Guest: Jeff Bingaman, Harold Ford, Jr., Pat Buchanan, Bill Press, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, George Pataki, Deroy Murdock High: The battle over Tom Daschle. The health secretary nominee just apologized again, this time to senators, for failing to pay nearly $130,000 in taxes.
Spec: Politics; Tom Daschle; Barack Obama; Economy; Senate; Military; Wars; Afghanistan
DAVID SHUSTER, HOST: Tonight, the battle over Tom Daschle. The health secretary nominee just apologized again, this time to senators, for failing to pay nearly $130,000 in taxes. We will talk with a senator who is in the meeting.
Also, the debate has begun in the Senate over the president‘s economic stimulus plan, the most ambitious proposal in U.S. history.
Later, in “Hypocrisy Watch,” why was Citigroup taking taxpayer money and then using the bank‘s corporate jet for executive vacations?
Plus, the continuing problems with Ground Zero in New York. Critics say the blame should be placed with former governor George Pataki. He will join us for a live interview.
And congressional Republicans are now steamed at Sarah Palin. They say the Alaska governor lied to them.
All tonight on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.
Welcome to the show, everyone. I‘m David Shuster.
Is the honeymoon over for President Obama? As Republicans are uniting against the stimulus package, yet another nominee is running into confirmation trouble. Tom Daschle, Obama‘s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, spent much of this afternoon doing a mea culpa with members of the Senate Finance Committee after it came out that he failed to pay more than $128,000 in taxes.
Joining us now is Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat from New Mexico and a member of the Finance Committee.
And Senator, what did you hear from Tom Daschle late this afternoon?
SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN (D), NEW MEXICO: I frankly haven‘t spoken to Senator Daschle.
SHUSTER: What have you heard from him so far? Have you heard anything from him today?
BINGAMAN: No, I have not.
SHUSTER: Does that surprise you given—it was our understanding he was supposed to meet with the Finance Committee today, this afternoon.
BINGAMAN: I really am not—I‘m not part of that meeting. I have been at meetings, but I haven‘t spoken to Senator Daschle.
SHUSTER: But that sounds like, Senator, that that is something that is sort of a wrench in the developments. It was our understanding and the understanding of so many people on Capitol Hill, Senator Daschle was going to come to you and other members of the committee, personally apologize, and then hope to try to convince you to move on. But it sounds like that didn‘t happen today. Do you have any idea why not?
BINGAMAN: That may well be happening. I‘m here speaking to you. I was asked to come speak about the stimulus package. That‘s why I‘m here. And I‘m not sure what‘s going on, on that other front that you just are alluding to.
SHUSTER: All right. We will talk about the stimulus. But before we do that, I want to play for you what Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at the White House said today about former Senator Daschle‘s problem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the Senate will lay a serious but corrected mistake against that three-decade career in public service. And in the end, the Finance Committee and the Senate as a whole will vote to extend his career in public service so that he can take on the very important task to America to reform that health care system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Senator, is that an accurate reflection of what the Senate Finance Committee is going to do with this Daschle issue?
BINGAMAN: I really don‘t know what the committee‘s going to do.
That‘s an accurate reflection of my own views at this time.
SHUSTER: But you don‘t know whether your Republican colleagues are willing to let this go on yet; right?
BINGAMAN: I cannot speak to what their position is on the issue.
SHUSTER: All right. Fair enough. And that is a bit of news, that this hasn‘t yet been revolved.
Now, on the stimulus, I want to play for you what the president said today, because the language that he used struck a lot of people by surprise. Bu tin any case, here‘s the president describing some of the differences in opinion over the stimulus bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are still some differences between Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, between the White House and some of the products that‘s been discussed on the Hill. But what we can‘t do is let very modest differences get in the way of the overall package moving forward swiftly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Senator, are there only modest differences between the Democrats and the Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee and in the Senate on this stimulus bill?
BINGAMAN: Well, I think in the Senate Finance Committee, the portion of the bill that we dealt with in the Senate Finance Committee, I think we had one Republican and all Democrats supporting the bill that we reported to the Senate floor. So clearly, there are Republicans on the Finance Committee that had problems with that bill.
I believe in the appropriations part of the bill. There were four or five Republicans who supported the bill, along with all the Democrats. So, again, there were Republicans on that committee that did not support what that committee did.
SHUSTER: Well, based on that, when we hear the president then say that there are only some modest differences, it does sound like he‘s sugarcoating it a little bit; right?
BINGAMAN: Well, I think the president‘s point is a good one, which is that the important thing is we go ahead and take action to get additional economic activity going in the economy and that the stimulus proposal that we‘ve come up with is a way to do that. Each senator will have the chance to offer amendments on the floor this week, to improve on the proposal, to delete things that they think are inappropriate that are in the proposal.
I expect to vote for some of those amendments, because I think there are ways we can improve the proposal. But at the end of the day, on the question of whether we should pass this stimulus, a version of this stimulus package or not, I think it‘s clear we should.
SHUSTER: And finally, some of the Republicans over the weekend said that they would possibly use a filibuster to try to stop passage. So, clearly, some of your colleagues like Senator Kyl, possibly McConnell as well, are already talking about that.
Is that appropriate or inappropriate?
BINGAMAN: Well, I think, first, they should try to improve the product and see how well they do in that process. I think it would be inappropriate to be using a filibuster at this point.
I think the whole country wants to see the Congress and the administration come together around initiatives that will help get us out of this economic downturn, and that‘s what the president is trying to do. I think Congress should try to do the same.
SHUSTER: Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat from New Mexico.
Senator, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.
BINGAMAN: Good talking to you.
SHUSTER: Republicans are seizing on the White House‘s woes. In an interview with “USA Today,” newly elected RNC chairman Michael Steele praised House Republicans from voting against the president‘s stimulus plan. And he seemed to be stoking the fires against Daschle, saying, “We‘ve already let one cat out of the bag with the Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, so what‘s the standard down to be a cabinet secretary? You don‘t have to pay your taxes? Come on.”
Let‘s bring in Harold Ford Jr., chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and an NBC News analyst.
And Harold, I was struck there because it was our understanding that things were essentially supposed to have been solved by late this afternoon between Daschle and the Senate Finance Committee. And maybe Bingaman, Senator Bingaman, is just not part of those conversations. But the fact that this is still sort of hanging out there and still nagging at the White House, is that a problem?
HAROLD FORD, JR., NBC NEWS ANALYST: I‘m sure they wish it would move more quickly, but I wouldn‘t interpret too much into Senator Bingaman not being part of the meeting. Having served on the other side of the Hill, in the House, oftentimes those meetings take place. Those who have made their minds up, those who have had their questions answered may not participate, and there might be those in the meeting who are trying to get questions answered. I think it‘s important that Max Baucus and others have made clear that, although this is a hiccup with Senator Daschle, his years of service on the Hill, the friendships on the Hill, I think people take him at his word, view him not only as a man of integrity and someone with decency, but someone who made a mistake.
I suspect what Robert Gibbs said in his press conference earlier, it‘s probably more accurate than what we‘ve heard, that this will move very quickly. I‘m sure the Obama team wished that they were not facing these questions, as I‘m sure they wish they hadn‘t faced them with Secretary Geithner either. But we are where we are. And I think we‘ll move on from this, and this will be something we‘ll look back at as something that was simply in the past just in a few weeks, as Secretary Daschle gets to work on the all-important health care issues.
SHUSTER: I agree. I do think this is going to be a short-term problem, but a headache, nonetheless.
On the issue of the stimulus, perhaps a longer-term headache for the Obama White House, when the president says that there are very modest differences in opinion over the stimulus, and then we hear Senator Sessions tick off the number of senators who may not go along with this, members of his own committee that are opposed, it doesn‘t sound like modest differences to us.
FORD: Well, they still have some work to do there. I think this issue, whenever you‘re spending close to a trillion dollars—and this bill could end up being a little larger, maybe marginally less—you‘re going to have competing interests. David, you‘ve worked in Washington, covered the White House and the Hill. You know as well as any the president‘s “Yes, we can” mantra is going to be tested here in the coming weeks. He‘s going to have to reach out even more to Republicans, if indeed he wants bipartisan support.
I actually applaud him on this. And I think the country will applaud the president on this as well, because, frankly, he could really just negotiate with Democrats, pass a bill out of the Senate, find one or two Republicans to work with, bring them along to ensure they don‘t block it procedurally, as you know, and then pass it.
But the fact that he‘s actively and aggressively reaching out to Republicans, I think, is not only a smart sign, but a good sign for the country early in his term, which means the financial recovery package we‘ll need, and they will seek Republican support. Even as they look at some of the thornier and more serious foreign policy issues, they‘re going to look for that kind of broad support. But this issue, we need not kid ourselves. And Democrats, I‘m sure, are braced for what will be an interesting conversation, if not some fights with Democrats and even Republicans—in the negotiations, that is—and how do you get a bill that stimulates, that is able to draw support from Republicans and Democrats who are concerned about housing and infrastructure, and even those who may want a few more tax cuts?
The president‘s going to have to make a decision about where he draws the line in the sand on that issue.
SHUSTER: Former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., also a great friend of all of ours.
And Harold, thanks so much for coming on. We appreciate it.
FORD: Thanks for having me.
SHUSTER: You‘re welcome.
Up next, are members of the Senate and President Obama really just facing modest differences over the massive economic stimulus plan?
There doesn‘t seem to be anything modest about the differences in opinion between Pat Buchanan and Bill Press. They‘ll be next.
Plus, our continuing series on Ground Zero and the delays in rebuilding following the 9/11 attacks. We will talk one-on-one with former New York Governor George Pataki.
And we‘ll tell you how the Smithsonian museum wants to commemorate Aretha Franklin‘s performance at President Obama‘s inauguration.
All that and more straight ahead on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.
SHUSTER: And welcome back.
We want to take you live to Capitol Hill right now, where the U.S. Senate is about to start voting on whether to confirm attorney general nominee Eric Holder. We are watching it live and we will bring you the vote as soon as it happens.
While the confirmation fights for Holder and Tom Daschle are grabbing some of the headlines, President Obama‘s biggest challenge right now may be winning support for his nearly trillion-dollar stimulus package.
For more on that, let‘s bring in Bill Press, nationally syndicated radio talk show host and author of “Train Wreck: The End of the Conservative Revolution (and Not a Moment Too Soon).” And MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, author of “Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology and Greed are Tearing America Apart.”
I‘ve got to ask, first, Pat, about Daschle. Is it a big deal or not that he didn‘t pay his $130,000 in taxes?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it is a big deal for the Democratic Party, and it‘s an embarrassment. It follows Geithner.
However, because Daschle is so strong with those Democrats, he knows the issue of medical care backward and forward, he‘s got a post in the White House, he‘s almost an indispensable man to Obama. I think he‘s going to get through. But frankly, if it had been the reverse, if Daschle had this problem, and then that had come up, and then Geithner, added, who‘s a banker, Geithner would be in real trouble.
SHUSTER: Bill, do you agree?
BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I totally agree. It is a big deal.
You know, people out there, they understand not paying your taxes. They also understand how kindly the IRS would treat them if they didn‘t pay maybe 1,000 bucks in taxes, yet alone $140,000, which is $130,000 plus interest.
So it‘s a big deal, but I agree with Pat, he‘s got a lot of friends in the Senate. He is a good man. He made a dumb mistake, his accountant made a dumb mistake. There is nobody better on health care, universal health care. Obama needs him and he‘ll get confirmed.
BUCHANAN: It does show you the reach these fellows are above the normal person.
SHUSTER: Let‘s talk about the stimulus. Here is Mitch McConnell today. He‘s talking about the figures and what‘s being thrown around as part of the stimulus plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, MINORITY LEADER: We‘ve been throwing figures around like it was paper money. We are already looking before we even do this at over a trillion-dollar deficit for this year. We all agree that we need to do something, but I don‘t think we should just completely act like the amount is irrelevant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Bill, McConnell and some others over the weekend left open the possibility that if the final bill is not to their liking, they might filibuster to stop it. If they have ideological differences, what‘s wrong with it?
PRESS: I think it‘s wrong with this economy, as bad as it is, thanks to the George Bush policies, for the Republicans to lay their bodies down to stop an economic recovery program. Look, this stimulus package is big. It‘s got to be big, because there‘s a big hole that we‘ve got to climb out of.
By the way, I didn‘t hear Mitch McConnell complaining when they spent $700 billion bail out Wall Street. But now we‘re talking about $825 billion, maybe to bail out Main Street. Suddenly, they‘ve gotten religion about spending.
Can the stimulus package be improved? Yes. Will it be improved?
Yes, but let me tell you something. It‘s going to pass.
It‘s going to pass with, I think, some Republican votes in the Senate.
If not, it will pass with Democratic votes. But it‘s going to pass.
BUCHANAN: It would be a good idea to filibuster it if it‘s that bad for the simple reason—you‘re not going to stop it—for the simple reason to try to do what Bill is talking about, try to improve it, get something in it and then end the filibuster for that. But let me say this, David, this is becoming a Democratic disaster.
This is not a stimulus bill now in the country. It‘s being laughed at. People are talking about STDs and condoms and National Endowment for the Arts. It‘s become a huge problem for Barack Obama, and the reason is Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats stiffed the Republicans, put all their little bennies (ph) in there, and then sent it out there with all these dead cats people are picking up, and it‘s really been hurt very badly.
And Obama, I think, has honestly tried to work with Republicans. Frankly, I bet it would be a far better bill if Obama and the Republicans could decide on it, they could come up with a good bill.
PRESS: Pat, that stuff is out of the bill. And trying to blame Nancy Pelosi on this is crazy.
Look, this is the Obama stimulus plan. Republicans don‘t want to blame Obama because they know how popular he is. It‘s $550 billion in jobs and it‘s $270 billion in tax cuts. Now, Republicans believe in jobs and tax cuts or they don‘t, up or down.
BUCHANAN: Let me mention this. Look, what is happening here, hundreds of billions of this are going to make up for deficits in state spending and deficits in Merrill (ph) spending at the local level.
SHUSTER: Right. So...
BUCHANAN: The problem is, what you‘re doing is you‘re transferring the debt from those governments to the federal government. And let me say this—Barack Obama said we‘re in this trouble in his inaugural because of the collective irresponsibility in making tough decisions. Now, those mayors and governors should make some of the same decisions that the guys on Wall Street should be making.
PRESS: Pat, you go from state capitol to state capitol, city hall to city hall, they have made the tough decisions. But right now, they‘re at the point where they‘re laying off teachers, they‘re laying off cops, they‘re laying off firefighters.
BUCHANAN: Everybody‘s got to downsize, Bill.
PRESS: They‘re laying off health care workers. The last thing we need right now, Pat, is more thousands of people out of work.
SHUSTER: Isn‘t it the responsibility for the Democrats to label this as a stimulus plan when it does include so much that even the Obama officials acknowledge is designed not to create jobs, but to save them, to soften the impact of this recession, whether it‘s helping the states so they don‘t have to lay off people, extending unemployment benefits, or health care? That‘s not stimulus.
PRESS: Look, two points. OK?
Number one, first of all, if you look at this, most of the stimulus package is clearly jobs. It‘s direct jobs, construction jobs, or it‘s indirect, like the health information technology. You don‘t think of that as jobs? It is. The education stuff is jobs. The energy stuff is jobs.
But the other thing is, go back to FDR. And everybody says this is an FDR moment.
You know, FDR didn‘t just get the recovery going. He transformed the economy at that time. We need to transform the American economy for the 21st century, moving into some new directions. And that‘s what it does.
BUCHANAN: You need to do that. We‘re not doing that at all.
We‘re watching every day big companies throwing off thousands of workers—automotive, Caterpillar, all the rest. At the same time, they‘re saying, however, government is not going to downsize at all. It‘s going to maintain its size, not cutting anybody.
And who works for government? The SEIU, whatever—those employees unions, all of them. Barack Obama...
BUCHANAN: Exactly. They‘re giving tax cuts to guys who don‘t pay taxes. They‘re giving tax cuts to people who don‘t pay taxes. They‘re Democratic motors.
PRESS: Pat, who else...
BUCHANAN: Everybody knows that.
PRESS: Wait a minute. Who else is going to put the money up?
Merrill Lynch? Bank of America?
PRESS: Give me a break.
BUCHANAN: They‘ve got to downsize. We do need a new economy.
PRESS: Wait. Only the federal government—and I come back to this.
This puts this country in a new direction.
It is profound what is in the stimulus package. In a new direction, in alternative energy. A new direction in education. A new direction in health information technology. That‘s as important as creating the jobs.
BUCHANAN: That‘s ridiculous. All you‘re doing is keeping the same people...
SHUSTER: Making sure that people don‘t lose their jobs.
PRESS: That‘s for starters.
SHUSTER: I mean, that‘s a decision that states don‘t want to have to make.
BUCHANAN: That is not the new economy. OK?
SHUSTER: Exactly. That‘s why I think the Democrats have done a poor job when they describe this only as a stimulus. That‘s misleading.
In any case, Bill Press, Pat Buchanan...
PRESS: I think Democrats may have lost the spin war.
SHUSTER: I agree with you again.
Bill Press, Pat Buchanan...
BUCHANAN: Because they‘ve lost the substance.
PRESS: No, no. They have the substance.
SHUSTER: We‘re going to have that debate tomorrow.
PRESS: Spinning incorrectly.
SHUSTER: Pat Buchanan and Bill Press, thanks, as always.
As our nation debates how to boost our ailing U.S. economy, there‘s still a lot of anger toward those firms that we see federal bailout money. The anger is justified at Citigroup, which has earned another spot in our “Hypocrisy Watch.”
First some background.
Over the last 60 months, Citigroup has lost more than $28 billion. As part of its lobbying effort last year for federal bailout money, the bank agreed to tighten its belt and cut expenses.
Citigroup laid off tens of thousands of employees and agreed to curtail corporate expenses. And yet, just weeks after receiving $45 billion in federal bailout money, Citigroup flew its former CEO and his family on one of its corporate jets to a posh Mexican resort for New Years.
Sandy Weill and his family traveled on the bank‘s Bombardier BD-700 Global Express. The aircraft seats up to 18 passengers. The interior features a full bar and wine selection, along with $13,000 carpets and pillows made from Hermes scarves. The glassware is Baccarat crystal.
Experts say the trip likely cost Citigroup about $100,000. The irony is that Sandy Weill is one of the wealthiest men in the word. And with a net worth of over a billion dollars, he could have paid for the trip himself a thousand times over.
If Citigroup wants Sanford Weill‘s advice, the board should bring him back as CEO. He couldn‘t do worse than the current team. He couldn‘t do any worse than the current Citigroup leadership team, and he would probably do far better. But for Citigroup to take taxpayer dollars, promise to cut costs, and then use the corporate jet for somebody‘s vacation, that‘s hypocrisy, and it‘s wrong.
Breaking news now. You‘re looking at some live pictures from the Senate floor, where voting is under way on whether to confirm Eric Holder as attorney general. Again, we will bring you the final tally once the vote concludes.
Up next on 1600, Iraqis went to the polls over the weekend and voted in provincial elections. It sounds like things went fairly well. We will tell you who won, who lost, and how it improves the chances of our troops coming home.
But first, speaking of home, historians are now wondering where it‘s going to be for that amazing hat Aretha Franklin wore as she sang “America the Beautiful” during President Obama‘s inauguration. The Smithsonian Museum wants the hat, but the Queen of Soul says there are too many memories associated with it and she‘s not sure if she wants to give it up.
The big-bowed hat cost more than $500.
More 1600 in a moment.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600.
On Saturday, in Iraq‘s first provincial election since 2005, just over half the country‘s 15 million registered voters went to the polls. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki‘s ruling Da‘wa party appeared to come out on top.
With U.S. troops watching the Super Bowl yesterday from Baghdad, President Obama promised NBC‘s Matt Lauer that many American soldiers will be home for next year‘s game.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I think that we have a sense, now that the Iraqis just had a very significant election with no significant violence there, that we are in a position to start putting more responsibility on the Iraqis. And that‘s good news for not only the troops in the field, but their families who are carrying an enormous burden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Joining us now is “Washington Post” associate editor and former Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran.
And Rajiv, first of all, these election results explain the impact that they may or may not have on the U.S. troop presence in Iraq.
RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, you know, I think there‘s good news and there‘s potential concern ahead. You know, the fact that the elections went off as peacefully as they did suggests that, you know, Iraq is really moving into a new phase of its political development here, and that, you know, and a potential good sign for continued stability.
We didn‘t have any significant violent acts at any of the polling places around the country. But, you know, I don‘t think we should look at these preliminary results and say we‘re entirely in the clear here.
There‘s word this evening that out in Anbar Province, in the west, there‘s already a lot of disgruntlement about the potential early returns and the curfews been slapped on in that area. And up In the north, there appear to be some potential significant tensions that may develop between Arabs and Kurds. So we have to see how these results play out and whether they wind up creating additional stability in parts of the country, or whether they open up potential new fault lines, David.
SHUSTER: In general, though, when the Iraqis vote, as they seemed to do, in terms of favoring a more centralized government, taking authority away from some of the more regional parties, that‘s sort of desire to have more centralization, does that tend to help U.S. interests in Iraq?
CHANDRASEKARAN: It most certainly does. Those are good signs. It‘s voting not just for centralization, but also away from religious parties and toward more secular political organizations, toward the—particularly the party of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, which campaigned throughout the country as the party based more on the rule of law than on religious ideology. So these are positive trends as they develop around the country, and will help, hopefully, the Iraqi government project greater sort of authority and control around the country.
SHUSTER: I was going to say, NBC News has confirmed that Christopher Hill, who was most recently assistant Secretary of State of East Asia Pacific Affairs, a lead US negotiator with North Korea—he‘s going to named the ambassador to Iraq. Talk about the significance of Christopher Hill and that means, what we can read into it, as far as President Obama‘s Iraq policy at this stage.
CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, I think it‘s a good step. There‘s a prominent American career Foreign Service official who will be taking the reigns there at the embassy in Baghdad from Ryan Crocker. Chris Hill noted for his work on the Korea issue over the past couple of years. Obviously, Iraq poses a whole set of different challenges. But Hill has been a guy who has been willing to roll up his sleeves, really get into some of these tough issues, to bring various sides together at negotiating tables on some very, very difficult issues. Obviously, you know, there are few issues more difficult than North Korea‘s nuclear program.
I think that that potentially augers well for the American diplomatic presence in Baghdad, and his ability to get the disparate groups in the country to try to make some of the necessary political accommodations that are necessary for President Obama to start fulfilling his pledge to draw down U.S. troops there over the course of this coming year.
SHUSTER: Rajiv Chandrasekaran from the “Washington Post,” thanks so much for helping us sort this out. Great stuff. We appreciate you coming on.
CHANDRASEKARAN: Pleasure to talk to you again, David.
SHUSTER: Still ahead, are more liberals starting to agree with conservatives on global warming? Our Muckraker of the day says yes and he‘s ready to name names.
But first, our continuing series on the problems at Ground Zero. Who is really to blame? Tonight, answers from former New York Governor George Pataki. He‘s just straight ahead here on 1600.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. We‘ve been focusing at this time in our show on the rebuilding delays and problems at Ground Zero in New York. Many 9/11 families say the process has been an insult, and that the Freedom Tower plan, which is only a few feet off the ground right now, has been a mistake all along. These families and police and firefighter organizations continue to insist the Twin Towers be rebuilt stronger, taller, and safer.
Joining us now is the former governor of New York George Pataki. It was Governor Pataki who oversaw the group responsible for the Ground Zero for several crucial years following 9/11. Let‘s start with the Twin Towers. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is responsible for the World Trade Center site. In July 2001, they said in a press release, quote, “The World Trade Center and its Twin Towers are among a handful of instantly recognizable structures on the entire planet, like the Pyramids at Giza or the Great Wall of China.”
Last Friday, Christopher Ward, who now runs the Port Authority, said on the show—I was asking him about how we might replace the White House and Capitol building and he said, “I think you‘re dealing with national monuments as opposed to real estate structures.” Do you also believe that the Twin Towers were only real estate structures?
GEORGE PATAKI, FMR. GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK: Of course not. They didn‘t say they were real estate structures. Before they were destroyed, to say they were iconic symbols of America and New York. They were.
SHUSTER: Why did Christopher Ward then describe them as real estate structures on this very show last Friday?
PATAKI: They‘re not. They were a part of the fabric of New York and a symbol of our city and country. And they‘re going to be in the process of being replaced by a magnificent tribute to the heroes of September 11th and to the freedom of our country.
You know, you always have critics. It‘s wonderful to have this critic or that critic. Generally those who want to see progress stay quiet. But I‘ll tell you, I‘m extremely proud of what‘s happening in lower Manhattan. I‘m extremely proud that the memorial will be the most visited place in North America, and it will be a tribute to everyone who died on September 11th and the heroes—
SHUSTER: How is it a tribute to people who said and who continue to believe the Twin Towers were a symbol of America‘s freedom, a symbol of capitalism? That‘s why they were attacked. Why not rebuild them to begin with, as opposed to a building that a lot of people never liked?
PATAKI: They haven‘t seen the building. It‘s wonderful to not like something you haven‘t seen, because when we took a look at that ground after September 11th, I knew, as most Americans I think feel, it was hallowed ground, and that we had to do something significant. And the center of everything we had to do was the memorial. I mean, are we going to take a site—are we going to take the site—but the memorial pays tribute to the towers by preserving the sites where the towers stood, and by having where those towers stood a void, a reflecting pool where a water fall will draw down to the bottom. And the names of everyone who died will be around those.
Now, there are a lot of people who said, forget about. Go build. Pretend it never happened. That would have been an insult to the people who died. That would have been an insult to the courage and strength of those who responded. I, from the beginning, knew that paying tribute and remembering those we lost had to be the cornerstone.
SHUSTER: Let‘s talk about the Freedom Tower—
PATAKI: I get a little emotional about this.
SHUSTER: As you should. It is very emotional for a lot of people.
SHUSTER: Let‘s inform our viewers about the process that took place. 2002, there is this effort to essentially winnow down the 400 entries to nine. On September 26th, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which you helped put together, narrowed down 407 rebuilding entries to nine, including one from architect Daniel Libeskind, who had never built an office tower before.
Libeskind is very close with Ron Lauder, who gave heavily to your campaign. On September 26th, 2002, the very same day, Ron Lauder‘s family gave 68,000 dollars to Friends of Pataki. Hold on a second, 30,000 dollars from Ron, 28,000 dollars from Joe, 10,000 dollars from Jane, the daughter. Why shouldn‘t the public be suspicious about that?
PATAKI: Ronald Lauder called me and said, I prefer one of the final designs. And it wasn‘t the Libeskind design. It was the Vignoli design. He said, I think you should do the Vignoli. I don‘t know where you got all the things about how close they are. I can tell you for a fact that Lauder called me for a different design.
And the Libeskind site plan wasn‘t chosen by me. There were 10 million hits on the Internet when the final five architects laid out their plans in diagrams. There were tens of thousands of people who visited them in lower Manhattan, 10 million hits on the Internet. Then, ultimately, the LMDC, which was jointly appointed by myself and the mayor, made the determination.
I thought and still think the Libeskind plan was the best and is a brilliant plan.
SHUSTER: But would you acknowledge that the Libeskind plan, as it stands now, doesn‘t look anything like what the LMDC chose back in 2003. Back in 2003, it only went up to 70 floors. There was a windmill and a wind turbine on top. There was an off-center antenna. Now it goes up to 100 floors.
PATAKI: David, David, David. You said Libeskind never built an office building. He‘s not building one now. They‘re being designed and built by individual architects. It‘s David Childs, who is a brilliant architect, who has designed the Freedom Tower. It always was intended, in accordance with Libeskind‘s design, to go to 1,776 feet high, with a spire at the top, but with limited offices, stopping somewhere around the 80th floor.
The concept was always that you have the memorial where the footprints of the towers were. You have a plaza surrounding that. Then you have a spire of rising office buildings culminating in a building 1,776 feet tall. Not to recreate the towers, but to rise above the tower.
SHUSTER: Why would you want a tower—if you want to hold on to the memory of the Twin Towers and the icons that they were, why would you support, to begin with, a building design that would only be occupied to the 70th floor and then have—granted, it would go up to 1,776 feet with the tower and the windmill. Since when would we want windows on the world at the 70th floor? You wouldn‘t be able to see as tall as the Empire State Building?
PATAKI: Of course you could?
SHUSTER: On the 70th floor?
PATAKI: It is so easy to criticize. It will be a magnificent building. By the way, your opening; it is under construction. It has reached street grade. The bidding and contracting for 80 to 90 percent of all the materials is out there. There‘s a commitment for a million square feet of occupants from GSA and the state of New York, and it‘s going forward, as is the memorial.
SHUSTER: Given—in 2003, your wife got double the consulting fees from Lauder, 80,000 dollars. Why didn‘t you go with Ron Lauder‘s recommendation for the Vignoli design, which essentially had the scaffolding, if he wanted it? If the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation also said that they wanted it, why would you overrule?
PATAKI: Because it was terrible. I didn‘t overrule. Let me tell you a little about the Vignoli design.
SHUSTER: Take that part there about what happened with you and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. This is the “New York Post,” I believe, “The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation also seemed intent on choosing Vignoli, leader of the THINK team to rebuild at Ground Zero, but met with a veto from Governor Pataki. ‘You‘re not going to build these skeletons,‘ Mr Pataki told LMDC officials, according to New York Architecture critic Paul Goldberger.”
In other words, the team itself, the LMDC team, they didn‘t want Libeskind‘s design. The public didn‘t want the Libeskind design, according to a “New York Times” poll. They only had 1.7 percent that supported it. You were the only one that supported it. I guess the question is why.
PATAKI: Wrong. That‘s complete nonsense. When we went to that meeting—I remember Mayor Bloomberg‘s comments very well. They were looking at Vignoli. Mayor Bloomberg said, I just paid 30 million dollars to tear down fuel tanks in Astoria that looked just like it. They both occupied the sites where the towers had stood, where we thought it was critical to have a memorial.
They didn‘t have offices. They had these bare skeletons rising up. By the way, they couldn‘t have been compensated for by the insurance, because they weren‘t occupied and the insurance proceeds required that you rebuild the office space that had existed prior to September 11th.
SHUSTER: That gets to the big question everybody wants to know, why not rebuild the Twin Towers? Why wasn‘t there a plan to rebuild the Twin Towers from the beginning?
PATAKI: Because we wanted to have the memorial and not the towers as the centerpiece.
SHUSTER: Can‘t you do both?
SHUSTER: There‘s a plan right now that Ken Gardner has, that 9/11 families support, that has the memorial, the footprint and it rebuilds the towers. The question is, do you consider the memorial, that you would walk underground—is that the iconic representation of what happened to us and the symbolism of America or is it New York skyline? We can have an honest disagreement, but that‘s what it boils down to, doesn‘t it?
PATAKI: The whole idea of the Freedom Tower is to not just reclaim the skyline that was there on September 11th. When you saw it, people would think, oh my god, they got knocked down, they‘re back. We‘re going to see a building that rises higher that, that soars to new heights, where you look at it and you‘re going to say, we‘re not cowards. We‘re not going to build small, because we‘ve been attacked before. We‘re going to soar to new heights.
It‘s going to be respectful of where those towers stood, which will be voids and reflecting pools, as the centerpiece of the memorial. We‘re doing both. We‘re going to have the most moving memorial in America, and we are going to have a tribute to our freedom by rising to new heights.
SHUSTER: I have no doubt that the memorial is going to be spectacular. You deserve credit for that. Again, I think the issue is, when you‘re building a building that is not even going to be occupied as high as either of the twin towers, I think a lot of people have an issue with that. In any case, governor, good of you to join us. It‘s not an easy debate for anybody. We appreciate you being here.
PATAKI: Thank you very much.
SHUSTER: Breaking news this hour. Embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Daschle has now apologized publicly. Daschle spoke briefly after meeting with members of the Senate Financial Services Committee. We‘re looking into Daschle‘s failure to pay more than 100,000 dollars in taxes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM DASCHLE, HHS SECRETARY DESIGNATE: When I realized the mistake, I notified officials and I paid the tax in full. It was completely inadvertent. But that‘s no excuse. And I deeply apologize.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The White House is standing behind Daschle. Officials say they are hopeful the Senate will confirm him.
Up next, two invitations in one weekend for Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She had to turn one of them down. It‘s the excuse she used that has Washington buzzing.
Plus, from 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE to Gobblers Knob, Pennsylvania, where Punxsutawney Phil made his prediction of whether we‘ll see six more weeks of winter.
SHUSTER: We‘re back with a look at what‘s going on inside the Briefing Room. We start in a small Pennsylvania town of Gobblers Knob, where the world‘s most famous ground hog predicts the weather.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as he looks, a bright sky above me showed by shadow beside me. So six more weeks of winter it will be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: You heard it. Six more weeks of winter, according to Punxsutawney Phil and his shadow. Punxsutawney held its first Ground Hog Day in the 1800s and the first official trek to Gobblers Knob was made on February 2nd, 1887. A ground hog‘s life span is typically six to eight years. By our estimation, this group has had to replace at least 15 different ground hogs through the years. But not according to Ground Hog.org, the official website. They claim Phil drinks a magical punch every summer that gives him seven more years to live. They also claim Phil communicates his prediction in Ground Hog-ese, a language they say can only be understood by the current president of the Ground Hog Club‘s inner circle, those guys with the top hats.
Phil was well behaved today. The Staten Island Ground Hog, Charles G. Hog, bit Mayor Michael Bloomberg today. We‘re told the ground hog drew a little bit of blood, but that Mayor Bloomberg was able to wrap the cut with a napkin until he could see his doctor.
From ground hogs to Sarah Barracuda, AKA, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She is now back home after spending the weekend in Washington, D.C. On Saturday night, Palin attended the exclusive black tie Alfalfa Club Dinner, where she dined with President Obama and her former running mate John McCain.
That wasn‘t the only invitation Palin received. Republicans in the House of Representatives had also invited Palin to their annual winter retreat in Hot Springs, Virginia this past weekend. Palin denied that invitation by claiming she‘d be dealing with pressing state business that would keep her in Alaska. But there she was at the Alfalfa Club dinner. Doh. You betcha.
At the GOP retreat, when asked about Palin, House Minority Leader John Boehner told a reporter, whatever.
Speaking of the Alfalfa dinner, the exclusive gathering does not allow cameras or reporters. But here are the one liners we‘ve been able to confirm: President Obama poked fun at Orthodox Jewish Senator Joe Lieberman who supported John McCain: “no hard feelings because of the election. My door is always open. Feel free to drop by any Saturday afternoon.”
Republican Senator Kit Bond from Missouri was elected the Alfalfa Club‘s new president. He said, quote, “I‘m a little frustrated. I didn‘t get to pick my VP. Instead, a group of people walked into my office and told me who it would be. Now I know how John McCain felt.”
Finally, Senator Lieberman targeted former Vice President Cheney. “We had hoped Vice President Cheney would be here tonight. I hope it‘s not his back injury that‘s keeping him away. Apparently, he hurt it moving some things out of his office. Personally, I had no idea water boards were so heavy.”
Up next, are liberals moving to the right on global warming? That‘s what our Muckraker of the day is reporting and he‘s going to name names. That‘s next on 1600.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600. Here in the northeast, we‘re experiencing a beautiful 50 degree February day. Across the pond, Londoners are under four inches of snow, the heaviest snowfall in almost two decades. To the south, Paris, Spain and even Morocco are getting unusual amounts of the white stuff. Where‘s the global warming?
That questions now being asked in unusual circles, progressive and scientific ones. In an op-ed published across the country last week, columnist Deroy Murdock writes, “so-called global warming has shrunk from problem to punch line. Now leftists are laughing, too, as Earth faces global cooling. Both troglodyte right wingers and lachrymose left wingers find Albert Gore‘s simmering planet hypothesis increasingly hilarious.”
Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps-Howard News Service, and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He‘s definitely stirring the pot with this piece and he is our Muckraker of the day. Deroy, who are the lefties who don‘t agree with global warming anymore?
DEROY MURDOCK, HOOVER INSTITUTION: David, there have been a number of people, scientists and commentators, who have come out and denounced this motion. They‘re very clear of saying they‘ve not people on the right, but people on the left. For example, you have a man named Harold Ambler, who writes for HuffingtonPost.com. He said he voted for Barack Obama for a thousand times a thousand reasons. Nonetheless, he says that he believes Al Gore should apologize for what he‘s done on global warming. He also believes that Al Gore‘s comments that science in, debate is over—he describes that as the biggest whopper ever sold to the public in the history of mankind.
Then you have another man named Martin Hertzberg. He‘s a professor—a former Navy meteorologist. He has a PHD, very serious scientist. He calls himself a lifelong liberal Democrat. He does not believe in global warming. He says the Earth temperature has gone down 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1997. He says we‘re cooling at the moment. We‘re not warming. There are number of others, including a former socialist minister in France, former minister of education, member of the Socialist Party. He‘s a geophysicist. He says the Earth is not warming. The only warming that‘s going on is in the bank accounts of people on the left who push this. He believes this is being done essentially as a way of getting money.
SHUSTER: Deroy, what about—what about the argument, though, that global warming is going to be—the signs are not that the entire planet is going to get warmer, but that weather patterns are going to change. Some places will get cooler, some will get warmer, particularly like the polar ice caps, where the evidence is clear that the ice caps are melting, right?
MURDOCK: Actually, the polar ice cap in the north grew last year by approximately the size of Texas. So what you‘re seeing is, despite the claims that the poles are melting, you actually see that the evidence is that the North Pole is actually bigger than it was back in August of 2007. It grew again about the size of Texas.
So the slogans of global warming are fascinating. It‘s interesting to hear Al Gore‘s speeches. Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperating. The climate is not cooperating. You‘re seeing snow in the United Arab Emirates. You saw snow in Malibu, snow in Las Vegas, snow in New Orleans, for God‘s sake. You actually had snow falling on the street cars on Canal Street in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the Earth is not cooperating with people on the left who push this. People on the left are disagreeing with it.
SHUSTER: It‘s a great piece, Deroy. Even though a lot of people disagree with you, you‘ve done enough reporting on this, stirring the pot, to be our Muckraker of the day. Congratulations. We appreciate you coming on tonight. That is the view from 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. I‘m David Shuster. Thank you for watching. We‘ll see you back here tomorrow night, same time, 6:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC. Remember, you can get the latest political news and a sneak peek at tomorrow night‘s show. Go to Shuster.MSNBC.com. “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts now.
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