Guests: Claire McCaskill, John Hofmeister, Jon Ralston, Steve Sebelius,
Jonathan Gruber, Bob Windrem, Evan Kohlmann
CENK UYGUR, HOST: Good evening. I‘m Cenk Uygur.
Today, the CEOs of big oil came to Washington to try to defend the indefensible -- $4 billion in tax breaks each year taken out of the taxpayers‘ pockets. That would be you that they are taking from.
With Democrats fighting to end those subsidies once and for all, executives for the top five oil companies tried to claim they paid their fair share in taxes, which is nonsense.
Of course, Democrats on the committee were having none of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The oil and gas by pays its fair share of taxes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We pay our full share.
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: In the case of Exxon Mobil, that your effective federal tax rate substantially is three percent lower than what the average individual federal tax rate is, I think you‘re out of touch, deeply, profoundly out of touch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: The truth is, the oil companies don‘t even come close to paying their fair share.
Over the last three years, Exxon Mobil, for example, had an effective tax rate of 17.6 percent. That‘s three points less than what the average American pays in income taxes. So, if you‘re a middle class American, you‘re paying a higher tax rate than the richest company in the world.
Does that sound fair to you?
Senator Chuck Schumer also grilled the ConocoPhillips CEO about his company‘s statement that opposing the oil subsidies was “un-American.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Do you think anyone who advocates cutting these subsidies is un-American?
JIM MULVA, CEO, CONOCOPHILLIPS: That‘s a very important question, so, if I could, just make a comment or two to respond.
SCHUMER: Do you apologize for it?
MULVA: Make no mistake, were these proposals enacted that we‘re talking about today—
SCHUMER: I know your view on the issue. Do you consider it un-American to have a different view? Yes or no?
MULVA: Senator, I believe that the proposals under consideration are going to have a very adverse impact with respect to energy policy.
SCHUMER: I know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: Get a load of these guys. So, not letting big oil skip out on their taxes is un-American. I guess in their version of America, where they buy our politicians to do their bidding, yes, then it would be un-American.
Of course today wasn‘t the first time around the block for these big oil guys. Executives faced a similar panel back in 2005.
Now, in that hearing, Senator Ron Wyden asked the execs if they agreed with then-President Bush, who said oil companies don‘t need incentives when oil prices are so high. And back then, they were just at $55 a barrel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my oral comments, I said we do not need—what we do need though is access.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Just a yes or a no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WYDEN: Sir, the president‘s correct?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He‘s correct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: So they agreed, no need for incentives. Wyden played that 2005 clip for the executives today and then hit them with this --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WYDEN: If your company didn‘t need incentives to drill for oil at $55 a barrel, how in the world can you possibly need incentives when oil is at $100 a barrel?
MULVA: Our costs go up, taxes have gone up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: That‘s a joke. Their costs are nearly identical to what they were back then, and their taxes have not gone up one dime. In fact, their effective tax rate has gone way down.
You know what‘s gone up though? The price you pay at the gasp pump and the incredible profits that these oil companies are making.
So where do they get the nerve? Well, look, they‘re sitting there telling the senators anything they like. They were cocky today.
They were telling them, oh, we‘re not going to back down. Why?
Because they figure they already bought Congress.
Do you what me to show you how? Do you know that since 1998, they have spent $1.1 billion on lobbying. Last year alone they spent $146 million.
So the senators can say all they like. They know there‘s nothing that‘s going to go past the House, because in the House, they bought all the Republicans.
You know how much they paid for the Republicans last year? Well, they paid them $21.8 million in direct campaign contributions. So that‘s why they get to sit up there and be the welfare queens that they are and take all of our money and then laugh at us.
These guys are the worst when it comes to not believing in the free market. All those conservatives talk about a free market? Nonsense. All they do is leech off of us.
You see very clearly where I stand on this.
Now let‘s bring in Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri.
She‘s a co-sponsor of the bill to roll back the big oil subsidies.
Senator, great to have you here.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Thanks. Good to be with you.
Tell me about your bill. How much does it take away in oil subsidies, and do you think it has a chance of passing?
MCCASKILL: Well, we have tried to do the very simplest bill we possibly could by limiting it to the five largest big oil companies. These are the same five companies that made a profit of over $35 billion just in the last three months. So, the fact that we are limiting it to the big guys and not going after the small independent producers, and secondly, that all this money is going to go towards the deficit, what I can‘t imagine is all these guys around here talking about the deficit and the debt, the deficit and the debt, and they aren‘t willing to step up and take away these tax goodies from the wealthiest and most profitability corporations in the history of the world.
UYGUR: So, Senator, we know that if you just go to try to pass it, the Republicans are going to filibuster. And you‘ve got two Democrats who are on their side, Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich.
And then, you know, in the House, the Republicans totally control it. They just voted in unison against cutting these subsidies because their bosses are the big oil companies. There‘s no question about that.
But when you go into negotiations about what to cut—because that‘s coming next—is it possible that the Democrats will say, and will they say, we‘re not going to do any cuts until you agree to these cuts that 74 percent of the American people agree to, and this is the first set of cuts we have to have, otherwise no deal on anything?
MCCASKILL: Well, I think we‘re going to be in a pretty strong negotiating position, because if we don‘t have the political will to cut these subsidies to big oil, how are we ever going to find the political will to cut the subsidies to all the other parts of our economic picture right now? And like you said, I mean, we‘re not talking about free market, we‘re talking about subsidizing a lot of different corporations in a lot of different ways.
All those tax goodies that are in the tax code got there via lobbyists. And really, we lower taxes and have more revenue if we were focused on the people that didn‘t have lobbyists and take all these goodies away.
So I think if these guys can‘t go for this very reasonable approach to reducing tax subsidies to corporations, I don‘t know how we can take them seriously on any of the deficit reduction.
UYGUR: Senator, I want to show you a clip from one of the welfare queens that was in the Senate today, that CEO for Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson. He had the nerve to threaten us. I want you to watch it and get your reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, CEO, EXXON MOBIL: You give me a different tax burden than my competitor has, I don‘t get to develop that lease. I‘m going to take my capital then since the U.S. is not attractive, I‘ve got to go somewhere else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: And he wasn‘t the only one. There were two CEOs today who said, oh, I‘ll leave the U.S. Me? I say, God Bless, go to Somalia, see how that treats you. And by the way, in 2009, they actually paid $15 billion of taxes to other countries and none to us.
How do you take that threat from a guy like that?
MCCASKILL: Well, I think it‘s frankly a little nervy. The customers of this oil are in this country, they‘re paying very high prices right now.
The people I represent are hurting because of gas prices. And these guys have been wildly profitable.
The notion that they have to get subsidies from the United States taxpayer or they‘re going to leave our shores? That‘s what‘s un-American. That is un-American.
UYGUR: Yes. And by the way, there are plenty of other companies in the world that will do drilling.
You know how much profit they got in just 2010? They got $74 billion in profit. So, for them to say, that, oh, no, they‘ll just take their business elsewhere is a joke.
So, look, it‘s one thing to bring them in front of the Senate here, and it‘s brought this issue to light. And I think it was a great maneuver to do that so that the American people can get educated on it.
But again, I want to focus on what‘s next. Is there a will within the caucus of the Senate for the Democrats to say we do not have any deal on cutting spending until you cut these subsidies?
MCCASKILL: I think what you‘re going to see is you‘re going to see us bring the bill to the floor pretty quickly. And I am still optimistic that there are maybe a few moderates left in the Republican Party that want to be consistent.
You can‘t say we need to cut subsidies in our budget to help our deficit, but we won‘t tough the ones to big oil. And I think this is going to be a very uncomfortable vote for many of the Republican senators. So I‘m hopeful that we may get a few of them, and may actually get enough votes to pass it. But if not, we‘ll figure out the next best strategy to figure out a way to leverage this and get it passed.
I think it‘s pretty important that we stay on this one until we get it done.
UYGUR: All right. Senator Claire McCaskill, thank you for joining us tonight. We appreciate it.
MCCASKILL: Thank you.
UYGUR: All right. Now joining me is John Hofmeister. He‘s the former president of Shell Oil, and he‘s the founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy and author of “Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider.”
Well, great having you here.
You were one of those guys in 2005 who answered that question that you didn‘t need the subsidies. Is that right?
JOHN HOFMEISTER, FMR. CEO, SHELL OIL: That is correct, Cenk.
UYGUR: And you think—I mean, it‘s so obvious, but I‘ll ask you anyway - - you didn‘t need them at $55 a barrel. To Senator Wyden‘s question, is there any rational argument that these oil companies would need subsidies to promote drilling when oil‘s at $100 a barrel?
HOFMEISTER: Look, what was happening today was showtime. It was theater, political theater.
What the companies are objecting to is being singled out. There‘s a deal out there to be made, Cenk. And why the Senate and why the House and why the industry and why the White House won‘t come together to figure out some deal—the U.S. needs more oil, we all know that. There‘s oil to be had.
The government needs more money. There‘s money in oil. The American people need lower prices, where more oil will help lower prices.
There‘s a deal here. And when the Democrats set out to just punish five companies, of course they‘re going to get pushback. I would have pushed back.
It‘s not the money. It‘s not the subsidies. It‘s the process. So how do we make a deal here that everybody could win?
UYGUR: John, I agree with you when you say you don‘t need the subsidies back then. I think you‘re still saying that today.
When you say they‘re singling out these top five, you lose me entirely. And I‘ll tell you why.
It‘s not that you‘re wrong about that, but if you said, hey, let‘s take down the subsidies for the oil companies, I‘m going to do that deal in one second flat. The reason we can‘t do it is because our politicians are bought.
The entire Republican Party is in the tank for these guys. They got $21.8 million. Their votes have been literally bought by the oil companies. If I can get the Republicans to cut all the oil subsidies, I would do that in a second.
Isn‘t that the problem, that these guys won‘t make a deal because their boss is the oil companies?
HOFMEISTER: I think the problem is 50 percent Republican and 50 percent Democratic.
UYGUR: No way. No way. No, no. John, that‘s not right.
HOFMEISTER: Both parties. The Democrats refused to drill. No, Cenk. They‘ve had the Senate for five years. We haven‘t had a single energy plan in five years, for Pete‘s sake.
UYGUR: John, let me show you why that‘s not right.
HOFMEISTER: The White House has yet to come up with a reasonable energy plan.
UYGUR: No, no, John. Listen, I have got to set the record straight here.
Look, are there Democrats who are in the tank for these guys?
Absolutely. Mary Landrieu, you know how much she‘s gotten in her career? She‘s gotten $794,000, and now she says that this is a gimmick, right, going after the oil subsidies.
Mark Begich from Alaska, he‘s gotten $139,000 and he says the same thing, oh, poor oil companies, we need to give them more of our tax money.
So, do I believe in these Democrats? Hell no! These Democrats are just as corrupt as the Republicans, but that‘s two of them, whereas it‘s the entire Republican Party. You have to see that. You have to confess that.
HOFMEISTER: I get this question in town halls over the country—why do we have legalized corruption in Washington, D.C.? Why are we paying any money to a politician, anybody? If they‘re in for public service, why would any public-minded politician want money?
I think the whole corrupt system of pay to play, or whatever you call it, where we‘re using all this money, Republicans and Democrats, is just legalized corruption, and it should go away.
UYGUR: John, I couldn‘t agree more with that. Right? But let‘s say you‘re in the Senate and you have got this bill in front of you.
I would vote for it in a second. Is it the best bill? I would rather take away all the oil subsidies. They‘re all totally indefensible.
I would love to do clean elections. That‘s my number one issue, so I totally agree with you there. But if you‘ve got this bill in front of you, who would you rather have the $21 billion, the oil companies that are making all these profits or the American people?
HOFMEISTER: Well, I don‘t think that‘s the solution. The oil companies need money to plow back in to make more oil. The American—
UYGUR: Oh, come on. No, John.
HOFMEISTER: -- government needs more money. Everybody needs more money.
UYGUR: John, that‘s—John, wait a minute. No, wait a minute.
HOFMEISTER: You know where we‘d get more money? We‘d get more money by producing more oil, Cenk. The whole—
UYGUR: It doesn‘t matter if we never get the taxes for it.
HOFMEISTER: Everybody comes out ahead.
UYGUR: That‘s nonsense.
HOFMEISTER: Everybody comes out ahead.
UYGUR: No, John. That‘s nonsense. I‘ll tell you why. Look, John—
HOFMEISTER: The consumers gets lower prices, the government gets more taxes, and the companies make more money to make more oil.
UYGUR: No, no. No, hold on. Hold on. You‘ve got to answer this.
John, they made $74 billion in profits last year. OK? And just this quarter, they made over $30 billion in profits. So it‘s not like they are not making profits.
Their costs are incredibly low compared to $100 a barrel in oil. So they have all the incentive in the world in the free market to drill, baby, drill, and they can drill all over the place and they can make that profit.
Why should we not tax them at a reasonable rate where they don‘t—right now they‘re playing less than the average middle class guy in the street. Why is a plumber paying higher than Exxon Mobil? That is unjustifiable.
HOFMEISTER: Well, this is a 90-year-old problem, Cenk.
UYGUR: So let‘s solve it.
HOFMEISTER: These tax so-called subsidies go back 90 years, and some of them 80 years. And so this is not a new problem.
Why hasn‘t it been settled before now? Why can‘t these companies get permits? Why can‘t they get leases? Why does the White House flip-flop on whether we‘re going to drill or not?
UYGUR: They have all the permits and the leases in the world.
They‘ve got all these leases they‘re not even using.
John, look, these are all excuses. Is it a 90-year problem? I absolutely agree. So let‘s fix it today. Let‘s vote yes on that bill, let‘s vote yes on the next bill that takes away the rest of the subsidies.
HOFMEISTER: And here‘s what—
UYGUR: To say that you‘re not going to do that is to say you are continuing the problem.
HOFMEISTER: Here‘s what I said in the House of Representatives two months ago. Three million more barrels, three million new jobs, $20 billion to the federal government—not $4 billion, $20 billion, Cenk. That‘s a whole lot more than $4 billion. All it would take is cooperation between the parties and the White House, and we could get it done.
UYGUR: Look, I would love to get it done, but there is no cooperation, because every time you go to do it, the Republicans say, hell no, I have got to give that extra $4 billion to the oil companies. So I don‘t know where you see that cooperation.
I see a bunch of bought politicians who are making sure the richest people in the world and the richest companies in the world pay less taxes than the average American. And I find that repulsive, and I find these guys to be the biggest welfare queens in the country.
HOFMEISTER: And it‘s the reason I started Citizens for Affordable Energy, a grassroots organization, not Republican, not Democratic. We take no money from any energy company. We‘re about fixing this problem for America‘s future.
UYGUR: All right. I hear on you that, brother.
John Hofmeister, former CEO of Shell Oil.
Thank you for joining us tonight. We do appreciate it.
HOFMEISTER: Thank you.
UYGUR: All right.
When we come back, could disgraced former senator John Ensign go to jail? Uh-oh, that is interesting. The Senate Ethics Committee found some credible evidence for a criminal case today.
We‘ll have that for you.
And Mitt Romney tries to explain why he hates the health care plan that he created. That‘s classic. Mitt Romney, what a guy.
All right. And new details emerge on what was in bin Laden‘s personal journals. We go inside the mind of bin Laden, ahead.
UYGUR: We‘re back with some developing news tonight about a disgraced man who was once a rising star in the Republican Party. He was a family values politician who some thought was destined for the White House.
That‘s not how it turned out for him, though. And now it turns out he might wind up in jail. We‘re talking about former Nevada senator John Ensign.
Today, the Senate Ethics Committee asked the Justice Department to reopen its criminal investigation into the sex and corruption scandal that led to Ensign‘s resignation. Specifically, the panel says that it has evidence that Ensign broke campaign finance laws, conspired to help a former aide violate a lobbying ban, and obstructed justice and made false and misleading statements to investigators.
All that means that Ensign may well face criminal charges. He announced his resignation last month. That was apparently to avoid what was apparently the Senate taking action and possibly kicking him out anyway, as we found out today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA), CHAIRWOMAN, SENATE ETHICS COMMITTEE: These findings are so disturbing, that she believed that had Senator Ensign not resigned, and had we been able to proceed to that adjudicatory phase, that the evidence of Senator Ensign‘s wrongdoing would have been substantial enough to warrant the consideration of expulsion, the harshest penalty available to the Ethics Committee and the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: All right. Joining me now are a pair of gentlemen who have led the way on this story, Steve Sebelius, political columnist for “The Las Vegas Review Journal,” and on the phone, Jon Ralston, columnist with “The Las Vegas Sun” and host of “Face to Face.”
Jon, let me start with you.
Apparently, Ensign thought, well, if I just leave, come on. I won‘t be senator anymore. That‘s got to be enough. But perhaps it‘s not enough.
How serious are those criminal charges against them?
JON RALSTON, “LAS VEGAS SUN”: Well, they‘re very serious. There are at least eight violations of federal laws that are alleged by the special counsel in the report from the Ethics Committee, including obstruction of justice, which includes destroying evidence, lying, providing false statements to the Federal Election Commission.
For instance, that has to do with Ensign claiming that the $96,000 payout from his parents to the Hamptons was a “gift.” And there was a section of the report that had several of his staff members saying that Ensign referred to it as severance. There‘s a serious disclosure issue there, and Doug Hampton has always alleged that that was severance for he and his wife.
So there‘s some very, very serious charges here. I mean, violations that carry prison time.
UYGUR: Right. Now, of course, this is a recommendation by the Senate, that the Justice Department look into this. He has not been charged with anything yet.
Steve, I want to turn to how this all got started for those who don‘t know. What was the affair about, and why did it lead to all these possibly criminal charges in terms of the guy who got cheated on with his wife and Ensign having the affair?
Break it down for us.
STEVE SEBELIUS, “LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL”: Well, what happened was, after this affair had come to light, and after Doug Hampton had repeatedly confronted Senator Ensign, Senator Ensign decided to get rid of Doug Hampton out of his office because he didn‘t want to deal with it anymore. So all the subsequent violations—we‘re talking about the $96,000 severance payment that Jon just referred to, we‘re talking about the conspiracy to violate the cooling-off period, and the lobbying in violation of that one-year cooling-off period—all of that flowed from the decision from John Ensign to eject Doug Hampton from his office and from his employ.
And, you know, of course, Jon, there‘s other issue of hypocrisy. Right? He had said during the Clinton affair with Monica Lewinsky, that it was “an embarrassing moment for the country,” and Clinton “has no credibility left.”
How much credibility does he have left, now that he‘s been run out of the Senate? And he pretended that he was leaving because it was his decision, but he had to know that they were coming for him here. And this appears to be worse than the Clinton case, because, again, as we talked about, some significant criminal possibility here.
RALSTON: Well, John Ensign has already been convicted of being a world class hypocrite for the reasons you just alluded to. He demanded that Clinton design, and yet provided a different standard for himself.
But at every stage of this, John Ensign has been in complete denial, while maybe even delusional, about what has occurred here. If he had resigned on June 16, 2009, as many believed he might, maybe none of this would have happened, because Doug Hampton got engaged after that, and really went to the media.
In fact, two of the fascinating things in the report involve two other senators, one current senator, one ex-senator. Tom Coburn‘s role in this, the Oklahoma center, in being a go-between and negotiating a financial settlement for Doug Hampton vis-a-vis John Ensign. And Rick Santorum, who‘s now running for president, as you know, who is essentially accused in this document of tipping off John Ensign that Doug Hampton was going public with this, and that‘s what caused John Ensign to call that press difference back in June of 2009.
This document is absolutely riveting reading. I‘d say it‘s a soap opera, but I would not let anybody actually watch this.
UYGUR: Well, Steve, did Doug Hampton make a mistake by going to Fox News Channel? Because when he did, it went to Rick Santorum, and Rick Santorum wound up tipping off Ensign so that he could protect himself. Was it a mistake to think that Fox News Channel wouldn‘t try to help their fellow Republicans?
SEBELIUS: Well, let‘s say it was a curious choice of venue. Let‘s just say that, Cenk.
But here‘s the thing. By the time it went public, all the violations in this report—and I agree with Jon, it‘s absolutely devastating—all the violations of the laws, of the sexual harassment policy, of John Ensign‘s own office policy on sexual harassment, all of those things had already occurred, and John Ensign‘s criminal culpability had already been established here.
So I think even if he had resigned on June 19, 2009, when he announced the affair, I think even then he had committed the acts that form the basis of this report.
The real question here, Cenk, I think, and the hard questions that we‘ve got to face are, why did the Justice Department, knowing all the things that were in this report, why did they not proceed with criminal charges when they had a chance? That‘s a question I think we should get answered.
UYGUR: Right. And we‘ll, of course, have to find out if they‘re going to proceed going forward.
I know this Justice Department hates looking backwards. They only like to look forward, but now we‘ve got this report. Can you please look forward to actually prosecuting a guy that there‘s credible evidence against?
But Steve Sebelius and Jon Ralston, you guys have been great tonight.
We really appreciate your expertise.
All right. Now, when we come back, it took candidate Newt just minutes to go on TV and try to pull off a con job on the American people, and this time the topic was Medicare. You‘re going to love this piece of hypocrisy.
And Mitt Romney did everything he could to run from his health care past today, but we have the tapes, so it‘s a sad day for him.
Stay with us.
UYGUR: And now for our “con job of the day.” The amusing hypocrisy of the right as they respond to critics of their Medicare plan. Newt Gingrich is among those accusing Democrats of fear mongering over the Republicans‘ proposed Medicare cuts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For the president of the United States, a year and a half before an election, to deliberately use dishonest scare tactics demeans the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: The GOP complaining about scare tactics on health care. That‘s rich. But Newt‘s not alone at this at all. Forty two GOP house freshmen have sent a letter to the president, asking them to help tone down the rhetoric and stop what they called medi-scare tactics. They write quote, “We ask that you stand above partisanship, condemn these disingenuous attacks and work with Congress to reform spending on entitlement programs.” Look at those Republicans cry, please, Mr. President, don‘t hurt us. Of course, the reality is that the democratic charge against the GOP plan are 100 percent accurate. Even the “Wall Street Journal” acknowledged that it would end Medicare as we know it.
But what‘s‘ really absurd is that these are the same guys calling for standing above partisanship now that earlier had called for death panels. They said there were death panels in health care reform, now they‘re complaining about people getting scared over health care? And they also claimed during the last campaign that the Democrats were going to cut Medicare. Look at this medi-scare adds that those same house freshmen were running back in 2010.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BETSY MARKEY (D), COLORADO: She‘s put Nancy Pelosi ahead of us 94 percent of the time. It will. Voted for the Obama government takeover of healthcare that would cut Medicare by $500 billion.
REP. SCOTT TIPTON ®, COLORADO: Unlike John Salazar, I‘ll never put our seniors‘ future at risk.
ANNOUNCER: Renee Ellmers says no, she says cutting Medicare hurts senior citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: But now Democrats shouldn‘t talk about Medicare, after they got hit with all those adds. And those adds were lies. This is absolutely true, but you know what the best part is? The Republicans admit that they were hypocrites. One of the congressman who sent that letter to the president, Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger said about their flip-flopping, quote, “I‘m not going to defend anything done in the past. Let‘s get past the past. Let‘s move forward to the future, and say, OK, today is today.” Oh, I love that. In the past, we were hitting you, you weren‘t hitting us. That‘s really unfair when you fight back. So, when Republicans use scare tactics on Medicare, that‘s perfectly OK, but when Democrats point out that the GOP plan would actually cut Medicare to the bone, oh, it‘s time to move away from partisan arguments. The past is the past. Come on. That‘s our—now, is our con job of the day.
All right. When we come back, Mitt Romney came out with a straight face today and railed on a very health care program he helped to create. This guy is awesome. But not even the Republicans are buying it. Is Romney in a world of trouble?
UYGUR: Mitt Romney leads the republican presidential field. That‘s great. He‘s already raised huge amounts of campaign money, that‘s great. He should be sitting pretty, right? Instead today, he was in full back-pedal mode trying to get away from his own track record. And he got hammered by other Republicans while he was at it. This afternoon, he spoke at the University of Michigan, addressing the universal health care law, he signed as governor of Massachusetts back in 2006. It was the model for President Obama‘s health care reform which of course right-wingers detest. “Wall Street Journal” editorial page wrote today, quote, “Mr. Romney is compromised and not credible.” If he does not change his message, he might as well try to knock off Joe Biden and get on the Obama ticket.” Damn, that is harsh. So, of course today, Romney pretended, he doesn‘t like Obama‘s reform either.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY ®, MASSACHUSETTS: If I were lucky enough to be in the White House in the position of leadership, on the first day, I would issue an executive order, paving the wave for Obama care waivers to be given to all 50 states, and that will go to work with Congress to make sure that we could repeal Obama-care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: Well, here‘s one small problem for Romney. He‘s got a long public record, touting his plan as a model for the country. Now, that‘s the same plan with the individual mandate just like President Obama‘s plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Massachusetts is a model to get everybody insured in a way that doesn‘t break the bank.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, no. I like mandates. The mandates work.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I beg your pardon? I didn‘t know you were going to admit that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If a state chose a mandate, it wouldn‘t bother you?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I think it‘s a terrific idea, I think you‘re going to find, you know, when it‘s all said and down after all these states, the laboratories of democracy get their chance to try their own plans, but those who followed the path that we pursued will find it‘s the best path. And will end up with a nation that‘s taken a mandate approach.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There are certain aspects that I think would work across the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: Oopsy-doopsy. I love the mandate. The mandate—did I say mandate? Did I say mandate? Oh, I hate Obama‘s plan. Yes. But, you know, what? It gets worse. Last year, Romney even said, he embraces Obama‘s health care reform as his own, quote, “If ever against somewhere down the road, I would be debating him, I would be happy to take credit for his accomplishment.”
Once again. Oops. That‘s what we call stone-cold busted. And that‘s why the Republicans aren‘t having any of Mitt Romney today.
All right. Now, with me is Jonathan Gruber, he‘s an MIT economist, who is an architect of Romney‘s health care law. And he also helped to develop President Obama‘s approach. He says of Romney‘s new position on health care, quote, “I find it incredibly disappointing, it‘s sort of stunning to see the turnaround.” So first, welcome, great to have you here.
JONATHAN GRUBER, MIT ECONOMIST: Good to be here.
UYGUR: And second, tell me why you think it‘s so stunning. Tell me about that turnaround.
GRUBER: Well, it‘s stunning because Mitt Romney went for being an architect of a plan that works, a plan that brought us the universal health care coverage of America, to an advocate of a plan that doesn‘t, the same old republican talking points that will actually increase rather than reduce the number of uninsured. And will not be the kind of fiscal response of the bill, that the Obama bill is. So, it‘s stunning that the man who was responsible for a plan that actually worked now has decided to advocate one that doesn‘t.
UYGUR: So here‘s what I don‘t understand, his new plan. I don‘t know if it‘s new, I don‘t know if it‘s old. I know he‘s trying to wiggle out of it being the same as Obama‘s. But does he have a new proposal? And if so, what is it?
GRUBER: Well, his new proposal, it‘s very bare bones, but it‘s essentially what Republicans have been touting for a long time, which is to say, look, let‘s just give people tax credits to buy health insurance. Let‘s let them buy health insurance across state lines and then let‘s hope the magic happens. And, you know, what? It‘s not going to. What do we know will happen with this plan? Well, one thing we know is by repealing Obama-care that with 32 million more uninsured Americans. By block granting Medicaid as Paul Ryan does. And Mitt Romney‘s endorsed. A recent estimate suggests that with 17 million more uninsured Americans.
And by turning the employers‘ tax breaks into an individual deduction, the Congressional Budget Office reports that will increase the number of insured by 1.5 million. He‘s going to increase the uninsured Americans by 50 million. OK. He‘s not doing anything to control the costs of health care, unlike the affordable care act. Which actually take meaningful steps to refund health care cost. And basically he‘s saying, yes, a lot of his speech today was defending what he did in Massachusetts rightly. It was awesome what he did. He‘s defending it and then he said, yes, it‘s great for Massachusetts, but it‘s not right for the rest of the country. He simply, he‘s not said why, why was the great for Massachusetts is not right for the rest of the country?
UYGUR: No, no, I love that lack of logic. He‘s like, oh, Massachusetts, it would rock, but in Utah or Connecticut, oh, God forbid, that makes no sense whatsoever. But he‘s not alone. Newt Gingrich also loved the mandates. In fact, he said about the mandates earlier, personal responsibility extends the purchase of health insurance. Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it. So, Jonathan, here‘s my question, these Republicans, they loved the mandates before. Gingrich, Romney, the heritage foundation, et cetera, did they actually have a change of heart or principle, all of a sudden decide in a last couple of years, no mandates—or is it just that they are so craven that as soon as the democratic president agreed to it, we must hate it by definition.
GRUBER: Look, I can‘t read their minds, but I can‘t take an interpreted as anything but craven. This is a policy that they developed, endorsed for years in the ‘90s in the 2000s, there was someone from the heritage foundation on the podium with Mitt Romney in 2006 when he signed this bill, and then all of a sudden, coincident with President Obama endorsing this approach, suddenly they don‘t like it anymore. It‘s consistent with the republican history, every time the Democrats have adopted a republican position on health care, they have tried to move to the right and say that‘s not good enough, so I think it‘s just the typical maneuvering they‘ve done in the past.
UYGUR: Yes, I‘ve seen it a hundred times. All right. Jonathan Gruber, architect of Mitt Romney‘s 2006 health care law, we really appreciate you joining us tonight.
GRUBER: My pleasure.
UYGUR: All right. Now, John McCain is speaking out in a memorable speech on torture. His fellow Republicans won‘t be happy to hear what he had to say.
And new details emerge from inside Bin Laden‘s compound. We‘ve got his diaries now. That‘s really interesting. We‘ll tell you what was in there.
UYGUR: We‘re learning more about what Osama Bin Laden was planning.
We‘ve got his handwritten notebooks and they reveal what he was up to. We‘ve got two of the top terror experts in the country that are going to join me ahead, and we are going to talk about, what cities he was planning to attack, among other things.
UYGUR: The debate over how we found Bin Laden on his compound continues to get ginned up by the right wing. They just love torture, and what did make a case that guys we tortured years and years ago someone led to Osama Bin Laden‘s capture. But there‘s an interesting man who has stepped up to fight them on that contention, John McCain. Remember, he‘s the only member of the U.S. Senate who was actually tortured when he was a prisoner of war. After getting the facts from CIA Director Leon Panetta, McCain delivered a memorable speech on the issue of waterboarding and torture.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: The best intelligence gained from a CIA and detainee, information describing Abu-Akhman (ph) Al-Kuwaiti‘s real role in Al-Qaeda and his true relationship to Osama Bin Laden was obtained through standard, non-coercive means, not through any enhanced interrogation technique. In short, it was not torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama Bin Laden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: He is exactly right. We waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times and he constantly give us the wrong names and the wrong information. You have to give John McCain a world of credit there for sticking up for his anti-torture position and proving the radical right wing in his own party wrong on this issue.
UYGUR: U.S. officials are looking over a ten-page notebook handwritten by Osama Bin Laden. The notebook reveals a man obsessed with finding new ways to attack the United States. And it proves Bin Laden had a role in all recent al -Qaeda plots. That‘s really interesting. NBC News confirms the notebook had information on potential places to attack which were New York, Washington, L.A., and Chicago. They also have plans to attack trains and planes. It had specific dates mentioned for possible attacks, including the fourth of July and the 9/11 anniversary. There was also a focus on spectacular attacks that would, in his mind, have the best chance to change U.S. policy. He wrote about the president and senior U.S. military officials as potential targets, and wrote that the vice president was less of a target.
His ultimate goal was to kill as many Americans as possible in a single attack. But U.S. officials also tell “The Washington Post,” Bin Laden‘s obsession with the United States led to friction with some of his followers. Those followers wanted attacks in less risky places like Yemen, Somalia and Algeria. They were worried about the response from America which apparently Bin Laden should have been worried about. So the picture we see here at the end is a man who was still in charge of operations for Al-Qaeda, not the irrelevant guy in a cave that we were sold by the Bush administration.
But what‘s also stunning is how cocky he was. He had no backup to plan at all to destroy any of this evidence if he got a caught or attacked. Remember he was right next to a Pakistani military installation. Not only did he not think the Americans were coming, which of course he turned out to be wrong about, but he seemed absolutely confident that the Pakistanis would never come to get him. That‘s also interesting.
Joining me now is senior executive producer for NBC News Bob Windrem, and NBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann. Great to have you guys here. Bob, let me start with you. What else did we learn in that journal of Bin Laden?
BOB WINDREM, NBC NEWS SR. INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER: I think the key thing that we learned here was, that this was a starting point. What I was told today was, don‘t think of this is a diary or a journal, think of this as an outline of where he wanted Al-Qaeda to go. And that they have also discovered the responses to this and they have discovered correspondents that was going back and forth between other Al-Qaeda leaders, as well as other Al-Qaeda affiliates. And so what we had here was a process, and that this was the start of a process that was moving very much through normal bureaucratic channels. And as you pointed out, there were a number of people in Al-Qaeda who did not like this goal at all of this obsession of going after the U.S.
UYGUR: That‘s really interesting. He also apparently had another obsession that was trying to get African-Americans and Latinos in this country to work against the United States. Evan, tell me a little bit more about that, and apparently obviously that did not work out for him.
EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Yes. Al-Qaeda has made a number of efforts in this regard. I guess the most famous perhaps is Jose Padilla, the would be dirty bomber who was recruited by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to carry out a terrorist attack allegedly in the United States. You know, Al-Qaeda had a lot of big plans. I think a lot of them didn‘t come to fruition, and I think this is one of the interesting parts we‘re seeing here, the idea that Bin Laden keeps pressing for the spectacular 9/11-style terrorist attacks, and the reality is, and I think a lot of people around him realized this that, there‘s a very low probability of those kinds of attacks succeeding, especially given the kind of security apparatus that‘s in place. So, I think it‘s fascinating, because that‘s exactly the opposite message that we have coming from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Shabab and Somalia, other Al-Qaeda affiliates who keep pressing the point that we should be caring out many small attacks, small scale that are more likely to succeed. Apparently, Bin Laden had a methodological disagreement with a lot of his top lieutenants.
UYGUR: You know, Bob, is there a chance that they go in that direction now? You know, what are we learning from the intelligence? Is there a chance that they would do more Mumbai-style attacks where there are gunmen that roam throughout the city?
WINDREM: Well, certainly there are those possibilities. I think that one thing that you should look at, as Evan pointed out was Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. If you look at what they have done, what they have carried out, what they have attempted to carry out was Abdulmutallab‘s attempt to blow up an aircraft over Detroit on Christmas Day. The shipping by air cargo of explosives hidden in fax machine cartridges, and a number of other smaller things. And you‘ve started to see that, but these are also difficult, because there is a degree of difficulty in pulling these things off. And I think that one of the things that we have to understand here is that there has been a level of success. The reality here is that there has been no attacks on the U.S. homeland in a decade.
UYGUR: I think that‘s exactly right. Evan, you know, as I look through this intelligence, I see a guy who is sitting in his, you know, compound for the last ten years pacing backs—well, he was in there for about five or six years according to intelligence, he was another place earlier. But he‘s pacing back and forth, back and forth, trying to come up with these spectacular plans to attack us again, and it looks like he failed.
KOHLMANN: Yes, I mean, this is someone who thinks that this grandiose schemes have some probability of success, when in reality we know that most of these schemes didn‘t come to form of success, because they were intercepted long before they ever got to U.S. shores. And this is something that Bin Laden never fully understood, I don‘t think he fully understood the reach of U.S. intelligence, I don‘t think he fully understood the degree to which his communications were being observed. You know, he was trying to still be the same Osama Bin Laden he was before 9/11, and the world has changed.
KOHLMANN: And I think in some ways, I think the terrorist universe has sort of left him behind. And it really, this is not the kind of attack that terrorist groups nowadays are going after, because it‘s not the kind of plot that has any chance of success.
UYGUR: Well, that‘s interesting. I mean, I hope you‘re right about that. And I‘m encouraged that none of the subsequent plots had any success. And I‘m encouraged at how cocky he was. He thought we weren‘t coming. He was dead wrong about that, quite literally. But Bob, real quick, last question for you. It looks like we have a new plot that they‘re threatening in Kenya against Obama‘s step-grandmother. How real is that?
WINDREM: I think that that is nothing more than cautionary. Obviously, she would be, you know, the softest target. The rest of his family living here are people who are guarded by the secret service.
WINDREM: I don‘t know whether the U.S. has asked the Kenyan police to do this, but certainly it would make sense.
UYGUR: Right. And I hear you. I think probably precautions make sense. Thank you both for joining us. Really appreciate it.
WINDREM: Thank you.
KOHLMANN: Thank you.
UYGUR: And everybody, that‘s been our show. Thank you for watching.
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