updated 3/10/2014 10:45:23 AM ET 2014-03-10T14:45:23

POLITICS NATION
March 7, 2014

Guests: Susan Milligan, Angela Rye, Ryan Grim, Kendall Coffey, Jeff
Gardere

REVEREND AL SHARPTON, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening, Ed. And thanks to you
for tuning in. I`m live tonight from Louisville, Kentucky.

Tonight`s lead, Republicans are getting too extreme, even for some
Republicans. And it`s tearing the party apart. A GOP civil war has
erupted at the right-wing CPAC gathering where ugly anti-Obama rhetoric is
the main attraction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Apiece a Syrian tyrant and embolden his Russian
ally, policies that destroy our economy and embolden our foreign enemies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taking us on a trajectory toward tyranny and must be
changed.

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A class envy leftist
language that divides America.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It`s not what he has done with his user
patience of power as much as it is the precedent that sets for lawlessness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: These Republicans are all presidential contenders. They
actually believe this kind of talk is their ticket to the White House. In
fact, right wingers like Ted Cruz think the party should run farther to the
right. And they`re bashing the old moderates of the past.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: If all of us remember President Dole and
president McCain and President Romney. Look, those are good men. They`re
decent men. But when you don`t stand and draw a clear distinction, when
you don`t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Not standing on principle? Today John McCain hit back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: He can say what he wants to about me, and
he can say anything he wants to I think about Mitt. Mitt`s capable of
taking it. But when he throws Bob Dole in there, I wonder if he thinks
that Bob Dole stood for principle on that hilltop in Italy when he was so
gravely wounded and left part of his body there fighting for our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: And former Senator Dole himself said, quote, "Cruz should check
my voting record before making comments. I was one of president Reagan`s
strongest supporters, and my record is that of a traditional Republican
conservative."

Today Republicans aren`t like the Republicans we`ve seen in the past.
Their gender is more extreme and more intolerant. It`s hurting both their
own party and the country.

Joining me now is former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell and Susan
Milligan.

Thanks to both of you for being here.

SUSAN MILLIGAN, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: Thanks for having me.

ED RENDELL (D), FORMER GOVERNOR, PENNSYLVANIA: Our pleasure, Rev.

SHARPTON: Governor Rendell, let me start with you. Does Ted Cruz really
think he would have any more success than Mitt Romney?

RENDELL: Yes, I think they actually believe the rhetoric. And they
believe it because they talk to each other. They don`t get out and talk to
ordinary Americans all over the country. They just talk at tea party
rallies and right wing affairs. They don`t talk to ordinary folks.

I mean, the things that Ted Cruz has propose are absolutely absurd. Does
he think that any Americans want to see a tax system where we have a flat
tax and the richest Americans pay the same percentage as the smallest, as
the poorest Americans? Of course not. Does anybody think that, you know,
we want to have no regulations for banks and wall street? Of course not.
The more they talk like this, the more they`re signing their death warrant.

SHARPTON: But Susan, it`s not only Ted Cruz that is talking this way.
There are other Republicans that think that the more conservative they get,
the more they can win elections. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: It isn`t good enough to pick the lesser of two evils. We must elect
men. We must elect men and women of principle and conviction and action.

RALPH REED, CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: We`re really done following those who
advocate mushy, mealy-mouthed moderation.

SANTORUM: How did it work out for the Republican establishment in
following their lead nominating moderate candidates in the last two
elections?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: They`re pushing all the way to the right, Susan.

MILLIGAN: Yes, and I don`t understand it, because it didn`t work for them
in two election cycles. I mean, this is the third time I`ve watched this
litany of candidates talk about whom they hate and what they`re against.
And I don`t think that`s going to win you a presidential election. It
didn`t in 2012. And they lost Senate seats in 2012.

So, I don`t know why they`re behaving this way. I don`t think it`s going
to be a successful strategy. And I have to say going after senator dole
like that was just stunning to me, because he is someone who is very well
liked and very well respected on both sides of the aisle, not because he
was a moderate or mushy mouth or whatever he was called, but because he was
somebody who was a conservative but who worked with Democrats because he
felt he was there for something bigger than himself. They were there to
serve the Senate. They were there to serve the American people. And that
was really a slap not just at senator dole personally, but just also the
whole idea of what the Senate is supposed to be.

SHARPTON: But, you know, Governor, Ted Cruz said the GOP needs to move
away from candidates like Bob Dole. Well, look at this. On the eve of the
1996 election when Bob Dole was the GOP candidate for president,
Republicans had a 50 percent favorable rating. Now, with leaders like Ted
Cruz in office, the party`s favorability rating has fell to 28 percent.
That`s an all-time low.

RENDELL: And you`re right, Rev. But the problem is all of these
contenders, Ted Cruz, Perry, you name it, it`s all a race to the far right
because they`re concentrating on winning the primaries. But the problem
with that strategy is the things that they talk about, the things that they
say and do to win the primaries make them unelectable in the general
election.

And the reason that Mitt Romney lost, I think is because he veered so far
to the right during the primary season that he couldn`t convince Americans
that he was mainstream in the general election. Had Mitt Romney ran as the
governor of Massachusetts, the things he did there, I think he could have
very easily won. So I think this is a strategy that is doomed to failure.
By the things that they say and do during this time period. Talking only
to the same tea party-ites. They`re dooming themselves to eventual
failure.

SHARPTON: So you think that had Governor Romney ran more to the middle, he
could have actually won in 2012 against president Obama, Governor?

RENDELL: Sure. And when you think of the swing states that were that
president Obama carried all but North Carolina, there were three or four of
those states that just a little bit of shift in votes, Governor Romney
might have prevailed. He shouldn`t have run away from Romney care. He
should have said we did it right in Massachusetts. And people deserve
health care coverage in the greatest country in the world. If he had
something like that, I think he is a winner, or at least had a real good
chance to be a winner.

SHARPTON: But Susan, I understand the primary fight with the tea party
right. But are moderates afraid of these far right wingers when they have
to look at the fact they have to win elections in the general election?
Are they afraid to denounce or even stand up to these guys?

MILLIGAN: I think they are. I think we`ve seen that in a lot of the
Senate primaries as well. I mean, even Jack Kingston in Georgia sounding
not like the man that I`ve been watching in the house because he`s got, you
know, candidates who are further to the right of him in the primary. And
then they box themselves in the general. And I think that, you know, puts
them in a difficult position.

This is the third time Republicans have a really good chance of taking back
the Senate and probably a better chance this time than the last two times.
But they may implode yet again for this very reason. But the thing is
those people that were at CPAC, you know, today and yesterday, they`re
appealing obviously to a very particular audience, a very particular part
of the Republican party. It`s just not enough to win a national election.
So we`ll see.

SHARPTON: Well, governor, I don`t know who they`re playing to, but speaker
after speaker launched vile attacks on the president. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLIVER NORTH, FOX NEWS HOST: The commander in chief garbed as a Nobel
laureate, trotting around the world, kowtowing to foreign leaders and
apologizing for America.

DINESH D`SOUZA, CONSERVATIVE WRITER: He is somebody who wants to shrink
America`s footprint in the world.

STATE REP. JENNA HAGGER (R), NORTH DAKOTA: We live under the imperial
president, his highness Barack Hussein Obama, mmm, mmm, mmm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: I mean, these are some very ugly, vile attacks, governor.

RENDELL: They are. And again, they -- the red meat appeals to the base.
The base is very strongly anti-Obama, anti-the president. But to the
independents, the people who aren`t Democrats, don`t think that President
Obama has done a great job, they don`t like to hear the president of the
United States demeaned and insulted. You`ve heard that from even a number
of -- Michelle Makin and others, they don`t like it, particularly in the
time of crisis to hear the president`s savage and call names.

I think they just kill themselves do that. We didn`t do a very smart.
There were people in our party who attacked President Bush and called him
names. And that was wrong. And it`s wrong to do it. The president of the
United States should be respected for the office that he or she holds. And
I think when you attack the president in such vile and angry and clearly
bitter and irrational terms, I think you turn off independent undecided
voters.

SHARPTON: Governor Ed Rendell and Susan Milligan, thanks for your time.
I`m going to have to leave it there. Thank you tonight. Have a great
weekend.

MILLIGAN: You too.

RENDELL: You too, Rev.

SHARPTON: Coming up, conservatives love Paul Ryan`s story about the poor
kid and the free lunch. Only problem, it wasn`t true.

Also, Darrell Issa apologizes for cutting off Congressman Cummings`
microphone. But wait. We have a few other things he should apologize for.

Plus Democrats launch a new campaign against a billionaire boys club.

And attempted murder charges for the mom who drove her kids into the ocean.
Did police miss a chance to stop her just two hours earlier? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Republicans have found a new target in their war on the poor,
children. And Paul Ryan is leading the way, denigrating poor families
whose kids get free lunch at school. But his claims don`t add up. That`s
next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Congressman Paul Ryan claims the left is only offering the poor,
quote, "a full stomach and an empty soul." And he explained that dubious
proposition by telling this story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: This reminds me of a
story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my buddy,
Governor Scott Walker.

(APPLAUSE)

RYAN: She once met a young boy from a very poor family. And every day at
school he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise
he didn`t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown paper
bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a
kid with a brown paper bag had someone who cared for him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Does the congressman actually think that poor mothers love their
children less? That statement was disgraceful. And what`s more, it wasn`t
true. It turns out the woman that Paul Ryan referred to never actually had
that discussion about the bag lunch. As "the Washington Post" points out,
the story was actually derived from a book titled "the invisible thread."
And get this, there is no discussion in the book about the school lunch
program. Better yet, the author of that book is partnering with an
organization that helped connect kids to school lunch programs.

"The Washington Post" gave Ryan four Pinocchios for this whopper. He has
since released a statement saying I regret failing to verify the original
source of the story. That`s what he regrets? Really. Does he also regret
trying to shame poor families? Does he also regret his immoral plan to
lower taxes for the rich while cutting food aid to the poor? It`s time for
Mr. Ryan to rethink his priorities.

Joining me now is E.J. Dionne.

Thanks for being here, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Good to be with you,
Reverend.

SHARPTON: Let me ask you, how can Republicans like Paul Ryan suggest that
poor parents care less about their children than wealthy parents do?

DIONNE: Well, you know, you said it up front. But I have to say, when I
first heard that story, before we all learned it was a fake story, it
really bothered me for the reason you described. He is essentially saying
there that a kid who brings his lunch in a brown paper bag has people who
care about him. And kids on the lunch program don`t have people who care
about them. Now, that`s an insult to poor parents all over the country.
Poverty, being poor does not mean you don`t have people who care about you.

SHARPTON: That`s right.

DIONNE: And so, it might have tipped him off to the fact there was
something wrong with his story. And then it turned out to be astonishing
that not only had the original teller of the story heard it on television,
but that the people who brought the story of this particular kid of the
world weren`t talking about lunch programs at all. They were talking about
the problems of poverty.

And so, it really makes you worry. Because Ryan has tried to present
himself as someone who really cares about the poor. He has been on this
poverty tour around the country.

SHARPTON: Right.

DIONNE: I would like to think that encountering poor people might finally
someday make him change his mind on these things, beginning with this
notion that being on the lunch program means you come from people who don`t
care about you.

SHARPTON: No, it is absolutely insensitive at best. And you know, for
some on the right it`s become OK to attack kids on free lunch programs.
Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should students have to work for their school meals?
Send those comments over to us.

REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: Why don`t you, you know have, the kids
pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill them that there is, in fact, no such
thing as a free lunch. Or maybe sweep before in the cafeteria.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: When you get a new pet, what is the
first thing you do to try to bond with it? You want to be the one to feed
it, right? Well, same thing here.

NEWT GINGRICH, CNN HOST, CROSSFIRE: Have one master janitor and pay local
students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work.
They would have cash. They would have pride in the schools.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: I mean, have we gotten to the point, E.J., where children who
get free lunch now become just something that you use as political chips to
move around your board, to throw red meat at the far right? This is
amazingly insensitive.

DIONNE: It is amazing. And, again, the free lunch program, as far as I
can tell, has not been that controversial. Our conservative friends always
talk about the importance of people working hard in school so they can
become self-reliant. And I think progressives are for that too. What does
the school lunch program do? Kids can`t learn when they`re hungry. And
kids and their parents don`t want to admit because they`re proud that they
might be short of money and can`t adequately feed their kid in school. And
the school lunch program says we`re not going let kids go through the
school day not being able to think about their work because they`re hungry.
So this ought to be the kind of program that people who call themselves
conservative would be sympathetic to. Instead we say not only are those
kids potentially hungry, but we`re going to pull more away from school work
so they can do the jobs of janitors at the same time. It`s a wacky way to
think, in my view.

SHARPTON: You know, we`re seeing a disturbing trend too, E.J. Recently,
kids actually being denied lunch at school because their accounts are not
up to date. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: An estimated two dozen students at the
middle school were allegedly denied lunch, some told to throw food out
because of low balances on lunch cards.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hear my son didn`t eat. That`s terrible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Sylvia`s son, John Robert, left for school at
8:45 yesterday morning and didn`t get home until 4:00. Making the
situation even more upsetting, John Robert is autistic and cannot say that
he is hungry or needs food.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: I mean, this is what we`re dealing with in this country. And
they`re trying to make it even more difficult, E.J.

DIONNE: Well, what is pernicious is we`re equating poverty with moral
disability. I mean, show me any kid, let alone a poor autistic kid, but
how many kids get their accounts wrong? How many kids don`t know? Middle
class, rich kids, poor kids don`t know exactly what is going on on a school
card.

I mean, this is nuts. But there is a danger here that we are just going to
become a meaner country. And that`s not us. We`re not a mean country.
And all these stories add up to that.

SHARPTON: Well, you know, I`ve got to leave it there, E.J. But you know,
if they`re so opposed to a handout, what about a hand up?

DIONNE: And these programs are hand up.

SHARPTON: If they would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, it would
cut food stamp spending by $4.6 billion a year. Why don`t they really try
to do something about food stamps and help people get up?

E.J. Dionne, thank you for your time to that.

DIONNE: Amen to that. Thank you, Rev.

SHARPTON: Have a good weekend, E.J.

DIONNE: You too.

SHARPTON: Ahead, Democrats are launching a new campaign to call out the
billionaire boys club.

But first, you won`t believe who Republicans are comparing to notorious
segregationist George Wallace. It`s disrespectful and it`s tonight`s got
you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Almost exactly one year ago, top Republicans announced they
wanted to expand the party and reach out to minorities. So how are they
doing that today? By comparing President Obama and attorney general Holder
to the late Alabama governor George Wallace. That`s right. The notorious
segregationist who literally stood in the schoolhouse door to try to stop
black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REED: Fifty years ago, George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and
said that African American students couldn`t come in. Today the Obama
administration stands in that same schoolhouse door.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: We`ve got Eric Holder and the department
of justice trying to stand in the schoolhouse door to prevent minority
kids, low income kids, kids who haven`t had access to a great education the
chance to go to better schools.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Comparing the nation`s first black president and the first black
attorney general to the most infamous segregationist of the last 50 years,
it`s insensitive and disrespectful. Especially since one of the students
that George Wallace tried to block was Eric Holder`s late sister-in-law.
That`s right. Vivian Malone Jones is the courageous young woman shown in
this photo after she was finally allowed to enroll. I would hope that
Governor Jindal was ignorant of that relationship when he made his
comments. But either way, it`s offensive and a shameful distortion of
civil rights history for political gain.

It`s not a nice try, but we still got you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)


SHARPTON: The billionaire Koch Brothers are two of the most powerful
people in our politics. The political network they support raised more
than $400 million during the 2012 campaign. But the brothers like to keep
a low profile, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is on a mission to
push them to the center stage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY REID, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: It`s too bad that they`re trying to
buy America, and it`s time that the American people spoke out against this
terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-American as
anyone that I can imagine. What is un-American is when shadowy
billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy. To rig the system,
to benefit themselves and the wealthiest one percent. Senate Republicans,
madam president, are addicted to Koch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: A spokesman for the Kochs responded, quote, "Attacking Koch is
nothing new, and it appears to happen whenever Senator Reid and the
democratic leadership want to distract voters from their abysmal record."
But the amount of money the Koch network is spending on 2014 Senate races
isn`t a distraction. It`s a real issue. Americans for prosperity just one
of the groups that the Kochs support has spent $2 million so far in
Michigan. Three millions dollar in Louisiana, and eight million in North
Carolina.

All together, the group spent more than $30 million on TV and other ads in
states with competitive Senate races. Senate Democrats want to make sure
voters know who`s behind it all. They`ve even created a campaign website
called addicted to Koch, highlighting the Koch brothers` influence. And at
a time when many Americans feel the system is rigged in favor of the
wealthy, it`s a message that is starting to sink in.

Joining me now are Angela Rye and Ryan Grim. Thank you both for being
here.

ANGELA RYE, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Thanks, Rev.

RYAN GRIM, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Thanks, Reverend.

SHARPTON: Ryan, why do Democrats think they need to expose the Koch
Brothers` influence in this election year?

GRIM: Well, I think just the fact that they are spending more by
themselves so far than pretty much anybody else at this point. I think a
lot of what they`re doing is they`re trying to let the democratic base
know, look, this is what we`re up against in 2014. And they`re hoping I
think that the base will start kicking in these small dollar donations to
fight back against the Kochs. And what this really is about, and it
doesn`t get talked about much is climate change. The Kochs are all about
oil, coal, and tar sands.

And everything that they do is geared around shrinking the power of the
government to regulate the fossil fuel industry. Because the biggest
threat to fossil fuels is the government saying, look, these fuels are
destroying the planet, and we need to do something about it. So, you know,
they have taken what used to be a bipartisan issue. Remember, Nixon
created the EPA, and made it a completely partisan issue and they`re trying
to elevate the party that only backs fossil fuels and thinks that solar
power and wind are just complete frauds.

SHARPTON: You know, Angela, "The Washington Post" reports the network of
political groups backed by the Kochs raised at least $407 million in 2012,
and was an operation of, quote, "unrivaled complexity." I mean, how do the
Democrats counter this.

RYE: Well, Rev, I think, first of all Democrats are late on this. Right?
I think we have to look at the history of what the Koch Brothers have
really done. And part of that is going back no further than just a few
years, Rev, when you started talking about this too, American legislative
exchange council. So they`re not just new to this and just now starting to
try to buy up what happens in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
They started this on the state level, and they were successful. We`ve seen
them be successful with voter suppression laws.

We saw them do the same thing with stand your ground for which you have a
rally coming up. It`s really important for us to look at the way in which
they were very strategic, not just in spending dollars, to impact the
political process, but by ensuring there were policies on the books that
harmed communities all throughout this country. So we really need to be
aware and be prepared to fight back. And it`s not just about being
addicted to Koch. It`s realizing that Koch damages communities just like
it did when it started in the `80s.

SHARPTON: You know, Ryan, one of the ads put out by the Koch-backed
Americans for prosperity that is getting a lot of attention is this one
featuring a Michigan woman who has leukemia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: My insurance was canceled because of ObamaCare. Now
the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it`s unaffordable. Congressman
Peters, your decision to vote for ObamaCare jeopardized my health.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: You know, it`s a powerful ad, Ryan. But fact checkers have
found a lot of issues. The woman found a new health plan. Her old doctor
was in her new network. And while her out-of-pocket costs might have gone
up, her monthly premiums were cut in half. In fact, PolitiFact found at
most she would pay $2 more over the cost of the year. Are facts optional
when it comes to these attacks on ObamaCare, Ryan?

GRIM: Right. It`s an awfully powerful ad. And the Kochs are going to be
spending, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars to push this ad all
over Michigan. And they`re doing the same thing in other states. In some
states they`ve been caught using pure actors and actresses. But, you know,
their theory seems to be that it doesn`t matter whether or not the facts
completely stack up. We`re going to put millions of dollars behind these
ads, and we`re going to blanket the airwaves. And we know that people are
very busy. And the majority of people, the overwhelming majority of people
don`t read PolitiFact.

You know, they`re going to catch this ad, and that`s going to be what
they`re going to absorb about ObamaCare. But you know, if they actually
cared about, you know, whether or not people are getting health care, you
would think that, you know, the first place they could focus on would be
the Medicaid expansion. You know, hundreds of thousands of people are
uninsured today who could be getting insurance but aren`t because of
particular GOP policies in a variety of states. I`m certain that thousands
of these people have cancer and might not even know about it at this point.

SHARPTON: You know, Angela, yesterday Chris Christie made a point of
calling out Harry Reid for criticizing the Koch Brothers. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: But there in Washington, D.C. is to
have the leader of the Senate Democrats stand up and rail against two
American entrepreneurs who have built a business, created jobs, and created
wealth and philanthropy in this country. Harry Reid should get back to
work and stop picking on great Americans who are creating great things in
our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: You know, Angela, this is a real defense of the Koch Brothers
and attack on Harry Reid. Are they protecting this kind of huge investment
by the Koch Brothers to keep sustaining these kinds of ads and other things
that the press are now questioning that is being in many ways brought to
light by Harry Reid of late?

RYE: Well, Rev, I think there is two things. One is Chris Christie can`t
wait to get the heat off of him. I think the second thing is he`s probably
got his eyes towards 2016. And clearly, the GOP needs Koch money. And so
does Chris Christie. So he`s got to try to make friends where he can find
them. And hopefully they`re not stuck in traffic.

SHARPTON: Well, Ryan Grim and Angela both thank you for your time. By the
way, Angela, I can rock those glasses on a Friday night too.

RYE: Well wear your glasses!

SHARPTON: Still ahead, attempted murder charges for the mother who drove
her minivan full of children into the ocean. But could police have stopped
her ahead of time?

Plus, Congressman Issa says, he is sorry for cutting off a Democrat`s
microphone. Too bad he`s got a whole new reason to apologize. Stay with
us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: There`s big news tonight from Florida in the story of the
pregnant mother who drove a van with her own three children inside into the
ocean. Witnesses rushed in and saved the children. One witness gave this
account.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I was doubtful at first. I really didn`t know what was
going on. But once I heard the cries for help, it was a done deal. I knew
I had to do something. (INAUDIBLE) and grabbed the door, and that`s when I
noticed there was a child in the car seat. And from there I saw her. She
jumped out of her window. She began climbing out of her window. And Tim
was coming in the neon shirt, he was coming to help me. That`s when I told
him, I got them there is a baby in the car still. Go get the baby. And
they took off and grabbed the baby.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: And today the Volusia County sheriff`s office filed serious
charges against the mother, Ebony Wilkerson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF BEN JOHNSON, VOLUSIA COUNTY: And at this time, Ms. Wilkerson has
been arrested on three counts of attempted first-degree murder and three
counts of aggravated child abuse involving great injury.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: If convicted, Wilkerson spends the rest of her life in prison.
But reports she was suffering from a mental illness may play a key role in
this case. On Monday, Ms. Wilkerson checked in to a hospital. But the
following day she checked herself out again. That afternoon, her own
sister called 911, worried about Wilkerson`s well-being. Police catch up
with Wilkerson and interview her, but ultimately let her go. Two hours
later, Wilkerson drove her van into the ocean. Prosecutors clearly felt a
crime was committed here. But how will reports of her erratic behavior in
the hours and days before this incident affect the outcome?

Joining me now is former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey, and psychologist Dr.
Jeff Gardere. Thank you both for being here.

DR. JEFF GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Thank you.

KENDALL COFFEY, FORMER FLORIDA U.S. ATTORNEY: Thanks, Reverend.

SHARPTON: Kendall, are you surprised they charged this woman with
attempted murder?

COFFEY: I`m not surprised. Florida is a tough state in general when it
comes to law enforcement issues and has a very slim view of what
constitutes the legal defense of insanity, which is certainly going to be
the key issue here. So in Florida, as police officers, the sheriff makes
the arrest, they assume that she is sane. So if you assume that somebody
apparently some degree of planning, driving the kids into the ocean. The
obvious reason of trying to drown everybody in that vehicle, in theory,
that`s a premeditated attempted murder.

Now, what really happened is far beyond that, and you would like to think
that beyond the original charges that the prosecutors who actually filed
the formal charges are going to give a serious look to this woman`s mental
condition, because there is so many indications that those mental issues
were serious and actually caused what was almost a terrible tragedy.

SHARPTON: Now Dr. Gardere, let me get you in here as a psychologist. You
have the erratic behavior. You have the facts here, been in the hospital,
checked herself out. Her sister called 911. How do police deal with the
psychological questions here?

GARDERE: Well, Kendall is absolutely correct. You have to prove that she
had a mental health illness. You have to assume that she was rational.
But you`re right, Reverend. The sister called in, said that her sister,
Ms. Wilkerson was actually hearing voices, she saw demons, she talked about
seeing Jesus Christ. So certainly law enforcement, yes, they have to
charge her, take her through the legal process.

But at the same time, this is a woman who tried to kill her children. Now,
if she wanted to do it privately, she could have poisoned them. But the
fact that she drove that van into the ocean, did it in such a public way
speaks to the fact that she is very mentally unstable. If you look at the
pictures, look how incoherent she is walking around. She didn`t try to run
away. She had a blank stare on her face. She looked like she wasn`t even
there physically, emotionally.

So certainly, they have to look at that this is a woman who would want to
kill her children. Any woman who would want to kill her children has to
have either some sort of psychosis at the least. At the most probably some
sort of severe personality disorder, as we saw, for example, with Susan
Smith. So this is more of something of Andrea Yates who was eventually
found not guilty by reason of insanity. And I suspect that`s what is going
to happen with this woman once she goes to trial.

SHARPTON: Now, but Kendall, Tim Tesseneer, the man who`s in the neon
jacket in the video, he also describe how`d the mother reacted to the
rescuers. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM TESSENEER, RESCUER: I just sprinted to the van. Once I got to the
van, I could see the lady in the front seat. She had this look on her
face. I can`t strike it. It`s just an awful blank look, like a spaced out
look. And a kid on her lap. And the two in the back seat was crying with
her arms out saying, "Our mommy is trying to kill us. Please help."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: I mean, the look on her face, the kid saying mommy is trying to
kill us, the look that Dr. Gardere says she is stumbling around. You see
that, not running away, not at all reacting as someone whose kids are in
the car that she attempted to kill. Police had talked to her two hours
before this. Couldn`t they sense something? Couldn`t someone see there is
a psychological issue here?

COFFEY: Well, I think that`s a critical issue you have just raised,
Reverend, that is going to have to get looked at. No one wants to second
guess officers who are trying to do the best they can in a difficult
circumstance. But they had a 911 call with some serious comments being
made about demons, about things that would have anybody very concerned.
Then they look at her and they see something is amiss. If the officers
could have a probable cause to believe that there was some imminent danger
to the children, they would then have the authority under Florida law to do
some kind of intervention effectively under the child protection laws, not
a crime, and maybe before a crime could be committed.

Not an easy judgment to make. But one of the things that is important in
the law is trying to intervene, prevent things before it becomes too late.
Thankfully there was some great people on the scene who saved this from
being a tragedy. But if it had gone the other way, then we would all be
wondering why didn`t the officers do something when the kids were alive,
when they were at the van with an obviously troubled woman at the wheel.

SHARPTON: Now Dr. Gardere, here is what we know about especially Ebony
Wilkerson from the press conference today. She claimed her husband was
physically abusive, and she was trying to get away from him. She has no
documented history of mental illness. There were apparently no drugs or
alcohol involved. She is 27 weeks pregnant. She has not asked for any
legal counsel at this time. Does any of these things say anything to you
as a psychologist?

GARDERE: Absolutely. The fact that she is not asking for legal counsel,
the fact that we can`t blame this on her being on some sort of a bender
from drugs, that she is being physically abused or claimed to be physically
or emotionally abused, all of those exacerbate what may already be an
emotional condition that she has. And Reverend, let`s look at the reality
here. They all say, the authorities say that there is no medical mental
health history. But she just checked herself out of a hospital against the
advice of doctors from mental health issues we believe.

So there is a mental health history here. As for the police, yes, we don`t
want to second guess them. But a lot of times we have to weigh the rights,
the civil rights of a person. And so we try not to get them into a
situation of where their children are taken away. But I think we can all
learn from this that if she was acting in a bizarre manner while she was
driving the kids and was stopped a few hours before, then I don`t think she
just got crazy all of the sudden. I think there was a psychotic process
probably going on. They should have stopped her. They should have taken
her out of the car, taken the children and her into custody. But I think
this is something that people will learn from, especially law enforcement.

SHARPTON: Now, Kendall, when in a surface looking at Florida law, if these
charges stick and they go to trial, my understanding is in the state of
Florida that the proof -- the burden of proof is on the defense that they
will have to prove her mental illness if the claim is mental insanity, that
the burden of proof shifts to her, not to the prosecutors.

COFFEY: That`s exactly right, Reverend. And that`s why contrary to sort
of the popular assumption that people are always beating the rap with some
kind of trumped up claim of insanity, the opposite is true. Maybe one out
of 400 cases have a successful defense of insanity. And Florida, as you
say, the defense has to prove it by clear and convincing evidence. If it`s
self-defense, all you got to create is a reasonable doubt. If it`s the
legal defense of insanity, you to meet a very technical definition by clear
and convincing evidence. That`s a tough one, Reverend, and that`s why
rarely succeeds.

SHARPTON: We`ll be watching this one. Kendall Coffey and Jeff Gardere,
thank you both for your time tonight.

GARDERE: Thank you, Reverend.

COFFEY: Thank you, Reverend.

SHARPTON: Up next, first Congressman Issa apologizes for his disrespect to
Congressman Cummings. But today he has another reason to say he is sorry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: This week we saw a stunning display of partisanship and
disrespect. Republican Congressman Darrell Issa refusing to let Democrat
Elijah Cummings speak in a hearing, cutting off his microphone. But now an
apology. Last night Congressman Cummings announced, quote, "Chairman Issa
telephoned me and apologized for his conduct and I accepted his apology."
Congressman Issa also told a local paper, quote, "As chairman I should have
been more sensitive to the mood of what was going on and I take
responsibility." So far so good.

But Congressman Issa has a lot more to apologize for. Shouldn`t he
apologize for leading the charge to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in
contempt? Shouldn`t he say sorry for cherry picking information to make it
look like the health care website wasn`t safe to use? Or shouldn`t he
apologize for spending $14 million of taxpayer money on his bogus
investigation into the IRS? Of course he should. But check out what
Congressman Issa also said. In an interview that aired right around when
he apologized.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS HOST: Do you apologize to Congressman Cummings?

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: You know, I broke no rules, and he
broke the decorum of the house. The fact is that I did things according to
the rules, I followed a script. And then Mr. Cummings decided to have
quite a hissy fit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: He is so sorry, he`ll accuse his colleague of throwing a hissy
fit? Well, I`m sorry to say looks like Congressman Issa hasn`t changed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Here in Kentucky, we`re seeing a dramatic example of ObamaCare
success. Nearly 265,000 people have signed up through the state`s online
health exchange program so far. Seventy thousand signed up last month
alone. ObamaCare is working, and polls show Americans are rejecting the
right wing`s obsession with repealing it. Seventy one percent want to fix
the law or keep it as is. Just 28 percent want to get rid of it
completely. The law is here to stay, and with 24 days left in the
enrollment period, there is still plenty of time to get covered.

Well, before I throw my POLITICS NATION hissy fit, thanks for watching.
I`m Al Sharpton. "HARDBALL" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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