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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Guests: Rep. Keith Ellison, Alice Rivlin, Joel Burns

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST: Joel Burns is with us tonight to respond to Michele Bachmann‘s statement on bullying. But bullying isn‘t the only danger the Tea Party just doesn‘t understand.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: First of all, you don‘t look happy on the front page of “The New York Times.”
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because it gets better.
O‘DONNELL (voice-over): First, Speaker of the House John Boehner, it doesn‘t get better.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: The speaker of the House is being whip sawed today between his Tea Party caucus.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST: This is the moment of the Boehner speakership.
O‘DONNELL: The speaker‘s latest plan is officially a flop.
MITCHELL: The Congressional Budget Office now downgrading John Boehner‘s revenue projections.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaker Boehner told GOP lawmakers to get their “blank” in line.
MITCHELL: Get their blank in line behind the ceiling bill.
LUKE RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: I believe that will be get their behind in line, Thomas.
MITCHELL: He was really cracking the whip.
WILLIAMS: It says “Boehner‘s Grip on His Caucus is Put to Test in Standoff.”
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Never let them see you slip.
JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: The world‘s saddest tangerine.
O‘DONNELL: When Boehner supporters tried to help, they actually made things worse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we‘re going to hurt some people.
O‘DONNELL: Tea Party Republicans are officially out of control.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: The debt limit will be raised one way or another.
CHRISTINE O‘DONNELL ®, FMR SENATE NOMINEE: Holding the career politicians accountable.
WILLIAMS: Is it fair to say you have a bit of a rebellion on your hands? Or do you feel—
BOEHNER: Oh, I‘ve got a little rebellion on my hands every day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will not vote for this bill.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling.
BOEHNER: Progressive Caucus leader, Congressman Keith Ellison, joins me.
CILLIZZA: Just as a reminder, we have six days left.
O‘DONNELL: And just when you thought it couldn‘t get crazier.
He now achieves the prize for stupidest idea of the year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I introduced a bill to lower the debt ceiling, not raise it—to lower the debt ceiling, not raise it.
O‘DONNELL: The single stupidest thing said or proposed—
MITCHELL: Not by me.
O‘DONNELL: -- by anyone in the debt ceiling debate, Representative Paul Braun has a bill to lower the debt ceiling.
O‘DONNELL: Good evening from New York.
You would think that in the final week before we reach the deadline for raising the debt ceiling, that we would by now be in the end game of what has become the difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible negotiation to reach an agreement on raising the debt ceiling.
And you would be wrong. We are not yet in the end game. We are still in the bluff stage of the negotiations.
As it happens, the bluff stage, which began in full 18 days ago, has been the most public and active stage of the negotiations. Bluffing by definition must be public and must be full of false activity.
The president, by far the best bluffer of all the major players, got the bluffing going in earnest with his press conference on July 11th, by which time he had masterfully maneuvered the Republicans into a stalemate of the negotiations, which then allowed the president to pretend that he was in favor of more deficit reduction than Republican House Speaker John Boehner since Boehner had given up on reaching the so-called grand bargain on a $4 trillion deficit reduction package—a package that in truth would have been full of budget cuts that would be politically, not to mention morally, too much for the president to actually accept and sign.
Boehner had, of course, given up on that package, because the president insisted on something he knew Boehner could not do, which was accept at least a trillion in tax revenue increases. Since then, each side has come out with new proposals, almost on a daily basis, each of which has been immediately rejected by the other side.
Now, can both sides really be that inept? Can both sides really have absolutely no idea what the other side is willing to accept or what the other side is even willing to discuss? Or might each side be deliberately proposing plans that are immediately rejected because the rejection of those proposals serves a larger strategic purpose?
The president‘s overarching communications strategy throughout this process has been to portray himself as the reasonable man. Polls of independent and swing voters that he needs to win in his reelection campaign, which is already underway, indicate that the president has succeed in delivering the message that he is being more reasonable than the Republicans, that he is, as he would put it, bending over backwards to find ways to compromise.
At the same time, the president has worried many in his base that he is bending too much. But it has been easy for the president to portray himself as compromising so much on proposals that he knows have absolutely no chance of becoming agreed to by Republicans as long as the president remained unyielding on including tax revenue in those packages.
John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and the Republican leaders have a different task. They are making no effort, absolutely no effort to appear reasonable to American voters. John Boehner need only appear reasonable to about 150,000 voters in his conservative congressional district in Ohio. Mitch McConnell need only to appear reasonable to about 900,000 voters in the ultraconservative state of Kentucky, a state where Rand Paul seems reasonable. And both Boehner and McConnell need to seem relentlessly unreasonable to Tea Party Republicans in the Congress who believe compromising is the worst sin they could ever commit.
Boehner knows that getting everything the Tea Party wants with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president is impossible. McConnell obviously knows this too. But as of tonight, Boehner and McConnell‘s fear of a Tea Party revolt against their leadership has them still trapped in posturing for the Tea Party.
Boehner knows that his latest proposal, which CBO has exposed as not saving as much money as Boehner claimed, has no chance of becoming law. But the Tea Party doesn‘t know that.
So, Boehner has to appear to be fighting for it or something like it, fighting until the very end. And so, Boehner pretends to fight for it as he told the House Republican caucus today.
“Get your ass in line. This is the bill. I can‘t do this job unless you‘re behind me.”
But Tea Party approval is still hard to come by for an old Republican establishment guy like Boehner.
REP. PAUL BROUN ®, GEORGIA: I will not vote for this bill, because I don‘t think we should be raising the debt ceiling at all. We need to be doing what a business does when it becomes overextended. And federal government is broke.
REP. JOE WALSH ®, ILLINOIS: To me, we can do better. It‘s just not good enough, and I think we can do better.
MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC: Will you vote for it?
WALSH: No, I can‘t, Martin.
BACHMANN: I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling. It goes completely contrary to common sense.
O‘DONNELL: Former maverick John McCain is not exactly maverick-y enough to risk not raising the debt ceiling, so he has rushed to McConnell and Boehner‘s side to try to talk sense to the Tea Party.
MCCAIN: Some members are believing that we can pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in this body with its present representation, and that is foolish. That is worse than foolish. That is deceiving many of our constituents by telling them that just because the majority leader tabled the balanced budget amendment legislation, that somehow through amending and debate, we could somehow convince a majority on the other side of the aisle to go along with a balanced budget amendment of the Constitution.
That is not fair. That is not fair to the American people to hold out and say we won‘t agree to raising the debt limit until we pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. It‘s unfair, it‘s bizarro.
And maybe, some people who have only been in this body for six or seven months or so really believe that. Others know better. Others know better.
O‘DONNELL: Bizarro.
But McCain‘s occasional turns as the Republican voice of reason are now darkly overshadowed by the Republican voice of nonsense that McCain created.
SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: We already had cut, cap, and balance that passed the House, and we don‘t need to retreat now and wave a white flag and say, oh, because the Senate is not allowing a vote on cut, cap, and balance, well, now we have to go out there and think up another plan. No, we didn‘t have to do that. The cut, cap, and balance plan is the right plan, because, evidently, there are enough members of Congress are insisting the debt ceiling will be raised. I don‘t want to see it raised, but they are saying it will be raised. If it‘s going to be raised, we better get something out of it.
O‘DONNELL: For congressional leaders, compromising with the other party is not possible until they prove to their own party that what they want is impossible to get. But how do you convince Tea Partiers of the impossible when everything they want, everything they think about, everything they dream about is impossible?
Normally, congressional leaders can simply explain to their caucuses that they don‘t have the votes to pass what they want to pass and that becomes immediately obvious to everyone in the room, because they all talk to each other and discover that they don‘t have the votes.
Sometimes, when things get really tense, congressional leaders actually have to bring a bill to a vote and see it defeated in order to prove to their own party that what they want is impossible.
You are now watching John Boehner trying to prove to the Tea Party what is impossible.
If his bill comes to a vote in the House and passes, Harry Reid has promised to demonstrate that it is impossible to pass the Senate.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Speaker Boehner‘s plan is not a compromise. It was written for the Tea Party, not the American people. Democrats will not vote for it, Democrats will not vote for it, Democrats will not vote for it. It‘s dead on arrival in the Senate, if they get it out of the House.
The Tea Party‘s in the driver‘s seat for the House Republicans now, and that‘s a very, very scary thought.
O‘DONNELL: And, if Boehner‘s bill is defeated in the House—it would not be Boehner‘s worst day as speaker if his bill is defeated in the Republican House of Representatives, because the Tea Party won‘t support it. That, too, Boehner could use as a proof to Tea Partiers that in divided government, it is impossible to pass a bill that becomes a law without the support—with the support of only one party.
In divided government, you need the support of both parties.
And so, the legislative stunts continue, all—all in an effort to do what so far has proved impossible. Make these people accept reality.
BROUN: I introduced a bill to lower the debt ceiling, not raise it, and I just think raising the debt ceiling is not the way to go. We need to lower it.
REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN ®, TENNESSEE: You know, the president doesn‘t have a plan. He has yet to put a plan on the table.
PALIN: He‘s insisting that America must act on incurring more debt, raising that debt ceiling, otherwise we will default. Well, we will not default.
O‘DONNELL: As the legislative stunts continue, many understandably worry that time is running out and Congress will crash into the deadline of the debt ceiling simply because they‘ve run out of time to write the incredibly complex legislation that is obviously necessary to raise the debt ceiling.
But that‘s not how the debt ceiling is usually raised. This is how the debt ceiling is usually raised, a one-page bill. As I‘ve shown you here before, a one-page bill, one-sentence bill, that changes one number on that page.
Congress has often legislated this, the one-page bill, the necessary increases in the debt ceiling, at the very last minute. Indeed, deliberately done so at the very last minute so that no one in the Senate gets the idea they might want to filibuster it or attach an amendment to it. No one in the House gets any ideas about in any way getting in the way of raising the debt ceiling, because all of them, even those voting against raising the debt ceiling in the past understood how important it is that the debt ceiling be raised.
When Barack Obama was a senator, he voted against raising the debt ceiling, but he understood that it had to be raised, and that‘s why it‘s always been raised.
Senators, senators have been uniquely empowered to block raising the debt ceiling since it was first instituted in 1917. They could do it with the filibuster, and not one of them ever has. Many of them have voted against raising the debt ceiling for political convenience, just like senator Barack Obama did, but they all knew it must be raised. They knew it would be raised, and they all wanted a majority vote to raise it.
This one-page bill can be passed literally in minutes, in identical forms, in both the House and the Senate and delivered for the president‘s signature in minutes as it has been done many, many, many times in the past.
So, at 11:00 p.m. on August 1st, it is not too late for the president to veto any messy hunk of nonsense that the Congress might deliver to him and insist that, instead, they send him one of these with an hour left on the clock or a half an hour left on the clock. He can insist, “Send me one-page bill with a debt ceiling increase on it” and nothing else, and he can do that at the very last minute. That is the traditional form of a debt ceiling increase.
There is, now, one thing, only one thing, that Barack Obama, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell agree on.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just completed a meeting with all the congressional leaders from both chambers, from both parties. Everybody reconfirmed the importance of completing our work and raising the debt limit ceiling so that the full faith and credit of the United States of America is not impaired.
BOEHNER: I agree with the president that the national debt limit must be raised.
OBAMA: The third option, and, I think, the least attractive option, is one in which we raise the debt ceiling but we don‘t make any progress in deficit and debt.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I would advocate that we pass legislation giving the president the authority, the authority, to request of us an increase in the debt ceiling that would take us past the end of his term.
OBAMA: The only bottom line that I have is that we have to extend this debt ceiling through the next election into 2013.
BOEHNER: The United States cannot default on its debt obligations.
OBAMA: In the past, raising the debt ceiling was routine. Since the 1950s, Congress has always passed it, and every president has signed it. President Reagan did it 18 times. George W. Bush did it seven times, and we have to do it by next Tuesday, August 2nd.
O‘DONNELL: The one-page version of the debt ceiling increase needs only to command 51 votes in the United States Senate and 218 in the House of Representatives. Every Tea Party member of Congress can vote against the one-page version of raising the debt ceiling. Their votes would not be needed.
As long as the stunts continue and no serious bipartisan negotiation is underway, with the passage of every day, with the passage of every hour on the legislative clock, the likelihood increases that this one-page, this is the way Congress will raise the debt ceiling—the way it has done it countless times before. The way Congress knows how to do it.
One piece of paper, one sentence, changing one number. And in that version of the end, the president would have achieved his image of reasonable man by seeming to agree to painful budget cuts for Democrats that never actually become law, and Republicans will have cemented their image as the party of the uncompromising, the party of the unreasonable, the party of the reckless, the party of the dangerous, the party not to be trusted with the real burdens of governing—and the country will have escaped the harmful affects of every one of these deficit reduction packages that have been bandied about, that have been worried about, all of which carry far too many badly conceived ideas that would be harmful to our fragile economic recovery and do nothing to restart the job creating engine in our economy.
Coming up: analysis of the Tea Party‘s refusal to raise the debt ceiling and where we go from here. Chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, Keith Ellison, joins me with his reaction.
And which deficit reduction plan might actually be best for America, if any? Former Clinton Budget Director Alice Rivlin joins me.
And from a very violent movie about bank robbers—this is what House Republicans used for a pep talk about the debt ceiling negotiations. That‘s in tonight‘s “Rewrite.”
O‘DONNELL: House Republicans stupidly use a clip from a bank robbery film, “The Town,” to rally their troops during the debt negotiations. Its star, the movie star Ben Affleck, actually thinks they should have used another recent film of his. We‘ll show you which one in the “Rewrite.”
And the Dow Industrial Average dropped 197 points today as the debt ceiling negotiations drag on. Is there a plan that might be actually good for the American economy? Alice Rivlin joins me.
BROUN: I introduced a bill to lower the debt ceiling, not raise it.
And I just think raising the debt ceiling is not the way to go.
O‘DONNELL: That was Tea Party Republican Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia saying to Andrea Mitchell today that he‘s had enough of this talk of raising the debt ceiling, it‘s time to lower it.
Joining me now is Congressman Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Thanks for joining me tonight, Congressman.
REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Hey, there, Lawrence. How are you doing?
O‘DONNELL: Congressman, I think Paul Broun and others that I‘ve had on this show have demonstrated what you‘re up against in the House of Representatives. I mean, these are people who don‘t even recognize forces of gravity. It‘s like you‘re talking to a flat-earth society there.
How do we go forward from here? And given that time of intransigence, where do you think we‘ll be as we move through the weekend, get into Monday, nothing will have passed most likely in either body and the debt ceiling clock is ticking?
ELLISON: I see only two paths forward, and I wish I didn‘t, but I only see two. One, is we just get a clean debt ceiling bill to increase it to carry us through the—into 2013, and we just pass that so we can calm the markets and communicate to the world and all Americans that we are responsible legislators. I think that all Democrats will vote for it, maybe we can get a few Republicans who are not ideologically committed to this thing that they are trying to do, and maybe we can help move the ball forward.
The other thing is that the 14th Amendment does, I believe, authorize the president to just raise the debt ceiling. Of course, I think he‘ll draw some legal challenges, but, you know, so be it.
If they—I think at the end of the day, we swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, the 14th Amendment says the debt public will not be questioned. And I think that the president has a duty to just raise it and move forward that way.
I am sad. I think that‘s got to be the absolute, last option. I prefer to have the legislative body to operate and function. But if push comes to shove, I think that he needs to just invoke that constitutional option.
O‘DONNELL: And that‘s where I think the president‘s handling of this every month coming through here, right up to today, has been masterful, because if what we‘re headed for is this constitutional showdown on something like the 14th Amendment, it seems to me he has masterfully demonstrated that he‘s dealing with a completely unreasonable opposition party where there is no choice.
And he‘s also finally—the professor has finally taught the American voter that raising the debt ceiling is important. The polls a couple of months ago said, we don‘t care, don‘t raise it.
Now, they seem to get that their mortgages are at stake. Their car loans are at stake. Their economic futures are at stake.
ELLISON: Their credit cards at stake, everything.
So, I tell you, I think that the president has bent over backwards to try to be reasonable with the Republicans. They have refused him at every turn. You know, Speaker Boehner has—doesn‘t even have control of his own caucus. It‘s pretty apparent that he‘s not in charge over there.
So, I think the president is left with very few options, and perhaps a clean debt ceiling vote may work now that we‘re at this desperate hour. If not, I think the constitutional option has to be pushed.
But here‘s the thing, we don‘t have to link the budgetary issues with this issue of raising the debt ceiling. They‘re not linked historically. Let‘s not link them now.
Let‘s continue the conversation about deficit reduction. I favor a jobs program. If we got job unemployment down to about 4 percent, we wouldn‘t have a deficit problem.
Congressman Keith Ellison, thank you very much for joining me tonight.
ELLISON: You bet.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up: which of the reduction plans, if any, might actually be good for the economy? Alice Rivlin joins me.
And the Republicans use a film directed by Ben Affleck to rally support. It‘s the one about bank robbers, violent, murderous bank robbers. That‘s in the “Rewrite.”
O‘DONNELL: The president and congressional leaders agree on only one thing, that the debt ceiling must be raised. They partially agree on something else, that deficit—the deficit must be reduced. Exactly when and how to reduce the deficit is where their agreement sharpens. There remains a small and now largely-ignored contingent in Washington that could be called the Growth First Caucus, those who believe that, though the current shape of our spending and revenue imbalance cannot continue unchecked, now is not yet the time to impose spending cuts in a fragile economy whose continued recovery actually requires more spending.
Is there somehow a way, with unemployment still over nine percent, to cut government spending without slowing or even reversing the recovery from the Great Recession?
Joining me now, Brookings Institution senior fellow Alice Rivlin, who served on President Obama‘s debt commission. Thank you very much for joining me tonight, Alice.
O‘DONNELL: Alice, how do we cut this? The terrible dilemma of this is a fragile economy. It needs all the stimulus it can get, from whatever places it can get it, including government spending.
Yet, here‘s this giant movement now, this political consensus, it seems like, to cut government spending dramatically with unemployment still over nine percent?
RIVLIN: Well, we have to do two things at once, and we have to keep the timing right. Right now, you‘re absolutely right. We shouldn‘t be cutting government spending drastically and we shouldn‘t be raising taxes either. It‘s the wrong moment. We need to do the opposite. We need to create jobs.
But the economy is recovering and it won‘t be—it won‘t continue recovering unless we get the longer-run deficit problem under control, and in a visible way now. We can do both things at once. We should have done it two years ago. We should have put in place legislation that would gradually reduce the deficit over the next ten years or more, as we put in place enough stimulus to keep the recovery going.
O‘DONNELL: So, Alice, the thing to remember in the design of these plans is that they are ten-year plans. And so you might be doing something that‘s very different in the first two years of those plans than what you‘re doing in the eighth year of those plans, assuming you get better economic growth numbers.
RIVLIN: Absolutely. And all this conversation about slashing Medicare and Social Security is total nonsense. Nobody wants to do that at all. And nobody wants to do it in the near term.
We do have to slow the growth of Medicare. We can‘t have it go on this way, because it will eat us all alive. We have more and more old people and we have more and more expensive medical care.
So we have to find a way—and there are ways—to slow the growth of Medicare. But nobody‘s talking about doing that immediately. We‘re talking about doing it out some years from now. Maybe changing Social Security rules, tweaking it a little bit, to put the system back on a firm foundation.
But those things sound scary to Democrats. And similarly on the tax side, we need to reform the tax code, lower the rates, broaden the base, and make it more efficient. But we don‘t need to do that right away. All of these major tax expenditures, the things that are spending through the tax code, would have to be phased out gradually over time.
O‘DONNELL: Alice Rivlin, founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, thank you very much for joining me tonight.
RIVLIN: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, what Michele Bachmann has to say about the bullying of gay, lesbian, and transgender students in her congressional district. Joel Burns returns to the show tonight.
O‘DONNELL: Time for tonight‘s Rewrite. Republicans, as has been obvious for weeks, are getting desperate, like crazy desperate. And every day their desperation gets crazier. It is hard to imagine how they can do anything crazier than what they did in a closed-door caucus meeting yesterday, when the most misguided House majority whip in history, Kevin McCarthy, chose to inspire the Republican troops to glory in the battle over the debt ceiling.
McCarthy‘s definition of glory, in this instance, would be voting for the latest edition of the Boehner bill, whatever that turns out to be. McCarthy knows inspirational speaking is not his strong point. So he turned to Hollywood for some help.
O‘DONNELL: No, no, no, no, no. McCarthy was five years old when “Patton” was made. So he reached for something more contemporary.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need your help. I can‘t tell you what it is.
You can never ask me about it later. And we‘re going to hurt some people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whose car are we going to take?
O‘DONNELL: That‘s right. Good Christian Kevin McCarthy tried to inspire the party that believes this country was founded on Christian values and should be governed by Christian values by showing them a film clip about some distinctly un-Christian Boston career criminals who were on their way to beat the living (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of a guy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that hurts, huh? Is that your throwing hand?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you‘re still here in a week, we‘re coming back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don‘t know what you‘re talking about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s my brother right there. What did you do to get him so cranked up?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don‘t know what you‘re telling about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don‘t know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about now? Now do you know? Don‘t tell me to chill. What did you do?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don‘t know what you‘re talking about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No? Look at me. See my face? Don‘t tell the cops, all right? Because remember, I‘ve seen yours too.
O‘DONNELL: That hurts, huh? McCarthy, apparently religiously illiterate as he is economically illiterate, does not seem to realize that in every denomination of Christianity, it is judged more than a bit sinful to beat someone up and shoot them in the leg.
So Kevin McCarthy was exhorting every Republican in the House of Representatives to go commit violent sin. It was enough to leave some of them unhinged from their religious moorings, so unhinged they were ready to run off and commit violent sin.
Florida Congressman Allen West, who frequently seems unhinged in general, reportedly said “I‘m ready to drive the car.” Remember, that is drive the car to go commit violent sin.
Maintaining Christian values in the midst of legislative strategizing is obviously, for House Republicans, trying to do too many things at once. Upon hearing about this, Oscar winner Ben Affleck, who starred in, co-wrote, and directed the film in question, “The Town,” issued this statement, Rewriting the Republican‘s movie choice.
“I don‘t know if this is a compliment or the ultimate repudiation. But if they are going to be watching movies, I think “The Company Men” is more appropriate.”
“The Company Men,” written and directed by John Wells, executive producer of “The West Wing,” details the plight of many victims of the Great Recession who never dreamed their jobs could fall out from under them, and who never thought they could find themselves stranded in this economy, waiting for job interviews and unemployment checks, unemployment checks that Republicans think are wasteful government spending.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What‘s going on?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bobby, you know Dick Landry from legal?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The company is consolidating divisions. Difficult decisions had to be made in areas where redundancies surfaced. We have structured a generous severance package for you. Your 12 years with us entitles you to 12 weeks full pay and benefits.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You‘re firing me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on, Bobby. Sit down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re also offering you placement services to help you secure your next employment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does Jean know about this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they say who else is on the block?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks for your sympathy, Phil.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Call you later, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did they say anything about me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: About my still having a job?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, I didn‘t ask.
O‘DONNELL: Minnesota Congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has had a lot of irresponsible things to say about the nation‘s debt ceiling, but has been virtually silent on another issue concerning her district that is dominating headlines.
The Justice Department and the Department of Education‘s Office of Civil Rights are now investigating the Anoka-Hennepin County School District after nine teenagers committed suicide in the last two years, many of them after being bullied for being or perceived as being gay.
Samantha Johnson was 13 years old. She had always been partial to wearing sweats and wore her hair short. Kids harassed her because they thought she was a lesbian. On Veterans Day in 2009, Samantha laid down in a bathtub, put a hunting rifle in her mouth and pulled the trigger.
Samantha‘s mom told “Mother Jones,” “I feel if I hadn‘t moved to this district, my daughter wouldn‘t have died.”
The Anoka-Hennepin School District has a policy that requires teachers to remain neutral on matters of homosexuality, which critics say contributes to an extremely anti-gay climate there. Critics also point to groups associated with Bachmann, like the Minnesota Family Council and the Parents Action League, who have for years successfully lobbied against LGBT issues being discussed in schools.
And while Bachmann has yet to comment on this matter, as a Minnesota state senator, she was very vocal in opposing a 2006 anti-bullying bill.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There‘s always been bullies, always have been, always will be. I just don‘t know how we‘re ever going to get to a point of zero tolerance. And what does it mean? What will be our definition of bullying? Will it get to the point where we are completely stifling free speech and expression?
Will it mean that—what form of behavior will there be? Will we be expecting boys to be girls? What is it exactly that we‘re asking for?
I don‘t mean say that as a sexist comment. But there are just differences with boys and with girls when they are on the playground and when they‘re in the classroom.
O‘DONNELL: Joining me now, the man who helped usher in the message, gay rights activist and Ft. Worth city councilman, Joel Burns. The message, “It Gets Better.”
Joel, thank you very much for returning to the show.
O‘DONNELL: Joel, what happens when schools like a school district like this, where teachers are forbidden by law from even discussing this problem?
BURNS: These no-promo-homo rules that they have in school districts and in certain states really create a culture of fear amongst the teachers and educators who work with the kids. That fear gets transferred on to the children themselves.
They know that they can‘t go talk to their teachers about the issues that they want to talk about. The teachers are afraid for their jobs. They ended up not talking about it. And it creates this really negative culture in our schools.
O‘DONNELL: Joel, the way these laws are interpreted, even if a teacher is witnessing these things—you don‘t even need a kid to come to you and talk about it. Even if a teacher is walking by and witnesses some of this stuff with some of this language, it would be legally impossible or dangerous, anyway, for the teacher to intervene and talk about it, because it may involve talking about gay issues.
BURNS: Exactly. They could lose their jobs. And, you know, jobs in this economy right now are something people want to hang on to. And teachers in Minnesota and across the country want to hang on to their jobs. That‘s why it‘s important that they are not unencumbered by these laws.
O‘DONNELL: Joel, when you hear that mother commenting about the death of her teenage daughter, and saying if I hadn‘t moved to this school district, she‘d probably be alive now, is that how particular this kind of experience can feel as a teenager, that really it‘s the accident of what school district you might be in, what piece of geography you might be in at a given time in your life that can affect how you‘re viewed and then how you end up viewing yourself?
BURNS: Yes. And I would say that this is a problem that‘s experienced across our country. But this is a particular problem in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota. There‘s a problem there that the Southern Poverty Law Center and others have come forward in their lawsuit.
And I had the opportunity to serve on a panel, a U.S. Department of Education summit up in D.C. a couple of months ago. And I met a teacher from the Anoka-Hennepin School District. And he told me that he had seven kids in the last two years his classes, his students, seven kids, who either committed suicide or had attempted to commit suicide, just in his class alone.
That‘s indicative of a very serious problem. I know that you referenced Congresswoman Bachmann leading into this. I think her silence on this issue is something that‘s quite troublesome.
It implies either an indifference or a disdain for the children, whether gay or straight, in her district and in our country, that I find very worrisome.
O‘DONNELL: Joel, in the national, statistical picture, the big focus of it, we have studies indicating that 85 percent of LGBT students surveyed nationally say that they have been bullied at school. This is by no means individualized to particular school districts.
BURNS: Absolutely. Again, it is a nationwide problem. But there are cultures created within these school districts about how to deal with it. And you find in areas where—either in states or in school districts where the—they have policies prohibiting this type of activity of bullying and of prohibiting any kind of discussion about homosexuality, the suicide rates amongst LGBT teens are much lower.
That‘s something that‘s been proved out in a variety of places. The fact that it‘s so much higher in Anoka-Hennepin County I think point to some of the problems that are going on right there.
O‘DONNELL: Joel Burns, Ft. Worth city councilman, thank you for returning to THE LAST WORD tonight, where you made your network television debut, and in the process, quite deservedly, won a GLAAD award. Thanks, Joel, for joining us again.
BURNS: I‘m happy to be here. And I hope the congresswoman ends her silence soon.
O‘DONNELL: Thank you, Joel. Thank you.
You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog,
You can follow my Tweets @Lawrence.
“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is up next with tonight‘s guest host, Melissa Harris-Perry. Good evening, Melissa.
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