Guests: Christina Bellantoni, Rep. Barney Frank, Emily Heil, Alex Wagner
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Shirley Sherrod saga: Did the right-wing attack machine have a hidden motive in going after her?
And the apology parade continues with a phone call from President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: She did accept his apology?
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Sherrod‘s message of reconciliation doesn‘t apply to Andrew Breitbart. She‘s contemplating a lawsuit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHIRLEY SHERROD, FMR. USDA OFFICIAL: He didn‘t go after the NCAAP.
He came at me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: And now, people are coming after Sherrod with job offers, too.
Help is on the way for the nation‘s other 2.5 unemployed workers. The House passes the extension of unemployed benefits. This as some Democrats toy with extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Our special guest:
Congressman Barney Frank.
Charlie Rangel is slapped with ethics charges. What‘s the case? And will it only affect Rangel‘s re-election hopes? Or could it have a broader impact on the Democrats in the midterms?
Tropical trouble for BP: As a storm looms, the government has to decide whether to let oil spill again.
And tonight—a rare look at the environmental disaster with Kerry Sanders on board a submarine in the Gulf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at the dolphin right there. Look at that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. Oh, we‘ve got a bunch of dolphins right out in front of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: And the disaster that is Sharron Angle—announces a press conference, and then dodges the press.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Sharron, will you answer some questions really quickly?
STAFFER: We asked her to go, I‘m sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.
O‘DONNELL: Good evening from New York. I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.
Shirley Sherrod said she did not want an apology from President Obama.
Tonight, in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: She got one anyway.
President Obama called her twice last night but failed to reach her. She called back today. At 12:35, the president took the call from his private office. They spoke for seven minutes.
Earlier today, on NBC, Ms. Sherrod expressed her hopes for what that conversation would entail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERROD: I really would not want the president to apologize to me.
I‘d love to have a conversation with him though.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what would you say to him?
SHERROD: You know, I‘d like to talk to him a little bit about the experiences of people like me—people at the grassroots level, people who live out there in rural America, people who live in the South. I know he does not have that kind of experience. Let me help him a little bit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: President Obama reportedly—yes—apologized to Ms. Sherrod and told her that the apology she got yesterday from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was a sincere one.
And tonight, the president told ABC News that Vilsack jumped the gun in part because of the media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He jumped the gun partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on a YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles. And I‘ve told my team and told my agencies that we have to make sure that we‘re focusing on doing the right thing instead of what looks to be politically necessary at that very moment. We have to take our time and think these issues through.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: The president today told Sherrod he hopes she will accept Vilsack‘s offer of a new job—a job she is still considering but is inclined to refuse. This all, of course, after Vilsack fired her for remarks she made to the NAACP this March which were posted online, edited and out-of-context by right-wing blogger and Tea Party folk hero, Andrew Breitbart, who first called Sherrod racist and then changed his story and asserted without evidence that the NAACP is racist.
Breitbart told NBC yesterday that he only asked his source for clips of Sherrod that what were he called relevant to his agenda against the NAACP. Today, Sherrod was asked whether she was considering suing Breitbart for defamation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNN)
SHERROD: I really think I should. You know, I don‘t know a lot about the legal profession, but that‘s one person I‘d like to get back at.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Really?
SHERROD: He came at me. You know, he didn‘t go after the NAACP. He came at me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Also this morning, Sherrod was asked, what exactly is the new job she is considering at USDA, and then explaining why she was inclined not to accept it, she seemed to confirm the claim from the Congressional Black Caucus yesterday that USDA might have acted quickly to remove a black alleged racist but still has not come to terms with actual racism in its ranks and history—specifically, decades of racial discrimination against minority farmers that led to over $1 billion settlement of lawsuits against the USDA.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERROD: It‘s there because the agency did never deal with the people who cause it. No one lost their job because they discriminated against a black farmer or a Native American farmer or a Hispanic farmer, or a female farmer. Those individuals, many of them, some have retired, but many of them are still there. I would not want to be that individual that the department—and everyone is looking to solve the issue of racism in USDA.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Let‘s bring in MSBNC political analyst, Eugene Robinson, associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post.”
Gene, to the president‘s explanation for why they jumped the gun, that there‘s an Internet and a blogosphere and a 24-hour news cycle. Let‘s see, that‘s been in operation since long before Barack Obama ran for president. They handled that whole system very successfully in the presidential campaign. There‘s something odd-sounding about the basic media conditions of their lives being the reason they jumped the gun.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think there‘s obviously another reason. And it was this kind of third rail subject of black racism or reverse racism or whatever. Obviously, there was an enormous sensitivity to this allegation and to the point where, you know, before anyone talked to Ms. Sherrod or got her side of the story or even bothered looked at the full tape, she was gone. Had to pull over to the side of the road and do her resignation right there.
So, I think the president left out the subject matter. And clearly, the subject matter was key in the screw-up.
O‘DONNELL: Now, you‘ve written in your Pulitzer Prize-winning column today, Gene, that the president does need to stand up to this repeated reverse racism accusation, this chorus that has been coming from the right-wing.
ROBINSON: Well, it‘s been—there‘s been this series of, frankly, ginned up, alleged episodes or examples of what is being portrayed as reverse racism. And I—you know, Van Jones, the New Black Panther Party, which seems to consist of two whack out guys in Philadelphia, you know, on and on.
And the clear purpose of this, it seems to me, is to frighten people.
It‘s to frighten white people that black people are coming to get them. That black people—if they are given or elected to or appointed to positions of power, will use those positions to take revenge against white people. And this sort of drum beat has been continuing on the far-right and, you know, the provocateur, Breitbart, and one media outlet in particular.
And I think—you know, you don‘t deal with bullies by running away from them. You deal with bullies by standing up to them. And at some point, you have to say, enough is enough.
O‘DONNELL: There seems to be a political objective in these—in the reverse racism campaign, which began back during the Obama presidential campaign when right-wing radio talk show hosts were talking about, you know, there will be reparations for slavery if you elect this man president. They were ginning up their audiences about all sorts of possibilities of reverse racism. You know, and don‘t you try to apply for a job in the federal government if there‘s a black president.
Now, these very same radio talk show hosts wanted people to vote for the Republican candidate for president, which they presumably will want again, in 2012. They presumably want voters to vote for Republicans this fall. Much of this talk is designed to work electorally against Democrats, isn‘t it?
ROBINSON: Absolutely. The focal point is Barack Obama, the first African-American president. It is designed to weaken him, to weaken his political position, and that of his party. And the thing is, Lawrence, that it‘s not ineffective. If you—if you look at—if one particular number in the polls that‘s sampled every once in a while, do you think Barack Obama as president is adopting policies that favor minorities or that favor African-Americans—and you‘ve seen an increase in that number.
And so, from the point of view of those who were—who were carrying out this strategy, as far as they‘re concerned, it‘s working.
O‘DONNELL: And, Gene, about this moral equivalence that people, like Breitbart, tried to bring to any exhibition of any prejudicial thinking, that this prejudicial thought here is absolutely the equal of any prejudicial thought by any other group, there‘s an awful lot of cheating going on there when people try to suggest that the things that they think they‘re finding or imaging in black America are somehow the equivalent—or as lynchings and years of slavery and segregation.
O‘DONNELL: I mean, the woman in question in the center of this case had her father murdered by the Ku Klux Klan and she was forced to go to segregated public schools in this country. That is her upbringing and her experience. And Breitbart and his pals seem to think that there‘s some sort of moral equivalence between that and somebody saying something that makes someone uncomfortable.
ROBINSON: Yes. Now, they do believe there‘s a moral equivalent.
There is not.
And, you know, I—I went to segregated schools until high school. I
you know, and yet did not have all the experiences that Shirley Sherrod had in—you know, because at least I was in a black college town.
But history is history. And you can‘t ignore it. You can‘t erase it. You get—you get past it and you deal—but you deal with it and it happened. And the idea that we all kind of start from the same historical point is simply not true.
O‘DONNELL: MSNBC political analyst, Eugene Robinson, also associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post,” who may look 35 but has just made a historical reference to his own education, which indicates he may be a few years older than that—Gene, thank you very much for your time tonight.
ROBINSON: Oh, and thank you so much, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: The job Sherrod is considering is to help Secretary Vilsack end a legacy of decades of racism at the agency—racism that came to the for fore with a lawsuit in the late ‘90s, in which thousands of black farmers sued the USDA for discriminating against minorities when it came to its loans and other policies.
As “Talking Points Memo” has reported, the right-wing opposes the USDA settlements with black farmers. And some of them jumped on the Sherrod video to pressure Congress against authorizing the payment of more than $1 billion to those farmers—a vote that‘s expected soon. Some of them, including FOX News, insinuating conspiracy, in the fact that Sherrod and her husband, civil rights leader Charles Sherrod, won a settlement of their own last year before she joined the USDA.
Working on this story for “Talking Points Memo” is senior reporter Christina Bellantoni.
Christina, good evening. Thanks for joining us.
Could you, first of all, take us through the Sherrod case, the litigation that the Sherrod family was involved in?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, TALKINGPOINTSMEMO.COM: Yes, absolutely. Well, this is all part of the Pigford settlement which is started in 1997. In 1999, a settlement was agreed to where several thousand black farmers were basically, it was found that they had been discriminated against, as you mentioned, in mostly in the form of being denied loans from the Department of Agriculture.
Well, the Sherrod case is very interesting. She and her husband moved to Georgia and they started a community farm with several people from the community in 1968. And they were met with repeated problems.
My colleague Rachel Slajda has spent a lot of time today researching this and she basically determined that the Sherrod story is that they hit roadblocks from the state government. They were denied many, many loans. Drought ended up causing them many problems. And then, eventually, they had to foreclose on the property, which was eventually bulldozed.
So, they were part of this settlement. And in 2009, they were awarded $13 million for the settlement for this case.
O‘DONNELL: Now, as your Web site pointed out, FOXNews.com claimed that the Sherrod settlement from the USDA meant that, quote, “the plot has thickened.” “The Washington Examiner” went even further.
What is it that they‘re trying to suggest about the Sherrod elements of that large lawsuit involving billions of dollars and where the story is today?
BELLANTONI: Well, it seems as if they‘re trying to suggest that there‘s some link as to, you know, why she was hired a few months after this settlement was awarded in 2009 by the Department of Agriculture. But it really obscures the issue of what we‘re talking about and that is a very selectively edited video pushed by conservative news sites to tarnish this woman‘s name.
And certainly, the settlement doesn‘t appear to have anything to do with any of that. But this is some sort of furthering a claim from some on the right that you can‘t prove some of these cases. Even Congressman Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, tweeted that this was a—there‘s a lot of fraud in this because you can‘t actually prove that the farmers were discriminated against. But that‘s dismissed by the majority of mainstream Republicans.
O‘DONNELL: And what does this week‘s controversy do to the possible payment of settlement in this litigation? I mean, there‘s a political involved in whether Congress is going to authorize it. It was a very obscure thing that none of us knew about a couple of days ago. And now, it looks like it may become one of the most important billion dollar settlements that the government has had to handle politically.
BELLANTONI: Yes, President Obama basically authorized $1.25 billion but Congress hasn‘t approved it yet. It‘s been delayed multiple times and actually stripped out of other bills. It is attached to the war supplemental bill. And the Senate probably is going to strip that out. So, it‘s really a big question as to whether this is going to go forward this year.
I tried to get the administration to answer this question today and no one would. And it‘s really—in an election year, when you have an issue as sensitive as racial politics, when you throw all this in the boot, it may make lawmakers hesitant to address it. But these farmers have waited a very long time.
O‘DONNELL: Christina Bellantoni with “Talking Points Memo”—thanks for digging through that litigation for us tonight.
BELLANTONI: Thanks, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: With Shirley Sherrod has the comfort of knowing—she has the comfort of knowing she has job options. The country‘s millions of unemployed can take some comfort that at least unemployment benefits are being extended. Congressman Barney Frank joins me to talk about that and the news that some Democrats want to extend the Bush tax cuts.
And press conference 101: Make statement, take questions. Well, Sharron Angle makes statement, then runs away.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up: President Bush‘s deficit-inducing tax cuts are set to expire. So, why are some Democrats fighting to keep them? Congressman Barney Frank will discuss that and the next steps in Wall Street reform.
And a bipartisan committee decides to level ethics charges against former ways and means chairman, Charlie Rangel. He says there‘s nothing to see here. We‘ll examine the charges and the politics—ahead on COUNTDOWN.
O‘DONNELL: Today, the House passed an extension of unemployment benefits for 2.5 million Americans. And President Obama signed that measure into law.
Meantime—in our fourth story—the Bush tax cuts are clinging to life with some Democrats now calling for their extension.
But with financial reform now the law of the land, the vitally important Consumer Protection Bureau comes into focus. Joining me in a moment, Congressman Barney Frank.
The jobless benefits extension easily passed in the House today. That chamber had previously passed a more generous jobless package but was left with no choice other than passing the Senate‘s reduced measure. The president signed it into law this afternoon, allowing jobless benefits to resume for 2.5 million Americans who had exhausted their first 26 weeks of unemployment insurance.
And now that the president has also signed into law the broadest financial reform since the Great Depression, he must nominate someone to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. TARP overseer, Elizabeth Warren, is widely considered an obvious choice, in part because she pushed for the Consumer Protection Bureau to be included in the financial reform bill.
And today, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner praised Ms. Warren:
“Everything we do in this area should be subject to brutal, independent evaluation,” Mr. Geithner said. “And she has played a role in that.”
Finally, now that the deficit-heavy Bush tax cuts are close to expiration, some Democrats are calling for their extension. The tax cuts would expire at the end of this year.
Let‘s bring in the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, whose bill, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act became the law of the land yesterday.
Good evening, Congressman Frank.
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MASS.), HOUSE FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE: Hi.
O‘DONNELL: How important is the Consumer Protection Bureau within the law that you‘ve created? And how important is it that Elizabeth Warren run that?
FRANK: It is essential to the bill and very, very important that Elizabeth Warren be appointed.
First, understand that the consumer protection function is important on two levels. First of all, it will protect consumers. Until yesterday, when the president signed the bill, consumer protection was assigned in the United States government to the bank regulators for whom it was an afterthought. The primary job was, whether it was the Federal Reserve or the comptroller of the currency, any of them, even the FDIC, with the very good regulator, Sheila Bair, their main function was to worry about the health of the banks. Consumer protection took second place.
It‘s also important because you will have now a cop fully on the beat. We passed a good bill last year to restrain the credit card companies from abuses. But once we passed it, they began to think of new abuses that we could have outlawed because they didn‘t exist. Under the consumer bureau now in place, they will have the ability once they‘ve done something, if there‘s an effort to get around it or to do something new, they can stop it.
But, secondly, abuse of consumers was a contributing factor to the trouble we have been in. Subprime mortgages—one of the things this bill does—and, you know, the Republicans have made a big thing about how they were trying to stop these abuses. Nonsense. Exactly the opposite was the case.
For seven of eight years, Democrats in the Congress have been trying to ban subprime mortgage abuses, the kind that people shouldn‘t get because they can‘t repay. Republicans blocked that until we got into the majority and had a president we can work with.
So, this bill specifically says you cannot twitch people mortgages that they shouldn‘t get because they can‘t repay them. And that‘s not just protection for the consumers. It‘s the protection for the economy.
As to Elizabeth Warren, one of my proudest moments of my political career was when the committee that I chair passed the bill that set up an independent consumer agency, and Elizabeth Warren said, “You know, they told me not to try because the banks always win, but they didn‘t win today.” This was Elizabeth Warren‘s idea.
And I need people to understand, she is not a zealous advocate, she‘s a very smart operator. And sometimes, people think those are separate. That if you care a lot about an issue, you‘re not going to be effective in putting it forward.
I never had a better partner on a tough fight than I had in Elizabeth Warren. And her knowledge is great. Her compassion is great. She stands out as the person who ought to be running that agency.
And I would say to the president, look, I sympathize with President Obama. He‘s been criticized by some of my liberal friends. We didn‘t get a public option and we didn‘t get the other things we wanted. That wasn‘t his fault.
The economic recovery bill, the stimulus—it wasn‘t as big as it should have been. That wasn‘t his fault. He couldn‘t get the votes.
But with regard to appointing Elizabeth Warren, that‘s his decision.
No one can stop him from making it. And I hope he will appoint her.
O‘DONNELL: Chairman Frank, do you worry politically that a bill like this, even when successful in its operation, operates in effect invisibly to consumers? They are being protected without a clear knowledge of what‘s in the fine print of all this? And that there might not be the kind of political benefit that you might want to expect and think that your party deserves from pushing something like this through?
FRANK: That‘s a very fair point. In the business I‘m in, you don‘t get credit for disaster avoidance. You don‘t get credit for the things that you kept from happening bad.
Look, that‘s the story of this year politically. There‘s no question, President Obama inherited this terribly deep recession. The Republican Budget Committee just admitted.
What we‘ve done is make things better. We‘ve avoided damage. But people don‘t give you points for making things less bad. They have a right to say, make it better.
And that‘s true about this bill. Mostly what this bill will do, it will be to prevent abuses, whether of individuals in the consumer area or the whole system in the razzle-dazzle of derivatives and the people making loans that they shouldn‘t make. So, I think that‘s true.
On the other hand, I want to give the proper credit. This bill became a stronger bill as we went forward, for one reason. When the bill was being debated in the House last year, health care was getting all of the public attention from the media and elsewhere. So, I lost a couple of fights, including some on the floor of the House, because I wasn‘t—I didn‘t have the public allies I wanted to fight some of the economic interests that were trying to retard progress.
This year, when the Senate took it up, the expectation was—well, that‘s the Senate. They need 60 voters. It will get watered down. Instead, it got strengthened. And then we went to a public conference.
And that‘s one reason why I insisted and Chris Dodd agreed, on a big public conference, because we knew, the more the public was paying attention, the better this bill would be. Now, our job is to make sure public attention doesn‘t go away.
O‘DONNELL: Mr. Chairman, as you know, the Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year, all of them. What are the Democrats going to do about that? Are there some elements of the Bush tax cuts they want to survive? How‘s it going to look next year?
FRANK: Well, some elements to the Bush tax cuts, the ones that were adopted in 2001 in particular were for middle income people and below and they ought to survive. I think that, look, we have to reduce the deficit. I have been pushing hard with Ron Paul, my colleague, to cut back substantially on this military overreach. You know, we wasted more money in Iraq than we‘re ever going to be able to make up in a whole lot of domestic program cuts, which I don‘t support.
But what we need to do is to allow those tax cuts for people whose incomes are above 200,000 to expire. And as to the argument this is going to be economically disastrous, go back to 2003. Bill Clinton got us to increase the marginal tax rate on those—on that part of income, not the whole dollar income—but on that part of income above $150,000. The Republican prediction was this would be terrible for the economy. And instead, what we had after those tax cuts, those tax increases went into effect, was a move towards a balanced budget and the best economic period in recent history.
O‘DONNELL: Congressman Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts—thanks for your time tonight.
FRANK: A pleasure.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up: we‘ll get into the Charlie Rangel charges and the political stakes with Emily Heil of “Roll Call.”
And later: a view of the oil disaster in the Gulf we haven‘t seen. Kerry Sanders in a submarine with scientists examining how far the oil has traveled underwater.
O‘DONNELL: If Charlie Rangel loses his job in Congress as a result of the charges that the House Ethics Committee filed against him today, it does not seem likely he would pursue a new career appearing on this network. More on that in a moment. First, in our third story, the question of how the charges against Mr. Rangel are likely to impact the upcoming midterm elections.
After a two-year investigation, the Ethics Committee charged the New York Democrat with multiple violations today. Bad news not just for the former chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, but possibly also for his party. This afternoon, Congressman Rangel claimed he was happy to now have the chance to clear his name. And he did not appear to appreciate it when our own Luke Russert asked him if he feared he might lose his job.
(BEGNI VIDEO CLIP)
LUKE RUSSERT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Did you every worry about losing your job?
REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: What are you talking about?
You‘re just trying to make copy. What job, the one I‘ve got?
RUSSERT: Yeah. These are potentially serious violations.
RANGEL: How do you think I got my job? I was elected. Right? How do you think I‘d lose it?
RUSSERT: There are two ways. You could lose it if your colleagues
voted you out of here because of ethics violations or if your constituents
RANGEL: What station are you with?
RUSSERT: NBC, MSNBC.
RANGEL: You‘re young. I guess you need to make a name for yourself.
Basically you know it‘s a dumb question and I‘m not going to answer it.
RUSSERT: What‘s that got to do—
RUSSERT: Sir, you‘ve not filed taxes on properties in the Dominican Republic allegedly.
RANGEL: That doesn‘t sound like MSNBC asking these dumb questions. It just shows what has really happened to a channel that did have some respect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Well done, Luke. Time now to call in Emily Heil, who writes the “Herd on the Hill” column for “Roll Call.” Emily, what is the case against Rangel?
EMILY HEIL, “ROLL CALL”: Well, we don‘t actually know what‘s in that report that the Ethics Committee has come up with. So we don‘t know which of about six ethics violations that the committee has decided to move forward on. Those six violations, any one of them that could be in that report, probably multiple ones and from what we‘re hearing serious ones—range from the less serious, the congressman has an old jalopy parked down in the House garage that he‘s left for a few years, to serious ones having to do with tax violations.
These are very serious because Chairman—sorry, Congressman Rangel was the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which writes the tax code.
O‘DONNELL: There‘s a big package of personal financial transactions that they‘ve been examining for two years. It‘s been hard to follow a lot of them. Presumably, those along with tax questions are involved here. Now, he‘s already given up his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, the tax writing committee. Nancy Pelosi put the pressure on him to do that. What about giving up his seat in Congress? This investigation disappears if he simply resigns the House of Representatives now.
HEIL: He‘s been absolutely defiant through this entire process. We don‘t know if the Speaker Pelosi has pressured him to step aside. Certainly plenty of Democrats would love that to be the outcome, because it just makes the whole thing go away. This entire circus which is going to result from this court-like proceeding that‘s going to happen in the House right now, that all goes away. If he sticks around, it could be a quite ugly summer leading up to the November election. That‘s not something that Democrats want.
O‘DONNELL: The November election coming up has often been compared to the election of 1994, midterm congressional election, in which the Democrats lost the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. They lost the Senate. One of the characters central to that election was the then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Danny Rostenkowski, who also got in ethics trouble, got indicted that year. There are people in the House starting to think this is now looking way too much like 1994.
HEIL: You know, some people are even saying that it looks a little bit more like ‘06, when Republicans lost the majority. That was precipitated in part by these congressional ethics scandals. Tom Delay, Bob Ney, Jack Abramoff and all the people that got caught up in that snare kind of helped propel Democrats to winning back the majority. There are some parallels to that too. That certainly has Democrats worried.
There is obviously a strong anti-incumbent sentiment already out there. Charlie Rangel is the ultimate incumbent. He‘s been in Congress 40 years. I think Republicans are absolutely going to be pointing not just to Rangel but to Bill Jefferson and to Jack Murtha as examples of Democratic ethics violations that could be troublesome in a campaign spot.
O‘DONNELL: But this does remain one that they can actually do something about. I would imagine that worried Democrats are going to be rushing Nancy Pelosi‘s office, saying you have got to talk to Charlie; you have got to tell Charlie to resign for the good of this party, to not try to hang in there on this thing and make this investigation go away. Does Pelosi—do you think Pelosi has yet another attempt to get Rangel out of the House in her ammunition?
HEIL: They have actually a fairly close relationship. I‘m not sure how that‘s going to play out. I think that will happen behind closed doors certainly. I think that you‘re going to see a lot of worried Democrats making that case to the speaker. But what happens behind closed doors, we won‘t know.
You saw the tape that you just played. Charlie Rangel doesn‘t look like he‘s going to go quietly into the good night. It remains to be seen how this plays out.
O‘DONNELL: Charlie is not an easy guy to persuade.
HEIL: I can‘t imagine he is.
O‘DONNELL: Emily Heil, thank you very much for your time.
HEIL: Thank you, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, as a new tropical storm begins to wreak havoc at the Deepwater Horizon spill site, Kerry Sanders gets into a submarine to see how the disaster is impacting life under water.
And later, Sharron Angle calls a press conference, invites the press, and then runs away when it‘s time for the questions. That‘s certainly one way to run a campaign.
At the top of the hour, Rachel Maddow‘s guide to surviving the right wing smear machine.
O‘DONNELL: Louisiana declares a state of emergency as projections show Tropical Storm Bonnie is gaining momentum and heading straight for oily waters. Our number two story, as cleanup workers prepare to get out, the relief well effort in the Gulf is at a standstill. The good news is that the cap on BP‘s oil well is holding and will stay on for the duration of the storm.
The storm, upgraded from a tropical depression to a tropical storm, is gathering strength south of Florida and it could reach the Gulf by Saturday. It‘s already caused flooding in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Meanwhile, work on plugging the well in the Gulf is on hold. But as preparations to evacuate responders are underway, work is still being done underneath the surface. Marine biologists are using a submarine to track the impact of oil hundreds of feet under the sea. Our correspondent is Kerry Sanders on board. Kerry?
KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Lawrence, we‘re here at the surface so we can communicate. There‘s a scheduled third dive. About 200 to 300 feet below me is the area that they call the Twilight Zone, because sunlight barely penetrates down to the corals there. And photosynthesis is so delicate, add in the possibility of oil and it can be a disaster.
Fortunately, the scientists say they have found no oil, but there is no cause for celebration.
SANDERS (voice-over): I squeezed into the four-man submersible joining scientists on what is now an urgent exploration of the Gulf. Here, 88 miles west from St. Petersburg, Florida, and more than 230 miles from Deepwater Horizon, the source of BP‘s now capped oil gusher, we dipped into the Gulf waters and immediately—
A dolphin right there. Look at that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh yes. We got a bunch of dolphins right out in front of us.
SANDERS: Were welcomed by evidence, at least near the surface, say Marine biologists, that the ecosystem here is healthy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘ve got you the same gem and my main valve tank vents are shut.
SANDERS: On board the Harbor Branch four man submersible, in a separate rear chamber, Marine Biologist Dr. Shirley Pomponi and a safety technician.
While up front, I joined pilot Don Liberatore. He spent 34 years navigating the unknown.
(on camera): Is there an agenda here? Are you looking to find oil or are you looking to see if the oil exists?
DAN LIBERATORE, CHIEF SUBMARINE PILOT: Of course, everybody is looking to see where the oil is or isn‘t. And in this case, we‘re finding visually, anyway, as everybody‘s been saying—we have seen no visual signs of the oil.
SANDERS: This is day 13 of their month-long mission. We‘re on the edge of the so-called loop current, an undersea highway that may carry the oil and dispersants far from the source.
LIBERATORE: Two hundred nineteen feet, we‘re collecting a sample.
SANDERS: Our morning dive number 3791, in an area known as the
Ledges. The goal, to gather baseline data, like scoops of sediment, corals
and sponges, all samples that build snapshots of the before in case later
oil shows up. If there is oil here now, they know they‘re collecting
evidence for the federal government that later may be challenged in court
SHIRLEY POMPONI, MARINE BILOGIST: I think the pressure that I feel right now is to make sure we‘re collecting samples in a way that if we have to legally defend what we‘ve done in the future, we will be able to do that.
SANDERS: The scientists here at Harbor Branch now plan to continue their mission north. They‘re going to go off the Panhandle, where it‘s more likely that they will find oil because oil‘s already washed ashore on the beaches there. Lawrence?
O‘DONNELL: Kerry Sanders, thank you.
Coming up, the Tea Party darling who is no friend of local news.
Sharron Angle‘s press conference turns slow-speed chase, next.
O‘DONNELL: With the polling lead Sharron Angle once had over Harry Reid now gone, the Angle campaign feels forced to make their candidate available to the media, as long as the media doesn‘t ask questions. In our number one story, yesterday, Sharron Angle held a press conference which included no conferring with the press. And it ended with yet another chase scene in the parking lot.
There it is on the Sharron Angle for Senate website, in black and white: a July 21 press conference in Reno with U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle. She was on hand to pledge her support for repealing the Estate Tax. Angle delivered some remarks, then signed the novelty-sized pledge letter. And at the end of the program, it was announced that Angle had a busy schedule and that was the candidate‘s cue to head for the exit.
Unfortunately for Angle, the local news media was right behind her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sharron, will you answer some questions really quickly?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to go. I‘m sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you don‘t have anything to say about Dean Heller‘s comments from last night? Sharron, you don‘t have any—
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re running behind. I‘m sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: The reporter was referencing comments made Tuesday by Nevada Republican Congressman Dean Heller, in which he was critical of Angle‘s stance that unemployment benefits spoil the citizens of Nevada. The last time an Angle chase happened was in June, when Angle didn‘t feel like defending her suggestion that citizens take up arms against the government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean when you mean Second Amendment remedy?
SHARRON ANGLE, NEVADA REPUBLICAN SENATE CANDIDATE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Second Amendment remedies, anything? Why won‘t you answer what Second Amendment remedy means? Nothing at all? It‘s a simple question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: It is a simple question. Alex Wagner is the White House
correspondent for “Politics Daily.” Alex, Alex, Alex, what is she paying -
ALEX WAGNER, “POLITICS DAILY”: Lawrence, Lawrence, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: Is she actually paying campaign consultants and handlers who walk her into these situations thinking it will be perfectly OK to be seen on videotape running out of these situations?
WAGNER: Yeah. I mean, I think Sharron Angle is kind of quickly becoming the Mario Andretti of politicians. If you don‘t have a car that goes from zero to, like, 35 in under ten seconds, you are not going to get a question in.
You know, I think it‘s a flawed tactic. I think fundamentally the optics of running away from video cameras and reporters is not going to serve Sharron Angle well in the long run. Look, this is a candidate who has proposed some very extreme measures. We‘re talking about dismantling health care—sorry, dismantling Social Security, Medicaid, getting rid of the Department of Education, shutting down the EPA, getting rid of unemployment benefits. And I think rightfully so, a lot of Nevada voters want some answers to this stuff.
O‘DONNELL: Now, the campaign has realized that these slumping poll numbers of hers mean that she‘s got to get her word out to the people. That is normally done through television cameras at events like this that show up on the local news. It‘s a good strategy, but what makes them think that they can just continue to run away from this? What are they—what is the campaign meeting like where they say, OK, we‘ll go have a press conference and we won‘t take any questions; we‘ll run away; that will be great for us?
WAGNER: I think this is part of the broader Tea Party tactic of relying mostly on social networking and very controlled messaging to speak to one‘s constituents. I think that is only going to work up to a certain point. At the end of the day, Sharron Angle is going to have to interface with the local media. I think you don‘t want to alienate the local media in the run-up to an election. Having enemies in your backyard is not going to serve you well with your voting public.
O‘DONNELL: Are they looking at the Palin model and saying, hey, Sarah Palin never took questions from reporters, and she‘s a big star. Don‘t they notice that, oh, yeah, and she lost?
WAGNER: Well, I think they‘re looking at how lucrative Sarah Palin‘s PAC has been in terms of raising money. Look, Sharron Angle‘s raised 2.1 million dollars. I would say there is certain grassroots support for her. I think this is going to work, but only to a certain point. And then she‘s going to have to do something about it.
I think, again, the strategy of just run away when they come at you is not really a long-term plan of action.
O‘DONNELL: Mitch McConnell, Republican leader of the Senate, who is desperately concerned with electing Republican senators, said today that he will not go to Nevada and campaign against the Majority Leader of the Senate, as was done against Tom Daschle. Bill Frist went to South Dakota when he was Republican leader, campaigned against the Democratic leader, and won that seat away from the Democrats in South Dakota. It sounds like official Washington Republicans are giving up on Nevada.
WAGNER: You know, I think it‘s really interesting. If you look on Wednesday, Michele Bachmann, who for all intents and purposes is the sort of face of the Tea Party, called to order the first Tea Party Caucus on Capitol Hill. That was ostensibly to bring the Tea Party into the fold of the GOP or vice versa. And Bachmann‘s office was in charge of releasing the list of GOP congress-people who were party of the Tea Party movement. It was very interesting to me that throughout the day that list kept shifting. I mean, the names kept going and coming and disappearing and reappearing.
I think that‘s a testament to the Republican party having a little bit of identity crisis with regards to the Tea Party. I mean, I think the other thing is the Republican party, as well as the American public, isn‘t quite sure what the Tea Party platform is. You know, we only know what the Tea Party is insofar as we know what it‘s not. It‘s against big government. It‘s about taking America back. But in terms of concrete legislation or policy proposals, we just don‘t have any of those.
I thought that the icing on all of that was at the end of Bachmann‘s Tea Party Caucus, the only two pieces of concrete legislation we saw were one proposal to get video Skype in Congress, so that Tea Partiers could better liaise with their congress-people and another one by Steve King, who was suggesting that legislators should be citing the Constitution when proposing a piece of legislation.
O‘DONNELL: Alex Wagner of “Politics Daily,” thanks for joining us tonight. Good luck getting a question in with Sharron Angle.
WAGNER: Thanks, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: That will have to do it for this Thursday edition of COUNTDOWN. I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for vacationing Keith Olbermann. You can catch my new MSNBC show at 10:00 p.m. weeknights this fall. Our MSNBC coverage continues now with “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.” Good evening, Rachel.
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