'Up with Steve Kornacki' for Sunday, September 29, 2013
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UP with STEVE KORNACKI
September 29, 2013
Guests: Beth Reinhard, Lynn Sweet, Joshua Green, Ken Salazar, James Lankford, Perry Bacon, Joe Conason, Richard Wolffe, Dave Itzkoff, Stephen Battaglio
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: In a rare early Sunday morning vote, the
House of Representatives pushed back against Obamacare one more time,
setting the nation up for a government shutdown less than two days from
now. More on that in a moment. Also, coming up in the show today, though,
we wouldn`t be talking about a shutdown right now, if it weren`t for Ted
Cruz. We`re going to get to the roots of that 1,279-minute speech he gave
on the Senate floor this week. Those roots go all the way back to Newt
Gingrich. And as Cruz was speaking this week, these two men were also
speaking about Obamacare. We`ll look at Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and
the 22-year journey that brings us to this week`s launch of the Affordable
Care Act. And here, by the way, is President Obama trying to clear up some
of the misconceptions about the law.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me start by saying I am psyched for Obamacare!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go. I love that enthusiasm.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because now that I`ve got free health care, I can get
sick all the time. Whoo! Free medicine, y`all!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that`s not really how it works.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`ve stopped washing my hands and I`m licking the
hell out of subway poles. Thanks, president!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: OK, obviously that wasn`t the real President Obama, but it was
from "Saturday Night Live" which just hours ago returned for its 39th
season. We will look at how and why the show has been such an enduring
source of political parody. That`s later. But first, you may have been
sleeping when it happened overnight. Just after midnight in Washington
when the United States House of Representatives took a giant step toward
closing down the government. Came on two votes, making the funding of the
entire government contingent on radical changes to the president`s health
care law. The first vote was to repeal a tax on medical devices and then
moments after that, the House cast a second vote. This one to put off the
implementation of the health care law for a year. Forget the details of
these votes for a minute, because the situation is really a lot simpler
When Republicans convened in Washington yesterday morning, they had a
choice. The shutdown deadline was less than 72 hours away and the Senate
had handed them a clean bill to keep the government open, a clean bill
meaning there was nothing attached to it designed to gut Obamacare. They
knew, this is the Republicans who run the House, they knew that if they
passed that clean bill, the shutdown drama would end on the spot. They
also knew, because they had been warned repeatedly by Senate Democrats and
President Obama, that if they changed that clean government funding bill,
if they put anything in it attacking Obamacare, it would be dead on arrival
in the Senate, and because the clock was ticking, it would all but
guarantee a government shutdown. So House Republicans knew exactly what
they were doing last night. And it is hard not to conclude from their
actions that on some level they`re OK with shutting down the government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN, (R ) TENNESSEE: How vital it is that we address the
funding needs of this nation and how vital it is that we do it in a manner
that is respectful of the American people and of our constituents. One of
the things they have repeatedly said is they want to make certain that we
delay the onset of Obamacare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So, now the bill at the House passed overnight goes to the
Senate where Harry Reid says that his chamber will strip out the anti-Obama
care provisions and send it right back to the House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NY) MAJORITY LEADER: To be absolutely clear, we are
going to accept nothing as it relates to Obamacare. There is a time and
place for everything. And this is not that time or place.
KORNACKI: That was on Thursday. Reid reiterated this in a written
statement yesterday. He called the House vote, quote, pointless. And NBC
News is reporting that John Boehner and his team will meet Monday to figure
out what to do after the Senate rejects their bill. It is "National
Review`s" Robert Costa reported yesterday, "Boehner doesn`t have a plan
beyond passing this resolution and waiting to see what happens." So,
barring something unforeseen, this should take us into a shutdown Tuesday
at midnight. It`ll be the first shutdown of the federal government since
early 1996. Actually, that is the key question right now. Will history
repeat itself? This is what the White House and this is what Democrats are
banking on. The idea is that once the government shuts down, the public
will blame Republicans and the resulting public outrage will force the GOP
to give up its Obamacare crusade and to reopen the government. That is
roughly what happened in the 90s when Bill Clinton refused to sign a
Republican budget that made deep cuts in Medicare spending. Public blamed
Newt Gingrich and the GOP for the shutdown. Clinton`s political standing
improved and Democrats gained a political weapon that they used
relentlessly in the 1996 election. This is why there are Republicans on
Capitol Hill, who are there for that fight, and who are now warning their
party that a shutdown is a dead end for them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R ) ARIZONA: I hope that our colleagues in the House
will act in a fashion so that we can prevent a government shutdown. There
is many options that they have, but if we shut down the government, I think
the American people will be done a great disservice. There will be a heavy
price to pay among the opinion of the American people if whoever is
responsible for the shutdown of government. That`s a fact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: But it may not be that simple. Today, most House Republicans
come from safely Republican districts. Even when things go terribly for
their party nationally, they`re not going to lose their seats to Democrats.
But they can lose their seats to fellow Republicans in primaries. So it
could be that even if Americans do blame a shutdown on the GOP, House
Republicans will still decide that it is in their own personal political
self-interest to resist giving in. And, again this is just the shutdown
we`re talking about here. Even if this gets resolved soon, we`re still
weeks away from facing the exact same impasse over something even more
ominous, the debt ceiling. I have to admit, I really struggle to see how
this can all be resolved. But maybe our panel can help me. So, let`s
bring them in. And for that, we have Beth Reinhard, she is a political
correspondent with "National Journal", Ken Salazar he was the secretary of
the interior under President Obama. Before that, he was a Democratic
Senator from Colorado, Josh Green, he`s the senior national correspondent
at "Bloomberg Businessweek". He`s written this week`s very timely cover
story, "John Boehner Doesn`t Run Congress. Meet the Man Who Does," he`s
talking about Jim DeMint. We`ll ask him about that in a minute. And we
have Lynn Sweet, she`s the Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun
Times." So, thank you all for joining us.
And I guess we`ll just start with -- I set it up there saying it looks like
we`re heading towards a shutdown here. I know there is a couple of days, I
guess, maybe it`s about 40 hours between now and when the deadline would
be, and, Beth, just is there anything we`re missing here, is there anything
that can happen between now and then that you could see that would keep us
from going to a shutdown?
BETH REINHARD, NATIONAL JOURNAL: I mean at this point, I feel like the
momentum is definitely heading in that direction. It felt completely
different, maybe 24, 48 hours ago. It is amazing how quickly these things
change. But at this point, it just seems like they`re at a complete
KORNACKI: And, Lynn, you know, you`re covering this as well. What do you
think the next step would be then? So, if this - Harry Reid says, you
know, the Senate will take out this anti-Obama care language, they will
send it back to the House unless, you know, they`re bluffing somehow, from
Boehner`s office, they`re putting out the word he doesn`t really have a
plan at this point for what`s going to come after that. How will the House
respond to this?
LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN, TIMES: I think they may - Boehner may try to
resurrect a plan that he dropped, a strategic shift, he may change the
change he changed.
SWEET: Got that, everybody? Bear with me. The back -- the back stop was
just a short time ago, I mean this was a few days ago, was we`re not going
to win on defunding Obamacare. So let`s just move the fight to the debt
ceiling, which is coming up right after this. But then Eric Cantor and
Kevin McCarthy, his top lieutenants who are, I think, chained to the
conservative base, said, no, we`re going to stick with the defunding fight
-- excuse me, we`re going to now go from defund to delay. Not Tom DeLay,
by the way, that`s delay as in stall. One other thing I want to toss out,
as we`re thinking about this, here is what makes this so much more
complicated than in the `90s shutdown, and that is on Tuesday, you have the
opening of the Obamacare exchanges, you`re going to have massive marketing
efforts in every state to enroll. And we could get to that more, but what
is different this time is that people are going to hear a lot of free and
paid media that Obamacare is up and running. I think that will make it
more confusing for people to say, well, how could they then shut it down?
And we could get to it, but I just want to add that out there.
KORNACKI: Right. The backdrop for all of this, is there is this - there`s
SWEET: It`s going to start Tuesday.
KORNACKI: Get rid of Obamacare push happening at the same time that the
law is going to be going into effect.
SWEET: People are going to be .
SWEET: This massive campaigns to get you to enroll. So the confusion
factor is at the least, which is too bad, because, again, we could get to
it. For people who don`t have insurance this is the beginning of a new
era, like it or not.
KORNACKI: And Josh, we teased your cover story there, looking at Jim
DeMint and the role of -- in terms of how the House has behaved here. The
amazing thing to me has been reporting in the last few days about members
of the Senate, about Ted Cruz and Mike Lee meeting with conservatives in
the House and basically undercutting John Boehner. And you can sort of
trace this to Jim DeMint.
JOSHUA GREEN, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: Exactly. Well, and this is all tied
to Obamacare, too. Jim DeMint, as you said, is the president of the
Heritage Foundation, former Republican senator from South Carolina, who is
kind of Mitch McConnell`s chief tormenter and the leading voice of dissent
in the Senate, left unexpectedly and kind of went to the outside because he
thought he could have more of an effect kind of driving this radical brand
of conservatism from the outside than he could in the Senate. And what he
was doing all through August when members were home on break is doing a
defund Obamacare town hall tour, I traveled with him a little bit. And he
would go around and draw hundreds, and sometimes thousands of angry
conservatives, whip them up against Obamacare, and convince them that if
they lean hard enough on Republican legislators, they can stop the law. I
think that`s why we have seen this kind of unexpected eruption from the
grassroots, this really forced Boehner`s hand.
KORNACKI: Well, Secretary Salazar, let me ask you, just the strategy here,
from Democrats and from the White House, seems to be - or the hope I guess
seems to be that at some point, whether it takes a shutdown to do this or
not, Republicans will start to feel some outrage from the public. And this
will jar them, and this will make them say, you know what, we have to give
up on this defunding or delaying, whatever, trying to really radically
overhaul Obamacare. But when you look at the politics of the House and
when you look at the sort of the politics of the Republican world today
that Josh is sort of describing, do you think that`s going to happen?
KEN SALAZAR, FORMER. SECY OF THE INTERIOR: Well, first of all, I think
when you look at somebody like Senator Harry Reid, he has a spine of steel.
And so, they`re not going to allow anything that is going to move forward
that`s going to defund Obama care, put these extraneous provisions in it.
To me, it`s a very simple thing. I think Senator McCain got it right. And
that is shutting down the government is a recipe for disaster, it was a
disaster when it happened 17 years ago. And if the Republicans want to
take that on in order to take on Obamacare, then I think the political
calculus is that people of the United States are going to come down and say
Republicans, why are you not doing your job? And this all comes and the
dynamics, yes, of the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act, but
also comes in the context of what is going to be even the most onerous
matter to deal with, and that`s the debt ceiling. There was a time when
the debt ceiling was not a huge issue. Now they are making it - the
Republicans are making it a huge issue.
So it seems to me at the end of the day, Steve, you know, one, I think
there is still a possibility that something could happen. I think it is
unlikely. But if something were to happen, it could still move forward
procedurally to get something done on Monday to keep the government from
shutting down. But secondly, once you get beyond this, once you get beyond
the debt ceiling, then you get into the whole longer term issue that
Simpson Bowles, and other people, the president, the Congress has been
struggling with for a long time.
KORNACKI: And do you see that dynamic, Josh was talking about, too, about,
you know, Jim DeMint no longer in the Senate, you know. But you served
with him for a couple of years when you were in the Senate. Can you talk
about the influence he`s still able to exert over, you know, over the
Senate and even now the House?
SALAZAR: Yeah, it is an incredible influence that outside groups like the
Heritage Foundation and Jim DeMint can in fact influence and are
influencing the Senate. The fact is, and I think one of the things about
the Senate that I know is that there are still some people who are
constructive, who want to get things done and you saw that vote on breaking
the filibuster, the procedural vote to move forward, over 70 votes, and
said, yes, we ought to go ahead, we`ve got to move forward with this issue.
But there is still some people who frankly are not that way and who would
rather see the dysfunction of government in order to score political
points. Frankly, I always saw Jim DeMint as being one of those people.
KORNACKI: All right, well, we have one of the Republicans who is OK with
shutting down the government in the name of going after Obamacare. He`s
Congressman James Lankford and he`s going to join us live from Washington.
We`ll talk to him right after this.
KORNACKI: We`re talking about the seemingly imminent now government
shutdown and the political fallout surrounding it. And I want to bring in
Congressman James Lankford. He is the Republican from Oklahoma to get his
reaction what happened last night. And congressman, I guess I`ll just say
it, it looks like, you know, we have every indication from the Senate, from
Harry Reid, that they are going to take out this Obamacare language that
you guys put in yesterday. They`re going to send this right back to you
and when you get it back, the government will probably be at that point in
the process of shutting down. So, you get this bill back, you have a
government that shut down and I guess I`d ask you, what do you do then?
REP. JAMES LANKFORD (R) OKLAHOMA: We`re waiting to see what the Senate
does, obviously. We sent over to the Senate three different pieces last
night. You know, we had unanimous support for a piece that we sent over
that said that the military would be paid, veterans would be paid, the
civilians that are around the military to make sure the troops are there
bipartisan, wide support, unanimous support for that to send that over to
the Senate. Hope the Senate takes that up immediately, so the military is
not used as a victim in the middle of all this. The second thing that we
sent over was this deal with the medical device tax. There are more than
70 Democrat senators who`ve already said they don`t like the medical device
tax. They have already been on record with the test vote, and in fact Al
Franken has a major part of his website that says here are the areas he`s
fighting the medical device tax trying to get rid of it.
So we sent that over and said we want this to deal with, this is
bipartisan. And then we did send over a delay. And said there are major
issues with the Affordable Care Act and how it is being rolled out, whether
that be unions complaining about that, whether that be individuals, whether
that be navigators that say they don`t understand what they`re doing yet,
they don`t have access to the exchanges yet, there are lots of problems.
We said, OK, let`s put this into a delay mode and try to protect folks that
are very frustrated with what is happening in the rollout.
KORNACKI: All right, but Congressman, I mean the Senate has made it
absolutely clear that its delay -- the idea of a one-year delay in the
implementation of the Affordable Care Act is not going to happen. And
they`re going to send this bill back to you, without the delay in it, and
when that happens, it looks like barring something totally unforeseen the
government will shut down. So, I`m asking you, when the House gets this
back and that delay is out of it, what are you guys going to do?
LANKFORD: I will wait now and defer to the speaker on that as far as what
the total plan is for the whole conference. That`s not up to one member to
determine. But I would assume we`re going to send something back to them
again, as we did with the defunds, it came back, we sent them back the
delay. We`ve sent over 40 bills over to the Senate expressing specific
concerns and different parts of the law. The Senate just continues to
ignore all of those. We`ve got to get to a point that the senate actually
looks at it and says there are problems with this law. Now, I understand
full well that there are many senators that believe in the hope and the
dream of what this law will do for many people. But there are also many
people, constituents that I have, Republicans and Democrats, that say they
have concerns about what is going out. They were told if they like their
insurance, they could keep it, they`re finding out in many ways they cannot
keep it. Their spouses are being dropped, the 30-hour workweek is going
away. The union leaders in my district are extremely frustrated with what
is happening right now. There are lots of concerns about the independent
payment advisory board coming on next year and what that will mean. It is
health care choices through physicians and patients.
There are real issues here. And while the president has stepped up and
said, if there are legitimate concerns, let`s address them, we`ve yet to
have a single time in three years that the Senate has ever responded with a
fix, has ever responded back and said, OK, we see that problem as well as
try to resolve it. It`s never happened. We have to at least face the
facts and the reality there are real problems on the ground and there are
people that are going to be affected by this negatively. When I know the
hope was, everything would work out great, there are also people that are
going to be negatively impacted by this. We want to fix that.
SWEET: You know, Congressman, in your district, I know that there are
people who are not insured.
SWEET: And I`m wondering what you`re going to tell them to do. Because
the issues that you said, there are problems, there are glitches, I respect
that, but those problems you described or issues are for people who have
insurance. People are going to be able to start the enrollment period
starts Tuesday. Are you going to tell people in your district who don`t
have insurance not to get insurance? Are you going to tell them don`t use
this opportunity to get health insurance?
LANKFORD: No. Of course, I wouldn`t do that. But let me just give you an
illustration, you mentioned my district specifically. In Oklahoma we have
something called "Ensure Oklahoma," it`s a state plan, we partner together
with Medicare, and we put in additional state funds into that and we pursue
and there are commercials that are out, there are ways that we have done
for years, to try to pursue the uninsured to help them get into an
affordable plan that actually subsidizes them and helps them work up
through to get more stable insurance, but protects them in that. We had to
fight for two years to keep Insure Oklahoma as a part of what we`re doing.
They`ve now given us a one-year waiver to maintain that before that goes
away. I`ve had individuals that are on Insure Oklahoma, in fact, that are
Democrats that are on Insure Oklahoma, that have said they want to keep
that and maintain their same insurance because they like it. They`re going
to lose it next year as well. So, both of those concerns are really out
there. We understand we have to address both of them. But we can`t just
have the Senate step back and say we`re going to do -- it is all or
nothing, we`re never going to fix anything, we`re never going to take any
of this on. We just say let`s do a pause, let`s try to figure out all the
things that have to be resolved .
SWEET: But clearly, sir, you are going to advise people to enroll in your
SWEET: You are going to advise them, right?
LANKFORD: No, I`m not going to tell people what to do on it.
SWEET: Well, I thought you just .
LANKFORD: I`m going to allow the individuals to be able to choose.
SWEET: So, you were going to - but OK.
LANKFORD: No, no, I`m not going to try to stop people like I try to jump
in their way and say, please don`t sign up for insurance. Obviously, I`m
not going to do that. I don`t think it is a role as a congressman to go to
any individual in my district and try to tell them what to do.
GREEN: Congressman, Josh Green from "Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine".
Could you tell me what do you expect to happen when the government shuts
down? Do you think the American people are going to rally to the side of
Republicans and put pressure on the White House?
LANKFORD: You know, I`ve been very interested by your dialogue earlier,
not you specifically, but the whole group. It seems like there is the
impression that Republicans are rushing towards a shutdown as if this is
something we`re gleefully excited about. That`s just not intellectually
honest, based on what`s trying to approach. We`re trying to deal with the
GREEN: Even if you`re not - even if you`re not excited about it, what do
you expect the effect will be?
LANKFORD: I expect the two things. One is, I would hope the Senate would
take up what 100 percent of the House voted on last night to make sure the
troops and the civilians that are around them are not affected by this. We
passed all of our appropriations bills for defense, for VA, for Homeland
Security, the Senate hasn`t taken up any of those to resolve it. So, that
leaves us with a problem with that. Then the second part of it is, you
know, well, it is really a government slowdown more than a shutdown.
People in my office have already been notified, which would be furloughed,
which would be maintained. That will happen in government offices, and
already has happened this past week in government offices all over the
country. Where the president has the option of being able to choose, which
one is essential, which one is not essential, we`ll function at a slower
level for several days until we can get this resolved. Hopefully, we can
get it resolved before then. If we have good negotiations, I would
anticipate that we would do a short-term extension for a few days while we
work out the paperwork and to be able to get that done. The House and the
Senate can work extremely fast when they choose to. It is just a matter of
now let`s get to it.
KORNACKI: Final question to you, Congressman. If this comes down to it,
can you see yourself voting? Would you be open to voting for something
that funds the government that does not delay Obamacare for a year, does
not defund Obamacare, that lets the Affordable Care Act be implemented.
Could you ultimately vote for something that allows the government to open,
that allows the government to function and it allows the Affordable Care
Act to function? Is that possible for you?
LANKFORD: If we`re negotiating for a few days and trying to work out the
details of something, yes. And we`re at a short-term extension trying to
resolve some issues. But we have to address the very real problems that
are out there and not just ignore them. We can`t just say there is a dream
of what we hope it will be, when we know the reality on the ground what is
really occurring in many places and just pretend that is not happening.
KORNACKI: All right, Congressman James Lankford, Republican from Oklahoma,
we thank you for joining us this morning. And we`ll pick up this
conversation with the panel as soon as we come back.
KORNACKI: We - so we just heard from Congressman James Lankford, this is
Republican from Oklahoma. I think he speaks for a lot of the Republicans
who voted last night to basically put us on course for a shutdown. And
Secretary Salazar, just, you know, listening to that exchange right now,
I`m just curious what your thoughts are and what you heard from the
SALAZAR: Well, you know, I think it is apples and oranges. I think
Republicans have a problem with Obamacare, can raise those issues, I think
the president and his team, Kathleen Sebelius, have been out there saying
that if there are issues, they want to get those changed, want to resolve
them as well. But there are really two different things that are going on
One is the very fundamental responsibility that government to fund its
operations. The second is dealing with this policy issue on a matter that
has bedeviled the American people for a long time, and that`s health care,
insurance reform, which is part of Obamacare. And so for Republicans to
basically say that there they`re willing to shut down the government or the
debate over the policy issue, I think is an abdication of their
responsibility as members of the House of Representatives. A government
should be funded. It is the government of the people. We`re up against
the deadline and they should find a way of getting it done without
essentially putting on -- creating a policy debate where you`re putting
apples and oranges in the same place that ought not to be there.
KORNACKI: Well, the reason I can`t really - can`t see -- I`m having a hard
time sort of putting a road map together in my mind for how this all gets
resolved. As I`m thinking of John Boehner who I think probably from
getting truth serum, said, I would just like to get the government reopened
now, I would just like to get the debt ceiling off the table, but then he
has to deal with - we - the member we just had on, James Lankford is
representative of what he`s sort of dealing with in his own ranks and I
look at that, Beth, and I say what can John Boehner do that is ever going
to satisfy all the James Lankfords in the Republican House conference?
REINHARD: Well, maybe by letting them get their way and seeing the
consequences. You know, I think the congressman was hard pressed to
address the question about what is going to happen when the government
shuts down and the public starts reacting to that. Once those members see
the fallout there, you know, they may sort of reconsider their recent
actions in the past.
It is also interesting to think about the Republican Party as two different
parties right now. There is -- it is usually talked about as sort of the
establishment versus the grassroots. But you also have the folks outside
Washington and inside Washington and it was interesting to see Governor
Christie today or the other day talk about, you know, how he thought a
shutdown was a bad idea. And you can just see him, you know, gleefully
rubbing his hands together as folks like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are
hurdling us in that direction. This could be a great issue for him.
KORNACKI: It is, I wonder, Josh, if you look at the - we`ve sort of set
this up in the opening of the show, let`s say that nationally -- I`m not
sure this will be the case, but let`s say that this becomes a disaster
nationally for the Republican Party if the government shuts down and the
Republicans are disproportionately blamed and, you know, their standing is
already not that strong, but it gets worse, but the average Republican
member of Congress comes from a district that Mitt Romney carried with like
60 percent of the vote. We live in this era where the Republican primary
challenge threat is so real that somebody like Christine O`Donnell can come
in and beat somebody like Mike Castle. So, here is the average Republican
member of Congress. I still don`t know where the incentive there is for
you to say, yeah, we got to cater, we`ve got to give in, we`ve got to
GREEN: The real danger for Republicans and you hear this, even talking to
DeMint, I said, you know, how can you justify the shift to the right after
the 2012 election? Obama`s re-election, Democrats gain in House and the
Senate, and he fundamentally rejects the idea that the election was a
referendum on conservatism. What he said, and a lot of Republicans in
these districts at the grassroots level believe Mitt Romney wasn`t a real
conservative, and especially on the issue of Obamacare. He was hopelessly
flawed. And if we just force the shutdown, the American people agree with
us, they will rally to our side and they will overthrow the ..
KORNACKI: That was such a -- I love that line. It was such a convenient
thing to say. The Republican Party nominated Mitt Romney. They didn`t
want to have -- if they wanted to have the fight with a real conservative,
they could have not .
GREEN: And which really fast - I think the way to think about this, is
that if you look at poll numbers that it is just not there. This is really
a faith-based strategy on the part of these radical Republicans. That if
they just do what they want to happen, people will agree with them. And I
think they`re going to find out they`re wrong.
REINHARD: One poll that caused me to think Democrats may not be as well
positioned as we may think is there was actually a Richard Bloomberg poll
that showed, you know, President Obama, in the past, has always had the
several point advantage when people asked who are you going to blame for
dysfunction. And the polls showed that increasingly people are blaming the
president, especially independents. And I`m wondering if, you know, now
that we`ve kind of -- this has become a ritual, this whole government
shutdown, that people start to think, you know, President Obama is the guy
in charge. And whether there, you know, there is more blame shifting his
way, this time.
SWEET: Well, I think that is -- let`s just think of how fast shall things
change. A week ago, people were saying President Obama is terrible on
foreign policy, he had a whole mess with Syria, Iran, and if you look at
what just happened this week, you know, a few blocks from where we`re
sitting, the Security Council passed a resolution telling Syria to give up
chemical weapons, pushed by Obama`s threat of military force and, you know,
we had this historic discussion with Iran. I only bring this international
subject up in our talk about a domestic issue saying that the presidential
fortunes change quickly, and I think the main issue I think that Boehner
has as a leader is that the number one job of a speaker is to get his or
her members re-elected and that some of that is what you`re seeing right
now. And that`s .
KORNACKI: And the other -- the other number one job of being speaker, if
you`re John Boehner, has just been to survive. That`s really been the
story, I think, for the last .
SWEET: Reelection - keeping the majority is an overarching theme, because
that is where he`s unified with his sometimes renegades, Eric Cantor and
KORNACKI: That`s true. We`re out of time for this segment. I want to - I
got to thank Josh Green and his story on the cover of "Bloomberg
Businessweek" is available to read now. Check it out.
How Newt Gingrich and another cable channel, and it`s not Fox News, are to
blame for Ted Cruz`s 21-hour marathon rant on the Senate floor this week.
I`ll explain that in a moment. But first, if you found yourself away from
the television yesterday, out with the kids at the park or maybe the
farmers market, enjoying the fall weather, wherever you were, maybe you
were just sleeping, but you may have missed "Up Against the Clock," that is
our weekly quiz show, it`s taking the world by storm. And here is a sample
of what you might have missed yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Live from studio 3A in Rockefeller Center, USA, it`s time for
"Up Against the Clock".
KORNACKI: We had two new contestants joining us today. Welcome to you.
Anna Marie and Jonathan. They`ll be challenging our returning champion.
At a fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday night,
President Obama said that who has, quote, "the same hairdo I had in 1978?"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Toure.
KORNACKI: It is not Toure, but he would be flattered to know you thought
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: I thought for sure they would know the answer to that. It was
Dante de Blasio, if you didn`t correctly guess at home. We do know - we do
the game show every Saturday, though. You can play along at home. And in
the next hour, we will show you the dramatic conclusion of yesterday`s
game. That`s next hour.
KORNACKI: So, I want to nominate somebody to take the blame for the
spectacle that Ted Cruz created this week. And no, that somebody is not
Ted Cruz. It is actually, wait for it, Newt Gingrich. Let me try to
explain. I mean yes, sure, it was Cruz`s decision to spend 21 hours and 19
minutes yammering on the Senate floor about Obamacare and white castle and
green eggs and ham, and everything else he touched on, on what became the
fourth longest uninterrupted speech in the history of the U.S. Senate. But
I like to look for the root causes of things. And if we`re going to
identify the root cause of what happened this week, I think we need to go
back to something that happened when Ted Cruz was just 13 years old. It
was in May of 1984.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is NBC "Nightly News" reported by Tom Brokaw who is off
tonight. Here is John Palmer.
JOHN PALMER: They`re having a sort of family feud on Capitol Hill over
television, and who will be on it. House sessions have been carried on a
special cable TV channel lately. But now the Republicans say the
Democrats, especially House Speaker Tip O`Neill, are trying to control this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The special cable TV channel that John Palmer, that`s the anchor
you just saw was talking there, the special cable TV channel was C-SPAN.
We know it today as a Washington institution, it is a fixture on cable
dials all across the country. Gavel to gavel coverage of every House
session and all sorts of public affairs programming to fill out the rest of
the hours. In the niche world of cable, C-SPAN has been such a hit that
there are now three of them, there are three different C-SPAN channels.
But back in 1984, it was a novelty. C-SPAN was only five years old, and
cable television itself wasn`t much older than that. Half the country
still relied on rabbit ears and aluminum foil just to get its television.
They are stuck with only the three big broadcast networks, Fox network
wasn`t even around back then.
This is where Newt Gingrich comes in. It`s because - this - I`ll give him
credit for this much, because he recognized before just about anybody else
in Congress the potential significance of that special cable television
channel, the potential significance of having a channel devoted to showing
everything happening on the House floor, without any commentary, without
Gingrich was a total outsider back then. He was an irritant to Republican
leaders. He was an oddity, he was a nuisance. Congress was a very
different place. Politics were very different. There were real authentic
moderate Republicans and liberal Republicans. There were lots of them.
But Gingrich took charge of a small band of conservative back benchers, and
their mission was ideological, but it was also tactical. No more
compromising with Democrats. No more working with Democrats, no more
saying nice things about Democrats. Just open partisan warfare. So it was
their vision and it was a vision that resonated powerfully with the
And C-SPAN was integral to the Gingrich game plan. House rules allowed for
something called special order speeches, this is when members could take to
the floor after hours and they could hold court in any subject they wanted.
But no one ever did. I mean what was the point of droning on and on to an
empty chamber. But when C-SPAN turned on its cameras that changed the
equation. The chamber was still empty, but for the first time ever, any
American with cable television could watch at home. And Gingrich got this.
And he got it right away. He and his crew, this was a bunch of back
benchers, they started gobbling up special orders time. Night after night,
they would stand on the House floor and they take turns railing against
Democrats and preaching the conservative gospel as they defined it.
And, remember, there was no Fox News back then. Rush Limbaugh was an ex-
disc jockey, he was working in P.R. for the Kansas City Royals, talk radio,
conservative talk radio was still in its infancy. Newt Gingrich and his
buddies talking for hours on the House floor on C-SPAN, this became a thing
for conservatives across the country. They tune in, they would absorb the
message, they would feel the outrage, they would embrace the cause.
Gingrich was terrible at building relationships inside the House. But with
the C-SPAN, he could make himself a hero to the party base. The rhetoric
in the special orders speeches intensified. The attacks on Democrats grew
sharper, more vitriolic, more personal. And then came the night in 1984
when Gingrich read off the names of ten Democratic congressmen who had
signed a letter to Daniel Ortega, he was the Sandinista leader who`d seized
control of Nicaragua, they urged him to hold democratic elections. They
had Gingrich thundered on the House floor undercut and crippled the foreign
policy of the United States. He suggested prosecution under an 18th
century law. He all but accused them of treason. And it was then and only
then the Speaker of the House, Tip O`Neil, the old Democrat from Cambridge,
Mass., noticed what was happening and he ordered a new policy.
From now on, he said, the camera in the House will have to pan periodically
during special order speeches to show viewers at home that the chamber is
empty. So, the next time Gingrich called out Democrats, no one would think
that Democrats were just sitting there and taking it. And that decision by
O`Neill set the stage for an infamous day in the history of the House, the
day that made Newt Gingrich. It was 10:00 A.M. on May 15th, 1984, this
time the chamber was full, and Gingrich got the fight with Tip O`Neill that
he had been dreaming of for years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS O`NEILL, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You deliberately stood on that well
before an emptied House, and challenged these people and you challenged
their Americanism. And it is the lowest thing that I`ve ever seen in my 32
years in Congress.
NEWT GINGRICH: In many ways it is my patriotism being impugned and where
what we`re seeing comes all too close to resembling McCarthyism of the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: It is impossible to overstate what this did for Gingrich`s place
in his party. GOP`s leadership had spent six years ignoring him, treating
him like a gadfly. But now he baited Tip O`Neill, the face of the National
Democratic Party into a fight, a fight that made national news, a fight, in
which O`Neill became the first House speaker in history to have his words
taken down. This was Newt Gingrich`s game. It was an outside game.
Exploiting television to appeal directly to the grassroots, to convince
conservatives across America that he was the only Republican in Washington
who was really going to fight for them. This is how he made his name, not
by passing laws, not by chairing a committee, not by working with his
colleagues. There were plenty of Republicans in Washington who didn`t like
him. But they weren`t about to say it. Not when it would mark them as
exactly the kind of sellout Newt Gingrich was fighting against on cable
And it is the same outside game that Ted Cruz is playing now. Using stunts
like this week`s to make himself a hero to the base, to make himself the
kind of hero that any Republican looking to get ahead in this world will
think twice before attacking. Question is, is the joke on all of us?
We`re going to talk about that after this.
KORNACKI: All right, joining us at the table to talk about Ted Cruz`s
marathon speech, the effect it is having on what is playing out right now
in Washington, we have Beth Reinhard, with "National Journal," former
member of President Obama`s cabinet and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. We
have MSNBC contributor Perry Bacon Jr., he`s also the politics editor at
the grio.com and Lynn Sweet with the "Chicago Sun Times."
So, Ted Cruz, like when he did this marathon speech, you know, on Monday
and Tuesday, a lot of people were saying, well, that first of all, this
isn`t really a filibuster, this is completely pointless. I actually look
back at this now and I say this was sort of the most important speech of
the week, this is the Republican Party, the national Republican Party in
D.C. on Capitol Hill took its cues from what he did in the speech.
SWEET: Also, here`s why that speech was important to him. It creates a
massive mailing list. You get a lot of public attention. So when you -- I
saw all the e-mails going, sign ups on this e-mail if you support it. All
kinds of groups are doing it. Also, let`s not forget that we`re coming up
to the September 30Tth fundraising deadline and people are using this issue
to raise money off of, you know, all across the board. So for what Ted
Cruz was doing for himself, actually this strategy of the informal
filibuster actually makes sense for what he`s doing. But, you know, this
was no Jimmy Stewart moment here.
KORNACKI: Well, no, but, the thing that strikes me is we hear there is a
lot of anonymous quotes that you`ll find, you know, from aides to senators
even some senators themselves, (inaudible) quoted anonymously. A few
members of Congress will speak out publicly, Republicans will speak out
publicly against Ted Cruz. I get the sense that if you took them sort of
privately, took them all off the record you would hear overwhelmingly
negative things from his colleagues about Ted Cruz, but he has tapped into
this sort of sentiment among the grassroots so strongly, he`s made himself
the voice of, you kknow, conservative purity in Washington that he gets to
define the agenda.
REINHARD: Right. I mean Ted Cruz is not there to make friends. In fact,
he`s exactly where he wants to be. He`s positioned himself not only as
someone who opposing the president, but as someone who is a rebel within
his own party. And that has grand appeal to folks out there, the
grassroots activists, conservatives, who are tired of the president, and
they don`t see their Republican Party, you know, doing what they want to do
either. So he`s really exactly where he wants to be. It is interesting
also in your -- the introduction that you made, you talked about playing
the outside game, you know, Ted Cruz didn`t pass any laws. In fact, he
wasn`t even a real filibuster, but you look at now the way people are sort
of charting their path to power. Look at the way Rand Paul used to
filibuster, look at the way Wendy Davis used to filibuster, now she`s
running for Governor of Texas. Like the new path to power is to stand up
for a really long time and talk.
PERRY BACON JR., THE GRIO.COM: Well, Ted Cruz is making a difference in
the building now, too. House Republicans, Thursday, Friday, meeting with
him, asking about what should we do, how do we - and how do we take with
you`ve done in the Senate and then make it into a real strategy? He`s no
longer just an outsider and a rebel rouser. Rand Paul doesn`t really
change policy very often in Washington. Rubio is now the leader of the
Republican Party on this particular issue. His strategy is the strategy
right now. He is .
KORNACKI: Cruz, Cruz.
SWEET: What is aslo incredible about this is that .
SALAZAR: Let me just say this.
SALAZAR: You know, I was in the Senate for a long time and let me -- maybe
not that long, I was there for four years before I went out to the cabinet,
but the truth of the matter is that anybody can go and grab a headline for
a day. And you can do it by ethics that are totally crazy and
inappropriate. I would tell you, when I - I looked at that vote on, the
(inaudible) on moving forward with the vote in the Senate, there was
overwhelming rejection of Ted Cruz. And it wasn`t only just the Democrats,
it was the Republicans because they were furious, because at the end the
day, you still have a number of people, the Democrats and Republicans who
want the institutions to function. And when you have somebody like that,
like Ted Cruz coming in and doing the antics that he did, he ended up
puttin a number of his own Republican colleagues in a very bad shape. So,
maybe a big thing for him. He may be doing well with his base in Texas.
He may have brought in a lot of money for him in fund-raising, Lynn. But
at the end of the day, I think .
KORNACKI: Senator Salazar, let me follow up on that, because there was - I
think we may have a graphic of this. I hope we do. There was a new poll
that came out this week, and we always - this 2016 polls are always too
early, I think, but they measure the mood of the party right now. And Ted
Cruz by virtue of what happened this week rocketed to the top of that list.
And it just - it just strikes me that like if he stumbled on a formula here
where you can alienate all your colleagues, you can get nothing done in the
Senate, but it`s going to still make you hear to your party`s grassroots,
that`s a recipe, if others are not replicating that, that`s a really
SALAZAR: I don`t think that stands the test of time well, Steve.
SALAZAR: I mean it may give you the popularity for a day or a week or a
month, but I think in terms of ultimately being a victor, running for
president, becoming the leading role over Marco Rubio in the Republican
Party, I don`t think that`s going to happen.
SWEET: I just want to make a point before we run out of time, I`m bursting
with this ..
SWEET: I think what is fascinating here is that he made an incursion into
the House .
SWEET: . by trying to undercut the House Republican leadership. That is
worthy of discovery.
KORNACKI: Right, now, Ted Cruz actually meeting with him and plotting
strategy with Republicans. Beth, quickly.
REINHARD: But what`s also interesting about that poll that you just showed
a moment ago, is how Marco Rubio`s star has fallen and he actually tried to
pass legislation. In fact, he tried to pass legislation that Republican
Party elders said was crucial to the party, you know, retaking the White
House in 2016. Yet he`s now seen as someone whose star has fallen while
Senator Cruz`s has risen.
KORNACKI: Yes, the other - the power seems -- we`re up against the hard
deadline of the hour. I`m sorry. But I want to say thanks to former Obama
cabinet secretary, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former senator Ken
Salazar, I appreciate having you on the show today.
And we have promised it, the return of "SNL." We`ve got some classic and
current political impersonations, and it is still ahead next hour. Stay
KORNACKI: Call it a tag team effort. The president who tried to pass
health care reform and the president who did pass it and is now trying to
implement it. And live from New York, a cornerstone of American political
humor is back. We will talk about all of that, 180 seconds from now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TINA FEY: You know, Hillary and I don`t agree on .
SARAH POEHLER: Anything --
POEHLER: I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign
FEY: And I can see Russia from my House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: If you`ve followed the news at all this week, then there is no
way you missed this. The current Democratic president and the last one
talking with each other, live and unscripted on a stage in New York on
Tuesday. The topic was health care and the timing was no coincidence. The
Affordable Care Act, Obamacare for all intents and purposes, goes into
effect this coming Tuesday. It`s October 1st, with the opening of the
state insurance exchanges. And it`s fitting that Bill Clinton and Barack
Obama were together to talk about it, because they loom larger than anyone
in the story of how we got to this moment. How we got to what really is a
historic moment, the story that goes back 22 years, one that starts in an
unlikely place, Pennsylvania, which was the site of a special election for
the Senate in the fall of 1991.
Let`s set the stage. George H.W. Bush was president. First Gulf War, this
was the popular Gulf War, had ended only a few months earlier. And it left
Bush with astronomical poll numbers and made him look invincible for 1992
when he would be seeking re-election. It made his party look invincible.
But the economy was struggling and memories of the Gulf War triumph were
quickly fading, which is where Pennsylvania comes in. Because that special
Senate election in the fall of 1991 produced a monumental political upset.
Democratic candidate Harris Wofford came from 47 points behind to stun his
Republican opponent. The fact that he did this caught the political
world`s attention and meant maybe that Bush wasn`t so unbeatable after all.
And Democrats paid closer attention, because they wanted to know how
Wofford had done it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Democrats in Philadelphia and most probably in the rest of the
country were cheering a new hero, Harris Wofford had shown them how to win.
HARRIS WOFFORD: It`s time to take care of our own, our own people, and our
own problems .
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
WOFFORD: and to do it, do it with the will and the resources and the
commitment that we give to the challenges abroad.
ANNOUCNER: Wofford talked jobs, deficit, education, and scored heavily
with one key issue.
WOFFORD: We want national health insurance and we want it now.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: National health insurance. That was Harris Wofford`s calling
card. In his most famous ad in that campaign, he looked into the camera
and he said if criminals have a right to a lawyer, I think working
Americans should have a right to a doctor. And here`s where it gets fun.
Because the morning after Wofford won that election, he got a phone call,
it was from a Democrat who was planning to run for president in 1992, he
wanted to know about Wofford`s campaign team, who were they, were they as
good as they seemed and should he hire them? And that`s how it was that
Bill Clinton teamed up with a couple of Harris Wofford`s strategists named
James Carville and Paul Begala. And the Clinton campaign in 1992 played
out a lot like Wofford`s, he started out as the underdog, he ended up
winning decisively, and he made national health care one of his centerpiece
issues. And when Bill Clinton was sworn in as president in 1993, he was in
position to deliver, excuse me, because his party had big majorities in the
House and in the Senate. Clinton moved fast, he put his wife in charge of
drafting a new national health care plan, and he made his pitch to Congress
almost exactly 20 years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This health care
security card will offer this package of benefits in a way that can never
be taken away. So let us agree on this. Whatever else we disagree on,
before this Congress finishes its work next year, you will pass and I will
sign legislation to guarantee the security to every citizen of this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: When Clinton delivered that speech, the overwhelming consensus
was that some kind of real health care reform would be passed and would
become law in the next year. Which, of course, is not at all what
happened. Not every Democrat was on board with Clinton`s plan, not every
Democrat was on board with the idea that there was a health care crisis in
America. Some Republicans tried to meet Clinton halfway. There was,
believe it or not, a Republican bill in 1993 that included an individual
mandate. But most of those Republicans just listened to Bill Crystal, who
wrote a memo that fall pleading with Republicans simply to oppose health
care reform and promising them that they would reap an electoral windfall
by doing so. And they did. A year later, Bill Clinton`s push for
universal health insurance was dead and Republicans scored a midterm
election tsunami, winning control of the House for the first time in 40
years. And that was that, at least, for the Clinton era. America`s health
care problem did not go away.
So why in 2006 Ted Kennedy was able to work with the Republican governor of
his home state, Mitt Romney, and a groundbreaking law that required all
residents to have insurance. It`s why the two major candidates for the
Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 both vowed to make health care a
top priority. Hillary Clinton`s message was that she learned from the
1990s, this time, she would be ready for the relentless fight Republicans
would mount. Barack Obama`s pitch was that he would change the tone in
Washington, he would forge the bipartisan health care consensus that had
alluded Bill and Hillary. Obama won the argument, but then as president
confronted the reality.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: There are also
those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants.
This, too, is false. The reforms -- the reforms I`m proposing would not
apply to those who are here illegally.
REP. JOE WILSON (R - SOUTH CAROLINA): You lie!
OBAMA: Not true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: In the end, Obama got health care through, but not with a single
Republican vote. And with profound electoral damage in the 2010 midterms.
It`s been three and a half years since the Affordable Care Act passed
Congress, but on the eve of its implementation, America`s health care
politics haven`t really changed much. The law is as popular or unpopular
as ever. The Republican Party remains adamantly committed to dismantling
it at any cost.
When will these dynamics change? Can they change? Or can Obamacare work
even if one of the two major parties never accepts its legitimacy? We`re
going to talk about all of this with MSNBC contributor Perry Bacon Jr., Joe
Conason, editor-in-chief of nationalmemo.com, Beth Reinhard with "National
Journal" and Richard Wolffe, he is the executive editor at msnbc.com and
author of the new book "The Message: the Reselling of President Obama."
So, I guess, we`ll start with sort of, you know. Joe. I think no one
knows the Clinton years better than Joe Conason. Because this really is
your (inaudible). I just sort of wonder how you look - understand - how
you look at that scene this week with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama getting
together to talk about health care. It really seems to me that the failure
of Bill Clinton was an essential on health care .
JOE CONASON, NATIONALMEMO.COM: Yeah.
KORNACKI: . was an essential element in the success of getting the
Affordable Care Act through under President Obama.
CONASON: I could not agree more, Steve. I think that was an excellent
introduction to the issue. Except I would say one thing. The reason that
the two Democratic presidents were sitting on that stage together lies
within the history of health care that goes back even further. It goes
back to Truman, at least, in the Democratic Party, when in 48 he wanted to
institute a national health system that was going to be something like what
the British were doing at that time in the U.K. Which was instituting
national health. Of course, the Republicans opposed it, just as they
opposed Medicare, when Lyndon Johnson finally did it in `65 with some
Republican support, but basically, you know, that was the rise of Ronald
Reagan as telling us that if we had Medicare, we would end up as the Soviet
Union. This has been an overarching theme and Clinton knew that. And
Begala and Carville knew that too. This is a bedrock issue between the two
parties. It remains so.
So whatever the differences that Clinton and Obama have had over the last
several years, they`re trivial compared to the agreement about this
fundamental concern. And I think you`re right about that.
KORNACKI: And, Richard, I guess the big difference, obviously, between the
`90s and today, besides the fact they didn`t get it through in the 90s, by
having it - get rejected or just fail in the 1990s, the issue kind of went
away after 1994. Because Bill Clinton just didn`t - you know, wasn`t
pursuing it anymore. The Obama - administration has been living with this
now, the political consequences of this, for three and a half years. You
know the Obama world really well. Has it surprised them that in the three
and a half years since this thing made it through Congress, that the poll
numbers on Obamacare haven`t changed that much?
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC.COM: Yes, it has. And it is important to
understand those poll numbers. You know, reading the post mortems of `93
and `94 and the post mortems prematurely written now there is a lot of
misinterpretation of the poll data. We say it is unpopular, but actually
about a third of people who don`t like Obamacare think it is not liberal
enough. So we just have to put the opposition -- it is a very complex
thing. And it is easy to prey on people`s fears.
But, yes, the Obama people thought that as the provisions would roll
through, things like coverage for pre-existing conditions, allowing people
up to the age of 25, 26 come on their parents plan, those things would
transform people`s attitudes to the whole thing. Now, if you call it
health care reform, if you call it even universal health care, if you call
it the affordable care act, the numbers change completely. You call it
Obamacare, and opposition goes all the sudden is through the roof.
WOLFFE: So messaging is important. That`s why that tag team of the two
presidents is so important. Bill Clinton, master of the message, knows how
to sell something in many ways. People said that was the most defining
thing about the Clinton era. Here you`ve got President Obama, there`s no
debate about whether he had -- there is no rational debate about whether he
had a mandate, not in one election, but in two elections. There is no
discussion about whether he mis-sold his approach to health care. In fact,
he beefed it up. He took on Hillary Clinton`s call for universal mandate.
But actually, coming to sell it, his own team have said repeatedly, well,
we know we messed up, well, it`s very complicated. Well, these things are
easily distorted. Yeah, but you are in control of the White House and all
of this messaging and that still struggling to sell it today.
KORNACKI: I wonder about this sometimes, what they could do. I wonder
sometimes. If there is much they could really do to sell it in the sense
that if the entire Republican Party has decided as the most fundamental
thing it means to be Republican today is to be against Obamacare and to be
against this horrible socialist plot. If the entire political party is
against it like that, that basically walls out almost half the country
that`s just going to be resistant to it because your name is on it.
REINHARD: Right. I don`t think we, you know, even appreciate the kind of
institutional revolutionary change that the president is trying to
implement without the other party. I don`t think we have ever done that in
this country. And I think at this point, you know, the White House is
going to continue to try to sell it as best it can, but I heard one White
House adviser say, you know, now we`re hoping that while I guess it failed
the idea that the people with pre-existing conditions would spread the word
that hasn`t worked out as it planned, but now they`re hoping as people
actually go to the website, sign up, see what the numbers are, realize they
can get health insurance, that they are hoping that now will help people -
you know, help spread the word about, you know, what this law is actually
intended to do.
KORNACKI: Well, how sustainable is it, Perry, the point Beth makes there
about, you know, we`re sort of in unchartered territory here with one party
continuing to oppose us. I mean we`re seeing it right now, this weird
juxtaposition, this is the week of implementation, and it`s also the week
we may have a government shutdown, because one party refuses to accept the
legitimacy of this law. How sustainable is that long-term?
BACON: It is really challenging. I was in Kentucky a few weeks ago,
explored how (inaudible) love health care law, and one thing a woman told
me was, I was talking with her, and she asked me, but what if it doesn`t
pass, what if it doesn`t pass, that she`s very nervous. All this talk
makes her think it is not really a law yet, which is a totally logical
thing to feel. I actually think at this point, though, Bill Clinton,
Barack Obama, the political discussion a little less important. When you
go to this website on October 1st in Kentucky, you don`t have to, you know,
you`re not going to sign up for Obamacare. You don`t have to vote for
Obama, you don`t have to like Obama even. You have to go on this website
and see, look at the prices and so on. And if it works for you, you
probably will buy cheap insurance. And if it doesn`t work for you
pricewise, you won`t.
I actually tend to think that the politicians are going to be less
important in the next six months and the actual details of the health care
policy will at some point begin to matter more. The polling numbers of
Obama care in December will not matter if you sign up for cover of
California and that`s what you`re doing.
KORNACKI: Well, I think there is a flip side to that, though, that does
affect sort of the political -- the political popularity of Obamacare, of
the Affordable Care Act, of the national health care. And I think it does
sort of affects his political future. I`ll get into that after this break.
KORNACKI: So, before the break, Perry, you were talking about - there are
some obviously just lots of real life ramifications of what is going to be
happening here in terms of, you know, open enrollment for the exchanges.
It raises the possibility to me, though, as I started to try to game this
out in my head and how this might affect the public opinion of Obamacare,
that if people sign up for this, if lots of people start signing up for
their state insurance exchanges and as you say, they are not signing up for
the Obamacare exchange, they are not getting the Obamacare card in the
mail, you know, and the Obama care voucher, anything like that. They may -
in my mind, I think at what point do they realize this is Obamacare?
Because I always remember that moment from one of these town halls - the
(inaudible) town hall in the summer of 2009, we had that woman who got up
and talked about, basically, keep your government hands off my Medicare.
And I wondered if we`re going to have the same situation here where people
will directly benefit from this, will appreciate having Hoosier care in
Indiana or whatever it is - and still be radically opposed to Obamacare?
WOLFFE: Steve, it`s really fascinating this as Republican governors take
the funds, and in spite of their earlier opposition for Medicaid expansion,
which is a really important part of what Obamacare does. I predict, just
like in the recovery act, where people were getting tax cuts, and they
thought they were getting pay rises from their employers, because again,
the Obama administration wasn`t really explaining what was going on. It
just thought people would recognize, oh, there is all this good stuff, it
must be from this Obama guy. They`re going to accrue all of these medical
benefits, they are going to see better deals, whether it`s on premiums or
Medicaid expansion, or better terms from their insurers and here is my not
so bold prediction. Republicans will ultimately at some point be in a
position to quote, unquote, "repeal Obamacare," which will mean some
provision that they say defines the entirety of Obamacare. In fact,
Obamacare will be in law - in - and popular, up to 95 percent of the
provisions in the actual legislation. But they`ll find some token thing
and say, look, we delivered on our promise to repeal something.
KORNACKI: Eight years ..
KORNACKI: In 2018, President Christie repeals the medical device tax. And
that`s - that`s that.
WOLFFE: Look, we did it!
KORNACKI: That`s the first explanation I`ve heard for how to break that
fever. Well, that brings me - actually, I want to play this, this will go
back 20 years. But there`s a point to it. I want to play this clip. It
was 20 years ago this week, we has just played Bill Clinton giving a speech
to Congress. His wife Hillary was running the health care taskforce and
she testified 20 years ago this weekend. I want to just play a clip on
this and then pick it up from there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DICK ARMEY, (R ) TEXAS: And while I don`t share the chairman`s joy at
our holding hearings on a government run health care system, I do share his
intention to make the debate in the legislative process as exciting as
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON: I`m sure you will do that, Mr. Armey.
ARMEY: We`ll do the best we can.
CLINTON: You and Dr. Kevorkian.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: There is a back story. About a week before that, Dick Armey had
invoked Kevorkian, you know, the euthanasia doctor. But Joe, that brings
me to the longer term question here about the future of the Affordable Care
Act. Everybody, you know, knows right now that Hillary Clinton is the
frontrunner if she runs for president in 2016. She very well may be our
next president and she may very well be in position to sort of implement
the next phases of the Affordable Care Act. And where do you see the
longer term future of the politics of Obamacare? If we play this out five
or ten years, what is this thing going to look like five or ten years from
CONASON: If Hillary Clinton runs for president, there is no question she
will run as the fiercest possible defender of the Affordable Care Act. She
has spoken about it since then. She talked about it the other day at CGI,
you know, off in another forum there. And her husband and they will be out
there fighting for this as -- it will become her program if she`s
president. And she will do everything she can to put it in -- and it will
become Hillary care on the right. You know, they will transition back to,
KORNACKI: Hillary cares what they call it in the `90s.
CONASON: Hillary cares what they call it in the `90s. And it will be --
we`ll revisit all of that. I mean - and -- but in a different position
because people will be getting the benefits and they`ll be able - and
she`ll be able to say, you know what, I was right about this. My husband
was right about this. This is going to save the country money. It`s going
to provide better future for a lot of children in this country, which is
what they started to do with SCHIP in the `90s. So, you know, I think it
will be her program. I think she`ll do that.
BACON: We keep mentioning Obama, Bill Clinton, maybe Hillary Clinton,
can`t sell this plan. One thing to keep in mind is they -- all Democratic
presidents of the modern era try to talk about themselves as champions of
the middle class. Barack Obama never uses the term poor. Almost never
does. Bill Clinton (inaudible) that the Health Security Act - it was about
the middle class. The uninsured are often poor. 40 percent of people who
are insured are poor, they are often, black, they are often Hispanic. It
is hard to come up with a point. At the end of the day, our health
insurance plan is about people who don`t call their congressman very often.
People who don`t - That makes it hard to message something that for a lot
of people, for us who are sitting at this table, health insurance,
universal health insurance is not going to help us very much. We have
jobs. It`s going to cost us tax money, probably. That`s part of the
challenge of the plan. This is a welfare policy of sorts and it is always
harder to .
KORNACKI: This is not - that`s the interesting thing, too. Because a lot
of comparisons are made between the implementation of Medicare in 1965 and
this. But Medicare was a universal thing. You get to 65, you`re going to
get it. A lot of people will just never get benefits from this. They`ll
be totally fine, they`ll just never get benefits from this. And I wonder
if that, you know, allows some of these myths to live.
REINHARD: Well, two points, one is, if you look at the polling when
Medicare part D came out, it was even more unpopular.
KORNACKI: It`s the prescription drug.
REINHARD: Yes, exactly. It was even more unpopular than Obamacare is now.
And now it is widely, you know, accepted and I think most seniors are glad
they have it. The other point is, starting to see what Perry said about
the - you know, some pushback from the Democratic Party, looking at
Hispanics. Because those folks, of course, are the swing group, the
fastest growing party of the electorate and would disproportionately
benefit from Obamacare. And actually, I think the polling shows like
Obamacare. And that is an opening for Democrats to continue to use, you
know, as they used immigration as a wedge issue, they will now be using
health care as a wedge issue, I think.
KORNACKI: So, President Obama will leave office in January of 2017. And I
think we`ll probably stop calling it Obamacare somewhere around that. But
my question is, I mean look at the moment we`re in right now where we have
this whole shutdown, debt ceiling drama tied up with the future of
Obamacare. 2014 midterms, not a lot of optimism, Democrats are going to be
able to win it back then. How confident are you that Obamacare as we now
know it survives to January 2017?
CONASON: I think it survives. And, you know, I hope the president will
pick up the theme that President Clinton talked about so much, not just the
other day, but last year, which is this is good for the U.S. Economy. It
is important for the U.S. to get into the 20th century, let alone the 21st
century in providing health care for all of its citizens and making sure
the cost goes down. If you see the costs really going down, as they have
the last few years, continue, then I think that argument has a lot of
salience, and it will be hard for the Republicans to try to push forward
this. I think they`ll eventually give up.
BACON: Look at what Ted Cruz said. Knowing the fact that once you start
giving people government benefits, they tend not to want them taken away.
BACON: The Republicans get it. If this - you know - they try to repeal
Medicare all the time, but somehow they never really get a detailed plan
where it is going to happen.
WOLFFE: The reason for that, they are not trying to repeal Medicare, they
are trying to save it.
KORNACKI: They`re trying to save it, right.
BACON: That one didn`t work.
BACON: By killing it.
KORNACKI: Right. You`re right.
WOLFFE: It is always going to be something.
KORNACKI: It`s one of those, I tend to share what you`re saying, Joe, but
I have to admit, I`m thinking back to March 2010 and I remember what the
polign was then. I remember telling people, talk to me in a year or two,
it`s going to - and we`re still here now, you know, saying when is this
going to turn around. But, you know, it is still survived which is
Anyway, I want to thank Beth Reinhard with the "National Journal," MSNBC
contributor Perry Bacon Jr. and Joe Conason, he`s editor-in-chief of
nationalmemo.com. We promised earlier we would show you the dramatic
conclusion of yesterday`s edition of "Up Against the Clock," our weekly
current event`s game show. It was the closest contest in the history of
"Up Against the Clock." And here`s how it ended.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: (inaudible), you have 400, Jonathan, you have 200, Joe, you have
negative 200. But this is a 300 point question.
Members of Congress from both parties expressed concern this week when the
U.S. Postal Service announced plans to raise the cost of the first class
stamp from 46 cents to what? Jonathan for the win.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 49 cents.
KORNACKI: It`s correct! And Jonathan takes it on the last question of
KORNACKI: . has stormed from behind the seat. Ana Marie Cox, 500 to 400 .
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So, Jonathan Kiefer walked away with the coveted gold up cup.
You can re-watch the whole game from yesterday on up.msnbc.com. If you`re
hungry for more, don`t worry. Because "Up Against the Clock" will be back
But before then, up next, we`re going to be talking political satire and
"Saturday Night Live," which kicked off its 39th season last night. That`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And let me see you shake it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good. Good. That`s very embarrassing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You`re going to feel a deep shame coming up from here
and out. Natural.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So, when Ted Cruz spoke on the Senate floor this week, we sat in
our office on the eighth floor in this building wondering what we could say
about it. We were also wondering what our neighbors at the other end of
the hallway floor would say about it. Last night we found out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
et`s check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Texas Senator Ted Cruz this week gave a 21-hour speech
on the floor of the Senate, during which he read Dr. Seuss`s "Green Eggs
and Ham," did an impression of Darth Vader and admitted his love for White
Castle. I`m not sure what Cruz`s speech was arguing for, but I`m guessing
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans in Congress this week, attempted to defund
Obamacare before it begins open enrollment on October 1st, because you know
the old saying, if you can`t beat them, kick the ball into the woods.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That`s right. "Saturday Night Live" is back for another season
and we`ll be talking more about the effect it`s had on real world politics
for nearly four decades. That`s coming up right after this.
KORNACKI: The cone heads, the church ladies, celebrity jeopardy spoofs
with Sean Connery, drunk uncle. If you know any of these characters, then
you know "Saturday Night Live," the late night sketch comedy show that
officially kicked off its 39th year on the air, a few floors above us, just
a few hours ago. "SNL" has obviously left an enduring mark on American
culture. Find anyone my age, which means anyone over 30 and just mention
unfrozen cavemen lawyer or Toonces, the driving cat. I can pretty much bet
they`ll smile with recognition. But here`s the part where we make this
relevant to "UP," "Saturday Night Live" has also made and continues to make
an indelible mark on American political culture. For four decades it has
been the go-to source for standups of politicians, of the political media,
whatever the political news or political scandal of the moment happens to
be. It all started in the Gerald Ford administration, Chevy Chase looked
nothing like the accidental president, but "SNL" wasn`t going for physical
resemblance, just physical comedy. LBJ had once quipped that as a football
player at the University of Michigan, Ford had played one too many games
without a helmet. And Chase portrayed him as an affable stumble bum,
constantly tripping and falling all over the place. Every president since
then has gotten the "SNL" treatment. Who doesn`t remember Dana Carvey
mimicking George H.W. Bush`s penchant for speaking in baffling sentence
fragments. There was Will Ferrell`s dead on impression of George W. Bush
as the president who never let his own confusion interfere with his self-
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILL FERRELL: I don`t know what that was all about .
FERRELL: . but I will tell you this, don`t mess with Texas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Worlds have occasionally collided, like when Newt Gingrich and
House Republicans met another Newt Gingrich, the one who was played by
Chris Farley back in the 1990s. And when Bill Clinton raised hands
triumphantly with Darrell Hammond who was fully in character that night.
"SNL" has lampooned presidents, mayors, a speaker of the House or two, it`s
even helped to launch a real life U.S. Senator, Al Franken. For millions
of Americans, our leaders in the Washington are inextricably linked to
their impersonators in New York. These days "SNL" has more competition
than ever when it comes to political satire. But we thought we would
commemorate the start of the new season by talking about why the show`s
political humor has been so enduring and where it is going from here. And
for that, I want to bring in Dave Itzkoff he is the culture reporter with
"The New York Times" who last month chronicled an oral history of "SNL"
auditions for the paper. Back with us, we have Lynn Sweet for "the Chicago
Sun Times," also joining us is Steve Battaglio, he is the business editor
with "TV Guide" magazine and still with us, is the very funny Richard
Wolffe, who was then on the receiving end of an "SNL" parody himself. I
can`t tell who is who there. One is Fred Armisen, one is Richard Wolffe.
WOLFFE: And they`re probably - probably coming for you, Steve.
KORNACKI: No, I don`t think I will ever see that day. Thank goodness.
But Richard Wolffe has gotten the treatment. So he can tell us a little
bit about that. But let`s - let`s just start by looking at sort of where
this all started. And, Dave, you looked back a little bit at the history
of "SNL." We mentioned Chevy Chase and Gerald Ford. How did it become
that "SNL" became the place that whenever anything happens in politics, if
"SNL" is on the air, everybody is asking what are they going to do about it
DAVE ITZKOFF, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That`s right. I mean that`s something
that has taken almost 40 years to get them to the place where they are. I
mean as you mentioned at the beginning of the show, the Ford impression was
really more about slapstick and pratfalls than it was about pointed
political commentary. Dan Aykroyd would occasionally do Nixon or a little
bit of Carter. It is really not, I think, until the `80s that it becomes a
little bit more politically astute. And you get not only Phil Hartman
occasionally doing Reagan, but I think once Carvey becomes George H.W.
Bush, and really has some (inaudible), at least in the voice and the
mannerisms, then it became about every week, you know, what is Carvey going
to do as Bush?
KORNACKI: Like Dana Carvey sitting there .
STEVEN BATTAGLIO, TV GUIDE: I think you also have to look at how
television has changed. I mean "Saturday Night Live" when it began in the
1970s, you watched it, and if you wanted to see it again, you had to wait
until there was a repeat or you had to wait until the clip show. Now, the
show circulates on so many different platforms, immediately after you have
seen it. You can go on the Web and you can see embedded clips on various
websites. You are showing some this morning. They`ll show them on
"Morning Joe" and the "Today" show tomorrow. It becomes part of the
national conversation through all the different ways that we have to
KORNACKI: And do we know -- you`re talking about that, like that shift
maybe sometime in the `80s, sometimes around the time Reagan and then - and
George Bush Sr., was it because of sort of -- was it something about the
politics of the time that suddenly there was this need for what "SNL" was
doing, was it something about the writers on the show, when Al Franken was
writing the political comedy show, how - do you know what was behind that
shift? Does anybody have a sense of that?
ITZKOFF: I mean I think it`s fair to say that the show has always had a
kind of, you know, left-leaning, a little bit of a liberal sensibility.
Reagan, I think, they were never really able to tag him with anything.
They couldn`t really get anything on him. And when Bush came into office,
and there was a - you know, I think a certain uncertainty about how he was
going to run the country, what kind of leader he would be and Carvey
stepped right into that void. Carvey`s impression of Bush almost became
the national standard (ph) for Bush. I think we -- the catch phrases that
we associate with Bush are really lines that Carvey was delivering on the
KORNACKI: But we can - we can actually play a clip. This was at the sort
of the beginning of the Dana Carvey/George H.W. Bush impersonation, this is
from the campaign in 1988, so the real George Bush is running against
Michael Dukakis. And it`s pretty apparent, at this point, when they do the
fake debate, the real George Bush is going to win the election. And a lot
of people are sort of asking why? And "SNL" kind of captured that with
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA CARVEY: Well, sure, more has to be done, but the program is in place.
Make no mistake. We are doing the job, so let`s just stay the course and
keep on track, stay the course.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You still have 50 seconds left, Mr. President.
CARVEY: Well, let me just sum up, on track, stay the course .
CARVEY: . a thousand points of light, stay the course.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mm-hmm. Governor Dukakis, rebuttal?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can`t believe I`m losing to this guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Richard, they captured something, it wasn`t, obviously, sort of
the broad popular sentiment in the country because George H.W. Bush won
handily over Michael Dukakis, but for people who are watching the election
closely, they are - I think there were a lot of people looking at George
Bush Sr. and saying how the heck is this guy so far ahead?
WOLFFE: Yeah, look, a couple of things. I think Dana Carvey`s
impressions, and not just the impressions. It is the whole character he
built, it was just brilliant. And it stands up all these years later. One
of the great things is watching, and I think it`s (inaudible) by the way,
Will Ferrell and the whole encapsulation of the two Bushes is really the
landmark achievement here.
If you look back at, say, what they are doing on "Funny or Die," big fan of
that site, Will Ferrell`s site there, he actually reconvened all the former
presidents from the "SNL" days to explain the consumer financial protection
WOLFFE: I mean it was the most obscure thing, for some reason they know -
that was the reason for a reunion. Dana Carvey still kills it. And what
it does is it does project a character on these strange figures, I think it
is striking that they haven`t been able to do the same with President Obama
or President Reagan. For infrequent voters, people who are tuning in
vaguely to the news, not really understand it, has the same impact, really
they are doing what Jon Stewart is doing today. And it does shape opinions
for people who aren`t paying that close attention, or for people who just
don`t want to invest the time to figure out who these politicians are.
SWEET: Well, the show does a lot, because most of the time through its
decades, it was -- it owned the game of summarizing the key political
events of the week, defying it, and yes, as Richard said, telling it to an
audience who was not tuning in politics. And this was the days before
cable. So when they were able to own it, they - you know, I guess we could
run upstairs and ask the people who are actually doing it, but as a viewer,
it looked to me that they made a decision to say we`re going to tell you
what is lampoonable of the week and you should listen to this and we`re
going to make it funny. And we did it.
It also became an important, I think, stack of the show itself, because it
was dependable. Just like "Weekend Update" is, faux news that`s tied to
the news. So, I would think, you know, as an "SNL" historian, I think
early on, they realized that people who kind of don`t like the news liked
it the way they did it. And in their update. But it is still the -- the
achievement that is remarkable is that they were able to sustain this
political satire with the enormous competition that is around today.
KORNACKI: Yes, that`s exactly right. And we`ll pick that up in a minute,
about - looking at - "The Daily Show," we`re talking about Comedy central,
we talk about all the other sources of political satire, "Funny or Die," on
the web, they are out there, we`ll have a couple of other clips too, and
we`ll also get into that question, Richard started to get a little bit
about, you know, why are some presidents funnier than others? Why is -
the, you know, the Obama impersonation is a good sort of -- it is a good
technical impersonation, but I don`t know that it adds up to as much as the
George Bush Sr. or even the Reagan impersonation. We`re going to get all
that and more clips after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DARRELL HAMMOND: Did I just say that in my plan .
HAMMOND: . the lock box would be used only for Social Security and
Medicare. It would have two different locks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Bush.
HAMMOND: Now, now, one of the keys to the lock box will be kept by the
president. The other key would be sealed in a small magnetic container .
HAMMOND: . and placed under the bumper of the Senate majority leader`s
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Darrell Hammond as Al Gore in 2000. And Steve, the interesting
thing - the story about that, it that it had real political implications.
BATTAGLIO: It`s hilarious, but it was devastating. It not only reinforced
what people kind of already were feeling about Gore`s performance in that
debate, but the campaign showed it to him. And he then proceeded to
overcompensate in the -- in the second debate where he became very -- after
being very aggressive towards Bush, he pulled it back completely. And it
became - that became another lackluster debate performance.
These sketches do occasionally insert themselves into the narrative of the
race. I don`t think anybody went after Sarah Palin hard in the campaign
until Tina Fey really went out there and conveyed that, you know, maybe
this woman is not qualified to be vice president of the United States. I
think it really opened a door. And that`s when the show succeeds. And
when it sort of connects and sort of articulates feelings that are already
KORNACKI: Well, Richard, from the campaign side, do we have a sense of how
mindful they are about this sort of thing? Whether it is "SNL" or whether
it is the "Daily Show" or any of the political comedy shows to not giving
material to them, to, like, we just put something out there, just we`re
going to see this on "SNL" this weekend, we`re going to see this on the
"Daily Show," is that something that they`re thinking about and maybe
trying to strategize around somehow?
WOLFFE: They do worry about what appears. Often they make predictions and
say, oh, this is the "Daily Show" moment. But they always get it wrong,
right? So that very bad predictors of what appears .
WOLFFE: (inaudible) understand the whole business. They do pay close
attention, right? So, the other thing apart from, you know, we talked
about how it reaches infrequent voters, these people, political insiders
are all watching these shows. They`re avid fans. The devastating thing
about Tina Fey on Sarah Palin was that she just read back Sarah Palin`s
words. She didn`t have to exaggerate because they were so preposterous.
Do the campaigns care? Yes, they absolutely care. That`s why you see the
presidents increasingly and the candidates all making their worshipful
tours of the late night shows and especially Jon Stewart now. I mean, you
know, they don`t - there`s not the venue for them to do that on "SNL," but
late night comedy is really important to reach people who are sort of
engaged with politics, but may honestly choose not to show up and vote.
Those are exactly the kind of people you want.
KORNACKI: They will occasionally turn up -- the real candidates will turn
up on "SNL" sometimes.
ITZKOFF: Well, I think it was, very touchy as to whether or not they could
get Sarah Palin to be on the show during the 2008 campaign because they
had, you know, lampooned her so mercilessly and McCain did, in fact, turned
up later, you know, as a host. He has actually had a very good
relationship with the show over the year. So, in `08, they kind of got
handed the gift of - on the one hand, having the relationship with McCain,
on the other hand, having, you know, an alumna of the show who looked
exactly like the Republican vice presidential nominee.
SWEET: It is good for turning around an image if you do the show and you
could pull it off and you can - you know, the number one rule of political
humor is to be self-deprecating .
SWEET: . and if there is ever a home for that, it is "SNL."
KORNACKI: Yeah, I noticed. I can - you know, Steve Forbes, of all people,
the last person you ever would associate with political comedy, you know,
at least, he did "SNL" as the guest host when he was running for president
back in 1986. But I was thinking about this, we`re talking about this a
little bit off the air, as I look back at the last 40 years of "SNL" and
I`m trying to think what are the political sketches that stand out the most
to me and I kept coming back, in my mind, to one particular era, which I
would say, so the late `80s and the early `90s, and that was when we had
the George Bush Sr. impersonation, Phil Hartman was Ronald Reagan for a
couple of years, even Phil Hartman as Clinton, at the start of the Clinton
And I sort of went to myself, how much of that was obviously the actors
themselves, but it was Al Franken was writing so much of the political
content back, Al Franken who went on to become the United States Senator,
how much of this is of what we`re seeing is so dependent on who the writers
are at any given moment.
ITZKOFF: Franken is a very important voice for them, as was Jim Downey,
who was the writer in that same era and stuck around with the show almost
until just last season. I think it is -- there is a certain volatility at
that time. And we didn`t really sort of know which way the country was
leaning. Even among the writing staff. I mean there are left leaning
voices, right leaning voices, and just sort of -- there was a magic about
not only having people on your performing - you know, your performance
ensemble who could play these people dead on, but the sketches were not
just about replicating these people, it was about having a joke or
underlying idea that was sending these people up as opposed to just, you
KORNACKI: Right. The Reagan, the one that always stands out in my mind,
that we actually - we can play a clip of this, I think. It`s just -
imagine the whole character of Ronald Reagan as president was - he was the
lazy, detached president who never put the time in, and SNL completely
reimagined him for this sketch, where suddenly he was actually this secret
evil mastermind behind the scenes. This is Phil Hartman, we`ve got to play
this for a second.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHIL HARTMAN: Balucchi (ph), you`re new. Here`s how we do things. The
red countries are the countries we sell arms to. The green countries are
the countries where we wash our money. The blue countries are .
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me, Mr. President, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s your 11:30 photo opportunity, the little girl who
sold the most girl scout cookies.
HARTMAN: OK, let`s get it over with. Everybody out. Come on, move, move.
This is the part of the job I hate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: I just look back and I said, it was brilliant. Because it took
it in a direction that was kind of obvious, but nobody thought of for his
BATTAGLIO: It was very hard to get laughs out of Reagan. Because Reagan
was such a good performer himself on television. And I think they kind of
go through the same thing with Barack Obama. He`s such a complete natural,
so comfortable in today`s media environment. Where is the quirk that you
could really sort of riff off of. It is kind of a challenge. I think it
really helps to have a president that is sort of out there, that has -
that`s a real target that you can -- and certainly the rascalliness of Bill
BATTAGLIO: . the malaprops (ph) of George W. Bush . of the first George
Bush and then, it`s just you have to sort of take those characteristics and
sort of exaggerate them. And Reagan and both Obama are pretty smooth.
KORNACKI: And it is true. When they spoof the debate last fall, the
Obama/Romney debate, the joke about Obama, I think, the first one, was he
was thinking too much about his anniversary. That the joke was he loved
his wife too much. I think they had more to work with than that. I don`t
know. Anyway. What should we know today? Our answers from the panel
coming up after this.
KORNACKI: All right. It`s time to find out what our guests think we
should know for the week ahead. We`ll start with you, Steve.
BATTAGLIO: Well, I`ll do a plug for "TV Guide" magazine. This week, we`re
unveiling the 60 biggest TV news moments of all time, going from the
Checker speech in 1952, Nixon, to the bombing at the Boston marathon. And
we also rank the top ten. Moon landing, Nixon resignation, 9/11. You can
pick it up and you`ll take a look.
KORNACKI: I want to look at that list. Definitely. Richard?
WOLFFE: I hate to be serious after all of this, but we`ve gone through a
seismic shift in our politics in the last 48 hours. I think we`re much,
much more likely to head into default soon and we are much, much more
likely to see Democrats take back the House next year.
KORNACKI: To use an "SNL" character, Debbie Downer right there with
Richard, but .
ITZKOFF: I`ll be even grimmer, the only thing that matters this week is
the season and series finale of "Breaking Bad," which is on tonight.
Viewers have been waiting for five years to learn the fate of Walter White
and Jesse Pinkman, and we`ll know it in about 10:15 Eastern time tonight.
And then TV might as well shut down, because I don`t know what`s going to
come after that.
KORNACKI: Yeah, and I have to avoid Twitter between (INAUDIBLE) .
KORNACKI: Because I have to watch it on DVR after.
ITZKOFF: No spoilers.
KORNACKI: No spoilers.
ITZKOFF: No spoilers.
SWEET: So, here`s my thing. Senator Ted Cruz is very fond of quoting
James Madison and he says he`s inspired him. But in the federalist papers
of 1787, James Madison wrote about the tyranny of the minority, and I want
to give you this quote to look ahead to the future. There are two methods
of curing the mischiefs of faction, Madison wrote, the one by removing its
causes, the other by controlling its effects.
KORNACKI: And Lynn did her homework for today`s shows. That`s a good one.
All right, I want to thank Steve Battaglio, Richard Wolffe, David Itzkoff
and Lynn Sweet. Thank you for getting up and joining us today. I
appreciate it. And thank you for joining us at home, we`ll be back right
here next weekend, official "Up Against the Clock" third place finisher
Evan McMois-Santoro (ph) is among our guests. And former New York City
Mayor David Dinkins will be here. (inaudible) right now because today`s
Mellissa Harris-Perry is going to be can`t miss. Melissa is taking calls.
That means WMHP is on the air and responding the callers about Obamacare.
It`s a bizarre television/radio - you will not want to miss. So, stick
around, MHP is next. And we`ll see you next week, here on "UP".
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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