IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

October 29, 2013
Guest: Jared Bernstein, Zerlina Maxwell

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Twenty-eight years ago, the governor
of New York in a speech at Yale University said, "We campaign in poetry,
but when we are elected we are forced to govern in prose."

Tonight, President Obama`s poetry is under attack.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The White House finds itself under the
magnifying glass.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trying to take back the narrative on healthcare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Web site has been grilled for hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that a true statement?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which is falsest to the truth?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By members of the House Ways and Means

run health care.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Republican leadership its out with a new

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: The problems run deeper
than just the Web site.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are over the Web site.

CANTOR: Now, I have a constituent --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My constituents can`t keep their health care plan.

CANTOR: He received this cancellation letter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They thought they could keep.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are not happy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They did not expect to get the letters.

CANTOR: We need to fix this problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, you want to expand coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to keep my doctors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want prices to go down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would look to have lower premiums.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Both of them involve more government.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans are walking into a trap.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have branded the Republican Party as anti-
Obamacare party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Republican Party is a post-policy party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`ve got to defend the shut down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The shut down was magnificent. Run beautifully.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the Republican majority in the House
is in jeopardy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans are walking into a trap.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have offered no alternative.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one would argue that this has been a good

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which Republican is going to stand up and say, Mr.
President, we are one country we want to make this work.

CANTOR: We need to delay the mandate tax.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has got to be delayed.

BOEHNER: There`s no way to fix this monstrosity.



O`DONNELL: In 1985, the Democratic governor of New York, Mario Cuomo,
attacked economic policies of Ronald Reagan in a speech he delivered at
Yale. Governor Cuomo said the Reagan re-election campaign was filled with
oversimplification and Reagan policies if enacted would be much harsher
than President Reagan described in the campaign that led Governor Cuomo to
say perhaps the most memorable line of any speech. He said, "We campaign
in poetry. But when we are elected we are forced to govern in prose."

Tonight, President Obama stands accused of campaigning in poetry when
he was campaigning to pass the Affordable Care Act.


care plan, you`ll be able to keep your health care plan, period.


OBAMA: If you already have health insurance, nothing in this plan
will require you to change what you have.


O`DONNELL: When President Obama was campaigning for re-election, the
Affordable Care Act had not been fully implemented yet and he said this.


OBAMA: If you`re one of more than 250 million Americans who already
have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance.


O`DONNELL: Today, in the White House press briefing room, Jay Carney
had to explain the president`s poetry in prose.


REPORTER: The president said, a very simple statement, using the
present tense. The present tense. If you like the plan that you have, you
can keep it, period.


REPORTER: If you like the plan you had in 2009.

CARNEY: I understand what you are saying. I can simply say that --
that was consistent with what the president had been saying since prior to
the passage of the Affordable Care Act. It described. He was describing
what was written into the law which is that we would, the law would
grandfather in those who had insurance and liked it and wanted to keep it
even once the Affordable Care Act was implemented.

And I understand that yes, there is more to that story, because of
choices that insurance companies made to change the plans that individuals
might have had.


O`DONNELL: Also, today, in a House Ways and Means Committee hearing,
Republican chairman, Dave Camp, asked head of Center for Medicare and
Medicaid Services about this all.


REP. DAVE CAMP (R), MICHIGAN: I want to mention a letter I received
from my district. And this man wrote me and said, "My wife has been
recently informed by her insurance carrier her health care policy does not
comply with the Affordable Care Act. Now, we must purchase a new policy to
get the coverage at an 18 percent increase in our premium. So, what
happened to the "if you look your insurance you can keep it" question?"

What would you say how to that individual?

would take him back to pre-Affordable Care Act days, where, in fact, if you
were in the individual market you were living at a 50 percent insurance.
Half the people in the individual market prior to 2010 didn`t stay on their
policies. They were kicked off for pre-existing condition. They saw their
premiums go up at least 20 percent a year, and there were no protections
for them. And some times they were in plans that they thought were fine
until they actually needed hospitalization. Then they found out it didn`t
cover hospitalization, or it didn`t cover cancer.


O`DONNELL: Joining me now are: Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and an MSNBC analyst. He served as
Vice President Biden`s chief economist from 2009 to 2011.

And Zerlina Maxwell, a political analyst and contributor to "The

Zerlina, I want to start with you because you are very frustrated at
the way this has been being covered for the last few days. I read today
why you are so frustrated about this.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, THE GRIO: I`m frustrated because I`m actually
uninsured. So, I`m not going through this process as a journalist
symbolically to go on to a site and complain about it being broken or to
call the call center and complain about the calls being dropped in some
sort of performance art.

I`m actually logging on to the Web site. And it was frustrating.
It`s clear --

O`DONNELL: You have been watching all these reporters go on. And all
of whom are not just insured, they`re rather heavily insured, like I am.

MAXWELL: Right. Exactly. Right. So, they have jobs that provide
insurance. So, I felt that there was a blind spot, you know, in their

I called it privilege. I got attacked for that. But I think the
bottom line here is that, it`s a short time problem with the Web site, to
fix a long term health crisis, a national crisis. So, the perspective is
all getting lost in sort of the back and forth horse race coverage.
They`re covering it like a game.

And real talk, we are in the first quarter of, you know, the first
part of the first quarter of an entire game. It doesn`t start. Whether I
was able to soon of on October 1st or whether or not I have to wait until
December 14th when the Web site finally gets fixed, I can`t get coverage
until January 1st.


MAXWELL: So that`s all getting lost here. It is about real lives and
real people.

O`DONNELL: I want to go back to, something -- we played a little
piece of President Obama saying this thing about -- nothing in this plan
will require you to change what you have. I actually cut off the sentence
that he said right after that.

And I want to play this quote that you just heard earlier. I want to
play again with one additional sentence on it.


OBAMA: If you already have health insurance, nothing in this plan
will require you to change what you have. What this plan will do is make
the insurance you have work better for you.


O`DONNELL: And, Jared Bernstein, in that extra sentence there its the
clue that there is something more here than the simple aspect of if you
already like your plan or if you have insurance nothing is going to change
for you. You always knew, working on the policy side of it. I always
knew, knowing as much as I do about the policy side of it, that, of course,
things were going to change for a lot of people who had plans already.

Carney said -- the plan back in 2010, actually did grandfather insurance
coverage that didn`t necessarily meet the consumer protections that are so
important in Affordable Care Act. But if those plans changed, such that
they no longer are at all in sync with exactly what the president was
saying there, with improvements in coverage. Then of course, they can`t be
supported under health care reform.

It`s if I offered you and Zerlina the opportunity to sign up for
Jared-care, OK? Here`s how Jared-care works. You pay me $1 a month. If
you get sick I give you a band-aid, OK? If you get really sick, I`ll give
you a bowl of chicken soup, OK?

We can call that a plan on the individual market. I am slightly
exaggerating. But there are plans out there, individual market that look a
little bit too much look what I described as Jared-care. That won`t work
in any kind of health care reform system that is going to -- contain costs,
be affordable, and accessible.

So, yes. If you have -- if you are one of the 270 million people
covered through their employer, through government, you actually do get to
keep your plan just the same way the president said. But if you are
individual plan was grandfathered in and it has changed significantly for
the worse, it doesn`t fit in to Obamacare.

O`DONNELL: Zerlina, from your seat, what do you think of this
distinction between the way the president would say it very, very simply
when he was pushing for it and reality that we`re seeing today?

MAXWELL: I just think we have to keep perspective, insurance market
on -- as some one who had to shop on the individual market like Jared said,
you are not get anything great. You are getting co-insurance that with
high co-pays. Every time you have to go to the doctor, it costs hundred of

I think all is getting lost in, you know, really semantic argument
about sort of the phrasing and maybe, you know some people being mislead by
that. I think people that haven`t shopped on the individual market don`t
really understand how horrific it is.

O`DONNELL: Jared, you were on the inside. Were you aware of
discussion as but maybe the president is oversimplifying on this line, and
maybe we should refine it a little bit and qualify it a little bit?

BERNSTEIN: You know, it really wasn`t. I actually think the
accusation of oversimplification is a fair one. I think what the president
really, perhaps needed to say there was -- if you like what you have and
what you have doesn`t change in such a way that it is -- not at all look
what we are trying how to do here, then you can keep it.

But that`s a more nuanced message. There was simplification as there
often is when you are trying to articulate complicated piece of

O`DONNELL: Yes, Zerlina, I think what you have here is in order to
sell this, you had to come up with the simplest phrasing of that. And I
think they probably, some of the policy people who knew how oversimplified
that was thought, "Well, if our worst problem is that this becomes a law
and we have to explain that distinction, we will take that."

MAXWELL: Absolutely. And, of course, you have to remember, all of
this is an in environment where you half the other side claiming there are
death panels, right?


MAXWELL: You have the Frank Luntz sort of language about, you know,
this is the end of humanity as we know it, sort of hyperbole. So, I think,
yes, they were looking to have a very, straight forward streamlined message
that Americans could really, you know, attach to -- attach their support
for against, you know, hyperbole. So, now, we are seeing what is happening
with that.

But at the same time, again, big picture, this is going to
fundamentally change the lives of millions of Americans. That fact should
not be lost.

O`DONNELL: Now, you have actually tried off to leg on. Now, because
you are in New York, you get to use the New York Web site, which is working
pretty good.

MAXWELL: Yes, you know, the first week, not working. It was not
working. I`m not going to sit here and lie. It was not working.

However, because I`m uninsured, I was patient, because, you know, I`ve
rationed my inhaler for a year. I don`t want to do that. So, I was
patient, probably more so than, you know, people that are doing it
symbolically. And, you know, maybe they don`t have to call, call centers,
or log on to sites to get other services in that way.

So, I was logging on. I have 124 different plans to choose from. I
haven`t picked one. Why? Because it`s not like, you know, picking out a
shirt. I`m picking out a health insurance plan. So, I`m going to take my

Most young people are going to do that. Wait until the last minute.
We are procrastinators here.

O`DONNELL: Jared, the -- it seems as though the poet poetry has
caught up with the president. But I think Zerlina`s point of, they were
fighting crazy rhetorical statements from the other side about death
panels. I mean, just, utter madness. The rhetorical calculations seem to
be let`s make this as clear and understandable as possible.

BERNSTEIN: It was very important. And it`s interesting, by the way,
that the president used the number in that clip. I hadn`t realized this
before, that refers to the people who are covered. The vast majority of
people who have health insurance are covered either through their employer
or government plan. And for them things don`t change.

So that actually is what he was referring to. And for a lot of those
people, that was an important message.

I will also say that I probably wouldn`t use the past tense in the
sense of, you know they were attacking Obamacare in ways --


BERNSTEIN: They are attacking.

And so, any -- this oversimplification of a complicated set of
dynamics here has obviously just become an attack point. So, again, it`s
hard to have a kind of rational conversation we are having here when the
opposition is just loaded the way they are.

O`DONNELL: Jared Bernstein and Zerlina Maxwell, thank you both for
joining me tonight.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Mitch McConnell is now so afraid of his Tea Party
challenger that he is actually taking credit for shutting down the
government. It`s actually because he is so far ahead of the Tea Party
challenger, he is willing to do that. But his Democratic opponent is
giving him credit for shutting down the government.

Later, in a LAST WORD experiment that could go very, very wrong, we`re
going to try to snow Washington how two people can respectfully disagree
with the LAST WORD chaplain, Father James Martin, and atheist Penn
Jillette. We`ll give the Father Martin five minutes to try to convert Penn
Jillette. It`s coming up.


O`DONNELL: What can an atheist and a priest teach Washington about
how to have a civilized discussion about the budget? That`s coming up

Next, Mitch McConnell is now being attacked by his Republican opponent
and his Democratic opponent for what he did during the government shutdown.


O`DONNELL: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is facing a tough
fight from both Democrats and the Tea Party in his home state of Kentucky
in his re-election campaign. Mitch McConnell played a key role in finding
the final solution to the government shutdown and his re-election campaign
wants Kentucky voters to know that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gridlock and games.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell helped pave the
way for this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitch McConnell saying this is a done deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seemed like Senator McConnell was the one on
top of the pile.


O`DONNELL: The problem for McConnell is that the Tea Party also wants
people in Kentucky to know about his role in negotiating an end to the
government shutdown. The Senate Conservatives Actions Super PAC founded by
former Republican senator and current president for the Heritage
Foundation, Jim DeMint, and supported by Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz
is running this ad in Kentucky.


AD NARRATOR: Conservatives asked Mitch McConnell to lead the fight
against Obamacare. He didn`t listen. Instead McConnell helped Barack
Obama and Harry Reid fund Obamacare. Now, Kentucky families are paying the
price, premiums of lost coverage, even lost jobs. When Kentucky needed
Mitch McConnell the most, he let us down.


O`DONNELL: At the very same time, Mitch McConnell is being attacked
by Democratic candidate, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan
Grimes for creating an atmosphere in the senate that led to the government


AD NARRATOR: He calls himself a proud guardian of gridlock. He has
blocked the Senate over 400 times, then voted to shut down the government,
hurting Kentucky`s economy.

Mitch McConnell can`t light the house on fire then claim credit for
putting it out.


O`DONNELL: A recent poll by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling
shows a tight race with Alison Lundergan Grimes ahead of Senator Mitch
McConnell, within the margin of error, that McConnell must first faced Tea
Party-backed candidate Matt Bevin in a May 20th primary.

Joining me now is Howard Fineman, editorial director of "Huffington
Post", and Josh Barro, politics editor for "Business Insider".

Howard, you are our, of course, senior Kentucky correspondent.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST: Thank you. A title I`m honored to

O`DONNELL: Yes, more experience there than any one else in this

This is a quite a kind of crosswind that McConnell is caught in here.

FINEMAN: Yes, it really is. And Matt Bevin who I saw down in
Kentucky at fancy farms, the big political speeching contest down in the
summer there is not a bad candidate. And he is learning fast. Just as
important he`s got some big money behind him.

That very sophisticated ad that you showed attacking Mitch McConnell
from the right, has got $330,000 behind it in an ad buy. That`s just not
something throwing up on YouTube. That`s going to be on television across
the state is my understanding.

So, Mitch McConnell has got to deal with that. Most people think he
will win that, but it`s not a certainty by any means.

And Alison Grimes comes from a political family. She is a tough
customer. And, and she went up with, one of her first big ad was a very,
very, that very tough attack ad that you saw. Back when she was running
for -- her current office, secretary of state, she had ads featuring her
grandmothers. This is not that kind of campaign.

So, yes, McConnell -- there is reason why some view this as a tossup.
Charlie Cook has it as a tossup in the general. It might a little still
leaning towards McConnell because it`s such a red state in presidential
politics. But, you know, most of the elected officials statewide in
Kentucky are Democrats. So, McConnell has his hand full here. And he is
going to be the ground zero of the national campaign in this coming year.

O`DONNELL: Josh Barro, it seems that McConnell is not that worried
about the primary if he is putting out video taking credit for solving the
government shutdown which, of course, involved raising the debt ceiling.

JOSH BARRO, BUSINESS INSIDER: Right. Yes, I find this pretty
remarkable. He`s essentially making an affirmative case against the Tea
Party strategy of complete scorched earth, vote no on everything, shut down
the government, hit the debt ceiling if we have to.

This is the case that John Boehner was trying to make, that this was a
bad strategy. Mitch McConnell had been making this case. He said on one
of the Sunday shows recently that, you know, he had been saying back all
the way back into July, that shutting down the government was a bad idea.

But this hasn`t been easy to sell to conservatives -- the idea that
not taking every fight all the way to the edge is the better strategy for
getting conservative policy outcomes. I think he must be confident,
though, that he is going to be able to make the case and survive this
primary because McConnell is a smart political operator. He hasn`t stayed
in the Senate for 30 years by being politically dumb.

In a lot of ways, he`s kind of like Harry Reid. Both of them always
seem to have these challenging races in their home states, they`re never
that popular there. But they always hold on, because they always have a
really good intuitive sense of the politics and know which support they
need to build just a majority.

O`DONNELL: Howard, has McConnell had a serious challenge in a primary
since he has been an incumbent? Is he accustomed to this kind of fight?

FINEMAN: No. He is not. He really isn`t. He sort of had the
challenge by proxy back when Rand Paul came out of nowhere to win the
primary against -- for the -- for the other Senate seat from -- against
Mitch McConnell`s handpicked candidate, Trey Grayson.

So, Mitch McConnell has seen the power of the Tea Party. I think what
Mitch McConnell is doing -- I don`t think he is taking Matt Bevin lightly.
I think Mitch McConnell is playing the only card he really has which is
that he is going the "I`m a statesman, I can bring the money back to
Kentucky, I have the experience" route, which he fields I think will be
popular in the Republican primary, because there are plenty of people over
the year, now that he has been -- he is a five-term senator.

He has brought a lot of money back to the state. He has done a lot of
favors for a lot of business people in the state. So, he is counting on
building a sort of backfire among what`s left of the traditional
Republicans in Kentucky. And there are a lot of them to win that primary.

O`DONNELL: Josh, you are not supposed to be able to run a poll on an
incumbent senator that shows him in some kind of tie with the other party`s
challenger in this case, Alison Grimes. That is an incredibly powerful
poll for her because the incumbent is normally supposed to be polling

And the challenger has to play catch-up. She`s already there.

BARRO: Yes, I don`t find it surprising. I mean, we have seen national
poll numbers on Congress, and on the Republican Party and they`re
completely down because of -- because the shutdown was unpopular.

And Mitch McConnell, as the minority leader, and as the leader of the
party that shut down the government is going to be associated with that.
So, I am not surprised that he is behind in the polls. But I think he is
running a smart campaign within the situation.

I note one thing about him having had the proxy fight with Rand Paul,
is that now he`s co-opted Rand Paul. He`s hired Rand Paul`s campaign
manager to run his campaign, in a nonaggression pact with Rand Paul. I
think that`s been very smart. He saw what happened with Trey Grayson. He
is trying to not allow that to happen to him.

O`DONNELL: Josh Barro and Howard Fineman, thank you both for joining
me tonight.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, a Republican governor thinks the Republican
Party is waging a war on the poor. That`s next.

And you probably remember the tragic story last year of the 17-year-
old boy who was shot and killed, because he was sitting in the back seat of
a car playing loud music on the radio. His mother testified at a Senate
hearing today. Andy ou will hear her in her own words in tonight`s



GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: You know, because people are poor doesn`t
mean they don`t work hard, because people are poor doesn`t mean that -- it
sometimes means they couldn`t pull themselves up by their bootstraps at
some point in time. Now, when you die and get to the -- get to the, the
meeting with St. Peter, he is probably not going to ask you much about what
you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what
you did for the poor.


O`DONNELL: That was Republican Ohio governor John Kasich explaining
his new testament-based support for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable
Care Act which will enable 275,000 poor Ohioans to join Medicaid.

In the spotlight, the Republican war on the poor. That its John
Kasich`s phrase, for what Republicans are doing, a war on the poor. Last
week, the "Wall Street journal" editorial board condemned Governor Kasich
for defying the Republican legislature and expanding Medicaid in his state
by using a little known panel called the controlling board to vote for it.
"The Wall Street Journal" wrote, Governor Kasich`s behavior doesn`t speak
well for Mr. Kasich`s governing judgment as he prepared to run for higher
office in 2016. And we don`t mean the afterlife. Republicans get a vote
for St. Peter does.

But "the Wall Street Journal`s" condemnation did not stop. Governor
Kasich from saying this to "The New York Times." I`m concerned about the
fact there seems to be a war on the poor. That if you are poor, somehow,
you are shiftless and lazy. You know what the very people who complain
ought to ask their grandparents itch they worked at WPA. The WPA was a
federal government jobs program enacted during the depression in 1933.

Joining me, David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and
an MSNBC political analyst.

David, it is quite striking a Republican governor using the phrase war
on the poor, to describe what his Republican colleagues are doing.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: And using it as a negative as
opposed to a positive.

You and I are old enough to remember that John Kasich is no liberal
progressive moderate Republican. When he was in the House of
Representatives here in Washington, he was elbow to elbow with Newt
Gingrich. He was known from being really a tremendous budget cutter who
did want to make government small, favored tax cuts for the wealthy and for
really, you know, clamping down on the budget. Paul Ryan and that sort of

But he is playing a traditional role here. There are Republicans for
decades who owe their very, they were fiscal tightwads. But they still
believed in social programs and helping the poor. Bob Dole was very much
like that.

I`ve remember talking recently during the sequester cuts to the fellow
who runs meals on wheels in Texas. He said, listen, Republicans used to be
our best friend. They would love meals on wheels. And now, I can`t get
them to return my calls.

So, what Kasich is doing, which is commendable, he still conservative
in a lot of ways, is showing how far, the party, and conservatives, all
conservative movement has moved off to the right where, God. The worst
thing to be is to be a compassionate conservative, the term that George W.
Bush once used.

If you talk that way, the "wall Street Journal" will then come out
and threaten you with retirement.

O`DONNELL: And I think he has also realized that there were times
that he was pushing Ohio too far to the right. His poll numbers have
suffered because of that. He is in the latest poll in indicates that he is
virtually tied with the possible Democratic challenger. He is at 35. Mr.
Challenger is at 38 which is really bad looking poll for an incumbent

But, politics is what moves, you know, governors` opinions all the
time. And the fact that he ends up in the right place on this particular
question whether it be through politics or some other thought process, the
fact is, he did bring this Medicare expansion to Ohio.

CORN: And it is interesting. He has a brother who suffers from
mental illness. And a lot of his explanation, justification of this, is
that these moves will help people who are mentally ill, you know, low
income Americans get help they need which again, is something you don`t
hear talked about that much on Congress. In fact, you know, the news this
week out of Congress, out of Washington, is that they`re cutting food
stamps billions of dollars.

And the other thing here that John Kasich is shining the light on,
perhaps to the annoyance or irritation of fellow Republicans is that
Obamacare works, I mean, not the Web site. But hundreds of thousands of
Americans have gotten health care through the expansion of Medicaid which
is significant, one of the biggest parts of Obamacare.

So, here is something again. How are they going to repeal this?
Republicans are going to come in and say, OK, the $275 Americans in Ohio
that john Kasich has helped extend Medicaid to and the hundreds of
thousands, now reflect a millions yet throughout the country, we are going
to repeal that and take that away from you. And throw you back out there
without any insurance.

Again, once again, parts of Obamacare are working as promised. It is
not the news you get these days for good reason. But John Kasich has now
become an ally of sorts of the White House in that frame.

O`DONNELL: And John Kasich is making the case publicly that this
Medicaid expansion is a good deal for Ohio which means it is a good deal
for the other states that haven`t taken it.

David Corn, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

CORN: My pleasure.

O`DONNELL: The Senate held a hearing on Stand Your Ground and heard
the dramatic testimony of a mother who believes Florida`s Stand Your Ground
law has contributed to her son`s killing. That`s in "the rewrite."


O`DONNELL: The K.I.N.D. fund, Kids in Need of Desks, as most of you
know raises money to buy desks for schools in Africa that have no desks,
schools where the kids have never seen desks. We have raised over $5.7
million since beginning the fund on this program. And much of that money
has come from children here in the United States who have been inspired to
help kids, their own age, who have so much less than they do.

The kindergarten and first grade at the Wildwood School in Los Angeles
got together to do what they can to help kids in need of desks.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At Wildwood elementary school we were learning
about acts of kindness. And then we saw this.

O`DONNELL: This is what going to school in Malawi looks like. No
desks. Not one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We knew what we had to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dear neighbors, I am in kindergarten at Wildwood
School. For a service project my class is raising money to buy desks for
school children in Malawi.


O`DONNELL: 1,545.37. Way to go Wildwood School. If you would look
to help the kind fund. Go to our Web site,

"The rewrite" is next.


O`DONNELL: In "the rewrite" tonight, rewriting Stand Your Ground
laws. That is the objective of some of the members of the Senate judiciary
subcommittee that held a hearing today on Stand Your Ground laws. The
focus was on Florida where so-called justifiable homicides have tripled
since the Stand Your Ground law was enacted there.

Senators were asked to consider the case of Jordan Davis. Lucia
McBath told the senators about her son Jordan, the 17-year-old boy shot and
killed sitting in the back seat of a car by a man who objected to the loud
music coming from the car. Michael Dunn was arrested the next day and is
now awaiting trial in Florida for first degree murder. Lucia McBath
believes that Florida`s Stand Your Ground law emboldened Michael Dunn to
feel he had a right to settle an argument about loud music with something
louder his gun.


because my son, Jordan, was shot and killed last November while sitting in
the back seat of a friend`s car listening to loud music. The man who
killed him opened fire on four unarmed teenagers even as they tried to move
out of harm`s way. That man was empowered by the Stand Your Ground
statute. I am here to tell you there was no ground to stand. There was no
threat. No one was freeing to invade his home. His vehicle, nor
threatened him or his family.

So, there was a vociferous argument about music during which the
accused, Michael Dunn, did not feel that he was treated with respect.
You`re not going to talk to me look that, he shouted, as he sprayed the car
Jordan sat in with bullets. Killing him instantly.

When Jordan`s friend tried to back the car away, Mr. Dunn aimed his
handgun and fired off several more round, nine total. Pierced the car.
There are any number of ways that this interaction might have gone. But
there was only one way it could have ended once a gun entered the equation.

In his glove box, Michael Dunn kept a nine millimeter semiautomatic
gun along with two loaded magazines. Once he had unloaded his gun at my
son and his teenage friend. He immediately went back to his hotel, ordered
a pizza and slept. He left the scene and made no attempt to call police.
He retreated. But only after he killed my son. The next morning he was
arrested two hours away. Those are hardly the actions and motives of
someone who was quaking with fear.

He was my only child. He was raised with love and learning and ape
clear und clear understanding of right and wrong. I have been without
Jordan now since thanksgiving 2012, without him last Christmas and on his
birthday in February. I never got to take his prom picture or see him
graduate from high school.

I can tell you all about him. About his easy smile, his first
girlfriend, and his plans to join the marines. I can tell you how he loved
his dad`s gumbo and how they both rooted for the New York giants. But you
can never really know my boy because an angry man who owned a gun kept it
close at hand and chose to demonstrate unbridled hatred one balmy evening
for reasons I will never understand.

With your help and willingness to bring our laws back to the true
tents of justice you can lift this nation from its internal battle in which
guns rule over right. You have the power to restore hope to a nation
crying out for justice. And I pray that you hear the will of the lord.
Thank you.



O`DONNELL: As budget tensions continue on Capitol Hill, we wonder
itch Democrats and Republicans can ever find a way to talk to each other.

Coming up, a lesson in civility. An atheist and priest walk into a TV
studio. Penn Gillette and father Martin will join me next.


O`DONNELL: At an event last night for the New York young Republican
club, Senator Tom Coburn was asked about civility in the Senate. And he
actually said this --


SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: There`s no comity with Harry Reid. I
think he`s an absolute a-hole.


O`DONNELL: What hope is there for governing of this country if the
people in Washington do not know how to talk to people they disagree with.

Tonight, in a "Last Word" experiment that could go very, very wrong,
we will try to show Washington how to respectfully disagree. And we are
going to do it with two people who disagree on something much bigger than
what the top income tax rate should be.

Joining me now, the chaplain of the "Last Word," father James Martin
and atheist Penn Jillette, author of "every day is an atheist holiday," now
out in paperback which I guess is the big excuse as to why you are here,
right? But you are a carnie. You are always selling bunch of stuff.

Let`s get your selling stuff out of the way so we can have a real

PENN JILLETTE, AUTHOR: We have a movie out called "Tim`s Premier
(ph)." It is going on the film circuit about 17th century.

O`DONNELL: Directed by Teller.

JILLETTE: Directed by Teller. Produced by me. And I am also in it.
And then I am making another movie called "director`s cut" at, a crowd funding it. And the big news on that movie is
two of the people who are not the stars, but secondary.

O`DONNELL: You doing a casting news.

JILLETTE: have casting news. One of the police officers, will be
played by Lawrence O`Donnell.

O`DONNELL: I`m playing a cop.

JILLETTE: You play a police officer. And the other police officer
his partner.

O`DONNELL: This is going to news to me.

JILLETTE: -- will be played by Glenn Beck.

O`DONNELL: Only Penn Jillette.


JILLETTE: You will see, Lawrence and Glenn as the
big team coming up, the police team that kind of buddy with a little
tension, good cop/bad cop.

O`DONNELL: OK. Father Martin, of course, patiently sitting through
this because he has nothing to sell other than improvement in your
spiritual life.

And so, what I was thinking here is that, that we can show Washington
how to have a real conversation when people disagree. Now Washington is
usually, trying to do something, right, the Democrats want to do something.
Republicans want to do something. They have to convince the other side to
do it why.

So, why don`t you start us off, Father, by making the case to Penn
about what he -- how much better his life would be if he saw faith in God
the way you do.


O`DONNELL: You have five minutes to convert Penn Jillette.

MARTIN: I will be unable to do that. You know, I respect your
opinion. I think there is -- I have a lot of friend that are atheists and
agnostics. So, it is not a new thing to me. And I think it is hard to
convert people other than to invite them to have an experience of God. And
I think that the thing that I would probably do, not here, would be to talk
to you about possible spiritual experiences you have had and just listen
the way you are. But I think conversion as Pope Francis --.

O`DONNELL: Let`s does that here.

MARTIN: Pope Francis himself called conversion pious nonsense. So, I
think it is more of an invitation. Jesus says, and I say this to
everybody, Jesus doesn`t say, you know, follow me or I will hit you over
the head. Jesus says come and see. So, it is more of an invitation.

JILLETTE: And this is what I encountered over and over. We did a
show called Penn and tell they are B.S. And we would attack Christianity.
We would attack all sorts of religions. And what we would get back, we
expected to give back was hostility. And what we got back over and over
again, was just kind of gentle, sweetness. One of the thing that happens
when you are an atheist, you get tweets and little letters from people
saying, I am so sorry religious people treat you`d so badly when you want
to atheism. And I said one of the reasons I went to atheism is that
religious people treated me so well. You know, my dad was a Christian his
whole life. We were very, very close. And there is a feeling love and
security that can make you very happy with the life we have here. And
sometimes the gentleness and the love itself is what gives you the
confidence to maybe, not be, not be reaching for things.

So, this is what I encounter all the time. The number of people that
are aggressive and unpleasant in religion to me in my, life, is just about
zero. And I count them maybe one or two.

O`DONNELL: Father, do you feel threatened by atheism?

MARTIN: No. I mean, I, really, I can`t stress this enough. A lot of
my friend are atheists. I was just reflecting today. I had a lunch with a
friend of mine who is agnostic or atheist. So, it is not surprising. It
is not surprising.

O`DONNELL: You have seen priests go through what they call a crisis
of faith where the priests have times where they`re not so sure about the
basic existence of God?

MARTIN: I have seen a lot of people gone through that. And it is not
surprising. I mean, atheism, you know is to many respects, a reasonable
thing to sort of posit from looking around at the world. I don`t posit
that or believe in that. But yes, it is perfectly reasonable for people to
think that. And I think it important to accompany them. And not, you
know, hit them over the head with something. Because really, that does no
good, you know. That`s not the way Jesus acted. And that`s not the way a
Christian should act. I think it is invitation. That`s the word I like

JILLETTE: But the argument we came up with together backstage when we
came out here is an argument that isn`t usually given for religion which is
that if I were to convert right here on this TV show, we would both make a
lot of money.


O`DONNELL: All right.

JILLETTE: I even think it is good for you show. I say it is You Tube

MARTIN: Our books would do very well.

O`DONNELL: And your book title is what?

MARTIN: The Jesuit guide to almost everything. I have a book coming
up in March called "Jesus" which is about Jesus.

O`DONNELL: See. That is the modest sales pitch. That`s, modestly

JILLETTE: Well done. He`s wearing kind of, he has the whole symbol
there. So I have to talk about what I am doing. I don`t have a t-shirt.

MARTIN: But I can`t do magic. I can`t do magic.

O`DONNELL: Well, under some definitions of magic, trans-
substantiation, for example, would be considered.

O`DONNELL: Penn, do you think that atheism is sometimes presented in
an overly aggressive way, or a way that doesn`t serve it?

JILLETTE: Put anything in that sentence in place of atheism and you
have it being right.

O`DONNELL: Yes, yes.

JILLETTE: Of course. Of course, it is presented badly. Everybody
has their own personality. Their own way of doing things. Way of talking.
The most important thing, only thing. I think we can agree on this
strongly, is what I think is most important is that people actually talk
about it. The quickest way to find out that you are wrong is to state your
position. And the one, the one kind of person I have a lot of trouble
understanding is the kind of person that says that the existence of God or
religion doesn`t matter, it is not an important decision. I think is a
vitally important where all our lives makes.

O`DONNELL: Do we agree on that?

MARTIN: Yes. I think because I think also believers can learn a lot
from atheists because a lot of believers take their faith not serious
enough to kind of really question and kind of think it through.

O`DONNELL: Father James Martin gets tonight`s "Last Word." And
interpreted, as you will.

Father Martin, thank you. Penn Jillette, Bless you.


O`DONNELL: Chris Hayes is really up next.


Copyright 2013 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>