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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Rep. Steve King, Jane Hamsher, Adam Green, Ryan Rhodes, Richard

Wolffe, John Wells

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  It is now 50 years to the day since John F.  Kennedy became president.  During the campaign, he asked, “Do you realize the responsibility I carry?  I‘m the only person standing between Richard Nixon and the White House.”

As President Barack Obama enters re-election mode, he will have to juggle dual roles of candidate and president, and could—I‘m just saying could, not will—he could in 2012 be the only person standing between the White House and Michele Bachmann.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

JOE SCARBOROUGH, “MORNING JOE”:  A lot of great news for the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you say from the president, that the president is officially running for re-election?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I think it‘s likely that that‘s going to happen.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  President Obama‘s lame duck boost has the White House feeling optimistic.

SCARBOROUGH:  He‘s being rewarded for that lame-duck period.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS:  For the first time, it‘s almost like he got rid of the health care weight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He certainly ignored jobs for a long time, but did some things right in the beginning.

O‘DONNELL:  But Republicans continue the mission they claim voters sent him to do: dismantle the Obama agenda.

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS:  Republicans say they‘re moving full steam ahead with their plan to take down President Obama‘s health care law.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They make themselves look ridiculous.  That ship has sailed.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS:  New warning signs for Republicans.  Just 25 percent of people say Republicans in Congress will bring the right kind of change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are Republicans focusing too much on health care and not enough on jobs?  I thought that was a Democrat‘s problem?

O‘DONNELL:  But not all Republicans are focused just on stopping the Obama agenda.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  Repeal this bill.  Repeal the current Senate.

O‘DONNELL:  Some of them have presidential agendas of their own.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Which member of Congress met her husband while working on Jimmy Carter‘s 1976 presidential campaign?

BACHMANN:  I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous.

TODD:  Longtime Democrat?  No, Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, Michele Bachmann.

BACHMANN:  Repeal a president, we are here to stay.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL” HOST:  We‘re not arguing health care here. 

We‘re talking about eliminating a presidency, getting rid of this guy.

O‘DONNELL:  But after the first two years, what will the president have to change to counter the Republican uprising?

GIBBS:  I don‘t think he spends a lot of time thinking about political prognostications.

GUTHRIE:  There‘s some pressure ratcheting up on the president—

TODD:  To speak out on gun issues on his State of the Union.

JANSING:  This administration won‘t even answer what their view is.

GIBBS:  I don‘t have the answer to that.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS:  If Dick Cheney open the door to tighter gun restrictions, can Barack Obama avoid it?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Today, the Republican-controlled House easily passed its second vote in less than 24 hours aimed at wiping the current health care law off books, a party line vote sent committees to work on the replacement part of repealing and replacing the law.

The White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid remained confident none of this will ever be brought up in the Senate, but the Senate‘s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, posted this warning on YouTube.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  Republicans have been listening and now they‘re acting.  The Democratic leadership in the Senate doesn‘t want to vote on this bill.  But I assure you, we will.

We should repeal this law and focus on common sense steps that actually lower costs and encourage private sector job creation.  That‘s what Americans want.  It‘s the right thing to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  The House Democratic legislative agenda is still a work in progress.  Democratic Representative Carolyn McCarthy has introduced her bill to bring back the ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, like the one that nearly killed her colleague, Gabrielle Giffords, who will be flown to a rehabilitation facility in Houston tomorrow.

And now attention is turning to the White House, to see just what President Obama will say about weapon and ammunition control, with the State of the Union just five days away.

Joining me now, Iowa Republican congressman, Steve King.

Congressman King, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

REP. STEVE KING ®, IOWA:  Thanks for having me on.  I appreciate it.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, you guys in the House have some very interesting views of the Senate.  You have boldly claimed that the Senate can pass the repeal of health care.  You said the votes are there in the Senate.  That would mean that Democrats would have to change their votes.

What—who—which Democrats in the House are on your list of possible switchers who would vote to then repeal the law they voted for?

KING:  Well, I don‘t want to really put words in the mouth of or assign a position to the senators.  I‘m looking at it on balance.  And on Tuesday morning, when I woke up, there were 23 Democrats—and I counted Joe Lieberman as one because he functions as one—that were up for re-election in 2012 in the Senate.  By the time, I woke up yesterday morning, there were only 21.

We‘re watching the shift over there right now.  And I think there are six or seven or eight Democrats that are in a position where they might well vote to repeal Obamacare.  And so, I predicted about 2 ½ weeks ago that if we can get an up-or-down vote—but I don‘t think we can break the filibuster at this point at this point—but an up-or-down vote, I think their votes will be there to repeal Obamacare.

And now, when I hear Mitch McConnell say, I assure you there will be a vote, I‘m feeling pretty confident, if he‘s right, I think I‘m right.  I think we‘ll see a vote to repeal Obamacare on the floor of the Senate.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, what I think is clear, after what we heard from Senator McConnell, and, by the way, what we heard from Chris Dodd on this program last night, when I asked him, is it possible in those loose rules of the Senate for this thing to somehow get to the Senate floor, as an amendment to something else, or, you know, in one of those other moving vehicles.  Senator Dodd said that is possible.  I think Senator McConnell will do everything he can to find a way to get it to the floor—which will mean, at least, Congressman King, that senators will be put on record as being willing to vote to allow it to go forward or not.  It will have to get past a 60-vote threshold at least to move forward on the floor.

So, you will have some sort of at least indirect vote on repeal, I think, on the Senate floor, at some point.  I think McConnell can make good on that.

Is that your view of how it will go?

KING:  You know, I wouldn‘t concede that it has to be a 60-vote break the filibuster cloture vote.  They sent some of Obamacare to us on a reconciliation package, which was a simple majority.  So, I‘m hopeful there‘ll be creative people over there that will find the way for a simple majority vote in the Senate.  I‘m not necessarily predicting that will happen, I‘m saying though, if it does, I think the votes will be there to repeal.

And I‘m looking forward to watching this unfold.  We sent a very hot potato over to Harry Reid yesterday, and now it sits in his lap and he‘s going to have to figure out what to do with it, because the American people are going to turn their focus on the Senate and say, “Give us a vote.  We want to know where all the senators stand on a full 100 percent repeal of Obamacare.”

O‘DONNELL:  Well, the minority in the Senate has absolutely no power to use the reconciliation tool, so that one‘s out.  But we will watch as this develops.

KING:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  Your friend and colleague, Michele Bachmann, will be coming to your state, Iowa, tomorrow.  You‘re in Washington now.

Are you going to fly off to Iowa tomorrow to be on the ground to greet her when she gets there?

KING:  You know, I was just asked that question a little bit ago, and we‘re still working on the logistics.  So, I don‘t know that yet.  In fact, as I was sitting here, I was trying to work it through.  So, we‘ll see how that works tomorrow.  I‘m trying to find a way.  She‘s a very close friend.

O‘DONNELL:  Are you hoping she‘s going to Iowa to explore running for president, in that she will run for president?  And does she, among the possible candidates, represent your views more accurately than any of the others?

KING:  Well, she represents—I agree with the views that Michele Bachmann represents.  And as I say, she‘s a very close friend.

She‘s very smart.  She‘s a very quick study.  She‘s a wonderful messenger.  Her instincts are good.

And I‘m looking forward to the debate in the presidential race.  And it‘s too early for me at this point to make a decision, but I am encouraging the candidates to come to Iowa, engage in the debate, and I want to be helpful in helping to provide access to the activists in the state so that we can have a very intense, engaging, policy-focused caucus process in Iowa as we build up to the New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada primaries.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman King, anything, anything you can do to get her to run will be welcomed by us in the media.  We would love to have her as a presidential campaign—candidate to cover.

I mentioned Congresswoman McCarthy‘s bill to restore the ban that used to exist on these high-capacity ammo clips, the kind that was used in Tucson.  I want to show you what Dick Cheney had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  Whether or not there‘s some measure there in terms of limiting the size of the magazine that you can buy to go with semiautomatic weapon, we‘ve had that in place before.  You know, maybe it‘s appropriate to reestablish that kind of thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Do you agree with Dick—do you agree with Dick Cheney that maybe it‘s appropriate to reestablish that ban?

KING:  You know, I‘m reluctant to move down that path that would put more limitations on the Second Amendment.  If we pass a ban on a clip, they will solder two together and have it anyway.  I think the Second Amendment is a very important principle and I will stand and defend that.

I just—I regret the tragedy in Tucson, it cast a pall over the entire Congress.  You could feel it yesterday and today on the floor.  But I‘m not willing to go down the path to making an adjustment to a Second Amendment right.  We‘ve been through that fight before.

O‘DONNELL:  But we had it and it worked.  We had it for 10 years and it didn‘t do any damage to people who wanted to buy weapons in this country.  What would be wrong with going back to the way we did it for 10 years?

KING:  Well, the assault weapons ban, if that‘s the reference, there‘s

never been a way to define what an assault weapon is.  It always defines

what it looks like.  But, for example, I look around my neighborhood and

the most popular coyote hunting rifle would be defined as an assault weapon

--

           

O‘DONNELL:  We‘re not talking about assault rifles.  We‘re talking about these particular clips, that‘s all—

KING:  OK.

O‘DONNELL:  -- Congresswoman McCarthy talks about—these clips that allow you—you‘d only be allowed to shoot 10 bullets instead of the 31 bullets that were fired at Congresswoman Giffords.

KING:  I‘m not willing to go down that path.  If we reduce it to 10, then there‘s an argument for nine or 11.  It‘s the person that carries the gun that commits the assault.  They‘re the ones that should be punished at the assault with that weapon to the maximum extent of the law.

And I will be aggressive on that.  I think there are many that will be aggressive on law enforcement.  Punish the person that commits the crime.  It‘s not the gun and it‘s not the clip.  It‘s the person that commits the crime.

If we focus on that, there will be a deterrent effect.  And I know it‘s not an effect for a crazy person, but they‘ll find another way.  They always have and there are always be ways that people are creating and committing this kind destruction if there are any rationale individual like we saw in Tucson.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman King, in 2007, you were very impatient with the Republican strategy to win back the House.  You thought they should be more aggressive in winning backseats from Democrats.  And you said, quote, “There‘s got to be blood on the floor,” end quote.

Now that there is Gabby Giffords‘ blood on the floor, do you regret using that kind of language?

KING:  There‘s really no connection or relevance there.  That‘s an expression that‘s commonly used, and we needed to be more impressive.  And I‘ve been more aggressive.  I followed through on the things that I promised that I would do.  And that aggressiveness has been helpful in winning back the majority.

But I think you can see, there is a tone in the dialogue that takes place.  Republicans have had a toned down dialogue in our debate.  But I think if you listen to the other side, they have invoked the tragedy in Tucson and used it to try to oppose the repeal of Obamacare.  We saw what Congressman Cohen of Tennessee had to say about Nazis and Goebbels.  So, I think you can see where this is going with the intensity.

And I‘d say another thing—this is just being straight up with this.  There‘s a characteristic that takes place.  When you don‘t have the votes, you‘ve got to—you‘ve got to turn up the pressure.  And when you do have the votes, you can turn down the pressure.  That‘s going to be the difference.

The majority can have a lower tone, the minority will turn the tone up, and we‘ve seen that in this debate for repeal of Obamacare, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  So, Congressman, now that you‘re in the majority, you won‘t be saying, “There‘s got to be blood on the floor”?

KING:  I am a kinder and gentler person.  I‘m just very sure of that.  And actually, I‘ve gone over to the other side after the election, and said, I‘ve served in the majority and in the minority and now back in the majority, and having experienced that on both sides, I will be a gentler person to the people in the minority.

And I will tell you that the Congress that was run under the guidance of Nancy Pelosi, the process was shut down.  And it was run out of the speaker‘s office and the rules committee.

We‘re going to open this up.  There‘s going to be open rules.  There‘s going to be real debate.  And you‘ve seen that.  Seven hours of debate on the repeal of Obamacare.

There‘ll be open rules on appropriations bills, other open rules on bills coming to the floor.  More debate.

It‘s about winning the debate with the American people and that‘s what we need to do.  Once that‘s won, then you can have a vote like we had yesterday and today.  That debate‘s been won, that‘s why those votes were up on the board.  Eighty-seven new freshman Republicans in the House of Representatives—fresh-faced and ready to claim our country back and go back to constitutional principles and fiscal responsibility.

O‘DONNELL:  The kinder, gentler Congressman Steve King, thank you very much for joining us tonight, Congressman.  I hope you can come back to we can discuss immigration which I know is something very important to you and to me, and on which we could not differ more sharply.  But I would love to have another discussion with you about that.

KING:  I look forward to that.  Thank you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you, Congressman.

Coming up: more independents are apparently seeing President Obama as a moderate and not the left-wing socialist that Republicans want you to believe he is.  Has he changed or has perception of his policies changed?  That‘s next.

And the congresswoman who wanted the media to investigate Congress for being un-American is going to Iowa.  That‘s right.  Now, she‘s talking about running for president.

Ahead on THE LAST WORD.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Ahead on THE LAST WORD: Progressives worry the president will not move their agenda forward.  What do they think he can do now with rising poll numbers and a Republican House?  That‘s next.

And later, is nothing out of bounds for political pundits? 

Apparently, not even the first lady‘s dress.  That‘s in today‘s “Rewrite.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  As the days count down to President Obama‘s State of the Union address next Tuesday, the president‘s liberal base is worried that his post-midterm election compromising approach to Republicans could threaten their core issues.

Today, MoveOn.org sent an e-mail to members warning that the White House may be trying to cut a deal with Republicans by offering cuts to Social Security.

Social Security cuts to reduce the deficit are opposed by 82 percent of all Americans in a new Lake Research Poll, including 83 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents, and 82 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of anti-government spending Tea Party supporters.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake calls the idea, quote, “a great way to really solidify our losses.”

The rumors of entitlement cuts follow President Obama‘s recent op-ed in “The Wall Street Journal,” calling for an end to regulations that place unreasonable burdens on business—which followed the appointments of Bill Daley and Bruce Reed to chief of staff for Obama and Vice President Biden, respectively.

Daley and Reed are perceived by liberals as business-friendly veterans of the Clinton administration, who have been skeptical of President Obama‘s progressive achievements.

So, what options do progressives have for moving their agenda forward over the next two years?

Joining me now are: Jane Hamsher, founder and editor of FireDogLake.com, and Adam Green, cofounder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Jane, there is a new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll that says more people now see Barack Obama as a political moderate -- 40 percent, which is a 10-point jump since the last time that question was ask in January 2010.

Is this good news for President Obama?  The White House seems to think it is.

JANE HAMSHER, FIREDOGLAKE.COM:  Well, I‘m not sure whether it really matters how people view him.  It‘s a matter of whether they think that he‘s making a difference in their lives and whether the policies he‘s pursuing is bringing about a change in their lives.

He‘s viewed as a person who wants to do the right thing for the country.  People trust him.  And his numbers have been on the rise all around because—largely because of the speech he gave after the Gabby Giffords shooting.  He really knows how to bring the country together and say what needs to be said during a crisis.

But, 70 percent of the country also think that he hasn‘t brought about the change that they voted for in 2008.  And so, I think that the challenge before him is going to be—is he going to repeat the mistakes of the Clinton administration and pursue NAFTA free trade the same way that Clinton pursued NAFTA, that offshored so many jobs?  Or is he going to forge a manufacturing and jobs policy that will bring the country, you know, to where it wants to be in terms of unemployment.

And I think that‘s the question.  It‘s not a partisan question, it‘s a jobs question.

O‘DONNELL:  Adam Green, polling was indicating that he was moving up in the approval numbers before the Tucson incident, and so that polling was crediting the compromising he did with Republicans on the top tax bracket in the lame-duck session.  There is now this study going on, intense study of the NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll to try to figure out how much of this bump—if it is a real bump—how much of it is based on his performance in the aftermath of the shootings in Tucson, how much of it is based on his performance in the legislative compromising arena during December.

How do you read this poll?

ADAM GREEN, PROGRESSIVE CHANGE CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE:  Yes.  I think part of the real beauty of shows like this, Lawrence, is that it‘s on TV, adding a lot of fresh voices, and we can debunk bad readings of polls and put out correct readings of polls.

Let‘s be very clear.  Any bump that President Obama was seeing before the Arizona tragedy was not because people were happy that he increased tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.  Nobody was focusing on that and saying, “That‘s great, let‘s have more of that kind of compromise.”

As Jane very eloquently pointed out a couple weeks after that happened, a lot of the things that were passed at the end of the last session were actually very aggressive priorities—“don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” you know, that‘s one of them.  As Republicans consistently push us to war—the START Treaty, which would reduce nuclear weapons, is another progressive priority.  And, of course, on the tax cut debate, the portion of the bill that people actually liked was ending—you know, was ending tax cuts for millionaires, solidifying tax cuts for just the middle class, and, of course, the unemployment benefits.

So, let‘s not misread the poll and pretend that people really want him to compromise on the wrong issues.  That‘s not what people want.

O‘DONNELL:  Jane, there‘s also this theory about presidents that the public just likes watching them win, that if they get these wins legislatively or what are reported as wins legislatively in December, it doesn‘t matter that much, according to this school of thought, what that win is about.  The president just starts to look like a winner and people start to report a higher satisfaction level in those job approval polls.

Do you think any of that is at work here?

HAMSHER:  Entirely possible.  But his—you know, Barack Obama‘s chances for getting re-elected are excellent.  Incumbents usually win.  And they frequently win and almost always win if the economy‘s doing well, if people are employed.

So, fortunately, in this particular situation, what‘s good for the country is good for Barack Obama‘s re-election chances, and the best chance we have—sorry to disappoint you—not to see a, you know, President Michele Bachmann.  And so, I really hope that going forward, my concern is that he‘s got—brought Daley in order to pass Korea free trade, the new NAFTA.  That‘s a situation that something the Chamber of Commerce wants a lot.

But we lost so many jobs—we lost millions of jobs after bill Clinton passed NAFTA.  We lost 46,000 manufacturing—industrial manufacturing factories after that.  And the last thing we need right now is to be offshoring more jobs.  Yet, that is the policy that they‘re going to pursue.

So I think—I hope that he‘s going to choose American jobs and not choose the Chamber of Commerce going forward, because I think that‘s good for him and good for the country.

O‘DONNELL:  Adam, the Clinton presidency had a net increase of jobs that was, I think, higher than any we‘d seen in any recent eight-year period.

Is that what Barack Obama‘s looking at when he looks at the policies of the Clinton era, whether it be in the area of trade and others?  And is there something in that Clinton experience that will—that will guide the Democrats, who, by the way, in the House so far, seem to be silent on what their agenda might be, guide the Democrats on how to go forward in the next two years?

GREEN:  Well, of course, the number one priority of Democrats and President Obama has to be and will be jobs going forward.

So, one big question is, especially given the amazing persuasive ability that Barack Obama reasserted when he gave his Arizona speech, and now he has a chance to give a State of the Union where he outlines a bold, progressive jobs agenda.  You know, we had the tech boom in the ‘90s.  Well, why not spend government resources to wire rural America with cutting edge Internet service, create jobs in the short-term, and create economic opportunity in the long-term?

One proposal that‘s actually out there is temporarily lowering the retirement age for Social Security so that older workers who want to leave the workforce, many of whom have jobs that take a toll on their body, let them leave and let younger people get jobs.  These would be progressive job proposals, and he has a chance to outline that tomorrow.

But one thing that would be very tragic, given the poll numbers that you just read, would be if for some reason, in the name of weird compromise, he actually took one of the chiming Democratic Party achievements ever, which was Social Security, and undermined it.  We really hope he does not do that.

What we really needs to do is lay out a line in the sand, say, I will sign any bill that cuts Social Security or raises the retirement age.  Instead, I‘m going to offer a progressive economic populist vision for job creation and sided with middle class families over corporations.  That would be a huge boon to his popularity and a really necessary thing for the country.

O‘DONNELL:  Jane, quickly, before we go—has the left given up on gun and ammunition control?  There‘s a deafening silence out there, especially, you know, among all the people and the activists who are firing off emails about Social Security and don‘t touch the retirement age, I‘m not hearing—I mean, I don‘t monitor all the traffic out there on the Internet.

But is there anybody talking about this is a life or death issue, this is worth taking a stand on?  Those ammunition clips, what Congresswoman McCarthy is trying to do is something we should be fighting for with every bit of the energy we brought to the public option or the top tax bracket or some of these other issues that the left has been so agitated about in the last two years?

HAMSHER:  Well, I sure hope so.  I mean, if you‘ve even got Dick Cheney out there saying that this would be a good thing, you know, that guy fired off 31 shots in 15 seconds and hit 20 people, and the only reason he stopped was because he had to reload—I mean, it just makes sense.  And I hope that people get behind this.

I think that there‘s a sense of frustration, though, because unless there‘s real leadership coming on part of the Democratic Party, it‘s just not going—people think it‘s not going to happen.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, Jane, you and Adam didn‘t wait for leadership on the health care bill.  You pushed them along and pushed them, I think, to lengths that they weren‘t going to go to if you weren‘t pushing them.

Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake and Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee—thank you both for joining me tonight.

GREEN:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  Still ahead: Michele Bachmann has a special meaning for “repeal and replace.”  She wants to repeal the president and may want to replace him.  That‘s ahead on THE LAST WORD.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Nancy Reagan was known for her interest in fashion and frequently favored the color red.  She even called it, quote, “a picker upper.”  There is even an exhibit of red dresses at the Reagan Library.  And according to Slate Online, Nancy Reagan wore the color so often, usually in a shade of fire engine red, that it came to be called Reagan Red. 

So what do you call it when Michelle Obama wears red to a state dinner?  If you‘re a right-wing pundit, you call it China Red or Commie Red.  That gets tonight‘s Rewrite. 

The good news for Mrs. Obama is that no matter what people say about her choices in fashion, it will probably never be as embarrassing as listening to former President Johnson order a pair of pants.  This is part of a telephone conversation recorded in the White House on August 9th, 1964 at 1:17 p.m., of the president ordering pants from the Hager Company. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Now, another thing, the crotch, down where your nuts hang, is always a little too tight.  So when you make them up, give me an inch that I can let out there, because they cut me.  It‘s just like riding a wire fence. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Fine. 

JOHNSON:  But when I gain a little weight, they cut me under there.  So leave me—you never do have much margin there.  But see if you can‘t leave me about an inch from where the zipper -- -- ends around under my—back to my bunghole.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Who will be the 2012 Republican nominee for president?  The GOP has to figure who‘s running first.  The latest ABC/”Washington Post” poll shows a virtual tie at the top of the crowded field; 21 percent of Republicans that were polled said they‘d vote for Mike Huckabee; 19 percent would vote for Sarah Palin; 17 percent would give Mitt Romney their vote.  And the poll had a 3.5 percent margin of error. 

In all, 14 names were floated.  Not one of them was Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, but don‘t count her out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you thinking about running for president? 

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  I am going to Iowa.  There‘s your answer.  I‘m going to Iowa. 

The reason why I‘m going to Iowa, I think—what I‘ve been seeing is that the focus has been on the personality.  Who will be the nominee for 2012?  Frankly, I think that will be boring quickly to spend two years looking at the identity.  I think we‘re for a better off if over the next year, we can make the case why Obama should not have a second term, and why we need a courageous constitutional conservative as our nominee, and what their agenda will be moving forward. 

That‘s what I want to talk about in Iowa. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now, a man who has a meeting with Congresswoman Bachmann tomorrow, Ryan Roads, founder of the Iowa Tea Party, and Richard Wolffe, MSNBC political analyst, and author of “Revival.” 

Ryan Rhodes, what are you going to tell Congresswoman Bachmann tomorrow?  And I hope you‘re going to tell her to run. 

RYAN RHODES, FOUNDER, IOWA TEA PARTY:  Well, I think she‘s certainly one of the people that has generated a lot of interest, and would initially have a lot of trust directly with the Tea Party.  It‘s not like one of those people that‘s going to have to explain why they made some of the compromises that they did. 

But instead, her, along with a few others, like Mike Pence, actually stood up against bad Bush policies, that we were upset about, as well as the Obama policies that we were not a fan of and don‘t believe in going forward. 

O‘DONNELL:  Richard Wolffe, is there anything Democrats are trying to do to encourage Michele Bachmann to run? 

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I don‘t think they need to do anything to encourage her.  She has more than enough of her own world view that she likes to immerse herself in. 

And look, she‘s got some tough competition, because Mike Huckabee‘s way out there as the distant front-runner, with all of about five or seven points lead there, for what that‘s worth right now.  But there is no shortage of people in that ultra-conservative, social conservative, Tea Party space there.  Whether it‘s Huckabee or you‘ve got Sarah Palin up there or Pence or Gingrich or anyone else. 

Iowa‘s going to be very busy for these people. 

O‘DONNELL:  Ryan Rhodes, would you Tea Party members rather lose a presidential election with a nominee who you believe in or win one with a nominee who didn‘t want to abolish the Department of Education, somebody like Mike Huckabee or Tim Pawlenty?  Would that be a disappointment for you to send a Republican to Washington who was going to leave the government in place as is? 

RHODES:  I think the times we have going in are going to pick someone who really is going to make the tough decision.  And when you call the Tea Party ultra-right wing, there‘s a poll in our own state had just as many independents and 22 percent of Democrats on our side.  So if the Tea Party finds a candidate, I think the Democrats will be more in trouble.  And it‘s not a matter of whether or not they‘re going to win.  It‘s a matter of how they‘re going to govern after that. 

O‘DONNELL:  Ryan, I just want to get a quick answer from you on something that‘s in our NBC poll.  As a Tea Party member, are you in favor of cutting Social Security, one of the biggest spending categories in the government? 

RHODES:  I think there‘s twofold things that can be done.  It‘s obvious that the system is broken.  We can‘t just eliminate it wholesale and have people who have put in—and we have people over 65 who are relying on it.  But it is going to take some tough decisions on both sides to actually work together and put up something—

O‘DONNELL:  So, Ryan, are you surprised that something like 78 percent of Tea Party members don‘t want any cuts whatsoever to the government spending program called Social Security? 

RHODES:  I‘m not entirely surprised, but it‘s going to have to be reformed, period, because it‘s just not feasible. 

O‘DONNELL:  Richard, is there a disconnect?  I think the NBC poll shows, obviously, there‘s some kind of disconnect between the rhetoric of the Tea Party and the personal beliefs of Tea Party members, when you see close to 80 percent of them don‘t want you to touch a single bit of spending in Social Security. 

RHODES:  Right.  There is a disconnect there.  There‘s a disconnect of those people who said they were radicalized by their opposition to health care, but didn‘t want Barack Obama to touch their Medicare.  By the way, there‘s a disconnect with what Ryan just said with the sort of broad-based support he thinks the Tea Party has, which none of us actually saw where those Tea Party-backed candidates for Senate in Delaware or Nevada or anywhere else. 

So statewide, and let alone nationwide, these folks have struggled to build any kind of coalition, even though they have won in these gerrymandered districts that are so much part of the House now. 

O‘DONNELL:  Richard Wolffe, you get THE LAST WORD on this one, only because we just lost the Skype connection to Ryan Rhodes.  That‘s going to have to be it for this segment.  Thank you both, Ryan Rhodes and Richard Wolffe, for joining me tonight. 

WOLFFE:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Up next, in the words of Coco Chanel, the best color in the world is the one that looks good on you.  But it‘s this dazzling red that has Michelle Obama in the middle of tonight‘s Rewrite. 

And it‘s a sign of the times at the box office.  Hollywood‘s take on the unemployed; the director of the new film “Company Men” gets tonight‘s LAST WORD.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s Rewrite.  The cut throat nature of the political world is really only topped by the cut throat nature of the fashion world.  And when the two meet, look out. 

That‘s exactly what‘s happened over the past 24 hours in the conservative blogosphere over this: First Lady Michelle Obama‘s dress from last night‘s state dinner for Chinese President Hu.  A red petal print silk organza gown, with an asymmetrical neckline designed by the successor to the late Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton, a dress that has been called stunning, red hot, elegant, and fearless, with Robin Gavon (ph) of “The Daily Beast” commending the First Lady by saying, “she was embracing a brand known for its willingness to push boundaries, to agitate, and even to offend.” 

But the dress also caused an online backlash from the right wing.  This picture was posted on the “Drudge Report” with the caption “China Red.”  On the website of conservative Michelle Malkin, one contributor took a dig at the First Lady‘s dress, while adding that an all-star cast of Broadway stars performed a rousing musical rendition of “If My Friends Call See Me Mao.”  That‘s conservative humor.

Other conservative blogs made plenty of references to Michelle Obama‘s commie red China dress.  Here are some other American commies who send their sympathetic signals to the Chinese whenever possible.  I, for one, would be lost without the guidance of Matt Drudge and Michelle Malkin, because when I see these pictures, I just see red. 

I‘m actually naive enough to see American red, as in, one of the three colors in the American flag.  And in December, when a president wears a red tie, I just think I‘m seeing Christmas red. 

But I know I‘m wrong.  I know that in fashion, there‘s no such thing as just red or just blue or just anything.  Meryl Streep taught me that.  Yeah, you guessed it.  This is all just my long-winded excuse for running this brilliantly written and flawlessly acted scene. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You know, it‘s just that both those belts look

exactly the same to me.  You know, I‘m still learning about this stuff and

--

MERYL STREEP, ACTRESS:  This stuff?  Oh, OK.  I see.  You think this has nothing to do with you.  You go to your closet and you select, I don‘t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you‘re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. 

But what you don‘t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it‘s not turquoise, it‘s not lapis.  It‘s actually Surulian (ph).  And you‘re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of Surulian gowns.  And then I think it was Icalerot (ph) -- wasn‘t it—who showed Surulian military jackets.  I think we need a jacket here.

And then Surulian quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers.  And then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you no doubt fished it out of some clearance bin. 

However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs.  And it‘s sort of comical how you think that you‘ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry, when, in fact, you‘re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room, from a pile of stuff.   

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  As the Obama administration enters its third year in the White House and approaches its third year with unemployment over nine percent, the president must be concerned that no incumbent since the Great Depression has been re-elected with unemployment higher than 7.2 percent. 

According to a Rutgers study, 73 percent of Americans have either lost their job or watched a family member or close friend lose theirs.  And Hollywood has taken notice. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sixty five dollars an hour for oil rig workers in the north Atlantic.  Another 1,000 a week if you‘ve got your commercial deep sea certification. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Doesn‘t everybody? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I got mine last year at the Y.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Six of clubs on the seven of hearts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sally Wilcox, please. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Construction, hazardous waste removal, aircraft mechanic—thank God I got my doctorate, huh? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, is she in?  It‘s Bob Walker calling. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He‘s calling her again. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi, Sally, Bob Walker.  Thanks for not returning any of my phone calls.  If you do return my call, I would love to know why you fired me without any notice you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) cowardly (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Gee, I wonder why she never called you back. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Feels good, though. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s a scene from “The Company Men,” written and directed by Emmy winning executive producer of “ER” and “the West Wing,” John Wells, who had the honor of writing the final episode of “the West Wing.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s going to be cold on that dais today.  Who in his right mind decided that January would be the best time of year to hold an outdoor ceremony north of the equator? 

MARTIN SHEEN, ACTOR:  Jefferson, Adams, Franklin. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They should have lined them up and shot him. 

SHEEN:  That‘s what King George had in mind. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  January 20th

SHEEN:  They got a few things right. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Habeas corpus, sure, freedom of speech.  But separation of powers, what a crock. 

You did a lot of good, Jed.  A lot of good. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now, the author of that scene, John Wells.  John, by the way, the best boss you could have ever in show business.  I can testify to that.  January 20th, that scene took place on in our fictional world.  It is January 20th today.  It is 50 years to the day from JFK standing at an inauguration saying “ask not what you can do for your country, ask what you can do for your country.”

The kind of soaring rhetoric that Aaron Sorkin started us off with in “The West Wing” when he created the show, and that you continued through all of the last three years of the show, when you were running it.  This, it seems to me—I keep getting from people, a craving for that kind of television. 

And I‘m going to ask you what I always get from everyone who talks to me about “the West Wing,” can it come back?  Can that kind of thing come back on television? 

JOHN WELLS, DIRECTOR:  I think so.  I think it‘s a timing thing, and that we‘ve actually entered a period where people are really hungry for it again.  And I‘m hoping one of the networks will really do it.  Certainly there‘s a lot of great stuff on cable that‘s trying. 

O‘DONNELL:  On cable, you point to me.  When you say great stuff on cable, I like that.  “The Company Men” is a great movie.  It oppose tomorrow.  I‘ve seen it.  You got me a DVD.  And I love it. 

There‘s so many wonderful details, especially in the opening of it, the way these people are suffering the shock and the surprise of unemployment and the way it hits them.  And tell me why you got—how did you find that idea.  Was it that you were staring at these unemployment numbers in “the Wall Street Journal” and said, ah, there‘s an idea. 

WELLS:  No, it happened to a member of my family. 

O‘DONNELL:  So you‘re in that statistic that we just talked about, this shockingly high statistic, family members and friends. 

WELLS:  Look, and when we tested the film, we went into theater after theater.  And would have 250, 300 people.  And I would ask them, anyone who had gone through this themselves, or had a family member or close friend, raise their hands, and everybody in the theater would raise their hand.  We‘re talking about tens of millions of families that are being affected by this now. 

And the unemployment statistics you‘re talking about don‘t include the underemployed, the people who have found another job, but have found another job at 60 percent or less of what they were making before. 

O‘DONNELL:  And that‘s what that scene was about, is that the only thing some of those people could get is something that would be real underemployment for them.  And I think people don‘t realize how close everyone lives to unemployment in show business. 

When a series like “the West Wing” closes down, after seven years, or “ER” closes down after what, 14 years?

WELLS:  Fifteen years.

O‘DONNELL:  a bunch of people -- 150 people are suddenly looking for jobs. 

WELLS:  And most of us are looking for jobs al the time in some fashion.  We‘re free lancers and go through that experience often.  But in this economy now, every family, I think, is having to address it, or at least the fears of it possibly happening. 

O‘DONNELL:  You‘ve have an amazing cast here.  You‘ve got Tommy Lee Jones.  You have Ben Affleck.  You have Kevin Costner, who comes into the movie in a way that will surprise everyone.  You don‘t expect this is where he‘s going to be.  How did you get these people to come together? 

WELLS:  Well, and the wonderful Chris Cooper, Mary Bellow, and Rosemary Dewitt.  You know, I sent them the script.  I don‘t think it will ever happen to me again.  I approach Ben first and he said yes, and then asked Tommy and Chris. 

And Kevin really came to me.  He had read the script and said he wanted to play the part, very pivotal part, but a smaller part.  And I had written it for him and assumed he would never actually do it.  So it‘s an experience I don‘t think will happen to me again. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, this is—this is—you‘re known mostly for television.  Now you step out into the feature world.  You write and direct the movie.  What is the big difference between grinding out those 22 episodes a year and sitting down with one piece that you‘re concentrating on and doing on location in Boston, right? 

WELLS:  Yeah, I think the biggest surprise for me, just technically, was that I had less time on the film than I did on a lot of the television that we did together, simply because we were moving from set to set all day long, and so we were oftentimes in many different places. 

The great thing about it is you actually get to spend time with the actors plotting out a very specific character and you know how they‘re going to end.  You know where it‘s going.  Whereas on television, all the work we do, and have done in the past, it‘s unfolding and you‘re always trying to discover.  And you really don‘t know what‘s going to happen next for the character. 

O‘DONNELL:  People—and these movies come out—people are always wondering, oh, so this is what Hollywood has to say about unemployment, the issue of the day.  What‘s your reply to that? 

WELLS:  Well, this is actually—it came about from a lot of research.  I spoke to a couple hundred people.  I did about a couple thousand, actually, interviews online with people who were going through it, the anecdotes of what was happening to them.  And I tried to put together some of the experience. 

One of the things that I was really taken with was how many people, after the initial shock of it, discovered all these other things that could be wonderful about their lives. 

O‘DONNELL:  You know what, they‘re telling me we have seconds left in the show.  We normally go out in this formal good night thing.  But you are just going to keep talking.  Everybody knows that “COUNTDOWN” is up next after this.  “The Company Men” is in theaters tomorrow. 

And my best friends in show business is sitting right here.  And we‘re

just going to keep talking.  So you open tomorrow and you opening wide or -

-

WELLS:  About 100 theater, 15 markets.  So it will be fun. 

O‘DONNELL:  And you are doing “MORNING JOE” tomorrow. 

WELLS:  Do “MORNING JOE” first thing in the morning.  You going to come? 

O‘DONNELL:  And Tommy Lee Jones is going to be on “MORNING JOE” tomorrow.  You‘ve got him out there pushing this movie. 

END   

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