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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, September 27th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Keith Olbermann, Joseph Biden, Jim Downey

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  Great to be here, Rachel.  Ready to go on the first show.

MADDOW:  We are all pulling for you and very excited, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  I could not have a better lead-in.

MADDOW:  It‘s very kind of you, sort of.  Break a leg, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Rachel.

Two hundred and twenty-three years ago tomorrow, Congress sent the Constitution to the states for ratification.  Delaware was the first to ratify and became the first state.  Since then, Delaware has stayed politely quiet, exerting minimal influence on our politics until the first Delawarean was elected to the White House in 2008 -- thereby opening a Senate seat now being seriously pursued by a former self-described witch- turned-true believer on tax cuts.

Delaware‘s own Joe Biden will join me to discuss, among many other things, how Democrats can counter Republican tax cut rhetoric, Tea Party extremism, and hold onto power in the House and Senate.



FEMALE TV ANCHOR:  All but certain, Congress will leave without resolving one of the biggest fights of the fall: whether to extend the Bush tack cuts.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  The Democratic House and Senate in a state of paralysis, afraid to vote for tax cuts, afraid to not vote for tax cuts.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND:  We are absolutely going to get this done before the end of the year.  We may well take it up before the midterms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Democrats blink because they don‘t have the vote.

O‘DONNELL:  In the words of one NBC News source, it would take an alien invasion to keep Congress in session.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  But you have to know, the Democrats are very nervous about these elections coming up quickly here.

O‘DONNELL:  Democrats now backed into a tax corner with the clock counting down to the midterm elections.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  These incumbents, in the many cases, are fighting for their political lives.

O‘DONNELL:  The Democrats have no choice but to defend success in the face of Republican obstruction.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  What I‘m seeing out of the Republican leadership over the last several years has been a set of policies that are just irresponsible.

That‘s why we cut taxes for small businesses eight times.  We passed a new tax credit for companies that hire unemployed workers.

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  We want to extend tax cuts for people up to $250,000 of income.  That would cover 98 percent of the American people.  They say, “No, we won‘t do that.”

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA:  No.  The problem is you all are refusing to support simply an extension of the middle class tax cuts and holding those hostage.

O‘DONNELL:  Democrats now heading home to 35 days of campaigning to save the House and Senate.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We have to show up, and we have to make our case and focus on the differences, not the personalities.


O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from New York.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell.

My first guest of the night: the distinguished gentleman from Delaware, Vice President Joe Biden.  We‘ve taped our interview earlier tonight.


O‘DONNELL:  Mr. Vice President, thanks for joining us tonight.

BIDEN:  I‘m happy to be with you.

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks.

At the U.N. last week, President Obama asked the Israelis to extend the freeze on West Bank settlement construction, but they allowed the freeze to expire at midnight last night.  The West Bank settlers today have been celebrating.  Some of them are already beginning to build.

Should Prime Minister Netanyahu extend the freeze on the settlements?

And if he doesn‘t, are the peace talks doomed?

BIDEN:  I don‘t think the peace talks are doomed.  It‘s a very politically difficult situation for both Mr. Abbas, as well as for Prime Minister Netanyahu.

And the good news is the talks have not ended.  You have Abbas saying

President Abbas saying that he would take under consideration what the next move would be.  You have Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister, saying he wants to continue these talks.  And George Mitchell is headed to the region as I speak.

And we still hope there will be a way to bridge this divide to keep the talks going.

As we all know, Bob Woodward has a hot new inside-the-White House book out there, which we will get to in a moment.  But I want to go back one book, to the first inside-the-Obama-White House book by Jonathan Alter, “The Promise.”  In that book, you tell the president not to do health care in the first two years.  You urged him instead to concentrate on the economy and on jobs.

If the president had followed your advice that you were giving him at that time, what would the unemployment numbers look like now and where would the Democrats be in the congressional campaign?

BIDEN:  Look, Lawrence, I‘m not going to confirm anything that I‘ve said to the president privately, the advice I gave is that.  Hopefully, he listens to it because I give it only to him, I don‘t discuss it on the air.

I think the president did a remarkable thing that no president has been able to do since Teddy Roosevelt, actually deliver a fundamental change in health care, which is now only beginning to roll out.  And one of the very positive things about the health care proposal of the president, it is going to drive down the deficit, the long-term debt by $110 billion in the next five years and $1 trillion after that, the following 10.

So, I think the president deserves remarkable credit for such a monumental peace of legislation.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, as everyone knows, the economy is always the most important factor in national elections.  Unemployment today is running almost 50 percent higher than in 1994 when the Democrats last lost control of both the House and the Senate.  Is that what you meant when you said today, if we make this referendum on the current state of affairs, we lose?

BIDEN:  Yes, because, look, what—people are angry.  People are upset.  People are like the kitchen table I grew up around.  When there was a recession and unemployment, the people sitting around that table, the adults, the adults, my dad, they were afraid they were going to lose their job.

And so, people are frightened and they‘re angry.  And as long—and they have a right to be angry.  And we‘re in charge, and they are focusing on us right now.

So, if it‘s a referendum of the state of the nation, then we‘re in trouble.  But it is a choice.  All elections are a choice.  And the choice between what the Republicans are offering as Pete Sessions, who‘s a congressman, a very good guy, a very smart guy, said, when asked if Republicans took control of the House, what would they do, he said, we‘d go back to the same exact agenda.

We have to make it clear what we‘re—what we‘ve done and what we‘re offering to do, planning to do from here, and what they‘ve done to get us in this mess, and what they‘re offering.  That is not a choice—that‘s not a referendum, that‘s a choice.  If we do that, we‘re going to be just fine.

O‘DONNELL:  Mr. Vice president, the Democrat‘s tax position is to allow the current tax rates, the Bush tax rates, to stay in place for everyone except the top brackets.  If that‘s a winning political position, why shouldn‘t the Democrats in the House and the Senate vote on it now before the election.

BIDEN:  Look, I‘m not sitting in the Senate any longer doing it day to day.  The leader of the House and leader of the Senate have made their own judgments about everything from filibusters to tactical maneuvers the other side would take.

The important thing is that we accomplish what we‘re setting out to do

give middle class taxpayers a tax break.  And not—and, by the way, everyone would get the tax break.  Even multimillionaires, they‘d get the same break that somebody got at $250,000.  And instead of—look, $700 billion that the Republicans want to spend in continuing the tax breaks for the very wealthy, $360 billion of that goes to 120,000 families that have an average income of $8.3 million.

They are good people.  But what are they going to do with $310,000 tax break they can‘t do with the $8 million they have.  Whereas the tax break for a family of four making $50,000 is 2,100 bucks, or a family of four making $100,000 is $4,100.  That‘s the difference between making your car payment, your car insurance, keeping your kid in college, being able to pay your bills.

And what we want to do is we want to give middle class taxpayers the money to be able to go out and do the things they needed to do, generate economic growth in this economy.  And we want to take that $700 million and pay down the debt.

And our Republican friends, I find them kind of fascinating.  They keep lecturing us about the debt they created.  And now, they‘re talking about wanting to extend a tax cut that cost $700 billion for the wealthiest among us without paying for it.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the East Coast seems to have their own Sarah Palin in Christine O‘Donnell.  You are the only Democrat alive that‘s beaten both of them in elections.  What do the Democrats—what do you have to teach Democrats about how to stop the Palin—no relation by the way on O‘Donnell—the Palin-O‘Donnell phenomenon?

BIDEN:  Take them both very seriously.  Treat them with respect.

Debate their ideas and don‘t get diverted by all these silly things that they may or may not have said, that have nothing to do with policy.

The reason—what we should be doing, the Democrats, is focusing on, what they are offering and those who agree with them, and what they are against and compare it to what we are for and what we‘re against.  And the truth of the matter is, when we do that, we‘ll do just fine.

But, Lawrence, actually, I really think that the win in Delaware, and I‘m sorry to see a really first rate guy lose, but—although he would be a much tougher candidate, I suspect—the fact of the matter is that it‘s a wakeup call, not just for Republicans but for Democrats.  There‘s a lot of Democrats who might have been thinking about doing exactly what a lot of Republicans did.  Not show up and vote in the primary.

Well, this is a wakeup call to Democrats.  We have to show up, and we have to make our case and focus on the differences, not the personalities.

O‘DONNELL:  You sent out a fundraising e-mail today saying, quote, “Republicans running now are not your grandfather‘s Republican Party.  They are from the Republican Tea Party.”

Now, is there a risk in an e-mail like that, that it could stimulate more Tea Party energy than anti-Tea Party energy?

BIDEN:  Well, look, I don‘t think—look, a lot of the Tea Party folks are just normal—they are all normal Americans—but they are Americans who are just angry and fed up.  Others are ideologically very hard right and are against everything from, you know, Social Security to Medicare, and wanting to privatize it and all those things.

The fact of the matter is that what I really said was that this is not even your father‘s Republican Party.  These folks don‘t want to talk.

These folks don‘t want to enter into a compromise.  These folks don‘t want to come up with practical solutions.

I know what they‘re against.  What I don‘t know is what they‘re for.

Why are they against us trying to stimulate jobs by giving tax cuts to the middle class?  Why are they against us stimulating jobs by giving tax breaks to small businesses, which, in fact, are the ones that create the jobs?  Why don‘t they think it‘s important to develop alternative energy and all the jobs that would flow from those green jobs and encourage manufacturing to stay here in the United States?  Why is it they don‘t even support the president‘s proposal to continue to increase our investment in infrastructure, which would be necessary if we had full employment?

I know what they are against.  They are against all those things.  I just don‘t know what they are for.

O‘DONNELL:  And today, you said that the base—your base in the Democratic Party should, quote, “stop whining.”

BIDEN:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m going to give you an opportunity you used to have in the Senate, Mr. Vice President.  Would you like to revise and extend your remarks on that one?

BIDEN:  Yes.  What I think—what I mean, there‘s some on the Democratic base, not the core of it, that are angry because we didn‘t get every single thing they want.  We‘ve got a health care bill that is becoming—every day, becomes more apparent how much it does for people in businesses in terms cost and availability.  But because there was no public option, some of them are so angry they say we‘re not going to participate.

They should stop that.

These guys, if they win, the other team, they‘re going to appeal health care.  And I want them to tell me why what we did wasn‘t an incredibly significant move that‘s progressive and helping people.  The same way with a lot of other issues—it‘s time to focus.  This is a choice.

The president has done a remarkable job given the fact that—you and I and a mutual friend, Pat Moynihan.  When Pat Moynihan, when you were running his show and I was his colleague, a majority in the Senate used to mean 51 votes.  Since we‘ve gotten elected, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, there‘s a new majority in the Senate, 60 votes.  What the president has been able to do has been truly remarkable with the help of a Democratic Congress.

And so, those who don‘t get—didn‘t get everything they wanted, it‘s time to just buck up here, understand that we can make things better, continue to move forward, and—but not yield the playing field to those folks who are against everything that we stand for in terms of the initiatives we put forward.

O‘DONNELL:  You know, I didn‘t think of myself as running Pat Moynihan‘s show.  Liz Moynihan ran Pat Moynihan‘s show, as you can remember.

BIDEN:  Yes, that‘s true.  That‘s true.  I know.  I do.

And she‘s—if she‘s listening, I send her my love and also their lovely daughter—they are a great family.


O‘DONNELL:  Vice President Joe Biden with us on our premier of THE LAST WORD.  We‘ll bring you more of my exclusive interview with the vice president later in the hour, including his reaction to the new Bob Woodward book “Obama‘s Wars.”

But, first, I‘m joined by Keith Olbermann, host of “COUNTDOWN” and author of the upcoming book, “Pitchforks and Torches.”

Keith, what do you make of his explanation of his “stop whining” comment that he made earlier today.


O‘DONNELL:  He‘s changed it here to buck up.

OLBERMANN:  I had a long conversation with the vice president when he was still running for president I guess in early ‘07.  And we were talking about how to—you know, when to utilize anger on television or in the Senate or in the platform somewhere.  And the basic and only advice I could give a professional public speaker was, think about the anger, use the anger on behalf of your constituents, not towards them.

And my impression from this was, that it was a little of the anger towards them being expressed.  And that‘s—that‘s never a good thing.

And it‘s sort of—the Democratic and liberal bases have been somewhat responsible for this disconnect with the White House.  But the White House has been just as responsible for it, and it‘s little things like that that tell the tale, unfortunately.

O‘DONNELL:  You don‘t get the feeling that he and his staff at that point are quite aware of what they‘ve created online in terms of objections flowing to this—

OLBERMANN:  Yes and no.  But it‘s always, you know, it‘s a guess whether they‘re not—they happened to have the right end of the telescope in their eyes when this happens.  The—what you want to hear the vice president, with his gift for getting angry and getting righteously angry, is to have him say—on your behalf we‘re going to go out there and stop these people!  And that, you know, it‘s like don‘t just sit there and whine or complain about it, join us as we go out there and get them.

And then he gets to say both what he feels, which is kind of—you know, buck up, get in line, join the team again, and also say this is the reason for it.  We‘re going to be a little bit more—a little less tremulous in the next 40 days.

O‘DONNELL:  Keith, thanks for hanging around for some extra duty tonight.  We‘ll continue our conversation after the break.

Comments from earlier today directed at the Democratic Party base, the “stop whining” comments—Joe Biden‘s explanation to me of his “stop whining” comment from earlier today.  Boy, the prompter just going back and forth on me now—just what I was expecting.  We‘re not going to find the spot.  Let‘s see.  What have we got here?

All right.  Now, we‘ll do this.  No, we‘re not.  The prompter is just lost on me.

The House leadership doesn‘t know what to think about Stephen Colbert‘s testimony of the subcommittee last week.  Nancy Pelosi was glad he testified.  Steny Hoyer thought it was embarrassing.  It‘s the topic of tonight‘s rewrite.

Also ahead, “Saturday Night Live” is ahead and jumping right into the midterm elections.  The season premier turns its sights on Christine—no relation—O‘Donnell.

Keith, live television is the only place mistakes can happen, right?

OLBERMANN:  You asked for it.


O‘DONNELL:  We‘re going to be right back on THE LAST WORD.


O‘DONNELL:  My discussion with Keith about jumping teleprompters will be on the Web site later.

The Democrats are waiting until after the midterm elections to vote in the expiring Bush tax cuts.  For the politics of it, I‘ll be joined again by Keith Olbermann.

And later, N Pelosi praised the testimony of Stephen Colbert on Capitol Hill.  Steny Hoyer hated it.  Which side is Joe Biden on?  We‘ll have more of my exclusive interview with the vice president.



O‘DONNELL:  Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed the discussion of tax cut extensions until after the election.  And Speaker Nancy Pelosi has yet to announce if the House will tackle the issue before Congress adjourns Friday.

Of course, if the House somehow squeezed in and going to have a vote on taxes in their remaining hours in session, it would surely be just symbolic because there is no chance of the Senate taking up the bill before the election.

Vice President Biden has just told us that he respects the congressional leadership‘s judgment on the legislative strategy of the tax cuts.

Continuing with me now is Keith Olbermann.

Keith, I—I know too much.  I‘ve strategized tax bills in the Senate when I was working the Senate Finance Committee.  I see both sides of this argument.  I‘ve been through it.

I don‘t know.  How—is the vice president right, you just have to let the people who run the playing field make the strategic decision in the Congress?

OLBERMANN:  But—but what is this decision?  Is this decision designed to encourage voters in a particular state that things will be working out the way they want it, even though there‘s not going to be a vote?  Is this about Harry Reid in Nevada particularly?  Is that the idea behind it?

Because, you know, obviously the work of Ms. Angle there has put Senator Reid back into the race when he really didn‘t have a chance when he was just facing the chicken lady.  Now, all of a sudden, he‘s—he can win that one and return to his seat if he doesn‘t make a major mistake.

And what my worry is, is that this decision has been made in the Senate to protect a couple of senators with this expectation that—don‘t worry, the polling shows voters understand that we‘re with them on this issue even though we do not presently have the guts to even try it in the fashion that Nancy Pelosi is going with.

On the other hand, if the House is willing to go and try this thing, especially with suspension and go for the three-quarters vote, there is something at least symbolic, there is a willingness to show off the new automobile and see if you can actually drive it around the block or if it‘s made out of wood.

O‘DONNELL:  And at least the House members would have a vote—

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.

O‘DONNELL:  -- that they could run on.  “This is my position.  I voted on it.”

OLBERMANN:  And Democrats who were seeking seats held by Republican members right now could also just go and say they voted against this.  This is what this would mean to you.  That‘s $300 you don‘t have because of this guy.  Get them out.

But the assumption here, we‘ve gotten so technical—as you point out, you know too much.  Years ago at the Academy Awards of all places, I asked Kevin Costner about doing this seven-hour pregame show as they were talking about doing as they do the Super Bowls.  And he said, “You know what?  We know too much about the things we already know about.”  And he walked down after this Yogi Berra-ism and walked all the way down the red carpet and came back to me and said, “Could you take that quote off the record because I don‘t want to sound like Yogi Berra.”  And I said, “But it made perfect sense.”

O‘DONNELL:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  Here it is, we‘re now—not just you, not just Harry Reid, not just the speaker, not just Steny Hoyer, but everybody watching knows too much about the political strategy here to base a decision purely on what‘s right, what‘s wrong, what‘s going to get across to the nation, what is the correct point of view for the country, and what separates a serious Democratic Party that has done incremental good in the last year and a half from a bunch of people who haven‘t been outside their own homes before who are running as this Republican Tea Party.

And the thing that separates them is some courage, which clearly, whether it‘s courage or stupidity, the Tea Party has that in large doses.

They‘ll go out and do anything, say anything, posit anything.

And we do not see that coming.  We see a defensive game played all the time by the Democrats.  And there has to be some larger issue than the individual mechanics of each race, there has to be some sort of spiritual thing almost, if you forgive the use of the term, about a political party, about a political movement, about left, right—even center has to get enthusiastic about something.

So, it all dovetails back to your conversation with the vice president.  The whining would stop if the voting increased, I think.

O‘DONNELL:  You know, the senators that I‘ve talked to who were in the caucus room when this decision was made in the Senate all tell me that this was made by the senators who are running for re-election, by and for them.

And everyone else deferred to them.  That‘s kind of traditionally the way things work in the Senate.  Harry Reid is one of them.


O‘DONNELL:  And defensive is the word, Keith.  You mentioned it.

Democrats in the Senate are always defensive on taxes.  If they can avoid a tax debate with Republicans in an election season, they will do that.  And

as I understand it, they made this decision on the basis of what the senators running for re-election wanted to do.

OLBERMANN:  I do defer to their professional expertise, as I defer to yours on this particular topic, but it just, as I said—it seems that sometimes you have to take a little bit of a risk.  Otherwise, what is the point?

I may agree—if I‘m in Nevada, I may agree with Harry Reid‘s point of view, I may even agree with him politically that he should play it close to the vest.  But, you know, on the other hand, I might say, you‘re just not—you don‘t have the courage.  I want somebody else and I‘ll take six years of this idiot and then come back to you later.

O‘DONNELL:  You know, this is why I say I don‘t know.  Inside-the- Beltway wisdom on this thing dictates one thing—what‘s happening out there with this wildfire that‘s going on with the Tea Party, there is something loose in the voting population that we don‘t really understand.

It is a very tough call to say which way to go on this one.

Keith Olbermann, thank you very much for joining me tonight.

Keith Olbermann, the book is “Pitchforks and Torches,” available now for preorder.  And, of course, there is “COUNTDOWN” in its new re-air time, at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, immediately following THE LAST WORD.

I cannot thank you for getting me started me on this first show.

OLBERMANN:  You‘re very welcome.  And Keith premiers at 11:00.  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  The Democrats can‘t even agree on the witnesses invited to Capitol Hill to provide testimony—Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer on the opposite side over the recent appearance by Stephen Colbert.  I‘ll ask the vice president to settle the dispute.  And he‘ll also give his first public reaction to Bob Woodward‘s insider look at the Obama White House.


O‘DONNELL:  We‘ll have more of my interview with Vice President Biden ahead on THE LAST WORD, including the vice president‘s first comments on Bob Woodward‘s new book “Obama‘s Wars,” which takes us behind the scenes at the White House, as the president and his advisers mapped the way forward in Afghanistan.

And the Democratic party fight over Stephen Colbert.  Steny Hoyer criticizes the Comedy Central host over his Congressional testimony.  The vice president weighs in.  And the dispute is the subject of tonight‘s Rewrite.

Beyond tonight, we‘ll have a very full premier week for you.  Tomorrow night, we‘ll be joined by Levi Johnston and Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

Wednesday, we‘ll talk with White House senior adviser David Axelrod and author Bob Woodward.  Thursday, we‘ll have Meghan McCain and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


O‘DONNELL:  Vice President Joe Biden back in our spotlight now.  The interview we taped earlier tonight is his first since the publication of Bob Woodward‘s new book “Obama‘s Wars,” which details Biden‘s role in shaping the Obama war policy.


O‘DONNELL:  Mr. vice president, in Bob Woodward‘s new book “Obama‘s wars,” you argue against the troop increase that the president ended up going with, argued for a different strategy than what the president settled on.  What would the situation in Afghanistan look like today if we had gone with the Obama strategy—sorry, the Biden strategy.

BIDEN:  Look, Barack Obama is president of the United States.  I told him I would give him my unvarnished opinion, and back it up with the facts as I saw them.  The president had the most thorough going review.  The American people should read Bob Woodward‘s book, because at the end of the book, they‘re going to see a president who is a leader, a president who approached problems in an analytical way, and made sound decisions that everyone signed onto, including Joe Biden.

And the strategy the president put in place I think is the best strategy that we have in play.  We have it in place now.  We should pursue it.  Lawrence, it‘s only this August, the end of August, that all the troops have been in place and the civilian piece.  And now we‘re in the process of implementing it.

There‘s been a lot of positive things that happened so far.  We‘ve made great strides against al Qaeda.  We‘ve cut into the leadership of the Taliban.  We‘re training Afghan national security forces, which is very difficult.

There‘s a lot of very difficult problems ahead.  But I think the president came up with a strategy that is the best strategy for victory.

Remember why we‘re there.  We‘re there to defeat, degrade and ultimately defeat al Qaeda. and sustain the Afghan government while they build up their physical capacity to resist the insurgencies that exist, and they can operate under their constitution.  That‘s the reason we‘re there.  And the president came up, I think, with the best plan to do that.

O‘DONNELL:  Have you spoken to Richard Holbrooke since the book came out?

BIDEN:  I haven‘t.  But I know that widely published partial quote from Bob‘s book about what I said about Dick Holbrooke.  Look, it will not shock you that in a discussion people may or may not have talked about Dick‘s ego, just like they talk about my being too loquacious.

But what they didn‘t do is they didn‘t say what the end of that sentence was.  I told the president that he‘s the best man for the job.  He should have the job.  This is one of the most talented diplomats we‘ve had in 30 years.  He‘s been my friend for 35 years.  I think he‘s the right guy for the job.  And so Richard knows that.

O‘DONNELL:  Just for the audience‘s sake, you said that he was egotistical and you used a colorful phrase for it.  As far as I know, that is 100 percent agreement among all those who have—Richard Holbrooke, that that is a reasonably accurate adjective to use.

BIDEN:  I do think most people would also agree with the second part of my sentence, which was that he‘s the right man for the job.  He‘s one of the most talented diplomats we‘ve had in a generation.

O‘DONNELL:  I want to read a sentence the president is quoted by Bob Woodward in the book, saying, “we can absorb a terrorist attack.  We‘ll do everything we can to prevent it.  But even on 9/11, even the biggest attack ever, that ever took place on our soil, we absorbed it and we are stronger.”  How did 9/11 make us stronger?

BIDEN:  It made us stronger by demonstrating to the entire world there is nothing, nothing, nothing that can shake our conviction of everyone under the Constitution has equal rights.  We have not gone underground.  We have not turned to repressive measures.  We are the same open, strong, vibrant society that the rest of the world wants to emulate.

So that‘s the reason they took the shot at us.  They took the shot at us to try to prove to the world that we weren‘t who we advertised ourselves to be, and we are.  The rest of the world has looked at that.  They have looked at the election of Barack Obama and seen that the American people mean what they say.  We do think all people are created equal.  The rest of the world, and the Islamic world is figuring out we have mosques in Los Angeles bigger than mosques in most countries in the Arab world.

We are a society that reaches out, embraces people and is stronger because of it.  That‘s what I think the president meant by saying we were stronger for it.  They tried to deal us a body below.  It was horrible for the 3,000 people and—that lost loved ones.  My heart goes out to them.

The fact of the matter is, in terms of our national stability, our economic power and strength, our military capacity, it was a glancing blow.

O‘DONNELL:  Mr. vice president, Hamid Karzai is presented in the book as being a diagnosed manic depressive.  General Petraeus refers to him in one meeting as running basically a criminal syndicate in his government.

Ambassador Eikenberry is quoted as telling you that he‘s off his meds.  How can we have a successful exit strategy, as the Obama plan calls for in July of 2011, if the exit involves leaving Afghanistan to the whims of Hamid Karzai?

BIDEN:  Hamid Karzai has long since then decided that his interests and the interests of his country lie in cooperating with us and sort of righting his ship.  The fact of the matter is that whether it‘s corruption or it is training of Afghan security forces, or integration of and reconciliation with the Taliban, Hamid—excuse me—President Karzai is in a position now that, faced with an incredibly difficult circumstance, I believe that he‘s fully capable of stepping up to the plate and acting responsibly.

It‘s a very difficult position he‘s in.  But he must step up to the plate.  We must train an Afghan national security force.  And he must take ownership of it.  He must deal with the most virulent types of corruption, those types that, in fact, cause populations, villages, provinces to turn to the Taliban for justice, instead of corrupt officials.

And he must deal with the larger pieces of corruption that exists within his society.  And some of it is changes we have to make.  We‘re making changes in contracting authority.  General Petraeus has set forward billions of dollars rolling in that country, in a country that was the fourth poorest in the world and one that didn‘t have much infrastructure.

So we‘re making changes as well to make it easier to deal with that problem.

But Hamid Karzai must step up to the ball.  I think he‘s capable of it.  If he doesn‘t, his country will fail.  If he does, it can succeed.

O‘DONNELL:  Finally, to the controversy that divided the Democratic leadership in the House last week—the only thing that maybe could divide them—your friend Stephen Colbert.  You and I are what he calls—what Stephen Colbert calls friends of the show.  You did Stephen Colbert‘s show recently.  Stephen Colbert was then invited to testify to a House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration last week.  He did that.  Speaker Pelosi supported it.  She said she thought it was great.

Steny Hoyer, House majority leader, however said that it was an embarrassment.  So, Mr. Vice president, who is right, Pelosi or Hoyer?  You have to pick one.

BIDEN:  Thirty six years in the United States Senate, and I never got in the middle of a House fight among House members.  I‘m not going to do it now.

Look, one of the things that‘s going on is this march on Washington that Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are putting together.  It is all—all done with an overwhelming dose of humor and sarcasm.  It is, I think, going to—it‘s designed to make, quite frankly, a mockery of the position

some of the extreme positions of the other side.

But I‘ll let the House decide its own rules.  I‘ll pretend I‘m still a senator.  It‘s against Senate rules to comment on the conduct of events in the House.

O‘DONNELL:  You‘re off the hook, Mr. Vice President.  Mr. Vice President, thank you very much for making the time for us tonight.

BIDEN:  Thank you.  I wish you luck on the show.  And I hope you‘ll have me back.  Thank you.


O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, more on the Colbert Capitol Hill controversy.

Steny Hoyer didn‘t like Colbert‘s testimony.  But what are the chances he actually watched it?  Steny Hoyer‘s review of Colbert needs a Rewrite.


O‘DONNELL:  The number two Democrat in the House wasn‘t too happy about Stephen Colbert‘s immigration testimony on Capitol Hill.  But just because Majority Leader Steny Hoyer couldn‘t look past the jokes doesn‘t mean Colbert didn‘t make a valid point.

“Saturday Night Live” started its season with a lot to choose from.

We‘ll talk to the writer of the show‘s opening sketch about Christine—no relation—O‘Donnell.


O‘DONNELL:  Now to tonight‘s Rewrite.  The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law lives in obscurity.  Attracting cameras to its hearings virtually impossible.  Even C-Span‘s cameras are too busy covering much more important committees, until Stephen Colbert was called to testify on Friday with the United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez.  Rodriguez is the founder of TakeOurJobs. org, whose purpose he described on “The Colbert Report” back in July.


ARTURO RODRIGUEZ, UNITED FARM WORKERS PRESIDENT:  It‘s inviting American citizens that want to work in the fields—they want to take those jobs—they want to do agriculture work, to come out and do it.  So we put up a website,, and we‘re inviting Americans throughout the United States to come and try to work in agriculture, if they don‘t believe—or they believe that immigrant farm workers are taking away good American jobs.


O‘DONNELL:  So with 15 million unemployed Americans now desperately seeking work—


STEPHEN COLBERT, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  How many people of all—everyone in America have taken you up on this?

RODRIGUEZ:  Only three right now are actually working in the fields.

COLBERT:  Three people?

RODRIGUEZ:  Three people.

COLBERT:  Make that four.  I‘ll do it.


O‘DONNELL:  On Friday, Colbert testified about his experience in the fields.


COLBERT:  But after working with these men and women, picking beans, packing corn, for hours on end, side by side, in the unforgiving sun, I have to say—and I do mean this sincerely—please don‘t make me do this again.  It is really, really hard.  For one thing, when you‘re picking beans, you have to spend all day bending over.  It turns out—and I did not know this—most soil is at ground level.  If we can put a man on the Moon, why can‘t we make the Earth waist high.  Come on, where is the funding.


O‘DONNELL:  Colbert continued with his prepared testimony in character, which though defended by Nancy Pelosi, who called it simply great, it provoked negative reactions from Republicans and some Democrats.


REP. STENY HOYER (D), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  I think his testimony was not appropriate.  Now, I think it was an embarrassment for Mr. Colbert more than the House.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  He was called by the Democratic chair of the subcommittee.

HOYER:  You asked me, Chris, whether the testimony was appropriate.  I think it was not appropriate.

WALLACE:  And he should not have been called?

HOYER:  I don‘t know about whether he was called.  What he had to say I think was not the way it should have been said.  If he had a position on the issues, he should have given those issues.  I think you asked my personal opinion.

WALLACE:  You regret it.

HOYER:  I think it was inappropriate.


O‘DONNELL:  Had House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer watched all of Stephen Colbert‘s testimony, he would have seen history being made in Colbert‘s unscripted answer to a question when he broke character publicly for the first time.


COLBERT:  I like talking about people who don‘t have any power.  And this seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers, who come and do our work, but don‘t have any rights as a result.  And yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave.  That‘s an interesting contradiction to me.

And you know, whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers—and these seem like the least of our brothers right now.  A lot of people are least brothers right now, because the economy is so hard.  I don‘t want to take anyone‘s hardship away from them or diminish them or anything like that.  But migrant workers suffer and have no rights.


O‘DONNELL:  If Congressman Hoyer had seen that part of Stephen Colbert‘s testimony, then he should have issued a statement something like

this: “I want to commend Stephen Colbert for his moving description of the plight of migrant workers in this country.  All too often, these hardworking people are overlooked, even though we all enjoy the fruits of their labor.  To have someone of Mr. Colbert‘s stature and influence speak out on behalf of” blah, blah, blah, blah.

If Congressman Hoyer can find a more eloquent statement on the condition of migrant workers in the transcripts of any of that subcommittee‘s hearings, I will read those statements in their entirety on this show.

No matter how her Senate campaign turns out, “Saturday Night Live” has already immortalized Tea Party candidate Christine O‘Donnell.  But it looks like “SNL” might be finding more skeletons in her closet.


O‘DONNELL:  “Saturday Night Live” season premier took us inside witch turned Senate candidate Christine O‘Donnell‘s meeting with the Republican National Committee to discuss how they could support her candidacy in Delaware.  As with all candidates, the political professionals wanted to discuss some of the controversial things that had emerged in her background, which in her case include an attraction to witchcraft and an aversion to masturbation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  When I started that campaign—and I‘ll be totally honest here—I, frankly, did not understand what masturbation was.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It turns out I was confusing it with something else.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  And as soon as I understood that, I totally reversed my policy on masturbation.  OK?  Yeah?  Bet you didn‘t hear that in the media, right?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I will have you know that I masturbate constantly.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  I masturbated this morning when I woke up, again in the shower, then while eating breakfast, and in the taxi on the way over here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Christine, you don‘t need to—

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m going to tell you something else, in a few minutes, I‘m going to want to masturbate again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK, then we‘ll try to keep this meeting short.


O‘DONNELL:  Over the last two weeks, Delaware voters have learned from clips supplied by Bill Maher that candidate O‘Donnell also believes evolution is a myth and scientists are creating mice with human brains.

RNC officials at “Saturday Night Live‘s” version of this had to ask Christine, is there anything else we need to know?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You know, while I was masturbating, I remembered something else.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t know.  It‘s probably nothing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  In college, I burned somebody‘s house down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, but not for money.  For revenge.


O‘DONNELL:  Finally, Christine had to fly back to Delaware to catch up with the Democratic candidate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thanks for coming in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thanks for having me.

OK.  It‘s my pleasure.  Good seeing you guys.




O‘DONNELL:  Here now, the writer of that opening sketch for the season premier, 33 years “Saturday Night Live” veteran, senior statesman of “SNL,”

Jim Downey.  Jim, thanks for being here tonight.  You understand you gave up a lot of your time to Joe Biden.  So we only have a few minutes here.


O‘DONNELL:  I imagine when something like this story comes along, you are mandated to write it.  You have no choice.  There‘s nothing else you could have possibly done in the political spot than this candidacy.

DOWNEY:  Didn‘t seem that way to me.  I thought this was the big story.  But I‘m happy to hear you think people knew about it.

O‘DONNELL:  Does that make it worse when there‘s this really obvious, big and very funny—I mean, the real life version of this is so funny, isn‘t there a double challenge.  Everyone is expecting it.  Yet, it somehow has to be funnier than the real Christine O‘Donnell.

DOWNEY:  Yes, especially if I don‘t have that much time.  In this case I did have days and days and days to think.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, you could have given the part to Amy Poehler.  I‘m guessing you gave it to a regular cast member because you guys are all hoping Christine O‘Donnell wins and this character stays in the show.

DOWNEY:  I like taking care of people who are going to be around.

I‘ve done enough for Amy over the years, God love her.

O‘DONNELL:  What do you have coming up this week in week two?  By the way, it wasn‘t the only controversy in the show.  You had Katy Perry in the show, who was banned from the—

DOWNEY:  She‘s not controversial to me.

O‘DONNELL:  Banned from PBS, but not controversial at “SNL.”

DOWNEY:  No.  We love Katy Perry.

O‘DONNELL:  And doing a little mocking of her banning.

DOWNEY:  I thought she was actually really good.  I‘ve never seen her do anything but her music.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  So what have you got coming up this week?

DOWNEY:  Bob Cranston and Bruno Mars.

O‘DONNELL:  Are you already thinking about the political stuff for this week.

DOWNEY:  I‘m hoping that when I get home, someone will have said something weird, including the cable news shows.

O‘DONNELL:  You‘re going to have to study that Biden transcript.  I don‘t think there‘s anything in there for you.  Sorry.  I did my best.  I did everything I could do for you.

DOWNEY:  Thanks.

O‘DONNELL:  Jim Downey, writer for “Saturday Night Live,” thanks very much for joining us tonight.

You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog,

You can follow my occasional Tweets @Lawrence.  That‘s tonight‘s LAST WORD.

Tomorrow night, two candidates, Governor Charlie Crist running for senate in Florida, and Levi Johnston, running for mayor of Wasilla.  “COUNTDOWN”

is up next.


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