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Msnbc Live at 6 p.m. ET, Wednesday June 29, 2011

Guests: Robert Menendez, E.J. Dionne, Pat Buchanan, Michael Isikoff, Jennifer Donahue, Cliff Schecter, Matt Lewis, Victoria DeFrancesco Sotto

CENK UYGUR, HOST:  The gloves came off today, but did President Obama throw a real punch? 

Tonight, President Obama tries to get tough with Republicans on the budget—kind of.   Senator Robert Menendez on whether that will work. 

Michele Bachmann‘s big call from the government.  It‘s a story that she doesn‘t want to talk about, but I‘m issuing a direct challenge to her tonight. 

Plus, new evidence today that Republicans picked the wrong fight on health care reform. 

And thousands march in Ohio to undo the anti-union law.  Go get them, Ohio.  We‘ll see if that succeeds.

Now, welcome to the show, everybody.  I‘m Cenk Uygur. 

Tonight‘s lead, the president tries to put his foot down, but unfortunately doesn‘t quite pull it off.  At a news conference today, President Obama hit back against Republicans as much as he ever hits anyone, which, I have to be honest, isn‘t very much. 

First, let‘s show you the tough (ph) talk. 


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Call me naive, but my expectation is that leaders are going to lead.  I‘ve met with the leaders multiple times.  At a certain point, they need to do their job. 

When they decide they‘re not happy with the fact that at some point you‘ve got make a choice, they just all step back and say, well, the president needs to get this done.  They are in one week, they are out one week.  And then they are saying Obama‘s got to step in it. 

You need to be here. 


UYGUR:  But here‘s the rub there.  He‘s asking them to lead in resolving the country‘s problems, but that‘s not what they‘re interested in. 

They‘re interested in winning for their side, right or wrong.  They view leadership as making you cave in to what they want, and they think you will take almost any deal that they give you. 

So I think this was time to draw the lines.  In fact, the president was asked if he had a red line in budget talks. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will you insist ultimately that a deal has to include those tax increases that you just laid out?  Is that an absolute red line for you? 


UYGUR:  And I‘ve got to be honest with you.  He had a really long answer, but the president made it clear that he did not have a line in the sand. 

In fact, he said things like this --  


OBAMA:  I think it‘s only fair to ask an oil company or corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up that tax break that no other business enjoys.  I don‘t think that‘s real radical. 


UYGUR:  Now, look, he‘s right about the taxes on those issues, but that‘s not exactly the strongest way to frame your position.  You should say this is what my position is, this is why it‘s right, and I will fight for it.  Not my position is not really radical. 

Come on.  That sounds defensive.  And it helps their framing as if you‘re saying, oh, no, no, no, I‘m not really radical.  Of course you‘re not radical.  Nearly 99 percent of the country agrees with you on the corporate jets, and a huge majority agree with you on the oil subsidies. 

So what‘s the message that the Republicans get out of this?  Well, they think we can keep pushing him. 

The president keeps making the same mistake, assuming that GOP gives a damn about the average person in this country.  So when he warns about what will happen if we don‘t raise the debt ceiling, he‘s right. 


OBAMA:  We‘re not going to pay folks their Social Security checks, or we‘re not going to pay veterans for their disability checks.  I mean, which bills—which obligations are we going to say we don‘t have to pay? 

This is urgent and it needs to get settled. 


UYGUR:  But when Republicans see those facts, they think two different things.  One, so what?  These people, the average Americans, they don‘t pay our bills.  The guys who benefit from the tax cuts to the rich are the ones who sign our checks. 

And number two, they think, good, we have the president over a barrel because he cares about these people.  So he will give in.

And finally, the president seemed to be bragging about how he can hit his own side. 


OBAMA:  And I‘ve already shown that I‘m willing to make some decisions that are very tough, and will, you know, give my base of voters further reason to give me a hard time. 


UYGUR:  But look, the Republicans don‘t see that as a reason to return the favor and be tough on their side.  They don‘t look at it that way at all.  They see it as another good reason to keep pushing you, because they think you are much more willing to give in on your priorities than they are on their priorities. 

The president thinks he‘s projecting an aura of reasonableness, and to some he is.  But all the Republicans see is weakness. 

Joining me now is Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.  H serves on the Banking and Finance Committees, and today he held a news conference challenging Republicans to end ethanol and oil subsidies. 

Senator Menendez, great to have you here. 

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY:  Good to be with you.

UYGUR:  All right.  Well, let me ask you, the president was asked whether he was going to draw a red line and he never fully answered that question.  Should he have said yes, absolutely, here are the oil subsidies, ethanol subsidies, et cetera?  Here are the tax issues that I will not bend on? 

MENENDEZ:  Well, I certainly would have hoped he would have said it.  I certainly would have hoped that he would have said we‘re asking middle class families and working families in this country to be part of the sacrifice to get the country‘s economic footing back on track.  Well, we should ask big oil, we should ask those ethanol subsidies.  We should ask other tax breaks and loopholes to be ended because we can‘t afford them anymore, and certainly American taxpayers shouldn‘t afford them anymore. 

And I would have hoped he would have said that because I think he would have the American people behind him. 

UYGUR:  Senator Menendez, a combination of Politico and “Washington Post” reporting says that in the beginning, President Obama started the negotiations asking for about $760 billion in revenue increases, and that we are now down to asking for about $200 billion to $300 billion, and apparently we‘ve gotten no concessions whatsoever from the Republicans so far. 

Is this the problem that we always face in these negotiations, that the Republicans do not bend, and the Democrats and the White House just keeps going lower and lower and lower with their requests? 

MENENDEZ:  Well, you know, in a negotiation process, unless the other side knows that you have a bottom line that you are unwilling to go past unless they have a clear demarcation, unless you make them equally responsible at the end of the day for the consequences of inaction, then it‘s a question of how far they will take you over the barrel.  And the reality is, is that I‘m certainly concerned that while I understand that the president doesn‘t want to play poker with the nation‘s credit situation, by the same token, unless he makes it very clear to Republicans that they will be responsible for acting irresponsibly, and that the consequences of that is that they will bear the burden of what it can mean to this country in terms of its economy, what it will mean to people‘s 401(k)s, what it will mean to their retirement funds when the market takes a dive, what it will mean to companies who, instead of hiring, will contract and hold back their investments, what it will mean to this economy, that until he does that and makes it very clear to the American people why they have a stake in this, and who‘s putting them at risk, which is the Republicans, then I think it a risky negotiation process. 

UYGUR:  Right.  Unfortunately, all of these negotiations are, to some degree, poker.  Right?  And you‘ve got to say, hey, if you keep folding, well, they know what you‘re going to do next.

And he began to do that today.  To be fair, he mentioned a bunch of things that we could not pay for -- 44 percent of our bills can‘t be paid;

Social Security would be affected; Medicare; Medicaid; military pay; veterans‘ benefits; unemployment checks, IRS refunds. 

But should he have said, look—and been saying a long time ago—this is what‘s going to happen if the Republicans get their way?  Not, hey, if we can‘t resolve it together, this is what‘s going to happen, but, hey, the Republicans are the ones who are responsible for all this because they are being obstinate? 

MENENDEZ:  Well, I certainly think that he should, because number one is, Republicans are enjoying governing here.  They control the House of Representatives. 

They have a responsibility.  And they are taking an ideological hard line that has nothing to do with reality and nothing to do with what is necessary to make sure the country doesn‘t default on its obligations, that people don‘t lose dramatic parts of their retirement income, that we don‘t lose more jobs at a time that we are trying to create jobs. 

He needs to put that on their doorstep.  And the reality is he would be just talking the truth, because at this point, that‘s exactly what they are doing. 

And so I just hope that we don‘t have a negotiation where he just drives—they just know that he wants this desperately because he wants the country to succeed and they are willing to do just about anything for their political purposes.  That‘s a bad chemistry in terms of negotiation. 

UYGUR:  That‘s interesting. 

All right.  New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez.

Thank you so much for joining us. 

MENENDEZ:  Thank you. 

UYGUR:  All right.  Now let‘s bring in “Washington Post” columnist E.J. Dionne—he‘s also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution—and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

All right.  You know, first, I got the sense from Senator Menendez there, E.J., that he seemed to be trying to push the president to get a little tougher.  You know, because he seemed to be saying, come on, let‘s go, let‘s go, let‘s draw the line, et cetera.  That‘s what I read out of it.

Did you get the same sense?

E.J. DIONNE, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Yes, I got the same sense, and I think congressional Democrats have been trying to push him in that direction for a while.

But I thought he crossed a critical line today and put exactly the right question on the table that I hope he keeps asking.  And the question is, do you want to risk the credit of the United States, default, and all this mess, to defend tax breaks for oil companies, to defend corporate jets, to defend loopholes for hedge fund managers?  I mean, what do you want to do?  Do you want to cut Pell grants for hard-working kids, or do you want to protect the hedge fund managers? 

And I think it‘s a real challenge to populist Republicans like Pat.  I covered Pat‘s ‘92 campaign.  “Pitchfork Pat” he used to be called. 

How could a populist say no, I don‘t want to cut that tax break for corporate jets?  So I think he has really attacked the “never, never any tax increases” at its weakest point, and I think that‘s the beginning of a good argument. 

UYGUR:  Now, let‘s put in to “Pitchfork Pat.” 

So, Pat, there was a lot I thought he could have been tougher on, but that framing was good.  I agree with E.J. on that. 

How do you fight back against that?  I mean, don‘t you have to admit that tax rates for corporate jets are gaudy and ridiculous? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think that‘s very good rhetoric, and I think it‘s effective rhetoric.  And some of what the president said I think is very truthful rhetoric, frankly.

But the president is in a real box, Cenk, for this reason.  What the Republicans are going to do, in my judgment, is wait and wait and wait. 

You‘re going to get down to the end of July, and they‘re going to pass some very serious spending cuts—Pentagon, domestic spending, maybe some subsidies.  They‘re going to attach it to the debt ceiling, and they‘re going to send it over to the Senate and say, Mr. President, you‘ve got it, but we are not going along with taxes. 

Is the president of the United States then going to put his own country into default by vetoing spending cuts simply because they don‘t contain tax cuts he wants?  I wonder if he will, and I think that‘s why what I picked up in Senator Menendez is a certain trace of defeatism about their position in this debate and this argument because in the final analysis, you‘re right, the Republicans have got to come across with something serious.    But they can‘t come across with tax—I mean, tax increases for the simple reason that when they go home, if they do, the Tea Party will start conducting necktie parties on every one of them. 

UYGUR:  All right.

Now, look, E.J., I think Pat makes a really great point there.  And I didn‘t sense weakness from Senator Menendez, but I sensed that he was worrying about weakness from the White House.  I think that was part of what he was saying tonight. 

And Pat makes a great point in that if they put that out there, if the president doesn‘t say, hey, under no conditions, and it‘s your fault if you do this, then he is stuck, isn‘t he? 

DIONNE:  Well, no.  First of all, I thought we had a small victory just now.   Pat is too smart to defend the tax breaks for corporate jets.  He doesn‘t want to do that. 

Why?  Because it doesn‘t work and it doesn‘t make sense.  And that‘s the kind  of argument you have to keep pressing. 

And if the Republicans want to put together something that looks like the Ryan budget and pass it all over again, I think more power to them. 

UYGUR:  No.  But E.J., hold on.  Let me jump in there. 

Let me jump in there, E.J.

BUCHANAN:  Let me jump in here.

UYGUR:  Hold on one second. 

E.J., the problem is that they‘re not going to pass the Ryan budget again.  What they‘re going to do is say, hey, you know what?  All the cuts that Biden agreed to, that Obama agreed to, we‘re going to pass that, and go, well, you already agreed to it, go ahead.


DIONNE:  But what you‘re going to do is you‘re going to end up short of the $2 trillion.  There is argument I think Democrats ought to start making, which is you have to pass this debt ceiling increase if you want to accommodate the original Ryan budget the House passed, because this adds about $5 trillion over time to the debt. 

So let‘s call the ball (ph) on this and let‘s also start arguing straight up.  It is crazy to have this argument connected to the debt ceiling.  It is too big a risk. 

UYGUR:  I know, but it‘s—


UYGUR:  The president already conceded on that. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me get in here, Cenk.  Cenk, let me get in here.

E.J., in ‘92, I believe it was, they had the luxury tax.  And I went down to Bay Water Boats in Georgia.  And they built eight boats a month, about a hundred boats a year, great big yachts and things for people.  All working class guys. 

DIONNE:  And they—


BUCHANAN:  They were building one boat a month because of the luxury tax, and they simply moved the building of the boats to Mexico.  The tax was terribly foolish.  It sounded very good. 

Secondly, E.J., look, you and I have studied a little bit of economics, as amateurs, if you will.  What economic theory  tells you when you have got 9 percent unemployment and 17 percent underemployment to start raising taxes, for heaven‘s sake? 

UYGUR:  I have an answer.  My answer is the opposite question to you.  What economic theory says that spending cuts will create jobs when you‘ve got 9 percent unemployment? 

And I‘ll give you the answer—none.  No economic theory says that. 

DIONNE:  Let me just answer, Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  Go ahead, E.J.

DIONNE:  What I was going to say is that‘s where Obama can do jujitsu, which he did today.  Why won‘t the Republicans vote to extend the payroll tax cut another year?  They are saying no to a payroll tax cut which benefits average workers and pumps money into the economy.  Why are they resisting that? 


BUCHANAN:  And there is one unstated argument.  We are all talking about people who don‘t pay enough of their portion.  The top one percent pay 40 percent of all taxes.  The bottom—

UYGUR:  That‘s because they have 40 percent of the money, Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  -- 51 percent of wage earners—hold it—the bottom 51 percent of wage earners pay zero income tax. 


UYGUR:  All right.  We‘ve got to leave it there. 


UYGUR:  Pat, I know.  You think the poor and the middle class don‘t pay enough and the rich pay too much.  I don‘t know what planet you live on, Pat. 

Look, they pay 40 percent of the taxes because they have 40 percent of the money!  Just a ton of it!  It‘s outrageous.

BUCHANAN:  Cenk, they‘ve got 23 percent of—


UYGUR:  Pat, we‘ve got to leave it right there.  I‘m going to have you back on and have this debate again.

BUCHANAN:  You think half the country should pay nothing.

UYGUR:  All right.

E.J. Dionne from “The Washington Post,” MSNBC‘s own Pat Buchanan.

Thank you so much, guys.

DIONNE:  Thank you.

UYGUR:  All right.

When we come back, collision course Michele Bachmann says she‘s not going to get into a mud wrestling fight with Sarah Palin, but then they kind of fight anyway. 

And remember the big fight Republicans picked on health care reform?  Well, it looks like they picked a wrong one on this one.  A major blow to the conservative legal case today.


UYGUR:  Michele Bachmann is riding high right now.  She is doing great in polls in Iowa.  And a new poll shows that she‘s made an eight-point jump among New Hampshire voters in just the last month alone.  And she is capitalizing on that momentum by injecting a little Palin charm into her campaign. 

Here she is today blaming the media for reports that the two are feuding. 


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have a very good relationship with Governor Palin.  This seems to be their sideline right now.  They want to see two girls come together and have a mud wrestling fight.  And I‘m not going to give it to them. 


UYGUR:  That‘s a classic Palin take against the media, but she is not stopping there.  Bachmann has also launched her very own bus tour. 

But wait a minute.  Come on.  That‘s too much.  You can‘t say you are not copying her and then launch a bus tour just like Sarah Palin‘s. 

And now Bachmann is even making Katie Couric jokes. 


BACHMANN:  The United States of America, according to the Congressional Research Service, is the number one energy resource rich nation in the world.  I‘ll bet you didn‘t hear that from Katie Couric. 


UYGUR:  It is almost like she has forgotten that she isn‘t Sarah Palin. 

You know, Palin is the one feuding with Couric, not you.  Weird.

And now Bachmann is getting all mavericky, too.  She has defied Tom Petty, who told her to stop using his song.  She played “American Girl” again yesterday.

And now here‘s the funny part of that story.  Petty has allowed that song to be used in “Silence of the Lambs” and “The Sopranos.”  Just not during Bachmann events.

In other words, he doesn‘t mind being associated with this --  


ANTHONY HOPKINS, ACTOR:  I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. 


UYGUR:  That always freaks me out. 

But he does have a problem with it being associated with this --  




UYGUR:  OK.  That also freaked me out. 

By the way, the band behind that song, Katrina & the Waves, yes, they have also consulted their lawyers.  Like Tom Petty, they just don‘t like being associated with Michele Bachmann. 

But if Bachmann really wants to beat Palin, prepare for the heat.  And by the way, here it comes. 

NBC News National Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff has learned that the mental health clinic founded by Marcus Bachmann has received more than $137,000 in federal and state Medicaid payments since 2005.  So there‘s that, there‘s the $137,000, in addition to the $24,000 in federal and state funds that the clinic got to train employees.  And oh, yes, there‘s also the $260,000 in federal farm subsidies that Michele Bachmann‘s family farm received. 

So what happened?  I thought you were against Medicaid handouts and against government subsidies. 

But luckily, don‘t worry, Michele.  You now have a clans to make amends.  Just write a check for $421,000 made payable to the American taxpayer, and then we‘ll all be even. 

OK?  You give us back the money that you took from the taxpayers and then, yes, it will all even out. 

Look, I‘m going to be real with you.  I‘m challenging Michele Bachmann to live by her words.  Either give that money back to the American people, otherwise don‘t say another word about people taking government money.  Shush. 

All right.  Joining me now is NBC News Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff.  Also with me, contributor to “The Huffington Post,” Jennifer Donahue.

All right, Michael—first of all, welcome to both of you.  Great to have you here.

Michael, I‘m going to start with you.  You did the piece.

What happened?  I thought Michele Bachmann—Medicaid handouts?  Oh, no!  And everybody who is taking them, who is associated with welfare handouts, et cetera.  Now you are telling me her husband has taken all this money for his clinic? 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:  Yes.  Well, it‘s kind of interesting, because today, in response to the story, she put out a statement saying that Medicaid is a valuable government program that helps people in need and that her—

UYGUR:  All of a sudden. 

ISIKOFF:  -- clinic should discriminate against low-income people. 

Look, let‘s be clear.  There is nothing wrong with a mental health clinic like Bachmann & Associates providing services to Medicaid patients. 

The contradiction here, or the questions got raised about this, is

because Michele Bachmann, of course, as being a sort of Tea Party favorite,

has been quite a vocal critic of government programs across the board,

including Medicaid.  In fact, when Governor Mark Dayton in Minnesota

earlier this year signed an executive order to expand Medicaid payments to

Medicaid to about 95,000 Minnesotan residents, she flew back home to join with Republican legislators to denounce such a move, describing it as



UYGUR:  Actually, I have that for you, Michael.  I have got her exact quote.

She said, “Right now Governor Dayton is wanting to commit Minnesota taxpayers to add even more welfare recipients to the welfare rolls at a very great cost,” referring to Medicaid. 

So, Jennifer, I mean, that‘s it.  Isn‘t that 100 percent hypocrisy?  And if she was really going to live by her word, wouldn‘t she give the money that her family has gotten from the federal government back to the federal government? 

JENNIFER DONAHUE, CONTRIBUTOR, “HUFFINGTON POST”:  Well, her critics see it as huge hypocrisy.  But the problem is she is a base candidate through and through, and she seems like Teflon to the base. 

She is Ronald Reagan to the base.  They love her, and she can do no wrong. 

She keeps saying she has a titanium spine.  And I think she does.  I think this woman is a superhero. 

I think that the public is so jaded by hypocrisy, that they are actually really not going to react very much to Michael‘s amazing reporting, which has uncovered that, yes, this is hypocritical action.  But I don‘t think that it rises to the level of voter anger and voter dissonance at this point. 

These are voters who are used to hypocrisy every day from their politicians.  And they don‘t trust their politicians. 

UYGUR:  Well, I wish they wouldn‘t trust Bachmann. 

DONAHUE:  So I don‘t think Michele Bachmann doing this is really going to—I don‘t think it‘s going to have that much of an effect on her base. 

UYGUR:  All right.

Look, Michael, you know, we‘ve got this amazing situation where Republicans can come in and go, OK, I‘m against all the government stuff, now give me government money, give it to me, give it to me, give it to me. 

They do it all the time.  Rick Perry does it in Texas.  Oh, the damn federal government.  Oh, I‘ve got fires.  Where‘s the federal government?  I need them desperately. 

Oh, I‘ve got a deficit.  Oh, please, please, federal government, give me the money. 

But this is on a personal level.  And by the way, what do they even use it for?  They say it is absolutely necessary. 

What is this, they do quality Christian counseling?  What exactly is that? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, it‘s a good question.  I mean, if you go on their Web site, it‘s very clear that there‘s a religious orientation what Bachmann & Associates does, and there is nothing wrong with that. 

There have been some critics who have raised questions about government funding that goes to clinics such as this that have a specific religious orientation.  And, you know, the fact is the door was opened for this sort of thing by the faith-based initiatives of President Bush, which were approved by Congress as well. 

UYGUR:  And look, we don‘t mind people getting Medicaid.  I‘m totally in favor of that.  You‘ve got problems, et cetera.  But these guys, it‘s not like they‘re giving them medicine.  They‘re just saying, OK, let me pray with you. 

And look, maybe I‘m being too cynical, but you certainly can‘t do it when you complain about Medicaid when it goes to other people. 

Jennifer, last question for you though. 


UYGUR:  OK.  Look, the first thing that we brought up there, the similarities with Palin, it‘s getting eerie.  It‘s like the Couric thing, the bus tour, and then Bristol Palin comes out and says, she‘s dressing like my mom.  That‘s kind of a weird thing to say.

I mean, is there a budding feud here, no matter how much they claim that it‘s not true?

DONAHUE:  You know, I think the thing is they have the same voters. 

And there is a conflict here. 

There is Tea Party candidates fighting for the same voters.  But I don‘t think Palin is running, so I don‘t think it‘s really that big a deal. 

I think one of the things that Michael just said is really key though, that Bachmann‘s constituency is made up of such conservative voters, that they don‘t mind whether there are questions of separation of church and state, they don‘t mind if Medicare—if the issue is hypocrisy.  They don‘t mind if she is speaking or her husband is speaking about God in his clinical setting. 

These are the true believers of the Republican Party.  These are the same people that followed Pat Buchanan, your last guest, and brought him to victory in Iowa and New Hampshire over Bob Dole in 1996.  This is the populist base movement in the form of the Tea Party, and they like Michele Bachmann, and they like her more than they like Sarah Palin. 

UYGUR:  I‘m just begging them to actually care about facts.  And I‘m sure—

DONAHUE:  You‘re not going to get them to care about facts, Cenk. 

UYGUR:  I know.  I‘m barking up the wrong tree. 


UYGUR:  Well, we‘ve got to leave it right there. 

NBC‘s Michael Isikoff, and contributor to “The Huffington Post, Jennifer Donahue.

You guys are both terrific.  Thank you so much for your time tonight. 

ISIKOFF:  Thank you. 

DONAHUE:  Thank you.

UYGUR:  All right.

Now, ahead, strength in numbers.  Thousands rally in Ohio against a union-busting bill.  I love it. 


UYGUR:  Republican Congressman Darrell Issa publicly went to bat for a company that was privately managing his money.  And that‘s our con job of the day.

As chair of the House Oversight Committee, Congressman Issa is happy to investigate just about anything the Obama administration does but he‘s not eager to investigate everybody.  During the debate over financial reform last year, Issa went on FOX News, of course, to question why the SEC was filing charges against Goldman Sachs.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS:  Do they think they used the civil charges in toward get the American people all upset on Goldman Sachs that they would put pressure on the Republicans in the Senate to really move forward this?

REP. DARRELL ISSA ®, CALIFORNIA:  That‘s certainly a question we have, and, Greta, I don‘t have answer to these questions.


UYGUR:  He also directly asked the SEC to investigate the motives for the Goldman suit.  But as “Think Progress” reports, Issa‘s financial reports show he privately bought up to $600,000 worth of Goldman bonds while he was publicly defending Goldman.  Now, that was on top of at least $5 million Issa already had invested with Goldman.

At the time, corruption watchdog Melanie Sloan said, quote, “That Issa recently invested money with Goldman Sachs and then is making statements protective of Goldman Sachs suggests his views may be more informed by his own financial holdings that than Goldman Sachs actions.”

Goldman ended up paying $550 million to settle the case that Issa had a beef with.  And the SEC found no wrongdoing in bringing this suit against Goldman.

Now when we conducted Issa‘s office today, his spokesman, Frederick Hill (ph), said only that the congressman‘s bonds did not depend on Goldman stock price or performance.

Well, whether you believe that or not, of course, the fact remains, he still stepped up to defend a company that was managing his money.  He wanted no investigation when it turned out that Goldman paid a $550 million fine on that investigation and absolutely should have been investigated.

And, by the way, why is the head of the government oversight committee trying to block government oversight?

Issa publicly defending a company while privately investing with them is our con job of the day.


UYGUR:  Welcome back to the show, everybody.  Now it‘s time to discuss the biggest political story.  We let our power panel to do that.  I enjoy that every time.

Joining me now: political strategist Cliff Schecter, Cliff is president of Libertas, a progressive firm and an author of “The Real McCain.”

Also with us, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, she‘s an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University.

And Matt Lewis, senior contributor for the “Daily Caller.”  By the way, Matt is also the author of the book, “The Quotable Rogue: The Ideals of Sarah Palin in Her Own Words.”  This should be a fun read.


UYGUR:  First question, did we get a booster shot for Obamacare today?  President Obama scored a major victory as a federal appeals court ruled that the individual mandate in his reform law is constitutional.  It‘s the first ruling by a federal appeals court on the matter and the first time a Republican appointed judge has supported the law.

So, Matt, is it time to let it go?

MATT LEWIS, DAILY CALLER:  I don‘t think so, Cenk.  Look, I think this is going to go to the Supreme Court, ultimately.  Interestingly, the precedent for this case comes from a 1942 Supreme Court decision that said an Ohio farmer couldn‘t grow wheat because somehow that would impact interstate commerce.  It was a bizarre decision in 1942.

And I think it‘s bizarre to say that, you know, the Constitution has enumerated and limited powers and to say you have to buy a product I think is unconstitutional—but the Supreme Court will probably decide that.

UYGUR:  Well, you know, a Bush-appointed lawyer and a guy who clerked for Scalia apparently disagrees with you—which is interesting.

Cliff, go.

CLIFF SCHECTER, POLITICAL STRATEGIST:  Well, to these guys, every case that came before Scalia is a strange and weird case, I think.

Look, the 1942 case was one that was a solid case, solid standing.  You want to look back in our history, you‘ll find George Washington in the Uniform Militia Act where he required able-bodied men to purchase firearms, to purchase bayonets, and a variety of things, to serve this country and militia.  This is going through the history of our country that‘s been required.

And, quite frankly, this was the Heritage Foundation/Bob Dole health care plan until they found that Democrats were for it.  Of course, they were against it.

So, this is all wrapped up in politics and, frankly, it‘s silly and I think they‘ll lose on it.

UYGUR:  Well, let‘s talk about the politics, Victoria, because it seems like the Republicans to me, they look on obstinate.  They‘re almost like sore losers, like, we didn‘t get our way so we are going to court, we‘re gong to do this, we‘re going to do that, et cetera.

Does it seem that way or am I misreading it?

VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY:  You know, I actually think I want to take a step back and think about the Republican presidential candidates because for them, this ruling is a boom, because they have something to keep fighting against.  These next couple of months getting into the primary, they have something to bask, obviously with the exception of Romney.  He wants this to go away.  He wants this to die down.

So, you know, you start off as is this a win for Obama or not?  Sure, it‘s a win.  But for the Republican presidential candidates, they can keep hammering home their message of Obamacare, Obamacare, Obamacare.

UYGUR:  All right.  I‘m going to move on to the next question.  Is President Obama too nice?  How do you like that for an interesting question?  He‘s gotten plenty of criticism from wanting everyone to like him.  And get a hold of this—even from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  I think he‘s so concerned about making sure everybody likes him that he‘s paralyzed to be able to make decisions.  And I think that‘s what it does when you are worried about being liked.  You don‘t want to decide anything because you know you‘re going to aggravate somebody.


UYGUR:  You know, Cliff, I kind of agree with the Governor Walnuts there.

SCHECTER:  I do.  I‘m not sure I would take personality lessons from Chris Christie.  Every time I see him in the audience in one of these events, he is tearing down people.  I think he maybe about to eat one of them.

But with that aside, I would say yes.  I mean, look, President Obama has not used the bully pulpit.  He didn‘t use it at the beginning with his stimulus when he could have gotten the stimulus we needed over $1 trillion.  He didn‘t use it for the public option.  He‘s never gone out and stood up and fought for what he believed in or what he claimed he believed in.  And that put us in a really, really bad position right now.

So, you know, I hate to have to agree with Chris Christie on anything but, yes, I would agree on that.

UYGUR:  Matt, what do you think?  I mean, are you intimidated by President Obama at all or do you think, yes, I mean, keep playing nice guy and that‘s going to help us?

LEWIS:  So, I‘m going to disagree with Chris Christie.  Actually, I don‘t think it‘s about being nice or not being nice.  But I think it‘s about leadership.

Barack Obama had no executive experience before becoming president.  And I think that, look, presidents do use the bully pulpit.  They have to communicate.  They have to take the lead.  And they have to fight for things.

I don‘t think that you‘re not nice but I do think maybe it‘s a semantics issue.  But he is weak when it comes to sort of pushing through and communicating the things he wants to do.

UYGUR:  Victoria, you know, I call Chris Christie Governor Walnuts sometimes because he looks like Paulie Walnuts from the Sopranos with his attitude.  And he‘s like, do it that.

Now, that‘s other side of it.  I mean, isn‘t that too much the other way?  I mean, I don‘t want my president being that way.  Shouldn‘t we find some sort of middle ground here?

SOTO:  You know, he‘s a tough guy.  And, you know, there‘s this comparison between, well, he is too nice.  You know, look at George W.  Bush.  He shot from the hip.  He was as cowboy.  He would tell people to bring it on.

So, in that comparison, I want to bring out another point.  When I first heard that comment about him being too nice, I felt that there was some underlying feminine association that he was putting forward.

UYGUR:  Really?  That‘s interesting.

SOTO:  Women—you know, women and especially women in politics, are always stereotyped as being too nice.  If you remember Hillary Clinton in 2008, she fought tooth and nail to not be seen as the nice woman.  She wanted to be tough.

So, him saying this too nice comment, not only was he attack is his politics, but I saw a very subtle attack at his person, his character.

UYGUR:  Really, Victoria?  You know what?  I don‘t agree.  I don‘t agree with that at all.

Because I think President Obama is too nice.  I‘m certainly not making a comment about his gender.  I just—you‘re mentioning is the first time I ever thought about it.  I think he‘s got to get a lot tough with the Republicans, for example, today on budget talks and say—and to me, saying that about Obama proves it is not about gender.


LEWIS:  I—you know what I think, though, Cenk, I think a lot of it has to do with his professorial style.  And I think that kind of speaks to the lack—

SOTO:  Contemplative.

LEWIS:  Yes.  It‘s right.  I think that he‘s very comfortable sort of in a professorial manner, intellectual academic sort of setting as opposed to, you know, politicians who kind of work their way up, maybe where governors or mayors, had to be, you know, back room, fist-flying, that‘s not where he came from.

UYGUR:  All right.  I got to go to the last question, guys.  Is the real pork in the Pentagon?  This is a very important question.

A new report from Brown University shows that the final bill for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be at least $3.7 trillion, but could be as high as $4.4 trillion.  On top of that, the Pentagon found defense contractors like Boeing are ridiculously overcharging the Pentagon for basic parts.  For example, the company charged nearly $1,700 for a gear that costs just $7.71.  That‘s a markup of 21,000 percent.

Look, Matt, come on.  This is where the pork is, let‘s get real.  We got to get into this.  They are robbing us blind.

LEWIS:  Absolutely, Cenk.  I think this is an area where we can agree and where conservatives and liberals can agree.  It‘s one thing to talk about cutting defense.  It‘s another to talk about cutting fat and avoiding this nation from being ripped off.

Let me say, Harry Truman in 1941 started the Truman Commission, which investigated World War II spending, profiteering and overcharging.  A Democrat FDR was president, and Harry Truman saved about $15 billion.

We need a Democrat to step up.  We should have some oversight and more investigation into this.  It‘s a good thing that we have this report.

UYGUR:  Cliff, last word.

SCHECTER:  Yes.  Look, I have to agree with Matt on that.  I hate to admit but I mean, when you look at this, what they charge 177,000 percent was the Boeing thing.  It was 4 cent metal pin that they charged $71 per.  That‘s outrages.

And if we are talking about going near Medicare and Social Security, which we shouldn‘t by the way, these are the things we need to get to first.  We got a bloated Pentagon with a lot of money being wasted.  We‘ve got wars being waged that we don‘t need to be in any more.  We‘ve got agricultural subsidies going to Monsanto and places like that.  Oil companies subsidies.

You know, stay away from the middle class and stay away from people‘s pensions and people‘s money until we go and we stop getting these guys that charge $10,000 gold-plated toilets, all right?

UYGUR:  All right.  Hey, you know, I always love to end the panel on agreement.  So, great panel, everybody.  Thank you so much.

All right.  Now ahead, the same day that Scott Walker‘s union bashing law goes into effect, thousands march in Ohio to fight for their collective bargaining rights.  I love it.  Go get them, Ohio!


UYGUR:  People who watch the show regularly know I‘m quite tough on the president from time to time—like today.  I‘m going to explain why I do that.  And it‘s definitely not because I want to hurt him.  We‘ll do that in a little bit.


UYGUR:  It hasn‘t been the best day in Wisconsin where Scott Walker‘s collective bargaining law went into effect today.  But it was a much brighter day in Ohio, especially in Columbus.  That‘s where thousands of workers march downtown to deliver a semi truck full of petition signatures to the secretary of state.  That petition puts Ohio‘s version of the collective bargaining law on the ballot in November.

It means the people of Ohio, not Governor Kasich and his Republican state legislature will get to decide whether the state adopts SB-5.  It also blocks the law from going into effect before then.  And if the success of the petition campaign is any marker, SB-5 is going down.

The group that organized the petition, We Are Ohio, needs about a quarter million signatures from registered voters to get it on the ballot.  The final count: 1,298,301 signatures.  That‘s more than three times the number of public workers who are affected by the law.

Now, that‘s why they had to be delivered in a semi flanked by thousands of workers riled up and ready to fight.  As I look at that, I think that is a pretty awesome sight.  Maybe a source of inspiration for the folks back in Wisconsin who began this fight in the first place.

Look, final word, I love this.  That‘s fighting from the ground up.  You don‘t like what they‘re doing to you, then shove it right back down their throat.

I‘m proud of Wisconsin.  I‘m proud of Ohio.  And I‘m proud of every middle class American standing up for themselves and saying, not on our watch.

And next, some of you know I‘ve been very critical of this president.  And when we come back, I‘m going to explain why.  And it‘s definitely not because I don‘t like him.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Call me naive.  But my expectation is that leaders are going to lead.


UYGUR:  Look, I didn‘t love that press conference today.  I told but it in the first segment.  And if you watch this show on a regular basis, you know I‘m pretty tough on the president from time to time.

But it‘s not because I don‘t like the guy.  I don‘t know if you are supposed to say this on television but I voted for him.  If you watch “The Young Turks” during the 2008, you would have known very clearly that I was on Obama‘s side, not only during the general election, but during the primary fight against Hillary Clinton as well.

I‘m a progressive.  As you can tell, I don‘t hide that one bit.

Look, the segment is called the “Aggressive Progressive.”  That‘s what I am.  And that‘s why I thought a Republican president in ‘08 would have been disaster.

So, I find it curious sometimes that people accused me of supporting Republicans now, which I‘m amazed by.  Look, I get a lot of e-mail, tweets, et cetera to that effect.

Now, of course, I also get support from the audience, when I go after Democrats for not being too tough against Republicans.  And God bless your heart for that support.

But the detractors keep saying the same thing—if you don‘t support President Obama completely, then a Republican will win the presidency.  Well, I‘ve got two responses that I‘ve been dying to share with you guys to that.

First, I‘m sorry, but, obviously, I‘m not going lie to you.  If President Obama is doing the wrong thing, I‘m not going to tell you that he‘s doing the right thing so I can, quote, “support” him.  That makes no sense.

And if he‘s not being progressive, I‘m not going to tell that you that he is, because that would be untrue.

Now, I can give you dozens of examples.  But let me give you one.  Continuing George Bush‘s warrantless wiretapping program is simply not progressive.  It‘s not within miles of progressive.

As a former constitutional law professor, he should be embarrassed of that decision.  That program basically destroys the Fourth Amendment.

So, for my critics, I literally don‘t know what to tell you about that.  What—should I tell that you warrantless wiretapping was terrible under Bush but fantastic under Obama?

Look, I desperately want the president to fight for us.  And by us, I don‘t mean just progress ifs, I mean the middle class.  The rich and powerful have plenty of representation in Washington.  He is supposed to represent the rest of us.

So, when I see him give in over and over again to the Republicans whose only priority is to help the top tax bracket and giant corporations, it kills me.  Like when he gave in on the tax cuts for the rich again in December, he said it wasn‘t the right time to talk on the Republicans.  But they tell us this always not the right time.  I mean, not just here on TV but when I‘m at home I scream at my TV, as I‘m sure a lot of you do.

Will you please fight?

There‘s also a second reason why I‘m tough on the president, because I don‘t want him to lose.  As you can tell, I‘m not thrilled with his policies so far.  And I tell you that as honestly as I can.  But I know that a Republican candidate would be far, far worse.

Look, almost the entire Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America.  They don‘t have our best interests in mind.  But if you‘re going to an election with the Republican meekly, they will whip your face off politically.

We need a fighter because fighters win.  In my entire experience of covering politics and I‘ve been doing this professionally for the last 16 years, I have never seven meekness work as a winning strategy.  Bush was a disaster for the country but he won two elections—I know, kind of.

But the way he did it is he took a stand and he didn‘t budge off of his positions.  Now, you might think it is bad policy, but it‘s almost indisputable good politics.  People want strong leaders.

If President Obama goes into this election saying I agree with Republicans on tax cuts but not quite as much; I agree with Republicans on cutting Medicare, but not quite as much; I agree with Republicans on war, but not quite as much—I‘m afraid he‘s going to lose and we‘re going to get stuck with another Republican corporate robot.

I‘m not tough on Obama because I want him to fail.  I‘m tough on him because I‘m afraid he‘s on the wrong road.

A good friend pulls someone out after bar fight not because he doesn‘t like him, but because he wants to help him.  A good friend also doesn‘t shy away from telling his buddy that he‘s not going to get that girl or get that promotion if he isn‘t assertive.

Look, it‘s painful to say but you do it because you genuinely think it might help.

So, Mr. President, please stop agreeing with Republicans and start fighting them.  Be an assertive fighter for the American people.  It‘s good for us, but it‘s also good for you.  Fight hard and you will win on policy, but you will also win the election.

But if you don‘t, I‘ve seen this movie before.  When Democrats like John Kerry didn‘t fight back hard enough—and that movie does not end well.

All right, that is our show.  I want to thank everybody for watching.  And you can get more of this on the where I host a two-hour show.  Also, on, or you can watch short clips at

All right, “HARDBALL” is up right now.

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