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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, January 24th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Howard Fineman, Mark McKinnon, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Glenn Greenwald

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

With those words I begin every edition of THE LAST WORD in 2010.  When we got to 2011, I stopped introducing myself every night because I figured most of my audience know who I was by then and the rest could figure it out from the title, THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O‘Donnell.

Now that I‘ve moved to a time slot magnificently owned and operated by Keith Olbermann for almost eight years, I think I better put my name back in the script for a while.

I‘ve been here before.  Keith invited me to be a guest on “COUNTDOWN” more times than any of us can remember, and I was Keith‘s substitute host for over a year before starting this program in the 10:00 hour.  I am here, thanks entirely to Keith.  I‘ll have more to say about this tonight.

But, first, there is some news today that Keith would want you to know about.



THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  It is go time for President Obama.

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS:  President Obama is still working on his second State of the Union address.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  The president is preparing for his second State of the Union message.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL” HOST:  I think tomorrow night, you‘re going to see a very strong progressive case.

O‘DONNELL:  But some Republicans are already picking their candidates for 2012.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS:  Romney got (ph) 35 percent of the New Hampshire straw poll.  But look at the rest of this list, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin, who got just 7 percent.

MATTHEWS:  New Hampshire, New Hampshire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The plurality did not think that Sarah Palin is

has the qualifications to be president.


MATTHEWS:  New Hampshire.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR:  None of those people would have been in the top 30 of the Republican Party 20, 25 years ago.

BILL MAHER, TV HOST:  Sarah Palin knows fewer words than Koko the Gorilla.


O‘DONNELL:  The former half-term governor of Alaska saved from last place by the Tea Party congresswoman, who will give the Tea Party response to the State of the Union.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  A second rebuttal, this one from Congresswoman Michele Bachmann representing Tea Party conservatives.

MATTHEWS:  If Palin doesn‘t run, is Bachmann going to grab the chit (ph)?


O‘DONNELL:  Michele Bachmann spent her weekend in Iowa and then on Monday—

JANSING:  Justice Scalia is participating in a seminar on the Constitution hosted by freshman (ph) Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, to speak with members of the Tea Party Caucus.

O‘DONNELL:  And what was the rest of Congress doing?

ROBERTS:  The pressure‘s on for lawmakers to find a date for tomorrow night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Cross over the aisle and sit with colleagues.

ROBERTS:  This all started with the idea from Representative Mark Udall.

CHRIS WALLCE, FOX NEWS:  Are you going to sit with a Democrat at the State of the Union?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  I‘m going to sit where I usually sit.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Maybe cut back a little bit on all the jumping up and down.

RICHARD LUI, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Kind of reminds me of high school or kindergarten.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Every president, regardless of party, tries to stroke every erogenous zone in the electorate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator John Thune, striking couple there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, my goodness.

MAHER:  Conservative next to liberal, gay next to straight, nerd next to jock.  Oh, wait, that was an episode of “Glee.”



O‘DONNELL:  New Hampshire Republicans will cast their first votes in the presidential primary a year from now.  But early signs point to a wild ride to the finish line for all of the leading candidates.

A recent straw poll of New Hampshire Republican Party committee members put ex-Massachusetts governor and local favorite Mitt Romney in the lead with 35 percent.  The unelectable Texas Representative Ron Paul was in second place with 11 percent.  Third place went to the candidate who I would pick to win the nomination, if I had to pick today, which I don‘t, but I think I just did, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty with 8 percent.

The worst performer in the poll, given the expectation level attached to the fact that most of the media continues to pretend she is popular, Sarah Palin, finishing behind Tim Pawlenty, who the media largely ignores.

In another election for New Hampshire Republican Party chair, Tea Party candidate Jack Kimball narrowly defeated establishment favorite Juliana Bergeron for a job that could alter the New Hampshire strategies of the Republican president hopefuls.  Kimball is already setting a combative tone.


JACK KIMBALL, NEW HAMPSHIRE REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIR:  We are going to send Barack Obama packing.  We are in a war and we are going to win it.  We are going to pull ourselves back from the brink.  We are going to go after the Democrats the entire time.


O‘DONNELL:  And speaking of tough-talking politicians making news in local races, after Bill Clinton campaigned from last week, Rahm Emanuel‘s candidacy for mayor may have just hit a dead-end.  The Chicago Board of Elections is sending 2 million ballots to the printer without Emanuel‘s name on them, following an appellate court decision that he is not eligible to run because he moved to Washington, D.C. two years ago.

Emanuel‘s lawyer says he plans to immediately appeal the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.  If Rahm Emanuel can‘t run for mayor of Chicago, might he run the Obama/Biden re-election campaign?

Joining me now are Howard Fineman, senior political editor of “Huffington Post,” and Mark McKinnon, co-founder of the centrist group No Labels.

Howard, to the latest news out of Chicago, first of all—Rahm Emanuel being knocked off the ballot, is this it?  Can he get back on the ballot?  And then, quickly, if he can‘t, what does it mean to the Obama/Biden re-election campaign?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it‘s almost it.  He doesn‘t have much time.  If he can‘t get on the ballot and has to attempt to run as a write-in candidate, history—at least according to history, nobody has ever done that in Chicago.

Chicago is not a write-in kind of place, as you know, Lawrence.  You‘re supposed—everything is supposed to go according to plan in Chicago.  Certainly, for somebody close to the Daleys, the way Rahm is, somebody who knows Barack Obama, who knows the machine, who knows Chicago, et cetera, but it‘s not going according to plan.  And as you said, ballots are being printed.  So, it‘s very, very difficult here.

Now, he‘s forced to argue after this very strong, although two to one, but strong finding by the appellate court that he wasn‘t a resident.  He‘s now emphasizing the argument he was called to Washington to serve his president almost as a military person would.  That‘s a total contrast to what he was saying before.  While it might work legally, it‘s a long shot.  It confuses the voters of Chicago.

O‘DONNELL:  Mark McKinnon, as a former presidential—Republican presidential strategist and now with the centrist group No Labels, looking at these results in the New Hampshire popularity poll, basically, with those committee members, what does it tell us?  Romney, of course, comes out with a big number, but we always tend to discount that when you come from a neighboring state.  What do you make of the rest of the lineup?

MARK MCKINNON, CO-FOUNDER, NO LABELS:  Well, first of all, Lawrence, congratulations on your evolution.  Well-deserved.

The last place you want to be in New Hampshire is in first place right now because New Hampshire has a great history of, first of all, knocking off the front-runner.  They hate the establishment.  And so, Romney‘s got nowhere to go but down.  This is—this is almost where he was, as I recall, in 2008.  He was in a very strong position, being in a neighboring state.  And then as you know, John McCain sunk his anchor in there and worked the turf and knocked him out.

So, I think it‘s precarious place, actually, for Romney to be in. 

What it really means is New Hampshire is wide open.

O‘DONNELL:  Howard, I‘ve been making the case that every one of these candidates has a serious flawed defect.  And I‘ve had Republicans come on here and make the case also there‘s a defect in the candidacy that will prevent them from going all the way.  The only one where I don‘t se that defect that stops him is Tim Pawlenty.

But on the leader in that poll, Mitt Romney—just when I thought I knew everything that was wrong with his candidacy, we discover that the Marriott Hotel chain which he‘s on the board of, has decided that they will no longer be a major porn provider through their pay-per-view porn systems in the hotels.  And that Mitt Romney, who‘s been on that board, has been referred to within Republican circles, by social conservatives as, quote, “a major pornographer.”

Does Marriott saying, OK, we won‘t sell that stuff in our new hotels, help Romney or is this just another thing that comes up to show all the strange ways in which Romney has problems?

FINEMAN:  Boy, that is a strange one.  And just the fact we‘re discussing Mitt Romney, you know, and the New Hampshire straw poll there and the porn industry, I don‘t care how you‘re going to play that.  It‘s not something that goes to his advantage.

I agree with Mark.  This showing up there is not particularly overwhelming by any means.  And I agree with Mark, it means that New Hampshire is wide open.

Mitt Romney, don‘t forget, is from next door.  People from Massachusetts can, if they play it right, do well there.  People were going to—I think other candidates might have at one point thought of playing down New Hampshire.  Now, they‘re all going to play there and they‘re going to be looking to bury Mitt Romney‘s candidacy right there in New Hampshire, especially with that new Tea Party-oriented chairman of the Republican Party there.

O‘DONNELL:  Mark, translate that oddity in this outcome.  You have Romney, who historically is one of the most liberal of these candidates.  He‘s the one who brought what is considered Obamacare to Massachusetts before Obama thought about it.  And here he is coming out on top of that poll, while at the same time, a Tea Partier comes out on top of the establishment candidate for a party position up there.  Those two things don‘t seem to go together.

MCKINNON:  Well, they don‘t.  Let me just mention the Marriott decision.  One thing it means is that I won‘t be going to the Marriott.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, there‘s always the Internet, Mark.  You might check it out some time.

MCKINNON:  Yes, it‘s a—it‘s a reflection of what we‘re seeing happening in Republican politics.  You see Romney, the establishment, being -- getting the top vote there, but Tea Party getting the chairmanship.  We‘re seeing Michele Bachmann offering out the Tea Party response to the actual Republican response.

So, we‘re beginning to see the real fractures of what‘s happening with the Tea Party, the real impact that we‘re going to have in electoral politics both in Congress, at the state of the Union and now New Hampshire to see the electoral politics coming up in 2012.

O‘DONNELL:  And, Mark, you wrote in “The Daily Beast” that President Obama now has a better than 67 percent chance of winning re-election.  What data did you put into the computer to come out at 67 percent?

MCKINNON:  Well, that‘s just a—that‘s just historical data.  As you look back at incumbent presidents over history and what the percentage of incumbents that were re-elected.

But, you know, first of all, incumbents have a decided advantage any way you look at it, fundraising, infrastructure, having been through the drill before.  I noted 12 reasons that seemed to me that President Obama has an advantage.

I look at President Bush‘s campaign in 2004.  He was not particularly popular at the time.  He was in a difficult foreign conflict.  The economy wasn‘t great.  And yet he was still re-elected.

I would like to say that was due to a brilliant campaign, but it also had a lot to do with incumbency.

O‘DONNELL:  Howard, a big speech coming up tomorrow night for the president, what some could consider the kickoff of his reelection campaign in effect.  We heard George Will—George Will of all people—talking every president, regardless of party, tries to stroke every erogenous zone in the electorate.  What zones does President Obama have to, well, I guess, stroke tomorrow night?

FINEMAN:  Well, of course, George Will was discussing the Marriott Hotel decision.

O‘DONNELL:  No, he wasn‘t.  He was talking about State of the Union. 

Cut that out.

FINEMAN:  OK.  I‘m sorry.

O‘DONNELL:  We‘re done with the Marriott thing, guys.


FINEMAN:  Well, OK, the future is an erogenous zone.  It‘s the biggest erogenous zone in the American psyche.  And it‘s what President Obama is going to focus on in terms of economics because the current situation both in terms of joblessness and in terms of home foreclosures and so forth is still pretty grim.  And the president is going to have to reframe the discussion about who can see to our long-term economic future.

Aides at the White House pointed to me the other day to a speech that the president gave in North Carolina in December as kind of the template in which he talked about, in essence, another Sputnik.  Meaning that we face down the competition of the Soviet Union half a century ago, now we‘re facing competition from all around the world, from Asia in particular.  And if we don‘t get our act together in terms of innovation, in terms of investment and education, and innovation, and infrastructure and so on, we‘re going to miss that long-range future for our children and our grandchildren.

That‘s going to be very nice and very uplifting and so forth, but it‘s a way that he‘s going to have to counterbalance that with the tough news about what they‘re going to have to do on the deficit and the debt.

Interestingly, I think the president—while he may allude to Social Security—he‘s made it clear he‘s not going to put in any possible cuts in that on the table with Republicans, much to the relief of progressives.

O‘DONNELL:  Howard gets the last word in our first segment.

Howard Fineman and Mark McKinnon, thank you both for joining me tonight.

FINEMAN:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Bernie Sanders is worried about what President Obama will say tomorrow about Social Security.  Senator Sanders joins me next.

Later, I‘ll talk about what eight years of “COUNTDOWN” did for this network and what Keith Olbermann did for me.


O‘DONNELL: Among mystery‘s still surrounding tomorrow‘s State of the Union address are what the president will say about Social Security and what he will say about gun and ammunition control.  Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has put both the White House and Republican Party on notice.  He joins me next.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cozies up to Michele Bachmann and the Tea Party this evening.  So much for the perception of Supreme Court justices being above politics.

And my reaction to the changes you‘re seeing tonight on MSNBC.


O‘DONNELL:  One big point of contention we could hear about in tomorrow‘s State of the Union address, the future of Social Security.  “The Washington Post” is reporting President Obama will not endorse his budget deficit commission‘s call to raise the retirement age nor will he try to reduce spending on Social Security.

But as of this afternoon, the White House was continuing to stay mum.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I was going to print up a slide that said, the president‘s State of the Union is at 9 p.m. on Tuesday.  I likely should have done that.  I know there‘s a lot of conjecture back and forth.  I‘m going to wait until—wait until the speech.


O‘DONNELL:  The man chosen to speak for Republicans in their response tomorrow night, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, who advocates increasing the Social Security retirement age, cutting the rate of increase of Social Security benefits for people over 55, and virtually dismantling the program for people under 55.

Joining me now from Capitol Hill, Vermont independent senator, Bernie Sanders.

Senator, thank you very much for joining me tonight.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT:  Good to be with you, Larry.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, whose ideas do you really hope get more attention tomorrow night, the president‘s or Congressman Ryan‘s plan to cut Social Security spending?

SANDERS:  Well, that‘s an interesting question.  And I hope both of the ideas get significant coverage.  We need a real national debate on what Congressman Ryan has been saying.  And I applaud him for being straight forward and forthcoming in his views.

And essentially, what he is talking about, what his blueprint for the future is, are massive tax cuts for the richest people in this country, privatization of Social Security, massive cutbacks in Medicare and Medicaid and other programs that the middle class and working families of this country desperately need.

So, I think at a time when the middle class is collapsing, poverty is increasing and the richest people are doing phenomenally well, I think we should have a very clean and respectful debate about where Congressman Ryan would like to take this country.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, do you think there‘s any chance that the Republicans will actually bring the Ryan plan to a vote in the House of Representatives?

SANDERS:  Well, I tell you something, Larry, if the Republicans don‘t, you know what?  I will.  I will do my best to bring the Ryan plan to the floor of the United States Senate, to give my Republican colleagues the opportunity to vote to privatize Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare and make massive cuts on programs needed by ordinary people at the same time as they give tax breaks to the rich.

So, if that‘s what they want to campaign on, let them vote on that.  And if they don‘t bring that forward, I will do my best to see that they have that vote.

O‘DONNELL:  People maybe surprise to hear you say that you would—

you would make sure it comes to a vote in the Senate.  But there‘s actually

there‘s a long tradition in the Senate of exactly this kind of vote, where one party is proposing something that the other party—in this case, you—know, you absolutely know they won‘t vote for.


SANDERS:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  I mean, you and I would agree, if you can get that to a vote in the Senate as an amendment on something, you‘re going to get over 90 votes against it.  I mean, maybe Jim DeMint will vote for it, but I think you‘re going to get 98, 99 votes against it, don‘t you?

SANDERS:  Well, I think—I think you‘re right.  And that‘s why we have to end this nonsense.  You can‘t talk about giving trillions of dollars in tax breaks to people who don‘t need it and then move forward in any way kind of responsible way toward a balanced budget without devastating programs that millions and millions of people depend upon.

And, again, Larry, we have to put all of this in the context of what‘s going on in the United States today.  And that is a collapse of the middle class and an increase in poverty.

So, I think this type of debate between what Congressman Ryan is talking about, what he has outlined for the Republican Party, is a good debate to have.  And I think, at the end of the day, what will happen is the vast majority of the people will say, excuse me, it is insane to be giving huge tax breaks to people who don‘t need it and cutting back or privatizing Social Security and Medicare.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, do you have a date for the State of the Union tomorrow night?  It looks like it‘s prom night, and Republicans are asking Democrats and Democrats are inviting Republicans to go and sit beside each other at the State of the Union address.  You may just walk over there by yourself or is someone going with you?

SANDERS:  Well, I‘ll tell you, Larry, as an independent, it‘s not hard for me to find people who disagree with me.  I don‘t think I‘ll have any problem sitting next to somebody whose views are very different than mine.

O‘DONNELL:  Do you think it will make a difference—you know, John McCain apparently is going to sit next to Senator Udall.  There‘s going to be already announced a lot of different couplings there that we‘ve never seen before.

I can tell you, I once ended up sitting on the Republican side of a State of the Union address by accident.  I was actually given Bob Dole‘s seat when he was minority leader.  There I was down in the front of the Republicans.  It was a very odd sensation.

And I think a lot of people sitting in their new seats tomorrow night are going to have some very odd feelings about it.  Do you think there will be any good effect from it?

SANDERS:  I do.  You know, I think the tragedy in Arizona has sobered people up a little bit.  And I think the vitriol will and should calm down a bit.

But I think at the end of the day, while all of these things are positive, and you‘ve got to be listening to people whose views are different than yours—at the end of the day, there are very huge philosophical divisions in the United States Congress.  I think they should be debated fully and forcefully, although respectfully without venom.

But I think the American people and Congress need to have a real conversation as to where the United States of America is today, where our middle class is and where we want to go.

What I worry about, Larry, deep in my heart, is that this country is moving in the direction of an oligarchy, where a relatively few people, incredibly wealthy people on the top, today have more money than they‘ve ever had before.  And with that money, they are exercising incredible power as a result of Citizens United on our political system.  They can make huge amounts of money in campaign contributions without disclosure, and they‘re also having, obviously, a great impact on our economy as a result of increased concentration of ownership.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Sanders, Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey is going to introduce Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy‘s bill to ban the sale—to go back to what we had for 10 years and ban the sale of those ammunition clips of the kind that was used in Tucson that can fire 31 bullets instead of that limit of 10 that used to be there.  There‘s a lot of professional talk about, oh, it‘s hopeless.  You can‘t get anything like that through the Congress.

Is this a moment in the aftermath of Tucson to drop the political calculation and just try to fight for something that should be done like this without regard to whether it‘s an easy one or a difficult one to win?

SANDERS:  Well, I think guns are an issue that need a lot of discussion.  I‘m going to be doing a lot of town meetings in my state of Vermont.  We have a lot of gun owners.  I want to hear what they have to say and I‘ll be listening to what they have to say.

O‘DONNELL:  And on the filibuster, Senator, there‘s a—there‘s been this talk that there might be a move in the Senate to be able to change the filibuster rules of the Senate.  When are we going to see a move on that, if at all?

SANDERS:  Larry, I hope that happens very, very soon.  I think there is no debate.  There shouldn‘t be any debate.  That Republicans have kind of usurped the system and have brought forth more filibusters or pseudo-filibusters, if you like, demanding 60 votes on almost any piece of legislation of any consequence.

And that‘s not what the Senate is supposed to be about.  Historically, the 60 votes came about on very contentious issues and it happened very rarely.  Now, it is a matter of fact.  So, I do believe very strongly that we need filibuster reform and I hope we‘ll get it in this session.

O‘DONNELL:  Bernie Sanders, Vermont‘s independent senator—thank you very much for joining us tonight, Senator.

SANDERS:  Good to be with you.

O‘DONNELL:  Michele Bachmann hosted a Tea Party Caucus meeting this evening and Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia was the guest of honor, which has Glenn Greenwald very worried.  Glenn joins me next.

And in the “Rewrite,” despite the facts surrounding the Tucson massacre, the gun lobby and gun profiteers are spinning overtime to convince us we should all have the right to carry around high-capacity ammunition clips to fire 31 bullets from a handgun without reloading, just like Jared Loughner.


O‘DONNELL:  Supreme Court justices attending Tea Party meetings?  Justice Antonin Scalia attended the House Tea Party Caucus meeting tonight to talk about the Constitution, but he won‘t let us know what he said.  Glenn Greenwald explains why we should all be concerned about tonight‘s meeting and the Supreme Court‘s independence. 

And my thoughts on Keith‘s departure from this time slot when THE LAST WORD returns.


O‘DONNELL:  Two conservative Supreme Court justices made headlines today that they might not be too happy with.  Justice Clarence Thomas amended more than 20 years worth of financial disclosure forms, after a liberal watch dog group questioned the omission of his wife‘s place of employment.  He said it was inadvertently omitted. 

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia kicked off Tea Party Caucus Chairwoman Michele Bachmann‘s Conservative Constitutional Seminars as a guest lecturer.  He spoke about the separate of powers to a group of more than 50 members of Congress and staffers, according to what they tell us.  Bachmann counted at least three Democrats in today‘s audience. 

What exactly Scalia said to the group we do not know.  The event was closed to the press.  There is no official record of the event.  For what it‘s worth, here‘s how Congresswoman Bachmann and her Tea Party colleagues described it. 


REP. BOB GOODLATTE ®, VIRGINIA:  Justice Scalia took questions about a number of hot-button topics that we‘re dealing with in the Congress right now.  I really appreciate him coming across the street and sharing his views with us.  I think he gave our new members and our old members good advice.  And that is to look first to the United States Constitution. 

REP. MICHAEL GRIMM ®, NEW YORK:  He has a unique ability to discuss complex issues in a very simplistic manner, and with an unbelievable and profound respect for being apolitical.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  We did have questions, again, by both Democrats and Republican members of Congress that were present, but they didn‘t bring up the health care work.  The question of earmarks came up, whether or not the constitutionality of earmarks would be considered Constitutional.  That was one issue that came up.  We won‘t be giving the justice‘s thoughts. 


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me from Rio de Janeiro, Constitutional lawyer and columnist for, Glenn Greenwald. 

Glenn, “the New York Times” called it a bad idea for Justice Scalia to accept this invitation to speak to this group, saying “by meeting behind closed doors and by presiding over a seminar, the justice would give the impression that he was joining the throng, confirming his new moniker as justice from the Tea Party.” 

Glenn, doesn‘t a Supreme Court justice, above all, in a situation like this, have to care about perception? 

GLENN GREENWALD, SALON.COM:  Absolutely.  And the Supreme Court itself has said that repeatedly.  I mean, remember that the key principle here is that judges are vested with extraordinary power in the American political system, power that no elected official, including the president, even wields. 

They can strike down laws that the American people, through their Congress, enact, even when huge majorities want those laws, like they did in Citizens United last year, when they struck down campaign finance laws, like they‘re trying to do now, the American right is, with the health care law that was passed democratically through the Congress and signed into law. 

They can take your property.  They can take your liberty.  They can even take your life in death penalty cases.  As we saw in 2000, they can sometimes even dictate the outcome of presidential elections.  So what we demand of judges who are unelected and serve for life in exchange for giving them these sweeping powers, is that they agree to refrain from being political actors, that they make decisions based only on the law and they always act impartially. 

As you said, it‘s not just that they just do that in fact, but that they are perceived to be impartial.  That‘s what the Supreme Court itself has said is crucial, lest the American people lose faith and confidence in the court as a legitimate branch of government. 

What you see with Clarence Thomas and especially with Antonin Scalia -

it‘s been going on for years, but it‘s gotten much worse—is they‘ve turned themselves into tools and parts of the activists American conservative movement in a very politicized way, very crass and brazen, that we haven‘t season from Supreme Court justices in the last century. 


It calls into question both their integrity and the legitimacy of their rulings from their bench. 

O‘DONNELL:  Glenn, over the years, Supreme Court members have had many ways of communicating beyond just in their legal opinions.  If a justice felt it‘s time for me to get out there and give some constitutional views that seem to be getting lost in today‘s arguments about politics, he or she could go to a law school, give that lecture at a law school.  Any member of Congress would have access to that lecture, would have access to everything that their favorite justice just said, wherever he or she went. 

Isn‘t that the way a Supreme Court justice should be doing any kind of extra-judicial communication, rather than going and talking to a little group of, you know, 30, 40 House members? 

GREENWALD:  Well, right.  I mean, one part of that is that there is a tradition in general that judges don‘t speak in public, try not to be known.  But sometimes they do.  What they purposely have sought out to do traditionally is confine themselves to dignified, apolitical and largely legal settings.  So they‘ll go and speak to a group of law professors, or even judges have gone and spoken to legal groups, like the Federalist Society on the right, or the American Constitutional Society, which tends to be more liberal. 

But those are speeches delivered about legal and constitutional and judicial issues.  It‘s not uncommon for chief justices to speak about the state of the court and the judiciary in general, to call on more appointments.

But what you see with Thomas and Scalia is something radically different.  To go and speak in private at the invitation of the Tea Party Caucus, one of the most partisan and ideological and controversial groups in the country, or for Scalia to go hunting with Dick Cheney, like he did in 2003, weeks before a very controversial case involving Dick Cheney was going to be decided—and of course Scalia decided in favor of Cheney. 

Or for Clarence Thomas to go do the “Rush Limbaugh Show” and the “Sean Hannity Show,” and the right wing circuit when it‘s time for him to hawk his book, or the recent revelation that they appeared at a fund-raiser, a secret fund-raiser, sponsored by the Koch Brothers, the two individuals who fund lots of right wing causes, at the very same time that they were deciding the Citizens United case, which redounded to the benefit greatly of the Koch Brothers, who then proceeded to spend huge amounts of money to elect Republicans in the last election.

There‘s really a kind of crass politicalization that we just simply haven‘t seen.  It‘s much different from the traditional ways that in those rare instances when justices do want to speak to the public, they do it in a way that doesn‘t subvert the legitimacy of their rulings. 

O‘DONNELL:  Glenn, how concerned should we be about Justice Thomas failing for over 20 years to identify the source of his wife‘s income?  The source of his wife‘s income has been public.  We knew she worked for Dick Armey.  We know what she‘s doing now.  But leaving it off those—I‘ve seen those forms.  It isn‘t easy to leave that blank.  What—what‘s your take on that? 

GREENWALD:  Well, there‘s two aspects to it.  One is those forms are required by the Ethics in Government Law of 1978, so that if you‘re a litigant before the court, you may not know what Justice Thomas‘ wife does.  So you check those forms and see if there‘s any conflicts. 

In the Citizens United case, for example, the Tea Party group that his wife was running was a direct beneficiary of the Citizens United ruling, because they get so much of their money from unlimited donors and then are able to spend in unlimited ways thanks to that decision.  And she gets a salary that we haven‘t had disclosed from that decision as well. 

That‘s a very serious ethical issue.  But on top of that, remember, this is a judge on the United States Supreme Court who constantly imposes punishment on people who failed to follow the law.  These directions and instructions are very clear.  It says you are to disclose any source of income.  He just wrote none for 20 years.  It‘s inexcusable. 

O‘DONNELL:  Glenn Greenwald, thank you very much for joining us tonight. 

GREENWALD:  My pleasure.  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reveals the moment when he felt the impact of gun violence in America.  That‘s in the Rewrite.

And later a word about Keith Olbermann.


O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s Rewrite.  On the eve of President Obama‘s State of the Union Address, he is facing mounting pressure to grab onto one this nation‘s political third rails in tomorrow‘s speech—gun control.  In those first days after the Tucson massacre, the calls for reform started right here on this network, particularly when it comes to outlawing the previously banned high-capacity magazines like the one Jared Loughner is suspected of using on January 8th

Then Senator Frank Lautenberg and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy announced they would introduce legislation to renew the ban on high-capacity magazines.  On the website of the NRA‘s Institute for Legislative Action, a statement refers to that sensible reform as “one of several schemes,” and goes on to say, “these magazines are standard equipment for self-defense handguns and other firearms owned by tens of millions of Americans.  Law-abiding private citizens choose them for many reasons, including the same reason police officers do: to improve their odds in defensive situations.” 

OK, NRA.  It‘s now on you to show us a case of anyone who could not defend themselves during the ten years these magazines were banned, anyone who could not defend themselves with ten bullets instead of 30 bullets.  Just show us those cases and then we‘ll decide if it‘s worth it to subject everyone else in the country to the risks of the Jared Loughners who could appear with 30 bullets ready to fire in any shopping mall parking lot in America. 

The Center for Public Integrity published a report showing that for the past 18 years, the makers of these high-capacity magazines have raised millions of dollars for the NRA.  The same report also notes, “some of these vendors of high-capacity magazines also boast executives who are board members of the NRA.” 

So, the merchants of death are buying their political protection from the NRA, and leave us to stare at our children and wonder, who among them will be the next nine-year-old their high-capacity magazines unload on?  The next Christina Taylor Green? 

Voices of reason continue to emerge.  This morning, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined Martin Luther King III at a press conference.  Behind them, 34 victims of gun violence.  Thirty four because that‘s the number of Americans killed by handguns each and every day. 

Speaking without a written text, the mayor reframed the way America should be thinking about this.  He is not an unrealistic idealist.  He‘s a practical man of government, a mayor of New York who simply believes enough is enough. 


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK:  I don‘t think that it ever hit home in my case until the first time, which was probably back in 2002, I had to go to a hospital and tell a parent that their son or daughter was never going to come home. 

The greatest country in the world, the greatest democracy every created, and yet we have this carnage and our democratic system so far has been unwilling to fix it.  No rational person thinks you should be able to sell a rifle that‘s advertised as able to bring down a commercial airliner. 

Nobody thinks we should be selling armor-piercing bullets.  You don‘t need that if you‘re going out and hunting deer or elk.  Nobody thinks that we should be out there selling guns to people who are drug addicts or mentally deranged or minors or have criminal records.

And the law on the books say you can‘t.  The difference is Congress has been unwilling to fix it.  Washington‘s got to do that.  And we call on the president to lead that charge the way President Johnson did.  Thank you. 


O‘DONNELL:  We can only hope that the president‘s speech writers were just taking notes.  If the president follows Republican and Democratic tradition tomorrow night and says not a word about gun and ammunition control, if he does not use this moment of his increasing popularity, if he does not believe he has the communication skills to convey the necessity to control the capacity of automatic weapons, then I for one will become disappointed in him for the first time.  And he will become part of the problem.


O‘DONNELL:  I will never forget the nervousness and inadequacy I felt when I first substituted for Keith on this hour on July 27th, 2009.  The boss of the “COUNTDOWN” team, the ever gracious Isabella Povich, who is now the boss of me, had obviously instructed the staff to pretend they were confident that I could do it. 

I knew I couldn‘t.  There was no way to occupy Keith‘s anchor desk without seeming smaller, much smaller in every way that mattered and in every way that made the show the most successful hour in MSNBC history.  I had never been nervous doing television before that night. 

Oh, I had been agitated and out of sorts and off my game and intemperate, silly even, but never nervous.  It took me a while to recognize the feeling.  Then the feeling was about to overtake me when Rich Stockwell started talking me through the show and suddenly, the room was filled with confidence; his, not mine, but it was enough for both of us and anyone else on the staff who needed any, but none of them did. 

These wonderful writers I was meeting for the first time presented me with elegant scripts.  Elan Riley (ph), who could never fit everything she knew in a script, Jonathan Larson, who dug deep and taught me things I did not know, Brendon Omelia (ph), who made me laugh with everything he said or wrote, Carry Fox (ph), Joel Miska (ph), and the invaluable Greg Cordic (ph), who wrote all of connective tissue of the show, and made sure it could be done in the 60 minutes, instead of the 120 that their material deserved. 

The show was directed that night by Brian Nelznic (ph), with help from Dave Serosi (ph), Ron Zeck (ph), Megan Lissen (ph), Aaron Gandly (ph), Katie Ramirez, Amy Shuster (ph) and Greg Cockwell (ph). 

By the time the red light went on over my camera, I knew that I was in the hands of professionals who simply were not going to let me fail.  And when you saw me reading the teleprompter that July night, I know you were disappointed not to see Keith, but you did not turn away, or I should say click away.  You kept watching not because of me, but because the same people who delivered you “COUNTDOWN” every night were still delivering you “COUNTDOWN,” the same people minus one, the most important one, but it was still “COUNTDOWN.”

I went on to host “COUNTDOWN” more times than any of us wanted me to.  Keith devotedly stayed at his father‘s bedside for what sadly turned out to be his final days.  I hosted the show every night but one in March of 2010, and it eventually fell to me to announce to you Keith‘s father‘s passing. 

Keith‘s time away from the show last year was not a restful one.

There was certainly no time to rest when he returned. 

Consider what Keith invented and taught us to do: op-ed TV.  The incomparable Maureen Dowd is a friend of mine.  I know if I told her I want her to do five op-ed columns a week, she would tell me that is impossible and ask if I know how hard it is to do even one. 

I do know.  I‘ve done a few, very few.  That‘s why I marveled, as any writer must, at what Keith was doing, five op-eds a week, each of them much, much longer than the standard 800 words. 

This is the only place in television where people are surprised if you leave after eight years.  In the entertainment division of this company, if a show like, say, “The West Wing” wins every possible award and runs for seven years, everyone just applauds an extraordinary show for an extraordinary run. 

I saw—I saw exactly how exhausted the great Aaron Sorkin was after delivering 22 episodes a year of “The West Wing.”  Well, Keith delivered 20 a month, 20 a month, hundreds of episodes a year, hundreds of op-eds a year, year in and year out, for eight years. 

I have no idea how he did it.  None of us do.  No one in television history has ever done anything like it.  No one knew it could be done before he did it.  And in doing it, he took MSNBC to new heights. 

I know that I now occupy a platform built for me by Keith Olbermann.  Had he not built this show, and welcomed me to it, I would be at home tonight watching—I don‘t know, “The Real Housewives” of somewhere. 

I thank you, Keith.  And my 92-year-old mother thanks you, too.  She could never stay awake past that first commercial break in my 10:00 show.  Good night, mom. 

And now it is time for “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”  Hi, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Hi, Lawrence.  That was very cool, what you just said, not only about your mom, but about all of that.  That was very cool. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you, Rachel, very much. 

MADDOW:  Thanks.  Good to have you here. 


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