September 1, 2013
GuestS: Linda Sarsour, Michael Skolnik, Dominic Terney, Mark Quarterman, Benjamin Barbara Lee, Thomas Edsall
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-
We are expecting to hear any moment from a U.N. spokesperson on the
findings of weapons inspectors in Syria. And we are going to bring you
that briefing as soon as it starts.
But first in an unexpected move, President Obama stood in the Rose garden
yesterday afternoon and announced that he will wait to take action against
Syria until Congress has had a chance to debate and vote on the use of
military force. The president says he believes striking the regime is the
right thing to do in response to Bashar Al-Assad`s alleged use of chemical
weapons against his own people. But President Obama wants people`s
representatives in this country, he said, to weigh in first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yet while I believe I have
the authority to carry out this military action without specific
Congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we
take actions and more effective.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And if the Congress chooses to do nothing, President Obama
said that`s on them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I respect for those whose views call for caution, particularly as
our country emerges from a time of war that I was elected in part to end.
But if we really do want to turn away from taking appropriate action in the
face of such an unspeakable outrage, then we must acknowledge the costs of
Here is my question for every member of Congress and every member of the
global community, what message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds
of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Today is September 1st, but the debate is due to begin the
week of September 9th when Congress returns from August recess. The
president`s announcement came after much debate within the White House and
much pressure for members of Congress.
Right now the United Nations is going to report on their Syrian findings.
Let`s go to that live.
MARTIN NESIRKY, SPOKESMAN, UNITED NATIONS: The secretary-general held a
telephone call with Doctor Ake Sellstrom, head of the United Nations
mission to investigate allegations of use of chemical weapons in the Syrian
Arab Republic. Dr. Sellestrom who has just returned to the Hague with the
rest of his expert team after work in Syria from the 19th to the 31st of
August briefed the secretary-general on the next stages of the
All preparations for classifying the samples are progressing well. Sample
will begin to be transferred to laboratories tomorrow. Doctor Sellstrom
told the secretary-general that two Syrian officials were observing the
process. The whole process will be done strictly adhering to the highest
established standards of verification recognized by the organization for
prohibition of chemical weapons.
In light of the horrendous magnitude of the 21 August incident in the
Ghouta area of Damascus, the secretary-general asked Dr Sellstrom to
expedite the Mission`s analysis of the samples and information it had
obtained without jeopardizing the scientific timelines required for
accurate analysis, and to report the results to him as soon as possible.
And they discussed ways to further accelerate the process.
The secretary-general personally thanked Professor Sellstrom for his
undertaking and the performance of the team while in Syria in spite of the
difficult and dangerous circumstances.
And I just wanted to update you a little on the humanitarian picture in
Syria. The U.N. is continuing its critical humanitarian work in Syria
where and when possible as well as in neighboring countries. For example,
the world food program targeted three million people with food aid in
August. And last week, it dispatched 2,000 emergency ready to eat rations
for 10,000 people o in Latakia and Aleppo we`re fighting and spike in
prices led to food shortages. The program sought to feed more than 350,000
people in August.
In the first seven months of the year, the World Health Organization has
coordinated provision of assistance to 3.7 million people in Syria. The
U.N. children`s fund UNICEF has reached more than 180,000 uprooted children
with health support in clinics and also helped more than 10 million people
in Syria access drinking water. And for its part, the U.N. refugee agency
UNFCR and its partner have reached more than 1.5 million people with much
need supplies. And of course, there are many more people outside of Syria
and neighboring countries receiving assistance.
I would also advise you that the secretary-general spoke this morning with
the foreign minister of France, Mr. Fabius, and he will continue to stay in
touch with world leaders in the days to come. Yes?"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Now that the U.S. has -- (INAUDIBLE)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Martin Nesirky at the United Nations on the latest
on the chemical weapons inspections from Syria.
And we are going to go live now to Kristen Welker at the White House to ask
about the decisions leading up to President Obama`s discussion yesterday as
well as what we have just heard from the U.N. -- Kristen.
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Melissa, good morning. Thanks for
having me on.
First to what the U.N. just said. You heard him announce they wanted to
accelerate the time line of getting results from the U.N. inspectors. We
had initially been told it would take two weeks. So, he seems to suggest
that there`s an efforts to get those results earlier than two weeks.
The U.N. findings, of course, have been the topic of a lot of discussion.
The White House making t point that the U.N. is charged with determining
whether or not there was a chemical weapons attack but not necessarily
assigning blame, assigning responsibility to who is behind it. But it
sounds like they are trying to accelerate the process of getting results.
In terms of your second question, Melissa, the decision-making process here
at the White House, we`re learning more about that. Senior administration
officials say that President Obama was sort of internally torn about this
all week. As you know back in 2007 when he was a candidate, he said that
he believed that Congress needed to authorize military action unless the
United States was being directly threatened, so those words sort of
haunting him to some extent. But by all accounts it seemed as though this
White House was moving forward with some type of military strike.
I think what happened, Melissa, is that there was a lot of pressure from
Congress for a vote. We had those polls come out would showed that the
public was sharply divided. But then, what really turned the tide for
President Obama was that vote in the British parliament. America`s closest
ally said they were not going to join the United States in this effort.
So, you had all systems go leading up through that. Even through Friday
when Secretary Kerry came out and made that really compelling forceful case
for military action. We`re told President Obama went for a walk with his
chief of staff Friday night to talk to him about this and that is when he
ultimately decided he wanted to put this to a vote in Congress.
I`m told that when he told his senior advisors at the White House, they
were surprised. A lot were opposed to it, tried to talk him out of it but
his mind was made up at that point. And then Saturday, his advisors got on
board and that is when he came out to the Rose garden and announced it to
everyone. It certainly was a stunning turn of events here at the White
House -- Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, Kristen, let me ask you a question about the
connection between the president`s decision to delay a bit and the U.N.
saying that they want to accelerate their ability to give good, solid,
scientific evidence about the fact there were chemicals weapons that were
used in this circumstance. Could those two things coincide in a way that
might mean that in fact the United States wouldn`t have to go in
unilaterally to make a show of military force if, in fact, the U.N. can
convincingly demonstrate that in fact these weapons were used.
WELKER: They could be linked although it`s hard to see U.N. Security
Council approving any force because Russia has been so adamantly against
it. It is hard to see them changing their position on this. And again,
the U.N. is not going to assign blame. However, I do think you bring up an
important point to let the U.N.`s investigation play out, to let them put
their results forward. I think would only potentially bolster President
So, I think you`re absolutely right, either an important piece of this.
Certainly if the administration had taken action before the U.N. t their
findings on the table, a lot of people would say why not let the U.N.
finish their investigation. So, I think ultimately this could wind up
bolstering the president`s argument. Could they get the U.N. on board?
It`s possible. It is certainly possible. But at this hour still seems
like a long shot -- Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Kristen Welker for your continuing coverage of
this important story.
WELKER: Absolutely. Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Many members of Congress pushed the president to brief
Congress and wait for authorization before taking any action against Syria.
One of those members was Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from
California, and uniquely positioned at this moment because she`s also the
only member of either house to vote against the authorization of the war on
terror after September 11th of 2001.
Congresswoman Lee joins us now live from California.
It is so nice to see you this morning.
REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: Glad to be with you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, tell me first, you wrote a letter dated August 29th
urging President Obama to, in fact, ask Congress, to consult with Congress,
to go through this democratic process writing, we strongly urge you to seek
an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any U.S. military
engagement to this complex crisis.
How did you react to the president`s announcement yesterday?
LEE: Well, Melissa, first let me say, I believe it`s 64 members joined me
with that letter. And I have to say the president did the right thing. He
really understands it`s very important, and we been recognized -- he
already said he was going to use military force. But it`s still important
that Congress engage in a debate. We have to look at what the
ramifications of a military force -- military strike, excuse me, will be.
We have to really understand and Secretary Kerry said it very well that
there`s no real military solution and we have to get to a negotiated
And so, I`m so pleased that the president is going to wait for this debate,
because the public needs to understand what the unintended consequences
could be and really a little bit more about what could take place as a
result of a military strike.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, you talk about here a robust debate. And certainly,
American audiences had an opportunity to see British parliament in that
kind of debate this week. But honestly, the 113th Congress has not been so
good on robust substantive debate, it has been so partisan.
How do you see this debate going? Will it be substantive, about the issues
or this is going to be, once again, about an obstruction relative to the
LEE: Melissa, this is a very grave moment. So many people have been
killed through the use of chemical weapons which we all must condemn. The
world should never allow this to happen. These are crimes against
I believe this is going to be a very strong bipartisan debate, because
there are Republicans and Democrats who believed that the president should
come to Congress before issuing this authorization to use force. And so, I
think members of Congress really know the gravity of the moment and know
that there is a possibility that this could lead to more regional conflict.
It could lead to more use of chemical weapons. And we have to really make
sure the American public understands what is taking place.
So yes, Congress has not been very productive in terms of debating much, in
terms of passing legislation. I mean, we can`t even get a jobs bill
passed, all the tea party Republicans are trying to do is defund the
affordable care act.
This is a moment, however, where Democrats and Republicans must come
together and really make some decisions as to how to move forward.
The use of force is very serious. And you know, many members will vote for
it. Many members will vote against it. But what`s important is we have
this debate and move forward. And the country should be, you know, very --
I think polling has shown over the last few days the public wants this
debate. We are the representatives of the people and people deserve to
have their voice heard.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let met briefly ask you about the question of history. I do
believe that you undoubtedly put yourself in the history books when you
made that stand September -- about the force in September 11th, 2001.
Has the president made history for good or ill here, despite the fact that
he is the president making a decision to share powers on this question of
military force rather than to simply go forward? I know there`s been a lot
of debate especially from the left about consolidation of military power in
one portion of the government. Is this a turning point in how we make
LEE: I think that the president really, as he said, this is a democracy
and in a democracy the voice of the American people deserves and must be
When I voted against the blank check, which is what it was, Melissa, in
2001, this was a resolution that allowed for an open-ended war. That
resolution has been used over 30 times. It is now being used to justify
the use of drones, which I totally oppose. And so, we have to be very
careful with regard to any type of use of force resolution. And in fact,
that the Congress must make sure it`s very tight, this is very narrow, this
is exactly what the administration wants and that it does not lead to any
more warfare and anymore violence and use of chemical weapons.
The resolution I voted against, and it was a tough vote, Melissa. But that
resolution, unfortunately, will be in play until we repeal it. And now,
I`m working to try to repeal it. But just know that we cannot allow any
president, any administration to continue to use force without coming to
Congress. And so, I`m very pleased and proud that the president is doing
exactly what he said he was going to do and that is come to Congress for
HARRIS-PERRY: Congresswoman Barbara Lee, thank you for joining us,
especially because it`s so early on the west coast.
LEE: Thank you, Melissa. So glad to talk with you today.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next more on the president`s big gamble, politically
genius or political dangerous?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I`m ready to act in the face of this outrage. Today I`m asking
Congress to send a message to the world that we`re ready to move forward
together as one nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: President Obama putting Syrian ball squarely in Congress`s
Joining me to say whether this was a brilliant political move or disaster
waiting to happen is Karen Finney, host of "the Disrupt" on MSNBC and a
former spokesperson for Democratic National Committee. Dominic Terney,
associate professor of political science and author of "how we fight
crusades, quagmires and the American way of war." Rula Jebreal who is, by
the way, a newlywed and also an MSNBC contributor and foreign policy
analyst for "Newsweek" and Mark Quarterman, research director at the Enough
Project, a project the works to end genocide in crimes against humanity.
So, I want to start with you, Karen. You know, I was watching in the
airport as the president stood in the Rose garden. And might, you know, I
did what I shouldn`t do, just like tweeted my first reaction which is
domestically, it`s politically genius. I want to talk about whether that
make sense on the international stage. But simply domestically, is this
the right move the president made in terms of saying OK, I`m not acting
alone, I`m going to give this to Congress?
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC HOST, DISRUPT: I think it is because remember, we have
been talking about sort of the ghost of Iraq but also the ghost of Libya.
Remember of them? Now, a lot of members of Congress were very upset about
the way the White House proceeded on Libya. So, I think he certainly
bought himself some credibility with members of Congress because now they
can`t say they didn`t have an opportunity to engage.
I think politically where the challenge may come is, he still has a very
aggressive agenda this fall. If there are going to be people who are going
to have to take tough votes in order to get this resolution passed, who
then may not be able to take a second or third tough vote on some of the
other thing, on the president`s agenda. So, it does sort of shift with the
ground a little bit.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, the president found himself like in a box here. He
said earlier, no unilateral action. And then, he said we have a red line
on chemical weapons, right? There`s all these sort of multiple positions
that the president reasonably over the years has taken. So, when you hear
Peter King or read the statement of Congressman Peter King saying President
Obama is abdicating his responsibilities as commander in-chief, undermining
the authority of future presidents and the president doesn`t need 535
members of Congress to enforce his own red line. Like suddenly you feel
the box that the president find himself in here.
DOMINIC TERNEY, POLITICAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR: Absolutely. The
president has taken a gamble here, perhaps, the biggest gamble of his
presidency so far. The upside is that he could share responsibility for
what could be a difficult and unpopular campaign with Congress. And that
could pay potentially a long-term dividend. But the risk e could lose this
vote. If they tried to take a vote today, obviously they can`t, but if
they tried to it`s not clear it would pass the House. The Democrats are
wary because of Iraq and so on and House Republicans are pretty opposed on
So, this is huge gamble that he is taking at. I think he`s taking it
principally in large part because of British parliament`s decision.
HARRIS-PERRY: Would he strike if Congress says no, now that he put himself
TERNEY: Well, that`s the nightmare scenario for Obama, right? Because if
that would help, he`s faced with the stock choice of losing his personal
credibility or violating the will of Congress. And I can only hope he`s
gone down this path pretty confident he will get Congress` support.
HARRIS-PERRY: And look, on the one hand, we are talking here about his
personal credibility, we are talking about his politics.
But Mark, between now and the 9th when discussions will even begin in the
U.S. Congress, there is a question about whether or not Assad is now been
empowered to continue these sorts of strikes against human beings, against
women and children and men and the elderly in his own nation.
MARK QUARTERMAN, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, ENOUGH PROJECT: But I suppose the
other side of that is whether or not Assad would have been deterred if an
attack occurred tomorrow or the next day or the next day. I mean, I`m
wondering whether the nine days really makes that big a difference.
Really, that the question I have, and this is a broader question if we want
to talk about the strikes in general, whether they will be deterrence to a
regime that is entirely in survival mode and what the strikes are meant to
be. Is it meant to be punishment for using chemical weapons? Is it meant
to be a deterrent against future use of chemical weapons?
One of the reasons I`m looking forward to a debate is because we need to
have this discussion in the United States. Instead of more general
discussions about how this is a humanitarian response or we Americans in
the United States can`t allow people to use chemical weapons and a
willingness to break international law to enforce international law.
HARRIS-PERRY: So for me, it`s this exact key point, is this question. It
feels to me like the president slowing it down, backing up a bit, is in
sense that perhaps simply a spanking set of bombings, right? Simply you`re
not allowed to do this so we`re going to have strikes, if not all he thinks
this will be. And that a longer term engagement is going to require that
from the beginning he had Congressional approval. Is this in part about
the president rightly or wrongly believing that strikes against Assad will
ultimately lead to a longer term engagement in Syria?
RULA JEBREAL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think this is the assessment from the
beginning. That`s why he didn`t want to engage for the last two years. He
knew that once you break it, you have to own it. Syria is a very -- it`s
highly sectarian place. There are the civil war, but it is a proxy war.
The real war is between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
We have partners and allies in the region, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and
Israel. And they have been pushing the United States. I think by waiting
he pushed all of them, including the free Syrian army to be engaged more in
the game and actually to bring out their real agenda. The Saudis and the
Qataris, they want more Sunni supremacy. And I think this is an opposition
of the United States` vision which is a democratic Syria and more inclusive
The experiment failed in Egypt, in Iraq, and elsewhere because of this
point. It was a more democratic and more inconclusive system. And I think
President Obama is aware of that. That`s why he needs the nation to step
in with them. And I think the Libyan episode will help us because we
didn`t lead, we led with a coalition of people. That`s why we succeed to a
And I think to share responsibility is the right course. It`s actually
teaching the rest of the world -- the democracy of the rest of the world
that the president alone doesn`t decide on this issue. He needs national
approval and Congressional approval.
HARRIS-PERRY: When comeback, I want to follow up, and also your point,
mark, about what the use of chemical weapons might mean about this
integration of the Assad regime, what the very use of them signals about
the sovereignty of that state?
So, up next more on the credibility issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Make no mistake, this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If
we won`t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does
it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flaunt international
rules, to governments who would choose build nuclear arms, to terrorists
who spread biological weapons, to armies who carry out genocide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: President Obama reemphasizing his case that U.S. credibility
is on the line in Syria. But, is it enough to persuade Congress and the
American people to support military action?
Look, political science 101, what makes a state a state, the monopoly on
the legitimate use of violence, force and coercion. When I see chemical
weapons in play, I think, OK, has the state lost its monopoly on the
legitimate use of violence, force and coercion? Now, it is using
illegitimate means. And now, is the president, in this moment, saying in
order to maintain our monopoly on legitimacy we`re going to make sure this
goes through a democratic process.
FINNEY: Wasn`t there some suggestion perhaps the Iranians sort of pushed
the use of chemical weapons just to kind of, you know, test the waters a
little bit and see how far the U.S. would go. Because as we were just
talking about, there are, you know, over 1400 people killed by chemical
weapons but over 100,000 by other methods. And yet, and we were kind
standing by. And they used chemical weapons earlier in the year and we
said when it`s systematic use. That`s when we were really.
So, I think part of the question we have to ask here is not just obviously
it`s a proxy war, so it is not just about Syria anymore. And now that you
have all of these other forces, Hezbollah, you have got Iran, you have got,
you know, the Saudis, everybody has kind of got their piece and everybody
is fighting for a piece of what the outcome will be, I think that`s the new
landscape that we are dealing with.
We are no longer dealing with a situation where, I mean, long time ago it
was about jobs and freedom and democracy.
JEBREAL: That`s why -- I mean, I was in Syria a year ago, June last year.
And it was deadliest month ever, 700 people killed in one month. And I
remember, there was no president of the state. I mean, it`s a failed state
Syria. So, the question is today, also, who is in control of these sites?
Obviously, from interception of phone calls, Assad regime is still in
control. But we know that there are 10,000 Jihadists are inside.
I mean, if it`s a failed state, and there is, we have all kind of dynamics
going on proxy war, and a civil war, and we have Iranian fighters, and we
have the Saudi fighters, we have Hezbollah engaged, who is in control of
these weapons -- chemical weapons and who eventually they listen to, I what
agenda there following.
Today, more than ever, we have rally -- I was against intervention in
Syria. But today, more than ever, we need to step in because it`s spilling
all over the place. And I think we need to -- agenda number one, is to
contain violence and help Syria on both sides. And I think President Obama
taking time is pushing both sides. The free Syrian army who has being
disengaged from any kind of democratic agenda or process. They have been,
you know, we have seen soldiers eating hearts and other things and the
regime who is slaughtering their own people.
We will push winning pause both sides to come together for a political
settlement because the end of this conflict has to be around a table, a
negotiating political settlement.
QUARTERMAN: This is one of the reasons talking about chemical weapons is
so much easier than talking about humanitarian intervention, influencing
the outcome of the civil war. You can say there`s international law, yes,
100,000 people versus 1,400 people, but you have got the use of chemical
weapons and this something to point to and the possibility of just
punishing, and so showing you`re doing something without actually trying to
get involved in this extremely difficult complicated civil war, proxy war,
with so many different actors.
So, I think that`s another reason, you don`t hear the administration,
either Secretary Kerry or President Obama talking about trying regime
change or trying to intervene with civil war.
HARRIS-PERRY: Regime change.
FINNEY: But it`s the elephant in the room, so to speak. Because I think
we all recognize that, less say we go ahead with strikes, and there have
been three days, and OK, we have taken out targets, then what? If there`s
not regime change, have we really done anything to change the lives of
people? Have we really done anything t change the dynamics (INAUDIBLE).
HARRIS-PERRY: We will have just said if you use chemical weapons, then
someone in the international community will hold you accountable for it.
FINNEY: And that is a discreet piece that you can go to Congress and say,
this is what I`m asking for. We don`t have to talk about the end game.
You know, Kerry on Friday was very careful to focus on the evidence, the
proof, the belief in the evidence to make his case not about the end game.
HARRIS-PERRY: Dominic, I`ll let you in when we comeback.
Karen Finney from "the Disrupt" who, of course, will have her show
"Disrupt" later on this afternoon. 4:00 p.m. eastern right here on MSNBC.
And up next, we will continue on this conversation. But we will ask, does
the president`s change in plans change the military`s plans?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Our military positioned assets in the region. The chairman of the
joint chiefs informed me we are prepared to strike whenever we choose.
Moreover, the chairman indicated to me that our capacity to execute this
mission is not time sensitive. It will be effective tomorrow or next week
or one month from now and I`m prepared to give that order.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The president there is laying out a particular claim about
the time line. I will let you know that Joy Reid joined our panel. She is
the managing editor of thegrio.com and MSNBC contributor and a Nerdland
second in charge around here.
But, I want to ask you, Dominic, is that right? Is that it doesn`t matter
whether it happens today, this evening, or after Congressional
authorization in terms of its effectiveness?
TERNEY: Right. Because I actually doubt it will be very effective whether
it happen now or in two weeks time to be honest with you. This is a war
for credibility, America`s credibility, Obama`s personal credibility, the
Democratic Party`s credibility, at least that`s how it`s set up.
The question I have is what is the strategy, right? What is the idea
behind or about how we are going to use ends or means whether to achieve
our ends? How are we going to get Assad, for example, to negotiate? Is
this really going to stop Assad from killing civilians or will he simply
stop killing civilians using chemical weapons and start going back to the
tried and tested conventional weapons by which he killed many tens of
thousands. So, what is the strategy here? That is the piece that seems to
HARRIS-PERRY: Joy, when you listened yesterday did you walk away feeling
that we had become stronger on the international scene or weaker as a
result of the president`s position here?
JOY-ANN REID, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, I mean, it`s kind of hard
to say actually. Because on the one hand, when David Cameron got sort of
smacked down by his own parliament, it sort of brushed back the United
States and it put the president in an awkward position. Because if he
didn`t been go to his own Congress, it would make it look like sort of
But then, there`s a chance at the same thing could happen to him and it
makes him looks how United States is hamstrung. The whole world knows how
toxic and horrible our politics are. And it become hostage to the House of
Representatives just sort of distaste for anything Barack Obama wants to do
and it gets mired in that kind of politics, it doesn`t look good.
On the other hand, though, I think it`s a pretty savvy political move
domestically. Because it definitely put the Republicans, particularly, in
the House and Senate on notice that you`re going to have to put your arms
around this, too. The president isn`t jumping off this cliff alone. And
it`s shared sort of political responsibility that I think if he wins the
vote, and he probably will, will actually make the president look stronger,
I think both at home and abroad.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mark, we were listening something earlier that I thought was
interesting in terms of this, which is the idea that this, whatever it is,
bad or good in terms of what happens here in the U.S. and for this
president is a demonstration of the messiness and the reality of democracy
for all these emerging democracies around the world. But even as we are
sort of still imaging ourselves as the city on the hill, in terms of the
youth of our republic, to say, look, you know what, my ego may be whatever
it is, my credibility may be whatever it is, but I`m going to pause because
it`s a process.
QUARTERMAN: And also, I may have the biggest army in the world bar none,
everyone else added up together, but I`m not going to send my cruise
missiles without following the process.
But even backing it up before that, this is a situation the president was
in. No Security Council backing for this action. The fail-safe in the
U.N., it wasn`t fail-safe the general assembly the Security Council
connect, no assembly backing.
So, you are already in the left, outside international law for one thing.
But you are already back in the usual U.S. position of unilateral
intervention, slightly bilateral with couple of states supporting you.
Then Britain backs away and doesn`t act. And the U.S. in the position of
completely unilateral under international law illegal action.
Now, it helps on the domestic front and probably internationally people see
that the U.S. is going to follow rule of law, follow steps. But we are
still talking about unilateral interaction that`s outside of international
JEBREAL: Listen. The world George W. Bush very well which he said, no
tyrants, no dictators will come after you and we will change the shape of
the Middle East, which we didn`t manage to do, actually we failed in this
I think what President Obama is teaching the rest of the world, look,
democracy is messy. But there is a process that we have to follow because
this is -- and he is pushing actually our allies to step up with us.
The Israelis who are on the borders and say, you know, Israel have to take
out here -- U.S. have to help us take out Iran or have to take Iran on our
behalf. He is actually looking at them saying, you know what, we are in
this together. Come with me if you want to join me in this incredible
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m feeling bad for the French today. Poor old Lon is like
we`re not going by ourselves.
JEBREAL: I think we should wait for the U.N. . They U.N. is coming out
and this will be a game change.
HARRIS-PERRY: We will know something at that point.
Dominic Terney and Rula Jebreal who is again, a brand-new newlywed, also to
Mark Quarterman, thanks so much for being here.
Up next, of the tension in Syria is already taking a toll right here at
HARRIS-PERRY: No matter what the U.S. does next in Syria, tensions between
the two countries are already having impact right here at home.
As secretary of state John Kerry was making the case for military action,
stocks fell 31 points Friday giving the Dow a loss of 4.5 percent for the
month of August. The Dow`s worst month since May 2012.
And if you`re planning to hit the roads this Labor Day weekend, expect
slightly higher prices at the pump. According to AAA, the national average
for a gallon of regular unleaded is just over $3.58. That`s five cents
higher than a week ago. And oil and gas prices could increase further if
there`s a U.S. attack on Syria.
Here in New York, in addition to sending extra officers to Synagogue and
other potential targets during the Jewish holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom
Kippur next week, the NYPD says they will take measures to step up security
if and when the U.S. takes military action against Syria.
But the NYPD is taking a different approach to some other houses of worship
in this city.
That story is up next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Less than three weeks after a federal judge declared New
York`s Stop-and-Frisk program unconstitutional, the New York police
department and commissioner Ray Kelly are once again under fire for the way
they treat members of the minority community.
According to report in "New York" magazine, this week after 9/11 policy
Kelly put in place pushed deeply into the private lives of New Yorkers
surveilling Muslims in their mosques, their sporting fields, their
businesses, their social clubs, even their home in a way not seen in
America since FBI and CIA monitored anti-war activists during the Nixon
The Americans Civil Liberty Union, ACLU, in conjunction with other groups
sued the NYPD in June over these policies. And the revelations about the
NYPD`s spying operations are in document recently obtained by the
"Associated Press" and a part of an upcoming book.
The AP also reports that the NYPD has secretly labeled entire mosques as
terrorism organizations, something that lets them spy on religious leaders,
record services and all without any evidence of criminality.
For his part, Kelly denied the report on Wednesday`s appearance on MSNBC`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAY KELLY, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT: Yes, I haven`t seen
the story but they are hyping a book coming out next week. If it`s a
reflection of the article, the book will be a fair amount of fiction, it
will be half truths, it will be lots of quotes from unnamed sources. And
our sin is to have the temerity, the chutzpah to go into the federal
government territory of counter-terrorism and try to protect this city by
supplementing what the federal government has done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: With me again is MSNBC contributor, Joy Reid. And joining
us our attorney and "USA Today" columnist, Raul Reyes, "Global Grind"
editor-in-chief Michael Skolnik and Linda Sarsour, who is director of the
Arab-American association of New York.
Linda, I want to start with you. How do you respond to Ray Kelly saying
it`s going to be full of half truths and fiction and this sort of thing?
LINDA SARSOUR, DIRECTOR, ARAB AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK: The AP`s
reporting based on documents that were created by the New York Police
department. They are NYPD`s secret documents. That was organizations like
mine. Social service, air of American secular organizations as terrorism
So, what he`s saying basically is that a person like me, a mom, some born
and raised in Brooklyn, someone who had dedicate herself to nonprofit, as
someone running a terrorist enterprise as if we`re harboring terrorism in
So, I want to tell fellow Americans this is not fiction. This is real live
facts. This is what we live everyday in American Muslim community are,
where we pray, where we eat, where we study. Everything is under
surveillance by the New York police department solely based on our faith
and no criminal suspicion.
HARRIS-PERRY: And obviously, there`s been a ton of sort of response in the
American public, the NSA to the Edward Snowden case, and this idea of
Americans under surveillance. The question is whether or not I can look at
you and see you as an American that I can perceive those who are my fellow
Americans, who are Muslim as also existing under something we know now has
been going on for more than a decade.
SARSOUR: My son was born in 1999, my daughter in 2000 and 2004, kids who
only lived in a post 9/11 America. Someone come tell my 14-year-old child
why their mother is in a newspaper, why their mother has been designated a
terrorist by our owned government. My children only understand they are
Americans. They think that they are like every child in their classroom.
And it really hurts me to see that there was this big, you know, twitter
thing about NSA. And it was like wait a minute, this has been happening.
Is it OK when it`s happening to American Muslim community but then, it is
not OK when it is happening for everything?
And just to make the point that the NSA surveillance, that`s one thing,
what`s happening to us is a whole other situation. The NYPD wanted to
infiltrate board of directors of my organization. Imagine working in an
organization or corporation where you don`t know who you are working with,
you don`t know who works for you. You can`t trust the people you work
with, the people that you pray with in the mosque.
People have understand it`s psychological warfare for a community who
already feels marginalized and ostracized. And the NYPD should see us as
partners. We are not suspects. But if you are putting out entire tree
under suspect, how are you going to get information that you need when
there are potentially extremists and others in every community.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Actually, I don`t even have to imagine it, right? In
that, there`s a whole history of this behavior, primarily, against civil
rights and anti-war organizations and the infiltration of those
organization by -- and that point about psychological warfare is clearly
part of what happened in the 1960s and `70s.
REID: Right. And it`s so ironic that the people who were up in arms about
the NSA situation were sort of likening that to co-and-tell pro. But we
have had actually profiling and infiltrations in this case going back even
to during the top of the Iraq war where you had federal government
infiltrating, even peace organizations, grandmas who were knitting like
peace sweaters, were having people infiltrate the group.
So, we have this happened on specific level. And the huge irony to me,
comparing this to NSA, we have Stop-and-Frisk which was targeting a
community based on the way they look and saying that you are a minority,
Black or Hispanic young man. We are going, you know, section you off and
we are going to target you. In the case of the American-Muslim community
again, same entity, the NYPD saying that we are going to look just at you.
But in NSA, it was sort of throwing everyone into a big database,
completely outraged about that indiscriminate use of data, but when it
comes to specific communities, whether it is Black and Brown folks or
Muslim, everybody says, you know, we are cool with that.
RAUL REYES, NBC LATINO: That`s the most troubling aspect of this whole
story with the NYPD because we have to clear, this is not an issue or
subject about Muslim-Americans. This is something that involves, you know,
they place an entire community under scrutiny because of their religious
beliefs. This is a case about our own civil rights, of all Americans, of
all citizens. There is a violation here of the equal protection clause,
that`s what`s so deeply troubling, that they even use this as basis for the
program and went and specifically targeted this entire community.
Religious profiling, isn`t that cool.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it is not unlike the profiling we have seen with the
paper "Please Laws" occurring to southwest and other places. So we, you
know, whether it is Stop-and-Frisk, whether it is over against American-
Muslim community, whether it is a paper "Please Laws" all saying, I am
going to determine because of your participation, your identity that, in
fact, you deserve an extra level of surveillance.
MICHAEL SKOLNIK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, GLOBAL GRIND: Right. I think everyone
is cool with that. I understand that White people, right, talking about
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. You said that, not me.
SKOLNIK: We`re the ones not being targeted, right? So, it was White
Americans. We have Black American, We have Latinos in this country, we
have women being targeted, right? We`re the ones who are not being
And in the spirit of King, having been at the march this past weekend, when
King talked in `63 that white freedom is inextricably bound to black
freedom. We have looked the same thing as Muslim-Americans. I am not free
if your community is being targeted in this country as an America. So, as
white people in this country, we can`t stand for this either.
If our fellow American is targeted because of the color of their skin or
religious background, we have to stand up, too, and say this is wrong.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is wrong, Linda. And we will be following what is
happening next and we hope you will have an opportunity to come back to the
Again, thank you.
And particularly, let me just say as we come up on this September 11th
anniversary, we know this becomes a time where it`s particularly heightened
in the city and around the country.
Linda Sarsour, thanks so much for being here.
Coming up next, Dr. King`s dream and what it means when a Black president
is in the White House.
Also, could the GOP paint the White House red in the next election?
More Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY.
Twenty-four hours ago, a U.S. military bombardment of Syria seemed you all
but certain. There are strong words from president and secretary of state.
United Nations pulled weapons inspectors out early. United States had five
guided missile destroyers in position in the eastern Mediterranean, each
armed with up to 50 tomahawk cruise missiles. Fort what a difference a day
makes completely unexpectedly.
President Obama announced yesterday afternoon that while he wants to attack
Syria he won`t, not without first getting the authorization to do so from
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I have decided the United States should take military action against
Syrian targets. I will seek authorization for the use of force from the
American people`s representatives in Congress.
We all know there`s no easy options, but I wasn`t elected to avoid hard
decisions, and neither were House and the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: House Speaker John Boehner says he expects the house to
consider a measure whether to authorize military action in Syria the week
of September 9th when they return from their summer recess.
But as Secretary of State Kerry implied this morning on "Meet the Press,"
the president believes he can still authorize strikes even if Congress says
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)]
DAVID GREGORY, "MEET THE PRESS" MODERATOR: If Congress says no, the
president will act regardless of what Congress says?
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I said the president has the authority to
act, but the Congress is going to do what`s right here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining us now from the White House with details of the
president`s decision to seek congressional authorization is NBC News
correspondent Kristen Welker.
Kristen, nice to have you.
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Melissa. Thanks for
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me play something that Secretary of State Kerry said
on "Meet the Press" this morning about the proof the U.S. it has against
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: In the last 24 hours, we have learned through samples that were
provided to the United States that have now been tested from first
responders in East Damascus and hair samples and blood samples have tested
positive for signatures of sarin.
So, this case is building and this case will build.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So with this case building, as the secretary of state said
there, can Congress reasonably say no?
WELKER: Well, they can say no but I do think you`re right to make that
point, Melissa. There is a lot of pressure right now on Congress in part
because they were asking for vote. A number of members, dozens of them,
signing a letter, urging President Obama to put this matter to a vote.
What is interesting you`re seeing divisions in Congress. You have hawkish
Republicans like John McCain urging President Obama to take action
signaling that they`re not so sure how they`re going to vote on this
measure at this point in time. In part, McCain would argue, because he
wants stronger action. He would like to see Assad taken out all together.
Then, when you look at the House, you have members who are isolationists,
that say United States shouldn`t get engaged in the Middle East. It`s not
going to be easy to get this through Congress. But we`re already seeing is
the White House continuing to build its case and put pressure on Congress,
and we know there`s a classified briefing on Capitol Hill today with
members of the House.
This is part of the White House you got pressure on them to pass this
resolution once it is put before them. I anticipate, Melissa, looking
forward, that you`re going to see meetings at the White House, between the
White House and Capitol Hill. All week long there`s going to be a flurry
of activity as the administration tries to get the measure passed.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s certainly strategy. When we heard secretary
of state speaking in a surprisingly forceful way before the president spoke
about the absolute need to move on this. And he continues to speak in that
tone, suggesting to me, at least, that the administration wants to continue
to make this case and make it directly to the American people, even as it
is asking congress to authorize the action.
WELKER: You`re right. They need to keep making the case to the American
people, because if you look at the polls, Americans are sharply divided.
Our latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll showed 50 percent of
Americans are opposed to military action toward Syria. However, if you ask
people specifically about a limited military strike, then 50 percent of
people say they can back that.
Look, this is a political gamble for President Obama because if Congress
votes no, then what? Secretary Kerry indicating the president would have
the legal means potentially to move forward with a strike against Syria.
However, how does that happen? How would President Obama actually make
that happen. It would get politically a lot more difficult.
So, they are going to do everything possible to get a yes vote in Congress
when this is officially taken up the week of September 9th, which is when
all of Congress returns from recess. But we do know there are going to be
some hearings on the Hill this week to begin the process of debate and
deliberation -- Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: This story is in so many ways just a beginning. Kristen
Welker, at the White House this morning, thank you so much for joining us
WELKER: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And joining me now is NBC News correspondent Jim Maceda live
from near the Turkish border with Syria.
Jim, what has been the reaction to the president`s decision there on the
ground in Syria?
JIM MACEDA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Melissa. Well, it really depends
on which side of the front lines you find yourself on. The official
opposition, that is Syrian national coalition, said today it was deeply
disappointed in what it described as President Obama`s flip flopping
really, his indecision.
But to pick up on what Kristen was saying, it believes that the U.S.
Congress may well authorize military action, that there is a strong chance
and that the Syrian opposition in Washington today is in fact on the phone,
calling Congress to do just that.
On the other hand, there`s almost gloating on the part of the Assad regime
today. One of its state run dailies called Obama`s sudden backing off a
start of, quote, "start of the historic American retreat." We`re talking
about philosophical terms now. And it`s a sign, they said, of his defeat
But for ordinary Syrians, Melissa, it means more fear, more worry, not
knowing when an attack will happen or even if it will happen.
HARRIS-PERRY: Indeed, I feel we have to be very careful assuming that
Assad`s rhetoric is representative of his own position much less a
representation of the reality on the ground there. And yet, is it possible
the delay gives Assad time and the regime time to move their weapons, to
hide them, to make choices that will make our ultimate intervention, if we,
in fact, do decide to intervene, more difficult?
MACEDA: Well, that`s absolutely true. I mean, what are we talking about,
putting off an attack or Obama putting off an attack for 10 days, perhaps
two weeks. Of course that will give Bashar al-Assad ample time to hide his
tanks, to hide his heavy weapons. There`s already reports from Damascus,
residents who are seeing soldiers and equipment that had been moved into
their own residential areas, that are moving and dispersing next to their
homes, even inside their schools.
It also gives the regime time to hide its chemical weapons if, in fact,
they become a target. And you haven`t mentioned the telegraphing of this
operation. But for me, somebody who has covered conflict for I hate to say
going on 40 years, I`ve never seen anything like this.
It`s as if a manual attached to each and every warning from Secretary
Kerry, from the president of the United States, read these instructions,
here is how you can minimize damage if you follow these instructions. So,
it really is unprecedented.
Back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is, in fact, a new moment in how we are engaging with
MACEDA: I think the it is a new moment, unprecedented way. Again, of
course, we know President Obama is stuck between a rock and a hard place, I
hate to use that cliche.
HARRIS-PERRY: I know, I know, that was the --
MACEDA: There`s got to be another way to say it, but he has to send out
two conflicting messages. On the one hand, he`s telling Assad -- you are
going to be punished. It`s going to happen inevitably. But on the other
hand, he`s saying, we`re not going to hurt you too much. We`re not going
to decapitate you. We`re certainly not going to bring down your regime
because we do not know what evil will come in your place.
So it`s very hard to square those two circles or circle those two squares
and that`s where we are today.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jim Maceda near the Turkish border of Syria -- I appreciate
your frankness in responding there.
MACEDA: Sure. My pleasure.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right there because up next we`re going to switch gears
quite a bit. We`re going to talk about another big speech by President
Obama this week. The speech he gave at the anniversary of the march on
HARRIS-PERRY: Wednesday on the anniversary of the march on Washington,
President Obama stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on this
engraving that marks the very same spot where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
stood 50 years ago.
The president`s view this week was very much the same, as the one that
unfolded before Dr. King in 1963. A crowd of people gathered around the
reflecting pool, listening to words that resounded across the National Mall
and throughout history. "I Have a Dream".
When President Obama took King`s place this week, he paid homage not only
to King`s dream but to the tireless efforts that brought this dream to
fruition in the form of landmark civil rights policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Because they kept heart, America changed. Because they marched,
the civil rights law was passed. Because they marched a voting rights law
was signed. Because they marched doors of opportunity and education swing
open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for
themselves beyond washing somebody else`s laundry or shining somebody
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yet, in a moment of syncope (ph), even as the president
looked back at the successes of the civil rights movement, he also
recognized the work today that still remains unfinished.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: To secure the gains this country has made requires constant
vigilance, not complacency, whether by challenging those who erect new
barriers to the vote, or ensuring that scales of justice work equally for
all in the criminal justice system and not simply a pipeline for from
underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, it requires vigilance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The president linked that impending future with that
historic positioned himself right in the middle, as the living embodiment
of what can be accomplished through the struggle for equality.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Because they march city councils changed and state legislature
changed, Congress changed, and yes, eventually the White House changed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So here is the trick, listening to President Obama`s words
accompanied by that visual image of him standing literally in Dr. King`s
place, it`s easy to see the president as the inheritor of King`s legacy.
But pause. Take a look at this photo. This was taken March 18th, 1966,
when Dr. King met with President Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House. By
this point, Dr. King was the Southern Leadership Conference chairman and
they had turned their attentions toward a fair housing campaign in Chicago.
And President Johnson is trying unsuccessfully to push Congress to pass
legislation banning discrimination in housing. When you think about
President Obama as the successor to one of the men in this picture? Where
would you seat him? Careful.
With the image of the president standing on the steps of the Lincoln
memorial, still fresh in your mind, you might be tempted to put him in
King`s position. But you`d be wrong. Or at least only partly right,
because if you look only at the optics, you`re missing the picture.
In the photo, one man is the visitor, another man is at home. One of these
men is pushing for housing reform from outside the White House walls. The
other is vested in the power of the state to implement those reforms into
President Obama is not Dr. King, he`s President Johnson. President Obama,
like LBJ, is the inheritor, the executive office, only 44 Americans have
And yet even as you draw a direct line linking Presidents Obama and Johnson
in the presidential lineage, it`s hard to imagine the existence of a
President Obama without the life and work of a Martin Luther King which
leaves us with a complicated moment at this historical moment, what is our
expectation of the presidency when the person has occupies the White House
Joining me now: Joy Reid, managing editor of TheGrio.com and MSNBC
contributor; Raul Reyes, contributor for NBC Latino and a columnist for
"USA Today"; Michael Skolnik, editor in chief of GlobalGrind.com. He`s a
white guy at the table. He`s also political director for Russell Simmons.
And Adam Serwer, who`s reporter for MSNBC.com. He is a black guy at the
Looks like (INAUDIBLE) with us, folks, right?
OK. So, we`re getting so -- I`m teasing there. But I`m teasing in part
because my whole goal here is to complicate race and politics a little bit.
There can be a push from supporters of the president to see every piece of
opposition to him as naked racism that -- also for supporters of the
president to see everything he does as necessarily in the civil rights
How do we navigate the complicated nature of race in this space?
REID: And it`s amazing, because King never sought elected office, clearly.
I mean, in 1964, a year after this march, which we have to remember, it was
a commentary to Congress. Every single member of Congress was invited,
`63, and they were this year, we should remind.
And they were invited to spectate, not to speak. They were invited because
there was a bill President Kennedy introduced, took a year to pass. It was
going nowhere. He 75 members of House and Senate show up in 1963, they
politely listened and nothing happened.
And that was -- that march was a commentary on power. President Kennedy
was not invited to speak. They met with him after. They all went in to
his office after. He commended them on their speeches. But they were
there to support legislation and to get these 10 demands through Congress.
REID: This year, what you had were three presidents, the daughters of two
presidents, including Johnson and Kennedy on stage talking to the audience
and saying to them essentially that you have to go out and re-agitate again
the same Congress of the United States.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And, in fact, lets listen to the president say exactly
that and, Adam, I want you to respond to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Everyone who realizes what those glorious patriots knew on that
day, that change does not come from Washington but to Washington. That
change has always been built on our willingness, we, the people, to take on
the mantle of citizenship. You are marching.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, but the complicated thing is when he says it`s not from
Washington, he`s Washington in that moment, in a way that has never
ADAM SERWER, MSNBC.COM: Well, right, I think what he`s saying, Obama is
saying to us he cannot play the King role and Johnson role at the same
time. He can actually only play the Johnson role.
And I think what`s happened, to a certain extent, the entire speech is
telling everybody not to see his presidency as a mark of racial progress
that we actually have overcome. In fact, almost the entire speech has been
saying, we have overcome. We`ve come a long way but we haven`t overcome
and we can`t forget that. And it`s your job to pressure not just Congress,
but also me, to do what needs to be done.
REYES: I think one other thing that`s very telling in the speech, when we
listen to his words, what he`s talking about in the speech, he is drawing a
distinction in the sense. As you mentioned, Martin Luther King, he was an
activist, he was not a politician. The role President Obama is now, he is
constrained by the office. So, he cannot be the one leading the call to
action. He can help push legislation along but that is not his role.
So, I think in a sense because of what he embodies he`s walking an almost
impossible line, especially when we look where our country is now, if you
want to look at the progress we have made in equality and civil rights.
Factor out his presidency, many of public policies that fight racism, such
as affirmative action, school desegregation policies, those -- we are going
backwards in that area.
I mean, he is in a very precarious position here.
SKOLNIK: Yes, I think that he in his speech still feels lying an outsider
in Washington. He`s treated like an outsider in Washington. He`s still
fighting the fight he never thought he had to fight once he got in the
White House. That`s what complicates.
I look at him as coach of a team and the owner is still white. So,
although you`re the black coach, we still have an owner of this nation that
is still white. So, he`s still fighting those powers of white
establishment that is controlling things like voting rights, that is
controlling things like affirmative action, that`s controlling things like
women`s rights. He`s still fighting those fights.
So, he gets on the stage in front of the world as supposedly with the
embodiment of Dr. King but doesn`t feel, you know, either/or.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, here`s the challenge I face then, I`m generally a
supporter of the president. My critiques of him, I hate the higher
education thing recently. But there`s a part of me that wants to say, yes,
but, dude, really, this is what we get the vote. We went out, we did it,
we voted, we`ve elected you, are you saying then -- and just him, but for
all of us, that it means nothing. Not only nothing because we`d be better
off electing only white representatives because then they wouldn`t provoke
the kind of racial anxiety the President Obama seems to evoke from the
So, in fact, we should never really run these candidates of color anymore,
because it doesn`t make any difference if a candidate of color wins and, in
fact, it will cause all of this negative backlash. Is that the story we
end up telling?
SERWER: Well, when he quoted Dr. King in his speech, he said exactly what
the situation is. He said Dr. King, what`s the point of an integrated
table where you can`t afford the meal. Where we have is the integrated
table, we don`t have the second part of that. I think that`s exactly what
the message the president was trying to say.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m not sure the table is integrated.
HARRIS-PERRY: The rule is you can come to the table, there`s not a law
against coming but it`s not clear --
REID: I mean, the limitations -- I mean, imagine for a moment if Dr. King
had become president of the United States, run against Goldwater, the exact
same thing would have happened. It would provoke this tremendous
horrifying, sort of backlash and the idea would be, how will the country
work through that?
The thing that`s symmetrical between King and Obama is that you have this
African-American that becomes president, provokes real backlash, some of
which is racial, some of which is about a bigger sort of demographic
anxiety, something to do with race and changing economy and people`s
anxiety within it.
What he`s saying, he was up there with Oprah, too. The success of a few of
us does not mean we`ve overcome. He keeps provoking to fight the battle.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we should probably not forget, as you pointed out, here
was this march for policy. The Congress does not act. What does happen
just weeks after the march, four little girls are killed by white
supremacists in the basement of their church during Sunday. So, there was
a response but it was on a different -- I will say -- we`re going to stay
on this topic when we come back.
As we go out I want you to see images. When we talk about complications of
the president being African-American, there`s an image at the march this
week at the march on Washington, President Obama`s face on the American
flag in the place where -- for me this image was such a strikingly
complicated one. What would it mean to have simultaneous racial pride and
patriotism. We`ve had a lot of anxiety about the flag in the past.
So, anyway, stay right there. More on this when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking about complications that come along with
an American presidency when the man in the White House is black.
President Obama gave us an example of the complication in his address at
the march on Washington commemoration. When while standing in King`s place
he strayed into some decidedly un-Kingly territory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There were times when some of us claiming to push for change lost
our way. The anguish of assassinations set of self-defeating riots.
Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse making
for criminal behavior. And what had once been a call for equality of
opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was
too often framed as a mere desire for government support. If we had no
agency in our own deliberation, as if poverty wasn`t an excuse for not
raising your child, the bigotry of others was reason to give up on
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. That was a hard part of the speech to listen to.
Friend of Nerdland Jelani Cobb tweeted, "The speech marks the end at the
point which I can honestly think of myself as any variety of Obama
That was indirect response to that part of the speech. Dr. King, 50 years
ago, didn`t feel any need to share a sense of cultural pathology of
African-Americans, for their inequality. But the president did.
REYES: But you know what? First of all, I want to say, I support this
president and understand where he`s coming from. I think he`s trying to
impart some of his own experience, sometime older people do with younger
people, it just comes across as very misguided. What`s troubling to me is
when he starts talking this notion of race riots. If you want really look
at the facts throughout history, the history of race riots had
overwhelmingly been white people against people of color.
Also the notion of poverty is no excuse of not being a good parent. In
fact, it`s extremely hard to be a good parent when you`re living in
poverty. You don`t have daycare. You rely on public transportation. You
rely on relatives. You don`t have income --
HARRIS-PERRY: You work multiple jobs.
REYES: Right. That alone is factually wrong and he`s putting that out
there. That`s troubling.
REID: Being the only first generation American at the table, he sounds a
lot like my father.
HARRIS-PERRY: That immigrant narrative.
REID: Yes, my father was from (INAUDIBLE), my mother emigrated her from
Ghana. You hear this narrative from black folk outside the United States,
and who do have this view of African-Americans, that is -- wait a minute,
you have been here a long time you have to get through and look past what
happened in the past and sort of move on.
I think people sometimes forget that Barack Obama himself is culturally not
from the African-American slave narrative. His family did not come from
the South. The black part of his family came from Africa. And he was
raised by white Americans.
So, his whole personal cultural view is different from African-Americans.
So, I think sometimes he speaks about African-Americans in that way, the
same way my dad does speak about African-Americans, and it can be very off
putting I think to black folks.
HARRIS-PERRY: I was sitting with a group of really brilliant elderly
African-Americans yesterday at my friend`s home. They were saying oh, no,
baby. Yes. These were African-American from Philadelphia, from the great
migration and, in fact, resonated with the fact of the speech. It was
like, oh, yes, these children today need to pull up their pants and stop
listening to -- so, yes, I love the discord of this as an emigrant
narrative but there is this sort of old folks in the community telling
younger people to do better.
SERWER: I think the problem with it is that it`s such a caricature, that
person in the way Obama described them does not exist.
SERWER: It`s the cousin Pooki (ph) which he loves to invoke, sometimes
funny not old. That part of the speech right before he actually chastises
politicians for invoking the very stereotype he then invokes in the next
paragraph of the speech. Very strange. It very much feels like a -- like
a sot for people who want to make -- when Obama going to mention black
cultural pathology? It almost feels out of place in the speech that he was
giving particularly historical context.
I mean, look, there`s a lot that happened before those riots happened and
the riots are not actually a big factor, you know, in comparison to that
200 years that came before.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, is this about the complication of being simultaneously
the inheritor of LBJ`s office but of Martin Luther King`s legacy?
Like, in other words, I wonder if this president who did an extraordinary
thing symbolically when he stood on behalf of Trayvon Martin after the
Zimmerman verdict simply saying I could have been Trayvon, Trayvon could
have been me. But is his ability to do that in a way that would be
uncomplicated for King in part requiring him to do this sort of cultural
pathology, black fatherhood, cousin Pooki narrative in order to give him
the basis with other audiences in order to then have the Trayvon moment?
SKOLNIK: I think -- I think so. I think that`s where the complication
comes in. There`s no playbook for the first black president.
REYES: He`s got to make this up, the territories.
SKOLNIK: Territories. I think just a month ago was the speech about
George Zimmerman verdict. That was four weeks when he was explaining to
white America what it is to be black in America, and why so many young
black men have issues because they are profiled, including him growing up
in a department store.
So, I think that his complication is he has to play both -- he has to play
Washington, which is they want to hear this rap. This isn`t the first time
the president had to -- you know, Morehouse College just two months ago --
HARRIS-PERRY: He is first time standing where King --
SKOLNIK: Of course, but he has to play Washington. He has to play white
America. He has to play black America, that`s an incredibly complicated
position to be in. I don`t envy that position. But I too -- I wish he
didn`t say it at that moment but I`ve heard it before.
REID: It`s almost as if the price of being able to say, I could have been
Trayvon, is to also sort of give a sot to those who say, but we do want to
hear your answer to this question, that, you know, white America has this
narrative about black culture pathology, which is distorted and wrong, but
they still want to hear it and that`s being inclusive.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Well, I will say, you know, I`m always as least
interested in the response of audiences, of citizens to what the president
himself says. And there was a kind of silence at that moment that was
telling because of so much applause that occurred earlier, in fact, even
when Saturday when Eric Holder stood. The applause, using American state
for the purposes of justice got a sort of response from that crowd.
I`m always -- it`s not -- I don`t mean to judge it as good or bad
normatively, but interesting to me empirically, the thing that were, who go
the applause and who didn`t.
SERWER: I think that`s just a little bit different than the previous
speeches that Obama has given that have gotten, you know, applause from
black audiences. You know, when Obama says, you know, you`re agents of
your own liberation, so to speak, that gets applause from black audiences
typically. What`s different here is invoking this caricature of someone
who actually doesn`t think they`re an agent of their own liberation. I
think that went a step farther than he`s gone before and I think that`s
what really rub a lot of people --
HARRIS-PERRY: We undoubtedly -- we`re not going to resolve this in any
way. Luckily, the president will still be black next week. He`s having
this conversation. It was an interesting historic moment. I wanted to put
a pin in that for at least a moment.
But up next, the real reason Republicans were missing from the King
celebrations -- wow, seriously?
HARRIS-PERRY: Every now and then there are those moments in the news that
render us so speechless all we can manage to say is, wow, seriously?
Only this week we weren`t the only one, because that seemed to be the exact
sentiment of the new Republican National Committee who responded with a few
wow seriouslies of their own.
Over the noticeable absence of Republicans from this week`s commemoration
with the march on Washington. Adding to the outrage was conservative
mouthpiece Bill O`Reilly who complained on his show Wednesday no
Republicans and no conservatives were invited.
Given the Republican Party`s consistent claim they are looking to expand
their ranks by deepening diversity, it`s understandable they would not show
the love beyond their base. They only have themselves to blame. Because
as it turns out, the march organizers did extend invitations to Republican
leaders, including both President Bush, House Speaker John Boehner, and
House Majority Whip Eric Cantor, all came of those invite came back with a
RSVP, cannot attend, which prompted the moment that had us really going,
Bill O`Reilly making an apology for flubbing the facts. But never fear,
there will never be a shortage of unapologetic conservatives as long as
George Will is still talking. Last Sunday`s "This Week with George
Stephanopoulos", the conversation turned to racial equality in the 50 years
since the march. Going around the table the panelists shared their
thoughts on the most persistent obstacles to the full realization of that
equality of all Americans. Everyone weighed in, adding insightful critics
of the structural barriers, unemployment, poverty, inequitable vote rights.
And then it was George Will`s turn to speak, at which point the insightful
and intelligent portion of the conversation came to a screeching halt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE WILL: Which you refer were foreshadowed something that happened
eight months after the march. Eight months after that, a young social
scientist from Harvard working in the Labor Department published a report.
His name is Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He said there`s a crisis in the
African-American community, 24 percent of African-American are born to
unmarried women. Today, it`s tripled, 72 percent. That, not an absence of
rights, is surely the biggest impediment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Donna Brazile`s face is classic there. But I like to think
of it as "The Lord of Rings" approach, one wedding ring for them all. Also
maybe (INAUDIBLE) Beyonce, if you want to be equal, put a ring on it. Who
needs equal rights when small application of a small circular piece of
metal left hand for all African-American mothers will let freedom ring
throughout the land. Really, George.
If you wanted to see what a real impediment to equality looks like,
consider an experience of an Afrin-American family at a South Carolina
restaurant. The family, a group of 25, who showed up for good-bye party at
the Wild Wing Cafe in North Charleston waited patiently to be seated two
hours before the manager told them the reason of their wait. According to
the family, a the family a white woman eating at the restaurant said she
felt threatened by the group and didn`t want them sitting near her.
When a member of the party began videotaping the encounter for evidence of
discrimination, the manager of the restaurant kicked them all out. That
happened in 2013, the week we commemorated a movement for racial equality.
You can`t help but hear this story and think, wow --.seriously?
HARRIS-PERRY: In Wednesday`s "New York Times", columnist and Columbia
University journalism professor Thomas Edsall laid out a careful argument
for why demographics do not define a political party`s destiny. In the
article titled, "Can Republicans paint the White House Red?", Edsall
cautioned against the notion for premature demise of the Republican Party.
He writes, quote, "a dominant theme in political commentary on the left,
the right and the center is that the Republican Party faces a grave crisis
of both demographics and ideology. But despite the cacophony of fault
finding, caution is an order before we declare the Republican Party down to
the count." Edsall then goes in to list a number of possibilities could
lead to Republican revival which leads many to wonder if Republicans will
be painting all of D.C. red in 2016.
Joining me from Washington, D.C. is Thomas Edsall, a "New York Times"
columnist and a Columbia University professor of journalism.
Nice to have you.
THOMAS EDSALL, NEW YORK TIMES: Good to be with you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I -- you know, the caution that you suggest here is this
idea demographics are not destiny. What do you see as possible scenarios
that could lead to Republican rivals as early as 2016?
EDSALL: There are a number of them. One is Obamacare turns out to be very
hard to introduce and there are difficulties with it. Some unions are now
opposed to it, that it becomes increasingly difficult and this makes it
into a liability for Democrats.
This is a hypothetical situation. It could well work the other way but
that`s a possibility.
Secondly, Hillary Clinton is the big unknown. She may well be the perfect
candidate. She may also be not a good candidate. She was not that good a
candidate in 2008 and her ability to come across a strong presidential
candidate in 2016 is still unknown.
Third, there`s the current situation in Syria and God knows what`s going to
happen throughout the Middle East. All that is a firecracker that could
blow up at any time.
Fourth, you have the economy and no one knows where the economy is going.
The economy has been improving but the job market has not been improving
HARRIS-PERRY: Professor, there was one other piece I particularly wanted
to ask you about. This is the idea within the Republican Party there were
will potential candidates of color that when we look at 2016, in fact, it
may be the Republicans who are most likely to put a nonwhite candidate on
the ballot. One of them might in fact, be my current governor, Bobby
I wanted to read to you something quickly that Bobby Jindal wrote last
week. Governor Jindal wrote that "there is no more shallow, hollow or
soulless way to think about human beings than in terms of their skin color.
It is completely inane. Why would anyone give those to pigmentation of the
person`s epidermis. It`s nothing short of immoral not to mention stupid."
Oops, there`s that word again.
But obviously, race isn`t about epidermis. I mean, you know, G.K.
Butterfield, one of our favorite congressmen out of North Carolina, is
himself quite -- his epidermis is quite pale, our own Adam Serwer sitting
here at the table has a very pale epidermis, yet these are people who are
Is this where the Republican Party will get into trouble it doesn`t have a
good understanding of what race actually is?
EDSALL: I don`t think it has much understanding. The question, though,
really is can they continue to be an overwhelmingly white party and
continue to win. I think that that is a possibility for 2016. In the long
run, that`s going to be problematic and there`s probably going to have to
be changes in the Republican Party if it wants to continue to be a
HARRIS-PERRY: Raul, what do you make of that claim they can be
overwhelming and still compete?
REYES: I really don`t think that`s within the realm of possibility,
particularly when you`re looking at some like Hillary Clinton. Whatever
her flaws are she is a candidate. When it comes time for her to run, that
will be historic. She will -- she is going to produce tremendous
excitement among women, amongst Hispanics, believe me overwhelming majority
of Latinos loved Hillary Clinton, they wanted her to get nomination last
time. I think she has a strong base of support in the African-American
community as well.
Right there that is America. How can Republicans go forward?
HARRIS-PERRY: I so disagree, though. I have to say, I think that a
Hillary Clinton candidacy is very early, I may change my mind. So, don`t
hold me to this, people.
But I do think that candidacy would fail to bring out the margin of
Democrats that won for President Obama, those African-American voters, many
of them young and first time voters, who showed up despite all of the
restrictions on voting to vote because it was President Obama.
REID: Right. I mean, it`s very complicated. So, for Hillary Clinton, the
biggest enemy is element of surprise. That`s what got her in `08. She
wasn`t ready for what Obama was bringing to the table. They had a
presumption that they could pull the black vote because of Bill Clinton.
I think when you get elected Hillary Clinton the ballot, you`re going to
get back the Bill Clinton Democrats, which si a lot of the elected
officials, members of Congress who, in fact, did not carry the day with
their own districts because they chose Clinton and their voters chose
But the problem of the Republicans is two things. Number one, high
probability they will nominate someone from the South, whether it`s Bobby
Jindal, whether it`s someone from Florida.
HARRIS-PERRY: Susana Martinez, southwest.
REID: If they do southwest, they may have a better chance but likelihood
for me a southern candidate, highly ideological, because their base isn`t
going to tolerate somebody too what they would consider moderate we would
And there`s the number, 26 percent of the electorate was minority in 2008,
28 percent was minority in 2012. The trend going back to Bill Clinton is
that every four years, you have 2 percent more of the electorate that is
Now the question as you ask is, does Hillary have the same pull with black
and Latino voters that Barack Obama does? Probably not the same intensity
but she`s got that other X-factor which is women.
REYES: I think she does have it with Latinos and with the record Latino
turnout this last time, it was 48 percent of eligible Latinos voted. So
there`s tremendous potential going forward.
HARRIS-PERRY: She was the choice of Latino voters in Spanish media
households during that primary between her and President Obama initially.
Tom Edsall, I appreciate your piece. I love that demographics are not
destiny and we have to be more complicated as we talk about vote 2014 and
2016. I appreciate you joining us today.
Joy Reid, Raul Reyes, Michael Skolnik and Adam Serwer, who teased
I will still come back.
SERWER: I grew up in D.C.
Up next, eight years since hurricane Katrina. My footnote.
HARRIS-PERRY: The 50th anniversary of the march on Washington rightfully
dominated this week`s conversations about historic important moments.
Where I live, we remembered another. Thursday marked eight years since the
federal levees gave way in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, flooding New
Orleans killing nearly 2,000 people and leaving billions of property
Thursday also made one year since I lost my home to the wrath of Hurricane
Isaac which came ashore in New Orleans on August 29th, 2012, destroying
59,000 homes in Louisiana including one of mine. It was the Katrina
damaged house that my husband and I had purchased with hopes of renovating
it into our dream home. It was reduced to rubble. And today it is still
an empty lot.
As the nation paused this week to reflect on 50 years of progress and
frustration in our ongoing march for justice, so too did the people of New
Orleans use the eighth anniversary of Katrina to ask the question Martin
Luther King posed in 1967. Where do we go from here? Chaos or community?
Where do we go as we confront global warming even as a multimillion dollar
project begins to restore coastal wetlands, the Gulf Coast continues to
lose precious natural barriers by the hour?
Will we protect communities or descend into ecological chaos? Where do we
go as we address crumbling infrastructure?
The levees are rebuilt but they`re not stronger than they were eight years
ago. And around the country, bridges erode and tunnels teeter on the edge
of new disasters. Will we build our communities or watch them fall away
into the chaos of inaction? Where do we go as we address inequality?
When President Bush spoke in the aftermath of Katrina, he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: As all of us saw on television,
there`s deep persistent poverty in this region as well. That poverty has
roots in the history of racial discrimination which cut off generations
from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty
with bold action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet eight years later both poverty and inequality have
increased since President Bush first declared our duty to confront it with
bold action. Will we finally do the work of building a prosperous
interracial community or will we allow the chaos of radical inequality to
be our new normal?
Fifty years since the march on Washington, eight years since the
catastrophic levee failure after Katrina, the question we remains, where do
we go from here? Chaos or community?
That`s our show for today. Thanks at home for watching. I`ll see you
again next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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