'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, January 12th, 2013
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
January 12, 2013
Guests: Dorian Warren, Michael Crowley, Cristina Beltran, Mark Alexander, Jonathan Katz, Garry Pierre-Pierre, Tatiana Wah
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: Is the only way to save the
Constitution to violate the Constitution?
Good morning, I`m MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY. I`m going to take you back, way
back, 1861, during the height of the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln
made an unprecedented move, which many even then considered an overreach of
executive authority. That year, Lincoln declared martial law and suspended
the constitutionally protected writs of habeas corpus, insisting that he
needed to suspend the right to due process in order to put down the
rebellion in the south.
At the time, Lincoln defended his constitutionally questionable action in a
July 4th speech saying this, "Are all of the laws but one to go un-executed
and the government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated?"
Lincoln`s claim was that the rebellion caused a concern for public safety
that required the suspension, furthermore, he claimed that the executive
did in fact hold the constitutional authority to suspend habeas corpus.
Lincoln even argued that even if his interpretation was wrong and the
powers lay only with Congress, he was still justified, because even if he
did not, lest one law be violated, it was his overwhelmingly constitutional
authority to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution by keeping the
That perhaps convoluted argument is actually a strong claim to presidential
authority in the United States Constitution. Perhaps above all else the
presidential duty is to keep the government from going to pieces, to do so,
the president may even have to choose the least troubling option from a
menu of unconstitutional choices, and this may be precisely the kind of
constitutional interpretation that our current president is considering.
A week away from his second inauguration, President Obama is facing a
series of roadblocks to going about the business of governing, from
replacing outgoing cabinet members, to the ability to issue new debt, the
relationship between the Oval Office and Capitol Hill has already proven
intractable. How then can he keep the government from going to pieces?
Two legal scholars may have a solution for the president, particularly when
it comes to the debt ceiling standoff. Writing in "The Columbia Law
Review," the Neil Buchanan and Michael Dorf argue for the lesser of many
constitutional evils. They write: "In the debt ceiling deal context,
given the balance of constitutional practical and prudential
considerations, the least unconstitutional choice would be for the
president to continue to issue debt in the amounts authorized by the duly
enacted budget of the United States."
OK. Translation? Go over the head of Congress and raise the debt ceiling
from the Oval Office. Why? Because the separation of powers is one of
those esoteric constitutional concerns that has street level consequences,
but it remains a matter of interpretation. Presidential authority is
stretched and retracted by both legal and political interpretations. Think
President George W. Bush, post 9/11, bolstered by a fierce team of lawyers
who helped usher in the greatest expansion of executive power in decades.
Now, the debt ceiling isn`t a case of war powers or extraordinary rendition
or enhanced interrogation techniques. It is about the 14th Amendment, the
14th Amendment forbid any questioning of the validity of the public debt of
the United States, therefore some say that debt ceiling, in and of itself,
is unconstitutional, because it gets in the way of the federal government
honoring its basic financial commitments.
The president may in fact be constitutionally obligated to ignore this debt
ceiling fight, so if he follows our two legal scholars` lead and goes ahead
and simply issues new bonds, Congress be damned, he may be fulfilling his
constitutional duty and that would, of course, be at the expense of those
pesky separation of powers. Oops. Because that old document also
stipulates that the Congress and only the Congress has the power of the
purse. Article I of the U.S. Constitution states that the Congress, not
the president has the power to borrow money on the credit of the United
States, but when you`re facing the Congress that refuses to act on its
power, how does the president keep the government from going to pieces? In
the context of the realities of contemporary governing, maybe the question
should be, what would Lincoln do?
With me at the table is Dorian Warren, fellow of the Roosevelt Institute
and associate professor of political science and international and public
affairs at Columbia University. Michael Crowley, senior correspondent and
deputy Washington bureau chief of "Time" magazine. Cristina Beltran,
associate professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University,
and Mark Alexander, former senior advisor to President Obama and professor
of law at Seton Hall University. Thanks to everyone for being here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to start with you, Mark, because you know, obviously,
you are there in a law school in part teaching interpretation of the
Constitution to young people who are going to practice law. Is this a
reasonable way to frame this tradeoff that the president has a menu of
unconstitutional options, and has to choose the one to keep the government
from going to pieces.
MARK ALEXANDER, LAW PROFESSOR, SETON HALL U.: Right. There`s a menu of
options, and he`s got the responsibility to make sure that government goes
forward. Everyday the president is the one person chosen to lead the
country. You know, we don`t know the absolute answer in terms of what`s
unconstitutional, until there is a final declaration by the U.S. Supreme
Court. But I think at the moment the president has to get his best legal
advice and more forward on what he thinks is ultimately needed to get the
job done for himself. President Lincoln got rebuked by, you know, by his
attempt to suspend habeas, but also as some kind that the president must
act, and act now, to make sure the country goes forward and then he`s going
to have to see where does that go, what his powers happen to be, but as you
said, there is real life consequences, this is a big esoteric conversation
we have in, in ConLaw with 1L (ph) law students.
ALEXANDER: But everyday, the president is trying to make sure that the
government goes forward and takes care of the people`s needs and he`s going
to have to act.
HARRIS-PERRY: Some of the Democrats, Mark, are actually asking - excuse
me, Michael, are actually asking him to do this? So - so Senate Democrats
have said to him, listen, you know, what we`ve got to do is in fact ignore
the Republicans here. Let`s take a look at what those - what those
Democrats have said. They are actually saying, listen, Mr. President, this
is the time when, "we hope that you will continue to ignore claims that
agreeing to increase in the debt limit would somehow represent a concession
by Republican." And they just go on to say, look, you`ve got to do it.
MICHAEL CROWLEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s move forward.
CROWLEY: Right. Well - I think Democrats in the Senate through our
Congress are extremely frustrated at their sense that Republicans
essentially are holding hostage here and making demands and that they might
- that they might win some of those demands. I think that - I suspect that
the president is worried that, you know, there`s a question here about the
legality of what he does, what are his powers as described by the
Constitution, then there are - the global financial markets ...
CROWLEY: ... which are not particularly interested in the constitutional
law and theory ...
CROWLEY: And so I think to some degree the White House must be trying to
calculate, if we act in a sort of controversial way, right, it is not
controversial if Congress raises the debt limit, that`s how everyone
assumes what will happen. If we take another route, and there are these,
as you know, these various options on this table, including this hilarious
trillion dollar coin that could be minted, is that good enough for the
financial markets? Because really, the goal here is not to crash the
CROWLEY: And so I think there is a second argument, a very practical
pragmatic real world argument happening alongside this constitutional
debate, that we have to keep in mind when you watch how is the White House
making its decisions.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, Dorian, it feels to me like there are at least
two issues (INAUDIBLE), but it seems to me that there`s maybe even four,
right, there`s a legality questions. Can he as a matter of constitutional
interpretation just go over the head of Congress. Secondly, is - the
global financial markets, you know. They don`t care whether it`s the 14th
Amendment or not, the question is, are we a functioning democracy that`s
going to make good on our debt payment, but there`s - there`s the third and
the fourth, and that is the politics of it and sort of how will he be held
accountable or his party be held accountable, but also, if he extends
executive power, it is one of those genies, that once you let it out of the
bottle, it is hard to ever put it back in. I love the trillion dollar coin
HARRIS-PERRY: I thoroughly think we should have the trillion dollar coin.
I want the trillion dollar coin. That sounds great, but once you start
sort of extending executive power, you extend it for the next guy, and the
next and the next and the next.
DORIAN WARREN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, yes and no.
WARREN: In some ways if you remember Franklin Roosevelt tried to extend
executive authority really significantly, and he did in lots of ways, but
he got pushback from the Supreme Court and from the Republican Party that
hemmed him in a little bit, even though for Truman his - his successor,
there was an extended reach of the executive office, but I want to go back
to some older political science theories about presidential power. And
there is one example from Richard Newstat of "The Politics of Persuasion"
and "The Bully Pulpit," which is some thing the president has not used on
this issue just yet. He can go over Congress, directly to the markets,
directly to the American public and make a public case about the use of
this unconstitutional ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right.
WARREN: ... what`s the seemingly unconstitutional authority, he has not
done that yet, and that is still one of his options in terms of his
HARRIS-PERRY: It also feels to me, Cristina, like, you now, not only could
he potentially go, but that one of the arguments he has in his back pocket
is, we are not actually having a deficit crisis. Much of the deficit is
already addressed ...
CRISTINA BELTRAN, ASSOC., PROF., NYU: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: ... you know, and so in other words, sort of when we look at
those trend lines Paul Krugman has been showing us, the trend lines tell us
the deficit is disappearing slowly, but surely ...
HARRIS-PERRY: And almost all of it has been done on spending cuts. Is
there even a need at this point? When you look at our debt reduction, when
you look at how much of it has been done, as you can see on the graph back,
and how much of it has been done with spending cuts. Do we even need to be
having this fight?
BELTRAN: Well, we may not in fact need to be doing this. But I think
what`s - one thing that I think is interesting is that he was sort of -
when initially we saw Obama be kind of nervous about claiming the sort of -
what he was worried about, a kind of overreach, but we already have recent
history with this, in terms of immigration reform. I mean when he did
exactly - he did deferred actions ...
BELTRAN: He initially had said he did not want, you know, kind of go
around Congress, but then the realization that, you know, there was popular
support for this issue, and Congress was not going to move, and he didn`t -
and he didn`t get any blame from the public, the public was actually
pleased that he finally took some real action on this. So, I don`t think
there will be a lot of political blowback on this. I think there will be a
sense that we had an election, and he is doing something, and if he has to
circumvent Congress, to overcome a potential global economic crisis, that
is what he`s doing.
HARRIS-PERRY: The platinum trillion dollar coin does feel like - it does
feel like the deferred action ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s just sort of creative way within ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Sort of the letter, if perhaps not the spirit of the law ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... that the president can in fact have.
BELTRAN: I love the coin. I actually think there could be a commemorative
BELTRAN: And I think we should just go with it. I think it would be
HARRIS-PERRY: And there could totally be a hip-hop song about that.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was just - it would be ..
BELTRAN: ... so good.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. All of that. Stay right there and what the
president can do about guns is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The president
is going to act. There are executive orders, executive action that can be
taken. We haven`t decided what that is yet, but we are compiling it all
with the help of the Attorney General and all of the rest of this cabinet
members as well as legislative action we believe was required.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Vice President Biden on Wednesday hinting at a
possible outcome from the work of his task force. Now, for those of you
who are either hoping or fearing that this possible executive order will be
a complete overhaul of the Second Amendment, I`m just going to tell you, it
won`t be. Our nation and its laws are path dependent as in as a nation
where we have been is part of how we end up where we are. I know. Listen.
Policies simply cannot be made on a blank slate, perhaps, perhaps we would
be much safer if there was no such a thing as a right to bear arms,
perhaps, but there is. And whatever policy on gun control is enacted, it
is dependent on the pre-existing Second Amendment. So I want to ask you a
little bit about that, Mark, it feels to me like on the one hand, you could
make a case that we could just sort of, you know, go ahead and holding the
country together, and recognizing that we are in a new place, that the
president just says, you know what, we are coming for these class of guns.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re just going to come get them, but in this country, that
would in fact mean going to people`s homes and taking - I mean the thing
that they always say coming to take my guns, what has to happen?
ALEXANDER: Right, and that`s a problem. And we have - you know, look at
the entire Bill of Rights, and that is the kind of thing which clearly is
something that we as a nation don`t feel comfortable with, the government
coming into our home for lots of reasons.
ALEXANDER: Privacy reasons, but the reality is the Second Amendment does
protect a certain right, but there is no right in the Constitution that is
absolute, and there is no way that anybody can argue that 200-plus years
ago people thought that what happened in Newtown is something that is
protected by the Second Amendment. There is no way we can say that there`s
an absolute unfettered right to have any kind of gun in any kind of
situation, so those who argue about it, have to realize that this path we
have been on, where we are today is certainly not anything anyone would
have imagined and no one should, and the Second Amendment doesn`t protect
the society that we are living in today, the way it goes now.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s worth just reading the Second Amendment, just so we are
reminded what in fact the Second Amendment says. And it says that "A well
regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state. The
right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed." And I think that
- that sort of last piece of it, the idea of the right to keep and bear
arms shall not be infringed feels absolute. It feels like we have a right
to bear arms and it shall not be infringed.
ALEXANDER: It shall not be infringed, but, you know, it`s also - it is a
time when we didn`t have a standing Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine. We
didn`t have that. So we are looking at a completely different society. We
have had a country that is founded by individuals gathering together to
rise up against the king, this is not the society we are looking at. So we
can say, infringing that right, it`s - it`s a different conduct, and the
Supreme Court has said it is an individual right, but again, every single
right in the Constitution has limits ...
ALEXANDER: And those limits are extraordinarily important, there is no
absolute right. So when the NRA or whoever starts getting absolutist about
it, that`s just completely wrong.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there is no absolute right, right, whether it is -
whether it`s our freedom of speech, which still ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... has limits or whether it is our right to bear arms.
There is also no absolute power when it comes to the context of the
presidency, so if we are on a path dependent - sort of pathway when it
comes to our - how armed we are as a nation, we are also on a path
dependent place in terms of our presidential power, so what can the
president do? What can the vice president do in this moment on the issue
BELTRAN: Well, it is really interesting, because I think that we can see
the ways, in which the public right now is really hungry for something to
happen. And gun control is an incredibly complicated issue, so I think
this is a moment where executive action would make people feel like, oh,
this is what`s actually - we are actually getting something done here. So,
you know, some of the things they talked about in - you know, in terms of
asking the DOJ to prosecute, you know, prosecute the gun laws that we have
or actually appoint someone to ATF, I mean these are the kinds of concrete
things the president can do that then the public could say, well, we`re at
least taking some kind of action on this question. So.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I wonder why we are more reluctant to provide
power for the presidency than for governors. I mean so much of the
BELTRAN: Yes. Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean so much of the conversation has been about state
rights versus the federal right, is that our sort of historic nervousness
about a king?
WARREN: Well, that`s - that`s - that`s a great question in terms of the
difference between governors and the leeway we give them and presidents.
One of the things that go back to an earlier point on this, the bully
pulpit. We saw the use of the bully pulpit around marriage equality by the
president and I think it actually did shift attitudes. And I think we are
at a similar moment where unlike any governor single-handedly the president
can use the power of persuasion to lead us in a conversation about gun
control and the Second Amendment, which can - it`s not going to move
everybody, but just enough people to shift what`s considered the center on
this issue. I think he can do that pretty effectively in this moment, this
is a chance he has that no other president in modern times has had.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, is the president`s power then fundamentally - this new
study in power that it`s just - it`s really the power of persuasion,
whether or not he can get the American people on his side?
CROWLEY: Well, obviously, there is more to it than that, but in this case
that`s an essential part of it, and I do think and based on a little bit of
what I know about the conversation that`s happening in the White House
about how to do this, I think there is a sense that they - -they don`t
however satisfying it might be for people who want to see quick action on
gun control, to see the president exercise maximal executive power and
whatever measures he might be able to take unilaterally, I think that there
is real weariness about the perception that Obama is coming to get your
guns, and it`s - and the NRA may not be as formidable as it is in its self-
image and the people who are, you know, the power may be overstated as a
lot of people are arguing, however, they do have real power and I think the
White House feels like the politics of this are not clear cut.
It`s not a hands down winning issue, not matter how they play it,
therefore, I think, essential to getting something done in the view of the
president and his advisers is to make sure that you are moving the public,
that there`s - that this is not - just doesn`t appear to be Biden, Obama
diving into the Congress, throwing punches, at their enemies, but that they
are squeezing the Congress from the outside, trying to move public opinion,
trying to educate people to say. I think there are a lot of people who are
totally convinced that gun control isn`t going to solve this problem ...
CROWLEY: They think it is a problem about crazy people ...
CROWLEY: I mean so they are trying to show, I think that is an important
reason why you seem to have mental health - buying sort of video games, to
show that they are not coming into this with the single-mind focus, you
know, to take guns ...
CROWLEY: We`ve been wanting to do this all the time, and this is our ...
HARRIS-PERRY: And this is our big chance to do it.
CROWLEY: And so, that is all about the bully pulpit power.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, I want - I want, you know, the program has used
executive power, "The Nation" magazine for whom both Dorian and I write do
they piece where they asked everybody what do you think the president
should do in the second term, and so we just kind of took a look at what he
had done, just in 2012 on the executive orders. And, you know, he has done
- executive orders to improve access to mental health services for
veterans, a Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration, acquisition of four U.S. wind
farm projects, in October, a Homeland Security partnership council, and
then just in December of 2012, the Hurricane Sandy rebuilding task force,
right? So there are some of the domestic things that we see the president
sort of acting unilaterally, using his power to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: But they are all pretty relatively popular thing. I mean
it`s hard to be against the restoration of the Gulf Coast or, you know,
Homeland Security or Hurricane Sandy.
BELTRAN: Right. Although at this moment, I think Dorian is right, I mean
the bully pulpit right now is interesting, because he can also kind of -
there is a big sweet spot of agreement, actually, in terms of, I mean, you
are seeing a big cultural change among gun owners, I mean there are debates
right now happening where gun owners are saying, I want to hunt, but I
don`t need an automatic, you know, weapon. And, you know, and so there`s
been a lot of gun givebacks. I mean I think we`re kind of in a cultural
moment, and I think one thing Obama could really do right now is in
articulating that larger sweet spot, bring in other voices who also agree
with him who are gun owners and really have a debate now. We say, you
know, having a gun in your house is like having a bomb in your house, like
- it`s very dangerous and you can make public safety issues and I think
there is a lot of sensible NRA members, who are so - I think here is a
really interesting cultural moment, and the bully pulpit right now might be
something particularly useful.
HARRIS-PERRY: And (INAUDIBLE) when, you know, we`re going to - we`re going
to take a whole hour to talk more on guns on the show tomorrow, but we did
just sort of -sort of one sort of stat of how many people own guns, and I
think this is sort of that goes critically to the point that you are
making. Then you can`t have this conversation without convincing gun
BELTRAN: Because Americans are highly armed, right? We are talking about
300 million guns in a population of 312 million people. So, now, that is
not one gun per person, right, we get that. But that`s a lot of guns
relative to our population.
When we come back, we are going to ask another question about power. We
know that he gets to pick them, but Congress has to confirm them. The
president`s cabinet conundrum is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Nerdland, if you will. Please take out your pocket
Constitutions and follow along. Article II, Section Two, Paragraph Two of
the United States Constitution states: "The president shall have power by
and with the advise and consent of the Senate to make treaties, provided
two-thirds of the senators present concur and he shall nominate and by and
with the advise and consent of the Senate shall appoint ambassadors, other
public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court and all other
officers of United States whose appointments are not herein otherwise
provided for." The keywords here are advice and consent. As far as the
Constitution is concerned, the president only needs to seek the advice and
consent of the Senate about his appointments. So can he pick his cabinets
or not? I`m not sure why this is a conversation ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... but, in fact, it is, because it feels as though this
president, for all these questions we`re having about his power to do
things, may not even have the power to pick his own cabinet.
BELTRAN: Yeah. No, it is completely true, it`s been an amazing sort of
lack of respect for this president at a certain level, like there`s been an
interesting constant pushback. So it`s interesting to think about
presidential overreaching in the context of being the president who`s
always had to sort of - yeah, I mean the fact that there`s been ongoing
fights - is fascinating.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean this is - I think that is a nice way to put it. Like
on the one hand, I`m having a little bit angst about, you know, on the one
end I want the president, for example, to extend the debt ceiling, to go
ahead and have the coin minted, but on the other hand worrying that that`s
an overreach, on the other hand, he may not even be able to choose his own
Secretary of Defense. I mean what do we think about the Hagel decision, is
that him preemptively addressing the politics, assuming that if he picks
this sort of guy that Hagel will be less likely to create drama, or is it
because he`s going to go in and just have the Hagel fight?
CROWLEY: I don`t think he wants to have any of these fights. I mean I`m -
among others who are a little bit surprised that he is going with Hagel
because - because I think they probably could have seen that there was
going to be some controversy there. With Republicans - you know, Secretary
Gates, the Democrats like to have Republican Defense secretaries, and they
- they feel like it is good optics to have a Republican in national
security post. Secretary Gates was quite well liked by Republicans even
though he was kind of to the left of the center of the Bush era on national
HARRIS-PERRY: But this is very far left.
CROWLEY: That`s right. I mean, still very much center right at least.
Hagel really did kind of break with Republican colleagues and I think the
White House had a note there was sort of resentment, and bad blood there.
But - so I`m a little surprised, but I don`t think that he wants a fight.
I think you saw the way he basically abandoned Susan Rice and said, I don`t
want to deal with this. That they don`t want to burn the political capital
on the bandwidth, I would just say - and my last point would be that - I
think Hagel is going to be OK, I mean there is a lot of hew and cry. In
the end, I don`t think there`s going to be - he`s going to be knocked down.
HARRIS-PERRY: But this point - this point that he fairly readily abandoned
Susan Rice, but is apparently willing to go have this fight with Hagel, has
brought up there`s a whole other set of concerns this week about whether or
not the president`s second administration is going to be less diverse than
his first administration. We heard Carney actually responding to these
claims earlier this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY: Well, Janet Napolitano is the Secretary of Homeland Security,
the cabinet level position, the U.N. ambassador, the U.S. ambassador to the
United Nations is Susan Rice, and, you know, again, I think I could go
through the list. This president has appointed - had made - has made two
appointments to the Supreme Court, both of them women. And I think that
his commitment to ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it`s an unfair charge?
CARNEY: Well, I think that the record speaks for itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it is both a good point and bad point, because when you
can list the women on your hand ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... there are not enough women, like ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get a binder.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I`ve got a whole handful of women, like it`s - that
alone makes you go, no, no, wrong answer, wrong answer, right? Like, don`t
start naming them, because it`s an indication that there are few enough of
them that you know all of their names, right?
ALEXANDER: Right. But - and the thing is that what the president has
done, he`s made appointments in the same - in terms of men and women, the
same ratios that President Clinton and ahead of what the last president -
then what President Bush did.
ALEXANDER: And I think it is important also to think about Elena Kagan and
Sonia Sotomayor. These are extraordinary - these aren`t just people who
are going to serve for four years under one president.
ALEXANDER: The president has been pushing to have the best advisers around
him, the best Supreme Court justices he can find, and he has been doing a
great job, but what we have to face is that the Republican obstructionism
is getting in the way of him doing his job as well as possible. And again,
the bottom line is we have to put country first instead of partisan - and
HARRIS-PERRY: We might also have to face that there are white men who are
fundamentally qualified to do the work of government, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: Like, you know, that - and on the one hand we have the
angst, but the fact is in Washington, in part because of path dependence,
we know that many of the people with the greatest qualifications and who
have been there the longest and who are most deeply embedded are oftentimes
white men, because that - was at one point, all that was available.
BELTRAN: Right. Right.
WARREN: I think that`s a great point. And I think I`m more worried about
where these appointments stand ideologically than their demographic
background. And to go back to your point on path dependency, I think
that`s - that can help us explain what is going on here, so to use another
presidential scholar Steven Skowronek, he talks about how presidents don`t
walk in the office with just a blank slate ...
WARREN: They`re on somebody else`s terrain that has been set up for them.
So, President Obama comes in on 30 years of right wing ideological rule
WARREN: And so his appointments are actually squarely in that ideological
set, and so, you know, they are center left.
WARREN: I - barely left, more center, right. So that is my concern is -
this is your second term. How can you push further to the left
ideologically and in terms of policy with your appointments, not are they a
woman or are they black, or are they Latino.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you can assume that the left comes wrapped in particular
WARREN: That`s exactly ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... kind of body, it`s not being centralized question that
BELTRAN: This is the interesting moment we`re in around diversity
BELTRAN: ... which is that - and you have talked about this, right. That
we want diversity now, I think in terms of the context of political
legitimacy, right, that everybody has a stake in government, everybody has
a role in playing a leadership role, but the question of whether or not we
are getting a feminist politics or a racially just politics, that`s a
different question. And those are two separate ones. And I think, you
know, even around questions with Obama, I mean - Obama, a man of color, a
liberal man, and yet, you know, he`s - done more deportations ...
BELTRAN: ... in one - you know, in one term than George W. Bush did in
two. Now, I think his legacy around immigration is going to change now
with this reaction and reform, but it tells us that when it comes to the
politics of race and the politics of diversity, this is still about
pressuring people, it`s still about the political and the George W. Bush
administration taught us some really serious lessons around the difference
between diverse bodies ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
BELTRAN: ... and ideologically progressive politics. That is what we are
kind of trying to figure out now, I think.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. When we come back, we want to do a lightning
round about that bully pulpit question, what are the quick things that we
think the president can use his bully pulpit power to do. When we come
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So you guys have been talking about the president using
his bully pulpit. What should he use it for?
CROWLEY: Well, I really think he wants to - if he feels strong about
climate change and feels that it is a real threat, it is time to help
people understand why that is to remind them to refresh the case and the
evidence, but you`ve got -- and we talked about gun control having to
happen from the bottom up and to squeeze Congress and the outside and not
to seem like it`s Obama diving in. I think climate - climate change,
global warming is the exact same thing, and he has really got to make a
persuasive case so people think, this is real and I understand why we might
have to take action.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is a good point, because as a world leader, but he can`t
address an entire global complex, right, this is something where - he can`t
just use his own power, but the bully pulpit might be a place where he can
CROWLEY: Well, yes, and also I don`t think Congress is going to - I think
if he tries to use his own power and strong-arm it, there`s going to be a
political backlash, he is not going to be able to do anything through
Congress. I think the public opinion can be moved, particularly now that
the economy is improving. The bad economy is the enemy of measures to
address climate change, because people say economy is our top priority, we
can`t afford to regulate.
CROWLEY: And so I think - and I think there`s a really good chance, you
know, it seems, start to do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Like, what`s your?
WARREN: Poverty, poverty, poverty. I think he can talk about ...
WARREN: Oh-oh. Now we are going to do ....
WARREN: So I think he can discredit fundamentally neoliberal economics.
It`s not working for most Americans, and he can do that by saying, we have
to help the least of the - the least of the - we have to really focus on
those that are working, who can`t get by, are still living under the
poverty line, so a focus on poverty, but also discrediting neoliberal
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. We will talk more about this, because the war on
poverty actually was one of our most effective set of policy interventions,
and we - we can do it again. Yes.
ALEXANDER: I think Dorian is right, and build on that, we need to start a
fundamental national commitment to helping those who can be vulnerable,
taking care of our children, taking care of our seniors, and that goes to
the entitlements debate, and that`s going to go on. And we`ll have to
remember, it`s great presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon
Johnson did things which were big and important saying who we are as a
nation, and the bully pulpit is perfect for that, we need to stand up for
people like our seniors.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. Bully pulpit.
BELTRAN: All of this. And I also think really making a case for the
progressive income tax, which is incredibly set, but really making - we
have to actually make an argument for redistributive policies that the
people who make the most pay the most, but I think we actually - we need to
have a real national debate about that, because until we do, we cannot
address a lot of these other issues. I also think he should say something
around marriage equality. I mean he came out initially and said, you know,
personally, I support this, but with the bill coming out in Illinois, it`s
his home state, it would really be a chance to come out and so to say, you
know, I believe in this. I mean I think at this point, the more he can
take on, they are going to attack him anyway. You are dealing with a
complete dysfunctional Congress, just have the wind at your back and make
real arguments for a vision of a second term.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, it`s not a bad point. Whether he plays it safe or
he`s bold ...
BELTRAN: There are going to be attacks.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, the attacks come.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so there is something about those bold moves. I
appreciate all that.
Up next, the real Chris Christie. What you don`t know about the man "Time"
magazine called "America`s most popular politician."
HARRIS-PERRY: Long after the images of Hurricane Sandy`s devastation
vanished from our television screens, one very visible and very vocal
reminder has made it impossible to ignore the ongoing struggles of Sandy`s
victims. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. His advocacy for New
Jersey`s recovery effort has extended his 15 minutes of national fame far
beyond his speech at the Republican National Convention. In fact, his
popularity may even have made him think that he can stretch that 15 minutes
all the way to the White House in 2016, but let`s not get too hasty,
because in my open letter this week, I`d like to remind the governor of a
few things that may make him and American voters want to think twice.
Dear Governor Christie, it is me, Melissa. Well, there is no denying it,
you are definitely having a moment. Since last year, when you put partisan
politics aside to praise President Obama`s disaster response to the recent
kick in the pants that you gave House Speaker John Boehner, it seems you`ve
become the voice of America`s frustration with Washington. As a resident
of the city that knows all too well what it means to rebuild in the wake of
catastrophe I know that people of New Jersey are grateful to have you as a
champion and you can tell by your 73 percent approval rating, even more
impressive as a Republican governor of a blue state, you`ve managed to get
62 percent approval among Democrats, 70 percent among women and 69 percent
among people of color. That makes you almost a shoe-in for re-election
this year, and no doubt all of that love has got you feeling like it is all
aboard the Christie train, next stop the White House.
But not so fast. I`m going to need you to pump your brakes, your ability
to lead people through the aftermath of disaster while important, does not
qualify you to be president of the United States. Just ask Rudy Giuliani.
That "Time" magazine cover line certainly had it right, you are the master
of disaster. It`s just that disaster struck long before Hurricane Sandy
came ashore. Let`s hope you do a better job presiding over your state`s
storm recovery than you`ve done presiding over New Jersey`s economic
recovery, because New Jersey`s economic performance rate 47th in the nation
in 2011. And right now the unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, surpassing
the national rate by almost two percent.
It seems, governor, that residents are still waiting on that so-called
Jersey comeback you claimed had already begun, and so much for your
reputation for telling the hard truths or telling the truth at all when you
ran for governor, you promised not to cut pensions, property tax rebates or
education spending. When you became governor you promptly cut all three,
oh, and there`s also the matter of those other cuts you proposed, the tax
cut for New Jersey`s wealthiest residents, you even went so far as to veto
not once, not twice, but three times a tax increase on millionaires.
Given your policy preferences for the wealthy, is it any wonder that it
took a natural disaster and some convincing from President Obama before you
could get some reciprocation in your love for Bruce Springsteen? You know
his every lyric, you also know that the boss, and I mean the real boss in
his song celebrates the working class, the same folks who suffer when you
refuse to raise the state`s minimum wage or when you cut the earned income
tax credit for low income residents or cut $7.4 million from reproductive
healthcare services. Thanks to you, the women of New Jersey now have six
fewer family planning clinics. Those that remain saw 26,000 fewer patients
after your budget cuts. That is fewer breast cancer exams, fewer cancer
screenings, fewer lives that can be saved with preventative care.
So, yes, by all means, enjoy your moment, you have earned it, but thanks to
your policy record, you`ve also earned what comes with you on 2016 and I
have a feeling America`s voters are going to give you exactly what you
deserve. Sincerely, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you happen to be watching the morning news around 7:00
a.m. on Wednesday, it seemed like Governor Chris Christie was everywhere,
well, that`s because he was. Yes, thanks to the magic of television, the
governor was able to quadruple himself and appear on four different
networks including this one with three of those appearances airing at the
same time. And in case that was not enough Chris Christie for you, his
face also graces the cover of this week`s "Time" magazine, the writer of
that cover story, Michael Crowley, is one of my guest today. Also with me,
Dorian Warren, Cristina Beltran and Mark Alexander. Michael, your piece is
pretty complimentary, it`s a nice little handshake, a little pat-pat for
the governor. What did you come away fundamentally thinking about what the
governor has done and accomplished?
CROWLEY: Well, we are capturing a moment in "Time", we are a news
magazine. He is riding high, he is extremely popular. So give the man his
CROWLEY: Now, as I explain in the story, the question is how long can this
last and how real is it? Christie, look, politics, like it or not is very
much about theater and Christie absolutely nailed the role theatrically of
CROWLEY: And he`s been rewarded for it. And it reminds me a lot of Rudy
Giuliani after 9/11. He just seemed to kind of give people what they
wanted in that moment. He appears to have driven out his most formidable
Democratic challenger from the race. Cory Booker is now likely to run for
But as I say in the story, New Jersey still has an employment rate higher
than the national average. They have a lot of budget, tax, spending issues
to deal with, and Christie is not where the state`s voters are on those
issues. So will he come back down to earth? Democrats in the state think
eventually he will, that this glow will wear off, that really, it is hard
to point to what did he do substantively, what results has he gotten that
someone else would not have? I think a lot of it really so far has been
theater. So - I talked so long I forgot what your actual question was.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, Michael, I think that is a good point. Your point
that he did the number one thing that any politician must do, he kept
himself from having a challenger, right? He is basically going to run as
governor-- it is almost impossible -- he would have to beat himself at this
point to lose. And yet, Dorian, I wonder if that is more of an indication
of the problems of the Democratic Party as a national party than it is the
sort of the capacity of Christie. How in the world do Democrats not have a
Democrat to run for governor of New Jersey? It is one thing when we not
have a governor of Louisiana to run as a Democrat, but New Jersey?
WARREN: And in a state where more Democrats approve of Christie right now
than Republicans or independents. It is very, very interesting what is
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s pretty stunning.
WARREN: It is this lack of a farm team. In 2004, Howard Dean had this 50-
state strategy, he was going to build up the party, what happened to that?
Where has it been? There is another interesting thing about Christie, and
I think about this a lot. Would Americans be willing to elect a fat
president, just to be frank? And so here is what we know. We had five
technically obese presidents in history, and the last one was Taft.
WARREN: He left office in 1913. Exactly. Would Americans actually vote
for Christie? In some ways, I think probably, when you consider that 63
percent of adult Americans are obese under our -- how we measure that. On
the other hand, I`m not sure that, you know, if this was a woman and we
were having this conversation, that would be a whole different story, but I
think it is interesting. He presents a very interesting persona, and in
terms of his physical embodiment, I think a challenge to contemporary
American politic, and that is very interesting.
HARRIS-PERRY: You will get in trouble a little bit for that comment, but
it is not a completely irrelevant comment if what we`re talking about here
is the theater of Christie. The point of what he does is generate a kind
of theatrical sense, and part of what works in the Jersey context is like,
I`m a big guy coming in, to Jersey on you, right? And it`s not clear
whether big guy here is either like his big blustery personality, or his
kind of his big self, whether or not that translates well in a national
ALEXANDER: Right. And I think also, just to bring back to the other
question, bring back to my state, back to New Jersey where he is the
HARRIS-PERRY: And Seton Hall, where you teach, where you guys educated
ALEXANDER: Best law school in the country, absolutely.
ALEXANDER: But in the state, when you talk about the bench of Democrats,
the reality is that we do have some great folks out there who would like to
be governor. But what we have right now is a governor who is popular at
the moment. But when we go out and remind people every day that this is
the man who thinks that raising the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 is too
much, right? When we have a governor who thinks that we should be cutting
back. Just in your letter, perfect, cutting back on women`s health care,
cutting, cutting, right? Saying we can`t have taxes on millionaires when
people are suffering. When we have unemployment way above the national
rate, there is a record that he has that is absolutely antithetical to what
we believe in, in this state. Harsh toward working families, against same-
sex marriage. There is a whole record that is what the Democratic Party
stands for on one side, and what Chris Christie stands for on the other
side, and that is over the next 10 months what we as Democrats will hammer
to try and push him out of office. He may be popular today.
HARRIS-PERRY: Give me two names on the bench, other than Cory Booker.
ALEXANDER: Well, Barbara Buono has declared a candidacy and she`s a very
strong candidate. Now, there is other people out there considering it.
The Senate majority leader, Stephen Sweeney, former Governor Dick Cody,
former Senate president. There is a number of people who are also out
there considering it, but we have one strong candidate in there already,
and she is pushing, she built a great operation, she`s going to keep going.
I don`t know who else is going to jump in and declare their candidacy, but
we have a message as Democrats that we have to push every single day, which
I think will be very effective against Chris Christie.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So no more calling the race for Christie.
ALEXANDER: Every day, I will be pushing to make sure that a Democrat can
succeed, and everyone knows he is very popular today. The election is ten
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And that is a difference, you are right. So coming
up next, saving the safety net, the looming battle over entitlements. We
have just been talking a bit about Chris Christie and his shredding of the
safety net in New Jersey. We are looking at the possibility of that
happening on the national stage. Plus, three years after the devastating
earthquake in Haiti, is the international community making things worse?
More Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. While we narrowly
averted the so-called fiscal cliff, it may soon seem like we are stuck in a
fiscal rerun as we wrap our heads around the next set of economic
complexities we are facing. The debt ceiling, the need for revenue,
spending reform and spending cuts. And while we can all agree that changes
must be made, many of us differ on what needs to change. But let`s be clear
about what is at stake, because entitlements and social insurance have a
long and necessary tradition in the United States of America.
On August 14th, 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act.
Prior to the law, more than half of the 7.8 million elderly Americans did
not have enough money to support themselves, only 3 percent of elderly
Americans were protected by state welfare pensions prior to 1935. The
amount benefit, 65 cents a day.
At the time when the country was in the throes of the Great Depression,
that Social Security Act was groundbreaking as it set up a contributory
system that provided economic protection for the elderly going forward.
Yet, it didn`t take care of everything. Almost 30 years later, in 1963,
only 56 percent of person 65 and older had hospital insurance. That left
older Americans vulnerable if a medical crisis struck.
Medicare was finally enacted in 1965 after decades of debate and lack of
political will for a federal health insurance program for the elderly. And
the growth of the program has not kept pace with contributions, and while
Medicare provided for more than 49 million seniors last year, keeping the
program solvent is still a big issue. But are these federal expenditures
really what`s driving the deficit?
According to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, the answer is no. Quote,
he says, "They are temporary. If anything, America`s safety nets have been
too small, and shot through with holes. That`s why the number of
percentage of Americans in poverty has increased dramatically, including 22
percent of our children."
So at a time when people are pushing for cuts in social programs, we must
pause to show that the entitlements addressed in the realities are as well
as the economic future.
Back at the table, Dorian Warren, associate professor of political science
at Columbia University, and fellow at the Roosevelt Institute; Michael
Crowley, senior correspondent and deputy Washington bureau chief for "Time"
magazine; Cristina Beltran, associate professor of social and cultural
analysis at NYU, and author of "The Trouble with Unity"; and also, Mark
Alexander, law professor at Seton Hall University where Governor Chris
Christie was educated.
HARRIS-PERRY: I will tease you about that forever.
So, look, the fact is that Mitch McConnell is stepping in now and is going
to be a part of the debt ceiling conversation. They move the player who is
not Boehner, and they are putting entitlements back on the table.
Is this the right thing for us to be doing?
WARREN: No, but it is part of a 30-year campaign to repeal the 20th
century New Deal policies by the Republican Party.
HARRIS-PERRY: I thought you would say repeal the 20th century.
WARREN: Repeal the 20th century, repeal the 20th century -- that`s
essentially what they want to do and it is framed, I think it`s mostly a
manufactured debate. It`s framed as we must do something, because of doom,
and you know the doom coming before us. I think that this is a question of
political will and choices, it`s not something objectively that we will run
out of money.
If we wanted to find the money to keep them solvent, we would do it. If we
wanted to go the war tomorrow, we`d find the money to go to war. We could
find the money to make sure that our elderly are not the most vulnerable in
society, like they were in the first two centuries.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Mark, speaking of finding the money, when we look at
the recent deficit reduction cuts. The fact is that 72 percent of recent
policy savings have all come from programs, right? Only 28 percent has
been about revenue increases, getting more money in there. Seventy-two
percent come from cutting programs and now once again in the conversation
of cutting Medicare and cutting Social Security.
ALEXANDER: And the problem is exactly what Dorian said, if you look back
and you say, what did George Bush do, W., what did he do. He started this
war and we can all talk about why it was all wrong. Bush tax cuts, and
somehow the Republicans at that time aren`t claiming a big problem, right?
They don`t care at that moment, right?
So, this is a matter of priorities, and we fight and we need to make sure
that we understand that the fight as President Obama I think very
successfully pointed out to the American people that we need to find ways
that we take care of in the context of Social Security take care of our
seniors. Sometimes that means that the wealthiest Americans are going to
have to pay more in taxes, and we have to consider what our promises are to
our seniors, what are the promises to the men and women who have built this
country before us that we can make sure that they are going to live the
rest of their lives with some dignity.
And if that means that you have to raise taxes to make it happen, well,
that is the choice which we as a country going back to that picture showing
in 1935, we are committed to that and we can`t roll back the 20th century.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Cristina, it is part of the ideological commitment, but
it is also just been incredibly effective policy since the institution of
the Social Security insurance, since the institution of Medicare, the
percentage of elderly people living in poverty has declined dramatically
HARRIS-PERRY: The elderly are no longer who are disproportionately poor.
HARRIS-PERRY: That is because of these policies.
BELTRAN: Exactly. And I think that what we are talking before at the
bully pulpit -- I mean, one of these things is Obama needs to do is to
historicize this debate, right, and really talk about the way income
distribution has changed and transformed what old age is now in the United
States, and now we have a crisis with children in poverty, right? And so,
we need to kind of make that the issue.
I think one --
HARRIS-PERRY: In part, because there is no Social Security or Medicare for
So, we have had a distributive problem here and it can`t become a
generational fight between the young and the old, although that`s an
interesting problem, because we have an increasing young, predominantly
minority-growing youth population and aging white population.
So, there are interesting racial dynamics here at play as well that he has
to negotiate. But I do think the other issue is, you know, we really have
to think about where we are going to go in the future and we have to think
about after that fight over the fiscal cliff, you know, I think one of the
issues now is politics is that people are saying, we gave you some money,
we taxed the rich, we`re done there.
So he has to keep pushing on corporate welfare, a bloated military, like
he`s going to keep making that case because I think the logic right now is
what we gave you wealthy -- you know, we gave you -- we gave you that, we
gave you tax breaks for the rich, or we gave you, you`re taxing the rich
now. So, now, it`s all about entitlements, and he has to shift that debate
in the coming years, or he is really going to be in trouble around this
question, I think.
HARRIS-PERRY: How much of the Social Security discussion about it being in
financial trouble is manufactured versus in fact, that Social Security is
in trouble? I mean, we do know that there is a very easy tax base
solution. We do know that all you have to do is raise the cap on the
percentage or the amount that is paid.
So, right now, it`s what, like $130,000 of income pays.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, you pay your Social Security. All you got to do
is raise up to $500,000 and we`ll be solvent into the foreseeable future.
But let`s say that people see it as a tax increase, and not a problem,
let`s say we keep it here, is this -- are we in fact in a crisis or at
least 20 years solvent, right?
CROWLEY: Yes, the crisis element is the exaggerated and people talk about
-- conservatives in particular talk about entitlements threatening to
destroy the future of the country. Social Security is not really the big
problem that you can kind of tinker around the margins that for instance in
the way that you just described and keep it solvent for a long time.
There`s only so much that we talk about the projections of the 20-plus
years into the future, and little, and relatively small changes in annual
gross domestic product in the country will determine tremendously what the
fate of the programs are. So, really, you don`t have to e feel like you
have a lockdown for 50 years. So, you can make some short term fixes.
And important thing to remember in this debate, and it is a confounding
thing, is that the public broadly speaking says we should cut spending.
They like the idea of cutting spending, if you ask them should we cut
spending, they say yes. If you look at these individual programs, they are
wildly popular, and Social Security I think more than anything, they say,
do not touch it.
And so, one reason why the budget debate in Washington is so kind of crazy
and Alice in Wonderlandy is because there is a sense that people have to
acknowledge that the public thinks we need to cut spending, I think in some
vague way, government is so big. But in all of the particulars, they say
don`t do it. They don`t want to cut the Pentagon, they don`t want to cut
Social Security, they don`t want to cut Medicare.
But I guess the final point I would make out of all that is that the
president is on strong ground if he is defending Social Security as a
program, he is strong ground because the public is saying, don`t touch it.
The problem is there is a sense that we`ve got to cut something, and what
will happen most likely is cuts to people who are vulnerable, who don`t
really have a strong voice in Washington.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, right, the reason that Social Security remains that
popular program, the one that`s so much more difficult to cut is because it
is not a means-tested program, right, because one of the solutions we often
hear to, is OK, well, let`s just make it a means-tested program only for
poor seniors, but we know politically, as soon as you strip the middle-
class folks of it, you have taken all of the political juice out of it,
right? And the key here is making sure that it remains a non-means tested
WARREN: And it`s not the only, you know, a lot of conservatives say, well,
it should be individual responsibility to save for the retirement and
Social Security does not preclude you from that doing, but it provides a
basic minimum and people might have a pension if you are lucky, although
not so much anymore. But you can invest in your 401(k) as well. So, it`s
not taking away choice.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, choose to be rich. Choose to be a wealthy old person.
WARREN: Not too long ago in the presidential debates when Al Gore talked
about putting Social Security in a lock box, and that was the consensus
that we had a surplus and we could easily protect Social Security for the
future. We`re not that far away from 2000 and we could figure it out if we
had the political will.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this is the economic story, right, that the real issue
here and you have dealt with the sort of marginal differences, right, that
the best safety net for Social Security and Medicare is, itself, economic
ALEXANDER: Absolutely. Obviously, economic growth can help so much and
there`s a big argument about which direction to go again. The president
made his case trying to grow the country.
And the reality is that over the last four years, the country has been
moving slowly, but steadily in the positive direction, and that`s obviously
going to be very important. Again, though, throughout this, whether we are
moving up and down, we have to make sure that there is a commitment to
seniors and I think your point, Cristina, is so important, this is why
seniors live a different life than they did 80 years ago when it started.
And that`s again focusing on the children. You have to have that same kind
of commitment, and these things make us great as a nation, and the politics
right now when you talk about Mitch McConnell who focused on the last four
years in trying to make sure Barack Obama didn`t get reelected, he has
proven his desire to put his party interests ahead of national interests.
And so, the question is, can the president push him to put the national
interests ahead of everything else?
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to show you one last graph as we go out, because
we`ll talk about Social Security when we come back. But again to make the
point on pure policy, what a difference it makes when we look at the
poverty rates by age from 1959 until 2010, we simply see a dramatic decline
during the years of the war on poverty for everybody, but it stays low for
the 65 and older and it starts ticking back up for our young people.
We know that the green line there is the 65 and older, it drops
dramatically after the institution of Social Security, and then war on
poverty and Medicare, elderly people are much less likely now to be in
poverty than our children. That`s the difference of the green and the blue
line and time to start talking about that.
When we come back, we`re going to talk about the Medicare question, and the
prescription for Medicare. Are we trying to solve a problem that does not
HARRIS-PERRY: If reforming Social Security is going to be a battle, making
changes to Medicare might prove to be an all-out-war.
Despite the push by some for a complete overhaul, a recent report by the
Department of Health and Human Services has Medicare rates rising at
historic lows and the reports also notes that while rates are low, seniors
are getting more benefits. And according to the report, what is helping to
keep the costs low? I love the answer to this one -- Obamacare.
So if costs are low and seniors are also receiving more benefits, what
exactly is the problem that we are trying to fix here? I mean, I just -- I
love this report, because, you know, one of the -- as wonderful as Medicare
has been -- one of the things that it did do is to increase the health care
costs in the country, right? That was part of the sort of residual
negative externality of Medicare was that we had rising health care costs.
So part of what Obamacare does as a policy is come in and begun to adjust
that by reducing the payments made on the basis of Medicare, right, which
of course got pilloried and attacked, as a reduction of Medicare itself.
But, no, what it is not doing is not decreasing the benefits that seniors
get, but it is to bring the costs down. Have we already found the solution
and yet, we are going to go into this debt ceiling fight looking for
solutions when we already have one?
BELTRAN: Yes. I think that we`ve been -- I mean, this idea that
Obamacare, we need to limit health care cost, and this is doing that. So,
I feel like, again, it`s really making an argument that this is a
government policy that`s working. Let it work.
Give us some time to let play itself out, rather than sort of panic over
entitlements, which is really just sort of an ideological effort to, you
know, cutback on these programs.
HARRIS-PERRY: Cristina, that`s fair. Like I am willing to say, I can`t
know the future. And so, perhaps it will be a failure. But how could we
possibly know at this moment? And when all of the evidence is towards it,
controlling cost and expanding coverage. It does seem that maybe we can at
least work on the empirics.
BELTRAN: I think there`s a real question in terms of, you know, we`ve been
talking about the bully pulpit, but really we`re also talking about a
fundamental question of civil literacy, like how do you educate a citizenry
to understand that these things take time, that this is kind of, you know,
because when we run -- people run for election, they say these things,
we`re going to fix this now. And the realization that now is like seven
BELTRAN: You know? And so, giving people kind of a sense of sort of
temporality of politics is part of what we have to do and we don`t do it
well. So, we create panic when we might actually not have a panic to be
HARRIS-PERRY: It is, in certain ways, one of the more fascinating aspects
of the Obama administration`s first term was that it made a decision to
pursue as its first domestic policy agenda item something that was long
HARRIS-PERRY: Something that would not be found to work when it was time
for stands for re-election.
ALEXANDER: Yes, that is one of those things were for me as a policy
director for the president in first campaign --
ALEXANDER: -- throughout all of `07 and `08, talking about the commitment
to making this big change. And you do not have the meeting day of
ALEXANDER: There are some immediate incremental dates, but it`s a big
picture desire to move things forward. The president has a complete
commitment to, and we are seeing the results in Medicare and as we move
forward, the implementation goes forward, we will see how this ultimately
helps all of us, all Americans, whether you`ve had insurance before or not,
and it helps all of us to reduce the costs and availability. It`s going to
be a far better system
But it was a commitment in the long term future for the country that the
president back in `07 and `08 said this is what we must do as a country.
And so, his own ability to make a positive change in the Office of the
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, on the solvency question, I just want to point out that
there are four parts of Medicare. I`m only going to go through the first
two, which is part A and part B. That is just a -- part A is hospital
insurance and it`s a portion paid for by our Social Security tax that helps
to pay for inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing care, hospice and other
And then, there`s part B. Part B is the medical insurance piece, right,
which is paid for by monthly premiums and the Treasury fund, that Social
Security tax, and it helps to pay doctor fees and outpatient hospital
visits, et cetera.
So, I mean, basically, we have two very different things. We have the
medical piece and the hospital piece. Often the argument made about
Medicare is, well, the problem is the elderly use too many of those
hospital ones, because, you know, it`s the wrong sort of insurance poll,
right? You are ensuring people who are most likely to use the most
catastrophic aspects of it.
In fact, that`s not what you will see when you look at the solvency of
Medicare. That, in fact, the elderly are very healthy, you know, given any
previous elderly population, in part, because of the implementation of part
B, which allows them to see a doctor means that they don`t end up
hospitalized in the same way.
WARREN: Right. It`s the facts. We`re going to have to pay for the health
care costs of our elderly, regardless of any programs, right?
WARREN: We`re going to have to pay for it as a society. So, the question
is: what`s the most economically effective way to do that? And to give
people insurance is a much more cost effective way than to keep people
paying to go to the emergency room who have no insurance.
WARREN: You know, I just think it`s helpful to remind people, we can get
into all sorts of debates about entitlement and Medicare. This is a life
and death issue.
WARREN: And we need to ask the question, how many more people will die, is
it 4 million? Is it 5 million? If we increase the age to 67 or we cut the
People will die --
WARREN: -- in this country without this kind of access to Medicare. So, I
think it`s helpful to remind viewers that this is a serious issue that even
our politicians in both parties don`t convey to the American public.
ALEXANDER: I think, also, that`s a good point. And I would say you talk
about the debt side, it`s a life and death issue, how do we live and how do
we die? And there`s a fundamental commitment that we saw, again, going
back to history and going to today, to talk about how we can live better,
and knowing that our lives are better when we have access to health care.
And that should not be something that depends on the amount of money you
make as your salary.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me -- it can have an economic contracting effect,
because here`s what we know. Many kids who have any means at all will are
going to do their best to, in fact, provide that medical care for their
parents if, in fact, the parents are elderly and don`t have it. So, that`s
money that comes out of the households of 30 and 40 and 50-year-olds to pay
for their 60, 70, 80-year-old parents.
If that money comes out of their households to pay for the medical care of
their elderly parents, then they`re not using it to buy the new car, to
purchase the new home, to do renovations, to put the kids in school.
This is your point, if we`re going to spend the money, we want to spend
this money in the most efficient way, because it will come out of
individual household budgets that contracts the economy, because there`s
less money to spend.
CROWLEY: That is one of the less appreciated points of Obamacare. So, at
the top, you are making the point that it`s -- part of it`s goals is to
control cost, and I think that that`s largely been forgotten by a lot of
people, and it mandated insurance and gets closer universal insurance. But
it tries to do things, to make the system more efficient and cost effect.
For instance, digitizing medical records and starting to institute a system
where through kind of data mining, right, and all of the things we can do
with rich databases now, and figure out which treatments are most
effective, which ones are wasteful, which ones are redundant, and it`s a
step. It`s not going to solve the problem. I mean, I think the constraint
of costs that we`re seeing recently is an encouraging sign, but there`s --
you know, some opinion that it has the do with the economy slowing down.
So let`s see, that I think that the jury is still out, but it takes an
early step towards a system that takes advantage of information technology
among other thing, and tries to figure out what`s the best way to spend
money, what are the best treatments. And I really think that`s going to be
a key part of it, and no one ever talks about that part of this bill.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that Obamacare is basically the Nate Silver of
health care reform in there data mining.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Michael Crowley and Cristina Beltran and also
to Mark Alexander.
Dorian is going to come back -- because up next, three years after the
disaster that stunned the world, is it possible that the situation has
gotten worse? We`re talking Haiti.
HARRIS-PERRY: The earth shook and the skies fell in Haiti exactly three
years ago today. Approximately 16 miles west of the nation`s capital Port-
au-Prince, hitting it at 4:53 p.m. local time, measuring 7.0 in magnitude
on the Richter scale, and timing out and only 35 seconds, is all it took to
effect more than 2.8 million people, equal to little more than the city of
Chicago in Port-au-Prince alone.
According to the Haitian government, at least 220,000 people were killed by
the quake, and more than 300,000 people were injured and though it may seem
like a low estimate, more than 97,000 houses were destroyed and 188,000
were damaged just in Port-au-Prince.
All of this devastation hit a country which absolutely could not afford it.
Fifty-five percent of Haitians were living on less than $1.25 a day before
the earthquake, $666 was the per capita annual income, and 50 percent half
of Haiti was 18 years or younger.
The international community responded quickly. What we are learning now is
that some of that help may have contributed to the problem. Here`s what I
mean. The total damages in Haiti were estimated $7.8 million both in terms
of physical and economic losses.
Since December 2012, $13.34 billion in humanitarian and recovery funding
from all kinds of countries have been planned for the earthquake response,
with disbursement through 2020. Already, slightly less than half of that,
48.2 percent has been actually disbursed to help the Haitian survivors,
almost enough to cover the losses.
But money doesn`t fix everything. Neither does help on the ground. Five
hundred and sixty registered NGOs, nongovernmental organizations are
working within Haiti.
"The Nation" magazine reportedly recently that immediately after the
disaster, just 1 percent of all NGO donor funds available for emergency
assistance were channeled to the government, while just 1.8 percent of
reconstruction funds donated by other countries were spent on budget
support for that reconstruction. Adding to Haiti`s troubles, 581,000 cases
of cholera reported from July of 2012, stemming from the outbreak just 10
months after the wake.
The epidemic resulted in 7,400 deaths and all of that after the quake,
after the help was pouring in. Even though 26 percent of Haitians now have
access to improved sanitation, almost double the figures seven years ago,
according to a new United Nations report. Still, that`s only 26 percent.
And one of our next guests is among those who believe that the United
Nations, itself, is to blame for the cholera epidemic in the first place,
and that several NGOs, despite the intentions, are contributing to the
Journalist Jonathan Katz, who himself survived the quake, is the only full-
time American journalist in Haiti, joins us next.
HARRIS-PERRY: The first word in correspondent Jonathan Katz` riveting new
book about the world`s response to earthquake in Haiti three years ago,
quote, "Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying, why Haiti?"
Clinton asked shortly after a 7.0 earthquake becomes what Katz called in
his book the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded in the western
Even as the international relief poured in, Cats writes about the inherent
misunderstanding of the real needs. People of Haiti, for example, needed a
way to filter and purify water. Instead, Cats writes, "The U.S. military
reported distributing 2.6 million bottles of water, including at least
120,000 gallons of deluxe Fiji water from the remote Yaqara Valley of Viti
Levu bottled 8,000 miles away. You can still find the containers in the
great dams of debris in the capital blocking canals when it rains."
Joining me at the table are: Dorian Warren of Columbia University; and
"Haitian Times" founder Garry Pierre-Pierre; Tatiana Wah, director of the
Haiti program for Columbia University`s Earth Institute; and the former
"Associated Press" Haiti correspondent Jonathan Katz, author of "The Big
Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a
So, Jonathan, I spent the weekend reading -- the weekend for me is Monday
and Tuesday, by the way. I spent the weekend reading your book, in part,
because I remain compelled to the images that we saw after Haiti, but also
as a New Orleanian to the history of our connection both in disaster and in
the attempt to rebuild, and I just kept thinking of the connection between
kind of the fragility of the space itself, and then of the state, right?
So it`s both the buildings fall, but there was such a fragile government
state there before the earthquake as well.
JONATHAN KATZ, AUTHOR, "THE BIG TRUCK THAT WENT BY": Yes, obviously, three
years ago today. It is very somber day for everybody in Haiti and
everybody who was there and who loves the country. But it is also a very
frustrating day, because there was so much hope, there was such big
promises made that things would get better, not just that things would get
back to the level they were before the earthquake struck, but that the
country would be better off than it had been before.
And the sad truth is that were another earthquake were to happen today,
exactly three years later, in the same spot on the same fault, it would
pretty much be the same story all over again.
HARRIS-PERRY: Garry, I wonder about this idea of making it better, like
the salvation of Haiti, because I think again, and the connection to New
Orleans as well, the notion that we must go in and save this space -- that
framework troubles me.
GARRY PIERRE-PIERRE, FOUNDER, HAITIAN TIMES: Well, Haiti is a country
everyone knows was least capable of withstanding such destruction, and it
did. The support coming in overwhelmed the country. I think that the
government in place at the time or even today just didn`t have the
infrastructure in place to really funnel the aid that came in and what to
do with it.
I agree with you wholeheartedly with Jonathan`s assertion, because there
was so much hope. And one of the things that I kept thinking back to was
that I have known Tatiana for 15 or 20 years now, and she always used to
say that what Haiti needs is a big bulldozer.
And I said, finally, she got her bulldozer, what`s going to happen now?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Except that, of course, it`s not a bulldozer in the
sense that it comes down, and in fact, it still must be bulldozed if that`s
what we mean. But you can`t clear a slate, right, and the disaster happens
in the context of a government that has -- that certainly has its own
problems of corruption, but also had been fundamentally undermined by other
Western governments, really since independence, since the slavery rebellion
that brings independence to Haiti.
TATIANA WAH, DIR. OF HAITI PROGRAMS, THE EARTH INSTITUTE: At the end of
the day, a 10-day-old government. The prime minister had just come into
office. But I wanted to go larger into the pledge amount, NGO figures
WAH: What it`s masking is that the pledge amount, when the government
actually sits down with the donors to find out where is the moneys? It`s
monies that have not been spent before that was put inside of the figures
that you see. So, Haiti averages about 18 percent disbursement rates. So
when you see a figure say $3.8 billion disbursed, it doesn`t mean it`s been
WAH: It`s been given -- a check has been put out, but you have a whole
infrastructure that you have to put in place. You have to hire it.
There`s a whole hiring process that you have to put in place, and that
takes a year, a year and a half for most organization, and they were giving
contracts out to organizations that knew nothing about Haiti, based on just
WAH: -- that we`re going to do something along with the reconstruction,
but then when what hits them is that where are the needs?
HARRIS-PERRY: And the checks that were given often to the NGOs instead of
the government, right? So you end up with almost like a parallel state,
right, the sort of NGO state that is existing in Haiti, some of which may
have had great knowledge and understanding of the country, some of which
had very little understanding, even if they have a great big heart.
And given the problems that the government had, is it reasonable to send
the money through the NGOs instead of sending it through the government
WARREN: I think when you have an NGO state as a second type of government,
it`s much less accountable. Who holds the NGOs accountable?
WARREN: At least there are specific levers and mechanism to hold the
governments accountable. So why not help the government build the capacity
to do the fundamental functions that the people of Haiti need. Instead, we
funnel the money over here, and we have no accountability for where all of
the resources went.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jonathan, speaking of where the resources went, when we look
at the images of Haiti right now, three years later, and granted, three
years is not a very long time given how bad it was, but these are images
from this week, these are not 3-year-old images. What -- what is the
lesson that we should be taking from all of this outpouring of hope and
support and money that nonetheless seems to lead to so little?
KATZ: Well, as you said, this earthquake happened in a very specific
context and the way that aid was done after the earthquake is the same way
that aid had been done for decades before. Not just aid, but larger
policies. And briefly, one example brought up is food policy in which
heavily subsidized U.S. grain, especially rice comes in, floods the Haitian
market, and undercuts the farms and puts farmers out of business, which
creates hunger. That in turn is part the relationship between Haiti and
the United States, Haiti and the World Bank, and other multilateral
institutions who forced Haiti to sign on to these agreements essentially
over the decades.
So what we are looking at is really is -- the reason why it`s not
surprising that things have not gotten that much better is because in order
for things to have gotten better, the underlying circumstances that made
the earthquake so destructive had to change.
KATZ: And even though the rhetoric started to change after the earthquake
and even in the mouth of Hillary Clinton for instance in the donors
conference in March 2010, she`s talking about not going around the
government anymore and supporting it directly, but -- I mean, there are so
many people who are invested in the status quo, whether it`s Congress
people who want to keep money in the United States and send it to their
districts, who are lobbied by an industry on K Street that represents the
so-called Beltway bandits and the large NGOs that depend on U.S. government
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, I want to talk about NGO`s good heart at
helping that doesn`t always work, but also U.N. and cholera, when we come
HARRIS-PERRY: We are back and discussing the continuing aftermath of the
Haitian earthquake three years ago. So, we have talked a little bit about
this sort of NGO versus the Haitian government. Tell me a little bit about
why there is that dual system.
PIERRE-PIERRE: Well, the system went back from when Papa Doc was president
in 1950s. The U.S. felt he was a scoundrel and he was really
counterproductive to the development of Haiti. And as a way to isolate
Papa Doc`s government, the U.S. in a way of working directly with the USAID
and other NGOs in the country as a way to give direct aid to the people and
not to help the government really misuse the funds.
That sounds like a good idea. I think every Haitian at the time supported
this, because 90 percent of us did not support Papa Doc. But over the
years, it has evolved to a way where you have a parallel government, and
hence, a lot of the problems you see in Haiti because a lot of times when
the prime minister or the president see that Save the Children, for
instance, is getting $20 billion to do the work, then they have to work
collaboratively. So, therefore, they`ll do everything in their power so
that Save the Children does not succeed, because in some ways, it
emasculates the government.
PIERRE-PIERRE: And they have no skin in this game. So, that`s what you
see happening. So when the earthquake hit, instead of strengthening the
government, what we had was even, you know, NGOs were being formed every
moment, and they were getting money to go to Haiti to do development work
and so, hence, the mess we today.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. And it`s real. I mean, these aren`t just --
this isn`t like, oh, it could have been done better. I mean, we`re talking
about real social issues.
WAH: This is larger problem of dysfunctionality of international aid,
period. It grew into a massive business itself, and the Haitian people`s
view is that it`s disingenuous. Here you are in, it`s the third world
country. It`s an underdeveloped country. It`s 1700s, 1800s, you know,
17th century, that you go visit.
It`s -- the only thing that probably right now that we can track is the
growth in disaster tourism in Haiti.
WAH: And you have an aid system where Haitians say, you know, the blank
foreigner has the technology, it has the science, it has the knowledge,
they know we are underdeveloped, the whole political system is
underdeveloped, you are disingenuous in that you know what you need to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you do -- so -- I`m just imaging that I`m at home and
I`m watching this show right now, and I gave my $20 or my $50, because I
felt in my heart such a sense of connection and such a -- and now you are
on TV telling me three years later that my money did harm instead of good?
Because what I don`t want to do is then sort of discourage the idea of
outpouring of support from ordinary people in the context of disaster.
KATZ: I guarantee you, if this segment goes up on line and comments,
somebody will come in with a comment that says, you know, that your guests
don`t get it, and the Haitians stole the money, and why don`t we talk about
how corrupt this government is.
And the reality is that for better or for worse, mostly worse, the way that
aid and development and the foreign transfer of money is done, almost none
of that money actually ever touches, gets within sniffing distance of the
Haitian government or the Malian government or whoever you are talking
about on some of the recipient --
WAH: Or the Haitian organizations themselves.
KATZ: Or the Haitian --
WAH: It never trickles down to the local organizations and not even the
neighborhood organizations within which that they exist.
KATZ: Not even private enterprise. I mean, the very few private
enterprise s that benefitted at all from relief contracts were essentially
run by people sometimes with dual citizenship in the United States and
doing things like waste collection that couldn`t be done anywhere besides
Haiti, or that would have some ultimate benefit to the U.S.
I mean, the thing is that, you know, so little of the money, between zero
and 1 percent, depending on which trends you are talking about, went to the
Haitian government in the first place. If they had stolen every single
penny, it wouldn`t have made that big of a difference.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting, because the time is never enough, but I
want to, before we go, I want to mention the cholera issue, because it was
the disaster that came after the disaster, and, you know, we do not know
for certain, but we have every reason to think that it is actually
connected to the U.N. peacekeeping forces and some of the choices that were
made about the disposal of waste, on an island that had not, itself,
experienced cholera before or in a very long time and therefore --
KATZ: Never. Never been a recorded outbreak before.
HARRIS-PERRY: And very little natural resistance. So, just tell us one
moment about that.
KATZ: I would say it is as close to certainty as science gets.
KATZ: I mean, if there is some other way that the identical strain to
cholera in Nepal traveled 9,000 miles to rural Haiti and ended up to the
base home to U.N. soldiers from Nepal, it will be one of the great miracles
of all time.
Unfortunately, one of the other great miracles of the all time, given their
behavior over the last two and a half year since that outbreak, a couple of
months after the earthquake, would be if the U.N. actually opened
themselves up to being held accountable or discussing their own
accountability instead of trying to change the subject.
WAH: Even the numbers --
WAH: Even the numbers that you put up in number of cases, most health
workers in Haiti, on the Haitian side would say, those numbers really mask
the reality. Haiti is full of rivers and you have to cross in most of your
personal needs are met in rivers. And then mountaintops where
international aid workers are not going to go to these mountaintops and
cross these rivers.
WAH: So that the numbers that actually of much far -- you know, far
greater than what is being monitored and they are not being monitored very
HARRIS-PERRY: So, ultimately, it brings us back once again to the question
of accountability -- accountability for the NGOs and accountability even in
this case for the U.N.
There`s going to be more in just a moment. But, first, it is time for a
preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yes, interesting conversation there, Melissa.
Thank you so much.
Well, Senate Democrats are suggesting President Obama take an unprecedented
move to fix a looming problem. Plus, an insider`s view of Vice President
Biden`s White House meetings about violent videogames from a researcher and
somebody who participated in those talks.
Also, the director of "Gasland," a fracking movie, gives his take on the
new fracking film "Promised Land" starring Matt Damon, including why the
industry may not be going after this movie as hard as his.
In our office politics, our own White House correspondent Peter Alexander
talks about life on the Romney campaign trail and shares some behind the
scenes including the campaign`s reaction to Mitt Romney on election night.
I`ll send it back to you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks, Alex.
And up next, she is feeding her people and saving lives against all the
odds. Our foot soldier of the week when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: As we`ve been discussing, the country of Haiti faced
devastating destruction from a massive earthquake three years ago. But
Haiti`s problems did not begin with that earthquake.
Our foot soldier this week Marie Melisna Robert. She is 46 years old and a
mother of three children. Marie comes from their Artibonite Valley in
Haiti known as the country`s bread basket, the valley where most of the
rice in Haiti is grown.
In the late `90s, Marie grew troubled with a problem in her community.
Women were very involved in the rice production process. But as they
sought to develop viable businesses, reasonable loans were hard to come by.
Women in Marie`s community were left with no choice to turn to loan sharks,
taking on loans with rates as high as 25 percent interest or even with
The punishment for failure to make payments? The women could be arrested,
have their land seized, even lose their homes.
So, in 1998, Marie, along with a group of neighborhood women, formed an
organization to make available credit at fair rates. The women pooled
their own money together and sought out microfinance lending organizations.
Though they procure loans from partner organizations, this is a group by
Haitian women for Haitian women. The women decide how the money they
borrow is used, what types of products are grown, where their goods will be
sold, and how goods will be priced. More importantly, they decide how the
money earned is spent.
When the earthquake hit in 2010, Marie lost ten members of her own family.
Her region was flooded with survivors from Port-au-Prince moving back home.
Demand for the food her organization provided soared.
Rather than give up under ever more daunting circumstances, Marie did even
more. Her organization continued its work, and she personally provided
housing for survivors who had lost everything.
And now, Marie`s impact is growing. Oxfam, an international confederation
of 17 organizations who fights poverty around the world, has become a micro
lending partner. Oxfam lends its expertise on producing efficient and
stronger rice yields, and leadership and training and micro loans. And
since becoming involved six months, approximately 80 members of Marie`s
community have received loans from Oxfam.
The song you`re hearing now is sung by Marie and her fellow farmers. The
words they are singing translate to, "Women, we are reeds. This is what we
are. You can cut our stock, you can cut our roots. Right after it rains,
we will rise again."
For empowering herself and the women in her community, for providing hope
in the face of absolute destruction and providing the very food that helped
sustain a struggling nation, Marie Melisna Robert is our foot soldier of
And that is our show for today.
Thank you to Dorian, Garry, Tatiana and Jonathan. Thanks to you at home
for watching. I`ll see you tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. We are going to
be looking at the issue of guns. Join us.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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