'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, February 1st, 2014
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
February 1, 2014
Guests: Bob Herbert, Tianna Gaines-Turner, Robert Traynham, Lizz Winstead.
Kimberle Crenshaw, Lizz Winstead, Eve Ensler, Ellie Schilling, Nelson
George Janet Mock
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning my question, what will one
billion people be doing on Valentine`s Day? Plus President Obama tells
Congress it`s with or without you. And finding the funk. The filmmaker
Nelson George. But first, what did he know and when did he know it?
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. We begin this morning with the
new development in the traffic scandal engulfing New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie`s administration. As the New York Times first reported and NBC
News later confirmed yesterday afternoon, a lawyer for the former Port
Authority official who oversaw the September lane closures at the George
Washington Bridge which tied up traffic in Fort Lee, New Jersey for several
days claims that Governor Christie knew about the lane closings while they
Now, let`s back up for a second. This former Port Authority official is
David Wildstein. Wildstein was the director of interstate capital projects
at the Port Authority. And he is the one who personally oversaw the lane
closures for what was initially said to be part of a traffic study.
Wildstein resigned in early December. In early January, evidence surfaced
that Governor Christie`s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, sent
Wildstein an e-mail a month before the lane closures, saying, quote, "time
for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Wildstein responded, "got it."
On January 9th during a two-hour-long process conference, Governor Christie
announced that he had fired Kelly and apologized for the closures. But he
denied he had anything to do with them. And on the same day, Wildstein
appeared before the State Assembly`s Transportation Committee and he
pleaded the Fifth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID WILDSTEIN: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully assert my
right to remain silent under the United States and New Jersey
Constitutions. On the advice of counsel, I again assert my right to remain
silent. Same answer. Same answer, sir. Same answer, sir. It`s the same
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, Wildstein did turn over to the committee e-mails and
texts that showed a link between Christie`s administration and the lane
closures. Such as the time for traffic problems exchange. However, parts
of the documents were redacted, and his attorney told reporters that
Wildstein would not say anything about what happened or reveal the complete
documents unless he was offered immunity for his role in the closures.
That is the man who is now claiming, through a letter from his lawyer, that
Governor Christie knew about the lane closures while they were happening,
and that not all of the governor`s statements have been accurate. And
Wildstein`s attorney says there is proof.
In a letter sent yesterday requesting that the Port Authority pay
Wildstein`s legal fees, his attorney wrote, quote, "evidence exists tying
Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures during the period
when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly
in the two-hour press conference he gave immediately before Mr. Wildstein
was scheduled to appear before the Transportation Committee. Mr. Wildstein
contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about
him, and he can prove the inaccuracy of some."
At this point the claims of evidence are just that, claims. We have not
seen the evidence that Wildstein`s attorney reports exists. And in his
press conference on January 9, Governor Christie vehemently denied having
anything to do with the lane closures, or having known about them
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: I had no knowledge or involvement in this
issue, in its planning, or its execution. I knew nothing about this.
Until it started to be reported in the papers about the closure. But even
then, I was told this was a traffic study. I had no knowledge of this, of
the planning, the execution, or anything about it. And then I first found
out about it after it was over. And even then, what I was told was that it
was a traffic study.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yesterday after Wildstein`s letter was made public, Governor
Christie`s office put out a statement. Quote, "Mr. Wildstein`s lawyer
confirms what the governor has said all along. He had absolutely no prior
knowledge of the lane closures before they happened or whatever Mr.
Wildstein`s motivations were for closing them to begin with. As the
governor said in the December 13th press conference, he only first learned
lanes were closed when it was reported by the press. And as he said in his
January 9th conference, had no indication that this was anything other than
a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th." The
governor denies Mr. Wildstein`s lawyer`s other assertions.
Joining me now is Steve Kornacki, host of MSNBC`s "Up with Steve Kornacki."
Robert Traynham, MSNBC contributor and former Bush-Cheney senior adviser.
Bob Herbert, who is distinguished senior fellow at Demos, and Ari Melber,
co-host of MSNBC`s "The Cycle," and a correspondent for "The Nation."
Steve, I want to start with you on this news by reading you actually the
latest statement that came after the one that I just discussed from
Governor Christie. This one came in last night from the governor`s
spokesman, Collin Reed, saying "just to clear up any lingering confusion,
Governor Christie has said each time that he has been asked that when he
first learned about the closings of the lanes on the GWB from press
accounts after the instance was over. So he wants to clear up confusion,
but that seems to be just what we have here, this idea that the timeline is
murky. Is that what`s happening?
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yes. Now, after it was reported, that takes
you to September 13th. The closure went into effect September 9th.
They`re now saying after the reports came in the press, September 13th, the
inquiries came in on September 12th. It was very confusing yesterday when
the original Christie statement came out. Because what Wildstein had said
-- what Wildstein`s lawyer had said in that letter was that evidence
existed Christie knew while the closures were going -- were taking place.
And then the initial Christie statement said this is consistent, Christie
has never said he knew beforehand. Those are two very different things.
We were just talking about this on the show before this. It also raises
the question of, okay, if Christie became aware of this in any way while it
was playing out, to take four months basically to go from an awareness and
being told, maybe originally this is a traffic study, to seeing the
skepticism in the press reports, those press reports are very skeptical
about what kind of traffic study this actually was, to never showing any
curiosity to get to the bottom of this over the next four months, I think
that`s why people -- people are still stuck on that press conference that
came on January 9th, because there was some common sense missing from his
explanation, and I think everything that has come out since then just fed
into this idea that there`s something else going on here.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, Ari, we try as we are looking at this moment at
Nerdland and all the team and we`re kind of trying to parse all of this, we
don`t have an attorney on the team, in Nerdland, but you`re an attorney.
So part of what I wanted to get from you is as you`re looking at these
documents and the way that it`s parsed, particular language, evidence
exists. Right? And more than anything, the fact that this is part of a
claim on costs to be paid that are legal costs. I think there`s -- on the
one hand there`s this feeling of it`s not right, whatever it is we`re
hearing from the governor, but it also feels a little icky what we`re
hearing from the Wildstein team here.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC: Right. And if you`re watching this at home, and
saying, OK, on the one hand, there is a simple storyline here, which is
accusations of the abuse of power, and yet it`s built on all these complex
technical situations, what we around the building often call the Kornacki
stuff, which is all these details you have to get your arms around.
Well, if that sounded technical, wait until we get into the bylaws of the
Port Authority. Because that`s what this letter is a fight about. And the
bylaws state, very seemingly simply, that if you are in legal trouble for
acting within the scope of your employment, for doing your job at the Port
Authority, you will have your defense and your indemnification and your
legal fees basically probably covered, even if you`re a former employee.
But then they have this other piece. And this is what this fight is about,
although it`s sub rosa, it`s not actually in the letter itself. It also
says that to get that lawyer fee covered, you`d have to have the full
cooperation of the person -- in this case Wildstein -- in the defense of
the action at issue.
Well, we know that well behind this letter on the phone and in whatever
discussions they`re having, that goes to the heart of this. Is this
someone who`s actually going to turn and not defend whatever it was that
occurred or didn`t occur, act or omission is the way they talk about it in
the law. That is the predicate for this dispute.
And what we are seeing here, even if you didn`t understand all that or
don`t care about the bylaws, what we`re seeing here is a guy who has tried
every other way to get his fees covered and hasn`t gotten them covered.
And alleges in this letter that it seems that Mr. Baroni is getting more
legal support. And what he`s doing is throwing down the gauntlet and
saying, look, if you`re leaving me out in the cold, it`s going to get
worse. That`s what his lawyer is saying. And he may have every right to
do that. What he`s also looking for obviously is immunity.
So that is the conflict that undergirds this back and forth.
To me, the biggest thing in the letter was not so much the statements --
he`s alluded before to the fact that he may disagree, but rather he claims
to have some evidence. We need to know what that is.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Steve, how, given that part of the politics of this,
maybe not so much the law of this, but the politics of this has to do with
the credibility of these two men. You worked with Wildstein. How credible
do you think he is on this notion that there is evidence that exists?
KORNACKI: The thing we were just talking about with Brian Murphy in the
last show who also worked for Wildstein, is Wildstein is a very long-term
strategic thinker. Wildstein is somebody who prepares for contingencies.
He doesn`t -- I can`t imagine that David Wildstein ever thought he`d be in
this exact position, but I can imagine that David Wildstein is the kind of
person who thought he might be in a position where he is going -- a
position like this, where this is the kind of guy who saves documents, who
And the thing I always remind people of is think about his role in New
Jersey politics. When I knew him and the people in New Jersey knew him, he
was the anonymous editor of the premiere state source for state political
news. He cultivated sources, high-level sources on both sides of the
aisle. He was very good at doing that anonymously. He had -- he has 15
years of e-mails from people way up the ranks in New Jersey politics, who
were spilling their souls to him. I mean, I`m sure he could take my e-
mails alone and humiliate me with them. But that`s the kind of stuff he
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. Stick with us. We`re going to take a quick
break. When we come back, I want to talk a little more about some fresh
reporting Steve did this morning on another political aspect impacting
Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey. I`m going to get into that next.
HARRIS-PERRY: A scrutiny over a variety of stories in New Jersey politics
continues. It was reported this week that $6 million of Hurricane Sandy
recovery money was spent on a politically connected senior center in
Belleville, New Jersey. A town that was far less affected by the storm
than coastal areas of the state. Steve Kornacki has new reporting on the
story. Steve, what have you found?
KORNACKI: Right, so we looked at this. This is $6 million in Sandy funds
that we just found out, it was Sandy funds paying for this senior citizen
complex in Belleville. Not Belleville not hit nearly as hard. I mean,
everybody was affected in New Jersey by Sandy, but this relatively speaking
was not hit like the coast, like Hoboken, like places like that. Yet $6
million in Sandy money is going to this long planned senior complex in the
The story we wondered was why did it take until the end of January 2014 for
this project that was announced in May of 2013 for people to realize this
was Sandy money? What this gets to is, there was a law that was put on the
books in New Jersey, as all that federal money started coming in last year,
last March, March of 2013. It`s basically the Integrity Monitor Act of
2013, where any project worth more than $5 million, any project where more
than $5 million is involved, is supposed to have an independent integrity
monitor assigned to it. And that monitor will do auditing, that monitor
will make sure that the project is going according to plan, there is no
waste, fraud and abuse, will issue quarterly reports that are immediately
to be on file with the state legislature. Will alert the attorney general
in the state immediately if there`s any suspicion of any malfeasance going
on. So we called the state legislature, we said, well, can we have the
quarterly reports, quarter three and quarter four? Let`s see what was
going on with the monitoring. Well, there are no reports for quarter
three, there are no reports for quarter four.
We called the administration. It takes us a long time to get this from the
administration. What we finally get from the administration is they`re
telling us that this law that was passed in March of 2013 that has a note
at the bottom that it goes into effect immediately, it`s not until January,
this month, that they say we are now in the process of assigning monitors.
Assigning monitors is beginning this month. So we wrote back and we said,
"if we are understanding you correctly, this law was passed in March and
you are not putting the monitors in place until January." We did not hear
back when we wrote that then. But it`s highly suspicious if for no other
reason that it`s January that suddenly all of these stories about you know,
there`s this HGI contract for $68 million that was mysteriously canceled,
there`s the Belleville, there`s the Hoboken story. And now the
administration says, okay, we`re putting this in place. First report is
due in a few months.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Robert, I want to ask you in part on the language we
just heard Steve use, which is it is highly suspicious, that. So there`s
going to be continuing investigation. There`s going to be potentially
criminal or civil, whatever else, however that`s going to play out. But in
the meantime, there is politics. And politics does not necessarily wait
for juries and judges to make all of their decisions.
For the Republican Party in particular that has Christie at the head of the
RGA, how problematic is this suspicion? How politically damaging is this?
No matter what the final outcome is.
ROBERT TRAYNHAM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It depends on who you ask. If you ask
a lot of moderate Republicans, they are still very much in support of
Christie. You take a look at Rudy Giuliani and some of the other folks,
they`ve been very vocal in support of Christie. However, if you asked a
Mitch McConnell, if you ask a Rand Paul, if you ask someone that`s a little
bit more on the Tea Party wing of the party or have a Tea Party challenger,
they`ve been very, very, quiet about Christie. Here`s why.
HARRIS-PERRY: Isn`t that opportunistic? That`s not about this. This is
because they were already critical of Christie.
TRAYNHAM: That`s right. They never liked him in the first place.
However, this is just icing on the cake. Fast forward to 2016. Can you
see, running for president is a two-part process, right? It`s the
Republican primary, which are evangelicals, which historically come out in
higher numbers than the moderate Republicans.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Southern.
TRAYNHAM: Can you see Chris Christie running against Rick Santorum in the
South Carolina primary? I`m not sure, I`m not sure Chris Christie wins
MELBER: I think it goes deeper than that. I agree with what you`re
saying, but it goes deeper in the sense that the popular kid always has a
glass jaw, if he`s just popular but not believed in. This is my point.
The central argument here, indeed the genesis of the alleged bullying in
the first place, is popularity, right? And electability. It is not I`m
the most conservative on the national stage. It is not I`m the most
libertarian. It isn`t even I`m the guy who goes at Obama the hardest,
which we know is what a lot of Republicans have been selling lately. No.
It`s none of those anger points and passion points. Right? It is a
transference argument. I am popular here. I have a New Jersey coalition.
I can appeal to Democrats, I can appeal to women voters. Which he did by
the way in the re-election. So this is my point on the vulnerability.
When that starts to fade, there isn`t anything underneath it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So that means we have got to keep our eye on two things.
Both what happens when the popular kid is now no longer popular and
popularity was the thing that made him valuable to the RJ (ph) in terms of
his ability to build a winning coalition of 270 electoral votes,
ultimately, right? And then the second piece is what is actually
happening, especially on these questions of whether or not there was
corruption, whether or not there was knowledge, and whether or not the
policies that were implemented harmed people who were trying to recover
from a disaster.
Steve Kornacki of "Up With Steve Kornacki," which is very aptly named.
Yes. And it`s like my show like that. Thank you so much for sticking
around with us this morning. But up next, President Obama tells Congress
that he can go it alone, but can he really?
HARRIS-PERRY: This week President Obama has been acting on the pledge he
made to Congress during Tuesday night`s State of the Union.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America does not stand still
and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without
legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that`s what
I`m going to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: After a year of failed attempts at seeking bipartisan middle
ground to advance his second-term agenda, President Obama is making an end-
run around the Republican-controlled House of Representatives by using the
power of the executive order. But despite the president`s big talk about
going rogue, the scope of his power to change policy reflects a more modest
reality. Using executive action to advance his agenda is the best he can
do with the divided government and the clock running down on his second
term. But it is far from a panacea. President Obama acknowledges as much
with the limited scope of his proposals. Like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: In the coming weeks, I will issue an executive order requiring
federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of
at least $10.10 an hour.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s great. And the president`s order will create
meaningful changes. But it only applies to new workers. And it only
applies to federal contract employees. And President Obama`s other
proposals faced similar limitations. Yesterday, he brought the heads of
major corporations to the White House to pledge not to discriminate against
the long-term unemployed. But a voluntary pledge is no replacement for
policy. And while the long-term unemployed are waiting for a call back,
they`re also waiting on the federal unemployment aid that Congress has
failed to extend.
Then there`s the biggest barrier for any president who pushes forward with
the pejorative of executive action -- prerogative of executive action. The
possibility that the next person in the Oval Office could push those
accomplishments right back. It`s exactly what President Obama did as soon
as he took office in 2009. On his very first day on the job, the president
immediately reversed two policies enacted by President George W. Bush, one
involving requests made under the Freedom of Information Act and one on
former presidents and executive privilege.
But an executive order backed by popular or political will is not quite so
easy to undo, especially when it`s the catalyst for sweeping,
transformative moments. That was the case when President Harry Truman
decided in 1948 to desegregate the armed forces. And when President
Abraham Lincoln declared in the Emancipation Proclamation that within
rebellious states, all persons held as slaves henceforth shall be free.
It is the same kind of definitive change President Obama was able to make
during his first term, when he used an executive order to defer deportation
of young undocumented immigrants. And when he directed the Justice
Department to stop defending court challenges to the Defense of Marriage
This was then, this is now. This is the second term and a midterm election
year. That means the president is looking not only to set the 2014
election agenda, but also cement his long-term legacy. And to do that,
he`ll have to put in place policy changes that can`t be brushed away with
the sweep of the next presidential pen. And he`ll have to use his own pen
to add his signature to legislation instead of exclusively executive
But you can`t do that unless Congress gives him something to sign. Joining
the table is Lizz Winstead, writer, comedian and co-creator of "The Daily
Show" and author of "Lizz Free or Die." I want to come to you first, Bob.
What can the president do alone?
BOB HERBERT, DEMOS: All right. The president without a doubt has been
dealt a tough hand, and when you look at the State of the Union, I felt
it`s a tough hand in part because the Republicans have been so
obstructionist, but also in part because of some missteps on the
But I thought in his State of the Union speech, he sort of played that hand
as well as anyone could have played it.
The initiative where he`s going to increase the wages of new federal
contract employees to $10.10 an hour is significant. We don`t know how
many people will be affected. It will only apply to new hires going
forward, which by the way that was a big Demos initiative. Demos was the
first to point out that the federal government through its contractors
hires more low-wage -- employs more low-wage workers than McDonald`s and
But I think one of the big important things about that initiative is that
it puts the spotlight on the minimum wage going forward in general. And
that is something the president can push. He can`t do a lot by executive
order. But I would just caution people. It`s too early to count Barack
This is a smart, energetic guy, and politically savvy. Challenges come up,
crises come up, and we`ll see how he handles them.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I skipped in my prompter, in my brain, because the word
"prerogative" was there and I read it as pejorative, in part, Lizz, because
this prerogative has been described as pejorative by the other side over
and over, right? I was doing some kind of weird thing.
But I want to show you here Ted Cruz, writing "the imperial presidency of
Barack Obama" in a "Wall Street Journal" editorial, saying "of all the
troubles aspects of the Obama presidency, none is more dangerous than the
president`s persistent pattern of lawlessness, his willingness to disregard
the written law and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat."
But if we were to look at the actual sort of set of policies over the
years, he`s way at the bottom of people actually using executive orders
compared to all -- like President Obama`s way down there with Harry Truman.
LIZZ WINSTEAD, AUTHOR: Grover Cleveland has never gotten any more press
than he has this week. About how that was the last time somebody used less
I think, you know, it`s the thing that I find fascinating about it is this
administration knows that saying I`m going to issue executive orders is
going to get the, you know, the Benghazi jihad crazy people to be, like,
again saying this lawless stuff. And so who was he to put it in a speech
to someone who is just watching the State of the Union and seeing he
prioritized saying, you know what? I am going to sign pieces of
legislation outside of the realm of this, because these people aren`t
getting anything done.
And he knows that the extreme right is going to go crazy. So who is -- are
people excited about this? Did they calculate the decision to say this
because it had some positive narrative to the base?
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask, is it a positive narrative to the base or is
he just trolling the right to get them to overreact?
WINSTEAD: That`s what I want to know.
HARRIS-PERRY: I guess I haven`t particularly thought about that, but
you`re right. There`s no way the Obama administration this far in does not
know that if he stands up there and is like, if you`re not coming, I`m
going without you, that is going to create a backlash. Is that backlash
just what he needs for the 2014 midterms? Like, go overboard. Call it the
imperial presidency, right? And then suddenly I get my base out to the
TRAYNHAM: So what the president is doing is nothing different from any
other second-term president, no matter who you are, whether it`s George
Washington, George W. Bush or President Barack Obama. In your second term,
right about now, you become a little impotent. You`re not as relevant --
just a little. You`re not as relevant as you were in your first term.
Look, the Constitution describes presidential authority very, very broadly.
George Washington used it. Obviously Abraham Lincoln used it, as you said.
But this is a very political argument that the president is doing, smartly
so. You`re right. I believe -- when I saw the president say what he said
during the State of the Union address, I said a-ha, this is a fund-raising
effort, this is going to rally his base in the Democratic Party. It is
projected that they`re going to lose the Senate. They`re definitely not
going to take the House. So this is his way of rallying his base.
HARRIS-PERRY: For you to say this is more of a moment of impotence or
somehow loss masculinity that occurs in this moment of (inaudible) is a
part of me in part because it felt to me like this felt the most
swaggerless (ph) that I`ve seen the president in a State of the Union. And
by swagger I simply mean him saying, oh, that`s right, I`m president. And
being president means there are things I can do without --
TRAYNHAM: But back in 2007 and 2008, the Obama campaign staff, we`re not
going to do executive orders. We`re bold. This is all about change. This
is going to be a transformational president. And here you are, fast
forward, five years later, they`re doing just exactly that, executive
orders, because there is no other way they can get their agenda passed.
And I remind everyone that the Democrats controlled the House and the
Senate for the first two years.
HARRIS-PERRY: And they got a lot done. They also got the most important -
HARRIS-PERRY: Those two years under Nancy Pelosi`s leadership and the
president`s first two years are the most active Congress in terms of not
only legislation but specifically the largest piece of domestic
TRAYNHAM: But doesn`t the American people have the right to elect a
Republican Congress, which they have, that said stop, talk to the hand.
Let`s have a conversation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Of course the American people -- they not only have that
right, but they did it. But they also re-elected this president. Like, in
terms of -- so of course the American people do not elect a Congress. In
each individual district, they elect their individual member of Congress.
And what we know is that gerrymandering that occurred in 2010 meant that
the general will of the people was not reflected in the makeup of the 113th
Congress, because there were many hundreds of thousands of additional votes
for Democrats, but because of the nature of how districts were drawn by
Republican state legislatures, it didn`t turn into additional Democratic
seats in the House.
So I think the question of like, what the will of the American people is,
is in question in the House of Representatives, but not in the White House,
where they had a clear option to put in either Mitt Romney or second term
President Obama. And they put in second-term President Obama.
(inaudible). When we come back, I`ll let Ari Melber say some words.
HARRIS-PERRY: During a State of the Union address, the president commands
all of the nation`s attention, but members of Congress who attend the
speech are also looking to steal some of the spotlight, to either pump up
their natural profiles or maybe fend off primary challengers back home.
That`s why the State of the Union also doubles as date night for
legislators looking to telegraph their political priorities by inviting a
guest who puts a face and a story on the issues. This year, one guest
needed no introduction as he was likely more familiar to most Americans
than the congressman who brought him. Seated in the House gallery Tuesday
night was "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson, who was invited by
Louisiana Republican Representative Vance McAllister. Also in attendance
was Robertson`s wife, who was given a ticket by South Carolina Republican
Senator Lindsey Graham.
Robertson reportedly had many star-struck lawmakers posing for pictures and
asking for autographs, and even received what looked like a wave from the
There was also another invited guest who may have gotten less attention at
the State of the Union, but is a star here on MHP show. Joining me from
Philadelphia is friend of Nerdland, Tianna Gaines-Turner, who was a guest
of Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey. Tianna, how are you?
TIANNA GAINES-TURNER, LOW-INCOME MOTHER: Hi, how are you today?
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s great to see you. Tell me, how did you end up as a
guest on the State of the Union?
GAINES-TURNER: Well, Senator Bob Casey reached out to me and asked me
would I like to go as his guest to the State of the Union. Of course I
said yes. It was a great accomplishment to be able to go and sit in the
gallery and see the speech up close and personal.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tianna, for you, we`ve been talking about what we heard as
we`ve been listening to the president. What were the moments that for you
really stuck with you as the kind of take-homes from the State of the
GAINES-TURNER: The one thing that stuck with me that really was a take-
home was to me was how the president first started off the speech dealing
with community engagement and really humanity and the values on which many
Americans have been brought up on. The other thing that stuck to me was
how it was very important that all women are able to get a working week,
the same as any man, and also the point where he talked about the minimum
wage, it definitely needs to be in the conversation, it is something that
definitely needs to be talked about.
Of course my passion is SNAP and hunger, was another thing, and poverty
that the president talked about, that was very important to me as well as
my (inaudible) my family.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tianna, I`m glad you brought that up, because you`ve been on
the show several times. You`ve talked about the proposed and actual cuts
in the SNAP program. You worked as a witness to hunger, actually going and
talking to lawmakers, and we had hoped that at one point, you would get an
invitation to go and actually address Congress as they were considering
these SNAP benefit reductions. So talk to me about what it meant for you
to be there, and be in the Congress, but to be listening instead of
GAINES-TURNER: Well, it was very nice for me to be there. I would love to
be able to go on the Senate floor and actually speak out about my own
personal struggles with SNAP benefits. As you mentioned, it has been up on
the floor this Wednesday. And I was expecting a phone call for someone to
ask me to come and speak, but maybe that`s later down the road.
But it was still important for me to be part of history. It was still
important for me to be able to sit there and watch, you know, the dynamics
of the room, to really sit there and watch how the Republicans who almost
sat there as stiff as robots on certain issues got riled up on others. So
you know, for me to sit there, and I was actually sitting next to another
advocate -- she was from Ohio. And on the other side of me, I was sitting
next to the senator`s husband from Louisiana. So it was a really good
experience for me to sit there and be able to watch the dynamics of the
room as the president spoke.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me come out to my table for one second. Ari, I want to
ask you about this, probably the most sustained moment of bipartisan
applause occurred at the end, around one of the real people in the room.
So talk to me a little bit about sort of what the role of actual Americans
coping with real life is at a State of the Union address. Why it`s
important for Tianna, for example, to be there.
MELBER: I appreciate what Tianna was saying. And it`s something that
President Clinton took to another level, because they really at the level
of stage production made it much easier for television to pick up the
people. So it`s often we hear politicians tell a story, I met this or that
person, sometimes they would invite the guest in the box. Clinton went
further in singling them out with the advanced planning to show the people.
And it is important, because we see real people on specifically the issue
around SNAP. There`s a lot of people in Washington patting themselves on
the back for the bipartisanship that led to the cutting of these benefits.
I don`t actually happen to think that kind of bipartisanship is very
impressive. I definitely don`t think it`s courageous, which is a word we
You might say it`s courageous when you do something that involves you
taking a hit or people affiliated with you taking a hit. And Blake Zaffer
(ph) at Salon has a piece on this up this weekend that speaks to that
point. And so the reason why having someone like Tianna as part of the
national conversation, as you are having her on the show, as the senator
having her there, it adds more real people for us to have that back and
Lord knows that the politicians and those of us lucky enough to have a
voice in media get to say a lot. It`s different when you have that back
and forth. I will mention the president also in part of this follow-up
from the State of the Union went yesterday and did this Google Plus event,
which is not about technology. It`s about the fact that he believes it`s
important, his administration said so, to have unscreened interactions with
Americans, right? That`s an important thing. And that`s another way that
they try to do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tianna Gaines-Turner in Philadelphia, know that you always
have an open invitation to the table here in Nerdland. And I`m so excited
to learn that you had the opportunity to go to the State of the Union.
GAINES-TURNER: Thank you so much for having me again on the show. It`s a
pleasure for me to be here. And thank you so much for those sitting around
the roundtable who was engaging in this tough conversation in which we`re
having about SNAP and political and hunger and poverty. This is one of the
many conversations that we need to have, and we need to have many more like
this with both aisles of the table, to be able to speak out about those who
are suffering firsthand with SNAP and poverty and low wages.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. Thank you so much.
And up next, if there is one of the president`s administration that has
proven it will act and act in a big way, it`s the Attorney General Eric
Holder`s Justice Department. The latest move out of the DOJ is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week Congress began considering a bill that would allow
low-level drug offenders who are serving long sentences to petition judges
for early release. While Congress is busy considering, President Obama is
taking action. It`s part of his administration`s efforts to undo the
outcome of sentencing disparities caused by harsh drug laws. But Justice
Department has began working to reverse that trend. On Thursday, Deputy
Attorney General James Cole asked defense attorneys around the country for
help in seeking out non-violent, low-level drug offenders whose crimes
might carry a shorter sentence today. Cole announced that DOJ has
requested those attorneys to help offenders petition the president for
early release. The move comes just a month after President Obama commuted
the sentence of eight people who were serving long terms for offenses
related to crack cocaine.
So, Bob, this has been -- you have been reporting and working on the
question of the disparities in drug sentencing and the impact in urban
communities, especially communities of color. How big a difference could
these new policies make?
HERBERT: These new policies could make a big difference. And it`s almost
like the initiative on the low wage contract workers. It`s the first step
on a big issue that needs to be followed through on. And once again, this
is another initiative that -- you know, people have been critical of the
president, and I`ve been one of them over a period of years. But this is
an important issue, and when he does something where you`re supposed to
give him a little bit of applause, and it`s time to stand up and stand up
and do it. I think that this is a big deal.
HARRIS-PERRY: Especially given that in this case, he`s taking the go it
alone. Right? He`s saying, OK, yes, there may be some congressional
action coming, but until there is, this Department of Justice is willing to
move forward. DOJ has been pretty aggressive over the course of the past
MELBER: I would say very much so. What you had last year was an executive
action, reprioritizing how they look at individual marijuana users in
addition to a change on mandatory minimum sentences, which is one of the
most racially disparate types of punishment we have in this country. The
data shows that, the president and Eric Holder have spoken about that. So
has Senator Rand Paul, so have other libertarians who look at this in a
fair-minded way, and I think the credit goes widely on that. And then when
you say what`s happening this week, yes. This vote out of the Senate
Judiciary Committee on the Smarter Sentencing Act, this was not a party-
line vote, this was not a close vote. This was 13-5. To fundamentally
change the way we approach the war on drugs. And as you know and some
folks in the audience know, I got to sit down with Eric Holder a week ago
Thursday to talk about some of these smart on crime reforms. We were at--
HARRIS-PERRY: I was throwing things at the TV. No, I`m just kidding.
MELBER: We were at a veterans court. What is a veterans court? It is a
new initiative. There are two federal courts, and Eric Holder is saying we
need more of them. They use the drug court model to take the people that
we were just talking about, who come home and serve for us. And come back.
One out of five of Afghanistan or Iraq veterans have some sort of emotional
mental strain or PTSD. A lot of them turn to substance abuse. Our
incarcerated veterans population is an echo of our failed war on drugs.
They have 140,000 veterans in prison, 60 percent have substance abuse
problems. These are some of the numbers I was looking at as I researched
this. And we were in a veterans court where those veterans were given the
opportunity instead of going straight to jail to go into a rehab program,
to use the drug court model. That`s another piece of this that again, may
not be in the middle of the State of the Union, but that`s part of what the
Holder agenda is.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me take that and do a worst-case political scenario.
Part of the reason you`ve had such sort of slow movement towards beginning
to reform the criminal justice system is because of the lessons learned in
the late 1980s from the racialization and the politics around crime. So
if, in fact, you end up with clemency for some low-level drug offenders,
and even one of them ends up on the back end of clemency having some
violent crime, having some -- then this becomes the President Obama let the
criminals out -- like, President Obama is this guy who lets the criminals
out. How politically risky is this?
HERBERT: It`s risky. And that`s going to happen. Somebody`s going to
come out of prison and commit a serious crime, a terrible crime. That sort
of thing happens. Because you`re talking about large numbers of people.
This is where leadership is really important. If you have the president of
the United States and if you have the attorney general and they begin to
establish an agenda, and then you follow through on it, you can change the
mind-set of law enforcement in this country. Just like it was changed as
you said in the late `80s, you can change it slowly back again. But you
have to make the start.
MELBER: The point also is we don`t do it anecdotally. We look at the
HARRIS-PERRY: But not in a political campaign, you don`t. Right? So I
agree. The problem is that Willie Horton shows up, it`s not about whether
or not -- so I agree.
MELBER: That`s why -- that also is why the 13-5 vote is important. And
Holder (inaudible) working with the Republicans. Look, Senator Mike Lee is
wrong about certain things. People have a certain Tea Party association
with him. He is right on this. And he and Holder had a very good
exchange. When you talk about bipartisanship, this is a piece of that,
because they can stand together on the reform and the results.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s exactly what I want to come back with, is a question
about how the libertarian aspects actually end up allowing this to be a
space that is bipartisan when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back. We`re continuing to talk about the fact that
the president in the State of the Union said he was going to take some
action on his own. Now the Department of Justice, working along with the
president, to potentially change what`s going on with sentencing. It does
feel to me like part of the space that`s made here is from the kind of
libertarian, Tea Party aspect that says less government, you know, and
particularly less government in these ways, is this the thing that allows
this aspect of the Republican Party to fall in line or to be supportive of
TRAYNHAM: Absolutely. At the end of the day, whether it`s libertarianism
or conservatism, no one wants the government in your life in that context.
When you take a look at --
HARRIS-PERRY: -- just want it in your life about the pregnancy.
TRAYNHAM: But that`s different, because there`s a life involved. For some
people. But having said that, when you look at Rand Paul -- we can talk
about that on another show.
HARRIS-PERRY: Actually at 11:00 we`ll talk about it.
TRAYNHAM: When you are talking about Rand Paul and when you take a look at
Cory Booker, two polar opposites from a philosophical standpoint have come
together -- I think it was a Twitter conversation they`ve had -- about
reforming the hemp laws and marijuana laws. There`s something to be said
about that, because from a philosophical standpoint, you have two people
that are saying, OK, we disagree on everything else, but when it comes to
reforming our mandatory drug sentencing laws, something needs to be done.
That`s a good thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: It does strike me as a good thing. It`s also as I think
about the strange bedfellows made by this set of policies, I typically
don`t like states right arguments, but it does feel like the opening up in
the laboratories of the states for sort of more libertarian set of drug
laws is part of what`s allowing space now for these federal laws to change.
WINSTEAD: I mean, for me when I look at it and not knowing a whole lot
about it, so we start at a court and then the judge said no, and then
there`s all of a sudden there is not enough judges on courts. So as you
move your way up in looking at how these laws play out, like, is it going
to be like yes, that`s a great idea until we need to start filling some of
these court spaces on another level, and then what kind of -- which
president is going to get to fill those spaces. And then you have to
appeal if something has happened to you that`s not there.
MELBER: That`s why mandatory minimums were so problematic. They are
mandatory, it doesn`t matter who the judge was. You had judges saying,
speaking out saying I`m being forced to apply this five-year sentence to a
17-year-old kid who was in the car. They didn`t find anything on him. He
didn`t do anything, but this is the way these triggers kick in.
To Robert`s point into conversation we were having before the break. Yes.
There is a political undertone here. And it`s been here since Richard
Nixon said in the law and order campaign of 1968, vote like your life
depended on it. And to Michael Dukakis and a lot of other national
But let`s be clear. Both parties ultimately are for that prosecution, both
parties came through. The Reagan mandatory minimums on drug sentences,
which were some of the most extreme. The criminologists (inaudible) too
far. The first one in the Reagan era in the `80s passed by over 90 votes
in the Senate. We started this war on drugs as a bipartisan matter, and
we`re going to have to end it in a bipartisan matter. We`re going to have
to have people stand together to Bob Herbert`s point, which is true as a
matter of statistics, there will be a case out there that can make it an
attack ad. But it`s an ad that would work equally against Rand Paul and
Mike Lee and Dick Durbin and Barack Obama. And when we get to that point
and we say we are not going to live in the shadow, in the undertow of that
politics of fear, because we can see the statistics and the recidivism
rates bear out that we are a safer country. And this is what James Cole
said in his speech this week, to your point, and what they`re already doing
on executive action. We`re a safer country when we come up with solutions,
rather than perpetuating a cycle of jail.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ari Melber, thank you so much for being here. Good luck
MELBER: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: -- the Seattle Seahawks in the big game.
MELBER: From the Seahawks to Macklemore, it`s a big year for Seattle.
HARRIS-PERRY: I did not know that you went to the same high school as
Macklemore. I`m having -- I got to have some emotions about that.
MELBER: You`re having feelings.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m having feelings about that. Bob Herbert, thank you so
much for being here. Lizz and Rob are going to hang around and talk about
the little tiny government on the end of the transvaginal ultrasound when
we come back. And coming up next, I`m going to take a careful look at how
our political leaders are talking to women. There`s been a lot made of
this lately, and I want to hone in on the differences between presenting
policy and attempting to create a personal imperative. More Nerdland at
the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
It has been well-documented that a few members of the Republican Party have
had some challenges when it comes to talking to or about or in the general
vicinity of women. The National Republican Congressional Committee and
aides to speaker of the House even held meetings on how members should talk
about women on the campaign trail and constituents.
As John Boehner put it, some of our members just aren`t as sensitive as
they ought to be.
And perhaps that is one of the reasons President Obama relished the
opportunity on Tuesday night to talk about some of the issues facing women.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Women deserve equal pay for
equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A
mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or a sick parent without
running into hardship.
And you know what? A father does, too. It is time to do away with
workplace policies that belong in a "Mad Men" episode.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Republican leadership chose Congresswoman Cathy McMorris
Rodgers to give the official response to the president`s speech.
McMorris Rodgers is the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference and
the highest ranking Republican woman in the House. But noting that
McMorris Rodgers would give the response, Speaker Boehner made it clear
that there were other reasons for her selection, too. Tweeting, as chair
of House GOP and most importantly a mom, Cathy McMorris Rodgers set to
deliver GOP address.
McMorris remarks included details of her own life story. Here she is
talking about the vision for equal opportunity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), WASHINGTON: It`s a vision that is fair
and offers the promise of a better future for every American. If you would
have told me as a little girl that I would one day put my hand on the Bible
and be sworn in as the 200th woman to serve in the House of
Representatives, I wouldn`t have thought it possible.
I grew up working on my family`s orchard and fruit stand in Kettle Falls, a
small town in eastern Washington, getting up before dawn with my brother to
pick apples. My dad drove a school bus and my mom worked as a part-time
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the response was light on the policy specifics, but
State of the Union rebuttals generally are light. But there`s a difference
represented in Tuesday night`s speeches. That comes down to policy versus
the personal. President Obama spoke about family leave and equal pay,
policy issues that affect women disproportionately.
Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers spoke about being, quote, "a girl that
worked at the McDonald`s drive-thru to pay for college."
Now, she`s doing what good politicians do, connecting on a personal level.
When Speaker Boehner talks about reaching out to women, he talks about
making his caucus more sensitive. When speakers of the Republican National
Committee meeting talked about reclaiming the rhetoric of the women, they
talked about individual women who were smart and capable and who don`t need
the government to do things like guaranteed them birth control.
One thing appears certain. Whether they are talking policy, sharing their
personal stories or just plane pandering, politicians of all kinds are
intent on attracting women voters.
At the table is Lizz Winstead, writer, comedian and author of "Lizz Free or
Die", Robert Traynham, former Bush-Cheney senior advisor and an MSNBC
contributor, Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, a global movement to end
violence against women and girls, and Kimberle Crenshaw, a professor of law
at UCLA and Columbia University, and also a member of the board at V-Day.
So, it`s so nice to have everybody here. So, I want to -- I just want to
start with this sort of notion, Kim, about starting with a kind of personal
narrative, that the way to attract a woman to vote for you, to be part of
your party is to tell a story about your life as a woman. How sort of
effective do you think that is?
KIMBERLE CRENSHAW, LAW PROFESSOR, UCLA: Well, obviously the Republicans
think that it`s tremendously effective. I mean, it is true that women are
more relational. They evaluate candidates based on what they think the
candidates will do to them, for them, for their family. But one of the
things that I think the Republicans are actually showing here is that they
really don`t have policy. And if they don`t have policy, go for the story.
I mean, this is something we know and we`ve seen over and over again.
I think the problem that the Democrats will have is being able to respond
not only to the idea that women as a whole suffer, but to be able to talk
about all of the ways that women across race and class actually suffer, so
that the strategy that I think the Republicans are trying to do which is
divide women, break women, create the myth of the women who don`t need any
of these policies because they`re getting married the way they should.
They`re having children the way they should. So, they don`t need any of
these policies. It`s all those other women.
So, the Democrats need to have some kind of inoculation against this
approach of trying to divide and conquer. If they`re able to do that, then
this telling a feel good story won`t be as effective.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is such an interesting point because it`s not, Lizz, as
though narrative isn`t deployed on left and the right. I mean, think about
Wendy Davis who comes to prominence around a public policy. But once she
starts to run for office, runs in part on her personal narrative, her
But what I really love that I hadn`t thought so much about is Kim`s point
that it`s a difference between the good girl versus a bad girl narrative.
Right? Well, I did the right things and therefore I`ve had good outcomes.
Versus Wendy Davis who`s like I made lots of mistakes and had lots of
challenges. I`m trying to make sure you can make mistakes and have
challenges but still be safe and OK.
LIZZ WINSTEAD, WRITER, AUTHOR, COMEDIAN: And what mistakes are judged as
character flaws and what mistakes are not. And what I found so telling
about McMorris Rodgers` rebuttal, no one disagrees that it didn`t have
policy. It was a personal narrative.
But when you know your party is having this incredible problem with the
optics of how you view women, the opportunities for women, I would think
that there would have been a conversation about her writer her speech
within that, saying let`s make sure we empower this person with actually
policy. So that when she`s speaking on our policy, she`s really selling
And instead, she signed off on that speech, the party signed off on that
speech. And she didn`t sell what they were trying to sell to women. And
then to have two men offer up the heavy lifting part, it`s a really bad
optic that just piles onto the already bad optics.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there`s the optic piece. Let me also talk about the
audio piece. I want to play for you Rand Paul on "Meet the Press", last
week talking about how there`s at a war on women as he can see and have you
respond to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: This whole war on women thing, I`m
scratching my head. If there was a war on women, I think they won. You
know, the women in my family are incredibly successful. I have a niece at
Cornell vet school and 85 percent of the young people there are women. My
younger sister is an OB/GYN with six kids and doing great.
You know, I don`t see so much that women are downtrodden, and I see women
rising up and doing great things. In fact, I worry about our young men
sometimes because I think the women really are out-competing the men in our
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, I get like -- if I`m being as charitable and I
can, right, and say I get it. That is the women are not victims. Women
are powerful. Women are empowered, right? Let me tell you all the good
ROBERT TRAYNHAM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Women are equal.
HARRIS-PERRY: Women are equal. I read that.
But then in my less charitable reading of it, it sounds like, I`m sorry, do
you not know that there is a feminine poverty gap? Do you not know that
there are -- that there is a wage gap? Do you not know that there really
are serious challenges that women are having in accesses reproductive
health care? Like it feels out of touch for him to say -- well, the women
in my family are fine.
I mean, sure. You know, are wealthy women fine? Sure. But like that`s
not what we`re talking about here.
TRAYNHAM: Well, let me say as the only man at the table, I`m going to
tread very, very lightly. But having said that, though, look, as a
conservative, as a libertarian, it makes me a little uneasy talking about
this topic because I feel it should be the individual`s responsibility.
However, you know, look, my faith and my overall philosophical thinking
tells me that a life is a life, I`m going to abortion for a second, and
thus in the process, we don`t have the right to take that life.
However -- however, I understand -- I can`t relate, but I understand what
women are going through. And the reason why I say that is because I have
women in my family that are living paycheck to paycheck. I have women in
my family that are saying, you know, there`s something`s not right that
when I call in sick, the next day that I come back, my boss chastised to me
As opposed to you, Robert, when you call in sick and everything is OK.
There`s the difference here and that`s the story that I think Rand Paul and
some -- and thank you, Melissa, for saying this in the beginning. Some
Republicans, not all, some are saying these asinine statements that are not
rooted in reality. They are just noted in reality.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we`re going to come back an exactly this topic. I`m
going to let in right after the break on this question on part of --
because I think the libertarian and ethical question around abortion is a
real challenge, like I think it is perfectly OK for people to have a strong
set of very personal pro-life beliefs and that that could be completely
consistent with a libertarian argument around not making policy that
impacts other people`s belief. So, that`s precisely what libertarianism is
meant to do, to leave faith silence in the law.
When we come back, plenty more.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve talked about personal. Let`s talk about policy.
Here`s Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, speaking passionately at the
anti-abortion event, March for Life, earlier this month, on the No Taxpayer
Funding for Abortion Act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: I can make you this promise: the
people`s House will stand for life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The bill would make permanent the Hyde Amendment, which bars
federal funding for abortion services, prohibits health care subsidies from
the Affordable Care Act from covering abortion services and forever bars
Medicaid funding of abortion in Washington, D.C.
True to his word, Congressman Cantor brought the bill up for a vote this
past Tuesday. It passed in a vote of 227-188. The bill has a little
chance of passage in the Senate and the president has promised to veto it
saying the bill would, quote, "intrude on reproductive freedom and access
to health care."
We should note that the House took out a provision of the bill that would
have eliminated medical tax deductions related to abortion, except in cases
of rape, incest, or endangerment of life.
Critics point out that the provision would have ultimately made the IRS
responsible for auditing victims of rape and incest -- Eve.
EVE ENSLER, FOUNDER, V-DAY: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Would you like to respond to Mr. Cantor?
ENSLER: Well, I just think we`re at a state where our relationship to
women`s bodies is so punitive and so invasive and so ancient. I -- you
know, having traveled the world, I`m looking at some of these policies that
are so far backwards compared to other countries around the world. And I
think the idea that we don`t see abortion as something women have a right
to be supported and paid for is absurd in this century.
But also all these measures now, that rape isn`t included. This whole idea
of rape insurance that women will have to pay more on top ahead of time, so
they`re preplanning their rapes. They`re actually knowing rape will
happen, so they`ll put that into their budgets. It`s mind blowing.
And I think -- you know, one of the things I`ve been thinking about policy
in general. Nothing is ever pro-women. We always start behind, right? We
don`t start out of the gate going how do we serve women? All women across
the board -- women of color, poor women, middle class women.
What are the policies that allow women to live their lives because they`re
on the front lines of all the work that matters in society whether it`s
nursing or teaching or legal work or whatever it is. Instead what we`re
doing is pushing women, making it impossible for them to live lives and
these are our bodies.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so what I`m imagining as I`m listening to you, I`m
thinking to myself I don`t have a conservative woman at the table. But if
I did, I might hear her say, well, you`re talking about women. I`m a
woman. I don`t agree with you and you are writing me out of womanhood.
So, Kim, your work has been around this idea that when you say woman,
there`s not just one thing that can come to our mind. What do we say to
women who don`t agree with this?
CRENSHAW: Well, one of the things that intersectionality tells us is not
all women experience gender the same way. However, there are common risks
that women face. And in fact, being of a higher class, being of a majority
race might in some ways inoculate you or make you less likely to suffer
from certain things.
But the fact you don`t suffer from those things personally doesn`t mean
there aren`t structural, cultural disadvantages that attach themselves to
women. As we were saying in the break, you know, women can say -- well, I
didn`t happen to be raped. And that doesn`t mean rape isn`t something that
happens to women.
CRENSHAW: So, what we`re trying to do in all of our work is make it clear
that there are certain vulnerabilities that women experience as a group.
And those vulnerabilities are often exacerbated by other factors, such as
race, class, sexuality. These are the kinds of intersectional awarenesses,
the kind of consciousness, that politics needs to take up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And, in fact, I`m going to talk about one of the
intersections I care about which is literally the intersection of my
We`re going to take a quick break. When we come back, I want to get into
the story of yet another state that is going to put in these strict
regulations that could effectively shut down clinics right in my hometown,
when we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: In November, with no notice or public hearing, the Louisiana
health and hospitals passed emergency regulations affecting the state`s
abortion clinics. The regulations would impose new space requirements on
providers but not one of the state`s existing five clinics would be able to
meet. Critics say the rules would also make it easier for the state to
shut down clinics and harder for clinics to appeal.
And the regulation would require women to have had certain blood work at
least 30 days before having an abortion, imposing a waiting period that
would force providers to perform abortions later in the pregnancy making
the procedure more costly and potentially more dangerous. It could also
push women past Louisiana`s 20-week deadline for portions.
This week, DHH said the space requirements are only for new facilities and
will rescind the portion of the rule. But there`s been no official notice
that that is the case. Reproductive rights supporters will get their
chance to weigh in on the rules next week.
Joining us now from New Orleans to tell us more about that is Ellie
Schilling, an attorney who advises several New Orleans reproductive health
Nice to have you, Ellie.
ELLIE SCHILLING, ATTORNEY: Thank you for having me on your show.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, tell me what supporters will be hearing in Baton Rouge
SCHILLING: We`re encouraging people to attend the hearing with us to make
their voices heard. And also people to come and protest outside of the
Department of Health and Hospitals. The hearing is on Tuesday at 1:00 in
In addition to that, they we`re encouraging people both in Louisiana and
nationwide to submit public comments. We`ve been amazingly lucky in the
past couple of weeks to garner a lot of support from both grass roots
organizations and on the national level.
I have to tell you when I first read these regulations, I was so
disheartened and so depressed.
SCHILLING: Not just as a lawyer, but as a woman and as a citizen. But
through the work of organizations on the ground such as the New Orleans
abortion fund, the law students for reproductive justice, from both Tulane
and Southern University, the med students for choice, the legislative
agenda for women, and then Louisiana women have also reached out to
national organizations like the Center for Reproductive Rights, the
National Women`s Law Center, the National Partnership for Women and
And if people would like to submit public comments, they can go to
thisispersonal.org, which is a project of the National Women`s Law Center.
And they`re gathering comments for us that they`re going to send to New
Orleans and we`re going to deliver to Baton Rouge.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. Let me come out for a moment and ask Lizz about
this. I love this language of this is personal. You`ve been going around
the country trying not only in states like Louisiana but in countries
having these Trap laws and other impositions. What has been the work of
advocacy that you`ve been up to?
WINSTEAD: I mean, I think it`s the justice aspect of access to health care
can`t be stressed enough. It`s areas where you go to -- you look at Texas
and there is not a clinic within the Rio Grande Valley. You look at --
people a lot of sometimes look at these clinics as places that they used to
go to and then they`ve moved on. And that`s a real privileged situation
that is really awful.
And sometimes these places are the only health care that a low income woman
will have. And it really feels like what we are saying as the bigger
narrative of this is you should not experience joy. Sex is part of joy.
Sex is two people have it and then sometimes you get pregnant.
What are we doing to make sure that every woman and especially women who
are in the world having sex are having a safe place to get reproductive
access, reproductive health care, information.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I want to follow up on this a little bit. In part
because these laws -- they don`t come out of the vacuum. Louisiana had a
lot of extremely conservative laws, 24-hour waiting period, requirements
clinic prove in the state that there`s sufficient need for their services.
But talk to me, Ellie. Now with these potentially new laws on the books,
just how bad can this make it in the state of Louisiana in terms of access
determination services, Ellie?
SCHILLING: Sure. Essentially the way the regulations are set up, they
will make it virtually impossible for any new facilities to open. And they
will make it very, very easy for the state to shut down all existing
facilities. And they do that in a number of ways.
One is that it will be virtually impossible for a new clinic to get through
the license application process, because as you mentioned, these really
large facility size requirements that are medically unnecessary and
prohibitively expensive and then the need you have to come ply with in
order to be a new facility. But beyond that, they`ve set up mechanisms
where existing facilities where their licenses will be invalidated and they
will have to then go through that very onerous application process.
That can happen in a variety of ways. For example, if you clinic moves, if
it moves across the street, if you change your ownership structure at all,
if you are cited with any deficiencies at your licensing survey.
And just to back up, then what we`ve seen during the Jindal administration
is that they`re citing clinics for every conceivable clerical error,
documents issue as a deficiency.
So, under these new regulations, if you`re cited with even a single
deficiency, the state can either invalidate your license or in their sole
discretion, they can grant you a provisional license. There`s no appeal of
that decision to downgrade your license to a provisional license. And once
that is in place, that provisional license expires in six months. And if
any other deficiency is found during those six months or if everything
hasn`t been rectified that they allegedly found before, then your license
is invalidated and you have to go through the onerous new application
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I think we get a sense of what is happening here.
Ellie Schilling in New Orleans, thank you for being here. Lizz Winstead,
thank you for being here.
Robert, I want you to come back at some point because we always talk
respectfully across differences. I want to talk about what it means to
have a set of values about life and then at the same time to set up
policies that would make it a 30 more days. Because -- I mean, I really
want to take seriously the life argument but then to take it seriously, I
want to think about policy. I hope you`ll come back and do that
TRAYNHAM: Yes. Very quickly, I was just thinking about this. What`s
wrong with maybe a clinic have been both options available to the mom to be
or the woman?
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I think they do.
TRAYNHAM: We`ll have that conversation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. We`ll do that when you come back.
But up next, the one thing aiming to bring together a billion people on
Valentine`s Day. We`re going to have the conversation on the break and
then we`ll do it on TV at some point soon, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: One in three women in the world will either be raped or
beaten during their lifetime, one in three. That amounts to more than 1
billion women. Last year on February 14th, rather than passively accept
this horrifying reality, 1 billion women and men came together in 207
countries and territories to say no more.
Organizers say it was the biggest mass action in human history where people
marched and danced and called for an end to violence against women and
girls. On February 14th of this year, organizers of V-Day`s 1 billion
Rising for Justice Campaign hope to repeat and surpass the efforts of last
year with 169 nations already on board, because what better way to
celebrate a day known for love than to show its power to stop violence.
At the table, Eve Ensler, the founder of V-Day, a global movement to end
violence against women and girls. And Kimberly Crenshaw, professor of law
at UCLA and Columbia University, who is also a board member at V-Day.
So, nice to have you guys here to talk about this. So what exactly is V-
Day? So for folks who weren`t part of it last year who don`t know, what
does it mean? What`s going to has been on the 14th?
ENSLER: Well, V-Day is a global movement to end violence against women and
girls, which has been around for 16 years. It grew out of my play, "The
Vagina Monologues", which people nicely and wonderfully wanted to perform
around the entire world. When they performed it in their communities which
they brought to their communities and brought into their cultures and
communities only the way they could, they -- I gave the play to them so
they could not only break taboos and begin to have dialogues around
sexuality, pleasure, and violence. And all these things that were
happening, but they could raise money based on the production.
So, whatever money they kept, which is now amounted to $100 million they
kept in those communities. After 15 years, we realized we had built a huge
global network. We`ve had many victories, we`ve changed laws, we`ve broken
taboos, we`ve brought women together, we`ve created wonderful theatrical
productions which changed the culture. But we hadn`t ended violence
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And I spent a lot of time in the Congo because with
the women of Congo, who we built this amazing place called the city of joy
which they owned, direct, lead, and really are healing and building
leaders. I was with them when they were dancing one day. And women in
Congo dance like -- they just dance the world up, and I thought, oh, my
God. What if 1 billion women and all the men who love them danced on the
same day and called up this energy of the world and invigorated our
movement and brought our movements together.
And so last year, we put out an invitation. It was just an invitation.
And women across the planet in self-directed, autonomous groups, small
groups, grassroots, mainly grassroots around the planet said, I want to
HARRIS-PERRY: So talk to me about the global aspect for a second because
the global aspect is both, part of what`s most exciting about it is how you
end up with a billion. It also always makes me feel like we operate as a
nation state. Once we start talking about policy, what is happening in an
Arab Spring doesn`t change the public policies domestically, for example,
of an American context vis-a-vis the women here, right?
So how do you take a global initiative that is demonstrative and that is
local in its own aspects and turn to like -- why should President Obama
care if women in Congo dance?
ENSLER: He should care about the women dancing in this country. They`re
dancing in all 50 states -- they`re dancing in colleges, they`re dancing in
town halls, they`re dancing courthouses.
And this year, the initiative has moved to 1 Billion Rising for Justice.
Why he should care is because all across the world, like last year with
VAWA, the wind of 1 Billion Rising pushed the reauthorization through. And
if you look at a place like Guatemala, as a result of 1 Billion Rising, a
law which was about women giving birth at 14, their perpetrators are not
going to jail because of 1 Billion Rising.
And when we brought our organizers together from around the world, they
said, this year, we want to go further, we want to go deeper, we want to go
into policy and rise for justice. And that is really about -- and I`m
really happy that our amazing board member and my dear sister Kim has
taught me so much intersectionality because that`s what`s really happening.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, that`s exactly where I want to go. I`m so glad you took
us there. Because, Kim, at the same moment you are all working to pull
together 1 billion women and men and their allies around the world, there`s
a bit of a tempest in more than a teapot brewing around issues of
intersectionality and the feminism right here in social media, in the U.S.
as people are having a lot of --
CRENSHAW: Pretty much everywhere.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. A lot of angst about what does it mean to be in a
global women`s movement if these women, or those kind of women and not the
kind of women that I`m with and they don`t understand or get me and my
issues and concerns as a woman are different.
How do we pull together that capacity for collective action, while also
respecting the realities of the intersectional differences?
CRENSHAW: Yes, this is one of the reasons I`m excited to be part of it.
One of the beautiful things about the idea behind 1 Billion Rising is that
women are encouraged to go to this site where they don`t feel safe or where
they don`t feel they have justice.
In encouraging women and facilitating their choice about where to go,
they`re able to put their signature on exactly how intersectionality works
out in their lives.
So, if you look at women in the Philippines -- where they`re going to
dance, some of the things they`re going to do bring attention to the
intersection of gender and militarism.
If you look here in the United States, some of the places where formerly
incarcerated women are going to dance will bring attention to the
intersections of race, of class, of gender and leading to incarceration.
So, the idea behind 1 Billion Rising is it facilitates these kinds of
things. But it`s up to the women to choose where they want to demonstrate.
And when you put bodies in motion. That`s one of the things we learned
from the civil rights movement. It`s not a top down kind of strategy.
It`s a bottom up, we create the facilitation for women to put their issues
and their bodies where oppression is and where they`re seeking justice.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. A reminder from Ella Baker about participatory
democracy, that`s strong people don`t need strong leaders. You just -- you
create a platform on which they --
CRENSHAW: And get out of the way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Eve Ensler and Kimberle Crenshaw, thank you so much.
There`s so much more, but I know folks are going to go and find out more
about 1 Billion Rising because there is still time.
ENSLER: Absolutely. And people can do it in your own community. Go on.
I mean, people are going everywhere from Ebenezer Baptist Church where
they`re rising for civil rights and human rights, to Congo where they`re
rising to end war. Come in and rise wherever you want to rise, at the site
you need to rise at.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love it. Finding the funk right here in Nerdland is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: The soul music was born of gospel, jazz and the blues,
undoubtedly what we know as hip hop today was fathered by the funk. Where
did funk music anthem for so many children of the `60s and `70s come from?
What is funk, the new documentary "Finding the Funk" asks that very
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOOTSY COLLINS: Funk for me is a life. Funk for me is the word that was
spoke and this is what funk is.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, AUTHOR: We know it comes from the Congo, which means
bad body odor. So, what I love some about the black musical terms like
jazz. They`re all these curse words or these obscenities that are derived
from other languages applied to black culture. And what we do, funk is
like sonic chitlins (ph). We work out all the nastiness in the grease and
we take it and process it and make something out of it, something bad body
odor into something beautiful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining me now is filmmaker Nelson George, the director of
"Finding the Funk" airing Tuesday, February 4th as one of the VH1 rock docs
It is great to have you here.
NELSON GEORGE, DIRECTOR: Really good to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, I loved it. My older city is visiting me and I was
like this segment is for you. Because this is where I first heard funk
music was in her bedroom sitting cross legged. They would play flashlight,
peccadillo, all the siblings over and over again.
GEORGE: That was the official music. It`s funny because everyone knows
about soul music. There`s a Motown Broadway show.
GEORGE: Hip hop is ubiquitous in the culture. But the bridge between that
is funk and funk has gotten lost in the sauce, so to speak. And the
foundation of hip hop is funk and that we have Mike D from the Beastie
Boys, we have D`Angelo, we have all people talking about the samples, the
aesthetic about repetition, these ideas about how to use rhythm -- the
rhythm become the dominant element over harmony to some degree. It all
comes out of funk.
GEORGE: Yet funk for a number of reasons has been the obscured lost cause
HARRIS-PERRY: Why do you think it`s been lost? There was a time --
there`s a moment in the film where they talk about the track "flash light"
and that no track had been hot like that. That in a club, you might play
it, and then play two more songs and then play it again, play two more
songs, and play it again.
How could something that ubiquitous get lost?
GEORGE: Two things about it. One was it`s the `70s itself which is a high
point of funk, was a segregated era in terms of American radio. So, rock
stations did not play parliament Funkadelic, even though a lot of track set
basically only black artists got a rock pass was Hendrix. So, because funk
was very influenced by rock, yet they didn`t get on rock stations. It was
jut basically a black station.
If you went to Madison Square Garden, Earth, Wind and Fire, they sold out
the garden every time. They sold out arenas all over the country. But
they didn`t have the crossover. Ironically that hip hop would have later.
There were also eight guys on stage in crazy outfits.
HARRIS-PERRY: In crazy outfits.
GEORGE: I think that`s hard for some people to digest. It`s hard to white
people to digest, and some black people too.
HARRIS-PERRY: Look back at the images, it was that`s right. There was a
guy in a diaper and all this outrageous -- and yet there`s a certain
sonically there was something about the music that`s very close. So talk
to me about --
GEORGE: It`s very arranged.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it`s very arranged. That`s the word.
GEORGE: I mean, if you see Earth, Wind & Fire, for example, they were
totally tightly arranged band. P-Funk was looser. But these bands, the
Ohio Players, Kool & the Gang, they were very loose. This was really
sophisticated music. There`s a lot of jazz influence in how they did
So, it wasn`t rock and roll. It was a much -- because it took from big
band, from soul, from jazz and it took from vocal harmony groups. So it
was a mix of all of the best of black culture.
HARRIS-PERRY: You talk about the language of the sample. How important
are the funk samples to the thing that we think of now as hip-hop. How
much hip hop are we listening to right now that are actually funk music?
GEORGE: I mean, to this day, when I hear things like dub step that young
people are into, that`s all funk. Funk had bad marketing. It wasn`t -- I
mean, I think that`s one of the big problems. It was bad marketing.
I want to hit one other point about funk. That`s the connection to
Egyptology. There`s a strong Afrofuturism, the idea of Afrofuturism, is a
primary part of funk. It`s in p-funk. It`s in the pyramids that Earth,
Wind & Fire did. It went so well.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, why in Kanye`s first album when he talks about
spaceship, if you know funk, you know that he`s making that up, you know
where that comes from. But it`s gotten lost in the translation from the
`70s until to the late `90s.
GEORGE: But look at this, funk was a very head to the sky music. Hip hop,
its successor, comes in and is very grounded street music. We lost some of
the connecting to spiritual dimension that funk had.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that head to the sky. Nelson George, I love this. I
hope everyone tunes in to watch the documentary.
GEORGE: Thank you for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: It really is beautifully done.
Up next, our foot soldier of the week is the incredible Janet Mock. She`s
HARRIS-PERRY: In 2013, the Supreme Court struck section 3 of the Defense
of Marriage Act and turned away defenders of Prop 8 in California.
Legislators are in eight states established or ruled for marriage equality,
and marriage has been the most visible item on the political agenda for
gay, civil rights organizations.
But it is a marginal issue for trans-communities, where discrimination and
employment and housing and criminal justice and health take priority.
According to the 2011 national transgender discrimination survey, 78
percent of those submitted harassment, during K-through-12 schooling.
Thirty-five percent reported physical assault and 12 percent were sexually
In the workplace, 26 percent reported losing a job because of their gender
identities and expressions, and 50 percent were harassed. But our foot
soldier this week will not let the stories of transwoman go unheard, nor
the battles un-fought. She publicly claimed her identity as a trans-woman
in a 2011 "Marie Claire" article.
And Janet Mock has since become a prominent advocate for trans equality.
Most recently, her activism has taken shape in a lovely memoir.
In redefining realness, my path to womanhood, identity love and so much
more, Janet tells her story and empowers other women to also stand firmly
in their truths.
Joining me now is Janet Mock who finishing the book this morning made me
cry because the humanity and the intellect engaged in this piece is really
lovely. Tell me how -- why a memoir as part of your activism?
JANET MOCK, AUTHOR: I think for me is because not enough for our stories
are being told and I think bringing words to explain my experiences and not
only my personal experiences but also like the political context was really
important to me. But I knew that young girls need a personal story that
reflected them, and I think that a lot of women will see will at least see
themselves in the experiences that I describe in this story.
And I think that for me I just wanted to create as Alice Walker said,
create the story I didn`t have growing up.
HARRIS-PERRY: You just a lot of African-American women writers as a way of
grounding and understanding what you`re up to here. You do Zora Neal
Hurston and Maya Angelou, and there`s a way in which in doing that, the
story -- I read like, yes, me too, girl. Yes, all the time. And I felt
that too. And, yes, when (INAUDIBLE), me too.
Is there something about the literature, about the ways black women have
written ourselves in fiction that help to give voice when our stories
aren`t being told in memoir or narrative form?
MOCK: I lived in the library and so I remember sneaking -- I always talk
about sneaking "Waiting to Exhale" home and, you know, I was too young to
read it but had to take it home. And was just having women that reflected
my image of self who would be navigating the world and the way I thought I
would look growing up.
And that was just the way for me to dream of a possibility of my life. And
those women gave me so much. So for me, the least I could do was print
their work in there just as much as I print pop culture, so that other
girls can tap into that and say there is a well of knowledge and literary
cannon, full of black women, full of women of color that had been writing
their stories and speaking uncomfortable and unspoken truths.
HARRIS-PERRY: And pop culture does -- does make these important
appearances. There is this moment when you talk about being young and in
school and being -- and everyone is being asked, what do you want to be
when you grow up? And you say a secretary.
But then -- and I love. This you were like, little did I know, what I
actually wanted to be was Claire Huxtable, right? It`s just that Claire
Huxtable didn`t exist yet, but once she existed in that public space, in
pop culture, you could say, yes, that`s what I`m going for.
MOCK: Yes, and I have to quote Barbara Smith here. In the truth that
never hurts. She says when we have stories that reflect us and show us
life, it not only shows us how better to live, but how to dream.
And for me, my reality looked nothing like I thought my life would look
like. Growing up, I wanted to be myself, I wanted to live in New York City
and I wanted to be a writer. And redefining realness is the fruition of
that dream being realized. And it still is mind-boggling to me that I`m
sitting here talking to you about my book.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, which exists. There is a lot of love in your book.
And two primary -- there`s lots of love. But two relationships that really
spoke to me. One is your intimate, romantic love with Aaron. And the
other is your best girlfriend, who is a girlfriend who walks this journey
along with you.
Tell us a little bit about the importance of those two relationships in
finding your realness.
MOCK: Well, for me, you know, my relationship with Aaron, I anchored the
book in self revelation in the beginning. And then also love at the end.
And for me, it was a way for me to also point a nod towards Zora Neal
Hurston, and to say that when we sit down and we share our experiences and
our stories with someone very intimately, that they hear and affirm us,
that is transformative and love is transformative.
And I had the same experience when I met Wendy in the 7th grade as a 12-
year-old and she clocked me and told me right away, I know who you are,
stop pretending. And it forced me to be very audacious about my existence
and to be bold and to be brave, and because I had that friend and that
mirror with Phoebe and Tea Cake, I have that in my life. And no wonder my
life is -- is so full. And I`m so blessed and grateful.
HARRIS-PERRY: And just in case don`t know, the Phoebe and Tea Cake
references are two -- "Their Eyes are Watching God" which is part of what
made the book speak to me, "eyes watching God" is also the literary books I
used to frame my book, "Sister Citizen". So reading that frame here, I
think everybody does need a Tea Cake and a Phoebe.
You need a best girlfriend who can see you, even when you sometimes can`t
see yourself. And you need a beloved, whether that beloved is the same-sex
partner or that beloved is a cross gender binary. You need a beloved and a
best friend who can see you.
And luckily, I knew your story ended well. But, oh, the pain of it, like,
when you make the self revelation, and I think, oh, god, you got to love
her, you have to love Janet.
MOCK: And that`s the thing I wanted to show, we can be loveable. And we
as transwomen, as marginalized women, period, of color, that we can exist
in the daytime and live a very full life and write our stories. And that
hopefully for that girl that feels isolated and she reads this book, she
doesn`t feel alone and that I can be her Phoebe.
HARRIS-PERRY: And thank you for your courage. There is a lot of self
revelation here. We`ll let people read it so they can feel it.
But you`re incredibly courageous, and it`s also just beautifully written.
Janet Mock, our foot soldier for telling her story. That is our show for
today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you tomorrow
morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern for an in-depth look at money, sex, drugs,
masculinity and football.
It`s Super Bowl Sunday. Nerd land style.
Now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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