THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
Date: November 25, 2013
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: A foreign policy breakthrough for
President Obama and the world. An unprecedented agreement with Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran is bent on
building nuclear weapons.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Iranian
nuclear issue is a problem.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My central goal is to
prevent them from getting nuclear weapons.
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST: The nuclear deal with Iran reached over
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The U.S. and its allies signed an
MITCHELL: -- the combination of months of negotiations.
OBAMA: These are substantial limitations.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): This deal freezes Iran`s nuclear
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): And it allows for daily inspections.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): -- daily inspections of Iran`s
OBAMA: -- which will help prevent Iran from building a nuclear
REP. MIKE ROGERS, CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think
this was a deal for the sake of a deal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The deal is already being criticized
on Capitol Hill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): They`re spiking the football in the
ERIC CANTOR, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: This interim deal with Iran is,
in fact, dangerous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Partisan bickering is the background noise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What`s their alternative?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Questioning the big deal President Obama made.
CHUCK TODD, NBC CORRESPONDENT: The first true dialogue in 34 years.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is very much a first step.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A good first step.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a process.
OBAMA: Well, today`s announcement is just a first step that achieves
a great deal.
O`DONNELL: As a first-time presidential candidate in 2008, President
Obama promised that foreign policy in his administration would focus on
diplomacy over military action. John McCain and Hillary Clinton both
criticized then Senator Obama for saying that as president he would seek to
speak directly to the leaders of Iran.
But President Obama has now broken America`s 34-year isolation from
Iran. Saturday night President Obama made the dramatic announcement that
the United States and five other countries have reached a six-month
agreement with Iran.
Iran will allow U.N. inspectors to inspect its nuclear sites. Iran
promises to drastically reduce its nuclear enrichment program. And in
exchange, there will be a reduction to some of the brutal economic
sanctions levied against the Iranian economy as the countries work toward a
Today President Obama said this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I firmly believe in what President Kennedy once said. He
said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to
I believe that. And this diplomacy, backed by the unprecedented
sanctions we brought on Iran has brought us the progress that was achieved
this weekend. For the first time in a decade we halted the progress on
Iran`s nuclear program. Key parts of the program will be rolled back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Today "The New York Times" reports that the Obama
administration and Secretary of State John Kerry have been having secret
communications with the Iranian government for several months and that the
three-decade communications stalemate was ended when then Senator John
Kerry began sending messages to Iranian leaders through the Sultan of Oman.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said exactly what the
Iranians needed to hear. Netanyahu said he thinks this is a terrible deal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: What was concluded in
Geneva last night is not a historic agreement. It`s a historic mistake.
It has not made the world a safer place like the agreement with North Korea
in 2005. This agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Imagine, if you will, what the reaction would be if the
Israeli prime minister had welcomed this deal. Iranians would then have
been forced to instantly reject it.
So how far apart are President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu really?
For the answer, we turn to Peter Beinart of "The Daily Beast," Richard
Wolffe of MSNBC.com, executive editor, and Steve Clemons, MSNBC contributor
and Washington editor-at-large for "The Atlantic."
Peter, there is always a bit of guesswork about just how big the gap
is whenever there appears to be a gap between the American president and
the Israeli prime minister.
What is your sense of what is really going on here?
PETER BEINART, "THE DAILY BEAST": I think the gap is pretty real.
Benjamin Netanyahu has said many, many times that he wants to get rid of
all Iranian nuclear capacity and not allow Iran to have any enriched
uranium on its soil, even though most Iran experts, including, I think,
many in Israel itself, think that that`s a fantasy. That will never
And indeed, that would be a path to war. So, yes, I think the two are
in very different places, but they don`t the same amount of power.
Benjamin Netanyahu does not -- did not have the power to stop this deal.
Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 and in 2012, where you said, making
it very clear that he wanted to pursue a diplomatic deal with Iran.
And I don`t think Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to stop him, despite
the efforts of some in Congress.
O`DONNELL: Richard Wolffe, you know, I assume that Benjamin Netanyahu
knows all of those things that Peter just said and knows how completely
unrealistic it is for Iran to ever meet his particular list of demands.
And so there`s a certain amount of stunting around this. And there always
And it seems to me that Netanyahu is actually saying exactly what
President Obama needs him to say in order to keep the Iranians at the
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC.COM EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Right. You can actually
agree to disagree and I think these two allies are, in fact, doing just
that. They do have different national security interests as well as having
a lot of common ground.
So this isn`t that unusual for any set of allies. You know, there were
plenty of allies in Europe who were really uncomfortable with President
Reagan negotiating with Mikhail Gorbachev. And yet, given the greater
threat and actually the even more difficult domestic politics for Reagan,
that went ahead. And it helped hasten the end of the Cold War.
So allies can play positive roles, negative roles and even the ones
that seem to be negative can actually help in this kind of tense situation.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to President Obama where he said that he is
basically just doing what he promised he would do.
I guess we don`t have it. Any -- what the president said was -- OK,
now they`re telling me we have it. So let`s hear the president say it
instead of me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Now, some of you may recall that when I first ran for
president, I said it was time for a new era of American leadership in the
world, one that turned the page on a decade of war and began a new era of
our engagement with the world.
And ass the president and as commander in chief, I have done what I
said. We ended the war in Iraq. We brought our troops home. Osama bin
Laden met justice. The war in Afghanistan will end next year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Steve Clemons, is this a case of the president simply
doing what he said he was going to do?
STEVE CLEMONS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR AND WASHINGTON EDITOR-AT-LARGE FOR
"THE ATLANTIC": Well, I do think it`s something he said he was going to
do. When the president was elected, I wrote a piece at the time, saying
that he would have to find his inner Richard Nixon. And what I meant by
that is he was going to have to figure out how to prioritize strategic
challenges the United States had, to focus on one and to achieve something
so big, that it actually changed the way global gravity worked.
And in Nixon`s case, that was China and now with President Obama it`s
Iran. Or at least we have the prospect that it could be Iran.
What he has done here is really run right against very rough water and
a lot of opposition. And he is changing the course of what we can think
aspirationally is possible with Iran. And in my view, in a complete
opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama is making the world a
much safer place by defusing this war track that we have been on with Iran.
O`DONNELL: Let`s go back to listening to the president in 2008 on
"Meet the Press," talking about this issue.
OK. I guess we will.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: As I indicated before, to rally the international community,
to engage direct talks with Iran, to send a clear signal about the
consequences of continuing to develop nuclear weapons but also to send a
signal that if they are willing to stand down, that we can provide them
with the kind of assistance that they need in order to help their people.
So my central goal is to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Peter Beinart, no one can say we didn`t see this coming
with this president.
BEINART: Right. The key point is he was talking about preventing
them from getting nuclear weapons. I think this deal is -- does put us on
the path to doing that.
But the bar was set very differently by Benjamin Netanyahu and many
Republicans in Congress that want to stop Iran from having any nuclear
capability at all. That`s a much less realistic goal.
And I think the challenge we`re going to face now is that what`s going
to happen is that people are going to try to basically put conditions and
say unless this -- the final deal meets certain benchmarks, then sanctions
are going to kick in, sanctions that would ruin the prospect of a final
deal and benchmarks that cannot realistically be met. That`s going to be
the next frontier. The next fight is going to be in Congress.
O`DONNELL: Richard Wolffe, what do you think the prospects are for
that fight in Congress? There`s plenty of quick reaction right now in
Congress, both -- and including some Democratic reaction that is not very
welcome of the deal.
WOLFFE: Right. Well, this isn`t that different from the Congress
that refused to transfer detainees from Guantanamo to a supermax facility
(INAUDIBLE) they were afraid that somehow the terrorists would escape.
This is not a profile in courage coming out of this Congress. Of
course there`s skepticism. But if you are actually serious about nuclear
proliferation, you know that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does
allow for what Peter just described.
You took (ph) nuclear technology is not proscribed by that treaty but
most definitely nuclear weapons are. And inspections are at the heart of
how you enforce it. If someone has a better plan than the Nuclear Non-
Proliferation Treaty, then please bring it forward and not engage in this
kind of knee-jerk politics.
O`DONNELL: Steve Clemons, what do you expect to see as Congress gets
more involved in this?
CLEMONS: I expect them to dither. I expect them to be on different
sides of the debate, as Peter Beinart just said. I think there will be a
lot of sound and fury signifying very little because ultimately the
president is putting on the table a much more durable and important
solution to solving this problem and potentially getting Iran and the rest
of the world on a different track.
That`s what is really at stake here, is that you have a rising power
in the region with which we have very little engagement.
It`s also important, while we`re talking about Israel, to realize that
the real rival in the region is Saudi Arabia. And even Saudi Arabia today
came out and publicly said that it stands by the P5+1 agreement, interim
agreement with Iran.
And so I think they will be -- the congressional opposition in
different places, but, listen, they`re not -- they are not commander in
chief and they are not having to carry the burden and responsibility for
the very deft dealmaking that we`ve seen from this White House.
And I think ultimately the president will prevail over a confused
O`DONNELL: The president talked about some of the criticism today,
talking about tough talk and bluster in Washington, that that`s the easy
thing to do politically, but it`s not the right thing to do for our
security. And, Peter Beinart, we surely are in for a few weeks of tough
talk and bluster from Washington, Democrats and Republicans.
BEINART: Well, the fascinating thing is those are almost word for
word what he said about Mitt Romney, if you remember. Let`s remember that
Iran was the most important foreign policy issue of the 2012 debate. The
Republican Party, as it`s done -- as it had done effectively in previous
decades tried to out-hawk the Democrats, run to the president`s right.
And it was very clear that Barack Obama won that foreign policy debate
decisively in 2012. Also worth noting that he won over 70 percent of the
Jewish vote in that presidential election.
So I think we -- what President Obama has going for him is that we
don`t live in the 1980s, when Democrats needed to cower from the Republican
Party and be afraid of being outflanked on their right. Now we have a
president who has more credibility on foreign policy than do his political
opponents, and I think he has the -- he will have the public on his side.
O`DONNELL: Richard Wolffe, this is one of those situations where the
president -- one of the moves the president has is to simply call on his
critics to demand what is their plan. And if you listen to them, some are
in the second or third sentence, you get into war with Iran.
WOLFFE: Right. Well, some of them talk happily about a better deal
that could have been struck. It`s not clear how they think that could have
happened. They think that the sanctions will fall apart immediately; the
weapons inspectors will never work.
Interestingly, a lot of those critics, the very same critics were
after this president because he was so weak that he was not prepared to
attack Iran in Syria. So they thought he was rushing to war in Syria; they
thought he wasn`t tough enough in Syria. Really they just oppose his
foreign policy because it comes from him.
I suspect if it had been a Republican, a Reagan seeking to do this
deal, then this would have been just fine and dandy.
O`DONNELL: Peter Beinart, Richard Wolffe and Steve Clemons, thank you
all for joining me tonight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks.
O`DONNELL: A little technical note here tonight. I`m sitting here
about 2,500 miles away from the -- here in Los Angeles -- about 2,500 miles
away from the control room in New York, where they have to pick those
pieces of video to plug in. And so there will be maybe a couple of
mistakes here in the show tonight.
Coming up, the latest on the Affordable Care Act. Where exchanges
seem to be working well, like right here in California. David Axelrod will
And -- this is amazing -- is Michelle Obama a feminist hero or a
feminist nightmare? An article in "Politico" actually says the first lady
is, quote, "a feminist nightmare." Nia-Malika Henderson and Zerlina
Maxwell, I think, have something to say about that. They`re going to join
And in the rewrite tonight, my little boy memories of 50 years ago
today when I walked into Arlington National Cemetery following President
Kennedy`s casket to his final resting place.
O`DONNELL: Today the Virginia State Board of Elections certified
Democrat Mark Herring as the winner of the November election for Virginia
attorney general. Herring beat Republican State Senator Mark Obenshain by
165 votes out of more than 2 million votes that were cast. Obenshain has
not yet called for a recount.
This is the first time in more than 40 years that Democrats will hold
the five top statewide elected offices, governor, lieutenant governor,
attorney general and both United States Senate seats.
Up next, David Axelrod will join me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And by the way, thousands of Californians are signing up every
day for new health care plans all across the state.
OBAMA: So, even as we`re getting this darn website up to speed, it`s
getting better. States like California are proving the law works.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: We are just five days away from the Obama administration`s
revised deadline to get healthcare.gov up and running. "The New York
Times" and Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Krugman says -- I`m sorry; Nobel
Prize winner Paul Krugman says that if the Affordable Care Act can work in
a state as large and diverse as California, then it should work for the
United States as a whole.
At this point, more than 10,000 applications are being completed per
day, putting the state well on track to meet its overall targets for 2014
coverage. Equally important is the information on who is enrolling to work
The health reform has to produce a balanced risk pool; that is, it
must sign up young, healthy Americans as well as their older, less healthy
compatriots. And so far, so good in October; 22.5 percent of California
enrollees have -- were between the ages of 18 and 34, slightly above that
group`s share of the population.
What we have in California then is a proof of concept. Yes, ObamaCare
is workable. In fact, done right, it works just fine.
Joining me now, former senior advisor to President Obama, MSNBC
political analyst, David Axelrod.
David, I guess the administration has to take the good news on the
Affordable Care Act where it can get it and here in California is one of
the biggest sources of good news.
DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: Well, there is no
doubt about it, obviously the largest state in the country. And what it
proves -- and you have seen it in other states and even in Mitch
McConnell`s home state of Kentucky, that where you have a state government
and a governor who is interested in making the program succeeded, the
demand is there and the program works.
So this is really encouraging. And as you point out, the sign-up of
these younger Americans, younger Californians into the program is a very
The other good sign is that momentum is building across the state. So
you see the sign-ups picking up. We remember that in Massachusetts when
they passed their health care law in 2006, only 123 people signed up in the
first month and the rush came at the end. So all of these are -- these are
good signs for the exchanges and for the Affordable Care Act.
O`DONNELL: David, I hate to quibble with a Nobel Prize winning
economist, but I actually think that Paul Krugman has not compared the
correct numbers or the ones that are most relevant to the measurement of
success here in California.
It is true that about 22 percent of the population in California is 18
to 34 years old and 22.5 percent of the new enrollees are in that age
group. But that group 18-34 in California represent over 40 percent of the
uninsured, about 42 percent of the uninsured. So measured against the
actual uninsured population, which I think is the more relevant number,
California is not capturing them all, but they never expected at this stage
to be capturing them all. They had a more modest expectation in this first
year. And that`s one of the things that is present across the board in the
expectations, is that they were all more modest in the first year than I
think anyone admitted at the outset. And now the Affordable Care Act is
being tested against perfection.
AXELROD: Yes, well, I think the other thing is that beyond the
numbers are the human stories. "The Washington Post" had an
extraordinarily poignant story the other day on the sign-ups in Kentucky.
And all of these people, many of them older, actually, who have never had
health insurance before, getting health insurance for the first time.
The "L.A. Times" has a great piece. I think it just got posted
tonight about all these people with preexisting conditions who are now
getting health coverage that they couldn`t get before and how meaningful
that is to them.
So behind these numbers are very powerful stories that speak to the
wisdom of this.
But, Lawrence, I would say one other thing and that is as important as
these exchanges are, they are essential to the Affordable Care Act, there
is a lot behind it that has already taken place, 3.5 million people under
the age of 26 who are on their parents` insurance; 17 million kids with
preexisting conditions already who are able to get coverage who didn`t
before because of this; 105 million Americans who can`t get thrown off
their insurance simply because they get seriously ill and hit their caps,
there are no more caps; 8.5 million Americans have gotten rebates this year
because their insurance companies overspent on things other than health
care, like executive bonuses and administrative costs.
This is the Affordable Care Act as well. And every American benefits
from those bits of progress. So, we have to get this right and the website
is an enraging thing. The rollout was terrible.
But the fact is the demand is there. And what I noticed in the polls
-- and you may have seen this, too -- is that support for the Affordable
Care Act has been basically level and consistently a majority of Americans
want to fix the Affordable Care Act and move forward rather than repeal it.
And it goes to your question from the last segment, which is those who are
against it, what`s their plan for all these Americans who are being helped
O`DONNELL: Well, one of the big winners of the Affordable Care Act
now appears to be Speaker of the House John Boehner, who was so absolutely
certain that he was going to -- it was going to be impossible to enroll
that he did a media stunt of enrolling. And then it turned out enrolling
wasn`t so difficult and he`s got himself a pretty good deal, it seems like.
AXELROD: Well, I`m happy for him. I hope he is imbued with the
holiday spirit and realizes that others would want the same benefit that he
O`DONNELL: I`m sure, David, a few months from now, he will be out
praising it, saying, you know, for me, it`s actually working very well.
I`m sure he will tell us the truth about exactly how it`s working for him.
AXELROD: One thing we know for sure is that those folks do not want
this to succeed. I mean, all of these hearings about outrageous about the
website and so on. It`s fine to have oversight, but the truth is they
don`t want the plan to succeed. The Speaker keeps saying again and again
the only thing we can do is scrap it.
And I think the question that needs to be asked again and again and
again, OK, what`s your answer? What`s your answer for people with
preexisting conditions? What`s your answer for people who get thrown off
their insurance because they get sick? What`s your answer for double digit
increases in health care costs every year? Because for the last three
years, we have had a record small increase, and that is attributed in part
to the Affordable Care Act.
O`DONNELL: David Axelrod, thank you very much for joining me tonight.
AXELROD: Good to be with you. Happy holiday.
O`DONNELL: Thank you. You, too, David.
Coming up, Michelle Obama actually accused of being a feminist
nightmare. What next?
And later is the Cheney family feud for real? Or is it actually being
staged for conservative Wyoming voters?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Michelle Cottle wrote a wildly
offensive article in "Politico" magazine, criticizing the first lady and
calling her a, quote, "feminist nightmare." Dear Michelle Cottle, are you
serious? Describing some of her most notable projects as, quote, "safely,
soothingly domestic causes."
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Michelle Obama is out there dictating
the lunch menu at various public schools and encouraging people to get
active and be physically fit and all this, why?
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I wanted to come here
today because you guys and students like you across America are at the
heart of one of my husband`s most important goals as president.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR, MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY SHOW: You and you
are handful of feminist sources claim that the first lady Obama is not a
feminist because she says her most important job is being mom in chief.
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, SALON.COM: This idea that Michelle Obama,
that there is something in particular, she owned the feminist community and
that she is a nightmare, this is not an analysis I`m familiar with in my
particular feminist community.
OBAMA: I went to law school, became a lawyer, been the vice president of a
hospital. I have been the head of a non-profit organization. And I am
here today because I want you to know that my story can be your story.
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC HOST, DISRUPT: Who is a good feminist? Who is a bad
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Joining me now, Nia-Malika Henderson,
political reporter with the "Washington Post" And Zerlina Maxwell, a
political analyst and contributor to "the Grio."
I want to read one passage from this article in "Politico" about Michelle
Obama being a feminist nightmare, Michelle Cottle.
She writes, so enough already for pining from Michelle Obama who simply
doesn`t exist. The woman is not going to morph in to an edgier, more
activist first lady. The 2012 election did not set her free, even now with
her husband (INAUDIBLE) toward lame duck territory. She is not going let
loose suddenly with some straight talk about abortion rights or Obamacare
for the common core curriculum debate. Turns out, she was serious about
that whole mom in chief business. It was not merely a political strategy,
but also a personal choice.
Nia, we invited Michelle Cottle on the program tonight. She couldn`t be
here. I`d love to have heard of it to react to some of this stupid.
What`s your reaction to that passage?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, you
know, I think this idea that Michelle Obama should really be talking about
other issues. She should be talking about abortion. She should be talking
about common corporate, when she should be talking about aids.
I don`t know where that comes from. If you look at the issues she has
chose on the focus on, she has chosen to focus on some of the most pressing
issues our country faces, education and the health of our children. And
apparently that`s not good enough for feminists. I think, in many ways,
when people talk about feminism, they are talking about a very particular
brand of feminism. And that is a feminism that grew out of ideas around a
white and middle class privilege women who really find to work outside the
home. I think, if you look at a lot of black, they have always work at
home. And the idea of sort of pulling back from the workplace or even
leaning in on their own terms. I think that is closer to our definition of
feminism that you see Michelle Obama embodying.
But I think I always had a problem with this idea that Michelle Obama
should focus on something that other people say she should focus on. Her
idea is that she should focus on the things the she is fashioned about. If
you look at her biography she has always focused on these issues around use
empowerment, around education, on certainly something that she is doing
now. And with this new focus on education, I think, is something that will
really do some good for this president as well because in many ways, his
education and insurance have got lost.
O`DONNELL: Now, Michelle Obama is criticized in this piece for -- at the
Democratic convention for saying that she is the mom in chief. But she
also is criticized as we just -- as the passage I just read for not talking
about abortion rights, Obamacare or education.
Let`s listen to her now at the Democratic convention talking about abortion
rights, health care and education in the very same speech that she said she
was the mom in chief.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: He believes that women are more than capable of making our own
choices about our bodies and our health care. That`s what my husband
stands for. When it comes to giving our kids the education they deserve
Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, he never could have
attended college without financial aid. And believe it or not, when we
were first married, our combined monthly student loan bill was actually
higher than our mortgage. Yes, we were so young, so in love and so in
debt. And that`s why Barack has fought so hard to increase student aid and
keep interest rates down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Zerlina Maxwell, there is the first lady talking about real
policy issues the way no other first lady ever has.
ZERLINA MAXWELL, POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And you know, when I first saw
the article on Friday, you know, I woke up and I was like wow, Michelle
Cottle needs to have a stadium of seats for this one. Because you know,
and it is not even an original point because back when Michelle Obama made
-- gave the speech that you just played, feminists were saying the exact
same thing about the mom in chief line.
Now, one of the things that is interesting about this conversation is
Michelle Cottle is sort pandered or played a little bit to the idea that
Michelle Obama has to navigate this phase in a different way because she is
a black -- first, the first black first lady. But I think black women
traditionally have never been applauded for prioritizing motherhood. They
are always cast as welfare queens and single mothers destroying the
American -- the way that we do things here in America. And I think that my
Michelle Obama making a choice and using her agency to behave in a way that
she feels is the right way, I think we should be applauding her for that
and not criticizing her doing something that black women are not -- never,
never, never, applauded for which is being mother and are prioritizing that
as her number one priority.
O`DONNELL: I am going to read another passage. I want the audience to get
a good feel for what is in this article, the accusations that Michelle
Obama is a feminist nightmare.
The piece says, the one writer had urged (INAUDIBLE), urge a no holds bar
first lady preach about everything from Supreme Court nominees to the
racism fuelling some administration critics to issues regarding
reproductive and sexual health that we just heard her do, the reproductive
health issue. For Michelle Obama`s past work, we know that she cares about
more than gardening and clean dripping water, that tells me she is one of
the most influential black women on the planet and I consider it a national
shame that she is not putting the weight of her office behind some of the
Nia, what is your reaction to that passage?
HENDERSON: You know, I mean, those are fighting words in a way. I mean,
you know, it`s a shame that she has chosen to focus on childhood obesity?
It`s a shame that she has chosen to focus on, really, I think enlarging the
imaginations of black and brown kids around the country?
When she goes on (INAUDIBLE), when she goes in front of this audience of
African-American kids and tells her story and says that you, too, can be
who I am. You too can go to Harvard law school. These are kids who don`t
imagine that often times for their life. There is kids who grown up in a
country where they don`t feel a lot of African-American, women
particularly, so successful, having this (INAUDIBLE).
So, I think this is crucial, the sort of work that she is doing. No it
isn`t necessarily about policy. But policy isn`t everything. I think her
being a cheer leader and bringing corporations to the table. She had a
huge summit at the White House where she hold on corporations to do
business differently in terms of how their marketing a fast boom to kiss.
This is a big deal. I think that people often underestimate the kind of
work that she has already done.
O`DONNELL: Zerlina, I detect a whip of (INAUDIBLE) in this condensation
about the first lady`s interest in healthy eating. And sure, I mean, as
people -- plenty f people out there, you know, who read all sorts of
articles about what healthy eating is in "The New York Times" and
elsewhere, you know. They are up to speed on it. And Michelle Obama has
not taught them anything.
But the idea that the poverty population in this country doesn`t need and
has not needed for a long time influential guidance, a connection to
someone that they would listen to about healthy eating is strikes me as a
rather elitist notion about what is going on out there in the real world.
MAXWELL: Right. There is a huge blind spot I think in the Cottle`s
analysis because it is not gardening. I think that, you know, minimizing
what she is doing. She is talking about one of the most important issues
to black and brown Americans. Childhood obesity impacts people of color
more than any other group. And that the same goes for all of the other
issues that she is talking, right? She is talking about food deserts,
something that impacts people of color more than any other group, people
that live in the inner city and don`t have access to fresh fruits and
That is something that Michelle Obama, the first lady, has worked for to
eliminating food desert. And it`s not gardening. I think minimizing her
for the choices that she is making is the antithesis of feminism. The
whole point of feminism is so that you are able to make a choice about how
you want o live your life. You want to focus on career? Do that. If you
want to do both? Do that? If you want to be a mother? Do that.
O`DONNELL: Nia-Malika Henderson and Zerlina Maxwell, I wish that Michelle
Cottle could have joined us tonight. We could go on and on about this one.
Next time let`s bring her on.
O`DONNELL: OK. Thank you both very much for joining me tonight.
MAXWELL: Thank you.
HENDERSON: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, what is the Cheney family really up to? Do you
think Liz Cheney`s sudden public quarrel with her lesbian sister is for
real or is it exactly what her Senate campaign in Wyoming needs right now?
That is coming up.
O`DONNELL: Fifty years ago today, an assassinated president was buried in
Arlington national Cemetery and a police officer was buried in Dallas
Texas. The police officer`s widow sent a telegram of condolence to the
first lady. But we never knew until very recently that the first lady sent
a handwritten letter to the police officer`s widow. We will bring you that
correspondence and my little boy memories of standing in the crowd in
Washington during President Kennedy`s funeral. The funeral that had seemed
the whole world was watching.
O`DONNELL: On this day 50 years ago, I walked into Arlington national
cemetery for the first time. I was one of thousands men women and children
who followed President Kennedy`s casket as a horse drawn Cason brought the
president to his final resting place.
It is hard to believe this now. But there was no security at Arlington
National Cemetery that day where the entire Kennedy family was gathered
along with heads of state from around the world. You could just walk right
in as my family did and get as close to the grave as the crowd allowed.
Thousands of people gathered around the grave. We were close enough that
my oldest brother Michael who was then much taller than I was could
actually see the casket being lowered into the grave. Leaving the cemetery
I remember walking just a few steps away from the most recognizable foreign
leader, French president, Charles de Gaulle.
It didn`t seem so strange at the time that a little kid from (INAUDIBLE)
was walking along with president in France and other little kids and their
families from who knows where. It simply felt like we were all in the same
place at the same time for the same tragic reason, united in grief, a
We didn`t know what to say but we knew what to do. My father knew what to
do. He didn`t know the Kennedys. He had nothing to do with politics in
Boston, but he knew what he had to do when Boston`s beloved Irish catholic
president was killed. He had to get his family, all seven of us to
Washington for the funeral because that`s what we do. That`s what the
Irish are good at. We show up. We might not know what to say but we show
up. Our family was going to show our love and respect for our lost hero,
the best way we know how. We showed up.
In the decades that have passed since then, I have grown no more articulate
about why we were there. When I grew up, and I have been to the world and
I found myself occasionally telling friends that my whole family went down
to Washington for President Kennedy`s funeral, they would always ask why.
The Boston Irish never asked why.
On that same day, 1300 miles away, there was another funeral for a man shot
to death by Lee Harvey Oswald.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
O`DONNELL: The caller was right. The Dallas police officer JD Tippit was
dead. He had been pursuing Lee Harvey Oswald who shot him four times
including once in the head. Officer Tippit died at the scene. His wife,
Marie Tippit, was as stunned by her loss as the first lady was by hers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIE TIPPIT, WIFE OF JD TIPPIT: Facing life with three children without
him seemed almost impossible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: But Marie Tippit also mourned the loss of President Kennedy and
sent a telegram of condolence to the young mother who would have to bring
up the president`s two children without him.
The telegram said Mrs. John F. Kennedy, may I add my sympathy to that with
the people all over the world. My personal loss in this great tragedy
prepares me to sympathize more deeply with you. Mrs. JD Tippit.
Until recently, that was thought to be the only communication between the
two women who lost their husbands in Dallas that day. But then Marie
Tippit shared with Tom Brokaw the handwritten letter that she received from
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dear Mrs. Tippit, what can I say to you? My husband`s
death is responsible for you losing your husband. Wasn`t one life enough
to take on that day? I lit a flame for Jack at Arlington that will burn
forever. I consider that it burns for your husband, too, and so will
everyone who ever sees it. With my un-expressable (ph) sympathy, Jacquelyn
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: So what`s up with the Cheney family feud? Do you buy it? Do
you think it`s for real this big fight between Liz and her sister? That`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mary Cheney, who is now, (INAUDIBLE) like her sister
doesn`t support marriage equality, wrote a $25,000 check to Mitt Romney in
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wrote a check in Ayotte in Maine who doesn`t support
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: None of us is perfect. But let`s get to the real evil
people. It is Mary is not the evil. Mary is the gay married one. OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gay married one who worked to re-elect George Bush and
her father Dick Cheney. When they were running an anti-gay platform, when
they ran anti-gay marriage understood in 11 states.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. And Michael helped his father. It doesn`t matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Family matters.
Joining me now on family matters is the author of last week`s political
magazine article, "the race that broke the Cheney family," Jason Zengerle.
Jason, what Dan (INAUDIBLE) was getting at there was he just finds it
extraordinary that Mary Cheney who is married to a woman and has been able
to support all sorts of Republican candidates who have exactly the same
position as Liz Cheney has now on this issue and suddenly the one candidate
she has a problem with is her sister.
JASON ZENGERLE, POLITICO MAGAZINE: Yes. I think because of her sister, I
think that you know, I think maybe you expect certain things of your family
that you don`t necessarily expect of other politicians. So, I think it is
maybe a little cynical that they -- that this is some kind of an act.
O`DONNELL: Well, put me on the cynical category. I mean, here is Mary
Cheney who worked professionally in politics herself. That has been her
career in politics and government. And she is suddenly pretending to not
understand why Liz Cheney would take the positions she`s taking to try to
get elected in one of the most conservative states in the country?
ZENGERLE: Well, it`s a different position than her father took. I mean,
when Dick was on the -- even when he is on the Bush ticket in 2000 and
2004, he was to the left that where Liz is right now. So, you know, I
think maybe that she expected that her sister would be like her father and
will take a similar position.
O`DONNELL: And what do you make of this campaign generally where Liz
Cheney, statistically at this point anywhere in the polls, does not seem to
have a chance? Is there something Liz Cheney is looking to accomplish
after this campaign on the assumption she loses it? Is there something --
she is there a longer gain she is playing for?
ZENGERLE: I don`t know. That is really a good question. I mean, I think
the thing that I was struck by is just how unprepared she was for this
race. And I think the gay marriage issue is just one part of it.
I really don`t think it occurred to her that this would be an issue in the
race when, you know, I think a politician would look at Wyoming look at the
way public opinion is there and have to assume this is going to come up. I
think she was genuinely surprised that this became an issue. And a lot of
things that became issues like her corporate bagging or the accusations
that she is corporate bagger.
People in Wyoming think that or, at least, the people who don`t like her in
Wyoming, thinks that if she does lose the race she will move back to
Virginia. So, people there don`t see this is a long game on her part or at
least people who are opposing her.
You know, I guess it remains to be seen. I suppose if she is decent enough
showing, she could put down roots there and run again in a few years. But,
you know, there is a long time until next August. There are a lot of
things that could happen between now and then. So, she does have a lot of
time to come back in the race.
O`DONNELL: Jason, you are one of the fewer reporters who is actually gone
out to Wyoming and you have spoken to Liz Cheney while you were out there.
Does she have anything that resembles a campaign plan for actually closing
ZENGERLE: You know, I think she`s going to keep on going around the state.
It was really in our steam being out there. It is a very old school style
campaign. She told me that she expects there to be, I think, between
100,000 and 120,000 voters in the Republican primary which will essentially
decide the race. She expects to meet every single one of them and shake
their hands in the next eight or nine months. She just drives around the
state, you know, drives long distances between stops to meet the few
people, drives and, you know, another series of long distance and meets the
few people and that is just kind of what she is doing. I think, you know,
she`s just going to do it that way.
O`DONNELL: Jason Zengerle of "Politico" magazine gets tonight`s last word.
ZENGERLE: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Chris Hayes is up next.
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THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL