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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Rep. Steve King, Dana Milbank, Kate Betts


LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords spoke today for the first time since she was shot.  She asked for toast with her breakfast.

The House Republican leadership team also spoke for the first time today with the president of the United States.



CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS:  What happened last night.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  We‘re not going to be perfect every day.

O‘DONNELL:  This is not the way House Republican leaders hoped their day would begin.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST:  The House has failed to extend three key provisions of the Patriot Act.

BOEHNER:  We‘ve been in the majority four weeks.

O‘DONNELL:  Instead of empty speeches about pressuring the president on spending cuts—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How do we create jobs?

O‘DONNELL:  -- House leaders had to explain being out flanked by the Tea Party Republicans they embraced.

TODD:  It wasn‘t just Tea Party.  It was also the president‘s own party thwarting him a little bit on this issue with Patriot Act.

TODD:  I‘m a big believer in the Tea Party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And that procedure is requiring a two-thirds majority for passage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And they fell seven votes short.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND:  I think our Republican colleagues are struggling with the burden of leadership.

O‘DONNELL:  Embarrassed, Republican leaders head off to the White House.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS:  Boehner, Cantor, and McCarthy.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  On the menu, budget, taxes, the debt ceiling.

O‘DONNELL:  But, then, Republicans reveal some of the cuts they want to make.

DYLAN RATIGAN, MSNBC HOST:  Go after abortion, and now, food for women and children—none of which do anything to create jobs.

REP. PAUL RYAN ®, WISCONSIN:  We‘re doing exactly what we said we would do.

RATIGAN:  How can you be serious about cutting spending when your spending proposals are truly a flea on a dog‘s ass?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Can you get that, the $32 billion in cuts?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I cannot emphasize how moronically small that number is and how sensationally devastating, depriving poor people of food is.

BOEHNER:  We need to cut spending.

RATIGAN:  These guys are a joke, let‘s be honest.

O‘DONNELL:  House Republicans explain away problems governing.  But how will they explain this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I believe that he is a Muslim.



CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL” HOST:  Do they believe this nonsense?

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Steve King will try.

And while Republicans are having a bad day dealing with the West Wing, things are looking up for the east wing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There‘s no smoking now.

MICHELLE OBAMA, U.S. FIRST LADY:  I‘m very proud that he‘s been able to kick the habit.  I have seen that positive momentum.  We fundamentally started shifting the conversation in this country, and that‘s been a very good thing.


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

It was rough day for House Republicans.  Just two hours ago, New York Republican Congressman Chris Lee announced he was resigning his seat immediately.  Earlier today, a report surfaced on Gawker claiming the married congressman answered an ad on Craigslist in one of the “women seeking men” forums.  We‘ll have more on that later.

And just hours earlier, Republicans lost another vote in the House, a bill that would have taken back $179 million from the U.N. Tax Equalization Fund failed on the floor today, 31 votes short of passing.  That marks the third loss for Republicans in the House this week, and it‘s only Wednesday.

Republicans plan to finalize a continuing resolution tomorrow to cut $32 billion in government spending.  A topic that came up in today‘s lunch meeting at the White House.

The meeting with President Obama, Vice President Biden, Chief of Staff Bill Daley, and the top three House Republicans, Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy, lasted just over an hour.  It focused mainly on the economy.  All parties involved came out making optimistic sounds about bipartisanship.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  He thought it was very constructive.

BOEHNER:  Whether it‘s education, whether it‘s tax policy, whether it‘s trade, or even cutting spending, I think we can find common ground.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER:  I guess the particulars in the details will be where the disagreements may lie.


O‘DONNELL:  But the Republican leadership‘s disagreements may not be only with Democrats.

Joining me now: MSNBC analyst and author of “Revival,” Richard Wolffe.

Richard, the meeting today in the White House—was there any possibility of any real governing decisions being made there?

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  No, my sources tell me they stuck to generalities and they stuck to what is essentially a high stakes poker game.  The White House does not want to put its cards out on the table, they want to see what Republicans are going to put out there in terms of specifics.

And as the package run at the top of the show suggested, those specifics are ugly.  They do not promote job growth.  They go after very popular programs, or at least programs that people can identify and put a human face to.  So, cutting these things are not political winners, even though they broadly agree—both sides agree—on the importance of bringing the deficit down at least over the long term.

O‘DONNELL:  Their cuts are not political winners, and they are not enough for the Tea Partiers who campaigned on the notion that they were going to be able to cut much, much, much more than that in the first year.  Where does this leave Republican establishment versus the Tea Party?

WOLFFE:  Well, this is all going to be fought.  I mean, they have already said they‘re going to extend the debt ceiling.  Obviously, they‘ve got this continuing resolution to come up as well.

And that‘s why I don‘t actually think anyone in the White House thinks that the $32 billion or whatever the number is right now is going to hold.  It‘s going to get higher and higher.  It‘s going to have to be scaled back.

But in the end, the numbers are minimal compared to the kind of deficit problems that everyone says we have to deal with.  So, unless you put taxes on the table, that‘s a much tougher thing.  Never mind about the billions of dollars in spending cuts, unless you deal with taxes and yes, entitlements, you are not going to make headway with deficits.  And that‘s where the discussion gets really tricky for the Tea Party folks.

O‘DONNELL:  Richard, it seems Speaker Boehner could not have had a worse start to lose on three bills in a row, in fact, to lose on any bills, at the outset is a message to your own caucus that the leadership does not have control of what‘s going on here.  We can vote any way we want.

WOLFFE:  Well, some basic head scratchers here.  Why bring these votes

successive votes under special rules that require big majorities.  Why do you think Democrats are going to be with you when you made it clear that you want to bring down the president and want to make sure the Democrats are embarrassed?  So, some basic vote-counting assumptions and strategies that have everyone puzzle, but yes, this comes down to authority.


If you lose like this right off the bat, if you cannot control your own caucus, what kind of authority do you have, because people come back and do it again and again.  And that‘s what we‘ve seen.  They‘ve got to get their ranks together.  Otherwise, the majority is only in name.

O‘DONNELL:  And Speaker Boehner seems not only not able to control the Tea Party, he doesn‘t even seem to quite understand what it is.  On a Cincinnati radio station yesterday, Boehner was asked if he‘s a member of the Tea Party, and he said, “I should be.  I don‘t know if I actually pay dues, but I‘m a big believer in the Tea Party.”


O‘DONNELL:  Is that the best he can do when he‘s got a Tea Party he‘s trying to control?  That‘s the kind of answer he‘s going to give about the Tea Party?

WOLFFE:  I‘m sure he believes in the tooth fairy, too.  But that‘s not really going to get him very far in terms of what the Tea Party folks think they were placed in Congress to do.  And that‘s why you got such high expectations that are going to be so severely disappointed as they have to deal with things like the debt ceiling.  They‘ve already taken it off the table.  Whatever concessions they get are not going to be enough, and they‘ve unleashed this beast.  It‘s going to be very hard to tame it again.

O‘DONNELL:  It turns out the Tea Party is harder to handle for Boehner than I though it was going to be.

Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and author of “Revival”—thank you for joining us tonight.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Seven Tea Party Republicans joined with liberal Democrats last night, liberal Democrats, to defeat the extension of three provisions of the Patriot Act.

Joining me now to discuss his new alliance with the Tea Party, Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio—a consistent proponent of the entire Patriot Act.

Congressman Kucinich, thanks for joining us tonight.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO:  Thank you very much.  Good to be with you.

O‘DONNELL:  Did you see this coming?  You know, there‘s a lot—there‘s a lot of libertarian rhetoric out there on the campaign trail for Tea Partiers, but were you surprised to see them actually vote this way on the Patriot Act?

KUCINICH:  No.  I had spoken to individual members of Congress who happen to be Republicans who are libertarian, Tea Party adherent, and they‘re very serious about civil liberties and about stopping government from being able to reach very deeply into people‘s private affairs.

So, I think that this is very refreshing.  So, whatever someone‘s ideology, whether standing up for the Constitution, they see it as an issue of freedom.  And there‘s an alliance here, maybe just be for this bill, but there is an alliance.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, you put out a statement praising those Tea Party members.  You spoke of a potential for a new coalition.

Did you mean that?  Do you think there are actually other possibilities where liberals in the House can work with Tea Partiers in the House?

KUCINICH:  I think you‘re going to see that reflected on the next attempt to try to pass the Patriot Act, which could get a majority even as early as tomorrow.

But let‘s go beyond that.  Votes on funding wars, I think the issues of spending are starting to hit home in a number of constituencies, and they‘re asking questions beyond the question about how many troops we have there, how many we‘ve lost, how many civilian casualties—they‘re asking what does it cost.  And as that question hits home, you‘re going to see a number of libertarians and Tea Party types who are going to say, look, we just can‘t afford this any more.

And there‘s a question about how America keeps reaching into other people‘s affairs.  Questions like Ron Paul asked over and over and over again in a series of congresses.  Now, he‘s finding a little bit more company in his own party.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the White House is not happy with this vote outcome in the House.  Let‘s listen to what Robert Gibbs had to say.


GIBBS:  We support an even longer extension to take any of the uncertainty around extending these out past—out into 2013 rather than just the 8th of December of this year.  And we hope that that gets figured out soon.


O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, is it your sense that the White House is actually at least secretly happy to see Republicans failing procedurally on the House floor, even on something that the White House wants eventually to be passed, and as you‘re acknowledging will be able to eventually be passed once they‘re using a different procedure?

KUCINICH:  It‘s interesting to watch the White House on this issue and other issues.  They are outflanking the right wing.  And so, if you go far enough right, you‘re bound to come around in a circle to the left.  So, maybe that‘s their strategy.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, is there any message you would want to give the White House about how to reconsider issues like the Patriot Act?  Because in the past, Democrats have said well, you know, in effect, politically, we‘ve got to do it because we‘ve got—if we don‘t, we‘ll be attacked on our right side.

If you have Republicans who would in effect be defending that side of you, along with liberals voting on the same thing, isn‘t there room for the White House to rethink their positions on some of these things?

KUCINICH:  Of course, there is.  I mean, this is about the Constitution.  And I think it would behoove the White House to align itself with the Constitution.  That‘s a very strong position to take.  And that‘s what I talked about yesterday.

The people from the Tea Party take the First Amendment seriously—right of free speech, freedom of association.  They take the Fourth Amendment seriously—right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure.  I mean, these are things that the White House would I think find even more support if it chose to align itself with the Constitution of the United States.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the new ally of the Tea Party in the House of Representatives—thank you very much for joining us tonight, Congressman.

KUCINICH:  Thank you.  It‘s good to be here.  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  A focus group of Republican voters in Iowa have some harsh criticism of the president for his handling of the Egypt crisis.  Many of those voters don‘t trust President Obama because they think he‘s Muslim.  Steve King, a Republican congressman from Iowa, joins me next to explain why his constituents are so wrong.

And on the eve of CPAC, a family values crisis hits the Republican Party.  Conservative Congressman Christopher Lee of New York abruptly resigned this evening after this photo of him surfaced—a photo he allegedly sent responding to an ad on Craigslist.


O‘DONNELL:  A Republican focus group in Iowa appearing on FOX News reveals how many Republicans believe the lie that the president is a Muslim.  I‘ll ask Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King why his constituents are so wrong about the president‘s religion.

And later, breaking news on Capitol Hill tonight: Conservative Republican Congressman Christopher Lee has resigned after news broke that he allegedly responded to an ad on Craigslist with shirtless photos of himself.


O‘DONNELL:  While Bill O‘Reilly was interrupting President Obama 72 times during his 24-minute, two-part, non-history-making, non-news-making, pre-Super Bowl interview, he asked the president about the Muslim Brotherhood and its connections to the protests in Egypt.

To keep things fair and balanced, Sean Hannity got a roomful of Republicans in Iowa, the first presidential caucus state, to analyze President Obama‘s answer.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I believe that Barack Obama‘s religious believes do govern his foreign policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And what are his religious beliefs?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I believe that he is a Muslim.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How many of you believe that here?  Wow.  You believe he‘s a Muslim?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And you think that has an impact on what he says and does?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Fundamentally, yes.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I do think it‘s quite possible he is Muslim, even though he says he is Christian.  But I think that this type of rhetoric, he‘s waffling on both sides.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But let‘s focus on his presidential—how he communicates when it comes to foreign policy and his policies.  Shouldn‘t we be backing the president?  Isn‘t that the loyal thing to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He is Neville Chamberlain in 1939.  He is an appeaser and he will lead us down a path of destruction if we‘re not careful.


O‘DONNELL:  So, why would you roomful of Iowa Republicans think the president is Muslim?  Well, with congressmen in Iowa like Republican Steve King—


REP. STEVE KING ®, IOWA:  I am in the business of seeking to embarrass the administration into enforcing a law, particularly with regard to immigration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He won‘t do that.  He‘s a Marxist!  He‘s a Muslim Marxist.

KING:  He‘s at least a Marxist.  And he surely understands the Muslim culture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He surely does.  That‘s where he grew up with, that‘s what his culture is.

KING:  He doesn‘t have an American experience.  He does not have an American experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He didn‘t grow up in America.

KING:  Mm-hmm.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now, Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King.

Congressman, thanks for joining us tonight.

KING:  Thanks for having me, Lawrence.  I think it is interesting coincidence that it was 72 times that President Obama interrupted Republicans at the Blair House at the health care summit.  Bill O‘Reilly I think must have gotten even for that day.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, the health care summit was about seven hours long, I think, Congressman, it‘s a little different.

But, Congressman, I want to go back to the tape we just showed.  I‘m not sure you had good enough audio to hear every word of it, but you lived it.  You were in a constituent‘s meeting, and one of your constituents said, you know, he doesn‘t have American experience.  You said, he—this is what you said about the president of the United States.  He doesn‘t have an American experience.  He does not have an American experience and the constituent then said to you he didn‘t grow up in America.

Congressman, where did Barack Obama grow up?

KING:  Well, by his own reports, he spent a lot of his early formative years in Indonesia.

O‘DONNELL:  How many?

KING:  And—

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, how many years did he live in Indonesia?

KING:  I‘m going to guess it was five or six—perhaps five or six years in Indonesia, perhaps longer.  Pardon me?

O‘DONNELL:  Then where did he live?

KING:  Then he moved to Hawaii, which is America, which is going to be your next point.

O‘DONNELL:  OK.  So, my question to you is: you know more than your constituent about a lot of things, and awful lots of things, and you know more than constituents about Barack Obama.  Why didn‘t you say he grew up in Hawaii?

KING:  Well—

O‘DONNELL:  Why couldn‘t you bring yourself to say that in Iowa?

KING:  It would have been a contradiction of the facts.  I mean, really, very formative years, from age about 5 to 9 or 10.

O‘DONNELL:  He grew up in Hawaii, Congressman.  Are you denying that he grew up in Hawaii?


KING:  It certainly was.  It certainly was.  I don‘t think there‘s any question, part of his upbringing was in Hawaii.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, do you have any doubt about whether he is a Christian?

KING:  You know, I think that is up to the president.  But I will tell you that I would not—I would not present him as anything other than that.  It‘s his religion.  That‘s what he said.  In fact, when he gave a speech in Cairo last year—he told the Muslim crowd that he‘s a Christian.

O‘DONNELL:  Do you believe he‘s a Christian, Congressman?

KING:  I take him at his word.

O‘DONNELL:  Are you a Christian?

KING:  Yes, sir.

O‘DONNELL:  Should I take you at your word, or should I maybe suspect you‘re a Muslim?  Do you have a Christian ID you can show me and prove to me you‘re a Christian?

KING:  I think I was going to ask you not to judge as I am not judging President Obama.

O‘DONNELL:  Do you have a Christian ID?

KING:  No one has a Christian ID.

O‘DONNELL:  Catholics get birth certificates, get baptismal certificates.  In fact, there are some religions that issue certificates of certain kinds.  Do you have any?

KING:  I don‘t think I do.  I got a certificate of baptism.  So, that would be a start.

O‘DONNELL:  How do we know you are not a Muslim?  How do you know someone is not a Muslim and is a Christian?

KING:  As I‘ve said, to bring us back around full circle, the president stood in Cairo and spoke to the Muslim world and professed to be a Christian.  If he will stand in front of the Muslim world and make that statement, I take him at his word.  I don‘t—I don‘t question his religion.  I will say that the criticism of his religion seems to have accelerated his church going, and I think that‘s a good thing.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, do you think the kind of meeting you had with your constituent helps clarify for them the president‘s religion, or helps confuse them to the point that 40 percent -- 40 percent of a Republican focus group in your state is completely wrong about the president being a Muslim?

KING:  Well, I saw a poll in “The Examiner” today that showed 46 percent of Republicans believe that.  So, I would submit it‘s not a Republican problem.  This is the president‘s problem.  I mean, he has done some to dispel this, but not completely.


O‘DONNELL:  Well, let me ask you this: Republicans believe the world is flat, is that a Republican problem or a geography problem?

KING:  If the president has been involved in convincing people the world is flat, it‘s partly his problem, too.

O‘DONNELL:  If they want to believe something that stupid, who‘s fault is it?

KING:  If you listen, the president went to Cairo and gave a speech.  He said to the people in Cairo, and he went to speak to the Muslim world, that‘s how he presented it.  He said he‘s a Christian.  But he also said he grew up in three continents, of exposure to the Muslim culture, and that he‘s familiar with the Muslim culture.  He also talked about the call to prayer.  And so, he reached out and he reminded them of his middle name.

The president has done not a lot to dispel this thing that I think is a myth.  And so, I think it is the president‘s problem, not a Republican problem.

O‘DONNELL: When JFK gave a speech about the Berlin Wall, did people in Iowa think he was German?

KING:  Of course not.

O‘DONNELL:  Why not?


O‘DONNELL:  Are you telling that its legitimate people in Iowa think he‘s a Muslim because of a speech he gave in Cairo?

KING:  I think you‘re missing my point.  I‘m talking about the content of the speech and the purpose for the speech.  He went to Cairo—

O‘DONNELL:  Well, if he gave a to Germans—if he gave a speech addressed to Germans, OK, as other presidents have done when there was a Berlin Wall—

KING:  Barack Obama did do that, by the way.

O‘DONNELL:  -- wouldn‘t you think the president is then German?

KING:  Of course not.

O‘DONNELL:  Why not?  That seems to be the logic that prevails among your constituents, which you do nothing to correct.

KING:  Let me submit that he said “My name is John Fitzgerald Kennedy,” not “Barack, mention my middle name, Obama.”  The president made it a point to emphasize his middle name in Cairo and to talk about his upbringing in the Muslim culture.  And so, that helps to perpetuate the persona that he has a close affiliation with the Muslim religion.  I think that‘s—

O‘DONNELL:  Did you think when you meet with your constituents and you do not explain to them the truth about the president that you are also complicit in perpetuating this lie?

KING:  How about I just didn‘t want to have an argument in that scenario, Lawrence?

O‘DONNELL:  What about an argument—


O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, what about an argument about the truth?  What about an argument about the truth?  It is your duty to argue with your constituents about the truth.

KING:  Well, and with you.  And I do do that.  But you can‘t pick every fight.

You have to pull that out of context.  And you‘re in a meeting.


KING:  We had a lot of angry people.  They wanted their freedom.  They didn‘t want Barack Obama taking their liberty and imposing Obamacare on them.  That‘s the emotion that was behind that statement and they‘re looking for every argument that protects their liberty, and I am pledged to uphold the Constitution and protect their liberty, that‘s what this is about.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, I will ask this favor for America—the next time your constituents talk to you like that, would you please treat it the way John McCain treated it during the campaign when we saw in a live television situation a woman say something like that to John McCain and he just said, no, that‘s not true.  You can do that for us, Congressman.  You can do it for this country.  You can do it for your constituents.  Get it on some videotape and we will show it here.

KING:  Let‘s do this, I‘ll ask you, go back and read the president‘s speech in Cairo.  That will give awe sense of what he‘s doing that helps move this myth along.  And if he will pull back from that a little bit, I‘ll see if I can move a little that direction.  We can come together, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Just asking to tell the truth, Congressman.

Congressman, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

KING:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  What impact will the sudden resignation of conservative Congressman Christopher Lee have on the Republican Party?  We‘ll discuss that and see how it will play at the CPAC conference which starts tomorrow.

And we showed you right here on this program how Bill O‘Reilly interrupted President Obama 72 times.  But after we took our shot, the late night shows got their turn at O‘Reilly.  That‘s up next.


O‘DONNELL:  Later, Michelle Obama and how she wants you to see her, and what she doesn‘t want her daughters to see.

But, first, a final bit of analysis of Bill O‘Reilly‘s interview with President Obama.


JIMMY KIMMEL, TV HOST:  We took the sound from the new clips of the interview and we combined it with an old episode of the Smurfs.

O‘REILLY:  Last question before I let you go.  FNC and the Obama administration—Fox News and the Obama administration, a little bit of a rocky history.  I sincerely want to know what can I do better?  What can FNC do better? 

OBAMA:  Give people the facts. 

O‘REILLY:  Do you think you‘re being treated fairly by Fox News now?

OBAMA:  I would say that there‘s a strong history in America of all news having some sort of point of view.  And Fox News has a point of view, and I think that‘s part of our democracy. 

O‘REILLY:  Do you respect it? 

OBAMA:  Absolutely. 

O‘REILLY:  Does it disturb you that so many people hate you? 

OBAMA:  You don‘t take it personally. 

O‘REILLY:  They hate you. 

OBAMA:  That‘s always a tough question.


O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, this is allegedly a picture of conservative Congressman Chris Lee of Western New York.  He allegedly sent the picture in response to an ad on Craigslist, describing himself as a, quote, very fit, fun, classy guy.  Within hours of the story breaking online, Congressman Lee resigned his seat without offering a single word of defense.  We‘ll bring you the full story as we know it at this hour next. 

And in tonight‘s Rewrite, the target is me.  What I should not have said about professional football players.


O‘DONNELL:  Revelation to resignation in a record two hours and 27 minutes.  In the Spotlight tonight, the fastest moving Capitol Hill sex scandal ever.  Tonight, Christopher Lee who resigned—no, wait a minute, not that Christopher Lee.  New York Republican Congressman Christopher Lee resigned just before 6:00 p.m. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I hereby give notice of my resignation from the United States House of Representatives, effective 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Wednesday, February 9th, 2011.  Attached is the letter I submitted to Governor Andrew Cuomo.  Signed sincerely, Christopher J. Lee, member of Congress. 


O‘DONNELL:  The sudden resignation came after Gawker broke a story about Lee using Craigslist to contact women.  He is, of course, married and he has one child. 

With the story, Gawker uncovered this picture allegedly of Lee.  In the age of Photoshop, we have to use that allegedly at this point.  Shirtless, flexing for a 34-year-old Maryland woman.  In their email conversation, Lee allegedly uses his own name, but says he is a divorced lobbyist, and, quote, “a fit, fun, classy guy,” which he obviously is.  Although looking classy is a challenge for any of us while shirtless. 

In one note, he also says, quote, “I promise not to disappoint.”  The emails also falsely indicate he is 39 years old when, in fact, he‘s 36.  Why would you lie about being 36 when you‘re not in show business is beyond me.  A spokesperson for Speaker Boehner tells NBC News it was Lee‘s decision to resign. 

In his farewell statement, Lee worked with the standard template for congressmen who are completely guilty of everything they have been accused of.  “I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituent.  I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all.  I have made profound mistakes.  And I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness.” 

Let me be the first to forgive Congressman Lee. 

Joining me now, Dana Milbank of the “the Washington Post.”  Dana, I haven‘t checked every single sex scandal in the history of the body.  We haven‘t had time.  We‘ve run-down most of them.  Did we set a record today at two hours and 27 minutes for that resignation? 

DANA MILBANK, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  This was officially the land speed record from moment it was posted until I believe 5:58, when that clerk read it out on the floor.  This is the Internet age scandal. 

And it is extraordinary.  Think about it.  Many people in Congress have done far worse and they‘re still in Congress.  You know, think of David Vitter being in the madam‘s book, or John Ensign having his folks pay off his mistress. 

Here you have a guy—just he didn‘t actually do anything as far as we know.  There‘s just a photograph out there.  So it suggests—and when he said in his statement there were actions, plural, and mistakes, plural, that there must be a whole lot out there.  And I think that gives us some clues as to why he resigned. 

It‘s certainly not because he just lied about his age.  He actually said he was blonde.  It is gray.  I think the most scandal thing was he actually said he was a lobbyist. 

O‘DONNELL:  Nice upgrade choice for your occupation when trying to impress someone.  You know, the—listen, I think forgiveness is what we‘re good at in this country.  I want to be the very first to officially forgive him.  Good luck with the wife on this one, congressman, getting her forgiveness.

But the speed of the resignation is usually based on what is your district like, can you survive this.  And we have seen some very liberal districts in Massachusetts, for example, where congressmen have survived worse, as you would think.  And then what do you want to put your family through while you‘re trying to survive this. 

And it seems to me he made a calculation about both his district and his family.  And I, for one, certainly respect him keeping this damage to a minimum for his family. 

MILBANK:  Well, he did.  He had a couple of models to work with here.  He was under extra pressure, because as a conservative Republican, there‘s always the hypocrisy argument.  But look, it was a fairly safe Republican district.  So that‘s not necessarily the only thing going on here. 

I suspect he looked at other cases.  Eric Massa, remember him of the tickle fight—he lived in the district right next to this district.  He made another calculation to try and fight it out, and he became a national laughing stock. 

Another guy, Mark Souter, resigned really quickly over this affair with an aide.  And we don‘t kind of remember his name as well.  You can look, Mark Foley tried to push back, and he became a disaster.  So I think he is calculating that with the quick revelation of this, maybe he can get away with just one night on THE LAST WORD and get away with it. 

O‘DONNELL:  He just might.  He just might.  And this is kind of, as those kinds of photos go on the Internet—not that I‘m an expert, it is on the conservative side.  I mean, those pants are in place, right?  I mean, come on.  You see more than that at the beach. 

MILBANK:  I mean, this is true, you know.  I think the question here is judgment now.  He said—he got into this situation where he said look, I was just re-elected.  I got my seat on Ways and Means Committee; I am invincible; I can do anything. 

You and I have seen this happen dozens of times.  He said, why not.  I can go on Craigslist and send out shirtless photos of myself.  When I send out shirtless photos of myself on the Internet, I use a pseudonym. 

O‘DONNELL:  There are no shirtless photos of me available after college. 

MILBANK:  I‘ll get on to Photoshop right now, Lawrence.  We‘ll change that.

O‘DONNELL:  Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post,” thank you very much for joining me. 

MILBANK:  Thanks. 

O‘DONNELL:  First Lady Michelle Obama was slammed by conservatives for wearing, quote, communist red to a state dinner.  Coming up, we‘ll discuss the politics of clothing. 

And on Monday, to a nation recovering from the Super Bowl, from this pulpit, I delivered a sermon on the evil of sports socialism.  I will take back some of those words in tonight‘s Rewrite.


O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s Rewrite.  And it is time once again time to Rewrite myself.  I‘ve been bothered all week by something I said in this space Monday night in my hate-filled attack on sports socialism.  I really, really hate sports socialism, and wrote my first attack on it 15 years ago. 

I hate—hate that football players‘ salaries are partially paid for with your tax dollars.  I hate that because tax money pays for the stadiums.  The owners and the players get to laugh all the way to the bank with their inflated incomes that would be millions less if they were not the direct beneficiaries of sports socialism. 

If the NFL had to pay for their stadiums, the 15 million dollar quarterback would have to get, you know, maybe 10 million.  The 10 million dollar player would have to get by on maybe seven million.  And those lowly million dollar players, well, they are all starving already, so it wouldn‘t make much difference to them. 

The day after the Super Bowl, when you let all that hatred stir in the same small brain that clings to the Vietnam very lefty analysis of football, as the most deliberately violent and militaristically designed sport, a design highly compatible and supportive of the most militaristic country in the world, a sport whose rise and eventual domination of all other professional sports mirrors, not just coincidentally, the rise at the very same time of the American military industrial complex, you get one very angry lefty sitting down to write about football for his TV show that night. 

As I‘ve said here before, there is good socialism, Medicare.  And there is bad socialism, football stadiums.  As a good socialist, it falls to me to defend good socialism and attack bad socialism.  But both should be done with grace, something that eluded me Monday night. 

I was so taken with the Bill Maher joke that I quoted it in my first sentence.  He calls professional football, quote, “the spectacle of juiced up millionaires giving each other brain damage.”  I went on to use the phrase “juiced up millionaires” three more times.  And I squeezed in the brain damage bit once more at the end. 

Bill, the professional comedian, said it just once.  Me, the wise guy, trying to pretend to be a comedian, I pushed it way past the point of, I don‘t know, human decency. 

Brain damage?  Very funny. 

The only article I can remember writing for my high school newspaper that required actual reporting was about the inadequacy of football helmets, and how everyone playing the game was unknowingly risking brain damage.  My high school football coach didn‘t like the piece very much.  He thought it indicated that maybe I was not willing to give 110 percent, which I wasn‘t, with my head anyway.  Which is why I was a wide receiver and never had to hit anyone. 

During this past football season, the “the New York Times” caught up with my high school newspaper many decades later and ran the only Pulitzer worthy series I have ever seen in the sports section about the inadequacy of football helmets and the now proven tragedy of brain damage that haunts the NFL. 

Too many good men, vibrant men ruined by playing a game they loved.  Not funny.  Juiced up millionaires?  Bill Maher said it once.  I said it four times.  If you‘re going to describe football players four times, elemental creativity demands that you find more than one phrase to do it. 

I had too much fun with that phrase and I don‘t think anyone else did.  An MSNBC colleague and friend told me after the show that I went too far, crossed the line.  And I knew it was true the second I heard it. 

Then a couple of other friends told me the same thing.  Last night, a couple more friends told me.  I finally realized I had to say something about it.  I am very sorry that I used language in a not entirely comedic setting that was unfair and cruel.  It was unfair not just to all NFL players, but to all professional athletes who suffer stereotyping because of the bad behavior of some of their co-workers. 

My father was a Boston cop before going to law school nights and becoming a lawyer, two occupations that suffer stereotyping.  Here is what he wasn‘t when he was a cop: a racist, brutal, or on the take.  Here is what he wasn‘t when he was a lawyer: a liar, a crook, or a cheat. 

His son owed you something better Monday night.  To the wives of the NFL, to their sons and daughters, and to all professional athletes from Jackie Robinson on who have contributed so mightily to our history and to our growth as a nation, I‘m sorry.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For all that you‘re trying accomplish as First Lady, if you go online, you Google you, you know what‘s on there a lot, your style.  Frustrating or compliment? 

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES:  I take it as a compliment.  It is not something that I focus on. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You are who you are, and let people decide what they want? 

M. OBAMA:  Yeah, everybody‘s got to get dressed in the morning, put on something.  I hope people are—find it nice.  But it‘s not something I focus on. 


O‘DONNELL:  In her new book about the fashion influence of Michelle Obama, author Kate Betts says, quote, “our First Ladies highlight the on-going evolution of American women.  But for First Ladies, there‘s always a tension between style and substance.  First lady Rosalyn Carter sat in on cabinet meetings, later writing that she could never, quote, sit and drink coffee and talk about babies and clothes.”  But said Mrs. Carter, “image became a nuisance that wouldn‘t go away.” 

So what is the state of the modern American woman, if Michelle Obama is, as Kate Betts puts it, the symbol of the country‘s psychological subtext, its emotional undertone.  Joining me now is Kate Betts, author of “Everyday Icon, Michelle Obama and the Power of Style.”  Thanks for joining us. 

KATE BETTS, AUTHOR, “EVERYDAY ICON”:  Thanks for having me. 

O‘DONNELL:  Kate, tell us the story of how Michelle Obama went from business woman to campaign wife to then First Lady, mother in chief.  How did she make that transition? 

BETTS:  Well, it was pretty quick, actually.  On the campaign trail, she started off in these pinstripe kind of corporate boardroom suits, as the working mom, the career woman.  And then, seemingly overnight—I think it might have been even been on the Jay Leno show, when she showed up in a J. Crew cardigan and a skirt, she sort of transformed into the mom in chief.  And she kind of became, through her style, what she was going to become, the First Lady, the nation‘s hostess. 

O‘DONNELL:  Actors will tell you, some of them, that they find the part, or a lot of the part in the wardrobe, that just actually getting into those clothes makes them start to feel the way they‘re supposed to feel in that position.  Do you think that happens in these transitions that women have to go through when their husbands become candidates and reach higher and higher levels? 

BETTS:  I think absolutely.  And I think actually Michelle Obama did that in advance, before she got to the White House.  And that was a very smart move on her part. 

And then she also developed this sort of pattern of always surprising us with her clothing.  I mean, I remember there was mention of her going to the White House to meet with the Bushes before they actually moved into the White House with husband.  And she wore this bright red crimson dress.  And it was very form fitting, and it was very look at me, I‘m in charge now. 

So I think she really eased the transition into the White House and continues to sort of tell her story through her style in the White House. 

O‘DONNELL:  She faced a unique challenge, becoming First Lady, and actually as presidential candidate‘s—nominee‘s wife, being the first African-American.  You write what might have been seen as refreshing—this is during the campaign—“what might have been seen as refreshing maverick candor in a white political figure struck some people as confrontational.” 

Did she have a problem presenting herself in the campaign, a unique problem because she‘s African-American? 

BETTS:  I think that people—in the beginning of the campaign, she made a few stump speeches that people thought were too strong and she was criticized for that.  And I think she was very clever—and I talk about this in my book—in using her image to transform.  I mean, she also softened campaign speeches, but she used her image to soften herself.  And she adapted a much more motherly image, and became the mom in chief. 

And it is interesting that you mention Rosalyn Carter, because in her memoir, also Hillary Clinton spoke about the role of the First Lady as the Americans wanting the First Lady to be both glamorous and motherly.  And it is a very tough kind of dual personality for the First Lady to adopt.

But it‘s true.  We want her to be on the steps of the North Portico in a gorgeous evening gown, and be glamorous and represent America.  But we also want her to be the hostess of the nation.  That‘s a very traditional notion, but it persists.  That‘s what Americans see the First Lady as. 

O‘DONNELL:  Mrs. Carter‘s quote comes from your book.  Your book covers more than just Michelle Obama.  You talk about many First Ladies in here.  What does Michelle Obama have to learn?  What has she learned from Hillary Clinton‘s experience, which is the other model we have of lawyer, law school graduate becoming First Lady? 

BETTS:  Well, I think she learned immediately not to move into the West Wing, stay in the East Wing. 

O‘DONNELL:  Not do policy. 

BETTS:  Not do policy.  Not that I think Michelle Obama was interested in doing that, but she stayed very clear of that.  In fact, it is interesting to note that the first year she was in the White House, she didn‘t even really ever say anything.  We really only got into her only anti-obesity campaign after a year.  And so—

O‘DONNELL:  There is a distinction there.  What she‘s doing is advocacy.  She is not talking about passing laws and writing anti-obesity legislation.  Sarah Palin exaggerates as if Michelle Obama is going to order people to do things through some sort of First Lady executive power. 

But advocacy is something that the First Lady has always done—in the modern version, done many times. 

BETTS:  That‘s her role. 

O‘DONNELL:  Lady Bird Johnson started an advocacy about litter, for example. 

BETTS:  Right, exactly.  I think that Michelle Obama is just trying to gain awareness for this issue.  And I think she‘ll probably come on even stronger with that in the years to come. 

O‘DONNELL:  Will we see a different Michelle Obama when she goes into campaign mode again, re-election campaign mode? 

BETTS:  Different, I don‘t know.  I hope that she‘ll continue with her style and her fashion, I think that‘s what keeps people watching her.  And once she has our attention, she delivers her message.  And it is a very clever way of manipulating the public that way and getting them to pay attention to her. 

O‘DONNELL:  First Lady watcher Kate Betts.  The book is “Everyday Icon.” Thank you, Kate, for joining us tonight.

BETTS:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog,  You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  My occasional Tweets are @Lawrence.  That‘s tonight‘s LAST WORD.  “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is up next.  Hey, Rachel.


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