THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
January 18, 2013
Guest: Robert Costa
EZRA KLEIN, GUEST HOST: At the retreat, the Republicans are trying to
figure out one of the hardest questions in all of politics. What do you do
after you lose?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: All the talk about
Republicans on the ropes, conservatives and then retreat. We`ve come a
long way since.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMAEL: The House GOP leaders are huddled in Virginia.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Getting some advice on how to turn the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some type of autopsy of the last election.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Plotting their next moves at their annual
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Face it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama has won.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president won the election.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Republicans lost.
GOV. BOB MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA: I told them, stick to your
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys lost.
MCDONNELL: We need a principled, conservative party.
CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC ANCHOR: This is not about tactics. They brought
in a pollster this weekend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don`t need to be a rocket scientist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys lost.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To figure out you lost every possible demographic
TODD AKIN (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: If it`s a legitimate rape.
JANSING: Stop talking about rape.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Find something else.
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Self-deportation.
I`m running for office, I can`t have illegals.
I want to protect legal immigration.
JANSING: They need to reach out to Latinos.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have a big problem in national elections.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama has won.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president won the election.
MITCHELL: The president right now has a higher approval rating
certainly than Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Horrible numbers for Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A pitiful 14 percent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty bad numbers for the Republican brand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On John Boehner`s report card, it`s just special
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s a dysfunction in their party.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: The debt ceiling is a dangerous game.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t see that as a winner for them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don`t fight battles you can`t win.
MITCHELL: They can`t win this battle.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s a troubled time for the party.
BOEHNER: Let`s stop for a second.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let`s make some clear, definitive decisions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Republican strategy: stop talking about
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pass the debt ceiling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don`t fight battles you can`t win.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s a troubled time for the party, get
BOEHNER: We`ve got to be the party of new solutions. We`re not just
going to be the party of no.
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: It is Groundhog Day.
BOEHNER: All the talk about Republicans on the ropes, the
conservatives in retreat, we`ve come a long way since.
KLEIN: I`m Ezra Klein, in for Lawrence O`Donnell.
And one of the truly great scenes in political film comes at the end
of Robert Redford`s "The Candidate", when Redford having just won the
election, sits down on the bed taking it all in.
His next few words are not just to every film junkie, not just every
political junkie, pretty much to every political candidate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT REDFORD, ACTOR: What do we do now?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: What do we do now? That is always the question, now that
you`ve won, now that you actually have to govern, what do you do now?
But it`s not just a question that affects winners. Sometimes, losers
of elections have to ask what do we do now? And for them, the question can
be even harder to answer. After all, the winner in theory should do
whatever they promise to voters. That`s what you won them.
But the losers just watch the voters say no. Their agenda got
rejected, so what do they do now?
Take the Republican Party, for example. They just lost the 2012
election at every federal level. They lost the presidency. They lost at
the Senate. And they got fewer votes than the Democrats did in the House
of Representatives. But due to the way the House districts are drawn,
they`re still in charge.
And so, they`re in kind of a weird position. Their argument lost.
The American people didn`t want what they were selling.
But they`re not out of office. They`re still in power. And their
constituents want them to fight for their ideals. So, what do you do now?
How do you balance losing the national election and losing the argument but
still being in power?
Over the last couple of days, House Republicans have been gathered in
Williamsburg, Virginia, to try to sort that out. And discussions have
begun with what not to do now.
Number one on the agenda: do not say anymore dumb things about rape.
According to numerous reports, House Republicans sat down for a session
with a GOP pollster, in which they were told in no uncertain terms, quote,
"Rape is a four letter word -- don`t say it."
OK, no more rape talk, check.
Number two: you lost the election. You can`t just crash the economy
if you don`t get your way on the budget. This is, of course about the debt
ceiling which smart Republicans know full well is a trap for the GOP.
Newt Gingrich, no stranger to setting up high-stakes showdowns with
Democratic candidates, put it pretty clearly on "MORNING JOE".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: They`ve got to find in the
House a totally new strategy. I mean, confronting -- for example,
everybody is talking about okay, now here comes the debt ceiling. I think
that`s frankly a dead loser, because in the end, you know it`s going to
happen. The whole national financial system is going to come into
Washington by television and say oh, my God, this is going to be a gigantic
heart attack, the entire economy of the world will collapse, you guys can`t
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: The only problem for John Boehner and Co., is that a lot of
House Republicans did want to use the debt ceiling as leverage. So, you
couldn`t just tell them they can`t. They wouldn`t accept that. So, at the
retreat this weekend, House Republican leaders have been trying to coax
their leaders down from the tree, not all the way down the three, not
completely on to solid ground, but maybe on a more secure branch.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor explained the new plan, quote, "Next
week, we will authorize a three-month -- three-month -- temporary debt
limit to give the Senate and House time to pass a budget. Furthermore, if
the Senate or House fail to pass the budget, in that time, the members of
Congress won`t be paid by the American people for failing to do their job.
No budget, no pay."
All right. So in other words, House Republicans say they will raise
the debt ceiling at least for now. They were saying they will raise it
without actual passes of the equivalent number of spending cuts, which
means the Boehner rule, which you have to get every dollar for spending
cuts on every dollar of debt ceiling increase is effectively dead.
And saying all this, they`re saying the debt ceiling doesn`t give them
real leverage. It gives them an opportunity to give real messaging. But
they can`t survive a showdown where they say won`t raise it and they know
it. This is what House Republicans do now. It is the only answer for what
they can do now. They come to terms with having lost the election.
As my "Washington Post" colleague Charles Krauthammer wrote today,
"The general rule is from the single House of Congress, you can resist, but
you cannot impose. Aren`t you failing the country, say the insurgents?
The answer: the country chose Obama. He gets four years. If you want to
save the republic, win the next election. Don`t immolate yourself trying
to liberalism from itself. If your conservative philosophy is indeed
right, winning will come."
Joining me now, "The National Review`s" Robert Costa, and Slate.com`s
Dave Weigel, both of whom doing great reporting from the retreat this week.
And appreciate you guys being here. You did just get back.
Robert, I want to start with you. So, tell me what is the thinking
behind the three-month extension? Why three months, why a short-term
ROBERT COSTA, THE NATIONAL REVIEW: A lot of it has to do with public
relations. Republicans came out of this election and they feel devastated.
I think what I heard from the retreat, and members who are inside of the
room, is that they want to start winning the P.R. battle again. And to do
that, they have to take the debt limit off the table, and they want to
fight on spending cuts with regard to the continuing resolution to fund the
government and the upcoming defense cuts, the sequester.
And they want to put this debt limit off for three months, get it out
of the headlines, not let the president use it as a Republican punching
And so, you see Paul Ryan, for instance, really taking a leadership
role at this retreat, trying to tell his colleagues, come to the center,
let`s get this debt limit extension, let`s move on to other issues.
KLEIN: Well, one of the interesting things about the way they did it
and in doing it for only three months, Dave, is that when you do it for
three months, the idea is you can always come back to it if you want. But
it seems to me -- and, certainly the way it is being reacted to or being
read in the press, in saying there is going to be a three-month extension
before the debate, they are saying, effectively, we know we can`t win a
fight over the debt ceiling. We know that we will cave at the end of that.
And so, it seems to me that the leverage is now drained out of that.
The threat is no longer credible.
DAVE WEIGEL, SLATE.COM: A lot of it did. I mean, what the
Republicans were saying, they were trying to tell their new members, to
educate their new members on exactly how the debt ceiling worked, is that
it might not have been done last time. As he was just pointing out, Paul
Ryan has the sort of, these are not the androids you`re looking for,
ability to tell Republicans, yes, this will allow it to be your
conservative principle --
WEIGEL: No, it does. They just convince them -- over the course of a
couple of days that they will have three pivot points, and if they did
this, in April, they`ll be able to say, see, the onus is on the Democrat in
the Senate and also on the president to pass a budget because we were
reasonable. The first time they`ve been able to look reasonable really
And they brought them around on that. I mean, they`re still in
dissension about what else they might want in this extension and they`re
asking for a nearly clean extension. I was talking to a John Boehner
spokesperson after this was presented and we were asking -- didn`t the
Boehner rule say we need cuts for every dollar of debt limit increase? He
said, well, the Boehner rule is cuts or reform, and making the Senate
passed a budget is reform.
So, they`re trying to sell that is not backing away from what they did
before, but it kind of is.
KLEIN: Yes, it does seem to me that it kind of is. But when we go
three months into the future, let`s say you get the budgets passed. The
idea there is in the intervening period. You have two other moments for
fiscal showdown, you have the spending sequester, which has about a
trillion, a little bit more, in cuts to defense and then domestic programs.
And then you have the continuing resolution, which funds the
government. And if we don`t come to an agreement on it, has a government
shutdown. I had a Senate aide today tell me that it is an amazing fact of
the Senate now that people are just breathing a sigh of relief, that we
might just have a government shutdown, because the alternative is a debt
But it doesn`t seem to me there is a clear path, you could have a
shutdown. If that lasts for a long time as it did in the `90s, the debt
ceiling will come at the tail end of that, and combining a government shut
and the debt ceiling would be pretty dramatic.
COSTA: That`s a great point, Ezra. And look at -- the Republicans
made real -- two calculations right here. They wanted to have a fight
perhaps on the shutdown as related to a continuing resolution, but you
don`t hear any Republican talking about moving towards default.
Republicans do not want to be politically associated with default.
Maybe you`re right. They`ll be willing to have a shut down if the
Democrats won`t give them a cut on continuing resolution. But default is
now off the table for three months, probably off the table long-term.
But big picture of this is really interesting, the Republicans with
the short term extension, are putting the burden the responsibility on the
shoulders of Harry Reid to pass a budget in the Senate. But this really
tells voters and political observers that Republicans in the House are sick
and tired of getting the full attention in American politics. Republicans
do not always want to be the story, so they want to make the story the
Senate. That`s not going to be easy to do, Harry Reid is very adept at
saying, no thanks, I`m going to do my project.
But House Republicans, with all their actions, they feel like they
were humbled on the fiscal cliff, they were humbled by the election. They
haven`t had a good experience since early January. So, they just want the
toss it to the Senate and see what happens.
KLEIN: And I think humbled is kind of great word. If I read a lot of
the report coming out of the retreat correctly, it kind of seems like the
Republican leadership planned, of course, the retreat and the speakers --
planned to retreat the talk their members down, to talk them into a calmer
position, on everything from language about how you talk to women and
minority voters, and to the debt ceiling, to some of the other broader
political strategy things.
Is that -- you were there, is that kind of a fair read?
WEIGEL: Yes, you could kind of see them back away from some of the
more extreme positions as the days went on. I mean, you heard --
yesterday, Paul Ryan was kind of explaining to reporters what he had been
saying, that first saying the three-month extension was on the table. They
were still saying Republicans say, well, maybe it`s part of the three-month
extension, we could change the definition of what default is, we can fib
into the debt limit language, prioritization, which you`re familiar with,
which is claiming that if we hit the ceiling, we can pay the important
WEIGEL: And Mick Mulvaney from South Carolina was one of the real
hawks on the budget, was saying, really like an hour before that Cantor
statement, well, default is not when the national parks close, we don`t
need -- that didn`t get -- included in this deal. I mean, they were backed
down in a way that they can rebel next week and next week might be a little
bit different. You might have a filibuster fight in the Senate, this very
Senate they`re counting on to move it out in the budget.
But the lack of certainty from conservatives about what they`re going
to get in the deal, that is a new humility. That was not there in 2009
when this first came up. They were ready to go to the mat on the debt
KLEIN: And the key person, it seems, in this deal is actually Paul
Ryan. And it`s been fascinating watching him after the election, he voted
of course in the fiscal cliff deal. He was there in the retreat today sort
of, as Dave mentioned, talking the Republicans down on this a little bit.
You know, if you thought after the election he would prepare for 2016,
if he does indeed run, by trying to be a conservative leader on the right
flank opposing Boehner, he`s not done that. He does seem to be trying to
play as one of the grownups in the caucus.
COSTA: For sure. And he`s one of John Boehner`s greatest allies.
One of the best anecdotes I`ve heard from members inside of the retreat,
was that Paul Ryan was hanging out, hanging out in the hotel lobby, at the
Kingsmill Resort, constantly being a whisper almost for House leadership,
talking about the debt limit, about why the short term makes sense.
And remember, there is a divide between many of these conservative
back benchers and Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor. There`s always been a
fissure between the leadership and back bench, but Ryan appeals to both of
those crowds, and he`s taking that responsibility, and willingly, happily,
being the person who could try to mend fences within these two blocs of
within the House Republican Conference.
KLEIN: It`s a huge -- it`s a huge and interesting development in his
political career here.
Dave Weigel and Robert Costa, thank you guys for being here and for
all your great reporting over the week.
COSTA: Thank you.
WEIGEL: Thank you.
KLEIN: Coming up, Republicans have an explanation for their behavior,
Obama made them do it.
And also, why the assault weapons ban is not the most important gun
law that congress can pass right now.
And plus, while Notre Dame has been focused on a fake tragedy, they
have been ignoring a real one.
KLEIN: Think of some of the wilder things you have heard Republicans
saying recently -- default, socialism, legitimate rape. Republicans now
have an odd rationale for that behavior, President Obama made them do it.
That is next.
And later tonight, a group of business leaders say they know how to
save Social Security. And here is a hint to their plan: it doesn`t involve
them paying anymore.
KLEIN: The first day of the House Republican`s retreat was devoted in
large part to persuading House Republicans to stop saying offensive things
about rape, and to stop thinking they can hold the debt ceiling to hold the
This might seem obvious. But maybe we should be able the take it for
granted that our legislators won`t petulantly crash the economy or offend
rape survivors. The House GOP leadership had to mount an organized
campaign to convince GOP members of those things is evidence that something
has gone a little bit wrong in the Republican Party. And you know, no one
knows that better than Republicans themselves.
But this has created a real dilemma for people who care about the
party and believe in the ideals, but also believe that something has gone
awry with it. You don`t want to kick your party, not when it`s down
anyway. You want to blame where you feel it belongs, which is President
So, recent weeks have birthed the single, strangest stream of
commentary I can remember seeing, particularly of the Republican Party.
The argument we are hearing from respected, very smart, very serious
writers, is that the Republican Party`s crazy behavior is on some level
President Obama`s fault.
My colleague at "The Washington Post", Michael Gerson, he wrote an
early version of his column, as he put it, Obama, quote, "knows that
Republicans are forced by the momentum of their ideology to take positions
on spending that he can easily demagogue. It`s the momentum. They have no
choice. So, as Gerson tells it, Obama has in a bid to, quote, "break his
opponents decided to force the GOP to surrender on the debt limit and
require the Republicans to accept new taxes in exchange for any new real
spending reductions." Defeat (ph).
So the White House`s plan is to force Republicans to be unreasonable
by being themselves reasonable and taking the positions they have had all
along, including in the 2012 campaign, which they won.
Another version came today from "New York Times" columnist David
Brooks. In the column, Brooks says the Democrats were adopting a strategy
you could call "kill the wounded" -- the wounded here being the Republican
Party. The way that strategy will work is the White House will propose
moderate, popular policies like gun control and immigration reform and
hurricane relief, and then will force the Republicans to, quote, "either
offend mainstream supporters or risk a primary challenge from the right."
There is a kind of a delightful logic to this argument, which it is
true. The Republican Party looks really bad because the White House is
proposing pretty popular moderate ideas and Republicans keep saying no to
them. And yes, it`s true that House Republicans look kind of crazy when
they say they`re going to let the White House default on its obligations in
order to extort spending cuts from President Obama, despite losing the
election over that issue.
So, yes, if Obama wasn`t around, the House GOP wouldn`t be doing all
this and they wouldn`t look as nuts. And they`re probably more popular.
So it is kind of Obama`s fault.
Of course, the simpler explanation is not that Obama White House just
planned all this. But the reason they have been taking moderate positions
that they have taken for years now, those might just be their positions.
If the Republican Party can`t either agree to them or come up with
popular, reasonable positions of their own, the problem here might be
located inside the Republican Party, not at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Barack Obama is the president of the United States. He is a very
powerful man. He is responsible for many things. But he is not why most
Republicans have taken a pledge, saying they`ll never raise a dollar in
taxes no matter what the budget deficit looks like. He is not why they
decided to put the entire U.S. economy at risk if they don`t get their way
on spending cuts.
He is not why the Republicans have partnered with the NRA to argue
that any gun control legislation, no matter how small, no matter how
careful, is tantamount to taking away everyone`s guns. He is not why many
Republicans have extreme views on rape and abortion and he`s not why
extreme movements like birtherism and extreme ideas like going back to a
gold standard in the middle of an economic crisis have taken root on the
This country needs and deserves a better Republican Party. And there
are a lot of people in the Republican right now who want a better
Republican Party who are trying to push it there. Those people, I think
include key leaders in the party, like the House Republican leaders who are
spending this weekend trying to talk their members down from the ledge.
And they also include folks like David Brooks and Michael Gerson who
in saying that Republicans look deeply unreasonable in relationship to the
White House, they are telling Republicans you are being unreasonable. You
need to move to the center.
The structure of their argument a bit weird, but they`re pushing in
the right direction. For the Republican Party to fix itself is going to
require a painful process, in which those more sensible and sane voices
stand up and stare down the more extreme elements of the coalition, and we
need them to do it. We need them to win.
Coming up: the gun laws that could save a lot more lives in the
assault weapons ban.
And later, in the show, the Notre Dame story that isn`t getting nearly
the attention it deserves.
KLEIN: The NRA claims that more guns in the hands of the right people
would make the country safer. So consider this little anecdote from
Tennessee. The "A.P." reports that a Tennessee State Representative Curry
Todd pleaded guilty today to drunk driving and gun charges and will spend
48 hours in jail and the loss of his firearm for a year.
The former Republican police officer was arrested in Nashville after
failing a road sobriety test with a loaded .38 caliber stuffed next to the
seat. Representative Todd is best known for sponsoring a Tennessee law
that allows with hand gun carry permits to be armed in bars and restaurants
that serve alcohol -- because what could go wrong? He told reporters he
has no plans to resign.
KLEIN: In the spotlight tonight, the really important proposals
President Obama made on guns, and why the assault weapon ban by far the
most controversial, most contested and most covered proposal the president
made, is it the most significant of them?
Take a look at these two guns: can you tell the difference? And in
fact, here is a better question -- a more important question -- can you
identify which was legal under the assault weapons ban? They look similar,
right? It`s because they are. The one on the left is the AR-15. The one
on the right, the Colt Match Target HR Rifle, the legal replica of the AR-
15, produced when the assault weapons ban was in place, to get around the
assault weapons ban.
The assault weapons ban was kind of a misnomer. It banned
semiautomatic weapons from having, quote, two or more military features.
But most of these features were cosmetic, a heat shroud around the barrel,
or a threaded barrel to which a silencer could be attached, or a bayonet
mount, in case you wanted to mount a bayonet on your gun.
But when it came to fire power or the amount of ammunition that could
be loaded into either gun, there really was not a huge difference between
the one that was banned and the one that was legal. They just had kind of
different names and kind of different looks, and one you could buy and one
you really couldn`t.
One of the really good parts of the assault weapons ban, though, a
part that President Obama does want to reinstate was the ban on high
capacity ammunition magazines, ones that limit the amount of bullets,
period. Even if the gun is legal, even if the gun manages to get around
the assault weapons ban, it can still have its ability to do harm limited
by limiting the number of bullets in a single magazine.
One of the reasons the assault weapons ban gets so much attention is
it is big, bold policy, one that is graphic and easy to grasp and seems to
get right at the gun issue. But like with the magazines and the bullets,
many of the less excited sounding, more targeted proposals could have
actually a bigger impact.
A really important proposal, maybe the most important proposal
President Obama is fighting for in this gun control push is universal
background checks. You might be surprised to learn there is already a
pretty comprehensive list of people who are legally prohibited from having
guns. It includes anyone who is under indictment for crime punishable by
imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, who has been convicted of a
crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, who is a
fugitive from justice, who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any
controlled substance, who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has
been committed to any mental institution, who is an illegal alien, who has
been discharged from the military under dishonorable conditions, who
renounced their United States citizenship, who is subject to a court order
restraining the person from harassment, stalking or threatening an intimate
partner or a child of an intimate partner, who has been convicted of a
misdemeanor crime or domestic violence.
Any of those could disqualify you. And it is also illegal for anyone
to sell or transfer guns to any of these people. But we don`t actually
require background checks to see if they fall into these categories. Forty
percent of all gun transactions occur without a background check. They`re
private sales in what is essentially a shadow, secondary, huge and easy to
access gun market.
President Obama wants background checks for every gun sale, so a
private, unlicensed collector could still sell his gun to another private
collector, but they have to go to a licensed dealer and get that check done
before they do it. The assault weapons gun gets most of our attention.
But most crimes are not committed with the sensational military style
weaponry. And we shouldn`t lose track of the other very, very important
proposals here that could have a real impact in helping to keep guns from
being used in crimes, and making it easier for law enforcement to catch
criminals if they unfortunately are.
Joining me now is Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA
School of Public Affairs, a man who knows very much about this. Mark, it
is good to see you.
MARK KLEIMAN, UCLA PROFESSOR: Ezra, always a pleasure.
KLEIN: Mark, I wanted to talk to you about a piece of this which is
general crime prevention. A fair amount of Obama`s gun control package
isn`t about limiting which guns you can buy, but about keeping straw
purchasers from buying 35 guns at once and distributing them to a gang, or
getting U.S. attorneys to focus more on gun crime. How important is this
side of it?
KLEIMAN: Potentially very important. And that goes along with the
different and even less glamorous piece, which is relaxing the current
limits in the law on the way that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
and Explosives can computerize the data, particularly the data on where the
crime guns come from, what are called the trace data, and the extent to
which they can share those data and the results with local law enforcement.
KLEIN: So walk me through that a little bit. Why is the trace data
important? Give me an example.
KLEIMAN: So say there is a homicide, say a drive by. The firearm is
recovered and it has a serial number. Well, with the serial number, you
can run it back through the system and say, well, where was that last sold
lawfully? Because as you say, there needs to be a background check every
time it is sold. And eventually you can trace it all the way back up to
The main thing is to figure out what store sold the gun. Now, any
store could wind up selling a gun that somebody uses in a homicide. But if
you trace 35 prime guns to the same small gun store, then you have to ask
whether that gun store is making a specialty of arming bad guys, or is
simply sloppy about letting somebody walk in, buy 35 guns, put them in his
truck and drive them off to Los Angeles to sell them.
So the trace data can help you understand the mechanisms by which the
bad guys get their weapons.
KLEIN: You have done an enormous amount of work on how to improve
policing, such that we bring down violence in sort of hot spot areas, areas
with a lot of violence. And one of the things I noticed in the White
House`s proposal was to both give law enforcement and, in particular, to
give U.S. attorneys both more resources potentially and also more direction
to focus on gun violence.
When you read this part of it, did that just sound like boiler plate
language to you or was that potentially significant?
KLEIMAN: No, there is something real there. It`s not so much just
focusing on gun violence. If you actually hurt somebody with a gun and get
caught at it, you are likely to get a pretty severe penalty. What you are
not likely to get a severe penalty for now is being the gun dealer who sold
to somebody you knew was ineligible, or the gun dealer who sold to an
obvious straw purchaser, or the straw purchaser, that person without a
felony conviction buying guns on the legal market for re-sale illegally to
people who are going to use them in crimes.
Those violations are now treated as minor regulatory matters. And
part of what the president wants to do is make the penalties for gun
trafficking more like the penalties for drug trafficking. Right now, the
penalties are so small that not only are they not a good deterrent, the
prosecutors won`t even take the cases. Prosecutors tend to measure the
importance of what they`re doing by whether there`s a substantial sentence
attached. And they`re not going to spend months making a regulatory case
with a six-month sentence at the end of it.
So there is an order now to the U.S. attorneys to focus on gun
trafficking. But there`s also a proposal for Congress to increase the
penalties for gun trafficking. A lot of what the president has done is
basically fits the NRA slogan, which is we don`t need more gun controls, we
need better enforcement on the controls we already have.
So the universal background check doesn`t make anything illegal that
is legal now, but it will still be illegal if you`re a felon to get a
weapon. It just makes it harder to get around that rule and this trace
KLEIN: Speaking of better enforcement of the gun laws we already
have, one of the things in their proposal is to actually confirm a nominee
to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
KLEIMAN: now that is an original idea.
KLEIN: There has been a fairly long campaign now to degrade the
agencies, ranging from the ATF to even groups like the Centers for Disease
Control, which used to do research on gun violence and now are not allowed
to, that are sort of involved in enforcing the gun laws. Does that
actually have a big effect? Is the breakdown of that bureaucracy a
meaningful contributor to the problem? Or is that just something we should
be doing because it`s good governance, but it won`t matter all that much?
KLEIMAN: I think the degradation of the ATF matters. And in
particular, if some of these new proposals are put in, you need the ATF to
go after the enforcement of them. The research thing, of course, is a much
longer fuse issue. And I think that is more a good government issue. It
is just absurd to have ignorant congressmen deciding what research should
be done. Right? That ought to be left to research agencies. I am not
particularly a fan of some of the public health style gun research that CDC
funded. But that`s not an argument that ought to be made in the halls of
Science ought to be driven by scientists and not by politicians.
KLEIN: What a novel idea.
KLEIMAN: An anti-licentious (ph) measure.
KLEIN: Mark Kleiman, thank you very much for increasing my vocabulary
there a bit at the end.
KLEIMAN: Thanks, Ezra. Take care.
KLEIN: Coming up, you have heard about the fiasco at Notre Dame. No?
I don`t mean, by the way, the fake tragedy about the Twitter girl. I mean
the real tragedy. That is coming up.
And next, a group of business leaders at the Business Round Table have
an idea to save Social Security. And big surprise, none of the burden
falls on the companies they run.
KLEIN: You ever heard of the Business Round Table? Washington`s mega
business lobby -- Boeing is part of the Business Round Table. So is
Walmart and Bank of America and Exxon Mobile. Fedex is part of it.
Pepsico. If you can name a big corporation in America, if you know their
name and their logo, they`re probably part of the Business Round Table. So
the Business Round Table tries to not make too many enemies in America
politics. They don`t want to make their customers mad.
But they want to be heard . They want a voice. So this week, they
released a plan to cut Medicare and Social Security spending. The Business
Round Table lead that plan off with raising the Social Security retirement
age to 70. Currently for older Americans that number is age 66, 67 for
those born in 1960 or after. The Business Round Table also wants to raise
the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 70, which is fairly remarkable.
Even the House Republicans are only proposing 67.
So the Business Round Table is well to the GOP`s right here. In the
business press, though, their recommendations were treated as totally self-
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It only makes sense that adjustments have to be
made now that we`re living longer. Fiscally, this will never make sense
and it doesn`t add up. We know that. Naturally, people are afraid of
change of any sort. And these entitlements are sacred cows for so many.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: It only makes sense. Meanwhile, on Fox News -- well, you
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well now, we`re hearing from a group of CEOs who
are pushing a plan to gradually increase the retirement age to 70? Saying
that that is what is best for the country`s economy. I mean, I laugh,
because 70 is not old. I mean, are we supposed to react to that as though
it is 90? Like 70, they have to work until 70?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: Oh, yes, nothing like highly paid, very young television hosts
mocking blue collar workers who think 70 is kind of old to be standing on
their feet on the job. Seventy. If you want to talk about cutting Social
Security, that is fine. It is not an unreasonable point of view. You`re
allowed to have it.
But this is people who make more money in a year than most Americans
will make in a lifetime, people who love their jobs, who don`t want to
retire at 65 or 70 or 72, suggesting that somehow raising the retirement
age is a painless cut because they can`t imagine it hurting them. I talked
about this on the show in November. In November, the rich guy talking was
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LLOYD BLANKFEIN, GOLDMAN SACHS CEO: Look at the history of these
things and Social Security wasn`t devised to be a system that supported you
for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. So there will be certain
things that -- you know, the retirement age has to be changed. Maybe some
of the benefits have to be affected. Maybe some of the inflation
adjustments have to be revised. In general, entitlements have to be slowed
down and contained.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: As I said then, you need to remember that when we talk about
these long life expectancies, how much longer we`re all living, rich folks
have gained a lot more of that time than poorer folks. Since 1967, the
life expectancy of male workers retiring at age 65 has risen six years for
the top half of the income distribution.
But if you`re in that bottom half of the income distribution, you only
gained an extra 1.3 years. Six versus 1.3. And you know when most people
actually begin to taking Social Security benefits? They begin at age 62,
not 65 or 66 -- 62, which is as early as the law allows you to take them.
And when you take those benefits early, you get over your lifetime. We
penalize you for taking it early. We punish you for your impatience, but
they do it anyway.
And they do it because they don`t want to spend their whole lives at
that job, unlike folks in finance or in the U.S. Senate or writing for the
nation`s op-ed pages, or who got cushy gigs on cable news. They don`t want
to work until they drop.
So if you have a job you love and you`re probably going to live well
into your 90s, and you don`t need your Social Security money or your
Medicare insurance anyway, don`t pretend raising the retirement age is
painless. Don`t pretend it doesn`t hurt because it doesn`t hurt you.
But what makes it more galling from the Business Round Table is that
in the same document where they propose all of this tough medicine for
Social Security and Medicare, they exempt themselves. These exceedingly
rich business leaders at the Round Table are drawing the line when it comes
to raising their own Social Security taxes.
As the Reuters report puts it, the group rejected shoring up Social
Security by making incomes above the maximum annual threshold, which in
2012 was 110,000 subject to payroll taxes. They said that would hurt the
So why? Round Table and CEO of the casino giant Caesars has your
answer. Quote, "that would be far more damaging to economic growth than
what we`re asking people to consider. If you raise the tax rate on people
who earn over the current threshold, you will have an immediate and
deleterious effect on employment and economic activity."
So if you`re a CEO who makes maybe a million dollars, you`re taxed for
Social Security on the first tenth -- tenth of your income. If you`re
making 60,000 a year, normal worker, every one of your 60,000 dollars is
taxed for Social Security. And this is the kind of thing, it just drives
me crazy, because you know what the flip side of these guys loving their
jobs, never, ever, ever wanting to leave, not even when they`re old and
their back hurts they have lots of grand kids and the money to take all
those grandkids to an island? They`re also not going to stop being CEO of
Caesars because they`re paying payroll taxes on more of their income
because they love their job.
But that is the shell game that gets played here. Folks at the top
have convinced themselves that things that won`t hurt them at all like
raising the retirement age are easy no-brainers. They won`t hurt anybody
at all. It is just common sense.
And then they have also convinced themselves that things that will
hurt them will devastating the economy. So when they are saying no to
paying higher taxes, they are not being selfish. They are just protecting
jobs and growth.
As Upton Sinclair liked to say, "it is difficult to get a man to
understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it."
Groups like the Business Round Table, they have a big voice and they
like to cloak themselves in the economy to argue that what they say and
what they do are informed and driven by just wanting what is best for jobs
and for growth and for their company. But it seems to often come down to
what is best for the CEOs. It is good to be on the top.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK SWARBRICK, NOTRE DAME ATHLETIC DIRECTOR: My first reaction,
frankly, was as a father. You know, the -- the way in which young people,
our students, our student athletes, my children are at risk in this
environment to things like this, because you just don`t know who you`re
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KLEIN: That was Notre Dame`s athletic director on Wednesday night,
speaking about the revelation that a large part of the inspiring story
behind their Heisman Trophy finalist, Manti Te`O, was to a hoax. In short,
the too good to be true girlfriend who died of Leukemia did not exist, did
not die, was not true.
For 38 minutes, Jack Swarbrick spoke and answered questions about how
somebody had perpetrated a cruel trick on their star player. For 38
minutes, he talked about how Manti Te`O was a victim, and he firmly
believed he had nothing to do with the hoax. That is exactly 38 minutes
longer than Notre Dame officials spent holding a press conference for an
actual dead girl.
In 2010, Lizzie Seburg, a 19-year-old freshman at St. Mary`s College,
which is literally across the street from Notre Dame, told Notre Dame
Campus Police she had been sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football
player. Over the next 10 days, a friend of that football player sent her
multiple text messages, including this one, "don`t do anything you would
regret. Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea."
Lizzie committed suicide on day 10. The campus police who had
questioned her and a former roommate of hers at another school -- they
didn`t get around to questioning the football player until five days after
her death. He was eventually found not responsible, after a disciplinary
hearing months later. And he was never taken off the field.
My colleague Melinda Henneberger of the "Washington Post" discovered
another case while reporting on Lizzie`s story. In early 2011, a Notre
Dame freshman was taken to the hospital by a dorm resident assistant. She
said she was raped, but because of what happened and did not happen to
Lizzie Seburg, she refused to report it. She too received threatening text
Notre Dame has officially washed its hands of the Manti Te`O case. He
has hired an agent, and so now he is a professional. They no longer have
any comment on Te`O and the fake dead girlfriend. So journalists wanting
to know if Te`O had anything to do with the hoax will have to look
These journalists, though, who took his story at face value, who never
verified the existence of the girlfriend, they believe Manti Te`O. Notre
Dame took Manti Te`O at his word, because it was good for Notre Dame
football, good copy.
But for Lizzie Seburg, and for many, many. many women who report being
assaulted or raped by valuable college athletes, their word very often is
Joining me now is Amanda Marcotte, who wrote about this for "Slate."
Amanda, it is good to see you.
AMANDA MARCOTTE, "SLATE": Good to see you, Ezra.
KLEIN: I want to start with kind of the big question here. Why did
one matter in the media and the other didn`t?
MARCOTTE: Well, one was a good story that everyone wants to hear, the
self-sacrificing girlfriend, that her only last thought is for her
boyfriend to be a big superstar. The other story is a story we don`t want
to know, about how sometimes these superstars have all of these privileges,
have all this entitlement, and feel like they can just walk over whoever
they want to.
KLEIN: And what happened? Because you have done some work on the
other stories here. What happened after? There was a private outside firm
that Notre Dame hired to investigate the Te`O situation. Was there
anything comparable in the other situations?
MARCOTTE: No. It seems like at the most what Notre Dame was
interested in, at least according to Henneberger`s reporting, is making
Lizzie Seburg sound like was crazy, like just made it all up, like she was
a liar, like she couldn`t get her story straight. They were way more
interested in making her look bad than they were actually in investigating
what happened that night.
KLEIN: Now, Seburg case, if I`m right here, did prompt a federal
investigation into how the university handled sexual assaults, and an
investigation by the Civil Rights Office of the U.S. Department of
Education. Did either of those turn up anything of note?
MARCOTTE: Not that I know, not so far. They are still in very big
danger of losing a lot of their status as a title 10 school.
KLEIN: And what is the sort of broader ecosystem and culture? You
talked about the way there`s a kind of culture of privilege around some of
these athletes. And we talked about how there was another woman who was
potentially assaulted, who said she was assaulted. And there was just kind
of a fear of coming forward, because you run into this sort of team
mentality. You have people angry. You have people questioning your word.
So what does that do no the ground of college campuses to women who
are assaulted? What kind of culture is there in terms of their willingness
to come forward, in terms of their feeling of security when they do?
MARCOTTE: Well, I mean, women are not unreasonable. You look at this
sort of situation and you realize that if a football player assaults you,
most people around you`s first impulse is going to be to protect the team,
to protect the reputation of the players, to deny that it ever happened, to
try to make you go away.
So I think most women are going to kind of look at that and say no,
I`m just going to be quiet about this, I`m not going to talk about it. you
know, you have to think about what the men on the team are also thinking in
that kind of environment. If you want to sexually assault somebody, you
basically are being sent the message that you can do it and get away with
KLEIN: In April 2011, the Obama administration released, through Joe
Biden actually, new federal guidelines on how, I believe, colleges should
be responding to these kinds of allegations. And they included speeding up
the investigation, offering victims the choice of university or local
police. Has that changed anything? Do you know if that has been a
significant driver of any difference here?
MARCOTTE: You know, it doesn`t seem like it is. Just today, we
learned that UNC has a dean that has recently retired -- or recently quit,
that is accusing the school of basically forcing her to under --
misrepresent the number of reported sexual assaults on campus and say it
was much lower than it was, because they didn`t want their school to look
So I think what we`re dealing with here is there is so much interest
in putting up images, that simple -- like simple little tweaks to the
system aren`t doing the job of getting things better.
KLEIN: Amanda Marcotte, thank you very much for being here tonight.
And thank you for your work on this.
MARCOTTE: Thank you.
KLEIN: That is THE LAST WORD for this Friday. You can follow my work
at "The Washington Post" at WonkBlog.com. "THE ED SHOW" is up next.
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