUIT: Yes. Pleased to be
here. Thank you.
KLEIN: Congressman, why did you sign on to the lawsuit challenging the
constitutionality of the filibuster?. You are in the House of
Representatives, obviously not the Senate. So what is your role here?
ELLISON: I signed on because I wanted to see democracy work. And when I
voted on the Disclose Act then I voted on the Dream Act, the majority will
was frustrated by this ridiculous filibuster rule. I mean these two items
should be the law of the land but they`re not because of the filibuster
rule. They`re literally kids walking around who would have benefitted from
the Dream Act worried about their future because a minority was able to use
some trickeration to just stymie their -- the will of the majority.
KLEIN: Now correct me if I am wrong, the Disclose Act which reversed some
of what Citizens United did creating disclosure of the spending in Super
PACs and the Dream Act which would have helped some children of illegal
immigrants get citizenship if they went to school, join the army, et
cetera. They both have majority votes in the Senate. They just got
filibustered once they got there, right?
ELLISON: That`s exactly right. It is a matter of fact -- you know, it`s
really kind of amazing because, you know, by defeating the Disclose Act,
the very groups that I believe are behind these senators who -- we now
don`t get to know who they are as they funnel massive sums of money. So
we`ve got private money, we got a minority ruling the Senate. And we have
compounded problems. Let`s start by getting rid of these crazy Senate
KLEIN: Now the constitution says that the House and Senate, Congress, have
the right to make their own rules.
KLEIN: Doesn`t that say -- and Senators have over and over again not
repealed the filibuster, they have not gone underneath it, they`ve ratified
it different times. So doesn`t that say pretty clearly it`s constitutional
and the Senate has chosen to have a filibuster and it is up to them to do
ELLISON: No, I don`t agree with that. I think that it`s not
constitutional. In fact it was contemplated and rejected. Now the fact
that they have fallen into a bad practice because it increases the power of
each individual there doesn`t mean that it`s constitutional. And the fact
of the matter is, too, that, you know what, I want to test whether it`s
constitutional but maybe this lawsuit will help the prod the Senate into
acting and correcting its own business. something that has not been able to
do short of a lawsuit which is why I joined this lawsuit and I`m proud to
be part of it.
KLEIN: Now some senators, notably Tom Harkin and Jeff Merkley and Tom
Udall and Mike Bennett, and a couple of others, have been trying to reform
the filibuster. And something really I thought remarkable happened about a
week ago, when after a set of attempted filibusters by the Republicans,
Harry Reid, majority leader Harry Reid, went to the floor of the Senate and
he apologized to them.
He said, I was wrong to fight your efforts to reform the filibuster. The
filibuster has been abused and it should be reformed.
Do you think that implies that Majority Leader Reid and the Democrats are
actually going to reform the filibuster, maybe the court case isn`t
necessary at this point?
ELLISON: I think the court case is absolutely necessary because I don`t
trust them. If you don`t put the heat on them, they`re not going to change
it. Now I do think there`s a a lot of great senators who really want
reform, among those, you know, Udall, Harkin, and there are many more than
But at the end of the day, you know, they have not been able to move things
forward even though several of them do want the change. So I think a
lawsuit and out -- and external force is what is needed in this situation,
even if that`s just to prod them to do the right thing, I don`t think that
removing this lawsuit is going to -- is going to be the trick. We need to
have the lawsuit move forward, see this litigated in court, if necessary.
But if they fix it, they can make everything move.
KLEIN: Now the key difference between the House and the Senate, of course,
is proportionality. The number of people who, you know, Montana doesn`t
get as many congressmen as California does, although it does get many
KLEIN: Now I was sort of stunned by these numbers that are in the lawsuit.
At the time of the country`s founding, seven of the 13 states representing
27 percent of the population could muster the majority in the Senate to
KLEIN: Today, using the filibuster, 21 of the 50 states representing 11
percent of the population, 11 percent, can muster the 41 votes necessary to
stop a majority in the Senate. Now I`m a Californian. We are arguably the
most disadvantaged by the -- of the current rules. But that -- doesn`t
that seem unfair? Doesn`t that seem like we`ve gone too far toward
disadvantaging the large states?
ELLISON: I think it`s gone too far. As a mater of face, I think that when
you look at the fact that each state no matter what their population has
two senators, the fact that they -- we have these crazy filibuster rules, I
mean you are compounding advantage on the minority in a way that the
founders never imagined, and runs contrary to the democratic spirit of our
And so I think that it is high time to bring this to a close. Let the will
of the people emerge. Let`s have some real democracy in the United States
Senate. They like to call themselves a great deliberative body. I think
they`ve strayed from that and I think there are members of the Senate who
would be pretty happy to be able to return to a real democracy in the
KLEIN: Minnesota Democratic congressman, Keith Ellison, thank you so much
for your time tonight.
KLEIN: Coming up, what the phrase character assassination means and what
it does not mean at all. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Gene Robinson,
joins me on that straight ahead.
But first. "One More Thing," about another amazing White House letter that
landed in our inbox today. The letter in question was written by President
Ronald Reagan and it concerns one of the most crucial responsibilities a
sitting president has. Declaring and responding to federal disasters.
Fail to do it effectively and you risk turning a heck of a job into a catch
phrase with traffic staying power.
In 1984, President Reagan was asked to declare a federal disaster only this
time with a twist. He was being asked to reiterate something was a federal
disaster area. You see 7th grader Andy Smith`s mother had already declared
his bedroom a federal disaster area. Really at one point or another, who`s
And so Smith who seems to be pretty up on the implications of that
designation, wrote to President Reagan to, quote, "request federal funds to
hire a crew to clean up my room," which is exactly the kind of crazy
chutzpa that earned Andy a personal handwritten reply from the president.
We found it today on BuzzFeed.com but it was first hyped up to be included
in the book, "Reagan: A Life and Letters." Mr. Reagan points out a few
procedural problems with Andy`s request but that is not ultimately why he
turned him down.
Quote, "This administration believe that the government has done many
things that could be better done by volunteers at the local level has
called upon people to practice volunteerism in solving local problems.
Your situation appears to be a natural. I`m sure your mother was fully
justified in proclaiming your room a disaster. Therefore you are in
excellent position to launch another volunteer program to go along with the
more than 3,000 under way in our nation. Congratulations. Give my best
regards to your mother. Sincerely, Ronald Reagan."
Any letter from a president that is not a form letter is for that reason
alone awesome. But a correspondence in which a president manages to teach
a child the core principles of small C conservatism that will come to
define his presidency and do it with grace and humor, that`s even better.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC ANCHOR: This week, New Jersey governor Chris Christie
released a video of himself as action man, Johnny on the spot a republican
hero and waiting determined not be outdone, but he seemingly super human
fits of New York`s Democratic Mayor Cory Booker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys have any problems, a fire anywhere, people
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like a bad automobile accident you need me to help some
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing like that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A cat in a tree?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I think we`re all set here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trooper what have we got here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayor, thank you for coming. There are two alarm fires
on state street. We do have a car broken down on river one and yes, a
little girl lost her cat in a tree.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was surprised you were.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, be as you were. I`ve got this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: The video is a parity of course and a good one. It`s fun. But
like most intensive, it does points to something real. Points to Governor
Christie`s not very subtle madden wish to be the guy who gets to say these
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I got this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Tough guy, that Chris Christie. But we found something he most certainly
has not got that he doesn`t even want. That story is coming up.
KLEIN: By the time the "the Rachel Maddow Show" gathered for the daily
meeting early this afternoon, I thought we could dodge the Jeremiah Wright
story. Yes, yes, political advertising from it impeach and attack against
President Obama that resurrected the defunct four blissful years as
Jeremiah Wright was a bad influence mean.
And the peachy was a Republican super PAC billionaire guy. But he said by
the afternoon that he rejected the ad, so I thought we would be talking
about something else which was fine with me, great even. I have more tax
policy to tell you about. I even had charts. But then Mitt Romney said
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to make it very clear I
repudiate that effort. I think it`s the wrong course for a PAC or a
campaign. I`ve been disappointed independent the campaign to date, which
is focused on character assassination, character assassination.
We can talk about a lot of things but the centerpiece of his campaign is
quite clearly character assassination. Obviously, his effort to look at my
work at Bain is to trying to characterize me in a way that isn`t accurate.
Our approach was to always try to make the enterprise more successful and
the purpose of the president`s ads, are not to describe success and
failure, to somehow suggest I`m not a good person or not a good guy.
Having the campaign focused on character assassination is one of the things
I find offensive, among many others in the PAC description that came in the
"New York times." And if that`s accurate, why, obviously, that`s something
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Yes. Yes, you heard all that correctly. That was Mitt Romney
comparing a super PAC pitch that seeks to quote "explain how forces out of
Obama`s control that shaped the man had made him completely the wrong
choice as president in these days as times by emphasizing Reverend Wright`s
inflammatory influence in his earlier years."
The preacher specifically says the aim is to inflame questions on Obama`s
character and competency. He was comparing that to the new Obama campaign
ad featuring laid-off steel workers criticizing things that the company,
Mitt Romney was actually in charged off, actually did.
These two things are not the same. One is literally a pitch to go after
someone`s character is an upside. The other is a criticism of someone`s
record, not just their record, the part of the record they brag about all
the time. Mitt Romney campaigns as a businessman. He has repeatedly
claimed his knowledge of job creation. In fact, he gives the number of
100,000 or more jobs that he created.
Knowledge of job creation and of how the economy works are huge
qualifications he has to be president, the President Obama doesn`t have.
He talks about it all the time. And he criticizes the president`s record,
too, accusing him of taking America to the brink, of no longer being a
society based on free enterprise, which is a fairly significant criticism.
Look. Records are fair game. If Romney wants to say that President Obama
has exaggerated his record, that`s reasonable, it`s even correct. If he
wants to say the ad is unfair, that`s reasonable. If he wants to say
private equity has been misrepresented at times, that`s probably right.
Bu, it is not reasonable to call the argument that Romney`s business record
doesn`t prepare him for the presidency or doesn`t show level of concerns
for the jobs and livelihoods of American men and women character
assassination. Because honestly, if we can`t talk about Romney`s time at
Bain and he doesn`t want us to talk about the health care bill that was his
signature achievement as governor but he is not trying to appeal it now
that Obama passed it nationally, what are we going to talk about, the
Joining us now is MSNBC political analyst and Pulitzer Prize winning
columnist for "the Washington Post," a colleague of mine, Eugene Robinson.
Gene it`s great to see.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Ezra, great to be here tonight.
KLEIN: Let`s do it simply. Is talking about Bain character assassination?
ROBINSON: Well, you know. You were right, Ezra, Mitt Romney does want us
to talk about Olympics. And so, he wants all Olympics all the time unless
we dig too deeply and, you know, find out something I inconvenient about
the saving of the Olympics in which case I guess he wants us to talk about
what a great guy he is.
KLEIN: A good family man.
ROBINSON: It`s not character assassination to talk about something a
candidate actually did or did not do. And so, if he wants to talk about
what President Obama has done as president or senator or state senator or
community organizer or whatever, I think that`s fine. His record is
certainly fair game.
KLEIN: This renewed focus, albeit from a random consultancy firm trying to
get an angry rich guy to give them millions of dollars, this renewed focus
on Jeremiah Wright, when I saw that I thought, well look. Obama`s been in
our living rooms now four years. We know the guy pretty well. We may like
him or we may not like him. I mean, people have fairly firm opinion. This
story is not a new story. It was hard for me to see how this has any sort
of relevance except being emotionally satisfying to a strain of the right
that feels John McCain did the Republican party a disservice by tamping
down on that in 2008.
Am I missing that? Is there more potency in this and I give it credit for?
ROBINSON: Not much more. I mean, I think the people who are not going
vote for President Obama and who opposed to him, some of those people might
get a sort of warm and fuzzy feeling from this sort of attack campaign.
And maybe there are a few people scattered across this vast great land of
ours who missed the whole Jeremiah Wright thing the first time around.
But, there can`t be many. And so, I don`t see where that would get the pro
And the other thing is, frankly, I don`t see why anyone connected with the
Romney campaign would want to get into the business of talking about what
candidate`s listen to in church. And would then be put in the position of
defending some of the now abandoned doctrines of the Mormon church. That`s
not a good idea I think for that campaign?
KLEIN: It`s worth saying by the way that Mitt Romney`s reticence to
comment on Jeremiah Wright is not always been quite so overpowering. He
has talked about him before.
And so, I want to actually play you something else from this brief
conversation Mitt Romney had with reporters today. One of them asked him
about comments he made in February about Wright. I`m just going to play
the clip, it`s a little bit odd.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I`m actually going to -- I`m not familiar precisely exactly what I
said but I stand by what I said whatever it was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Number one. I`m going to use that all the time from now on. I
have no idea what I said but I`m firmly committed to it and even surer
today than it was then.
But second, did Mitt Romney, in complaining about the negative ads being
used against him, just give the Obama campaign the sound bite that will
launch a thousand more?
ROBINSON: He might well have. That is a sound bite that could be, if one
wanted to do it, used in a number of contexts, about a number of issues.
So, I think that`s been filed away already. My policy is to deny having
said anything. But, you know, unless you can produce the tape, I didn`t
KLEIN: I write a blog so people can always find it. Yesterday, Mitt
Romney would only refer to his latest high profile endorsement as Obama`s
predecessor. Then today, he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Florida is certainly a state I want to win, a state which George
W. Bush won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: He said his name. That was a big step. So, real quickly, was that
an accident or they -- are we seeing a willingness to embrace the previous
ROBINSON: You know, the Harry Potter movies, every once in a while someone
would say Lord Voldemort and everyone would go, don`t say that word. So, I
doubt it will slip out again. I think the name will be retired. It goes
back to where it`s been hidden away.
Clearly, he doesn`t want to go around saying George W. Bush all the time,
because we know how popular that administration is. And I don`t think you
will hear that repeated.
KLEIN: Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst, Pulitzer Prize winning
columnist for the "Washington Post," someone who is up on Harry Potter
Thank you so much for your time tonight.
ROBINSON: Great to be here, Ezra.
KLEIN: Republican governors who want to look tough by fighting the Obama
administration. Heads-up, you may be about to play yourselves. That`s
KLEIN: Today we learned JPMorgan Chase`s chief executive, Jamie Dimon,
will testify before the senate about his company`s ever growing trading
As of this morning, the loss is now up to $3 million and counting. It`s
money that is gone from the bottom line on JPMorgan`s books. But, as the
presumptive Republican nominee pointed out yesterday, that money did go
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: That`s the way America works. Some people experience a loss in
this case because of a bad decision. By the way, there was someone who
made a gain. The $2 billion JPMorgan lost, someone else gained.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: That`s true. By the way, I accidentally said $3 million, the fact
I said $3 billion. JPMorgan`s hefty loss is somebody else`s big, big gain
which is sort of way you would expect from a candidate who in this previous
Bain Capital orchestrated leverage by its flip company`s large profits and
made big, big gains of a bit for the investor class they see that side for
folks who just lived through the financial crisis, big banks losing
billions of dollars all at once by making bad trade has somewhat less some
ha less optimistic spin.
But that`s just the America works. That`s a guy who wants to run America
KLEIN: Because of re-districting, two incumbent democratic congressmen are
running against each other in the state of New Jersey. That is Democratic
Congressman Bill Pascrell on the left and Democratic Congressman Steve
Rothman on the right.
Now, there are lots of incumbent on the coming primary races across the
country now. But, this one is worth noting in particular because of an
alien came down from mars and landed in Passaic (ph), it would think that
politics in America is a swift race to the left.
Here`s the Associate Press write up of the congressional debate this week.
Quote, "Pascrell, Rothman tout liberal views in debate. Rothman to portray
himself as more predictably liberal than his opponent claiming he supported
same-sex marriage long before his opponent did and has an unvarnished
record of supporting a woman`s right to choose while his opponent voted to
restrict late-term abortions. Pascrell tried to demonstrate that he is
more in step with the president, having voted with him 94 percent of the
When former president Bill Clinton endorsed Bill Pascrell, he reminded
voters that Pascrell quote, "helped to write President Obama`s healthcare
New Jersey`s ninth national district right now is like some sort of
opposite day in terms of its politics, at least when you compare it to
what`s happening in the country with the conventional wisdom. There are
being a liberal is advantageous to your political ambitions and supporting
health care reform is a boom to your campaign.
In one of the most notorious attack ads of the race, Congressman Rothman
accused his opponent of supporting tax cuts for the wealthy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE ROTHMAN (D), NINTH DISTRICT, NEW JERSEY: I`m Steve Rothman when
approved this message.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who wants more tax cuts for the rich? Mitt Romney,
Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich and Bill Pascrell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Republicans have great ideas. I liked some of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: That clip of Mr. Pascrell, that clip right there at the end, that
came from an interview the congressman did with Chris Matthews two years
ago. And what he was talking about there when he said he liked some
Republican ideas, he was talking about health reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST, HARDBALL: OK. Give us some hope. Is there
going to be some kind of reform this year that`s agreeable to both sides?
Will they do this feisty or going to something on portability, on
preexisting conditions to start with, that first chart. It is going to
REP. BILL PASCRELL (D), EIGHT DISTRICT, NEW JERSEY: Yes. I really believe
it can happen and I believe that the president should try again to reach
out to the other side. I know what he tried to do in the beginning. Mr.
Boehner is the leader Republican in the house. He chose the path of saying
our party`s not going to support any of this. And it really puts the
pressure on anybody on the other side who wants to think of ideas. And
Republicans had great ideas. We had bipartisan meetings. And I liked some
of their ideas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: But not all of New Jersey Passaic. Last week, at New Jersey
Republican Governor Chris Christie became the second republican governor to
veto a key part of health reform. The law as pass by congressman signed by
President Obama instructed states to set up health care exchanges. Think
of this as amazon.com for healthcare plan. It`s where you go to comparison
shop to read customer views, to get pricing information, see the features
of the plans what they cover, what they don`t cover.
It`s also where regulators can protect you. They can kick out plans to
misbehave with hidden fees or huge price increases. Or that make -- they
can make them be transparent about traps or coverage holes.
Now, states don`t have to have these exchanges ready until 2014. But the
department of health and human services has doled out hundreds of millions
of dollars directly to the state to help them begin setting them up.
That`s millions of dollars in federal directly to state governments,
including - hey, look at that, the garden state.
New Jersey got about $9 million in grants for its health care exchange
which Governor Christie just vetoed. So, what happens to the $9 million in
federal money? No one quite seems to know.
What we do know is this is a gamble for the Republican governor. It`s good
and even necessary politics in the Republican party to be against the
socialist government takeover of health care that the Obama administration
copied from like the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
No ambitious Republican can be seen helping Obama care along, but the way
the bill is written, if the states don`t set up health exchanges, the feds
do it for them. So, if Obama care makes it past the Supreme Court and goes
on to gets implemented, Christie, if he doesn`t reverse himself has just
signed New Jersey`s health care system over to that socialist government
takeover guy. He`s handed it to President Obama.
That`s the irony here. In order for Republican governors to take a
consistent stand against big government health care, they have to step
aside and let that big government come in and set up their health care
systems rather than doing it themselves.
In running to the right, they might end up handing their state`s health
insurance market over to the left.
KLEIN: Sometimes the best new things in the world are also the geekiest.
And if they involved robots, I am pretty much sold. Therefore, today`s
best new moment of geek in the world today or B.N.M.O.G. is this.
This is Kathy. She suffered a stroke in 1997. And for the 15 years since
then, she hasn`t moved her limbs or speaks. But, here`s Kathy moving a
robotic arm to bring a battle to her lips so she can drink. There`s so,
did it. Scientist at the Brown University Institute for Brain Science gave
Kathy a neuron face implant.
Basically, they plugged a baby astron size sensor into her skull. Kathy
was asked to imagine moving her arm. The sensor It took her neurons and
then transmitted that information to a computer which turns them into
commands for the robot.
So now, when Kathy thinks I want to move my arm, the robot arm moves.
Incidentally, in the bottle, coffee.
Robots are cool. Mind controlled robots are way cooler. And Kathy isn`t
For a few years now, if you were to Google mind controlled robots, you
would find a lot of examples of this kind of thing. Here`s a man driving a
car with his brain. Look, ma, no hands.
Here`s a guy moving robotic fingers with his mind.
Here`s a guy making a robot move on the floor behind him by thinking at the
The technology in all of these examples is all similar, but the reason
Kathy is a big deal is she`s demonstrating for the first time that
someone`s brain is no longer effectively connected to her body can still
use it to generate movement.
Scientists in Switzerland are also working on this idea, but without
drilling into someone`s skull. This is Mark Andre. He is partially
paralyzed from the neck down. He was able to use his -- last month he was
able to use his brain to send simple commands to a robot through a cap of
So, the reason progress on this is pretty astounding. And I, for one,
welcome our new human robot hybrid overlords.
Best new moment of geek in the world today.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night. Until
then, you can check out my work at wonkblog.com.
Now, this time, for the last word with Lawrence O`Donnell.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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