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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Dylan Ratigan, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Barbara Lee, George

Miller, Ed Rendell

           

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  Thanks, Rachel.

So, listen to this, we have harpooned every whale in the ocean and some of the minnows.  That sentence spoken by a 70-year-old from Wyoming who obviously doesn‘t know you can harpoon a minnow, turned out to be the first shot in a war that broke out in Washington today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Federal debt has exploded.  Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles are taking on the impossible.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  The Democrat and Republican co-chairmen of President Obama‘s panel to solve America‘s debt problem now respond.

ERSKINE BOWLES, DEBT COMMISSION CO-CHAIR:  This is debt is like a cancer that will truly destroy this country.

ALAN SIMPSON, DEBT COMMISSION CO-CHAIR:  It is the co-chairman‘s draft.  It is not the commission‘s draft.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It calls for $200 billion in domestic and defense spending cuts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The sweeping proposal for both deep cuts and spending, and tax breaks.

O‘DONNELL:  The first report from the chairman draws blood from both sides.

BOWLES:  But nobody I think likes everything in it or dislikes everything in it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That they would eliminate all deductions, and bring the overall tax rates down in the United States.  So, individual rates would reset to a new low.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It would eliminate some tax breaks.

O‘DONNELL:  And on spending—cuts to everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  To save over $3.8 trillion over the next 10 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  On the table: both domestic and defense spending, farm subsidies to foreign aide.  It‘s comprehensive tax reform.

O‘DONNELL:  Including Social Security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Proposal to raise the retirement age.

SIMPSON:  The purpose is for them to chew on this.

O‘DONNELL:  The tough debate begins.

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS:  There are two nonstarters for me, and that is Social Security and Medicare cuts.

REP. RON PAUL ®, TEXAS:  Conservatives are going to argue you don‘t cut a nickel out of military.

MATTHEWS:  Where you cut?

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  Who should be making the decisions?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  In February, President Obama created the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility to address the country‘s nearly $13.8 trillion debt and come up with a way to balance the budget by 2015.

Today, the co-chairmen of that commission, Democrat and former Clinton White House chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, and, former Republican Wyoming senator, Alan Simpson, released their balanced budget draft proposal.

The highlights: raising the Social Security retirement age, cuts to all discretionary spending, including defense.  Reforming the tax code to lower the tax rates for all Americans, but ending all tax deductions.  Yes, you heard that correctly.  They want to end all tax deductions.  That means ripping thousands of pages out of the tax code and throwing them away.

But first, 14 of the 18 commissioners, most of whom are members of Congress, must come up with a final report that they agree on by December 1st.  Today‘s first draft has already been attacked by Nancy Pelosi, which leaves all of Washington wondering if the commission can get 14 votes for any version of this.  And if this means that Pelosi will break her written promise to President Obama to bring the commission‘s plan to a vote in the House.

Joining me now: a member of that commission, Representative Jan Schakowsky; and host of “THE DYLAN RATIGAN SHOW,” our own Dylan Ratigan.

Congresswoman Schakowsky, I know there are things that you don‘t like in this plan or as was already said.  There are things everyone doesn‘t like.  There are things people like.

What do you like in this plan?

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, first of all, let‘s be clear that this is a proposal only of the two co-chairs.  This is not a proposal put forth in anyway by the commission.  Some of us just saw it.

There are a number of cuts in the defense budget that, fortunately, I believe we have bipartisan support for making significant cuts in the defense budget.  And at the very least, I think those are the kinds of things that we may be able to move forward with together.

But overall, I think that the proposal definitely skews away from benefiting the middle class, certainly when it comes to Social Security and Medicare.

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman, what about the increase in the gasoline tax?  Do you think that‘s a good idea?

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, if we are—there‘s a proposal that we do something to offset the pain that it would cost some lower income people.  But I think that that is something we might consider for the environment as well as for raising revenue.

O‘DONNELL:  Dylan, Congresswoman Schakowsky says you can talk about doing all the deficit reduction you want, just don‘t even think about touching Medicare.  The last time the Democrats initiated deficit reduction was under President Bill Clinton, where he did one of the biggest Medicare cuts that they‘ve ever done at that point in time—initiated by a Democratic president and executed by a Democratic House and Democratic Senate.

What has changed since then?

DYLAN RATIGAN, HOST, “THE DYLAN RATIGAN SHOW”:  Well, the only thing that‘s changed is that we are the equivalent of a wild spending teenager who continues to accumulate new credit cards without actually having much of the money in general.

Now, the truth of the matter is, and I know that you know this, Lawrence, as well as I do, the amount of money that this country owes relative to the amount of money that it has, and I‘m talking not just about this deficit commission, I‘m talking about the $60 trillion in liabilities that are embedded in Medicare, that are embedded Medicaid—that we are at an incredibly precarious position as the world is right now in dealing with this.  And I think before we get—we can slice it, Medicare, Medicare, defense, Social Security, you‘re going to have to do all of it.  But I think the most important thing, and the reason it‘s so significant is because it‘s an opportunity to begin a real conversation, which has many variables, which you know better than most.

And I think that the two-party system and the default political construct of “don‘t touch this issue, don‘t touch this issue,” which was perhaps politically viable for the past 20 years, will be a direct barrier to what we need to do.  So, I think that whether it is Social Security or anything else—I mean, do you think I‘m wrong about that?

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, I certainly think you are, because we‘ve had a big discussion about Medicare.  It‘s not as if we haven‘t had a year long conversation about health care costs.  Bu now that seniors today are paying out of pocket about what they did when Medicare was first initiated, about 30 percent of their income is going to health care, to now say that we ought to increase the co-payments, the out of pocket costs that seniors pay, when we‘re just at the very beginning of some very important changes that we‘ve made to the—to Medicare and Medicaid.

And as far as Social Security is concerned, this is a proposal that if someone making $43,000 today retires at age 65 will see a 22 percent reduction in their benefits.  One other point—this proposal that they made does not just affect future beneficiaries, but by cutting the cost of living adjustment, we are going to affect current beneficiaries, something that was promised would not happen.

RATIGAN:  Yes.  And—

SCHAKOWSKY:  People feel an ownership of Social Security.  We made a promise to them, and to cut those benefits so drastically I think is reneging on that promise.

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman Schakowsky, I just want to interject, you know that Bill Clinton proposed taxing Social Security benefits in 1993, and that was, in fact, legislated by Democrats in the Congress.

SCHAKOWSKY:  That‘s correct.

O‘DONNELL:  So, we shouldn‘t be pretending here that Democrats have never touched Social Security.

Dylan, go ahead.

RATIGAN:  I would just say, I completely appreciate everything that you‘re saying, and I‘m quite certain that it represents a very understandable and widespread view of this, and not that I—not that it‘s necessarily right or wrong, but it doesn‘t accept the fact that we owe—we have $60 trillion liability set.  We have a cap on Social Security where we stop collecting, I guess, at $106,000, that we don‘t have a means test.  People live longer.

And I‘m not—listen, I am not pushing to go after Social Security.  I‘ll do this with you on defense.  We can go through any of these things which are incredibly inefficient and/or outdated systems—

SCHAKOWSKY:  Exactly.

RATIGAN:  -- that are in need of meaningful efficiency updates and accommodation to reality which is—you know what?  Rich people may not be able to collect Social Security in this country.

And you know what?  Not collecting Social Security for people who make over $100,000 may have to happen.

And you know what?  The life expectancy is now 20 years longer, 10 years longer than it was when these programs began.

So, we do—

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, wait a minute—

RATIGAN:  These are valid points, no?

SCHAKOWSKY:  Wait, I want to say something about the longevity.  Actually, for women, longevity has gone down in recent years.  And for poor people, they aren‘t living longer.

And so, this idea of a janitor having to make less Social Security in order to—for a lawyer who‘s going to live longer—no, I don‘t think that is fair or necessary to do that.

RATIGAN:  But it—

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman Schakowsky, I think President Obama said when he started this, that he had given them, he called it taking on the impossible.  I think it really was literally impossible because of that five year window that they said all this has to be accomplished within five years.  I think that‘s the central problem in what we‘re looking at.  It is draconian.  It is shocking when you look at what these changes are because they‘re trying to right all the wrongs in five years.

I think the realistic discussion begins with a 10-year window and maybe even is larger than that.  But what is true about this politically for Democrats and Republicans is that there will never be a balanced budget or a serious deficit reduction proposal brought to the floor of the House or the Senate that does not include things in it that you don‘t like it.  And you are going to be asked to vote on a package, as Democrats did in 1993, that included things that Democrats don‘t like.

Is there anyway you will at any point, within any one of these budget windows that we chose, be willing to take a tough vote on something that you wish was not in the package but is necessary in order to create a package that gets enough votes from both sides of the aisle?

SCHAKOWSKY:  Of course.  Of course, the health care bill that passed is not the bill that I would have written.  I certainly would have had a public option.

And by the way, in order to control health care costs, including a public option, which would save $168 billion—yes, I think that would be a good idea.  Yes, I‘m willing to look at it.

But look, Lawrence, this is not just about bean counting.  This is what is going to be good for the majority of the people in our country, get our economy going, be fair to those who have not benefited by the economics over the last several years.  We‘ve had two wars and big tax cut that affected mostly the rich.  We‘ve had the recklessness of Wall Street.

And now, are we prepared to say we‘re going to take it out of the hides of senior citizens whose average income in our country is the $18,000 a year?  I don‘t think that is right.

RATIGAN:  If you were to look at the architecture of the way they drafted this, and you were to look at the philosophy that they used, which is more or less uniform tax cuts to try to drop the tax code or eliminate the mortgage deductions—stepping away from Social Security just for the moment—how would you author the philosophical architecture of a conversation that we have to have which is that we spend a lot more money than we actually are generating, and we have a lot of liabilities, whether it‘s inside the housing market, inside Social Security, inside Medicare, that have to be addressed—how would you adjust this philosophically?

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, first of all, I think that this proposal of significantly lowering the tax rate, the top tax rate going down to 23 percent, because we‘re going to eliminate all of the tax expenditures, all of what we call the tax expenditures, things like the mortgage interest rate tax break—does anybody think that‘s really going to happen?  I mean, it—what one of the commission members said today, what he feared was, that we would—yes, we would lower those tax rates, particularly for the high end and the corporate tax, and then we still wouldn‘t be able to eliminate all of those tax breaks, because there is a powerful lobbying group behind each one.

Now, I‘m not saying—

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s—that‘s why these things are legislated as a package.  And, of course, when pieces of the package fall out, then people very legitimately say, OK, now, I‘m not voting for it.  So, it‘s a theoretical construct.  We know it‘s very unlikely to come to a vote in either body.

But the thing—the thing that I think is important about those tax rates, and really quite stunning to look at, is how low you could actually get tax rates still have a progressive tax system when you eliminate the deductions, it is a fascinating thought exercise to look at.  And my bet is, it‘s not going to amount to anything more than that.

And let me ask you, you‘re a member of this commission.

SCHAKOWSKY:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  And they need 14 votes.  They have 18 members.  You‘re out.  They‘re not going to get your vote for what they‘re proposing, right?  Is there—

SCHAKOWSKY:  No, I‘ll tell you what—if this proposal were put to a vote today, I don‘t think it would get any votes.

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  And between now and December 1st, there‘s going to be compromise made.

SCHAKOWSKY:  Right.  That‘s right.

O‘DONNELL:  There‘s going to be something else that is the final vehicle that you vote on.

SCHAKOWSKY:  That‘s right.

O‘DONNELL:  Do you think they‘re going to be able to come up with anything that you can vote on that will actually do this job within a five-year window?  I think that‘s your dilemma.  I think them forcing you to vote on something that does it within five years inevitably creates something so draconian that it does look something like this.

SCHAKOWSKY:  I think it‘s really hard to come up with a comprehensive

package.  But what I think the commission could do and something that, you

know, I would support, is a proposal that heads us in the right direction,

that makes the cuts that are consistent with our philosophy as a country of

helping people in the middle as opposed to people at the top, the middle

class people.  So, I think we can do something that is a good beginning,

that sets us in the right direction.  But whether or not we can do it all

by 2015, I don‘t know.  I don‘t think so.

           

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, member of the presidential debt commission, trying to do the impossible.  And Dylan Ratigan, staying up late for us tonight, the host of “THE DYLAN RATIGAN SHOW.”  Thank you very much, both of you, for joining me tonight.

SCHAKOWSKY:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  The “Decision Points” book tour continues.  But Americans aren‘t buying it, the spin or the book.  Up next, I‘ll talk with Lawrence Wilkerson about how President Bush is trying to rewrite history about the war on terror.

And the fight on Capitol Hill for who will lead the Democrats in the House as Nancy Pelosi prepares to remain the top Democrat.  Is the party making a big mistake by not bringing in any fresh faces in the leadership?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: we never found WMD in Iraq, and we‘ve never found a way to pay for the war.  President Bush says he‘d still make the same decision to take out Saddam.  Collin Powell‘s former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, joins me.

And the presidential memoir sales—how did the Bush book do in its first day on the market?

And later, why is Sarah Palin calling Pennsylvania the nanny state?  Guest who gets THE LAST WORD?  That‘s right.  Pennsylvania‘s governor, Ed Rendell.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  George W. Bush says that the world won‘t figure out if he was a successful president until he‘s dead.  He makes his best case in his memoir “Decision Points,” which sold 220,000 copies on its first day of release.  That‘s a little more than half of what President Clinton‘s memoir, “My Life,” sold when it debut in 2004.

The book‘s disappointing sales might be explained by conservatives‘ disappointment in Mr. Bush, especially when it comes to his role in the current economic crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  Any time you‘re in power and there‘s a problem, you‘re going to get blamed, and I fully understand that.  And I walk people through the reason why I use taxpayer‘s money to bail out Wall Street.  And the lesson there is, is that I had to set aside an ideology, which was, if you make a bad mistake, you pay for it, in the marketplace.  And in this—the hardest thing for me was not whether or not blame was assigned, the hardest thing for me was to explain to hardworking Americans why we were using their taxpayer‘s money to prop up those who they were blaming for the crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin responded to Bush‘s media tour in a recent blog post, writing, quote, “The problem, of course, is that Bush nostalgia is indelibly marred by his disastrous domestic policy legacy of big government, big spending and betrayal of core fiscal principles—the very impetus for the Tea Party movement upon which he now heaps glowing praise.”

Well said, Michelle.

President Bush‘s foreign policy legacy doesn‘t inspire many passionate defenders these days either.

Joining me now is Retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell during the Bush administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, you were in the Bush administration.  You were in meetings with the president.  As you read this book, do you get the feeling, yes, that‘s the way it was?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON (RET.), FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF OF SECRETARY OF

STATE COLIN POWELL:  I don‘t at all, and particularly in the area that you were just referring to, foreign policy.  I think the errors are manifold—

I mean, manifest.  There are so many areas that it t would take a long time to run through them.

On the other hand, there were some accounts that were managed fairly well, and those are the accounts that principally were managed by Secretary Colin Powell, the U.S.-China relationship, the U.S.-African relationship, the increase in HIV-AIDS funding, the millennium challenge, cooperation and so forth.  So, Powell wasn‘t completely shut out.

But the man who really triumphed in those first years of the first administration was Dick Cheney.  And George Bush, I describe in most serious national security or foreign policy issues as a bystander almost, and certainly not a decision maker.

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s listen to what he told Matt Lauer about the advice he got from the vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER:  In a conversation, I think over lunch you had with Dick Cheney in the period of buildup to the war in Iraq, he said to you, “Are you going to take care of this guy or not?”

BUSH:  Yes.

LAUER:  First of all, I was surprised by the tone that the vice president would use with you.  Was it surprising to you?

BUSH:  No, it‘s—I mean, we have a very frank relationship.  And he would give me his unvarnished advice.

LAUER:  But his comment leaves to the question: Was Dick Cheney pushing you to go to war with Iraq?

BUSH:  It didn‘t matter whether he was or not.  I‘m the guy who makes the decisions as to when we move.  I was trying to give diplomacy a chance to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Colonel, I just heard him say Dick Cheney pushed him to go to war in Iraq, didn‘t I?

WILKERSON:  I think he did.  And I would sort of use Colin Powell‘s metaphor with me about that incident and others, too.  He said Dick Cheney knew exactly how to rub the president to get his cowboy‘s instincts to come out and his .45 to be unleashed.  I think that‘s what Dick Cheney did.  And the president‘s protestations to the contrary, notwithstanding, Dick Cheney was successful more often than not.

O‘DONNELL:  Are you going to take care of this guy or not?  That‘s the kind of language you‘re talking about.

WILKERSON:  Exactly.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, he also talked to Matt Lauer about the missing weapons of mass destruction.  Let‘s listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER:  Your words, “No one was more sickened or angry than I was when we didn‘t finds weapons of mass destruction.”  You still have a sickening feeling—

BUSH:  I do.

LAUER:  -- when you think about it?

BUSH:  I do.

LAUER:  Was there ever any consideration of apologizing to the American people?

BUSH:  I mean, apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision.  And I don‘t believe it was the wrong decision.

LAUER:  If you knew then what you know now—

BUSH:  Yes, that‘s right.

LAUER:  -- you would still go to war in Iraq?

BUSH:  I, first of all, didn‘t have that luxury.  You just don‘t have the luxury when you‘re president.  I will say definitely the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, as are 25 million who now have a chance to live in freedom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Colonel, he‘s never really going to answer that question directly.  When it gets put to him, he just starts talking about something else, which is the—you know, what do we do with Saddam.  That wasn‘t the case.

The case of going to Iraq was weapons of mass destruction.  It‘s a simple question, would you have done it if you knew the weapons of mass destruction weren‘t there?  There‘s a yes or no that he can deliver to that question, isn‘t there?

WILKERSON:  I think there is.  Ands it‘s another proof for me that this is a man who doesn‘t know how to do critical self-analysis, and even if he does, he doesn‘t know how to deal with it after he‘s done it.

I also think I have two possibilities there in my own conclusion.  One is that they did indeed know what they were doing with the intelligence, and they knew damn well that they were lying about it.  Or that they really believed the intelligence and since it didn‘t happen, they don‘t have any way to tell the American people that that was a mistake, and that was the problem.

I think 300,000 or so dead Iraqis, about 3 million in the diaspora, dead coalition members, 30,000-plus casualties amongst the coalition members and so forth.

John Le Carre has got a wonderful sentence in his new book, “Our Kind of Traitor.”  It says the sacrifice of brave men does not justify the pursuit of an unjust cause.  Well, we sacrificed a lot of brave men in what I think was an unjust cause.

And saying that the world is better off without Saddam is not a cure-all for that, because Saddam was contained.  Saddam was trapped.  He couldn‘t do anything that would have brought that kind of damage on people anyway.

So we created the situation where all these things happened.  And no apology, no even apparently self-analysis as to what went wrong there.

O‘DONNELL:  Retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, formerly of the Bush State Department—thank you very much for your insight tonight.

WILKERSON:  Thanks for having me.

O‘DONNELL:  Will Democrats find a way to keep both Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn in the leadership positions in the House Democratic Caucus?  Should the Democrats try some new leaders like their Republican counterparts are trying to do?

And let them eat cookies.  Sarah Palin criticizes Pennsylvania for trying to crackdown on sweets in school.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  In the Spotlight tonight, in the House, more and more Democrats are starting to line up behind their choice for minority whip.  Maryland‘s Steny Hoyer or South Carolina‘s Jim Clyburn.  Hoyer is collecting strong support from the party‘s liberal wing.  He‘s also gotten endorsement from seven committee chairman in a letter released yesterday.  The number of public endorsements for Clyburn are fewer so far, but he‘s getting strong support from members of the Congressional Black Caucus. 

All the while, there are quiet murmurs on the Hill that younger Democrats are desperate to see some of their own slide into those key leadership roles and literally change the face of the Democratic party.  In our Spotlight tonight, Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Democratic Congressman George Miller. 

Congressman Miller, why are Democrats so resistant to changing their leadership after being led to such a disastrous loss in last week‘s election? 

REP. GEORGE MILLER (D), CALIFORNIA:  Well, because I think they reject the notion that the loss came about because of their leadership.  Lass came about because of a horrible economy, as a result of the Wall Street financial scandals, an unemployment rate that continues to be 9.5 percent, was 10 percent for much of the year, and the economic insecurity of families. 

But remember, it was this Democratic leadership, this Democratic Caucus, and the president of the United States that pushed through the jobs bills that we did get passed, the tax cuts for small businesses to help create jobs.  But the Republican party made a strategic decision.  Mitch McConnell laid it out when he said he was investing in the failure of this president.  And when they decided they would not help us on any of these issues. 

So they chose their party and their party strategy over the well being of the American economy, over the well being of our country.  And they—out of the 16 tax cuts that we did for small businesses, they made a decision they would vote against 15 of those.  They delayed every jobs bill in the Senate until the very end.  They reduced them to nothing, so they were ineffective. 

Then they wanted to say it‘s because of Nancy Pelosi.  The Democrats know what they‘re doing.  They‘re attacking the most effective leader we‘ve had in the House of Representatives in decade after decade after decade, OK?  So they‘re deciding that they‘re going to decide who‘s our quarterback.  This is taking Eli Manning off the field because the Jets fans don‘t like him.  That‘s not the issue.

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman Lee, there is a difference between taking the football player off the field because the other fans are booing that football player.  As you know, in politics, the fans decide the outcome of the game.  They get to vote.  It ain‘t like football.  And on Nancy Pelosi, the fans have spoken.  Our latest polls show she has a 24 percent overall approval rating, a 50 percent disapproval rating overall.  And the numbers are much worse with independents, with possible swing voters.  Just an eight percent approval rating among independents, 60 percent -- 61 percent negative rating. 

Now, this is not of her making.  This is as a result of years of demonization.  She has been the target of demonization by the Republicans.  And certainly with those independent poll numbers, it indicates a successful campaign of demonization.  Just as a practical matter, if you love Nancy Pelosi, if you think she was the greatest leader legislatively the House has ever had, isn‘t it also possible to think there should be a new face that starts off without those negative poll numbers to lead the Democrats in the House? 

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA:  This has been one of the most effective Congress in history under Speaker Pelosi‘s leadership.  We‘re faced with many, many challenges moving forward.  The Republicans have said that they want to privatize Social Security.  They want to cut Medicare.  They want to raise the age of retirement. 

We need someone who knows how to meet these challenges and lead our caucus in a unified way to make sure that our senior citizens are secure.  When you look at what happened under the Bush administration, the Bush administration wanted to put Social Security at the whim of Wall Street.  Our seniors don‘t deserve that.  Speaker Pelosi led that caucus and helped defeat that initiative. as she helped to defeat many initiatives. 

I think now is the time to have strong leadership.  We have to have someone who can unify the caucus.  And we have to have someone who can not only work in a bipartisan way, and bring us together to ensure that we create jobs and create some economic security for all Americans, but someone who knows that when we have to fight, and when we have to make sure that we do not privatize Social Security, and when we have to protect our seniors, we have someone who is there on behalf of our senior citizens. 

Nancy Pelosi has a proven record for that.  I think she‘s going to be another effective leader in the next Congress. 

O‘DONNELL:  OK.  I‘m going to ask this one more time, because clearly neither one of you really want to take on this issue.  I can understand it.  The speaker is the speaker.  Now she‘s going to be the majority leader.  You can‘t be caught out in public saying anything that‘s out of tune with what the message is. 

MILLER:  That‘s not the issue. 

O‘DONNELL:  Wait a minute.  You‘re doing an excellent job on the message of Nancy Pelosi‘s legislative accomplishments as speaker.  There is no dispute about that.  No one is disputing that.  Republicans don‘t dispute that, OK?  That isn‘t in dispute. 

The question is—and I‘m just going to put it to you this way, Congressman Miller, does it matter at all—does it in anyway matter what the approval polling rating—poll rating numbers are about the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives? 

MILLER:  Well, I don‘t know.  I don‘t know that issue.  You know, they have been—they spent 65 million dollars demonizing her in a national campaign.  But the fact of the matter is, all the time that that has been going on, she‘s effectively led the Democratic caucus.  She‘s led the legislative program for the president of the United States. 

And again, to decide that somehow this entire election result falls on Nancy Pelosi—

O‘DONNELL:  No, can I just—we can move on.  No one is saying that the entire election results turns on this. 

MILLER:  But the fact is the Democratic caucus—

O‘DONNELL:  Let me make it clear, everyone agrees—please, come on. 

Could we just break the spin for a second. 

MILLER:  No, it‘s not a situation of spin.  I‘m telling you the colleagues I‘m talking to, I assume the colleagues that Barbara Lee are talking to, the people who are calling the speaker—you have people—you‘ve always had, as long as I‘ve been in the Congress, which is about the same time when you were there, people have always decided they would distance themselves from the leadership, no matter who it was.  It could be Jim Wright, who people thought was too conservative. 

LEE:  Lawrence, a legislative agenda means that we are working on public policy. 

O‘DONNELL:  We get that.  I‘m asking you—

LEE:  -- of the American people.  That‘s what we have to understand.

O‘DONNELL:  Can I ask you a tactical question?  Do you entertain tactical questions?  We recognize that you guys were running against the worst economic conditions that any Congress has ever run against to try to get re-elected.  We recognize that it was going to be very unlikely, under any circumstances, with any speaker, with any leader, for you guys to have a more successful night than you actually did. 

I want to grant all those points.  I want to ask you this marginal technical question.  In fact, forget it as a question, because I know we‘re not going to get anywhere with it.  The point I was trying to raise is might there be a very slight marginal technical advantage in having a new face in the leadership, as you did in 1994 when you lost the House that last time?  Especially because Tom Foley lost his seat in the process. 

LEE:  A technical—

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s not a crazy idea. 

LEE:  A technical and a tactical advantage would be to have someone who knows how to unify the Democrats around an agenda, around job creation efforts, around small business tax credits, about making sure that we move forward to economic security. 

O‘DONNELL:  We got it.  By the way, the Republicans have broken the seniority system in the House in terms of chairmanships in the past.  You people are locked into a seniority system that guarantees you the oldest members end up being the chairman of these committees.  Is there any possibility that you might in anyway tamper with the seniority system in the committee leadership? 

MILLER:  We‘ve broken it in the past caucuses, and I assume there will be challenges to members in this caucus. 

O‘DONNELL:  OK.  Congressman Lee and Congressman Miller, thank you very much for joining me tonight. 

LEE:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  Alaska‘s Joe Miller is making a legal argument against write-in ballots that earns him a Rewrite. 

Sarah Palin has found a new enemy, a school lunch menu in Pennsylvania.  Yeah, I know.  She‘s got a lot of time on her hands.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s Rewrite.  In Alaska right now, a group of the unluckiest people in American politics have the task of counting tens of thousands of write-in ballots.  The process which started earlier today has an inevitable feeling of Bush v. Gore deja vu.  The Associated Press tells us that in an obscure building in the outskirts of Juneau, there are 15 tables where 30 ballot counters analyze more than 92,000 write-in ballots by hand.  Each table counts an Alaska House district and works through it one precinct at a time. 

The campaigns have one observer each at every table.  And reporters are allowed in the room to watch the count unfold.  Alaska‘s Division of Elections director is on hand to settle disputes, in consultation with legal council for the state.  The ballots were brought on site by a security detail and will remain at the counting site. 

According to a spokeswoman for Alaska‘s lieutenant governor, the ballot counters are longstanding trained election workers from a variety of political backgrounds, Republican, Democrat, undeclared and nonpartisan. 

And here we go again.  But instead of Florida‘s hanging chads, the

2010 version of this political drama is basically a spelling test for

voters.  M-E-R-K-O-W-S-K-Y.  No, no, no, wait.  M-U-R—yes, M-U-R-K-O-W-

S-K-Y 

Yeah, that‘s it.  Did I get it right?  OK.  What is it?  Yeah, Murkowski, M-U-R-K-O-W-S-K-I. 

The good news for Alaskan voters who might have trouble spelling Murkowski‘s name is, citing past case law.  Alaskan election officials says they‘ll use discretion in determining voter intent on ballots in cases where Senator Murkowski‘s name is misspelled. 

But the ballot count is being challenged on two fronts by Tea Party candidate Joe Miller‘s campaign.  Every single ballot counted for Murkowski is being automatically challenged at the table by Miller‘s campaign.  And in a lawsuit, Miller‘s legal team is seeking to keep election officials from counting or otherwise accepting as valid any write-in ballots in which the name of the candidate is spelled incorrectly, or on which the name of the candidate is not written as it appears on the write-in declaration of candidacy. 

Part of their argument, election officials, quote, “cannot divine the intent of the voter.”  And Miller‘s legal team cites Bush v. Gore.  But things start to get really interesting when you start to look at the language of the lawsuits‘ central argument.  It says that many of the people who cast write-in ballots with Murkowski‘s name misspelled did so deliberately to protest Murkowski‘s write-in candidacy. 

So Miller is saying he can divine the voter‘s intent of the voter‘s spelling mistakes, but no one else should try it.  This presented a real challenge to Nick Ramsey it our Rewrite desk today.  He actually tried to Rewrite what Miller‘s lawsuit should say?  I had to explain to the naive young journalist that utterly bogus lawsuits always say ridiculously contradictory things.  So we‘re leaving Joe Miller‘s pleadings as is, in the hope that the Alaskan judge will see the case for what it really is. 

Wait, this just in, a federal judge denied Joe Miller‘s request to immediately stop the write-in ballots from being counted.  And after the first 19,000 write-in votes were counted, 89 percent were properly marked and correctly spelled, M-U-R-K-O-W-S-K-I.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  The most recent losing vice presidential candidate who will never be president spoke at Plumstead Christian School in Pennsylvania last night.  Earlier in the day, Sarah Palin surprised the students with cookies.  But not just any cookies, cookies with a political message. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA:  I had to kind of shake it up a little bit, because I had heard that there‘s a debate going on in Pennsylvania over whether public schools are going to ban sweets, cakes, cookies, that type of thing.  So I had to bring to these private school students to show them how privileged they are—I brought dozens and dozens of cookies to these students.  I had to shake it up for you guys, especially the press, OK? 

I wanted these kids to bring home the idea to their parents for discussion who should be making the decisions what you eat and school choice.  Should it be government or should it be the parents?  It should be the parents. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Needless to say by now, it‘s not actually a ban the board of education is considering.  A local paper corrected, “the State Board of Education has been weighing new school nutrition guidelines for nearly six months that encourage healthier choices, but they wouldn‘t create any no cookie mandates.” 

Still, on Twitter, Palin deemed it “nanny state run amok.” 

Joining me now from Pennsylvania, that state‘s Governor Ed Rendell.  Ed, thank you very much for joining me tonight.  You know, I don‘t really have any questions for you.  This is just a loyalty test, to see how loyal you are to the show, if you would come on on this subject. 

But seriously, we have an obesity epidemic among our youth now, in our school population.  Where would we be?  Where would that go if there were no nutritional standards applied in public schools? 

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Well, it would spiral into a more and more dangerous situation, and a situation which dramatically increases the cost of our health care delivery system.  But what‘s really appalling here is Governor Palin using this to continue this anti-government rhetoric. 

Look, government has its place.  And I think we all have to realize that.  Part of its place is to give us guidelines.  That‘s all the school board—by the way, they haven‘t even voted to adopt these regulations.  These were guidelines that, number one, ironically, Lawrence, the first thing they wanted to do was stop every week having a birthday party which disrupted class instructional time, to put all the birthday parties into one once a month section.  Many schools have been trying to do that on their own. 

And number two, to encourage healthy food guidelines, to encourage that there be alternatives to sweets at birthday parties, things like that, but no mandates whatsoever.  But government has to be in a position of letting local school districts, parents, kids, et cetera, know the dangers of obesity and the foods that produce obesity. 

O‘DONNELL:  Government builds the schools.  Government hires the teachers.  Government supplies the desks.  Government does everything inside the public school building.  How can government not be in control of the menu?  What‘s diabolical about government being in control of the school lunch menu? 

RENDELL:  Nothing at all.  And this idea that we‘re stopping parents from sending in sweets for their kid‘s birthday party—again, there‘s nothing to stop them.  If a parent wants to do that, they can do it.  But we‘re trying to encourage parents to limit it to one sweet and have some good alternative, nutritious things like apples, oranges, pears and things like that. 

Again, it‘s encouragement.  It‘s educational.  Trying to inform parents on how to make better nutritional choices for their kids‘s nutrition.  But there are no mandates at all.  And this government bashing has to stop. 

O‘DONNELL:  Isn‘t it a specific choice to choose things like this that seem small in order for her audience to make government seem unreasonable, and seem petty, and seem to be invading the most microscopic decisions people want to make? 

RENDELL:  Right, it just feeds the rhetoric that all government is bad.  And all government isn‘t bad.  Just earlier tonight, I was honored by an autism group for what Pennsylvania has done for autistic kids and autistic adults.  If it wasn‘t for the government, it just wasn‘t going to happen. 

O‘DONNELL:  Governor Ed Rendell, Democrat of Pennsylvania, thank you very much for defending Pennsylvania and joining us tonight on this very—

RENDELL:  a very crucial issue. 

O‘DONNELL:  Can‘t thank you enough. 

RENDELL:  Thanks. 

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

END   

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