ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
April 5, 2013
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Guests: Nancy Northup, Zerlina Maxwell, Eesha Pandit, Karen Hunter, Michael Astrue, Avik Roy, Rebecca Vallas
CHRIS HAYES, HOST: This is federal district court Judge Edward
Korman. Now, I`ll be honest, I do not have strong feelings about whether
he is the handsomest district judge in the country. I mean, there are 27
of them in the eastern district of New York alone and I haven`t put in the
time to make any definitive determination about who, in fact, is the best-
looking district judge in the country.
But Edward R. Korman is not in the news today because of his relative
handsomeness. Like most high profile lawyers, he is making news because of
his words. Edward R. Korman is the subject of front page news today
because this morning, he issued an absolutely excoriating ruling
overturning a controversial and in turns out illegal Obama administration
decision on access to emergency contraception.
Judge Korman`s ruling is basically a 59-page takedown of the Obama
administration detail by excoriating detail in which he berates the Obama
administration for, quote, "a strong showing of bad faith and improper
What the Obama did to earn such a dressing down was this. In December
of 2011, emergency birth control, Plan B, was available without a
prescription for women 17 and older. But because of the age restriction,
you couldn`t find it on the shelves. You had to ask the pharmacist and
show your ID. If you were under 17, you had to get a prescription.
But the update was about to change that, that doctors and scientists
at the FDA had determined that Plan B was safe for sale over the counter
without those restrictions. So, they were about to lift them and make way
for emergency birth control on drugstore shelves.
That was all set to happen at the end of 2011, until and what was even
at the time a really shocking and controversial move, the Obama
administration stepped in and stopped it. Health and Human Services
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius blocked the FDA decision to open up access to
emergency birth control. It was the first time, the first time ever, the
HHS had ever publicly overruled the FDA in history, which naturally brought
forth allegations the administration was putting politics above science.
This decision did, after all, approximately coincide with the start of
the 2012 presidential campaign. But the reason the Obama administration
gave for overruling signs behind the FDA decision was essentially some
girls start their periods early. Quote, "About 10 percent of girls are
physical capable of bearing children by 11.1 years of age. And it`s common
knowledge that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences
between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age.
If the application were approved, the product would be available without
prescription for all girls of reproductive age."
That explanation did not impress the "New England Journal of
Medicine". "In our opinion, the secretary`s decision to retain behind the
counter-status for Plan B One-Step was based on politics rather than
science. It cannot be based on issues of safety since a 12-year-old can
purchase a lethal dose of acetaminophen in any pharmacy for about $11. No
The only documented adverse effects of a $50 dose of emergency
contraception are nausea and delay of menses by several days. Any
objective review makes it clear that Plan B is more dangerous to
politicians than to adolescent girls."
That passage was quoted by the handsome and capable judge Edward R.
Korman in today`s ruling. He weighed himself, too, writing, "The
motivation for secretary`s action is obviously political and even with eyes
shut to the motivation for the secretary`s decision, the reason she
provided are so unpersuasive as to call into question her good faith."
He found that it is hardly clear that the secretary had the power to
issue the order and if she did have the authority, her decision was
arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.
And he reversed that decision ordering FDA to make emergency birth
control available without a prescription and without point of sale age
restrictions within 30 days, which is to say that a big and important
change in public health policy is set to take effect next month.
Politically, though, there is a broader point to be recognized here.
Our politics will seemingly never stop going haywire when women`s
reproductive rights are on the table. There is just a special universe of
politics where the issue of control over women`s reproductive processes
exists apart from regular rules of any other kind of politics. There is
normal politics and then there`s crazy vagina politics.
And you can see the difference really clearly in the way this
particular issue played out in this particular administration.
Watch this. You`re going to see two clips of the same president
talking about science and medicine from two different political universes.
The first is the normal political universe. The second is a crazy vaginal
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To ensure that in this
new administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science.
That we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and
experience, neither politics or ideology. And that we are open and honest
with the American people about the science behind our decisions. That`s
how we will hashes of power of science to achieve our goals.
As the father two of daughters, I think it is important for us to make
sure that, you know, we apply some common sense to various rules when it
comes to over-the-counter medicine. And as I understand it, the reason
Kathleen made this decision, was she could not be confident that a 10-year-
old or an 11-year-old going to a drugstore should be able, alongside bubble
gum or batteries, be able to buy a medication that potentially if not used
properly could end up having an adverse effect.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
HAYES: Here have you a reasonable pro-science administration making
an explicitly, well, know-nothing, Archie Bunker-style argument, because
the issue at hand is teenage girls sex lives. Even though this
administration has no general, ideological, or political commitment to
control young women`s sex lives, because the politics in this country get
crazy around women having sex. Simple as that.
Joining me at the table, Nancy Northup, of the Center for Reproductive
Rights, Zerlina Maxwell, writer and political analyst, Eesha Pandit,
contributing writer at Feministing and Crunk Feminist Collective, which is
an awesome name, and Karen Hunter, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist,
distinguished lecturer at Hunter College.
OK. I just beat the president a lot. So, let me play devil`s
advocate to kick things off, which is this -- let`s say, you`re a political
adviser to President Barack Obama and you`re like, do not touch this with a
million-foot pole because you do not want the sentences 11-year-old and
pregnant next to anything that happens in the news in election cycle. And
you politically interfere. Let`s just concede that, right?
But the case is so weak, the judge now overturns it. And so, you get
the best of both worlds. You don`t have to own it politically. You went
to bat for the fathers and mothers of America. But now this is going to be
made public anyway.
What do you think about that argument?
NANCY NORTHUP, CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: Well, if that`s the
case, we would hope then that the president will not have the Department of
Justice appeal this decision and do what`s right --
HAYES: Right. There is a cast of whether that`s the case.
NORTHUP: That`s right. And then do what`s right for American women,
which is, let this be over-the-counter for women of all ages.
KAREN HUNTER, HUNTER COLLEGE: Why are you so cynical, Chris?
HAYES: I`m not cynical. I was playing --
HUNTER: Is it possible that president truly does care? He has a
daughter in this age group. And I don`t know, parents on this panel, but
do you want your 11, 12, 13-year-old going in and getting this next to the
Tic Tacs and the thin mint and being able to just do this without your
permission, without any kind of parental guidance whatsoever?
We have driver license restrictions, right? You can`t get a driver`s
license in this country. You can`t vote until you are 18. You can`t buy
alcohol until you are 21.
You know, we have all these restrictions for a reason. I think
there`s nothing wrong with having a cut-off.
NORTHUP: Well, what the judge says is this is just about 11-year-
olds. This is about the majority of folks who access, women, who can`t get
it when they need it because the pharmacy gate is down, because --
HUNTER: The cut-off is 17? Isn`t that a reasonable cut-off?
NORTHUP: You still have to go to the pharmacist.
HAYES: There is this big study, right? I think there`s two things
here. There`s the principle of the cut off of 17 and then there are ripple
effects of it actually being cut-off at 17, right?
EESHA PANDIT, FEMINISTING: And there`s science which claims is safe
for all women --
HAYES: Emergency contraception.
PANDIT: Emergency contraception is safe.
But the bigger question here for the president for me is exactly the
first part of his statement that he has two daughters. And the question I
care most about is what context young women are growing up in and what they
are being taught to think about, their own access to reproductive
I mean, do we want them to grow up in a context where they are talking
about where there`s shame and fair and stigma in accessing what they need
or what they think they need, or even being able to walk into a pharmacy
and get what they need? Or are we asking them to grow up in a context
where the information is plentiful and they have access to resources and
they get proper sex ed, and they get all of the information they need?
I think the bigger opportunity with this ruling is to push that
conversation and say, what context do we want young women growing up in?
HUNTER: I`m feeling really old.
HAYES: No --
HUNTER: I grew up in a time when 12 and 13-year-olds should not be
having sex. That was part of the dialogue, where there should be some sort
of conversation had about a young girl -- we are talking about girls, not
women`s rights now. We`re talking about girls who I don`t think have the
capacity to make these kinds of decisions now being able to go in and
willy-nilly go in and get there without any checks.
ZERLINA MAXWELL, POLITICAL ANALYST: I think -- I mean, the image of
12 or 13-year-old going in to get emergency contraception is not scary to
me. The image of a 12 or 13-year-old pregnant without resources and access
to support, that is scary.
HUNTER: What about an image of her with an STD? With a deadly STD?
No one is talking about that.
MAXWELL: Condoms for men, they are easily accessible and on display.
HAYES: There are no prescription for condoms.
Let me distinguish between two things beforehand because I want to
make this clear. There are two issues on the table. There is this
principled issue, right, about this kind of, what our moral values are
about 12 and 13-year-old girls having sex, right?
There is a medical issue about the actual taking of the thing that you
put in your mouth and chemicals going through your body is physically
harmful, which the science determines is not really, some nausea.
And then there`s the practical issue of what the policy, as currently
constituted is, which is with the cut off at 17 means everyone has to go to
get it behind the counter. And research that has been done indicates that
in many cases, that cuts off the access to emergency contraception to women
that could get it, right?
NORTHUP: Right. I think what is getting lost in actually a lot of
the press coverage today is back to this --
HAYES: Don`t get me started.
NORTHUP: I mean, Judge Korman has spent eight years with the case.
He spent a lot of time with the record. He said flatly, this isn`t about
11-year-olds. This is -- that was an excuse. An excuse used by the
That this is about whether there`s going to be two standards when we
approve drugs for over-the-counter sales. A standard for all drugs except
contraception, which is, is it safe and effective for all ages? And then
the standard for reproductive health care products which is politics?
And Judge Korman says we can`t do that. We have to have one standard.
We`ve got to be fair.
PANDIT: I also want it talk about access also because it`s really
important. So, when we talk about access and access to healthcare and
particular an access to medicine, we have to talk about who is most
vulnerable if we increase restrictions. And in this context, it is not
just young women 11 and 12. It`s completely making invisible the fact that
not having access to over-the-co emergency contraception affects low income
women, affects women of color and affects the most vulnerable amongst us.
And I just really want to live in a world where everyone who needs
healthcare, and it is safe for them, can get it.
HUNTER: You don`t need an abortion pill.
PANDIT: It is not abortion pill.
HUNTER: I apologize. I threw that out there.
HAYES: You`re trolling, Karen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
HUNTER: This is not like you are getting an --
PANDIT: This is a right wing talking --
PANDIT: It is not an abortion pill.
HUNTER: All right. My point is still that this is not a need. This
is something that he --
HAYES: This is a need. Here is the point I would say. I guess this
goes back around to the original point about the politics of this, which is
I understand why they are touchy.
I do understand, if I were David Axelrod. If I put myself in David
Axelrod`s shoes and we sat in the Oval Office and we talked about politics,
forget the science, forget the right policy, I would say, about all of the
thousand battles you`re going to have to fight, let`s just not fight this
one. I think I`m in poorly -- like amoral perspective, I can see the
politics of it being exposed of, precisely because of the nexus of this
extremely provocative example.
NORTHUP: Well, it is scary, as Judge Korman, said you have a member
of the president`s cabinet who oversees an agency that is supposed to be
following rules and regulations of drugs. We want to trust the FDA in all
of its decisions.
What does it mean we can`t trust in decision of reproductive health?
Can we trust them in other decisions? I mean, it`s just important that
agencies do not get involved in politics and can make these kind of
healthcare decisions on the merit.
HAYES: I think that`s a really important point to hammer home, right?
There is a process, there`s a legal process issue here, which is, of
course, the basis of the decision.
MAXWELL: I want young women to have control over their bodies because
then they can control their destiny.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
MAXWELL: That`s the core of the issue. I want you to have control
over it from 11 to 87. I want you to have control.
HUNTER: When they get jobs, they can control --
HAYES: That`s the new standard.
HUNTER: In my household --
HAYES: The head of the FDA with a drug contingency of tamper-proof
bottle on emergency contraception. You have to have a job to open it.
PANDIT: Here is the thing, it doesn`t work, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
PANDIT: What works for protecting young girls is more information,
more access, more safety, less stigma. That`s what our goal should be.
HAYES: I want to talk about this Kamala Harris thing, I think -- I
think it`s actually really important. Like someone said something we don`t
like. But there is some deep stuff there. You wrote a great piece about
Let`s talk about that after this break.
HAYES: Just to put a button on this, although, obviously, there is a
lot more to talk about this. But this is a statistic from sexually active
women from 15 to 44. Their use of emergency contraceptives over time and
you see as the drug becomes less restrictive, it used to be prescription
all wait through, then it was the FDA process which has been litigated
going all the way back to the Bush administration. That it becomes more
available. More people can use it.
All right. Can we talk about -- can we talk about this Kamala Harris
line? Because we saw it yesterday, and I was like, it`s kind of lame but
whatever. People -- I hate the genre of someone said something and let`s
all jump on the thing that someone said, even when it is right wing saying
crazy things. I try to stay out of that genre.
But then -- so, here`s what the president said. He said, he is
talking about Kamala Harris. She is California attorney general, says,
she`s brilliant, she`s dedicated, she`s tough, she also happens to be, by
far, the best looking attorney general. It`s true. Come on."
Kamala Harris is a friend of the president. They`re sort of
So, what I thought it was interesting in some ways was the defense of
this. Here is Gretchen Carlson on FOX News defending those comments. Take
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETCHEN CARLSON, FOX NEWS: Yes, big deal. Yes, she is. She does
happen to be good looking.
I just think we have come to a place in society where everyone is so
ultimately sensitive that you can`t say anything any more. She is, she`s
pretty. So what?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: And Dylan Byers of "Politico" echoing that with a tweet. How
did it become so difficult to call a woman good looking in public?"
How did it become so difficult to call a woman good looking?
MAXWELL: Because I`m a human being and not an object for male
attention and male desire. And I think, you know, the key with Kamala
Harris is there are a million things you can say about her that don`t have
to do with what she looks like.
And the president started out saying she is brilliant, she`s
dedicated, she`s hardworking. Talk about how she does her job, how she
looks isn`t relevant to that conversation.
HUNTER: For the record, President Obama, if you`re watching, you can
call me the best-looking contributor on MSNBC any day of the week. I mean,
come on, really? Really?
HAYES: Yes, really.
HAYES: No, because I think there is look -- well, please, Eesha.
PANDIT: Yes. So, here is what I care the most about. What I care
the most about is how many women the president has in his administration,
what they are doing, how he talks about them. I think it was in poor taste
and, you know, annoying that this is what is happening.
But I think it is telling, right? This is how men talk about women.
This is how all of us talk about women. You`ve watched any --
HAYES: It is how all of us talk about women. Very good point.
PANDIT: It`s how all of us talk about women, right? So, it`s not
surprising it comes through in this political context. It is not also
right, right? Both of those things can be true. It is not the worst thing
he`s ever done. But I mean, I care much more about women who are in
policy, positions, and who have power and what they are doing and how he
talks about them and their mind.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And whether he will appeal --
HAYES: I think that`s a good point, right? Sometimes the
conversation about this White House with respect to women, moves on two
different tracks, right?
There is the genre of the Kamala Harris stuff. There is a genre of,
is it a boy`s club inside the West Wing. And then there`s` a bunch of
stories written about that, and then there`s where the administration has
been on the substantive things.
PANDIT: So when you have the -- that`s the one -- that would be the
place to take this discussion, right? Because we saw this --
HAYES: Take it there. We`re on television --
PANDIT: We talk pictures of the White House and saw all those men in
the Oval Office. Let`s talk about that. That`s what I care about the
HUNTER: He signed Lilly Ledbetter, one of the first things he did in
HUNTER: We are talking about it as if he doesn`t have a track record.
MAXWELL: I hold him to a higher standard. I expect more from him. I
expect him not to say, oh, she`s good looking. That`s lazy rhetorical
HUNTER: Were you insulted? Because she -- she wasn`t insulted.
MAXWELL: I wasn`t upset. I wasn`t insulted. I think it`s more about
he should stick to the substance when he is talking about her in a
HAYES: Do you think -- do you think on the record, on the whole, what
is a -- how are we to understand the administration`s commitment to
reproductive choice, broadly the tremendous political effort put in by
Kathleen Sebelius herself to lobby for inclusion of contraception and the
Affordable Care Act, the heat they took from the bishops that was a serious
political fight they did not have to pick, basically, right? How do you
That record with their record in this specific case in n which you
have a federal court judge basically saying, this is the Bush -- more or
less saying this is the Bush administration redux?
NORTHUP: Oh, yes, not more or less, definitely saying that.
HAYES: How do you square those two, though?
NORTHUP: Well, obviously, the decision to make contraception
generally available without co-pay under the Affordable Care Act is the
most tremendous advance for women`s reproductive health in history. It`s
huge. Here and the Judge Korman said it, you know, there was an election
coming up and without question it was a political decision. That`s why,
thank goodness, that we have courts that hold the government accountable
when it does that.
HAYES: Do you have an expectation -- do you have an expectation about
the appeal? I mean, do you think they are going to appeal?
NORTHUP: I`m not going to predict about that. But again, if the
president wants to live up to being a strong --
HAYES: The election is over, right? If there is expediency, the
election is over and there`s an opportunity there.
PANDIT: I want to take issue with what affect of the Affordable Care
Act was on reproductive health and right. I mean, it was very restrictive
on access to abortion. And I have an even higher standard than access to
contraception. That`s baseline, right?
So, the Affordable Care Act makes it hardener a lot of cases to get
access in the private insurance plan and in the insurance exchange.
HAYES: This is a last minute deal.
PANDIT: That`s right.
HAYES: At the point -- at the point of a legislative gun we must say.
PANDIT: But I got it. But that gun is always held up, right?
HAYES: Exactly, that`s American -- that`s American reproductive
PANDIT: So the question is, I mean, to the point of the president`s
feminist bona fides, this is the moment to fight, right? I have felt in
many cases that he could have used a lot more of his political capital on
this issue, and he hasn`t. And I understand why he hasn`t but I still
don`t think it`s right.
HAYES: Yes, I do think this is -- I do think it`s useful to leave
this with this test that we see. A very concrete thing we can see about,
are they going to appeal or not? They can make a choice here and
Nancy Northup of the Center of Reproductive Rights, political analyst
Zerlina Maxwell, writer Eesha Pandit, and journalist Karen Hunter -- that
was a lot of fun, thank you very much.
PANDIT: Thank you.
HUNTER: Thank you.
HAYES: All right. Move over welfare queens, there`s a new target in
the battle over social service programs -- people on disability. That`s
HAYES: When today began, 149 small and midsize airport towers were
set to be shut down beginning this Sunday due to sequestering. Airports
with about 410 take offs and landings per day or less would suddenly have
no direction from the central tower.
So it understandably captured the public`s imagination and the FAA`s
handy map of the 38 affected states was impressive, as was "USA Today`s"
admonition that starting Sunday, tens of thousands of pilots flying each
day will have to rely increasingly on see and avoid.
You do not want it read the phrase, "see and avoid", anywhere near the
phrase, "tens of thousands of pilots."
To really drive the point home, "USA Today" online offered this
graphic, when airplanes collide, so we can predict the exact time at which
we might encounter this problem. It turns out most collisions occur during
taxi, but coming in second place are collisions during approach.
The city council of Fayetteville, Arkansas, decided to use its own
funds to keep its tower open. There are a handful of lawsuits by local
communities to halt tower closures.
But lo and behold, just two days from the first possibly dangerous
closures, the Department of Transportation announced today it would delay
them until June 15th. This will give the FAA time to resolve the legal
And according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, make sure
communities and pilots understand changes at their local airports.
In other word, no promise these closures will be permanently headed
The tower story captured our attention today in the editorial meeting
as our executive producer was describing exactly what see and avoid meant.
I`m coming in, where are you, is there anyone around?
And it was a way to focus attention on the real tangible consequence
of sequestration. But the underlying substance doesn`t change the fact
that it was also today`s bright shiny object of sequestration. With this
afternoon`s announcement of a delay, we were also supposed to breath a huge
sigh of relief.
But on parallel track in real-time, we are learning that cancer
clinics have been forced to turn away thousands of Medicare patients due to
sequestration because of the method in which chemotherapy treatment is paid
out, a 2 percent cut in Medicare has put the clinics in a bind. As chief
executor of one cancer clinic put it, "A lot of us are in disbelief this is
happening. It`s a choice between these patients and staying in business.
The patients can be referred to hospitals, but it`s more expensive. Some
of the cost will likely be passed on to those patients."
According to the "Washington Post," it is still unclear whether
hospitals have the capacity to absorb these patients. So over the
thousands of Medicare chemotherapy patients affected by sequestration,
today brought no 11th hour reprieve. No postponement of a horrible,
unintended avoidable consequence. No huge sigh of relief.
In Austin, Texas, local non-profit WBC Opportunities is being forced
to cut nearly $400,000 from its senior meal on wheels and head start
programs due to federal funding cuts spurred by sequestration. For those
folks, today brought no change in policy.
In Lafayette, Indiana, federal budget cuts should have a negative
effect in a number of area non-profit groups. Places like food finders
food bank are expecting a 5 percent drop thanks to cuts in the community
development block grant program.
Nothing happened today to change that. There are local news stories
like these all across and all because of sequestration, automatic
austerity. Of course, it doesn`t end there because other sequestration
cuts place an even greater demand on these non-profits.
Four million meals to seniors, 600,000 women, infant and children from
WIC nutrition program, services to a 150,000 veterans cut due to
sequestration. Those people affected by those cuts may have today heard
the news that tower closures have been delayed until June 15th. They got
no such good news themselves.
Poverty and illness can smash a life to bits as surely as a plane
crash and the agencies and organizations tasked with watching out to make
sure that doesn`t happen are evacuating their towers. We`ll be right back
with click 3.
HAYES: This sharp surprising letter was written by eight former
commissioners of the Social Security Administration. It contends that a
recent news story on disability insurance made millions of Americans who
rely on the service look like moochers and welfare cheats. This letter was
not addressed to Fox News or Rush Limbaugh or the Drudge Report. In fact,
the recipient of the letter may surprise you that`s coming up.
Right now, I want to share the three awesomest things on the internet
today, first a viewer submission, Twitter fan, Jenny Brand directing to us
to this master piece from Mother Jones. Is your team`s owner a Major
League a-hole? It`s an all-inclusive list of the incredible a-holerry that
goes among baseball`s ownership class who are generally not exactly deacons
of enlightenment and righteousness.
Mojo created a matrix separating political power hitters, those very
active in politics from those who were not even swinging. Who aren`t?
Behavior with fair and foul and it pains me almost more than I can say to
admit Mojo is correct to say the Cub`s and TD Ameritrade founder Joe
Rickets get top a-hole prize here.
Mojo recalling this amazing campaign story, a report commissioned by
the TD Ameritrade founder proposed running ads depicting President Obama as
a, quote, "Black heterosexual Abe Lincoln."
New Mile Orioles owner Peter Angelos get kudos for taking on big
tobacco in court, but some owners are less memorable. For example, the
most innocuous quadrant, Pirates owner Robert Knotting has been compared
favorably to an empty chair. See where your teams owners land and why on
The second awesomest thing on the internet today, the holy grail for
those who care about where their food comes from courtesy of "New York
Times" writer, Mark Bittman, this latest piece for the "Times" magazine now
posted online. Bitman writes that world of fast food has evolved beyond
what he calls junk food and (inaudible) junk, i.e., McDonalds and Five
And now small fast-food chains are starting to shroud up offering food
that is not only healthy, but tasty, humanely raised and cheap. A
fascinating look at the future of food, you should check it out.
And the third awesomest thing on the internet today, the rise from
President Obama`s introduction of California attorney general, Kamala
Harris, in which he called her the best looking attorney general in the
Buzzfeed had a little fun with Mr. Obama`s remarks and had this list,
the 13 hottest attorneys general. Your comprehensive bipartisan guide to
the most fetching government legal advisers in the nation, you got your Bo
Biden of Delaware, total shoe-in obviously, for the strict
constitutionalist out there, Ken Kuchinili, the Kuch of Virginia and for
those with a bit of a wild side, Doug Gansler of Maryland.
Personally, I`m disappointed, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange
didn`t make the cut although (inaudible) tweeted this possible pick up
line, "Hello, I`m Luther Strange, the attorney general of Alabama and also
a soul singer, comic book super villain.
You can find all of the links for tonight`s click 3 on our website,
allinwithchris.com. To make your click 3 nominees on Twitter using the
hash tag click. We`ll be right back.
HAYES: All right, so if you clicked on the Drudge Report today, this
is what you would see in response to the jobs numbers release this morning
by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now there`s no doubt that today`s jobs
numbers themselves were disappointing.
American employers added 88,000 jobs in March less than half of what
was expected. We should take that, of course, with a big grain of salt as
we have learned because these numbers are preliminary and cursory. For
instance, the job numbers in January were revised taking jobs growth from
119,000 to 148,000.
And in February, the jobs growth was revised from 236,000 to 268,000.
But the Drudge Report shows and then focused on the 90 million out of work
force for a couple of reasons. One, the unemployment rate last month
actually went down dropping from 7.7 percent to 7.6 percent. We know the
Drudge Report won`t lead with that as top line number.
And two, you probably haven`t encountered this yet. But on the right
wing, there is a growing course that identifies work force participation
and the dropping out of the work force as the great silent surge of the
socialist era of President Barack Hussein Obama.
To these folks, basically what Obama`s America looks like is that
under the cover of existing programs, people have been moving from the work
force into the social safety net in the form of Social Security insurance
and Social Security disability insurance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just over the last three months, there have been
more people going on disability than actually find willing jobs in this
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I don`t think this is what American voters
had in mind when they voted for change in 2008.
LOU DOBBS, FOX BUSINESS ANCHOR: The administration made dependency a
watch word of its administration and therefore, they have reduced the
standard for people --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it`s easier --
DOBBS: It is much easier.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of men, 25, 26 years old, sitting on the
porch all day long because every two weeks they get a crazy check and they
are on disability.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: The "Baltimore Sun" on Wednesday, General Goldberg wrote as
the nature of the economy changes, disability programs are sometimes taking
the place of welfare for those who feel locked out of the work force.
In the last few weeks, a remarkable thing happened. So this right
wing mean, which is all the rage and the reason the Drudge Report went with
its headline jumped the species barrier into the mainstream media. The
very highly respected, NPR`s "Planet Money," even did a long piece about
people dropping out of the work force and into disability.
Quoting from the "Planet Money" piece, and this shall ring a bell,
disability has also become a defacto welfare program for people without a
lot of education or job skills, but it wasn`t supposed to serve this
purpose. It is not a retraining program designed to get people back on
That piece has sparked a huge controversy as we enter budgets season
and Washington contemplates so-called entitlement reform, the stakes are
very high. So much so in fact that eight former commissioners of the
Social Security Administration wrote a detailed open letter to NPR to
express their concerns with the report.
Stating quote, "As former commissioners of the agency, we could not
sit on the sidelines and witness this one perspective on the disability
programs threaten to pull the rug out from under millions of people with
severe disabilities. Drastic changes to these programs will lead to
drastic consequences for some of America`s most vulnerable people. And
drastic change to Social Security disability program is exactly what the
Drudge Report readers want."
Joining me tonight from Newton, Massachusetts is Michael Astrue,
former Social Security commissioner under Presidents Bush and Obama and on
the table, Rebecca Vallas, attorney and disability advocate with community
legal services in Philadelphia and Avik Roy, senior fellow in the Manhattan
Institute for Policy Research.
I should say, we invited reporter Hannah Jeffrey Walt and producer,
Alex Bloomberg from NPR`s "Planet Money" to join us tonight. They were
unavailable, but have expressed interest in coming on in the future.
All right, Michael, I guess, I will begin with you. Why did you
decide to write this letter?
MICHAEL ASTRUE, FORMER SOCIAL SECURITY COMMISSIONER: Well, we decided
to write this letter because the factual premise of the NPR article is just
not true. They use loaded terms like skyrocketing basically told the
American people that there is some unexpected sudden change in disability
And it is not true. You read the trustees reports for the last 20
years. We have been saying since 1994 that there`s going to be a solvency
issue in the disability trust fund in 2016.
And that exactly what is going to happen. So it is a little bit like
saying daylight is skyrocketing in April. It is not skyrocketing. It is
changing because of things that we understand and the same thing is true in
HAYES: But there are, when you go through, when you listen to the
piece and read the article, there are a bunch of eye-popping statistics
about how much it expanded. It has tripled since 1980 and doubled since
1995 in terms of the amount of people that are on disability.
There are more people on it now. That I understand why people think
that`s worrying. There is also statistics about the degree to which
people, once they go on to disability, can get back into the labor force.
That`s another concern.
And then the third thing that I found persuasive about the piece or at
least not persuasive, but provocative was the idea that the people, the
diagnoses that are expanding in disability are those that seem the most
nebulous about things like chronic pain.
Than people don`t have chronic pain. Chronic pain or psychological
conditions as opposed to broken legs from factory incidents, et cetera,
maybe you can respond to those. Actually Rebecca, sorry.
REBECCA VALLAS, ATTORNEY, DISABILITY ADVOCATE: Sorry, Commissioner.
I think if we have a conversation about the social security disability
programs, I think it is really important to start with facts.
HAYES: I hate those, but continue.
VALLAS: Well, I apologize because I`m about to spew a lot of them.
You start with the fact these are vital programs with people with
significant disabilities. They are the subjects of I think misconceptions
that people are probably more familiar with than they are with the actual
So here are some of the facts. The disability standard is -- in the
United States is the strictest in the world. It is the strictest
disability standard in the world.
HAYES: By standard you mean, I think -- I can work because of a
disability. I apply to go on disability and the standards that are applied
you were saying are the strictest.
VALLAS: It is incredibly, incredibly strict. And so what it means is
most people who apply are denied, 60 percent or more people who apply for
these benefits are denied. So the concept that there`s some sort of catch-
all. That it`s just misplaced and it`s not supported by facts.
You know, the people who get the benefits, many of them are terminally
ill. We`re talking about people with congestive heart failure, people with
end-stage renal disease, people with severe cancer, people with severe
We`re talking the most severe imperilments. You know, one in five
people in this country have a disability. One in ten has severe
disability. We are talking about a subset of people in this country who
have disabilities because the program, by virtue of its strict standard, is
reserved for people with the most severe disabilities.
HAYES: Is that persuasive to you?
AVIK ROY, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE: Yes. I would say a couple of things.
One in terms of the demographic argument, so two economists for the Bureau
of Economic Research calculated this and they found that 15 percent of the
growth in disabilities participation for men was demographics age, aging in
For women it was only 4 percent. So there is a substantial amount
that`s not demographically driven. A Senate investigation found that as
much as 25 percent of participation in the program could be waste. Now we
don`t know the exact number and I`m sure that Mike has his own estimate of
what the number is.
But to say that -- one thing, the statutory provision or criteria of
what makes someone eligible and then there`s actual enforcement and
application. Just because the letter of the law says something, it doesn`t
mean there are people who are certified to being disabled who aren`t.
HAYES: So the question is, what is driving the expansion of people in
disability and one big question, as a population ages, we expect more
people to file for disability because people who are older are more likely
and the question is, what percentage of this big change we`re seeing is
driven by that?
ASTRUE: OK. So I can see there are a couple of economists out there.
I have a suspicion as to whose payroll they`re on that have been
mischaracterizing the numbers systematically. But you just have to go to
the trustee`s report. We covered this every single year. How much of the
change is due to what?
And you can go back for 20 years. It has hardly changed at all. It
is exactly as it was predicted the last time Congress legislated in this
area in 1994. And it is almost -- most of it is simply the baby boomers
going through their disability prone years.
Just like we are getting a lot more retirement applications, surprise,
surprise. The baby boomers are getting older. It`s the exact same thing
with disability. You get people a lot sicker at 55 than at 25. So we get
a lot more disability applications.
ROY: Do you believe that there is no waste in the system? What
percentage of applications are mistakes or waste or fraud or abuse? What
ASTRUE: Look, you can`t have $150 billion program where at the end of
the day, a lot of cases require judgment. Mental disabilities, pain, you
know, you can`t run a blood test. You can`t run a genetic test. There is
some degree of fraud in the program absolutely.
No one -- I mean, Senate committee tried for five years to try to show
that there was massive fraud and they couldn`t do it. And they ended up
distorting our own internal quality statistics.
On, you know, the quality of the paperwork instead of being able to
show that there was broad fraud. It is under 1 percent of the cases and no
one`s ever been able to show that it is anything different.
HAYES: Rebecca, you work on the front lines with folks that are
trying to get disability. So I would like it hear what your experience has
been about how much of that is out there?
VALLAS: I think that`s another one of the central misconceptions is
that either it is incredibly easy to get benefit or that you can scam the
system. I represent people directly who have significant disabilities who
have been denied despite significant disabilities purely because they
didn`t have enough medical evidence because one of their doctors didn`t
submit records or because a hospital they had been to didn`t submit
When I help and actually develop the record by getting evidence of all
of the impairments that they have, that`s the kind of thing that can make a
real difference in someone`s case. But I can tell you, this is a system
that is incredibly hard to scam.
HAYES: In fact, over time, what is interesting, applications have
gone up quite a bit. But the actual awards have ticked up. There is
actually a growing --
VALLAS: And actually ticked down.
ASTRUE: Chris, yes. You`re missing --
HAYES: Sorry, hold on.
ASTRUE: You are missing the "Alice in Wonderland" aspect.
HAYES: I want to hear the "Alice in Wonderland" aspect. Hold on. We
have to take a break. So hold that thought and you can tell us about it
right after this.
HAYES: So before the break, I was indicating this chart that shows
applications have been really going up for disability, but the awards have
gone up a little bit and now tick down. And Michael, you wanted to make a
point about "Alice In Wonderland."
ASTRUE: Sure. So when I started as a commissioner in early 2007. I
was a Bush appointee. There was hysteria about the program, but in the
other direction. My third day on the job, most of the Ways and Means
Committee screamed at me because, in their view, with the backlogs and the
agency was cruel, it didn`t want to approve cases.
I had members saying on the record, although it was expunged later,
they believed we denied all cases and made everyone appeal. So I was
getting creamed from that perspective. We stuck to the statutory standard
and in fact what happened on my watch is a percentage of cases dropped
Both on initial decisions and appeals, and it is not because we did
anything terribly differently. We stuck pretty closely to the statutory
standard. It is that we get economically desperate people applying in
But we did not turn the program into a welfare program and allowed
those cases, we rejected them and that`s why at the appeals level, it is
the lowest level of approval since 1978. So how could the whole program be
busting loose and turning into a welfare program if our allowance rates
dropped so dramatically?
ROY: There is a problem here, right --
HAYES: Explain that.
ROY: Well --
HAYES: Wait a minute.
ROY: Winning the Nobel Prize for understanding there was this
knowledge problem. That the government doesn`t always have the information
of what is going on in the Hinterlands and a lot of times, OK, so the
Social Security Administration gets these applications and reviews them.
But what happened if the physician is misrepresenting the diagnosis to
exaggerate to make someone seem more disabled. That`s what the NPR report
ROY: Mike just said that the waste, fraud and abuse in the system was
ASTRUE: Less than 1 percent.
ROY: So I think it strains -- if you look at Britain, for example,
now Britain`s statutory standard is different than ours. But Britain`s
coalition government did something very interesting recently.
They said if you are on disability insurance, we are going to give you
a physical exam to verify whether or not you are disabled. A third of the
people in Britain refused to sign up for the physical exam and were dropped
from the program --
ASTRUE: But that`s not our program.
ROY: Chris, Chris, Chris. Let me finish the point. So of the next
group that did the physical exam, 55 percent were determined to be
physically able and not disabled at all. Another 25 percent were
determined to be suitable for some work.
Now the Brits are, of course, morally inferior to us and we don`t
cheat the way they do, so I understand when the standard is harder in our
country and conceivable that there is an excuse to the system.
ASTRUE: I mean, that`s straight out of "Baltimore Sun" op-ed piece
from this week and that is crazy talk. Brits are getting around following
what we`ve been doing for years and trying to do more of. We do what are
called continuing disability reviews. We did 435,000 of them, my last year
And every single year from my seven fiscal years, I went up to the
Congress and asked for a lot more resources to do those. Because there`s a
10 to 1 return to the taxpayers and Congress refused to do it. I pushed it
up and we should do more of those.
But we are doing almost half a million medical reviews a year. And to
have someone in the "Baltimore Sun" hold up the U.K., which is just coming
around to copying what we do, I mean, that`s crazy talk, absolute crazy
HAYES: Quickly, Rebecca. Do you think too many cases are being
VALLAS: I mean, if anything, my opinion would be it is in the other
direction. I see people everyday who have been denied despite significant
disabilities. I have a client with has a severe combination of
osteoporosis and anemia. She breaks several bones all at once. This has
happened to her a number of times. She was denied. She had to exhaust her
401(k) and her savings while she was waiting on appeal. Eventually she was
approved, but we are denying people like that.
HAYES: Rebecca Vallas, attorney and disability advocate, Avik Roy,
Manhattan Institute and Michael Astrue, former Social Security
commissioner, thank you. That is all in for this evening. "THE RACHEL
MADDOW SHOW" starts now. Good evening, Rachel.
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