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Msnbc Live at 6 p.m. ET, Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Guests: Jonathan Gruber, Richard Wolffe, Xavier Becerra, Roger Simon,

Vincent Gray, Steve Kornacki, Justin Elliott

CENK UYGUR, HOST:  Good evening.  I‘m Cenk Uygur. 

How you all doing tonight? 

You know what we‘re going to do?  We‘re going to start with a question tonight for the Republican Party.  Now, what do you do when your most likely candidate to run against President Obama has a really, really big problem? 

Now, why are we asking that today?  Well, it‘s because today happens to be a very special birthday.  Romneycare is five years old.  Whoo-hoo.  Happy birthday Romneycare!

On this date in 2006, with a beaming Ted Kennedy by his side, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney proudly signed a bill with an individual mandate guaranteeing health care to all its citizens.  That night, he went on “HARDBALL” to talk up his achievement. 


GOV. MITT ROMNEY ®, MASSACHUSETTS:  We‘re going to see the kind of effect that this change has on our individual citizens‘ lives really very, very quickly.  And there‘s not much question here, it works. 


UYGUR:  That was then.  And remember the law gave insurance to 98 percent of people in Massachusetts, and it added only about one percent to the state budget.  Now, that sounds pretty good, right? 

Well, it provided a template for President Obama‘s national health care law.  And that‘s the problem for Mitt Romney, who just yesterday, officially began exploring a presidential bid.  And really, that‘s the problem for the whole Republican Party since he is their front-runner. 

Republicans hate the president‘s health care law.  Seventy-four percent say it was a bad thing.  Along with the health care bill will be the big issue in the Republican primary.  And it is Romney‘s Achilles heel, because he actually had a somewhat sensible plan.  That is a terrible problem to have if you‘re in a Republican primary. 

In recent months, Democrats have gone out of their way to praise Romney‘s plan just so they could rub it in a little bit more. 


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he is proud of what he accomplished on health care in Massachusetts. 



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And you appreciate the work that Mitt Romney has done with health care? 


DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SR. ADVISER:  That work inspired our own health care bill, and he ought to be proud of it and he ought to embrace it. 



GOV. DEVAL PATRICK (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  I think one of the best things he did was to be the co-author of our health care reform. 


UYGUR:  And today, Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire and Massachusetts all staged happy birthday parties for Romney‘s law. 

Now, of course, Romney himself has a very different view of his crowning achievement as governor. 


ROMNEY:  Some things worked, some things didn‘t, some things I‘d change.  But one thing I would never do is usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover. 


UYGUR:  That is so wonderfully weak.  Romney‘s now trying to turn his health care law into the kind of states‘ rights issues that conservatives love, to which I say, come on, come on, come on, come on, come on.  It‘s the worst excuse I have ever seen. 

I love the president‘s plan in my state.  I just think you should have a worse one in yours.  That sounds desperate to me. 

But Romney isn‘t the only Republican to have a change of heart when it comes to the individual mandate.  In 2006, the mandate wasn‘t even a liberal idea.  It was promoted by conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation. 

That‘s probably why President Obama adopted it.  Oh, I said it. 

Shouldn‘t have said it.

All right.  Now, they thought it would foster individual responsibility then.  They even sent a representative to Romney‘s signing ceremony. 

Now, look, you see Robert Moffitt there?  I‘m one to screw up names, right, with a name like Cenk Uygur? 

All right.  So, he is the director of health policy at the Heritage Foundation, and he is wildly applauding the Romney law.  Well, of course, that was back then, when they were in favor of the individual mandate. 

Now that the political winds have shifted in the Republican Party, blowing the debate and Mitt Romney much farther to the right, well, not so much.  And we applaud.  I didn‘t mean to applaud. 

And you have to remember why they now hate the plan that was originally theirs—because President Obama agreed with it.  If Obama said he liked little puppies, the Republicans would find a reason why puppies are unacceptable.  Or Romney‘s case, he‘d tell you why puppies are great in Massachusetts but might not work in other states. 

Joining me now is the man called the chief architect of the Romney health care law, MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber.  He also helped the Obama administration write the Affordable Care Act.  Also with us is MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe. 

Great having both of you here.  We appreciate you coming on tonight. 


UYGUR:  Thank you. 

Let me start with you, Professor Gruber.  What do you think about Romney trying to run away from his plan these day? 

GRUBER:  Well, I think it‘s sad.  I think this is an incredible accomplishment.  He really is, in many ways, the father of health care reform, this round of health care reform in the U.S..  And I think it‘s sad for him and just a sad statement for his party that a candidate who accomplished so much can‘t actually run on his accomplishment. 

UYGUR:  Yes, that is kind of sad, isn‘t it?  It‘s a curious place to be in. 

What do you think?  I mean, are they really that similar?  To get to the heart of the matter here, is the Romney plan and the health care plan passed by President Obama and the Democrats pretty much the same thing, or no? 

GRUBER:  I would call the federal Affordable Care Act basically a more ambitious form of Romneycare in the sense the core of the acts are basically the same—the notion of making insurance markets fair, so you can‘t discriminate against the sick; making people buy health insurance so that prices can be fair; and subsidizing health insurance to make it affordable.  That three-legged stool is at the core of both plans.  The difference is the federal bill is much more ambitious in taking on cost control in a way which we didn‘t really do in Massachusetts. 

UYGUR:  That‘s interesting.  So you would think that that would be better, because we need cost controls. 

GRUBER:  You would think. 

UYGUR:  You would think.  OK. 

Now, let‘s go to Richard Wolffe now. 

Richard, how damaging is this going to be to Mitt Romney in those Republican primaries? 

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it‘s already causing him problems.  I mean, look at the polls where he is now.  He has dropped from the sort of front-runner status to somewhere behind Donald Trump and Sarah Palin in the most recent polling I‘ve seen.  So it‘s causing him problems and it gets to the heart of the authenticity challenge that he had last time, which is that he keeps changing his positions. 

Now, it‘s hard to sort of blame everything on Mitt Romney.  The truth is his party has changed. 

Mitt Romney didn‘t take his health care plans from some socialist manual written by Saul Alinsky and Van Jones.  He took his plan form what the Republicans thought was their consensus after the Clintons‘ effort in the early ‘90s. 

The truth is, the Republican Party, even today, is not what it was just a decade or two ago.  So his party has changed, and he is struggling to move with it.  The problem is, of course, the party is exactly what he needs get through the primaries. 

UYGUR:  Well, you know, it‘s an interesting case of the Obama administration‘s political jujitsu working, because they adopt Romney‘s plan, and then they tell Romney, ha ha, you have our plan, and hence, your party hates your plan.  Right?  So I get that. 

But, you know, Richard, let me press on that a little further.  If Romney makes it out of the primaries—and as you just pointed out, that‘s a huge, huge “if” given this scenario—if he does make it out, then can he turn it around on the president and go, hey, listen, you are the one telling everybody that you love my plan, so why don‘t I run the country instead? 

WOLFFE:  Well, if you listen to his pitch in his video, it‘s about jobs.  He is saying—although he says he has always been in the private sector, there was that spell being governor.  I mean, he is saying that he has that economic expertise. 

And to be honest, you know, there is a reason to actually tout his health care plan in New Hampshire.  It‘s not far from where people are actually benefiting from a health care plan which is popular in Massachusetts. 

So, he could actually take that and run with it if he wanted to embrace it.  It won‘t help him elsewhere and in Republican races around the country.  But he does have to go out and perform what all of those Republicans have to perform if he wins the nomination, which is a reversal. 

You can play to the Republican base and it will only take you so far, because Independents want to hear something very different.  That‘s what the White House is trying to talk to right now.  They are trying to go for the center. 

They don‘t need to worry about the base.  They don‘t need to worry about a primary contest. 

UYGUR:  Right. 

Professor Gruber, let me go back to you again on the content of this plan, because I think if you are out there watching this, you are kind of confused at this point.  Wait, if it‘s Obama‘s plan and Romney‘s plan, is it a conservative plan, is it a liberal plan?  What is it?  I mean, does it fit into either one of those boxes? 

GRUBER:  Well, I think it really borrows from both.  It‘s a plan I like to call incremental universalism. 

What I mean by that is it borrows from the conservatives the notion of incremental, the notion of, look, we have a private system that works, let‘s build on that private system.  Let‘s fix the holes is the private system.

It borrows from the left universal, the notion of, hey, let‘s get universal coverage.  Let‘s fix this fundamental social flaw in our society that people are uninsured.  And, so, it gets that universal coverage goal, but it does so using really pretty traditionally conservative tools of an individual mandate, which was a Republican idea, and of subsidies to private insurance, rather than just expanding public insurance. 

UYGUR:  Well, look, if it‘s that moderate, Romney is going to have a lot of trouble with that in the Republican primary.  They are not a moderate mood, it appears.

To that point about the larger campaign, Richard, I want to show you a clip of Mitt Romney and his overall problems, his flip-flops on, in this case, abortion, and ask you about that.  Let‘s watch first. 

WOLFFE:  Sure. 


ROMNEY:  I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. 

I will preserve and protect a woman‘s right to choose, and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard. 

The right next step in the fight to preserve the sanctity of life is to see Roe v. Wade overturned. 


UYGUR:  Now, I know politicians generally have some issues with honesty, but is that beyond the bounds of reason?  I mean, are the Republican primary voters going to look at that and go, oh, come on, slick Mitt? 

WOLFFE:  Look, it‘s OK to change your mind over time, but it‘s only OK to do it on one, maybe two issues.  Abortion, I think, you know, he could credibly claim that he has come to some sort of revelation on it.  But on so many different subjects, it starts to stretch and strain credulity. 

And his bigger problem—look, if you want to say Romney is going to be the Obama of the Republican Party this time around, Obama was always a centrist, but he could prove that he had left-of-center credentials because he took a strong position against the war in Iraq, and that carried him through the primaries.  He didn‘t have to strain on any other subject. 

For Romney, he has to choose what that issue is to say yes, I‘m one of you, I‘m a real conservative.  He should stick to what he is talking about now, which is the economy, which is jobs, go after the president‘s economic policy, but say on all these other position, actually, I‘m a centrist, that‘s why I‘m electable around the country and I‘m your best hope of unseating this president. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Excellent analysis.

MIT professor Jonathan Gruber and MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, thank you both. 

WOLFFE:  Thanks, Cenk.

GRUBER:  You‘re welcome.  Good to be here. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Have a great night, guys. 

Now, tomorrow could be a defining moment for President Obama.  Will he use the bully pulpit and fight for Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid?  Progressives in Congress found a way do it and balance the budget.  We‘ll show you why that progressive plan is actually excellent. 

Plus, more birther talk from Donald Trump, but today the president‘s sister is fighting back. 



WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I believe this budget debate is about two very different futures for America, about whether we will continue to go forward under our motto, “E Pluribus Unum” - - out of many, one—whether we will continue to unite and grow, or whether we will become a more divided winner-take-all society. 


UYGUR:  Bubba!  All right.  That was back in 1995. 

It was amid an historic showdown with Newt Gingrich, where Bill Clinton threw down the gauntlet and stood up for progressive values, vowing to protect Medicare.  It was bold and it made a lot of sense since he is a Democratic president. 

Now, it did partly trigger two government shutdowns, obviously forced mainly by the Republicans, but ultimately it worked.  The policy worked and the politics also worked.  Clinton won re-election in 1996. 

Now it‘s President Obama‘s turn.  Tomorrow, he will lay out his plan to reduce America‘s deficit.  And in the process, Obama will have a chance to explain exactly what he stands for. 

We have seen what the Republicans want to do, and it‘s Draconian.  Paul Ryan‘s proposal would shift the burden entirely onto the backs of the poorest Americans.  It would slash Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other programs that help lower-income Americans.  It would give a huge tax break to the rich, reducing upper-income taxes from 35 percent to 25 percent, as if the rich were not getting a big enough break. 

Also on the table is last year‘s deficit commission plan.  Now, it does a slightly better job than Ryan‘s at spreading the pain, but it‘s still ugly.  True, it doesn‘t seek to privatize Medicare, and it raises taxes on capital gains, which are good, but it does target social security, proposing to raise the retirement age.  And, of course, like Ryan‘s plan, it would lower taxes for the wealthy and for corporations. 

But there‘s another plan I want to tell you about, one that isn‘t getting nearly the media attention that Ryan‘s is.  But it‘s the only plan that actually makes sense. 

It‘s from the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  It‘s simple, it‘s strong, and it spells out an entirely different vision of American values. 

You see the people carrying the burden equally?  It makes sense.  It balances the budget and it‘s fair. 

Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security don‘t take any hits.  Savings come from a reduction in military spending.  Remember, we spend a tremendous amount of money.  Forty-three percent of the entire world‘s spending on defense is from the United States of America. 

Under the progressive plan, revenues get a bump by ending the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000, and also by raising taxes on millionaires.  Also by closing corporate tax loopholes.  All three of those things make tremendous sense. 

Now, last year, Barack Obama backed down on those Bush tax cuts, unfortunately.  He let the Republicans have their way.  He said it was so they could fight later.  Well, now the fight is coming, but as a result, America is now paying an enormous cost. 

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Bush tax cuts are adding hundreds of billions to our deficit.  Now it‘s time for Barack Obama to fight back.  He said it would come, and today‘s the day.  Actually, tomorrow, he needs to make his case, not the Republicans‘ case. 

The progressive plan that makes a ton of sense, in my opinion, is the way to go.  But is the president going to go in that direction?  And if he doesn‘t, if not now, when?

With me now is Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra of California. 

Congressman Becerra is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. 

Congressman, first of all, the Progressive Caucus plan, what do you think of it?  Does it make sense? 

REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA:  Cenk, the Progressive Caucus puts forward what we have always known, the ideas that helped build America put Americans back to work.  And I‘ve got to tell you that there have been some ideas to invest in this country that the Progressive Caucus has put forward for a long time and had success, but these days, under Republican rule, they don‘t get much attention.

UYGUR:  And what do you think the president is going to do?  I mean, that‘s obviously questions that everybody is asking.  You can go in the progressive direction, although I don‘t know why it‘s not getting media attention.  Obviously, we‘re trying to give it attention.  It make a lot of sense to us.  Or you can go in the way of the Ryan plan or the Deficit Commission, which was the president‘s commission. 

Are you afraid he might go in that direction instead? 

BECERRA:  I have no doubt that the president is going to clearly outline the contrast between he and the Republicans in the Ryan plan, and perhaps the even more conservative Republican Study Committee plan which really is the one that House Republicans are behind. 

And so I think you‘re going to find that the president will give the clear distinction between his vision of how to move American forward and put Americans back to work and the Republican vision, which essentially says seniors, through budget cuts, to Medicare and Social Security, pay for the tax cults for the very wealthy and the subsidies for big oil. 

UYGUR:  So, Congressman, talk us about those differences, because in some places, it appears clear, it looks like the president is going to say hey, for people making about $250,000, we‘re going to go back to the Clinton-era tax rates, which makes sense, it‘s progressive, it was his position during the campaign, et cetera, et cetera.  But in places like Medicare and Medicaid, it looks like he is going to propose cuts. 

Now, does that jibe with his earlier statements?  Does that make sense to you? 

BECERRA:  Well, if you‘re talking about providing savings through Medicare that take you further along in reducing the cost of health care, that makes sense.  That is what we did last year when we found $500 billion of savings by removing some of the duplication of services that was costing seniors and taxpayers a great deal of money. 

But if you are talking about doing what the Republicans do, which is essentially privatizing Medicare, turning it into a voucher, what I call coupon care, because you essentially get a coupon to go shop for your health care—and we know since 1965, the only reason seniors have easy access to health care is because Medicare came along.  Before that, private insurers did not want seniors to get coverage under their company. 

So if you are talking about trying to move forward with strengthening Social Security, strengthening Medicare, you‘re on the money.  The moment you start talking about privatizing it making seniors pay for the extra cost, you are essentially going back to pre-1965, pre-1935, when seniors retired in poverty. 

UYGUR:  All right.  So let‘s assume for the moment being that the president does the progressive thing, and he says, I‘m marginally going to protect these program, going to make some—of course, the devil is in the details and we‘ll see what kind of adjustments get made to Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security.  That‘s very important. 

But let‘s give him the benefit of the doubt on that and say he does that.  How does it then get resolved?  Because, today, John Boehner came out and said raising taxes is unacceptable to him and it‘s a nonstarter. 

So how do you resolve that? 

BECERRA:  Cenk, that is the big difference between what I believe the president will tell the American people and what John Boehner and the Republicans are telling the American people.  The Republicans have said we‘re taking things off the table.  They want to protect those fat cats, those sacred cows.  And the president, I hope, will say everything should be on the table.

And those of us who are strong supporters of strengthening Social Security, Medicare, should be prepared to say that we can put those programs on the table and know that they will survive because the American public wants them to be stronger, not to be privatized.  But to the degree that Republicans remove things from discussion that should be on the table, the Republicans are truly revealing what they‘re doing, and that‘s simply they are protecting the special interests that have been providing them with a great deal of support every two years, every four years that there‘s an election. 

UYGUR:  Right.  But, Congressman, last thing on this. 

Look, I know my strategy, and it‘s not the one that the president favors.  If they said to me it‘s unacceptable, I‘d say, all right, unacceptable right back at you, and this is what I think of your criticism.  Right?  But that‘s not how the president operates, and we‘re going to have a deadline on the debt ceiling soon, right? 

So, how do you resolve it when both sides say no, it‘s—one side says we‘ve got to have tax cuts, and the other side says no, we actually have to go back to the Clinton era (ph)? 

BECERRA:  Well, Cenk, no one wants to see the game of chicken played the way the Republicans played it with this recent budget vote that we had where they nearly shut the government down unless they got their way.  What we found out quickly, that it wasn‘t—their concerns were not about budgets and about fiscal issues and numbers, it was about a social agenda. 

If the Republicans try to do that, whether it‘s with the debt ceiling vote, or with the 2012 budget, which we are now starting to discuss and debate, then I believe the president has every right to set down a clear marker and say enough is enough, the people want us to put Americans back to work and get our fiscal house in order.  You don‘t have to do that by cutting kids out of Head Start, cutting seniors out of their Medicare benefits. 

UYGUR:  Right.  Well, will he?  That‘s the question I guess we‘ll find out as the negotiations proceed. 

Congressman Xavier Becerra, thank you for joining us.  Of course, member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  Thank you for your time tonight. 

BECERRA:  Thanks very much. 

UYGUR:  All right. 

Now I want to bring in Roger Simon.  He‘s chief political columnist for Politico.  His new article is about the heat that Obama could start feeling from liberals unhappy with one too many compromises. 

I know all about that.  All right.


UYGUR:  Roger, is that a real threat here for the president?  Because, you know, I did this just a little while ago about what I would do with the Republican criticism.  That seems to be what President Obama does with liberal criticism nonstop. 

Does he actually have to be concerned for a change? 

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO:  I think the White House is pretty confident that Barack Obama will not be facing a significant challenge on his left, and that is why he has opened up so much room to his left, because he thinks there is no one there to exploit it. 

But this is a president who abandoned single-payer health care, who agreed to extending tax cuts for the rich, who promised to close down Guantanamo and, in fact, is keeping it open and holding military tribunals, and has expanded the war in Afghanistan. 

Now, for all those people who say, well, yes, there‘s a lot of room to the left and a lot of unhappy liberals, but, you know, they are not that unhappy.  Imagine, if you will—this is totally a fantasy—if Hillary Clinton announced tomorrow she was resigning from the cabinet, was going to run against the president because the president was simply too moderate, had gone back on his promises, and basically she could carve a better man out of a banana.

UYGUR:  Wow.  I don‘t think she‘ll say that. 

SIMON:  I don‘t think she will.  But as an example, I don‘t think if she did, she would be met by a huge amount of anger and disgust or even laughter. 

UYGUR:  Well, you know, as far as—

SIMON:  I think a number of progressives would say, well, she might

have a point there

UYGUR:  Right.  Well, as far as political drama was concerned, that would be amazing, right?  And it would be certainly ironic for then Hillary to take the more liberal position, given that it was the exact opposite in 2008. 

SIMON:  Sure. 

UYGUR:  But look, I want to talk to you about the Progressive Caucus, because Congressman DeFazio came on this program last night and said it‘s time for the president to start acting like a Democrat.  He use some pretty strong words, said the president caved in on several occasions. 

So, does it make sense, is it a smart strategy for progressives in Congress to say we‘re not going to take it anymore, I don‘t care what the president says, we are going to put real pressure from the left and we‘re going to give him a whole bunch of no votes if he keeps going towards the right? 

SIMON:  I think it‘s the only weapon they have, and I think it may be a good weapon.  And I doubt very much that progressives are going to be entirely pleased by the president‘s speech tomorrow. 

The White House has already figured out that to gain moderate support, this is a president who has to bite the built and say, we‘re going to cut Medicaid, Medicare and even Social Security.  He is not going to say “cut,” he is going to say “reform.”  But I don‘t think you are going to see an entirely progressive proposal from the president tomorrow.  And one of the reasons—

UYGUR:  Yes.  You know, you hit the nail on the head there. 

SIMON:  Yes.

UYGUR:  I mean, the critical part is when they say “reform,” it usually means cut.  That‘s a political code word, and that‘s what we‘re going to watch out for in tomorrow‘s speech. 

Roger Simon from Politico.

Thank you so much for joining us.  We really appreciate it. 

SIMON:  Thank you, Cenk. 

UYGUR:  All right.

Now, coming up next, Speaker Boehner might have some explaining to do.  Wait until you hear what he said about the debt ceiling earlier.  I don‘t think the Tea Partiers are going to be happy about that. 


UYGUR:  Welcome back.  In the con job of the day, we have massive, giant, colossal republican hypocrisy on the debt.  As the debate over the debt ceiling heats up, Republicans are trying to deceive Americans about where all that debt actually came from.  South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney blamed democratic policies for getting the country in the red, saying, quote, “it‘s their debt.  Make them do it.  That‘s my attitude,” referring to raising the debt ceiling.  The only problem with that statement is that it is entirely untrue.  Republicans are the ones who built the giant deficits, not the Democrats.  

Bush administration policies like tax cuts for the wealthy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Medicare prescription drug benefit added more than $3.2 trillion to the debt.  Now, these compared to $600 billion worth of stimulus and tax cuts from President Obama.  And by the way that stimulus was made necessary by the gigantic economic crash brought to you by the Republicans.  And it‘s not just Bush.  The GOP has been a disaster on this for a long time.  The last democratic president to balance the budget, Bill Clinton.  The last republican, Dwight Eisenhower.  I never tire of saying that.  They never balance the budget.  Never, ever, ever, ever. 

Well, since Eisenhower, at least.  And remember that Clinton left office with $127 billion surplus.   Eight years later, George W. Bush was running a $1.3 trillion deficit.  That‘s the deficit of course that the Republicans are now complaining about.  Oh, the Democrats.  Except for the fact that the Democrats balanced the budget and you guys don‘t.  But rewriting history isn‘t the only part of this con job.  Republicans know in order to keep the country on the right track, raising the debt ceiling is inevitable.  John Boehner said so in January. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But do you agree with administration officials and other economists that defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States would be a financial disaster?

JOHN BOEHNER, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  That would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy. 


UYGUR:  So, even though Boehner knows raising the ceiling is necessary, he is looking at it as a new opportunity to push the republican agenda anyway.  He told a group of supporters this weekend that there‘s no way the Republicans will support raising the limit, quote, “without something really, really big attached to it.”  Meaning, giant spending cuts again.  Now, what happened?  I thought you didn‘t want to play politics with the debt ceiling?  All of a sudden, you are playing politics with it.  So in the end, the GOP causes giant deficits and then when we have to raise the debt limit to pay for them, they hold the country hostage to further their agenda that got us into debt in the first place.  That‘s not just the con job of the day, that‘s been their con job for the last 30 years.  

So, next, the GOP war on women hits the nation‘s capital.  But Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is fighting back.  So, why was he arrested, Mayor Gray tells us, ahead.  

And Donald Trump is the new king of the birthers, but does he actually believe anything that‘s coming out of his mouth?  And is he really going to run for president?  Well, we‘ll going to try to figure that out when we come back.    


UYGUR:  We all know that the GOP loves big government when it comes to our private lives.  They want to get between you and your womb.  Case in point, during the budget battle last week, Republicans pushed to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood.  They didn‘t succeed but they did manage to force conservative views on Washington, D.C.  As part of the deal that was cut with Democrats, the District of Columbia is banned from using its own funds to provide abortions to low-income women.  D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was among 41 people arrested while protesting the deal, which effectively takes away autonomy from the city. 

In the end, this is just the latest example of how Republicans have treated Washington, D.C.  Whenever they want to do a social experiment based on their conservative ideology, they force it upon D.C. because the federal government has ultimate control over the local government.  And then they can score political points with their base for imposing their values on the local population, which by the way, ironically is among the most liberal in the country.  Now the thing is I thought we lived in a democracy, but apparently, if you live in the District of Columbia, that just doesn‘t apply to you.  Now, on the other hand, Democrats could have fought for the resident of the city but shockingly enough, they didn‘t.  So once again, Washington, D.C. has gotten thrown under the bus in negotiations with the GOP. 

Joining me now is D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to talk about that.  Mayor Gray, thank you for joining us, we appreciate it. 

MAYOR VINCENT GRAY, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Thank you so much for having me.  I appreciate it, you have done a good job of characterizing the dilemma we find ourselves in. 

UYGUR:  All right.  So let‘s start with that dilemma.  First, let‘s talk about the Republicans and how they continually play with D.C.  Isn‘t there a problem there?  I thought they have, the, you know, slogan don‘t tread on me but they like treading all over you. 

GRAY:  Well, absolutely, we are being tread upon and it happens repeatedly.  We see these riders on our budget.  We have seen two of them in this instance.  First of all, the banning of our ability to use our own money to support abortions in the District of Columbia and then the foisting upon us of a voucher program that basically says here is money, you are going to go give money to private schools to educate your children.  This really eliminates any possibility in those two areas that the people of this city will be able to make the decisions that are made by the people of every other state and every other city without having to be subjected to this. 

UYGUR:  So, for a lot of people that might not know why, why can the federal government do this to you, guys?  Why can‘t you control your own government?

GRAY:  Well, it‘s because we are—there is a federal presence, we are the federal city.  But what it doesn‘t recognize and they fail to acknowledge is that these dollars are raised by the people of the District of Columbia.  We have our own tax system.  We have property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes.  And those taxes are the responsibility of—generated by the 600,000 people who live in the city.  Yet, the Congress intervenes whenever it feels like it and imposes its will on the District of Columbia.  If they were federal funds, perhaps they would have a legitimate case but these are our dollars and we ought to make those decisions for ourselves.  That‘s why 41 people were arrested yesterday, because people have got to the point where they are saying enough is enough.  We want budget autonomy for ourselves and the city.  We want to have self-determination, like everybody else. 

UYGUR:  I think this is the height of irony, because the Tea Parties were all about taxation without representation, the original Tea Parties.  

GRAY:  That‘s right.  That‘s exactly correct. 

UYGUR:  Now the current batch of Tea Party say, well, I don‘t care what the D.C. people pay in taxes,  we‘re just going to take over and give them a conservative ideology, even though your city is among the most liberal in the country. 

GRAY:  Absolutely.  And not only that, the Tea Party members are people who also believe that states and local jurisdictions ought to have the right to make their own decisions, not have federal interference, congressional interference like we see here in our city. 

UYGUR:  All right.  One final question for you, Mayor Vincent Gray.  It is easy to say, OK, Republicans are doing the wrong thing because they are.  All right.  But on the other hand, it seems like whenever the Democrats are in a bind, I will give you D.C., you do whatever you like there.  How do you feel about that?

GRAY:  Well, I feel like we got thrown under the bus and it‘s clear that it isn‘t just Republicans who are supporting this deal.  This deal has been supported by people on both sides of the aisle.  I‘m concerned, too, about what the White House‘s role is in all of this.  So, the question is for us, you know, where are our supporters?  And that‘s why people are simply tired of it, that‘s why people are engaging in civil disobedience and I think this is not going to go away quickly because people are sick and tired of raising our money and then having someone else tell us how to live our lives.  

UYGUR:  So, do you think President Obama threw you under that bus?

GRAY:  Well, you know, there have been quotes that said, you know, we will give up D.C.  We have contacted the White House.  I want to hear directly from the president himself what his position was.  The president has said he supports voting rights for the city, that he supports, you know, the charter and home rule.  Now is the time to demonstrate that, it is easy to have the conversation but these are the instances where we need to see it. 

UYGUR:  All right.  D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, thank you for joining us tonight.  We appreciate it. 

GRAY:  Thank you. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Now, Donald Trump makes an announcement about his potential run for president but is he for real and does he actually believe what he says?  Could he really be that crazy or perhaps stupid? Because the things that come out of his mouth are unbelievable.  But either way, he is already having an effect on the Republicans who want to replace President Obama.  We will talk about that.     


UYGUR:  Is Donald Trump really going to run for president?  I don‘t think so but Mike Huckabee says, something that might change my mind.  That is very interesting.  And can he possibly believe the birther nonsense?  Well, we are going to talk about that when we come back. 


UYGUR:  The question tonight is, is Donald Trump for real?  One of his potential 2012 opponents, Mike Huckabee, thinks he‘s serious, at least about running for president.  Here is how Huckabee described a recent meeting that he had it with Trump.  Quote, “we just had a very honest open conversation about the process of running, who is kind of like two dogs sniffing around a fire hydrant together.” 

That is one of the most unfortunate analogies in a long time.  Did anyone need that visual?  I don‘t even know what they want to sniff.  I‘m going to leave it right there.  Huckabee also said, quote, “I think he is going to get in it.  I seriously believe he is going to jump in.  I did not think that going into the meeting but when I came out, I thought this guy is going to get out there and do it.”  How did Trump respond to the idea that he might jump into the race?  Well, he said, “I jump in it.”  OK, that‘s not Trump, but he is apparently just as rich.   He is the Russian direct TV guy.  You get the point. 

All right.  So, he managed to convince Huckabee that he is in for 2012.  Now, as for the birther conspiracy theory, President Obama‘s half-sister calls Trump‘s obsession with the issue, a shame. 


MAYA SOETORO-NG, PRESIDENT OBAMA‘S SISTER:  Nothing is unfortunate.  He was born in Hawaii.  There is a tremendous amount of proof that has already been presented.  I think that it is time for people to put that to bed, put it to rest completely. 


UYGUR:  It is a shame, as Congressman Weiner once famously said, a shame.  She said that and of course, in a different portion of the interview.  Look, here is my thing on the birther thing, really?  I mean, to all of you people who believe it including Donald Trump, really?  OK.  There are papers, there‘s an ads in the paper in Hawaii at the time announcing his birth that came from the State Health Department.  The State Health Department thought he was going to be elected president all those years ago, now, seriously, you have to be near lunatic to believe that.  I mean, that‘s like we didn‘t land on the moon and you see the way the shadows were on the moon landing kind of crazy.  That‘s like saying the glove didn‘t fit, you must acquit.  

It‘s even worse than that, I think it‘s a better chance O.J. didn‘t do it.  I think O.J. definitely did it.  Come on, man no serious person can believe that, can they?  But we have a guy who‘s doing well in the republican primaries who says, oh, yes, I‘m going to spend a lot of money proving it.  Good luck to you.  Actually, bad luck to you, and that‘s what you are going to get because it isn‘t true.  

All right.  Joining me now are Steve Kornacki and Justin Elliott, are both from to talk about it.  Justin, look, there‘s a million of these nonsense theories, OK?  His grandmother said, he was born in Kenya, and they spent $2 million.  OK.  All right.  Just give me the grandmother one and the $2 million one.  What are they and why are they wrong?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT, SALON.COM:  Sure.  Trump says that Obama‘s grandmother in Kenya claims that he was born in Kenya, but really what that comes from is a discredited interview with his grandmother over a scratchy phone line.  His grandmother has said many other times that he was not born in Kenya, so it‘s just simply not true.  Trump have also said that Obama spent $2 million in legal fees, taking its first step in secret.  It turns out that comes from a conspiracy theories Web site covering all that daily popular right-wing news Web site.  And the $2 million figure refers to total legal bills for the Obama campaign, not how much they have spent fighting these birther lawsuits, a small part of that, it was spent fighting the lawsuits.  So, that number also a falsehood. 

UYGUR:  So, Steve, let me go to you on the political ramification of this, is one side of the political spectrum just totally allowed to lie now?  They just, I mean, these are serious candidates.  Look, I want to show you some poll numbers.  Trump is killing in the republican polls.  He is in the top two in so many, what is this, we‘ve got a new PPP poll?  This is the CNN, let me show you that one first, he is tied for first with Huckabee at 19 percent, OK?  And then in the PPP poll, he is at 21 percent, which is, you know, number two after Mitt Romney.  So what—so, like if a democrat lied, he they would be all over him the entire press, like can you believe?  We‘ve got Republicans like, oh, yes, he spent 2 million, oh yes, his grandmother did this, he just making stuff up. 

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM:  Well, I would say two things.  You know, number one, when you see poll that puts Donald Trump at or near first place in the republican side, I think that says a lot more about the weakness, the profound weakness of the rest of the republican field than it does about the strengths of Donald Trump.  But to the point about through the power of birtherism on the Republican side right now, you know, it really is not part of—you can debunk this fact, you can debunk, you know, that assertion.  But really this comes back to the rejection. 

You know, the right rejected Obama from basically the moment he was elected.  In their mind, he was not a legitimate president and really, he wasn‘t a legitimate American and that‘s really not a new phenomenon, that is how the right, the hard right in this country tends to react when Democrats win national elections.  If you can think back to when Bill Clinton was president, there were lots of crazy cockamamie theories about Bill Clinton was drug running with his wife.  Bill Clinton, you know, orchestrate the murder of Vince Foster, there were crazy, crazy conspiracy there is back been, too.  They have latched onto birtherism with Obama.  But I think its part of the same thing. 

UYGUR:  Justin, here‘s the thing, right?  First of all, Trump has actually skyrocketed in the republican polls after he did the birther stuff, he is not as popular before.  And you got a majority of republican primary voters saying, I should say, republican voters overall saying that they actually believe the birther theory. 

ELLIOTT:  Right. 

UYGUR:  So, has an entire party in our system, in our two-party system lost their mind?

ELLIOTT:  Look, I mean, we all know, I think most of the country recognizes that Trump is a clown, OK?  But I think we also have to look at the media, why is Trump being allowed to go on the network media and includes NBC, CNN, ABC, big radio shows and just repeat this wild discredited lie about to Obama‘s birthplace?  And he‘s just being allowed to go on again and again and again.  I mean, why don‘t we have Lyndon LaRouche on to talk about how Al Gore created aids or something like that?  It‘s the same thing. 

UYGUR:  No, I hear you the promise Steve, he‘s either first or second, LaRouche wouldn‘t come there but, I mean, to me, it says so much more about the Republican Party than it does about Donald Trump, because Justin, you are right.  I mean, look, a lot of people say crazy stuff, right?  Now, the guy down the street says the craziest things I have ever heard.  I don‘t know if he gets on TV to your point, Justin, maybe he will be number one in the republican primary. 

KORNACKI:  And that‘s something I think David Plouffe made his point the other day, you know what, if you‘re the democrat, if you‘re on Obama‘s side, if you just knock on these guys, let him run, cheer for him to run, cheer for him to go out and says this, because if he says this, and if he or somebody like him, because I really don‘t think Donald Trump is running when all is said and done.  But if somebody like him, can ride a message like this to the republican nomination, might work then, it is not going to work in the fall. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Real quick, because we are really short on time, did you think, you said he is not going to run?

KORNACKI:  I have bet my entire savings account, it‘s a massive $184.27, I put that online, I will give that money away if he runs for president. 

UYGUR:  Give it to me.  All right.  Because I didn‘t think he was going to run but Huckabee makes me think maybe he is.  Real quick, Justin, is he going to run or no?

ELLIOTT:  There is no way he is running but I think there‘s a good chance, the ratings of “Celebrity Apprentice” on NBC are going to go way up. 

UYGUR:  And by the way, if he does run, they can‘t do celebrity apprentice.  So, you know, which way NBC is rating.   

ELLIOTT:  It‘s over in June. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Steve Kornacki and Justin Elliott, both of you, thank you so much.  I really appreciate it. 

All right, next, we explain the art of negotiations, why are Republicans seemingly so much better at it than Democrats?         


UYGUR:  All right.  Now let me tell you a story that relates to today‘s news.  Back when I was in business school, I was in a labor management class and we had this little exercise, it was a negotiation exercise, very relevant to what‘s going on right now in the news.  And I remember I was on the management side and I was debating the labor guys, as life would turn out, kind of ironic at this point.  And I decided I was going to crush them, right?  And I had a strategy, the strategy was I looked at the points system, and of course, I wanted them to take lower wages and work longer hours, I was the Governor Walker of that time and that class.  

And I picked out the dental plan, which didn‘t really matter much.  And I insisted on it, in the negotiations because they don‘t know the points system, we have got a different one, right?  I said, you know what, I‘m not going to give you the dental plan, under no conditions would I give you the dental plan.  And at the end of the negotiations, I said, all right, if you work really long hours and take really low wages, I will give you the dental plan.  I broke the class record.  Why?  Because they thought the dental plan was really important.  Do you know what the dental plan is?  It‘s the riders.  The Republicans were never going to kill that deal base on the riders, whether it was abortion or the EPA, et cetera.  

They are run by the Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber of Commerce wanted them to make a deal and they don‘t give a damn about abortion.  It was a trick all along.  I know, because I played that trick.  Look, the reason I‘m telling you now is because it‘s so important that the president and the Democrats not fall for it the next time.  Look, you know what?  The Chamber of Commerce also don‘t want us to default on our payments and go past the debt ceiling.  These guys are bluffing.  What I need the president and the Democrats to understand is, as a bluffer, trust me, there are times when they are bluffing.  Call their bluff.  I‘m asking you do that tonight.  Thank you for watching, everybody, I really appreciate it. 

You know what, “HARDBALL” is going to start right now. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                            


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