May 26, 2013
Guests: Lori Silverbush, Tara Wall, James McGovern, James Weill, Christina Bellantoni, Douglas Wilder, Asean Johnson, Shoneice Reynolds, Sharron Snyder, Daniel Denvir, Allison Kilkenny, Richard Kahlenberg
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: But first, the GOP in Virginia is
offering a slate of nothing less than right wing nut jobs.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
After listening to President Obama for the second time last year, the
Republican party was inspired to do a little soul searching. The grand old
party took a long hard look in the mirror and realized perhaps it was time
to get a little work done. Smooth out some of the bumps and wrinkles that
caused the party to stumble during the election. A nip here and a snip
there to get rid of some of the dead weight and maybe get a little color.
You know, tone down all of that glaring whiteness.
Having decided a facelift was the cure for what the ailing party was
dealing with, the party didn`t slink away quietly only to reemerge months
later looking brand new. Oh, no, Republican party leaders telegraphed
every gory detail of the process in advance.
First, party chairman Reince Priebus let us know what they would be adding
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: The RNC cannot
and will not write off any demographic, community or region of this
country. We have also never been this dedicated to working at the
community level to win minority votes, household to household.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Then Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, let us know who would
be getting nipped and tucked away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: I mean, we have got to stop being the
stupid party. We have had a number of Republicans that damaged with brand
this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I`m here to say we have had
enough of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: As laid out by the Republican leadership, the political
plastic surgery plan promised a fresh new face that would be a lot more
brown and a lot less stupid, offensive and strange. OK.
Well, last week after a post defeat recovery period, it was time for the
big reveal. We got our first look at the new and improved party when
Virginia Republicans unveiled their nominees for the state`s top spots in
the November election politically. There couldn`t be a better or more
supportive environment than Virginia for the Republicans to unveil their
I mean, Virginia today is a far cry from the Virginia that was once the
home to the capital of the confederacy. This is the Virginia that was the
first state in the nation or commonwealth to elect an African-American as
governor by popular vote. This is the Virginia that helped elect and then
re-elect the first African-American to the presidency. And along with
sending Democrat and recent DNC chair Tim Kaine to the U.S. Senate, changed
its political colors from red to deep purple.
So there is no time like president for Virginia Republicans to slip off the
fiery red fringe of the radical right and try on a nice, cool moderate
purple to compliment its overhauled appearance.
At last, Saturday`s nominating convention, we finally got a look at the
face of the Republican party, the one we were told would be more inclusive
and more sane than ever before. And may I introduce, well, let him speak
Here is how the man who could be the second most powerful man in Virginia
introduced himself to voters when he ran for the U.S. Senate last year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
E.W. JACKSON, U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I`m E.W. Jackson, candidate for
United States Senate studied here in Virginia. The president has said that
we need to use a scalpel to cut the federal budget. I believe we need to
use an ax.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, your ax.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So more brown and less bizarre. Well, I guess one out
of two isn`t bad. Bishop E.W. Jackson, a Baptist preacher whose biggest
political claim to fame before now was losing 95 percent of the vote during
his Senate run was enthusiastically chosen as the nominee for lieutenant
governor through a four rounds of balloting at last Saturday`s convention.
And as for Bobby Jindal`s assurances that Republicans would dispense with
the offensive and stupid comments, well, let`s take a listen at what E.W.
Jackson has to say about reproductive choice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACKSON: Planned Parenthood had been far more lethal to black lives than
the KKK ever was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And the repeal of don`t ask, don`t tell?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACKSON: Military has been decimated by this lesbian, guy bisexual,
transgender policy that has now been implemented.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s just the tip of the iceberg. Give him a Google to
get to know E.W. Jackson better.
Meanwhile, the guy right above Jackson at the very top of the ticket needs
no introduction. If Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli`s name
sounds familiar, it might be from when he was in the news trying to keep
sodomy illegal in Virginia because as he said in 2009 quote "homosexual
acts are wrong. They just intransigently wrong. And I think in a natural
law-based country, it`s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. Or
maybe it was from when he approved strict building code regulation that
would put Virginia`s abortion providers out of business.
The name Cuccinelli might also ring I bell from that time he urged
Virginia`s public colleges and universities to get rid of their policies
that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Noticing a pattern here. After Virginia voters showed their true colors to
be royally purple, the state Republican party responded with its true new
face colored with the same old intolerant red.
Joining me today, the very man who won that historic election that I
mentioned earlier, former Virginia governor Doug Wilder, also Christina
Bellantoni, who is political editor for PBS News Hour and MSNBC`s Steve
Kornacki, host of "Up with Steve Kornacki." He is also our friend and
neighbor next door on the 8th floor and Tara Wall, founder of PTP
foundation for media arts and former senior media adviser to the Romney and
Thank you all for being here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Glad to be with you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Governor, I want to start with you because this is your
state. What in the world is going on in Virginia right now?
DOUGLAS WILDER (D), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: Virginia, you have described
it. It is indeed a purple state. It`s showed that twice. In my state
last election, I made it violent as well (INAUDIBLE). It carried as I
predicted. It would carry for Obama and it did so again in the last
I think E.W. Jackson`s comments quite frankly are all right for church, all
right for his sermon, all right for some other place. But to be the leader
of the state and to be in that second position that you spoke of is not
respective of Virginia values.
Now, I remember when I ran for that office, particularly the governor`s
office, there was a considerable amount of pressure being applied to
overturn Roe V. Wade. I made it a point to let that be a part of my plank
and my platform that I would not let anything go overturned. I was
advised, you`re making a mistake. I said you`d be surprised at the people
who are not going to turn Virginia back. And I would submit to you that a
lot of Republican women voted for me based on that singular plank in my
HARRIS-PERRY: This feels like a good point.
Christina, you have been following Virginia politics as a reporter for a
long time now. What do you see in terms of sort of how the populous looks,
how the electorate looks versus what this particular slate of candidates
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, POLITICAL EDITOR, PBS NEWS HOUR: Well, that is
exactly the right question. Because it`s activists, Republican activists,
a few thousand of them that physically go to a convention that shows E.W.
Jackson to be their candidate. They chose a convention for a reason. It
is one of the reasons Ken Cuccinelli ended up with a clear field instead of
Lieutenant governor Bill Bolling running keep him slightly more moderate
Republican. Still, a pretty conservative Republican.
But, so you have this activists picking after this, four round of
balloting. The other thing, when you show the map of Virginia, it`s not
purple everywhere. The biggest populations is in Virginia, are in northern
Virginia because of the Washington suburbs, the economy is actually really
good in Virginia. It has had a lower than average unemployment rate. I
think it has at about five percent maybe lower right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because of course, government can create jobs. And so in
part, because northern Virginia has so many federal government workers,
they haven`t had the same kind of hit from the (INAUDIBLE).
BELLANTONI: Absolutely. There is also technology that is actually
happening in northern Virginia. So, that is necessarily representative of
the state. But, what`s interesting here is it is not necessarily about
what they are saying. It`s about the actions. And E.W. Jackson does not
have a policy record here.
Ken Cuccinelli does. He was a state senator before he was attorney
general. He has long been a very conservative Republican. And these are
both two very religious Republicans. Ken Cuccinelli is very catholic. He
is very similar to Santorum in his policies and his positions there. He is
long been fighting against all different types of abortions, freedoms that
you might say. So, this is a long-standing fight for him. And it`s
definitely a platform that he is going to run on.
HARRIS-PERRY: No. So, one of the odd things about, of course, the state
of Virginia is that the governor and lieutenant governor, although they run
together, are not linked. So in fact, E.W. Jackson could lose and
Cuccinelli could win, right? That`s not true everywhere. What do you see
as you look at this deal?
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST, UP WITH STEVE KORNACKI: That`s happened
before. In 1993 in Virginia, some George Allen was the Republican who got
elected governor that year. His running mate was a far right home-school
named Michael Ferris and he lost lieutenant governor race. I think it
might be a precursor to what could happen this year.
But it really is, as Christina said, it`s what the decision by the
Republican party to take the step beyond the primary and have the nominees
decided at a convention. I remember when governor Wilder ran for the
Senate in the wildest campaign I have ever seen in 1984. It was wild
because the Republican convention that year nominated for the U.S. Senate,
Oliver North. And it caused a revolt in the Republican party. So, an
independent Republican named Marshall Coleman, it is how Charles
(INAUDIBLE) who never, Democrat, never ever should have been re-elected in
1994, but because of that was able to.
HARRIS-PERRY: You can remember the `84 race. You were like five.
HARRIS-PERRY: Of course. So, let me ask. You know, I do generally try to
make it a rule to not use the word crazy, right? Because I think there is
all kinds of things that make it so when we are talking about folks who we
disagree with, right? If we use labels of nuts or crazy. But honestly, as
I`m watching what`s coming out of Virginia and I`m labeling this in
comparison to what the Republican leadership said post 2012 loss which is
we are going to stop behaving in a certain set of ways and then this really
does look like a doubling down or re-affirmation of some of the most --
TARA WALL, FOUNDER, PTP FOUNDATION FOR MEDIA ARTS: First of all, with all
due respect from the prism of a liberal or Democrat.
WALL: Because in liberals and Democrats, they don`t elect Republicans and
conservatives. So, you know, it is in the in the same vein, there are a
number of folks activists on t liberal side that conservative candidates or
Republican candidates have a problem with. So, it is really not up for,
you know, for --
HARRIS-PERRY: But I don`t disagree with all Republicans.
WALL: I understand that. I think you have to look at this. I think
people are focusing on the wrong thing here.
WALL: They are missing the bigger picture of what really happened there.
I mean, I was there a couple years ago when you talk about Republican
conventions. When Michael Steele went through a number of ballots to be
nominated. It was a (INAUDIBLE). And from what I understand, I was there
when Steele was nominated. I wasn`t at this particular one but I`ve spoken
to folks who were at this convention and it was chaotic. But, this, is a
lot of times, this is how the sausage is made. It is a test but it`s also
Whether you agree that look, there are plenty of activists, pastor -- black
pastor activists, he gets a lot of respect at black churches. You know, he
is the conservative wing`s, you know, Reverend Jesse Jackson and Al
Sharpton on the liberal side.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, no.
But let -- we`ll continue to talk about this, I promise you. I do think
there are some very real differences like some of the fundamental things
about human beings he said.
WALL: You that said, you have to look at what have happen here and it is
the people that have spoken about who they would like to support. It`s not
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s not the people, though. It`s the activists. More on
this as soon as we get back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACKSON: My name is bishop E.W. Jackson, chairman of ministers taking a
stand with a message to Christians in the black community. It is time to
end the slavish devotion to the democrat party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Virginia`s Republican candidate for lieutenant
governor. Not calling African-American Democrats slaves exactly, just kind
A questionable political outreach strategy to a population that voted by a
93 percent margin to elect a Democratic Party in 2012 and by a 95 percent
margin to elect that same president back in 2008.
So, Tara, we were kind of yelling at each other a little bit before the
WALL: Were we?
HARRIS-PERRY: But look.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I actually do think that there are some very real sort
of conservative issues that are embedded in black politics that often don`t
get served very well within the Democratic Party, all of that, but this is
When you have bishop Jackson saying that the devotion is slavish, I got to
say that feels different than just I have a different or an alternate
WALL: Yes. I felt that way when Sonny Hoier (ph) said that about Michael
Steele back in 2006. He called him slavishly following the Republicans.
HARRIS-PERRY: And he wasn`t running for lieutenant governor of something,
right? This is a different --
WALL: And this was a sitting, you know, a congressman. But, I think that,
you know, him being a pastor is one thing. He is now in the public light,
of course. He has been nominated. And certainly, there is, you know,
there is a refining process that takes place whether it is domestically,
you know, I`m a messaging person of course. So, there is something to be
said for that.
But you know, at the end of the day, these were not the words that he used
when he spoke. When he gave his speech, actually, the things that got him
the rousing applause for the standing ovation were things -- the first
things he got up there and said talked about healing racial divisions and
economic and cultural differences and he talked about education and closing
the gap with children and having -- getting them to have opportunities like
he had. Those are things that he actually spoke about. Those weren`t
covered. It`s the quote-unquote "incendiary things" that he has to say.
But I think that there is an appeal because he says things that still
really pull at the heartstrings of conservative -- most blacks are still
conservative whether they vote that way or not. Jesse Jackson was pro-
life. We have had conversations --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. But, we are not talking about pro life.
WALL: But, that is what he was referring to in some of the comments.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, we are talking about -- not just sort of incendiary,
actually incendiary and awful things said about LBGT individuals.
And those -- you pointed out earlier, Christina, there`s a religiousness
that lays over this. But, it does feel to me like, for example, on
Cuccinelli`s stances and what we saw happen with the Trans-vaginal question
with Bob McDonnell, its one thing to be religious and it is one thing to
have sort of conservative ethics and morals that are privately held. It`s
another thing for those to become an overreach of the government into our
BELLANTONI: Well, and one of the things fascinating about the way
Virginia`s legislature is set up, is that Republicans have controlled it
quite a whole, but they are growing in numbers. And with the Republican
governor at the helm, they are able to pass legislation that actually
changes policy. And especially on some of these social conservative
issues. And it`s actually where the lieutenant governor now matters far
more than it did six, seven years ago.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tie breaking vote.
BELLANTONI: Because they can be a tie-breaking vote and it used to be that
there were moderate Republicans named Russ Potts, one of my favorite people
ever to cover. He actually ran for governor.
He led the Senate education and health committee. And he would always --
he was known as the stopping point for all of these bills. You know, very
many bill introduced by people like Ken Cuccinelli, even Bob McDonnell when
he was a delegate on the House sight. And those would always stop right
there, even though he was a Republican in charge.
Well, he is long retired. And so, you have seen a lot of those big
Now, at the same time, it is Democrats can`t necessarily just run against.
They ran into this with Bob McDonnell. There was so much focus on a thesis
that he had written that was basically had a lot of social conservatism in
it. And he was running completely on the economy. And they lost that race
in a big way.
HARRIS-PERRY: And n fact, Steve, I`m wondering when I also think of the
score I like the cautionary tales of moderation in Virginia, I think about
(INAUDIBLE) and this idea of, you know, on the one hand, it looked like
there was this opening moment when you could get moderate -- I`m making a
claim that that moment exists now. But then, in fact, moderates maybe
don`t do so well.
KORNACKI: Well, and the other thing is it is so dependent on what year you
run in and Virginia has, you know, Virginia, New Jersey have this two off-
year elections. I mean, New Jersey is a blue state.
KORNACKI: Should have thought about that first. But Virginia, though, so
stark, the difference between the presidential election in Virginia and
nonpresidential. And if you look at Obama in 2008 and Obama in 2012
carrying that state. You look at the counties in northern Virginia, you
were talking about that earlier, that swung in ways that growing democrat
population, those voters is the coalition of the senate and calls the Obama
voters. They really turned out in `08 and `12. In one of these counties
in Northern Virginia that Obama care I had both times. 2009, it went 57-41
for the Republicans. And it wasn`t because swing voters switch, you know,
leads. It was because the Obama coalition stayed home in both elections.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is that off year. That surge and decline problem,
right? So, on the hand, you can say they went for President Obama in `08
and 2012. But, it turns out a different electorate that shows up. And not
just in off years where you have the congressional but a truly off year.
Is that part of how you end up with a more sort of all the way off to one
side Republican slate here?
WILDER: I don`t know that that`s the reason for it. As you point out, the
drop-off is very interesting. Virginia has always prided themselves, hey,
look, don`t judge us by the national levels. Judge us by who we are at the
state levels. The unfortunate thing is that the drop-off does hurt and if
you don`t energize these people getting out, it doesn`t make any difference
what polls are showing.
WILDER: So, you really got to turn them on. The other thing is, as far as
what the Republicans did, and I think you touched on it earlier, it doesn`t
end it because Democrats still have got to run for something.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Not just against something.
Yes. Yes. And more on that as soon as we get back. Because there was
that trans-vaginal probe situation in the old dominion state. But as you
point out, it ended up not being so successful.
More on that when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have been talking about the radically right red agenda of
the two men at the top of the ticket for Virginia`s November election. But
wait, there`s more. Because the guy in the number three position has an
interesting policy of his own.
Meet state senator Mark Obenshain, the Republican nominee for attorney
general. Now, probably shouldn`t be surprised that the same state that
brought us the Trans-vaginal ultrasound and an attempt to put abortion
providers out of business, is also offering u as the highest law
enforcement official in Virginia. A man who would have penalized women
after a miscarriage.
In 2009, Obenshain wrote this bill. That would have made woman who had a
miscarriage guilty of a misdemeanor if she failed to report the loss of her
child and the location of the fetal remains to the police. He is also the
person who rather than votes confirm an openly g judge abstained from
voting and walked out along with 11 other social conservatives in the
Virginia state -- senate.
This seems like simply too much, governor, that this is the sort of one
step too far. That there are principal positions about being pro life, but
at this is simply one step too far.
WILDER: Well, I think that`s the real question. Virginians were not
balanced. They don`t have any problem with people having different views,
right, left, that`s not it. More people are inclined to be voting
independent in Virginia. They might call themselves Republicans. They may
call themselves Democrats. But they vote more independently and you are
going to be seeing that the important thing in that A.G.`s race is that the
Democrats are going to a nominee. And when you consider the "Washington
Post" just endorsed Justin Fairfax and numbers of people on that, they are
coming to endorse Justin Fairfax for that position, and yet many people
don`t believe that party leaders want Fairfax on the ticket. Now you got
E.W. Jackson on the ticket. The African-American. Interestingly enough,
the Richmond times dispatch not known for great liberalism.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s an understatement, governor.
WILDER: Just said yesterday in editorial comments that E.W. Jackson will
energize African-Americans to vote for Democrats.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. No, I think -- actually, I think that seems possible.
That seems very possible. Look, I grew up in Virginia. And I have sort of
a personal attachment to the state and all of that. But it`s more than
that. Virginia matters, right? And particularly on this question of pro
life and pro choice, they are putting money on it. This is going to be a
WALL: Well, it is not surprise that Republicans and Virginia have had --
have had problems with women. And certainly, I think, there is a lot of
work to be done conveying -- better conveying the message through to women.
You have to recognize there needs to be a broad swath of candidates that
represents, you know, we talk about, you know, him being a black
Republican, E.W. Jackson. One of the things the party fails to realize and
conservatives fail to realize, I mean, it`s great when we have adversity
and inclusion. But like just blacks are not monolithic, black Republicans
are not monolithic, right? There are socially conservative blacks and
fiscally conservative blacks who are Democrats and who are Republicans.
And that appeal has got to come through.
You know, this past election, urban voters I Virginia make up less than
rural and suburban combined. But they voted overwhelmingly more for Obama
than for Romney even though they make up a smaller percentage.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Richmond, Petersburg, they showed up.
WALL: And so, you know, Republicans have got to learn to start courting
also these, at least more moderates in the party. I mean, it is a
conservative party. We don`t want, you know, -- they don`t want to throw
away principles and things like that. But you have to understand the
dynamic of how do you start to, you know, relate, be relatable and have
candidates that are relatable across and not malign. Liberals want to
malign all black conservatives.
WALL: And sometimes Republicans want to malign those in the party who are
more moderate and want to speak --
HARRIS-PERRY: I see.
WALL: And you need to stop folks to the curb too because they have a lot
BELLANTONI: But, the office you are talking about matters. Virginians
have not elected a Democratic attorney general in two decades. In fact,
served with governor wilder that year.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right.
BELLANTONI: And there has been, if you and look at Mark Obenshain`s (ph)
voting record against Ken Cuccinelli`s voting record. Cuccinelli was
elected attorney general. Widely, they have a very, very similar voting
record. I can guarantee you, he voted for everybody single anti-abortion
measure that ever came past his desk. And so, Virginians have
traditionally been OK with that.
WALL: And McCollin (ph) was not nominated. He has not held any elected
office. So, he is struggling. He is having problems. So, it`s no wonder,
you know, Democrats want to wrap themselves around something at this point
because he is behind.
KORNACKI: I was talking to Dave Washington, who is the political board in
Washington, and he was talking about what his understanding of the
convention last week that nominated E.W. Jackson and nominated the slate.
It was a wild seen, seven candidates. He said there were moderate
Republicans who were delegates at this convention who realized they did not
have the vote to put any of their candidates up. So, they decided they
were almost going to sabotage this and that E.W. Jackson got votes from
moderate Republicans who wanted to use him as an example hey, fine. We
will give the far, far right of this party, their candidate and watch him
go down and we will say I told you so.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think everyone, you want to see what crazily do. Here is
what we will do.
Stay with us because we have been talking about the far, far right. But,
there is in fact somebody else running and that`s the Democratic candidate.
And I think it is important to talk about that side as well when we come
HARRIS-PERRY: We have been talking about the top of the Republican ticket
for Virginia`s general election. Farther right than the purple state
electorate, who is going to be voting in November?
Take a look at this recent poll on this recent poll on the Virginia
governor`s race. Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe has a very slight
lead. But the race remains a toss-up.
Now, this is in part because McAuliffe hasn`t a very good retail
BELLANTONI: Well, that`s one issue. Don`t forget, he ran for governor.
Last time around, he lost in the primary there. And that was in part
because voters consistently were telling people that they didn`t find him
authentic. They didn`t really find him genuine. They didn`t really find
him to be much of a Virginian. They knew him on the national stage having
been long time fundraiser, Hillary Clinton`s biggest booster, DNC chairman,
It is also important, we were talking about Virginia traditions and that
culture of independence. They have traditionally elected a party that won
the White House every time they have the off year governor selection. But
McAuliffe is changing his tune a little base trying to make this economic
message. He has been out there, trying to connect with Virginians the last
four years knowing that he was going to run again. But, when you talk to
voters, they still don`t necessary feel as warm about him. And Ken
Cuccinelli, long time state senator before he became attorney general, now
he has been trained to have been well-known and he is also a very good
retail politician. He has some political skill that has him connecting
with voters and he also strongly believes what he is saying. He`s very
conservative and might not be in line with all of this.
KORNACKI: But he believes it.
BELLANTONI: But, it`s that Rick Santorum thing, again, where that
connection and authenticity that sometimes has him doing well. There are a
lot of polls that show him either tied with McAuliffe or leading McAuliffe.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we can actually break it down though, I mean, just to
look at sort of who are the folks that are supporting. Among independents,
this is sort of your point about this part of being a toss-up, you know,
the two candidates are basically tied neck and neck, 37, 38.
But women do prefer the Democratic candidate, African-Americans vastly
prefer the Democratic candidate. He has got a strong with youth there.
But, you know, interestingly, on the question of white voters, Cuccinelli
is leading but it`s not a huge lead, right?
So then again, the most recent Quinnipiac, what does that say to you,
Steve, about what McAuliffe would need to do if he wants to win.
KORNACKI: Well, he is, you know, Jonathan Shade (ph) writes "New York"
magazine called Terry McAuliffe, the Democrats have been dying to vote
against. If you look at the returns from 2009, you lost the primary to, he
got crushed like a two to one margin.
And it is, you know, I think there is just, you know, and Christina hit it,
it is just, is this image of this D.C. mega bundler, right? You know, he
snoozes with all the powerful people in D.C. He is technically in
Virginia, but this is a D.C. guy. It`s very tough with the image. I was
surprised that give what happened in 2009, he did not get a serious
challenge from, you know, from Tom Perry and other somebody for the
nomination. He is so untested, you know. And he really is --
HARRIS-PERRY: So, that`s the question. I mean, we have been kind -- I
have been making fun of what`s wrong with the Republicans. But, what`s
wrong with the Democrats in Virginia right now? Why couldn`t they find
WILDER: The name of the game is (INAUDIBLE), and where is he going to come
from? One of the internals in that poll that s cited is very interesting
because it shows Cuccinelli`s job approval high and the favorabilities
high, much so, more so in some instances than McAuliffe`s. The unfortunate
thing, even though Terry has been running for four or five years or so, if
you go into the street and ask anybody about McAuliffe, there`s very little
you can get because he hasn`t established that gravitas.
And even in "the Daily Beast" recently, kind of ripped him to shred. It is
a couple of weeks ago, they are calling him, you know, nothing more than a
sleazy fundraising type. And I mean, he doesn`t convey well. And I think
that if you notice, he`s running more -- he`s not even running as a liberal
in Virginia because there is that whole moderate independent thing. He is
running on small business and entrepreneurship. I think for, you know,
Cuccinelli, certainly, you know, whether you agree or disagree with him, he
has built a name recognition. He has built direct reserve (ph) and he has
advocate for things that convey very well such as human trafficking and --
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder if it will make a difference.
There is no doubt that bill is going to come once it gets to a certain
point. Our friend former President Bill Clinton will show up and it will
be interesting whether o not that makes any difference.
Thanks to Steve Kornacki and to Tara Wall. The governor and Christina are
staying for more.
And up next, Pennsylvania`s governor says he can`t find a single Latino for
his staff in the entire state of Pennsylvania. Wow, seriously?
HARRIS-PERRY: We love talking here in Nerdland. We strive to bring you
the best discussions we can every week. But with some stories we come
across, there`s just nothing to discuss. Sometimes it feels like all you
can do is shake your head and say, wow, seriously?
First up this week, vacation tours of the ghetto? The "New York Post"
reported last week that a company called Real Bronx Tours was offering
sightseeing tours of Bronx landmarks. Landmarks like Yankee Stadium,
Arthur Avenue, the Bronx Zoo, and I quote, "a ride through a real New York
A tour, according to the "Post", included stops outside St. Mary`s Park
where the guide warned her group not to walk without a New Yorker and
pointed out a line of residents waiting outside a church food pantry.
The company`s Web site is now offline. But only after outrage from several
New York City newspapers and Bronx politicians. Until they spoke up, the
tour operators clearly thought turning poverty into a tourist attraction
was good business.
And then there`s Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett who turned heads when
speaking at a roundtable forum hosted by the Spanish language newspaper "Al
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have staff members that are Latino?
GOV. TOM CORBETT, PENNSYLVANIA: No, we do not have any staff members in --
if you can find us one, please let me know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m sure that there are Latinos that --
CORBETT: Anybody here want to come to Harrisburg?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Wow, seriously, Governor? And it turns out he wasn`t even
accurate. Press aides later reported to Pennsylvania media that in fact
all of one Latino works on the governor`s staff. One. Maria Montero. The
director of the Governor`s Advisory Commission on -- wait for it, Latino
OK. In Seattle Washington, a mysterious gun rights proponent has papered
telephone poles and posters comparing gun rights to gay rights. The
posters appear in gay friendly neighborhoods like Capitol Hill. According
to the Seattle newspaper "The Stranger," their origins are a mystery but it
seems clear that the artist here wanted to capitalize on the recent
legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington state. But using LGBT
civil rights to agitate against gun control? Just -- wow, seriously?
And finally, we turn to an issue we`ve discussed extensively here in
Nerdland. Sexual assault in the military. On Saturday, secretary of
defense, Chuck Hagel, called the matter a scourge in a speech delivered at
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Harassment and sexual assault in the
military are a profound betrayal. A profound betrayal of sacred oaths and
sacred trust. This scourge must be stamped out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now we`re glad that the leaders of our military are taking
this problem seriously and talking about it in strong terms. But -- you
knew there was going to be a bit, didn`t you? But this week, right there
at West Point, the struggle continued when the Army on Wednesday revealed
that a sergeant 1st class had been charged with secretly videotaping female
cadets in the shower.
And that`s after we heard a number of stories about military officials
whose role was to prevent sexual assault being charged with assault
themselves. We`ll keep pushing for the military, too, as Secretary Hagel
said stamp out the scourge of sexual assault. But sometimes it just makes
you want to say, wow, seriously?
Coming up, the lawmakers voting to let four children go hungry. We are
naming names and that`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is the Web site for the House Committee on Agriculture.
The guy at the top there is Republican congressman from Oklahoma, Frank
Lucas. The chairman of the committee. The headline, House Ag Committee
approves farm bill with significant savings and reforms. Significant is
On May 15th that committee chaired by Lucas voted 36-10 to pass its version
of the farm bill. The legislation that helps set our national agricultural
policy and which must be renewed every five years. When they voted for it,
those 36 members of Congress pushed forward a bill that cuts more than $20
billion in funding over the next 10 years from the Supplemental Nutritional
Assistance Program or SNAP. Previously known as food stamps.
The House Ag Committee is proud to have slashed a program that has a 96
percent efficiency rate. Proud to cut a program that lifts millions from
poverty, proud to have decimated a program that put food on the table of --
of children, the elderly and the disabled. Nearly two million people could
become ineligible for the benefits if this farm bill becomes law.
These 36 members of Congress have voted to let people go hungry. As the
Web site suggests, they seem to be proud of it. But I think they ought to
These are the members of the House Agricultural Committee, Democrats and
Republicans, who decided to slash aid to the neediest families. These are
the 36 members who agreed that kids and families struggling to eat are the
best one to bear the burden of government cuts. These are the people who
are proud of taking food off the table.
But it looks like a shame scroll to me.
Joining me again are former Virginia governor, Doug Wilder, and "PBS News
Hour" political editor Christina Bellantoni. And new to the table are
James Weill of the Food, Research and Action Center, and Lori Silver Bush,
the co-director of "A Place at the Table," a phenomenal documentary out now
about food and security in America.
Now listen at the bottom of the screen we`re going to be running a list of
every member of Congress with Twitter handles who voted for that farm bill
and committee, and therefore for cutting SNAP benefits. Feel free to get
in touch with them if you like.
OK. Why is -- why are SNAP benefits part of the farm bill, Christina?
BELLANTONI: Well, this was built in part because the agricultural bill,
the farm bill, mostly had agricultural subsidies in it a few decades ago
and so you only had people in the middle of the country, more rural
lawmakers, that wanted to support it. And people in the more urban areas
weren`t necessarily in favor of it. So this was a compromise to get
everybody to come together and pass something that would set the nation`s
agricultural and nutritional policy.
And so it`s been decades and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,
you`ve actually got Senator Tom Coburn, a conservative Republican from
Oklahoma, wants to change that back to the name food stamps because he`s
saying that`s not actually about nutrition because these people can buy
sodas and junk food and other types of things.
HARRIS-PERRY: Which of course is --
Which of course is part of the reason those things are available is because
the farm bill underwrites the card which of course sweetens those products.
BELLANTONI: Yes. It`s -- really there`s a lot of policy in there. And
you get this, the nutritional foundation and the policy of this country.
And it`s not an issue that should necessarily be looked at as a food stamp
fight except that it ends up being a huge portion of that actual bill.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jim, I am -- I guess I must be enough of an optimist that I
am still shocked that 36 members of the house, including Democrats, would
be voting to take food off of the table of children, of the elderly, of
disabled people. Why is it so easy for them to cast this vote?
JAMES WEILL, FOOD RESEARCH AND ACTION CENTER: Well, a lot of these
Democrats split, the Republicans all voted. The Democrats split. While
the Democrats has split who voted yes on this are from farm districts where
they think their interests are supporting farmers and they want to cut food
stamps to do that. Of course, the participation for food stamps in rural
areas is as high as it is in urban areas because there is so much rural
poverty, so more low wage et cetera. So, this bill which targets mostly
working families, low income working families and seniors hits everybody`s
district really hard. And we need rural legislators as well as the urban
and suburban ones to understand that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, what is it exactly that SNAP does? I think part of the
reason the desire to go back to the food stamp language has less to do
whether it`s about nutrition or not and more about the idea that it`s easy
to label people with this food stamp language.
LORI SILVERBUSH, CO-DIRECTOR, "A PLACE AT THE TABLE": There`s no question
about it, Melissa. And actually, when my co-director, Christie Jacobs, and
I were traveling the country meeting people who were on SNAP, they defied
stereotypes. We recently brought a bunch of them to meet Congress people.
One was a tax attorney, an Eisenhower fellow, somebody who travels the
globe teaching young women leaderships goals and she said to Congress, I
was on SNAP as a child. You didn`t even know me and you made sure I could
eat. And today, you are trying to say that 17 million children who are
just like I was shouldn`t have the same opportunity to repay society?
These are investments. These are nutrition programs, not handouts.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I mean, again, and I`m looking up again at our screen.
And you know, I`m looking at the names, going past, right? These are the
names of the representatives, 36 of them who voted to cut billions from
this program, would literally take food off the table and we are putting
their names up because in part, because we saw this happened around gun
legislation. This idea that people who were unwilling to vote for Manchin
to me, then all right, fine, stand by that.
Sometimes, it happens in committee, is you can see votes in committee,
people feel the pressure, whatever. But, the reality is we are in a
circumstance where we have folks voting to take food off the table. Do you
think that our shame scroll is effective, governor?
WILDER: Well, I think you are to be commended for bringing the issue to
the forefront and letting people know what goes on. I was saying to Jim
earlier, one of my earlier acts in the general assembly when I was a
senator was to introduce a bill that would have either a food stamp or
commodity distribution. Virginia had neither. I`m not talking about 100
WILDER: This was in the early `70s. So once finally got it into place,
people had no idea who benefited from it. Your story is so well-told in
terms of people who otherwise wouldn`t have been fared.
WILDER: Education is so key towards letting the public know what is going
on. What legislation contains, what is the actual level of debate and what
the real issues are. And that`s why it`s very good of you to do this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lori, it feels like people don`t believe that there are
actually hungry Americans. Sometimes, when we do our food insecurity work,
people say no, not possible. In this country with all these food, I`m
trying not to eat. I`m on a diet this week. But impact, there are folks
BUSH: And in fact, I think it`s made complicated by the fact that many
people not getting adequate nutrition appear obese and appear fat. And I
think it is because people don`t understand how the two are conflated.
But, as you pointed out, when certain foods are heavily subsidized they
become very inexpensive. And if you have a very limited income as a
family, you are going to spend it as many calories as you can get into your
children. That`s often is junk food, ramen noodles, chips. There is no
nutritional value. And it really is penny-wise pound foolish to think
about cutting the nutrition programs that give kids the nutrition they need
to learn. Why are we investing in school if we are sending kids to school
who can`t learn?
HARRIS-PERRY: Don`t worry. We are not investing in schools. We are going
to totally do that in the second hour.
BUSH: These types of conversations are happening and no one is calling out
the rampant hypocrisy behind this when you have the representatives and the
senators in major agricultural states who are taking handouts left and
BUSH: And subsidies (INAUDIBLE). And that will voting to cut benefits,
food for poor kid.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that is exactly where I want to go as soon as we get
back. Because there are some members of Congress who are doing the right
thing who are not on the shame scroll at the bottom of the screen.
We are going to be joined, as soon as we get back from our commercial, by a
member of Congress who is in fact pushing back on these cuts to the SNAP
program and pushing back against taking food off the table. He`s going to
join us live next.
So, stay with us. There is more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
We`re continuing our discussion about the recent approval in the House
Agricultural Committee of a farm bill that will eliminate $20 billion from
the SNAP budget, cutting nearly 2 million people from food assistance.
Before that 36-10 committee vote, two congressmen offered two biblical
arguments for why we should or should not cut food benefits for needy
First one was Democratic Congressman Juan Vargas of California.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JUAN VARGAS (D), CALIFORNIA: In Matthew 25, he`s very, very clear and
he delineates what it takes -- what it takes to get into the kingdom of
heaven very clearly. And he says how you treat the least among us, the
least of our brothers, that`s how you treat him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Later, Republican Congressman Steve Fincher of Tennessee
offered this response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEPHEN FINCHER (R), TENNESSEE: Mr. Vargas brought up a good point a
few minutes ago, being a Christian, as am I, Mr. Vargas. The Bible says
lots of things. I was looking at Matthew 26:11. The poor ill always be
with us. And then I looked at Second Thessalonians 3:10, for even when we
were with you, we gave you this rule, the one who is unwilling to work
shall not eat.
So we have to be careful how we pick and choose verses out of the Bible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, it is certainly distressing to see our elected
officials chapter inversing each other in floor debate. But it`s even more
upsetting when they do it poorly.
Having spent years in seminary, I`m down with the robust theological
discussion about the responsibilities of people of faith to the needy. But
I`m also going to need the members of Congress to brush up a bit on their
biblical hermeneutics before they start shouting out proof things.
Second Thessalonians is a highly contested epistle of Paul and it`s much
more to do with first century paranoia about the second coming than about
OK, having cleared up that piece of hermeneutics, you just have to wonder
what Congressman Fincher was even thinking when he as a farmer is one of
the largest recipients of federal farm subsidies. In fact, according to
the researchers at the Environmental Working Group, Mr. Fincher collected
nearly $3.5 million in farm subsidies from `99 to 2012.
At the table, former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder, PBS "NewsHour"
political director Christina Bellantoni, Jim Weill of the Food Research and
Action Center., and Lori Silverbush, the co-director of a documentary, "A
Place at the Table," a look at food and security.
And joining us from Washington is Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, one
of the ten members of the Agricultural Committee who voted against the farm
bill and those SNAP cuts.
So nice to have you, Congressman.
REP. JAMES MCGOVERN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Happy to be with you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, last week, I actually challenged any member of Congress
who are seeking to cut SNAP to first take what they call the food stamp
challenge. This is something you and your wife actually took several years
What did you learn from that experience?
MCGOVERN: W learned it`s awfully hard to be poor. You can`t afford
healthy food. You can`t afford very much of food. I mean, the average
food stamp benefit today is about $4.50 a day, $1.50 per meal. It`s not a
And I just want to point out going back to what Congressman Fincher said.
There are millions and millions of people on SNAP today who work for a
living, who work full-time. But they earn so little that they still
qualify for this benefit.
So, you know, this is not kind of a get rich quick scheme. This is hard
living when you`re on the SNAP program.
Your point that people actually work, in fact, work full-time and still
can`t afford enough within their sort of family budget to eat. This is
part of why SNAP is so important. Not just to feed people but because an
economic stimulus effect, right?
MCGOVERN: I mean, actually, when you get a SNAP benefit, you have to spend
it on food. That has an economic stimulative impact on our economy. It
also, food is produced by our farmers. So, it helps our farmers.
This -- the way people try to pit farmers versus SNAP, I think, it`s a
Look, the bottom line is, we have 50 million people in America who are
hungry, 17 million are children. The fact that Congress would vote to cut
$20.5 billion out of SNAP in a farm bill, means that this farm bill, if
passed as it is will make hunger worse in America.
And that`s not only, I think, bad for people struggling, there`s also a
cost to hunger. There`s a cost to kids who don`t learn in school because
they`re hungry, lost productivity in the workplace, avoidable health care
costs. I can go on and on and on.
So, the fact that we`re not addressing this issue I think is problematic.
So, let me ask this to you, Jim, because, you know, the congressman
articulates what seems like common sense positions, right? If children
don`t eat, they don`t do well in school and could end up in a life of crime
instead of a productive life -- basic kinds of things. Why is it that this
however is not a voting issue?
Apparently, these congressmen don`t believe they`re going to lose their job
if they vote against SNAP.
WEILL: Right, unfortunately, poverty too often isn`t a voting issue,
although a lot of us we`re working to make it an issue. Lori and her
husband are working on that, for example.
It`s also a contribution issue. If you look at the contributions to the
campaigns of the members of the Ag Committee from farm districts, from
rural districts, they`re very, very lopsided. So, it`s about money much
more than it`s about voting.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is it possible to build a coalition of people who would say,
look, this is a central voting issue for us. We`re not going to vote,
we`re not going to return you to Congress if you vote against poor people
and hungry people.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, POLITICAL EDITOR, PBS NEWSHOUR: I think advocates
hope so. But, realistically, that has not proven to be the case.
And this is an issue where policy ad the party in power really matters.
When Democrats were in charge of every chamber and the White House, they
actually put in place where you could use your food stamps and farmers
markets, right? They`re trying to implement a systematic policy change
there. That`s real shift in policy.
One of the reasons you`re talking about a committee vote and not a floor
vote is because this failed on the floor last year. It was a smaller cut
to the farm bill overall and Democrats could never get out of the House.
This is not something that could pass the Senate in the current form.
They`re going to be arguing over the two versions.
The place that this cut comes from, by the way, is from reducing people not
to be automatically qualified for this before. If you`re on other types of
government assistance, you should be able to just immediately get food
stamps. That would go away under these cuts.
HARRIS-PERRY: Congressman, let me come to you on this. Congress is under
a great deal of pressure in the consequence of the sequester, kind of
deficit hawk discourse. What is in the farm bill that could be cut? You
know, given that apparently that`s what`s going to have to happen,
something is going to have to be cut.
But what about crop insurance? Are there other possibilities?
MCGOVERN: I mean, I would argue there`s lots of fraud, waste and abuse in
the crop insurance program. We ought to go after that.
I had an amendment that says you can`t cut SNAP until the error rate of
crop insurance equals that of the lower error rate of SNAP. At that
failed, unfortunately. I mean, there are subsidies that could be looked
But the notion that you got to balance the budget on the backs of the poor,
basically saying, you know, we`re going to hurt poor people to balance our
budget I think is immoral. We`re a better country than this. And I think
most people, I don`t care what their political persuasion is, throughout
the country, I don`t think they want to see the burden on poor people get
It`s not fair, it`s not who we are. We can do so much better than this.
We ought to be taking on the issue of hunger and poverty. In fact, I`ve
asked the White House to do a conference on food and nutrition to be able
to bring us altogether because we could actually have a plan, because one
of the problems right now is we do not have a plan to end hunger in
And if you want to end it, you need to have a plan.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you just said we are a better country than this.
Lori, I wonder if that`s that true. Are we actually a bet country than
this or have we been willing to allow the least among us to carry the
SILVERBUSH: I think the answer is yes to both. I actually think we are a
better country because once people know what`s going on, they won`t abide
it. We`ve been taking the film hundreds and actually literally thousands
of screenings of this film are happening all the time.
And afterwards, we are bombarded with people saying, I had no idea that we
are asking hungry children to go without food and now trying to do that
even more. People are a lot brighter than I think these members of the Ag
Committee give them credit for. And when they do become aware, they don`t
stand up for it.
The truth is that we can afford to make sure that food is available and
that people can afford it. People who are getting SNAP are by and large
working or searching for work. It`s a terrible economy. And the food
stamp program was designed to grow when the economy shrinks. And it`s
doing what it was designed to do.
These people who are trying to cut it, like to point at it as if it`s some
example of exploded, it`s full of waste. Truthfully, it`s only so big
because the need is so big. As the economy recovers, food snaps --
HARRIS-PERRY: I like that. You put it all together.
SILVERBUSH: Food stamps are going to go down as well. It`s designed to
work that way and it is working. It`s inadequate, needs to be updated.
But it sure isn`t fraudulent. It has the least amount of fraud of any
government entitlement out there.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s 96 percent efficiency.
SILVERBUSH: Yes, I think it`s even greater than that. It`s between 1
percent and 2 percent fraud. Good luck finding a government program or --
HARRIS-PERRY: Or a private sector program.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any program.
SILVERBUSH: And they are so high, the average food stamp recipient is on
it for about 10 months.
SILVERBUSH: Most people are working before or right after and just want to
get back to work. This is not the welfare queen and it`s a deliberate
HARRIS-PERRY: But that language, that welfare queen language is exactly
what has the ability to do this, right? That`s what this is about. It`s
about attacking an imagined enemy which is racialized and constructed from
WILDER: That`s why I said you should be commended for taking this issue
and letting people hear it, because that welfare queen designation
resonated all over America. People just oh, look how badly this thing is
being done. Look who is doing this?
And yet we all know the words were empty because the utterance of those
words never prove -- never had to.
WEILL: That good news is when Gingrich and others tried to racialize food
stamps in the campaign t, the American people rejected that.
And so, the Republican candidates early on kept attacking food stamps and
it didn`t stick. The people rejected it. By the end of the campaign,
Romney was saying he wasn`t going to cut food stamps.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. It`s true.
Congressman, I want to ask you one last question before we head off to
break. And that is, so what are -- give me at least one of the solutions
about if we`re going to make this better, not just stand in the way of
these cuts but actually provide more access to food, what`s at least one
thing we need to be doing?
MCGOVERN: Well, I think one of the things we need to do is not cut the
SNAP program. If these cuts go through, 2 million people will lose
benefits, hundreds of thousands of children who now qualify for the free
breakfast and lunch program to school because their parents are on SNAP
will lose that as well.
I mean, let`s not make things worse. Again, we need White House leadership
on this. We need the White House to convene a conference on food
nutrition, bring all the players together. Let`s have a comprehensive plan
and let`s go and implement it.
SNAP is one tool in the toolbox to combat hunger. We need to do much more,
50 million people, 50 million people are hungry in America. That is wrong
and shameful. We should not let it stand.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Congressman McGovern in Washington for your
work there on the House side.
MCGOVERN: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me also just say, if anybody else wants to spend time
hanging out in the Bible, trying to figure out what the Lord said about
food. I suggest to you John 21, Three times the Lord says, "Do you love
me? Then feed my sheep." Then he asked again, "Do you love me? Feed my
sheep." The third time, "Do you love me? Then feed my sheep."
We are not done talking about how to make sure the sheep are fed when we
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So the Senate version of the farm bill also cuts
SNAP benefits. But by $4.1 billion instead of the House`s $20.5 billion.
But Senator David Vitter, my home state of Louisiana, wants to eliminate
something else: any chance of ex-felons, convicted of certain violent
crimes from ever receiving food assistance, ever, for life.
So the idea here is to cut off food benefits for ex-felons who have served
their time in prison forever. So, as they struggle to rebuild their lives,
well, then they won`t have access to food benefits. Frankly, it sounds
like a great recipe for recidivism, for encouraging these men and women to
do something that will put them right back in prison.
Reaction to Vitter`s amendment, Timothy Smeeding of the University of
Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty said, quote, "It doesn`t save
anyone any money. It just makes a political statement that we don`t
forgive people for crimes once they pay their dues. We`re just going to
keep on punishing them forever."
And yet, Senator Vitter`s amendment passed on Wednesday by unanimous
consent, without objections from Republicans or Democrats in the Senate.
Now, just a reminder: down at the bottom of the screen, we`re running the
names and Twitter handles of the 36 members of the House Agricultural
Committee who voted for the farm bill and the $20 billion in SNAP cuts out
of committee. Just in case any of y`all want to, you know, tweet them or
e-mail them or, you know, contact them.
So, the Senate, too, is playing this game. It feels to me particularly
when you go after ex-felons, there`s no money in this. This is really just
about demonizing the need for help.
WILDER: It`s unrealistic. In our state in Virginia, Governor McDonnell, a
Republican, is a charge for a restoration race, modernizing the
difficulties. You know, right now, the only person that can do this is the
governor. It`s too onerous to put that burden on the governor rather than
a commissioner, rather than a department to do.
And in that process, it`s been met with some degree of success, but it
needs more. What people don`t understand, just a few years ago, what
constituted a felony was writing a check for over $50 if it bounced.
WILDER: Look at the numbers of people with convictions that are being
overturned now by DNA evidence. But they`ve got to go through the onerous
burden of proving it through the court system. For you to pass a blanket
piece of law that says that anyone ever convicted of a felony is denied is
totally unrealistic, unproductive, counterproductive frankly.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Christina, part of what`s shocking to us -- we went
back and found 1969 Nixon talking about being productive. I just want to
put it. This hasn`t always been politicized among those lines. I just
want to do something we rarely do in Nerdland.
Listen to Richard Nixon for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Until this moment in our history as a
nation, the central question has been whether we as a nation would accept
the problem of malnourishment as a national responsibility. That moment
has passed. On May 6th, I asserted to the Congress that the moment is at
hand to put an end to hunger in America itself for all-time. Speaking for
this administration, I not only accept the responsibility, I claim the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, go Richard Nixon.
BELLANTONI: Well, he also put in place a lot of health care reform.
HARRIS-PERRY: Environmental policy, yes.
BELLANTONI: To go back to what Governor Wilder was saying and the
restoration of rights. That`s voting, all kinds of other things. But if a
felon can`t get SNAP benefits, their kids can`t get snap benefits. That is
a bigger issue. When you put this all in political context, this is a bill
that may very well not ever pass, right?
You`ve got two competing versions in the House and the Senate. They`re
likely not to get much done of anything. Immigration is sort of the one
exception this year.
But it really goes right to the heart of what a lot of Republicans are
saying, to make government smaller, right? We`ve already seen sequester
cuts 20 percent across the board in some cases, 10 percent in others. So,
this is a big picture issue so that it is symbolism but it`s also a way for
them to say we`re going to cut everywhere and why don`t we cut where we
judge people the most and have the least respect for them.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to look at a moment from your film where there`s a
conversation about what you were talking about earlier, this idea that the
impact of hunger on children`s cognitive capacity, on their ability to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It affects their cognitive development, their ability
to get along with others.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I`d (INAUDIBLE) you`re in luck.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They could be constantly sick, constantly getting
infections because they`re not well-nourished.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has he had any cold?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s actually a little sick right now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It can truncate a child`s developmental potential.
Ether or not it affects their growth outcomes, their stature and their
weight, it affects their brain in a much deeper level.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we are -- we`re starving the next generation of
Americans. We`re willing to do that?
WEILL: Absolutely. It`s just insane. As Jeff Bridges said in Lori`s
film, you know, if another country was doing this to our children, we would
declare war on that country. What we`re dealing with children not just in
the SNAP program where benefits aren`t enough, but across the board is a
The other I`d say that the Vitter amendment, is Vitter is not interested in
throwing a small handful of ex-felons off the program. He`s interesting
two other things. One is the application it will have a declaration I am
not a felon of this type, he`s interested in humiliating people applying
for the program and discouraging them from applying. And two, going back
to the program, he`s racializing the debate.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. This point about humiliating the people who are
recipients of food assistance, I mean, it`s part of why, again, I try to
stay away from shaming. But in this context, the people who should be
humiliated and ashamed are those peoples whose names are going across the
screen. Those who vote to keep a child like the one we just saw hungry.
SILVERBUSH: I think it`s very damaging because it is deliberate
misinformation to conflate SNAP and food stamps with criminality.
SILVERBUSH: I think when you`ve got a program that 43 million Americans
are forced to avail themselves of, I think that`s insulting. I do think
that it`s time for Americans, average Americans to understand that even if
they`re not receiving food stamps or SNAP, it`s very likely that a number
of the kids in their children`s classroom or may be showing up hungry.
Those are resource that are going to be taken by kids who can`t focus,
can`t accomplish in school. So, every one of us is impacted by this in
many, many ways.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you have taken us where we`re going next, which is we`re
going to school next.
So, thank you to Lori, James and Christina. The governor is going to stay
around for more, because up next, we`re going to go to school. We`re going
to talk about the cuts that impact our kids and the 9-year-old who is
leading the charge to save dozens of Chicago schools is going to join me in
Nerdland. You got to meet this kid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASEAN JOHNSON, 9-YEAR-OLD: Education is a right; that is why we have to
fight! Education is a right; that is why we have to fight. Education --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that kid. That is 9-year-old Asean Johnson. He was
part of a three-day march to protest plans to close Chicago schools.
Despite the outcry, the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education voted to
close 50 schools on Wednesday. It`s the largest public school closure in
Chicago`s history. Fifty-four schools were originally slated for closing.
But four were spared.
Sadly, Chicago`s not the only urban school system facing closures and cuts.
On Friday, May 17th. Student activists staged a massive walkout in
Philadelphia. The students were protesting planned cuts that would
eliminate money for guidance counselors, extra curricular activities and
It looks a lot like the students have their priorities straight. If only
we could get the adults to meet them halfway.
At the table, Doug Wilder, former Democratic governor of Virginia. Allison
Kilkenny, co-host of Citizen Radio and reporter for the nation who has bee
covering the Chicago school closings. Daniel Denvir at the "Philadelphia
City Paper", writing about the protests in Philly, and, Sharron Snyder, a
junior at Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia. She`s also an
organizer for the Philadelphia Student Union and part of the student
And joining me from Chicago is 9-year-old Asean Johnson protested against
the school being closed and won. Joining him is his mother, Shoneice
Reynolds, who works for the Chicago public school system.
Thank you all for being here.
Asean, I want to start with you. How did it make you feel to hear that
your school was going to be closed?
JOHNSON: It made me feel -- it made me feel confused and sad because
you`re closing the school that is really good, has all the resources that
CPS wants. But you`re closing the school but it`s not -- if you actually
come into the schools and see that, you realize, you will have it taking it
off the list.
CPS knows what all schools have. I don`t understand why they`re trying to
close that school.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Asean, you saved your school in part. How did it make
you feel when your school was saved?
JOHNSON: It made me feel very excited and happy because knowing that I
would see all the friendly faces back at the Garvey when I come next year
to go to fourth grade.
HARRIS-PERRY: Shoneice, you work for the public school system and also are
apparently an extraordinary parent because your son is amazing. Was this
his idea to get involved here? Did he want to be active in protesting
SHONEICE REYNOLDS, ASEAN`S MOTHER: He wanted to be active. It was his
choice. We asked all the students and everyone in the community to come
out, speak up, be a voice.
And Asean wanted to be active. He thought of different things. He wanted
to go out into the community and let the neighbors know. He felt that
people on our block and other blocks didn`t know that the school was
He wanted to walk around the neighborhood and let them know. He had been
active with these school closings even before they get listed. He was
active with the strike, where we went on strike for seven days.
I think that kind of pushed him to get involved with the school closings
HARRIS-PERRY: Sharron, I want to ask you the same question I asked a 9-
year-old. Why get involved? He`s 9 years old. You`re a junior in high
school. Why get out there and get in the streets and get involved?
SHARRON SNYDER, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN H.S.: We don`t want our schools to
close. My original school closed. They turned it into a middle school.
So they sent me to Benjamin Franklin.
Benjamin Franklin is not closing, but it would be merging two more schools
next year. The classes are going to be overcrowded. The teachers won`t be
able to teach. We don`t even have the right resources, the books,
computers and stuff like that. We don`t have that.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you`re a junior. What are your plans after high school?
Are you thinking about going to college?
SNYDER: Yes, I want to go to college. I want to succeed in life. That`s
why we need the schools to stay open.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you feel like you`ve gotten good guidance counselors. Do
you have what you need to take you from junior year to college?
SNYDER: Yes, I have a very good counselor and I would like her to stay
there. The counselors and we really need her, because I`m going to be
filling out college applications next year. I need her help to get
financial aid and things like that, she`s been really helpful to me.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, she could make all the difference for you?
SNYDER: Yes. Daniel, I -- watching the images of the young people like
Sharron, listening to someone like Asean to speak, I just keep thinking --
how is it that the children are leading us on this? How is that they get
it and we don`t?
DANIEL DENVIR, PHILADELPHIA CITY PAPER: Well, it`s a state of permanent
crisis in Philadelphia and other public school systems around the country
that serve disproportionately low income and nonwhite student bodies. And
now, almost every year in Philadelphia, there`s a funding crisis because
the state and federal government refuses to give Philadelphia schools what
they need to succeed.
And that crisis is then used as cover to push unpopular changes like
closing 23 schools. Even though there`s no evidence that that will help
students or even generate the desired savings.
HARRIS-PERRY: This feels to me like these two bizarro faces of this thing
that what we call education reform. So, on the one hand, you will hear
people are pushing, pushing for charter schools, for breaking the backs of
the teacher unions, for, you know, high stakes testing because it`s so
important that young people in poorly resourced schools have these
But then the realities are, they`re just going to close the schools.
They`re going to cut the nurses. How do we reconcile these two sides of
ALLISON KILKENNY, CO-HOST, CITIZEN RADIO: Well, it`s interesting. You
were saying it seems as though the same people who were gnashing their
teeth and saying, "Save the children" during the CTU strike are now the
same people who are saying, well, we can`t close these schools, we have to
rush to the frontlines and support the students and the teachers.
And it`s interesting that those two things are happening at the same time.
But it has been amazing, response to save the schools.
A hundred and twenty-seven people were arrested in March. Just last week,
2,000 people were occupying city hall. So, there`s always been a
resistance to closing the schools and it`s always been a coalition efforts.
It`s interesting considering Chicago is an incredibly gentrified city.
KILKENNY: But that`s not really reflective in the resistance to the
HARRIS-PERRY: Governor, you`ve been both a governor, but also a mayor of a
predominantly inner city in Richmond that had all of the challenges that
come along with it. When I hear the Philly budget story -- it gets labeled
as a budget story -- or the Chicago budget story, what`s the story you can
tell from the mayor perspective and the governor perspective about how you
address this without making these kinds of choices?
WILDER: Well, first of all, we`re delivering education in the same
continuum that we`ve delivered in the last 100 years. We haven`t changed
much, 180-day school year, because we have to let the kids get out early to
help the parents with the farms.
WILDER: What farms?
WILDER: We`ve gone from a society which teaches Greek and Latin in high
school towards now teaching remedial English in college. Now, something in
the middle is failing. So the question is what are we trying to do? Are
we really interested in educational reform? If so, what?
Should we close schools that are unoccupied? Yes. Should we close schools
that haven`t been used? Yes, because you`ve got the maintenance of them.
You`ve got the security factors of them.
But just to close schools to close schools without a plan makes no sense.
KILKENNY: Yes. And I have to say, Chicago has a strange criteria for
what`s considered underutilized.
KILKENNY: It`s the actual definition is 30 or more students have to be in
the classrooms. But what about special needs students?
KILKENNY: You can`t have 30 or more in a classroom. So, it doesn`t make
HARRIS-PERRY: And everywhere else in world, small classrooms are
considered a good thing.
Asean and Shoneice, stay with me, because I want to talk to you when we get
back about not only about the school shootings, but, Asean, also about your
plans when you become mayor and how you`re going to be running the place
when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAREN LEWIS, CHICAGO TEACHERS UNION: We`re going to have a quality of
education that is severely compromised because there will be an increase in
class size. And it won`t just affect those schools; it`s going to have a
domino effect across the system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers
Union, speaking with Chris Hayes on MSNBC`s "ALL IN" this past Friday, and
noting the potential consequences of closing 50 schools in Chicago.
Asean, I want to talk with you because I heard that you are thinking about
eventually running for mayor. How would you have handled this differently?
What are your plans when you become mayor?
JOHNSON: My plans when I become mayor is to take all the Wal-Marts and
stuff, from like the black neighborhoods and the communities because Wal-
Mart doesn`t give back money to public schools.
But I`ll keep some Walgreens because they do. They give back money to
public schools. I`ll keep Walgreens (INAUDIBLE) all the public schools
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t even really know if we can go on, on the TV show at
this point. First of all, you just got a bunch of votes not only here at
the table but on the Twitter feed. I think you may become the next mayor
You know, Shoneice, let me ask you about this. You know, as a parent in
Chicago right now, my sister is a parent of two school age kids at Chicago
right now. And between the teachers strike and this has been feeling like
oh, my goodness, nobody here seems to care about the welfare of the kids in
How do you make a choice for a child as brilliant as Asean? How do you
make the best choices you can for his schooling?
REYNOLDS: I tried -- I put him in private school and I thought that was
the best choice. Being a product of Chicago public schools and working in
the system, I didn`t think that CPS was good enough for my children. So, I
had them in private school. And once I became more involved in the public
school system, I realized that we have some awesome schools, a lot of
And I searched for a school and found Marcus Garvey. Yes, it is my
neighborhood school but it`s more like a magnet school, with the social and
emotional learning and everything. It`s really hard in Chicago, because
all the public schools are not divided up equally.
You have selective enrollment schools where Asean tests 98 percent and 93
percent in reading and math. So, he can go to any school in the city.
Well, about the students who test 70 percent?
REYNOLDS: So, if he can go to any schools in the city, of course he`s
going to Rogers Park or to Lincoln Park, where all the awesome schools are,
because all of those students have high test scores, but I wanted him to
stay in his community because working for CPS, I know that when you pull
all of the high-performing students out of the neighborhood schools, it
makes the school perform lowly.
HARRIS-PERRY: Shoneice, that point is so brilliant. It`s such a tough
choice for parents, Daniel. But I got to say, to hear this mom saying I
need a great school but I also need a great school in my community, right?
Because, you know, for those who don`t know Chicago, when you say Rogers
Park and you say Lincoln Park, you`re talking about vastly predominantly
white communities in that city.
Is this about race? Are these closings and are these cuts about race?
DENVIR: They`re about race and class. Self-described educational
reformers love to talk about American public education being in crisis.
But what we have had and have had for a very long time is a two-tiered
segregated separate and unequal education system, one for just proportional
white, well-to-do suburban districts, and parents that send their kids to
private school, and one for disproportionately low income, black and Latino
And there`s perpetual funding crises in these districts. And those crises,
you know, it was -- are used as an excuse to turn these schools into a
laboratory for these corporate inspired reforms to teachers unions in
Philly right now, they`re demanding $120 million in concessions from
teachers, to pay teachers who are already paid less than their suburban
counterparts even less, and to close 23 schools. You know, if they want to
make schools for disproportionately low income, black and Latino students,
as good as the neighboring, well-to-do white students, those students
aren`t put through the same level kind of laboratory modeled reform.
Give them the funds they need to be taught.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sharron, do you feel as a student, being shuffled around?
Do you feel like this is related to the neighborhood that you`re from and
where you live?
SNYDER: Yes. It`s racism all the way. In Philadelphia, they`re only
closing schools down in North Philly and West Philly. That`s the black
community -- black and Latino community.
They`re not going to the northeast or to the South Philly. They`re trying
to get rid of like all the black and Latinos. And that`s not right.
That`s really not.
HARRIS-PERRY: How does that make you feel about your city and about how
your city feels about you?
SNYDER: My city --
HARRIS-PERRY: Or about your school system and how you feel about it?
SNYDER: They`re based on my education. My color, I`m a smart student and
I want to succeed in life. Just because I`m black doesn`t mean I want to
go to jail or be in a war.
DENVIR: Although our governor, Republican Governor Tom Corbett who cut
$860 million to the state education budget in 2011 is spending hundreds of
millions of new dollars to construct two new prisons in Montgomery County.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, he does in fact have a plan where to put folks. We`re
going to stay on this topic just a bit more. But I have to say goodbye to
Asean and your mother, Shoneice, in Chicago. Let me just say that both of
you are extraordinary.
And, Asean Johnson, we are all rooting for you and we`re watching you and
we`re going to be voting for you someday.
REYNOLDS: Thank you.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
REYNOLDS: Thank you for having us.
Up next, a look at higher education in the forgotten world of community
colleges. Speaking of that growing inequality, a scathing new report
HARRIS-PERRY: When I say the words community college, you probably think
affordable education or a steppingstone to a four-year university.
But a new report just released by The Century Foundation argues American
colleges are becoming separate and unequal, in part because even as
community colleges have increasingly poor, black, and Latino student
bodies, they`re receiving a declining share of the funds the federal
government allocates to higher education.
At community colleges, most students fail to gain even a two-year degree.
And on top of that, according to The Century Foundation report, while 81.4
percent of students entering community college for the first time want to
transfer and earn a bachelor`s degree, only 11.6 percent of them actually
do it within six years.
My panel is back here in the studio, and joining us now from Washington is
Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at The Century Foundation.
Richard, what does this report show at its core in terms of this growing
RICHARD KAHLENBERG, SENIOR FLLOW, THE CENTURY FOUNDATION: Right.
Well, the good news, Melissa, is that more students are going to college
than ever before. But the bad news is that there`s increasing inequality
within the higher education system. So, at the four-year selective
colleges, rich kids outnumber poor kids by about 14 to one. But at
community colleges, the poor student from low-income backgrounds outnumber
the wealthy students by two to one.
So, we have just as you were discussing at the K through 12 level,
increasing segregation, increasing inequality and this is compounded by the
fact that at the community college level, we`re not seeing the resources
devoted. So, at private four-year institutions in the last 10 years,
they`ve seen a $14,000 increase in spending and community colleges, just
So, Allison, I feel like this is the backside of the story we`ve just been
talking about. We`re going to underfund them K through 12, and then send
them to community colleges that aren`t going to serve them well.
KILKENNY: Yes. To me, this is sadly familiar. It`s like the history of
austerity, when the powers that be come down and say, oh, we need these
budget cuts, who did they go after first? And it`s usually after the
communities of color, the elderly, people with special needs.
So, it`s not surprising that this is the result, but this I what we see
everywhere with all of our public services.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Richard, it feels like community colleges might be one
of the ways to get to what President Obama talked about in terms of sort of
more access and yet, the report seems to show that it doesn`t create more
KAHLENBERG: Right. I mean, as you pointed out, you have most, the vast
majority of students wanting to get a four-year degree eventually and 12
percent end up doing so. We`ve been pennywise and pound foolish by
skimping on funding for community colleges. We`ve ended up with a
situation where we have very few counselors for thousands of students.
We have lots of adjunct professors who are not able to develop the same
strong relationship with students as full-time professors.
KAHLENBERG: So, we advocate more funding, but also more integration.
KAHLENBERG: That is -- pathways for low-income students to get to four-
year colleges, but also some attractive programs that will make community
colleges more representative, draw more middle class students, as well as
low income students, as a way of strengthening the institution for
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. This is the point, Richard, that we have already
decided in this society.
We`ve already determined to the Supreme Court, that separate is always
inherently unequal. And so, when we see this separate system generating,
we`ve got to move towards greater equality. Thank you for your research
and for the report out of The Century Foundation.
KAHLENBERG: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Richard in Washington and to my panel.
Governor Wilder, who hung out with me today, and who I will never forget
when he was elected governor of Virginia. Allison Kilkenny, one of my
favorite people and whose husband wants me to say to our friend, Mr.
Johnson, Asean Johnson, hi. Also to Daniel Denvir.
And to Sharron, don`t you give up -- you`re going to college, no matter
what they do in Philly, right? You`re going to college.
Up next, a big change for the Boy Scouts of America.
HARRIS-PERRY: Two decades ago, my husband, James, became the first Eagle
Scout from his troop 185. His troop leader, Gary Winstrip (ph) has
remained a role model, mentor and friend to James to this day. And both of
them believe that all boys should have access to the lessons of character,
honesty, leadership, and preparedness that come from scouting.
Thursday, the Boy Scouts of America from their own commitment to access by
ending the ban on participation by openly gay youth. It is a substantive
but only partial victory because BSA continues to ban gay adults from
serving as leaders.
Those of us who believe in scouting and are also committed to full equality
face a challenge, how do we applaud progress but continue to push for more?
It`s a problem that many have encountered before.
And last month, I had the opportunity to interview civil rights icon Diane
Nash about her leadership of the Nashville sit-ins.
During the protest to integrate the lunch counters there in Tennessee, a
store owner confessed to her that while he would like to integrate, he was
afraid that he`d go out of business because white customers would stop
coming to his counter.
Nash recruited local white allies to eat lunch at his counter daily, after
he lifted the racial ban. And the visible presence of these respectable
white women of the community kept the businesses opened and transformed the
shop owner into a friend of the movement.
Now, Nash`s lesson is an important one because change is often painfully
slow. Let us acknowledge that the Boy Scouts decision to drop the ban on
gay youth will cost them dearly. Some families are going to bar their sons
from participating. Some churches are going to drop their sponsorship.
Some will cease volunteering.
So those of us who believe that the scouts have done the right thing this
week will need to support the scouts, if we are to see them take the final
steps towards full fairness. We need to go sit and eat it at the
proverbial lunch counter to prove how many do support fairness and
This is the time to rally around the scouts and make allies out of former
opponents. So, sign your son up for the local troops, state presidents,
encourage the next step forward. The work is not done but it has begun in
And that is our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m
going to see you next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
And, coming up next is "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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