Guest: Pat Buchanan, Bill Press, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Jon Tester, Jonathan Alter, Mark Whitaker, Josh Gerstein, Dan Froomkin High: President Obama‘s economic recovery plan has cleared a key procedural hurdle just minutes ago as 61 senators voted to move it forward.
Spec: Politics; Congress; Economy
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight, in the U.S. Senate, President Obama‘s economic recovery plan has cleared a key procedural hurdle just minutes ago. 61 senators voted to move forward. It came after President Obama, today, took his message to the heartland campaigning in Indiana and striking an urgent tone.
Also this hour, some of the Republicans who are complaining about the president‘s rhetoric are now in our “Hypocrisy Watch.”
Later, tonight‘s primetime news conference. There‘s some crucial risks and rewards for the president and the press corps.
Plus, our political videos of the day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the unlikely event of a loss in profits, bailout funds will drop from the panel above your head.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: All tonight on “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.”
Welcome to the show, everybody, I‘m David Shuster.
A short time ago the U.S. Senate voted to end debate on the president‘s—on a key amendment to the president‘s economic recovery plan. It was a crucial procedural task that went in President Obama‘s favor. Democrats reached the magic 60 vote threshold. In fact they were one above that with the help of three Republicans.
The $827 billion bill is now scheduled for a vote tomorrow. Underscoring the high stakes in all of this, Democrats were assisted today by the liberal lion of the senate, Ted Kennedy, who was undergoing treatment for brain cancer. Throughout the afternoon, the debate in the senate was passionate and emotional.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® ARIZONA: The fact is we ended up with three Republican members of Congress out of 178 in the house and 40 here in the senate. So it is not, quote, “bipartisan.”
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A compromise plan that has been put together by Democratic senators on our side and several Republican senators on the other side. Now, for the life of me, I do not understand how anyone can say that is not bipartisan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frankly, I‘ve had enough of this bailout baloney.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The focus of this bill to create jobs in the near term has been replaced by what I consider basically an orgy of spending up here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: An orgy of spending. Let‘s bring in Texas Republican Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, member of the Senate Banking Committee and Housing and Urban Affairs. Senator, first of all, why did you vote against this procedural effort tonight?
KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, ® TEXAS: I just thought the bill was not well constructed. We are looking at a trillion dollars now; maybe another trillion dollars coming down the pike. And we spent a trillion dollars last year to stimulate and so far nothing has worked. I think we need to step back and do this in the big picture with a strategy that will help housing, that will get credit out to small businesses and individuals throughout our country, and none of that is happening right now.
SHUSTER: Senator, the president says all of those issues are in this bill and he says, in fact, there are no earmarks, no pork.
Here is the president from earlier today. We‘ll give you a chance to respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Be clear, though, that there aren‘t individual pork projects that members of Congress are putting into this bill. Regardless of what the critics say, there are no earmarks in this bill. That‘s part of the change that we‘re bringing to Washington is making sure that this money is well spent to actually create jobs right here in Elkhart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Senator, I know a lot of Republicans say there‘s wasteful spending. Identify what you consider to be wasteful in this bill.
HUTCHISON: Well, it‘s just that it‘s not job stimulative. And, you know, the president will be earmarking the bill. It will be the people in the agencies and the bureaucracies that decide what goes and what doesn‘t. So there will be earmarks for sure.
And it‘s not stimulative and it doesn‘t happen in the first two years. It happens through ten years. And what we need to do is jump-start the economy with spending in the next two years; that will be infrastructure that will create jobs in our country. Military construction spending. Highway spending. Bridges. The kinds of infrastructure that we have to do anyway so that we will not be in the outlying years doing things that are going to increase the debt and deficit but will jump-start the economy now so that the revenue would be produced and then we can start trying to balance the budget in the out years.
SHUSTER: Senator Hutchison, one of your colleagues, Senator Coburn identified a number of items he said were wasteful and not stimulative including $5.5 billion for making federal buildings green, $275 million for flood prevention, $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges and libraries.
All of those would create jobs, wouldn‘t they?
HUTCHISON: No. What we‘re talking about is, well—that‘s not true. There will be some jobs created. But they‘re not job-intensive items. It will be consultancies. They‘re talking about grants for education which are still in the bill. And they‘re—
SHUSTER: Right. But they‘re also talking about construction for education, right? If you build a—
HUTCHISON: They‘re not job-creating projects. That‘s the problem.
SHUSTER: Fair enough. But if you‘re building a school with some of the money that is supposed to be used for, that does creates jobs, right, doesn‘t it make the schools better and provide a better environment for students and invest in the future in that sense?
HUTCHISON: But look at the enormous taxpayer effort that is going to be made with $1 trillion. And where is it going to go? You know, I would rather know that it was going to be population-based where we would know that it is going to schools on some kind of even-handed basis.
But this is just throwing money in the wind and we don‘t know where it‘s going to be spent. We don‘t know what states are going to get it or what schools. We don‘t know that it‘s going to be a process that‘s fair. There‘s no specificity at all.
And I don‘t think that the taxpayers of my state should be subsidizing other states if it‘s going to be unfairly distributed. We don‘t know. That‘s the problem with this bill. It‘s $838 billion that is unspecified.
And there will be earmarks but it‘s going to be made by the president and the administration. And I don‘t think that is a process that gives us comfort that it is going to be job-creating, that it is going to be done with any kind of a plan that we see.
SHUSTER: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican from Texas. Senator, you raised some great points and good of you to come on with us tonight. We appreciate it.
HUTCHISON: Thank you.
SHUSTER: It was a narrow win for Democrats but a win nonetheless. They got the 61 they needed. They needed 60 in order to get over this procedural hurdle.
And with us now live, Democratic Senator from Montana, Jon Tester, member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
And what about that point that Senator Hutchison was just making that it‘s not clear how the states are going to get to this money, who‘s going to make these decisions about which schools, for example?
SHUSTER: Senator, we‘re apparently having a microphone problem so when we get that sorted out, let‘s go to—here‘s President Obama from earlier today. He was talking about it, that there was essentially no time as Senator Hutchison wanted, that the senate, Congress needs to act now. Here‘s what President Obama said earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I can say with complete confidence that endless delays or paralysis in Washington in the face of this crisis will only bring deepening disaster. I can tell you that doing nothing is not an option.
So we‘ve had a good debate. Now it‘s time to act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Senator, on the—on Senator Hutchison‘s point that the sort of need for speed is leaving some things sort of in the dark such as how the money is going to get spent, which schools will get it, which schools were not, how do you plead on that?
SEN. JON TESTER, (D) MONTANA: I think the bottom line is either you‘re for jobs or you‘re not if you voted against this. We‘ve seen over 1.5 million lost in the last three month alone. We‘ve got to do something to turn this around.
What you do is you invest in a bill like this that will create jobs. And it will create jobs and it will help build our infrastructure. It will just work all the way around.
There are no earmarks in this bill. So you really can‘t have it both ways. But I‘m telling you, I have full faith in the way the bill is designed that it will get to the ground and create jobs and put people to work. That‘s really the bottom line.
We‘ll never, ever, ever, be able to turn this economy around unless we take steps like this. I think it‘s a step in the right direction because it puts some money on the ground and will create jobs on the ground so folks can afford to stay in their house and pay their bills.
SHUSTER: Senator, explain to the residents of your state of Montana how $2 million for manufacturing advanced batteries for hybrid cars will help them.
TESTER: You bet. Every time you go to the gas pumps it will help them. We‘ve got a great university system in the state of Montana; Montana State University and its affiliates and the University of Montana and their affiliates.
It‘s entirely possible with the kind of research they‘ve done in the past that they will be able to get this new battery technology off the ground.
The bottom line is this, David. When a guy is standing on a corner holding a sign that says, “I need work,” we need to address those issues. There‘s getting to be more and more of those folks that are standing on corners of places like Kalispell, Montana and Whitefish, Montana, then there needs to be.
It‘s not just right. That is why this bill needs to pass today. It took its first procedural hurdle today and got by it.
SHUSTER: There‘s still, as you know, the conference of the house. Senator Ensign has suggested that the conference, itself, still could be something of a mixed bag. Here‘s Senator Ensign and we‘ll get your response on the other side. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN, ® NEVADA: You know, the conference is up in the air. The house has already said that they don‘t like a lot of the cuts that were done, even though the senate bill is larger than the house bill. If the house decides that it wants to put back more of the spending I think it‘s going to have trouble.
As Susan Collins said yesterday, she‘s not committed to voting for the conference bill. She just voted to get it out of the senate. If it comes back in the wrong direction you‘re not going to see this bill pass.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Senator, tell us about your conversations with Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Senator Specter, for example. Obviously those three need to hold once this goes through conference in order for this to pass assuming it does go through conference and comes back in a week.
TESTER: Yes and we need to hold all the Democrats too. I think that the conference committee will do good work. I don‘t think that they‘re going to go crazy on this thing. I think that the bill, it came out of the senate, is a good bill. It‘s a solid bill. I think it moves the country in the right direction.
As I‘ve said before, it‘s going to create some good jobs and help turn the economy around. It‘s only one piece but it‘s going to help and I think it‘ll help in a big, big way.
I expect what comes out of that conference is going to be something that the people who voted today that voted yes can vote yes when it comes out of conference whenever that might be.
SHUSTER: And Senator, what about the argument to your left from people like Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winning economist who says that what the Senate has just done, what the House is proposing is simply not big enough.
TESTER: Well, I mean, you know, nobody‘s got a crystal ball that‘s real clear. I do know one thing. In this bill they‘re investing in highways and bridges and water systems and electric transmission and generation. There‘s money in there through the form of tax credits to help middle class families. There‘s money in there for Pell grants and for food stamps and for unemployment.
I think it‘s a well-rounded bill. I think it‘s going to take a move in the right direction. Whether it‘s big enough or too big I can‘t say. But I think it‘s a good faith effort in helping turn the economy around, creating some jobs and getting the economy really in the right direction.
SHUSTER: Democratic Senator Jon Tester from Montana. Senator, thank you as well. Good of you ton join us. We appreciate it.
TESTER: Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: Up next, back home again in Indiana. The president hit the road and went to the Hoosier State today to pitch his economic recovery plan. We‘ll get reaction from our political Analysts Pat Buchanan and Bill Press. Also hear their view about A-Rod.
Plus, FDR‘s record front and center in the spending debate. Why are so many in Congress misstating that record?
President Obama became the second president in a row to bump his head while going into Marine One. At least the president did not pull a Gerald Ford.
That and more ahead on “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.”
SHUSTER: The Republican senator who accuses President Obama of using improper fear tactics to sell the economic recovery plan, where was this senator when President Bush was selling the Iraq war? “Hypocrisy Watch” is ahead on “1600.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It‘s not perfect. But it is the right size. It is the right scope. Broadly speaking, it has the right priorities to create jobs that will jumpstart our economy and transform this economy for the 21st century.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: That was President Obama today in Elkhart, Indiana; the town just east of South Bend in the northern part of the state has a 15 percent unemployment rate. That‘s one of the highest in the nation.
With us now live MSNBC political analyst, Pat Buchanan, nationally syndicated talk show host, Bill Press.
And Pat, how did President Obama take on the show on the road today?
How did he do?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it was a great disappointment, quite frankly. The president means well. But look, his whole program is a disappointment. Look at FDR when he had Hoover Dam grid, electrifying every single farm in America. Ike had the great interstate highway system. Kennedy‘s going to take us to the moon. You had NASA space program. Reagan‘s got the 600 ship navy.
What do you have? You have—I‘m sure it‘s going to do some good for folks who are out of work and need their medical insurance paid and need unemployment insurance but I just listened to that and I said, “Where is the job they‘re going to create for the folks in that RV factory?” Those recreational vehicles probably 50,000 to 150,000; what is in there besides the $5,000 the Republicans put in as a tax credit for cars?
SHUSTER: Go ahead.
BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I was going to say, first of all, I‘m disappointed in Pat because I think if anything that President Obama today was Reaganesque. I mean, he—he realized that it looked like it was too much old kind of fashioned politics here in Washington with all this trading back and forth. He did what Reagan did. He should have done it sooner.
He took it on the road. He went to the people. He identified with real people. He talked about their real problems. He talked about jobs, jobs, jobs.
And, Pat, this thing is a very sweeping restructuring of the economy. He‘s talking about redoing the whole way we produce energy. He‘s talking about reforming health care starting with Internet technology. He‘s talking about rebuilding our schools to bring them into the 21st century.
SHUSTER: Never mind whether you agree—
BUCHANAN: Bill says Reaganesque, it‘s not a compliment. He trashed Reagan for eight years, so go ahead, David.
PRESS: It is a compliment.
SHUSTER: And here‘s the Gallup polling though. Approval ratings on handling the stimulus: President Obama, 67 percent; Congressional Democrats; 48 percent, Congressional Republicans 31 percent. Even if you hate his plan, it‘s smart politics to go out of Washington, isn‘t it?
BUCHANAN: Listen, I think Barack Obama has handled this very well. He came out to the Republican, invited them to the Super Bowl, went to their conference, reached out unclenched hand and all the rest of it. So they slapped it away and so he gives them the right hand to the jaw. It‘s exactly what he ought to do. I‘ve got no disagreement with those numbers.
I think he‘s handled it very well. I think he‘s going to get the package through.
All I‘m saying, David, is look, he campaigned we‘re going to create a new America. There was a lot of hope out there. Frankly a lot of us, there‘s a lot of things we could agree on. Instead we got the same old stuff. What is really novel and new and exciting about what we heard today?
PRESS: I‘m telling you, the entire plan is exciting when you look at the energy, you look at the health care, you look at the jobs. You look at the whole sweeping vision.
But here‘s what I want to say. What stuns me about the political response here is despite all of this outreach the Republicans have decided that their M.O. is to oppose Barack Obama. I think it is political suicide. With all that outreach he got three lousy Republican votes.
Pete Sessions, today, was bragging about the Republican tactics. He said, “We‘ve taken lessons from the Taliban.” Now, when you‘ve got the Republicans who put us in this deep hole, refuse to help us get out of it and then brag that they‘re like the Taliban, let me tell you something, that is political suicide, Pat, and it‘s your party.
BUCHANAN: Now look, Bill‘s given the Republicans advice on how they ought come back. It‘s a little absurd.
The Republicans I think did the right thing in the house. Pelosi porked it up horribly; you could see it in Obama, himself. They cleaned out $100 billion.
SHUSTER: You know, I would hate to see real pork, Pat. If she porked that out given that there were no earmarks, I mean—but look.
I agree with you on one point. I agree with you on a key point that‘s going on right now in the news. All of this comes at a time when clearly Americans are looking for hope. Clearly they‘re looking to be inspired.
And that‘s why I think this other story, the sports story about Alex Rodriguez, we found out he admitted today to ESPN that he‘s been using steroids as a kick in the gut to anybody who turns to sports who wants some relief from baseball from all this crazy nonsense that‘s going on with the economy.
I want to get your reaction because I know you both have a unique one to this. Here‘s A-Rod talking to ESPN tonight admitting that he used steroids.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX RODRIGUEZ, ATHLETE: Back then it was different culture. It was very loose. I was young. I was stupid. I was naive. And I wanted to prove to everyone that, you know, I was worth, you know, being one of the greatest players of all time.
And I did take a banned substance and, you know, for that, I‘m very sorry and deeply regretful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: You know whether these guys like it or not, they are role models, hero, the people Americans turn to when they want a relief from the economic problem. And today we find out that in addition to Barry Bonds who admitted—who was under indictment now and allegedly used steroids, Roger Clemens who‘s facing a possible indictment. Now A-Rod, the third of this three who was going to end up in the hall of fame maybe, he used steroids as well, Pat?
BUCHANAN: Look, I used to go to Griffith Stadium as a kid, waited outside to get the autograph of Yogi Berra and Ricky Mantle, Joe DiMaggio. You were awed; these guys were your heroes. You followed when you grew up until you‘re in your 20s.
And now to see these guys—what are they doing? That‘s cynicism, that‘s cheating what he did using the steroids and things like that. And I think they‘ve disillusioned probably a whole generation.
Baseball has been reducing itself to the level of professional wrestling where we can all go and be entertained but understand that it‘s basically a lot of guys are cheating and it may be fixed.
PRESS: When I was growing up it was Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, Pat but the same adoration for the players then.
But let me say, A-Rod‘s career is done. He‘s the greatest player in baseball today; he‘s finished. I wasn‘t surprised. I‘ve become so cynical about this. If it‘s a professional athlete, you can bet he‘s using steroids.
That‘s the way it is today and that is sad.
BUCHANAN: That‘s too bad, Bill, because I think it‘s not true. I think there are guys out there working their butt off, playing not quite as well as A-Rod, maybe somewhat underneath him, who aren‘t cheating, who are doing their best, fighting to be the last guy to get in that hall of fame. And a lot of these guys do that. I think it‘s criminal because a lot of these athletes are doing what‘s right.
SHUSTER: You‘ve got Barry Bonds, you‘ve got Michael Phelps—
PRESS: Michael Phelps is a totally different issue.
BUCHANAN: He smoked after winning those medals.
SHUSTER: The number of people who have done sports and whatnot who smoked marijuana are news for that matter. I mean, that‘s a whole different issue but steroids is different. Steroids is cheating.
Here we are with spring training, this is the darkest February for many Americans in seven decades because of all the problems.
BUCHANAN: Everybody loves spring training.
SHUSTER: Everybody loves spring training. And now this, A-Rod cheating.
PRESS: I am just saying I no longer and I don‘t think the American people can look up to professional baseball players as role models because they‘ve taken themselves off the pedestal.
BUCHANAN: I saw that Super Bowl. I thought it was phenomenal, both teams. I think it uplifted the country. We say a great team, a great comeback. And a superior team win but it was an unbelievable thing. I don‘t think all those guys are on some kind of enhancement drugs out there on the field.
SHUSTER: Yes, I think baseballs got a lot of problems enough.
Thank goodness professional football is trying to do something about this although they‘ve got their problems.
PRESS: And baseball throws have been behind the curve, so to speak.
SHUSTER: Well, never mind this whole debate in Washington and never mind all the economic problems. What a kick in the gut today.
Anyway, Pat and Bill, thanks for coming in. We appreciate it.
In the debate over the economic recovery plan, some Republicans in Congress have been complaining about President Obama‘s aggressive tone. And that takes us to tonight‘s “Hypocrisy Watch.”
First here is President Obama‘s YouTube address on Saturday about his economic proposal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If we don‘t move swiftly to put his plan in motion our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Later that day, Arizona Senator Republican Jon Kyl criticized President Obama telling the “New York times,” quote, he has really used some dangerous words. It seems to me that the president is rather casually throwing out some careless language.”
The issue is where was Senator Kyl during the run up to the Iraq war? Despite no solid evidence Iraq was pursuing nuclear weapons, here‘s what President Bush declared in trying to sell the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we—
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: He says we cannot wait for a nuclear mushroom cloud. A nuclear mushroom cloud? Did Jon Kyl ever condemn president Obama‘s language as careless or dangerous? Of course not.
If the evidence Saddam was a nuclear threat was weak, the evidence that our economy is facing a catastrophe is strong. Experts say this is already the worst economic crisis in 70 years. The Dow dropped over 40 percent in the past year, 3 million people lost their jobs, half in the last 3 months. Economists say the meltdown is getting worse.
If you think President Obama‘s language is inappropriate. That‘s fine. But for Senator Kyl to complain about President Obama‘s tone after he supported President Bush‘s language, that is hypocrisy.
Still ahead, comparing President Obama‘s economic plan to Franklin Roosevelt‘s New Deal. Republicans insist FDR‘s New Deal was a raw deal. We‘ll fact check that and take a closer look at government spending then and now.
Mr. Obama gave a salute and handshake to the marine next to his helicopter last week. There is a learning curve when it comes to the various presidential travel protocols. We‘ll get into that and show you some of the more humorous missteps in presidential protocol history later on “1600.”
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600. Republicans rallying in opposition to the stimulus, and a not so new fall guy, the 32nd president of the United States. And the condemnation of Franklin Roosevelt is at a fever pitch. Here‘s Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Friday on the Senate floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, MINORITY LEADER: One of the good things about reading history is you learn a good deal. And we know for sure that the big spending programs of the New Deal did not work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Do we really know for sure? Was the New Deal a raw deal for the country? Or do we have something to learn from FDR? Joining us now is Jonathan Alter, “Newsweek” senior editor, MSNBC analyst, author of “The Defining Moment, Franklin Roosevelt and the First 100 Days.”
Jonathan, first of all, what do you make of what Republicans are up to in criticizing FDR? Are they right or are they wrong?
JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”: Well, they‘re trying to twist history, David, to make their point and use it as an argument against Barack Obama. It‘s bad history. It‘s actually ridiculous history if you look closely at it. I don‘t know what Senator McConnell thinks got us out of the Depression. I think he knows it was—what finally lifted us out of it was spending that was done to prepare for World War II and to help our allies starting in about 1940. That was—
SHUSTER: Let me stop you right there.
ALTER: Let me—
SHUSTER: Let me put statistics up. Here‘s the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Unemployment in 1932, 23.6 percent. Then in 1933 when Roosevelt takes office, 24.9. It goes to 21.7 percent, 20.1 percent, 17.0 by 1936.
GDP, of course, 58.7, goes to 56.4 once Roosevelt takes office. Then up to 66, then 73, then 83.
If you look at production; production also increased all the way to 1937. The Dow tripled. What is it about these statistics, Jonathan, that people are trying to fudge here? It seems pretty clear that the New Deal spending helped.
ALTER: It helped. It did not end the Depression until World War II. Here‘s the point: what ended it was spending, government spending. It was not tax cuts. It was not the Republican old-time religion, the old failed solutions of the 1920s and of the last eight years. It was big-government spending. That‘s not debatable.
What is debatable is whether it—with a different mix of policies, maybe the Depression could have ended sooner. Remember, he was in for about six years before the Depression ended. But what even those statistics that you showed don‘t reflect is that initially he took unemployment down, Franklin Roosevelt did, from 25 percent to 14 percent, huge gains.
Then it drifted back up again. The economy was in a much deeper hole than we are in today. But even those statistics don‘t reflect government jobs like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the WPA. Those millions of jobs aren‘t even reflected in the unemployment statistics of that time. So the real numbers are actually significantly lower than those that you showed.
So the idea that the New Deal failed is ludicrous. All you have to do is look to the election returns of the time, David. The American people in 1936 overwhelmingly re-elected Franklin Roosevelt with the biggest margin since George Washington. And he carried all but two states, Maine and Vermont.
Now, if the New Deal had been a failure, as the Republicans are telling us it was, do you think that the American people would have so overwhelmingly re-elected Franklin Roosevelt, then re-elected him twice more?
SHUSTER: I agree with you. Jonathan Alter, you‘re absolutely right. We‘re out of time in this segment. Jonathan Alter from “Newsweek,” thanks, as always. We appreciate it.
Up next, this evening‘s prime time presidential news conference is nerve racking enough for the president, even more so for reporters. But there are some potential benefits all the way around.
Plus, today‘s news in 90 seconds. We‘ll give you the roundup of the economic stimulus debate.
Later, the Internet video that you have to see. You‘re watching 1600.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. Tonight, President Obama‘s taking his case for his economic recovery plan directly to the American people, at least those who will be watching on television. Tonight will be the president‘s first prime time news conference. That also means facing questions from the White House press corps, who are eager to tangle with Obama in a prime time venue. Let‘s bring in NBC‘s Washington bureau chief Mark Whitaker and Josh Gerstein, White House reporter for the “Politico.”
First of all, Mark, what are the risk and rewards for both the president and for the press corps, for that matter, tonight?
MARK WHITAKER, NBC NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: I think what Obama has to do tonight are two things. First of all, he‘s got to explain why the case for urgency. Right? Which I don‘t think he‘s done. He keeps saying we‘ve got to pass this bill and America can‘t wait. But, you know, economists think we‘re at a tipping point now, and that if something isn‘t done, it could set off trade wars. You could have a deflationary cycle. There are some real reasons why if you don‘t act quickly—it‘s sort of like the house is burning down and we‘re arguing about how much water we need to apply to put it out.
You know, the other thing he has to do is explain what this means to you. You know, I‘m an old magazine editor. We always had a piece in our package that says what this thing means for you. The fact is, in the last couple weeks, the Republicans have caricatured the stimulus bill as full of pork and so forth. He needs to explain that it will create jobs, but also that there are jobs in your neighborhood. It will put cops on the beat in your neighborhood. It will help repair your kids‘ school. It will help repair the bridge you take to work.
SHUSTER: Josh, as far as making news tonight, what will reporters be aiming for and what would sort of meet the threshold?
JOSH GERSTEIN, “POLITICO”: I think reporters will be trying to draw the president out mainly on the issue of what his objections are, if any, to the Senate package that was proposed and I guess just now confirmed earlier today. The White House has been very cagey on that for reasons I don‘t fully understand. We managed to get a statement out of President Obama at the end of one of his events in Indiana today, that he doesn‘t agree with some education cuts. They‘re not exactly cuts, but changes the Senate made.
What that‘s really about is not about education. It‘s about are we going to throw a lifeline to the states? There are several state governments, primarily the state government in California; I don‘t know if Washington, D.C. people realize it, the state is in desperate, desperate shape. It‘s not really about education. It‘s about, do we find an excuse, a mechanism to send 10, 20, 30 billion dollars to California or do we not find them? If we don‘t find that mechanism, believe me, it will be more than just Republicans that will be objecting to this bill. You will have a lot of other people complaining about it too.
SHUSTER: As far as the atmospherics, we know from previous press conferences that if you challenge President Obama and say, Democrats say X, Y, and Z, he will say, which Democrat are you talking about? You have to come prepared. I would imagine that also raises the burden on reporters to make sure that if they‘re going to cite somebody or cite an argument that runs counter to the president, that they know exactly who they can refer to.
WHITAKER: It‘s really interesting. You were talk to Kay Bailey Hutchison earlier. If you press even Congress people, who have spent a couple weeks looking at this program and debating it on the specifics, nobody really has a very good answer. The Democrats and the administration haven‘t been very good at defending it, point by point. But the Republicans, once you actually press them and say, what about education, what about and so forth—they don‘t have great answers. It is an opportunity.
I still think, in the public‘s mind, this bill is still pretty undefined. So the president has a real opportunity here, I think, to explain it, to put specifics on it.
SHUSTER: Howard Kurtz, the “Washington Post” TV writer said today that the president has been accessible to the press, far more so than perhaps other presidents. Josh, do you agree?
GERSTEIN: I really don‘t agree with that. He did do about eight different television interviews. Five of them were done on the same day, because of sort of a PR blitz that was previously scheduled. One related to the Super Bowl. One with al Arabiya, which was to kick off, sort of, an initiative to the Muslim world. If you talk about him speaking with the wire services, with the newspaper reporters, the few that still remain here in Washington that cover the White House, with websites and others people that have tried to ask him questions at events, he really has not been very accessible since he came into office.
In fact, this press conference tonight is going to be one of the first real opportunities for the ordinary—you know, the ink stained scribes that cover the White House to actually ask the president a question. There have been very, very few opportunities for us to do that so far.
SHUSTER: Without tipping NBC‘s hand, as far as what Chuck Todd may ask tonight, assuming that by the time they get to Chuck there have been several economic questions, is there a foreign policy question that you think somebody needs to ask tonight about Afghanistan or about Iraq? And if so, what?
WHITAKER: I think it would be about Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke, the new envoy, is there. Really, there are a lot of people who think that Afghanistan and Pakistan are absolutely key, probably our most important foreign policy priority right now. And that may also be a case where, you know, the house is burning down and something has to be done quickly to prevent that situation from becoming more dangerous.
SHUSTER: Last word, Josh Gerstein: if you had one question you could ask about foreign policy, what would it be?
GERSTEIN: I would actually not do foreign policy. I think at some point, we‘re going to have to turn away from the economic issues and there will probably be at least one or two skunk at the garden party type questions tonight. I could see those coming either in relation to Tim Geithner and why it‘s OK he didn‘t pay his taxes, but other people have been thrown overboard who did not pay their taxes, or coming with respect to David Plouffe, this campaign adviser to President Obama, who now seems to be on a world tour, where he‘s going to do paid speeches for autocrats or whatever. It doesn‘t seem the right tone for Obama, be it part of his White House or part of his continuing political apparatus.
That‘s the direction I would go after a decent interval spent on some of these economic issues.
SHUSTER: I agree. The other thing is the atmospherics of these are always so interesting. It was Helen Thomas who wore red, because that was Nancy Reagan‘s favorite color. So a bunch of reporters would wear red in the hopes that the president would call on them. I think fashion sense has changed a little bit. In any case, Mark Whitaker, NBC News Washington Bureau chief. There‘s Helen, a nice picture of her and some other reporters wearing red. And Josh Gerstein, White House reporter for “Politico.” Thank you both, we appreciate it.
President Obama today returned to the Midwest to try to sell his economic recovery plan. We know that many of you didn‘t have time to watch his entire speech or see the debate on the Senate floor. So here is our highlight reel, the news in under 90 seconds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It is good to be back in Elkhart.
RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”: Public support for the stimulus has declined in the last couple weeks. That‘s why you‘ve got a president going out there.
OBAMA: This crisis has been a long time in the making.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We didn‘t do anything to cut off debate or limit the opportunity to every senator to have their say.
OBAMA: We‘re not going to turn it around overnight.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: We‘ve got to act urgently.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the largest spending in the history of mankind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody that says they know this will work, you can believe one thing: they‘re not telling you the truth.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We could pass a perfect bill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not being wise in the way we are spending this money.
OBAMA: Look, it‘s not perfect.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator McCain could write the perfect bill.
OBAMA: Broadly speaking, it has the right priorities to create jobs that will jump-start our economy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to say it. The emperor has no clothes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I happen to think it strikes the right balance in equilibrium.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can do better.
OBAMA: We can‘t posture and bicker. Now it‘s time to act.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The case for this bill continues to grow stronger every day.
OBAMA: Billions of dollars—
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seven hundred eighty billion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eight hundred billion dollars.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One point two trillion dollars.
OBAMA: If you don‘t have money, you can‘t spend it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is, what do we do to put it right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: What they do now is they have a vote tomorrow, the U.S.
Senate, and then a conference with the House.
Still ahead, some strategists and pundits want President Obama to be tougher on law makers who oppose the stimulus package. Are the pundits judging Mr. Obama by Bush administration standards? A fascinating piece today from our Muckraker of the day.
Plus, just like President Bush before, President Obama today made the case for a wider entry into Marine One. Ouch. You‘re watching 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last week, the House passed a package, 819 billion. And Tuesday, the Senate will vote to approve a number closer to 780 billion. But we want to stress, don‘t focus too much on these numbers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will just bum you out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Welcome back. That was Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig on “Saturday Night Live,” playing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. According to Politico.com, when a staffer e-mailed the real Harry Reid to tell him he was spoofed on SNL, Reid reportedly emailed back, quote, did Robert Redford play me? Good grief.
Anyway, in our briefing room today, President Obama was positively Shusterian this morning in route to the Hoosier state. The president was boarding Marine One for Andrews Air Force base when he—ouch—bumped his head on the doorway. No worries, Mr. Obama was fine and recovered much faster than your host did the other night when getting into his own car. Somebody needs to widen the doorway of Marine One or post a warning sign.
Back in 2003, President Bush famously bumped his head going through the doorway. Doh. All this is thus an excuse to run one of the more infamous presidential spills in television history. That is Gerald Ford slipping on some rain slicked metal stairs as he was getting off Air Force One in Vienna, Austria in 1975. Despite the tumble and the fun comedians had portraying President Ford as a klutz, he was actually quite athletic, well coordinated and had been an all American football player at Michigan. Hail to the victors.
By the way, while we‘re on the topic of presidential travel, the protocols do take some getting used to. Last week, as President Obama approached the helicopter, he saluted the Marine waiting by the steps, then leaned in for a handshake. The young Marine seemed caught off guard for a second, then quickly snapped back to his salute. Presidents typically give just a salute and then head up the stairs. Until about 28 years ago, presidents did not salute at all. Even Dwight Eisenhower, former five-star general, would not return the salutes while he was president. The tradition began in 1981 with Ronald Reagan, after he got permission from General Robert Barrow, the commander of the Marine Corps. Every commander in chief since has followed Reagan‘s lead. President Bill Clinton was criticized for a weak salute on his first few trips. As they say, practice makes perfect. Clinton quickly improved.
Finally, we found a hilarious video online this weekend that we wanted to share with you. It was created by a political animationist cartoonist Mark Fiori (ph). He focused on Wall Street CEOs and their private jets.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The cabin has been monetized for your comfort. In an unlikely event of a loss in profits, bail out funds will drop from the panel above your head. Reach up, pull the funds firmly toward you and continue spending normally.
If you‘re seated next to a small child or someone needing assistance, secure your own funds first, then grab theirs, taking care to steal their wallet and shoes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The actions of many CEOs are being ridiculed far and wide, not just in animations and videos. Here‘s a real-life demonstration from Suburban New York. Hundreds of people who are struggling to save their homes from foreclosure demonstrated outside the multi-million dollar home of Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack. The protesters said they want more accountability from the banks and the protesters accuse Morgan Stanley of using subprime mortgages to take advantage of Americans nationwide.
Up next, is President Obama‘s effort to pass the stimulus being judged by the wrong standards, i.e. the Bush standards? Our Muckraker of the day has a fascinating take on the state of play in our political discourse. That‘s ahead on 1600.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. According to several strategists and pundits, the heat that‘s been generated by critics of President Obama‘s stimulus plan is a reflection of the limits on presidential powers of persuasion. These strategists argue that instead of hosting bipartisan social events, the president would be better served by flexing political muscle, bringing down the proverbial hammer on lawmakers who get in his way.
Today‘s Muckraker sees it a bit differently. He writes, “is it possible we‘ve gotten so used to the way former President Bush played the game and ruled Congress that we are judging Obama by his standard? If so, is that the right standard?”
Joining us now is Dan Froomkin, who writes the White House watch column for Washingtonpost.com. He‘s our Muckraker of the day. Like the music?
DAN FROOMKIN, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Thank you. Yes, it‘s very catchy.
SHUSTER: Dan, you write that the reason that Obama has let Congress shape the bill is that he thinks that‘s the way American government is supposed to work. What did you mean by that?
FROOMKIN: It‘s kind of amazing to think about how used we‘ve gotten to what historians call the imperial presidency. George Bush really did some extraordinary things that were not very precedented. He basically had Congress do what he wanted. He told Congress what to do; they pretty much did it. This was the case even under Democratically led Congress, because he had them in such fear over national security issues.
So here we are basically saying that Obama should be behaving the way Bush did. It‘s kind of an interesting question. Should he or should he, in fact, treat Congress like a co-equal branch, which would mean he sets the direction, they do the—they write the legislation, and then he—you know, he signs it or he doesn‘t.
SHUSTER: Do you believe that, perhaps, President Obama maybe tried initially, by his own standard, and then realized OK, Washington can‘t be changed in the fashion I want, so I have to go back to the imperial president, and that‘s why he went on the road and is giving campaign rhetoric and hammering Republicans with it?
FROOMKIN: I think that‘s a large part of it. The other though is he realizes that when Congress does legislation, it‘s messy. He‘s now inherited the sort of messy bill. That‘s why he was out in Elkhart today, for instance, today saying, look, this isn‘t perfect. I‘m not saying it‘s exactly right. But in terms of the size and the heft and the direction, it is where I do want it to go.
Yes, he‘s basically going on and telling Congress that they‘ve got to act quickly.
SHUSTER: Looking beyond the stimulus, the Obama choices, explain how you think they reflect a different view from a presidential power and how it‘s, perhaps, similar to President Bush.
FROOMKIN: You know, I think he‘s a very strong leader, and he has a tremendous amount of public support. So there‘s an expectation that he will be able to set the direction for Congress. In fact, you look at the Gallup Poll, for instance, that came out this morning; 67 percent of Americans support what the president is doing as far as the stimulus goes. Congress‘ numbers were dismal.
So there‘s a sense in which people do expect him to lead the way that Bush did.
SHUSTER: Dan Froomkin, our Muckraker of the day, great stuff. A fascinating column today. We appreciate. It‘s a Dan Froomkin must read. Washingtonpost.com. Read it every day. Great stuff. Good to have you in, Dan.
FROOMKIN: Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: That is a view from 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE tonight. 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 of what‘s coming up on the show with the 1600 Daily Briefing. Great content, a terrific online community, Shuster.MSNBC.
I‘m David Shuster. “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews, a live edition, starts right now.
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