Guests: Megyn Kelly, Craig Crawford, Paul Rothstein, Kris Kobach, Dahlia Lithwick, Brad Blakeman, Roy Sekoff, Craig Crawford
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: We have got breaking news to report. In the last few moments, the “Associated Press” is reporting that Barack Obama has just pulled Hillary Clinton, that Hillary Clinton‘s top financial backers that he will help her pay off her debt.
A Democratic official is saying that Obama is personally donating $2,300 to help cover Hillary Clinton‘s outstanding expenses. Clinton has more than $20 million in debt. He made the announcement tonight only moments ago.
A former Maryland representative, Tom McMillen who was there, said that Obama received a standing ovation from the crowd of Hillary Clinton supporters. We‘re just getting more information in about this, about the exact amounts we‘re talking about. Terry McAuliffe, the former campaign manager for the Clinton campaign has just said that Obama and his finance chair both cut checks for Hillary Clinton in the maximum amount of $2,300 each.
The question: How big a deal is this? We‘re continuing to get some of the details.
Let me bring in my panel.
Joining me now: Roy Sekoff, founding editor of the “Huffington Post”; Republican strategist, Brad Blakeman; and, MSNBC political analyst, Craig Crawford.
All right. Craig, this seems to me to be a pretty big development because there‘s been a lot of talk about some tension even now between Bill Clinton and Obama, between the Clinton backers and Obama. This could help really alleviate that, couldn‘t it?
CRAIG CRAWFORD, MNSBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I‘ll tell you, out of this meeting tonight, if something like this hadn‘t happened, then we would still be talking about a rift between Obama and Clinton. So, this helps patch things up. I don‘t think it‘s a bit helpful to Clinton, however, Dan, to have this be such a public spectacle and make it to look like she‘s hat in hand trying to get her debts paid off. It just diminishes her but it makes Obama look quite gracious.
ABRAMS: And since, Roy Sekoff, since Hillary Clinton is no longer running for president, I would think that the more important issue for the Democratic Party would be how Barack Obama comes out of this rather than Hillary Clinton.
ROY SEKOFF, HUFFINGTON POST: Yes. I mean, Dan, this is a no-brainer. If you‘re having, you know, your event tomorrow at Unity, New Hampshire, you‘re going to have to step up a little $4,600 there for Hillary.
ABRAMS: This is the first joint appearance, Craig. I mean, look, this is the beginning of this sort of unity campaign; the two of them appearing together for the first time. This is the first meeting. I think many people out there are going to say that they believe this is more than just expected. I mean, both of you are saying, “Well, of course, this was going to happen, et cetera.”
But, again, one of the sticking points long has been what happens to Hillary Clinton‘s debt. And when you have Obama himself now, putting forward, you can call it a symbolic gesture, whatever it is. The bottom line, cutting the check, his finance chair cutting a check for the maximum amount of $2,300 to pay off Clinton‘s campaign debt, that seems to me to be a significant if only in symbolism.
CRAWFORD: Well, it is significant and I don‘t mean to discount it because this has been an unusual race. It‘s gone on an unusually long time. We‘ve never had a runner up in a nomination race this close at the end of the game and delegates and all that stuff. So, there was always a potential for this to be a lot worse.
It‘s just that in past campaigns, it has been something of standard practice for the ultimate nominee to help out some of the losers with their debts. It‘s just not many of them had debt quite this large or in a race that went on quite this long.
SEKOFF: Or that was out of their own pocket, right, Craig? I mean, this was definitely heading in that direction though, Dan. Hillary‘s speech today, to the Latino leaders was very personal, very passionate, very supportive of Obama. So, I think this is in that same flow.
ABRAMS: All right. So, Brad -
CRAWFORD: Yes. It doesn‘t look like we‘re going to get the kind of rift that we thought. I mean, I think a lot of people are hoping this was going to turn into Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in “Who‘s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” throwing drinks at each other—but it looks pretty good.
SEKOFF: Yes. It‘s not love story but it‘s not the ultimate fighting championship that we‘ve had for 17 seven months.
ABRAMS: One of the people who, I think, routing for that rift is sitting between the two of you, that‘s Brad Blakeman.
Brad, how big a deal do you think this is for the Democrats?
BRAD BLAKEMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, it was inevitable that they would come to a conclusion that Obama would help retire Clinton‘s debt. If I were Obama I‘d post-date the check, and make sure she makes good on her promises to support. On the other hand, maybe they should hold a telethon. I heard Ed McMahon is looking for work.
ABRAMS: Yes. Well, look, I mean, here‘s why I think this is particular significant, all right? We were about to do a segment tonight before this news came out, talking about the fact that “Newsday” was quoting several major Clinton donors saying Obama has been, quote, “less than enthusiastic in courting them.” This came on the heels of Bill Clinton‘s less than enthusiastic courting of Obama or even supporting of Obama. Remember, he just issued a statement through his spokesperson.
And now you have a concrete effort by the Obama camp to reach a hand out to say, “We want to help, we need you on board,” and that‘s why, to me, Roy, look, all the inside politicos can say, “Well, this had to happen,” et cetera.
Maybe, maybe guys like Roy Sekoff knew this was coming and this had to happen, but I think to a lot of other people out there, the notion that Barack Obama is literally cutting a check for Hillary Clinton, a personal check to help pay off her campaign debt is a big deal.
BLAKEMAN: It‘s not a big deal. It‘s not a big deal at all.
SEKOFF: You know, you were a big advocate of that—you know, Hillary didn‘t have to come clean at the end. You know, just give her her time. So, this is taking a little bit of time. Of course, you know, every wound is not healed. Every rift has not been put back together. It‘s a slow process, but this is exactly what was going to happen all along.
BLAKEMAN: The bottom line, Dan, here is the Clintons and the Obamas have bought themselves off. Obama is getting their support by paying $20 million for it. That‘s what‘s happening here. It‘s a forced marriage, arranged by a gallery of $20 million.
SEKOFF: That‘s ridiculous. Of course, Hillary Clinton is on the same page of Obama. She was never going to support John McCain.
BLAKEMAN: Come one, Hillary is all about Hillary. Dealing with the Clintons is like dealing with the sopranos. It‘s never enough.
ABRAMS: Craig, let me get a final thought on this and I want to move back to where we‘re going to go.
CRAWFORD: Actually, I think a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters will be appeased somewhat by this, but I know a lot of them are looking for some contrition from Obama about some of the language in the campaign used against her, actually. I know a lot of Obama supporters think they got it just as bad from the other direction.
ABRAMS: It‘s not coming.
CRAWFORD: But I think some reference back to the primary campaign and how ugly it got is something the Clinton supporters are looking for.
ABRAMS: Fair enough. Yes, look, fair enough.
I mean, some level of talking about the campaign, but the problem is, you‘ve got Bill Clinton who‘s furious at Obama about being branded as a racist, and as you point out, Craig, you‘ve got these Obama supporters who are upset - I mean, the problem is, I don‘t think you‘re going to be able to satisfy everyone and it seems to me that this kind of gesture on the part of the Obama camp and, look, you can say that they had to do it, maybe they did. But, to me, it says publicly as a symbolic gesture at the very least, that they are a team now.
SEKOFF: It‘s the best $2,300 Barack Obama ever spent.
ABRAMS: Yes. Well said. All right.
CRAWFORD: It‘s a down payment. I think there‘s a little more investing to do.
ABRAMS: There is. And, look, if we get more information on this, we‘re going to keep following this. More happened on the campaign trail today.
So, as always, we‘re On Their Trail. I‘m calling that a big win whether—I don‘t know if everyone agrees. I think that‘s a big win for the Obama campaign.
We‘re always On Their Trail, making the call of who won and who lost today on the trail.
All right. Obama and McCain, both are responding to the historic Supreme Court ruling today. For the first time in U.S. history, the high court ruled a ban on handguns is unconstitutional and that individuals have the constitutional right to own a gun.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESUMPTIVE PRES. NOMINEE: Well, I have said consistently that I believe the Second Amendment is an individual right and that was the essential decision that the Supreme Court came down on and it also recognized that even though we have an individual right to bear arms, that right can be limited by sensible, reasonable gun laws.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESUMPTIVE PRES. NOMINEE: The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Second Amendment and, obviously, I‘m very pleased about that decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Today‘s ruling comes on the heels of McCain and Obama agreeing yesterday that the court was wrong when it ruled the death penalty should not apply to child rapists. The question is—is this a win or a lose for McCain or Obama?
All right. You know, Roy Sekoff, it seems to me that this is a dangerous area. These rulings are forcing Obama, in essence, to take a position further to the right than he might ordinarily be. He now supports the death penalty beyond cases of murder and accepts what would have been viewed just years ago as the radical position that gun control laws are unconstitutional because of the Second Amendment. Is this really a place Obama wants to be?
SEKOFF: Yes, I think these are two separate things. I think that gun control decision is a win for McCain. He got to come out with his, you know, Supreme Court approved guns ablaze in his statement, whereas Obama seemed more like a law professor. So, a sort of John McCain, I mean, John Wayne in “True Grit” versus John Houseman and “The Paper Chase.” I think you have to go with the duke on that one, but I think, Obama did a good job on the child rape decision.
I think he was able to—sure, from a real politic position, it was a no-brainer that he could go a little bit to the right without offending anybody who is he offending? I mean, the pro-child rape bloc is not a big one. However, I think he had to find that fine line and I think he found it.
He go, you know, he didn‘t want to fall into the Dukakis trap where he was just going to be all analytical about a question that emotional, but he wasn‘t going as far as Bill Clinton, you know, flying on the Ricky Ray Rector case to make sure that he got killed. I think he went right down the middle and I think he did a good job on that one.
But the gun control one, I give to McCain.
ABRAMS: This seems to me, Brad, to be dangerous territory for Obama.
BLAKEMAN: Well, it‘s dangerous territory because we have another gigantic flip-flop, what I call an “Obamanation.” Here, Obama last year said about the Second Amendment that the ban here in D.C. was constitutional, when it was not.
And the decision comes out today and all of a sudden, he says that, “Yes, the right to bear arms is an individual‘s right.” That‘s not the position he took a year ago. He flipped again and it exposes him as being somebody who‘s not principled and doesn‘t know where he stands on important issues.
Now, whether he‘s going to the right or not, he has to go to the right in order to be elected. And that‘s what he‘s trying to do, but it just doesn‘t wash with his positions.
ABRAMS: Well, the question is, Craig—does Obama risk being seen as being politically expedient here? I mean, does he risk, for example, saying that he opposes the court‘s ruling on child rape and, again, it‘s not about child rape legally, the question there was should the death penalty be extended beyond cases of murder? That was the legal question that the court ended up ruling on. Do you think this is a dangerous area for him, Craig?
CRAWFORD: I think when you set yourself up as he has, as some sort of non-politician who‘s not going to say anything to get elected, it goes to the core of that when these things start piling up. He, you know, flipped around on the spy bill and, you know, even on Iraq, he‘s sounding more mushy now about what timetable he‘d deploy for bringing troops home.
In this particular case, what I found really bizarre in this case is, I couldn‘t figure out and I still don‘t know if he is for or against this particular D.C. ban. I mean, he said that, you know, his basic position seems to be on gun rights, “I support it in principle but oppose it in practice.”
ABRAMS: And, Roy - yes, go ahead.
SEKOFF: Dan, I think on the case that you were talking about with the death penalty, the thing is, he was consistent with his previous statements. He had written that he was in favor of the death penalty in cases of heinous acts and there‘s nothing more heinous than raping a child.
ABRAMS: Forget about flip-flopping for a minute. I mean -
SEKOFF: Yes. Well, he‘s consistent. So, it doesn‘t paint him in a bad direction.
ABRAMS: Well, there is still the question of whether he actually believes it or whether he‘s saying it because he knows there‘ll be attack ads out there that would say that Barack Obama defended child rapists.
SEKOFF: What I‘m saying is that he said that before. He wrote that in his book. I think the gun control is a different one. I would have like to see him be much stronger about a position about gun control and what it‘s doing to inner cities. I think he did do that (INAUDIBLE).
CRAWFORD: I‘m finding, Dan, we‘re going to have to get out our word parsing (ph) machine just as much as we ever did with Bill Clinton.
ABRAMS: I‘ve got to move on here, but I‘ll tell you that I feel the same way, I support the death penalty in the most heinous of cases, but that doesn‘t necessarily mean—oh, therefore we can move it beyond murder. So, anyway, but that‘s—we‘re going to have to talk about this stuff later.
I‘m ruling this one, it sounds like Craig and Brad agree with me on this one that this may have been a win for McCain. It sounds like Roy views this as a draw. So, we‘re going to call this one a win for McCain.
Up next: Obama may now be on the verge of securing the public support of one of the most high-profile and respected Republicans, Colin Powell. Reportedly, he‘ll publicly endorse Obama in the coming days or weeks. Now, it‘s according to conservative columnist, Robert Novak. So, we‘ll see.
He says, quote, “Powell probably will enter Obama‘s camp at a time of his own choosing. McCain strategists wince in anticipating headlines generated by Powell‘s expected endorsement of Obama.”
Now, Craig, yesterday it was a Republican senator using Obama in his TV ad. Today, it‘s speculation that Republican Colin Powell may be on board for Obama. This seems to me that if this happens, this is a huge win for Obama.
CRAWFORD: I think Colin Powell will be. I mean, that will get a lot of attention, a lot of people aren‘t paying close attention to the race, we‘ll notice that. Colin Powell is so famous. It might complicate a little bit Obama‘s war positioning given that he would be embracing one of the people almost primarily responsible for -
ABRAMS: But that‘s going to work against him that Powell‘s endorsing him? I mean, it doesn‘t seem, I mean -
SEKOFF: I think that‘s the big help, Dan. I mean, in general -
CRAWFORD: No, I‘m not saying that.
ABRAMS: Go ahead, Roy.
SEKOFF: I‘m saying in general -
ABRAMS: Hang on, Craig, let me let Roy.
SEKOFF: I don‘t think this kind of endorsement makes that big a deal. But in this case, I think it does because it comes right to the heart of the one area that McCain is strong on, which is national defense, you know, and national security. So, I think to have Colin Powell, who, I think, is seen as non-partisan by most independent voters would be a big nod and a big win for Obama.
ABRAMS: Brad, final call on this and then I have to move on.
BLAKEMAN: If it should happen that Colin Powell would support Obama it would be a momentary big thing. It would be a couple of days story, it would be bad for him (ph).
ABRAMS: So, now, we‘ve gone over some of the highlights today and question now, who won the day? Let‘s start with Roy Sekoff. Who won the day?
SEKOFF: I‘ll give it a draw, Dan.
BLAKEMAN: I think McCain won the day. When you‘re talking about a Supreme Court decision, a landmark decision, and also reminder to our base, how important it is to have Republican picking those judges to the Supreme Court, I think McCain wins the day.
CRAWFORD: I give the nod to McCain. I think he took good advantage of an issue that plays into his hands and will have to keep pounding it, though. These aren‘t things that are going to stay on the agenda without some effort.
ABRAMS: I was going to rule this a day for McCain based on that, but I have to say based on the news coming in in the last 15 minutes, that, I know, everyone else doesn‘t think this is significant and the fact that Obama‘s cutting the check, talking about cutting the check to Hillary Clinton, I have long said it, I said it yesterday on the program that I thought it was a real potential program for Obama if they couldn‘t heal the rift with the Clintons.
I think this is going to help. I think it‘s a big development for Obama.
Everyone is going to stay with us.
BLAKEMAN: (INAUDIBLE) in the Second Amendment?
ABRAMS: I wrote my law review on the Second Amendment. I promise, we‘ll get to it.
Coming up, new battleground states polls show Obama is way ahead of McCain. Is it possible Obama is ahead by that much and that some of the media are just trying to keep it a horse race?
And, former conservative Supreme Court chief justice said the argument the Supreme Court accepted today to overturn a gun ban was a fraud. So, how did this happen and what could this mean for future picks for the court by McCain or Obama?
Plus, the White House finds a new way to get around recommendations it doesn‘t like. Just don‘t open the e-mail.
Another reason Why America Hates Washington is coming up.
ABRAMS: Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington: The Bush administration finding a new way to get around recommendations it doesn‘t like. Don‘t open the e-mail. The EPA sent White House officials an e-mail proposal to limit hazardous greenhouse gas emissions last December. Eight minutes after the message was sent, the phone rang, a White House official demanded the e-mail be recalled. The EPA refused, the White House just didn‘t open the e-mail.
Six months later, the EPA is ready to send out a new proposal that insiders say was watered down by the White House. But the Bush administration‘s treating important e-mail like spam: another reason Why America Hates Washington.
We‘re back with new battleground state polls showing Obama with a commanding lead over McCain. The question—Is the media making this more of a horse race than it actually is?
ABRAMS: Welcome back.
A new polls are out today suggest Obama is ahead, way ahead in crucial battleground states, the state that many observers say will determine the election.
According to today‘s Quinnipiac University, “Washington Post,” “Wall Street Journal” polls, Obama now leads John McCain in Colorado by five points, in Michigan by six, in Minnesota by 17, in Wisconsin by 13. National polls give Obama a double-digit lead, 12 points ahead in the “L.A.
Times” Poll; 15 points ahead in the latest “Newsweek” Poll.
And when you consider Obama‘s three to one fundraising advantage, record new voter registration drives, it sure looks like, at least as of today, that a landslide for Obama could be in the works. So, is it possible that some of the media had been hyping a horse race that maybe doesn‘t exist?
Our panel is still with us.
All right. So, Craig, I mean, is it possible that there is some incentive here to make it seem a lot closer than it is right now?
CRAWFORD: Sure. We always like to see a race, but I think it will still be on one. What we‘ve learned here is Obama has clearly and decisively won the opening arguments of this campaign. I think his attacks on McCain as a Bush third-termer, have really hurt and cut deep among independents, in particular.
And McCain‘s opening argument attack was just like Hillary Clinton‘s, the inexperience argument. Inexperience on national security, particularly, didn‘t work for Clinton, didn‘t work for McCain.
ABRAMS: Brad, it says, this is from the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute who said, “Obama has a lead everywhere, and if nothing changes between now and November, he will make history.”
Now, as we know, according to history, things can change. But, as of right now, I mean, this just doesn‘t look bad for McCain, this looks awful for McCain, doesn‘t it?
BLAKEMAN: No, it does not. Let me tell you why. Look where “George the First” was 17 points down to Dukakis. I would much rather be in McCain‘s position today of being the underdog than being ahead. It‘s much harder to stay ahead.
ABRAMS: Come on, Brad.
BLAKEMAN: Seriously -
ABRAMS: You‘d rather be down in every one of the battleground states, right? Come on.
BLAKEMAN: Because those polls are -
BLAKEMAN: The polls are not correct.
CRAWFORD: The Harry Truman comparisons coming next.
ABRAMS: Go ahead. Let me let Brad finish. I‘m going to let you finish.
BLAKEMAN: Hold on. I‘m getting to that. But what I‘m saying is the national polls are not correct and here‘s why. The samplings are being taken by not voters who are likely to vote, but by registered voters. So, that‘s skewed. Every other poll, the daily tracking polls have Obama up as much as 4 percent or 5 percent. So, I wouldn‘t give much credence to these polls.
ABRAMS: Yes, I mean - and, Roy, look, you and I both know, we talked a lot about polls and we have to take these with a grain of salt, but when you look at the numbers here. I mean, these latest polls from, you know, some of the most respected organizations out there, Obama way ahead.
And we‘re not talking about the national polls. We‘re talking about the state-by-state polls. Put that on top of the fact that Quinnipiac did polls in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania; Obama up four, Obama up six, Obama up 12 in those states.
I mean, these are the states that everyone is saying, “Oh, these are going to be so,” is it possible it‘s not even close?
SEKOFF: Yes. I mean, listen, I‘m no fan of polls, I think, especially this early and we‘re getting this whole debate, are they waged (ph) the wrong way.
But here‘s the thing, the most significant numbers here is how Obama is doing among independents, and the lead is tremendous there. We‘re seeing, you know, 21 points, 13 points. I mean, that‘s the real significant thing and the other significant thing is that 80 percent of the people in those states feel that we‘re going in the wrong direction and that is bad news for a candidate who has aligned himself so closely with George Bush.
ABRAMS: Brad, I‘m going to give you the final word. No, go ahead.
CRAWFORD: Dan, I‘m just going to -
ABRAMS: Let me let Craig. Go ahead, Craig.
BLAKEMAN: They have written John McCain off last summer.
CRAWFORD: I‘ve got to come back to this Republican thing. I mean, I think Bush and McCain, you know, this association that McCain has allowed with Bush has turned McCain into a Bush Republican. I cannot believe McCain has allowed this to happen. And Obama‘s done a beautiful job and I think that‘s what these numbers are reflecting. If McCain can change that, that will change.
ABRAMS: We‘re all beating up on Brad here, So, I‘m going to let Brad get the final word in here. And we‘re going to let Brad finish his thought.
BLAKEMAN: With all due respect, they had John McCain dead and buried last summer, he came off the map, he‘s our nominee and I wouldn‘t sell him short. And I wouldn‘t put all your stock into the polls that you‘re reading today because they‘re just not as—they‘re not accurate.
ABRAMS: There‘s the history there that you were just talking about that in July 2004, Kerry was up by six. June 2000 was tight. June ‘96 -- the significance ones, of course, everyone refers to, Dukakis was up by 15 in June of 1988.
So, I guess, the tip to Obama is, do not put on a helmet and get in a tank in the meantime.
ABRAMS: All right.
CRAWFORD: Not if you have Colin Powell.
BLAKEMAN: That‘s true.
ABRAMS: All right. Roy, Brad, and Craig, thanks a lot, appreciate it.
Coming up, the Supreme Court strikes down a ban on handguns, but accepts an argument that a former conservative Supreme Court chief justice said was a fraud. How did they get it so wrong? What will it mean for future court picks by a President McCain or Obama?
Plus: Radio and TV blowhard, Glenn Beck tells us what he would do if he were president, making him one of the few people in America to make us feel good that George Bush, not him, is commander in chief. Beat the Press is next.
ABRAMS: It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press.
First up: Look at the banner at the bottom of the screen as FOX News host, Megyn Kelly, talks about a grim suicide story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “AMERICA‘S NEWSROOM”/FOX NEWS)
MEGYN KELLY, FOX HOST: A young man tries to commit suicide and not only does he not succeed, but he creates a nightmare scenario for those trying to rescue him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Did you see that, it reads, “How not to do it if you‘re going to kill yourself.” News you can use from FOX News.
Next up: CNN host Glenn Beck reminds us why we should be grateful a blowhard like him is not president of the United States.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “THE GLENN BECK PROGRAM”/PRIMIERE RADIO)
GLENN BECK, CNN HOST: If I were president of the United States, I would go on national television and say, “Ladies and gentlemen of America, the Supreme Court said that we don‘t have Guantanamo, so that is over. We‘re going to release all of them, but I want you to know from here on out, our policy is to not have prisoners. We‘re going it shoot them all in the head. If we think that they are against us, we‘re going to shoot them and kill them—period.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Who knew someone could make us feel good about President Bush?
Finally, FOX Business Network anchor David Asman slipped up when reporting on Shaquille O‘Neal‘s rap filled with derogatory lyrics about former teammate Kobe Bryant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID ASMAN, FOX BUSINESS ANCHOR: It‘s the video on tmz.com where Shaq was tapped—taped raping.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whoa!
ASMAN: He wasn‘t—no, no, no. Shaq, I‘m not going to give you my phone number, but it was a mistake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: David, it happens to all of us. Don‘t worry, I‘m sure Shaq wasn‘t watching, after all, no one watches FOX Business Network.
Up next, a major ruling from the Supreme Court today overturning a handgun ban, and it could mean many gun control laws are now unconstitutional. Coming up, why I think the court got it wrong, I even get to cite my own law review article.
And later, this is another decision putting the court front and center, does that help Obama? Coming up.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the big Supreme Court ruling today on guns, will this make the Supreme Court more important to voters this election? And the record broken today for the world‘s highest shallow dive in “Reality Bites.” Plus, Madonna‘s marriage with Guy Ritchie may be on the rocks, and they may not have had a prenup, can you say super Ritchie? It‘s “Winners and Losers.”
But first, today‘s 5-4 Supreme Court ruling overturning Washington, D.C.‘s ban on handguns is not as limited as some would have you believe. In the majority opinion, Justice Scalia tried to argue just that, he wrote quote: “The Constitution leads the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating the problem,” meaning handgun violence, as long as they don‘t prevent anyone from possessing a weapon, even in big cities.
Justice Breyer nailed Scalia on it in his dissent. He said, quote:
“The decision threatens to throw into doubt the constitutionality of gun laws throughout the United States.” And if the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the conservative Warren Berger, appointed by President Nixon, was right, the court bought into a huge “fraud” today, a radical interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
I quoted Berger in a law review article I wrote at Yale on this topic where he said: “The Second Amendment has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud. I repeat the word fraud on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. The NRA has misled the American people.”
Well, now it appears the NRA has succeeded in misleading the court and today the NRA‘s executive vice president says he considers this “opening salvo” with lawsuits coming to overturn laws in Chicago and San Francisco to start.
Joining me now, Georgetown University law professor Paul Rothstein, who opposes the decision, and former Bush Justice Department official Kris Kobach who supports it.
All right. Professor Rothstein, look, I think that some people are losing sight of how radical this decision is. I had someone say to me today that in the Berger court just 15, 20 years ago, not a single member of that court would have voted for the opinion that came down today from this court.
PAUL ROTHSTEIN, GEORGETOWN UNIV. LAW SCHOOL: Congratulations, by the way, on your law review article that got it right. Any decision like today‘s decision does that puts guns on a widespread basis into people‘s homes is atrocious, because it‘s going to induce people to break in. Criminals to break into the house, take the guns, use them and then there will be guns distributed in the criminal population on an ever-increasing basis.
And that‘s not to mention all the accidental injuries and maimings that will occur in the house when kids get a hold of the gun or there is domestic violence or people who don‘t know how to use the guns use—get them.
ABRAMS: But those are policy arguments. I want to stick to the constitutional arguments here. And, Professor Kobach, I see you nodding. Let‘s talk about it. Let‘s talk about the Second Amendment, all right? It‘s real simple and I want you to listen very carefully, Professor, to the first few words of the amendment as I read it to you, all right?
And I‘m going to read that part slowly. “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.” OK, that‘s what the amendment is about. So what are they going to do to achieve that? “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Somehow, the U.S. Supreme Court today completely ignores the part about a well-regulated militia and, instead, they say, oh, it‘s all about the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
KRIS KOBACH, FMR. BUSH JUSTICE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Well, I would disagree. The court spent a good 20 or 30 pages dissecting the meaning of the words “well-regulated militia.” And the definition of a militia, broadly accepted by historians at the time, and this is not coming from the NRA, this is coming from the contemporary documents of the time, is that the militia meant all able-bodied males, it was an armed citizenry.
ABRAMS: Let‘s talk about that. All right. Let‘s talk about that.
KOBACH: So a well-regulated—well, let me just—so a well- regulated militia means, in context, a well-trained and armed body of citizens.
ABRAMS: Right. OK. But let‘s talk about that two ways. First of all, you say a militia, all able-bodied males. At the time that meant people 18 to 45, male and white. So according to—if you‘re going to talk about the original intent, then no African-Americans, no women, no older people have the right to possess a gun.
KOBACH: Sure. And voting was limited to people—and of course, voting at the time was limited to people who were white, male and owned property in most states. But, of course, all of these dimensions changed as we moved forward into the 20th Century.
ABRAMS: Oh, so you mean that things have changed and as result, maybe the framers didn‘t envision possessing weapons in big cities. Is that what you mean?
KOBACH: Look, no, you‘ve got to look at it—you‘re twisting this analogy all out of shape. Property rights also were only enjoyed by a select body of citizens at the time the Constitution was framed. We don‘t, therefore, say that property rights today are only enjoyed by white males.
Similarly, we don‘t say that other rights which were enjoyed only by white males at the time of the framing are only enjoyed by white males today.
ABRAMS: Yes. But the problem is—that‘s part of their problem in referring, Professor Rothstein, only to what a militia meant back at the time, which is one of their strongest arguments. But I don‘t see how they get over the well-regulated part.
I mean, that, to me, suggests that you have to be part of some sort of organized, well-regulated militia and not just say, I live in Washington, D.C., and therefore, I have a right to have a gun.
ROTHSTEIN: Well, if I were writing the decision, I would have given much more play to that first clause. That this right to bear arms is linked to the militia. And, therefore, automatic weapons are banned, therefore, weapons that didn‘t exist in that time can be banned, that all kinds of very strong regulations could come into play.
And I think when there‘s a close constitutional interpretation, like there is here, it‘s very bad constitutional drafting. This is the one place in the Constitution where the drafters really didn‘t know how to draft. And when there‘s a close question, I think the court has to consider the consequences. And if you get lots of guns into homes, like this decision does, that‘s going to be disastrous.
ABRAMS: But again, I want to stick to the legal, and let me read you this part, Professor Kobach, all right? And this is from Scalia in the majority opinion, it sure sounds to me like he‘s saying, you know what, maybe all sorts of weapons are going to be—going to be OK.
“It may well be true that a militia, to be effective as militias in the 18th Century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.”
I mean, that sounds to me like he‘s saying, boy, this is a right that is so ingrained that, you know what, if it turns out that people are using machine guns on a regular basis, you know what, that‘s going to have to be legal, as well.
KOBACH: You have to read the page before that. He was saying that the militia only referred—the militia clause conditions the right only on the type of weapons that people would own in their homes and that would bring with them to serve in the militia, if called.
And he‘s saying, so, therefore, yes, maybe this right isn‘t so effective today because the weapons you own in your home aren‘t effective against a bomber. He‘s saying the exact opposite of what you‘re suggesting, Dan. He‘s saying it really is limited to it.
ABRAMS: I know that is what he was trying to do. But let me ask you the final question, Kris. So where are all of these D.C. people now going to get together to meet for their well-regulated militia now that they‘re allowed to have their guns? Where are the meetings taking place?
KOBACH: Well, you have to remember the rest of the clause. That‘s the right of the people to keep and bear arms. That‘s an individually held right.
ABRAMS: Right. The people will join, to be part of the well-regulated militia. Where are the meetings in Washington, D.C.?
KOBACH: But the court said you don‘t need to be a member of a militia.
ABRAMS: All right.
ROTHSTEIN: It‘s going to be in the gas station.
ABRAMS: Let me let Kris get the final word.
KOBACH: The people of D.C. are going to be a lot safer now because the homicide rate tripled after this gun ban went into effect in 1977. People, when they are carrying the guns in their homes, they can defend themselves...
ABRAMS: I‘m trying to avoid policy, but anyway, Paul and Kris, good stuff. And an important decision, I don‘t think it should be minimized. Thanks to both of you, appreciate it.
ROTHSTEIN: Nice shirt, Dan. Nice shirt.
ABRAMS: Up next, what about abortion rights? If you want to see a new radical shift to outlaw abortion, then I would think John McCain is your guy. But the question is, does that help or hurt him politically? We‘re back in 60 seconds.
ABRAMS: Now to “Reality Bites,” a dose of reality caught on tape. Tonight a Colorado man making a big splash in a tiny pool. Darren Taylor set a new world record, diving 35 feet into a kiddie pool with only 12 inches of water. Taylor says the secret to his quote “success” is displacing as much water as possible. Kids are clapping there and—good times. Be right back.
ABRAMS: Welcome back to Supreme Court front and center this election cycle with a number of major decisions: gun control to the death penalty to the right of detainees. Each one a 5-4 decision, one vote switches the decision, goes the other way and with four of the court‘s nine justices now over 70, the next president, John McCain or Barack Obama, will almost certainly have a huge influence in shaping the Supreme Court for decades to come, including on the issue, of course, abortion rights.
So is this a good thing for Obama, politically? Joining me now, Slate magazine senior editor, Dahlia Lithwick, who has written extensively about the high court; and back with us are MSNBC political Craig Crawford; and Republican strategist Brad Blakeman.
All right. Dahlia, I mean, we can‘t emphasize enough, can we, how significant, whether it‘s Obama versus McCain will be on shaping the court.
DAHLIA LITHWICK, SLATE.COM: Well, certainly McCain is going to be significant, there‘s no question the next three retirements coming down the pike probably quickly will be progressives, will be probably be Stevens, Ginsburg and Souter in quick succession. Obama could really affect a sea change—I‘m sorry, McCain could.
It‘s unclear that Obama could do much but hold back the sea.
ABRAMS: Well, but, Brad, I mean, you had made a point earlier that you said that you think this is a good issue for McCain because it‘s going to get out the base. But I would think that the only way McCain is going to win this election is if he‘s able to get the independents, the Reagan Democrats, et cetera, and a lot of these are people who would support abortion rights, that‘s going to be the opinion people are talking about.
That‘s what‘s going to scare people because no question, McCain has made it clear and he would appoint justices like Alito, like Roberts who would unquestionably turn back Roe v. Wade.
BRAD BLAKEMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No. Not unquestionably, I think it‘s a red herring, abortion, Dan. Quite frankly if you listen to the hearings, both Alito and Chief Justice Roberts.
ABRAMS: Yes, but come on, the hearings. You‘re not actually going to say you believe.
BLAKEMAN: Listen to what they said at the hearings.
ABRAMS: . everything they said in the hearings.
BLAKEMAN: Oh, come on, they said that—they went on the record that Roe v. Wade has become a super precedent and that because it has been on the book so long, it would be very, very difficult to overturn.
And let‘s not forget, John McCain is not going to get anyone he wants. There is advise and consent of the Senate. And we‘re not going to—weren‘t probably going to lose some seats in the Senate this fall, which is going to make it even harder for McCain to get the type of justice that he wants on that court.
ABRAMS: Let me read this from johnmccain.com, Craig. “John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned. And as president, he will nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench.”
So, even if Brad doesn‘t want to admit it, John McCain himself is saying he wants to make sure he gets justices in there who overturn Roe versus Wade. I can‘t imagine that is good politics for him among these moderates.
CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that‘s sort of the call 1-800 issues of the ‘80s that seemed to always works. Gives and delivers and delivers for Republicans. But I have to wonder if on the Democratic side I think you might be right, Dan, that this might be a year for liberals and Democrats to get a little more focused on the Supreme Court than they have been in the past.
And they were asleep at the switch during the Reagan years when the Republicans really, you know, mounted this drive to affect the court. And I think going back to 2000, you know, Democrats learned a real hard lesson when the Supreme Court picked a president that the Supreme Court might just matter.
ABRAMS: And there‘s no question that to the far right, in particular, the court has been a far more important issue. I think that this Bush administration has basically said you guys take what you want on this, you know, this is one of the things we‘ll give you.
Dahlia, apart from abortion, though, lay out for us a couple of the other key issues that could swing if the court—if McCain, for example, becomes president.
LITHWICK: Well, we‘ve seen it in the last year-and-a-half. We‘ve seen it in a very truncated amount of time, Dan, on the Roberts court. And you know, in two weeks‘ span at the end of last term, we saw the court more or less eviscerate a partial birth abortion decision that Sandra Day O‘Connor had authored very, very shortly before.
We saw them turn around a voluntary affirmative action ruling that pretty much gutted O‘Connor‘s jurisprudence on affirmative action. We‘ve seen them time after time after time gut these church/state decisions.
We keep seeing it and I think it‘s what‘s really important to emphasize, and you have made this point, is that if everything keeps coming down to this one swing justice, to Anthony Kennedy in the middle, and you just can‘t count on his vote for anything, he‘s just swinging free.
ABRAMS: Yes. I‘ve got to wrap it up, Craig, Dahlia, and Brad, thanks a lot, important discussion. And I can promise you on this program, we‘re going to continue to talk about it throughout the campaign season.
Up next, will tonight‘s big “Winner and Loser” of the day be tennis star Maria Sharapova, slammed for her outfit after losing her game? Madonna‘s husband, who reportedly has no prenup with his wife who has always had more fame? And there‘s some news there. Or Mini Me, the next celebrity to be added to the sex tape hall of shame? Plus your e-mails. We call it the “P.O.‘d Box.” We‘ll be right back.
ABRAMS: It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers.” Our first loser, Maria Sharapova. The fashionable tennis superstar lost her second round match at Wimbledon today to lowly ranked Russia Alla Kudryavtseva in an upset. But the worst part, the underdog slammed Sharapova‘s much talked about tuxedo shirt and shorts outfit, saying: “I don‘t like her outfit, can I put it this way? It‘s a little too much of everything of the same thing.” She beats her then beats her.
Loser, Texas oil man Boone Pickens, the financier behind the Swift Boat Veterans attack that helped sink John Kerry four years ago. Last November the billionaire offered a million bucks to anyone who could disprove any of the accusations made against Kerry. Well, a group took him up on the offer. They identified what they said were 10 lies. Pickens now says that apparently there was a misunderstanding and his offer was only if they found falsehoods in TV ads, not the best-selling book that accompanied the ads. Ah, right.
Our big loser, Mini Me. Actor Verne Troyer, the tiny star of the Austin Powers movies, now starring in a movie only a few, let‘s just say, niche viewers might want to watch. Yes, Mini Me joining Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson in the sex tape hall of shame. TMZ reports the actor shot the tape with his former live-in girlfriend. The answer to your question is, I don‘t know. I didn‘t watch it.
Our big winner, director Guy Ritchie, amid reports that wife Madonna has lined up Paul McCartney‘s divorce lawyer to start the process of ending their seven-year marriage. According to The Times of London, the couple did not have a prenup, which means that the starting point for any settlement would be 50/50. Madonna‘s fortune estimated at $600 million, which would mean Ritchie could soon be known as “very richy Ritchie.
Time for the “P.O.‘d Box.” Last night a lot of you went after me with the Massachusetts lawmakers who said while fighting mandatory minimum sentences as a defense attorney he would rip apart a 6-year-old rape victim on the witness stand.
Susan Weiswasser from New York: “You were so disturbed by his comments even though you understood the point he was making, well exactly how do you expect him to make his point?”
A.E. Horner says, you missed his point entirely, the job of the defense attorney is to do whatever it takes to get his clients off.”
Exactly, I understood that to be his point. He gave the impression he would be willing to destroy kids lives to get an acquittal. That‘s what I found so offensive. As to Susan‘s question, he could have made an argument against mandatory minimums without seeming to relish in the possibility of ruining a kid‘s live.
So I got attacked from one side for going after a congressman who wants to abolish mandatory minimums for child rapist, then I got hit from the other side for agreeing with the Supreme Court that child rapists shouldn‘t be executed.
One viewer writes: “How should you say that a child rapist should not get the death penalty? You are the insane one.”
I can‘t win. As always, thanks for your feedback. You can e-mail me about the show, verdict.msnbc.com, please include your name, where you‘re writing from, our Web site, verdict.msnbc.com.
Thanks for watching. I will see you soon. I have the day off tomorrow. So I won‘t see you tomorrow. Good night.
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