Guest: James Staples, Shannyn Moore, Nia-Malika Henderson
High: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Spec: Politics; Elections; Government
DAVID SHUSTER, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Praise for the president: The “no drama Obama” mindset seen in the long campaign gets put to the test in his first national security crisis since becoming commander-in-chief.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: I want to take a moment to say how pleased I am about the rescue of Captain Phillips and his safe return to the USS Boxer this weekend.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: What went right behind the scenes at the White House? The egg on the faces of conservatives who are criticizing Mr. Obama and Captain Phillips, safe and sound, and hailed as a hero for putting himself in harm‘s way to save his crew.
Tea with two lumps of hypocrisy: The truth behind the angry conservative teabagging parties unfurling around the country—details of who is stimulating the movement and where the money is blowing in from.
More problems for Palin: An anti-abortion dinner in Evansville, Indiana, she‘s happy to attend. State legislation meetings in Alaska on stimulus funding for Alaskans in the final crucial hours of negotiation?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® ALASKA: Thanks but no thanks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Her own Republicans colleagues in Alaska are questioning Palin‘s priorities.
When bears attack: Amazing pictures from Germany where one woman confused the polar bear enclosure for a petting zoo.
For the dogs: The president‘s new best friend. Not the big guy with the glasses, meet Bo, the first family‘s latest addition.
All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Good evening from New York. I‘m David Shuster. Keith Olbermann has the night off.
It was at this time last year when Senator Obama‘s rivals for the Democratic nomination accused him of being unprepared to handle those proverbial 3:00 a.m. phone calls. It was over this past weekend when the right-wing blogosphere accused President Obama of showing weakness in how he was responding to the kidnapping of an American sea captain by Somali pirates. Several conservative blogs even called Mr. Obama, “President Pantywaist.”
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Commander-in-chief Obama silenced and humiliated his critics after U.S. Navy SEALs, acting on the president‘s authority, killed three of the four pirates and freed the captain. President Obama got what could be seen as his 3:00 a.m. moment when he gave the Navy commander on the scene the standing authority to shoot and kill, if he believed the life of Captain Richard Phillips was in danger.
As you may have heard, the Navy destroyer Bainbridge was towing the lifeboat carrying the pirates and Captain Phillips back out to sea away from Somalia when three of the pirates became visible. Captain Phillips could also be seen tied up with an AK-47 aimed at his back. At that moment, Navy SEAL sharpshooters were ordered to take out the pirates. It took three sharpshooters only one shot each, all at the same time, to kill three pirates, shooting each of them in the head.
The fourth pirate, only 16 years old, had already surrendered—only 16 years old. And he could be headed to the U.S. to face charges. Captain Phillips was welcomed aboard the USS Boxer shortly after his rescue, he is said to be in good shape despite his ordeal. Captain Phillips might join his crew in Mombasa, Kenya, for a charter flight home. The schedule is confidential after Somali pirates declared America the enemy.
U.S. Congressman Donald Payne, Democrat of New Jersey, was making a visit to Somalia‘s capital today when a mortar barrage landed near the airport as he departed. Nineteen civilians were wounded. That attack raised the fears to more than 240 foreign sailors from nine other ships still being held hostage off the coast of Somalia.
Back in Washington today, President Obama praised the successful effort to reduce the number of hostages by one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I want to take a moment to say how pleased I am about the rescue of Captain Phillips and his safe return to the USS Boxer this weekend.
OBAMA: His safety has been our principal concern, and I know this came as a relief to his family and his crew. I had a chance to talk to his wife yesterday, and as she put it, she couldn‘t imagine a better Easter than seeing his safe return.
And I‘m very proud of the efforts of the U.S. military and many other departments and agencies that worked tirelessly to resolve this situation. I share our nation‘s admiration for Captain Phillips‘ courage and leadership and selfless concern for his crew.
We‘re going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks. We have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise, and we have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Time now to bring in our own political analyst, Richard Wolffe.
And, Richard, great to see you as always.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, David.
SHUSTER: Richard, by making this hostage situation a test for President Obama, did the right-wing basically hand the White House the PR victory with the successful rescue of Captain Phillips?
WOLFFE: Well, it did, and not just because of the tremendous skill of these Navy snipers here. It wasn‘t just a PR failure for those on the right. And certainly, if you listen to Newt Gingrich speaking on ABC, it was pretty obvious just how archaic and thread bare and worn out the Republican strategy was here. The conservative strategy is suggesting that Democrats, as specifically this president, were effeminate or incompetent or unmacho when it comes to national security.
And the reason this is won out, again, not just because of the successful this individual operation, but because Republicans don‘t have the same claim to national security as they used to. There was this thing called Iraq that happened. And, you know, for Republicans just to think that this is still the post-Vietnam era is horribly outdated. President Obama is showing that right now.
SHUSTER: And how much of what was characterized by the right as doing nothing might merely have been President Obama so-called “no drama” way of responding to all kinds of situations and waiting for the right opportunity?
WOLFFE: Well, there‘s no question that he‘s deliberative and cautious in how he approaches every piece of policy. But especially, these kinds of issues on national security, foreign policy, I think there‘s something else at play, though, in this situation. Not only was he being cautious in formulating the approach, but in any hostage situation, you do not go out there and inflame the passions and the emotions—because one thing we know of these Somali pirates, whether or not this individual or other ships, is that they‘re listening to the radios, they‘re following the news, they‘re in communication.
And so, you don‘t want to sort of amp up the rhetoric by saying, I want these people dead or alive or bring it on. You just try to tone things down and leave it in the hands of the professionals, not in the hands of the politicians.
SHUSTER: Could it not be argued that this was not President Obama‘s first military test because of the new strategies he has formulated for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan?
WOLFFE: You know, absolutely. As great as this story is—and again full credit to the Navy for pulling this tremendous rescue off—but really, the true test of the commander-in-chief is not whether those snipers are talented and exceptional at their jobs, as they clearly are, the true talent of a commander-in-chief comes in those strategic decisions. To commit extra troops to Afghanistan is really one of the most important measures of whether this president is successful when it comes to national security.
So, this is a great story. But really, the tougher test is: Where do you deploy the troops in such large numbers, because there are many Americans who will be in harm‘s way as a result of President Obama‘s decision there on the Afghan/Pakistan strategy.
SHUSTER: And as far as the Horn of Africa is concerned, do we not yet know perhaps the ultimate outcome of this as a test—because of retaliation by Somali pirates, I suppose this could ripple for some time to come, right?
WOLFFE: Well, Somalia is always—is always going to be dangerous. President Obama thinks the Horn of Africa is important for America‘s national security. But I think the danger here is not from retaliation, it‘s the difficult decision of which hostage situations do you intervene in. The U.S. Navy could intervene in all or it could intervene in none. And the dividing line between where you go in and where you don‘t is going to be the key test now.
SHUSTER: MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe—and, Richard, thanks as always for your time. We appreciate it.
WOLFFE: Anytime, David.
SHUSTER: As compelling as the rescue of Captain Phillips are the actions that made him a hostage in the first place. Captain Phillips offered himself as a hostage after the pirates first stormed the Maersk Alabama in order to secure the safe release of his crew and his ship. Days later, he tried to escape his captors by jumping into the ocean and swimming away. One of the pirates opened fire and Captain Phillips was pulled back into the lifeboat, then bound and beaten.
His wife Andrea said today that the safe rescue of Captain Phillips gave her and her family the best Easter ever. Her husband, today, issued a statement through her, and after speaking briefly, she in turn issued that statement through a Maersk company spokeswoman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREA PHILLIPS, WIFE OF RESCUED CAPTAIN: I just want to thank you
for allowing us to come out here in front of you like this and make our
statement as a family together. I just want to let you know I spoke to
Richard earlier today. And he was kind of finding this funny that when I
told him that I was preparing a press statement, and I was really excited -
because he knows it would be very hard for me to be up here and come up to talk to you. So again, with that, again, thank you.
I‘m going to let Alison read my statement.
ALISON MCCOLL, MAERSK SPOKESWOMAN: My family is extremely proud of Richard for what he‘s done. When I—when Andrea spoke with Richard today, he wanted me to tell you, quote, “I‘m just a small part in this. The real heroes in this story are the U.S. military. They are the most dedicated professional and capable group around. We should all reach out and thank them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: We are joined now by Captain James Staples. He‘s a long-time friend of Richard Phillips and served days together at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy class of 1979. Captain Staples also commands ships off the coast of Africa.
And thank you for your time tonight, sir. We appreciate it.
CAPT. JAMES STAPLES, FRIEND OF RESCUED CAPTAIN: Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: Were you at all surprised when you learned that Captain Phillips had offered himself in exchange for the freedom of his crew? Is that something you‘re trained to do or is it simply a matter of individual character?
STAPLES: Well, I believe it‘s individual character in this situation. What he did was just remarkable—an outstanding feat of courage to keep his crew and his ship safe.
SHUSTER: What do you plan on telling Captain Phillips the next time you have a chance to speak with him?
STAPLES: Welcome home, Rich.
SHUSTER: Captain Phillips, as well know, may owe his survival to the timing and accuracy of those Navy sharpshooters. What is it about his personality though that enabled him to stay calm at that grisly moment and literally seem unscathed by the entire trauma of what he lived through and witnessed even at the end?
STAPLES: Well, that‘s just part of the terrorism training that we go through at the maritime institute, that if you‘re in a hostage situation, they do tell you to do a few certain things, and I believe Richard remembered that and he stayed with it.
SHUSTER: What are some of those things?
STAPLES: I‘d rather not go into those type of details at this time.
SHUSTER: But as far as—you know, based on everything that you‘ve learned about this situation, is there anything particular about Richard‘s personality that you think benefited him perhaps more than others might have been in a similar situation?
STAPLES: Well, I think the picture tells a thousand words and the first picture of Richard on board on the Bainbridge. And the first thing you notice is that big smile of his and that‘s how he was. That‘s how I‘ve always remembered Richie, always had a smile and a laugh. And he‘s just a great guy.
SHUSTER: Fourteen ships with more than 240 hostages representing at least nine nations are still being held by Somali pirates. Just how dangerous is it off the Horn of Africa these days?
STAPLES: Well, as we‘ve just seen, it‘s a very dangerous place. It has been for some time. And now that the world is well aware of what‘s going on there, it‘s an international problem and something needs to be done about this, and it needs to be done soon. As we saw the news was concerned about the Alabama, but they had a tug boat taken just the next day with a Spanish crew, I believe, that was on board.
SHUSTER: Would you have any misgivings about commanding a ship in that region again?
STAPLES: No. I‘ve always known the risk, as we all have. And this is part of the job, it‘s just another element of the job, and it‘s something we deal with on a daily basis, depending on what part of the world we‘re in.
SHUSTER: Does the U.S. Navy have enough ships to support commerce in that part of the world?
STAPLES: I couldn‘t tell you if the Navy has enough. It‘s a very, very large area. This needs to be a conglomerate of things to get done. But the ultimate problem is with the Somalis, and the Somali coastline needs to be watched by some type of coast guard that they can put together. They need a government in that country.
SHUSTER: Captain Jim Staples, friend and classmate of Captain Richard Phillips—a pleasure to talk with you tonight. We appreciate your coming on.
STAPLES: My pleasure. Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: You‘re welcome.
The conservative outrage over taxes and spending will come to a head on tea bag day this Wednesday. Wait until you hear who the mastermind of the movement is.
Is there a master plan for Sarah Palin‘s political future? Local Republicans say their governor is not focusing on doing her job.
And crisis at the zoo: A woman jumped into a polar bear exhibit right at feeding time. Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.
SHUSTER: The great conservative teabag party, it‘s the movement that short on outrage and long on Republican manufacturing. The fight over stimulus funds is in the crucial final days, so Sarah Palin is getting on a plane and making a couple of appearances away from Alaska. Even her own party is questioning her priorities.
And history at the White House, the Obamas put their own special touch on the Easter Egg Roll and records turn out to celebrate. That and more—ahead on COUNTDOWN.
SHUSTER: For most Americans, Wednesday, April 15th will be Tax Day. But in our fourth story tonight: It‘s going to be teabagging day for the right-wing and they‘re going nuts for it. Thousands of them whipped out the festivities early this past weekend, and while the parties are officially toothless, the teabaggers are full-throated about their goals.
They want to give President Obama a strong tongue-lashing and lick government spending—spending they did not oppose when they were under presidents Bush and Reagan. They oppose Mr. Obama‘s tax rates—which will be lower for most of them—and they oppose the tax increases Mr. Obama is imposing on the rich, whose taxes will skyrocket to a rate about 10 percent less than it was under Reagan. That‘s teabagging in a nut shell.
Taking its inspiration from the Boston Tea Party when colonists tossed British tea into the sea because the tax in it had not been voted on by their own duly-elected representatives—that‘s exactly the opposite, of course, of today‘s taxes, known in some quarters as taxation with representation.
But as “New York Times” columnist, Paul Krugman, points out today, this time, the tea bagging is not a spontaneous uprising. The people who came up with it are a familiar circle of Republicans, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, both of whom have firm support from right-wing financiers and lobbyists. As well as Washington prostitute patron, Senator David Vitter, who has issued statements in support of teabagging but is publicly tight-lipped.
Then there was the media, specifically the FOX News Channel, including Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Both are looking forward to an up close and personal taste of teabagging themselves at events this Wednesday. But most amusing of all is Neil Cavuto, a member of the network‘s executive committee. Neil‘s online bio says he joined the network in July of 1996, three months before the FOX News Channel went on the air.
Cavuto, defending his network‘s proportion of teabagging said, quote, “We are going to be right in middle of these teabaggers, because at FOX, we do not pick and choose these rallies and protests. We were there for the Million Man March.
Can we roll that footage, the FOX News coverage of the Million Man March backing in October of ‘95?
Of course, the Million Man March occurred, as NewsHounds.org points out, almost a year before FOX News was on the air.
We can only speculate why widespread teabagging made Cavuto think of the Million Man March, unless he got them confused with Dick Armey. And in Cavuto‘s defense, if you are planning simultaneous teabagging all around the country, you‘re going to need a Dick Armey.
Joining us to our amazement is MSNBC political analyst, Lawrence O‘Donnell, also contributor at HuffingtonPost.com.
And, Lawrence, thanks for joining us tonight.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to be with you, David.
SHUSTER: Lawrence, no taxation without representation. Is that, I recall, the issue for—the issue our Founding Fathers died for was the right to vote for our own representatives, who would then make the decisions about our tax policy. Any chance we can establish some sort of system like that by Wednesday?
O‘DONNELL: Well, there you go. You know, since I‘m from Boston, I‘m very proud of the Boston Tea Party, but it was, as you point out, it was about where the money was going. It was going to—the money wasn‘t going to the Massachusetts colony and that was the problem.
This is an orchestrated attempt by Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich, people who are trying to repair the Republican Party. They know that the Republican Party is in shambles. They know that Eric Cantor is a disaster as a new leadership member. They know that Boehner is doing a terrible job in the leadership.
They‘ve been in the leadership in the House of Representatives. They don‘t have a great deal of faith in this strategy and that‘s why it‘s been delegated somewhat at arm‘s length. That‘s why they‘re pretending that this is a grassroots movement.
FOX News is in the same position. What they‘re trying to do is create gigantic television events for their shows on that day. They have to pretend that they are covering a news event rather than trying to create one, which they‘ve very clearly done when you look at the history in the last month of the FOX News discussion of this and how they‘ve built it up.
And so, this is an attempt to try to see if the taxation spot is the place where you can get at Barack Obama, because nothing else has worked. Now, the problem is—on this April 15th, the taxation rates that they will all be protesting are the George W. Bush Republican Congress taxation rates. That‘s how we got these tax rates.
Sean Hannity, in the approach of this April 15th protest, has talked about the skyrocketing tax rates. The tax rates have not increased in this country in 16 years, and they did under Bill Clinton in 1993. He increased one tax rate, the top tax rate, and President Bush then immediately cut it as his first order of business.
So, all of the protests of the federal tax rates on April 15th, all of it, will be targeted at George W. Bush. I‘m not sure the protesters understand that.
SHUSTER: And taxes are not the only or perhaps even primary issue, right?
O‘DONNELL: No. You see, for example, in some of your footage there, there was someone who was holding up a sign about socialism, and others are at these rallies talking about whether Barack Obama really is a United States citizen or whether he really is a Muslim—these old, weird questions that we‘ve seen over the past year or so.
And the socialism sign is fascinating for me. The guy holding it in the footage looked to be maybe in his 40s or so. He‘s not on Medicare yet, but he will be. His parents are on Medicare now. They are receiving Social Security now.
These are well working socialist programs within the American government. There is absolutely no other description of them, and they are socialist programs that are supported by Republicans and Democrats alike. There‘s not one member of the Republican leadership who has ever said, let‘s repeal Medicare. Not one of them—and not one of them who refuses to use Medicare within their own family or use it for themselves.
And so, these programs that are admittedly socialistic because any economist will tell you that the world is full of mixed economies—economies that use some capitalism and some socialism. They try to temper them for the best mix. I would submit that the United States currently has one of the very best mixes of socialism and capitalism. But the people who stand out there protesting socialism at these kinds of rallies wouldn‘t dream—wouldn‘t dream of tearing up their Medicare cards and refusing to ever use Medicare again.
SHUSTER: Is this a Faustian sort of thing for GOP leaders? I mean, meaning that maybe they know all of this has the effect of marginalizing the Republican Party, but in return, they can point to the publicity and say to their moneymen, “Hey, look, at least we‘re doing something”?
O‘DONNELL: That‘s what this is. This is a—this is truly desperate. And it‘s so desperate that people don‘t really want to formally attach their names to it. They don‘t really want to be seen as the leaders of it.
It‘s a—it‘s a one-day protest aimed at nothing Barack Obama has actually done. It is aimed at the tax code that has been imposed on this country by a Republican Congress and a Republican president, who was previously the champion of exactly these protesters.
And so, it is a completely wrong-headed approach to what‘s going on. They‘ve picked April 15th as rage day for taxpayers. And there‘s not a single taxpayer out there who is paying a new Barack Obama tax rate. That doesn‘t exist.
SHUSTER: Lawrence O‘Donnell of the “Huffington Post”—Lawrence, thanks as always. We appreciate it.
O‘DONNELL: Thanks, David.
SHUSTER: The Minnesota Senate battle between Norm Coleman and Al Franken now has an official winner -- 161 days after the November 4th election. It‘s Al Franken, the winner by 312 votes as confirmed by Minnesota court‘s three-judge panel. In fact, the election challenge brought by Mr. Coleman actually increased the lead for Mr. Franken. Coleman is expected to appeal the state Supreme Court ruling that came out tonight, and he has 10 days to do so.
President Obama today reminded all of us that the White House is the people‘s house, and that the annual Easter Egg Roll was the largest crowd in event history. The highlights and low lights, including technical malfunctions and heckling from the first lady.
But first, the bizarre thing people would do to set a world record.
Oddball is next on COUNTDOWN.
SHUSTER: On this day way back in 1970, a great quote turned eternal misquote was uttered in a space somewhere between here and the moon. Thirty-nine years ago today, an oxygen tank aboard the Apollo 13 lunar mission exploded, prompting pilot Jack Swigert and Commander Jim Lovell to transmit the following communication back to earth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK SWIGERT, APOLLO 13 PILOT: OK, Houston, we‘ve had a problem here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE FROM NASA MISSION CONTROL: This is Houston, say again please.
JIM LOVELL, APOLLO 13 COMMANDER: Houston, we‘ve had a problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: So, essentially—Houston, we‘ve had a problem. The crew of Apollo 13 famously made it back to earth safely. Tom Hanks and Ron Howard made that great movie, and now, you can be the nerd correcting your friends when they blow the quote.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in India where we have a new world record holder for jamming nuclear hot chili peppers into your eyes. This is Anandita Tamouli (ph), who last week rubbed 24 fiery Bhut Jolokia peppers into her eyes in front of a stunned crowd and screaming celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey. Not sure what he has to do with anything. It is said that the Bhut Jolokia Pepper is the world‘s hottest pepper and that a single bite will cause your eyes to tear and nostrils to run. The side effects of rubbing 24 of them into your peepers? This lady‘s eyes now shoot lasers and she can‘t stop singing “Under The Bridge.” Congratulations, Anandita.
Checking Oddball weather in Greensburg, Kansas, where it is partly cloudy with a chance of compact sedan. Actually, sometimes it does rain cars in Greensburg, Kansas. In 2007, most of the town was destroyed by an F-5 tornado. Now, they are rebuilding and one developer has build this concrete silo eco-home. It‘s a house so tough you can park your car on it. Real hard.
That‘s a 1980 Ford Escort, barely scratching the edifice, which is also wind resistant up to 200 miles per hour. Take that, big bad wolf.
Finally, to that bastion of liberal elitism, San Francisco, where yesterday, a group of secular progressives went downhill street racing on big wheels on Easter. It‘s the ninth annual bring your own big wheel competition. Scorers lined up at the top of the hill and raced down Vermont Street, all on three wheeled kiddie mobiles. There were some scrapes and bruises, but no major incidents. If Wednesday‘s tea bagging goes as planned, this will be the last year for this kind of Tom Foolery.
Sarah Palin getting even more grief from her home town Republicans, as she leaves the state to make a few appearances, the local GOP is wondering why she is departing right as the fight for what to do with the stimulus money heats up.
And President Obama makes good on another campaign promise. The puppy that‘s been talked about around the world finally arrives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
But first, because they may be gone, but their deeds outlive them, the headlines lingering from the previous administration 50 running scandals, Still Bushed.
Number three, gated community-gate. While he was president, Mr. Bush dismissed the notion that he lived in a bubble, insulated from people and concept that might challenge him. Approximately one month after he left office, one of his new neighbors asked whether she could bring a group of visitors by. She was told no the first and second time, the “Washington Post” reports. After the third time, she was told yes, but only 30 people could enter the Bush‘s street.
A raffle would pick two of the visitors who could actually approach the Bush door. The visitors were Cub Scouts. The oldest of them was 11. The goal was to collect canned goods for a food drive. COUNTDOWN is happy to report the former president survived the encounter.
Number two, freedom, Bush style-gate. A few dispatches from the Bush democracies Americans died and paid for. Just today alone, Amnesty International is calling on Iraqi officials to stop ignoring systematic murders of gay Iraqis, unsurprisingly, because homosexuality is illegal in Iraq. Also, today, the Iraqi army threatened to shut down one newspaper, one TV station, both critics of the Bush-style democratic government.
Then there was Afghanistan. Mr. Bush did not get bin Laden, did not destroy al Qaeda. But at least we were told he got the Taliban, right? This weekend, a leading women‘s right activist said farewell to her friends there. She had decided to leave Bush‘s democracy because it was not safe to pursue her work. But she did lot leave. On Saturday, she was shot dead in broad daylight by the Taliban.
Number one, habeas corpus-gate. According to the Associate Press, in 2007, the Bush administration deported 31-year-old Pedro Guzman from California to Mexico for being in the United States illegally. Guzman was mentally ill and could not read or write. After his deportation, he slept on the streets, eating from trash cans for almost three months. Pedro Guzman is an American citizen. He was born in Los Angeles, California. According to the Associated Press, the Bush administration mistakenly treated other American citizens, mostly Hispanic, as illegal immigrants, especially those unable to defend or adequately express themselves, including the mentally ill, the poor, minorities, people with criminal records, including unpaid traffic tickets, and children.
Fifty five American citizens disappeared from their homes, illegally banished from their homeland. Fifty five American citizens that we know of.
SHUSTER: A stimulus showdown, a battle brewing in the legislature, but Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will not be around for any of it. In our third story, the governor has two faces. More drama in Juneau, as Palin is expected to make her way to Evansville, Indiana this week, to speak at the Vanderburg County Right to Life Dinner. In order to do so, Palin will miss a debate in Alaska over the federal stimulus money instead.
Alaska law makers want to take the stim. Palin has threatened to reject parts of it. One Alaska Republican noted, “there are some concerns in the capital about the focus of our chief executive, because she‘s taking a speaking engagement in Indiana for a 36 hour period, with only 72 hours left in the legislative session.” Palin answered her critics at a media availability at her office in Juneau.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SARAH PALIN ®, ALASKA: I‘ll be gone for one day, already have been on record with lawmakers on this. I told lawmakers, you know what, please, don‘t make me feel that I have to ask you permission, lawmakers, to leave the capital city.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Perhaps that answer would suffice if she hadn‘t already canceled her appearance at the GOP Senate/House dinner earlier this year, citing state business.
In any case, Alaska Republicans are going a step further and have remarked to the Juneau “Empire Newspaper” that even when Palin is around, she‘s not very involved, even when it comes to supporting her own bills. Palin fired back, explaining it‘s tough to judge lawmakers‘, quote, happiness quotient.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: We have a very good working relationship, as far as we know, with lawmakers. Our door is always open. We meet with them every single day. We‘re meeting with lawmakers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Maybe that too would have been OK, had Palin actually shown up to a legislative meeting her office scheduled regarding the federal stimulus money last month. Palin them commented on her request for Democratic Senator Mark Begich to step down earlier this month, after charges were dropped against former Senator Ted Stevens. The Alaska Republican party called for Begich‘s resignation. When asked about the state GOP‘s request, Palin replied, “I absolutely agree.”
She‘s backtracking on that one, too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: I didn‘t call for Begich to step down either. I said I absolutely agree that Alaskans deserve a fair, untainted election for the United States Senate seat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Joining us now from Anchorage, political commentator and contributor to “Huffington Post,” Shannyn Moore. Shannyn, good evening.
SHANNYN MOORE, “HUFFINGTON POST”: Good evening, David.
SHUSTER: Governor Palin doesn‘t want Mark Begich to resign, but feels a fair election is in order. Which is it, and what about the last election wasn‘t fair?
MOORE: That‘s interesting. You know, which is it? It‘s about every other day something changes. And as far as the last election, you know, it was unfortunate, I guess, in some respects, that the DOJ really abused their power with that. And I think that the Obama administration has done the right thing in throwing out the conviction of Ted Stevens. But it doesn‘t mean that the things that Ted Stevens said that, you know—Ted Stevens basically admitted on tape that he did take the money.
So that‘s been a problem. But the fact that it‘s been thrown out now, it did affect the election. But Sarah Palin did say that we needed a new election here in Alaska, a fair one. And she released that on her Sarah-Pac letter head, basically. And it is a state matter, because it costs over a million dollars for us to have an election here in the state.
So it just depends on the. Sarah Palin is very, very erratic right now. The wheels are coming off of the Sarah Palin bus.
SHUSTER: Sarah-Pac, to be clear, is the political action committee she might use to essentially transition into a race for president in 2012, if she wants. In any case, Alaska Democrats today held a press conference blasting her for traveling to Indiana. Is she using this dinner as a way to escape the stimulus debate? And why attend this dinner and not the GOP‘s Senate/House dinner with more national prominence?
MOORE: Well, I‘m not really sure why Sarah Palin does what Sarah Palin does. I would say her political ambition, combined with her intelligence, is much like putting a jet engine on a golf cart. You don‘t know where it‘s going to end up. There‘s a lot of horse power but not a lot of steering capabilities.
So she did say that she could not possibly go to this GOP dinner, because she needed to pay attention to state business. That is in June. I believe it‘s June 8th. And the Senate, the House, the entire legislature is in recess at that point. Yet, she‘s choosing to go and speak basically in a base—a pandering move to her base, an anti-choice group. And she‘s doing that during the last 72 hours of a session, which right now is so crucial to Alaskans.
We have stimulus money to debate, whether we‘re going to reject it, accept it, how we‘re going to deal with that. And there‘s so many issues important to Alaskans that are being neglected for her political pandering for what I‘m guessing is her 2012 run.
SHUSTER: Finally, switching gears, the governor‘s sister in law, Diana Palin, was indicted today by a grand jury for burglary, theft and trespass charges. What impact is this having on the governor‘s office, if any?
MOORE: Well, I think everyone has had people in their family—my family is no different—that have made choices that hurt them and embarrass their family. Not everybody‘s family, when the mistakes are made, makes national news. And I am—I‘m hoping that Sarah Palin‘s family rally around her sister-in-law, and give her the support she needs to do the right thing and to take responsibility for the choices she made. I think that‘s really important to have, when you have made bad choices in your family.
But unfortunately, what I think this whole story is doing is it‘s a distraction. It‘s a terrible distraction from state business and hurting Alaskans.
SHUSTER: Shannyn Moore, progressive talk show host and blogger.
Shannyn, thanks for your time tonight.
MOORE: My pleasure. Thanks, David.
SHUSTER: You‘re welcome. The Obama White House super-sizes the traditional Easter Egg role beyond the Easter fun. This as Obama pushes families to get their kids back in shape.
Coming up at the top of the hour with Rachel, is the new White House following in the tradition of Friday night dump? The Obama administration is fighting to uphold yet another aspect of Mr. Bush‘s war on terror.
But first, near tragedy at the zoo. A woman jumped into a polar bear exhibit and is lucky to have made it out alive.
SHUSTER: Defensive officials at Berlin Zoo say their polar bear enclosure is, quote, already safe. If you‘ve been anywhere near a computer or television today, the video of a woman swimming with polar bears in the Berlin Zoo suggests otherwise. Last year at the same zoo, a guy hurtled a moat to get close to the zoo‘s celebrity polar bear Knut, because he thought the bear was lonely.
In our number two story, the zoo‘s plan is to continue to rely on the common sense of visitors to ensure safety. Here‘s Dawna Friesen with more on Friday‘s amazing rescue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Why this woman jumped into a polar bear pool at feeding time isn‘t clear. But when the bears at Berlin Zoo did what bears do, it was a terrifying encounter. Zoo keepers rushed to her rescue and desperately tried to fish her out.
One bear dives and gets a grip on her. But let‘s go when zoo keepers throw in a broken life preserver, distracting the three circling bears long enough to yank the woman up the wall and finally to safety.
(on camera): The 32-year-old woman has had surgery to repair bite wounds to her body and is recovering. Not much is known about her, except her name is Mandy and she‘s German. It appears she was trying to befriend the bears. Why? Nobody knows.
(voice-over): It‘s the same enclosure that‘s home to Knut the bear, the famous polar bear that was rejected by his mother when he was no bigger than a snowball and hand reared by a keeper, melting the hearts of millions. Knut, now an adult, didn‘t take part in the attack on the woman, but it‘s a reminder that polar bears, no matter how cute, are not pets.
As one zoo keeper said, they‘re predators who don‘t care what they eat. This woman is just lucky she didn‘t end up as lunch.
Dawna Friesen, NBC News, London.
SHUSTER: The big day at the White House; the Obamas turn the annual Easter Egg Roll into a huge family event. And the new member of the Obama family, Bo the dog gets his unofficial—gets his official unveiling tomorrow. Details at the top of the COUNTDOWN.
SHUSTER: For a moment, President Obama put policy aside. He charmed his audience by playing a little basketball with them, reading to them and just generally indulging their silliness. But it‘s not what you‘re thinking. The president did not invite the Republican caucus to the White House today. In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, it was the annual Easter Egg Roll.
There was also the matter of the Obama family dog. More on that in a moment. But first, our White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
The president‘s first Easter Egg Roll got off to something of a rocky start. A microphone that didn‘t work forced him to improvise.
MALIA OBAMA, DAUGHTER OF PRESIDENT OBAMA: Is it on?
GUTHRIE: Until his daughter came to the rescue.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello, everybody.
That‘s Malia, our technical adviser.
GUTHRIE: After a welcome on the Truman Balcony, the main event, the Easter Egg Race on the White House south lawn. The president lending a hand to one of the smallest competitors. And on the White House basketball court came to the rescue again.
OBAMA: You‘ve got to dunk.
GUTHRIE: Today, the president showed a side the public doesn‘t often see.
OBAMA: We are going to read “Where the Wild Things Are.” How many people have read this book? Oh, this is one of my favorite books.
GUTHRIE: Occasionally heckled by the first lady.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: You scared him.
GUTHRIE: The president‘s rendition of the classic monster story was dramatic.
OBAMA: Max said, be still! Can everybody do that? Try staring without blinking.
GUTHRIE: By the time the story crescendoed—
OBAMA: Let the wild rumpus start.
GUTHRIE: The president was in rare form.
OBAMA: This was them in the wild rumpus, dump, de dump, de dump, ha woo.
GUTHRIE: Not everyone witnessed the Wild rumpus. But thousands were at the White House today.
(on camera): This year, tickets were distributed online for the first time, an estimated 30,000, the biggest crowd here ever.
(voice-over:) Tomorrow, the Obamas will host just one, the new first dog Bo officially comes home.
Savannah Guthrie, NBC News, the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: While the official dog unveiling is tomorrow, many details have already leaked. It‘s a six-month-old Portuguese Water Dog given to the Obamas by Senator Ted Kennedy. The pouch had been living with another family, but that was reportedly not a good fit. The dog is already running with the president, clearly. It met with the family secretly a few weeks ago. According to the “Washington Post,” that was known as the meeting. Oooh.
And the dog‘s name is Bo, a tribute to the first lady‘s father who was nick-named Diddley, as in Bo Diddley. In fact, Michelle Obama‘s brother, Craig Robinson, has two cats named Bo and Diddley. Sounds like a source of confusion at future family gatherings. The dog has also reportedly been trained, but he is not from a shelter, which had been one of the search requirements.
So the Obamas are making a donation to the Humane Society of Washington, D.C. instead.
Let‘s bring in the White House reporter for “Politico,” Nia-Malika Henderson. Nia, thanks for joining us. The Easter Egg Roll first. We know that the president tried to use the bunny‘s ear for a microphone when the sound system went out, but were there other ways this was a quintessential Obama Easter Egg Roll?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, “POLITICO”: Yes, I mean, one of the ways—leave it to the Obama administration to turn this event that dates back to the 1870s into this technological event. They opened up tickets online and also versions of some of the events were web cast online. And they also had this other component, which was really about fitness. That‘s one of the things that Michelle Obama wanted to stress.
It was very much about getting active and teaching kids how to get fit and take care of themselves. And pop star Fergie was there, this very hip and urban pop star. So that was kind of putting a real cool mark on this event.
SHUSTER: So, in other words, not just for toddlers, but also tweens are welcome at the White House.
SHUSTER: Now to what everyone cares about, that dog. Is there much we‘re going to learn at the official unveiling tomorrow that we don‘t already know?
HENDERSON: Probably not. We‘re going to get a sense of what this little guy is made of tomorrow, when he has his photo op and tons of people will be there. Maybe he‘ll wear his lei again, and maybe we‘ll find out if he‘s a biter. If everybody remembers, Barney was not too kind to some reporters and bit them, and sometimes had to walk around the White House lawn with a muzzle, because he would kind of nip at other dogs.
So we‘ll see what this little guy is made of tomorrow, when he finally is unveiled and he‘s available for his close up.
SHUSTER: Nia, what about these conspiracy theories that the Kennedys somehow carried out this conspiracy, that it really wasn‘t a bad fit with this other family, but by the design the Obamas were already going to get that. How are they responding to that?
HENDERSON: I don‘t think they‘re responding to it much at all. They got this dog. It‘s a great fit for them. The kids clearly like it. It‘s got to cool name, Bo, which gives a dog a little bit of swagger. And we‘ll have to see what Bo does. These first dogs often make a real large impression on the American public. If you remember Millie, Barbara Bush‘s dog, actually had a book and made like a million dollars on sales of that book, supposedly kind of co-wrote the book.
So maybe Bo will have his own Twitter feed or Facebook page or like a Barney cam, the way Barney did. Wait and see. This dog is going to make quite an impression.
SHUSTER: And how much pressure are White House reporters under for, I don‘t know, doggy feature stories, like where he sleeps? Does he obey the commander in chief? Do the girls take good care of him? Does he snarl at Republicans? Does he do his thing in the right place?
HENDERSON: Right. Those are to come. I should be writing those down. If my editor is watching tonight, he‘s going to be expecting all those stories pretty soon.
SHUSTER: Nia-Malika Henderson, White House reporter for “Politico.”
Nia, nice to talk to you as always. Thanks for coming on.
HENDERSON: Good to see you, Dave.
SHUSTER: That will do it for this Monday edition of COUNTDOWN. I‘m David Shuster, in for Keith Olbermann. Thanks for watching, everybody. Our MSNBC coverage continues now with “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.” Hey, Rachel.
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