January 27, 2013
Guests: Henry Marsh, Ari Berman, Mike Weilbacher, Peggy Shepard, David Walker, Mitch Daniels, Zakiyah Ansari, Sarah Garland
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question. If
Republicans can`t win the vote, will they rig the vote?
Plus, my interview with former GOP star, now head boilermaker, Mitch
And which schools are we closing and why?
But first, can President Obama save the planet?
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
The Maldives. Just saying the name brings a smile to my face and a feeling
of instantaneous relaxation located in the Indian Ocean. It`s comprised of
nearly 1200 islands with clear blue seas and white sands. I can`t wait to
visit this beautiful island nation. I just hope by the time I get around
to visiting it, it`s not under water.
You see the Maldives is the lowest lying country on earth with 80 percent
of the islands less than 3.5 feet above sea levels. And with sea levels
having risen almost eight inches in the past century, that could mean that
the alienation will be uninhabitable in 2100.
In 2009, to highlight a threat that country face from global warming, then
the Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed and 13 cabinet members held an
underwater cabinet meeting. They signed documents calling on all countries
to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions ahead of a climate change
conference at the U.N.
So, while the Madives seems like the cute story of a country far away, it`s
indicative of the very real effects of climate change and the effects they
have on us. I`m sure those still really weary from hurricane Sandy might
disagree with the notion that climate change had not having a direct effect
on the severity and frequency of the major storms hitting the east coast.
And as a country, where does that leave us when it comes to addressing and
committing to comprehensive environmental policy? Because we are the same
country that signed the protocol Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions but never ratified it.
And while we should keep reducing and reusing and recycling, there aren`t
enough recycling bins, bottles and reusable bags to reverse the damage that
we have done. We need bigger policy. Policy that shifts us in another
direction that has us investing in a greener and more sustainable future
for both out environment and our economy. President Obama may have shown
signs that he is finally ready to do that in his second inaugural address.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will respond to the
threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our
children and future generations. The path toward sustainable energy
sources will be long and sometimes difficult. America cannot resist this
transition. We must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the power of
jobs and technologies. We must claim its promise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Strong, clear words from a president considered not green
enough by environment lists in his first term. And it`s true, the
president has a lot of work when it comes to climate change and
environmental policy, but instead of chastising him, maybe it`s time for
the green movement itself to re-imagine what it ought to look like. The
modern green movement must be an inclusive one and close the green gap that
exists between national environmental organizations and local environmental
The environmental problems in inner cities and rural areas occupied by low
income and communities of color deserve just as much attention as the
Keystone pipeline and fracking. Because at the end of the day, the
environmental problem that is happens over there, whether in the Maldives
or Harlem, USA, it will eventually affect all of us.
At the table, Ari Berman, contributing writer for "the Nation" magazine,
Victoria Defrancesco Soto, an NBC Latino contributor and fellow at the LBJ
school at the University of Texas, Mike Weilbacher, the executive director
of the Schuylkill Center and environmental education, and Peggy Shepard,
co-founder and executive director of West Harlem environmental education.
It`s so nice to have all of you at the table.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, folks who have followed the Maldives story
know the second part of the story is, of course, that the president is
deposed by a military coup of, you know, in - just last year in 2012. The
thing I both love and hate about that story it feels like yes, that`s
exactly the problem. We can`t make big, sustainable international green
policy because we are fighting, literally fighting over islands sinking
that are into the ocean.
And here, too, right, we are continuing to fight over all these policy
questions and politics questions and missing like the big story, the big
story that is affecting all of us.
Is there any way to get us refocused on international inner generational,
that is sustainable, and that is international?
MIKE WEILBACHER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE SCHUYLKILL CENTER AND
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION: Well, if anything to do to is climate change
because certainly all f us have skin and neck in it. And even today,
polls, our recent CNN poll said it only 49 percent of Americans believe
that climate change is occurring and that people have caused it. There is
another 24 percent who say yes, this is climate change, but it is not from
So, I`m not sure what science people are waiting for at this point.
There`s so much more science in and more coming in all the time. But
nonetheless, it was great to hear Obama. No one has said the word climate
change in a presidential debate for the first in like 20 years. No one
said the phrase climate change in the presidential debate. So, the more he
talks about it, if he makes it in a center stage, I think that could be a
game changer, even what he does is fine. But, by just talking about it is
going to bring it into the forefront.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, I wonder, Ari, if talking about it and making it a game
changer in this political environment means that with Lisa Jackson out as
head of the EPA, and so, he is going to have to put it in a new person
three, that all he`s done, you know, on one hand we love it. We want to
hear him say climate change. We want to hear and say science deniers, and
all of that. But, they just sets up a huge political battle over the head
of the EPA.
ARI BERMAN, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NATION: Well, the thing is, it`s not
just Obama, right? I mean, the failure of cap and trade wasn`t just
through the administration, it was due to Congress, and not just
Republicans but Democrats in congress. A lot of them have ties to coal,
nuclear et cetera, et cetera.
I feel like the climate change debate is moving, but it`s sort like the gun
control debate, but further behind. With gun control, wow, all these
horrible shootings, right, we say we have to do something after Gabby
Giffords. We have to do something about Aurora. And then, it wasn`t until
Sandy Hook, something so unspeakably terrible happened that it actually got
put on the agenda. And climate change is moving that way, too. But, we
keep saying after the explosions in Louisiana we have to do something. And
then we have to do something then, you know, hurricane Sandy happens and it
looks like finally we have reached that moment where we are going to do
But, I don`t know. I think it might take one more horrible environmental
tragedy for it to get put on the agenda.
HARRIS-PERRY: But the thing is, we have done -- the very fact the EPA
exists and it was created under Richard Nixon, who I just, you know, I was
reading about it, kind of thinking about today. The fact that when he
established the EPA, Nixon said that he wanted the 1970s to be a historic
period when by conscious choice we transform our land into what we want it
Now, hew want that point thinking mostly conservationist, the aero club
version of environmentalism. But, we certainly have transformed the land,
but not into what we want it to become.
VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO, NBC LATINO CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it is a shame
it`s such a politically divisive issue. I mean, the grandfather of the
environmental movement was Republican Theodore Roosevelt, and then Nixon
comes and this oust that you gave.
But, getting back to pure diversity in terms of coalitions for moving
forward with environmental change and climate change, I also think we need
to think about diversity and techniques. So, we know we are stalemated in
the congress. We know that for every issue, not just environmental policy.
So, I think that we are going to need to have a bunch of approaches to
attack this problem. So, the president making use of his executive orders,
putting pressure on our state governments because there are areas, for
example, fracking that are unregulated and that we can look to the states
to regulate, deforestation, environmental justice.
So, I think that when we concentrate on just the Congress national level we
get frustrated and we get to the point where we say nothing is going to be
done. But, if we look at cobbling together the different approaches, I
think we can move forward.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. It is interesting to say that are already brought up
about that it siege tragedies that leads us to say, when we finally must o
something. And then, the idea executive orders and beginning the cobbling
But I wonder, I guess part of what gave me a gut reaction to the oh now
that hurricane Sandy happened is whoa, these injustices have been so real
for communities without resources, without power and often communities of
color for so long, that it does feels a little bit like OK, these lives and
bodies and homes was matter and these other ones don`t.
PEGGY SHEPARD, CO-FOUNDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WEST HARLEM ENVIRONMENTAL:
Exactly. And what we see is that we see the climate impacts right now. We
know that in Alaska native Americans are being relocated away from receding
shorelines. We have seen what`s happened in terms of civil disruption in
New Orleans, And now, we have Sandy.
We have droughts. We have wildfires. So, the impacts are here and we have
to react now. And we understand unless grass roots are really engaged,
unless the voices are heard and organized and the capacity is there to
build that kind of support and environmental literacy that just depending
on the Congress is not going to happen.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. We`ll talk more about exactly that issue of these
local-based organizations and environmental literacy when we come back.
Because I want to talk a tiny bit less about the planet and a little bit
more about the people when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me take you to Warren County, North Carolina in 1982.
This is the birthplace of the modern day environmental justice movement.
Residents of the predominantly black county were incensed over the state
government decision to make their county home to a landfill where 6,000
loads of PCB laid in soil would be dumped. The NAACP got involved and
there were weeks of marches non-violent protests with people laying in the
streets to stop the trucks. More than 500 people were arrested.
In the end, the residents of Warren County managed to stop the trucks.
They didn`t stop the state from filling the landfill. Their success was in
the fact that they took action and brought national attention to an
environmental injustice going on in their owned backyard.
It showed the ugly real link between environmental justice and a service of
blueprint for many of the EJ movement of today. So, these movements are
decentralized, tight time that the green movement, more nationally realized
the value EJ movements and getting comprehensive environmental policy
passed that benefits all communities.
So Peggy, I wanted to come to you an all this because this is sometimes
where the rubber literally meets the road, right, or meets the landfill for
so many communities. This idea that what we dump we often don`t dump in
our backyard, we dump it in somebody else`s backyard. What we emit, we
don`t emit into our backyard. We emit it into someone else`s. And those
are pretty predictably disempowered communities.
SHEPARD: And that since about 1991, hundreds of grass roots groups came
together to develop principles of environmental injustice, how we would go
back to our communities and really build a strong grass roots space. You
know, we have been in a grass roots struggle to dismantle environmental
racism because it is people of color, indigenous people, low income
communities, that they are the brunt of disproportion and burden of
pollution in our communities.
Often, we are intentionally targeted for pollution because our communities
don`t have the same level of environmental literacy, don`t have the
political clout. And often our land, in our community, is cheaper. And
so, we have really born this pre-burden. And it`s led to increasing health
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, these locally undesirable land uses, right,
where you ended up with a landfill in your neighborhood or a belching
factory on your fence line and then we see asthma rates, and we see other
source - your know, lead poisoning, and of all these things that impact
So, how do we take this sort of, you know, ordinary people trying to figure
out how to keep themselves healthy in the short term and connect it with
the 1970s version of conservation of natural land and the sort 21st century
version of dealing with the issue of climate change. How does it all come
together for us as single movement?
WEILBACHER: It`s a big question.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And you have one minute.
WEILBACHER: Right. So, pieces of it are, we don`t have, in this country,
a consistent and coherent way of doing environmental education. So, what
is a kid supposed to know when he or she graduates high school, to be an
environmentally literate citizen of this country who makes decision in the
voting booth that are good for the environment. So, we don`t have, you
know, a couple field trips to places like my nature center, is that enough?
No. That`s one piece of it.
Another piece is a lot of it is I think that a lot of environmental groups
realize that we need to reach out to a broad spectrum of people and it
needs to come from the top down or the bottom up. And I think that that
has been happening, but it is happening too slowly.
So, the big groups I see are like sierra club know they need to reach out
to people in center cities like Philadelphia. And they have been trying
and they have been doing it but it`s disjointed and disconnected. So, I
think you have a couple thing that is need to happen.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it seems to me that part of it is we started to define
how to be a good environment list by individual consumer actions. So, we
just kind of looking at the things that we throw away, right? So, about 55
percent of what we throw away ends up in landfills. Just over a third of
it gets recycled. About 12 percent of it ends up going to being combusted
And so, I think, you know, Vic, you and I, you and I both on college
campuses, you know. How do you know, that you have a green students, they
carry a tote bags and they don`t use plastic water bottles and uses other
kinds of things.
But then, I wonder, you know, have we thought enough about transportation
and sustainable land uses? When we think about environmentalist and it
tends to be this consumers pieces, instead of this policy piece. How do we
make that move?
SOTO: You know, the irony here is because of the socioeconomic status of
many of them, our communities of color, they are a lot greener, at least,
when it comes to using public transportation and their uses.
But, I think that when it comes to how do we push that envelope in terms of
community of color, coming to an awareness is making it an individual level
decision that it does you and also highlighting the fact that you are also
in communities where your health care is at risk.
So, again, living in Texas, we know that Medicaid funding is in peril.
That the health provision for these communities are already in peril. And
then you, left that on top of these community risks of the environment and
it`s a dangerous combination. So, I think, education is absolutely the key
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, Ari, the other piece of this, let`s take Keystone,
right? So, on the question of Keystone, you have sometimes this problem of
labor over and against the environmental movement. So, you have folks
saying hey, I hear you on the whole earth situation but I need a job. And
the most valuable thing to my household is having the money that I need in
order to buy the food that is at my grocery store and that is
environmentalism for me.
BERMAN: And that`s really where the green movement needs to go. I think
that`s how Obama is going to pitch in the second term is that the green
movement is jobs. So, this is the future of jobs in this country, this is
how are we going to create the jobs in the future based through investments
and green technology. And I think that is the missing piece of how he
talked about the environment in his first term.
The other thing is the importance of bringing new people in the process is
crucial because there`s really an interesting paper by (INAUDIBLE) looking
at the failure of cap and trade in Congress. And her conclusion in the
down credit congressman, her conclusion is that there is a very good inside
strategy for passing cap and trade, but no outside strategy to bring people
in to pressure congress. And so, that`s going to be crucial if anything is
going to move in a second term of an Obama administration.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are going to stay on the question of earth and we are
going to go to science class next. I promise, we are going to make it
HARRIS-PERRY: Full confession, I hate the earth. No, no, no. Not really.
I don`t actually hate the earth. But, I can remember being a student and
just thinking that there was nothing compelling about the earth science
courses I was required to take.
Check out this video from the environmental protection agency called a
student`s guide to global climate change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If the planet keeps getting warmer, we can expect
more powerful storms and more flooding, droughts and heat waves. And these
changes could cause additional problems like the spread of certain
diseases, more wildfires and food and water shortages. Climate change
could put entire ecosystems like coral reefs in danger and many plants and
animals could become extinct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, everything in that video is accurate, but -- I mean
it`s said in this voice, here are these horrible things happening and it`s
presented like when you are on the airplane and they are telling you all
the horrible things if the plane goes down in a soothing voice, I just
think - OK. If we are going to get kids riled up about the earth and riled
up about science, we are going to have to become more compelling in some
way. How do we become more compelling in our earth science courses.
WEILBACHER: So, Footage of the polar bear trying to get on an ice floe and
not doing it. That doesn`t do it for you?
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, don`t get me wrong. My staff and I kind of joke
about this a little bit because I will say I hate the earth because I feel
like sometimes I am meant to care more about the polar bear than about the
little kid. And obviously, they are actually connected and that`s what I`m
trying to figure out. Make me care about the polar bear as much as I care
about the kid in Harlem with asthma.
WEILBACHER: Environmentalists is literacy is huge issue because you have
multiple things a kid should be literal on, for example when the trash
truck picks up the trash from my house, where exactly does it go? You turn
on the tap and drink water. Where did it come from?
Most kids cannot tell you. And every kid should graduate knowing at least
that. But, then, you have this big hairy, complicated, science-based
issues like global warming. That lead war like a commercial for global
warming that as opposed to questions kids themselves can research and
answer. So, that`s how you teach climate change.
You have to ask questions and let them to the exploration to find answers,
not give them a lecture on it. And we don`t touch climate change in
schools for a couple reasons. One, is we chain kids to their desks to give
WEILBACHER: There is no time for it. And the second, it`s controversial.
HARRIS-PERRY: Why is it controversial?
WEILBACHER: It I controversial because the public doesn`t all agree that
it`s happening. By high school, imagine a high school environmental
science class where people who on both sides of the equation come in and
talk to the kids and the kids ask questions of them. The kids, they get to
have their own debate and the let the kids make up their own mind what they
think. But, we don`t do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Part of what you described as you asked when the garbage
truck picks up the trash, where does it go, when I turn on the water. That
requires a fundamental thing that I feel like we have been killing in
schools, and that is curiosity that is of what do I need to know for the
test tomorrow because it`s high stakes test and will keep my teacher having
a job or not, but just curiosity is impart of particularly a curiosity
about the natural world happens when we are allowed to spend time in the
natural world and develop some questions about it.
WEILBACHER: I asked kids what is the number one bird you can name by song?
First answer, none. Kids can`t name a bird by song, number two is crow.
They can get that.
So, we had this incredible miss understanding of the animals around us.
So, we don`t only know to understand ecological systems, we don`t even know
who our neighbors are that share the planet with us. So, I noticed they
are disappearing, too. They are having issues with climate change as well.
But, we don`t know who they are. It`s a big story we are missing.
SOTO: And it is not tangible. Getting back to what you said, Melissa, the
first thing that pops into my mind is the polar bear. And it`s not
necessarily the child or the elderly person who is affected by the
blackouts who will then, you know, potentially suffer health consequences
from the environment. So, I think it`s also, in terms of bigger, public
opinion, putting a different face on it, you know. Just not showing fields
and animals, that`s part of it, but the person in the store or the person
across the tracks from you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. If the answer to where the trash goes is into my
grandma`s backyard into the landfill that in her backyard, or y great
grandma`s backyard, then, that helps to make these things tangible and real
to me. It`s not only like that I don`t care about polar bears, but there
is this way in which when we are the heat of making policy question, it
feels easy to put that sort of thing off because we are dealing with real
human crises close nearby.
SHEPARD: And we need new leadership. We have to really bring up our young
people, but we also have to educate the adults. Because we have to do the
trainings, we have to engage them in EPA rule making. It may be EPA rule
making that really begins to really put a focus on carbon and really begin
to regulate it.
And so, how are elected officials going to take the leadership that is
necessary to do that? They have to hear from their constituents. And so,
we have to do the training of adults. We have to mobilize them. We have
to engage them. We need them to share their experiences with the elected
officials and congressional folks as well as federal agencies. And without
that engagement at the grass roots, that mobilization, we see so many
pieces of legislation dying.
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder, as much as we have to mobilize here, Ari, I also
just want to focus again, on the fact this is an international problem. If
you are spewing carbons in New Jersey, they cross the border into Canada.
How do we begin to think of an international focus here?
BERMAN: Well, and that`s been a problem for a long time, is that the U.S.
has been consuming way more than our population and that has affected the
rest of the world. Now, we have problems which is that countries like
India and China now are consuming based on an American model, right? So,
they want what we want and they want to do it the way we did it. And that
means that you can`t have any sort of climate agreement without everyone
coming to the table.
Now, Republicans have used that as an excuse to do nothing, right, or China
is doing nothing, so, we don`t -- no, it doesn`t work that way. We have
the number one country in the world still, so, we have to take the
initiative on that. And I think if we take the initiative, other countries
will follow. And if we don`t, it`s hard for anyone else to do anything.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this is a place where being a global superpower --
BERMAN: Let`s use our American exceptionalism.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. We are going to be America (INAUDIBLE).
Thank you to Mike Weilbacher and to Peggy Shepard.
Up next, I can`t believe I`m about to say this. This week in voter
suppression is back. They couldn`t win the game, so now they are trying to
change the rules.
HARRIS-PERRY: This past Monday, Martin Luther King day doubled as
inauguration day. And reportedly at least one million people formed the
massive crown on the national mall. It`s about 55 percent of what the
crowd in 2009. But still, the largest crowd ever for a second inaugural.
And at least one of the attendees was Henry Marsh. Now, I say at least
because who knows. Maybe there were others Henry Marsh on hand.
But this is a story about one Henry Marsh, who is a Virginia state senator.
One of 20 Democrats in the Virginia assembly. Likewise, there 20
Republicans in the same body so, an even split until state senator Marsh
was absent on Monday, attending the inauguration. And thus, by a 20 to 19
vote, Republicans passed a revised gerrymandered district map to go into
effect in 2015, the year of the next state Senate`s election.
So, Republicans claim the map would actually create a majority black
district. But, the 25th district, a Democratic stronghold that includes my
old backyard of Charlottesville, Virginia is one seat that this new plan
And given the Republicans adjourned that Monday session at 4:10 p.m. in
memory of general Stonewall Jackson, the infamous confederate general, I`m
pretty sure racial sensitivity wasn`t high on the agenda. Which brings me
to the unfortunate history of the figure three-fifth, three-fifth of a
person is of course how enslaved people were counted for a portion that
under U.S. law from the late 18th century until slavery was abolished.
Now, 51 percent is what President Obama won of Virginia`s popular vote last
November, which earned him 100 percent of the state`s electoral vote. But,
30.7 percent of the electoral vote is all he would have taken under a new
plan being pushed by Republicans in Virginia who want to allocate electoral
college votes based on congressional districts.
Had the plan been in effect in 2012, the president would have won just four
of the state`s 13 electoral votes, even after winning most of the state`s
actual votes, meaning that he would have taken just, you got it, three-
fifth of Virginia`s electoral votes as compared to the popular vote that he
The target for all of this electoral college manipulation in Virginia and
the other Republican controlled states considering similar measures, you
guessed it, 2016. We are going to have a bit more on that coming up with
the very man the Virginia Republicans couldn`t wait to see leave town.
HARRIS-PERRY: In response to 1954s brown versus board of education, some
states did not implement racial fairness. In fact, they embarked on a
strategy of massive resistance innovating new tactics to segregate and
My next guest, Virginia state senator Henry Marsh who was at the forefront
of the civil rights battle that responded to the massive resistance. He
handled more than 50 school desegregation cases and innovated strategies to
battle employment discrimination, which is what makes the action of his
conservative colleagues in the Virginia general assembly particularly to
(INAUDIBLE) and worthy of condemnation.
When Mr. Marsh went to Washington, D.C. last week on Martin Luther King day
to witness President Obama`s second inauguration, Republicans in the state
Senate used his absence to radically gerrymander the commonwealth district
Joining me from Richmond is Virginia state senator, Henry Marsh.
It`s so nice to have you, Mr. Marsh.
STATE SEN. HENRY MARCH (D), VIRGINIA: Good morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: First I want to say thank you for joining us. Because I
understand how had to go to the early services at church this morning in
order to make time to be here. And I greatly appreciate that.
MARSH: I didn`t want to miss church. The Lord made all this happen.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. And in fact, let me ask you in part about how angry you
are about how your absence has made possible this new map.
MARSH: Actually, I`m ashamed and embarrassed for my state. Somebody`s
absent almost two or three days a week. Never was there an attempt to
sneak anything through. So, they had this thing ready for some time and
they were waiting for this date. The preceding week one of my colleagues
had been absent twice and nothing was done. So, this was a deliberate
And I`m not surprised it was done sneaky. But, unfortunate for us, it
violates the constitution because the redistricting can happen in the year
for one, according to full constitution. It`s done in violation of the
voting rights act because there is a change in procedure which has not been
pre-cleared by the justice department. There`s a diluted affect on the
African-American vote. So, (INAUDIBLE). Normally a bill comes to the
house, it has to be Jermaine to the one they put to the Senate. And this
was not Jermaine.
HARRIS-PERRY: Explain to me exactly what it is that the map does. How
does it redraw the districts in a way and whom does it hurt and whom does
MARSH: It hurts the people of Virginia. Thirteen, instead of 26 on this
map, we would have 13 at a maximum. So, they have reduced the total from
20 to 13 by putting people, two people in the same district by packing,
that`s the procedure that has been condemned by the justice department.
Packing more blacks into a district that is necessary, picking those black
who most of the time from (INAUDIBLE) democratic colleagues. That`s been
condemned. And every decision by the justice department.
So, fortunately, Virginia -- yes -- Virginia is in this situation because
of previous (INAUDIBLE).
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, that`s what exactly I was going to ask you about. So,
this is actually likely to be turned back under section five pre-clearance
because the commonwealth of Virginia is covered under section five pre-
clearance of the voting rights act.
But, we also know that is up for debate in front of the Supreme Court right
now. That we are looking at the possibility of that part of the voting
rights act to go away. Did Virginia just make the best possible case of
why we need it?
MARSH: They make that case a lot of ways. There are a lot of other vote
that is are taken. For example, they want to go back to photo ID which we
fought successfully last session. They are bringing it back. Photo only,
unless you have a photo, you can`t vote. They are trying to change the
procedure for counting the votes. Instead of counting popular vote, they
are going to count by electoral. So, they do many things to try to react
to President Obama`s victory.
In fact, they were so disappointed and surprised by his victory that they
are striking out, striking back. And you can see through that.
The part I`m concerned about is that it`s not just African-Americans who
are affected. We went through a tough election a year or two ago. And the
people got the person they elected overwhelmingly. And now, this plan,
they have to go back and have another election again. And under this plan,
they could do it again and again and again. The constitution says you
can`t do it but once every decade. I mean, I don`t know why they did it
except that they are being desperate. They threw a hail Mary hoping to
dust and a ash.
HARRIS-PERRY: State senator Marsh --
MARSH: It`s absurd.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I have to say, what I appreciate is it`s you right there
on the front lines. Because I know the work you have been doing since the
1950s and `60s to make sure we have fairness.
So, I thank you so much for joining us from Virginia on this topic.
MARSH: Let me mention one other thing.
MARSH: Virginia wouldn`t be here if they hadn`t cheated. They gave
citizens a blank piece of paper and they had to memorize the questions.
They memorize answers in safe place. The court ruled that was in violation
of their rights. So, when Virginia tried to get out from under the act, I
was there in the Senate. And Timothy Kennedy helped me and they convinced
the Senate that Virginia should be an act because they still champion.
They need to act now 50 years later.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. That`s why it matters to have folks like you on
the ground with the long historical memory of this.
Thank you for joining us today.
MARSH: Let me mention one thing. We are having a rally Tuesday morning to
give people the chance to protest on the state grounds. And hopefully they
will turn out.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so much state senator.
MARSH: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
And it`s a whole new level of audacity. We are going to continue to talk
about this issue with my panel when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Republicans in Virginia`s state Senate on Wednesday seemed
poised to rig the electoral college in favor of Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio
or you know, or whomever the GOP nominates for the presidency in 2016.
By Friday though, things were falling apart. That afternoon, MSNBC.com
reported the plan could violate section five of the 1965 voting rights act.
It requires at certain states including Virginia, declare any voting
changes with the U.S. justice department.
The federal government were to find that voters of color were negatively
impacted, they could block the bill. Also, standing in the Republicans`
way, Virginia`s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell whose spokesman told the
Atlantic`s Molly Ball on Friday afternoon that quote "he, McDonnell,
believes that Virginia`s existing system works just fine as it is."
But, clear, this one do have the support of RNC chairman Reince Priebus and
our under consideration in states far beyond Virginia. Many are not
covered under the 1965 voting rights act.
At the table Ari Berman, University of Texas` Victoria Defrancesco Soto,
and joining us is MSNBC contributor Robert Traynam, a former Bush-Cheney
senior adviser now, assistant dean at Georgetown University.
All right, Ari.
BERMAN: Back in the voter suppression business.
HARRIS-PERRY: Back in it in a new way. In a redrawing of the map kind of
BERMAN: So, the larger point here is that, if you look at the last four
elections, Democrats won three of them. They won in 2006. They won on
2008. They won in 2012. Republicans won one of that in 2010. Yes, they
won it big, but they only won one out the last four election. But, they
have tried to make this 2010 election the norm instead of the aberration
which is one of the increasing looks like.
Now, the legislative line and a U.S. house lines are drawn for decade based
on that 2010 map which already is ridiculous. And now, they want to extend
that into a 2016 presidential election. And they are basically saying that
one election, which increasingly looks like a fluke should determine
politics for the next decade and beyond. And that`s really, truly,
incredibly disturbing and anti-Democratic.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, politically smart, right? So, I mean, the thing
about this is elections have consequences. And so, they are saying we won
one and we are going to take all the chips on the table.
So, how do we make it - because I feel we can`t make the argument, this is
mean, this is bad, this is unethical, we have to make the argument, you are
not allowed to do this. Is it possible to make that argument?
BERMAN: Well, state legislatures can allocate by and large electoral votes
as they see fit. So, I think the public pressure is the best route to
take. And you saw that public pressure very quickly take hold in Virginia
where quickly, not only the governor of Virginia, but the GOP gubernatorial
came out against it. You have the same thing happening in Florida. You
have Republicans all across the country saying, this is a sore loser
strategy. Come on, guys. We can`t talk about reaching out to minorities
and then adopt electoral maps that would dilute the minority maps.
Yes, this is politically smart, but a band aid and it`s called fracture.
And what I mean that is that with the Republican Party, my party, are being
sore losers here. They are changing the rules in the middle of the game,
and it`s not fair number one.
ROBERT TRAYNAM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: But also number two, look. Let`s step
back for a second here. Let`s talk about the structural reasons why the
Republican party is losing. Let`s talk about the structural reasons the
Republican party is not with brown people, OK? It`s not just America, it
is Asians, and Latinos and young people.
So, instead of having that conversation, what the Republican party is
trying to do is change the rules in the middle of the game because they
recognize they can`t win states like Virginia and maybe even maybe not
North Carolina or something like that in the future.
So, the question becomes, is how do we as a party, have this conversation
like a Bob McDonnell, like a Joe Scarborough say, let`s have a conversation
about the reasons why we are not resonating with brown people as opposed to
changing the rules in the middle of the game? That`s why I have a problem
SOTO: Yes. I want to go back even further and go beyond partisanship.
And it is actually is an intriguing concept in terms of how, you know, do
people decide the presidential vote? Because as it is now, only half a
dozen states really decide who are president is going to be. So, if you
live in Texas and you are a Democrat, why vote. If you are a Republican
that loves in California, why vote? So, I think in thinking about the
larger conversation, it is interesting. Is this time to start moving
toward a national popular vote?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is my question. So, you know, it`s interesting you
said that point about Texas because there is a new -- the DNC and now OFA,
the 501 c-4 version of OFA is saying maybe we can turn Texas we made. And
we can build a Castro party in Texas.
But the only reason that Texas - well, this isn`t quite true, but part of
the reason Texas matters so much is because of all those electoral college
votes. If we go to a popular vote, right, if we just abolish the electoral
college, if we recognize it as an 18th century version that was put into
place because the primary were quite sure what they thought about regular
people choosing who was going to be president. Is it time to say there is
a rule we can change in the middle of the game? Let`s get rid of electoral
BERMAN: Yes. Yes. Let`s do it. And I was hoping that Obama would win
the electoral college and lose the popular vote for this very reason.
Because then, it would have given both sides an emphasis to want to abolish
the electoral college.
Candidates should be campaigning where people live. They should be
campaigning in New York city, in Houston, not in rural Ohio. Obama
shouldn`t be in Ohio ten times before an election. He should be in the
largest cities where this country is growing. And so, but I think there`s
an interesting point about the electoral college which is why -- .
HARRIS-PERRY: All my viewers in South Dakota are screaming right now, no,
BERMAN: There`s an argument about what the conservative response should
be. Should the conservative response to demographic change be to try to
offer solutions and get candidates who can speak to that growing
demographic or is it to try to suppress the growing demographic? And we
thought, after the election, that concern would take addition.
Now, it`s time to reach out this growing (INAUDIBLE). Instead, they are
back where they were during the 2010 to 2012 period which is trying to
suppress those voters. And I don`t think it`s a long term strategy for the
TRAYNAM: Look. We have been to this dance before. That was in 2000 when
Al Gore won the popular vote and lost the electoral college. I`m for it.
I believe that quite frankly Republicans will do well in Southern
California, maybe New York and California. I think you would see like a
Mitt Romney who is a moderate candidate or was a moderate candidate that
campaign in upstate New York. So, I think this is a good thing not only
for America, but also good for politics.
SOTO: But, I don`t think this is going to happen.
HARRIS-PERRY: Why not?
SOTO: Because this would entail a systematic change in terms of states
giving up power to the national system. You have to have a national
electoral system. And states are going to want to keep that power.
HARRIS-PERRY: Particularly --
TRAYNAM: States like Massachusetts. States like New York and on the right
states like Texas and so forth. This is not in their best interest to do
this from a political stand point.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And so, this isn`t the fight. The pushback is, the
thing that the people who have the power are the people, right? To the
extent that there is any this becomes a possibility is when ordinary voters
say, you know what, I am tired of this. This is ridiculous. This is
shenanigans. People are re-drawing maps. I`m just trying to go to the
We have got to move to a system that makes sense. I raise my hand, you
raise your hand, we count them up, and whoever has the most hands wins. I
mean, this is what I think resonates with people as an ordinary
understanding of how democracy works. So, maybe there`s a national abolish
the electoral movement that would bring people together.
BERMAN: But, if you are going teach in this government, right, you
wouldn`t teach it based on the electoral college. It`s like an alien
TRAYNAM: It`s how we are taught.
BERMAN: I know we are taught that way. But, it`s such a confusing system.
If we got rid of it, no one is pining for the days of the electoral
HARRIS-PERRY: And secretaries of states in Ohio.
Coming up next, are the Republicans playing possum?
Plus my interview with one-time GOP star, former Indiana governor and new
university president, Mitch Daniels.
There`s more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry in New York.
As we consider yet another impending budget battle between the president
and Democrats and Republicans in the House on the other, I`d like you think
not of donkeys versus elements -- elephants, but another animal showdown
more apropos for hunting season. I`d like you to think about ducks and
Now, you don`t have to think of a literal possum. If you have ever seen
one in real life, it is something you`d rather forget. But, I want you to
think about the metaphorical creature we used to describe, the act of
pretending to lay down and concede defeat, because that`s exactly what we
saw this week in the House of Representatives.
After much saber-rattling about the possibility of holding the debt ceiling
hostage, Republicans not only approved an extension of debt ceiling
deadline without a fight, but did so without making of their usual demands
for spending cuts. But before you get too comfortable with the idea that
Republicans have rolled over to reveal their soft conciliatory underbelly,
That debt limit increase is only a temporary three-month stopgap measure
meant to give them more time for a budget resolution in the Senate and
prepare for a bigger budget battle ahead -- which brings me to the ducks,
one lame duck to be precise. Ever seen a lame duck? They can`t fly very
far. In fact, they are lucky if they even get off the ground.
And last week in this inaugural address, President Obama laid out his fight
plan for the heights of to which he hopes to soar during his second term.
But his domestic policy agenda may never find its wings if it is stymied in
the tangle of Capitol Hill gridlock.
And what Wonkblog`s Ezra Klein calls a, quote, "seemingly endless series of
cliffs, ceilings sequesters and potential showdowns." The upcoming budget
fight is only the first of many.
Remember the fiscal cliff? Well, it never really went away. It was just
postponed for a couple months. We`ll have the threat of those automatic
spending cuts looming over our heads again March 1st. Later that month,
another potential government shutdown and showdown awaits us on March 27th.
That`s when the government runs out of money to fund itself for the current
fiscal year and we`ll need a new spending bill to keep it going.
And mark your calendars, May 19th that`s when that delayed debt ceiling
crisis could come back to haunt us again. So, as we are gearing up in this
latest battle of political brinksmanship, the budget battle, and
considering the behavior of possums and ducks begs the long term question
of when those responsible for governing will start acting more like the
people we have elected them to be and less like pitiful little political
With me at the table: "The Nation`s" Ari Berman; NBC Latino contributor
Vicky DeFrancesco Soto; assistant dean at Georgetown University, Robert
Traynham; and co-founder of No Labels, David Walker. He is the former head
of the Government Accountability Office, the GAO.
So, nice to have you all here.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So -- we have big problems. Huge issues that need to
be solved in our country. But it looks like we`re going to be lurching
every six weeks to another silly drip-drop showdown for four years. Is
that what we are looking at here?
TRAYNHAM: What the Republicans have done is always keeping this president
and this administration on the defense from a fiscal standpoint.
TRAYNHAM: To your point, which was brilliant in how you worded it, every
six months we have the conversation where the Republican Party wants to be,
is because they want to rebrand themselves as fiscal austerity and fiscal
HARRIS-PERRY: Despite that big debt situation and problem of George W.
TRAYNHAM: Well, Medicare part D and Iraq. That`s a different
administration. That was so ten years ago.
HARRIS-PERRY: Iraq and part D.
TRAYNHAM: But, anyway, to my earlier point, what`s interesting is I`m
surprised how defensive the White House has been over the last two years on
And to your point, what the Republicans are trying to do, I suspect, is
drag this along, to continue this conversation, but also to force President
Obama into a lame duck session where he`s going to be much more weakened
going into his second term.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, David, you say No Labels. I mean, you know, part of
GAO, the notion of government accountability, and now your role as private
citizen here is to say the fact we turn to the labels of partisanship is
DAVID WALKER, CO-FOUNDER NO LABELS: It is. We need to promote progress
over partisanship, results over rhetoric.
We have to recognize the American people are way ahead of elected
officials. They know we have a problem. They can accept the truth.
They`re willing to handle tough choices of they`re part of the
comprehensive they deem to be fair.
Look, the Republicans adopted the no budget/no pay as a bumper sticker.
WALKER: It`s not really the substantive proposal that No Labels advocated.
But the reason they did it was because they wanted to force the Senate to
have a budget.
So, for the first time in four years, we`ll have a proposal from the
president, we`ll have the proposal from Republicans in the House and we`ll
have a proposal from the Democrats in the Senate. So, hopefully, we can
get on discussions about a grand bargain.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So pause for me a second because just in case folks
haven`t been following this -- the thing about no pay is if the Senate was
not to come up with a budget, they would not be receiving paychecks.
WALKER: What happened, what was passed was there would be a suspension of
pay unless and until they came up with a budget, and then they would
receive whatever pay was suspended at that point in time. And if they
never came up with a budget, they would receive it at the end of this two-
year Congress so that it wouldn`t be a constitutional problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, on a one hand, that seems like it makes sense. Right,
well, if you are not doing your job, you should not get a paycheck. I
wouldn`t get one if I just showed up for the 10:00 hour.
But the issue is this isn`t quite the Senate`s job, right? This is in part
a misunderstanding of how the Senate and the House are meant to do the
BERMAN: Well, not only that, but the government is not a family. The
government responds to need. The need now is jobs. Jobs are the need and
jobs are what is not being talked about in Washington.
And Austerity is not going to create jobs. It hasn`t created jobs in
England. With interest rates so low, we should be spending more money.
David brought this nice $10 million bill out here. They should be more of
HARRIS-PERRY: This is my favorite -- the $1 trillion bill. I`m taking
this one home with me.
BERMAN: The point is now is not the time. We`re not at full employment
right now. We are in a situation where only the government can spend the
money to create more jobs. If they don`t do it, no one else will.
We have the conversation about cutting back once we created the jobs. But
not until we do that.
SOTO: It`s not the job of the Senate to put forward the budget,
SOTO: But something very interesting that we are seeing is the new budget
chair, Patty Murray, putting a face to it. Because I think part of the
problem with the Democratic platform in terms of the budget was we just
kind of took the backseat and waited. Patty Murray is coming and putting a
human face on it and say, you can`t keep cutting, if you do, this is what`s
going to happen to the American population. She`s selling it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, the Senate bill becomes less about an actual
alternative budget, but an alternate sort of ethical position, one that is,
in certain ways sort of saying --
SOTO: Stop playing defense.
TRAYNHAM: Wait a minute. According to my understanding of the
Constitution, the Congress does have the fiscal responsibility to be able -
SOTO: Primarily in the House.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s the House though.
WALKER: Not correct. The Constitution says clearly that the only thing
the Congress is supposed to do every year is to pass appropriations bills.
Those appropriation bills should be guided by a budget.
TRAYNHAM: That`s right.
WALKER: I`m 61 years old. Do you know how many times Congress passed a
budget in my lifetime? Four. It`s an F minus. If they got paid for
performance, they would owe us money.
This is a real issue. You have to have a budget. It`s your constitutional
responsibility to do appropriations bill is guide by that. And, frankly,
they are not following the Constitution.
TRAYNHAM: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it`s an interesting point, because, you know, one of the
things that folks may not realize about the budget is that more than 50
percent of it is sort of automatic, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: Two-thirds of it, right? So, we`re not talking about
starting at zero and saying, what should it all look like, right? The
budgeting is an incremental process, right?
And the other is even this language you use about the responsibility of
Congress is to appropriate, to tax and then to spend that money. That`s
become -- to say that the job of Congress is to tax and to spend, as soon
as I put it in that language, it`s an ideological statement rather than a
descriptive statement of the job of Congress.
TRAYNHAM: Instead of tax, we`ve seen revenue, right? We are seeing the
But the question becomes, I disagree with you a little bit, Ari. Look, we
are at 8.9 percent unemployment rate. I don`t know if it`s the job of the
government to create jobs, I believe it`s the job of the government to be
able to create an environment to create jobs.
So, what does that mean? It means that, quite frankly, if, in fact, we
don`t have our fiscal house in order -- how is the government, excuse me,
the private sector going to look at us from a responsibility standpoint?
BERMAN: Every economics say stimulate now, and then cut back later.
TRAYNHAM: We didn`t do that three years ago?
BERMAN: No, no, because we did one stimulus bill, it wasn`t large enough
and we didn`t follow it up. It was insufficient to the problem. The
TRAYNHAM: Whose fault was that?
BERMAN: the administration moved to austerity too quickly, House
Republicans were on austerity from the very beginning. So, we need to be
stimulating now. We`re not doing any stimulus right now and we`re talking
about cutting back, which is exactly what economists say not to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting that you say this. My governor, Bobby
Jindal, who we give a hard time to on this show pretty regularly, but he
said something similar to this on the RNC meeting Thursday when he said we
need to stop thinking about budgets and think about real people`s lives.
Now, let`s listen to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: By obsessing with zeros on the budget
spread sheet, we send a not-too-so-subtle signal that the focus of our
country is on the phony economy of Washington, D.C., instead of the real
economy out here in Charlotte, in New Orleans, in Shreveport and Cheyenne.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. He says that this isn`t real and you are saying,
no, no, this is very real.
WALKER: Well, first, you have to focus on pro-growth and fiscal
responsibility. You have to create more opportunity. We don`t want to
follow Europe`s example by doing too much austerity too quick.
On the other hand, we need to do something. We actually should be doing
more investment that`s properly designed, effectively implemented. We need
to be spending more on investment, less on consumption. At the same time,
we have to achieve a fiscal grand bargain to deal with known demographic
trend of rising health care costs.
Look, Republicans don`t want to raise more revenues, we`re going to have
to. But we ought to do it as part of the comprehensive tax reform. The
Democrats don`t want to renegotiate the social insurance contract, we`re
going to have to. But you have to do it together and you need to do it in
2013. The president needs to start --
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. As soon as we come back, I`m interested in your point
that you made earlier in a conversation about maybe the State of the Union
is the time to lay that out. We`ll talk more about that.
But also, we`re going to check in with somebody else I like to give a hard
time. Congressman Paul Ryan, what he had to say on all this just a few
HARRIS-PERRY: Earlier this morning, speaking with David Gregory on NBC`s
"Meet the Press," chairman of the House Budget Committee, Congressman Paul
Ryan, had this to say about the budget battle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: The reason why we wanted to get the debt
limit extended is so that we can actually showcase our budgets. We would
put our budget on this and say, here`s our plan for economic growth.
Here`s our plan for balancing the budget. Here`s our plan for entitlement
reform which is necessary if you want to save Medicare from bankruptcy and
get this debt under control.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, so he admitted it, they are playing possum, right? He
says, we just -- we delayed it so we could showcase our budget. And he
goes into talking about the so-called entitlements.
And, look, about $1 out of every $4 the government spends goes on health
care. So, the issue of health care reform and how it`s going to bring down
the budget is central, right? But the idea that the only solution to so-
called entitlement reform is to cut those entitlements, I think misses
there are easy revenue solutions, fairly painless to the vast majority of
American taxpayers that will at least make Social Security solvent into the
future. I just wonder about the good will with either we are or not
negotiating this grand bargain.
SOTO: We are seeing indications that folks like Ryan and Boehner are
getting away from just the knee-jerk reaction of saying no. They are
putting forward their -- Robert, you are laughing at me here.
TRAYNHAM: I`m not laughing at you.
SOTO: But in terms of actually coming to the table and saying, OK, we call
it closing loopholes, you say it`s raising revenue. I actually see a bit
of a movement in terms of a discussion with the likes of Boehner, Ryan. I
don`t necessarily know about Cantor. But the handwriting is on the wall.
The electoral handwriting is on the wall.
TRAYNHAM: Well, there`s no question about it. Look, they know the numbers
and the numbers don`t lie in terms of why people voted for President Barack
Obama. As I said during the commercial, the problem of the Republican
Party right now is an image problem, right? And that`s number one.
But the other problem is the structural problem is that people feel like
the Republican Party is the party of the 1950s. This party doesn`t speak
to me. This party didn`t care. And then, thus, in the process, I am 47
percent. And thus, in the process, this is beneath -- I`m beneath the
My point is, I think the Republicans, particularly some of the leaders in
the House are becoming more compassionate about how they express their
thoughts, not changing their views, but speaking in a language most people
can say, you know what? I respectfully disagree with this person, but at
least I understand that this person cares about me.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, if Ryan admitted that they are playing possum and
you are suggesting part of it is maybe they`re going to have to pull
themselves together in terms of rhetorical strategies, the other big
question here is the president is not yet lame duck. At the moment, he`s
still riding high on having been reelected, on having been re-inaugurated.
Does the State of the Union offer him the opportunity while he may be a
duck but not lame to set out the tone for what this grand bargain will look
like so when the possum reawakens, they will have a path to follow?
WALKER: The only person elected by all the people is the president of the
United States. The president of the United States is the chief executive
officer of the United States. He`s the only person that can command media
attention and go directly to the American people.
He needs to use the State of the Union as a governing speech. We are -- he
is not going to achieve a lot of his objectives, whether it`s, you know,
immigration, whether it`s guns or whatever else, if we don`t deal with
finances. If we don`t put our finances in order, everybody is going to
suffer to different degrees over time.
The truth is, every bipartisan commission has said we need spending
reductions and additional revenues, at least 2-1 spending to revenues. The
Republicans don`t want to have more revenues. The Democrats don`t want to
reduce spending. We have to do both.
Who is the leader? The president. The president has to come.
BERMAN: There`s a false equivalency because we had -- during the
Republican primary, every Republican candidate raised their hand and say
they wouldn`t sign a budget that was 10-1 spending cuts to tax increases.
BERMAN: If that`s the policy of the Republican Party --
TRAYNHAM: It`s not the policy.
TRAYNHAM: Hold on.
HARRIS-PERRY: They showmanshipped it.
BERMAN: That was the policy of the Republican nominee for president.
TRAYNHAM: Well, OK, but let`s --
HARRIS-PERRY: And he lost.
TRAYHAM: And he lost, right. Let`s talk reality.
The reality now is Speaker Boehner and Eric Cantor and some folks have
said, you know what? We need to have a conversation here about revenues.
And they`ve been very sincere --
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, I hear you. Now we are supposed to believe just on good
faith. And don`t get me wrong, I`m an optimist particularly of the
American project. So I`m almost willing to give you good faith.
But I do want to point out that what you are saying is just on pure good
faith, we should now believe that this party that has behaved in this was
is now going to suddenly behave in a different way? What I want to know
are what are the incentives why? If you can tell me that there are
electoral incentive, there are real reasons why -- because the reasons they
were behaving that way before wasn`t that were bad fait, because they had
signed the Norquist pledge and they believed that they would be primary.
TRAYNHAM: No, no --
SOTO: It`s public opinion, because we`re just talking about, what is the
importance of the State of the Union. The State of the Union is his
opportunity to sell. It`s like his Super Bowl commercial.
So one of the flaws of the last administration was the president did not
get out there and abruptly aggressively sell his health care policy, hence
2010. So, here he has and we see a new gumption in him. To get up there
and sell it. You get the public opinion behind him. Hence, the electoral
connection and the incentive. I know it`s like a back three step process.
It`s how I see it.
WALKER: Absolutely. And let me give you an example. I went 10,000 miles
on a national fiscal policy bus tour in September and October, 27 states,
town hall meetings, et cetera. Here are the headlines: 97 percent of
representative voters believe that putting our finances in order should be
a top priority., 92 percent agreed on six principles that we came out with
that guided grand bargain, 85 percent said spending and revenue is weighted
toward spending. Minimum 77 percent up to 90 percent for specific reforms
dealing with Social Security, defense, taxes, health care, et cetera.
What is missing? Truth and leadership. That is what is missing. This is
the president`s opportunity.
BERMAN: You have people like Paul Ryan, they are not interested in the
deficit. The deficit is a mask for what they really want to do, which is
they want to shrink the social safety net and drown it in a bathtub like
Grover Norquist. That is the true agenda.
WALKER: The American people don`t want to do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. The American people did not want to do that.
WALKER: The American people don`t want to do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: I guess for me the question is, in part, whether or not this
connection between public opinion and the actual behavior of legislatures,
how closely we can connect it. That is what we want, right? That is the
great framer of story. But it`s not necessarily activated in that way.
TRAYNHAM: But, Melissa, the people spoke. They spoke loudly in November
that they rejected the Republican policies.
And let`s be very clear about this. And so, what the Republicans have to
do, to your earlier point, if, in fact, they want to win, if, in fact, they
want to be a majority, if, in fact, they want to be a relevant party,
they`re in the process that they`re going to have to compromise. And the
reason why because the numbers don`t lie.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Robert Traynham has said it, not me. He said, if you
want to be relevant, my friends in the Republican Party, you`re going to
have to compromise.
It is so sad for me that I`m going to miss the State of the Union, because
it`s on Mardi gras.
HARRIS-PERRY: I will not be watching. I have my priorities very clear.
Thank you to Robert Traynham and to David Walker.
And, up next, my interview with former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. For
Republicans, is he the one that got away?
HARRIS-PERRY: Last Thursday, the Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby
Jindal, criticized his party for its narrow focus on budget battles. That
governor is urging the GOP to stop being stupid and broaden its appeal.
But the very same night, I was in Indiana to deliver a Martin Luther King
address at Purdue University. And so, I sat down with the former director
of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush, the
former two-term governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels. I wanted to get his
Many Republicans had hoped that Daniels, a fiscal conservative, would run
for president in 2012. But Daniels turned that job down and made a
seriously nerdy move. Despite some angst about the fact that he is not an
academic, ended up not president of the United States but president of
Purdue University. I talked with him.
HARRIS-PERRY: My governor says that the budgets are the wrong place to be
focused, but you have made a career, in part on what you have seen as being
critically important, which is our budgeting process. Talk to me about the
importance of budgets.
MITCH DANIELS, PRES., PURDUE UNIVERSITY: OK. Now, first, you understand
I`m a noncombatant.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, no, no. I`m interested in the importance of budgets.
DANIELS: Well, yes, that`s right. So I don`t have a party or partisan
point of view on these things.
I`ll just say this that I would agree that it`s a mistake to fixate on
budgets as though they were the end themselves. They are an expression of
what`s important to us. We devote the most money to the things we believe
is most important. And that`s a pretty fundamental decision that we ought
to be thinking in terms of priorities and they translate into the dollars
HARRIS-PERRY: So you were wildly popular as governor. I mean, pretty --
DANIELS: Well, not always.
HARRIS-PERRY: Not universally, but really quite popular. I mean,
particularly in terms of, you know, winning re-election at the time when
President Obama carried the state and you had a robust re-election,
included 20 percent of the African-American vote, for example.
DANIELS: Yes, maybe. Maybe a little more.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes, which is pretty extraordinary for a Republican
candidate at the time.
How are you going to balance that fiscal common sense that you are well-
loved for and yet the critiques around social issues that are extremely
important at a place like a university?
DANIELS: It`s never about the money for its own sake, you know? And I
hope we always explain to people in this state why we believed as we did,
that we should be careful about dollars and cents, for instance. Because
we were trying to build a climate of opportunity and a welcoming climate,
new investment and growth that would be good for everybody.
And, similarly, here at this university, I consider it one of my principal
assignments to make certain a young person from anywhere, from any income
level who can meet Purdue`s high standards can come here and can leave
financially solvent either without debt or with debts they can manage.
HARRIS-PERRY: One of my favorite things you did was the incentive around
child support and the idea you couldn`t get a fishing or hunting license or
HARRIS-PERRY: Casinos can`t pay out if you have back child support.
That seems like the common sense policies that are about holding people
accountable in ways that make sense and that would clearly create a lot of
DANIELS: Right. And, in fact, those are good examples of things that did
attract support from across the spectrum.
You know, to raise an even larger question that an implication of your
question, I think we have got a need in this country to restore faith in
government. Now, I say that as someone who thinks government can sometimes
get too big for its proverbial britches and tries to do things it shouldn`t
or really can`t do.
But we don`t want skepticism about big government to become contempt for
all government. That`s very corrosive of our democracy. And I think in
recent years, we have come a little too close to that.
HARRIS-PERRY: As a nerd, it makes sense to me not to run as president but
be president of a university. I mean, I would take that choice every time.
DANIELS: Yes, you are a smart lady. I knew you were smart.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I know for other folks, they were going to want to know,
you chose not to run for president of the United States in 2012, at a time
when I think a lot of people were quite hungry for you to do so,
particularly in the Republican Party, you chose to come and run a
university in Indiana.
Why that choice?
DANIELS: Well, they were two -- they were separated by a year.
DANIELS: And they were very different. In the first case, I had multiple
reasons, but a stopper was my family. It`s five women and me.
DANIELS: And they are a very powerful caucus.
DANIELS: I think I said at the time that in Daniels family constitution,
the women`s caucus has a veto and there`s no override provision. So, there
But on top of that, I had the misgivings that I think any sensible person
would be. It`s a vicious, nasty game the way it`s played these days. And
people, you know, for their own reasons will say things that are untrue and
unfair. And that`s -- you got all that.
This Purdue opportunity, I say, and I`m not being entirely facetious, you
see I was right about not running for president. I held out and I got a
HARRIS-PERRY: Vicious nasty game that he avoided. He has no idea about
But when we come back, the fight is on. In city after city, dozens of
schools are scheduled to be closed -- schools that just happened to be in
predominantly low income neighborhoods of color. The plans to put it to
HARRIS-PERRY: Listen to these numbers; 17 in New York City, 37 in
Philadelphia, 15 in Washington, D.C., and possibly 15 or more in Chicago.
This is just a partial list of the number of schools that are under
consideration to be shut down in cities across the country.
The catch? The vast majority of them are filled with children who are
predominantly minority kids and from low income families.
So, this coming Tuesday, students, parents and advocacy representatives
from 18 major cities are taking their case to the U.S. Department of
Education in Washington, D.C.
Their argument? Those who decide which schools to close are unfairly
targeting poor and mostly African-American schools and that constitutes
civil rights violations.
With me at the table: Ari Berman of "The Nation"; Victoria DeFrancesco Soto
of the University of Texas, Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director for the
Alliance for Quality Education and a parent leader from the New Cork City
Coalition for Educational Justice, and Sarah Garland, staff writer for the
Hechinger Report and the author of the new book, "Divided We Fail: The
Story of African-American Community that Ended the Era of School
Nice to see you here.
Zakiyah, you are on your way to D.C., tell me why. What is at stake for
you in this?
ZAKIYAH ANSARI, ALLIANCE FOR QUALITY EDUCATION: I mean, let me correct,
there`s 26 schools in New York City up for closure, already closing 140 in
New York City.
This is part of a national epidemic that we are seeing, as you said, in
communities of color around the country. Eighteen cities, we came together
through a conversation through phone calls, right? And what we found out
is in each of our individual cities, we have experienced the devastation of
school closures. Like I said, 140 here. Detroit had 300, they only have
93 schools now.
This is our moment in our movement. We are bringing young people to D.C.
on Tuesday to demand a couple things. One is that there`s a national
moratorium for all school closures in all locations, that we meet with the
president. We believe his goal of 2025 will not be met with using these
kind of policies in our communities.
Any other pieces, obviously, the solution piece. We have the solution for
sustainable success model, one that goes against the grain of everything
happening in education reform, but it`s big in research.
HARRIS-PERRY: And let me start with education reform. I`m going to ask
you this and, Sarah, I`m also going to come to you on this, because what
you will hear from education reformers and from these city leaders is we
are closing these schools to help these kids. These are underperforming
schools, we can look at the test scores, we can see they are not serving
the kids and our response is an accountability response to close these
Why Ms. Parent, Ms. Teacher, Ms. Student, would you want us to keep open an
That is what they say.
ANSARI: That`s exactly what probably the mayor has said to me a couple of
times in New York City.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, of course.
ANSARI: What we say to that is, clearly, it hasn`t been an academic
failure, right? In New York City, we have closed 140 schools. A potential
of 26 are on the list now to close again. We have -- we understand one out
of four children currently are graduating college and career ready, based
on the Department of Education numbers. And only 13 percent of black and
Latino children are graduating college and career ready. We say that`s not
a success. That is a failure.
And those numbers go across the country in the very cities that are coming
out. And it is a moment in time that we`re going to take advantage of to
really echo, because we do need people. We need to be pushing back against
the so-called reformers that say closures are successful and we need to say
why in our communities, when we pushback against things that we know are
detrimental were labeled supporting failure, other communities are labeled
HARRIS-PERRY: Standing up for white kids.
Sarah, I want to ask you about this in part because it does feel to me like
there`s at least two different things going on here. One, it`s a narrow
definition of what constitutes success in a school and the other is a
narrow understanding of what schools do in a community. That, you know,
the idea of the sort of the value of a long term institution that parents
know and that kids go to and your sister and brother went to. Like somehow
we`re just not even imagining those as part of what schools are and what
SARAH GARLAND, AUTHOR, "DIVIDED WE FAIL": I think it`s an excellent point.
I think it`s why you are seeing a huge frustration and anger in these
communities because school is not just about getting high scores on tests.
I mean, that`s the main justification that`s been used to close these
schools is that they`re not performing mainly on standardized tests. Those
things are very, very important.
And I wouldn`t argue that closing schools down is always the wrong thing to
do but I think that it`s been a very across the board, we use this criteria
and we close schools down if they don`t meet this benchmark -- without
looking at the other things schools provide, which is community. They are
places that people look to and say this is my identity, especially with
high schools, which have been a big focus in New York City, particularly,
closing down high schools.
And I think, you know, for most people, their high school is part of who
they are and who the community is.
And so, I think, you know, people like, Zakiyah and others who are living
in these communities are saying, you know, the schools can offer more than
just good test scores for kids. We should figure out how to make that
HARRIS-PERRY: Ari, it feels like this is an interesting sort of inversion
of what we typically thought of education as the most localized policy
issue, right? That for a long time, it was, in fact, conservatives saying
look, you have to let local communities make decisions about from
curriculum to property taxes, you know, kind of the whole thing. And now,
we have moved to the centralizing that allows this kind of decision-making
and silences the voices of community members.
BERMAN: Well, and you have to locate what`s happening in the schools in
the larger context of the budget, right? Because we have seen so many cuts
to education particularly to teachers as part of layoffs of public sector
So, when we say we have to cut back, we are cutting back on the most
important things in society. If we are not investing in education, we are
not going to have a successful society. So, if you are going to close a
school, are you going to have resources then for a better school, or is it
going to be a vicious cycle where you cut schools and you don`t invest in
other schools, and it`s just cuts, cuts, cuts.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, Ari, haven`t you heard? We don`t need resources for
schools, right? In fact, you don`t need well-paid teacher who have, you
know, a retirement account and health insurance. What you need is young
teachers who are enthusiastic and care.
Like the sort of narrative is that we don`t -- resources have been a
failure. And that instead what we need is some kind of innovation in
curriculum. And particularly, getting rid of teachers.
I mean, this has been a stand: closing schools, breaking teachers unions.
SOTO: And one of the innovations is online.
As an educator, I think there are some things you can do online.
SOTO: There are some. But I start to get really nervous when you start
going into middle school, elementary school. I start to get even more
nervous when you want to do all classes there. And I think this is
happening with the public education.
So, not only are we closing schools, but I also see an attack on public
education, a death by 1,000 cuts. They`re saying, OK, let`s just focus on
charter schools. Let`s go to online education.
And also the issue with going online is that you need Internet. You need a
fast computer to go online. You need a parent or a supervisor who is there
to help you be online.
SOTO: So, what happen if you don`t have that?
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting, that idea of death by 1,000 cuts. We were
just talking Roe v. Wade 40 years later and how you can leave something
legal at the top, but then death by 1,000 cuts around public education.
We are going to stay on this topic because up next, I want to talk a little
bit about the complicated history of school desegregation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Many African-Americans of my parents` generation believe
that school desegregation was a mixed blessing. It offered access and
opportunity to many individuals but often with an unexpected cost. We lost
many of the schools that have anchored black communities for decades.
Today, we are once again facing the problems brought by closing schools
that serve predominantly low income students of color.
So, Sarah, I know that your work around Louisville and you, in fact, went
to school there. Talk to me a little bit about sort of what happened
around that segregation and integration story.
GARLAND: Right. I want to be clear that I think racial integration is a
really important goal given how divided our country politically, but also
economically. The poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer.
Racially, I think it`s important to figure out ways to make diversity
happen. Schools to bring people together, that`s the function of public
schools is really to bring people together and create a nation. But, the
way it was carried out in the `70s and `80s, to make desegregation work you
had districts that we`re really concerned about white flight, about middle
So, to make those people happy and so that they wouldn`t leave, the systems
were built around, you know, making it easier so that white kids didn`t
necessarily have to go downtown in the schools. So, you had -- black
schools were closed. You had black teachers who were fired.
GARLAND: And, you know, you have advanced programs, gifted and talented
programs set up that became majority white.
HARRIS-PERRY: The schools within the schools --
HARRIS-PERRY: where you end up basically with a kind of magnet program
operating so it is nominally integrated but, in fact, the experience on a
day-to-day basis is still one of educational segregation in the classroom.
GARLAND: Absolutely. And I think that undercuts support for desegregation
among black communities. So, these are the communities that ostensibly
this was supposed to help create a more equitable system and you had people
saying this is not fair, this is not equal.
GARLAND: So that really, I think, you know, people shot themselves in the
foot when trying to promote desegregation and going about it this way.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, Zakiyah, this strikes me as, you know, there`s a
kind of mirror here to the thing we are dealing with, again. I mean,
people didn`t love segregation. They weren`t down with it otherwise they
wouldn`t have fought and died and put their kids in harms in order to
It`s not like there`s a golden age of segregation narrative, any more than
we`re saying current schools are all rosy and good. But somehow it`s as
though as we pursue one goal, we miss the rest of it. As you hopefully get
an audience with the president or as you are in D.C. with these other
parents from 18 cities, what is the big story? What are the solutions you
all think you have here?
ANSARI: Well, there are quite a few. I want to share this point and say
that we are clear on the shoulders of which we stand, right? The young
people that are going to be there, the parents and community members are
there from all over the country. We get that.
And on the anniversary, like you said, of Roe v. Wade -- I mean, this --
Black history month approaching, this is just a really momentous time for
us to put forth the solutions that are research-based that we haven`t seen
here in New York City and many people haven`t seen across the country in
the same community, one that supports collaboration, not the competition,
right? Because the best choice for any parent or any student is a quality
school in their neighborhood, which we`ve gone away from.
It`s about supporting and holding up teachers, providing professional
development when they need support, not going under the bus every chance
you get. And it`s about putting forth things that work. And, most
importantly, engaging the community -- for sustainable change, the
community must be engaged because when that great art program, or great
music program is there, they will fight tooth and nail to ensure it stays
HARRIS-PERRY: And I so appreciate you change -- I mean, it`s not about
competition. We use that competition model, we forget we don`t want some
kids to have and others not or some schools to go out of business. It`s a
We`re going to have more in just a moment. I thank you so much for the
seriousness of that insight.
But, first, it is time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" but
that`s Alex Witt, that`s T.J. Holmes.
T.J. HOLMES, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good morning to you.
And, you know, the discussion you are having this morning, I know another
topic you all have taken up on your show plenty of times, talking about
this -- this income inequality, this poverty gap. Well, the president
talked about that, alluded to it at least in his inaugural speech. We`ll
be hitting on that and see if he can really do something about poverty in
his second term.
Also, this week, this might be an idea you can get on board with, Melissa -
- no budget, no pay. Yes, that is in front of the Senate. That`s a
proposal. Withholding pay for members of Congress until they pass a
budget. How about that? We`re going to be talking to one of the original
cosponsors about where he thinks it will go.
Also, Paul Ryan today saying Republicans need to avoid being stamped as,
quote, "villains". What exactly does that mean for the party?
And in today`s office politics, "HARDBALL`s" Chris Matthews giving Alex a
preview of his new book on two political adversaries who shared a famous
friend. So, I will see you back here in a few minutes.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, what I just realized, T.J., looking those images
of the inauguration, you could totally play President Obama in the made-
for-TV Lifetime movie.
HOLMES: Come on. I think all light-skinned brothers look alike. Come on!
HARRIS-PERRY: You totally could. I watch. All right.
HOLMES: I swear, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So much fun when you hear.
OK. Up next, the important stories of the week like Hillary Clinton`s
glasses and the mystery behind Beyonce`s performance.
HARRIS-PERRY: Even with four hours each weekend, we don`t manage to cover
all of the big stories. For example, here on MHP, we have utterly failed
to address Lance Armstrong`s dope, Manti Te`o`s ungirlfriend, Beyonce`s
prerecording, and Hillary Clinton`s glasses.
I mean, after all, these are the stories that dominated airwaves, and
Twitter feeds, and water cooler chats. Earlier this week, my colleague
Reverend Sharpton made an impassioned plea to avoid the distraction and to
stay focus on the problems at hand.
I, of course, agree with the rev. We are in serious times and we have a
responsibility to address them seriously. But I also want to make a case
for having a little fun.
OK. When I was in grad school, I detested problem sets. I`d sit for hours
working through one problem after another. But often I ran out of energy
and attention. Then I learned a group of guys in my program worked
together. Their study sessions were punctuated with off-color humor,
impromptu jokes and frequent games of basketball, sometimes with a real
ball and other times with a wad of paper and a trash can.
In the end, they accomplished more and dreaded the work less. They
developed a strategy that tapped into collaboration and renewal and
playfulness as important elements of optimal problem-solving.
These are the tools we need in our politics -- not distraction, but fun.
The problems we face are serious, but we must be serious to tackle them but
also, we will need to be creative and collaborative.
Our country is embroiled in international conflict, reproductive rights are
under assault. Economic circumstances are dire for many. Our kids face
unequal education circumstances and the future of the fragile planet is
In this context, it`s easy to embrace a workhorse mentality of grim
determination. But I worry our effectiveness wanes as our jaws tighten and
our fists clinch. In these bitter circumstances, we need an environment of
possible that builds camaraderie and awards outrageous ideas and encourages
Don`t be distracted by meaningless fluff that passes as news. But allow
yourself to be distracted by music, by nature, by kids that want to play
catch, even and your couch that beckons for a nap.
In Nerdland, we punctuate our work with cupcake breaks, dance parties to
our favorite music and some more than a few shared photos of Bo, the White
We have a long road to travel and as we meet our collective challenges,
let`s take some breaks, pace ourselves and cultivate some joy along the
way. Movements are not sustainable if those who do the work are exhausted.
Let`s laugh at ourselves and at the comic madness of our circumstances,
recognizing that humor does not diminish the gravity of our moment, it
simply lightens the load as we bear it.
That`s our show for today. Thank you to Ari, Victoria, Zakiyah and Sarah.
And also, thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you next
Saturday, 10:00 Eastern.
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" with that guy that looks like the
president, T.J. Holmes.
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