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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Thursday, February 21st, 2013

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THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
February 21, 2013

Guests: Maggie Haberman, Sam Stein, Karen Finney, Ari Melber, Marion Blakey

MADDOW: All right. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again
tomorrow night. Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORLD WITH LAWRENCE
O`DONNELL." Have a good night.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: So how out of touch are the
congressional Republicans in their latest standoff with the president? A
new poll actually shows that a majority of Republican voters support the
president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I know what you are, but what am I?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress has not been able
to compromise.

BOEHNER: Where`s the president` s plan?

OBAMA: Congress has to act.

BOEHNER: This sequester was the president`s idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know what you are, but what am I?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know what you are, but what am I?

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC`S JANSING & CO.: The ultimately game of political
chicken.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC`S THE DAILY RUNDOWN: Ridiculous game of finger-pointing.

JANSING: Over the $85 billion sequester.

TAMRON HALL, MSNBC NEWSNATION: Who will be blamed if the automatic budget
cuts are allowed to set in.

BOEHNER: The sequester was the president`s idea. Where`s the president`s
plan?

HALL: The blame they say lies with the president.

TODD: The president has the upper hand on public opinion.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC`S MORNING JOE: Less than one-third of Americans
would blame the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While 49 percent would blame congressional
Republicans.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC`S MORNING JOE: They are in horrible shape.

TODD: The brand of the party nationally needs to go down.

SCARBOROUGH: They need one strong leader.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes.

KARL ROVE: We do have a problem on the right.

TODD: Karl Rove, he offers some advice to House Republicans.

ROVE: We`re getting involved with the conservative victory project.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: The idea of Karl Rove has of creating
some super PAC is a terrible idea.

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Newt Gingrich is totally
misrepresenting what Karl Rove actually said. We have to find conservative
candidates who can actually win.

ROVE: We spent $5.9 million in Indiana for Richard Murdock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, man.

REV. AL SHARPTON, MSNBC`S POLITICS NATION: I`m trying to understand the
Republican brain.

ROVE: We do have a problem on the right.

MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC`S MARTIN BASHIR PRIMETIME: Mr. Rove, a man once
(INAUDIBLE) did we praise.

SHARPTON: I`m trying to understand the Republican brain.

BASHIR: Has angered and annoyed Tea Party activists.

SHARPTON: What is Rove thinking?

ROVE: You know what, I`ve got a thick skin and I`m not going to worry
about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: With just eight days to go before the latest dramatic deadline
in our most recent manufactured crisis since Republican took control of the
House of Representatives, America is waking up to local news reports about
what the sequester means to them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s not a word you want to hear. Sequester.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s those across-the-board budget cuts your family
will feel in March unless lawmakers can come to an agreement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The notices to BAE employees went out in the mail
Wednesday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Looking for ways to save civilian workers at Robins
Air Force Base from the looming threat of sequestration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reductions could also lead to furloughs, resulting
in a big economic drag on communities around installations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some FBI agents, TSA airport security workers would be
laid off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The right path. That would mean, among other things,
furloughs for up to 13,000 civilian workers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To know that some of those people are uncertain about
where their job is going to be is very, very scary. Scary for them and
scary for us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody understands that $16 trillion of national
debt is something that we have to be concerned about. But to do so across
the board with basically a meat axe is going to probably send this country
into a recession like we haven`t seen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: In a radio interview on Al Sharpton`s radio program today, the
president said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Whether or not we can move Republicans at this point to do the
right thing is what we are still trying to gauge.

My sense is that their basic view is that nothing is important enough to
raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations. And they would prefer
to see that these kinds of cuts that can slow down a recovery over closing
tax loopholes. And that`s the thing that binds their party together at
this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: A new "USA Today"/Pew poll shows that the president`s position
is supported by 76 percent of the people. Seventy-six percent favor
deficit reduction of the combination of tax revenue increases and spending
cuts. Just 19 percent favors spending cuts alone, the Republican position.

Among independent voters 76 percent favor the combination of tax revenue
and spending cuts, only 18 percent favor just the cuts. Among Republican
voters -- this is Republican voters -- 56 percent favor reducing the
deficit through both spending cuts and the tax revenue increases the
president is talking about. Only 42 percent of Republican voters support
reducing the deficit through spending cuts alone.

And if the all spending cut sequester does occur next week, more people
will blame the Republicans in Congress. Thirty-one percent say it will be
President Obama`s fault, 49 percent say it will be the Republican leaders`
fault.

Influential conservatives are trying to do what John Boehner has failed to
do -- find a way out for the House Republicans. In an op-ed in the "Wall
Street Journal," Karl Rove writes, "My own recommendation is that House
Republicans should pass a Continuing Resolution next week to fund the
government for the balance of the fiscal year at the lower level dictated
by the sequester with language granting the executive branch," which is to
say the president, "the flexibility to move funds from less vital
activities to more important ones."

And Alex Wagner, I kind of think that sort of kind of brilliant because
that would make every cut an Obama cut.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST, "NOW": Well, and this has just become the blame
game. I mean, that`s all the -- the only sort of position the Republicans
have right now is it was Obama`s idea so he needs to solve it. Never
minding the fact that Boehner and 173 House Republicans actually passed the
package.

O`DONNELL: That was a long time ago.

WAGNER: Yes. We should forget that.

O`DONNELL: Which is like one time.

WAGNER: But, I mean, honestly, Lawrence, I can`t believe they`re still
doubling down on this tax cut piece. That they are still obsessed. There
was an article on "The Washington Post" this week that looked at income
disparity in this country. In 2011 the top 0.1 percent of this country
made an average of $24 million. The bottom 90 percent need an average of
$30,000. And you are still trying to sell to the American public that what
the wealthy need is protection on income. It is a crazy, crazy
prescription for this country.

O`DONNELL: And the "Wall Street Journal" also -- sorry, "The National
Review" suggested that -- that this approach of leaving it to the president
--

KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC`S "THE CYCLE": Yes.

O`DONNELL: -- to decide exactly what the cuts would be within the
sequestration model which sounds like oh no, we don`t want to leave it to
the president. Well, maybe you do. Because then every single report will
simply be today President Obama decided to, you know, lay off this many air
traffic controllers.

BALL: That will be in the national report. But in the local congressional
districts, the members, particularly Republican members, who where in the
districts where people are being laid off, where bases are being closed,
where weapons are no longer being manufactured, they are going to share in
the blame for that locally. So on the one hand I do think it`s a smart
strategy in a way to make the president own all of these cuts. On the
other hand, I`m sure Republicans are very nervous about allowing the
president complete discretion over where these funds fall.

WAGNER: But --

O`DONNELL: How -- go ahead.

WAGNER: I mean, does anybody who really believe this is a position the
president wants the country to be in? I mean, you looked at those polls.
The country overwhelmingly believed the president wants to come to the
table and make a deal. I mean he has the proposal that is out there that
has a ratio over 2-3 revenue -- sorry, cuts -- revenue versus cuts. That
is a proposal that`s been on the table for months.

He has been launching the great reasonableness tour of 2012 and 2013 saying
that over and over and over again. The American public has internalized
that message and I think they genuinely believe that President Obama just
wants a mixed package. And the Republicans are saying it is our way or the
highway.

O`DONNELL: It`s hard out there for Republicans. Especially if that
Republican is 78-year-old Orrin Hatch who has a previous -- has a long
record in the Senate of being one of the reasonable Republicans frequently,
and now is torn by the Tea Party in this state. So I`m going to read to
you what he said about sequestration. And it`s a jump ball for whoever
wants to figure out what he thinks.

(LAUGHTER)

"I am for sequestration," Hatch said to the "Salt Lake Tribune." "If
Congress can`t cut spending. We`ve got to face the music now or it will be
much tougher later."

With across-the-board spending cuts set to to kick in next week, Hatch said
sequestration would lead to an economic disaster in Utah as two-thirds of
civilians working at Hill Air Force Base would be furloughed. He said it
would be devastating to our nation`s readiness.

Now let me go back to the first line. "I`m for sequestration."

BALL: That is amazing.

WAGNER: That`s it. That`s the current Republican stand.

BALL: Yes.

WAGNER: You can`t have it both ways and pretend that nobody read the first
line of the paragraph.

BALL: Well, it`s the difference between what they want to say to the
American public in general, which is sequestration is awful and it`s the
president`s fault. But what they want to say to their base is we`re
fighting for all these cuts and the sequestration doesn`t go far enough.
And they`re putting it all together, though, and it makes absolutely no
sense.

And it`s highlighted by the fact that their position is so unpopular in the
American public that they can`t have a coherent message that matches up
with a sort of general election audience and their primary base.

O`DONNELL: And let`s go back to what the president is talking about
instead of just all spending cuts. He`s talking about provisions in the
tax code that both parties have agreed we don`t really need. We don`t
really need to subsidize the mortgages of multimillionaires. We don`t have
to do that. To the extent we do it now. That can be reduced.

And people on both sides agree with that. It`s not tax rate increases.
It`s just playing with the deduction patterns.

WAGNER: And where that money goes.

O`DONNELL: Yes, exactly.

WAGNER: And the idea -- again, I point you to the fact that one in three
American families is living at or near poverty, 46.2 million Americans are
living on the poverty line. You see the discrepancies in income that are
so big you can`t put them on the same graph. And the argument is, oh no,
the point -- you know, John Boehner can`t get a plan B tax cut passed for
the tax raiser, passed on the 0.03 percent of this population? It makes no
sense.

BALL: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

O`DONNELL: And what the Orrin Hatch thing shows is that they`ve become
complete prisoners of their rhetoric. And it`s not just this month`s
rhetoric.

BALL: Yes.

O`DONNELL: It`s the years of anti-tax rhetoric.

BALL: Yes. Yes. The years of anti-tax rhetoric. The years of we are the
party of budget cuts. That is the number one economic problem that we`re
facing rhetoric. And -- they have been very clear about what they`re
against, right? They are against raising revenue in any respect. But they
haven`t been clear about what they are for and now they are trapped in this
place where they`ve taken so many options off the table. They will not
support any increased revenue. They will not support any increased
spending, but they have no where else to go.

O`DONNELL: You know what`s great about this? I think from the spectator`s
standpoint is, we`re all equal in guessing what`s going to happen. There
is no value to experience in government because the government has never
been here before.

BALL: Right.

WAGNER: Absolutely.

BALL: Right.

O`DONNELL: And the two parties have never faced this before. So I haven`t
found anyone who can tell me -- in Washington, who actually work on it, who
can tell me what`s going to happen.

WAGNER: Right.

O`DONNELL: I don`t know any veteran, you know, legislative mechanics who
have any suggestions about well, here`s how you fix this.

WAGNER: Which is kind of thrilling and also terrifying at the same time.

O`DONNELL: Yes. Yes.

WAGNER: Right? I mean, we talk about the schism within the Republican
Party. I always go back to the fact that Rand Paul gave the rebuttal to
the rebuttal. Because they can`t even be satisfied with just one rebuttal.

BALL: Right.

WAGNER: Because the party is broken, and because there is no rutter, who
knows how they can negotiate?

BALL: Right.

O`DONNELL: You know what, Orrin Hatch should get Rand Paul to maybe follow
him around.

WAGNER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

WAGNER: He could have the last quote --

O`DONNELL: Orrin Hatch could do the I`m for -- or maybe Orrin Hatch could
do the bit about hey, this is really bad for civilians working at Hill Air
Force Base.

WAGNER: Right.

O`DONNELL: And then Rand Paul could go.

(CROSSTALK)

BALL: Maybe a sock puppet that looks like Rand Paul.

O`DONNELL: It`s just having to do both of those things himself is pretty
tough.

Alex Wagner, Krystal Ball, thank you very much for joining me tonight.

BALL: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the reality of the sequester. How bad will it be at
American airports next Friday when it kicks in with cutbacks and air
traffic control and the TSA? You will have trouble getting to your planes
and the planes will have trouble getting off the ground.

And in the "Rewrite" tonight, we have an early front runner for the LAST
WORD award of stupidest congressional staff of the year. Tweet me your
guesses or post them on Facebook which senator or member of the House
currently employs the probably most incompetent staff on Capitol Hill? The
answer is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Karl Rove used to be known, much to George W. Bush`s
displeasure, as Bush`s brain and many Republicans thought of him as the
party`s brain. But now there is an open revolt against Karl Rove in the
party led by Newt Gingrich. He used to think he was the brains of the
party. And the battle for the hearts and minds of the Republican Party --
OK, well, the minds anyway -- is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROVE: Look, we`ve had -- we`ve had one instance where something was
prematurely called in 2000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know it well.

ROVE: I know it well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They said this is not going to be another one of
those.

ROVE: Maybe not. Maybe not. But again, I just wonder, when you`re
sitting there with 4.4 million votes cast, a difference of 991 votes
between the two candidates the difference is 49.19 to 49.17. If a little
bit of caution might not be better until -- if it`s going to happen, let
the votes begin to show it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Since that uncomfortable moment on election night Karl Rove has
been fighting to save his political life. As Politico`s Maggie Haberman
writes, "For the first time in a dozen years Karl Rove`s critics smell
blood."

And one of his most outspoken critics is Newt Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: The idea Karl Rove has of creating some super PAC to go out and
basically pick Republican Senate nominees, for example, is a terrible idea.
We don`t want to become a party in which a handful of political bosses
gather up money from billionaires in order to destroy the candidate they
don`t like and that`s what we`re talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now, Maggie Haberman, senior writer for Politico,
and Sam Stein, "Huffington Post" White House correspondent and political
editor and MSNBC contributor.

Let`s listen to Rove defending what he is up to last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROVE: We listen to our donors. That`s why we`re getting involved with the
Conservative Victory Project. We have people who gave us $328 million on
2011 and `12. And they said why did -- why did we come up short in these
races that we should have won. We deserve to have a right to be involved
in primaries and we wanted to go about it in a thoughtful fashion.

Look, if you take the attitude that nobody ought to be involved in
primaries, fine. But if you take the attitude that some groups ought to be
able to be involved in primaries and not other groups then there`s a little
bit of a hypocrisy there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Maggie, here`s Karl Rove, who was able, as he says, to raise
$328 million. No one else in the Republican world could have possibly done
that but he did that based on a reputation that seems to no longer exist.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, POLITICO: Well, at a minimum, their reputation has taken
a bruising and at a minimum people see that he has a bit of an Achilles`
heel and they are taking aim. There are some people who are Tea Party
groups that don`t like him. There are groups that are long established
like the Club for Growth which is a real threat because they actually they
fund raise and so that`s sort of a different issue.

Either way, you have donors who, to his point, there are donors who -- and
he acknowledge the donors are upset. But, you know, some people say that
their fundraising will not be hurt. Other donors who I spoke with are very
frustrated, say there is a lot of concern and that they would like a better
answer.

I suspect that Rove would still be able to raise a fair amount of money and
we should asterisk that Newt Gingrich complaining about billionaires is
sort of comical given that he`s campaign was essentially kept alive by
Sheldon Adelson singlehandedly for a long time as donations to his super
PAC.

But I do think Rove is no longer ruling with an iron fist. He has had a
lot of critics over the years. He`s had a lot of people who just disliked
him over the years in the party. And there is some (INAUDIBLE) going on.

O`DONNELL: Gingrich explained in an op-ed piece this week why he thinks
the Rove plan isn`t so great. He said, "While Rove would like to argue his
national nomination machine will protect Republicans from candidates like
those who failed in Missouri and Indiana, that isn`t the bigger story.
Republicans lost one of those Senate races in Montana, North Dakota, Ohio,
Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida. So in seven of the nine
losing races. The Rove model has no candidate-based explanation for
failure. Our problems are deeper and more complex than candidates."

Sam Stein, everyone is focusing on the candidates. But Gingrich seems to
have a point there, doesn`t he?

SAM STEIN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, he`s absolutely right. Why did Heidi
Huelskamp in North Dakota? Why did Connie Mack lose so badly in Florida?
It wasn`t because Tea Party insurgents somehow were propelled to the
candidacy or to the nomination. It`s because the platform was wrong for
each of those candidates in their specific states. You know, Gingrich, in
an interview with the "Huffington Post," where he basically, you know, it`s
not about tactics that the Republican Party has to make adjustments on,
it`s about platforms.

And, you know, even he who has been very -- how do we say this? Caustic
towards gay rights, LGBT issues, he said, you know, Republicans need to
have a more open mind, understand that gay marriage is going to be a
reality down the road.

Same thing with immigration reform. It`s because the party platform is so
tilted in one direction that you`re having candidates suffer in Senate
elections. Not because the Tea Party is producing nominees who are bad for
their states.

O`DONNELL: Now Rush Limbaugh insists that his hands are absolutely clean
on this whole party warfare thing. Let`s listen to what Rush had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE TALK RADIO HOST: I don`t pick a single
candidate. I am not in charge of any candidate anywhere in his campaign.
I don`t choose the consultants, I don`t choose the ad people. I`ve got
nothing to do. And never have had anything to do with one election in this
country. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Maggie, in your reporting on Rove`s problems, and you talk --
you were talking to Republican donors, some of the big baggers. Do any of
them mention Limbaugh? Do any of them say, hey, we have problems outside
of the control of the campaign like Rush Limbaugh?

HABERMAN: I mean, there`s a general concern about sort of feeding the
base. There`s always been a bit of a split between major donors and the
party`s base. They don`t tend to have the same issues that gay marriage
would be a real example of that. One of the Republicans` biggest donors
Paul Singer has also been a funder of the gay marriage movement.

STEIN: Yes.

HABERMAN: So you see a huge split in this. The biggest complaint has
been, as Sam said, about -- you know, it has been about sort of the
platform. It`s also been a candidate quality issue but it has been about
the issues that these candidates are running on and where the party should
go. Part of the problem you`re seeing right now is nobody in the
Republican Party can agree on exactly what went wrong last time and so they
are all sort of blaming somebody else and there was a crossfire.

O`DONNELL: Sam, I have a suggestion for the Republican Party. Just drop
the anti-abortion litmus test. Just throw that right out of the platform
and become -- even go so far as to become the pro-choice, anti-tax party,
and I believe they are on their way to 60 percent of the vote.

STEIN: I -- I`m sure they`ll take your advice, Lawrence.

(LAUGHTER)

I -- I do think you`re getting at a bigger problem, though, which is that
in the primary process, especially in the presidential primary process,
what you saw was that social conservatives who are -- they are dwindling.
They`re not absent, but they are growing smaller as a group of influence in
the Republican tent. They still have a lot of influence in that primary
process, so does the anti-immigration reform part of the party.

And they weighed down on Mitt Romney in particular. Mitt Romney was forced
to take stances that were, you know, damaging to him in the general
election. And, you know, until the party can get over that hump, I think
they`re going to have a real problem going forward.

O`DONNELL: Maggie Haberman and Sam Stein, who have not managed to solve
the Republican Party`s problems here tonight.

STEIN: Not yet.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. Thank you both for joining me tonight.

STEIN: Bye, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up. It`s Marco Rubio versus Rand Paul versus Ted Cruz
and the contest to be the savior of the month in the Republican Party. And
later, the first place you will probably feel the pain of the sequester is
at the airport. If you`re flying home next Friday as I will be you might
not get there.

If you are picking someone up at the airport you might have to wait an
additional five or six hours which means there won`t be any place to park
when you get to the airport. Planes, trains and automobiles are in
tonight`s episode of the "Reality of the Sequester." That`s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: So a congressional staffer reads a fake joke report online
about something the Defense Department is doing, and then writes an angry
letter to the Defense Department about it, signed by the officeholder.
That makes that staff so far this year the stupidest congressional staff of
the year. Guess who that staff is? That`s coming up. The answer is
coming up. Tweet your guesses. Go to Facebook with your guesses. Let me
know who you think it is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In the Spotlight tonight, who will be the next Republican
savior of the month? Last month`s savior was Marco Rubio. But today the
most popular person in the Republican party is actually Chris Christie. A
new Quinnipiac poll of New Jersey voters shows Governor Christie enjoys a
74 percent approval rating in his state. That is a record in New Jersey
for that poll.

The American Conservative Union announced today that Republican
presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio and Rand Paul each received a perfect
score of 100 percent on their conservative voting score card for 2012,
while Congressman Paul Ryan only receive an 84 percent score from the
Conservative Union.

The new kid on the block, Senator Ted Cruz, plays Pat Robertson`s
straight man in this interview just released by the Christian Broadcast
Network.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT ROBERTSON, CHRISTIAN BROADCAST NETWORK: Well, the Republicans are
earnestly shopping around to find somebody that can be their standard
bearer. And they seem to like Hispanics, because the Hispanics are getting
to be the largest voting block in the country as they keep on progressing.
And there`s a man named Ted Cruz from Texas who took his place in the
Senate in January. And he quickly became one of the few Republicans called
a potential rock star.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I think President Obama is the most radical
president we have seen. But I think an awful lot of Republicans fail to
stand for principle, and contributed to getting us in this mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Ari Melber, you know what I`m thinking? Pat Robertson
substitute host for THE LAST WORD. Just why not? It`s just a performance
art choice.

ARI MELBER, "THE NATION": I think the Internet would like that. I
think you`d bring together different parts of the Internet if you did it,
Lawrence. The footage there looked a little bit like a sort of dorm room
video vibe, they got going there, with Ted Cruz in the kitchen.

O`DONNELL: So Pat Robertson has a new political crush here on Ted
Cruz.

MELBER: He has a crush. Ted Cruz may be his standard bearer. He has
clearly made a lot of noise and he has been very aggressive. He had to get
corrected by John McCain when he was raising what his critics call
McCarthyite type tactics against another Republican Chuck Hagel. There`s
something very dangerous about Ted Cruz, which he will never be president.
he can never be president, because he was born in Canada.

So he has no other job that he really wants. And that`s why we`re
seeing the full, unbridled Tea Party anger from him.

O`DONNELL: Karen Finney, did Marco Rubio lose his savior status
because he was thirsty?

KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oh, no, no. I suspect that at
CPAC there`s going to be a contest of who can say the most hateful thing or
the most negative thing about President Obama or the Obama administration.
So I think we`ll see a number of people trying out for the role.

O`DONNELL: Now Rand Paul had a great stunt today. He decided to give
back some of the money that he could have used for his Congressional
office. Let`s take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: So in the two years that I`ve been in
office, the only budget that I have any control over we will now be
returning 1.1 million dollars.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: And Ari, there`s a point where he holds up this stunt
check. Of course, there`s no such thing as the check. All they are doing
is using a certain amount of their office budget allotment. And if you
don`t use it, it just stays there. You don`t actually physically ever
transfer it back anywhere.

But he is not the first one to not use all the money so they can claim
they`re somehow saving nickels and dimes.

MELBER: Yes, a great number of members of the House, including from
both parties, do this. They make a big point -- I don`t know if they all
make a full press conference out of it, but a lot of them at least put out
a statement or a press release saying, yes, we gave some money back. We
didn`t use up all our money.

When I worked over there, I remember that we would always leave some
money in the coffers.

O`DONNELL: We never did.

(CROSS TALK)

O`DONNELL: Used every dollar we were given to represent the state of
New York.

MELBER: But there is a serious part here, which is that Rand Paul is
acting like this is a personal sacrifice on his part. It is not. He
didn`t say that he is giving up his benefits, his government health care or
something like that. And a lot of what local offices do in House districts
is they have service workers and case officers who help people who have
issues, all kinds of issues, including getting government benefits or
dealing with veterans benefits.

So when he gives back the money to not hire government workers to help
the people in his district, I would say he`s exporting the sacrifice, not
making it personal.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to one of the issues that could be a struggle
for Rand Paul in an interview he gave in 2011.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You want to end all foreign aid as well.
Is that right?

PAUL: Yes.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, end all foreign aid to Israel as well.
Is that right?

PAUL: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Karen Finney, that about wraps up his political future,
wouldn`t you say?

FINNEY: Yes, I think we can just put that video on a loop and just --
and be done with it, essentially. No question. And here they are going
after Chuck Hagel for something that he didn`t really say and has
apologized for saying. And yet here`s Rand Paul with a comment like that.

O`DONNELL: And Chuck Hagel being -- Rand Paul being one of the Hagel
opponents, and the whole case against Hagel is his embrace of Israel is not
tight and unrelenting enough. And you get to be Rand Paul or, by the way,
Ron Paul, and say you would cut every single penny of aid of all kind,
military or otherwise, to the state of Israel.

MELBER: Yes, I think, look, the Hagel criticism works if he were up
to be secretary of defense of Israel. Then all these complaints would make
sense. It just doesn`t make a lot of sense.

O`DONNELL: By the way, he would be good.

MELBER: He`d be great at that. Yes, sure. It just doesn`t make as
much sense for our country, even though they`re an ally. And of course you
want to have good relations with a lot of allies. But his first priority
would be the United States military.

I think for Rand Paul, though, what we see is he has not been suffused
in the double talk of the Washington Republican establishment. And in that
regard, he`s more honest. Your colleague, Rachel Maddow, famously
interrogated him about the limits of his libertarianism, and whether they
extended, in truth, in reality, to the Civil Rights Act, which of course is
a, quote unquote, federal encroachment. It is a good federal encroachment.
It`s a federal encroachment against racism.

And he said at the time, live on MSNBC, on that show, that he did
stand by that. He had to walk it back. That is a dance that the
Washington Republicans have learned. So in some ways, I like that he`s
more blunt.

O`DONNELL: Let`s look at how difficult it is for crazy Republican
types to really hang onto their love for anyone of these guys. And this
comes, of course, courtesy of Bill O`Reilly`s interview with Mr. Glenn
Beck.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I support Rand Paul. He`s a
Republican. But he`s a small government --

BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: How about Marco Rubio?

BECK: You know what? I haven`t made my mind up on Marco Rubio yet.

(CROSS TALK)

O`REILLY: You like Rand Paul. How about Christie, the Jersey guy?
How about him?

BECK: I liked -- you know what? I feel about Rand Paul the way I
used to feel about Chris Christie. I thought Chris Christie was really
good, and I ignored a few things that kind of bothered me. But now I don`t
like Chris Christie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Karen Finney, I think we see why their affections are
bouncing around so much.

FINNEY: Yes. Well, you know, they don`t know. They haven`t quite
fallen in love. They are still dating. Right? But, I mean, think about
the last several weeks and the hearings that we`ve had. I mean, literally,
I`m not kidding when I say I feel like these guys have been trying out for
who can say the most outrageous thing, the most hateful thing, and sort of
be the flavor of the month.

From saying to Secretary Clinton, I`m going to fire you, to, you know,
some of the other comments that have come out. Again, when you get them
all together on the stage at CPAC, get your popcorn.

O`DONNELL: Karen Finney and Ari Melber, thank you both for joining me
tonight.

MELBER: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, a funny thing happened to us today trying to
get through to a Republican senator`s office to ask staff why they have
done the single stupidest thing we have seen any congressional staff do
this year. They didn`t take our calls or answer our question by email. So
we will tell you what they did that was so stupid coming up in the Rewrite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In the Rewrite tonight, in the contest for THE LAST WORD`s
annual prize for the stupidest staff in Congress, we have an early front
runner for 2013, the stunningly stupid staff of Senator Mitch McConnell,
who happens to be the leader of the Republicans in the United States
Senate.

Here is a letter that Mitch McConnell`s staff wrote to Elizabeth King,
the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs. "Dear Ms.
King, I am writing on behalf of a constituent who has contacted me
regarding Guantanamo Bay prisoners receiving post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. I
would appreciate your review and response to my constituents` concerns. I
have enclosed a copy of my constituents` correspondence for your
information. Please direct any inquiries and all relevant information,"
blah, blah, blah, blah, "sincerely Mitch McConnell."

Now I`m going to give Mitch McConnell the benefit of the doubt on the
authorship of this letter. This is the kind of letter the staff writes all
the time and the senator never sees. His signature is auto-penned on stuff
like this. All indications are that the letter was actually written by a
young McConnell staffer. The name and initials that appear in the letter
are those of a staffer who graduated from college just last year.

I have never known someone that junior on a Senate staff to write such
a letter without some supervision from more senior staff. The letter is
actually asking an assistant secretary of defense if Guantanamo Bay al
Qaeda detainees are getting not just veteran`s benefits, like my father
did, but the enhanced veteran`s benefits of the post-9/11 GI Bill.

You got that? Mitch McConnell`s staff is wondering if the Obama
administration is giving veteran`s benefits to the people the Obama
administration believes would like to blow up America. Think about how
breathtakingly stupid you have to be to even form that question.

The question did not originate in Mitch McConnell`s office. The
question came from an inquiring citizen, who wrote to McConnell saying, "I
read an article on the Duffel Blog website, `Guantanamo Prisoners to
Receive GI Bill Benefits," that concerns me immensely. Below is the
opening portion of that article. `Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; in a controversial
move praised by the international community as a promotion of human rights,
the Department of Defense has begun allowing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to
seek post-9/11 GI Bill benefits."

The inquiring citizen notes, "I couldn`t find any reference to the
article searching the DOD website, nor in searching the web in general,
except for the article found on Duffel Blog."

Now we have two very bad options in guessing what the McConnell staff
did next. And we do have to guess, because the McConnell staff refuses to
answer our questions. So either no one on the McConnell staff went to the
Duffel Blog website and actually read the article, which would be grotesque
Congressional staff malpractice, or the McConnell staff did read the
article on Duffel Blog and believed it.

And that would mean that Senator McConnell employs staff who read this
paragraph and believed it. "DOD Spokesman Wesley Manheim said it was a
matter of fairness. The DOD has been doing everything it can to prevent
torture from being used against detainees at Gitmo by allowing the
detainees to use the Department of Veterans Affairs. We hope to completely
crush their souls with bureaucracy, which, to be noted, is completely
different from torture. I mean, hell, the VA does that to our veterans on
a daily basis."

Senator McConnell`s staff had to believe that a Department of Defense
spokesman said that the Department of Veterans Affairs crushes the souls of
veterans with bureaucracy. Now many people in the Defense Department know
that that`s true, that is a crushing bureaucracy at Veterans Affairs. But
they can never say that publicly.

The McConnell staff would also have to believe, as the article
reports, "the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs plans to award the
tan beret of the Army Rangers to all Gitmo detainees. When asked the
purpose of this, he said, "if he are going to represent the Army in the
classroom, I want them to look sharp while doing it."

And if the McConnell staff read the article on the Duffel Blog, which
by now you all know is a humor website for veterans, sort of "the Onion" of
the military -- if the McConell staff actually read that article, they
would have read this quote from a Gitmo prisoner. "This is bull (EXPLETIVE
DELETED), cried prisoner SA 15-212. I filled out all of the forms, like
they said, and mailed them to my regional office in Spokane, Washington. I
was enrolled in school and they said it was fine if I didn`t pay up front.
Now I have just been dropped from all of my classes because my claim hasn`t
been processed yet, and the school hasn`t been paid. I would rather be
force fed pork and be sprayed with a fire hose than wait for the VA to
process my claim."

That article on a well known military humor website actually provoked
Mitch McConnell`s staff to send a letter to the Department of Defense
asking if the story is true.

Thanks to "Wired Magazine" for uncovering the McConnell breathtakingly
stupid correspondence with the Defense Department. We now have a strong
front runner for stupidest Congressional staff of 2013. When we asked
McConnell`s staff today to confirm who wrote the letter and did Senator
McConnell know the letter existed before it was sent and has any one been
fired for being so manifestly incompetent for writing such a letter, the
cowering in fear McConnell staff offered no answers to those questions.
Which simply widens the web of blame to possibly all of them.

Think -- think about how stupid you have to be to think the American
government is going to actually provide veteran`s benefits for Gitmo
prisoners. You have to think that the American government is a hopelessly
stupid operation, unworthy of being funded by taxpayer dollars, and
completely worthy of all the hatred aimed at it by right wing Tea Party
fanatics, some of whom apparently work now in Mitch McConnell`s Washington
office.

Can you write that letter to the Defense Department without hating the
federal government? Can you suspect what that letter suggests without
hating the federal government? I would hate the federal government if they
were paying veterans benefits to al Qaeda members detained at Guantanamo.
Bay. The joke article about that obviously played into a preexisting
condition in McConnell`s office, hatred of the government.

This is the part that isn`t funny. The Tea Party hates the
government. We know that. Mitch McConnell`s survival in office now
depends on him demonstrating to the Tea Party how much he hates the federal
government. It wasn`t always this way. Twenty years ago, Mitch McConnell
was a conservative but reasonable Republican senator.

But times have changed and so has his staff. The McConnell staff used
to take seriously their oath of office, which is the same oath that
senators take. It is the same oath, spiritually, that the president takes.
But it is a little longer. "I will support and defend the constitution of
the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I will bear
true faith and allegiance to the same."

Twenty years ago, someone on Mitch McConnell`s staff writing this
letter would be fired. No question about it. No senator would have
continued to waste tax payer dollars on the salary of anyone capable of
being duped this way. But now there is apparently no such thing as a
firing offense for Mitch McConnell`s Senate staff.

And so as Mitch McConnell continues to push for Medicare cuts and cuts
in education spending and cuts in all sorts of valuable investments in our
society that the government supports, the very last place that Mitch
McConnell will look to save the tax payers any money is his own stunningly
incompetent staff.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Air traffic controllers and airport security will see
cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you guys have to go out here at Reagan
Airport and wait in lines three hours to get through security, you are
going to be pissed. And so is everyone else. And you can use lots of
different stories just like that. And when that happens, they are going to
come back to Congress and say, we`re sick of this intransigence. Let`s get
together. Let`s do something smart. Let`s put the partisanship aside.
Let`s pull together and let`s fix this debt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Air travel is quickly becoming the relatable face of
sequestration. And boy, can I relate. Millions of Americans fly on a
typical Friday, which next week will be the first day of sequestration cuts
hitting American airports. I will be one of those lucky travelers next
Friday, who may be subject to extra long TSA lines, with security workers
being furloughed or laid off, and extra long delays on runways, with air
traffic controllers being furloughed and laid off.

Six hundred million dollars in cuts are facing the FAA next Friday.
Airport delay was a big worry at today`s House Democratic Steering and
Policy Committee meeting on the impact of sequestration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARION BLAKEY, AEROSPACE INDUSTRIES ASSOC.: Huge lines at security.
This affects every American, people traveling with their families as well
as people traveling on business. Secretary Napolitano, just the other day,
testified that reduced CPB funding would make a four to five hour wait at
the international airport`s common place and even the average security
screening wait time another hour added.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Marion Blakey joins me now. She is president and CEO of
Aerospace Industries Association, a former FAA administrator, and former
chairwoman of the National Transportation and Safety Board.

Marion, I want to go to your job at NTSB for reference here. First of
all, let`s just address issues of possible air traffic safety as a result
of sequestration.

BLAKEY: You know, Lawrence, I have a lot of confidence that the FAA
will keep the system safe. What they will do is slow it down. NTSB, that
investigates accidents, is a tiny agency. But they too will have to take
cuts, just like everyone else.

So you are going to see investigations slow down. And that is not a
good thing, because we are trying to get to the root cause of problems when
they occur. Thank goodness, it is an extremely safe system. But it is
going to be a slow system, if, in fact, sequestration goes in.

O`DONNELL: Now every morning show, "Today Show" and everyone next
week, somewhere in the middle of the week, is going to start doing this
segment about what is going to happen to the airport on Friday. That`s why
I`m doing it now, so some people can plan ahead of time if they still have
some control over their reservations. Would you advice people, if they
can, to just defer traveling next weekend, if they can possibly avoid it?

BLAKEY: Lawrence, I think this is going to be, as they say, a slow
roll into the problem. I doubt that those of you who are traveling,
including you, are going to feel an immediate impact like that. Although
remember, it is up to the FAA, to the Homeland Security Department, to
decide how they are going to implement these furloughs, how they are going
to take the cuts. So we will see.

But I do think we are going to see very significant slow down in the
system. And that has big economic impact, as well as impact on all of us
who fly a lot.

O`DONNELL: Just to get the distinction straight, do you think we are
not talking necessarily about layoffs here, but furloughs? The boss is
simply saying OK, you 10 air traffic controllers don`t come to work
tomorrow?

BLAKEY: Yeah, I think we are talking about what`s called rolling
furloughs. And that would be potentially a day a week. That is, you know,
a 20 percent cut in people`s income, which is very disturbing for people
who are working hard keeping the system going, and who are part of the
economy.

But for those of us who fly, just think about the impact because you
are going to have to adjust the schedule. You are going to have to reduce
the number of flights. We will definitely see the system remain safe. But
boy, I will tell you, the lines in every way when you travel are going to
increase unless Congress and the administration, the president, step up.
And they have got this week to do it.

So they could step into it and avert the sequester.

O`DONNELL: Marion Blakey gets tonight`s LAST WORD. Thanks for
joining us tonight.

BLAKEY: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: "THE ED SHOW" is up next.

END

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