'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, November 17th, 2012
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
November 17, 2012
Guests: Michael Skolnik, Jelani Cobb, Gregory Meeks, Daniel Garza, Shay Stewart-Bouley, Karen Carter Peterson, Ryan Alexander, Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Jelani Cobb
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: This morning, my question, with the election
behind us, is Washington already forgetting about Ohio? Plus, the gift
that keeps on giving. That beeping sound you hear is the GOP bus backing
up over Mitt Romney.
And our national obsession with Abe Lincoln. But first, the power struggle
continues. It is deja vu all over again.
Good Saturday morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Now, if you`ve been
paying attention to the news in the past week, you`ve probably been hearing
some big confusing and scary sounding words. Words like budget crisis,
deficit sequestration, and of course, the fiscal cliff. Listening to
breathless elected officials discuss the fiscal cliff can be terrifying.
As the story goes, we`ve made some bad choices over the years. We`ve tried
to outrun it, but in the end we`re trapped and it sounds like our country
is facing this. But let`s just take a moment and breathe. Because fear is
not going to help. And facts will. Here are some of the facts. If a new
plan for the federal budget is not reached between Congress and the White
House by the end of the year, January 1, 2013 will be the first day that
significant spending cuts and meaningful tax increases take effect. Adding
up to about 500 billion in 2013 alone. Now, let`s remember this cliff is
manufactured. The result of lawmakers tying each other`s hands back during
the 2011 debt ceiling debacle. First, all of the Bush era tax cuts would
be eliminated. Bringing taxes on nearly every taxpayer and many businesses
back to the pre-2001 rates. The payroll tax cut instituted by President
Obama, which has benefited the middle class, will also expire along with 26
billion in unemployment insurance that supports thousands of Americans
without jobs. Add that to the huge cuts in financing for nearly all
federal programs, military and civilian alike, which would be about another
Now, why are we on this cliff again? Aren`t you thinking to yourself,
don`t these guys in Washington do this every year? Well, yes. And it
wasn`t always so dramatic. Republicans and Democrats alike have routinely
raised taxes and made surgical cuts in government services. Back in 1982,
even the GOP hero Ronald Reagan instituted one of the largest tax increases
in modern American history. So, what`s going on? Well, I think it comes
down to one important word, and that word actually isn`t taxes. It`s
power. Here at the fiscal cliff base camp are the same players in the same
chairs, the same issues as 2011 but man, the power dynamics have changed.
If last year the name of the game was hold the line, this year the opening
salvos are more about let`s get things done. Here is House Speaker John
Boehner yesterday after meeting with the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: I believe that the framework
that I`ve outlined in our meeting today is consistent with the president`s
call for a fair and balanced approach. To show our seriousness, we`ve put
revenue on the table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, in politics, much of power is about perception. And in
a post re-election 2012, perceptions are mighty different. Here`s the
president at his first post re-election press conference on Wednesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If there is one
thing that everybody understood was a big difference between myself and Mr.
Romney, it was when it comes to how we reduce our deficit. I argued for a
balanced responsible approach and part of that included making sure that
the wealthiest Americans pay a little bit more. I think every voter out
there understood that that was an important debate. And the majority of
voters agreed with me. By the way, more voters agreed with me on this
issue than voted for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, that is not the President Obama of yesteryear or even
of last year. This week the president`s opening bid was to raise $1.6
trillion in revenue from letting the Bush tax cuts on the top earners
expire. Instituting the Buffett rule letting estate taxes go back to 2009
levels and closing tax loopholes. The president, people are saying, is in
throw-down mode. And if the president is ready to throw down, he just may
have the power to keep us from that Thelma and Louise finale. With me at
the table here is New York Congressman Gregory Meeks, a Democrat and member
of the Financial Services Committee. Ryan Alexander of Taxpayers for
Common Sense, Daniel Garza of the Libre Initiative and Louisiana State
Senator Karen Carter Peterson, chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party.
Thanks to everybody for being here.
I actually want to start with you, Representative Meeks, because, you know,
I was making this point that isn`t this what you guys do? Like don`t you
look at the federal budget, you make decisions. When I look at this fiscal
cliff, on the one hand I hear folks saying look, you got all the power this
time on the Democratic side. Go ahead and go over this cliff. On the
other hand, I look at the folks most likely to be fundamentally implemented
by it, they`re the most vulnerable. How do you manage that power
REP. GREGORY MEEKS, (D) NEW YORK: Well, I think that the president is
doing it right. And I think that you see the tone has changed by the
speaker particularly. There`s a difference this time than it was before.
MEEKS: You know, before when you had the Tea Partiers who came in the 2010
and they had the Grover Norquist no taxes, and they were campaigning, so
they were not moving an inch. Now, we knew that we were going to have to
move some and everything had to be on the table. And I think that the
speaker now understood as he understood then. He tried to strike a deal
back then ...
MEEKS: And when he came back, his conference wouldn`t allow him to strike
the deal. I think that now he is more empowered to strike a deal because
his conference sees the results of the election, know that the American
people have spoken, and now a deal can be struck, and I think we`ll get one
HARRIS-PERRY: Then this is not a small point. We talk as though, you
know, sort of we`re in this great partisan divide as though the parties are
sort of always totally in lockstep. But the big issue was that the
Republican Party itself was being sort of held hostage by a mini power
play. Is that different this time?
DANIEL GARZA, THE LIBRE INITIATIVE: You know what? I don`t think it is.
In fact, within conservative circles what you`re hearing is that there is
going to be a -- they`re going to dig in.
HARRIS-PERRY: The Tea Party faction.
GARZA: Well, the Tea Party faction, especially, but I think there is
enough outside of the Tea Party faction where they`re saying this is still
about principles and ideas. And the idea here is that you know what we
want to see is no to -- to revenue, but if you are going to say yes to
revenue, a compromise on revenue antic, add up just a little bit more on
the maximum tax, what we want to see are real promises on entitlement
reform and something real in cuts. Until you get that, I don`t think
you`re going to see any movement.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, Karen.
ST. SEN. KAREN CARTER PETERSON, (D). LOUISIANA: The problem is they didn`t
win. And so, when they didn`t win the election and the majority of
Americans said, you know, that way doesn`t work, I tend to disagree just a
little bit with Daniel in that. If you listen to Governor Jindal, who is
the new chair of the Republican Governors Associations, it seems as though
they`re backing away and trying to tone down some of the rhetoric. But the
rhetoric doesn`t match the policies.
PETERSON: And they can`t hold on to those kinds of policies.
MEEKS: But, Melissa.
PETERSON: Everybody has something at stake. The deadline is real now.
HARRIS-PERRY: And right, this is not a small point. This idea that on the
one hand, nothing changes. Obviously, this is the same actual human
beings, the same people in the same positions as before because it`s not
post January 20th. But the outcome of the election does feel like it`s
fundamentally changed how power is operating.
RYAN ALEXANDER, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: I think the other power
dynamic that changed is Speaker Boehner`s power has changed. He worked
really hard to re-elect his caucus. He got a majority of his caucus when a
Democratic president won in a very difficult economy. So, he can say to
his caucus, you know, you`ve got to follow me a little bit here. You`ve
got to let me make a deal. He`s a guy who`s gotten things done over his
career in Washington. And I think that if you look at his power, his
changing power within his caucus, he`s going to be able to pull a few more
members with him. That said, I agree with Daniel that there are definitely
conservatives who are saying hey, we came to town on principle. We believe
this. This is what we believe. And we`re not going to change our minds.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s talk principle a little bit. Because part of -- you
know, part of why I want you here at the table, right, is in the least
partisan terms like sort of, you know, clearest way possible, when we`re
looking at this, this is not the debt ceiling, right? The fiscal curb, the
fiscal cliff ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... is a different thing. And part of how we determine
where power sits is in the perceptions of the market and the market seems
to be kind of like well, whatever. Like it doesn`t seem to be that same
angst that we saw in the run-up to the debt ceiling debate. Is there a
real principle issue here?
ALEXANDER: Well, I mean it`s worth noting that the debt ceiling comes back
up in the early part of the year ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. Right.
ALEXANDER: And everybody in the world, Congress and the president are
hoping that that could be circled into whatever lame duck deal is made.
MEEKS: But -- so, so ...
HARRIS-PERRY: We are going to do debt ceiling now, too, Congressman?
MEEKS: But see, what happens is, this is why our government works is that
we generally find a way to compromise. It`s not about the principle. If
you stand on one principle, then the country never moves forward. The way
our country has always moved forward was that we found a way to compromise.
And so, we need reasonable people to compromise. We don`t expect all of
the members of the Republican Party to all of a sudden say we`re going to
vote this way. We don`t need all of the members of the Republican Party.
MEEKS: We need Democrats and Republicans, some Democrats and some
Republicans, to come away to be the majority of the votes to say we`re
going to move this country forward. That`s why our government has been the
strength and we`ve been who we are in the United States of America.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to come back on exactly this, because Karen, I`m
particularly interested in talking to you about this, because as a Democrat
in Bobby Jindal`s Louisiana I know that you guys know how to make power
work in difficult circumstances. So, even as these negotiations feel
somewhat like a do-over from 2011, there was one voice notably absent from
the table this time around. Who and where is he? That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR, (R ), MAJORITY LEADER: House Republicans were voted into
office to change the culture in Washington, and we will not support the
other side`s request or the president`s request to increase the debt limit
without (ph) meaning full reforms to the system.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m so sorry to any of you who might have been like
vacuuming or doing your dishes and all of a sudden heard Eric Cantor`s
voice again. I promise, that was from 2011, not from this year. What a
difference a year makes. That was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor muscle
flexing on the House floor. But that was a year ago. Amid the heated debt
deal negotiations. Back then, he and his Tea Party affiliated
obstructionist policies had a very strong voice. Leader Cantor had been a
mentor figure to many of the freshman GOP House members voted in during the
2010 midterms and they were the group who Speaker Boehner could not get in
line to work towards a compromise last year. But this week, at the start
of official negotiations on the so-called fiscal cliff, between President
Obama and congressional leaders, there was no seat at the table for Mr.
Cantor. Are the power politics of 2012 different enough to stave off this
dire fiscal future? Back to my panel. So Eric`s gone. He`s not at the
table this time, Daniel.
GARZA: Well, but the situation is that President Obama didn`t win a
GARZA: He won the presidency.
GARZA: This is still a republic.
GARZA: And so, you have to be persuasive in your arguments about the
merits of the policy. And so what Americans have seen here is that we
still have a stagnant economy. We have unemployment through the roof that
hasn`t moved at all.
GARZA: We have $6 trillion more in debt. And so, the I think there is
still enough leverage on the Republican side to say no, we are going to
stick to our principles. And what`s the last thing they want is for
President Obama to play Lucy with the football where, you know, proverbial
Charlie Brown, you know, the way you makes promises and he doesn`t fulfill
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Daniel, I`ll give you that. I will give you that we
don`t as a result of the election, end up in some fundamentally different
economic circumstance in terms of unemployment. But I think that`s exactly
why the stimulative effect rather than the austerity measures are so
important. If we listen to Lee Saunders from AFSCME, of course, the
president. Let`s just listen to the AFSCME President Lee Saunders.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE SAUNDERS, AFSCME PRESIDENT: What we`re going to do is keep our members
mobilized and organized in the different communities across the country.
We`re going into another campaign. We won the election, but we`re going
into another campaign now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Congressman Meeks, so, that`s right. You -- I mean winning
an election is not staging a coup. Everybody`s got to work together and
come to compromise as you pointed out. But there have been some real wins
here, and the folks on the left are saying yes, we`re going to stand on
principle, all right, and the principle is stimulative effect to get the
economy going, not austerity.
MEEKS: Yeah, the president has always said that there are certain things
that we must invest in. You know, when you talk about investing in roads
and infrastructure and education, those are things that are important to
our country. And that is stimulus also. It helps us, it helps us build
jobs. It helps us to make sure that America is moving forward. That`s
what the campaign was all about, and the American people agreed with that.
And that`s why the president won the election. Not only by an electoral --
college landslide, but with the majority of Americans votes. And we`re
going to continue to move that way. That doesn`t mean, though, that we`re
not going to have some compromise ...
MEEKS: ... in order to make sure that we move this country forward. The
president has been clear on it. I know that if we`re going to move
forward, then we`ve got to do that. The difference had been for 14 years,
two years, the last two years, we were not able to do anything. Why?
Because the Republicans took the position that they were not going to agree
to anything. And you saw that a vast majority of them where you would have
-- they would vote almost with exclusivity. Nobody would change. This
time which I think you will see that the Republicans won`t be in 100
percent lock step with their ideological positions. Some realized that
they`re state will be on the line and they have to compromise. And that
along with the Democrats move along will give us the numbers that we need
to move our country forward.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s not the -- I think there`s a real claim here, that the
president was making that what we heard in the last block , that taxes
actually were a core issue of the campaign. And that you know, whatever
responsibility people have to govern, that there is a bit of a mandate to
reduce those taxes for the middle class or at least hold those stable, but
to allow the expiration of the Bush tax cuts at the top. Really, what --
is that seriously going to send us into recession? We know that this could
send us into double dip recession.
HARRIS-PERRY: Would letting the expiration of those tax cuts at the top
send us into such a kind of recession?
ALEXANDER: You know, again, I think this comes down to principle for
folks. I mean nobody wants to see the economy crash. But there are enough
folks in the Republican Party who feel like what leads to growth is making
sure that has, you know, as the phrase goes, job creators have as most
money that they can to create jobs. You know, you can debate all day long
who is a job creator. I hire a babysitter. I`m not in the top two
ALEXANDER: You know, everybody is spending money in the economy and how
equally you weight that is the question.
HARRIS-PERRY: But not everybody is spending money in the economy in the
same kind of -- I mean the fact is that poor folks are more stimulative of
the economy in terms of the percentage of their money, right?
ALEXANDER: Unemployment benefits, they go right back out the door to the
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, so making sure that those folks still have cash in
their bank accounts ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Has an enormous impact on the economy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Karen, I feel like, you know part of what we keep talking
about here is whether or not there`s a mandate and the Republicans sort of
winning their majority. Look, you know, you and I both live in Louisiana
which is a pretty safely red state for the most part we`ve got.
PETERSON: For now.
HARRIS-PERRY: For now, right? For the moment. But, you know, both you
and Congressman Meeks are in legislatures where you are in a party that is
in a minority, doesn`t mean that you just don`t govern. How do you
negotiate power in that kind of circumstance?
PETERSON: Yeah, I mean we still are able to challenge, and I know that
Congressman Meeks is able to do that within the House, we are still able to
challenge the flawed policies that are being espoused by the majority.
We`re all at an impasse. That deadline is real at the federal level. I
promise you that the Republicans that Congressman Meeks working with don`t
want the middle class to have an increase in taxes.
PETERSON: That drives them probably more in my opinion than to see a tax
increase for the wealthy, you know, the one percent. And those people
live in my state.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And exactly.
PETERSON: Even though it`s a red state right now, those people are being
governed by leaders and they`re watching what Congressman Scalise is doing
over in the Republican conference now, right? And can he be an extremist?
Two years is not a long time.
PETERSON: They`re constantly campaigning and certainly having an open
presidential race in four years is going to dictate how their actions and
their policies develop.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right and influence what`s happening.
Up next, there is another voice that is trying, trying for relevance.
Grover Norquist, his fight to remain relevant when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: The first man over the fiscal cliff may in fact be its
engineer. Conservative activist Grover Norquist. Yes, I did bring Grover
up. I couldn`t help it. But listen, Norquist has spent the past decades
intensely focusing on keeping every Republican lawmaker in line on tax
policy. And it has been a GOP prerequisite to sign Norquist`s anti-tax
pledge or face the consequences. This was Norquist last year in the midst
of the grand bargain appearing on CBS` "60 minutes."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE KROFT, CBS ANCHOR: I mean you make it pretty clear if someone breaks
the pledge, you`re going to do everything you can to get rid of him.
GROVER NORQUIST: To educate the voters that they raise taxes. And again,
we educate people ...
KROFT: ... to get rid of them.
NORQUIST: To encourage them to go into another line of work.
KROFT: You`ve got them by the short hairs.
NORQUIST: The voters do, yes.
KROFT: And they have to march in lockstep with Grover Norquist.
NORQUIST: With the taxpayers of their state. I applaud from the
sidelines. I go very good, yes. Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, Norquist is grasping at his own short hairs
trying to hold on to relevance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NORQUIST: Well, we just had an election and the House of Representatives
was elected committed to keeping taxes low. The president was committed
elected on the basis that he was not Romney and that Romney was a poopy
head and you should vote against Romney. And he won by two points, but he
didn`t make the case that we should have higher taxes and higher spending.
He kind of sounded like the opposite.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Elections do have consequences. As Grover knows only too
well. I figure if he can say poopy head, I can bring a stuffed animal to
represent him on set. OK, two things I want to talk about here. One is
what happens to policy making when someone who is unelected is able to get
folks to sign a pledge and they are held to that pledge in the process of
politics? I mean is this just for the Republican Party just bad politics
to let an unelected leader have this much power?
GARZA: No, I don`t think so. I think this pledge is actually a reflection
of the ideology that stands behind this. This isn`t about Grover. This is
about the ideas still and the principles. I believe ...
HARRIS-PERRY: It isn`t about Grover, it is about the fact that he would
primary -- he would put massive resources to primary anybody who didn`t
sign this pledge.
GARZA: Right, but see, at the end of the day, this is about the government
drawing more resources from the private sector and leaving less money to
create and generate jobs and prosperity and growth. That`s what it`s about
here. It`s not about a personality, but about the issue. And that`s what
drives people to sign that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Except that -- except that in this election, as soon as
Grover couldn`t protect the people who signed his pledge all of a sudden
this so-called principled stance started falling apart. And we`re starting
to see Republicans say hey, we`re going to have to take a hard look at tax
policy. Let`s talk about entitlements and tax policy for a minute here.
If we look at Social Security, for example, it seems like there`s two easy
solutions on both sides. If Democrats gave a little room and said all
right, we`re going to raise retirement age basically a couple of years,
seems reasonable, with new life expectancies, but also, we could very
easily increase the revenue possible just by making -- by raising that
threshold, making everybody pay in up to $250,000 or up to $300,000 worth
of earnings. When you can`t do that if you got Grover standing in the
middle of it.
ALEXANDER: Well, the one thing that Grover said in that "60 Minutes" piece
is this is about members of Congress`s relationship to their voters. And
if the most important pledge they took is to represent those voters. A lot
of those folks who signed the pledge absolutely are ideologically in
lockstep and real heartfelt agreement with Mr. Norquist. So, that`s for
them a principle, but for other folks who feel like yes, I generally don`t
want higher taxes, but I got to make sure I`m taking care of my
constituents, I`ve got to make sure I`m doing the right thing for the
country, they may be able to move in a way that feels totally right with
their conscience. And this, we saw this last election, money does matter
in elections, but it`s not the only thing that matters. You know, a lot of
people spent a lot of money to try to un-elect certain people and didn`t
always win. So ...
MEEKS: Grover`s relevance is about over because you know, I think that the
American people have spoken. The American people have said they want what
the president had been talking about, fairness. That`s what`s important
for the American people, fairness, not just taking a one -- a stand
ideologically and saying it`s going to be my way or the highway, and you
sign this pledge and we`re not going to do what`s in the best interests of
this country. That`s not what made this country. The people are saying
that we want fairness. And that`s why the president got reelected.
Because that was his message. That we`re going to move this country
forward, we are going to make sure that Democrats -- that`s what the people
MEEKS: We want Democrats and Republicans to work together. We`re tired of
Washington and them taking these partisan stances and not moving forward.
We want people to work together. And I think that folks are going to start
judging us on that. This election would have even been different.
Redistricting made a difference.
MEEKS: And that was a huge piece in it, and why they`ve been able to
maintain the majority.
HARRIS-PERRY: We ended up with more Democrats -- I mean Democrats getting
more votes in the U.S. House of Representatives, but they are just not
taking more seats because of redistricting in 2010.
PETERSON: That`s right. But let`s not have the funeral so soon of Grover.
OK, I mean I don`t want to revive him or resuscitate him, but not just yet,
because he didn`t act alone. OK?
PETERSON: And so there was ALEC and there were other organizations ...
PETERSON: And there were big PACs and hundreds of millions of dollars
spent in furtherance of what his principles and what he`s espousing to ...
HARRIS-PERRY: And Citizens United opened the floodgates for doing that.
PETERSON: Exactly. So we can`t just bury Grover, which I`d love to do and
ignore the other forces in play. So, let`s be mindful of that as we move
forward. But I think that if you just take what Speaker Boehner said --
just take what Speaker Boehner said yesterday, Grover`s in trouble. He
said I`m putting revenue on the table. No one has been able to say that
definitively and get away with it and move forward with actually putting
revenue on the table in the form of tax spending.
PETERSON: Just in Louisiana, we spend $3 billion in tax spending alone.
You know, there`s an obsession with -- from my governor`s perspective with
spending it`s just on the tax side and corporate welfare.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, in fact, speaking of your governor, he`s also my
governor. And as soon as we come back, I have got a letter to my governor.
You all know you love "My Dears." And mine is to Dear Bobby Jindal when we
HARRIS-PERRY: A lot of letters are being sent and received in my home
state of Louisiana this week. Wednesday, Bruce Greensteen, our state`s
secretary of health sent a letter to Washington on behalf of his boss,
Governor Bobby Jindal refusing to set up a state-run insurance exchange
required by the Affordable Care Act. Thursday New Orleans Mayor Mitch
Landrieu wrote Jindal and Greensteen reminding them of the critical health
needs in our state and urging them to reconsider their position. Then
Friday, the editors of the typically conservative "New Orleans Times
Picayune" weighed in with a letter to their readers stating very clearly
Governor Jindal is ignoring his people`s needs. I decided to get in on
this one and address my letter this week to my own governor, Bobby Jindal.
Dear Governor Bobby Jindal, it`s me, Melissa. Mind if I call you by your
given name? Payush? No, you prefer Bobby? OK, Bobby, you`re the governor
of a poor state. 21.6 percent of your constituents live below the official
poverty line. 20 percent of them lack health insurance. We rank 49th in
child well being and we boast one of the worse income inequality gaps in
the nation. Being governor of a state with this much poverty and
inequality ought to give you a special sense of urgency, but you don`t seem
to give a damn. What you do care about is reaching higher office and why
not. Your term limited in Louisiana and the White House will have an
opening in four years. So for you, it`s onto the next one, right?
It looks like your 2016 machine is raring to go. Head of the Republican
Governors Association, check. Chastising the defeated Governor Romney for
his "gifts" comments, check. Calling on Republicans to stop being the
stupid party of "dumbed-down conservatism" and encouraging them to reach
out to a broader base. Check. Not bad for the national stage, Bobby. But
what about your own backyard? Those Louisianans without health insurance
could benefit from the Medicaid expansion that President Obama`s Affordable
Care Act would provide, because in Louisiana, more than 68 percent of those
Medicaid recipients are poor children. But you`d much rather lead 15 other
states in massive resistance against so-called big government and tell your
constituents good luck in the private sector. And speaking of the private
sector, it seems like you`d also like to sell off our kids` education to
the highest bidder. That educational voucher system that you established,
the largest one in the country, the one that gives vouchers to religious
schools that teach creationism and allows them to keep their state funding
even if their students fail basic reading and math tests, that one?
We`re not fooled. This is not about reform. It is about as the Interfaith
Alliance wrote your inability to distinguish between religious
indoctrination and basic public education. And you think you might be just
a little bit more suspicious of the whole private sector equals public good
equation in the week when BP pled guilty to 14 criminal charges in
connection with the Deepwater Horizon`s rig explosion just off our shores
two years ago. You chastised President Obama`s energy policy by saying it
was "subservient by-product of his radical environmental policy." But even
as our fragile coast loses a football field of protective wetlands every 38
minutes, you, Bobby, remain in favor of new drilling parcels, hydrofracking
and the Keystone XL pipeline. Just who is the environmental radical?
I`ll tell you what, governor, if you`re bored with dealing with the real
problems that face us in Louisiana, if you are ready to move onto the
national stage, don`t wait until the end of your term. Pull a Palin. Quit
now. We`ll find somebody else. Because you know as we say in Nerdland,
hash tag, FBJ. Forget Bobby Jindal. Sincerely, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last Tuesday, the nonstop barrage of political ads finally
ended and then yesterday in Ohio. More good news. In the Buckeye State,
the October unemployment rate was revealed to be 6.9 percent, a full point
below the national rate and the lowest in the state since August of 2008.
So, ostensibly, things are getting better in Ohio. Except for the poorest.
Who rely on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, SNAP, or what
many still call food stamps. The news this week was that SNAP households
may lose up to $50 a month in assistance when the new year begins. The
Toledo "Blade" wrote that for the 869,000 households enrolled in the
program, the poorest Ohioans, that $50 deficit per month could amount to
about $520 million annually cut out of the grocery budgets statewide. So
late yesterday, we learned that the reduction is now more likely to be not
$50 but only up to $23 per month. But at issue still is the formula used
by the federal government to calculate whether or not you are food secure.
That formula takes into account the cost of utilities. So you may not
quite get this. In order to determine whether or not you are in a place
where you can purchase enough food, we look at last year`s utility bills.
And last year`s mild winter in Ohio, a drop in the cost of natural gas for
home heating means that SNAP recipients will receive less aid next year.
However, in areas of the state southern Ohio in particular, many rural
homes don`t use natural gas. And Ohio is not the lone state facing this
challenge. But as we focus this morning on those living below the line,
we`re going to begin there. Joining my panel at the table is Jelani Cobb,
associate professor of Africana Studies, the University of Connecticut.
But first, let`s go to Columbus, Ohio to talk with Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, who
is executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. Nice to see
you this morning, Lisa.
LISA HAMLER-FUGITT, OHIO ASSOCIATION OF FOODBANKS: Good morning, thank you
for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we in Nerdland have been following this story real
closely all week and we`re really happy to see the news that it`s going to
be closer to 23 rather than $50 a month. But explain to me how that change
HAMLER-FUGITT: Obviously, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services
that administers the program along with advocates for the poor and hungry
in the state working with the United States Department of Agriculture were
able to resubmit a methodology taking into account propane, which is an
unregulated utility in the state of Ohio. But again, you`re right. We did
have a mild winter, but we also had an extremely hot summer requiring many
with health conditions to run air-conditioners and they`re struggling right
now to be able to pay those very high electric bills that are past due.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lisa, I think, you know, your point here is one that I`m not
sure that all folks really understand sort of how we understand what food
insecurity looks like. And, you know, ever since we started talking about
poverty on this program for months now, I`ll get e-mails from folks who say
there aren`t really poor people in America. Poverty is a thing of other
countries of the so-called Third World. But tell me, what does $23 or $50
look like in terms of real food on the table of a family that has to use
HAMLER-FUGITT: $23, a loss of $23 of SNAP benefits means 15 meals a month
will be foregone or lost to low income families. Let me put it in context.
What we`re talking about is a single parent with one child who will see
their food stamp benefits reduced from $138 a month to $115 a month per
person. It means that they`re going to use multiple coping strategies
including reducing the size and portion of the parents` meals, skipping
meals, sending their children to family and friends` homes to eat.
Borrowing food, borrowing money and then coming to one of our 3,000 food
pantries soup kitchens or homeless shelters during the last two weeks of
the month trying to be able to get enough food to feed themselves. It`s a
working parent earning less than $7.20 an hour or $15,000 a year.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to -- I want to follow up on two things there, Lisa.
One, your point that these are often working folks, that this is poverty
that is associated with people actually having jobs. And the other thing
the way that this hits kids, I mean one of the things that we see in
schools, for example, is during the last week of the month often the more
discipline problems because kids are actually coming to school hungry. Is
that the sort of thing that you`re pointing out to us here?
HAMLER-FUGITT: Absolutely. And we pay a horrible high cost for hunger.
Hunger is merely a symptom of poverty and in our state, we`ll spend $6.97
billion in associated costs to hunger. That`s going to be lost educational
attainment for our children, lost productivity for our adults, higher
health care costs associated with that, as well as the cost of charity. 75
percent of all SNAP benefits go to households with children. This is the
first line of defense against hunger in our state and nation for children
and working families, seniors and persons with disabilities.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lisa, stay right there. We`re going to stay on this topic.
I`m going to bring my panel in when we come back after the break. This
issue of food security in Ohio.
HARRIS-PERRY: In this week`s "Below the Line" conversation, we`ve been
talking about the upcoming reduction in SNAP benefits for hundreds of
thousands of Ohio households with Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of
the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. And back with me, Jelani Cobb, Ryan
Alexander, Daniel Garza and Karen Carter Peterson. I want to start with
you, Jelani, particularly because you are new to the table, but we`ve heard
a lot in this election cycle about the food stamp president as though that
was itself sort of a problem. Pretty stunning then that Ohio, which gives
the president the victory is now facing a food stamp reduction.
JELANI COBB, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIV. OF CONNECTICUT: Right. I think
the interesting thing here is the trajectory that we`ve seen this idea of
food stamps take in terms of American public policy. One of the things
that we could actually be proud of in American history was the movement to
COBB: Actual bona fide day to day hunger that existed in this country and
food stamps are, you know, the line of defense against this. The other
thing is that we had something that we would think of now as completely
politically untenable. But throughout the 1960s into the `70s, we actually
had welfare rights organizations.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, exactly. Johnnie Tillman and folks like (inaudible).
COBB: Right, right, people organizing to say that, you know, if -- we
should not have poverty in this country and we have to as a society, we
have a responsibility to make sure that no child goes to school hungry.
And this kind of goes to show how far we`ve gotten from that idea.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, and this is not a small thing. We were talking
about the fiscal cliff initially. And again, you know, maybe Wall Street
won`t experience a fiscal cliff if we go around that curve or that bend --
but these are the sorts of families who would initially and immediately
feel it. This feels to me like what an actual fiscal cliff is. Is there a
way to get bipartisan agreement on something like food security?
ALEXANDER: You know, it`s interesting. Farm politics are very
bipartisan, but they`re really, really tricky. I mean we`re looking into
this lame duck and they might pass a farm bill that provides increased
corporate welfare, that provides that increases the entitlements available
to the farmers through crop insurance, through a new program called shallow
losses. At the same time we`re debating on the margins what size are the
cuts to food stamps. Those are the food stamp conversations and the SNAP
conversations are more partisan than the rest of the farm bill, but kind of
-- this was a record profit year for farms and we`re talking about giving
them more money. So that`s the kind of conversation we`ve got to see in
Washington. It`s kind of -- it`s not partisan. That`s regional, but we
can`t necessarily afford to give wealthy farmers handouts through the farm
bill when people are struggling.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting. You know, we`ve talked before about the
farm bill and the fact that food stamps are part of it. And when you look
at the community that is farmers, you know, I mean again, Louisiana is a
poor state. It`s a state where many in both our rural communities and in
our urban communities rely on this supplemental nutrition program. Is
there space within sort of even the formulas that state governments have
for kind of bipartisan agreement around this, Karen?
PETERSON: Well, there`s no question when you talk about the farm bill,
you`ll find that every member of the congressional delegation supports
those subsidies for the -- just the agricultural community and ultimately
the very poor that we have in our state. But I think there is that common
ground with respect to meeting the needs of poor people and as a professor
said, the -- those that are hungry. If you don`t -- you know, this is a
safety net program. We talked about Medicaid and Medicare and Social
Security. This is in fact a safety net program but it`s not a safety
PETERSON: It`s supposed to be there for a short period of time to help
those in need. And that`s what we do. That`s what government is there
for. It`s not for you to lounge around on a hammock, a safety hammock.
And it`s supposed to provide a fundamental need and no one, I think we all
agree that no one in the country should go hungry.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, and yet, Daniel, I mean the language of food stamps
was particularly during the Republican primary and then even again, it
revived during the general election, this sort of language of like the 47
percent, the entitled, the gifts. But we`re looking at these images of
kids who are going to school hungry. I feel like, you know, Republicans
get real bipartisan on this ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... when you show those images, but the fact is when they
attack those programs in theory, they are attacking poor kids.
GARZA: Well, what they`re attacking more than anything is not the wasted
money as much as it is the wasted lives. And the wasted futures of people
who get caught up in this safety hammock, let`s just say. What they want
is a trampoline. Of course, you`re going to, you know, work hard to
fulfill the need that exists. Everybody is touched by poverty at one point
in their life with need, with scarcity. My parents were farmers.
HARRIS-PERRY: But not everybody is.
GARZA: Well, you know, my parents were farm workers. I grew up migrating
from California, Nebraska, and Washington state. I know what need is and
what poverty is. They never took welfare.
HARRIS-PERRY: But you know, Daniel, this is an interesting point. Because
it does feel like the Republican Party on this question is made up of sort
of two different coalitions. One is, you know, often the sort of up from
narrative of folks who came up from circumstances of poverty. But then
there is sort of the Mitt Romney version of Republicanism that we saw on
display this time, which isn`t an up from there. It`s very much we have it
and want to protect it narrative.
GARZA: Well, look, I work for a school district in South Texas. And we
were dealing with a truancy case in one instance. And it was a 12-year-old
on her second pregnancy. And they said because we have to be (ph) claims
now at a welfare bite. We are not an ungenerous nation. We are $1
trillion that we pay for 82 meals (ph) tested welfare programs.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I guess, so, if you have a 12-year-old who is in a
circumstance of pregnancy, it is almost certain that she is not pregnant by
a 12-year-old boy. It is almost certain that she is pregnant by someone
who is basically in a situation of at a minimum statutory rape and perhaps
worse, and yet, you had -- OK. I`m going to back off just a bit. Because
I don`t want to move too far from our issue of food.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I`ve got to say like when I hear stories like that,
Lisa, I want to come back to you. Like I just wonder why we even get into
a kind of ethical conversation when we are talking about food. That feels
like it is separate from whether or not someone is moral or ethical that we
ought to have as a nation a kind of ethical responsibility toward the
provision of sufficient food resources.
HAMLER-FUGITT: Absolutely. I mean, you eat or you die. It`s that simple.
And to believe that we can`t feed one in four poor children who live in
poverty, many who live in abject poverty by providing a basic safety net, a
nutritional safety net means that we are sacrificing not only their future,
but our future as a country and our ability to compete in a global
marketplace. You know, I find it very interesting that food stamps became
front and center during this political debate while 2 billion was spent
fighting out a campaign. We had millions, 47 million Americans, many who
work every day, who don`t earn enough to be able to put food on their table
and a roof over their head. I prefer to view the SNAP program for working
families as a work support program.
HAMLER-FUGITT: They are struggling with wage suppression. Minimum wage
jobs, rising costs, especially for housing. And this has become a work
support program just as Medicaid has. It`s supporting low wage workers.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lisa, I love that. I`m going to begin to borrow and use
that language. It is a work support program. These are often working
families. And the idea that you can work full-time in this country and
still not have sufficient income to feed one`s family, I think, is a real
shame on our nation. Thank you for joining us from Columbus, Ohio. Lisa
HAMLER-FUGITT: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Also, thank you to Ryan Alexander who is here at the table
and the rest are back for more. Coming up, suddenly it seems that
Republicans just can`t stop talking about race. Is it just that they`re
missing one key point? That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Christmas came about two months early this year. A skinny black
Santa Claus made his list, checked them twice and flew all across the land,
sprinkling gifts among all the black, Latino, women, and young voters who
showed them their appreciation.
That at least is the bedtime story that Mitt Romney is telling
himself on those sleepless nights when he lies awake still trying to make
sense of why he`s not the president. The former governor got caught on
tape, again, speaking to a group of wealthy like-minded people, again,
telling us what he really thinks about the half of the country whose votes
he couldn`t win again.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the president,
president`s campaign did was focus on certain members of his base
coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and
then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Romney`s story was actually the second chapter in the
tale Republicans have been spinning to explain the election. The first
came earlier in the week when Romney`s former running mate Paul Ryan placed
the blame on Democrats in urban areas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: The surprise was some of the turnout
-- some of the turnout especially in urban areas which definitely gave
President Obama the big margin to win this race.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Never mind the fact that he and Mitt Romney can also
count largely rural states among those they lost, because we all know who
Ryan was really talking about when he mentioned those urban areas. Mitt
Romney clarified that on his conference call the very next day.
Now, of course, Romney was only resurrecting an old narrative he
introduced on that other recording. It`s the story of the makers and the
takers where he is the champion of the hardworking majority and the rest,
the 47 percent are looking to President Obama to give them an unearned
But, you see, that`s something about bedtime stories and fairy tales,
they`re full of lovely lies -- lies we tell ourselves to try and understand
the harsh reality. For Mitt Romney and Republicans that reality is this --
it`s not them. It`s you.
Instead of asking themselves why Obama won such a diverse group of
voters, Republicans might need to ask themselves a different question: why
did they lose them?
I`m happy to help with the answers.
They lost them because the people of color who voted for President
Obama did not like being treated like something less than what they are:
American citizens. They lost them because actively working to deny the
vote to some of those citizens is a great way to make sure those citizens
deny their vote to you.
And they lost because the Obama campaign ran like a well-oiled
machine meticulously seeking out potential new voters getting them
registers and getting them out to vote. They lost because while they were
busy telling themselves more fables about Mitt-mentum, they weren`t paying
attention to the math.
And if Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell`s recent comments are any
indication, the Republican Party`s numbers still don`t add up to much.
While highlighting the diversity, the GOP governors at the recent meeting
of the Republican Governors Association, McDonnell said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOB MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA: They have I think two women in
minorities. We have seven. I mean, so we`re not keeping score -- but the
point is the people coming into the Republican -- well, sometimes. The
people that are coming in and are now the leaders in our party at the
governor`s ranks reflect a much more diverse group than the Democrat
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So hearing McDonnell`s statement, I`m reminded of the
words of one of our great American authors, Zora Neale Hurston, when she
said, "All my skin folk ain`t my kin folk." In other words, the Republican
Party can try to woo women and voters of color with all the Bobby Jindals,
Nikki Haley`s and Kelly Ayottes they want and nobody is going to be fooled
because it`s the policies, not the people that really show how much you
With me at the table is New York Congressman Gregory Meeks, a
Democratic member of the Financial Services Committee, Daniel Garza of the
Libre Initiative, Jelani Cobb, an associate professor of African studies at
the University of Connecticut, and Michael Skolnik -- I`m sorry, suddenly
your name looked like something I could not pronounce. But Michael
Skolnik, who is of course the political director to hip-hop pioneer Russell
Simmons and the co-president of GlobalGrind.com.
So, because I butchered your name, I`m going to go to you first on
MICHAEL SKOLNIK, GLOBALGRIND.COM: My pleasure.
HARRIS-PERRY: Look, it does feel to me like probably the most
appalling or almost sort of ugly part of the gifts narrative is that many
of these communities turned out for the president also have the highest
unemployment rates. You know, we`re experiencing some of the worst aspects
of the recession.
This isn`t about gifts, right? This is about something else.
SKOLNIK: I think what the Republicans don`t understand, what Mitt
Romney certainly does not understand is that our generation has waited for
this moment. We have fought tooth and nail over the course of our lifetime
for this moment -- to have a more compassionate America, more generous
America and certainly a more tolerant America.
We waited on line with all the black people, with all the Latinos,
with women, with LGBT community. Until the president gave his victory
speech, there was folks in Florida still on line at 1:30 in the morning
when he was giving his victory speech to vote.
So all this nonsense about how young people, people of color, you
know, voted for the president because he was giving them gifts -- this is
the moment we`ve waited for. To have a president who represents us, who
speaks to us and who fight for us.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s an interesting point here because you
know, one of the things that allows the president to have not only an
Electoral College victory but a popular vote victory is that folks in plays
like New York and Louisiana and so-called safe red and blue states --
nonetheless showed up to vote for the president even though at the
presidential level their vote didn`t count in the same way. Yet, it makes
a big difference if he wins with both a popular mandate and an Electoral
REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: You`re absolutely right in your
opening remarks, people are not going to be denied the right to vote.
People are not going to be denied -- you know, when you start talking about
voter suppression and all going on, people said, we`re going to show we`re
going to stand and vote. We`re not going to let people take away our
rights. It is about issues.
So, it is about issues. People are smart. I mean -- whether you`re
poor, some people think that poor people are not smart people.
MEEKS: People are very smart and understand there is --
MEEKS: They understand their interests and who represents them best.
MEEKS: For them, it`s really not a matter of party too much. The
other party does not represent their interests, does not articulate
anything that will benefit them. So why should they vote for them?
So, they`re voting for the individual and it was clear. Here you had
Mitt Romney on the one end who really talked about who he cared about,
whether the 47 percent, that was for sure. And then you had Barack Obama
who was talking about fairness and moving forward and all Americans who are
able to progress -- who do you think they`re going to vote for?
And they know their interests this election was one of the most
important elections in their lives, and they wanted to make sure their vote
counted no matter what state they were from.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was pretty stunning that there was actually an
increase in some of these groups.
Daniel, I want to say -- there are some things that were said by
Republicans over the course of the week that are not completely wrong. I
mean, if urban is not just a code word, if it is actually descriptive,
that`s not completely wrong, right? Urban areas, African-Americans,
Latinos but also workers, unions --
DANIEL GARZA, THE LIBRE INITIATIVE: High concentration of folks.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, huge concentration, kind of purpled out the
HARRIS-PERRY: But the notion that Bobby Jindal, Susana Martinez,
Nikki Haley, Brian Sandoval, Marco Rubio, that that sort of group of people
-- you guys do have a pretty diverse bench, but can you turn that kind of
face diversity into instinct that is a meaningful coalition?
GARZA: I think they are flexing their cultural capital -- these
folks who are diverse within the Republican Party.
And I think what -- I think what folks fundamentally want to know is
my life going to be better if I choose you. And I think the sentiment that
they have is -- well, they`re going to look at them and they`re going to
say, are you going to give me access? Are you going to look out for my
interests and my community?
And if you say words that lack understanding and sensitivity, then
that is going to turn them off. And essentially, I think that is what the
faces of diversity like you were saying are sort of flexing back on and
saying, yes, we do look like you and yes, we do feel you.
JELANI COBB, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: This is the worst kind of
diversity though. It`s like show up so we can count you.
COBB: Anyone who can tell you the number of Catholic friends they
have is saying right then -- I think of you as a Catholic, not as a friend.
Anybody else is going to say we`re going to keep count. By the way, I
thought the Republicans were against quotas. So, all of a sudden, the
HARRIS-PERRY: Binders full of women.
COBB: Binders full of women.
COBB: Seven or so. I wasn`t sure how the numbers added up. I want
to show how the numbers added up. Double counted or not.
But nevertheless, this is the worst kind of diversity.
HARRIS-PERRY: In the sense that it feels like it is diversity, that
is -- I mean, you know, what I hear from both of you is this sense of like
empowerment and engagement. The sense that the gift is actually
citizenship itself, that said, there are real critiques even about how the
Democratic Party and the Obama administration, they may or may not be
actually heeding the needs of these communities.
What do you think will really be the turning point issues? I mean,
obviously, part of was voter suppression. But what are the other like key
thinks that make people like this is the moment I`ve been waiting for?
SKOLNIK: Certainly. I think that there are issues -- I mean, if you
look back on the first time, there are certain issues -- especially for
young people -- that meant a lot to us that got accomplished, the
immigration reform move, you know, the executive order of the president on
the part of the DREAM Act was important for us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Baby DREAM, yes.
SKOLNIK: Baby DREAM, right? Health care reform was important us.
But we know at least we got a shot. We want to talk about -- we want
real immigration reform. We want education reform. We want a real climate
change policy. And now we know we have a shot.
If Mitt Romney was in office on January 21st, we won`t have a shot.
So, at least we have a shot and we have to go to -- now we`ve got do
MEEKS: Cut out the middle man for student loans which would save
these young people a whole lot of money, making sure you keep the interest
rates low so that they don`t have to pay more money so they can get the
education they need to grow their future. Making sure that we`re investing
in stem programs so they know they the opportunities for them will be there
in the future so that they can live as well, if not better than their
Those are the kinds of positions that the president took. Those are
the kinds -- that`s speaking to their interest, their future -- as opposed
to what Romney was talking about.
So, these young people said we know what is in our interests. Things
might be rough right now. We also know that it took eight years to get us
in the problems that we were in and that this president did not cause those
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And you know what? I want to be a little bit
careful because I feel like we`ve overstated the idea that like white folks
are over because -- I mean, if we look at the Senate, for example, it is
still the vast majority confident CBC, right? The CBC is mostly from
pretty safe districts in the sense of racially safe districts because it is
still so hard to be elected as a person of color in a broad district.
COBB: Right. I think -- one of the things we`re talking about here
is backing up to Romney`s statement, the implications of it is that the
president would be doing exactly what elected officials are supposed to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Governing toward your constituency.
COBB: You vote for people for particular reasons. And so, the kind
of great philosophical axiom of "don`t hate the player, hate the game," the
idea that when someone comes out and votes, they have an idea of what their
interests are, they have particular things, how do these things line up
with the candidate has on his platform or her platform, and if this person
is elected, how can I expecting that to impact my life? That is basic
pluralistic democracy right there and that`s what Mitt Romney --
HARRIS-PERRY: And Mitt Romney is a hater. OK.
Up next, I see black people everywhere, even in Maine. I`m going to
explain when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE WEBSTER, MAINE REPUBLICAN PARTY: In some parts of rural
Maine, there were dozens, dozens of black people who came in and voted on
Election Day. Everybody has the right to vote. But nobody in town knows
anybody that`s black. How did it happen? I don`t know. We`re going to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It is not hard necessarily to believe that Maine
Republican Party chairman Charlie Webster was surprised by reports of black
people turning out en masse by the dozens to vote on Election Day after
all, according to the U.S. Census, Maine is one of the whitest states in
the country. African-Americans only the make up 1.3 percent of the
So, it`s probably pretty easy to be a white person in Maine and go a
whole day, a week, maybe months, maybe even years without ever seeing
anything other than white folks.
But the plural of anecdote is not evidence just because Charlie
Webster doesn`t see them doesn`t mean that they aren`t there. In fact,
about 17,266 African-Americans among -- are among Maine`s population of 1.3
million. In fact, I`ve got one of them with me today -- a real-life black
person from Maine.
Joining me now via Skype in Saco, Maine, is Shay Stewart-Bouley,
writer of the blog "Black Girl in Maine".
Nice to see you.
SHAY STEWART-BOULEY, MAINE VOTER: Nice to be here. Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Shay, tell me what did you think he when you first
heard these comments?
STEWART-BOULEY: I was literally on my way into a board meeting and I
heard the comments and I was just stunned. One, because there are black
people in Maine.
I live here. I`ve been here for the past ten years. I`m not a
native here. I know plenty of black people who live in Maine. So, I was
deeply offended by Webster`s comments.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, you know, I`m not sure that you`re in Maine
because you`re joining us via Skype with a white background. It`s possible
that you`re just in Brooklyn. But I`m going to take your word for it.
But look, I was just at Bays College a couple of years ago. There
was sort of an active African-American community there. And it seems to
me, in fact, that often in communities where there are small black
communities -- those communities have to be even more robust because
Do you find that to be true?
STEWART-BOULEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. I have, I would say, a
deep circle of sister friends here in part because as you just said, our
population, our numbers are small. So I think it makes our community more
integrated in the fact that we know each other.
I mean, when someone moves here, it gets through. People hear about
HARRIS-PERRY: No, there was an apology on this. And in the apology,
we heard this same individual who told us there were dozens of black folks
he had never seen before, the same individual Charlie Webster says to us
that he was sorry for his black people claim and that he actually has a
black friend with whom he plays basketball.
I got to say, it seriously sounded like something out of a Dave
STEWART-BOULEY: It really did. When I heard that, I thought really,
really? You have a black friend you play basketball with, yet you don`t
think there are any black people in Maine that would actually show up to
vote. That doesn`t -- that doesn`t make sense. It didn`t sound like
something of a Dave Chappelle skit.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, let me ask you, why the blog? I mean, I know
that your work is in faith based non-profit organization. I know that
you`re actually from Chicago, which makes me feel like, perhaps, we should
get a search and rescue mission to come get but --
STEWART-BOULEY: Please, please --
HARRIS-PERRY: But why? Why the blog "Black Girl in Maine"?
STEWART-BOULEY: It started really as a joke. I didn`t move here
because I wanted to. I had some family reasons for moving here.
And I did hit a period of time where I really wanted to kind of reach
out to other people of color. Just kind of go -- hey, who else is here?
In addition to the folks that I already knew, and it became an outlet for
me to just sort of talk about many different things. I think also to give
voice to the fact that there are black people in Maine.
Oddly enough, one of the things that I often get e-mails about are
people of color looking to move to Maine who want to find out what`s it
like there, what`s the scene like? One of the weirdest questions actually
as an African-American woman, it`s not weird at all but I`m often asked,
you know, are there hair salons? Are there churches there? What`s in the
community for us?
STEWART-BOULEY: I think about the fact when I moved here 10 years
ago, I would have loved to have gone to a blog to just get that
information. Instead, it`s been sort of like trial and error trying to
figure out what`s here for me.
HARRIS-PERRY: Shay, I really appreciate you joining us.
By the way, I sort of got into your blog. I really appreciated some
of your comments about poverty and about generosity at this time of year
and also really loved your blog on 15 years of marriage. So thank you for
your blog. Thank you for your work.
And also, thanks to the white folks in Maine because they, in fact,
are the ones who helped to elect President Obama.
So thanks to Shay Stewart-Bouley in Saco, Maine. Also, thank you to
Daniel Garza who`s been with us here in the studio.
Up next, we`re going to stay on race talk a lit more but we`re going
to talk about President Obama. We done it again. Why does it matter?
We`ll explain when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: President Obama may have been joking at the White
House dinner when he said he`d be singing Young Jeezy instead of Al Green
in his second term.
In we done it again, Jeezy`s owed to the president`s re-election
which you just saw of piece there, his lyrics and the images from the video
actually make a very serious statement. It`s a kind of counter narrative
to the idea those so-called "urban voters" gave their support to the
president in expectation for gifts in return. He visually and lyrical
takes us on a journey through the challenges of inner city live. But in
the end, we see that he is the one with the gift to give.
For Jeezy and, in particular, the African-Americans who supported
Obama, the gift is in the giving -- the ability to flex their political
power through their votes.
Back at the table is chair woman of the Louisiana state senator and
chairwoman of Louisiana Democratic Party, Karen Carter Peterson.
So, I want to come to you first, Mike, on this because -- I mean,
Jeezy put the video out the next day. And I thought hip-hop is always
worth mining for understanding sort of what`s going on with black popular
culture and where we are. And the idea that at the end, it`s kind of the
gangster who shows up with the thing of money to keep the black middle
class family in their home.
I mean, that`s what ordinary black folks did this -- they showed up
with their votes and kept the president and his family in their home for
four more years.
SKOLNIK: Well, I think, first up, Jeezy on this show is an honor and
privilege to be part of that. So I love that Young Jeezy makes an
appearance on the MHP show this morning.
I think -- you know, especially for young people, young black people,
young Latinos and young progressive whites and young people of color -- in
2008, I think we learned how to vote. In 2012, I think we learned that our
And I think moving forward, now we can learn how to use our vote. If
this election showed that we`re here, we`re not going anywhere, we showed
up. And they thought historic in 2008 that we showed up. This is
transformational in 2012.
We`re an electorate you have to deal with -- people of color, young
people, gay people, you`ve got deal with us.
SKOLNIK: So, to see Jeezy and the hip-hop community -- you know,
they`ve always led the way. Poets and artists in this country always led
the way. There`s a lot of criticism, of course, against hip-hop and the
SKOLNIK: When we Jeezy, when we see Jay-Z, and when we see Kanye
West talking about Jesus walk, we see Jay-Z talking about homicides
happening in Chicago or Jeezy is talking about, you know, we did it again -
- you know, I`m proud of them. I`m proud of our generation. I`m proud of
our culture because we did lead the way.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels like there is some sense to which
Republicans are sort of beginning to get this demographic shift. Our own
governor, Bobby Jindal, did week sort of distance himself from Mitt Romney
and these recent comments.
Let`s listen to the governor and I want to get your response to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: We have got to stop dividing the
American voters. We need 100 percent of the votes. Not 53 percent. We
need to go after every single vote.
I absolutely reject that notion, that description. I think that`s
absolutely wrong. That is not -- I don`t think that that represents where
we are as a party and where we`re going as a party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, we live in the South. There`s our
governor saying, oh, we got to do better. But then -- but the doing better
that is to be substantive, right, not just we`ve got to say nice things to
KAREN CARTER PETERSON, LOUISIANA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: The irony is that
once again, the rhetoric doesn`t match the policy of the person that`s
speaking. Governor Jindal, if you look at his policies, he rejected money
from the federal government to -- for broadband -- rural broadband for
rural communities to have the Internet. He rejected money for high speed
rail. He rejected money for the unemployed.
He`s decimating the higher education system. He`s rejected the
opportunity notwithstanding the fact that Republicans usually promote
states rights -- he`s rejecting the opportunity to set up his own health
exchange program under Obamacare.
And so, the rhetoric doesn`t meet the policy. So, it doesn`t matter
that he`s doing this a week after the election so that he can continue to
further his own ambition. Put that aside.
PETERSON: You know, the thing that the contrasts us is the
commitment we have as Democrats to compassion, to fairness, to equality.
And Republicans are not going to be able to distance themselves from their
inability to have rhetoric that resonates with the common folks.
If I were to state a statistic --
HARRIS-PERRY: Decades of policy.
PETERSON: Decades of it.
PETERSON: There are about 50,000 -- if I`m not mistaken -- 50,000
Hispanics that are becoming voting age every month.
How are they -- how does their policy resonate with that population?
Look, we have a natural opportunity to expand our numbers on the Democratic
side. They have a lot of work to do. Are they going to reject their base?
PETERSON: Well, they can`t because the base are so extreme.
COBB: Here`s the thing though. That`s a really important point.
Being a historian, I have it say -- the Republican Party is in the
position now that the Democratic Party was in, in 1948.
COBB: And the Tea Party is to the Republican Party what the
Dixiecrats were to the Democrats in 1948.
In 1948, the Democrats saw there was a demographic change. They were
trying to serve two masters, as it were -- Northern urban blacks and
Southern white segregationists. Those two needs were irreconcilable.
COBB: And eventually, they pushed the Dixiecrat out of the party.
Those people went over to the Republican Party. Half a century goes by, 60
years go by, and they begin to see the same dynamic, except now they`re
talking about Latinos.
MEEKS: And let me also say, because I agree with you, Mike -- I`m
extremely proud of the young people because that`s how change happens.
Anytime you`ve had major change in any society just about, it`s not the old
people that causes that change. It is the young people that decided
they`re going to come together and they`re going to make sure their voices
You know, going back and I`m older than anyone here, in my
generation, in the `60s, it was young people. I think of John Lewis, he
was 16 and 17 years old when he decided he was going to move forward and
change America. Dr. King himself, he was an old 24 when he will -- you
So, it`s young people who decide to come together. We`re going to
make a difference in this election. You know, it was people who couldn`t
vote in `08. Now, you had the people that voted for the first time in `08,
but here again in `12, you had another group of people after four years who
voted for the first time. That`s going to continue to mount.
HARRIS-PERRY: And let me say on this, too, because this issue of
sort of who the electorate is, and we can expand them -- the way to the put
the South back in play, particularly states like Mississippi, is for to
eliminate those fellow disenfranchisement laws, those lifetime ones, places
like Virginia, like Mississippi -- they keep such an extraordinary number
of African-American, men in particular, out of the voting booth for the
rest of their lives, right? So, I`d love to see that kind of structural
change go along with our discursive changes.
I also just want to say this. I know there`s been real critique of
the president on the issue of whether or not he has sufficiently served the
interests of African-Americans. And I just -- I want to go back as we
leave here to that point that Jeezy makes, that part of the gift is the
gift of ordinary folks, people of color, to the president and now there is
-- now there`s a relationship that may not be transactional but certainly
is about -- it was a multiracial coalition that put this president back in
office. It is a multiracial set of needs that will need to be served on
the back end of it.
Coming up -- at this time of political discourse, why is Abraham
Lincoln become such a high profile figure? More on Abe when we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: He`s been dead for nearly 150 years. Yet, suddenly
Abe Lincoln seems to be just about everywhere. The Steven Spielberg biopic
of the 16th president opens nationwide this weekend. The film is being
heralded with strong Oscar buzz.
President Obama hosted the cast and crew of the film at the White
House on Thursday night. And while "Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter" didn`t
earn quite as much critical acclaim, that film still brought in more than
$100 million at the box office.
Amazon.com features more than 200 books about Honest Abe, two of them
by Bill O`Reilly. And Doris Kearns Goodwin`s incredible text and also arm
weight remains on "The New York Times" bestseller paperback list.
Just what is it about Lincoln that nearly a century and a half after
his time in office, he remains such an influential figure?
Jelani, I mean -- I know, we`re at the 200th anniversary and all that
sort of thing. But why is Lincoln still so fascinating us?
COBB: I think Lincoln was tested in ways that, you know, no one --
virtually no one had been tested just in terms of his personal trials,
losing a child while in the White House, being betrayed in 1864, former
General George McClellan ran against him for the presidency, a general whom
Lincoln had appointed.
COBB: And so, he had to go through, you know, immense personal
trials and immense political trials. And then there`s also the martyrdom
at the end of it that, you know, kind of paints him in this picture that`s
enabled us to make him applicable to all sorts of other struggles that
people have come by since then.
We`ve seen Democrats claim him, Republicans claim him. He`s become a
universal symbol in that way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Congressman Meeks, earlier in the show, you were
talking about our history as a history of compromise. And I think you
know, there`s a kind of discourse about Lincoln that is he wasn`t -- he
wasn`t -- he wasn`t Stephens, right? The kind of radical Republican who
was completely for social equality, he was maybe even himself personally a
racist -- and yet, Lincoln gets the Thirteenth Amendment that ends slavery
in this country, makes it unconstitutional.
What is Lincoln as a strategist teaches us for today?
MEEKS: I think that`s what part of he`s been talked about because of
our president --
MEEKS: -- and just what he is. He`s strategizing on how to make
this country better place.
I`m sure that as we move into this debate, the president is going to
move certain things that maybe he doesn`t really want to happen. But he
understands it has to happen for the country to move forward. And I think
that`s where we, you know -- so Lincoln sort of evolved, if you will, in
trying to bring this thing together an understanding and that it was bigger
than one little issue, that you`ve got to bring people to get it done, to
keep the Union together.
So, as a result, we`re looking at it today because when President
Obama was elected he was sworn in on Lincoln`s Bible.
MEEKS: He`s from Illinois and where he initially made his -- the
fact that he`s going to run for president of the United States. I think
that has a part of what it is. And then talk about the team of rivals.
I think that`s what President Obama did in his first term. His thing
was not so much to come in and stand and say this is where I am, but try to
bring people together so we can move the country forward. And that I think
is part of what and why we`re talking about Lincoln.
Lincoln used to say, I`m not a politician. I want to be a statesman
-- because a statesman thinks about the next generation and a politician
just thinks about the next election.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the kind of long view is very Lincoln-esque.
PETERSON: That`s right. The vision and understanding the difference
between the political campaign and governing. You`ve got to be
magnanimous. Right after election, you`ve got to step up and govern 100
percent of the people, not just the folks that voted for you.
And I think Lincoln is a great example that have and President Obama
has reflected on that in the last four years and I expect the same. I
think that a couple of things. I think that making sure that he turns his
friends -- his enemies I should say -- rather his enemies into friends.
PETERSON: Making sure that it`s done without a lot of anger and
personal attacks, keeping the fact that he wants a legacy, too, right? And
that vision and that long-term goal of having good policies and making sure
that those policies, the repercussions of those policies are something that
are good for all Americans, right? And not just those that support him.
So he`s got four years to govern and he`s already started. It`s very
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels like it`s more than just a metaphor,
Michael. I mean, we have citizens in all 50 states signing secessionist
documents, right? It`s 2012. I don`t think anyone is actually going
anywhere. But the very notion that there could still be a sort of
secessionist impulse in this nation feels like it makes Lincoln
SKOLNIK: It was a great marketing campaign for the movie.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, I see. There`s not really a secessionist like
But I do think -- I think in the spirit of Lincoln, right, certainly
this president is more interested in moving the country forward than just
his party forward. But I do think there`s a moment in the film which is a
very poignant moment. I do think as we head into the fiscal cliff debates
and conversations, that the president has to have a Lincoln-esque moment
when he looks at his team and says, I am the president of the United
States, immense -- clothed in immense power, go procure my vote.
We need that moment from this president during this fiscal cliff
debate so people of color, young people, Latinos, LGBT, were protected by
this president from these talks happening in Washington now.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s such a critically important point. The film is
very much about that Thirteenth Amendment. It`s not about the war. It`s
about how you protect the winnings of the war on the other side.
More on Lincoln as soon as we come back because President Obama`s
personal connection to President Lincoln is something that he talks a lot
about. But before, I just want to show you a little bit of Steven
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In his book, Euclid says this is self-evident.
You see, there it is, even in that 2000-year-old book of mechanical law.
It is a self-evident truth that things which are equal to the same thing
are equal to each other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, THEN-U.S. SENATOR: Divided we are bound to fail. But
the life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer, tells us that a
different future is possible. He tells us that there is power in words.
He tells us that there`s power in conviction, that beneath all the
differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was then-Senator Obama at the very initiation,
the launch of his first presidential campaign in 2007, channeling Abraham
Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois -- a theme that he has continued in the
nearly six years since.
Jelani, what do we learn about Lincoln when we take the more complex
COBB: OK, so here`s the thing with Lincoln and one of the reasons we
find him so intriguing. There are people who depict him as this kind of
unblemished avatar of racial equality, which he most certainly was not.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Many people who are his critics, many of them
African-American, who dismiss him as someone who did virtually nothing at
all. That`s completely inaccurate.
Until we can come to understand him with nuance, as a person wrong a
great deal of the time but who ultimately wound up doing the right thing,
we won`t be able to understand Abraham Lincoln.
I think just in terms of President Obama, we`ve seen that same kind
of dynamic with his critics, I think that`s one of the reasons why he finds
Lincoln to be such a figure that he relates to, that many of the criticisms
we`ve seen directed at Barack Obama is he is either going to be the person
who personally lifts black America with one hand and delivers us into the
promised land or someone who simply, what was it, Republican in black face
I think Cornel West called him. Neither of those ideas is accurate.
Until we`re able to deal with him on a level of nuance, we won`t be
able to understand what exactly we can expect from his presidency.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I wonder a little bit about this in part
because this president, President Obama, from the moment of his election,
knows he has a place in history, right? Some presidents we kinds of forget
they were ever president. But this one he knew -- you know, from the
beginning, I`m going to be notice history books.
And it does feel like something about the history books and
particularly the way we think about our great men of history leads us to
cover over the complexity, whether we`re talking about king or about
Lincoln or in this case about President Obama. And it does feel to me like
his critics, folks like Cornel West who are very complex thinkers on issues
of race and politics in a ton of ways, somehow seem to miss the complexity
of that moment.
COBB: And even the complexity of the support.
One of the things I found to be most disrespectful in the Cornel
West`s critique of President Obama is Cornel and Tavis Smiley and others,
this idea that people have only been able to support Barack Obama out of a
sense of emotional fulfillment, not that people could make a rational
calculation to say, I see this person flaws legislatively or politically,
but I think there`s more on the side of what I think is really beneficial
COBB: So, that`s where we wind up in the same problems with Lincoln
or Obama or any figure that we`re going to deny complexity.
HARRIS-PERRY: Michael, I was thinking about this, I was remembering
that McClellan had run against Lincoln. McClellan is, in fact, Lincoln`s
own general and sort of basically promised the soldiers of the Union, I`m
going to end the war.
So in a very transactional way to vote for McClellan is to vote for
yourself going home from the bloodiest war in American history, and yet the
troops overwhelmingly supported Lincoln and did so because they had come to
regard Mr. Lincoln with sentiments of veneration and love. To them, he was
really Father Abraham. And by supporting Lincoln, the soldiers understood
they were voting to prolong the war but they voted because this was a
president whose cause, their own cause was embodied.
When I read that about the soldiers, I thought that`s like black
voters with President Obama.
SKOLNIK: And white voters including me, as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. Yes.
SKOLNIK: Because I think what happened in this election is we saw
the difference of someone who we believe and someone who we just don`t
believe. Mitt Romney we just did not believe. He simply was lying to us.
SKOLNIK: And when President Obama spoke and when he speaks, we
believe him. We know his intentions are good. We know his vision is right
for this country.
So, when he gave the victory speech and said, "This isn`t about red
states or blue states," he said, "These United States of America," we
SKOLNIK: We genuinely believed that.
HARRIS-PERRY: And believing that is critical to the preservation of
MEEKS: There`s no question about it, but it also says who the person
is. And see, I think that some of the similarities in Lincoln`s life as a
person growing up and the similarities in President Obama`s life, he didn`t
have a silver spoon. He had a -- grew up with a single mom and even in his
environment being that he grew up a lot with white people and things that
HARRIS-PERRY: And Lincoln lost his mother at a young age. Very
close to his stepmother who in certain ways had similarities.
MEEKS: Losing races -- people don`t talk about -- Lincoln ran for
Congress and lost, same as Barack Obama. But yet, persevered and continued
with the focus, to move on forward and understanding still, people
criticizing you, but you`re ready to take that criticism because you want
to take the next step.
And sometimes, you know, if you`re sincere, you don`t know right away
what the right thing is to do. You`ve got to think about it. You`ve got
to ponder, you`ve got to walk around -- as President Obama did surely even
when he went after Osama bin Laden. He didn`t know. He said I`ve got to
sleep on it. Let me think about what`s the right thing to do here.
Sometimes you`ve got to make the right decision and sometimes you may
make the wrong decision.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s a preference for contemplative president, one
that thinks things through.
We have a few seconds. Sort of weigh in on this for me.
PETERSON: Yes. So I think that certainly the falling to your knees
at a time of conflict, that commonality that both of them had in looking to
a higher power --
PETERSON: -- and to give guidance to step up and show the courage
that America needs in the position of leadership, really understanding
governing versus the campaign.
PETERSON: That`s where it all comes down.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. At the DNC, he said, like Lincoln, I
sometimes fall to my knees if there`s nowhere else to go.
More in just a moment. But, first, it`s time for a preview of
"WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hello to you, Melissa.
Let`s get to it, everyone, as we have new word from the White House
within this past hour about the escalating violence in the Middle East.
What is the U.S. role right now and will we see a ground war?
Plus, the White House just issued new comments on General Petraeus`
Capitol Hill testimony. We`re going to bring those to you in minutes.
New twist on the Mitt Romney "gift" comments and some red states
asking to secede from the Union.
And climate change remarkable evidence that changed one man from a
non-believer into a true believer. He took pictures to prove it. It is
all in a new film.
So, with that, I`ll send it back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I`ve seen those images, Alex, they are amazing.
WITT: Amazing. Agreed.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
Up next, our foot soldier of the week.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you remember being a teenager, how important and
how difficult it was to and a safe space? A place where you could be
yourself and speak your mind?
Well, safe space is more than just a metaphor for lesbian, gay, by
sexual and transgender youth. In New York City, 40 percent of the city`s
estimated 38 percent homeless youth are LGBT. Safety is especially
challenging for transgender youth.
This is Transgender Awareness Week, culminating in a day of
remembrance for all those who have been victimized because of their gender
And when you face homelessness and violence, refuge is much more than
a symbol, it`s a necessity -- which is why among the many devastating
losses caused by Sandy, one stands out this week. Superstorm Sandy wreaked
havoc on the Ali Forney Center. Ali Forney, the largest organization of
its kind, serves more than 1,000 highly vulnerable LGBT youth annually,
with access to showers, beds, hot meals and mental and physical health
Our foot soldier this week, Carl Siciliano, Ali Forney`s executive
director and founder, knows that the center a safe space in a dangerous
world for these kids. And Carl spent the day before the storm preparing
for the city-wide transit shutdown. He directed the youth to emergency
storm shelters, and he told us, quote, "They didn`t provide all the
services we did but we knew at least they`d be safest there."
Carl didn`t expect the devastation that hit his own cozy but highly
functional 1,200 square foot center. Four days after the storm, he was
finally able to get inside. And what he found was four feet of water. All
of the computers, medical and food supplies were destroyed. The space Carl
had made an essential escape for the most vulnerable of New York`s youth --
90 percent of whom Carl says are young people of color -- that space it was
Through a simple post on Facebook, Carl put out the word of what had
happened. And he looked for help online for a new space. He told us
within 36 hours, $100,000 came in, a surge of support had come forward.
Sandy wiped out the Ali Forney Center but the surge of support
allowed Carl to start anew. He is now running services temporarily out of
the LGBT center downtown but will soon open a new space. Starting
Christmas, the Ali Forney Center in Harlem will be a 9,000 square foot
facility open 24 hours a day.
For not letting our underserved and underrepresented LGBT youth
drown, Carl Siciliano is our foot soldier for the week.
And that is our show for today. Thank you to Congressman Greg Meeks,
State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, Jelani Cobb and Michael Skolnik.
And also, thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you
tomorrow 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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