'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, April 11th, 2015
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
Show: MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY
Date: April 11, 2015
Guest: Peter Slevin, Samuel Brinton, Chris Hernandez, Christina Greer,
Adam Crapser, Chris Sabatini, Paulette Walker, Julian Zelizer, Peters
Slevin, John Gutierrez, Anne Davis, Jonathan Ryan, Kenia Galeano, Sydney
Smoot, Jennifer Smoot
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning, my question: what would
you do if you were forced to leave the only country you have ever known?
Plus the author of "Michelle Obama, a Life," joins us. And the NRA and the
GOP are together again in Nashville. But first, President Obama says it is
time to stop the devastating practice of conversion therapy.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. In the beginning, there were three
words, we, the people. Those three words opening the preamble of our
Constitution - our commitment to popular governance. This nation is our
nation, we, the people, that`s our foundation, the beginning. Now in 2011,
the Obama administration took it back to the old school. With "we the
people," a website that allowed Americans to air their grievances with the
petition online. And if you could get enough people to sign on to your
petition, the White House promised a response from the administration. And
while the administration claims that some of the more serious petitions
have provoked government action, for the most part, the site has been an
exercise in civic engagement rather than a tool to provoke meaningful
policy change, until now.
Because this week one petition with more than 120,000 signatures prompted a
response that could change the lives of many more of the nation`s most
vulnerable people. It called for a ban on conversion therapy, a largely
discredited practice that attempts to change the gender identity or sexual
orientation of LGBT people. The petition was inspired by the Leelah
Alcorn, the transgender teenager who took her own life in December after
being forced by her parents to attend conversion therapy.
On Wednesday, President Obama`s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett wrote the
White House`s official response to the petition written in Leelah`s name.
"As part of our dedication to protecting America`s youth, this
administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for
minors." And yesterday the Surgeon General Murthy doubled down on the
White House`s message saying "being gay is not a disorder. Being
transgender is not a malady that requires a cure. And had I been Leelah
Alcorn`s physician, I would have told her exactly that and that`s the
message I want other doctors, nurses, health professionals and public
health leaders to help get out to parents and children who may be
confronting these issues. California, New Jersey and the District of
Columbia already have laws banning license professionals from providing the
therapy to young people.
Now, according to "The New York Times," President Obama is officially
putting the power of the executive office behind activists who have been
campaigning for bans in other states. Mainstream mental health
professionals largely abandoned conversion therapy after the American
Psychiatric Association voted back in 1973 to remove homosexuality from the
DSM, basically the medical professions bible of mental illness.
But long after secular use of the practice was invalidated, it continued
largely among religious conservatives who maintained the belief in the
possibility of changing sexual orientation. All the nation`s leading
professional medical organizations have denounced conversion therapy as
unnecessary, ineffective and even harmful. In 2009 the American
Psychological Association released a comprehensive review of the practice,
in which it concluded attempts to change sexual orientation may cause or
exacerbate distress and poor mental health in some individuals, including
depression and suicidal thoughts.
Then in 2013 conversion therapy lost one of its most visible advocates when
Exodus International, the largest and most well-known proponent of the
practice announced it was shutting down. The announcement came along with
an apology from the president of Exodus for the shame and trauma caused by
the organization for nearly 40 years.
Still despite the fact that conversion therapy has been discredited and
deemed unsafe, it continues in the vast majority of states where it is
still legal. Which means there`s still room for the government to respond
to the final requests from Leelah Alcorn before she died. "My death needs
to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of
transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at
that number and say, that`s f-ed up, and fix it. Fix society, please."
Joining me now is Samuel Brinton, a conversion therapy survivor and
activist. And adviser to the Born Perfect campaign. Chris Hernandez, a
journalist and LGBT advocate who went through conversion therapy. And
Christina Greer, who is assistant professor at Fordham University. Thanks
to you all for being here.
SAMUEL BRINTON, CONVERSION THERAPY SURVIVOR: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Samuel, let me start with you. Part of the description
of you is that you are a conversion therapy survivor.
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me about -- that`s usually language we use to talk
about trauma. So talk to me about the trauma that is caused by this
BRINTON: Absolutely. We go through a series of different dangerous and
discredited practices, sometimes it`s in the church basement where a pastor
tells us that we can pray the gay away. Sometimes it`s a parent telling us
that if we just act more like a man, we`ll be a better person. And
sometimes it`s like my experience where you`re sitting on a couch in a
therapist`s office and they are telling you these horrible, horrible things
about how God hates you, about how you need to change, about all of these
terrible trauma specific spaces. And then they also get into aversion type
of therapies where they can put your hands in ice associating those with
pain, associate with the pictures. They can put the heat and an even
electric shocks to try to change who you truly are.
HARRIS-PERRY: The idea that that is happening to minors, and often
happening to minors whose parents, presumably loving parents, are
submitting them to this in this belief that they are fixing them. And
often because of religious belief. Talk to me a little bit about that.
CHRIS HERNANDEZ, WENT THROUGH CONVERSION THERAPY: Well, I feel like when
it comes to religious belief, like we need to think about perspective a
little bit. And when, you know, I come from a Christian background and we
think about things like sin, that`s a big thing. Christians associate
homosexuality with sinful behavior. And, you know, this whole idea that,
you know, Jesus saves you from your sins, and but - so when it comes to
like, like parents, you know, sin is a really real thing and hell is a
really real thing. You know, it`s like - If you`re - you know, I went
through - sorry .
HARRIS-PERRY: No, it`s OK.
HERNANDEZ: No, some people when I went through conversion therapy and I
went to a Christian college, we had Exodus International actually speak at
our events. And someone who was a proponent for Exodus International said,
you know, it`s a lot like having someone drive off a cliff. Before they
can drive off the cliff, you tell that person, don`t drive off the cliff.
I`m taking you and I`ll bring you back. And like when you`re sitting there
and you are listening to this stuff, you`re like, yeah, I don`t want to
drive off the cliff. I don`t want to like - I don`t want to - you know,
the whole like idea of hell is like really real. And like when you`re a
parent and you think about death and that`s where you`re going, and - like
a child is growing up, I just feel like their ideas of sin and their ideas
of hell, like, really make them go, I need to save my child.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the depth of that for me is, I think, part of why it is
extraordinary that this is a response of the government to a petition in
relation to the death of a young woman who is writing my death needs to
mean something. Right? That everything that you`re talking about here is
turned on its head and that you can end up with the American people, in
this case, actually holding the government accountable for addressing this.
CHRISTINA GREER, ASSISTANT PROF. FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Right. I mean this
is in a positive way where we can see that her death can mean something. I
mean Chris and Sam and I were talking before the show began where we can
think of this also as an opportunity for both Democrats and Republicans to
actually come together. Right? So instead of thinking about it initially
as the Republicans need to get it together, Democrats are, you know,
leading the charge, you know, on a local, state and national level, this is
an opportunity. 2016 is around the corner. And I think as a society all
of us can hold all of our elected officials accountable on multiple levels
HARRIS-PERRY: We saw it a little bit as a matter of policy just in what
happened around the sort of legal to discriminate discourse that we have
heard over the past couple of weeks. And this feels like the other piece
of it, the kind of human aspect of it. I was just at the University of
North Carolina in Charlotte and within the week that I had been there,
there was a young transman activist on campus who committed suicide. And
the level of pain and agony there in that community for the loss of Blake
was pretty extraordinary.
BRINTON: Yeah, I think the thing we have to recognize is that these
stories like - are happening every single day. I`m a survivor, who has met
many other survivors. I talk to universities across the country. And the
stories are continuous. There`s always seeming to be someone who because
their family rejects them feels that there`s no other option. People
sometimes say, well, these kids are choosing to go through these
experiences. No one chooses to go through this type of trauma other than
there`s no other spaces for them to turn. We`re watching students like -
we are watching my fellow survivors die at extraordinary rates and then
when that happens, those of us who are left behind look at each other,
going like, well, if they couldn`t make it, maybe I can`t either. So we
have to remember that there are organizations like "Born Perfect" and the
other campaigns out there working to make sure that they know you`re not
alone. We`re here and we`re fighting for you.
HARRIS-PERRY: What would be the one thing that you would say to a young
person right now who may be submitting to voluntarily or pushed into
HERNANDEZ: I guess I would just say, you know, like - I guess like for me,
I started conversion therapy around 2009. You know, I`m young, I`m 25.
The first thing like, you know, the gay, you know, being right now is
acceptable. In 2009, we`re so much farther ahead today than we were in
there. Facebook just started around like 2008 - or whatever. So it`s
like, you know, I feel like a lot of things that people - why we`re doing
with like, you know, it gets better campaigns and just saying, you know, it
gets better. You know, I like .
HARRIS-PERRY: To give an alternate message .
HERNANDEZ: . that you can survive, that you`re not alone and that it can
get better. Thank you to Sam Brinton and to Chris Hernandez. Christina is
going to stick around a bit in the show.
Up next, President Obama follows in the history making footsteps of Teddy
HARRIS-PERRY: Almost 100 years ago President Teddy Roosevelt became the
first sitting U.S. president to take a trip outside the United States. And
he went to Panama to check in on the construction of the Panama Canal.
That`s him there in the white suit with the steam shovel. Today President
Obama is in Panama making history again. The president will meet with the
Cuban president Raul Castro during the summit of the Americas. It will be
the first time in almost 60 years that the leaders of the two countries
just 90 miles apart will meet face to face for a substantive discussion.
The anticipation of this meeting is clear. Last night at a dinner for the
gathered leaders, the two presidents were swarmed by photographers as they
greeted each other and briefly shook hands. But the real meeting is
expected sometime today. This is the first time Cuba is even attending the
summit of the Americas, making it the first time that the heads of state of
all 35 North and South American countries are there.
The United States had blocked Cuba from participating in previous summits
saying the meeting was only for democratically elected heads of state. But
now the Obama administration is determined to rebuild the U.S. relations
with Cuba, an effort that was publicly announced in December when President
Obama said he would reestablish diplomatic ties and loosen rules
restricting travel and trade between the U.S. and Cuba.
The summit in Panama happening right now is the first time the world is
seeing this new relationship on a public stage. And joining me now live
from Panama NBC News senior White House correspondent Chris Jansing.
Chris, so they shook hands, what happens next? Do we still have you? Do
we still have you there, Chris? What happens next now that they have
finally met and shaken hands? Yeah, I think we don`t have sound, so I`m
going to come on back here to the table. We`ll maybe get Chris back in a
bit. So, let me say that joining me here in the studio in New York John
Gutierrez, assistant professor of Latin American studies at John Jay
College, host of La Vuelta broadcast, excuse me, podcast, and Chris
Sabatini who is an adjunct professor at Columbia University`s School of
International and Public Affairs. And still with us, Christina Greer.
So, do you think this meeting between the president in this case is largely
symbolic or do you expect it to be substantive?
CHRISTOPHER SABATINI, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I think it`s real. This is - I
mean first of all, another bit of coincidence on Panama. The last time to
- the U.S. and Cuban president met was in Panama, ironically enough, when
Eisenhower and Batista met. So a sense of that was in the `50s. So within
50 years, in which Cuba has been isolated. And this really resets not just
our relationship with Cuba, but our relationship with the rest of the
region and the world. Our embargo, for example, when it comes up for a
vote every year in the U.N., only two countries vote in favor of it. The
United States and Israel. It`s an unpopular policy internationally,
regionally and even in the United States over 70 percent of U.S. citizens
are against the embargo.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the embargo is part of it. The other piece of it is
this designation of Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terror. And now
this attempt to have them removed. How important is that? What does it
JOHN GUTIERREZ, ASSOC. PROF. JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Well, I
think it`s a big deal to remove them from this list, right? It`s obviously
big for the Cubans because it opens up avenues for trade with the United
States. I think the challenge for President Obama is that there are a
number of cases where there are questions about the Cuban government`s
support for regimes. For example, last year there was a ship laden with
cargo, military cargo from North Korea that was stopped after making a pit
stop in Havana. So there are some questions here about Cuba`s relationship
with these regimes that I think makes it a little bit difficult for
President Obama to very easily remove them from the list of state sponsors
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet there is - as you point out, strong support, 59
percent of Americans supporting diplomatic relationships. And in fact,
this idea that it is even more strongly supported in Cuba itself where 97
percent of Cubans saying that it is a good idea to thaw these
GREER: Because so many Cubans see how communism is operating in the shadow
of capitalism. Let`s be clear. People have been traveling to Cuba from
across the globe. And Americans have been traveling to Cuba for quite some
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. They needed to go somewhere else .
GREER: Exactly. Just a quick jaunt to Jamaica. Whatever it may be. And
so they understand what`s going on politically here, but they also
understand the economic benefits of loosening this relationship. And I
think it is more than symbolic, much more than symbolic that this
particular president is meeting in the gateway to the Americas to actually
begin this conversation. It`s going to be much more complex because we do
have the Assata Shakur - we do have sort of people who have left the United
States for a host of reasons and have found solitude with the Cuban people
and with the Cuban government.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the Cuban say they are not giving Assata back. They
GREER: Right. Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: She`s been here. We are keeping her.
GREER: And that may be during the first century Elian Gonzales.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. They said this. They said Jersey is just
going to have to wait. I want to go to our senior White House
correspondent who`s on the ground there in Panama. Chris Jansing. I`m
sorry, we didn`t have you earlier. Can you give us a report from the
CHRIS JANSING, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, and I think you
touched on this that the tough part is now. Right? I mean the decision
was made in December that the two leaders came to this understanding that
they were going to move forward on normalization of relations, but they
have been working steps on both sides since then to try to figure out
exactly what that means, what that translates to. One that you mentioned
is removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror. That opens a
whole lot of economic opportunities for them, a lot of companies a lot of
countries that didn`t want to do business with them as a result of that.
It also paves the way for the opening of embassies, right? Bu that`s sort
of the visualization of diplomatic relations. The normalization, the
broader picture is going to be a lot more difficult and these conversations
that have been going on on the staff level include everything from the
policy that allows the Cuban who sets foot on American soil to stay for at
least a year, something Cuba doesn`t like to a whole range of issues. So,
this is really just sort of the big symbolic historic moment that sets the
stage for moving forward, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Senior White House correspondent Chris Jansing in Panama,
thanks for rejoining us there. So, guys, let me ask another question. You
know, on the one hand, it`s great. To reopen these relationships. On the
other hand, I worry about American tourists and the ways that we can
sometimes be a plague on the rest of the world. Particularly in these
notions that become high tourist economies. And I`m wondering if there`s a
downside to our economic ties opening up with Cuba for Cuba.
GUTIERREZ: For me, let me take the opposite position here, which is I
think we have to stop fetishizing the .
HARRIS-PERRY: The purity.
GUTIERREZ: The Cuba of, you know, old cars and run down architecture.
Cubans are entitled to a good standard of living. And that may mean having
a Home Depot in Cuba, right? And I think we need to respect that. So
before we worry so much about whether or not the arrival of American
capitalism changes something in Cuba, I think we need to recognize that
Cubans have for 50 years been denied many of the basics of modern life.
HARRIS-PERRY: I hear - I really - I do - I hear you, but there`s still
this kind of cultural clash that can exist.
SABATINI: Well, first of all, I think the thought of U.S. spring - college
spring breakers heading to Cuba just gives me the hee-bee gee bees.
GUTIERREZ: That gives the hee bee gee bees when they go down to Florida,
SABATINI: But - there`s a real risk, and I understand on John`s point, but
it will boil down to Cuba`s ability to regulate foreign investment. And
sort of dictate the terms of the change. I think that`s why so important
this happens now. You have got two - a former president, Fidel, is 88,
Raul is 83 and they are all - all their cronies are still in power. They
are not going to be there much longer. So, Cuba has to start to
institutionalize so it can dictate the terms of its own assertion to the
global economy in ways that prevents it from turning into, if you will, you
know, some sections of Jersey .
SABATINI: And other places.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, you know, the president did say that the times when
the United States could meddle with impunity are now in the past. So
opening that possibility of war autonomy on the part of Cuba itself.
Up next, imagine you were told you have to leave this country and go to a
place where you don`t speak the language, don`t know anyone and can never
HARRIS-PERRY: Imagine that everything about your life is about to change.
You`re going to get on a plane, fly to a country where you do not speak the
language where you have no family, where you don`t know anyone, where you
have no job prospects at all. Now imagine that you can never come back.
That is the fate that may meet Adam Crapser any day now. In 1979 at the
age of three, Adam Crapser and his sister arrived in the United States as
Korean transnational adoptees. The siblings were placed in a home where
they were beaten viciously. Adam and his sister were abandoned six years
later when the adoptive parents relinquished them to the state. Adam was
separated from his sister and eventually placed with a new family in
There he describes experiencing heinous sadistic abuse until 1991 when his
Oregon parents were charged with 34 counts of rape, sexual abuse and
criminal mistreatment of their adopted and foster children. Both were
convicted on several counts with the father even found guilty of sexual
abuse. But he served only 90 days in prison.
When Adam was 16, he was kicked out of the house and began life on his own.
He was forced to sleep in homeless shelters and in his car. He
contemplated suicide. One day he returned to his adoptive parent`s house
to retrieve his only belongings from Korea. His rubber shoes and his
Korean language Bible. He was arrested and pled guilty to burglary. He
served 25 months in prison for breaking into what had been his own home, 25
months. Remember the father convicted of sexual abuse only served 90 days.
And those 25 months would become the first of a series of criminal
convictions including unlawful firearm possession and assault.
In 2001 Adam was off parole turning his life around. He`s now a 40-year-
old married father of three, has another baby on the way next month. And
in an interview with Gazillion Voices Radio, Adam said "I did things the
best that I could and I made a lot of mistakes." Having survived a
disrupted adoption, horrific abuse, jail time, Adam is now facing what may
prove the most difficult challenge of his life. Being forced to leave the
only country he knows. Adam, who came to the United States as a toddler,
could be deported because neither family nor the adoption agency that
brokered his arrival filed the paperwork for his green card or U.S.
citizenship. As a teen when Adam`s parents - when Adam asked his parents
for his adoption papers or his birth certificate, he was repeatedly denied.
In February Adam received a visit from the U.S. immigration and customs
enforcement officers. The agency was opening deportation proceedings that
could send him to South Korea, a country to which he has no ties, no
resources and whose language and culture are unknown to him.
Adam`s criminal convictions make him vulnerable to deportation under
current immigration law and he recently told "The New York Times," I was
told to be an American. I tried to fit in. I was told to stop crying
about my mom and my sister in Korea. I was told to be happy because I was
an American. His court date is June 18th. Until then Adam`s life is in
limbo, and he joins me, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Adam Crapser is facing deportation. He was born in Korea,
but the only country he knows is the United States. Adopted when he was
just three years old, Adam`s abusive adoptive parents never filed for his
citizenship. And now at age 40, U.S. immigration seeks to send him back to
Korea, a country he doesn`t know. The case has exposed a major loophole in
immigration law. Two Democratic U.S. senators are pushing to amend the
Child Citizenship Act of 2000 so that it would grant automatic U.S.
citizenship to international adoptees regardless of age. The proposed law
includes retroactive citizenship for adoptees like Adam.
Adam is part of the 16 percent of Korean-born adoptees without a country.
They were never formally naturalized as U.S. citizens and are no longer
Korean citizens. Joining me from Portland, Oregon, now is Adam Crapser.
We do want to note that we`re having some audio difficulties in the studio,
and that`s why Adam has been nice enough to put on those orange headphones
for us. So, Adam, can you hear me?
ADAM CRAPSER, KOREAN ADOPTEE FACING DEPORTATION: I can, good morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: Great. Good morning. Can you talk to me? What was your
reaction when ICE knocked on your door and informed you that they were
opening these deportation proceedings?
KRAPSER: I was mortified. I didn`t even know what to think. I was in
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I think shock is a response that many of us are
having in first encountering your story. So, just to help, you know,
viewers understand who may not be familiar with this part of our
immigration law, did you know that you were vulnerable to this possibility?
CRAPSER: I did not know. I thought I was protected by adoption twice.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And you`re married, so is there a reason why your
marriage yourself doesn`t protect you?
CRAPSER: My marriage -- my wife is a permanent resident that`s going
through the naturalization process. She`s a native of Vietnam.
HARRIS-PERRY: So here you have spent a lifetime here in this nation,
adopted by not one, but two American families. You have children, who are
American citizens. What should -- how should our policy take a look at
someone in your circumstances? What is the right kind of policy because I
know there were at least some folks who will say, well, if you`re Korean,
you`re Korean, you got to go back.
CRAPSER: Yeah, I don`t understand that myself because this is all I know.
I try to think about what - about that perspective, but I can`t even begin
to think about it because this is the only thing I know. And that`s
America, America way of thinking, America way of life. I just - I would
just hope that people take into consideration that I was three and a half
years old when I came over here. I`ve grown up here my entire life.
HARRIS-PERRY: Adam, hold on for me just one second. Stay with us. But I
want to come to you, because you have a son who is - who you adopted, who
was born in Korea. And as we were talking in the commercial, you were
saying people may not understand you have to go through a whole process as
SABATINI: Yeah, he came over with a Korean passport. We brought him over,
of course, and three months later, we actually had to file for his
citizenship and had a hearing with an immigration court. But - until then,
he was still a Korean citizen. And at that point, he became a U.S.
citizen. So, you know, clearly, you know, there are a number of other
things that if the parents are not adopting in good faith you can go wrong
and can leave - make these terribly inhumane situations that poor Adam
HARRIS-PERRY: And when you say inhumane situations, I think this is part
of what I - I just, you know, again, this is a story I think we often don`t
know about immigration, but I just keep thinking does ICE have nothing
better to do? Like the inhumanity of ICE is so regularly exposed to us.
GUTIERREZ: This is their job, this is what Congress tells them that their
job is. And so, you know, deporting people is good business for ICE. It
is necessary business. The way ICE is structured, their budget depends on
deporting people from the United States. And so, even if it`s inhuman, as
it is in this case, that`s irrelevant to ICE. They have quotas to meet,
and they are going to continue to do this, which is why I think, you know,
we really - we need to have comprehensive immigration reform. I mean .
GUTIERREZ: This is .
GUTIERREZ: This is another example of how absolutely broken the system is.
And, you know, shame on Congress, shame on the executive for not doing
this. This is inhuman.
HARRIS-PERRY: Adam, let me come back to you on that. Because we just
heard, shame on the executive, which, of course, in this case, is going to
be Homeland Security under Secretary Johnson, ICE coming under that, this
notion that somehow this is someone else`s homeland that needs to be
protected from you. And you are part of at least three dozen international
adoptees from places like Thailand, Brazil, South Korea, some of them are
people who you know who either have already been deported or who are
vulnerable. Can you tell us a little bit about those experiences?
CRAPSER: Yes, I speak every day to a gentleman in South Korea who was
deported back in 2009. First and foremost, he served in the U.S. military.
He`s about five years older than me, but he went through almost exactly the
same stuff I did. I couldn`t believe it when I heard his story.
HARRIS-PERRY: Adam, pause for - Adam. He served his country in the U.S.
military and was deported for these same reasons?
CRAPSER: Yes, yes, he was - yeah, he was - served in the U.S. military.
After the military, he was driving truck and his truck driving partner set
him up and put some contraband in the truck and he got stopped at a check
point. That`s what he was deported for. He deals with the physical
impairment from on the job injury over there. The conditions for deportees
in South Korea are deplorable. Most of the gentlemen that get deported
over there end up on the street. A number of different people that work
with NGO and advocacy groups in South Korea have found a number of these
gentlemen on the street with health issues, with nothing. With nothing.
CRAPSER: And these are people who served in the United States military.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you again are a father - a father of three, you`re
planning to welcome a fourth child in the course of the next month. What
would it mean to your family if you were taken away from them?
CRAPSER: We stress out about this every day. We talk about what are we
going to do if, how are we going to do if, my kids, I look at them every
night and I just can`t imagine being separated from them. I spend every
day with them. You know, I watch them grow, I watch them learn every day
and I can`t imagine being away from them for a day.
HARRIS-PERRY: Adam Crapser in Portland, Oregon. You have survived so much
and the idea of -- that our immigration policy makes you vulnerable to this
is just stunningly inhumane. I hope that your story getting out there
means that we can get some real policy change. Thank you for joining us
And here in .
CRAPSER: Thank you very much.
HARRIS-PERRY: Here in New York, let me say thank you to Christopher
Sabatini, John and Christina are going to be back in our next hour.
But up next, the author of the new book on first lady Michelle Obama.
HARRIS-PERRY: Looking for someone popular in Washington, D.C.? Toward the
end of 2014 only 44 percent approved of how the Supreme Court was handling
its job. Congress kicked off 2015 with an abysmal 16 percent approval.
And while President Obama has rebounded from his lows last year, his
approval number still stands at just 47 percent. So where to find someone
popular? Try the East Wing. Because first lady Michelle Obama is rocking
out at a robust 61 percent approval rating. She`s a clear asset to the
administration these days, which makes it easy to forget when some decried
her as a political liability. Mrs. Grievance, they called her. Overly
opinionated, militant, unpatriotic. "The New York Times" once wrote of how
she contrasted with her presidential candidate husband, quote, "She is a
descendant of slaves and a product of Chicago`s historically black South
Side. She burns hot where he banks cool, and that too can make her an
inviting proxy for attack."
But history and some hilarious late night mom dancing has proven otherwise.
First lady Michelle Obama has emerged as a likable and powerful figure in
her own right and in many ways the Obama moment is actually the first lady
Michelle Obama moment. Joining me now for some insight into this historic
first lady is Peter Slevin who is author of the new biography, "Michelle
Obama: A Life."
So, Peter, you and I talked when you were writing this biography. It is an
unauthorized biography, which is just to say, you don`t directly interview
the first lady. But can a white man write a biography of the first African
American First Lady and get it right?
PETER SLEVIN, AUTHOR, "MICHELLE OBAMA: A LIFE": I think we`re going to
find out. I think it`s for other people to say and not me. But it was
something I thought about, Melissa, every day. It is - it posed
challenges, of course, but, you know, I`ve been a reporter for a long time
for "The Washington Post" and "The Miami Herald" before that. I set out to
do on this book what I have done before, which is to listen and I`m
wanting, you know, at every moment, just challenge my assumptions right -
and press the button for the final time.
HARRIS-PERRY: Listening, in this case, is fascinating. One of the figures
who emerges most powerfully in the text beyond the first lady herself is
her mother, Marion Robinson. Tell me a little bit about how Marion
Robinson shapes the daughter who becomes the woman that is our first lady.
SLEVIN: Marion Robinson is just one of the most fascinating characters in
the book. They are obviously very different. They grew up at a different
time. Michelle Obama has ambitions and opportunities that her mother never
SLEVIN: Think of her mother growing up being born on the South Side of
Chicago in 1937. She went to segregated schools. She did not have strong
professional ambitions. In fact, her parents were hoping she would be a
teacher and she didn`t really want anything of that. She said she wanted
to be a secretary. Think of Michelle Obama, her mother was a very
important role model to her. In fact, Michelle talks about how she wanted
to be a mom. She wanted to be a really good mom like her stay at home
mother and only later, really, when she got to high school did she start
thinking about her professional ambition. In the White House, Mrs.
Robinson is there and Michelle has said, she`s a rock to her. Michelle
says, you know, I can go up to the third floor and I can cry and I can
complain and my mother says, now, go on back out there and do what you`re
supposed to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: That notion of that vision you give us of this
intergenerational family of black women, so we think of the Obama moment
ushering in President Barack Obama, but it also ushers in this
intergenerational family of African-American women. One of the things that
I think many African-American women observers loved about her before she
was first lady was the ways, in which she talked in real talk about her
husband. I want to listen to a moment where she talks about Barack Obama
as she calls him in this case, being just a man.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: I don`t lose sleep over it because the realities are that,
you know, as a black man, you know, Barack can get shot going to the gas
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Sorry, so that was actually the wrong one, but let`s pause
on that for a moment. Because I thought there was also almost a prophetic
aspect to that. Right? So, we just got our things mixed. Where she says
"Look, I don`t worry about whether or not he will be assassinated on the
campaign trail because he`s a black man, he`s always vulnerable.
And the black men`s vulnerability has become a central part of the Obama
SLEVIN: That`s right, it`s a theme that she has talked about. She talked
about it before Ferguson if you look back to her remarks on the anniversary
of Brown vs. Board of Education. When she was making a decision about
whether to say yes to Barack Obama`s presidential quest in 2006, she said I
took myself down every dark road I could think of. Now, Michelle Obama is
a list maker, she`s a thinker, she looks way, way far ahead. And she felt
that she had to think those thoughts. And you know there were an awful lot
of people who were waiting for that awful moment in 2008.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, and instead she gives us a certain kind of courage,
both her courage, but then that is borrowed by the nation to walk forward
in the 2008 Obama campaign. Let`s go back and hear the other one, which is
of, again, then Michelle Obama talking about then Senator Obama about him
being just a man. Let`s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: I`m still trying to reconcile these two images of Barack
Obama. There`s Barack Obama the phenomenon, and then there`s the guy who
lives in my house.
MICHELLE OBAMA: And that guy is not so impressive.
MICHELLE OBAMA: He still doesn`t make his bed any better than our five-
year-old. He can`t quite get his socks in the dirty clothes.
MICHELLE OBAMA: So, if I tell women, he`s a wonderful man, he`s a
phenomenal man, but in the end he`s still a man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I mean, that for me, I have been on the side of this
first lady ever since. We have seen a softening of some of that rhetoric
as she became the first lady.
SLEVIN: It`s important to think about where that comes from. Those
remarks. For one thing, Michelle Obama is very, very funny. It`s often -
that`s an inflection, it`s a raised eyebrow. Actually, it`s hard to
translate that in the book, to make her - to bring that sense of humor out.
But she was very clear early that she wanted a politician who was going to
have his feet on the ground. I write in the book that if he`s a helium
balloon, because you think how popular he was, she was kind of holding the
string. Keeping him a little bit humble. But also trying to keep
expectations down for among voters that he could somehow come and solve all
of these problems.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, by saying he`s just a man. She`s also saying he`s
just humane. He`s constrained in these ways.
SLEVIN: She is humanizing him. She was validating him and, of course, how
you connected with her in those remarks and obviously, an awful lot of
women did too.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, I have been in the past week in rooms with her twice.
First at Black Girls Rock and then at the Maya Angelou stamp dedication and
the adoration that comes from rooms particularly where there are large
rooms of African American women is really extraordinary.
Once again, the book is "Michelle Obama: a Life." And Peter is going to
stick around a little bit to talk some politics with us.
Up next, California`s water emergency may be a natural one. So what is
HARRIS-PERRY: Emergency mandatory measures are now in place to reduce
water usage in California. Where historic drought continues to leave the
state bone dry. Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order last week
ordering water use to be cut by 25 percent across California. And the
drought is stretching into its fourth year. The governor declared a state
of emergency more than a year ago. This view from space shows the snow
cover all but vanishing from January 2013 to January 2014. Now new
measurements reveal the situation is growing more dire. Millions of
Californians rely on the snow reserves in the mountains, but as this drone
video shows, those reservoirs are running on empty. According to a new
NASA survey, one of the biggest reserves is at only 40 percent of its 2014
level, which was already one of the driest years on record. One silver
lining, business is booming for water truck drivers. Many of deliveries
going to individual homeowners. Farmers, on the other hand, are struggling
to survive with billions of dollars at stake some are debating whether to
use what reserve they have left on their crops or to sell that water at a
There are reports of thousands of residents without water forced to use
portable showers and sinks provided by local emergency services. It`s a
crisis of basic human dignity that we`ve discussed on this show before, but
in another place, Detroit. You see, in that case, however, it was not an
issue of climate. In fact, the area most affected is only an hour away
from one of the largest reservoirs of fresh water lakes in the world. In
Detroit it is the government opting to cut off water to thousands of its
residents who were delinquent on their bills. In October the situation
garnered enough media attention from representatives from United Nations to
spend a few days in Detroit. They denounced the shutoffs calling them a
violation of human rights. And last year more than 33,000 customers had
their water shut off due to an unpaid bill. And while the Detroit water
department suspended its shutoff campaign during the winter months, it is
set to return any day now. About 800 shut off warning notices will be
posted to doors in the next few weeks. Those notices are a new part of
what Mayor Mike Duggan`s ten point plan to improve customer service.
Also new for water customers in the city, a rate hike. Customers in the
city of Detroit can expect to pay an average of 3.4 percent more for water
and 16.7 percent more for sewer service. To help community organizers have
put together campaigns like the Detroit Water Project to match donors with
delinquent accounts, but it`s only a Band-Aid, not a real solution for the
people who are likely to have their water shut off again in the coming
Up next, #setthedate. The Senate is coming back on Monday. Will Loretta
Lynch have finally get a confirmation vote? And does she have a secret
weapon? We think she might, and we are going to start with that, because
there`s more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
At this hour, Walter Scott, a 50-year-old father of four from South
Carolina, is being laid to rest. The world knows Mr. Scott`s name because
of a video showing the moment he was shot in the back multiple times by a
police officer in North Charleston after a traffic stop.
That officer, Michael Slager, has been fired from the police department and
charged with murder in Mr. Scott`s death. The video directly contradicts
initial police reports of the events that Mr. Slager shot Mr. Scott during
a fight over the officer`s taser.
The video shows, instead, the unarmed Mr. Scott running away from the
officer and the officer shooting him several times from at least 15 or 20
This morning, Mr. Scott`s family is laying him to rest.
Joining us now live from Summerville, South Carolina, is MSNBC
correspondent Adam Reiss.
Adam, what can you tell us about today`s services?
ADAM REISS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Melissa.
The family actually is arriving as we speak behind me. Walter arrived
about an hour ago. His hearse arriving under police escort. His casket
under an American flag, that in honor of his service in the Coast Guard.
There`s a police presence here, the sheriff of Charleston County has
arrived. He said to pay his respects to the family.
Now, I spoke to a couple of the mourners here. One of them told me it`s
not a loss because the world got to see. Another told me, this all could
have been avoided -- Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to MSNBC`s Adam Reiss in Summerville, South
Now, we`re going to be going much more into depth on this still developing
story right here tomorrow. So, we do encourage you to check us out on
But right now, let me make a shift.
A hundred and fifty-four days, it`s been 154 days since President Obama
nominated Loretta Lynch to become the next attorney general. But according
to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell`s office, there are no plans for
a Lynch vote until Democrats stop blocking a human trafficking bill over
its abortion funding restrictions.
What exactly does a human trafficking bill have to do with Loretta Lynch?
But the Republicans may think that they have backed Democrats into a
corner, but there`s another party on to the GOP, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
Incorporated, a force of 200,000 women founded in 1913 on the campus of
Delta Sigma Theta boasts illustrious members, like Shirley Chisholm, Nikki
Giovanni, and, of course, tomorrow`s MHP show guest Soledad O`Brien and, of
course, Loretta Lynch, who started the Delta chapter at Harvard University.
Thanks in part to Professor Paula Giddings` book "In Search of Sisterhood",
the storied organization is practically synonymous with black women`s
participation in social and political movements. In fact, shortly after
its 1913 founding at Howard, Delta`s march in a women`s suffrage parade,
but as black women were required to march at the end of the line.
Given that context, you might understand why many sorors were angry last
year when the national organization was directed sorors to refrain from
wearing letters or logos when protesting for black lives matter. It was
around that same time, too, when Delta`s featured in VH1 sorority sisters
were expelled for dragging letters into the train wreck known as reality
But when it comes to Loretta Lynch`s nomination, there`s no question when
the organization stands, proudly and loudly, in support of our sister A.G.
Donning crimson and cream, sorors had her back at her Senate hearing in
Is this it the issue that reminds all of us where we as Deltas stand?
At the table, John Gutierrez from John Jay College, Peter Slevin, who is
author of the new book, "Michelle Obama: A Life", Christina Greer from
Fordham University, and Julian Zelizer, professor of history of public
affairs at Princeton University and fellow at the New America Foundation.
But we go first to Tampa, Florida, where I`m joined by Paulette Walker,
national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated.
So nice to have you, Madame President.
PAULETTE WALKER, NATIONAL PRES., DELTA SIGMA THETA SORORITY, INC: Good
morning. It is my pleasure to be here. How are you today?
HARRIS-PERRY: I am wonderful.
WALKER: I love your colors.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, of course. Well, I wore them for our organization.
And actually, you know, I have to say, from the moment of her Senate
hearings, I have been -- it`s been fascinating to watch sorors there
supporting nominee Loretta Lynch, A.G. nominee Lynch. And I guess part of
what I`m interested here in is why? Why in this moment a sorority, again,
for people who may not know much about historically black sororities, or
about Delta Sigma Theta, why a sorority would show up in this space?
WALKER: Well, I think the fact that, as you indicated, why a sorority?
And I guess I would, ask why not? And we are more than a sorority because
often times when you hear the word sorority, I think that we are
stereotyped as to what that means, but we are advocates for social
activity. That`s what we do. That`s who we are.
So, it is natural for us to come to the aid of anyone. This person, who is
truly highly qualified, just happens to be a member of our organization.
But even if she were not, we still would be fighting the fight to make sure
that everyone understands or at least gets a clear picture as to why has
she not been confirmed in 154 days.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s such an interesting point. The fact that the attorney
general nominee, Loretta Lynch, actually started the Delta chapter at
Harvard University, actually, interestingly enough, along with Sharon
Malone, who was a civil rights royalty and a noted obstetrician and the
wife of the current attorney general, and it`s interesting to me that these
two future power house women as young women found it important to be
together in a kind of sisterhood organization of African-American women.
What does that tell you about where likely A.G. Lynch stands on many
WALKER: Understanding her background and watching her not only her
political career, but her professional career, she has always stood for
what is right. She has always been there to make sure that voices of the
voiceless were being heard. So, to me, why not have a person of her
caliber, who is there to head the highest position that we have in our
Justice Department? Why not her?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, why what do you think is going on? Why do you think
it`s not happening?
WALKER: I would hope that it is not because of any issue that the current
Congress has with our president, Mr. Obama. It appears, though, as if they
are trying to hold her confirmation hostage until they can get exactly what
they want. The two issues are not related. It`s mixing apples and
Why hold again the confirmation that would allow this country to move
forward if, in fact, we are for who we are and we are for justice? Why
hold the Justice Department hostage as we are attempting to negotiate
issues such as human trafficking? Which by itself is, in fact, important.
It should be discussed, but not held in compliance with the same issues
that they are holding her confirmation.
HARRIS-PERRY: President Walker, hold on for just a second. I want to come
to my table for a minute.
HARRIS-PERRY: Julian, I want to come to you on the history of this. You
know, this is now history-making in a different way I think than what is
initially expected for the nominee -- 154 days in, will the Congress, when
they return, just go ahead and schedule this vote? Has it -- have they
turned what should have been a simple nomination into a social movement at
JULIAN ZELIZER, PROFESOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Yes, they made a mess of
it. You know, the power of scheduling is a big part of congressional
power. Leaders have the ability to have a vote when they want.
So, they are holding this nomination hostage and now they have created a
bigger issue because of who the nominee was. And I think the Republicans
look horrible because of this. And they are going to feel a lot of
pressure when they return thinking of elections, thinking of campaigns to
bring this to a resolution.
HARRIS-PERRY: Christina, let me weigh in on this as well.
CHRISTINA GREER, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Well, I mean, I think I`d also like
to see a much larger gender conversation. You know, the Congress is
holding this extremely qualified woman just in limbo, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: And none of them are saying that this is about her
GREER: Not about her, yes.
And so, this is also -- what`s so frustrating because of the bureaucratic
nonsense that goes on, this is what gets people disinterested in politics.
This is why we have a 93 percent incumbency rate, this is why people don`t
turn out in midterm elections, because of the perception that Congress does
nothing, ever, right?
Going back, though, to your initial point about the significance of Loretta
Lynch as a Delta. As a child of -- my dad is an Omega, my mom is AKA (ph),
and growing up in a fraternity, a black family.
I think that many people don`t understand the significance of uplift,
perseverance, scholarship, friendship, sort of a global network of black
people, successful black people that will not only take care of each other,
but their children, their grandchildren, all these things.
And so, I think she represents a certain level of black excellence that is
extremely threatening to a lot of members of Congress, quite honestly.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me come back to you, President Walker, because, of
course, again, for those who may not know the language of fortitude and
symbol of fortitude is a critical one for people within our organization
who are Deltas. When you look at Loretta Lynch, when you look at the
experiences she had growing up in North Carolina and what she`s now going
through 154 days in, is she the actual embodiment of fortitude at this
WALKER: Ms. Lynch could, at this point, go right there on Howard campus
and stand where fortitude stands. She is -- not is she the epitome, she
truly encompasses and emblazes everything about tenacity, about
perseverance, about understanding that you stand up when everyone else is
sitting down. And she continues to stand.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it really is stunning. It could have been a moment of
celebration, instead, it somehow turned into a social movement. And I just
-- you don`t want all the sorors mad. It is not a good place to be
Thank you to Paulette Walker in Tampa, Florida, I greatly appreciate you
WALKER: Thank you so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
And up next, shhh, shhh! Senator Rand Paul has something to say.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul officially threw his
hat into the ring for the 2016 presidential race and became the second
official Republican candidate. Tuesday, he stood before a crowd of
cheering supporters to outline his teeny-tiny (ph) government vision for
America and ultimately to say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: The Washington machine that gobbles up our
freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives must be stopped. I
want to be part of a return to prosperity. Today, I announce with God`s
help, with the help of liberty lovers everywhere, that I am putting myself
forward as a candidate for president of the United States of America.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, man, I am loving this.
OK, Rand supplemented his announcement with a brand new campaign Web site.
The "Stand with Rand" site comes e equipped with a Bitcoin donation
capability and a fresh new logo that has garnered comparisons to the logo
for social app Tinder.
It seems Paul`s first message to potential 2016 voters was swipe right.
But some of his campaign appearances this week might encourage 2016 voters
to swipe in the other direction. First, there was his Wednesday morning
"Today" interview with NBC`s Savannah Guthrie, during which he gave a
lecture on journalism while addressing his foreign policy record.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: Wait, wait, wait.
PAUL: Before we go --
GUTHRIE: -- drastically wanted to cut defense spending, and now, you want
to increase it 16 percent? I`ve just wondered if you`ve mellowed out.
PAUL: Yes, why don`t we let me explain instead of talking over me, OK?
Before we go through a litany of things you say I changed, why don`t you
ask me a question, have I changed my opinion on that?
GUTHRIE: Have you changed your opinion?
PAUL: That would be sort of much better to approach an interview.
GUTHRIE: OK. Is Iran still not a threat?
PAUL: You`ve editorialized. No, no, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That exchange reminded some viewers of his attempt to man-
splain tax policy to CNBC`s Kelly Evans in February.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: The whole purpose of doing this is to bring money home.
PAUL: Let me finish. Hey, Kelly --
KELLY EVANS, CNBC: The concern is down the road. I`m sorry, go ahead.
I`m sorry, go ahead.
PAUL: Shh! Calm down a bit here, Kelly, let me answer the question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Interviews like those have prompted critics to wonder if the
candidate has a, quote, "problem" with women interviewers.
But Paul later spoke to CNN`s Wolf Blitzer to explain everything.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: I think I`ve been universally short tempered and testy with both
male and female reporters, I`ll own up to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, in some regard, it`s been a no good, very good, first
campaign week for Senator Rand Paul and the cherry on the top of this
week`s series of unfortunate events, the staunchly pro-gun senator was not
invited to the National Rifle Association`s annual conference in Nashville.
The only other big name potential presidential candidate not invited to the
event was Chris Christie. Most others spoke at gathering on Friday because
when the NRA calls, would-be GOP nominees generally come running.
The association is well known for grading lawmakers, dolling out a mark of
A to F depending on the politician`s voting record on gun rights and
general support of the NRA. And at least in congressional races, 80
percent of candidates endorsed and funded by the NRA have won their races.
Man, this crowd is just pleasing me.
So, are there potential elements of this -- I mean, Paul seems off to a
kind of rocky start. And yet, I`m wondering if there`s something about his
like control of the circumstances that actually might make primary voters
excited to vote for him.
GREER: What control of the circumstances? I mean, I`m still curious --
HARRIS-PERRY: Just making the ladies shut up. Just making them, shush,
GREER: So, he does have a woman problem, right? He clearly is intimidated
by women asking legitimate questions about his past.
HARRIS-PERRY: We don`t know what`s happening in his mind. He just like to
calm down a little bit.
GREER: In his voice, he might want to r articulate that he can understand
and answer difficult questions.
I do agree with you, though. For certain far right primary voters, he is
refreshing. That`s the rub, right, because the Republican Party right now
is so incredibly diverse, their primary voters are not their general
And, clearly, the people who turn out in a general election aren`t doing it
enough to actually get them a win. Now, granted, they were going up
against Barack Obama who is in the pantheon of fantastic campaigners and
elected officials, but Paul has an issue starting with also the cast of
characters that the GOP is pulling out for 2016. So, they are going to
have a very long road ahead of them. And he`s not doing well.
PETER SLEVIN, AUTHOR, "MICHELLE OBAMA: A LIFE": I think there`s a long
history of Republican candidates blaming the media for all kinds of things.
HARRIS-PERRY: And to great effect.
SLEVIN: I don`t think we can necessarily sit here at MSNBC and say, gee,
that`s a bad strategy. I think what`s intriguing about Rand Paul is that
he`s doing something difficult. He`s trying to put together an unusual
coalition to win the Republican primary and being disinvited from the NRA
meeting could cut both ways for him.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this point is a fascinating one, in part because we know
that Rand Paul has a kind of alliance with Senator Cory Booker around the
issue of decriminalization of drugs, ending the sort of massive federal
incarceration system, right, those are things that could potentially
attract some voters of color and it`s possible that even the gun thing
So, there`s increasing evidence that African-American voters are now
somewhat more likely to see guns as protective of the individual household
rather than necessarily socially problematic.
ZELIZER: I mean, I would say part of the NRA struggle is he`s very far
right on gun control and supported other organizations to compete with the
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes.
ZELIZER: So, as that story emerges, it could benefit him in the primaries.
He`s a solid gun -- he`s not Chris Christie. But I do think this whole
idea of the broad coalition will run into some trouble when these parts of
the record clash with the criminal justice reform. I don`t know how he
resolves that. That`s part of building a coalition, but I think these
stories have connections, both his assets in terms of fighting the liberal
media and maybe not being an orthodox Republican, but underlying this is
also the challenge that he still is right on many issues.
HARRIS-PERRY: For me the most fun of this is that the Republicans -- well,
they`re having an actual primary. And so, whether or not Ted Cruz wins and
whether or not Rand Paul wins, just by being themselves out there in the
world, with all of these candidates, we get to have a conversation about
what the Republican Party believes, who would it is --
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it seems valuable.
GUTIERREZ: I think one of the greatest things about the quote that you had
from Senator Paul was the admission that he`s short tempered. When did
that become a characteristic that you wanted in a president of the United
HARRIS-PERRY: When Chris Christie was like, I run the place.
GUTIERREZ: I don`t get that.
I`m glad that they are doing this. It shows who they are. It lets the
American people see who they are. And they are going to beat. Each other
up. The Democratic Party seems to be coalescing --
HARRIS-PERRY: I think they will make themselves stronger to the beatings
like. I mean, beating each other up is one way to see it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not so sure about that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, really?
GREER: Obama needed that primary to toughen up with Hillary.
HARRIS-PERRY: Not just toughen. OK. We`re going to talk more. We`ve got
more on this. We`re going to take a quick commercial break and come back
and ask about whether or not having the big primary u may be some people
need to get beaten up in order to get stronger.
HARRIS-PERRY: Possible 2016 presidential contenders like Governors Scott
Walker, Rick Perry and Jeb Bush spoke before thousands of people at the
annual National Rifle Association convention yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: The right to stand up and protect
themselves and their family and their loved ones and their property, it`s
fundamentally about freedom and we need more of that in America.
RICK PERRY (R), FORMER TEXAS GOVERNOR: When Washington asked Texans to
give up their freedoms in exchange for federal money, we got the same
message -- come and take it.
JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Florida was one of the first states
to make the Castle Doctrine the law of the land and we built on that
concept with the principle that you can stand your ground. In Florida, you
can defend yourself anywhere you have a legal right to be, if you
reasonably believe you are in danger of death or injury or rape or
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The potential GOP candidates continued their campaign/not
campaign speeches by focusing on the president`s obligation to protect the
But they were not just talking to the audience gathered in Nashville,
Tennessee. They were talking to voters in states like Iowa and South
Carolina, states with early caucuses and primaries and NRA endorsed
And it is worth noting and maybe listening to hear that the NRA`s LaPierre
spent most of his time not talking about the Second Amendment or about
guns, but about Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAYNE LAPIERRE: What were her triumphs as secretary of state? There are
none. Benghazi-gate, e-mail-gate, wiped server-gate, Hillary Clinton has
more gates than a south Texas cattle ranch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s a thing when they land their line. They are like,
freedom. Hillary Clinton sucks.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s great.
OK. So that said, this guns thing came up in 2008 when Senator Obama kind
of had the slip in California where he said that people in Pennsylvania
were clinging to their guns and their god. And at that time, Senator
Clinton turned herself into Annie Oakley and said she disagreed with
Senator Obama, that people cling to their guns, and instead she talked
about the fond memory where her dad would take her out behind the cottage
and her grandfather had built this cottage outside of Scranton and they
taught her to shoot as a little girl. And how important it was for people
to teach their children and grandchildren and how it`s part of the culture
and part of the way of life.
Is there any way we can imagine someone running for president without
clinging to their guns?
ZELIZER: I think some of the comments she made there are common in these
campaigns and guns do have a big role in parts of American culture, but so
does gun control now. I think that`s where there`s a different attitude in
Southern states, in red states and blue states, there`s much more national
support for some kind of restrictive measures than the NRA is admitting to.
And there`s a clash between what Republicans and many Democrats support
because of the pressure from the NRA and where public opinion has moved.
Just because many Americans love their guns, it doesn`t mean they think
guns should be rampant and in the hands of everyone. I think there is a
new approach that could be taken, but it`s not right now.
GREER: But look at the electoral college map also. You know, these blue
cities in red states are places where just like Julian saying, where people
want substantive gun control. I think these hopefully city mayors will
step up and put pressure on sort of other mayors that have been a little
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s so interesting your point about the blue cities in the
red states. This is part of what makes Texas interesting. If Texas goes
to this new open carry law, their cities are going to be covered by it in a
way we haven`t seen in other major metropolitans.
SLEVIN: Yes, I think one of the important things in looking at Hillary
Clinton and guns is that everybody is going to be watching to see exactly
what kind of campaign she is going to run. Is she going to be the very
focused, disciplined Clinton of the second half of the 2008 campaign? And
what exactly will she stand for and guns is an issue where you can be in
favor of lots of people having guns so as long as there are some sensible
regulations. What will she say about that?
HARRIS-PERRY: See, it`s interesting because what you bring us back to when
you talk about her in the second half of the `08 campaign as disciplined,
having a clear message, goes to what we were talking about before the
commercial. She gets there because there is a robust primary. And so,
part of -- I look at it and think why should she need to be disciplined,
right? I mean, at this point, there isn`t a meaningful challenge being
mounted from the right, left, top, bottom, any side of the Democratic
GREER: But she is beatable. She has been beaten.
GREER: She`s had a rough six, seven years.
HARRIS-PERRY: She`s real beatable come general election time. She`s not
going to have primary.
GREER: Or any practice, right? So I think what we`re talking about before
break, what made Obama better was a long primary where he really had to
clarify stances and then he was able to get through the general. We also
saw him the first debate with Mitt Romney when he was rusty and he hadn`t
really been debating anyone. He -- I mean, it was a disaster.
So, she needs a primary. Someone needs to step up over the age of 35.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I`d u even go further in saying the clarification
for the candidate. Democrats win when we have -- when there is a huge
registration drive. And what happens with registration is primaries.
Thank you to Peter Slevin. The rest are sticking around a little bit
Still to come this morning, the 9-year-old who is schooling local officials
about standardized tests.
But, first, 330 proposals on one issue already on the books in 2015. It
can only be the issue you know that it is. That story is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re not even one-third of the way through 2015 and
already, there are more than 330 provisions to restrict access to
reproductive services have been proposed around the country this year.
That`s right in three months elected officials in nearly every state in the
country have introduced laws chipping away at the rights of women. The
states shown here in yellow have passed bills through at least one chamber
and the states shown in blue have enacted the laws.
It`s difficult to decide which piece of legislation is most egregious. Is
it the law that Arkansas Governor Hutchinson signed Monday requiring that
women be told that their medically induced abortions could be reversed mid-
procedure despite the fact that many doctors say there`s absolutely no
medical evidence to support the claim?
Could it be Tuesday, in which Kansas became the first state to ban the
safest method of ending a second trimester pregnancy? That law signed by
Governor Brownback makes no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or
Or is it a bill proposed in North Carolina, that would prevent state
medical schools from teaching any abortion procedures? House bill 465
reads, quote, "No department at the medical school at East Carolina
University or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shall permit
an employee to perform or supervise the performance of an abortion as part
of the employee`s official duties. If that bill is enacted, the
implications for our medical system could be unprecedented.
Joining me now is Dr. Anne Davis, consulting medical director at Physicians
for Reproductive Health.
So, now, you can`t learn the medical stuff at the medical school.
DR. ANNE DAVIS, PHYSICIANS FOR REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Yes, it`s an
unfortunate turn of events and completely surprising from one of our lead
institutions in this country. So, UNC is really a national lead leader in
women`s reproductive health and in obstetrics and gynecology.
Abortion is a core fundamental skill that we teach our residents. My
professors taught me, I teach my residents, it`s really a core part of the
curriculum. So, to say that we can`t teach core skills to residents and
students is really disturbing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Help people understand why it`s a core skill, why it`s
important for physicians to know it.
DAVIS: So, some people are unaware that 1 in 3 women has an abortion
during her reproductive years, so abortion is very, very common. So, if
it`s a procedure that 30 percent of women are going to have, it`s something
doctors need to know a lot about. They should know all the basics and many
of the skills that you learn through providing abortion are skills that are
generalized to other things we do in the profession, some of the technical
skills. It`s something you need to know the fundamentals about to really
HARRIS-PERRY: So, that one, the idea of not getting to even learn these
basic core skills, and then add that to the telling things that run true to
your patients as a matter of law in terms of saying you can reverse these
DAVIS: Yes, that idea, I was thinking about this and thought I would kind
of call it a half baked idea. But I`m going to give it a quarter baked.
So maybe not even a quarter baked.
So, this is a doctor who put together a series of anecdotes about something
that he did in his practice. He did publish it in a journal, however, but
it doesn`t meet the basic criteria of research.
It`s a treatment that`s untested and for people to understand why this is
kind of so ridiculous, is that if you give -- a medical abortion has two
parts. So, you take one pill and take some other pills the next day. So,
if you don`t take that first pill and you don`t take the second pills, it
only works about half the time.
So, this doctor, people took the first pill, then he gave them a treatment
and half of them stayed pregnant, no surprise. As a colleague of mine
said, it would be the same if you gave them purple skittles. There`s no --
it doesn`t prove anything about his treatment. And yet, surprisingly, it
became a legislative duty of the state of Arizona to tell doctors now that
we have to tell people about this.
I think the part of it that`s hard as physicians is that it creates an idea
that women can`t decide about why they are at the doctor. I`m an abortion
provider and people when they come for an abortion, they are pretty clear.
HARRIS-PERRY: They know what they are coming for.
DAVIS: It`s like when they come for prenatal care. They don`t change
their mind half an hour later and say, oh, guess what, I didn`t want
prenatal care I came for something else.
So, when someone comes for an abortion and then to be told by the
legislature that I have to say, oh, guess what, if in the next 20 minutes,
you decide that this isn`t really what you want, here`s an alternative
therapy for you that is untested, unproven, I don`t know the side effects
remarkable. And again, really disturbing to have to be legislation saying
I have to offer something that I don`t now even know if it works.
How would you feel if your doctor did that for you?
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I think that for me is part of what`s so appalling
about this new batch of laws directly to that relationship between
physician and patient.
Thanks to John Gutierrez, to Dr. Anne Davis, to Christina Greer and to
Up next, the mother who went on a hunger strike, she says she faced
retaliation in a Texas detention. She`s just been released and she joins
HARRIS-PERRY: The border crisis that erupted last summer as thousands of
Central American refugees crossed the U.S. border has fallen out of the
spotlight recently. But for families still in detention centers waiting to
learn their fate, the crisis is far from over. Nearly 300 women and
children are being held at the residential center in south Texas. Most of
them are seeking asylum after fleeing extreme violence in countries like
Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. And some have been imprisoned for as
long as ten months.
To protest their detentions, about 40 moms at the center launched a hunger
strike last month and dozens more signed a letter to federal immigration
officials that read, in part, "We have come to this country with our
children seeking refugee status and we are being treated like delinquents.
We are not delinquents nor do we pose any threat to this country."
The women say the hunger strike lasted only about five days and some of
those who participated allege that they were targeted for retaliation by
officials at the center, including being singled out and isolated in the
center`s infirmary with their children. Officials with the Immigration and
Customs Enforcement agency say there was no hunger strike and that the
Karnes County detention centers do not have solitary confinement areas.
A spokesman says the agency fully respects the rights of all people to
voice their opinion without interference and all detainees, including those
in family residential facilities such as Karnes are permitted to do so.
But those inside the facility tell a different story.
Joining me now from Austin, Texas, is Kenia Galeano, who is just released
on Thursday from the Karnes facility, where she says she was briefly
isolated in a darkroom with her 2-year-old son.
And Jonathan Ryan, the executive director of the Refugee and Immigrant
Center for Education and Legal Services.
Thank you both for being here.
JONATHAN RYAN, REFUGEE AND IMMIGRANT CENTER: Thank you for having us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Can you tell me a little bit about what the experience was
for Kenia in the center?
RYAN: Kenia has been or was detained in the center since November of 2014.
And after experiencing prolonged detention not just of her but of her child
whom you see here and really see no light at the end of the tunnel, she
along with dozens of other women wrote a letter expressing their protest of
this prolonged detention and their intent to mount a hunger fast during
HARRIS-PERRY: Why is there a distinction between ICE saying there was no
hunger strike and women like Kenia here telling us that there is one, there
RYAN: It`s very bizarre and it`s a dual message that we hear because at
the same time that they are taking these retaliatory measures not just
against the women inside but women outside of the facility too, including
legal assistants who have been banished because they have been alleged to
have been participant or supportive of these acts. In fact, banished
because they brought attention to it via the media.
So, the government appears to be taking two stances, one that it`s not
happening, but they have been taking measures against women like Kenia for
participating in it.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re seeing some of the images of the center there. What
is the experience of children there?
RYAN: The experience of children, there is no way to create a prison
that`s appropriate for a child.
We`re talking about children many of whom are from lands where they don`t
even speak Spanish, they speak Guatemalan dialect, who have no access to
proper education, no real access to toys, to free time, to play. We have
children who have missed major developmental milestones because, for
example, mothers are often not allowed to let their children touch the
floors. So they are forced to hold their children throughout the stages
where they should be crawling.
We`ve got children inside who have spent more of their lives in prison than
they have ever spent free.
HARRIS-PERRY: Kenia, you are now released. Can you tell me what your
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
RYAN: Really we suffered a lot there. But really we were so worried about
our kids because they couldn`t act like children inside.
HARRIS-PERRY: What about other women who were there, are you worried about
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
RYAN: Yes, I`m very worried because thank God I could get out with my
child. But there`s many kids who are still inside and some of them as many
as 10 months that they have spent inside. The food, the way that the
children sleep, it`s just not correct for a child.
HARRIS-PERRY: What has your son experienced? What has been your
experience in your son?
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
RYAN: My child doesn`t act the same as he did before we were in this
place. He didn`t eat the food inside. He didn`t sleep well. He didn`t
play like a child of 2 years old.
HARRIS-PERRY: Kenia Galeano, I am so sorry for what happened to you and to
your child. Thank you for coming to tell your story.
RYAN: Thank you, thank you very much.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jonathan Ryan in Austin, Texas, thank you for being with us.
RYAN: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, a 9-year-old who says she is not a statistic and
she is our awesome foot soldier of the week.
HARRIS-PERRY: Our foot soldier this week is making the case that she is
not a statistic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SYDNEY SMOOT, 9 YR. OLD FLORIDA STUDENT: I consider myself a well-educated
young lady. However, with FSA tests, my five years of school all on their
own do not matter. This testing looks at me as a number.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was 9-year-old Sydney Smoot speaking last month at the
Hernando County school board meeting against new standardized testing put
in place in Florida. After carefully outlining her argument, Sydney had
this to say in her rousing speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SMOOT: So, ladies and gentlemen of the school board, I urge you to put a
stop to high-stakes testing today. It is not good for the schools,
teachers and students. Parents and students, contact your governor to put
a stop to all the standardized testing. Thank you so much for your time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, that was awesome. And to explain to us her fight
against the Florida standards assessment is Sydney Smoot and her mother,
Jennifer Smoot, in Tampa, Florida.
So nice to have you both here.
JENNIFER SMOOT, SYDNEY`S MOTHER: Thanks for having us.
SYDNEY SMOOT: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Sydney, you say that you are a well educated young lady.
What does education mean to you in that context?
SYDNEY SMOOT: Education means that you`re getting enough time to learn
what you need to learn in school. That`s what it means to me.
HARRIS-PERRY: And how does that come into conflict with these new
SYDNEY SMOOT: Well, it comes in conflict because with all the preparing --
with all prepping for this one test, most of our -- of our learning time is
taken away from it. And teachers don`t have enough time to actually
educate us for real.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I love how passionate you are about this.
Jennifer, can you tell me what it was like for you to discover that your
daughter has such a strong stance on this issue?
JENNIFER SMOOT: I was just so proud of her. I know how she is. I`m her
mom, so I`m exposed to how outspoken she is. And I just think it`s great
that she has that desire to speak up for what she believes in, especially
It`s her education. And why not stand up for what you believe in? And
she`s the one that has to deal with the pressure and the stress of the test
and everyday life. So I`m just very proud of her.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sydney, have you talked to other friends who go to school
with you? Do any of them also feel this same way about the tests?
SYDNEY SMOOT: I`ve talked to a couple of kids in my grade, not just in my
class but also in my grade. And some of them agree with me. And we`ve
gotten a bit of backlash about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: What do you mean my backlash? What happened?
SYDNEY SMOOT: Well, sometimes people go, oh, her mom wrote the speech
obviously and, oh, they rehearsed it a bunch of times, stuff like that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, as though it`s not really your idea?
SYDNEY SMOOT: No.
HARRIS-PERRY: But it is your idea, is that what you`re telling us?
SYDNEY SMOOT: Yes. Some people think that it wasn`t actually my idea that
my mom all wrote the speech and that it wasn`t any of my idea. But we
worked on the speech together.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I understand, Sydney, that you love reading. I`m
wondering if you could tell us what your favorite book is or at least one
book you really like and you think other kids should read?
SYDNEY SMOOT: One of them is "Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies." it`s by
Andrea Beaty and it`s a really funny book.
HARRIS-PERRY: "Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies" sounds like about the best
thing that could possibly be happening right now.
Jennifer, thank you so much for supporting your daughter.
Sydney Smoot, thank you so much for taking the time to learn and not just
Thank you both for joining us from Tampa, Florida.
JENNIFER SMOOT: Thank you so much.
SYDNEY SMOOT: Yes, anytime.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, you come on back, then.
That is our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching.
Now, I`m going to see you tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. We`re
going to take an in-depth look at the fatal police shooting of Walter
Scott, the South Carolina man fired upon eight times as he was running
And we are awaiting word on a breaking news story, 22 years in the making.
So be sure to join us to find out if it actually finally happens.
Right 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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