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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Howard Fineman, David Weigel, Howard Dean, Michael Spencer, Obery Hendricks

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  The man who predicted the world was going to end this weekend says he‘s flabbergasted that we‘re all still here.  And we‘re all flabbergasted that Newt Gingrich is still here.



ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  One governor jumping in.

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS:  Another big name is out.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL” HOST:  2011, the elephant‘s graveyard.

UNIDNENTIFIED MALE:   Two men enter, two men leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it‘s one man leaves.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  Republicans are still waiting for the rap amateur and still waiting for Superman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everybody seems to be waiting for Superman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The rapture would have been Mitch Daniels jumping in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What they‘re going to recognize Superman is already in the race.

MITCHELL:  Some Republican donors are still hoping a big name—waiting for Superman, waiting for Chris Christy.  Eric Cantor has just come out and says that he thinks Paul Ryan should run.

REP. PAUL RYAN ®, WISCONSIN:  I‘m not running for president.

O‘DONNELL:  Republican‘s best bet makes it official by immediately attacking the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  His friends like to call him T-Paw.

TIM PAWLENTY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  President Obama doesn‘t have the courage to look the American people in the eye.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Doesn‘t have the courage to take—wrong word to use at this point in time.  This guy just killed Osama bin Laden.

MITCHELL:  He‘s not the most exciting figure.

PAWLENTY:  I‘m not running for entertainer-in-chief.

O‘DONNELL:  Mitch Daniels‘ family vetoes a run for president.

MITCHELL:  Clearly, his wife and daughters do not want him to run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t throw your wife and daughters under the book.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Can he not just say I have decided not to run for president?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Just a tad unseemly.

O‘DONNELL:  And the not-ready-for-primetime Republicans find new ways to embarrass themselves.

BILL MAHER, TV HOST:  I have seen more appealing lineups on an episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Donald Trump insisted Monday that if he had stayed in the race, he would have won -- 

DONALD TRUMP, CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION:  Stranger things have happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s not even winning his time slot.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Newt Gingrich insists he and his wife are frugal.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS:  I mean, who buys a half a million dollars worth of jewelry on credit?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Can any of these guys beat Obama?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Quite a warm welcome here in Ireland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Today, the 44th American president comes home.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He doesn‘t just speak about the American Dream, he is the American Dream.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘ve come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way.



O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from New York.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is out and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is in.  This weekend, Governor Daniels released a statement saying he will not run for president.  This afternoon, at the Iowa Historical Building in Des Moines, Tim Pawlenty finally, officially, announced that he is running for the Republican nomination.

Now, that Republican non-candidates have stopped distracting the political media, you can expect more political professionals to come to the view that has been the official position of this show since last year that Tim Pawlenty is in the strongest position to win the Republican presidential nomination.

On day one of his official campaign, Pawlenty took a big gamble with Iowa voters, telling them that he supports eventually ending ethanol subsidies.


PAWLENTY:  The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out.  We need to do it gradually.  We need to do it fairly.  But we need to do it.


O‘DONNELL:  Pawlenty made a friendly reference to former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who has not yet officially announced his candidacy, that shows how confident Pawlenty is that Huntsman‘s association with the Obama administration as the former Obama ambassador to china will sink the Huntsman campaign with Republican primary voters.


PAWLENTY:  I think in terms of the 2012 candidates, with the possible exception of my friend, Jon, Huntsman, I‘m going to have the most or as much international experience of anybody in the field.


O‘DONNELL:  Pawlenty destroyed Mitt Romney for enacting an individual mandate law in Massachusetts, virtually identical to the health care bill President Obama signed into law—and Pawlenty didn‘t even have to mention Romney‘s name.


PAWLENTY:  I know how to do health care reform right.  I‘ve done it at the state level.  No mandates, no takeovers.  And it‘s the opposite of Obamacare.


O‘DONNELL:  But as Pawlenty was making his first official campaign speech, cable news viewers were watching President Obama giving a speech to a crowd of 30,000 people in Dublin, all of whom seemed they would love to vote for Barack Obama if they could.


OBAMA:  Is feider linn, yes, we can, yes, we can, is feider linn.  For all of you that contributed to the character of the United States of America and the spirit of the world, thank you.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is former Vermont governor and former Democratic presidential candidate, Howard Dean, who is a CNBC contributor - - thanks for joining us tonight, governor.

HOWARD DEAN, CNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Thanks, Lawrence, for having me on.

O‘DONNELL:  It seems Tim Pawlenty is betting his Minnesota farm on Iowa completely.  He‘s all in.  He‘s announcing in Iowa.

But he took a big risk today, didn‘t he, wit that announcement about ending subsidies eventually ending subsidies for ethanol?

DEAN:  Lawrence, I think he took more of a risk that he knows because what—the position he‘s now put himself in is not only does he alienate Iowa farmers by saying we‘re going to get rid of the ethanol subsidy, his party has also refused to get rid of oil subsidies.  So, he‘s now in the position of undercutting Iowa farmers while he supports the oil industry with taxpayers‘ money -- $53 billion of subsidies go to the oil industry.  And his party is in favor of that.

So, this is going to be a problem for Tim Pawlenty.  I think he made a mistake in talking about the ethanol subsidy.  Not because people wouldn‘t like to get rid of subsidies, but he likes a lot more expensive subsidies that don‘t do anything for the people of Iowa.

O‘DONNELL:  What is—with Iowa voters, you‘ve experienced campaigner out there in Iowa, how important is the ethanol subsidy?  The political wisdom is just you can‘t go in there and say what Pawlenty said specifically to Iowa, even before you get to your important comparison to the oil subsidies.

DEAN:  Well, it‘s very interesting.  You know—and, of course, the Republican primary is a lot different than the Democratic—the Republican caucus in Iowa is a lot different that the Democratic caucus.  It‘s very, very conservative, many evangelical voters in the Republican primary.

I think what Pawlenty is probably trying to do is pose as somebody that‘s going to tell it like it is, whether you like it or not.  He‘s probably going to have some problems with that.  John McCain got ship wrecked twice I think on the Iowa, saying he wasn‘t in favor of ethanol subsidies.  Other people have tried to go into Iowa and say they‘re going to get rid of ethanol subsidies.

In the past, it hasn‘t worked.  Maybe it will this time.  Maybe he‘s trying to get at Mitt Romney, his now principal rival, by painting Romney as somebody who will say anything at any time.  I don‘t know.  I do think it‘s an odd subsidy, I mean, not odd subsidy, it‘s an odd strategy to go into Iowa and have that be what you lead with.

O‘DONNELL:  Doesn‘t this indicate that he is so confident of being able to defeat Romney in Iowa simply on the health care argument, simply on the argument that Romney enacted an individual health care bill in Massachusetts that he—that Pawlenty can come out while he‘s doing that and be against the ethanol subsidy?

DEAN:  Very hard to say.  And again, I—you know, I obviously have a pretty strong knowledge of Democratic politics.  I wouldn‘t say I have inside knowledge of the inside game in the Republican side.  I don‘t quite get this yet.

And, you know, I think Huntsman may have some pull here.  While Romney and Pawlenty are moving as far to the right as they possibly can, Huntsman comes in and appears—even though he‘s quite conservative, he was for civil unions when he was governor of Utah, which is saying something.  And he may end up as the guy who, you know, Romney and Pawlenty may split the more conservative vote and Huntsman may do better than expected.

I would—my candidate for who benefits most by having Mitch Daniels not run is Jon Huntsman, because he‘s the real deal.

O‘DONNELL:  But doesn‘t he have that problem that you just identified, that he‘s for Republican primary voters and evangelical Christian voters, which make up 44 percent of these Republican primary voters, he is too soft on issues like gay rights?

DEAN:  Well, and it is worse for him in Iowa because the higher—percentage in Iowa is a lot higher than 44 percent.  And, of course, it‘s a caucus, not a primary.  Yet, but the “but” is, you always want to be representing—be the only person representing a particular wing of the party.  It may be that Jon Huntsman is going to end up representing the main street business wing of the Republican Party.  And that‘s not all bad.

You know, now that Daniels is not going to run, we know that the Bush people were making calls to Daniels trying to get him to run.  Now, he‘s not.  Main Street needs a Republican candidate.  They probably don‘t have one with candidates who are moving to the far right.

Let‘s look at what these guys are doing.  The far right is what I call the hate wing of the Republican Party.  They‘re overrepresented in primaries.  And, of course, when elections come along, they generally don‘t win.

But they can cause enormous trouble in the primaries.  They hate Muslims.  They hate gays.  They hit immigrants.

And the rhetoric in the primaries shows that.  It‘s a very unattractive painting for the under—what was the under 35 voters that elected Barack Obama.  This time, they‘re going to be under 39 voters.  These are fiscally conservative voters because of what they‘ve just been through, but they are socially—not just tolerant—but inclusive of all the groups that the right wing is beating up on.

So, Huntsman‘s got some room here.  I‘m going to be fascinated to see.  This is—I am, of course, somewhat partial to governors.  And we‘ve got three solid governors in this race.  I‘m going to be absolutely fascinated to see how this goes.

O‘DONNELL:  Former Governor Howard Dean—thanks for joining us tonight.

DEAN:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is Howard Fineman, senior political editor for “The Huffington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst.

Thanks for joining me tonight, Howard.


O‘DONNELL:  Howard, the Mitch Daniels decision—how did he come to that decision?  What do we know beyond his statement?

FINEMAN:  Well, what we know is that his wife was dead set against it, doesn‘t like politics and is uncomfortable in the limelight in general.  I think, just as important if not more important, were the kids.  Four kids, four daughters, three of them married.

I don‘t think any of those children or in-laws, or, you now, son-in-laws, wanted to spend the next several months talking about the private life of the family—why the wife had left, why she had gone to California, remarried, why she came back, how the kids were affected by that, what did they think, how did they take it—the whole sort of soap opera aspect of it was one that he could not convince his wife, let alone his kids, to take part in.

And I think even though he wanted to do it himself, this was an insuperable barrier for him.

O‘DONNELL:  This is the way—Howard, I want to read the way he put that in his statement.  He said, “On matters affecting us all, our family constitution gives a veto to the women‘s caucus and there is no override provision.  Simply put, I find myself caught between two duties.  I love my country; I love my family more.”

Who could not applaud that choice of loving your family more?  Loving your family more than politics?

FINEMAN:  Well, I know some people were complaining that he should have just said, “You know, I‘m not running,” and leave it at that.  But that‘s the kind of old fashioned view.  We‘ve gotten beyond that in American politics.

Families run for president.  Husbands and wives, spouses run for president.  Whole families run for president.

And I think Mitch Daniels was just acknowledging the reality by talking as much as he did about it.  And, yes, I‘ve known him for a long time.  I think he‘s a pretty straight talking guy, who would defend his positions working in business and being governor and being Reagan‘s—

Ronald Reagan‘s budget chief and being George W. Bush‘s budget chief before the Iraq war and all that.  He would have argued his positions forcefully, even fiercely.

But he, in the end, it wasn‘t—it wasn‘t to be.  He just couldn‘t do it given the complexity of his family.

O‘DONNELL:  Howard, what does Daniels dropping out do to the race? 

What does it do to rebalancing the rest of the field?

FINEMAN:  Well, what I think it means, Lawrence, is that we now pretty much have the field we‘re going to have.  Yes, Michele Bachmann may decide that the allure of Iowa and evangelical Christians there are so great, and she has seven generations worth of family there, that she‘s going to go in and try to mix things up.  That‘s unclear.

But we basically have the field.  We can begin kind of seeing how the race might run.  I was fascinated to listen to Governor Dean talking about Iowa—certainly has tremendous experience there.

Jon Huntsman is basically going to skip Iowa.  Mitt Romney is going to sort of semi-skip Iowa.  If he wins, he‘ll take credit.  If he loses, he‘ll say, I didn‘t really play there.

Your candidate, T-Paw, has to win Iowa and, obviously, thinks he‘s capable of winning Iowa.  And probably thinks he‘s going to win Iowa, which is one reason he was willing to take on the ethanol issue.

But let me also say, Lawrence, that having spent a lot of time in Iowa and following issues there, I‘m not convinced that the ethanol issue is quite what it used to be, because commodity prices have skyrocketed.  Farm prices are high.  Farmers are doing pretty well.  They don‘t need the ethanol market as much as they did.

So, T-Paw may be pushing a little bit of an open door there.  But that‘s probably more about ethanol than our viewers want to know.

New Hampshire is the place where the rest of the field is going to try to knock off Mitt Romney.  Mitt Romney is the weakest front runner in modern times.  Most recent polls, he‘s running 32 percent.

In 2000, George W. Bush was 60 points ahead of John McCain.  Mitt Romney is only at 32 points.  They‘re going to try to knock him off in New Hampshire and go to South Carolina and Florida.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  I mean, Hillary Clinton started the campaigns with much bigger margins than we see right now in Romney.  Romney is weak there.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

O‘DONNELL:  MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman—thanks for your time tonight.

FINEMAN:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Still to come, why does Wisconsin Paul Ryan matter so much in a congressional race in New York?

More survivors found tonight, but the death toll continues to rise in Missouri, after a tornado leveled homes and businesses in a matter of minutes.

And the Gingrich campaign gets even stranger.  That‘s in “The Rewrite.”


O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, how the Republican plan to abolish Medicare is becoming the only issue that matters in the special election in New York.

And Newt Gingrich is stonewalling the Tiffany‘s bill question.  And that earns him tonight‘s “Rewrite.”



DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Here‘s the problem.  According to our polling, nearly eight in 10 Americans do not want to cut spending for Medicare even in the name of cutting the debt.

RYAN:  First of all, if people are describing this accurately in poll, it‘s far more popular than the poll you referenced.  Second of all, leaders are elected to lead.  I don‘t consult polls to tell me what my principles are or what our policies should be.  Leaders change the polls.  And we are leading in the House.


O‘DONNELL:  But there is no time left to change the polls in New York‘s 26th congressional district where Republican Jane Corwin has the task of trying to win the first federal election since House Republicans passed the Ryan plan.  That task was not supposed to be difficult in the most conservative district in the state of New York where Bush won in 2000 and 2004, McCain won in 2008, and insane Tea Party candidate Carl Paladino actually managed to beat Andrew Cuomo in last year‘s governor‘s race which Cuomo won statewide by nearly 30 percent.

That‘s why, as of last week, Corwin supported the House Republican Medicare abolish plan.


JANE CORWIN ®, NY CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  I am supporting a plan.  I have yet to hear of any other plans from other appointments.  And isn‘t that the career politician thing to do, kick the can down the road, ignore the problem because it‘s not politically expedient and just ignore the fact that we are facing a major crisis if we don‘t take action?


O‘DONNELL:  When Corwin made the mistake of saying that, she was polling in a virtual tie with her Democratic opponent, Erie County clerk Kathy Hochul.

Republicans claim that the tie then was due to support for a third party candidate, a Tea Party candidate, Jack Davis, who was polling as high as 26 percent.

But after Republicans spent hundreds of thousands of dollars discrediting Davis‘ candidacy, a poll released Saturday showed that despite Davis‘ support dropping all the way down to 12 percent, Corwin still trailed her Democratic opponent by four points.  And in that same poll, voters said Medicare was the single most important issue when choosing a candidate, more important than jobs, more important than the federal deficit.

Then, on Sunday, a robo poll put Corwin six points behind and voters gave President Obama a higher job approval rating than Speaker Boehner.

So, yesterday, Corwin held a press conference at a nursing home in Rochester to announce her giant flip-flop that she was abandoning the Ryan plan.  According to “Politico,” she called Ryan‘s plan a terrific first step, but made clear that she will never support controversial vouchers for Medicare.  “It‘s starting a conversation that we absolutely have to have, but I‘m not married to it,” she said.

Joining me now, “Slate” political reporter and MSNBC contributor Dave Weigel, who has been reporting from New York‘s 26th district.

Thanks for joining me tonight, Dave.


O‘DONNELL:  Dave, you‘ve watched this evolve.  The Medicare position evolved in the 26th.  Is this election going to come down to Medicare?

WEIGEL:  It absolutely is.  And I think the really telling thing about the election is that when it was clear that Democrats were going to push this message to the very end of the game, Republicans responded, Jane Corwin responded, with an ad accusing the Democrat, Kathy Hochul, of wanting to cut Medicare, because Hochul had said, as basically every Democrat in Washington says, everything‘s on the table, whatever it takes to save the system.  Not the Ryan plan.  Everything‘s on the table.

And Corwin used that to cut an ad that if you‘re in the district, you see basically, as often as you see, you know, ads for local car dealerships saying she wants to cut Medicare.  She wants to cut Medicare.

So, they‘ve basically ceded all the intellectual turf on this issue.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, Eric Cantor‘s been drawn into this, as would happen.  A reporter asked Cantor whether he‘s concerned about the Ryan plan hurting in this congressional race.  Cantor said, “No, not at all.  This race is about the fact that this is a three-way race.  I do not think it can be seen as a signal in terms of the budget reforms we support in regards to Medicare.”

So, the official position in Washington, Dave, for the Republicans is, it‘s the three-way race that is causing us the problem.

WEIGEL:  Right.  And that‘s what they‘ll say on Wednesday if they end up losing this by a little bit.  It‘s a little bit misleading, though, because there was a three-way race for this seat in 2008 when Barack Obama was narrowly losing the district, doing really well in this district.  And there was a third party candidate, kind of, on the left, there was a Democrat and there was a Republican.  The Republican won by 14 points.

Jack Davis has been attacked—the Tea Party candidate has been attacked by Republicans on the air as a former Democrat.  So, voters in these polls, if you‘re reading the internals, they don‘t see this as a Tea Party candidate splitting.  Some do.  It‘s this there is a big anti-Republican vote, anti-Ryan plan on Medicare vote.

There‘s really not any way of explaining it away if you look at this district.

O‘DONNELL:  There‘s other movement on it.  We have Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts today saying that he will not vote—will not support a Ryan plan, will move away from it.  He, obviously, in Massachusetts is very vulnerable on something like this.

What is the sense in the Republican caucus about how big the vulnerability is now?  And what—what was the feeling going into that vote?  Did they know when they were casting this “abolish Medicare” vote, the weight of the vote they were casting?

WEIGEL:  Well, some of them had reservations that they kept very quiet.  Everyone, it was striking because when Democrats passed bills that they knew would be controversial, cap-and-trade, the health care bill—they let more vulnerable members of the party take a walk and vote against it.  Republicans only four of them voted against this.  And two of them voted against it on the grounds it didn‘t go far enough.

So, statements like you‘re hearing from Scott Brown, who‘s up for re-election, who polls very well.  I mean, he can see if this election in New York turns into a boondoggle, his election could.  That‘s the risk.  If they come back to Washington and Republicans go wobbly on this, that is the risk for them, because the Tea Party and Republicans—the Republicans specifically have shown a willingness to leave some bodies on the field if it‘s going to move the agenda.  They‘re willing to throw away a Senate election away in Delaware, sent an election away in Alaska almost, if it‘s going to get the party to come to their issues.

If that doesn‘t happen here, if they go wobbly, that‘s a real risk.  And you‘re going to see things like you saw from Ryan yesterday, telling them, no, this is one election.  Stay on course.

O‘DONNELL:  If Republicans lose New York 26, there will be wobbling.

Dave Weigel of “Slate”—thank you very much for joining me tonight.

WEIGEL:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, Newt Gingrich continues down the path to political oblivion with another stunning performance Sunday morning.  That‘s in “The Rewrite.”

And it was a storm so strong that debris from the Joplin tornado was found up to 60 miles away.  How you can help the thousands help homeless.  Stay with us.


O‘DONNELL:  Still ahead in this hour, how long can Newt Gingrich keep his $500,000 secret?  That‘s in today‘s “Rewrite.”



MIKE BETTES, THE WEATHER CHANNEL:  If you take a look here at this neighborhood, all I can say is it looks very reminiscent of what we saw last month in—excuse me—in Tuscaloosa.  Yes, it‘s—it‘s tough.  No question about that. 


O‘DONNELL:  That was meteorologist Mike Bettes of the Weather Channel on the streets of Joplin, Missouri, where tonight 116 people are confirmed dead from the tornado that sliced a six-mile long gash across Joplin and surrounding areas at dinner time last night, making it the single deadliest tornado in this country in nearly 60 years, the ninth deadliest in U.S.  history. 

The only good news, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has just announced that the number of people rescued from the rubble alive has now gone up to 17.  The National Weather Service says winds reached nearly 200 miles per hour, making it an EF-4, the second highest tornado rating. 

The St. John‘s Regional Medical Center in Joplin took a direct hit.  At least four people were killed there.  The roof was torn off.  Cars and a medical helicopter were tossed around.  Doctors and nurses had about 20 minutes warning to move patients into hallways away from hundreds of windows that would soon shatter. 

The headline in today‘s “Kansas City Star” reads simply, “Joplin Shredded.”  This is what it looked like at 5:41 p.m. 


UNIDENTIFID MALE:  The wind are out of the north.  It‘s coming back around.  The tornado is on the ground right here.  Get the sirens going.  Get the sirens going. 



It‘s a mile wide tornado.  It‘s leveling the south side of Joplin right now. 


O‘DONNELL:  We‘re now going to show you amateur video shot inside a mini market.  You can‘t see a thing, but you can hear the panic of the 20 people who survived the tornado in that mini mart. 



O‘DONNELL:  Oh my god. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Heavenly father. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I love everyone.  I love everyone. 


O‘DONNELL:  More than 1,100 people have been injured.  From Ireland, President Obama called the governor to offer condolences and promise FEMA help.  Two thousand buildings, including homes, businesses, schools and churches have been destroyed. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It was hell.  It was the most frightening 15 seconds of our life.  The Lord‘s Prayer saw us through.  And I bet I repeated it 100 times.  But that‘s all that got us through.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now on the phone from Joplin, Michael Spencer of the American Red Cross.  Thank you for joining us tonight, Michael. 

MICHAEL SPENCER, AMERICAN RED CROSS:  Thank you for having me. 

O‘DONNELL:  What are you seeing now as you move through the area? 

SPENCER:  Well, right now, heavy storms are passing through the area.  It‘s very, very dangerous.  We have very intense lightning storms and just heavy rain. 

My heart goes out to all the survivors of this disaster.  They‘ve just been plummeted with disaster after disaster today.  They have so much rain.  There‘s flash flooding going on in the area right now.  Everything is leveled. 

Even asphalt was ripped off.  And the bark on trees is gone. 

O‘DONNELL:  Do you have enough emergency shelters set up there now? 

SPENCER:  We do.  We feel confident.  We have a shelter open.  That shelter has the capacity for 3,600.  We believe that that‘s going to be enough for this community, but if not, we‘ll open more.  Whatever it takes. 

O‘DONNELL:  What kind of help do you and the Red Cross and generally in the area do they need now? 

SPENCER:  Main things people need now is a safe place to go, a dry place.  It‘s been raining all day.  The temperature‘s dropping down to the 50s.  It‘s chilly outside. 

They also need a warm meal.  They may not have eaten in 24 hours.  They need food, nutrition, drinks and just a shoulder to lean on.  I think that‘s really the most important thing people need right now here.  It may be 24 hours after this disaster, but many of these people here are still in shock. 

These storms moving through, I think it‘s just terrifying.  You know, 24 hours later, and people are going through this again. 

O‘DONNELL:  You need a break in the weather, don‘t you, in order for people to even take an assessment of where things stand. 

SPENCER:  Yes, we really—this community really hasn‘t caught a break.  We‘ve got to get a break from this rain.  So the search and rescue teams are out right now from the local government officials and from states across the area.  They really need a break to get into these areas.

I mean, standing water is flowing 12 to 15 inches across the road in places around here.  People really need to stay off the roads. 

O‘DONNELL:  What can FEMA do in the immediate aftermath? 

SPENCER:  This is going to take everyone pulling together to really help this community.  It‘s not going to be days or weeks.  It‘s going to be months that this community is going to need the assistance of Red Cross and all of our partners like FEMA and Department of Homeland Security.  So I think they‘re going to be on the ground and we‘re going to be helping people together for however long it takes. 

O‘DONNELL:  Michael, I know it‘s difficult to compare disaster scenes.  But you‘ve seen many other tornadoes.  What does this one feel like compared to what you‘ve seen before? 

SPENCER:  This one was just extremely, extremely violent.  I haven‘t seen this level of destruction from just the sheer wind.  It‘s also, you know, stretches across the entire town.  Typically when I go into areas, when I arrive on scene, the search and rescue teams are wrapping up.  That wasn‘t the case this time.  The search and rescue teams were going out.

And then at 5:30 this morning, they went out to grid the whole city.  Usually that‘s typically over by the time I get in.  Those efforts are still going. 

So this is definitely still the emergency phase for this community. 

O‘DONNELL:  Michael Spencer, thank you for what you‘re doing there and thank you for joining us tonight. 

Coming up, Bob Schieffer asks the question everyone should be asking Newt Gingrich: how did you spend a half a million dollars on bling?  That‘s in the Rewrite.



RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You‘ve had a lot of fun, a lot of fun.  You‘ve had an opportunity to attack me.  And I think I‘ve given as good as I‘ve taken. 

I leave you gentlemen now and you will now write it.  You will interpret it.  That‘s your right.  But as I leave you, I want you to know just think how much you‘re going to be missing.  You don‘t have Nixon to kick around anymore. 


O‘DONNELL:  That was sore loser Richard Nixon talking to reporters in 1962 when he lost in his campaign for governor of California after having lost to JFK in his campaign for the presidency just to years earlier.  Unfortunately, he did not hold to his promise to the press that they would not have Nixon to kick around anymore.  But he was making an important point for tonight‘s Rewrite. 

It is important that we kick around politicians like Nixon as much as possible when we have the chance.  We now have less than a year to kick around Newton Leroy Gingrich before his presidential campaign freezes to death in a snow bank in New Hampshire. 

That would be its second death, of course, since all of us in the media have already declared his campaign dead after David Gregory cornered him on “Meet the Press” eight days ago. 

Undaunted—well perhaps a little daunted, but not quite as daunted as he should have been, Newt returned to Sunday morning TV yesterday.  This time, he made the mistake of sitting at the table with 74-year-old Bob Schieffer, who has been hosting “Face the Nation” for 20 years, and has the better sense of what a fair question is than any of us who question politicians for a living. 

No one knows Washington normal better than Bob Schieffer.  And there was something about Gingrich that Bob Schieffer found bizarre. 


BOB SCHIEFFER, “FACE THE NATION”:  I want to ask you about this bizarre revelation that came up last week that your wife in 2005-2006 filed a financial disclosure, because she was working for the House Agriculture Committee, that revealed that you owed between 250,000 to a half million dollars to a jewelry company.

What was that about, Mr. Speaker? 

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  First of all, it was about obeying the law.  She filed a disclosure.  It‘s been sitting there for five years. 

We‘re private citizens.  I work very hard.  We have a reasonably good income.  I currently owe nothing except I owe one mortgage on a house that‘s rental property in Wisconsin.  Everything else is totally paid for. 

My home is paid for.  My cars are paid for.  We don‘t have a second house.  We don‘t do elaborate things. 

SCHIEFER:  Did you owe a half million dollars to a jewelry company at one point? 

GINGRICH:  We had a revolving fund? 

SCHIEFFER:  What does that mean? 

GINGRICH:  It means that we had a resolving fund. 

SCHIEFFER:  Who buys a half million dollars worth of jewelry on credit? 

GINGRICH:  No, it‘s—go talk to Tiffany‘s.  It‘s a standard, no interest account. 

SCHIEFFER:  How long did you owe it? 

GINGRICH:  I have no idea.  It was paid off automatically.  We paid no interest on it.  There was no problem with it.  It was a normal way of doing business. 

SCHIEFFER:  I mean, it‘s very odd to me that someone would run up a half million dollars bill at a jewelry store. 

GINGRICH:  Go talk to Tiffany‘s.  All I‘m telling you is we are very frugal.  We, in fact, live within our budget.  We owe nothing. 

SCHIEFFER:  What did you buy? 

GINGRICH:  We owe nothing.  It‘s my private life. 

SCHIEFFER:  I understand. 

GINGRICH:  I understand. 

SCHIEFFER:  You‘re running for president.  You‘re going to be the guy in charge of the Treasury Department.  It just sticks out like a sore thumb. 


O‘DONNELL:  Newt‘s sore thumb just created the most important question anyone can ask Newt Gingrich in this campaign.  The most important question for any politicians is always the question he most doesn‘t want to answer. 


SCHIEFFER:  What did you buy? 

GINGRICH:  We owe nothing.  It‘s a my private life. 


O‘DONNELL:  “What did you buy, Mr. Gingrich” is now the must ask question for any reporter especially after Gingrich said this today. 


GINGRICH:  By definition if you run for president anything is on the table.  Ask Grover Cleveland.  Ask Andrew Jackson.  Anything is on the table.  I accept that. 


O‘DONNELL:  There are some theories out there about the answer to the most important Gingrich question. 


STEPHEN COLBERT, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  Five hundred thousand dollars at Tiffany‘s?  There‘s a simple explanation.  The guy clearly buys his engagement rings in bulk. 


O‘DONNELL:  You can go to our blog to give your theory about how Gingrich spent a half a million at Tiffany‘s or Tweet it to me, @Lawrence.  And remember, when you‘re thinking about how to Rewrite Newt‘s answer to—


SCHIEFFER:  what did you buy? 

What did you buy? 

What did you buy? 


O‘DONNELL:  -- you should flip through a Tiffany‘s catalog and ask yourself, what does Tiffany‘s sell that is so deeply embarrassing for a Republican presidential candidate to admit to buying?  And no, Tiffany‘s does not have a sex toys department.



O‘DONNELL:  When the world doesn‘t end on May 21st, and you realize Harold Camping is a complete fraud, and you feel confused and adrift in the world and don‘t know where to look for guidance, just know that on May 23rd, at 8:00 p.m., the man who told you the truth about the end of the world will be once again sitting in this chair, telling you more truth. 

And from that day forth, having renounced the teachings of Harold Camping, you will always have this program to come to help you see the light. 


O‘DONNELL:  This was the first national television program to warn you that Harold Camping was wrong to warn you that the end of the world was coming on May 21st.  Harold Camping has claimed to be flabbergasted, his word, that we‘re still here. 

He said it‘s been, quote, “a really tough weekend.”  Really?  Tougher than the world ending? 

Harold Camping is, of course, a fraud and has 72 million dollars in his corporation in anticipation of this particular rainy day.  Not so lucky is Robert Fitzpatrick, a retired transportation agency worker.  He spent over 140,000 dollars of his life savings on subway posters and outdoor ads. 

On Saturday at 6:00 p.m. in Times Square, Reuters reported him as saying, “I do not understand why.  As his speech broke off and he looked at his watch, I do not understand why nothing has happened.” 

We do not understand why Robert Fitzpatrick doesn‘t understand why and we never will. 

Joining me now is Obery Hendricks, a professor of Biblical interpretation at New York Theological Seminary, and author of “The Politics of Jesus, Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus‘ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted.” 

Thank you very much for joining us tonight. 


O‘DONNELL:  We‘ve seen it many times over the year.  Or you‘ve seen it as a student of this, these false predictions based on some Biblical interpretation that the end is coming.  Sometimes the end is coming on a specific date. 

In fact, camping had predicted—didn‘t he say it was going to end in 1994.  That was his second shot. 

HENDRICKS:  He said that initially and he said he miscalculated, misunderstood.  It really meant the end of the church, not end of the world.  So his followers stepped out of churches and they spent all of time demonizing churches. 

O‘DONNELL:  What is the vulnerability out there that Camping is exploiting when he makes these kinds of predictions? 

HENDRICKS:  The vulnerability is folks who feel so unempowered to change their lives and to change the world that they feel that all can happen, all that can help them is for, in the words of Revelation, a new heaven and new Earth to come, or for a rapture to come and take them out of this painful existence in Earth, where they can‘t make things better for themselves into to heaven where things are better. 

We‘ve seen it reflective in gospel music all the time, just leave it to Jesus, that kind of thing.  It really is an expectation or a need built out of hopelessness, often, and helplessness. 

O‘DONNELL:  This doomsday angle has been a very, very profitable business for Camping. 

HENDRICKS:  Yes, it has.  He‘s built a huge empire.  He has followers who seem to be willing to do most anything for him.  And he‘s a very important man in those circles. 

O‘DONNELL:  How do you anticipate the failure of that prediction to be processed by Camping followers?  What‘s the typical menu of thought processes that they go through after something like this? 

HENDRICKS:  The last time in ‘94, he said that he miscalculated and he said it was the end of the church.  So we expect him to give some kind of explanation. 

O‘DONNELL:  He‘s going to come up with something better than flabbergasted. 

HENDRICKS:  It will be something better.  They want to believe.  They don‘t want to believe that they‘ve been snookered and fooled.  They want to believe that this is still coming. 

The real harm of this is that this obsession with end times—we even see those foolish purveyors like Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann talk about the end times.  The problem with that obsession is that it distracts people from the real message of Jesus, which he articulated in Luke Four, when he said “the spirit of the lord is upon me, because it‘s anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” 

Good news to the poor is radical change in the institutions and the relationships and the policies that made people poor and keep them poor.  The religious right has a real investment in keeping folks from being concerned with fighting for fair and just and egalitarian policies—economic policies in this country. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now Camping said tonight that he was truly wondering what was going on when Saturday came and went without any extraordinary events.  “I went through all the promises God had made.  Everything was fitting perfectly.  He thought, what in the world happened?” 

HENDRICKS:  Well, what happened is he overlooked what Jesus said in Mark 13, that “no one knows the day or the hour when the world will end, not the Angels in heaven.”

O‘DONNELL:  Even I can remember that passage. 

HENDRICKS:  That‘s what these religious right fundamentalists do. 

They overlook what does not fit into their ideological thought process.  That‘s very sad because, in a way, they‘re ideological Christians.  They want to focus on what fits their interest and their needs, rather than trying to interpret their own lives and actions in light of the gospel itself. 

O‘DONNELL:  Obery Hendricks of the New York Theological Seminary, thank you very much for joining us tonight. 

HENDRICKS:  My pleasure. 

O‘DONNELL:  Before we go, a quick note about tomorrow night‘s show.  Michael Moore will be back as my special guest on THE LAST WORD.  You can follow the show online at our blog,  You can follow my Tweets @Lawrence. 

“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is up next.  Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Good evening, Lawrence.  We did a LAST WORD cocktail in your honor because of your pioneering work on the end of the world. 

O‘DONNELL:  I greatly appreciate it. 

MADDOW:  I‘m really happy that I didn‘t get shown up by the world actually ending, too.  So I want to thank you for whatever role you had in that.

O‘DONNELL:  Rachel, you‘ve got to have faith in me. 


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