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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Howard Fineman, Graeme Wood, Hisham Melhem, Matt Miller, Sen. Bernie Sanders,

Bethenny Frankel


LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  Regrettably, the time has come for President Mubarak to step down and relinquish power.  It‘s in the best interest of the Egypt, its people, and its military—so says Senator John McCain in a tweet, his first message after a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama.



ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There needs to be a transition that needs to start now.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  The White House looking for its next step as the calm in Egypt is broken by supporters of a president who refuses to leave.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS:  We‘ve had some rock throwing and some clashes in the front of the museum of Egypt.  I stood there yesterday.  It‘s just hand-to-hand rock throwing combat.

It appears that these, in effect, pro-Mubarak street gangs—almost like the Middle Ages.  They are dumping substances off the rooftop.  They came whipping citizens from horseback.

They went, drove right past our camera location early this morning, we were on “MORNING JOE” and “THE TODAY SHOW.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There have been reports of gunfire in Tahrir Square.

O‘DONNELL:  The White House message: Mubarak must go soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The White House is in a sort of full-blown crisis mode.

TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Breaking news, the White House is responding to the violent battle.

GIBBS:  The time for a transition has come and that time is now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What we‘re saying is speeches are not enough.

O‘DONNELL:  But the White House takes no action, yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Obama administration stands at a turning point here.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  We can‘t predict what‘s going to happen an hour from now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who sends people on camels and horses to beat people?  The violence is clearly from the Mubarak side.


O‘DONNELL:  The tone in Washington, still united in Egypt even as Republicans make another attack on the health care law.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, THE WASHINGTON POST:  If you are interested in domestic American politics—

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Full repeal is something that politically doesn‘t work for most of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The motion is not agreed to.

O‘DONNELL:  And when repeal doesn‘t work, back to the courts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My own view is the individual mandate is an unprecedented overreach of the federal government‘s limited and numerated powers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Time and again, the questions that are asked of them is whether or not they are going to follow the Constitution in precedence, or whether they‘re going to be judicial activists.


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

In the last 24 hours, everything has changed in Egypt and changed, again.  Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak entered the Tahrir Square today, some mounted on horses and camels and began fighting anti-government protesters with clubs, stones and whips—which has now turned into a stand-off between the two forces pushing against a moveable wall of metal shields and side battles erupting with Molotov cocktails.

The pro-Mubarak group also attacked journalists and confiscated their equipment, while the Egyptian military stood mostly to the sides.  The pro-Mubarak forces have been described by protesters and veteran journalists as paid thugs who can be bought off for as little as half a chicken.

“New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof tweeted from Cairo today, “Thugs targeted journalists who keep us from covering his crackdown makes us all the more determined.”  And followed up two hours later, tweeting, “The pro-Mubarak thugs seem to be going home from Tahrir.  Mubarak should have realized that‘s a problem with mercenaries.”

And just in the last hour, another update.  “Astonishing that pro-democracy folks seemed to have won the day at Tahrir.  Is Mubarak now incompetent even at repression?”

Today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that President Obama had a frank conversation with Mubarak.  At his press briefing, Gibbs continued to walk the tight rope between supporting the pro-democracy demonstrators but still giving some space to a 30-year ally.


GIBBS: The president and this administration strongly condemned the outrageous and deplorable violence that‘s taken place on the streets of Cairo.  If any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop immediately.  The time for a transition has come and that time is now.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is Graeme Wood, a contributing editor to “The Atlantic,” who arrived in Cairo yesterday afternoon and made his way into the center of the battle in Tahrir Square today.

Graeme, the day started peacefully for you.  Then, what happened?

GRAEME WOOD, THE ATLANTIC (via telephone):  Well, it started out very peacefully indeed.  People were handing out candy.  There were kids getting their faces painted.  And then, early in the afternoon, the pro-Mubarak side arrived near the Egyptian museum.  Rocks started being thrown.  And it erupted into a full scale medieval battle.

O‘DONNELL:  And you find yourself attacked by the pro-Mubarak side, weren‘t you?

WOOD:  I was attacked.  It‘s unclear exactly who was attacking me.  But there was a group of five guys near the pro-Mubarak side who grabbed me, picked me up, beat me a bit, took my video camera which I was using to videotape the pro-Mubarak side throwing rocks toward the protesters.

O‘DONNELL:  Was it your feeling that you were targeted because you were a journalist?

WOOD:  There‘s no doubt about that.  And as the afternoon wore on, it‘s clear the journalists were being attacked for exactly that reason.  We were taking pictures of exactly what was happening.  And it was not looking favorable for the Mubarak side.

O‘DONNELL:  And then did the momentum shift?

WOOD:  It shifted many times.  It surged one way then the other.  And that ground right by the Egyptian museum, it went back and forth.  So, for awhile, if you lodged yourself as I did in the doorway and just watched the crowd surged back and forth, you would see rocks flying and people running from each direction with blood flowing from their faces.

And toward the end, it really did seem to shift in favor of the pro-Mubarak side.  By the end, I was—I was in the pro-Mubarak side.  And they were being re-enforced from the Cornish in the Nile and you could see the stream of pro-Mubarak protesters who are coming down that Cornish to reinforce the ones who were at the front lines.

O‘DONNELL:  What is your feeling?  What is your reaction to the Nick Kristof‘s tweet, “astonishing that pro-democracy folks seem to have won the day at Tahrir, is Mubarak now incompetent even at repression”?

WOOD:  I agree completely.  It‘s incredible that they are still standing there.  Midan Tahrir is a really difficult place to defend.  There‘s a lot of ways going into it.  And they are totally surrounded.

Last I checked, there was no way you can get supplies to the protesters, the anti-government protesters.  And so, it looked like it was just a matter of time before the pro-Mubarak forces just overran them completely.  It‘s 3:00 a.m. right now, and as far as I can tell, they are still holding their ground.  And that is nothing short of a miracle for them.

O‘DONNELL:  What are we headed for on Friday when the protesters had been planning to march on the home of Hosni Mubarak?

WOOD:  Friday seems like a long way away from now.  Thursday is what I‘m looking forward to.  Right now, it seems like a tight ball game.  That it‘s going to get really difficult to tell what‘s happening because journalists are targeted so much.  I think it‘s a lot more difficult for us to get around and to see what‘s happening.

But, you know, like I say, I don‘t see it ending in the short term extremely well for the protesters.  They fought off the pro-government.  But they are in such a vulnerable position that we might start getting tweets and phone calls and SMS‘s about their positions being overrun and some really bloody results.

O‘DONNELL:  And after being attacked today out there in the square, do you have another approach to how you‘re going to cover this tomorrow?  Did you learn any tactics about how to get through the days of violence there?

WOOD:  Well, if a stone comes at you, you dodge it.  That‘s the first thing.  I‘m just going to go to other streets, sort of walk around and probably not display my camera quite as openly as I did before.

O‘DONNELL:  Graeme Wood of “The Atlantic”—thank you for joining us tonight and be safe.

WOOD:  Thanks for having me.

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief for the Al Arabiya News Channel.

Hisham, what is your sense of what‘s happening to reporters there now? 

And what is happening to your reporters in Egypt?

HISHAM MELHEM, AL ARABIYA NEWS CHANNEL:  Lawrence, we have four reporters who were attacked recently.  Two of them today; one of them was almost killed by those thugs supporting President Mubarak.  He was saved by the army and was taken to a hospital.  We lost him for a few hours, he was missing.  And he could barely talk and walk after he was released from the hospital.

There was an atmosphere of intimidation.  They are attacking the Arab media.  They are attacking the foreign media.  They don‘t want the truth to be told.  And this is likely to continue.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, no one wants to jump to conclusions in these kinds of situations, but it is very clear that journalists were not being attacked until the pro-Mubarak groups were formed.

MELHEM:  True, true.

O‘DONNELL:  And that the protesters who are out there protesting against Mubarak have had, up to now, every incentive to get their story out through the media.

Isn‘t this as clear a call as we can make?  That this oppression of the media is coming from the pro-Mubarak side and is part of the Mubarak approach?

MELHEM:  Absolutely.  This is part of the old modus operandi.  Lawrence, in every electoral cycle, we‘ve seen these thugs who are employed by the government.  They represent—some of them are from the ruling party, some of them are from the intelligence services.

In every electoral cycle, you see them intimidating the opposition candidates and those who demonstrate in the streets.  If you remember, a few hours, there was a group called Kifaya, which is enough of Mubarak‘s rules.  They were attacked repeatedly.  Nobody is immune.

They attacked women.  They attacked old people.  They‘ve done it before.

That‘s why it was not surprising.  Our people tell us that this was very well-organized.  The international media is saying this was very well-organized.

You want to have just your average Egyptian riding a camel or horse into Midan Tahrir without logistical support.  I mean, this is Mubarak‘s version of the charge of the thuggish brigade.  And I think it will backfire.  And I think the Egyptian president is isolated—Mubarak and some of those Arab dictators remind me of those fictional characters who are totally isolated that inhabit the novels of people like Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Mubarak is still in denial.  And he was clear in his speech last night that he‘s going to wage—that was the first shot—he‘s going to wage that kind of campaign of intimidation against the demonstrators.

O‘DONNELL:  This is not the first time Egypt had seen protest in that square.  There was protest against the Iraq war and against Mubarak‘s assistance to Americans in the Iraq war a few years ago, I think 2004, which he very easily put down.

What do you make of the fact that this protest today could not be easily put down?  And does that mean the emotional momentum at least remains with the protesters—that there was an attempt to put them down and that attempt to suppress them did not yet succeed?

MELHEM:  Lawrence, if you look carefully at the slogans that are being carried by these people, mostly in English as well as in Arabic, obviously, they have been very peaceful.  This movement is not driven by any overarching scary ideology.  They are not Islamists.  They are not Arab nationalists.  They are not anti-western.  They are not anti-imperialists.

These are regular Egyptians, middle class, poor people, who want to be treated with dignity.  This is a collective cry for freedom, for empowerment, and that‘s why it is difficult for this government to say this is the Islamist bogeyman as Mubarak and other Arab dictators like Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and others always tell the west.  The devil that you know is much better than the devil you don‘t know.

So, it is extremely difficult for the—even the army or even the security forces to shoot at unarmed civilians who are not provoking or not engaging acts of distraction or anarchy.  And I think I would think and I don‘t know for sure, but I would suspect that there‘s a great deal of debate within the ruling class regime that shooting at unarmed people while the whole world is watching.

Lawrence, this is not Tiananmen Square.  Egypt depends on the west, on the rest—on Europe.  It‘s not China.  It‘s not a world on to its own.

This is not 1979 or 1978 in Iran.  They cannot hide a mass killing of people who are unarmed, demonstrating peacefully in the streets and I think the regime is in a crisis and a lot is going to depend on the next few days on what takes place between the United States and the Egyptian army because in the end, it is the Egyptian army that could either save Mubarak at the expense of a great deal of blood or they could nudge him easily to leave the country.

O‘DONNELL:  Hisham Melhem, thank you for joining us and guiding us in our coverage tonight.

MELHEM:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: With President Obama facing a major foreign policy crisis, what does that mean for his efforts at home, especially on jobs?  Howard Fineman is after the break.

And Republicans in Iowa voted to ban gay marriage.  Even after hearing the moving statement from a 19-year-old college student who stood up in praise of his two mothers.  It‘s tonight‘s “Rewrite.”


O‘DONNELL:  At this moment, the president is dealing with a major foreign policy crisis and a Tea Party that wants to cut off foreign aid.  Howard Fineman on the politics of the crisis.

And later, Senator Bernie Sanders on the latest Republican tactic to repeal health care.


O‘DONNELL:  The revolt in Egypt is the biggest foreign policy crisis President Obama has faced.  After the president said last night that he told Hosni Mubarak an orderly transition must begin now, reporters pressed spokesman Robert Gibbs on the meaning of the word “now.”


GIBBS:  I want to be clear: this is—though we are in the here and now, now started yesterday.


O‘DONNELL:  The politics of this crisis remain bipartisan so far.  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has come out in support of President Obama‘s handling of the situation.  And John McCain has indicated he agrees with the Obama position that President Mubarak should step down and relinquish power.

Joining me now, Howard Fineman, MSNBC analyst and senior political editor of “The Huffington Post.”

Howard, the political ground seems stable under President Obama so far.  But in terms of voter perception, how long can he go spending his day entirely on this and not be seen still concentrating in some way on jobs?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, that‘s a great question, Lawrence.  I think he‘s got a little bit of leeway here, but not forever.

On the other hand, this story is absolutely gripped the nation.  It‘s all over the news.  It‘s banner headlines in newspapers.  It‘s all over the Internet.  It‘s on every cable channel.

And let‘s face it—a president‘s unique obligation is to protect the country and play the role of the leader of the world.  And that‘s the president‘s job.  So, I think he will be judged on this as he was judged early on in his role in trying to save us—help pull us out of a Great Depression on the domestic side.

O‘DONNELL:  Howard, I read John McCain‘s tweet after leaving the White House, a one-on-one meeting with the president.

FINEMAN:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  At the top of the show, he said, “The time has come for President Mubarak to step down and relinquish power.”  He then later issued a longer statement in which he said, “I urge President Mubarak to transfer power to a caretaker administration that includes members of Egypt‘s military, government, civil society and pro-democracy opposition, which can lead the country to free, fair and internationally creditable elections this year, as part of a real transition to democracy.

Howard, does that sound like a message that Senator McCain and President Obama may have agreed that the senator should deliver publicly?

FINEMAN:  Clearly.  Clearly.  They spent a lot of time together today.  This was very important.  We tend to forget the fact that John McCain was the president‘s opponent in the presidential election.  So, to the rest of the world, he still, McCain is something of a symbol of the loyal opposition here joining with the president.

The key question, Lawrence, is how quickly this administration can convince, if it can convince, President Mubarak to do what McCain and the president have asked.

I know the White House has been busy organizing efforts in the Pentagon, as well as elsewhere in the government, to use the deep contacts the American military has with the Egyptian military, which after all has had a generation‘s long relationship with the United States where one person in the Pentagon is talking to his or her counterpart in the Egyptian army essentially saying, you know, let‘s all do what we can to get Mubarak out.

But the key point right now is the Egyptian army has not moved quickly to turn on their leader, Hosni Mubarak, and helped get him out of the office and maybe out of the country.

O‘DONNELL:  Howard, “Politico” reached out today to likely Republican presidential candidates to get their take on how they would handle this crisis.  Here, not surprisingly, is who is ducking the question so far—

Sarah Palin, John Thune, Jim DeMint, Michele Bachmann, Bobby Jindal and Mitch Daniels.

Now, what prevents those people, Howard, from just following John McCain‘s lead on this?

FINEMAN:  Well, first of all, most of them don‘t want to have anything to do with the president of the United States because they are running—trying to appeal to the conservative base of the party.  John McCain is not going to run again.  He—I think it was an honor to be brought to the White House and asked his help, asked for his opposition, called on to be a statesman.  These people are running for president.

Those people, you mentioned, piped down.  I was somewhat surprised that both Palin and Bachmann did, but they did.  What I found interesting was that there was a glimmer of a debate, an old debate within the Republican Party in the presidential campaign that‘s just beginning of isolationists versus sort of the George Bush “let‘s change the world” types.

Mike Huckabee, who‘s running out of the Bible belt, who‘s a Southerner, who has deep religious and spiritual ties to the Middle East happened to be over in Israel and he criticized the Obama administration for not sticking up for Mubarak, for not staying with Mubarak.  So, he staked out that position.

Meanwhile, Tim Pawlenty, who‘s running from Minnesota, former governor there, sort of more of a managerial type, was criticizing the president from the other direction, saying that he should have been more active in easing Mubarak out of his role as president of Egypt.  So, I think you‘re going to see the beginnings of the first really—the first really substantive debates among Republican presidential candidates on any issues.  So far, they have agreed with each other on everything.

O‘DONNELL:  And that debate maybe taking place right now between the two likely frontrunners in Iowa, Pawlenty and Huckabee.  Howard Fineman—

FINEMAN:  Your guy Pawlenty.  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  -- thank you very much for joining me tonight, Howard.

FINEMAN:  OK, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  President Obama‘s biggest legislative accomplishment is going to be on of his biggest political struggles for the next two years.  Senator Bernie Sanders on the latest Republican attempt to repeal the health care reform bill.

And with the world of politics getting wrapped up from the world of reality television, what better person to explain how to handle it all than a real housewife whose dramatic life is now our entertainment, the most famous housewife of them all—Bethenny Frankel is ahead.


O‘DONNELL:  Providing context for what you‘re seeing in Egypt tonight is an important obligation for this news network.  But not all news networks are created equal.  That‘s your cue, Sean Hannity.


STEPHEN COLBERT, TV HOST:  Sure, sure, it‘s easy to say, hey, the dictator is out.  That‘s great.  Sean Hannity and I know that this won‘t necessarily end in democracy.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS:  The only democracy that has emerged when you see uprising like this is in Iraq.  I can‘t name one other example.  I can‘t think of one in history, can you?



COLBERT:  I mean, besides the Czech Republic, India, France, Poland, East Germany.  And I feel like I‘m forgetting one.  Oh, yes, the United States.


COLBERT:  But that‘s six.  And he said name one.  I‘d say Sean wins this round.


O‘DONNELL:  Tonight, Senate Republicans got half of what they wanted when it comes to a repeal of health care, a vote but not a win.  Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Matt Miller are next.

And in “The Rewrite,” Republicans in the Iowa state house vote to deny marriage equality even after hearing the dramatic testimony of a young man who has two mothers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For Iowans, we don‘t expect anyone to solve our problems for us.  We‘ll fight our own battles.  We just hope for equal and fair treatment from our government.



O‘DONNELL:  In the Spotlight tonight, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took up Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s dare to hold a vote on repealing President Obama‘s health care reform law.  Reid said yesterday, we want to get this out of their system very quickly. 

The vote was earlier this evening and, as McConnell promised, all 47 Republicans voted for repeal, but not one Democrat.  Republicans only hope for full repeal resides, as it always has, entirely in the Supreme Court.  That prompted the Senate Judiciary Committee to holding hearings today on the Constitutionality of the bill, specifically the individual mandate two federal judges have ruled unconstitutional. 


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  This has happened in Florida and Virginia, as judges, I believe, have ignored the precedence, and created a new legal test distinguishing activity from inactivity, a distinction that can‘t be found anywhere in the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent. 

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, IOWA:  If this law is constitutional, Congress can make Americans buy anything Congress wants to force you to buy. 


O‘DONNELL:  Senator Grassley, you will recall, is one of the many Republicans who were in favor of the individual mandate before they were against it. 

Joining me now, independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders, also “Washington Post” columnist Matt Miller.  Senator, thanks for joining us tonight.

The vote on repeal today—were you surprised that there were no Democratic defectors, including some more moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin, who was not in the Senate and didn‘t get a chance to vote for the bill in the first place, so it was a clean shot for him? 

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT:  No, I wasn‘t surprised.  I think all the people on the Democratic side—I‘m an independent—understood that in the midst of a severe health crisis, in which we have 50 million people without health insurance, when the cost of health insurance is soaring, when we are the only nation in the industrialized world that doesn‘t guarantee health care to all people, to do what the Republicans want is to do nothing, made no sense at all. 

O‘DONNELL:  Matt Miller, Imagine for me that five votes on the United States Supreme Court strike down the entire Obama bill, as the judge—federal district judge has done.  When would we take it up again?  When would we take up health care reform again politically?  And what would that reform look like? 

MATT MILLER, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, I think conservatives need to be careful what they wish for, because if this gets struck down, I think it‘s going to be a central issue in the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns, because the problem of the uninsured is only going to rise.  We have 50 million uninsured now.  Republicans, at best, had a plan to insure about three million of those. 

I think it‘s going to rise to 60 million or 70 million.  Once that happens, the public is going to want to get this problem solved, and assure some kind of basic health coverage probably more on Democratic terms.  This was the last chance I think Republicans had to really embrace a kind of centrist plan adopted a lot of their principles. 

Obama-care, as you know Lawrence, was modeled on Mitt Romney-care.  Now, suddenly, Republicans have decided that that should be repealed.  It‘s all politics.  It‘s not about fixing a problem.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, how frustrating is this for you, to see the bill tied up in a constitutional argument, when the provisions that could have been in place, like the public option and other versions of the legislation that were rejected early on by Democratic leadership, would not have posed any constitutional difficulties? 

SANDERS:  You are absolutely right.  By the way, I don‘t think that this is a major constitutional issue.  I think what you have, as Matt indicated, is a modest bill.  I think it needs to be improved, by the way.  One of the ways that I want to see it improved is to give states flexibility to provide health care for all people, maintaining very, very high standards, but doing it in a more cost effective way. 

In the state of Vermont, by the way, we are moving forward toward a Medicare-for-all, single payer system.  I hope very much to be able to get waivers from Congress and the White House in order to allow us to do so.  Because I think at the end of the day, if you are going to provide health care to all of our people in a cost effective way, you are going to have to get rid of the private health insurance companies, and put our money into health care, not profiteering, not administration, not bureaucracy. 

O‘DONNELL:  Matt, doesn‘t American industry have an interest in exactly what Senator Sanders just said?  They are new saddled—automobile makers and all of these other employers are now saddled with the additional business—and it is a very large separate business they have to run, which is the business of supplying health care to their workers. 

Wouldn‘t they rather just make cars and let that take place outside of their business operations? 

MILLER:  You would think so, Lawrence.  One of the biggest mysteries of the debate over the last couple years is why big business doesn‘t want to get these costs off corporate payrolls and onto public budgets, which is where it‘s done—it‘s the way it‘s done in every other advanced country in the world.  Even if business wanted to do it in a way that wasn‘t quite single payer, you could still have government fund the full Romney-Obama style care in ways that Switzerland does, in ways that Holland does, which is universal health coverage with an individual mandate, done through private insurers. 

The big myth is that Obama put a mandate in because he has some Mubarak-style dictatorial instincts in health care.  It‘s the only way for private insurance to be used to get to universal health care.  Republicans used to know that. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Sanders, states around the country, emboldened possibly by some of these federal judges‘ rulers, are doing more than asking for waivers.  They are revolting.  The Florida Insurance Commissioner, Kevin McCarty, returned a one million dollar grant to implement the health care bill.  Wisconsin—J.B. Holland, Wisconsin attorney general, said “the federal health care law is dead.  Effectively, Wisconsin was relieved of any obligations or duties that were created under terms of the federal health care law.” 

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said “who goes to these people and tells them, sorry, a judge in Florida has decided we now need to put you out in the cold?”  He‘s countering what the Republicans are now saying. 

What do you make of these outbreaks among the states, some of whom are party to these federal lawsuits? 

SANDERS:  I think—and I think Matt made this point—that as states continue to suffer major financial problems, and more and more people are thrown off of health insurance, when people die because they can‘t get transplants, when people throughout America see the differences in terms of the way states respond, I think you are going to have a major political issue. 

Again, in my state, what we want to do, in a cost effective way, is to provide quality health care to all people.  Other states are reacting differently.  What they are saying is tough luck; you don‘t have any health insurance, well, you are on your own.  You may have to go bankrupt.  Or maybe, if you need a transplant, you are going to have to die. 

I think what we are looking at is a major philosophical and ideological debate.  I think our side wins.  I think the vast majority of the American people understand that every American should be entitled to health care as a right.  And the way we have got to go forward is to do it in a cost-effective way.  And in my view, that means getting rid of private health insurance companies, whose only goal in life is to make money, not to provide quality care in a cost effective way. 

O‘DONNELL:  Matt, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson introduced a measure today that would request the Supreme Court to expedite its decision on the constitutionality of the health care reform law.  Is that a helpful thing for a Democrat to do?  

MILLER:  Look, it‘s going to end up at the Supreme Court one way or another.  I think if we find out what Justice Kennedy thinks of the individual mandate sooner rather than later, that would be useful.  But the truth is Democrats can easily fix the mandate problem.  There are ways to do it. 

You can take the mandate out and restructure it as incentives to buy coverage, just like was done with the Medicare prescription drug bill.  It‘s a little complicated to talk about on TV, but it‘s easy to do.  So it‘s really not about the mandate‘s constitutionality.  This is all about Republicans taking a political bite out of Obama.  Because if you wanted to fix that so-called constitutional defect, we could do that tomorrow, pass it, and get on with it. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Sanders, it seems if the Supreme Court were to pull out just the individual mandate, that that would actually possibly be an opportunity for the two parties to get together to deal with the ramifications of that in the health care bill. 

SANDERS:  I‘m not really quite so sure that the Republicans believe—and especially as they move further and further to the right, that it is a government responsibility to provide health care to all people.  As you are seeing now, you have Republican leadership that wants to privatize Medicare.  They certainly want to privatize Social Security, savage cuts in Medicaid. 

I don‘t think that that‘s where they are coming from.  I think, frankly, Larry, at the end of the day, what you may end up seeing is state‘s going forward and becoming a model for the rest of the country. 

O‘DONNELL:  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Matt Miller of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC, thank you both for your time tonight. 

SANDERS:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  In Iowa, Republicans are trying to bring an end to legal gay marriage in that state.  But this young man stood up to those politicians and eloquently shared with us his life experience with his two moms.  You will hear his entire speech. 

Later, striking it big on reality TV; Bethenny Frankel Bethenny gets THE LAST WORD on how living in front of the camera has changed her life forever.


O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s Rewrite.  As the eventual inevitability of legal same-sex marriage in this country becomes more and more obvious, its opponents sound more and more—well, we never did find that more polite word for stupid.  Listen to Iowa State Representative Rich Anderson. 


RICH ANDERSON, IOWA STATE REPRESENTATIVE:  Homosexual couples cannot produce children.  Heterosexual couples can.  That‘s what marriage is. 


O‘DONNELL:  So, what does he call married heterosexual couples who don‘t have children?  I don‘t know.  He never got to that.  Anderson was speaking to the Iowa House of Representatives on Tuesday before it voted 62 to 37 to pass a resolution which could allow the state to vote on whether to ban same-sex marriage.  He had a little more to say. 


ANDERSON:  We want to protection something called responsible procreation.  We want to drive procreation into a stable relationship.  Procreation only happens between a male and a female.  You see, a male and a female can do something a homosexual couple cannot.  They can create children accidentally.  That‘s the issue.  It isn‘t about love.  It isn‘t about romance. 


O‘DONNELL:  He‘s right.  Come on.  He is.  Accidental children are often not about love or romance.  That‘s why ultra conservative lost souls like Rich Anderson usually are heard ranting against creating children accidentally.  This is how tied up in verbal knots the anti-gay marriage ranters are getting. 

To Rewrite this nonsense, it is my honor to yield my time to someone who was involved in this debate as hundreds of people packed into the Iowa State House. 


ZACH WAHLS, SON OF LESBIAN PARTNERS:  Good evening,  Mr. Chairmen.  My name is Zach Walls.  I‘m a sixth generation Iowan, and an engineering student at the university of Iowa.  And I was raised by two women. 

My biological mom Terry told her grandparents that she was pregnant, that the artificial insemination had worked.  And they wouldn‘t even acknowledge it.  It actually wasn‘t I was born and they succumbed to my infantile cuteness that they broke down and told her that they were thrilled to have another grandson. 

Unfortunately, neither of them lived to see her marry her partner Jackie of 15 years when they wed in 2009. 

My younger sister and only sibling was born in 1994.  We actually have the same anonymous donor, so we are full siblings, which is really cool for me.  I guess the point is that our family really isn‘t so different from any other Iowa families. 

When I‘m home, we go to church together.  We eat dinner.  We go on vacations.  We have our hard times, too.  We get in fights. 

Actually, my mom Perry was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 200.  It‘s a devastating disease that put her in a wheelchair.  So we‘ve had our struggles.

But we are Iowans.  We don‘t expect anyone to solve our problems for us.  We‘ll fight our own battles.  We just hope for equal and fair treatment from our government. 

Being a student at the University of Iowa, the topic of same-sex marriage comes up quite frequently in classroom discussions.  The question always comes down to well, can gays even raise kids.  The question—the conversation gets quiet for a moment, because most people don‘t really have an answer. 

Then I raise my hand and say actually, I was raised by a gay couple and I‘m doing well.  I scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT.  I‘m actually an Eagle Scout.  I own and operate my own small business.  If I was your son, Mr. Chairman, I believe I would make you very proud. 

I‘m not really so different from any of your children.  My family really isn‘t so different from yours.  After all, your family doesn‘t derive its sense of worth from being told the state, you are married, congratulations. 

No, the sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other to work through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones.  It comes from the love that binds us.  That‘s what makes a family. 

So what you‘re voting here isn‘t to change us.  It‘s not to change our families.  It‘s to change how the law views us, how the law treats us.  You are voting for the first time in the history of our state to codify discrimination into our constitution, a constitution that but for the proposed amendment is the least amended constitution in the United States of America. 

You are telling Iowans that some among you are second class citizens who do not have the right to marry the person you love. 

So will this vote affect my family or will it affect yours?  Over the next two hours, I‘m sure we are going to hear plenty of testimony about how damaging having gay parents is on kids.  But in my 19 years, not once have I ever been confronted by an individual who realized independently that I was raised by a gay couple. 

You know why?  Because the sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character.  Thank you very much. 


O‘DONNELL:  I‘m proud to announce that Zach Wahls and one of his mothers will join us tomorrow exclusively on THE LAST WORD to talk about their family‘s fight for marriage equality. 


O‘DONNELL:  Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay and Bristol Palin did it on the dance floor.  Meghan McCain has considered it.  And the rest of the Palin clan do it on TLC.  It‘s the newest way for Republicans to endear themselves to America, reality television. 

With arguments over health care, new Congress members vying for attention and a House leader who is prone to break down in tears, a reality show about the real House members of Washington would look and sound a lot like the “Real Housewives of New York.”

The breakout star of that show, Bethenny Frankel, could show John Boehner how to deal with reality. 


BETHENNY FRANKEL, “THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF NEW YORK”:  I‘m talking to your face.  I don‘t like you.  I don‘t trust you.  I think you‘re a creep.  That‘s what I really think. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What is the matter with you. 

FRANKEL:  It‘s true.  It‘s what I really, from the my bottom of my soul, real.  I know that you are a non-trustworthy, competitive—

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And you?  And you? 


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now, one of the most successful reality TV stars, author, natural foods chef, and inventor of the Skinny Girl Margarita, Bethenny Frankel.  Bethenny, thanks for joining us tonight. 

FRANKEL:  Thank you for having me. 

O‘DONNELL:  Bethenny, you were unemployed when you started as a contestant on “The Apprentice,” “Martha Stuart.”  Then you moved on to the “Real Housewives of New York,” then your own show, “Bethenny Getting Married,” and soon, “Bethenny Ever After.”  What advice do you have for people out there looking for work and maybe thinking of becoming a reality TV star? 

FRANKEL:  I think anyone looking for work, anyone running a small business needs to pitch their idea face-to-face.  I am working with British Airways on a program called Face-To-Face.  It‘s about getting your idea out there, knowing exactly what your idea is, and having a clear vision about your business. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, when you reality stars are just shot like a rocket into celebrity status, does anyone tell you how to handle that kind of fame? 

FRANKEL:  No one tells you how to handle this kind of fame.  But it doesn‘t happen over night.  It doesn‘t happen in one day.  You evolve and you get used to it.  Ironically, in the beginning, you want everyone to take your picture.  Then later on, you get a little bit nervous when there are so many people around you all the time and outside your house. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s take a look at one of your fellow reality stars handled an opportunity to meet New York senior senator Chuck Schumer. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Snooki, Senator Schumer‘s waiting from. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Snooki, senator from New York is here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Snooki, do you know what a senator—Snooki, did you know your senator just passed by. 


O‘DONNELL:  First of all, do you think Snooki knows what a senator is? 

And second, how would a real housewife of New York have handled that? 

FRANKEL:  I think real housewives of New York are pretty savvy and would know who a senator was.  I find it more amusing that Senator Schumer knew who Snooki was than that Snooki didn‘t know who the senator was.  If I was just walking through an airport, I don‘t know that I would notice him if I didn‘t see everyone around him.  But the fact that they pointed him out to Snooki and she didn‘t say hello, well, he‘s not into gym, tan and laundry, and that‘s what she‘s into.  That‘s that.

O‘DONNELL:  Bethenny, you suffered one of those Bristol Palin like controversies when you came in second on “Skating With the Stars.”  Bristol made it third place on “Dancing With the Stars.”  Some thought it was because of her mother‘s ability to turn out votes.  Some think you got to second place on “Skating with the Stars” because of your previous popularity from other shows, not necessarily your skating skills.  What‘s it like to have your skating skills doubted like that? 

FRANKEL:  I was the Bristol Palin of “Skating With the Stars.”  I was proud of the fact that my fans voted me through to the end.  It is often a popularity contest.  But also, I‘m 40 years old.  Do I need to be the best ice skater?  I did it for the experience, and to show women that you plow through whatever you are afraid of and you just take on new experiences and you get through it.  It was very difficult. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now I think within the world of politics that famous politicians‘ children are a little bit like TV reality stars, in that they have had an—they‘ve earned their fame in an odd, off centered way.  Let‘s take a look at what President Bush‘s daughter Barbara has just done.   


BARBARA BUSH, DAUGHTER OF GEORGE W. BUSH:  I‘m Barbara Bush and I‘m a New Yorker for marriage equality.  New York is about fairness and equality.  Everyone should have the right to marry the person they love.  Join us. 


O‘DONNELL:  Is the next stage for reality stars to follow that model and start to lead their fans in causes they believe in? 

FRANKEL:  I think that anybody should lead their fans or their friends in causes they believe in.  And if you are lucky enough to have a platform, and you have a parent who is famous and in politics, then use it to your advantage and use it to your message. 

I have seen a lot more bad uses of fame and politics that that.  She seems like she‘s on the right path. 

O‘DONNELL:  Bethenny Frankel, whose next reality show is “Bethenny Ever After,” premiering February 28th on Bravo, thank you very much for joining us tonight, Bethenny. 

FRANKEL:  Thank you for having me.

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s tonight‘s LAST WORD.  A reminder that tomorrow night, we will be joined by Zach Wahls and one of his mothers about his moving speech in defense of same-sex marriage and his family.  You can have THE LAST WORD on our blog, 

“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is up next with the very latest from Cairo. 

Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Good evening, Lawrence.  I will tell you, you are responsible for me having to have the right side of my make up done twice tonight, because I was watching that speech in the Iowa State Legislature while getting my makeup put on, and got all teary and blubbery and we had to redo the whole thing. 

O‘DONNELL:  I have my Kleenex here for exactly that. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Lawrence.


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