'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Read the transcript to the Tuesday show
Guests: Manuel Roig-Franzia, David Maraniss, Father James Martin, Ezra Klein
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: First, Mitt Romney tells us that
only he knows who is being vetted for the Republican vice presidential
nomination. Then, he tells us who`s being vetted.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the next few
months, eligible individuals will be able to request temporary relief from
MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC HOST: President Obama`s new immigration stance
THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR: The president`s executive order --
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: The immigration policy --
ROBERT: Has Mitt Romney at a national disadvantage.
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: We`ve got the Bloomberg poll today.
ROBERTS: Nearly two-thirds of Americans supporting the president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sixty-four percent of the public support it, 30
percent disagree with it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It remains a huge problem for Republicans.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Would you repeal this?
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: That`s a clown question,
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We`ll look at that setting
as we reach that.
REID: Clown question, bro.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s changed his position so much, he doesn`t
know what he`s started.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I think immigration is a very
MITCHELL: Marco Rubio was really put on the spot.
RUBIO: The White House never called us about this.
CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS: Well, so much for a Romney/Rubio ticket.
MITCHELL: Marco Rubio has not even been vetted.
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: Rubio is not getting vetted.
HALL: Not being seriously vetted by the campaign.
WAGNER: They`re not asking for his financial records.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s been thrown under the bus anyway.
RUBIO: I know he`s going to make a great choice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marco Rubio missed the window if he had one.
ROMNEY: The story was entirely false. Marco Rubio is being
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If this wasn`t so
real, it`d almost be funny.
Let`s take a look at their value system.
ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend.
I like to be able to fire people that provide services to me.
BIDEN: You think I`m making this up? Just listen to Romney.
ROMNEY: This is not about me. You`re not here because I`m some
spectacular speaker, y`all know me better than that.
BASHIR: I give him points for honesty.
BIDEN: If this wasn`t so real, it`d almost be funny.
O`DONNELL: A new "Bloomberg News" poll, the first poll taken since
President Obama announced his new policy of stopping deportations of some
undocumented people under the age of 30, shows that 64 percent agree with
the president`s new policy, 30 percent disagree with it. And 6 percent are
not sure. Among the coveted independent voters, a full 65 percent of them
say they support the president`s policy announcement.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who has done everything in
his power to prevent any positive steps in immigration policy from coming
to a vote in the United States Senate, now has no idea what he thinks about
the president`s new policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Both the presidential
candidates, both the incumbent and the challenger, are going to be
addressing this issue Thursday at an important meeting of Hispanic-
Americans. I think most of my members are interested in learning what
Governor Romney has to say about this issue.
I think we`re going to wait until we hear what Governor Romney has to
say on this issue. He is the leader of our party, from now until November,
and we hope beyond. And we`re going to wait and see what he has to say
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: After Mitch McConnell left that opening, Senate
Democratic leader Harry Reid quickly found his way to a microphone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Romney`s had four or five days and he was asked four different
times on the Schieffer program this weekend what he wanted to do, and he
wouldn`t answer. It`s too bad that he`s campaigned for a year and a half.
He should have some semblance, an idea what -- how he feels about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Sean Hannity asked Romney about it tonight. Romney
avoided answering the question, of course, but Sean Hannity is too
irreversibly stupid to realize that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Do you believe it`s constitutional and
substantively, where do you come down on the issue?
ROMNEY: Well, with regards to the law, does he have the capacity to
do what`s been proposed or what he`s asked the Department of Homeland
Security to do, that`s something we`re going to let the lawyers and I
presume it will be challenged in the courts, determine. My own view is we
need to have a long-term solution for those that have come here illegally,
having been brought by their parents.
So through no fault of their own, they`re here, they`ve gone to
school here, how do we deal with these folks? What`s their long-term
course in America? And that requires a long-term solution.
He described what he did as a stopgap measure. These kids don`t want
a stopgap measure. They want some permanence in understanding what their
status going to be. My own view is, with regards to illegal immigration,
we have to secure the border first, we have to have an unemployment
And number three, we have to give these kids an understanding of what
their long-term future in America will be. And those that serve in the
military, for instance, I think should be given a green card with the
occasion to stay in this country the rest of their life, if they`d like to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Yes, Sean Hannity is no Bob Schieffer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIEFFER: Well, what would you do about it?
ROMNEY: Well, as you know, he was president for the last three-and-
a-half years and did nothing on immigration.
SCHIEFFER: Would you just repeal it?
ROMNEY: We`ll look at that -- we`ll look at that setting as we reach
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, Krystal Ball, Democratic strategist and
MSNBC contributor, and John Heilemann, national affairs editor for "New
York" magazine, and an MSNBC political analyst.
Krystal, the Republicans, including Mr. Romney, are tied up in knots
by this announcement by President Obama, still, days later.
KRYSTAL BALL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, absolutely. And the
polling you referenced that shows how popular the proposal is, I think,
underscores the challenge for them, because the other piece of that is 56
percent of Republicans say that they do not support, so a majority of
Republicans say they do not support the proposal. So it`s very difficult
for the Republican candidate for president and the Republican Party to
stake out any sort of position that will be even moderately acceptable to
their base and the American people.
So that`s a problem for them. And you have this beautiful thing of
they have no idea what to say, from Mitch McConnell to Mitt Romney to
everyone else. And on the one hand, you`ve got the Republicans talking
about process, how we need that long-term solution, you know, is this OK to
do, was it constitutional?
On the other hand, you have Democrats who can tell stories about
young people whose lives have been changed by this decision, who were
brought to this country, who are aspiring, who are achieving, who are honor
students. So that is a political narrative that is a beautiful thing, if
you`re a Democrat.
O`DONNELL: John, Sean Hannity doesn`t know this, but Mitt Romney is
a graduate of Harvard Law School. And when asked, is this constitutional,
he had absolutely no idea, couldn`t even begin to venture an opinion.
When we read your campaign book about this campaign, there will be a
behind the scenes story of how the Romney campaign dealt with this thing.
What is your guess about what`s going on in the Romney campaign, the
political calculation about the Latino vote that`s at stake, their formula
for getting an Electoral College win, the politics of this that Krystal
just mentioned, within the base of the Republican Party, and in the
mainstream of the Republican Party -- how are they calculating all of those
things and how Romney handles this?
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Uncomfortably, is the
HEILEMANN: Look, I think that they were enjoying the possibility of
right to, as they are trying to throughout this campaign, keeping the focus
on President Obama and the economy. That is an answer, a macro answer to a
lot of problems.
If you look at the Hispanic communities in important swing states, in
Florida, in New Mexico, in Nevada, in Colorado -- those communities are
hurting economically. And in some of those states, are some of the biggest
foreclosure states in the country. And the Romney campaign wanted to just
talk about how the Obama economy is hurting everybody, and it`s hurting
Barack Obama`s primary imperative, they would say, is to fix the
economy. Secondarily, help with the housing crisis. The Obama
administration has not done those things, and so, Hispanics, you are like
everybody else, you are hurt by Barack Obama`s mismanagement of the
Among the many brilliant political effects of this move on Friday, in
addition to blunting a lot of attacks that could have been made by
Republican super PACs on Obama on immigration and so forth, it focuses back
on what is an issue that Hispanics care a about specifically as Hispanics?
And once you start having that conversation, Republicans are in a world of
And they find themselves in the place that Krystal was describing,
which is there`s no good place for Romney to go on this. He can`t take a
position that is both popular with the country, popular with Hispanics, and
also popular with his base. There is no good answer.
BALL: Well, and frankly, it`s not like their strategy prior to this
was working out that great with the Latino community. I mean, they were --
the president was being supported by somewhere between 60 percent to 70
percent of Latinos already.
But the question for this is, does it inspire more people to go out
and vote? Does it inspire more people to register? And not just in the
Latino community, but more broadly. This is an issue that really energizes
people like me, the base, as his stance on gay marriage did.
O`DONNELL: Well, we saw a polling that very specifically energizes
the Latino vote in this country.
O`DONNELL: We saw polling indicating that something like 50 percent
are more enthusiastic about supporting President Obama.
HEILEMANN: And remember, what the Obama campaign has been worried
about for the last three months is that -- they like, obviously, their huge
lead in the Hispanic population, the Hispanic vote. Their concern was that
the Romney campaign and affiliated super PACs would give up on trying to
close the gap and focus on trying to suppress the Hispanic vote, try to
keep Hispanics from coming out.
How would they do that? They would run a relentlessly negative
campaign against the president, from the left, by saying he deported more
Hispanics -- more illegal immigrants than any president in history. In the
center, on the economy. And from the right on gay marriage, because a lot
of Hispanics are culturally conservative. They would attack him from every
And by throwing so much mud and drawing the Obama campaign into a
battle of that kind, they hoped they would just turn off a lot off Latino
voters. So you couldn`t close the gap, but you could push down the vote
This is the kind of thing that foils that plan. Because not only
does it take away one of the key arguments they could make against him in a
negative campaign, and it also energizes Hispanic votes in the way you`re
BALL: One thing I will add to that, though, is the piece that is in
place, all these states that have passed restrictions on voter ID laws,
restrictions on early voting, on Sunday before Election Day voting, all
designed to also suppress minority turnout. And Latino voters as a
subgroup have one of lowest levels of voter registration of any subgroup.
So that`s -- those are things, the voter ID requirements in
particular, that do have an impact on the Latino community.
O`DONNELL: What`s very clear about this tactically is that it has
thrown the ball into the Republicans` court. As soon as the president did
this, Bob Schieffer starts asking Mitt Romney, okay, what do you think
about it? He continues to get asked what he thinks about it, still doesn`t
know what he thinks about it.
Mitch McConnell gets ask what had he thinks about it, and says, I
don`t know. And this is the guy who`s always opposed to anything President
Obama`s in favor of.
Let`s listen to Boehner handling the same question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think we all have
concerns for those who are caught in this trap, who through no fault of
their own are here, but the president`s actions are going to make it much
more difficult for us to work in a bipartisan way to get to a permanent
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: You could just -- just the slowness with which he kind of
works his way to that, oh, the president has somehow made this worse. You
can just see, he knows he`s stuck.
BALL: Well, when he started off with the, you know, we all have
concern for people who are caught in this trap, I was sort of wondering if
he was talking about himself. But, I mean, that`s the case. And it`s just
patently ridiculous, on its face, to think that the president taking action
here is what`s standing in the way of Congress getting their act together
on action on illegal immigration and undocumented workers.
I mean, the other thing that`s patently ridiculous is their whole
commentary, oh, we need a long-term solution. OK, well, what is your long-
term solution? Is self-deportation all that you have to offer here?
Because that doesn`t make a lot of sense to most people.
O`DONNELL: John, you can tell how it`s working when you see which
side is feeling pressured by the questions. President Obama has faced no
tough questions about this since the announcement. He had one heckler,
made some, you know, Rose Garden history with having a heckler. That`s it.
These guys are the ones facing the tough questions. And they make
the questions even tougher by not having an answer.
HEILEMANN: Yes, not having an answer. And as many people have
pointed out, as soon as you start saying, the president is playing politics
-- that usually means you`re playing politics well. It means you`re
winning the argument.
They don`t have a good answer here. And you know, I often -- it
makes me smile to think about the time when the Republican Party was run by
visionaries, like George W. Bush and Karl Rove, who recognized that the
Hispanic vote was a really important thing. Now, the Republican Party, in
the person of its nominee, and of its leadership in Congress, has not been
able to get to grips with that basic demographic reality.
You cannot be a national governing party if you have 30 percent, 32
percent, 28 percent of the Hispanic vote. It doesn`t work. The math
And this may be the thing in the ends being in the end actually the
reason that Mitt Romney ends not becoming president of the United States.
O`DONNELL: It`s always the math.
Krystal Ball and John Heilemann, thank you very much for joining me
BALL: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, the day began with the Romney campaign saying
that they were not vetting Marco Rubio as a possible running mate for Mitt
Romney and ended with Mitt Romney saying that he is vetting Marco Rubio as
a possible running mate. The Romney campaign is losing control of the
Romney V.P. search.
And later, the official chaplain of the "Colbert Report" is here to
talk about how jealousy is of the nuns on the bus this week.
And in the "Rewrite" tonight, the latest step to rewriting our
marijuana laws, one of the most conservative states has taken a first step
towards the complete decriminalization of marijuana. Not just medical
marijuana. That`s coming up.
O`DONNELL: The Romney campaign couldn`t talk about jobs today,
because it got stuck talking about one job, the unenviable job of being
Romney`s running mate. Romney was forced today to reveal the name of one
person he says he is vetting or has to pretend he is vetting for that job.
We`ll discuss how the Romney campaign is now losing control of the vice
presidential nomination for its own ticket. That`s going to be next.
And later, in the "Rewrite," a new move to decriminalize marijuana
for everyone, not just provide medical marijuana, but completely
And the official chaplain of the "Colbert Report" will join us later.
I`ll find out how much Stephen is paying him and I`ll make him an offer he
can`t refuse. That`s coming up.
O`DONNELL: The veep stakes game began today with this report from
ABC News: "Knowledgeable Republican sources tell me that Rubio is not being
vetted by Mitt Romney`s vice presidential search team. He has not been
asked to complete any questionnaires or been asked to turn over any
financial documents typically required of potential vice presidential
Marco Rubio was then immediately asked about the story in an
interview with FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I`m not commenting on the vice
presidential process. And that`s been, basically, what we`ve said the
whole time, because out of respect for Governor Romney. I think everybody
should just take a deep breath. Governor Romney`s going to make a great
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: But Rubio`s allies were more than willing to talk about
it. Former Governor Jeb Bush`s adviser, Ana Navarro, told "BuzzFeed,"
"Whether it`s true or false, who knows, but it sure is dumb. It`s going to
take them off their messaging for the day/bus tour and they`re going to
have to do some damage control. They unnecessarily dissed a very popular
figure of the conservative base and the most prominent Hispanic
And damage control is exactly what Mitt Romney tried to do exactly 11
hours after the ABC story broke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I can`t imagine who such people are, but I can tell you this
-- they know nothing about the vice presidential selection or evaluation
process. There are only two people in this country who know who are being
vetted and who are not.
And that`s Beth Myers and myself. And I know Beth well. She doesn`t
talk to anybody.
The story was entirely false. Marco Rubio is being thoroughly vetted
as part of our process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: In an interview with John Hannity, when asked what he was
looking for in a vice presidential candidate, Romney immediately ruled out
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: The most important factor is whether this is a person who
could lead the country whether that were necessary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: A Romney adviser who works directly on the campaign tells
the "Washington Post," "Romney officials conducted a preliminary review of
Rubio, mostly using documents, statements, and news reports that are
publicly available. The team did similar public vetting of a large number
of other candidates. Other vice presidential possibilities, including
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty are
undergoing a more intensive review, according to two Republicans close to
Joining me now is Manuel Roig-Franzia, writer for "The Washington
Post," and author of the new book, "The Rise of Marco Rubio," and Jonathan
Capehart, MSNBC analyst and "Washington Post" opinion writer.
Manuel, it sounds like the Romney campaign began the day just trying
to get the word out there. No, Rubio isn`t going to be Rubio, and then
Romney has to go out and say it is going to be Rubio. Obviously because of
what Navarro was saying about, this is a huge diss against the most
important national political figure in the Republican Party who`s Hispanic.
MANUEL ROIG-FRANZIA, THE WASHINGTON POST: What we saw today in
twelve rather strange hours is Marco Rubio`s appeal and the great danger of
Marco Rubio. It`s that wherever his name comes up, people get pretty
worked up and pretty excited. And what were people talking about today?
Not Romney`s economic plans, not the complaints that they have about Obama,
which they really want to focus voters on, they were talking about whether
he was vetting a potential vice presidential candidate -- something that
is, in the scheme of things, not that important.
O`DONNELL: Jonathan Capehart, the Romney campaign lost control of
this today. The Romney position being only Mitt Romney and one other
person knows who he`s vetting. And then by the end of the day, Mitt Romney
has to reveal, or pretend, at least, that he is vetting Marco Rubio.
This is getting to be an out of control process for them.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, for the beginning, it
is. And as Manuel said and as Phil, I think it was Phil in his story
talking about, you have this lightning rod, for better or for worse, for
the Republican Party and for Mitt Romney in particular, who people -- Marco
Rubio has been talked about for months now, ever since he got into the
Senate as a possible V.P. nominee. That anyone, no matter who the nominee
would have been, Marco Rubio was supposed to be at the top of their list.
And for all of those characteristics that Manuel laid out, I mean,
that`s the reason why. And the idea that he`s not being thoroughly vetted
and the idea that Mitt Romney says that only he and his V.P. selection
chair are the only two people who know, but you`ve got unnamed sources at
two news organizations talking about what exactly is happening. Yes,
Lawrence, it does show that he is -- he, meaning Mitt Romney, has lost
control of his V.P. selection process, for the time being. It`s still just
O`DONNELL: And let`s get something straight. Mitt Romney`s lying
when he says that only he and one other person knows who`s being vetted.
The accountants for everyone being vetted knows, they`re handing over tax
returns, there`s 100 people who know names who are being vetted right now.
And, Manuel, the Romney campaign staffers who are leaking today,
first leaking to ABC news and then leaking later in the day, later in the
day, they were saying, look, the only thing that`s going on with Rubio is a
routine thing that, you know, interns can do, of checking public records
and looking on Wikipedia. With pawlenty, we`re really doing a serious
vetting search. They were saying -- they were trying to say, look, there
are some people who are doing the real vetting on Rubio is still not one of
ROIG-FRANZIA: Well, a Rubio vet would be a long and an intensive
process. And it would be a matter of weighing some very strong pluses that
he has, great speaker, I talked to a lot of people in Florida who are just
blown away every time that he gets in front of a microphone or every time
that he shakes somebody`s hands. They have to weigh that against a lot of
other things that I encountered in my research.
O`DONNELL: Well, listen, the Rubio vet begins with reading "The Rise
of Marco Rubio", OK? Everybody down there in Romney headquarters up in
Boston who`s pretending to vet him, you better at least have this book. If
I read this book, vetting Marco Rubio, what is the worst thing I find out
in terms of vice presidential qualifying?
ROIG-FRANZIA: Well, it depends on who you are. If you`re somebody
who`s looking at --
O`DONNELL: Well, I just mean from political liability. I`m not
saying there`s a scandal in there, or maybe there is, but from a political
liability standpoint, when you`re thinking about what you`re rolling out
here, in a vice presidential candidacy, what are the cons that I put on my
pro/con list. What are the cons from this book?
ROIG-FRANZIA: Well, the first ad that you`re going to see is about
his credit card spending when he was in Florida and when he was speaker of
O`DONNELL: O, boy. I don`t like that. OK.
ROIG-FRANZIA: They gave him a credit card --
ROIG-FRANZIA: And he used that credit card for some stuff like
buying wine at a wine shop near his house, getting an expensive haircut,
which reminded some people of John Edwards.
O`DONNELL: It doesn`t look like an expensive haircut, his haircut,
I`ve got to say.
ROIG-FRANZIA: A lot of people like his hair.
ROIG-FRANZIA: So, you know, he is going to say that those were
inadvertent personal expenses that when they were brought to his attention,
he repaid. But there were a series of these sorts of expenses.
And then there are the two big ones related to his family history.
One is that he had been saying for a long time that his family came over in
1959 from Cuba. They were pushed off the island by Castro. I found
documents that clearly show that they came in 1956, before Castro invaded,
2 1/2 years before Castro took over the island.
And then there is the other one that has gotten less attention, but
given what`s happened recently, is really interesting to put in context.
And that is that his grandfather, Pedro Victor Garcia, was ordered deported
from the United States of America. He came from Cuba in 1962, stopped at
the airport, judicial proceedings were held. He was ordered deported and
he did not return to Cuba as he was supposed to.
With the Obama administration changing the way that deportations are
handled in the United States, and with Marco Rubio being one of the leading
Hispanic voices in the United States, you put those two things together and
it means that people are going to be asking Marco, Senator Rubio, I should
say, about this grandfather and what happened with him.
O`DONNELL: Jonathan Capehart, quickly, before I go, the reason I
asked for the negatives, that`s what knocks you out of contention.
Everybody knows what the basic political positives are.
And with these kinds of negatives, the thing that they have to follow
up with is, how well does Marco Rubio handle questions about these?
Because he might be able to handle questions about these things
successfully. What is your guess of how the Romney campaign would bet on
Marco Rubio`s ability at this stage in his public career to handle high-
pressure questions about these things?
CAPEHART: I bet they think that he can`t handle high-stakes
questions like that. He`s just 41 years old, and that`s not a
determination of how well you are able to answer questions, but when you`re
the Republican nominee, coming after the debacle of the McCain/Palin
vetting process, you don`t want to leave anything to chance. You don`t
want to take any risks whatsoever. And that`s why you hear names like
Governor Tim Pawlenty, Senator John Thune, Senator Rob Portman as potential
running mates for Mitt Romney, because these are all folks who have been in
the public eye for a very long time and have been vetted in some way.
O`DONNELL: Manuel Roig-Franzia and Jonathan Capehart, thank you both
very much for joining me tonight.
CAPEHART: Thanks, Lawrence.
ROIG-FRANZIA: Good to be with you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, the nuns on the bus tour went to Paul Ryan`s
congressional district today.
The Catholic priest who is the official chaplain of "The Colbert
Report" will join me to tell me what Jesus would think of the n nuns on a
And in the "Rewrite" tonight, a saner step towards drug laws in this
country. One political party wants to completely decriminalize marijuana.
Not just allow medical marijuana, but make marijuana possession for anyone
completely legal. That`s coming up.
O`DONNELL: In the Spotlight tonight, the story of Barack Obama. The
first public political speech of his life came on a Wednesday afternoon,
February 18th, 1981. It was a sun-splashed day in southern California.
The microphone was too low for him. He had to hunch over to project his
But once he started speaking, he built a cadence. "There`s a struggle
going on. I say, there`s a struggle going on. It`s happening an ocean
away, but it`s a struggle that touches each and every one of us, whether we
know it or not, a struggle that demands we choose sides. It`s a choice
between dignity and servitude, between fairness and injustice."
And he started to feel that magical surge of energy and power that
comes when a speaker has an audience wrapped and buying in. An observer
said, "it was startlingly good. It was much more than we expected. It was
genuine. It was very passionate, very heartfelt. It was not dramatic. It
was just calm but passionate. Even days afterwards, people were just
saying how impressed they were with his speech."
All of that is from page 378 of "Barack Obama: The Story," a new book
by David Maraniss, associate editor of "the Washington Post," who joins me
David, that scene of his very first time in front of a microphone,
with a crowd, saying something political. It was a protest -- he was in
college in California. A protest about investment in South Africa, and it
really was that moment where you could see something magic happen.
DAVID MARANISS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He felt that spark for the
first time. But there are two other interesting aspects to that speech.
One is that he was not supposed to be serious. It was a pantomime, where
he was hauled off the stage by two other students playing cops who were
going to shut him up. The point was that you couldn`t express yourself on
that campus. They were playing that out like guerilla theater.
The second interesting aspect is that after the speech, everybody was
praising him. And Barry Obama, as he was called then, was saying, well, we
can`t really change anything. So he had a certain sort of skeptical
observer, which is part of him as well, observation about that whole
process. But, yes, you`re right, that he started to feel it right then.
O`DONNELL: I feel like I`m reading about a realist. I feel like I`m
reading about someone who has ideals, who has watched idealists in the
past, like Martin Luther King --
MARANISS: And his own mother.
O`DONNELL: And his own mother -- stake their claims on history going
forward. But has the advantage of looking at that history and making
calculations about where realism lies?
MARANISS: I think that that`s part of the process with Obama. His
mother was an idealist. His grandmother was a pragmatist. So he had both
of those elements to him from the beginning. But, also, as he started to
understand power, he became even more pragmatic. When he was a community
organizer in Chicago, he saw the limits of what he could do as an organizer
and started to understand for the first time how to really exert power, and
that he had to go into politics.
So my book ends right when he`s driving up to Harvard, realizing what
he has to do to get where he is today.
O`DONNELL: This is the early life. This takes us up to Harvard Law
School. And one of the things that is fascinating about it, I think, for a
lot of readers is you`re watching this character who has some very exotic
and, one would think, possibly conflicting background elements.
MARANISS: Oh, absolutely.
O`DONNELL: We can understand that, beginning with being biracial. We
obviously see that. But it`s not unusual in the American experience for a
person to have more than one current in them. I think there was a
wonderful moment --
MARANISS: That is America.
O`DONNELL: Yeah, in the JFK Inauguration, after the fact, Robert
Frost, who was the poet who delivered his -- he also spoke at the
Inauguration. He said something to Kennedy that -- right after the
inauguration, that has struck me when I first heard it when I was in
college. He said to him, "be more Irish than Harvard." There were -- and
that spoke a lot to me, being from Boston, being Irish and Harvard.
Harvard was, in Frost`s view, this old WASP institution. And Kennedy,
who people think of as aristocratic, Frost didn`t because he knew he`s
Boston Irish. He comes from something else. And he knew there were two
different kinds of currents. He was saying to him, use that Irish side of
you; use that common touch side of you. You don`t need to use the Harvard
side of you in where you`re going.
And it seems like Obama has many -- more than just those two sides.
MARANISS: He has all of the elements. There`s a letter that he wrote
as a young man, that`s in my book, where he`s describing how all of his
friends are sort of going into little niches. And he said, for me to
exist, I have to try to embrace it all. That`s why he wants to be great
and has the potential to be, but it also creates problems for him at
O`DONNELL: And this is the story of a young man figuring himself out.
MARANISS: Very much so.
O`DONNELL: And as I say, he obviously has these famously complex
components. But I`m reading about this guy in his mid-20s, you know,
figuring himself out and I`m saying, well, that`s what I was doing in my
mid-20s. I mean, I had to learn to speak American. I had to learn how to
drop the Boston accent when necessary, in order to be understood outside of
my zip code. So he has just a really heightened version of something that
a lot of people go through in their 20s.
MARANISS: Everybody has certain dysfunctions in their family
backgrounds, probably. Everybody has to work themselves out. He had more
of that than most people. And the interesting thing is that he worked at
it so hard. I compare him with Bill Clinton, who I also wrote a book
about. And Clinton, essentially -- they both came out of dysfunction.
Bill Clinton advanced by just plowing forward, not really dealing with the
contradictions in his own life.
And he became such a preternatural survivor that it got him to the
White House, got him in trouble in the White House, got him out of trouble
in the White House. With Barack Obama, you see 10 years of his life,
really the last third of my book, from the time he got to college to going
to Harvard, really introspectively trying to resolve all of the
contradictions within him, racially, the family, all of that.
And he does a pretty good job at it. He becomes a very integrated
character in the largest sense of that term. That`s what helped propel him
to the White House. And he gets there into the miasma, as you know, of the
political system today, and some of that stuff doesn`t work anymore. Not
in the same way.
O`DONNELL: Here`s what I want to do another 10 minutes on, which we
don`t have the time for, is this -- the notion of dysfunction, which I
think is really just complication. I mean, I think every family -- there
is no simple family. There is no family where, oh, look, that was the
perfect family. He had a flawless upbringing --
MARANISS: That`s a fallacy.
O`DONNELL: I think it`s complication and challenge and everyone has
different sets of them. And seemingly, easy life, rich kids have a whole
different set of challenges and complications.
It is a fantastic book. It is that section of President Obama`s life
that is, I think, most fascinating, because it isn`t public record. David
Maraniss, thank you very, very much for joining us tonight.
MARANISS: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, Paul Ryan`s budget drastically cuts aid to the
poor while preserving tax cuts for the wealthy. Tonight, a tour bus filled
with nuns has arrived in Ryan`s home state in his Congressional district to
maybe teach him something about what they think are the errors of his ways.
And a step toward the decriminalization of marijuana is next in the
O`DONNELL: Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are
arrested for marijuana possession violations, far more than all those
arrested for violent crimes in America. Societal costs dealing with the
war on drugs concerning marijuana exceeds 12 billion dollars annually.
Since the war on drugs began, 85 percent of the arrests for marijuana have
been for possession only.
Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. Recent polls
show over 50 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be
decriminalized. While arrests for marijuana since 1965 have been over 20
million citizens, marijuana is more prevalent than ever before. There is
no evidence that marijuana is a gateway drug leading to the use of more
Seventy five percent of citizens arrested for marijuana are under 30.
Minorities account for a majority of those arrested for marijuana.
Criminal conviction permanently scars a young citizen for life.
Those are not my words. Not one word I`ve said is one of my words.
Every single word you just heard, every one of them, is in the platform of
a state Democratic party. A few years before he became a presidential
candidate, Barack Obama called the war on drugs, quote, "an utter failure."
And earlier this year, President Obama called the debate on decriminalizing
marijuana, quote, "entirely legitimate," end quote.
In the meantime, however, medical marijuana is currently legal in 17
states and the District of Columbia. California was the first to legalize
medical marijuana by popular vote when Proposition 215 passed on November
5th, 1996. Connecticut is the most recent state where legalization will
take effect in October.
Laws to legalize medical marijuana are being considered in seven other
states, either through state legislature votes or public referendum, in
Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, and
Pennsylvania. But the state where Democrats want to go beyond allowing
medical marijuana and go to full decriminalization of marijuana for
everyone is one of the most conservative states in the union.
In their state party platform, they write, "Texas Democrats urge the
president, the attorney general, and the Congress to support the passage of
legalization to decriminalize the possession of marijuana and regulate its
use, production, and sale, as is done with tobacco and alcohol."
Now, we all know that Texas Democrats don`t often get their way in
Texas. But it is not exactly a fringe party in Texas. It is not the Green
Party or the Libertarian Party. The Democratic Party in Texas controls 48
state representative seats, 12 state senate seats, and 9 seats in the
United States House of Representatives.
Every important movement requires a first step. And now the Texas
Democratic party has taken its first step toward fairness and justice in
our drug laws.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don`t tell me what
you value. Show me your budget and I`ll tell you what you value. Well,
Romney, Ryan, and the new Republican party in Congress, they have shown us
their budget, and it`s clear they don`t value you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The Nuns on the bus agree with what Vice President Joe
Biden had to say today in Los Angeles. The nuns took their bus to
Congressman Paul Ryan`s office in his congressional district in Janesville,
Wisconsin, today, led by Sister Simone Campbell, who joined me here on the
show last week. The nuns are on day two of a nine-state, 15-day Nuns on
the Bus Tour, protesting the impact of the Ryan Budget.
Sixty two percent of the proposed cuts in the Ryan Budget come from
programs that help poor children, the elderly, and disabled Americans,
according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Joining me now,
Father James Martin, contributing editor for the Catholic publication of
"America Magazine." Father Martin is also the official chaplain of "The
Colbert Report." And from Washington, Ezra Klein, a "Washington Post"
columnist and MSNBC contributor.
Father Martin, just a little business -- Ezra, excuse us for a moment.
We`ve got a little business to conduct here. So how did you go -- in fact,
I have a clip of you and your friend, Stephen Colbert, that I just want to
show quickly here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Please welcome the official
chaplain of the Colbert Nation, Father Jim Martin. Papa J., what`s going
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Now, how did you go from a mere friend of the show, which
I am, having done the show exactly once, and never been invited back,
Stephen -- how did you go from friend of the show to official chaplain?
FATHER JAMES MARTIN, "AMERICA MAGAZINE": He elevated me one night,
you know, the way that a cardinal is elevated to the Papacy.
O`DONNELL: Just right there during the introduction, like without
checking with you or anything?
O`DONNELL: So how much does he pay you for that?
O`DONNELL: We can do this in Latin. People don`t have to hear.
MARTIN: Feel free.
O`DONNELL: OK. He pays you zero?
MARTIN: He pays me zero. And I`ve taken a vow of poverty, so even if
he paid me money, I would have to give it into the Jesuits, anyway.
O`DONNELL: So -- all right, but you can be bought with a contribution
to the Jesuits, is what you`re saying.
MARTIN: I cannot be bought.
O`DONNELL: Can you be the chaplain of more than one show?
MARTIN: I`d be happy to be your chaplain.
O`DONNELL: The official chaplain of THE LAST WORD. Let`s redo the
introduction. Joining me now, the official chaplain of THE LAST WORD,
Father James Martin. This is a fascinating time in American Catholicism
for the politics of Catholicism. And it kind of started with Paul Ryan
claiming a Catholic and theological justification for his budgeting, which
is not something I`d seen a Catholic politician do before.
MARTIN: Correct. And I don`t think he counted on people actually
reading the budget and responding.
O`DONNELL: Yes, there`s that.
MARTIN: Which is what a lot of Catholics did. And he can claim it,
but it`s not based on Catholic social justice.
O`DONNELL: What is he missing in Catholic teaching?
MARTIN: He`s missing that Catholic social teaching depends on the
gospel. And the gospel says Jesus says we have to take care of the poor.
He says that, basically, we can do that -- people can do that individually.
But, really, the government is an extension of the people`s will. And so
the government itself needs to take care of the poor and vulnerable.
In fact, it`s often the only group that can do that. You know,
frequently individuals cannot do that. So that`s what he`s missing.
O`DONNELL: Ezra Klein, Paul Ryan is now officially double teamed.
He`s being double teamed by budget wonks like yourself and then by
Catholics like Father Martin and the Nuns on the Bus. Just from the
budgetary standpoint that you`ve looked at, and without having any
reference to Catholic teaching, this is very clearly a budget approach that
lands in an extremely unfair way.
EZRA KLEIN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yeah, it`s not what you`d call
proportionate. Look, the thing that I think people don`t always know about
Ryan`s budget is that, on the front end, it costs lots of money. It
actually costs trillions of new dollars. So one thing it does is spends
trillions more than Obama would or than the Defense Budget baseline would
on the military.
So you`ve spent a trillion or so there. Then he`s got tax cuts that
are in the trillions of dollars. And then he needs an enormous amount of
deficit reductions to hit his targets on top of that. So you have to pay
for your deficit reductions. You have to pay for your defense. You have
to pay for your tax cuts.
The only thing the government really spends money on beyond the
military is social insurance. That`s the big chunk of money. It`s for the
elderly and for the poor. And as such, he has to take trillions of dollars
out of that, not just as much as he needs to reduce the deficit, but also
enough to pay for the new spending on tax cuts and the new spending on the
O`DONNELL: Father Martin, the Ryan justification is, hey, when Jesus
was sharing the loaves and the fishes, he was not a government official.
MARTIN: Uh, that`s, uh, true. But he also said that at the end of
our lives, we`re going to be judged not on what church we went to or, you
know, whether or not we cursed, it`s how we treated the poor. So he`s
pretty clear. I mean, Jesus talks, I think, you know, dozens of times in
the gospel about helping the poor. He couldn`t be clearer. And you can
say this budget is Republican or Democrat. But you really can`t say it`s
O`DONNELL: Father James Martin, you will be coming back as the
official chaplain of THE LAST WORD and some other show --
MARTIN: I`m honored.
O`DONNELL: And Ezra Klein, you are the official secular budget
analyst that we will use whenever the chaplain`s here. Thank you very
much, Ezra. And thank you, Father Martin, for joining me tonight.
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