UP with STEVE KORNACKI
March 2, 2014
Guests: Miriam Elder, Tommy Vietor, Elise Jordan, Hayes Brown, Chris Coons,
Kellyanne Conway, Ana Marie Cox, Lynn Sweet, Analilia Mejia, Bonnie Watson
Coleman, Brian Thompson, Michael Patrick Carroll, Tom Colicchio, Goldie
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Obama and Putin`s tough talk over the crisis
It`s a busy morning, full of news here. We have an exclusive report to
bring to you later this morning on where the Chris Christie investigation
is headed next. You`re going to want to stick around for that later this
morning. But we begin with the crisis in Ukraine and President Obama`s 90-
minute phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin late yesterday. In
that conversation President Obama told President Putin that the U.S. may
have to boycott the upcoming G-8 summit in Russia and threatened further
action if Russia does not withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory of
Crimea. We`ll go to the White House for the latest on that in just a
moment. First, some more on the events that have been moving at breakneck
speed in Ukraine this weekend as indicated by the substance of that phone
Russian forces have been taking over Crimea apparently without firing a
single shot. Without even appearing to be Russian forces, for that matter.
Long lines of tanks and trucks and soldiers wearing uniforms without any
identifying marks moving into critical areas of the southern Ukraine
territory of Crimea, a section of the former soviet republic that juts out
into the Black Sea, which makes it strategically very important. The
acting president of Ukraine went on television Friday to announce that
under the guise of military exercises Russian 98troops had entered Crimea.
He said they captured the local parliament building and the regional
government headquarters and communication hubs and the airports, which they
promptly shut down. The new reports of planes carrying thousands of
Russian troops landing throughout the night. Soldiers have since been seen
digging trenches along the Crimean border with the rest of Ukraine. And
this isn`t the first time in recent history that Russia has done something
like this. In 2008 Russia sent troops into two breakaway regions in the
former soviet republic of Georgia. They started a war with Georgia over
control of those two places. Five-day conflict that Russia won. Russia
then recognized those two regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia as
independent nations. Their governments now enjoy close relationships with
Moscow, even if the United Nations and most other countries still consider
them part of Georgia.
So that`s the fear for Crimea today that Russia might be trying to provoke
another conflict now. They could be trying to get the new less friendly
with Russia leadership that`s in charge of Ukraine in the wake of the fall
of the Russian-aligned government. That they might be trying to get them
to go to war over Crimea or if Ukraine doesn`t fight back that Russia could
essentially keep the peninsula and the Black Sea where it already has a
naval base, or the population tends to identify more with Russia than
Ukraine anyway. It could make for a good base of operations from which to
plot its next move and maybe take over more of the heavily Russian-speaking
areas of eastern Ukraine. On Friday, the day before his phone call with
Putin, President Obama reacted in what was described as hastily arranged
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are now deeply
concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian federation
inside of Ukraine. Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine
including cultural and economic ties and a military facility in Crimea.
But any violation of Ukraine`s sovereignty and territorial integrity would
be deeply destabilizing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: On Saturday in response to those remarks Russia threatened to
send the U.S. ambassador home from Moscow. And Russia`s parliament granted
President Vladimir Putin permission to use the Russian military in Ukraine.
What would have seemed to have been a retroactive rubber stamp? And with
permission granted, what`s to stop Russia from deploying the troops seemed
to have gathered in Ukraine - in the Crimea to other parts of Ukraine.
Would the U.S. try to stop Putin? Is there really an appetite for the U.S.
to stop him more than 20 years after the end of the Cold war? And more to
the point, is the outraged rhetoric from Obama and other American Western
leaders only emboldening Putin? Reports on Saturday indicated that the
debate in Russia`s parliament was marked by angry reactions to Obama`s
statement. And "The New York Times" report from Crimea described
demonstrators welcoming the Russian incursion with signs saying "Free
Ukraine from U.S. Occupation," and "The USA works with fascism."
The question of what, if anything, the United States can and should do also
hovers over the news this week out of Uganda where after years of flirting
with the idea the Ugandan government finally implemented a measure that not
only makes it illegal to be gay in Uganda, it imposes harsh penalties for
homosexuality including life in prison. As for criminalizing homosexual
propaganda, something Uganda and Russia seem to have in common. Earlier
versions of the Ugandan legislation called for the death penalty as the
sentence for some gay acts. Final version of that bill left out capital
punishment, but pretty much everything else was signed into law.
And the instinct in America and much of the West, of course, when hearing
about such a draconian law is to ask what are we going to do about it? We
can condemn it. We can threaten to cut off aid and we can actually cut off
aid. At least three European countries this week already have withdrawn
millions of dollars of aid from Uganda, a country, which depends on foreign
support for about 20 percent of its budget, that`s one-fifth of its entire
budget. And the World Bank announced on Thursday that it would be delaying
$90 million in loans to Uganda. So, it`s already clear that Uganda is
going to pay a severe financial penalty. But it may not be that simple.
The $500 million that the U.S. gives to Uganda, the vast majority of it
goes to public health projects like fighting HIV and AIDS. So, who would
pay the price if that funding is revoked? The government officials who
pass the anti-gay bill or the people who have AIDS? The U.S. is also have
been helping to fund the Ugandan troops that make up the bulk of the
African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, is leading the fight against
an al Qaeda group.
But beyond that if you listen to the leadership in Uganda what seems to be
driving this is resentment of the cultural norms of America and the West
and what they see as attempts to impose that godless licentious culture on
their society and by objecting so loudly and by threatening so much action,
is the Western world potentially being counterproductive? Is it simply
providing Uganda`s leaders with a populous tool to rally the masses behind
harsh laws like the one that was implemented this week? Are our best
instincts actually making things worse? Some of the reactions from America
and the West also help to fuel Vladimir Putin`s push for the anti-gay law
Russia passed last year. He`ll even tell Russians that he was trying to
protect their proud and traditional culture from the destructive forces of
the West. As we said at the top, there`s reporting that shows that Russia
is now leaning on populous resentment of America and the West to stir up
support in Crimea and parts of Ukraine for its actions there. Outrage can
be empowering not just when you are feeling it, but when you are on the
receiving end of it. And it`s certainly hands that outrage can be used as
a tool. It`s something to keep in mind as the Obama administration tries
to figure out its next steps in both of these situations.
From the White House I want to bring in NBC`s Kristen Welker for the latest
- first on the Ukraine situation. Kristen, good morning. We have this
readout of the phone call from between President Obama and President Putin
yesterday, at least according to the White House where Obama threatened
Putin that there could be greater, quote, "greater political and economic
isolation for Russia," also said that we would -- the United States would
pull out of preparations for the upcoming G-8 summit in Sochi. I`m looking
at that, is there anything more the United States is talking about
threatening or can threaten here?
KRISTEN WELKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. It`s a really important
question, Steve. By the way, that conversation described as tense in part
because of what you said President Obama announcing that the U.S. would
suspend its participation in those preparatory meetings for the G-8 summit.
Vladimir Putin pushing back, defending Russia`s actions. So incredibly
tough words during those 90 minutes that were spoken yesterday. So what
can the United States actually do? There has been some talk of potential
sanctions. Not surprisingly you have some of the more hawkish members of
Congress calling on President Obama to take a tougher stance. Senator John
McCain, for example, coming out and saying that President Obama needs to do
a better job of laying out exactly what the costs will be if Russia
continues to escalate its intervention. I`ve been speaking to some foreign
policy experts, one telling me that, look, one possible option is to cancel
upcoming meetings with Russia`s trade delegations, also possibly to
consider forfeiting Russia`s participation in the G-8, that those would be
stronger stances to take because what President Obama did by announcing
that the U.S. will suspend its participation in these preparatory meetings
amounts to essentially a slap on the wrist, but not necessarily an all-out
snub. So those are some of the options that are being discussed, Steve.
What`s not being discussed is any military action here. It really seems
that they`re looking at the policy, the potential economic steps that they
can take at this point. Steve?
KORNACKI: All right, Kristen Welker at the White House, thanks for that
update. And joining us now here at the table we have Miriam Elder, she`s a
foreign editor with "Buzzfeed" who spent time covering Russia, Tommy Vietor
is the co-founder of the political consulting from Fenway strategies. He
was a former spokesman at the National Security Council under President
Obama. Elise Jordan also worked with the NSC as director of communications
there under President George W. Bush. She`s now a contributor to "The
Daily Beast." And Hayes Brown, reporter covering national security issues
for Think Progress. Thanks for joining us. And Miriam, I`ll start with
you. Since you know Russia so well, maybe you could just sort of give us
some context and some background about what exactly is going on here. You
know, the Crimea was sort of transferred, I guess, to the Ukraine in 1954
by then the Soviet Union, there are a lot of Russian speaking people who
live there and there are also a lot of Russian speaking people, people who
identify more, I think, with Russia in the eastern part of Ukraine. Are we
seeing a strategy here by Vladimir Putin to just expand the territory of
Russia to include this sort of predominantly Russian speaking areas? Is
that what`s going on?
MIRIAM ELDER, BUZZFEED: I think that`s what`s going on and when we see
what`s happening in Crimea right now and as you said at the top the most
important thing to watch is what`s going to happen in the east of Ukraine.
I kind of don`t really think he`s going to stop at Crimea. Putin has this
like imperial project, one of the biggest tragedies of the 21 century that
he said was the collapse of the Soviet Union and what he`s trying to do is
kind of rebuild Russia`s imperial strength. So he`s relying on this very
like - not sort of like native idea of what it means to be Russian. So he
draws on ethnic ties. He draws on religious ties, and he sort of sees
anybody in Russia`s sphere as anybody who has this like super Orthodox and
KORNACKI: And that`s the other interesting thing, too, because I think
it`s the relic of the Stalin area that all these people were moved from
Russia maybe against their will to parts of the Soviet empire and large
Russian-speaking communities, communities sort of loyal to Moscow sprouted
up, and now that is sort of becoming the pretense in part for Putin trying
to expand the territory, because this declaration he got from parliament
yesterday didn`t just say Crimea. It basically gave him carte-blanche for
all of Ukraine.
ELDER: Yes, precisely. And that`s why there is a lot of fears growing
around the region. You have these sort of communities in Kazakhstan, you
have these kind of communities in Latvia. You have these, you know, these
Russian-speaking communities all over the former Soviet Union, because
everybody was just kind of moved all over the place. So, if he`s allowed
to do this, the question then becomes what`s next?
KORNACKI: Well, so, Tommy, what about the prime minister of Ukraine, the
current, you know, interim -- whatever you want to call him -- prime
minister of Ukraine called this a declaration of war.
TOMMY VIETOR, FMR. SPOKESMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Right.
KORNACKI: Clearly, there are Russian troops on the scene. As far as I
know, Ukraine does not have the military might to fight back, full-fledged,
you know, Russian incursion. Is there any scenario, under which there`s a
military conflict here or can Russia really basically just take what it
wants because nobody wants a military conflict with them?
VIETOR: I can`t see any scenario where there is a military conflict that
involves U.S. forces. I think what we`re seeing here is Putin lashing out
militarily in response to a massive political defeat. He lost a very close
ally in Yanukovych when he was essentially deposed and sent from Kiev and
now he is sending troops in. I think we need to reject, the United States
needs to reject his sort of zero sum look at this that Ukraine must either
choose to be Russian or choose to be Western. This is a sovereign nation.
They should be able to live how they please and have their sovereignty
respected. He obviously broke that. I think the readout you read out
earlier was remarkable. I`ve worked on a lot of these during my time at
the White House and generally it was trying to figure out ways to say
nothing with different words. You know, they talked about issues of mutual
concern, whatever. This was direct. This was in Putin`s face. And
letting him know that there will be diplomatic consequences like not going
to G-8 meeting, maybe kicking them out of the G-8, maybe sanctions, maybe
breaking off trade talks. So, you know, there`s very little you can do
here militarily. Frankly, I don`t think it`s in the U.S. interests to
start a war with Russia, but there will be an international response that I
don`t know if it will be effective in the long run, but it will be
isolating for Russia.
KORNACKI: What does that mean, Elise, do you think, to somebody like
Putin? So, OK, we`re not going to participate in the preparatory meetings
for the G-8. Maybe there won`t even be a G-8 this year. Does that mean
anything to Putin?
ELISE JORDAN, THE DAILY BEAST: I think it`s a slap on the wrist. I think
the problem is that Putin has no fear right now. Because he`s seeing Obama
and how Obama handled Syria and the red line and I think he is incredibly
empowered. And unfortunately, I think, this shows a lack of foresight in
the Obama foreign policy that has, unfortunately, you know, been more of
the rule. If you look at how Ambassador Nuland and Ambassador to the
Ukraine are talking about power sharing arrangements. It gets leaked on
YouTube. And we`re -- but there`s no plan for what happens next. So this
happens and you think Putin isn`t going to respond. Like, what is our
KORNACKI: But I guess what I wonder and Hayes, I think, back to 2008 and
the situation in Georgia and George W. Bush was president, the United
States was outraged at this incursion, ultimately it wasn`t something the
United States was willing to put any troops on the ground to stop and
ultimately, you know, Putin just sort of got his way and life went on. I
wonder is there more that the United States can do here?
HAYES BROWN, THINKPROGRESS.ORG: I mean not in terms of military response,
like Tommy said. There is really no - I mean even in the time of George W.
Bush when we had a much larger defense budget, we couldn`t do anything to
stop Russia when it invaded Georgia, so I don`t think there`s much in terms
of that. We can do - we could have, like you mentioned, $40 billion worth
of trade with Russia last year, so and they want more. Even as latest last
December they were trying to negotiate to have not quite a free trade deal,
but a much bigger economic tie to the United States. So if we cut off
those talks, if we try to as far as we can within the WTO lower our trade
with Russia that would send a pretty strong message, but as far as .
JORDAN: So, how far are we going to go there? Are we going to turn Russia
into an international pariah? Are we going to cut off visas for all the
parliamentarians who voted for this incursion? Like what really are these
harsh measures? Because I don`t think that, oh, not going to Sochi G-8, no
one even wants to go there anyway.
BROWN: We`ve been there. We`ve seen the hotels already.
BROWN: But you mentioned possibly taking away visas from the
parliamentarians. That is an option on the table. I mean or even as far
as putting a travel ban on Putin traveling outside of Russia if the U.S.
really wants to send a strong message.
JORDAN: Which would be great.
BROWN: Which would be great. Round up our allies in Europe to do the same
thing that would be amazing.
KORNACKI: Well, there are some reasons, maybe, why our allies in Europe
would hesitate to take a step like that. We can get into that after this
to talk more about what could or should be done given what`s going on in
Ukraine right now after this.
To talking about this a little bit in the opening, the debate, if you want
to call it a debate that took place in the Russian parliament yesterday
authorizes a military force, that use of the military in Ukraine. This
sort of anti-Western themes that were stressed and the theme you hear this
in the Russian media and you heard this in the parliament yesterday, was
this idea that the demonstrations that were taking place in Kiev were sort
of represented a danger to Russian speaking people. Here`s what a member
of parliament saying, "All this is being done under the guise of democracy,
as the West says. They tore apart Yugoslavia, rowded (ph) Egypt, Libya,
Iraq and so on. All of this under the false guise of peaceful
demonstrations, so we must be ready in case they want to unleash the dogs
on us. When I hear that kind of rhetoric and then we talk about what, you
know, this readout from the United States effort that the Obama phone call
yesterday about isolating Russia further, I almost see a leader, Putin, in
a country that maybe doesn`t mind being isolated and in a way has some
leverage, too, with Europe, not so much the United States, but with Europe
when it comes to, like, oil.
ELDER: I think what Putin is led by, he wants to be respected on the world
stage. This is something that you`ve seen since like the first day he got
into power. He kind of tried it through respect and now - a lot of that we
saw like the appeals to the United Nations. That was the only place where
Russia really had power, it was on the Security Council. So it wielded its
veto as much as it possibly could. It wasn`t really getting the respect
that it wanted and now they`re kind of conflating fear and respect. So,
I`m not sure that they would revel in the isolation, but I think they are
reveling in - you know, being like the center of world news and just having
everybody freak out about what on earth they`re doing.
KORNACKI: So where does this -- tell me, where do you think this goes
next? I mean it`s the question is would there be a full-scale takeover of
Crimea? Would that be, you know, would that become part of Russia, or
would it become this - I guess it was going to be an autonomy referendum on
the ballot there soon. But it would be - it would be like sort of those
republics break, where republic of Georgia loyal to Moscow and maybe parts
of eastern Ukraine. Are there other parts of the old Soviet empire that
they have their eye on, too?
VIETOR: That`s a great question. That`s clearly what the president was
pointing at in this readout of the phone call yesterday. With respect to
the rhetoric, I do think this is some things anti-Western, nationalist
rhetoric like this, this is something Putin has used since day one to rally
his base and get people excited and demagogue the West. And it`s, you
know, the playbook of every autocrat from Mubarak to Putin. The challenge
for the United States is when, you know, tomorrow we still have to wake up
and work with them on Syria, CW, we have to work with them on Iran
sanctions, we have to work with them on North Korea, we have to work with
them on getting supplies to our troops in Afghanistan. There`s a whole
bunch of other issues we need to continue to get progress on, arms control
reduction, aside from this. So, that is what makes this so unbelievably
complicated. I agree we need a strong response and it might include
sanctions and it might include diplomatic isolation, but there`s a limit.
KORNACKI: And could we - so Tommy mentions like Syria and mentions Iran -
I mean could we have a productive working relationship with Russia, which
is vital to those two questions if we`re then putting sanctions on the
table, if we are then taking actions, not military, but taking actions in
response to this, you know, sort of poking a stick in Putin`s eye?
BROWN: Well, I mean all the things that we - that you just mentioned are
things that are really important to Russia as well. On the things that
Russia cares about, they`re willing to be - come to the table,
counterterrorism, Iran, nuclear issue, Syria, CW. But on things that they
don`t want the U.S. on, that`s when they just do what they want and that`s
where we run into trouble. You guys mentioned that prestige is really big
in Putin`s mind. That`s why kicking him out of the G-8 would be a pretty
serious step. When they got in in the `90s it was a huge boost of recently
collapsed Soviet Union/Russia and so kicking him out would show him that
these sorts of moves don`t hold the sort of respect that you want Russia to
KORNACKI: What`s the threat to the United States, Elise? I mean can we
live with, let`s say, there`s sort of a quasi-autonomous Crimea that`s
loyal to Moscow and maybe picks off parts of eastern Ukraine that are
heavily Russian speaking and that becomes sort of loyal to Moscow and the
rest of Ukraine is sort of more aligned with Europe? Is that ultimately a
long -term threat to the United States if that`s .
JORDAN: Well, definitely it`s slowing NATO expansion prospects. But I
just disagree on how much I think we need Russia right now. I think Syria
has really been to Putin`s benefit, to Russia`s benefit, I think to Iran,
that, you know, they`re at a point in negotiations where the Iranians have
such a vested interest right now that we`re in a much better position than
we`ve ever really been -- we`re in such a -- I think we could get more.
And if they don`t - If the American delegation doesn`t get more from Iran,
that`s going to be a complete shame. But I just don`t see what we`re
getting from the Russians these days where it really matters all that much
because they`re going to follow their own interests at the end of the day.
KORNACKI: All right. Well, we will switch gears when we get back, to ask
a little bit about this with our guest Senator Chris Coons, but also we
will talk to Chris Coons about America`s rhetoric in Uganda and how that
must be met with action. We`ll pick it up next after this.
KORNACKI: All right. Joining us from Washington now is Delaware Senator
Democrat Chris Coons. He`s chair of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on
African Affairs. He`s traveled to Uganda and spoken out strongly against
that country`s anti-homosexuality bill. Senator, thanks for joining us. I
do want to talk about Uganda. But first, I just want to get your reaction
to what we are seeing in Ukraine, calls for the United States to do
something whether that`s sanctions or, you know, pulling out of the G-8
meeting, what do you think the United States response to the Ukraine should
be right now?
SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D) DELAWARE: Well, Steve, we need to remember that this
is Russia, not the Soviet Union. They are a shadow of their former selves,
and what Putin has been trying to do in recent years is to work his way
back into international respectability, as your panel mentioned previously.
We`ve just put the finishing touches on the Olympic Games in Sochi. The
most expensive winter games in history. And there`s an upcoming G-8 summit
at Sochi. I do think that we can and should respond in a thoughtful,
forceful, multilateral way to Russian overreach and aggression in the
Crimea. I think we should force them to use their veto at the U.N., to
veto a Security Council resolution denouncing Russian military adventurism
in Crimea and I think we should get our allies to withdraw from the G-8
summit in Sochi and discuss other trade issues or sanctions. But we also
have to make sure that our rhetoric isn`t overreaching and isn`t further
escalating this crisis. Putin suffered a political defeat when Yanukovych,
his ally in leadership in Kiev was literally chased out of town, chased out
of the country and he is acting in defense of Russia`s core interests in
retaining their naval base in Sevastopol and at defending the Russian
minority that is predominantly in Crimea and in southeastern Ukraine.
So, if we work in a thoughtful and measured way with our European allies to
push back in ways that Putin will respond to that affect Russian primacy in
the region, but don`t over escalate it. I think there is a possibility of
our moving forward in a way that allows Ukrainians to resolve what is
essentially a Ukrainian political issue.
KORNACKI: All right. And I want to get to Uganda now. We talked about
this a little bit at the top of the show, and I wanted to spend more time
on this and the developments in Ukraine just kind of made it impossible.
But I want to get to it, because it was a big story this week, this anti-
homosexuality bill being signed into law in Ukraine and we talked about how
a lot of the rhetoric over there is directed sort of anti-American, anti-
Western. This is being framed by politicians in the Ukraine as sort of a
reaction to the excesses of the West. Here is an example. This is the
ethics minister of Uganda reacting to some news this week about how money
from Europe might stop flowing into the country. He said, "We will not shy
away from this. We want to rid this country of homosexuality, and if that
means these people Obama, Hague (ph), you name them, want to stop their
aid, then let them. We don`t need it. We will die poor. And we will at
least be able to save these gays from damnation. Homosexuality cannot be
accommodated in our culture. We have taken that position as a government
because this is a democracy, and it is what the people want.
In the face of that attitude and in the face of the obvious populous appeal
in Uganda of this kind of a law, I wonder what it is the United States can
COONS: Well, Steve, we do need to be respectful of concerns of the LGBT
community in Uganda. When I was there a year ago and met with LGBT
activists, at that point, they were asking me not to be too publicly
aggressive on their behalf, but we need to hold to account our ally Yoweri
Museveni. Museveni has been president of Uganda for decades now. And in
recent years he has become increasingly aggressive of journalism and free
speech, of political dissenters. This law framed as an anti-Western, pro-
Ugandan religious freedom initiative is only the most aggressive of a whole
series of laws enacted by countries across the continent -- Nigeria in
January of this year, for example. Also a U.S. ally. Also the recipient
of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid from the United States, enacted a
sweeping anti-homosexuality law. But the one in Uganda goes further than I
think any other on the continent. It doesn`t just criminalize homosexual
activity, that in of itself is unacceptable as a violation of basic human
rights, but it makes illegal advocating for LGBT rights, it makes illegal
failing to report to the authorities someone who you believe to be
homosexual, so this criminalizes free speech and activity related to one`s
sexual identity in a way that I think the United States can`t simply stand
by and allow this to happen.
KORNACKI: So, senator, what is it we can do when it seems like the threats
and it seems like the actual withholding of aid as we`re seeing here is
prompting the reaction I just read to you when there`s such strong populous
appeal for these politicians in Uganda including the president who didn`t
seem a month ago to want to sign this, facing re-elections, seeing the
populous appeal to it. Then he goes ahead and he signs it. What leverage
does the United States have to stop this?
COONS: Well, Steve, we provide nearly $500 million a year in assistance to
Uganda. We are their single largest source of foreign aid. As you
mentioned at the top of the show, the World Bank and a number of our
Scandinavian allies have put on hold or withdrawn financial support to
Uganda already. And foreign assistance makes up nearly 20 percent of their
budget. But we have a close security relationship with Uganda as well. We
have provided equipment and training to their police and their military,
they`ve been valuable and helpful allies for us in the hunt for Joseph Kony
and in stabilizing Somalia. They`re part of the peacekeeping force there
that is fighting back against Al Shabab. So, we shouldn`t move suddenly or
rashly, but I do think as the administration conducts a top-to-bottom
review of our aid we should look seriously at reducing assistance or
cutting off assistance that`s related to police training. Their police
have already been involved in anti-LGBT violence. We should have serious
and direct conversations with President Museveni about how this will affect
the standing of our relationships.
And I frankly think we need to look at two other regional allies to be our
partners in the security challenges that I spoke about before, so that we
aren`t overly reliant on Uganda for the actions in Somalia or the actions
against Kony. We need to be able to have our actions stand up to our
rhetoric. We also need to make it clear through a travel warning for U.S.
citizens who are considering traveling to Uganda and through opening up
avenues for asylum for Ugandans who seek to leave Uganda now that it`s
become such an oppressive environment for the LGBT community. I think it`s
also important for us to put on the table the possibility of sanctions or
visa denials for those who incite violence against the LGBT community in
Uganda. We have a range of things we can do and we need to make sure that
our rhetoric is matched by our actions, Steve.
KORNACKI: OK. That`s quite a list here. Let`s see how many of those are
actually implemented and followed through in the days ahead. I want to
thank Senator Chris Coons of Delaware for joining us today as well as
writer and political commentator Elise Jordan, reporter Hayes Brown, Miriam
Elder from BuzzFeed.
Republicans are in position to take back the Senate this year potentially,
but will members of their own party put a stop to that? That`s ahead.
KORNACKI: Senator Ted Cruz playing a little word association game earlier
this week. When Politico`s Mike Allen named a notable political figure,
Cruz was asked to respond with one word. So when Mike Allen said Chris
Christie, Cruz responded with the word, brash. But then he added some more
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R) TEXAS: Listen, I think the whole Bridgegate thing is
nonsense. I think it is an example of the media piling on -- apparently
the most important story in the country is there was some traffic in New
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Well, that`s one way of looking at it. But if you`ve watched
this show lately you know it`s about a little bit more than just some
traffic. At the top of the hour, we will have some exclusive information
to report to you regarding what`s about to happen to one of Chris
Christie`s top political appointees. So stick around. You won`t want to
KORNACKI: This was the week that the Tea Party movement, a conservative
uprising that has steered the Republican Party far to the right by
engineering a series of shocking primary victories over Republican
establishment figures, this is the week that it turned five years old. The
question is whether that same upheaval, the upheaval that lifted candidates
like Christine O`Donnell and Sharron Angle in the shocking primary
victories and it allowed Democrats to win races they otherwise had no
business winning, whether that same upheaval will define the Republican
Party in this year`s midterms. It`s a critical question since control of
the Senate is very much within reach for the GOP this November. But the
evidence is conflicting. Take Ted Cruz who won his Senate seat in a Texas
Tea Party uprising in 2012 and quickly alienated many of his Republican
colleagues in the upper chamber, especially when he used his grassroots
appeal to push the party into a politically disastrous government shutdown
last fall. In the wake of that debacle Cruz seemed eager to make nice with
his colleagues and promised not to intervene in GOP primaries. He promised
not to fundraise for the Senate Conservatives Fund, this is the largest and
most powerful backer of Tea Party insurgent candidates. This seemed like a
big boost for the GOP establishment until this week when Politico reported
that Cruz had signed a fundraising letter for something called the Madison
Project, a lower profile version of the Senate Conservatives Fund. It`s a
political action committee that`s working to defeat Senate Minority Leader
Mitch McConnell, and commit Senators Pat Roberts of Kansas and Thad Cochran
of Mississippi in GOP primaries this year. On Thursday, Cruz addressed the
story in an interview with Politico`s Mike Allen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE ALLEN, POLITICO: Specifically on the Madison Project, do you have any
concerns about helping a group that`s hurting sitting GOP senators?
CRUZ: You know, look, I thought that story, to be honest, was pretty
silly. That particular letter was a letter I signed last April. It`s
nearly a year old. I didn`t even know the group would send that letter out
ALLEN: So, you wouldn`t do it again.
CRUZ: It was a letter I had signed before they had endorsed anyone in
primaries. What I have said is that I`m likely going to stay out of
incumbent Republican primaries. I haven`t put that in concrete. But it is
I`m likely going to stay out of incumbent Republican primaries.
ALLEN: And why aren`t you putting it in concrete?
CRUZ: Because things can change in politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So the prospect of Ted Cruz stirring up trouble for his own
colleagues in primaries this year in helping Tea Party candidates who might
actually give Democrats a fighting chance isn`t exactly dead. And as we
said the Tea Party has its sights set on several incumbent Republican
senators this year. Take, for example, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts. The
77-year-old was first elected to Congress in the Reagan revolution of 1980.
And he moved up to the Senate a decade and a half later where he`s now been
for the last 17 years. And Roberts is now battling back from allegations
that he has lost touch with Kansas, literally. "The New York Times"
reported last month that his voting address in the state is on a country
club golf course that belongs to two longtime supporters and donors who he
stays with when he`s in the state. He did renew his driver`s license with
the donors` golf course and listed it as his home address. But the office
has pointed out that he does own a house in Kansas, except he can`t live
there because he rents it out. Remember, the Tea Party movement isn`t just
driven by ideology. It`s also fueled by a distaste for beltway insiderdom
and Roberts` residency issue is exactly the kind of symbolic issue that can
add gasoline to the Tea Party`s fire.
The good news for Roberts is that from now he`s actually being overshadowed
by his Tea Party opponent, a doctor named Milton Wolf who posted x-rays of
dead patients to his Facebook page with humorous comments. Republicans
also pulled of a coup in Colorado this week when Ken Buck, the Tea Party
candidate who blew a very winnable Senate race for the GOP in 2010 and who
was set to challenge Democratic senator Mark Udall this year suddenly
backed out of that race deferring instead to Congressman Cory Gardner.
Since Gardner lacks Buck`s baggage, this is a significant upgrade for the
GOP. And with Gardner running for the Senate, Buck will now seek his House
seat. This is the kind of pragmatic deal the GOP establishment was unable
to strike with the Tea Party these past few years. And Republicans need a
net gain of six seats if they`re going to win back the Senate and,
remember, they are playing on very friendly turf this year. Seven
Democratic held seats are up for re-election in states that Mitt Romney won
in 2012. There`s a lot of ripe targets for the GOP. Of course, they`ve
been in this position before only to be thwarted by the Tea Party. So, the
same thing happened this fall. Here to discuss what might happen in these
Republican primaries this year, we have Kellyanne Conway, a Republican
strategist and president of the firm the Polling Company and still with us
we have Tommy Vietor, a former White House staffer in the Obama
administration, and now with the political consulting firm Fenway
Strategies. Ana Marie Cox, political columnist at "The Guardian" and Lynn
Sweet, Washington bureau chief at "The Chicago Sun Times."
Kelly, you know, I`ll start with you because I have to say your party
pulled off something this week that I didn`t necessarily think it was
capable of and that made me think Republicans have a better chance than I
previously thought of winning back the Senate. And that`s what we are
talking about in Colorado this week. We watched in 2010 as Ken Buck made
politically inflammatory comments that probably cost him a very winnable
Senate race for his party, it`s one of the reasons that Republicans failed
to take back the Senate in 2010 and he got out of the race this week.
The Republican establishment got him out of the race, put in a more
electable candidate and is now in a better position to win that seat than
they were with Ken Buck as a candidate. Is that an isolated example or do
you think that is a sign that the Republican Party and the Tea Party are
from a pragmatic election standpoint getting their act together for 2014?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, and definitely their act
together, and all of that is basically a footnote to what the real issue
will be in Colorado and elsewhere this year, Steve, which is can an
incumbent senator like Senator Udall defend his position on Obamacare
enough to really win re-election? Even his legislative director was caught
emailing the insurance, the officials - insurance officials in Colorado
saying, please, if you`re not going to change these numbers we are going to
have to push back on them. The numbers being how many Coloradans have
actually had their plans canceled, that`s up to 355,000 according to
nonpartisan media sources. Now, so, the situation in Colorado is really
about Senator Udall, the way it is about Senator Landrieu in Louisiana and
Begich in Alaska, Pryor in Arkansas, Hagan in North Carolina. The list
goes on. Their difficulty is primarily they are going to have to defend
against any of these Republican or Tea Party Republican candidates for
their position on Obamacare and other things. We say Obamacare and they
are going to say Obama who? And Senator Udall had some really strong
comments recently in Politico about maybe not wanting to campaign with
Senator Obama in his state of Colorado.
KORNACKI: The President - President Obama. But now, but what you`re
saying I get. Republicans - it is almost, it`s a carbon copy of 2010.
Republicans want to run against Obamacare and in some ways they had a lot
of success in 2010 except they didn`t have as much success as they should
have had because they nominated candidates like Christine O`Donnell in
Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada. Here is one that I just saw that was
main news this weekend. Now, in Mississippi Thad Cochran, longtime
Republican senator, I think we can all agree if Thad Cochran is nominated
by the Republicans in Mississippi, he is likely to get re-elected. Here is
what he had to say about the Tea Party recently, though.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. THAD COCHRAN (R) MISSISSIPPI: The Tea Party, you know, is something I
don`t really know a lot about. And it`s a free country. We have open
opportunities for people to participate in the election process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: I mean, so Thad Cochran now, and he is a credible Tea Party
challenger, state Senator from Mississippi who`s running against him and
then we just got the news the other day, I think to put this up in the
screen, former Democratic congressman, conservative Democratic Congressman
Travis Childers has decided he is going to run for the senate in
Mississippi. So, you can see this - at least the framework of the setup
here. If McDaniel beats Cochran in the primary, says some kind of crazy
things, then the Democrats have a credible candidate and this could become
of one those .
CONWAY: A pro-life, pro-gun candidate, we should say, in the Democrat.
How did he slip in?
KORNACKI: The model in North Dakota no matter what - in Indiana.
ANA MARIE COX, THE GUARDIAN: Well, no matter what happens, I personally
think that depending on this Tea Party and depending on running against
Obamacare is unsustainable. Like demographically unsustainable. And,
also, sort of policy unsustainable because Obamacare will not get repealed.
It will turn out people won`t die, you know. And so it will be hard to run
against once it`s become a part of people`s everyday lives. And disaster
COX: But I was going to say, I don`t think so, but this is unsustainable
for them. And they have, I`ll give them this, they have successfully
pushed the entire debate to the right. They have moved, you know, the
Democratic Party to the moderate side. And I want to say, the only this is
sustainable for them, because the Democrats are against them in Texas.
Texas will be a majority Hispanic in 2020. And I don`t think the Tea Party
can be successful there. But if they succeed in repealing voting rights
over and over again, if they succeed in voter I.D. laws, and the other
kinds of laws that restrict Democratic voting, that`s the only way that
they can keep this momentum that was started by the Tea Party.
LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN TIMES: Let me point out, though, that this is a
two-step process. So, the primaries come first where, you know, this isn`t
washed up into an election, and where Obamacare is a potent issue for
Republicans is that it`s still unfolding, March 31 is the first signup
deadline and the penalty. So the biggest issue I think right now, and you
mentioned it, Kellyanne, is not the people who have signed up, but the
people who even support Obamacare who had their policies canceled. I think
we`ve talked about this in the past. People who believed the promise
nothing would change and it takes time to sort out getting new policies.
You may not be happy with it. You may have a better deal. You may not.
That`s a whole potential army of people who still might not have stuff
settled. They might not have been happy with the new doctor if they had to
switch. All this takes place during -- as these primaries start.
KORNACKI: And that`s - and you say .
SWEET: And that`s, you know - so we have to get through that and then you
see how bad that impacts because in the state where you have a Tea Party
candidate they have more potential to leverage that even if the senator
voted against Obamacare every time.
KORNACKI: That`s .
KORNACKI: We have to get through the Republican primaries, I think to
start measuring what the impact of Obamacare in the fall will be.
SWEET: And it`s still in the playwright.
KORNACKI: Yeah, so I want to talk a little bit more about those primaries
-- get Tommy in as soon as we come back.
KORNACKI: So, Tommy, Pat Roberts in Kansas, Thad Cochran in Mississippi,
Mitch McConnell facing a primary challenge in Kentucky, in Georgia, there
is an open seat, but there is a possibility at the state that`s trending
Democratic a little bit and there`s a possibility of a far right candidate
winning there. Are you confident as a Democrat that what happened in 2010
and what happened in 2012 where the Republicans get all tripped up in these
primaries, do you think that`s going to happen again this year?
VIETOR: Good question. I love Pat Roberts, you know, putting his house on
(INAUDIBLE) and staying at the country club apparently. But I remember
talking to David Plouffe years and years ago about this math this year.
You know, so we`ve always had our eye on how challenging this would be. I
think the problem for Republicans is their platform is we`re going to take
away your health care coverage. Right? You`re going to have -- there is no
Obamacare, there`s nothing. The alternative is nothing. And so, I think
the best thing for Democrats is more Ted Cruz, more Tea Party candidates
out there in the 15 percent of the country that support them. I hope he
gets involved in every single primary.
VIETOR: I want to see his smug face on every newspaper.
SWEET: It sounds like you`re going to be a donor.
KORNACKI: Yeah. And Kellyanne, you see - we played the clip from him. Do
you think -- do you want Ted Cruz getting involved in the primaries? Do
you think he`s going to get involved?
CONWAY: He hasn`t endorsed anyone. All he said is that he promotes groups
that promote liberty and conservative candidates. But he hasn`t endorsed
anybody. There were no names in that letter.
KORNACKI: No, but he sounded like ..
CONWAY: That`s for the context. You see, you want to talk about Christine
O`Donnell, who else you put - Sharron Angle. Let`s talk about the other
pictures you can have there. Deb Fisher, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz - some
significant victories against the establishment. Ted is a great example of
somebody who won not once, but twice against the establishment all in a
matter of months because there was a run-off against the sitting lieutenant
governor David Dewhurst.
KORNACKI: But you see, winning in the Republican primary in a red state is
one thing, it`s when you get to these potentially politically competitive
CONWAY: Telling us that - Telling us that because Hispanics are going to
be a majority in 2020, Republicans will never win again. In Texas when Ted
COX: That was my point. I think it`s unsustainable.
CONWAY: It`s very simple to me. When you`re running as an incumbent this
year, you`re running in the sixth year of Obama - of President Obama, you
know, and it`s not just Obamacare, it`s also that when you try to defend
the success of the stimulus five years later, most of America wasn`t buying
it. The economists may say one thing. The demographers may say the other.
Most of the country doesn`t think that that worked for them. Most of the
country still thinks the economy .
KORNACKI: All right. Well, that`s -- we are way out of time. So, the
general election message, there`s still the question of .
CONWAY: All run as Republicans.
CONWAY: All run as Republicans.
KORNACKI: It didn`t work out too well for Christine O`Donnell in 2010.
CONWAY: Oh, my god.
KORNACKI: Anyway, I want to thank Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway and
consultant Tommy Vietor. I`m sorry we didn`t have more time there. They
are literally shouting in my ear to get out of this.
KORNACKI: Up next, as promised, our exclusive report out on where the
Chris Christie investigation is heading next. You don`t want to miss it.
KORNACKI: We have some exclusive news to report to you about an action
scheduled to be taken tomorrow against one of Governor Chris Christie`s top
political appointees, a man whose name looms large over the George
Washington Bridge lane closure scandal. The New Jersey Working Families
Alliance to Coalition of Progressive Activists tells us that tomorrow,
Monday, they will be filing a formal complaint with the New Jersey state
ethics commission against Port Authority Chairman David Samson, alleging
various conflicts of interest involving instances where his public duties
at the Port Authority have overlapped with his private interests as a
partner of the law firm Wolff & Samson.
That law firm, which David Samson founded more than 40 years ago does
millions of dollars in public contracts for the state of New Jersey each
year. It`s a number that has exploded since Christie became the governor.
The firm also serves private clients who also do business in the state.
Wolff & Samson has grown substantially in the year since Chris Christie has
taken office. The firm has come under greater and greater scrutiny since
early last month when the emails came to light indicating that Bill Baroni
and David Wildstein had enlisted Samson in the George Washington Bridge
scandal to, quote, "help us retaliate" when the Port Authority`s executive
director Pat Foye reopened the lanes closed in Fort Lee. Often, Samson
also represented the developers seeking to win approval from Hoboken Mayor
Dawn Zimmer to build on a plot of land in north Hoboken, a story we
reported first on this show back in January. That development project
benefited from a Port Authority funded study. And Mayor Zimmer has accused
high ranking members of the Christie administration of linking her city`s
level of Sandy aid to her approval of the project, an assertion the
officials strenuously denied.
In documents we showed you, city officials noted David Samson`s interest in
the project as his law firm`s representative pressed to arrange
conversations between Samson and city officials about the development
project. Samson was even personally copied on some of those emails. But
the allegations within the formal complaint that will be filed tomorrow
shared with us exclusively this morning have to deal with other potential
conflicts that have also come to light in the past few weeks. One was
recently reported by Shawn Boburg in "The Bergen Record." It`s the story
of how New Jersey transit retained Wolff & Samson for up to $1.5 million
for advice on how to maximize profits at its commuter park and ride lots,
dozens of them in the state. New Jersey transit leases those lots from the
Port Authority for $900,000 a year. And then they make their money back by
charging the commuters who park there $9.50 a day. Well, they wanted to
figure out how to make more, so they hired David Samson`s law firm, the law
firm of the guy who chairs the Port Authority that leases the lots to New
Jersey transit to help them do that. And they reached a deal in February
2012 to slash the annual lease rate that N.J. transit pays the Port
Authority from $900,000 to $1 for the next 49 years. For half a century
basically. That is the deal that David Samson`s law firm helped to
negotiate. And David Samson himself voted in favor of in February 2012
with the Port Authority. Commuting taxpayers still pay to park there. The
state gets basically nothing in terms of rent. And Wolff & Samson gets its
million and a half dollar fee.
Now, after the "Bergen Record" broke that story, Samson retroactively
recused himself from that vote. The roll call, the vote was changed two
years later to make it look like he had abstained. The Port Authority is
now reconsidering the terms of that lease altogether. So, that is alleged
conflict of interests number one. The complaint being filed tomorrow also
takes issue with Samson`s public comments in the legend involvement in the
Port Authority`s takeover of the Atlantic City Airport. Something that
would seem to be far outside the normal scope of the agency`s operations.
The airport is small. When the deal was struck in 2013, it had just 29
flights a day. And his first month as Port Authority chairman, back in
March 2011, Samson publicly commented in favor of a takeover. Quote, "I
think the benefits would be obvious," he said. It is something that
obviously will continue to be looked at by the Port Authority staff.
Samson wasn`t the only powerful figure advocating the takeover. But what
wasn`t widely known then and what came to light in a recent report is WNYC
report, is that Wolff & Samson also represented the South Jersey
Transportation Authority, which operated the money losing airport. So if
the deal went through the Port Authority, it would be taking this money pit
of an airport off their hands. WNYC further reported that in the summer of
2012 a $3 million proposal to study the airport takeover came before the
Port Authority board. While Samson did recuse himself from that vote, he
remained in the room while the study was approved by his colleagues on a
voice vote. When the study was done, a vote to formally take over the
airport was held. Samson again recused himself and the takeover passed
unanimously. A complaint that will be filed tomorrow argues that Samson`s
recusal should have been absolute and the public comments he made amount to
a violation of the ethics code. So that`s potential conflict of interest
number two. The third has to do with Samson`s vote to approve more than
$250 million to rebuild the rundown path commuter rail station in Harrison,
New Jersey. That`s just outside of Newark.
And as "The Bergen Record" reported in January, Samson did not recuse
himself from that vote even though Wolff & Samson had just been retained by
a builder who was proposing to convert a warehouse near the station in the
hundreds of luxury apartments. It was further reported by WNYC that Wolff
& Samson represented another client with property near that past station
and the client wanted to convert that property into office towers. So,
that is alleged potential conflict of interest number three in the
complaint. And finally, the complaint addresses how as "The Star Ledger"
reported last week Wolff & Samson represents the owner of a construction
firm on the receiving end of millions of dollars in the work from the Port
Authority, work that was approved by David Samson. The most recent of
those contracts was awarded in January.
Through a spokesperson chairman Samson declined a request for comment, an
invitation to appear on a program about these alleged conflicts of
interest. Taking the complaint at face value there seems to be a lot for
the state ethics commission to look into here, but there`s also a twist
because the ethics commission that will consider this complaint has been
changed in a basic and controversial way by the Christie administration.
To explain this, you have to understand how that commission works. It has
seven members, four public members, two of them Democrats and two of them
Republicans, and three who are political appointees from the executive
branch. The governor appoints all the members and designates a chairman
and a vice chairman. But here`s the key. The person who runs things day-
to-day for the ethics commission, the full-time executive director who
heads up a team of professionals to conduct preliminary investigations,
that person used to be chosen by the commissioners themselves. This is
what Christie changed. He did not leave it to the commissioners to find
their own executive director. Instead, his appointments office conducted
the search and made a recommendation, which brings us to five weeks ago
when the news website NJspotlight learned that the commission had approved
a new executive director. Her name is Susana Guerrero. She began her
legal career at the law firm of Christie`s closest adviser Bill Palatucci,
even overlapping with the future governor there for four months. Just
before Christie left to become the U.S. attorney in January of 2002.
Guerrero stayed at the Palatucci firm for eight years, and when Christie
became governor she spent most of the three years of the administration
working as the governor`s associate counsel. She left that position in
2012 to go serve in the state education department.
In the "NJ Spotlight" article former members of the ethics commission
disagreed with the appointment. As did former Governor Richard Codey in an
interview with "The Star Ledger." Quote, "You want somebody who clearly on
paper has no conflicts. And it would appear that she does, in fact, have
those. She may be passing judgment, being involved in cases involving
obviously the administration. It would taint, to some degree, whatever was
done," that`s what former governor Richard Codey said. "How do you recuse
yourself in the administration that you used to serve in?" he asked. "She
shouldn`t have been put in that position. Nothing against her. I don`t
know her. I have no reason to think she`s anything, but honest, but the
process is now somewhat tainted, clearly." "Star Ledger" columnist Tom
Moran put it this way. "Ask yourself, If Christie wanted a robust and
independent watchdog to lift the bar on ethics, would he appoint someone
who for years was part of the very team she is supposed to now police?"
But that is who, as of right now, will be heading up the initial review of
the ethics complaint against David Samson, one of Christie`s top political
allies, a complaint that will be filed tomorrow.
We asked the state ethics commission if it can effectively investigate
members of the governor`s administration when the person overseeing the
investigation has longtime ties to the governor and members of his staff.
The ethics commission responded by listing its procedures, quote, "when an
allegation is received by the state ethics commission, the staff reviews it
to determine whether the alleged conflict falls within the jurisdiction of
the commission. Any staff member, including the executive director, who
has a conflict of interest regarding a matter must recuse from any
involvement in that particular matter in accordance with commission
regulations." The procedures go on to say that after conducting an
investigation, the staff submits a written report, which it presents to the
commission and then the commission votes on whether a violation exists.
Quote, "The ultimate decision as to whether a complaint on an allegation
will be issued is solely that of the commissioners." For their part the
governor`s office affirmed an earlier statement about its new executive
director saying, quote, "Ms. Guerrero is widely respected across state
government as a legal professional and public servant. She was not only
nominated by a Democrat, but received a unanimous vote of approval by the
bipartisan membership of the ethics commission."
The governor himself spoke up for David Samson earlier this week after he
came under fire from Governor Andrew Cuomo`s top appointee at the Port
Authority. In a meeting with "the New York Daily News" editorial board on
Tuesday, Patrick Foye, the Port`s executive director who ordered the end of
the Fort Lee lane closures, he said that Samson lacks "the moral authority
to stay on the job." Governor Christie tackled that contention directly in
his "Ask the Governor" radio show on Wednesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your top Port Authority appointee, David Samson, was
the target of some criticism by the P.A.`s executive director Patrick Foye.
Foye was asked by "the New York Daily News" if Samson had the moral
authority to lead the agency and he flat-out said no. But then wouldn`t
elaborate on it any further. Do you still stand by Samson as your
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Strongly, firmly. And I disagree
with Pat Foye.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That`s the governor`s opinion, but soon it will be up to the
state ethics commission to weigh in when this new complaint is filed. And
here to discuss it with us is the executive director of the New Jersey
Working Families Alliance, Analilia Mejia. Analilia, thank you for joining
us this morning.
ANALILIA MEJIA, NJ WORKING FAMILIES ALLIANCE: Thank you.
KORNACKI: So, I guess that the first question I have is a basic one. It`s
about the standing of the state ethics commission and David Samson`s role.
He chairs the Port Authority, which is a bi-state agency, and this is the
ethics commission in New Jersey agency. Are you sure that the regulations
of New Jersey apply - to the head of bi-state agency?
MEJIA: Absolutely. Actually the conflict of interest laws in New Jersey
specifically state that individuals or officials like David Samson who are
in these bi-state agencies still have to comply with New Jersey conflict of
interest laws, so it speaks clearly to someone like David Samson.
KORNACKI: OK, now tell us about what the ethics commission is empowered to
do. You take this case before them. We went through the complaints that
you have. If the ethics commission were to agree with you, what would
happen to David Samson?
MEJIA: So there`s many things that the commission can do. They could, for
example, fine him up to $10,000. They could impose an imprisonment up to
six months. And they could bar him from public office for up to five
years. For someone like David Samson who has been in the middle of every,
it seems like, every single Chris Christie scandal from Bridgegate to this
Harrison question it would be significant that he`s barred from being able
to hold public office.
KORNACKI: And what do we know about the track record of the state ethics
commission? I mean is this generally an aggressive watchdog? Does this
have a track record of issuing harsh penalties, of the kinds of punishments
you`re describing of sort of meeting those out, or is this something where
sort of investigations go to die? What`s the reputation?
MEJIA: So I think the intention of Governor Codey when he created this
commission was to ensure that there was this very fair agency to overlook
and ensure that the public trust wasn`t being violated. I think that it
has in its authority the ability to do exactly what we`ve laid out,
investigate, and if found -- if they find that he is in violation, they
should most certainly impose all the penalties that they see fit. I think
that you are right when you lay out that the deck has been stacked by Chris
Christie, unlike any other governor he`s actually injected himself in the
determination of who the executive --
KORNACKI: How confident are you that you are going to get a fair hearing
MEJIA: So, I think the way that we ensure that we get a fair hearing is
that we air the fact that these violations, what we allege are violations,
are egregious enough that should be investigated, that the media pay
attention to the fact that this is going on, that business as usual isn`t
allowed to continue in in New Jersey, that legislators, for example, ensure
that these allegations or this complaint is actually given full attention.
Unfortunately, the ethics commission doesn`t have a time line, an imposed
time line that they have to address these issues. But I mean it`s very
clear when the individual who makes the decision as to a $256 million
renovation project is the same guy or the same lawyer who is representing
the interests of those who are going to benefit from that decision, that it
seems to me that is a very clear conflict of interest and a violation of
the public trust.
KORNACKI: And just, and finally, we have - we know that there`s the state
legislative committee that bipartisan state legislative committee that is
looking into, you know, Bridgegate and they`ve pulled out all of these
subpoenas. We know the U.S. attorney is looking at - we`re not exactly
sure what the U.S. attorney is looking at. We know the U.S. attorney is
involved. Are you -- is the fact that you`re doing this a statement on
your part, in part, that you don`t think either of those avenues is going
to get to the conflicts that you see David Samson is guilty of? Do you
feel -- are you not confident that those investigations are going to take
this where you want it to go?
MEJIA: So, in fact, we are confident that -- and we`re very happy that all
of these different instances and scandals are being looked at both by the
state attorney as well as the legislature. We think that the instances
that we`re pointing to are different from what`s been discussed or looked
at by both parties. We think that it`s very important to pay attention to
just what`s coming out in the media. We - David Samson is one of the most
powerful individuals in New Jersey. He has or is a partner of one of the
most powerful law firms in New Jersey. He has access in a way that regular
New Jerseyans do not have. We are just calling the question that there are
at least four very clear instances that we think he is in violation. We
just want to point these out and we`re calling the question to everyone in
New Jersey including the governor who, as you said, he doubled down on
KORNACKI: Because he needs to defend David Samson.
MEJIA: And how you defend someone who -- the conflict of interest laws say
that it`s not just being in one way making decisions that will financially
or can influence or benefit your friends or yourself, but just the
appearance of impropriety. Is it not -- does it not appear that there is
impropriety when you have, again, an individual making a decision to lower
rent for his client from almost a million dollars to $1? This is public
KORNACKI: All right. Well, let`s see what happens. You`re filing the
complaint tomorrow. We will keep an eye on what happens with it.
MEJIA: Please do.
KORNACKI: I want to thank Analilia Mejia with the New Jersey Working
Families Alliance for coming on today. And we will be joined by two
members of the state legislature and a longtime reporter for New Jersey to
talk about this and the rest of the developments this week coming up next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A man in New Jersey has spent the past 30 days in a pay
it forward campaign by doing kind deeds for random strangers such as paying
for gas and giving out subway fare, said the man, so we good?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That`s "Saturday Night Live" having a little fun at Governor
Christie`s expense. We were talking before the break about a complaint of
possible conflicts interests involving Port Authority chairman and longtime
Christie ally Davis Samson and also other possible conflicts. The state
ethics commission will investigate the complaint that will be filed
tomorrow. Well, here to discuss this are: Democratic State Assemblywoman
Bonnie Watson-Coleman who is also now a candidate for Congress and was
until this week a member of the investigative super committee. We`ll
explain that in a minute. Republican State Assemblyman Michael Patrick
Carroll, a current of the Investigative Super Committee. And Brian
Thompson, New Jersey reporter for WNBC, getting to be a regular on this
BRIAN THOMPSON, WNBC REPORTER: But not a member of the .
KORNACKI: Not - What if there`s a slot. Maybe you can fill it. I don`t
know. But Assemblyman, I`ll start with you. In that segment we just had
outlining the New Jersey Working Families Alliance filing a complaint to
the state ethics commission against David Samson. You read the news and
the last few months these possible conflicts of interest that have come
out, what is your reaction to the complaint that`s being filed and to the
revelations you`ve seen about David Samson?
MICHAEL PATRICK CARROLL, (R) NJ ASSEMBLYMAN: (INAUDIBLE) No, I`m not going
to tell you exactly how I feel about it but, again, as you know with
respect to my philosophy with John Wisniewski and such I`ve often felt that
the Port Authority was a nest that needs to be cleaned out. I`m not sure I
agree with your analysis or the previous witnesses` analysis of the Port
Authority/New Jersey transit deal because, yes, his client made out well,
but his client is New Jersey transit, which means the commuters, at least
in theory, are going to make out well.
KORNACKI: The bus commuters.
CARROLL: Or train commuters.
BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN (D) NJ ASSEMBLYWOMAN: His law firm made out well.
CARROLL: But I will say - and another thing about this, is I understand, I
may be wrong about this, but I believe that Jim McGreevey appointed Mr.
Samson to an important role at some point.
KORNACKI: David Samson has friends on both sides of the aisle. That`s
certainly a part of the story.
CARROLL: Jim McGreevey didn`t pick out people - again, he`s a bipartisan
sort of a guy. That said .
KORNACKI: Jim McGreevey not the paragon of ethics in New Jersey.
CARROLL: Well, I don`t remember him being investigated by a legislative
committee, though. You know, come back to this idea of an ethical problem,
this presents what we in the legislature sometimes like to call a Marcy
Hochman (ph) moment, she`s our legislative ethics council. And the idea
is, again, you are not supposed to do anything that even remotely benefits
you. If we`re a part-time legislator, and we are, you know, we cannot go
down there and vote on a bill if this is going to directly benefit one of
our clients. I`m not going to comment on the particulars of those cases
because it`s - I don`t see all the facts, but until such time -- it just
strikes me that, again, when you`re in that position, your law firm is that
closely related to it, there are certainly questions that need to be
addressed. I`m sure that he will address them.
KORNACKI: It`s almost - given just what his law firm does and what the
Port Authority does, it`s just - the overlap seems almost inevitable and
then there`s just a question of how you deal with it. Assemblywoman, so
the news you made on Friday was that you had been a member of this
legislative investigative committee I think on our air, on MSNBC`s air on
Thursday you said that Governor Christie ought to consider resigning. This
was in the wake of the new text messages, text messages. You took a little
flak for that. And Friday you said, well, that`s it. I would rather speak
my mind than be on this committee. Can you just explain a little bit about
WATSON COLEMAN: Well, I think that my position with regard to how bad the
Christie administration has been for the people of New Jersey, has been
consistent from the beginning. And it`s been related to his policies, how
they`ve impacted the poor, women, working families, and how they`ve just
not advanced our standing economically. It`s been consistent. I`m getting
to the point, I`ve go gotten to the point, I was at the point, where every
time I would read a newspaper article, it was another member of his either
staff or a person who has a job because of him was embroiled in some abuse
of power or the discussion of possibly abusing the power. New Jersey
deserves better. And so, I said what I believed, I didn`t say it as a
member of the committee. I didn`t say it as a result of the internal
discussions with regard to the investigation. I said it as a legislator
who has watched this administration erode all of the progress we`ve done on
behalf of women, working class families, poor families, access to health
care. You name it, he`s been on the other side of it.
And now we had a conversation that we obviously privy to where people at a
very high level in the Port Authority were making fun of a rabbi. A, do
you think we can put some traffic jam in front of his house? Well, no, but
maybe we could delay flights to Tel Aviv. Six-figure people appointed at
high levels because of their relationship with the governor who are saying
things in a manner some would say is joking. I say, no, I said it could
have been a promise of what they would have done. Because we`ve already
seen that they have no bounds.
KORNACKI: I`ve always - you know, I would - I had to say, now, I`ve always
put my little conflict of interest on the table here that I worked for
David Wildstein for a number of years and I read this particular exchange
that came out this week as a joking exchange that probably doesn`t have any
real relevance to the lane closures. But Brian, I`m curious to get your
take. I mean the assemblywoman just sort of outlined it where there`s a
rabbi, a political active rabbi who - I think we have it up on the screen
right there, where David Wildstein says he`s officially pissed me off,
then, you know, clearly we cannot cause traffic problems in front of his
house. Can we? While seeing jokes, "Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously
delayed. Perfect. What was your take and what we learned this week?
THOMPSON: You know, it shows a pattern of those two operators, for sure.
What we don`t know is, which the committee is looking at, the U.S. attorney
is looking at, is how extensive it was. I have to make this point, though.
I was talking to a well-known lawyer, I`ve talked to him before about this,
Joe Hayden (ph) here in New Jersey. And he made the point to me, Brian,
it`s like - what Governor Christie has to worry about through all of this,
from stuff like that that you just read to everything else, is his own
investigation of himself being led by Randy Maestro who was Giuliani`s aide
when Giuliani was mayor of New York City. He says two things that Christie
has got to worry about. One, that it will be a very weak report, a slap on
the wrist while the committee or the U.S. attorney may come up with
something else or, two, what happens to Christie if it`s a very strong
report that his own investigation comes up with and finds much more wrong
with that office than just Bridget Kelly and the appointees .
KORNACKI: Very quickly, in your reporting, have you gotten any sense what
the timetable is for this Christie internal report? Have they given any
THOMPSON: That`s - No, they have not given any indication. And the
problem is, of course, that they`re running into some roadblocks. They
can`t interview Sokolich, the Mayor of Fort Lee. They can`t interview
Zimmerman (ph), the mayor of Hoboken. They probably won`t be able to
interview Bridget Kelly. They probably won`t be able to interview Baroni
and Wildstein. So then you have got to ask, well, who can they interview?
Well, they can interview people on the staff now. But what are they going
to tell them?
KORNACKI: It just reminds me, Christie had that opportunity to interview
Bridget Kelly before he fired her. He could have asked her a simple
question of why. He didn`t do it then. Anyway, the abbreviated panel.
And I want to thank you for coming in. Democratic State Assemblywoman
Bonnie Watson-Coleman, Republican State Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll
and WNBC`s Brian Thompson.
This week Michelle Obama`s signature initiative "Let`s Move" turned four.
She wasn`t afraid to use the anniversary to unveil tough new regulations on
the food industry. That story is next.
KORNACKI: So, this is the part of the show I have decided to do my Andy
Rooney impersonation. Because you know what really drives me crazy? Those
nutrition labels on the back of everything you buy at the grocery store and
in particular the serving sizes. All of that information about fat and
cholesterol and calories, it`s all based on what the manufacturer deems to
be one serving of its product. But the manufacturer`s idea of one serving
is almost always ridiculous. Look at this. This is a bag of - and we have
to call them, Aquatic chips cheese flavored crackers. Now if I`m hungry, I
could polish this off in about three minutes. And I`d better eat it all in
one sitting because there`s no way to close the bag once you`ve ripped it
open. I mean if you open your aquatic cheese things, OK, I`ve had my, you
know, one serving, anyway, it`s supposed to be 140 calories, eight percent
of your daily fat. Then you see this. Then you look at the nutrition
label, they actually say there are 2 1/2 servings in this tiny,
unresealable package. So, it`s not 140 calories I`m eating, it`s 350.
It`s not eight percent of my daily fat intake, it`s 20. And you see this
everywhere. This bottle of iced tea. OK. 2 1/2 serving in here. This
bag of breakfast toaster pastries, show you this. They come two in a
package, right? Who is going to open this and only eat one? OK, but
according to the label this is two separate servings. So show me once
you`ve torn open this flimsy crinkly (ph) wrapper, you have one serving of
it, what are you supposed to do with the second one if you`re only having
that one serving? And on and on it like this as it goes. I mean you have
marble pound cake right here. Unresealable bag, two servings. This is
sneaky? It`s not helpful. It`s why I stopped reading nutrition labels long
ago. It`s also why I`m excited about something that first lady Michelle
Obama announced this week. And we`re going to talk about it next.
KORNACKI: First lady Michelle Obama`s Let`s Move campaign turned four this
week. And her office celebrated the milestone with a bang. For years now
the first lady has encouraged families to exercise and eat healthy through
her self-styled fun loving campaign. She has performed "The Evolution of
Mom Dancing" with Jimmy Fallon, now the host of "The Tonight Show." She
has bested talk show host Ellen DeGeneres in a push-up competition, and
she`s planted veggies with local school kids in the White House garden.
This week she got her husband and vice president Joe Biden to take a jog
around the White House in a new "Let`s Move" video, and she held a focus
group of sorts with school kids and a celebrity guest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: Tell me what kind of music do you like to dance to?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Body moving.
MICHELLE OBAMA: Body moving?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Body moving, body moving
MICHELLE OBAMA: This is good. Body moving.
WILL FERRELL: D.J., D. J., D. J.
FERRELL: So, his diet cola, is that a vegetable?
UNIDENTIFEID BOY: No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: This is actually news to me, I thought diet cola was a
vegetable, at least in my diet. Anyway, this week on Thursday Michelle
Obama used the family friendly brand she has built to unveil the Obama
administration`s proposed new food and drug administration regulations that
would overhaul nutrition labels for the first time in more than two
decades. And yes, those annoying serving size labels would change, too,
something you might know I would be very excited about. The new guidelines
the first lady is advocating would with have real regulatory teeth. They
would affect 700,000 products and cost food manufacturers $2 billion.
That`s not all. Two days earlier Michelle Obama was in the same room in
the East Wing to announce new Agriculture Department regulations that would
eviscerate junk food marketing in schools. That event Michelle Obama
challenged her detractors head on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: So, if there is anyone out there who was thinking to
themselves, in a few years this lady will be gone and this "Let`s Move"
thing will finally be over, so we can go back to business as usual. If you
know anyone out there who might be thinking that way, you might want to
remind them that I didn`t create this issue and I`m not the one who is
truly driving it forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So while President Obama works on hammering out his presidential
legacy in hick sixth year in office, it seems Michelle Obama is doing very
much the same thing. And it appears her efforts so far have been working.
This week she renewed her push for programs promoting healthier families.
The Centers for Disease Control released a study that showed obesity among
two to five-year-olds has made a sharp decline in the last decade. So how
will the first lady use the capital she`s built up with her Let`s Move
campaign in her remaining years in the White House? And is she changing
the office for future first ladies and maybe first gentlemen? Well, back
at the table we have Ana Marie Cox of "Guardian," Lynn Sweet from "The
Chicago Sun Times," MSNBC contributor Goldie Taylor, a columnist with the
Grio.com and chef, food, activist and host of "Top Chef" Tom Colicchio who
has traveled and worked with the first lady as part of her let`s move
campaign. And Tom, I guess I`ll start with you because we put some of the
price tag out there, some of the money that`s at stake for the food
industry in terms of what the first lady is now proposing, what she is
talking about this week. When we think of the issues that first ladies in
the past have latched on to historically, they haven`t tended to put the
first lady on a collision course with the big industry and big money this
way. Can you tell us, or give us a sense of what she`s up against here?
TOM COLICCHIO, CHEF & FOOD ACTIVIST: Well, and she`s up against a lot. I
like the way she actually sort of transitioned from sort of Let`s Move
where it was about getting kids active and then just kind of moved more
towards nutrition, but really has taken on more of the politics in a small
sense. This is really a Trojan horse to combat poverty, because if you
look at school lunch, one thing that was not mentioned was that this
actually increases school lunch, free school lunch, an additional 22,000
schools are eligible for free lunch, universal free lunch, and it will
affect 9 million children. Often these kids, they go to school and
breakfast and lunch is the only meal they receive. And so this is really,
is initiative to combat poverty and she`s doing it in a way where she`s
able to do it as a first lady. She`s not actually tackling policy, but she
is actually sort of changing the will around it.
KORNACKI: But when you were talking about the food industry, that`s a real
consideration here, though, isn`t it?
COLICCHIO: Sure. You know, if you look at the labeling, I think it`s a
good first step. And if you look, also, at advertising, a good first step.
But there are ways around it. The advertising, food advertising, they`ll
advertise around schools. So you`ll see more advertising on kiosks, phone
kiosks, you`ll see billboards and things like that. They`ll move some
money into a different place. What we really need to do is actually look
at this through sort of tax policy. And I don`t think we need to tax it on
a consumer level. I think that regressive tax doesn`t work. I think what
we need to do is look at if you`re going to advertise junk food that should
not be deducted, you shouldn`t use it as deductible, and that`s one way to
actually affect this. And then perhaps those food companies will actually
spend their advertising dollars on some of the healthier foods that`s in
COX: I have just a point I want to make. I think this has been one of the
most successful first lady movements that we`ve ever seen, but I think
that`s in part because it`s hard to be against, right? But most first lady
movements are, but also in part she has been able to get a lot of corporate
buy-in on this. I mean corporations have been relatively friendly to them
because they can make money off of it. She`s not telling them, no, you
can`t sell stuff. You know, they are starting to market around other
things and I wonder if that`s going to mean it`s sustainable or not.
SWEET: May I address that?
SWEET: Actually, and people probably don`t know this, but she - when she
launched Let`s Move four years ago, she created a nonprofit called
Partnership for a Healthier America. That is funded almost entirely by the
vast food industry, many facets of it. And what she has done because in
the beginning -- Mrs. Obama is pretty militantly cautious. Militantly risk
adverse. And when she launched Let`s Move four years ago, it was at a time
where she probably would not even have talked against the junk food tax
because I believe we talked about it and I believe it came up when she
spoke before the grocery manufacturer`s association several years ago and
she kind of skirted that. Because oh, my god, that was real policy. You
know, she has not gone up to Congress to testify. Some first ladies have
and I don`t see that in the cards right now, but the corporations and this
partnership will exist when she joked about being gone from office. I
think this is what will be the core of her legacy. This is what she will
use to transition into her next chapter after the Obamas leave office, but
it is -- it is almost 100 percent corporate and charitable foundation
KORNACKI: Well, and how generally popular and difficult to disagree with
the first lady initiatives are, one thing that has struck me is on the
right there`s been a lot of heated criticism of Michelle Obama.
SWEET: Oh, the mama state.
KORNACKI: We have a montage of some of the stuff you`ve been hearing for
the last few years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: We`re taking the nanny state to the new
level. Michelle Obama is suggesting what you should feed your children.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW: This is Michelle. She knows better
than anybody else about healthy foods, because she has a garden. Big
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would you want to raise your own kids when Michelle
Obama will do it for you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re right.
LIMBAUGH: Nutritionists at-large Michelle Obama is urging, demanding,
advocating, requiring what everybody can and can`t eat. She`s demanding
that everybody basically eat cardboard and tofu.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So I haven`t heard the cardboard and tofu recommendation come
from Michelle Obama.
COX: She never said that.
KORNACKI: Goldie, what do you make of it when you hear - I mean we`ve
heard a lot of that?
GOLDIE TAYLOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know - I use some cardboard in
TAYLOR: But, you know, having worked as a Fortune 500 executive in the
food industry specifically, I know that this will not shut down marketing
in schools as a channel, but it certainly will challenge the way that those
companies move their messages and move their products through that
pipeline. But I think what the first lady is doing here, and I think what,
you know, maybe some on the right miss, is that they are -- she is moving
this poverty issue across a lifetime. If you can solve some of the early
childhood illness that happens as an impact of food and food alone, really
on the 80/20 food and exercise, if you can solve some of that, then you
make for a healthier adult. If you make for a healthier adult, you make
for an adult - a better educated adult.
SWEET: But she is not making that argument because she has broken this
down into more of a bite-sized chunk. And let`s look at the origins of
Let`s Move. It was an anti-childhood obesity drive because it would have
been too controversial to go into just an obesity drive for everybody.
TAYLOR: I would have to agree that she has broken it down into bite sized
chunks. But if we are smart about this .
SWEET: Good bite sized.
TAYLOR: And good bite sized.
COX: With an occasional French fry.
TAYLOR: Then we will extend this over lifetime ..
SWEET: But that`s not what she`s doing, though. She`s not making this an
all across-the-board thing. She is trying to make it digestible, if I
could use that word, so she can keep moving along, getting corporate
partners. And that getting any, you know, I`m trying .
KORNACKI: Tom wants to get in here. I would tell - I want to get you
right after this break. We`ll squeeze one in. First thing after the
KORNACKI: All right. The suspense is over. Tom, what were you going to
TOM COLICCHIO, HOST, "TOP CHEF": You have to understand that hunger and
obesity are very, very closely linked. In a sound bite calories are cheap,
nutrition is expensive. And so if you are living, you know, low income and
you`re spending your food dollars, you are spending them as carefully as
possible, you are also buying the cheapest stuff possible. And those
products are the products that are, number one, being advertised to kids
and they`re inexpensive. And so if you really want to tackle this, we have
to look at ad policy. When you have between 2008 and 2014, $20 billion
goes into ad policy, 85 percent supports commodity crops. 15 percent goes
to meat and dairy. Less than one percent goes to vegetables, or what they
call specialty foods. And so if we really want to get people to eat
healthier food, we need to attack the policy side of this. You can`t just
kind of have - you know, expect your kids to move and that`s it. But I
really believe that the first lady is plowing the field for this bigger
discussion. So I think you have to sort of understand that idea.
KORNACKI: And where is - you know, Goldie, when you look at -- he`s an
interesting -- Siena College Research Institute put up a poll, I guess just
this month. They asked people for the greatest first ladies in history.
KORNACKI: And Eleanor Roosevelt was number one, Abigail Adams, Jacqui
Kennedy, Dolly Madison, and then Michelle Obama coming in at number five,
Hillary Clinton at number six. Michelle Obama scored particularly high in
the categories of being her own woman and value to the president. And it
does - when you say value to the president, one thing that strikes me is
there`s sort of a synergy between her Let`s Move campaign and the idea of
promoting health with the signature achievement of the Obama presidency,
which is health care reform. And maybe it`s a reference to something else,
but that`s what I read in "value for the president."
TAYLOR: You know, it`s certainly an interesting list, but I think Michelle
Obama certainly strikes a balance here. The balance is being her own woman
and then living in the shadow of what was the Hillary Clinton era as first
lady, where she was part and parcel being the legislating partner of that
president. She was -- it was a two-for-one deal and the American public
really fully embraced that embodiment of two for one. Michelle Obama has
been really the antithesis of that. She has gone for it, simply reading to
children and exercising with them in the school yard. She is a bit more
activist in some ways, but in some ways, she`s a bit more withdrawn. She`s
sort of being the woman that she, I think, really wants to be in this White
House. But all within balance, she is absolutely risk averse. But I think
she knows where her capital lies and knows where to spend it.
KORNACKI: And that`s interesting, because we play the clip of Hannity and
Limbaugh and all the people on the right. We should also point out that
Mike Huckabee defended her on this a couple of years ago. And when you
look at her overall poll numbers, she has broad popularity. So it hasn`t
really sunk in. Is this - has she created a new model for a first lady
that`s a little bit more activist than past first ladies, but doesn`t put
you into that same mold as Hillary Clinton in the early part of the Clinton
COX: You know, it`s funny, we talk about -- the first lady part of the
presidency is probably the biggest gamble in any part of the presidency.
Because I really think we talk about being a model or something like that.
I think each first lady has to sort of recreate, you know, reinvent the
wheel for herself. I don`t think we have like a standard model, especially
in the age when, you know, Michelle Obama was a more successful person than
her husband, if we look at the numbers. She made more money. She had a
career that was on her higher trajectory arc, you know, than that of her
husband. And I think -- so she brings a different dynamic to the White
House. I think the next first lady will bring a different dynamic to the
White House. I think that`s probably a good thing. I think it`s good that
we see the first lady as an independent partner in this relationship, much
like we have at our homes.
KORNACKI: Or we could see, if there`s a first gentleman next, it has to be
Bill Clinton, because he`s a vegan now. And maybe he .
COLICCHIO: But I`m also - I heard this and the first time I heard it was
with the first lady, was the first mom. She has young children in the
White House and she really is focused on making sure they have a normal
life and she`s happy to be first mom. And I think that`s where a lot of
these sort of issues are coming into play. She`s not acting as first lady,
she`s acting as a mother.
KORNACKI: All right. We`ve got to squeeze one more break in. We`ll be
right back after this.
KORNACKI: We are all out of time, unfortunately. So, all I have time for
is to thank Goldie Taylor, chef Tom Colicchio, Ana Marie Cox and Lynn
Sweet. Thank you for getting up this morning. And we`ll be back next
weekend, Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 Eastern time. Stick around, and MHP
is next. On today`s MHP, faith, freedom and politics. That bill may have
been shut down, but the discrimination remains legal in far too many
states. Plus, a return of this week in voter suppression. Don`t go
anywhere. "Nerdland" is next.
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