Guests: Elijah Cummings, Roy Sekoff, Roger Cressey, Ron Christie, Chris Kofinis, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Stephanie Miller.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST: Good evening and welcome to THE ED SHOW.
I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Ed Schultz..
Coming up this hour, all the focus on the February 25th televised health care summit has been on the Republicans, but there‘s some real danger in it for Democrats. More on that in just a moment.
A former Bush speechwriter has a new book out called “How Obama is Inviting the Next Terror Attack.” I‘ll ask if ignoring a 2001 memo entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in America” qualifies as Bush inviting an attack.
Plus, the winter Olympics starts tonight on NBC. Willie Geist joins us live from Vancouver coming up.
All the focus on the health care summit has been on the Republicans. Are they afraid to debate the issue with President Obama on live TV? Will he just eat them up? But the real question is, how does this help the Democrats?
The burden of expectation is on them. All the Republicans have to do is show up. It‘s kind of like the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. She didn‘t have to beat Biden. She just couldn‘t fall down.
The Democrats are the party in power. They started this health care reform process. It‘s on them to finish it.
The president says he wants the summit to be a substantive discussion, not political theater. For that, he‘ll need to show results.
How‘s he going to do that? We don‘t have a Democratic health care bill now. We have two Democratic health bills, the House bill and the Senate bill.
President Obama has promised to have those bills combined into one Democratic bill so he can use that bill as a starting point on February 25th. But if that bill uses the income tax increase in the House bill, some Democratic senators will disown it immediately. And if it includes the Senate tax on union health care plans, some Democratic House members will run away from it.
There‘s no consensus among the Democrats about the policy. That‘s not going to change in two weeks.
What do you think the chances are you‘re going to turn on your TV on February 25th and see a show of Democratic unity, 59 Democratic senators and at least 220 House Democrats standing with their president behind one bill that they all support? More likely, it will be another exhibition of the fractious sausage-making process that has soured the country on health care reform. People will see a Democratic Party that can‘t get its own house in order.
Meanwhile, the Republicans, freed from the challenge of actually having to legislate, can stand united on small bore ideas like medical malpractice reform, which affects maybe one percent of medical spending in this country, and then just rip apart the taxes—the taxes in the Democratic bill. I don‘t want to bet on who will win that debate with swing voters.
By the way, why isn‘t this meeting happening on Monday? Why didn‘t it happen this week?
What happens to the fierce urgency of now in legislating health care reform? The foot-dragging the Democrats are doing now is what you do in the Congress when you want to kill your own bill.
You can‘t go back to 1994 and find the headline “Clinton Health Care Reform Died Today.” I was working in the Democratic side of the Senate then, and as the bill was dying, we kept scheduling negotiation meetings to try and keep it alive and, in some cases, to simply pretend to keep it alive.
Like old soldiers, legislation doesn‘t die. It just fades away.
I think the Democrats are very deliberately letting their health care bill fade away. The White House scheduled a meeting for the end of the month because they want to give the media a few weeks to focus on something else. There‘s no more talks of deadlines.
President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were absolutely right to set all those deadlines. Harry Reid pushing the United States Senate to vote on Christmas Eve. They had to get it done that day. The urgency was that important, because urgency is actually critical to passing a bill in the Senate and passing a bill in the House. And when the urgency goes away, that just means time is up.
Get your cell phones out.
Tonight‘s text survey is: Do you agree with me, do you believe that the Democrats are deliberately letting health care reform slip away?
Text “A” for yes, “B” for no to 622639. We‘ll bring you the results later in the show.
Joining me now is Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, a member of the House Task Force on Health Care Reform.
Congressman Cummings, thanks for joining us tonight.
Tell me I‘m wrong. Tell me and explain to me why what I‘m seeing is -
I see the Democrats simply walking away from health care, dropping urgency, letting it drift off into the future at undetermined dates. I see that as the Democrats walking away, quietly surrendering without saying, I surrender.
Tell me I‘m wrong. Convince me I‘m wrong.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I‘m telling you, you‘re wrong.
CUMMINGS: And I have a lot of respect for you, and I know about your experience with regard to the Congress. But I‘ve got to tell you, I think we are just at a critical moment where the president has made a decision that he is going to engage even more than he already has.
The Republicans, they constantly complain that they have not had an opportunity to be a part. And I watched him when he came here to Baltimore in my district a week or two ago, when he addressed the Republican Conference here in Baltimore. And I think you‘re seeing a president who has made a decision, as he said before, whether it‘s one term or two terms, he has got to do what‘s right for the people.
Think about this. He could easily just walk away from this. Why even have a conference on the 25th?
But I think the American people are very, very clear on this. Recent polls have shown they want us to work out this situation. They realize that premiums are going up, they realize that many of their neighbors don‘t have insurance, they realize that pre-existing conditions, we need to get rid of that requirement on the part of a lot of companies. And they also realize something else—that Anthem insurance company in California just went up—just announced that they‘re going to be going up on their premiums for individuals from 30 to 39 percent.
And this is real. And so I think—I think what the president has done, he knows that this is a critical moment, and this is not some kind of theater. He‘s trying to bring the parties together to say, look, we agree on a lot of things, we may disagree, but let‘s see how we can pull this together. And what‘s the American people want and that‘s what they need.
O‘DONNELL: Congressman Cummings, the Republicans are already complaining about the process leading up to the meeting. They sent a letter—the Republican leadership sent a letter today to the president saying they don‘t want him to get together in what they call a backroom deal with you members of the House and members of the Senate and combine those two bills, the House bill and the Senate bill, into one bill in this backroom deal before February 25th. The president, on the other hand, has put out a statement today saying that that‘s exactly what he‘s going to do, and he‘s going to have that bill online before the meeting takes place.
Do you think there‘s really any chance at all that the House and the Senate can agree on the taxation that‘s in this bill? For example, will you accept and vote for any form of the tax on union health care plans that exist in the Senate bill?
CUMMINGS: I personally would have a major problem with that because I believe that in many instances, say, for example, union health plans, they‘ve negotiated lower wages to get better health care. So, I can understand that.
But I‘ve got to tell you, we‘re talking about bipartisanship, and
bipartisan means that I‘m not going to get everything I want. As much as -
you know, I‘d love to have single payer. I‘d love to have a public option. But the fact still remains that I‘ve got people in my district literally who cannot afford the co-pay on chemo as they go through trying to address problems with cancer.
So, I‘ve got to ask myself, you know, and we‘ve got to ask ourselves in the Congress, do we go for the whole loaf or do we go for no loaf or not one slice? See, that‘s—and that seems to be what it‘s boiling down to.
And I just don‘t believe—I just don‘t believe that the members of Congress will let this moment go by. And by the way, everybody agrees, Democrats and Republicans, that we cannot continue on the path that we are going on.
So we‘ve got to do something, and I believe that we will. I really do. And I believe that this president is going to help us to accomplish that.
O‘DONNELL: Well, everybody said all those things in 1994. They all said we can‘t continue on the path we‘re going on, Democrats and Republicans. Republicans actually offered bills in 1994. They were much more responsive than they were this time around, and we still ended up with nothing.
But if we are talking bipartisan, as the president intends to and as you just said we are, we‘re now trying to move in a bipartisan way, doesn‘t that mean in fact that there can be no taxes in the bill? I mean, there isn‘t a single Republican member of the House or a single Republican member of the Senate who‘s going to vote for any of the taxes that are in either one of these bills, the House bill or the Senate bill.
Is there some Republican I don‘t know about who‘s willing to vote for tax increases?
CUMMINGS: I cannot name—I don‘t know what their positions are. I know one thing, that there are a lot of people out there who don‘t have health insurance now. There are a lot of people whose premiums are going up, and they realize they‘re going to be taxed one way or another, because when premiums go up, they go up.
And like I said, with Anthem going up 30 to 39 percent, that‘s a lot of money. And by the way, it‘s just not that one company. Others will begin to do the same thing.
We‘re going to have to turn this around. And we will.
And I think we spend so much time talking about what we can‘t do. If we just spent a little bit of that time talking about what we can do, and go back to the fact that we are a great nation and we can do better and we must take care of our own, I believe we‘ll get this done.
But going back to your initial question, is this a slow drag to end our efforts to reform health care in America? Absolutely not. This is an effort to re-up the engines to get it done. Again, we‘re about on the five foot line of the field. We cannot go back and we need to take it across the goal.
O‘DONNELL: Congressman Elijah Cummings, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
CUMMINGS: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: For more, let‘s bring in Roy Sekoff, founding editor of “The Huffington Post.”
Roy, you get my proposition. I feel like what I‘m watching here—and I respect Elijah Cummings completely. I believe Elijah Cummings is one of the people who is going to go back in there and continue to fight, but I don‘t believe the rest of the leadership is doing that. I don‘t believe that the Democratic Caucus in the Senate is doing that.
I think I know what I‘m seeing. I think I saw this in 1994. I think they are in full bluff mode about their ability to fight and they are basically in retreat.
How do you see this?
ROY SEKOFF, FOUNDING EDITOR, “THE HUFFINGTON POST: Yes. I mean, I beg to differ with the congressman. I hate to go against him, but clearly this is about the theater of it.
We saw the letter today from Rahm Emanuel and Secretary Sebelius, where they invited, officially, the Republicans to come. And what was on the table? They said we want you to bring your comprehensive plan and we want you to post it online beforehand.
So, wait a minute. In two weeks they‘re going to do something they haven‘t done in 14 months? I don‘t see how in half a day we‘re suddenly going to change everything that we‘ve been waiting for, for 14 months.
I mean, we saw—you know, Max Baucus was already trying to do this for months and months with Grassley and Kyl and all the people who are going to be there on the 25th. So I don‘t see how it‘s really different.
And to go back to what the congressman also said, he said we‘re on the five—basically, the five foot line. It seems like we‘re running these reels out of order. Don‘t you think, Lawrence? It‘s like we‘ve been watching the movie, and right before the big climax, they start to show the coming attractions. It feels a little off.
O‘DONNELL: Yes. I mean, look, these two things can‘t be true.
It can‘t be true that in 2009, we must legislate this tomorrow, we must get it done before the August recess. Then when we fail that, we must get it done before the Thanksgiving recess. Then we have to get it done on Christmas Eve, we can‘t lose a single day.
And then when you get to 2010, well, you can do it at the end of the month. We don‘t know what to do. But at the end of the month, we can have a meeting and see if in that meeting Republicans come up with some great ideas about what to do next.
I mean, these two strategies cannot both be true. They were either right in 2009 when they were trying to do this in an urgent way, or they are right now and there‘s absolutely no hurry as the election approaches in 2010.
SEKOFF: Yes. The question is, where is the urgency for reconciliation? Is this all just about laying the groundwork for that, or is that not even going to come to the table?
I mean, where is the sidecar, where‘s—you say that the president wants the House and the Senate to come together and have a bill before the 25th. They can‘t even agree who‘s going to go first on voting for the sidecar. That‘s the problem. I don‘t see where this is going to happen.
O‘DONNELL: No. And there‘s Elijah Cummings, a member of the health leadership in the House, who, when you ask him about the key tax in the Senate bill, he will say, publicly, right away, he‘s opposed to that.
O‘DONNELL: And so there‘s not a single senator, not one senator who is in favor of the income tax increase that the House of Representatives passed. And I have always said all year, Roy, as you know, it‘s the pay-for side of this that is going to divide the House and the Senate. The tax side of this is what divides the House and the Senate more than anything else.
And am I missing something? I don‘t see any evidence of the House and Senate Democrats being able to come together by February 25th on the tax side of this thing.
SEKOFF: Well, that‘s the key. I mean, we know that the bottom line of basically all the Republican strategy is, taxes are bad. And so there it was when you asked Representative Cummings. He couldn‘t even name one.
In the entire House, can you name me one representative of the Republican side who‘d be willing to vote for a tax increase? Can‘t think of any.
O‘DONNELL: Well, I don‘t think she‘s going to want the world reminded of this, but Olympia Snowe did vote for the tax increases in the Senate Finance Committee bill. She was in favor of them before she was opposed to them, when they went out there on the Senate floor, and I don‘t think there‘s any chance of getting her back on this.
I mean, do you see any chance of peeling off on Olympia Snowe again and any other Republican in the Senate unless you‘re talking about something that has no taxation? And if you‘re talking about no taxation, that means you‘re talking about no subsidies for people to buy health insurance. That means you‘re talking about no expansion of coverage whatsoever.
And I don‘t know what you call the bill that is left after that. Do you?
SEKOFF: Dead. I mean, Lawrence, I have to shudder again that the thought of this tremendous popular movement that brought us hope, that brought us change comes down to convincing Olympia Snowe. It just makes me shudder.
O‘DONNELL: Roy Sekoff, thanks for joining us tonight.
SEKOFF: All right, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, former members of the Bush administration have been doing their best to convince America that President Obama is inviting another 911. My next guest will tell us how the Bushies still have their facts backwards.
And as she flies around the country chasing speaking fees, more and more people have finally figured out Sarah Palin and her popularity is plummeting.
All that, plus the Senate Democrats are struggling to find an agreement among themselves in the jobs bill, but can they get enough members of the party of no to say yes to jobs?
O‘DONNELL: Welcome back.
One of the most reckless right-wing talking points out there is that President Obama is making America less safe. And now former Bush speechwriter Mark Thiessen has written a book subtitled, “How Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack.”
I got a chance to ask him a couple of questions on “MORNING JOE” this morning. Here‘s a bit of what we said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK THIESSEN, AUTHOR, “HOW THE CIA KEPT AMERICA SAFE AND HOW BARACK
OBAMA IS INVITING THE NEXT ATTACK”: Barack Obama has eliminated the CIA‘s interrogation program, which is the single most successful and important intelligence program we have in the war on terror and possibly the CIA.
O‘DONNELL: You actually publish a book that says that the president
of the United States, on its title, the president “is inviting the next
attack.” Isn‘t it true that the president you worked for invited the first
attack by having no idea what was going on with al Qaeda
THIESSEN: All right. That‘s ridiculous. That is ridiculous.
Barack Obama has handicapped this country by eliminating the CIA‘s capability to question and interrogate senior terrorist leaders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: You can see that interview in its entirety on MSNBC.com and on “The Huffington Post.”
For more, let me bring in NBC News terrorism analyst Roger Cressey. Roger is a former member of the United States National Security Council under President Clinton and President George W. Bush. He is currently the president of the Good Harbor Consulting Group and an adjunct professor of counterterrorism policy at Georgetown University.
I‘ve just got to ask you on a personal level, as someone who‘s worked in government, and as someone who worked in government myself, I am just outraged that there‘s someone who could have taken the oath of office to work in the White House who would come out and title a book about the sitting president of the United States, ,saying that that president is inviting a terrorist attack on the United States.
How does that make you feel as someone who used to work there?
ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: You know, Lawrence, we can disagree with an administration, we can disagree with a president, but to put that type of language out there, it‘s classless, is what it is. And anybody who‘s worked in government, most importantly, you have to respect the office of the presidency even if you disagree with the politics of the president. And what you saw in that exchange that you had with him is someone who clearly is just trying to sell books and trying to score cheap points, regardless of whether or not they have any relevance.
O‘DONNELL: Roger, there seems to be some kind of Orwellian attempt here to rewrite the history that we all lived through. There was a point, for example, in that interview this morning where he said, after we got hit on 9/11, we didn‘t know who hit us. Now, this is the same administration, this is the same presidency that was handed a memo prior to that attack saying that al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was going to try to do something like this.
The professionals knew who hit us pretty quickly after 9/11. Didn‘t they?
CRESSEY: Yes. I knew. And we were in the Situation Room the morning of 9/11, and we were telling the president‘s advisers that it was al Qaeda because of all the hallmarks.
And Mr. Thiessen was a speechwriter. He wasn‘t a policy guy. And he wasn‘t involved in any of the policy development.
He probably couldn‘t have even spelled “bin Laden” before 9/11. So, to make those type of claims, he has no credibility.
We knew al Qaeda was looking to attack the United States. We did not know how, where and what leading up to 9/11. Both Republicans and Democrats concluded that in the 9/11 Commission process. So the issue for us then and the issue for us today is, how do you identify the threat and how do you deal with it in a way to ensure that the next terror plot never gets close enough to being launched?
O‘DONNELL: And is there any chance that we could expect any form of consistency from people like this, from political operatives like this coming out of the Bush/Cheney White House and this defensive crouch trying to argue that they got everything right and everyone who has come after them gets everything wrong? I mean, in the past, this is not the way things used to work.
You did not used to have people leaving administrations and then criticizing the following administration on an ongoing prosecution of a war, be it the war on terror or wars on foreign soil. This is a new phenomenon in our foreign policy establishment, if we can call it that, isn‘t it?
CRESSEY: Well, there‘s a zero sum game going on in this public debate where, if I‘m not right, then you—if I‘m right, therefore you must be wrong and there‘s no middle ground. The Bush administration did a lot of good things in destroying al Qaeda‘s capability. They did a lot of bad things, too, like any president, Republican and Democrat.
There are successes and there are failures. And we need to be able to discuss it in a reasonable, honest way. And with this type of accusations that are being thrown around about how the Obama administration is making us more vulnerable and inviting al Qaeda to attack, it‘s not only classless, it‘s stupid.
O‘DONNELL: And, you know, people from the Bush/Cheney side of the world during that administration had, at different times, suggested that there were commentators out there giving aid and comfort to the enemy by saying things that came into conflict with Bush/Cheney policies. I mean, this kinds of thing, at minimum, gives huge comfort and amusement to the enemy. Doesn‘t it?
I mean, isn‘t al Qaeda over there watching this kind of controversy and watching this kind of finger-pointing and thinking, this is great? You know, we‘ve got them attacking each other?
CRESSEY: Well, I mean, if you read what the al Qaeda propaganda machine puts out, if you watch the videos or listen to the audiotapes, they clearly pay attention to the public debate inside the United States. And yes, there‘s certainly some amusement and bemusement from their perspective on this.
But regardless of what we talk about in the media, the bottom line is there are elements of this al Qaeda network that are actively plotting to attack the United States and U.S. interests today. They don‘t care if Bush is in the White House or if Obama is in the White House.
They believe the objective still remains the same, to attack the United States. And we, as a nation, have to accept that and begin to come up with a consensus on how to deal with this very significant and serious problem.
What the Christmas Day bombing attempt was, was a wake-up call for a lot of people who thought, A, that the threat wasn‘t there anymore, or, B, that it wasn‘t enough of a priority. People who weren‘t in the counterterrorism community said we‘ve got other things to worry about now. Well, now they‘ve had their eyes opened up again, and this is a priority.
O‘DONNELL: Roger Cressey, thanks for joining us and thanks for your nonpartisan service to this country.
CRESSEY: Thank you, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, Sarah Palin is having trouble convincing America that she know what she‘s talking about. Even Republicans are turning on her.
We‘ll tell you what the numbers mean for 2012 next.
O‘DONNELL: Sarah Palin made a big splash at the Tea Party Convention in Nashville last weekend. The crowd was rooting for her to run for president in 2012. At one point, they were chanting “run, Sarah, run.” But the vast majority of America does not seem to agree that Palin should be our next commander in chief.
A new “Washington Post”/ABC News poll found that 71 percent of Americans do not think Palin is even qualified to be president. Even Republicans are losing interest in her. Only 45 percent of them now think Palin is qualified to be president, compared to 66 percent who thought so when they were voting last November.
For more, let‘s bring in our panel, Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis and Republican strategist Ron Christie. Ron Christie, it seems to be a tough time to be investing in Palin for president stock, doesn‘t it?
RON CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, Lawrence, I think it‘s a little early to be investing in Palin for presidency stock. I think the governor right now is a political personality. She‘s out. She has a best seller book that is out there. She‘s touring the country. She‘s meeting with a lot of people.
I think it‘s very premature to suggest that Governor Palin is going to run for elective office, be it the presidency. Let‘s wait and see how the process run it self out.
O‘DONNELL: I‘m actually not one who does suggest she‘s going to run. I don‘t think there‘s any possibility of her running. Chris Kofinis, take a look at her favorable/unfavorable poll rating. Her favorable is 37 percent; unfavorable is 55 percent nationwide. With that unfavorable number, you can‘t get elected to a nationwide office. That‘s just impossible, isn‘t it?
CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It‘s pretty difficult. Listen, I‘ll disagree with you on one thing. I think she is going to run. I think she‘s convinced herself—she‘s this kind of celeb politician. She‘s convinced herself she has a grass roots following. To some extent she does, in terms of the number of books she has sold.
But when you have the kind of numbers that she has, when 70 percent of the American people don‘t think you are qualified to be president, you can‘t win. That doesn‘t mean she can‘t run and do significant damage to the Republican party in their primary.
Listen, I think there‘s a better chance that she‘s going to be the next “American Idol” judge than she is going to be president, but that‘s not going to prevent her from running. She, I think, is going to run because I think she‘s sees this both a business decision as a political decision. I just think it‘s the kind of person, politician, whatever you want to call her, that she is.
O‘DONNELL: Wow, “American Idol.” Sarah Palin as an “American Idol” judge. Ron Christie, that is a brilliant thing. That is the smartest thing Chris Kofinis has come up with on television. She‘s already on the Fox payroll, the Fox News payroll. Just shift her over.
CHRISTIE: Quite to the contrary, Lawrence. I think these cheap shots, this arrogant condescension towards Governor Palin notwithstanding, what I‘m more concerned about right now, if you look at that new “Washington Post”/ABC poll, is the number of President Barack Obama. The president, if you look in that poll, and you look at the Real Clear Politics average, his popularity rating right now is averaging in the mid-40s. So we can talk and be condescending all we want about Governor Palin, but when there are a number of people who question President Obama‘s ability to lead the country with health care, terrorism, national defense, I think those are the numbers we ought to be talking about, instead of somebody who is not on the ballot and two years away.
O‘DONNELL: All right.
KOFINIS: Ron, to that point real quick, one, President Obama is doing far better than the Republican party is in the same polls that you‘re talking about. And second, the reason we‘re talking about Sarah Palin is because the Republican party has a Sarah Palin problem.
O‘DONNELL: OK, guys, we‘re going to have to cut it there. You both are going to come back. Stay with me.
Coming up, Harry Reid is struggling to come up with a smaller, focused jobs bill that can pass the Senate, but will that be enough to pass the House of Representatives? Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney will talk about that in just a moment.
O‘DONNELL: Welcome back to THE ED SHOW. I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Ed Schultz. Max Baucus couldn‘t get Chuck Grassley on board for a health care reform bill, but the two Finance Committee leaders came together to answer President Obama‘s call for a jobs bill. Yesterday, they unveiled their bipartisan 85 billion dollar bill, which Majority Leader Harry Reid publicly announced support of, and then quickly retreated on when Democratic senators insisted on a much narrower 15 billion dollar bill.
The bill that they‘ve agreed on so far contains only a targeted tax credit for employers hiring unemployed workers and a payroll tax holiday for employers hiring unemployed workers. To get the House perspective on this, let‘s bring in New York City Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, chair of the Joint Economic Committee.
Congresswoman, where does the jobs bill stand in the House at this point?
REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: We‘ve already passed a jobs bill that was more extensive. It was a 75 billion dollar bill that not only had the targeted tax credits for new jobs that are created, but also extending unemployment benefits, targeted money for teachers and police and fire, modernization of school buildings, investing in infrastructure for our bridges, our roads, our transit. It was more extensive.
But the main point is the Senate is acting, thank goodness. It doesn‘t preclude that we could do more at a later point. But it‘s important that we pass this targeted tax jobs bill. Many economists say that is one way we can create more jobs. In the 1970‘s, we had a targeted jobs bill that created roughly 700,000 jobs, and this is movement in the right direction.
O‘DONNELL: Do you believe you‘ll be able to conference something between the House and the Senate and come out with one bill? There seems to be a pretty big gap between the Senate and the House right now.
MALONEY: The main point, Lawrence, is to have movement in a positive direction. The Senate is going to be voting, so Leader Reid says, on February 22nd. That‘s a good move in the right direction. We‘ll conference it and we‘ll move forward in a joint way that helps create more jobs in the American economy.
Christina Romer today, in her report to the president—she‘s the head of the president‘s advisers on economic policy—said that a targeted jobs credit is one of the best things we can do. There are many proposals out there. I even have my own out there. But the leader in the Senate has a majority agreeing. Let‘s move forward and let‘s get it done, and let‘s get more Americans hired. We are trending in the right direction. The last jobs report—for the past three months, there have been roughly 38,000 jobs lost under President Obama. But the last three months under the former President Bush, we were losing about 700,000 jobs.
We‘re moving in the right direction, but every job lost is really a crisis, a terrible thing for those families. We need to turn that around and start adding jobs. This is movement in the right direction.
O‘DONNELL: The new chant coming out of the White House for 2010, since the Scott Brown election, obviously is bipartisan. That certainly is the way Harry Reid seems to want to go, Max Baucus seems to want to go. How important do you think it is that this become a bipartisan bill in the Senate?
MALONEY: I‘ve always said the best legislation is bipartisan. We always try to work in a bipartisan way. It is very good that they have bipartisan support. We‘ll be working from strong bipartisan support in the House.
O‘DONNELL: Do you need the president‘s guidance at this stage of the legislative process, since there is such a difference at this stage between the House and the Senate?
MALONEY: The president‘s leadership is always welcomed. He has a very strong voice that Americans and certainly members of Congress will be listening to.
O‘DONNELL: Thank you Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.
MALONEY: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: For more, let‘s bring the panel back, Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis and Republican strategist Ron Christie.
Chris Kofinis, it seems to me that Harry Reid had an embarrassing 24 hours, coming out and announcing he‘s got this 85 billion dollar package, that this is his package. He then goes into a closed door session with the full Democratic membership of the Senate, and they send him back out the door saying, sorry, that one‘s too big. We don‘t like that. We‘re going to trim it down to this.
The Democrats seem to now have a pretty public struggle getting their thinking straight in the wake of that Scott Brown election in Massachusetts. Don‘t they?
KOFINIS: You know, in terms of the Senate bill and the Reid turn around, kind of a peculiar turn of events. I think the Brown race—the Massachusetts race has clearly shaken some Democrats up. I think it‘s rekindled this notion that somehow bipartisan is the most important thing in politics. Listen, to some extent it is. But bipartisanship in polling data is liking most voters do you like ice cream? Of course they‘re going to say yes.
At the end of the day, I think what voters mostly want is action. If they see you doing things in order to address their problems, they favor that regardless of whether it‘s partisan or not. I think if the question is, can we get a better bill, that‘s great. But if the other question is where can we—what legislation can we get unanimous support, both Republican and Democrat—well, the danger there is you water it down because of what the Republicans want. That is a tough danger.
It is a tough balancing act. I don‘t profess to say that I know the easy strategy. But I would not suggest, for example, that the simple route to take is simply pursue bipartisanship. I think we have to go out there and make our strong arguments to the American people about what our course is to solve the nation‘s economic problems. If the Republicans want to oppose that, I think that is a good foil for the November elections.
O‘DONNELL: Ron Christie, the Senate bill seems to come down to business tax cuts at this point, one of them designed by Orin Hatch, with the cooperation of Chuck Schumer, a bipartisan design of a payroll tax holiday for businesses hiring unemployed workers. Is that tax cut component enough to attract Republicans, despite all the Republican rhetoric that we hear over time that government simply cannot create jobs? Will they still be willing to vote for this and call it a jobs bill, even though they really believe that the government can create jobs by doing this kind of thing?
CHRISTIE: I think they will, Lawrence. I think the bipartisan proposal put forth by Senator Schumer and Senator Hatch does do a lot to stimulate the economy. It will do a lot to incentivize employers to hire people. The provision, of course, is that there‘s an unemployed worker, who has been unemployed for a certain amount of time, there will be a suspension of the payroll tax of 6.2 percent that that employer would have to pay.
The thing I look at though, Lawrence, at this particular juncture is how could the Senate Majority Leader embarrass the president the way that he did? President Obama indicated his support for the Grassley and the Baucus bill the other day. Senate Majority Leader Reid indicated his support for it.
Then he comes behind closed doors and comes out and says, well, notwithstanding the bill that the president supports, I‘m going to abandon it. I think that was a crass political move. There was strong bipartisan support in the Senate Finance Committee for that initial proposal. I think the blame of moving away from a bipartisanship solutions lays at the feet of Harry Reid.
O‘DONNELL: Well, Ron, let‘s be clear, what was lost in cutting that bill down from 85 billion dollars is a bunch of other corporate tax breaks that are called extenders, that are periodically extended, that are not, in fact, related to job creation. That‘s what Republicans will cry about not being in the bill, is just a whole bigger package of corporate tax cuts.
CHRISTIE: Lawrence, the overall issue is how can the Senate Majority Leader, after the president of the United States hailed a bipartisan solution—remember, this was only the draft that was released yesterday. I think it‘s embarrassing. I think the Republicans and Democrats could have come together to craft a more responsible bill, taken out some of the pork, and everybody could have walked away with a victory, and a quick vote and a quick victory in the Senate and in the House.
O‘DONNELL: Ron, it‘s always easy to explain what the Majority Leader does. The Majority Leader counts votes. Harry Reid went into a meeting with the Democratic senators. He counted the votes. He realized I can‘t pass this thing. That‘s it. It‘s not that he‘s going to come up with his own idea. He came out of that meeting with his members saying, we don‘t want to vote for all these extra pieces now. Maybe we‘ll vote for those things later in something else.
CHRISTIE: And the president of the United States said this was a good starting point and a good bill. My point, again, Lawrence, is how could the Majority Leader, after the president hailed it, come back and say, oh, we can‘t pass it. That‘s a lack of leadership in the Senate Majority Leader.
O‘DONNELL: You can‘t force these people to do things they‘re not going to do.
CHRISTIE: You mean like the health debate where they—
O‘DONNELL: Yes. Right, and they didn‘t. It failed. It stalled.
They can‘t do it.
CHRISTIE: I think the American people came through there.
O‘DONNELL: Chris Kofinis, what is Harry Reid supposed to do if he doesn‘t have the votes? I mean, you go into your room, you sit down, you don‘t have the votes for your bill; you don‘t have any other choice, except coming up with something that can get the votes. Isn‘t that all—
KOFINIS: I think that‘s exactly right. I‘m not sure Ron wants him to be the dictator where he is going to impose this, but it just doesn‘t work that way. It‘s just the brutal reality. I‘m not saying it‘s right or wrong. It‘s just the reality of the legislative process.
Listen, I think the Majority Leader has a very difficult job, obviously. That is because you have, I think, very divergent interests just in our caucus, let alone also dealing with the Republicans and their divergent interests and ideological persuasions. Not that much on the Republican side, but nonetheless—so composing and putting together a piece of legislation that is able to win a wide swathe of support is difficult.
The part that I think is frustrating, at least from perspective, is if the goal here is to win a few Republican votes, great. If the goal is try to get unanimous support from the Republican party, so they‘re not going to go out there and play politics, it is just not going to happen.
O‘DONNELL: All right. We‘re going to have to cut it right there. Thank you very much, Chris Kofinis and Ron Christie, for joining us tonight.
Thanks, guys. Tonight, Vancouver, Canada is the party center of the world because of the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. The only man I know who can party like a Canadian is Willie Geist. He‘s next.
O‘DONNELL: The 21st Winter Olympics officially kick off in just a few hours with the first ever indoor opening ceremonies. Over the next two weeks, thousands of athletes from more than 80 countries will compete in 86 events. But this afternoon, a tragedy has cast a shadow over the games. A luge athlete from the country of Georgia died after crashing in the middle of a training run and falling off the track, hitting a steel pole. The International Olympic Committee spokesman said Olympic officials were in deep mourning.
Joining me now, live from Vancouver, Willie Geist, host of MSNBC‘s “WAY TOO EARLY,” with Willie Geist.
Willie, what is the mood in Vancouver after this tragedy today?
WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC ANCHOR: Well, Lawrence, they‘ve been waiting so long for these games here. They got them in July of 2003, almost seven years ago. So they‘re beyond excited that the day is finally here, the opening ceremonies. But it was obviously tempered today, as you said. The IOC president, Jacques Rogge, saying, “a shadow has been cast over these games by the death of 21-year-old Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.
He was coming around the final turn of a training run on what a lot of people call the fastest luge track in the world. He lost control of his sled, went up the embankment, and went back first into a steel pole that did not have pad on it. Emergency responders came to the scene immediately, started treating him literally within seconds. But the injuries were too grave. He was declared dead later at a hospital.
Now, a lot of people had warned about this track. Even Mark Gremet (ph) -- he‘s the US flag bearer on the United States luge team, he said we‘re starting to push it with this track. This is before what happened today. So this track might be a little too fast. One Australian luger even said “this treats us like crash course dummies. They send us on and put our lives in our own hands.”
So people have been concerned about this very fast track for a long time. And now, obviously, a shadow has been cast over the opening ceremonies, which start on NBC within the hour.
Lawrence, the speculation here, though, today about the ceremony—the mystery still remains, who will light the caldron. You remember—
Americans will anyway—in 1996, in Atlanta, Mohamed Ali lit the caldron. That—obviously, national icons tend to do that. The name that has been floated out there was Wayne Gretzky. But we learned last night that it will not be Wayne Gretzky.
The parents of Terry Fox have been considered. he‘s, of course, the young man that tried to run across country, the cancer victim, the one legged run across Canada. He didn‘t quite make it, but his family and are heroes here. So it could be one of the parents. They remain very coy and very mysterious about exactly what‘s going to go on just down the street, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: Willie, how many people actually know, at this moment—actually know who is going to light this thing? And why haven‘t you found out? You‘ve got nothing else to do all day. Come on.
GEIST: You know, Lawrence, I‘ve been surveying all around the bars, and nobody in there seems to know. That‘s where I‘ve been spending most of my time. So that‘s probably not the right place to look for answers.
But it‘s a very tight circle within the IOC. In fact, we‘re told they tell a bunch of people that they could possibly be that person, meet us at BC Place tonight, and we‘ll let you know right before it goes on. So they are really doing a great job keeping this a mystery. Again, they say it‘s not Wayne Gretzky, who is the guy a lot of people thought it would be.
O‘DONNELL: Willie Geist, hardest working man at the Winter Olympics, thanks for joining us.
GEIST: Thanks, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: You can watch the Olympics opening ceremonies tonight on NBC. Check your local listings.
Coming up, Stephanie Miller has been writing jokes on her hand all day. She‘ll read her crib notes to me next on Club Ed.
O‘DONNELL: Welcome back. Tonight in our text survey, I asked you, do you believe that the Democrats are deliberately letting health care reform slip away? Sixty eight percent of you agreed with me and said yes; 32 percent said no.
And if it‘s Friday, it‘s time for Club Ed. Joining me now is nationally syndicated radio talk show host Stephanie Miller. Stephanie, thanks for joining us.
This was the week of the writing on the hands joke. Everybody did it, Colbert, the White House secretary. Is it over? Is it the end of that joke? Have we heard the end of it?
STEPHANIE MILLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, Lawrence, I know that you would think I would be here to make fun of Sarah Palin. I guess I should come clean that I sometimes need notes on my hands too before I come on the air here. For instance, I sometimes find it helpful to remember which is my ass, and which is my elbow. Oh, that‘s my elbow.
I know I‘m a grown woman that just wrote ass on my hand to get on television, but she wants to be leader of the free world, Lawrence. What is she, 14? She‘s writing crib notes on her hand. She‘s having Facebook wars with Rahm Emanuel. What is she going to text us the State of the Union? OMG, you guys, the SOTU is totally awesome. OMFG. LOL.
O‘DONNELL: Hey, it was snow week in the northeast. And you‘re new to the northeast. You had an LA life up until recently. You now have your first big New York snowstorm. Was it everything that you could have hoped for?
MILLER: Well, you know, the snow in Washington—I know I‘m not a sports person, but people did tell me that hell will freeze over before the Saints win a Super Bowl. So apparently that‘s happened now. And Congress has come to a complete halt, which I guess is something new. I think the Republicans tried to filibuster the snow. The Democrats didn‘t have 60 votes to stop it. Here we are again.
O‘DONNELL: Stephanie, we‘re going to have to leave it there. I‘m sorry, we‘ve run out of time. That‘s it for THE ED SHOW. I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell. Thanks for watching. “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts right now.
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