'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, February 27th, 2013
Read the transcript to the Wednesday show
THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
February 27, 2013
Guests: Judith Browne Dianis, Dorian Warren, Josh Barro, Howard Wolfson
CHRIS HAYES, GUEST HOST: Who decides when racism is over? Five
justices on the Supreme Court seem poised to announce we do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks makes
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rosa Parks` singular
act launched a movement.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Becoming the first African-American woman to
have a statue in the Capitol.
OBAMA: It is because of these men and women that I stand here today.
MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC HOST: And now for the ironic kudos (ph) to that
CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC ANCHOR: Well, the Supreme Court is hearing
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: The Supreme Court hears oral arguments today.
JANSING: On the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Legal experts say it is now in serious
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: The right to vote must be
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: There are still forces in this country
that want to take us back.
PELOSI: The right to vote must be protected.
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC ANCHOR: One of the law`s provisions, Section 5 of
the law --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Section 5.
WAGNER: -- is at risk of being struck down.
JANSING: That`s that part requiring some states --
TODD: -- to prevent voter discrimination.
LEWIS: We still need Section 5, and that`s why we`re here today.
TODD: It has been reauthorized by Congress four times.
HALL: Four times, most recently in 2006.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: And that was just in 2006.
HALL: With an overwhelming majority of bipartisan votes.
CUMMINGS: What`s happened since 2006?
AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: Justice Antonin Scalia --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clearly an opponent.
SHARPTON: -- made a statement that cuts through everything else.
BASHIR: The laweries (ph) and I`m quoting him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Quote, "perpetuation"
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of racial entitlement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some pretty incendiary language.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s not judicial activism.
SHARPTON: Totally backwards.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s judicial megalomania.
HALL: Should we hear more from Republicans?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the past, they have been more supportive.
WAGNER: What is going on with them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The GOP seems to have lost some of its enthusiasm.
LEWIS: There are still forces in this country that want to take us
back, but we`re not going back. So we must never give up, never give in,
never give up.
HAYES: Good evening. I`m Chris Hayes, in for Lawrence O`Donnell.
The 13th Amendment of the Constitution was ratified the year the Civil
War ended in 1865, and prohibited slavery. In 1868, the 14th Amendment
that granted citizenship to anyone, quote, "born or naturalized in the
And in 1870, the 15th Amendment decreed the right of U.S. citizens to
vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state
on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
But the administration of and the mechanics of voting is left to the
states and localities. So the 15th Amendment gave Congress explicit
authority to enforce it.
Ninety-five years later, in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the
Voting Rights Act to stop states and localities from using a bewildering
and darkly ingenious set of laws and strategies to deprive people of the
right to vote. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act mandates that the worse
offenders voting laws be approved by the Justice Department or a federal
court was re-authorized in 2006, the Senate voted 98-0.
Between the 1970 and 2000, the Department of Justice filed nearly
1,000 objections to voting laws. And in the last election cycle alone, the
Department of Justice blocked voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina,
early voting cutbacks in Florida, and redistricting maps in Texas, all
under Section 5. Federal courts agreed in most cases.
But today, Shelby County, Alabama, officials, with legal
representation paid for by a conservative activist, told the Supreme Court
that Congress was wrong to reauthorize the act because, basically, racism
is now a thing of the past in the South.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUTCH ELLIS, SHELBY COUNTY, AL ATTY: I was 24 years old when we came
under section five. I`m 73 last weekend. And we`re still under the same
formula, none of which has applied to us in many, many, many years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Section 5 currently covers Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia,
Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, and some
jurisdictions in seven other states, including New York.
During oral arguments, Justice Sotomayor articulated the original
genius of Section 5 and its enduring logic today. Quote, "Section 5 was
created because states were moving faster than litigation permitted to
catch the new forms of discrimination practices that were being developed.
As the court struck down one form, the states would find another."
Justice Antonin Scalia said the courts should be skeptical of
Congress` decision to reauthorize a law because it would be politically
damaging for politicians to vote against the, quote, "perpetuation of
racial entitlement for minority voters."
Here was Reverend Al Sharpton on the steps of the Supreme Court today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: Last year, the voter ID laws, and long lines and ending
early voting, and stopping Sunday to the polls, showed that Jim Crow`s son,
James Crow Jr. Esquire, is still trying to do what his daddy did and that`s
rob us from the right to vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Joining me now is Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the
Advancement Project, which focuses on democracy and race.
And I just want to get your thoughts on oral arguments today. I mean,
I think we knew going into this, the last Supreme Court case this court
looked at on the Voting Rights Act, showed a tremendous amount of
skepticism and hostility for many of the conservative justice on the court
towards Section 5. I wonder, was today surprising to you?
JUDITH BROWNE DIANIS, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT: No, not surprising. I
mean, you know, you have Justice Scalia, I think showed a little bit more
of his attitudes towards section five, and towards race discrimination, and
race discrimination protections also. You know, his whole comment about
this is a racial entitlement is just incredulous.
You know, I haven`t known in this country where we have had a time
where there`s been actually some entitlement because of race. In fact,
when we look at Section 5, it`s protection. It`s not entitlement.
And then, Justice Sotomayor, thank goodness she is on the bench. She
was there as an advocate. Justice Breyer did a great job of really talking
about the fact that we have not cured the disease of discrimination.
So, you know, no surprises, I think. You know, so, at the end of the
day, we know it comes down to that one justice, Justice Kennedy.
HAYES: And what did you think of Justice Kennedy today? I was
reading. I read through the transcript. And he had kind of a famous line,
the last time this is up (INAUDIBLE) case, where he basically said, you
know, you are insulting the sovereign dignity of the state, the state of
Georgia, the Congress is valuing the sovereign dignity of Georgia, as less
than the sovereign dignity of Ohio because Georgia is covered under this
provision, Ohio is not.
And he said something that sounded similarly skeptical, and since
we`re all tea leave reading and because it will almost certainly come down
to Justice Kennedy, what were your thoughts on what he had to say in oral
DIANIS: OK. So, I`m going to give you my prediction.
DIANIS: My prediction is that he --
HAYES: Accountability moment, role the tape --
DIANIS: Uh-oh, don`t rewind. So my prediction is that he will side
with us on this.
DIANIS: That he will uphold it, because at the end of the day,
Justice Kennedy actually sometimes has broken waves with the conservative
bloc. And he actually believes in fairness.
Now, I`m not saying that in every case, he`s been fair. Clearly,
there have been some race cases in particular where we have been concerned.
But I think that at the end of the day, that fairness will rule. That
there was enough information before Congress in 2006 to say that we still
need a Voting Rights Act.
And clearly, we know, Chris, from all the coverage you have done that
in fact in 2011 and 2012, we needed the Voting Rights Act to hold back all
of those laws that made it harder to vote for voters of color.
HAYES: I want to bring in, as well, MSNBC`s Reverend Al Sharpton who
attended the oral arguments in the court today.
And, Reverend, I`m curious what your reaction was, sitting there and
listening to oral arguments?
SHARPTON: Well, I thought there was aggressive representation on both
sides. I was clearly outraged with Justice Scalia`s reference to our
having the protection of voting rights and his starkly discrimination in
the areas, or districts, are referred to as a racial entitlement. But
aside from that outburst, which I think clearly shows a deep insensitivity
at best, to what the voting rights act was for and remains in effect for, I
think that clearly, there is in my opinion enough of a record there to show
why we clearly need to continue to have Section 5.
When you look at just the last election, and all of the voter
suppression schemes that disproportionately impacted black voters in all of
it being new laws, introduced in 37 states, it shows why we must have pre-
clearance and we must have the ability for the Justice Department that the
Congress decided and reauthorized as late as 2006, they must have that
authority to continue to protect those in those districts who have had
various schemes to disenfranchise minority voters.
HAYES: One of that -- you mentioned that the rash of legislation in
the last election cycle, voter ID laws, cut-downs on early voting, you
know, almost always pushed through by state legislatures control by
Republicans, signed into law by Republican governors. And one of the
strange and perverse arguments being made by the plaintiffs in this case is
that we`ve had such a rash of restrictive measures taken in places that are
not covered by Section 5, that the differential treatment offered by the
Voting Rights Act between those covered districts, like for instance, the
state of Georgia and those that aren`t covered like, for instance, the
state of Ohio means that the act formula for figuring out what areas to
target and which areas not to target of preclearance is outmoded or
unconstitutionally, you know, haphazard.
And, Reverend, I wonder, what`s your argument to that as someone who`s
been fighting against the voting restrictions happening outside of the
SHARPTON: Well, first of all I think it is a bogus argument in this
case, because what are you saying? If I am one that steals, my defense is
not that I didn`t steal, but that everybody is stealing.
SHARPTON: So you ought to let me go because you didn`t get the other
thieves. I mean, that is the most irrational argument I`ve heard. And
that is basically what they`re saying. We`re not the only ones doing it.
Not that we`re not doing it. We`re not the only ones doing it.
The fact of the matter is that these districts clearly under the
Voting Rights Act Section 5, clearly were already designated and clearly
continues to be a problem. And when you look at it, it was outlined very
well, I feel by the arguments today, we`re outlining the impacts still
going on in Alabama, no statewide blacks elected, the disproportionate
impact, that clearly still someone -- a district that has to be monitored
and under preclearance.
Now, if you want to make the argument it ought to be expanded to
others, that`s a different argument.
SHARPTON: But how does that in any sane argument say that you should
therefore not leave us to our own whims? That we are not even arguing may
not still be there, and in fact continue to disenfranchise voters at least
since 1864, has been designated as voters that have to be protected by
preclearance of the Justice Department.
HAYES: One of the great ironies of this case is the plaintiff, Shelby
County in Alabama, actually, they are not -- there is what`s called a
bailout procedure for the Voting Rights Act, which is that if you have a
clean record for a sufficient amount of time, you can actually get out from
under the heighten scrutiny -- heighten scrutiny is a constitutional term -
- from the fact that you actually have to go through this preclearance
DIANIS: That`s right.
HAYES: Shelby County could not, because as recently in 2008, they had
a redistricting tragedy that led to getting rid of the lone representation
from an African-American city council member.
And Judith, there was a moment where Justice Sotomayor confronted
Shelby County about the fact that maybe the South has changed, but your
county sure as heck hasn`t.
DIANIS: That`s right. And, in fact, when you look at this bailout
provision, and this is what`s important in this case, is that under the
Voting Rights Act, if you have not committed discrimination and you are
covered by Section 5, you can bail out.
DIANIS: There have been about 200 jurisdictions that have bailed out
because they have a clean record. So, Shelby County, so too bad on you --
you actually couldn`t bail out because you have a history, and it`s a
So I think that this is where the case is going to come down to is
that Congress had enough information before it. President George W. Bush
signed the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act to Section 5. And so,
there was enough before them. Shelby County, clean up your act, get over
it, stop discriminating, and bail out like the others have done.
HAYES: Reverend Al Sharpton, host of "POLITICS NATION", 6:00 p.m.
weeknights, wonderful to have you here.
SHARPTON: Thank you.
HAYES: And Judith Browne Dianis, thank you for joining me tonight.
DIANIS: Thanks, Chris.
HAYES: Coming up, the complicated and dangerous politics of the
Voting Rights Act for Republicans. Dorian Warren and Ari Melber join me
And what`s really driving the conservative shutout of Governor
Christie? That`s coming up.
HAYES: So how did we get here? How did we get to the point of what
used to be a bipartisan piece of legislation is hanging on by a thread?
And what the victory of this woman, Robin Kelly, says about the
politics of post-Sandy Hook America? That`s coming up.
HAYES: Today`s Supreme Court arguments highlighted the paradox of the
current racial politics of the Republican Party. The Voting Rights Act has
been a bipartisan piece of legislation. In 2006, Congress voted on
reauthorization. In the House of Representatives it passed with 390 votes,
192 Republican, 192 Democratic, in the Senate it passed with 98-0, 53
Republican, 44, Democratic.
The two senators of Alabama, home of the county that challenged the
Voting Rights Act in the Supreme Court today, the one facing the horrible
threat to its sovereign dignity, those two senators, both Republicans,
voted for re-authorization in 2006.
Here is President George W. Bush signing the legislation with
congressional leaders, the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights
During his remarks, the president said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: My administration will
strongly enforce the provisions of this law, and we will defend it in
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: So, on one level, the national level, the Voting Rights Act
has been the rare issue not subject to tremendous partisan polarization.
And yet on another level, the law designed to prevent voting
restrictions and infringement on voting rights, it had become an
increasingly partisan issue. So much so that last election, the head of
the Republican Party in Pennsylvania state legislature actually bragged
about passing a law that disenfranchised the voting opposition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ST. REP. MIKE TURZAI (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Voter ID, which is going to
allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: With respect to voting rights itself, "Politico`s" Josh
Gerstein notes that ledger of states opposing the so-called preclearance
law has grown. In the 2009 case, only Georgia and to a lesser extent
Alabama challenged the law head on. Now, five more states, Alaska, South
Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas, are asking the court to
strike down the preclearance portion of a law. All the states are GOP-led,
and all among those subject to the pre-approval process which they contend
is burdensome and unfair.
Whereas at the national level, Gerstein`s piece notes, the Republican
National Committee, which has ordered up a report examining in part why the
party fared poorly with minority voters last fall did not respond to
several requests from the views on the voter rights challenge.
Today, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor`s office made this
announcement -- this week, House Majority Eric Cantor will participate in
the congressional civil rights pilgrimage lead by Congressman John Lewis of
Georgia. Congressman Cantor will be joined by a bipartisan delegation of
members of Congress on a three-day journey through Birmingham, Tuscaloosa,
Montgomery, and Selma, Alabama.
John Lewis, of course, being the civil rights leader-turned-
congressman, who helped lead t original Selma march and provoked Washington
to pass the original Civil Rights Act in 1965.
So, today, it appears the way the Republican Party would like to
thread the needle on racial politics, ideally, is by doing it sub rosa.
As Andrew Cohen wrote, many Southern politicians in particular hope
they will, quote, "get to see the death of Section 5 without having their
fingerprints on the weapon that killed it."
Joining me now, Ari Melber. He`s a lawyer and MSNBC political and
analyst. And Dorian Warren, associate professor of political science and
public affairs at Columbia University.
I thought the silence from -- we were scrounging around, looking for
statements being posted by Republican members of Congress. The RNC,
outlets of official Republicandom, which will sometimes weigh in on big
SCOTUS court cases, right? Nothing, basically crickets.
And I`m curious how you guys interpret that?
DORIAN WARREN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, there`s an easy. Today was
the unveiling in Congress of the statue of Rosa Parks, who led the
Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama, the very state challenging the most
significant and important civil rights victory of the movement.
So I don`t think they were going to unveil this statue and talk about
how Rosa Parks was such a great inspiration and great woman, and then cross
the street and say, by the way, we think the Voting Rights Act should be
HAYES: I think that`s part of what`s so remarkable about the case
before the court, right, is that you have what is particularly by
contemporary standards, a remarkable consensus on this piece of
legislation. And the perversity of Antonin Scalia`s moment, in which he
refers to perpetuation of racial entitlement, is the context in which he is
making it, is the context in which he shows that each subsequent
reauthorization has passed by wider and wider margins, and that to his mind
perverse shows that it is somehow illegitimate, because there is some kind
of nefarious force of political correctness, I suppose, that is now
stopping senators and members of Congress from voting against the act.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Justice Scalia, in that
section of oral arguments today was basically saying, look, you have more
and more Republicans voting for it. They`re afraid to vote against it.
The rebuttal from the solicitor general is saying, well, no, you might
get political benefits, one way or the other, but the task of the court is
really not to delve into that. The other argument, we heard, especially by
Chief Justice Roberts, you hear it at barbecues, you hear it in common
conversations -- well, we have a black president and we have black elected
officials. What`s the problem?
The problem is the Voting Rights Act is not about electing black
people. It`s about black people having the right to vote. That`s where we
started with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendment.
HAYES: And also, we should say, Latinos, Asian-Americans, all sort of
-- minorities --
MELBER: And many others.
HAYES: -- expand in subsequent revision of the act.
MELBER: Absolutely, but when you go back to the text of the amendment
of the Constitution, which is what the court is supposed to do. When we
talk about servitude, this is gauzy, this is not in the air, this is black
people who were slaves in this country, who had no rights, and we were
trying to secure the rights. So, it`s so disturbing when you see that
argument, that idea that because Barack Obama won, the right that every
other person has is somehow not as important to protect.
And number two, and I`ll finish here, number two, black people vote
for white candidates, too.
MELBER: Their access to the ballot box has nothing to do with who
gets elected, necessarily.
WARREN: There is one more irony of Scalia`s comment today about
racial entitlements. And that is about 100 years ago, the Supreme Court
actually nullified 15th Amendment using a similar justification around
special favors for blacks. So, they essentially said the 15th Amendment,
we`ve done that too much. Reconstruction, that`s been too much
And then we get two thirds of the 20th century with Jim Crow laws,
which the voting rights act was meant to overcome.
HAYES: Right, we had a first Civil Rights Act. It was passed in
1780. It was later invalidated by the Supreme Court of the United States
as essentially overreach of the Congress`s authority and violation of the
HAYES: I think what`s fascinating here in terms of the politics of
this, right, this law is popular. I mean, you have bipartisan majorities.
This I thought was interesting. The Texas poll, the state of Texas, the
state of Texas has joined the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs, joining
Shelby County, saying get rid of this burden on us.
And the state should -- you ask people, states should still be under
federal supervision? Fifty-one percent yes. States should be able to
change their election laws without federal approval, 36 percent say yes.
The majority support for federal supervision in state of Texas -- this
is the Lone Star State, the independent republic of Texas. If there`s any
place -- so there really doesn`t seem to me any kind of broad grassroots
political support for this provision.
WARREN: No, but this has been a long-term goal of the conservative
movement, to chip away at this law. Even Chief Justice Roberts himself
when he was a young attorney in the Reagan administration, one of his
primary jobs was to figure out ways not to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
So, this has been a long-term, more than 30-year effort to chip away
at most of the civil rights victories, the chief justice might get his
final chance to do so.
HAYES: Do you think there`ll be political -- I am really curious
about what the political ramifications look like, should the court do what,
I think a lot of people are now very nervously anticipating they`re going
MELBER: Right. We don`t know what they`re going to do.
I do think if they come out against the Voting Rights Act and overturn
to into these very flimsy federalist grounds, I think there`s a backlash.
And that goes back to something you were discussing with Reverend Sharpton,
which is the James Crow Jr. argument, the voter ID laws that people learned
a lot about.
Justice Sotomayor said it best, there`s innovation of discrimination.
That`s why the logic of this legislative approach was to have preclearance,
so you didn`t have the shenanigans in the final hours, the moving of poll
locations, voter ID, as an innovation, a sinister one.
So, I think you get that backlash. In the interviewing that I`ve done
in covering this story, you know, when you talk to a lot of black voters,
they said, you know, 2008 was about him. There was a lot of excitement of
Barack Obama. And 2012 was about us, because they were coming after our
rights and our votes.
And a lot of people thought there was a political backlash that drove
turnout for voter ID. So, it may have been good politically, right, but it
also shows the cost when the court comes in and states come in and they try
to get in the way of your right to vote.
HAYES: And I wonder, too, Dorian, quickly on this, the underlying
premise, right, is that there is some kind of temporal aspect to all of
this, right, we`re on the path to the place, which is the final state of
equilibrium in which the law is no longer needed.
And I think even the supporters of that, supporter of law buy into
that. And I wonder if it just -- I actually don`t think I believe it. I
just think like the remedy is needed because the impulses are just going to
be there as part of society in American life.
WARREN: They have always been there, from the founding, and
especially through the `60s until we had an effective legislative measure
to deal with it.
So they`ve always -- that impulse to find out these new -- to create
these new innovations to subvert the law has always been there, which is
why we need it. I think the court is right, if the court strikes down the
law and in response I think we can then make a demand for some kind of
national voting reform.
HAYES: Dorian Warren and Ari Melber, thank you for joining me
MELBER: Thank, Chris.
WARREN: Thank you.
HAYES: Coming up, when you don`t want something to happen and you can
stop it from happening, what should you do? Stop it from happening. Yes,
you are correct. And if John Boehner really hated the sequester, he could
stop it on just one line with a piece of paper, the easy solution he
wouldn`t take coming up.
HAYES: We found out two days ago the most popular governor in the
country right now, if polls are to be believed, was not invited to speak at
the annual CPAC conference this year. Today we know why New Jersey
Governor Chris Christie was left out. "The National Journal" reports they
received an e-mail from American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas,
which claimed Christie broke wit conservatives no key issues. Cardenas
said "CPAC is like the all-star game for professional athletes. You get
invited when you have an outstanding year. Hopefully he will have another
all-star year in the future, at which time we will be happy to extend an
invitation. This is a conservative conference, not a Republican party
Presumably this means that CPAC 2013-invited speakers Mitt Romney,
Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Allen West had, according to
Cardenas, outstanding years. Cardenas clearly using some sort of
complicated sabermetrics we do not have access to. You would hate to see
what a bad year looks like.
Cardenas` e-mail cited the governor`s support for the 60 billion
dollar federal aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims, and this move
Christie made just yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: It is simple, we`re putting
people first, which is why, after considerable discussion and research, I
have decided to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: For the record, none of the eight Republican governors who
have come out in support of the Medicaid expansion are speaking at CPAC
next month. Chris Christie was asked a question about the CPAC snub during
a town hall in New Jersey earlier today, to which he replied.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Listen, I wish them all the best. They get to decide who
they want to have come and not come. It is not like I`m lacking for
invitations to speak both here and around the country. I can`t sweat the
small stuff. I`ve got a state to rebuild. I can`t sweat the small stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Oh, Chris Christie.
Joining me now, Krystal Ball, co-host of MSNBC`s "THE CYCLE," and Josh
Barro, columnist for "Bloomberg View." David Axelrod I thought had a good
take on this. He said -- Tweeted, "from the department of don`t throw me
in the briar patch, by banishing Chris Christie, isn`t CPAC just making him
stronger in New Jersey?"
Josh Barro, I feel like you are really feeling the Chris Christie
approach these days.
JOSH BARRO, "BLOOMBERG VIEW": It is just so funny, because he is the
one Republican elected official who is really figuring out how to appeal to
moderates. His approval rating is 73 or 74, depending on which poll you
read. He is beating his Democratic challenger by about 35 points. He has
is figured out how to take this terrible, toxic brand and make it work in
New Jersey, which is a pretty deep blue state.
So you would think that other -- that conservatives nationally would
want to take a look at him and figure what kind of compromises they have to
make in order to win elections again. The problem is that he has shown you
have to make compromises in order to win elections. And they don`t like
HAYES: Yes. I also wonder, Krystal -- I think that the conservative
base puts a lot of emphasis on theatrics and about sort of symbolism. And
I don`t say that as a kind of condescending thing, because I think all
political bases do, like I want to know that you`re with me, right, in your
heart of hearts. I feel that way about left and liberal and progressive
And so there is a huge premium put on like fighting with liberals,
which is what he did early on and he`s not doing as much anymore. But
then, also, what is cross-pressured here is that I always feel like
conservatives really love a winner and hate a loser. And that was the
thing that allowed George W. Bush to get away with things that they didn`t
like, was because he was just so popular.
I feel like those two things are at war with each other in the case of
Chris Christie. It seems to me like their loving of a winner is somehow
KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yes, I think that is right, obviously,
since they`re inviting people like Mitt Romney and Allen West instead. And
we should point that according to them, you are also an all start
conservative -- congratulations -- since you also got invited.
But I think you`re exactly right.
HAYES: Chris Christie, S.E. Cupp and I are going to be drinking in a
hotel bar somewhere during CPAC. We`ll send a form letter.
BALL: That sounds amazing, thank you. No, I think you`re right about
that. He held said some not so conservative positions from the beginning
of his governorship. But he was so bombastic and would go out there and
yell at the teacher and the other person who got up. He was really out
there in terms of his rhetoric that they just fell in love with this guy.
HAYES: And he also did some things policy-wise.
HAYES: Taking the federal money that was --
BALL: He`s not a liberal. You know, he really did go after the
teacher`s unions. He really did balance the budget, quote unquote, without
raising taxes. He has been a conservative governor, but he hasn`t been
crazy. And it is not an accident that he is so popular and he is not tied
to the national Republican party.
So by not inviting him to CPAC, it is just another way for him to be
distanced from the national Republican party, which is so toxic.
BARRO: I think it is important to keep in mind, though, when you look
at these polls in New Jersey, his approval rating among Republicans is
somewhere between 90 and 95 percent.
BARRO: So it`s not as though Republicans in --
HAYES: He is sort of managing to pull it off both politically right
BARRO: Right, because the parts of his record that conservatives in
New Jersey really care about, on the state budget, on public employee
pensions and health care and things like that, I think he has done things
to satisfy them. I think, also, he makes a strong argument about why you
would take the Medicaid expansion dollars, because it is money that --
you`re paying the federal taxes anyway. The question is, are we going to
accept the money or not?
BARRO: So he has been able to make that sale within his state. It`s
these national conservatives who I think they`re just obsessed about the
BALL: I totally agree. I mean, that`s one of the only thing that is
uniting Republicans and united Republicans in the past election year, was
their dislike, disdain for the president. So when he embraced him vocally,
went above and beyond, in their view, what he needed to do, I think that
was the line that was really crossed.
HAYES: I kind of wonder if like -- if a Democratic governor did that
in the waning days of the 2004 election with George W. Bush, I think I
would hold a grudge, too, if I`m being totally honest. Like I would view
that I think as some kind of -- as some kind of betrayal.
BALL: Well, I think it depends on the circumstances. In a way, I
would. But if you look at the public polling, Democrats are much more --
in general, much more open to compromise. They want to see compromise from
BALL: And Republicans are much more -- they want to see them sticking
to their principles.
HAYES: And the fascinating thing on this compromising right is that
at the federal level, there doesn`t seem to be any coming from the House
Republicans. But there is this really concrete scorecard now for
pragmatism for a Republican governor. And that is the Medicaid expansion,
it seems to me. This is you have to make a call and you end up on one side
of it or you end up on the other side.
Eight Republican governors have done it. You have surprising people
like Tom Corbett from Pennsylvania, who is a Republican governor in a blue
state with a lot of people who could benefit from the Medicaid expansion.
Jan Brewer is on the side of expansion. Corbett is saying he`s not going
to do it in Pennsylvania, which is very surprising.
And Josh, I wonder, how do you interpret that fault line? Like, is
there sense to be made of the two buckets that these kind of governors are
dropping into, which is Chris Christie now the latest, on the side of
expansion or against expansion.
BARRO: I actually find it a little bit hard to make sense of it. I
mean, some of it makes sense. Rick Scott was a hospital executive. And so
I think --
HAYES: And the hospital executives came to the floor of the house and
were like bro, come on.
BARRO: Right. I mean, the big lobby -- someone from "National
Review" was saying to me, well, you know, I don`t think people who want
Medicaid are a powerful lobby. And that`s not --
BARRO: So I think that helps explain Rick Scott. It is interesting,
you have this cluster in the southwest, where in New Mexico and Arizona and
Nevada, Republican governors have all taken the money. So I don`t know
whether there is some regional thing going on there.
HAYES: I think what`s interesting there is that you have Susanna
Martinez and you have Sandoval in New Mexico, and Nevada respectively, who
are both real bright stars in the party, who are absolutely kind of persona
non-grata in a national profile way because they have heterodoxies already
that would disqualify them.
BARRO: Sandoval has also pushed for a tax increase. So I think he
has already blown that with Republicans nationally. But I think there are
two considerations for when you`re deciding whether to take the money. One
is the substantive policy one. It`s, you know, you`re really sort of
screwing the state by not taking the money. But the other is, I think
starting next year, they`re really going to take a lot of political hits
over not taking the money.
HAYES: Krystal Ball and Josh Barro, thank you.
BALL: Thanks, Chris.
HAYES: Coming up, the rapid shift in politics and public opinion,
HAYES: OK, this we know to be absolutely, totally and 100 percent
true about the 85 billion dollars in sequester cuts that are ready to kick
in on Friday. A whole lot of politicos inside the Beltway in both parties
say they don`t want them to happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The president laid out no plan
to eliminate the sequester and the harmful cuts that will come as a result
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: Most people don`t even know
what the word sequester means. Sequestration equals unemployment.
Sequestration, we don`t want it.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: There is no question that these
cuts are going to be painful, and they are thoughtless.
SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: And what sequestration is, it is a
terrible way to cut spending. I don`t disagree with that. What you hear
is an outrage, because nobody wants to cut spending.
SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: There is no reason that this has to
happen. We just need to find a balanced approach. There is no reason we
should be playing these kind of brinkmanship.
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: We wouldn`t be in these
sequester type situations if we actually prioritize spending.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Side bar, could we talk about Tom Coburn`s amazing outfits and
look these days? Later maybe? OK.
So if there are a whole lot of legislators who don`t want to see the
sequester happen, why, you might ask, does it seem like it will almost
certainly happen anyway, especially now when alternatives to sequestration
are proliferating all over Washington, D.C. For example, the White House
has its plan, although that seems to be a secret to some Republicans.
But as has been pointed out here on THE LAST WORD by one Ezra Klein,
it`s on the White House website and includes 1.8 trillion dollars in new
deficit reduction, lots of cuts, some new revenues. It`s even got a one-
page cheat sheet. And both Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans have
their own plans, both of which are scheduled for a vote tomorrow in the
Senate. The Republican Senate solution would maintain cuts as is, but
gives President Obama far greater flexibility to minimize the impact to the
Pentagon and other government services deemed critical to public safety,
like air traffic control and airport security.
The Democrats` solution would delay the sequester until the end of the
calendar year, offsetting the cost with a mix of spending cuts and tax
But none of these solutions would pass both chambers of Congress to
make their way to the White House, to be signed by the president, because
there is not enough support for any single one of any of those proposals.
Well, I am here to tell you the good news, which is that there is a
simple, clean, clear solution that would actually stop the horrible cuts
almost everyone doesn`t want to happen from happening. Earlier this month,
the Congressional Progressive Caucus -- God bless them -- introduced a bill
called the Balancing Act, which would cancel the sequester and replace it
with a plan, they argue, to fairly increase revenue, make responsible cuts
to the Pentagon budget, and again, the CBC argues, create one million jobs
all over the country.
Realizing in a Republican controlled House that sort of plan is going
nowhere fast, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has suggested something
even simpler. This one is not a cancel and replace plan. This week, they
have started pushing the idea that if no one can agree what to replace the
sequester with, it should be canceled.
A statement from CBC co-chairs Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona
and Keith Ellison of Minnesota reads, in part, "if Congress cannot come up
with a replacement to the sequester before the end of the week, we should
eliminate the sequester entirely. If this goes into effect, it will be one
of the most irresponsible legislative failure in the history of the
Republic, capital R."
In other words, pass a one line bill that would stop this monstrosity
that no one wants to happen from happening. See how simple that is?
That`s it, game over, one-line bill, pass it. Again, remember how many
people on Capitol Hill are on the record saying the sequester is a really
bad idea? No matter who they`re blaming for it?
So why won`t the Republican-controlled House take on the Progressive
Caucus plan? What is stopping them? I think it is pretty simple. Deep
down, the Republicans want the sequester cuts to happen. But they don`t
want to take all the blame for doing it.
Coming up, what Michael Bloomberg had to do with a Congressional
primary in Illinois and why it says so much about post-Newtown politics in
America. That is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEIL HESLIN, SON KILLED IN NEWTOWN SHOOTING: Jesse was the love of my
life. He was the only family I had left. It is hard for me to be here
today to talk about my deceased son. I have to. I`m his voice.
I`m not here for the sympathy and a pat on the back. As many people
stated in the town of Newtown, I`m here to speak up for my son.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: That was Neil Heslin, father of Jesse Lewis, one of the 20
children massacred two months ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in
Newtown, Connecticut. Heslin testified before the Senate Judiciary
Committee today, asking Congress to ban semiautomatic weapons and high
capacity magazines. He was joined by Dr. William Begg, the medical
director of the EMS team that responded to the Newtown shooting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BEGG, EMS DIRECTOR, NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT: People say that the
overall number of assault weapon deaths is relatively small. But you know
what? Please don`t tell that to the people of Tucson or Aurora or
Columbine or Virginia Tech. And don`t tell that to the people of Newtown.
BEGG: This is a tipping point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: It seems to be a tipping point for the public, too. A new
NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll finds that 61 percent say they favor
stricter gun sale laws. That`s up five points from just last month. The
biggest thing that is going to shift the politics in the long term is
people shifting the calculus of reelection, the calculus of who is going to
give you money, who is going to give your opponent money, and what re-
election will look like depending on what position you take.
Yesterday, we got our first post-Newtown image of what that looks
like. Former state Representative Robin Kelly trounced her opponents in
the special Democratic primary election in Illinois 2nd District, winning
52 percent of the vote. Kelly had a little help from New York City Mayor
Michael Bloomberg` pro-gun control sup PAC, which spent 2.2 million dollars
attacking Kelly`s opponent, former Congresswoman Debbie Halberson (ph), for
having an A-rating from the NRA.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBIN KELLY (D-IL), CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS: You did more than I ever
could have imagined. You sent a message that was heard around our state
and across the nation.
KELLY: A message that tells the NRA that their days of holding our
country hostage are coming to an end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Joining me now, New York City Deputy Mayor for Government
Affairs and Communications, Howard Wolfson. Howard, good to have you here.
HOWARD WOLFSON, OFFICE OF NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Good to be here.
HAYES: How did you guys choose this race?
WOLFSON: Well, it`s a special election, so it`s the only race going
on right now. And it is a race that was playing out in the middle of this
very important gun debate in Washington. So there was going to be a lot of
attention placed on this race. And when we looked at the race and saw that
former Congresswoman Debbie Halberson who had, as you mentioned, an A
rating from the NRA, was in the lead, was poised to win, the mayor said, we
can`t have that. We`re not going to have someone going to Congress and
being a vote for the NRA.
HAYES: In some ways, this district is an interesting one, because
there was kind of a mismatch between Debbie Halberson and the district, I
think, in certain ways, on the issue.
WOLFSON: Well, it was a multi-candidate field. And because of that,
former Congresswoman Halberson began in the lead and could have won, I
think, had -- now congresswoman -- well, she`s not quite Congresswoman yet.
Congresswoman apparent Kelly not run a very strong race, and had the mayor
not gone in and made sure that voters knew about former Congresswoman
Halberson`s record in support of the NRA`s positions.
HAYES: I want to play you a little sound from Anthony Beale, who was
another candidate in the race, talking about the role that Mayor Bloomberg
and the super PAC played in the race. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY BEALE (D), CHICAGO 9TH WARD ALDERMAN: The biggest disservice
in this race was dumping of millions of dollars to support one candidate.
We cannot let the Democratic party cannibalize Democrats for ulterior
motives that don`t serve the people`s best interests. If this is the
future of the Democratic party, then we are all in big trouble.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: I`m curious how you respond to that.
WOLFSON: Well, you know, there was some commentary in the run up to
the race about there might be a backlash to the fact that the mayor was
spending this money. The fact is the candidate he was supporting got 55
percent of the vote in a multi-candidate field. So there clearly was not a
backlash. The voters in that district did not agree with the gentleman who
just spoke, Mr. Beale.
And look, for a very long time, the NRA had the field to itself on
this issue, they dominated the discussion. They dominated the debate.
They have spent tens of millions of dollars over many decades influencing
the outcomes of elections. And for the first time in a very long time,
perhaps ever, there is a countervailing force.
And you have the American people passionately advocating for these
laws that can make our streets safer. And you have someone in Michael
Bloomberg who is willing to try to provide the other point of view, to
provide a counterbalance to the NRA in a race like this and in other races.
We did it in a number of races last November, won a number of them. And
obviously, the mayor feels passionately about this and is going to continue
to play a role.
HAYES: Is part of this -- I think what is interesting about the
dynamics of the NRA as a force in politics is this kind of difference
between preference and intensity, right? I mean, you can poll people on
gun safety measures now, even, right? And the question is, well, you call
somebody up and they say, do you want stricter gun laws? They say sure,
and then they hang up the phone, right?
There is a core of people on the side of maximal, you know, absolute
freedom or freedom from restraint of any kind, right? The question is, is
there a consistency with that same intensity on the side of the mayor and
WOLFSON: Well, there certainly was yesterday in this district.
Chicago has seen a lot of gun violence. Murders are up there. So this is
obviously an issue of great import. But this was the issue in the race.
It was the issue in the race before the mayor arrived. And obviously, we
helped elevate the issue a little bit.
And so, you know, look, what happened yesterday, both -- in my
opinion, both a bellwether and a referendum on guns. And I think people in
Washington are paying attention.
HAYES: Howard Wolfson gets tonight`s LAST WORD. Thanks so much.
HAYES: I`m Chris Hayes, in for Lawrence O`Donnell, You can see my
show, "UP WITH CHRIS HAYES," every Saturday and Sunday morning at 8:00.
"THE ED SHOW" is up next.
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