Guest: Shaun Donovan, Harold Ford Jr., Jane Hamsher, Cenk Uygur, John Harris, Chris Kofinis, Kimberley Strassel, Nicholas Kristof> High: Tonight, President Obama will unveil his first year agenda and try and calm fears about the economic meltdown.
Spec: Politics; Barack Obama; Congress; Economy; Housing; Wars; Military;
DAVID SHUSTER, HOST: A primetime speech to a joint session of Congress. Tonight President Obama will unveil his first year agenda and try and calm fears about the economic meltdown.
Day 36 of the Obama administration.
Welcome to the show, everyone. I‘m David Shuster.
We are just three hours from one of the most highly anticipated speeches to Congress in decades. Technically, it‘s not a State of the Union Address since the president has only been in office for five weeks. However, by every measure, the state of our union is fearful.
Several economic indicators keep dropping. Unemployment is rising.
And public anxiety is getting worse.
You have to go back 76 years to the midst of the depression and an address by Franklin Roosevelt to find a presidential speech that approaches the situation President Obama is looking at tonight. The air in Washington today has been thick with anticipation and analysis about what the president needs to do this evening, and we start there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think you‘ll hear the president talk about this tonight. It took us a long time to get where we are. It‘s going to take us a long time to get out.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: What he projects is explaining how we got into this mess and how we‘re going to get out of it.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You‘re going to hear a lot about three specific issues: health care, energy, and also education.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has to strike two tones that are somewhat contradictory. Number one, he has to say this is going to take a while. And at the same time, he‘s got to capture that can-do optimism.
WOLFFE: He has to be detailed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He‘ll be very honest, very forthright.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m looking for the president to stand up, to show the confidence of the leader, rather than to use scare tactics and secrecy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope the president will tell us, go and get it done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Today, President Obama got a bit of a pre-game boost from the markets. The Dow opened today at its lowest trading level in more than 11 years, but stocks rallied in a big way. The Dow closed up more than 230 points to end the day over 7,300.
That number took off thanks to some positive remarks from the nation‘s most powerful financial figure, Ben Bernanke. Will we hear similar optimism from President Obama tonight?
For more on all of that, let‘s turn to NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd. He‘s also NBC News political director. And he‘s on the north lawn.
And Chuck, as far as the tone and the substance, what‘s the latest in terms of what we‘re going to get tonight?
TODD: Well, I think it‘s fascinating that the first excerpt that‘s been released by the White House is the one just on what you brought up there, David, which is tone. It talks about how he is trying to be both sober and, at the same time, make it as if these problems are solvable, and that seems to be where he wants to go tonight.
Yes, there‘s going to be some specifics on health care, some specifics on education, including a call on national service to pass a bill that has been in Congress for a while. Some talk about energy and climate change.
But it‘s going to be the tone, I think, that ends up dominating the chattering class‘ observation time when it comes to this speech, because that‘s the excerpt they released, which you do that when you know you want to start feeding the news cycle a little bit. And so he is—the fact that that‘s what they want to do tells me that‘s what they‘re hoping to get out of this speech—David.
SHUSTER: Well, and Chuck, let‘s go ahead and read that excerpt. We‘ll feed it a little bit. Obama‘s going to say, “But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:
We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”
Chuck, how nervous is the White House about the stakes tonight?
TODD: You know, I don‘t think they‘re that nervous at all. First of all, as you know, the president feels pretty confident about giving a speech. He knows that what he does. The grandeur of the moment, the fact that this is his first one, the whole—you know, the pageantry that goes with a speech to the joint session of Congress, I think will probably get his juices flowing.
He is—he likes to give a speech on a big stage. So they‘re not nervous about that.
I think that they know that they just keep putting the foot on the gas, frankly. So after tonight, they‘re immediately going to start rolling in to the budget process and start those negotiations. And then from there, they‘re going to dealing with the Iraq situation and try to fulfill some of the campaign promise that they made on that.
So nothing really stops here. And then we have the health care summit next week.
So, as much as we‘re all putting—and this is a marker-type speech; right? This is a speech we‘ll look back and say, OK, did he fulfill these pledges or goals he made in this speech when it comes to health care, when it comes to education? I think everything you hear from him in this speech are items he believes he can get done this year—major health care reform legislation, major climate change legislation, major education legislation.
So that is going to be what I think we look at this speech through—the looking back. But I don‘t think they‘re nervous about it at all—
SHUSTER: NBC News White House Correspondent Chuck Todd on the north lawn of the White House.
Chuck, thank you very much.
TODD: You got it.
SHUSTER: And as we get ready for tonight, one of the issues, of course, that is in the mix in Washington involves the banks, and whether the federal government should essentially nationalize them.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just spoke to reporters about that, and she says that the discussion over whether the federal government‘s latest moves on the financial front amount to nationalizing banks is simply semantics. She says that while it‘s important to strengthen banks, and if we take a stake in equity, then some accountability from the board should come with it, any positions held by the government will be transitional. She says that everyone I s going to have to make sacrifices.
No doubt, the House speaker‘s comments saying that nationalization essentially semantics goes a long way to sort of back up what a lot of people have already suggested, and that is that, perhaps, the federal government is already on the road towards nationalization, given the amount of money that the federal government and the Treasury have poured into the banks, specifically with the TARP. But in any case, this is a crucial issue which is going to dominate the discussion in the days ahead.
And so for more, let‘s try to bring in former congressman Harold Ford Jr. He‘s the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council.
We will talk to him in a moment.
But again, just to repeat—and this is just breaking just a few minutes ago—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she has now weighed in on the whole issue of bank nationalization, saying that this amounts simply to semantics. The White House has not been willing to suggest that this is simply semantics.
In fact, Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, at his briefing on Friday, went to great lengths to suggest, no, there would not be nationalization, although he did seem to leave the door open to nationalizing some banks. But in any case, a big, hot topic here in Washington.
And, of course, the markets are paying attention to every word. On Friday, the markets went up on the news that Robert Gibbs was getting away from nationalization. And there‘s a lot of fears right now about what exactly the government is going to do.
But in the meantime, we‘ll keep you posted on that and we‘ll talk to Harold Ford in a second.
But for more on what we can expect to hear from President Obama tonight, we want to bring in Shaun Donovan. He‘s the secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration.
Now, Secretary Donovan, today, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke testified to Congress he was optimistic about the future. Watch, and then I‘ll get your reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: If actions taken by the administration, the Congress and the Federal Reserve are successful in restoring some measure of financial stability, and only if that is the case, in my view, there‘s a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Secretary Donovan, is it the view of the Obama administration that the recession will end this year?
SHAUN DONOVAN, HUD SECRETARY: Absolutely. Look, the president, tonight, is going to be honest with the American people about the issues we‘re facing. He‘s going to talk about the three-legged stool to fix the immediate crisis between the housing plan, the financial stability plan, and the recovery plan that passed Congress last week.
But he‘s also going to look to the future. And that‘s what Americans do, and that‘s what this president does. He‘s going to talk about hope...
SHUSTER: But just to clarify, when I asked if the Obama administration believes the recession will end this year, your response was “Absolutely.” Why is it absolutely?
DONOVAN: Because we believe we have acted quickly and decisively to put the three pieces in place, the three-legged stool of financial recovery.
SHUSTER: OK. A lot of economists, though, for example, at the Fed chair meeting suggested that they believe that the recession could last four or five years. So is it the Obama administration‘s view, then, that some of the members of the Fed are wrong?
DONOVAN: We believe with the actions we‘ve put in place to turn the housing market around, which is a key piece of recovery, as well as to save or create 3.5 million jobs, and to get credit flowing again, that we can begin to turn this economy around this year.
SHUSTER: And yet, some of the same economists suggest that when you talk about creating 3.5 million jobs, that‘s simply a prediction, because nobody‘s done this kind of modeling given the economic circumstances we face. So again, just to clarify—because I think a lot of people are going to be paying close attention to this interview, as a result of what you said—that it‘s the absolute view of the Obama administration that this recession will be over in one year?
DONOVAN: I said we can—we believe we can begin to turn this economy around with the three steps that we‘ve put in place. Those estimates of 3.5 million jobs have been verified by independent economists. And like the president‘s going to do tonight, we‘re going to tell the American people the truth about the situation we‘re in. But also, we believe we put the pieces in place to turn this economy around.
SHUSTER: All right. Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Secretary Donovan, good luck to you. Everybody hopes that you‘re right, and we appreciate you coming on the show tonight.
DONOVAN: It‘s great to be with you. Thank you.
SHUSTER: President Obama met lawmakers at the White House yesterday.
And tonight, it‘s their turn to receive him in the House chamber.
And joining us now is former congressman Harold Ford Jr. He‘s the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and an NBC News analyst.
And Harold, I‘m just sort of astounded. For the Obama administration to have a secretary, a member of the cabinet, come out tonight and say they are absolutely convinced that the recession will be over within a year, that seems like they‘re going out on a bit of the limb that they have not been willing to go out on.
Am I wrong on that?
HAROLD FORD JR., NBC NEWS ANALYST: I think you‘re mostly right. The tone that Secretary Donovan struck there in your interview with him was a positive one, signaling not only to banks and to homeowners and to employers that this administration is going to be even more decisive in tackling the challenges that we face in the housing, the jobs, and, for that matter, with our banks—I was encouraged by his remarks. And it sounds tonight that the president is going to have a hopeful and positive tone as well.
The truth of the matter is, if we find ourselves a year from now in the same or worse situation, the politics for the president will be difficult, whether the secretary said what he said or didn‘t say what he said.
SHUSTER: Harold, talk about the politics of going into this speech with that sort of a tone, that optimistic tone, the idea this is going to only be a yearlong recession, that because of the actions that they‘re taking, ,that this will not be as difficult as a lot of Americans seem to think it will be.
FORD: Look, the president has been honest with the American people.
This is no easy situation.
We‘ve heard the normal Washington adjectives of unprecedented and historic, the kinds of challenges the president is facing. But I appreciate the way he‘s been honest. I think a lot of Americans do.
But what they also want from president is a strong sense that we will get out of this together. He stated that the night that he was elected back in November of ‘08, and he continues to reiterate it.
I hope tonight he even gives us more specifics about the banking plan, he gives us more specifics about the kinds of jobs, and when we can begin to see the job market stimulated in ways. And I trust having seen some of the speech that he will do just that.
SHUSTER: Harold Ford Jr. has certainly had his share of moments down in the House chamber when a president comes in to speak.
And Congressman, good to see you, as always. Thanks for coming on, Harold.
FORD: Thanks for having me.
Up next, the blogosphere wants details from President Obama on everything from energy independence to health care. Up next, some of the most powerful voices on the Internet explain what they will look for tonight.
Later, how many lives do you have to save to get invited to the president‘s speech as a special guest? From pilots to war heroes, a look at speech VIPs through the years.
And we‘re taking your questions during the hour on Twitter. Just go to twitter.com/shuster1600.
All of that and “Hypocrisy Watch” is ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SR. ADVISER: The president has this theory. The theory is that you treat the American people like adults, you tell them where we are and where we need to go, and you have a discussion about it and you act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600.
The last Democratic president to address a Democratically-controlled Congress was Bill Clinton in 1994. And tonight, with the opportunities of the majority finally in hand, progressives will be listening closely for clues on just how President Obama will define his spending priorities, reform health care, resolve the debate over Social Security, and end the war in Iraq.
Joining us now to talk about what they are looking for tonight, Jane Hamsher, founder of firedoglake.com, and Cenk Uygur, who‘s the host of “The Young Turks” and a contributor to “The Huffington Post.”
And Jane, first to you.
We‘re starting to get some details that the Obama administration is going to announce tonight they will essentially keep half of the troops in Iraq, remove half within 19 months. During the campaign, the president said all combat troops would be pulled in 16 months.
Is this a problem?
JANE HAMSHER, FIREDOGLAKE.COM: Well, I think given the fact that they also intend to increase troop strength in Afghanistan, that is a problem to the people who supported Obama in the first place, because he was supposed to get us out of this situation. I think that could be problematic for him.
SHUSTER: Cenk, your view?
CENK UYGUR, “THE YOUNG TURKS”: It‘s a typical Obama compromise. And I can live with it.
You know, he said 16 months. The generals desperately wanted it to be 23 months. And he wound up doing a compromise on Iraq.
It looks like we‘re really going to get the troops out. That‘s what we had pushed for. That‘s what the campaign was about.
As far as Afghanistan, there‘s a really healthy debate as to whether more troops make a difference there or not. And I think that debate is great for the country.
SHUSTER: I want to ask you both about what we just heard in our last interview. We had the HUD secretary saying “absolutely” when asked whether the Obama administration now believes the recession will be over within a year.
Do both of you agree that the recession will be absolutely over in a year?
HAMSHER: Boy, I have a hard time believing that, but I do understand one of the big tasks before Obama tonight is to inspire confidence on the part of the American people that they‘re equal to the task of addressing the problems that are in front of us. And to make them, you know, have hope for the future.
That‘s a tough task, and I guess a lot of it is a game face. But I don‘t know that I think that we‘re out of this in a year. And I don‘t know many people who do.
SHUSTER: Cenk, is there a danger that the president has always talked about that he‘ll be straight with American people, tell them not only what they want to hear, but what they need to hear, and suddenly maybe the White House is changing strategy a little bit on that?
UYGUR: Well, there is that danger. There‘s also a political danger.
If you don‘t get it done by 2010, and the elections roll around, they‘re going to say, hey, look, you told us absolutely on David Shuster‘s program that we were going to be out by 2009. It‘s a tough balance of strike, because you‘ve got to be hopeful. President Bill Clinton told Barack Obama about that earlier, and he was right.
And you want to inspire confidence in the markets and in the economy overall, but at the same time, ,you don‘t want to set expectations too high. So if I was them, I would notch it down just a little bit.
SHUSTER: Cenk, what specifically in terms of specific policy details are you going to be looking for tonight?
UYGUR: Well—I‘m sorry, was that to Jane?
SHUSTER: No, Cenk. You go first, and then Jane.
UYGUR: Oh, OK.
Well, look, it‘s time to get things done. We got the selection for change. Obama is enormously popular right now, 68 percent approval rating, 75 percent saying that he‘s going to make the right policy decisions to make the country better in the next four years.
It‘s time to get her done. So let‘s get to our proposals. The problem is...
UYGUR: I just—to finish the thought, the problem is that a lot of times, Republicans leave a mess, and Bill Clinton spent a lot of time cleaning that up, Obama spent a lot of time cleaning that up. We‘ve got to get to health care, we‘ve got to get to energy. And I believe cutting spending as well, especially defense spending, and his proposal to bring in Ashton Carter to be the chief weapons buyer at the Pentagon is an excellent sign.
SHUSTER: Jane, what specifically are you looking for? And any concern that when you hear the Obama administration sort of entertaining Republican desires to deal with Social Security, that maybe that somehow compromises the effort to focus on health care?
HAMSHER: Well, I think the big concern is that Social Security is going to be offered up to the Republicans and to centrist Democrats as a price for passing health care. Yesterday, “The New York Times” reported that Rahm Emanuel is in talks behind closed doors with Lindsey Graham about that.
And after yesterday‘s Fiscal Responsibility Summit, there was a lot of language about the need to fix Social Security. And I think that especially with all of the—the hit that baby boomers have taken in their nest eggs, on the market, they really want to hear that Social Security is going to be there for them.
And it doesn‘t need fixing. It will have $180 billion surplus this year. It will have $100 billion surplus every year for the next 10 years.
And I think they‘re worried people want to get their hands on it. And I think Obama needs to tell people, we will not cut Social Security benefits, because there‘s no need to.
SHUSTER: Jane, I‘m with you. I think it might be a mistake if the White House follows the Republican lead and tries to deal with Social Security before dealing with health care.
But in any case, Jane Hamsher and Cenk Uygur, thank you both so much.
We appreciate it. Great discussion, as always.
Still ahead, CNBC‘s Dylan Ratigan will come on and talks about America‘s economic outrage.
Plus, we‘ll talk to the reporter who shared a room with actor George Clooney for his 106th trip to the Darfur region.
But first, “Hypocrisy Watch,” the story of another bank that received bailout money, laid off people, and then threw not one, not two, try at least four parties.
That‘s next on 1600.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.
As President Obama prepares for his big speech tonight, he will be delivering it amidst one of the most challenging economic environments in U.S. history. On top of the financial distress, there is our nation‘s state of mind.
Nearly everybody, it seems, is frustrated and angry. The latest fuel in that fire came today on Capitol Hill, when Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who landed that US Airways plane on the Hudson River last month, testified today.
He was given a hero‘s welcome from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and will be an honored guest at the president‘s speech tonight. That‘s a stark contrast to the way this economy is treating him. Here‘s what he told lawmakers about his pay and benefit. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAPT. CHESLEY SULLENBERGER III, PILOT: My pay has been cut 40 percent. My pension, like most airline pensions, has been terminated and replaced by a PBGC guarantee worth only pennies to the dollar.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: That‘s right. His benefits and pension were cut last year. Yet, his piloting experience was literally invaluable to the passengers whose lives he saved. Apparently not so invaluable to the markets.
For more, let‘s bring in Dylan Ratigan, host of CNBC‘s “FAST MONEY.” Dylan, a lot of Americans have to be hearing that and thinking, if an employer is doing this to that guy, if his pay is being cut and benefits being erased, there‘s not a lot of hope for the rest of us, right?
DYLAN RATIGAN, CNBC ANCHOR: Here‘s a problem we face right now. This is a country that is at war in the economic sense. You talked about confidence and frustration. Just as the military has different divisions, the Navy for the seas, the Army for the land, we know what our military is. We need clarity from the president, who and what his divisions are, and what their tasks will be.
For instance, the president‘s job is to inspire hope, to inspire optimism, to remind us that this country has navigated worse and come out better for it. I suspect that‘s exactly what you‘ll hear from the president tonight.
He has a Fed chief whose job it is to calm the markets and inspire the confidence of the rest of the world, because they are the ones that are ultimately bailing us out of this situation we got ourselves into.
He, however, has two other problems, And this is where it goes to exactly your point. One, we are not getting proper accountability or the perception that there are investigations underway, David, to get proper accountability. Where are the perp walks? Where is the money to go after Angelo Mozilo? Where are the questions for the folks that ran Golden West financial?
Why are we allowing the individuals who made hundreds of millions of dollars creating the institutions that assembled this disaster, and we are not even watching the U.S. Congress do anything apparently to deal with that? They need to step up as the enforcer on behalf of the American people, so that we all feel, at the very least, that there is some version of justice.
I think part of the reason why there is no much frustration, David, even as we get some hope and some calm, we are still not getting real accountability for those who created the situation. Honestly, I think a lot that lies with the fact that a lot of people in Congress helped create it.
SHUSTER: CNBC‘s Dylan Ratigan. Dylan, I agree. Actually, you know, wouldn‘t be such a difficult thing for Congress to call the airlines to the carpet and have them explain their pay structure in the case of Chesley Sully Sullenberger. In any case, Dylan, thanks so much. We appreciate it.
SHUSTER: On top of everything else today, President Obama will be speaking to a nation that is increasingly bewildered by Wall Street, the banks, so much more. How can the president turn around this anger and frustration in his favor? How will Republicans respond?
Let‘s bring in our panel, Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, Kimberley Strassel, “Wall Street Journal” columnist and editorial board member, and John Harris, editor in chief for “Politico.”
John, let‘s start with you. You‘ve been covering a lot of these speeches for a long time. How does the president deal with this environment and try to put it in his favor?
JOHN HARRIS, “POLITICO”: First thing, he needs to balance two imperatives. One is the imperative of speaking very bluntly and honestly about the difficult situation the economy‘s in. The administration believes, a lot of economists believe it‘s likely to get worse before it gets better. He needs to convey that.
On the other hand, a uniformly downbeat message is not like on economic grounds to restore consumer confidence, or on political grounds to give people the sense of leadership that he wants. Clearly, from my understanding of what the White House is saying, they want this to—the message here to be more hope than sort of grim reality. This is meant to be a speech that‘s going to lift the country‘s mood.
SHUSTER: Chris Kofinis, when you look at the latest polling, I wonder if the president can essentially start there. You look at the latest polling from—for example, who‘s really cooperating. Voters say, according to the “Washington Post”/ABC, 73 percent say Obama, 34 percent say Republicans. According to the “New York Times”/CBS, 74 percent say Obama, 31 percent say Republicans. Fox News, 68 percent say Obama, 33 percent say Republicans.
All the polling indicates right now the public is in the president‘s favor to start with.
CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I think that‘s correct. I mean, I think what you—he‘s obviously enjoying the honeymoon that all new incoming presidents enjoy. I think the Republicans have made a strategic mistake here in terms of how they‘ve gone after this president, in terms of basically opposing the stimulus on all grounds.
This is unprecedented serious of crises the country faces. When you don‘t have solutions, all you have are political attacks. It doesn‘t really sell well.
I think what you‘re going to see from the president tonight in this speech is basically three things. I think he‘s going to be honest about the predicaments that we face and the seriousness of these crises. I think he‘s going to be critical of the past policies, both, without probably naming it, the Bush administration, as well as the greed and malfeasance on Wall Street.
But I think the key part, I think the tone that is going to come away from this is going to be optimistic and hopeful that this country has weathered challenges before, and we‘re going to weather this and become even stronger as we move forward. I think he‘s going to balance those three things. I think it should be a pretty powerful speech.
SHUSTER: Kimberly, even if you disagree with the president‘s policies, those three that Chris laid out, that‘s a wise political move for him, right?
KIMBERLEY STRASSEL, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Yes, but look, he‘s got to talk about more than just balancing some of these things. He‘s got to get some details. Fundamentally, he‘s got to give a vision for where he wants to see the banking industry, for instance, come out of this at the end.
Apparently, he‘s going to talk a little bit tonight, as he has done in the past, about how he didn‘t create this mess, he inherited it. That‘s certainly the case. But it‘s also—there‘s a feeling out there these days that they are not doing a lot to help. In fact, in some ways, they‘re making things worse. There‘s been a lot of uncertainty about Secretary Geithner‘s speech, about what was going to happen in the banking industry. You have the statement yesterday which made the markets nervous to just how bad things were. The stress test, et cetera.
So this is an opportunity for him tonight to say, this is where we‘re going. This is where we want to end up. That has not happened yet. It‘s played into the uncertainty you see in the markets out there.
SHUSTER: Our panel‘s going to come back. We‘re going to talk more about this. We want to move on. One of the banks—this gets right to the whole idea as to why so much of the public is angry and sort of looking for release in all of this. One of the banks that received federal bailout money last fall is Northern Trust. Their recent actions take us to tonight‘s hypocrisy watch.
First some background. Last October, Northern Trust received 1.6 billion dollars in taxpayer money. They didn‘t ask for it, but they got it. Then in December, the bank laid off 450 workers, four percent of its workforce. Executives said they wanted to reduce cost, improve efficiency and increase savings.
But this past weekend in Los Angeles, Northern Trust sponsored a professional golf tournament. It had already signed a contract to host it.
On top of the tournament, which cost millions, the bank flew hundreds of employees and guests to Los Angeles and put them up at the Beverly Wilshire, the Loews On Santa Monica Beach, the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey, some of the nicest hotels in the area. There were also parties. One featured entertainment by Sheryl Crow. The video was obtained by TMZ.com.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: If you or the bank executives don‘t like Sheryl Crow, that‘s OK. Here‘s another dinner party the bank paid for that featured an exclusive performance by the group, Chicago. Yet another party featured Earth, Wind & Fire. A fourth party was more of the cocktail variety. However, female guests apparently got items from Tiffany and Company.
You‘ll note the gift bags.
Northern Trust won‘t say how much the five days of parties and golf cost the bank. However, a spokesman told NBC News the activities were, quote, an integral part of Northern Trust‘s global marketing activities, focusing on retaining and growing business with existing clients.”
Senator John Kerry called the bank‘s L.A. extravaganza “disgusting, stupid, and pathetic.” Congressman Barney Frank called the actions by Northern Trust “an ego thing that has nothing to do with good business.”
Frank is now demanding that Northern Trust pay back the 1.6 billion dollars it received from taxpayers. All of us at 1600 agree. Northern Trust, pay it back. When you take government bailout funds, lay off workers to save money, and then throw expensive parties, that‘s hypocrisy, and it‘s wrong.
A little late on the music. That‘s OK. By the way, a quick update to last night‘s hypocrisy watch. We told you about members of Congress, earmarks and a survey by the Club for Growth. That survey has been updated and Republican House Minority Whip Eric Cantor is pledging to swear off earmarks, as he did last year. Bravo.
Up next, honoring the people who stir the pot and remind us that Darfur is still very much in trouble. Actor and activist George Clooney, NBC‘s Ann Curry, and the “New York Times” Nicholas Kristof. One of them joins us next on 1600.
And your Twitter questions coming up at the end of the hour. Go to Twitter.com/Shuster1600.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: Right now we‘re in a camp right next to a refugee camp, an IDP refugee camp. I‘m with a really, really important writer, won a Pulitzer Prize, in fact, for writing on this subject. And I‘m sharing a room with him. I suppose the lesson there is you win a Pulitzer Prize, well, you get to shack up with a two-time sexiest man alive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Yes, that was actor George Clooney. You‘re about to meet the Pulitzer Prize winner he‘s talking about. For weeks, we‘ve been telling you about the foreign policy challenges facing the Obama administration in Africa. Tonight, we turn to the situation in Chad. Recently the problems there were spotlighted by actor George Clooney, “New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof and NBC‘s Ann Curry.
They drew attention to the six-year conflict in Darfur, which has killed 200,000 people and uprooted 2.7 million. As it stands, the International Criminal Court is set to announce next week whether it will indict Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir for genocide. Yesterday, the challenges in Darfur were presented directly to the White House. George Clooney met with President Obama and Vice President Biden. They announced their intention to appoint a high level presidential envoy for Sudan.
Here was Clooney‘s reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLOONEY: This is important. It‘s not about government money. It‘s not about government troops. It‘s about involvement. It‘s about diplomacy. That‘s what has become—that‘s what the issue is here and that‘s what we‘ve been talking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: On this show, we like to name a reporter sometimes our Muckraker of the day for stirring the pot and bringing attention to stories that really need it. We are honored to announce our Muckraker of the day today is two-time Pulitzer Prize winner “New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof. He‘s also known as George Clooney‘s bunk mate.
Nick, welcome to the show. What kind of action should the Obama administration and the special envoy take, if and when it‘s appointed to go to Sudan?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: Well, first of all, the first step would indeed be to appoint that envoy and to make it somebody who is really prominent and has stature in the field, and will be listened to by Sudan.
Second, I think we need to work a lot with surrounding countries and European countries to put a lot of pressure on Sudan. We‘re hearing a lot of rumors to the affect that other elements in the Sudanese leadership are thinking about frankly throwing President Bashir out the window. I think we need to do a lot to encourage that.
I would also favor a no-fly zone, frankly.
SHUSTER: How informed, do you get the sense, the Obama administration is regarding Chad and the situation in Darfur?
KRISTOF: I think that we‘re actually in good shape in this regard. You know, three of the senators who were most—cared most passionately about Darfur in the previous Senate were Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton. And the person who literally wrote the book on genocide is Samantha Power, and she is right now apparently leading a review about Darfur policy for the administration as a White House aide.
At the U.N., Susan Rice has just been a passionate advocate for action on Sudan. So the Obama administration is really well-placed to take strong action. And with the indictment expected shortly of President Bashir, we have a tremendous opportunity if we can just keep that leverage on.
SHUSTER: Tell us about your most recent trip to Chad. Is the situation getting worse, getting better? What should people know about what‘s still going on in Darfur?
KRISTOF: Well, in some ways it has stabilized a little bit. For example, the last time I was in Eastern Chad—it‘s right on the Darfur border. And in many ways what we think of as Darfur encompasses Eastern Chad, because the Sudanese Janjaweed militia have crossed over and they have burned villages, they have attacked people. That has stabilized a little bit.
For example, on my last visit, I met a man who had been held down and had eyes gouged out by the Sudanese sponsored Janjaweed militia. I found him again. His villages aren‘t being attacked anymore. His kids aren‘t being thrown into bonfires. He‘s living in a little camp for displaced people. He can‘t go back to his village for security reasons. The same people who attacked him originally are still being sponsored by the Sudanese government, being armed by the Sudanese government. And everybody‘s terrified that they‘re going to come right back over the border and attack again.
SHUSTER: Finally, Nick, how helpful was George Clooney? What was he like on this trip?
KRISTOF: He was a pretty good roommate actually. He took the bad side of the room, which was bad partly because there was a mysterious blood splotch on the wall right next to it. He did, however, turn out to be kind of a bad frisbee player, which disillusioned me. But I think overall what really impressed me was that he‘s got this problem that cameras are always following him. Darfuris have this problem that cameras never follow them. So he was willing to use that attention and to help spotlight the problems of Darfur and, god knows, the Darfuris needs it.
SHUSTER: Well, Nick Kristof, many thanks for coming on the program and for all of your excellent work on this issue. And we wish you continued best of luck in your reporting and on your trips over there. Again, thanks for coming on.
KRISTOF: Hey, thanks so much.
SHUSTER: You‘re welcome. Up next, Illinois Senator Roland Burris returns to Capitol Hill for the first time since those new questions about his appointment.
Plus, the veteran pilot who splash landed in the Hudson River will be the president‘s guest as he speaks to Congress tonight. Pilot Sully Sullenberger saved 155 lives. What else does it take to become a VIP guest at the presidential address? All ahead on 1600.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600. Here‘s a look at what‘s on our radar. Senator Roland Burris is back on Capitol Hill today, even though some of his colleagues don‘t want him there, Democrats included. Burris has been accused of lying about the circumstances surrounding his appointment, and a few colleagues, including Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, have called an Burris to resign. You may recall that Senator Burris was quite talkative when he was first named to the seat. Well, now, not so much.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you talk to us, please?
SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS: How are you this morning?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you talk to us for a second? how are you holding up?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are we going to see you in town for a while, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you dealing with the pressure, senator?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Regarding Senator Durbin‘s resignation request, Burris reportedly told the senior senator, no, and also said he hasn‘t made up his mind about running in 2010. When reporters again asked for his reaction, his response, again, was no comment.
A Konichiwa to Japan‘s Prime Minister. Taro Aso is the first foreign leader to visit President Obama at the White House. The two world leaders met in the Oval Office this morning. They spoke about the struggling global economy and the relationship between the United States and Japan. The prime minister stayed quiet during his photo op with the president in front of the reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I‘m very grateful that the prime minister agreed to come. I‘m looking forward to a very constructive dialogue.
TARO ASO, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER: Do I have to say something?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Actually, he did say something. The prime minister went on to say he was honored to be the first foreign guest invited to the Obama White House.
Tonight, when President Obama addresses the joint session of Congress at 9:00 p.m., look for a familiar face seated in the audience. US Airway pilot Chesley Sully Sullenberger will be watching the State of the Union style speech from the Speaker of the House‘s box. What does it take to get an invite to a presidential address?
Well, the tradition of inviting special guests started during the Reagan era. Back in 1982, Reagan invited a federal employee, Lenny Skutnik, to the first state of the union, hailing him as a hero for jumping into the icy waters of the Potomac to rescue survivors of an Air Florida flight that had crashed into the 14th Street Bridge here in Washington.
In ‘88, Reagan singled out none other than the first lady for her war against drugs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nancy, much credit belongs to you. And I want to express to you your husband‘s pride and country‘s thanks. Surprised you, didn‘t I?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: In 1994, President Clinton pointed to Jim Brady to applaud Congress for the passage of the bill. Jim Brady was Reagan‘s former press secretary, was nearly killed in a 1981 attempt to assassinate the president.
In 2004, Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady was a surprise. TV cameras focused on him as President Bush condemned the use of steroids in sports.
In 2007, President Bush invited the Subway hero, Wesley Autrey, who jumped on the subway tracks to save a man who had fallen.
Let‘s recap. What does it take to get a VIP invite to a speech like this? Dive into an icy river and save a woman, be first lady, take a bullet for the president, be the Super Bowl MVP, rescue a man on subway tracks, or land a plane in the Hudson River delivering all 155 people on board to safety.
We are back now for some Twitter time. The panel is still here. Chris Kofinis, Kimberley Strassel, John Harris. Chris, a lot of questions from Twitterers about, again, the tone for tonight. Give us a sense, Chris, as to how significant Democrats view this event in terms of shaping what the president wants to do next, both in terms of health care, energy independence and the like.
KOFINIS: Well, I think with a speech like this, where you‘re not going to have just the national media, but global media focused on it, it is going to give the president an enormous opportunity to set the agenda in the coming weeks. I think what you—when you step back and look at the series of economic challenges this president faces—you know, I joke about how he is juggling economic hand grenades. Any time one of these pins may come out.
The reality, this president, I think, understands that better than anyone. What you‘re going to see is a very focused, passionate speech that I think is going to remind a lot of Americans about, you know, the optimism, the strength of this person, in terms of President Barack Obama. I think it‘s going to be a very key moment in his very young presidency.
SHUSTER: Kimberley, a number of Twitter questions to you. One person wants to know, don‘t the Republicans look at the poll numbers? Why are they blind to the fact that only 31 percent of the people approve of the Republican actions in Congress?
STRASSEL: Look, I think Republicans are very aware that they are on the outs with the public. That‘s why they‘re not in the majority and that‘s why they don‘t have the White House. I also think they‘re very aware, too, that they are up against a president that‘s very popular, has a lot of political capital to spend.
But one of the questions tonight is going to be, is he actually going to reach out to them, and is he going to do more than simply ask them to come visit him and come down and visit them? Is there going to be a sense of true desire to make some ideological concessions and work with them on some of these key issues that are theirs, in addition to the ones he wants? Things like Social Security reform, in addition to the fact that he‘s going to want health care issues.
SHUSTER: John Harris, a Twitter question for you. A couple people want to know how the president is doing in the big scheme of things. You hear so much of the talk, says one Twitterer, in terms of the criticism from Republicans and the praise from Democrats. But viewed through the historical lens, how‘s President Obama doing?
HARRIS: I think this is a big night for him in a young presidency. He‘s obviously had a success in passing the stimulus. That was critically important. But I think what he had to do to get that bill passed was essentially put on his wading boots and get into the legislative process in sometimes a very mucky way.
This is a big occasion for him not to be legislator in chief, but to be commander in chief. I think he wants to talk about more than just the economy. He wants to tie it together, synthesize it, if you will. Health care, energy, the other challenges the night he‘s facing—the country‘s faces tonight.
I do think it‘s big, precisely as the question asked. Putting his presidency in historical context, he wants people to understand the big picture.
SHUSTER: And, John, also a couple questions as far as tone. When Ben Bernanke expressed some optimism today about the nation recovering from the recession, the recession possibly ending within a near, markets went up by 250 points. What do you think the White House learned from that today?
HARRIS: They have learned day in and day out that the markets are incredibly jittery. The other day, we had Senator Dodd make an impolitic comment and the markets briefly plunged. Clearly, the country and the markets are looking for a sense of hope and optimism. I think they would be making a big mistake to chase the Dow Jones average around like a needle on a dial.
SHUSTER: Chris Kofinis, your view?
KOFINIS: You know, I think in this speech—you know, the moment that the—the opportunity the president has I think is to paint a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. I think one of these things when we kind of step back and look at this from just an average person‘s perspective, you know, they want to see an idea that we‘re going to be able to lead our way out of these serious challenges.
I think that the White House and President Obama are very sensitive to that. I think they understand that. I mean, it‘s balanced with the fact that you can‘t be Polly Ann-ish. You have to be honest. I think that‘s what he‘s going to do tonight.
SHUSTER: I agree. Got to run. Chris, Kim and John, thank you so much. We appreciate it. I‘m David Shuster. That‘s view from 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE tonight. You can always see us same time tomorrow night, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. A live edition of “HARDBALL” is going to start now. I‘m David Shuster. Chris Matthews starts right now.
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