THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
August 5, 2013
Guests: Christopher Hill, Benjamin Wallace-Wells, Nick Acocella, Justin
Porter; Travis Reginal; Nia-Malika Henderson
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: Tonight, the NSA is claiming credit for
discovering the latest al Qaeda threat by monitoring overseas electronic
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHNOR: New information on the global terror
CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC ANCHOR: The terror threat continues.
HALL: -- that is keeping more than a dozen U.S. embassies and
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are going to keep evaluating information as
it comes in.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC ANCHOR: For others, it was a chance to put the
spotlight back on Benghazi.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Benghazi was a complete
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A direct consequence of what we saw in Benghazi.
GRAHAM: We`ve learned from Benghazi, thank God.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Domestic politics are definitely driving this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The good news is that we picked up intelligence
and that`s what we do.
GRAHAM: The NSA program --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s what NSA does.
TODD: Using the threat as a vehicle to advance their own agendas.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The deadly hit-and-run over the weekend.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Detectives believe he intentionally hit the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s more than one party that benefits from me
not ever stepping back on the field.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bob Filner is expected to enter a clinic today.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw him place his hands where they did not
belong on numerous women.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pull over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anthony Weiner is nothing if not tenacious.
ANTHONY WEINER (D), NYC MAYORAL CANDIDATE: I`m going to get over it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is as hot as
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Did I say on topic?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Measuring at 53.1 degrees on the thermometer.
CHRISTIE: Are you stupid? On topic. On topic. Next question.
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Senator McConnell took the stage at
the traditional Kentucky fancy farm event.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Obamacare is a disaster
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The struggle is just to be heard above the din.
ALLISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES (D), KY SENATE CANDIDATE: If the doctors
told Senator McConnell that he had a kidney stone, he`d refuse to pass it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you put this in perspective?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The politics of the terror threat.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chris Christie is as hot as it gets.
MITCHELL: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is setting the tone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The struggle is just to be heard above the din.
O`DONNELL: Tonight, 20 U.S. embassies and consulates are closed and
will remain closed for the rest of the week in an extraordinarily large-
scale security precaution as we continue to learn more details about the
terror threat that prompted it. Sources told NBC News the closures came
after the NSA intercepted an electronic communication between the man who
succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of al Qaeda central and a former
personal aide to bin Laden and who is also the head of al Qaeda`s satellite
group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
NBC News reports tonight that a third significant al Qaeda operative
was also a party to communication discussing the attack. That third al
Qaeda leader expressed the desire to blow himself up in an attack,
something he has not been allowed to do in the past.
Today, a State Department spokesperson was asked about the striking
coincidence that the government made the threat public immediately after
Russia granted asylum to Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Couldn`t it be argued that suddenly we`re hearing about
this potential threat to U.S. interests and U.S. persons and property at a
time when there`s a lot of debate and a lot of criticism of this program,
as well as other NSA types of surveillance?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can assure you that that in no way at all,
period, 100 percent, affects how we evaluate threat information coming in,
specifically in terms of this threat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Republican Peter King offered a vehement defense of the
Obama administration reaction to the terror threat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: It`s absolutely crazy to say there`s
any conspiracy here. I mean, just from seeing the intelligence, I`ve seen
it. The government would have been totally negligent if it did not take
the actions taken. Whether or not there was any controversy over the NSA
at all, all these actions would have been taken.
So, I`m a Republican. I`m saying the administration -- I`ve had
problems with the administration on different issues. But what they are
doing now is what has to be done. They`d be derelict if they were not.
And you know, we can`t criticize them for doing too little with
Benghazi and now criticize them for doing too much. I`m giving them credit
for saying they learned from Benghazi and that`s why they`re firming up the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Doubts about the timing coincidence have been raised by
Glenn Greenwald and Rush Limbaugh, who finally have found one thing they
can sort of maybe kind of agree on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: This is the worst threat the country has
faced since 9/11, folks. You`ve got a little bit of a backlash against the
NSA. The Russians granting Edward Snowden asylum. So, he finally was able
to leave the Moscow airport. And then, this Benghazi thing, and again,
whatever backlash there is against Obama care.
All of a sudden here comes this monstrous terror threat -- now, it
originally was going to close our embassies on Sunday, but then it was so
bad and it was so anecdotal and it was so credible and it was -- I mean, it
was -- nothing compares to this until you go back to the same kind of
chatter that we were hearing before 9/11.
So we`re going to close the embassies for the whole week. It`s just
easy to not believe it anymore. It`s just too easy to be cynical.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, NBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann and
former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill. He is the dean of the
Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.
Ambassador Hill, that line that Limbaugh just said, it is just so easy
to be cynical now, that is sadly true, that in a situation like this it is
as easy as it has ever been to be cynical about the coincidence of this
timing. What do you say to the people who are questioning the coincidence
of timing here?
CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, with all due
respect to those who look for these conspiracy theories, believe me, this
is something, when they get intelligence of the kind they`ve clearly gotten
in which they`ve actually put out to the public, it`s a very serious
matter. Now, the question is when you don`t know where the attack is, you
don`t know how, you don`t know when, you tend to go kind of broad in the
And whether the events of Benghazi play a role in that, you know, that
may be the case. But certainly I think, you know, an abundance of caution
would result in closing these embassies for a few days in August.
O`DONNELL: Evan Kohlmann, Glenn Greenwald pointed out as early as
Friday, Saturday, that if this had been during the Bush administration,
especially in the later years of the Bush administration, then this
coincidence of timing erupted, that Democrats and liberals would be
publicly strongly doubting the -- or raising the question, as they did in
the past, of the Bush administration`s political manipulation of terror
EVAN KOHLMANN, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Yes. And I`m sure Rush
Limbaugh wouldn`t have been along with them.
O`DONNELL: That`s right. That`s exactly right.
KOHLMANN: Look, I think the reality is that anyone who has worked
with the United States government knows for a fact the U.S. government is
not nearly coordinated enough to pull off that kind of a grand sweeping
conspiracy. There are too many leaky sieves in the U.S. government. And
Ed Snowden is the exact example of that. It`s not possible to arrange that
kind of a conspiracy.
The fact is that there are threats to Americans out there. And I know
Glenn Greenwald has his own particular ax to grind with the U.S.
government. But however he feels about the PRISM program, however he feels
about spying or whatnot, that is irrelevant and has absolutely nothing to
do with the fact that there is a terrorist organization out there, al
Qaeda, that is seeking to kill Americans.
Anyone who disputes that fact or tells you that that is a conspiracy
has absolutely no idea what they are talking about and should not be
listened to because that is a fantasy that does not exist.
Al Qaeda is real. Al Qaeda is seeking to kill Americans. You --
there`s a fair room for debate about how serious a threat it is. But the
fact that they`re out there and trying to kill Americans, I`m sorry, anyone
that tells you otherwise is lying to you.
O`DONNELL: Well, I just want t note that Glenn Greenwald is not one
of those who says that al Qaeda is not out there trying to kill Americans.
And I think, Evan, what you said about the debate being how big is the
threat is exactly where Glenn Greenwald himself stands on this.
But, Ambassador, as someone who has held an ambassadorial post in the
threatened region, is it -- is it your impression that there is, as some
Republicans have indicated, an over-caution now or a larger caution? We`ll
find out whether it`s overcautious, but a larger caution now about these
embassies in the wake of Benghazi.
KOHLMANN: Well, first of all, it`s not just the wake of Benghazi. We
live in very troubled times in the Middle East today. We are seeing really
bloody divisions played out, first in Syria, now in Egypt. These are very,
very difficult times.
And so, it is quite possible that al Qaeda is taking advantage of
this, is trying to gain Arab leadership by saying we will go after the real
culprits that is the United States. So there`s a lot of reasons to have
our sensors turned up at full volume, which clearly we have, and we`ve
picked up something, and it`s been credibly assessed across the range of
people, whether it`s Peter King or others.
So I think it is really necessary to be very cautious during these
O`DONNELL: Evan, I`ve been wondering about the way the government
handles this and the release of all this information. And it seems that
that`s actually part of preventing the attack itself. Just the telling
them we`ve got something, we know you`re up to something or we believe
you`re up to something and we`re bringing extra vigilance to it.
On the al Qaeda side of that isn`t that enough to just make them stand
down and wait till the situation cools off and strike when least expected?
KOHLMANN: Well, that is the calculus. The calculus is that we`re
hoping to force them to change their tempo and their timing, and hopefully
when they do that, that screws up the operation.
I think the problem is that that`s -- it`s an estimate. That`s a
guess. And the reality is that we know right now that the same al Qaeda
networks where al Qaeda leaders gather to release their material and to
chat and whatnot, we know right now that the reports that the U.S. has
intercepted these communications are being posted on there as of this
So, al Qaeda is very much aware of exactly what we know, and they know
that we know that they know what we know.
The question is, of course, what they do with it. If they`re far
enough advanced in the planning, they may not stop whatever they were
planning. They may try to go ahead with it anyway. It`s hard to say.
But obviously, in this case the calculus was the threat was so serious
it was risk -- it was worth risking the fact that they would find out how
they knew what we were up to in order to get the alert out and make sure
that U.S. diplomatic facilities and Americans in general in this region
were ready and prepared for, you know, the unexpected.
O`DONNELL: Ambassador Christopher Hill and Evan Kohlmann, thank you
both very much for joining me tonight.
Coming up, who is the hottest politician in America? And, no, of
course, we do not mean the most physically attractive.
And in the spotlight tonight, an uplifting, inspirational story -- a
truly positive news story. Yes, right here on a cable news program, a
story that we can all feel good about. Democrats, conservatives, liberals,
Republicans, everyone except possibly Bill O`Reilly, who might be a little
bit embarrassed about how he`s manipulated some of the talk around this
kind of story. That`s coming up.
O`DONNELL: It`s hard out there being Anthony Weiner. Here`s a little
action from the campaign trail tonight for Anthony Weiner.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) over.
WEINEER: Whoa! You`ve got little kids.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Little kids?
WEINER: There are little kids here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Little kids?
WEINER: There are little kids here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have no right to talk out anything. You
have no right to talk about little kids.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Talking about little kids? Social media? You
want to see some Twitter action?
WEINER: I`m going to get over it. Honestly. You think you have a
right to dominate the conversation because you`re not voting for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Run, Anthony, run. He`s still at it.
But he`s not. As much as he might like to be, he is not the hottest
politician in America. Quinnipiac actually did a poll on what they call
the heat of politicians. And the winner of the hottest politician game
show that they`ve come up with is coming up next.
O`DONNELL: We have a winner in the new political game show, who`s
hot? And, of course, by hot, in politics, we never mean physically
attractive. In what Quinnipiac calls their temperature poll, Chris
Christie leads with only 53 degrees of heat. That`s all it takes to lead.
Next is Hillary Clinton, with 52 degrees of heat.
Come on. The Weather Channel would call that a tie. Well, anyone but
the weather channel I guess would call that a tie.
Elizabeth Warren is at 49.2 degrees. President Obama is at 47.6
degrees. And so is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Ted Cruz comes in at 46.8
Chris Christie is also on the cover of "New York" magazine this week,
in an article about the happy hothead.
Joining me now: the author of that new "New York" magazine piece,
Benjamin Wallace-Wells, contributing editor for "New York" magazine. And
Nick Acocella, editor and publisher of "PolitiFax New Jersey."
Benjamin Wallace-Wells, what about this? What did you call him? The
happy hothead. I didn`t know hotheads were happy.
BENJAMIN WALLACE-WELLS, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Well, this one certainly
is. You know, this has been an interesting campaign to watch. The piece
that I did is sort of an observational study of him on the trail. And what
he`s running right now I think is an identity campaign. You know, he`s not
running a traditional election campaign because he`s up by 35 points.
So, what he`s out to do, I think, is to convince the Republican base
nationally that its idea of populist could be expanded a little bit. So
traditionally when we`ve thought of a Republican populist, we`ve thought of
someone whose politics are very conservative, you know, libertarian, fairly
Chris Christie has a very kind of populist way about him, a populist
rhetoric, combines that with a very different politics. And I think he`s
sort of making a bet that, you know, this whole Tea Party moment that we`ve
seen is sort of ending and that, you know, you see it when he took on Rand
Paul very directly over the last couple of weeks. And there`s a kind of
conservative populism that he can tap into a populism of the middle class.
That can be powerful.
O`DONNELL: Nick Acocella, everyone -- well, the common wisdom was
that his run-in with Rand Paul was good for him in New Jersey and his re-
election campaign. Is there -- are there things that Christie is doing now
in New Jersey that could then be difficult for him to bring into a national
NICK ACOCELLA, POLITIFAX NEW JERSEY: Several things. I mean, the
Rand Paul fight is one of them certainly.
I think Ben is right, though, that -- well, first of all, Ben is right
that never underestimate the amount of fun that Christie is having with
this stuff, because a lot of what he`s doing is a performance. I`m not
saying it`s an act. But it`s a performance.
He like any good actor exaggerates the qualities he wants exaggerated
at any given point and plays down the things that he doesn`t want
emphasized. The Rand Paul thing is a perfect illustration of that. He
wanted to make the point that he is different from the right wing of his
party, and he made the point tremendously. It helped him definitely in the
New Jersey election this year. And will it backfire on him?
That all depends on where you think the Republican Party is going. I
suspect that the -- Christie`s advisers are convinced that the party is
going to become more moderate as we approach 2016. I`m not sure that`s
O`DONNELL: Well, I want to go to the same Quinnipiac heat poll. When
they limit it to just Republicans, meaning Republican respondents to the
poll, Christie drops. He goes all the way down to number eight. You`ve
got Paul Ryan at the top at 68.7 degrees, then Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott
Walker, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, all 60 degrees or above. And
then there`s Chris Christie, 59.8.
And Benjamin, that goes to what Nick was just saying, is that what
plays in New Jersey doesn`t play in the national Republican Party.
WALLACE-WELLS: Yes. So here`s the question. It`s how much has the
national Republican Party changed since 2012? So, every time out we start
out a presidential cycle and there`s a bunch of, you know, very
conservative figures who get a whole lot of support and everybody says, you
know, this is their race to lose and then, you know, we`ve seen at least
over the last eight years that they keep losing it.
And the Republican Party, you know, has turned to figures like John
McCain and Mitt Romney, who are, you know, in my view sort of less
obviously capable politicians than Christie. That`s not to say Christie
will take this thing. But you know, there is an argument you can construct
that says since 2012, there`s been a real radicalization of the Republican
But there`s a counterargument where you can say maybe what`s happened
is the Republican base has not changed so much as the perception that
Republican politicians have of it. So what Christie -- the kind of
argument that Christie`s sort of implicitly making here is this is the same
party that got, you know, all excited about Rick Perry or Rick Santorum or
Mike Huckabee and ended up coming back to a fairly stable, you know,
Again, there is a real populist energy that I think Christie can bring
that gives him a little more power than a McCain or a Romney -- especially
Romney didn`t have at a similar point.
ACOCELLA: The question this time is are the extreme right wing of the
Republican Party, are the people there going to surrender once again to a
moderate? They`ve done this for the last how many cycles? As far back as
five, six cycles.
They may not do that again. They seem to have become more adamant.
On the other hand, there are so many of them that are talking about
running that the Christie people have to look at this and say, wow, we
could be the last guy standing because if it`s going to come down --
they`ll all kill each other off and we`ll be the guy.
O`DONNELL: That`s kind of the way it worked for Romney.
Benjamin Wallace-Wells and Nick Acocella, thank you both for joining
ACOCELLA: Thank you.
WALLACE-WELLS: Thanks for having us.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, proof that Bill O`Reilly is not the sociologist
he thinks he is, especially when he`s talking about American single
mothers. That`s coming up.
In the spotlight, we are going to introduce you to two remarkable
young men who wrote essays in Sunday`s "New York Times" about growing up
with their single moms in Mississippi and making the tough choice to go off
to Harvard and Yale.
Yes, for them it was a very different choice than it is for most
students. It wasn`t an easy thing to do. You`ll hear their stories coming
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, when Trayvon
Martin was first shot, I said this could have been my son. Another way of
saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Bill O`Reilly hated that speech, hated it. He angrily
took to his microphone to defend the killing of Trayvon Martin because,
quote, "he was a stranger to Zimmerman and was dressed in clothing
sometimes used by street criminals" -- O`Reilly`s words.
Then, O`Reilly played amateur sociologist and described what he saw as
the biggest problem in Trayvon Martin`s world this way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS: The reason there is so much violence and
chaos in the black precincts is the disintegration of the African-American
family. Right now, about 73 percent of all black babies are born out of
wedlock. That drives poverty. And the lack of involved fathers leads to
young boys growing up resentful and unsupervised.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Never mind that Trayvon martin was the son of a very
involved and loving father. And never mind that Barack Obama grew up
without a father and went on to do rather well for himself and be a credit
to his single mother.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O`REILLY: And it has nothing to do with slavery. It has everything
to do with you Hollywood people and you derelict parents.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Derelict parents. Nothing to do with slavery. The
struggles of black America have nothing to do with slavery in Bill
O`Reilly`s very narrow and uneducated mind.
The first government report that analyzed family structure in black
America was written in 1965 by Daniel Patrick Moynihan for President Lyndon
Johnson to urge the president to action in the war on poverty. The
Moynihan report`s analysis on slavery compared American slavery to
Brazilian slavery, which lasted 20 years longer than slavery in other
countries. It also compared American slavery to other countries to make
the point that American slavery was, quote, "the most awful the world has
The Moynihan report began with slavery -- began with slavery in its
analysis of black family structure in this country. The report then had a
separate section on reconstruction and on Jim Crow, and the particular
agonies that were then reserved for black men. The report went on to
consider what Isabel Wilkerson`s masterful book calls "The Great
The Moynihan report went on at length about unemployment and poverty
and how no group has suffered more in the employment market than black men.
Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson tells that story movingly
and with scholarly rigor in his important 1997 book "When Work Disappears."
Professors Wilson and his friend, the former Harvard professor Moynihan,
would never consider discussing family structure in the black community if
that discussion did not begin at slavery and include all the dynamic
factors, good and bad, that have shaped the black American experience since
And unlike Bill O`Reilly, they have both praised the determination and
creativity that most black women have brought to mothering, including
And in our next segment, I will have the honor of introducing you to
two young black men Bill O`Reilly has never met. They went to high school
together in Jackson, Mississippi. Now, one is at Harvard and the other is
at Yale. They will both tell you why they owe their success to their
heroic single mothers.
O`DONNELL: August is the month when many of our nests turn empty as
American kids go off to college for the first time. Most incoming freshmen
are filled with excitement and high hopes and at least a little bit of
anxiety about making new friends while their parents feel a mix of sadness
and joy. That`s always a part of these great transitional moments. And of
course the parents feel a great deal of anxiety about how to pay for
But some kids have worries that most of us never experience. What is
it like to go off to Harvard and worry that your mother might not be able
to make it economically if you don`t stay home and go to a local college
and get a job to help her out? How does it feel when you`re at the airport
going off to Yale and your eyes fill with tears because you can`t find the
words to thank your single mother for everything she did to make this
happen since the day she gave birth to you at age 15?
Both of those stories were told in yesterday`s "New York Times" by
Justin Porter, who will soon be a sophomore at Harvard, and Travis Reginal,
who will soon be a sophomore at Yale. They are important stories on many,
many levels, including helping us understand the troubling finding in a
recent study showing that most low income students who have top SAT scores
do not apply to America`s top colleges while 78 percent of students with
similar test scores and higher incomes apply and get accepted at those
Joining me now, Yale sophomore Travis Reginal, the son of Nicki
Reginald, and Harvard sophomore Justin Porter, the son of Sarah Perkins.
Justin, I want to read a line from your article yesterday in the
"Times" where you said you were born and raised 1,500 miles away from
Harvard in a small apartment in Jackson, Mississippi with your mother and
you -- it was just the two of you. What was it like to have to say good-
bye to her and go that far away to college?
JUSTIN PORTER, HARVARD SOPHOMORE: It was excruciating in some regards
just because it was a very -- I felt very torn, you know. Obviously like
the immense opportunity that was ahead but like my mom never likes to let
me know her emotions, you know, about how she`s feeling about letting me
go. But she had this kind of absent stare in her eyes as she saw me
walking and go off, you know, like start taking off my shoes putting them
in the bin like to get on the plane. Then I just broke down because I mean
I realized I can`t come home for the weekend. I can`t check in to see how
she`s doing. I can`t physically be there. So it was definitely a
difficult decision. One that I ruminated over for the entire course of the
year, really, in a nutshell.
O`DONNELL: Travis, talk about just how distant these kinds of schools
felt for you guys, both high school classmates together in Mississippi.
And you wrote about how there just isn`t information out there easily
available to you about what top scores and top students like you can really
think about seriously about college. How did it come -- how did you come
to realize that you had a real shot at schools like Harvard and Yale?
TRAVIS REGINAL, YALE SOPHOMORE: Well, for me I kind of count myself
as sort of unusual when it comes to thinking about colleges. It actually
goes back to preschool. My mother was very young when she had me. And for
some strange reason, I still don`t know to this day, I apparently got in
trouble with the teacher. My mother came up there, and she was crying
because she didn`t know what to do. And the whole outlook of I wasn`t
going to make her cry, you know, I was going to do whatever it took to make
her proud. And somewhere in elementary school, maybe from a movie, you
know, the dram drop, you know, schools like Harvard and Yale and how it is
like the -- the epitome of the American dream. And as a kid I was in such
awe that, you know, if I can work hard I can possibly get there.
So for me it`s kind of quite different, but for me in elementary
school I kind of knew that it -- in my mind success was getting into an ivy
league school. But it didn`t become like more tangible until high school.
As a kind of mentioned in my article, when I did a program called Dartmouth
bound for my senior year in high school where they fly out students just to
check out the campus, get the feel of what an Ivy League school is like,
and it was wonderful. It was the first time I got on a plane. And it was
breathtaking, you know. That the staff -- the administrators could see me
there. It really meant a lot. So they really made it tangible for me.
And all the various like letters I got from different universities saying
that some intangible thing that I have will lead me to be successful at the
school. So it`s very beneficial.
O`DONNELL: Justin, you talked about in your piece this remarkable
moment where you got early acceptance to Harvard in December and then that
night after all the celebrating --
O`DONNELL: -- you started to cry uncontrollably because you worried
about what it would mean for your mother and in the last few weeks of high
school it was especially difficult for you. I want to read a section of
what you wrote about that.
You said the guilt was invasive. Beneath my smile, shame dominated my
thoughts. I spent the last few weeks of my senior year worried sick that
if I left she would not have enough to eat, a safe place to live, loving
company to listen to her stories. I decided to defer my acceptance. She
would hear nothing of it. Your acceptance into Harvard is one of the
shining accomplishments of my life, she said, and I will be damned if I see
you give it away.
That`s a determined mother who had -- it was very clear to her what
she wanted, wasn`t it?
PORTER: It definitely was. Her tone definitely made that very clear
to me. You know, it`s interesting. We jump over these hoops in high
school. You know, we take the required classes. We take the standardized
tests. And they kind of put us on the trajectory, you know. In my entire
like question, what I was grappling with was my trajectory going in a
direction that was opposite of that, of the people who I love and have been
around for my entire life, you know. And it was -- it was me like going
full steam ahead on one other side, and I just -- I couldn`t help but look
like in the mirror and think about what are the counterfactuals, you know,
what are the -- what are the possibilities that I`m excluding myself from
and the people that I love from.
But I don`t regret it. And I don`t think my mom regrets it at all
because I can -- every time she hears about me or she just reads my
acceptance letter, you know, her smile or her -- or I hear her like telling
one of her friends on the phone late at night in a whispered voice so I
don`t hear it, you know, like bragging incessantly or something like that,
it reminds me that it`s all worth it. And that`s kind of what keeps me
O`DONNELL: Justin, quickly before we go, has your mother had a chance
to visit Harvard, visit you at Harvard?
PORTER: She has not, unfortunately.
O`DONNELL: And Travis, has your mother had a chance to visit you at
REGINAL: Not at all. Same story as Justin, just the photos.
O`DONNELL: Well, listen, we are going to make sure that your moms can
visit you at college. So you just let us know when they want to do it and
when the schedule works, and we will make sure that that`s easy for them to
REGINAL: Thank you.
PORTER: Thank you. Yes.
O`DONNELL: All right. Justin Porter and Travis Reginal, great guys.
Thank you very much for joining me.
And Travis, there`s more for you. In a very special "Rewrite."
Travis will show us a better way of saying thank you and a better way of
saying I love you because sometimes there are better ways to say those
things. But only a poet can do that.
Travis Reginal`s beautiful poetry is next in the "rewrite."
O`DONNELL: In the middle of his freshman year at Yale, Travis Reginal
wrote a poem entitled "mother father" which his mother did not know about
until she read it on Sunday in the "New York Times." In the poem Travis
rewrites the words "thank you" into a deeper expression of his gratitude to
his mother, Nicki Reginal. And he finds the words "I love you" inadequate
because as he says in the poem, the only way he could really express his
love for his mother is if he were to place his beating heart in her palms.
"The Last Word" is proud to present the first public reading of "mother
father" by the poet.
Joining me again is Travis Reginal. Travis, go ahead.
REGINAL: OK. I wake up at 3:00 in the morning with the pile of work
I haven`t touched and deadlines that stand as daunting as skyscrapers and I
think about you, mother. I`m reminded of hot the end of each conversation
there`s this awkward pause where neither one of us can find the strength to
say I love you. It`s not that I don`t. But rather the only way I can
express the way I feel is if I were to place my beating heart in your
I remember being at the airport at the beginning of my freshman year
in college. Suitcase full of insecurities and doubts with a pocket full of
literary tricks in my sleeve and a penchant for smiling my way through
But that day gratitude didn`t have enough room in my chest. Nothing
to stop the levees in my eyes from breaking. Tears that resembled
waterfalls spilled your name on my cheeks and stained my plane tickets.
No, this one has to be more than love because words will never be
enough to describe a woman whose life is like the first meal in the wild
for a starving child.
Mom, you don`t give yourself enough credit. You were 15 with a
lifetime of dreams tucked away in that precious head of yours until some
smooth-talking guy whispered empty promises, took your dreams away as if he
were doing you a favor, and gave you a child as a parting gift.
Dad, if I would have known that moment was the closest you would ever
be to me and my mother, I would have forgiven you at conception. But
little did I know you had aborted me in your mind and little did I know
that no matter how hard I tried or how far I hid myself in another reality
as a child, that eventually you would cross my mind again.
Every time I see another boy playing with his father, every time I
shave and realize that it shouldn`t take this long or every time I tie my
tie and it slides out of center because I watched that how to tie a tie
video too many times for my liking and I didn`t have anyone to show me how.
It`s a sad day indeed when you have to do a Google search on how to be
a man. I tried to make myself visible, make it impossible for you to
ignore me, do whatever it took to make a headline somewhere. I made sure I
work to be the top of my class in the hope you`d hear my graduation speech
broadcast across TV. I even ran track because I heard you were pretty fast
in high school and if I want something that would give us something in
common besides our first names.
But mother, I don`t want this to be another sob story. I want you to
remember that we lived every god given moment to the fullest of what we
had. We left permanent footprints on shores where everything else was
I don`t see life as a struggle. Just as an opportunity to show what
we were made of. So let`s take memories past and write them on the face of
giants so the world can see.
Mother, I will toast to your heartbeat that I hear in my dreams at
night. It`s the rhythm of hope and vitality that I never want to stop
O`DONNELL: Mitch McConnell is in big trouble tonight in Kentucky,
thanks to his Democratic challenger Alison Grimes. That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES, KENTUCKY SECRETARY OF STATE: Let`s just tell
it like it is. If the doctors told senator McConnell that he had a kidney
stone, he would refuse to pass it. Now the senator and I, we have two
different views of public service. As we all know, he used public service
as a carnival game of whack a mole. Well, I tell you, I don`t scare easy
and neither does the rest of Kentucky.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That`s Kentucky`s Democratic secretary of state Alison
Lundergan Grimes at Kentucky`s annual fancy farm picnic this weekend, where
she faced off against Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
In his speech at the picnic senator McConnell never mentioned his
potential Democratic opponent`s name, but he did take a stab at her father,
former Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Jerry Lundergan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I want to say how nice
it is, how nice it is to see Jerry Lundergan back in the game. Like the
loyal Democrat he is, he is taking orders from the Obama campaign on how to
run his daughter`s campaign. They told him to make a pitch on the internet
for the women`s vote, and he sent a check to Anthony Weiner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, "Washington Post" political reporter Nia-
Nia-Malika, when do you think the last time Anthony Weiner was
mentioned at a Kentucky political -- at a Kentucky Senate campaign?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes.
Very, very weird and telling about that fancy farm picnic, not very
fancy, very raucous there. I think Alison Lundergan Grimes came out really
well. She handled that crowd. It was a packed audience for Mitch
McConnell there. You saw everybody yelling "we want Mitch, we want Mitch,"
and there she was, very pointed in her criticism of Mitch McConnell.
I think the people to watch in this race are the Clintons. Clinton`s
a great, great friend of Alison`s father. He`s already cut an ad in
support of her. And this is really going to be a test of Democrats`
fortunes in the south more generally because that is where Democrats have
some room to grow. And this is a state, Kentucky, that Clinton of course
won twice, in `92 and then of course again in `96. So I think that`ll be
interesting to see, how much bill Clinton is there and how much Hillary
Clinton is there on the ground stumping for Alison.
O`DONNELL: And the polling at this stage is horrible for McConnell.
Whenever an incumbent is below 50 percent, they`re in trouble. McConnell`s
at 44 percent, and Alison grimes is a point ahead in the poll. It`s
basically a tie, but at 45. I mean, that`s -- an incumbent senator looks
at that and panics.
HENDERSON: Yes. He is in panic mode and he has in some ways been in
panic mode even before this race was under way. You remember it was
supposed to be Ashley Judd. He really blasted her even before she decided
to drop out, or not get in this race. But this is how he`s going to
campaign. It`s going to be a tough, tough slog for him. But I think you
always have to some ways give the incumbent the benefit of the doubt and
the edge here. But it is going to be tough. He`s going to have a
challenger on his right and then a challenger that really is going to try
to put some daylight between her and Obama and really try to campaign as a
Kentucky is a state that has 500,000 more registered Democrats than
Republicans. Those are very much conservative Democrats. So expect her to
talk about coal. She will be pro coal. And she won`t sound at all really
like an Obama Democrat.
O`DONNELL: And she`s really an entertaining speaker. That line about
Mr. McConnell would not pass a kidney stone --
O`DONNELL: -- is -- she just connects, it seems with that audience.
HENDERSON: That`s right. I mean, she -- in that stump speech she
seems to really embody Kentucky. She is going to be the youngest person
running against Mitch McConnell. She`s what, 35, I think. McConnell has
been in the Senate for something like 30 years. So she is going to cast
herself not only as the new kid on the block but a Clinton democrat, a new
kind of southern Democrat.
I think it`s going to be a really interesting race to watch. I think
she`s still got an uphill slog. Obama only got about 38 percent of the
vote in that state. I`d expect her to at least do that. And she will have
to figure out a way of being creative about drawing out some of those
really conservative Democrats who voted for Romney.
O`DONNELL: And she`s an experienced statewide campaigner. The polls
-- the other poll item here on McConnell, disapproval of -- job disapproval
of 51 percent, approval 40 percent. If someone can exploit this, she looks
like the person who can do it.
HENDERSON: I think that is right. And he is going to have a really
tough race on his hands in the primary. So, he is going to be banged up
going in that general, no doubt.
O`DONNELL: Nia-Malika Henderson gets tonight`s "Last Word."
Thank you, Nia.
HENDERSON: Thank you, Lawrence. Take care.
O`DONNELL: Chris Hayes` show is up next.
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