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Wednesday, Oct. 6th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Rep. Donna Edwards, Joe Klein, Carl

Bernstein, Kendrick Meek

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  Rachel, I‘ve been a guest on your show, and I want to assure everyone you‘ve just invited on your show that it‘s really fun.

RACHEL MADDOW, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” HOST:  Thank you.  I am so jealous that you got Michael Steele yesterday.  I almost feel angry.  But you‘re doing such a great job getting these guys to come on the program.  I am very envious with you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  We got luck.  Thank, Rachel.

Last night on this program, Michael Steele got tripped up on the minimum wage, thereby making minimum wage the issue of the day in congressional campaigns.  With Tea Party Republican candidates now fighting over what they really want to do to the working poor, Democrats finally see an opportunity.

Sorry, Michael.  No, I really am sorry.  My apology to Michael Steele later.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  That will be your headline—that will be your headline, Lawrence.  Steele doesn‘t know the minimum wage.

O‘DONNELL:  What is the minimum wage, Michael?

STEELE:  You really like the minimum wage, don‘t you?  That is not the paramount, most paramount issue that voters out there are facing.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  The minimum wage takes over the campaign for control of Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, there should not be a federal minimum wage?

JOE MILLER ®, ALASKA SENATE CANDIDATE:  There should not be.

O‘DONNELL:  The Tea Party Republican Senate candidate in Alaska is not alone.  In West Virginia—

NARRATOR:  John Raese wants to eliminate the minimum wage.  West Virginia working families, you can do better.

O‘DONNELL:  The Tea Party Republican Senate pick in Nevada.

SHARRON ANGLE ®, NEVADA SENATE CANDIDATE:  We really have spoiled our citizenry.

O‘DONNELL:  And the Republican candidate for governor in Minnesota.

TOM EMMER ®, MINNESOTA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE:  If you didn‘t have a minimum wage law, then you could say it was the free market working.

O‘DONNELL:  And then the Republican candidate for Senate in one of America‘s richest states—

LINDA MCMAHON ®, CONNECTICUT SENATE CANDIDATE:  I‘m Linda McMahon.

O‘DONNELL:  -- saying one thing behind closed doors and telling Connecticut voters the opposite.

MCMAHON:  That I would consider reducing the minimum wage.  That‘s a lie.  You know that‘s a lie.  I never said it.

O‘DONNELL:  The party of less tax for the rich and now less pay for the working poor versus a Democratic Party that has fought the same fight for decades.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  On just the issue to try and raise the minimum wage.  What is it about it that drives you Republicans crazy?  What is the price that the workers have to pay to get an increase?

O‘DONNELL:  So, why are Democrats facing this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  White voters without four-year college degrees prefer Republicans over Democrats.  Get that.  This is such a total shift.

O‘DONNELL:  With 26 days until the election, why can‘t Democrats convince workers they are on their side?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘d like to find one of those $10 minimum wage jobs Michael Steele thinks exists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

STEELE:  Whether minimum wage is $7, $10, or whatever it happens to be—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Steele, $7.25 is the number you‘re looking for.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY:  The U.S. minimum wage is about $15,000 a year, about $300 a week, at $7.25 an hour.

STEELE:  That‘s the reality that people are facing right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

As Newt Gingrich recently reminded Republicans facing midterms elections, Ronald Reagan‘s closing argument in 1980 was “Morning in America” versus the malaise of Jimmy Carter.  In 1994, Gingrich himself penned the Contract with America versus decades of broken promises from the Democrats.

And this week, Gingrich unveiled his latest contribution to the campaign talking point cannon.  His new slogan is, quote, “Paychecks versus food stamps.”  He recommends that Republican office-seekers aggressively repeat over and over until Election Day the phrase, “The Democratic Party of food stamps and the Republican Party of paychecks.”

So, Republicans believing it a winning slogan have run with that this week, making sure Americans know that the party of paychecks doesn‘t know and doesn‘t care what‘s actually in your paycheck.

Last night on this program, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele didn‘t know that the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.  Even after several Republican candidates had run into trouble because they either didn‘t know how much it was or hinted that they wanted to lower it and some actually saying they wanted to eliminate it all together.

Since about 2/3 of Americans support raising the minimum wage, you‘d expect the “party of paychecks” to take the popular position on the issue.

This raises the bigger question, with Republicans taking such shockingly unpopular positions, how can the Democrats still be behind in the polls?

Joining me now are Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, and, Representative Donna Edwards, a Democrat from Maryland.

Representative Blackburn you voted against the last increase in the minimum wage.  Would you vote to reduce it if you have that chance in the next Congress?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN ®, TENNESSEE:  No, I‘m not going to vote to reduce it, but I think the more important thing, Lawrence, is that we put the focus on creating the environments that jobs growth can take place.  We all know that the best economic stimulus is the job.

And that‘s what the American people are repeatedly—repeatedly telling us that they want to see the emphasis placed on is: government is supposed to create the environment in which jobs growth can take place.  They expect us to do that.  They know that stimulus and bailout has not worked, and they‘re saying, look, it‘s time to change course.  It‘s time to go a different direction.  You create the environment, let us get to work.

O‘DONNELL:  Do you remember what the minimum wage was last time when you voted against the increase?

BLACKBURN:  I think it went from—was it 2.14 to—I mean, $7.14 to $7.25.

O‘DONNELL:  It was $6.55 --

BLACKBURN:  Six-fifty-five.

O‘DONNELL:  -- when you voted against the 70-cent increase.

That amounts to, if you are making that an hour, 40 hours a week, that amounts to roughly $13,000, a little more than $13,000 a year.  Could you live on $13,000 a year in your district?

BLACKBURN:  It would be very tough.  We have families in our district—I think the median in our district is about $36,000 a year.  That‘s our median income.  And we have families that are struggling that are working hard.

My focus is on getting our unemployment numbers down, and getting employment numbers up—looking at how we shift the focus and do some jobs retraining.  I was at a community college today working on this very issue.  It‘s important to us.  And we want to make certain that the environment is right for people to make a lot more than the minimum wage.

O‘DONNELL:  Representative Donna Edwards, the—about two thirds of the electorate is in favor of increasing—currently increasing the minimum wage from where it stands now.  Support for the very existence of the minimum wage is virtually unanimous among voters.  It‘s around 90 percent.

With the Republican Party threatening the minimum wage, some of the candidates with their rhetoric, with Republicans having a record of reliably opposing increases in the minimum wage, Republicans preventing the minimum wage for increasing for 10 years before it increased last time—how is it that the Democrats are not successfully countering the Republican campaign slogan that they are the “party of paychecks”?

REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND:  Well, I want to make the case, because Republicans are waging a war against workers in this country.  The minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.  You know, $15,000 a year if you‘re working 40 hours—if you‘re lucky to work 40 hours making minimum wage.  That doesn‘t even bring you to the poverty line if you‘re a family of four in this country.

And so, you know, the minimum wage was signed into law by President Bush, passed by a Democratic Congress over the objections of Republicans in Congress.  They‘re waging a war against workers.  They didn‘t want to extend unemployment benefits.  They don‘t want to protect social security from privatization.  And here, they want to take away the minimum wage.

O‘DONNELL:  But, Donna, the rhetoric that the Democrats are using does not seem to be effectively countering the Republican attacks on the economy.  What do you think is missing in the national campaign for Democrats to hold on to the Congress?  What do you think is missing in their approach to the voter?

EDWARDS:  Well, I think we have to make it clear as Democrats that we stand on the side of workers and working people.  And we have to say it over and over again.  What this Congress, our Congress, has done to protect working people has been really astounding, and I think we have to convey that to workers.

Congresswoman Blackburn talked about being at a community college and wanting to create jobs—but it was her party that actually voted against legislation that would allow students to go to community college and receive student loans and Pell grants to go to community college.  And so, they are not a party that stands for workers.

Democrats stand for workers, we stand on the side of workers.  And we have to say that to the American people over and over again, and point out the disparity that Republicans want to create.

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman Blackburn, if I had to guess, I was given a blind test, you know, one of the parties is using, you know, we‘re the “party of paychecks” as the slogan, I would guess that‘s the Democratic Party.  If I was hearing you know, we‘re the party of tax cuts, I would say that, you know, that‘s the Republican Party.

But it seems like that‘s an attempt to adopt basically Democratic Party rhetoric for Republican campaigns, and in your Pledge to America, there is a section on health care.  The first provision of your Pledge to America section on health care is repeal the Obama health care bill.  The second provision in the health care section of your Pledge to America is restore most of the Obama health care bill—all the regulations on insurance companies, all of the mandates on insurance companies, are in your Pledge to America.

Why would you pledge to do something in the next Congress that you already have voted against in this Congress?

BLACKBURN:  Lawrence, a couple things here.  First of all, it‘s news to me that there was some kind of slogan of party of paychecks.  That‘s—hearing it from you is the first time that I have heard that.

Secondly, on the health care bill, what we are hearing from health care providers and health care companies from hospitals, physicians is this: the health care bill is a very convoluted bill, that there is a lot of uncertainty in that bill.  There is a lot of regulation overreach, paperwork, and what they have said to us many times—people that were for that bill before it was passed are now saying, look, it doesn‘t matter, it‘s not a partisan issue, it doesn‘t matter if you‘re from the left, the right or the middle.  It‘s better to repeal the bill, get it off the books, and then start back focusing on some of the reforms that need to take place.

No one is saying the status quo is the way to keep things.  We don‘t want to do that.  But there are some things that the American people want.  They do want to see their insurance—their costs come down.  They do want accountability from those insurance companies.  They want to make sure that there is the ability for those with pre-existing and chronic conditions to have that access to affordable health care and they want to make certain that tort reform takes place.

And there‘s a philosophical divide here, a way can you do it with government control or with patients in control.  And what we‘re saying is, look, let‘s take it off the books, let‘s come back and let‘s go to the other way of doing this, the other side of this philosophical divide and let‘s put patients more in control of their health care, and quite frankly, I got to tell you, I think that‘s what the American people are wanting to see.  We hear it from them every day.

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman Edwards, were you as surprised as I was to read in the Pledge for America that after abolishing the Obama health care bill, the Republicans propose what they would describe and did describe in the Obama health care bill a massive socialistic regulatory regime on the health care private sector, on the health insurance companies, massive new regulations that would require them to provide coverage for people that they are not providing coverage for now.  There‘s nothing in that Pledge to America that surprises me more than what Congressman Blackburn is now embracing.

EDWARDS:  Well, I think it‘s true.  I mean, I think what you can see is that the American people really don‘t care about philosophy.  When it comes to health care, they care now that there are young people who are aged 22 who can stay on their parents‘ health care plan.  The Republicans won‘t repeal that.

They care now that we‘re going to close that donut hole for senior citizens—Republicans aren‘t going to repeal that.

They care now that under the health care plan, those same people who work for minimum wage, many of whom don‘t have health care, will be able to get health care.  Republicans won‘t repeal it because the American people won‘t tolerate it.

And so, it‘s really very disingenuous, this Pledge to America.  I mean, it‘s no different from a contract, a pledge.  We know that Democrats are standing on the side of working people.  Democrats are standing on the side of people who get up and just want to take care of their families, and want to do it and make a decent living.

And the Republicans, you know, say all the right words, but their policies speak to something quite different.

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn and Congresswoman Donna Edwards, Democrat of Maryland—I thank you both for your time tonight.

EDWARDS:  Thank you.

BLACKBURN:  Good to be with you.

O‘DONNELL:  The most important voice in who is out of touch belongs to the people.  Up next: we get outside the Beltway to hear the concerns of the voters after the economy.  One of the biggest fears will surprise you.

And the White House is dismissing talk of an Obama/Hillary ticket in 2012, but when the investigative journalist Bob Woodward has the story, it cannot be dismissed.  His former partner Carl Bernstein joins me to talk Hillary and Woodward.

And tonight‘s “Rewrite”—time to rewrite myself in an apology to Michael Steele for something I said in last night‘s show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Joe Klein of “Time” magazine has been talking with real, live voters all over the country.  He‘ll give us a critical reality check less than four weeks from Election Day.

And Florida, Florida, Florida—it‘s the key state on the path to winning the White House.  So, why has the Democratic Party virtually abandoned its Democratic candidate for Senate?  Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek gets THE LAST WORD tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

O‘DONNELL:  With the advent of an election, members of Congress get out with the people.  And each and every one reminds voters that he or she is singlehandedly responsible for great thing the government‘s done since the last election and desperately fought against everything awful that‘s happened on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, most of the political press spends every night in their own beds inside the Beltway, and eagerly awaits the next round of polling information to arrive on their BlackBerrys.

Our next guest recently decided to inform his political analysis the old fashioned way: getting out with the people, just like members of Congress.  Let‘s see if he actually learned anything he couldn‘t have picked up from blogs in the comfort of his own home.

Joining me now is “Time” magazine columnist Joe Klein.

Joe, this is what I call cheating.

JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, TIME MAGAZINE:  Yes, it is.

O‘DONNELL:  OK.  The rest of us are sitting in make-up in studios looking at BlackBerrys and giving our wise words to the nation on what‘s happening out there.  This going out there and talking to them?  No, not fair.

KLEIN:  Well, it was an excuse to not watch cable news and listen to a lot of really good music and eat a lot of really bad food.

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s called reporting.

KLEIN:  It is called reporting.  And they‘re cool.  I mean, you know, at the beginning of the trip, I put out an all points bulletin with “Time” readers and said, here‘s the itinerary.  If you have someone you want me to meet, I‘m coming through your state.  I‘ll do it.

And we had about 20 meetings all across the country with co-workers, with, you know, civic leaders, with family members, and, you know, I did a couple of dozen interviews with politicians along the way, too.  And the politicians were far outstripped by the folks who are eloquent and freaked out.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, we like to do graphs here, and we like to paint states red and we like to paint states blue, and then some of us get very sophisticated and say, that‘s a purple one, because they don‘t all think the same in that state.

Do they all think the same anywhere?

KLEIN:  No, you don‘t find any straight-ahead conservatives or liberals in this country.  It‘s really hilarious.  There are people who hate the president.

I was talking to this cop out in the burbs of Detroit who obviously thought the president was a socialist Muslim radical and he wasn‘t going to say it.  But it was clear, I just don‘t like that guy.  And then—and then I asked him, what do you think we should do about the economy?  He said, we need some good old fashioned FDR-style, you know, jobs program.

They aren‘t consistent.  And they are upset.  And the thing that upsets them most is that the stuff that they care most about, the politicians aren‘t talking about.  They care about jobs.  But the debate in Washington is whether we should do more federal programs or reduce the deficit.

What they care about is the fact that millions and millions and millions of jobs have gone overseas.  That and the politicians haven‘t done anything about it, and they think that both parties have sold out.  That was the—that was the most stunning thing about this trip.

O‘DONNELL:  The—when you try to categorize these people after talking to them, and you discover, well, let‘s see, this one is for tax cuts and is pro-choice, where am I going to put her?

KLEIN:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  I mean, that‘s the reality of talking to real voters.

KLEIN:  Of course it is.  Of course it is.  And, you know, what you said about polls is very true.  You know, it‘s distressing to me that so many of our colleagues think that polls are reporting.  They‘re not.

And there‘s also the syndrome on cable news where there‘s a two-point shift in the race, and we have big news, a major shift.  No, it‘s within the margin of error.  And so—I mean, I suppose it‘s going to be a big Republican year, can you feel that.  But, you know, these races are waged by individuals, and each race is different.

O‘DONNELL:  On the China thing.  These are people, these are consumes whose houses are filled with stuff from China, who are worried about Christine O‘Donnell says, she knows—she‘s got the classified information that China has a plan to take over the United States.

How paranoid—you know, Christine O‘Donnell has actually said, they have a plan—she has the classified information and she‘s gone so far to say she wished she didn‘t have this classified information.

KLEIN:  You know—

O‘DONNELL:  Are they—are they as paranoid as that out there?

KLEIN:  No, of course not.  Of course not.

And by the way, who has who over a barrel?  We got all their products and they have all our debt.  We can inflate our currency at any time.  I mean, how stupid are the Chinese?

But the real problem is, and I talk to a lot of Republicans who are feeling this, that they understand that the loss of these millions and millions of jobs has caused a spiritual problem out in the middle of the country.

And one guy said to me, and I don‘t believe him for a minute.  But one guy said to me, you know, , I‘d pay $50 more for a DVD player if it meant some American had a job.  And the fact is that there‘s this narrative-building about the financial community, the same guys who did the mergers and acquisitions in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s now turn their attention to the housing market and produce these crazy mortgages for people who should have never had them.  And then these even crazier casino-gaming products by credit default swaps.

People look at—the most unpopular thing that Barack Obama has done was a bank bailout.

O‘DONNELL:  White House speechwriters, did you get that on China? 

We have all their products, they have all our debt.

And, Joe, you don‘t even have to give me credit.  Obama can use that any time he wants.

All right.  Joe Klein of “Time” magazine—thanks for joining us tonight.

In 2013, will we be hearing the phrases Vice President Clinton and Secretary of State Biden?  The White House says, no way.  I say, way.  Find out what Carl Bernstein says.

And in the battle for control of the Senate, why aren‘t all the Democrats rallying around their own candidate in Florida?  Congressman Kendrick Meek is given THE LAST WORD tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Ahead on THE LAST WORD: Hillary Clinton pretends to dismiss talk of becoming vice president while saying exactly what she needed to keep the rumor alive.  Journalist Bob Woodward is not dismissing it.  Carl Bernstein joins me to talk two things he knows well: Hillary Clinton‘s ambition and Bob Woodward‘s investigative skills.

And Democratic nominee for Senate in Florida, Kendrick Meek, has just finished debating not one, but two opponents.  That gives him tonight‘s LAST WORD.

And I‘ll apologize to Michael Steele for something I said last night.  It‘s tonight‘s “Rewrite.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  In the spotlight tonight, the 2012 presidential election.  No, it‘s not too early.  Not when Bob Woodward tells us that Joe Biden might not be invited back on the ticket with Barack Obama.  The president might ask him to switch jobs with—you guessed it—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, “OBAMA‘S WARS”:  It‘s on the table.  And some of Hillary Clinton‘s advisers see it as a real possibility in 2012.  President Obama needs some of the women, Latinos, retirees that she did so well with during the 2008 primaries.  And so they switch jobs.  And not out of the question. 

The other interesting question is, Hillary Clinton could run in her own right in 2016, and be younger than Ronald Reagan when he was elected president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And when asked about the possibility, Hillary did not deny it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  I think the vice president is doing a wonderful job.  He‘s a great friend of mine.  We work together closely.  He‘s an expert on foreign policy.  He chaired the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate for years.  And we have a great relationship.  And I have absolutely no interest and no reason for doing anything other than just dismissing these stories and moving on.  Because we have no time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now, the journalist who knows more about Hillary Clinton and Bob Woodward than any of the rest of us, the author of “A Woman In Charge, the Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton.”  Carl Bernstein, thanks for joining us tonight. 

It‘s kind of delicious to listen to that response from Hillary Clinton.  From a Hillary scholar like yourself, you did not hear a denial in there.  Did you not hear never?

CARL BERNSTEIN, AUTHOR, “A WOMAN IN CHARGE”:  I think this whole subject is pretty laughable.  This is a really classic example of manufactured controversy, generated by the chattering classes inside the Beltway, by journalists.  It has little basis in fact.  But it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I think political reporters—we do really well to start focusing on the real problems of the country and a little less talking about 2012 and 2016.  I think we‘re way off in La La Land here. 

O‘DONNELL:  This story—

BERNSTEIN:  This story will go on and on. 

O‘DONNELL:  -- which I will keep alive until Joe Biden walks up on the convention stage. 

BERNSTEIN:  Could it happen, sure? 

O‘DONNELL:  This is what I believe.  Look, it starts with Bob Woodward.  That‘s why I‘m doing this story tonight.  If it was someone else who started this story, we might not be talking about it. 

BERNSTEIN:  It didn‘t start with Bob.  If you go back and you see Bob was on CNN with John King.  And John King said—I have the words here—you know, there‘s talk in town, if the president‘s a little weak, he‘ll have to do a switch here and run with Hillary as his running mate.  And it went from there. 

Bob then said, rather inartfully, as I think he would tell you, well, it‘s on the table, meaning there are I think a lot of disgruntled ex-Hillary people who are saying all kinds of trouble making things to keep this kind of thing alive.  I hear a lot of it, and—does that mean, however, any president, any presidential candidate who‘s a nominee of his party, who sees himself in trouble coming into an election—will that person do what he has to do to get elected if it means switching his secretary of state and vice president?  It could happen. 

O‘DONNELL:  And this is why he has to do it, OK?  When the voter went to the voting booth in 2008, the voter was offered an historic opportunity.  This is an historic ballot that they‘re touching.  You can put your hand right here and vote for the first black president of the United States. 

BERNSTEIN:  Or the first woman. 

O‘DONNELL:  Not in the general election.  Now you go back to that ballot in 2012, And if it‘s Obama/Biden, there‘s nothing historic about that ballot.  And they go into that election in very bad shape, because there is nothing, not a single thing that that White House is going to be able to do legislatively after this election—this midterm election—to improve its position. 

They‘re going to be weaker in the Congress, with more Republicans in the Congress.  The only way they can change the dynamics of the 2012 election is to change that ticket, make it a historic opportunity again, your opportunity to vote for the first woman vice president of the United States. 

BERNSTEIN:  Lawrence, is that a possibility?  When you get to that point, yes.  At the same time, is this a subject that Barack Obama hates, that his people hate, that they are trying to knock down, because they would hate to see this happen?  Yes. 

O‘DONNELL:  Why didn‘t Hillary help them knock it down today with something absolutely definitive?

BERNSTEIN:  I‘m not in Hillary Clinton‘s head.  I‘m her biographer.  If you read the book, you get all kinds of explanations about why Hillary does the kind of things she does, and Bill Clinton does the kinds of things he does. 

(CROSS TALK)

BERNSTEIN:  Are these two people, the Clintons, folks who would like to be in the White House for another four or eight years?  Absolutely.  At the same time, she has been a very successful secretary of state, a very loyal soldier to Obama, is doing a hell of a job, and also Joe Biden is a terrific vice president. 

O‘DONNELL:  And would love being secretary of state. 

BERNSTEIN:  And it‘s possible.  But again, this is not something, to use Bob‘s inartful phrase, that is on the table.  It is not on the table. 

O‘DONNELL:  We have 20 months before we get the answer on this.  I‘m going to have you back several times.

BERNSTEIN:  We don‘t even have the table yet.

O‘DONNELL:  We‘re going to have you back several times.  I‘m going to convince you that this is going to happen, so that by the time she walks out on the stage as the nominee, you won‘t be surprised. 

BERNSTEIN:  I wouldn‘t be surprised either by that, if circumstances happened to connive to produce that kind of result, if it‘s the only way to get there. 

O‘DONNELL:  Carl Bernstein. 

BERNSTEIN:  We‘re a long way from that. 

O‘DONNELL:  Carl Bernstein, yet to be convinced.  Thank you very much for joining us, Carl. 

BERNSTEIN:  Congratulations on the show. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Carl.  There‘s been a lot of reaction to my interview with Michael Steele last night, including from Steele himself.  He called me asking for an apology, and he will get one after the break, in tonight‘s Rewrite. 

Later, Kendrick Meek took to the stage tonight in Orlando to debate his opponents in the Florida Senate race.  With a state as crucial to the presidential race as Florida, why are Democrats not supporting their own nominee?  THE LAST WORD tonight goes to Congressman Meek.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Here we are only seven shows in and the subject of tonight‘s Rewrite is me.  In the introduction of my interview with Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele last night, I said this—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  As the first congressional election during his party chairmanship approaches, Michael Steele is dancing as fast as he can, trying to charm independent voters and Tea Partiers, while never losing sight of his real master and paycheck provider, the Republican National Committee.  But how can he attract independents with a senator who says unmarried women should not be allowed to teach in public schools, and candidates who want to abolish the minimum wage and masturbation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  We actually prerecorded the interview with Michael Steele a few hours before the show.  So he did not have a chance to hear those words in that introduction, which was delivered live at 10:00 pm.  He called me today and left this voicemail. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  Hey, Lawrence, this is Chairman Michael Steele calling, I wanted to touch bases with you and follow up on the interview yesterday.  First, my disappointment that you would refer to me, in effect, as a slave to the RNC by referring to the RNC and the leadership of this party as my masters.  Not really appreciated.  You know, I‘ve had to put up with that crap my entire political life. 

So I‘m really disappointed in your reference there, and would appreciate a correction to the record, because you can imagine if the RNC referred to Barack Obama as a slave to the Democratic Party or more appropriately, as you put it, the Democratic Party is master to Barack Obama, you would be hitting the roof on the air.  I think we need to check that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  I called him back immediately and apologized for using the word that he found offensive.  Those of us who are not descendents from slaves can never know the full impact of the word master in the ears of an African-American man.  Michael Steele told me, quote, “it sort of stung.”  He could not have been more gracious and forgiving.  He also told me, quote, “the interview was a lot of fun, I loved our give and take, I will be back on the show.”

I invited him on the show tonight, so that I could apologize to him directly, in front of everyone who had seen the interview.  He said that wasn‘t necessary and that the apology on the phone was more than anyone else had done who had slighted him in the past. 

He shared with me a bitter memory about a congressman who, four years ago, in the heat of a campaign, publicly accused Steele of slavishly supporting the Republican party.  Michael Steele is still waiting for a personal apology on that one. 

As to the Rewrite, what I should have said is “as the first congressional election during his party chairmanship approaches, Michael Steele is distancing as fast as he can, trying to charm independent voters and Tea Partiers, while never forgetting his job title, chairman of the Republican National Committee.”

That I chose a word that could be misinterpreted as a racial reference on the same night that I took to this pulpit to so righteously condemn the racist e-mails sent by New York billionaire and Republican candidate for Governor Carl Paladino is ironic.  So too, that Michael Steele has yet to pass judgment on those same e-mails. 

I completely understand and sympathize with the many ways in which a party chairman‘s public speech is constantly constrained.  I think we all know what Michael Steele would like to say about his New York candidate‘s e-mails, and I think we all understand why he hopes he‘s never asked about them. 

My public speech is not similarly constrained by political considerations.  I am honored that Michael Steele believes me to be the kind of person he can call to explain his hurt and politely request and expect an apology.  After apologizing to him on the phone, I told him I would apologize on this program, something he did not request. 

I also told him that I too thought the interview was a lot of fun, that I enjoyed our give and take, and that I would love to do it again whenever his schedule allows.  Mr. Chairman, I sincerely apologize.         

>

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Tonight‘s Florida Senate debate moderator George Stephanopoulos called it the wildest Senate debate in the nation.  Congressman Kendrick Meek, Marco Rubio and Governor Charlie Crist in the fierce battle for an open seat.  Tonight, the three faced off in their second debate in Orlando.  There was no doubt which one was the Democrat. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENDRICK MEEK (D), CANDIDATE FOR SENATE IN FLORIDA:  I‘m going to say this to every Floridian.  If they want to change Social Security, they‘re going to have to go through me.  I‘m 6‘3”, former state trooper, used to be a football player.  I think it‘s important we don‘t allow this kind of political tailspin on this issue. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now live from Orlando, Congressman Kendrick Meek.  Congressman, this debate tonight is your second.  There‘s less than four weeks left in the campaign.  Do you feel that have you been adequately supported by the national Democratic Party in this run? 

MEEK:  We‘ve gotten a lot of visits from national leaders, but I can tell you right now we need more resource down here.  We have enough to stay competitive in this race.  But to be able to win this race, we need more help. 

I‘m standing up on behalf of principles of the middle class.  I‘m the only candidate that hasn‘t tried to become friends with Sarah Palin, George W. Bush or Dick Cheney.  I‘m running against two Republicans here in Florida.  Charlie Crist tries to re-create himself not only as a moderate, but he has said that he‘s been a conservative his entire life. 

Marco Rubio is a very scary individual, one that should not be federalized, because he follows people like Senator Demint and Dick Cheney and others that are out there.  And tonight he made a clear choice.  He decided to hang on to Tea Party ideology versus standing with Floridians who need help right now. 

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Meek, you‘ve been under pressure by some saying you should drop out of the race, because in this three-way race, you and Charlie Crystal will split—you‘ll get a majority vote.  You‘ll split the anti-Rubio vote.  Rubio will end up as a senator.  What do you say to that? 

MEEK:  The reason why people will not go out to vote for Charlie Crist and the reason why I‘m going to be the winner here in Florida is that Charlie Crist is standing on a wet paper box when it comes down to his positions on issues.  The fact that he stood by and watched Marco Rubio rise from 30 points down to where he is now—he had an opportunity to beat him in the primary.  He decided to bailout. 

Right now, we need people that are going to protect Social Security, that‘s going to stop it form being privatized.  You can‘t count on Charlie Crist for that.  You can‘t count on Charlie Crist when it comes down to standing up for pro-choice for women.  You can‘t count on him to stand up for the middle class.

But you can definitely count on me.  Time after time, again, I‘ve stood up for public educators.  I‘ve stood up for veterans.  I‘ve stood up for those men and women that are in uniform and their families.  I think now more than ever, anyone who‘s going to beat Marco Rubio, it‘s me. 

I give people a reason to vote again.  And tonight‘s debate was a clear indication of who‘s willing to lead and who‘s willing to follow.  I‘m willing to lead.  I was willing to take on Marco Rubio at his own rhetoric when it comes down to what he thinks America should be. 

I think America should be a place where people have health care.  I think America‘s a place where we should protect our environment, protect Floridians from offshore oil drilling.  I have a strong voice on that issue.  Senator Bill Nelson called me after the debate and said it was a very, very strong stance that I‘ve taken on behalf of Floridians.  And that‘s what Floridians need now more than ever. 

I‘m going to drive people out to vote.  Democrats in Florida are with me.  That‘s the reason why Al Gore was here last week.  That‘s the reason why Joe Bind was here two weeks ago.  President Obama will be here.  President Clinton will be back.  We will continue to fight hard here.

But if you want to know what Democrats can do throughout the country, they can send resources to my campaign, because that‘s what we need.  We have them, but we‘re going to need more, because we‘re going up against big corporate interests and also special interests, because they want to see someone like Marco Rubio, who‘s going to stand in the gap for them, in the United States Senate.  But I‘m here to stand in the gap of behalf of every day Floridians. 

O‘DONNELL:  I‘ve been struck by Bill Clinton spending as much time with your campaign as he has.  As a national Democrat, I think he‘s the one who has spent the most time with your campaign.  What‘s interesting to me about that is you‘re currently running third in the polls.  Bill Clinton was running third in the polls when he was running for president.  He had an independent, Ross Perot, running against him, as well as Republican incumbent President Bush. 

There was a time when he was running third in the polls.  He came from behind.  He ended up with 43 percent, which was enough to win the presidency in 1992.  Does he have any particular advice for you, for your position in this race, and how to deal with a three-way race?  Because he won the presidency in a three-way race. 

MEEK:  Well, people can identify public servants when they see them. 

There‘s not a day that goes by that I don‘t get stopped by a Floridian -- 

I‘m not asking for party affiliation. But when I get stopped, they you say, Kendrick, you hang in there; you keep fighting for us.  That‘s what Bill Clinton represents. 

I‘m proud to have Bill Clinton come down and campaign for me, just like any other Democrat that‘s standing for the people of good will, I look forward to being able to win this race.  Let me tell you, in the primary, you had people down here writing my political obituary, saying that it‘s over.  We were down by 10 points three weeks out.  We won by 26 points.  And we‘re counting on every day Floridians to stand with me, so that I can stand for them in the United States Senate. 

I want to tell you right now, there‘s no back and forth or being quiet on the issues down here.  It‘s important that we stand up for our environment.  It‘s important we stand up for creating green jobs.  I don‘t apologize for that.  We stand up for people who punch in and punch out every day.  And we stand for our seniors.  Both of those candidates, who are lifelong Republicans, Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist, are saying we should repeal health care.  I‘m saying we should not repeal health care. 

Insurance companies want the ball back, I‘m not willing to give it back to them.  I think it‘s important that we no longer walk around with noodle backs when it comes down to standing up on behalf of health care, and standing up on behalf of people who need a voice in the United States Senate.  I‘m going to provide that. 

That‘s the reason why I‘m leaving a safe House seat to run for the U.S. Senate, because I‘m sick and tired of what‘s going on in the Senate, with folks not going all the way and pushing the card.  So if folks want to see someone who‘s going to represent them, it‘s me.

And I believe that as we continue to move along, you‘re going to see me not only move up in the polls, but you‘re going to see me win this race here.  I‘m asking Floridians to join me.  And I‘m asking Americans to join me in that effort. 

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Meek, in your safe congressional seat you voted for the health care reform bill that was passed by the Congress this year that the president signed.  Many Democrats now running for re-election running away from that bill.  They‘re running away from that vote.  It sounds like you‘re taking that vote and taking it to the voters. 

MEEK:  Well, the situation in Florida, 3,500 Floridians lose their insurance every week.  We have seniors that would be cutting pills in half right now if it wasn‘t for the passage of the health care legislation that gives them more prescription drug benefit.  Eighty five percent of care now has to be—dollars have to be put towards the patient‘s care. 

I‘m not willing to roll that back, I‘m not willing to allow the special interests to take the front seat on that issue.  In a race like this one, in a three way, 37 percent of Floridians voting for me, plurality wins this race.  I think that‘s what people are looking for, someone that‘s willing to stand up to this ideological right wing Tea Party effort that‘ going—I mean, campaign that‘s going on throughout this country. 

We have to stand up for every day Floridians, as Democrats, independents and Republicans.  I am the only pro-choice candidate in this race.  I am the only pro-environment candidate in this race.  And I‘m the only candidate that speaks passionately about middle class tax cuts, protecting Social Security, making sure that we take down our debt, but do it responsible and not stand up on behalf of the special interests. 

Marco Rubio sounded hypocritical tonight when he was talking about the deficit.  You could almost hear the soft music in the studio when we were taping—having this live debate.  But he was willing to stand up on behalf of the special interests and those that shipped jobs overseas and the super wealthy in this country, to stand for a tax cut that will cost the middle class 700 billion dollars. 

So I think it‘s very, very important that everyone understands we‘re in a fight down here in Florida, and it ain‘t over yet.  If I have anything to do with it, I‘m going to make sure we win down here. 

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Kendrick Meek, you just had THE LAST WORD. 

Thanks for joining us tonight.

MEEK:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog, TheLastWord.MSNBC.com.  You can follow my occasional Tweets @Lawrence.  That‘s tonight‘s LAST WORD.  “COUNTDOWN” is up next. 

END   

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