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'Up with Steve Kornacki' for Sunday, March 9th, 2014

March 9, 2014

Guest: Djuan Trent, Al Cross, Abby Rapoport, Marc Solomon, Holly Schepisi,
Upendra Chivukula, Terry Golway, Brian Murphy, Robert Franek, William Hiss

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: The electoral impact of gay marriage coming
to red state America.

Good morning. If you`ve managed to join us at 8:00 a.m. sharp this Sunday
morning despite the clocks leaping forward here in the U.S. nearly hours
overnight, we`re especially grateful to have you with us today. There`s a
lot of news we are excited to talk about this morning. First, however,
though we want to update you briefly on the search and investigation into
that missing Malaysia Airlines plane. International rescue teams have now
widened their search area for the missing Boeing 777 jet. Indications that
it may have turned back before disappearing from radar. This according to
Malaysian Officials.


RODZALI DAUD, MALAYSIA AIR FORCE CHIEF: We really need to look back into
the way we do things and we actually what we have done, we said, look into
the recording on the radar that we have. And we realize that there`s a
possibility -- there is a possibility that it got - it may have turned


KORNACKI: The CEO of the airlines said the pilot is supposed to let air
traffic control and the airline know when he`s turning a plane around, but
that officials did not receive a distress call from flight MH 370, which
vanished from radar screens early Saturday morning, en route from - to
Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. There were 239 people onboard that flight
including three Americans. Meanwhile, authorities are also investigating
how two passengers were apparently able to get on the plane using stolen
passports. The BBC has confirmed both of those passengers bought their
tickets at the same time. It`s been 30 hours now since the flight vanished
and there remains no sign of the plane and no indication of what exactly
happened to it. It`s an obviously a developing story, and MSNBC will
continue to update it throughout the morning. But let`s now get to our
show and turn to a story you`ve maybe heard before, a new poll showing
support for same sex marriage reaching all-time highs. We`ve rolled out
that headline more than once these past few years and it happened again
this week in a bigger way than ever. This with a new "Washington Post"/ABC
News poll showing that 59 percent of Americans now say they support same
sex marriage, is the highest number ever recorded in that poll on this
question. With just 34 percent who say they`re opposed. That 25-point
spread is the widest margin ever tracked. This is the latest marker of how
thoroughly and rapidly public opinion has changed and is changing on the
subject in just the last decade. Back in 2004, George W. Bush`s re-
election campaign infamously leaned on same-sex marriage opposition to drum
up enthusiasm and turnout. 55 percent of Americans said they opposed it
and just 37 percent supported it. But those numbers have now more than
reversed nationally. And so once again this is an issue that`s a
potentially potent political weapon just like it was in 2004 except
basically in reverse. This poll shows same-sex marriage has wide support,
almost completely across the board. 70 percent support among white
Catholics. 56 percent support among Hispanics. The only major resistance
is from white Evangelical Protestants where only 28 percent support it and
66 percent remain opposed.

There is still as well significant opposition among the elderly, although
even among older Americans support for same sex marriage wins out by a
slight 47 to 43 percent margin. And these data points pose a conflict for
certain kinds of Democrats. Because they have a future in the Democratic
Party especially if you have national aspirations, you have to get this
issue right. Within the Democratic Party, national support for same-sex
marriage is now at 70 percent. But to make it to the national stage, you
have to win in your home state first. And there are still plenty of states
in America where supporting same-sex marriage is far from the majority
view. These are states where the electorate may be disproportionally
composed of evangelicals and older voters. States like Kentucky, the
bluegrass state, home of the wildcats. It`s been just a little over eight
months since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act,
there`s a law that barred federal benefits from same-sex couples, and they
did so by invoking the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

And since then lawsuits challenging state laws that ban same-sex marriage
are being challenged all across the country even in deeply red bastions
like Oklahoma - Utah, even Kentucky. And the politics of same sex marriage
are basically the complete opposite in Kentucky of what they are nationally
and the latest poll there, 55 percent of the state`s registered voters say
they oppose it with 35 percent supporting it. That`s where America as a
whole was ten years ago. But back then, back ten years ago, opposition in
Kentucky was even stronger. In the 2004 general election, 75 percent of
Kentuckians voted to amend the state Constitution to limit marriage to one
man and one woman. And in the wake of DOMA`s repeal last year, that
amendment became the target of a lawsuit brought by four same-sex couples.
And on February 27 of this year, federal judge ruled that the state
amendment was in violation of the U.S. Constitution`s equal protection
clause and that Kentucky treats gay and lesbian couples "differently" and
in a way that demeans them.

The ruling went on to say that, quote, "a signing of religious or
traditional rational for the law does not make it constitutional when that
law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons." And
this was a limited ruling. Even with those strong words, the federal judge
did not order Kentucky to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex
couples. But the ruling did say that the state had to recognize all valid
marriages, straight or gay, performed in other states. It meant, in other
words, that there could be legally married gay couples in a state where
opposition to gay marriage is still the electorate`s overwhelming view.
And so, it created a serious political dilemma for a man named Jack Conway,
he`s the state`s attorney general, and he`s one of those ambitious
Democrats I was talking about earlier. He already ran for the U.S. Senate
in 2010, losing that race to Rand Paul. He`s publicly said that he`s
interested in running for governor next year. And it was Jack Conway, the
politically ambitious Democratic attorney general of Kentucky, who was
forced by that federal judge`s ruling to make a choice. Would he, as the
chief law enforcement officer in the state, appeal the ruling and defend in
court the state`s ban on gay marriage? The ban that voters approved by a
3-1 margin in 2004. Or would he follow the lead of other attorneys general
from other states, many of them blue states? And the Attorney General of
the United States Eric Holder and declined to defend the law. To say that
he as the attorney general would not try to stop gay marriage from coming
to Kentucky.

It was now a dilemma at the national level. You really can`t be a Democrat
today and not support same sex marriage. But to win office in Kentucky, to
win a job like governor that could be a stepping stone to the national
stage, it may still be politically fatal to be closely identified with same
sex marriage. So late last month Conway asked for a 90-day stay on that
order from the judge seeking time to decide whether to appeal the ruling.
And then this past Tuesday he called a press conference.


Heyburn`s legal analysis and today am informing my client and the people of
Kentucky that I am not appealing the decision and will not be seeking any
further stays. From a constitutional perspective, Judge Heyburn got it


KORNACKI: Conway went on to say that the state could not waste its
resources on defending a law that was clearly unconstitutional at the
federal level. Then he also addressed those who were telling him that it`s
his job as attorney general to defend the law no matter what.


CONWAY: There are those who believe that it is my mandatory duty,
regardless of my personal opinion, to continue to defend this case through
the appellate process. And I have heard from many of them. However, I
came to the inescapable conclusion that if I did so, I would be defending
discrimination. That I will not do.


KORNACKI: This was an unusually emotional press conference with Conway
even choking up saying he wanted to make a decision that would make his
daughters proud one day. The front page of Wednesday`s "Louisville
Courier-Journal" captured a tear falling from his eye. So Conway`s
announcement the state`s Democratic governor Steve Beshear, who was barred
by term limits from seeking re-election next year, decided he would hire
outside counsel and go ahead and pursue an appeal of that ruling. This
decision is not only playing out in Kentucky`s 2015 governor`s race, it may
also have an impact on the state`s closely watched U.S. Senate race. On
the Republican side Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is under attack
from the Senate conservatives fund and from his Tea Party primary
challenger Matt Bevin for his connection to the judge who issued this
ruling, Judge John G. Heyburn. He was appointed to the federal bench by
George H.W. Bush 22 years ago and was once McConnell`s general counsel.

In Kentucky, especially within the Republican Party of Kentucky, it still
seems to be a race by candidates to prove just how against the same-sex
marriage they are. And on the Democratic side this is proving to be a
sensitive subject for Alison Lundergan Grimes. Who will be running against
the winner of that McConnell-Bevin primary? The last November Grimes was
on the tour of a farm when the proprietor asked her, quote, "Do you believe
in Adam and Eve, don`t you?" She asked, is this another lesson I`m learning
here? No, the man insisted. "Do you believe in Adam and Eve, not Adam and
Steve, don`t you? Gay marriage, you don`t support that, do you? Grimes
responded that she thinks everyone should have the ability to marry and
that "the Supreme Court, they`ve already ruled on this. It`s a state
sovereign issue. We are here in the state of Kentucky, we already have a
constitutional amendment. Now that`s not to say that they won`t readdress

On Friday we asked Grimes for her reaction to Conway`s decision not to
appeal the ruling. And received this statement from her campaign.
"Alison`s position remains consistent. She`s been married to her husband
for seven years and wouldn`t want to deny other couples the opportunity to
make that same commitment. She has made clear that while the Supreme Court
has ruled "state sovereignty applies," churches should not be forced to
recognize anything inconsistent with their teachings. Alison deeply
respects Attorney General Conway as Kentucky`s chief law enforcement
officer. So that you have it. A statement that a firm support for
marriage equality, but also includes vague language on state sovereignty.
This is clearly an issue that she does not want to be saying much about in

Think of this as the mirror image of America as a whole. In the same week
the polling showed acceptance of gay marriage widening to record levels
nationally. They remain big swaths of the country where the politics on
this issue still run the opposite way. It creates a dilemma for Democrats
like Conway and Grimes, and it creates for same sex marriage supporters
everywhere. How much slack are they willing to give to candidates and to
elected officials in states like Kentucky?

Well, joining me to discuss all of this we have Abby Rapoport, she`s a
staff writer at "the American Prospect," Marc Solomon, he`s national
campaign director with the group "Freedom to Marry," Al Cross, he`s a
columnist at "The Courier Journal" as well as director at the Institute for
Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky, and Djuan Trent, she`s a
Miss Kentucky pageant winner from 2010 who just came out last month as a
lesbian. She now works in constituent services in the office of Kentucky
Governor Steve Beshear, but we make clear she is not here to represent him
today. So, Al, I guess I`m so interested in this particular topic because
- and in Kentucky, in particular, red state America as a whole, but in
Kentucky in particular, because this is one of those states where it`s
trended so red at the federal level when it comes to presidential
elections. I think Mitt Romney carried it by 23 points. We have the
polling there on same sex marriage. It`s very unpopular in the state. And
yet Democrats can still win at the statewide level in Kentucky. They still
do pretty well. This announcement by Jack Conway, politically ambitious
Attorney General for the state, how is it going over for him in the state
now since he`s made that?

AL CROSS, JOURNAL: I think it`s to his advantage in the Democratic
primary. It may not be to his advantage i00n the general election. But
the figures you saw are pretty instructive. 75 percent against gay
marriage ten years ago. Only 55 percent today. You know, there`s no proof
that Mark Twain ever said that he wanted to be in Kentucky when he died.
Because we are always 20 years behind the times. But we are culturally
slower to accept such things, partly because, as the polling indicated,
there`s strong opposition to this among evangelicals, white evangelicals.
And I would say black evangelicals, too, really. And Kentucky is a
plurality and evangelical state. But times are changing. This week a bill
to have a statewide anti-gay discrimination law finally got its first
hearing in the legislature. And the more interesting aspect of this may
have been the governor`s position.


CROSS: The governor and the attorney general are independently elected.
But the governor is the attorney general`s client. The governor in
deciding to appeal on his own with privately hired lawyers is doing two
things. And I presume there`s some political calculus that went into this.
One, he`s acting in the interest of his son who is running for attorney
general in 2015.

KORNACKI: So, it`s the son of the Democratic governor wants to run for
attorney general.

CROSS: Right. And I think more importantly for Democrats as a whole, he
is protecting the Democratic brand in the state. Obama has damaged the
Democratic brand in Kentucky. People are less likely to identify as
Democrats or vote Democratic. And if you have the Democratic attorney
general and the Democratic governor both declining to appeal a ruling that
flies in the face of a lot of voters` values, that would be bad for the
Democratic brand. And the Democrats are in danger of losing the state
House in the fall elections and they have got the Senate race that is very
much on the front burner. So I think the governor`s political calculus, if
there was one, was to protect that brand.

KORNACKI: That`s interesting. Now Djuan, talk a little bit, maybe about
the other big political race in Kentucky this year, the one everybody is
watching, is the senate race. And we played that, and we showed that
statement we got from Alison Grimes` campaign and that exchange she had
with the farmer last year. She is sending signals that, yes, I support gay
marriage but also clearly uncomfortable talking about this. How much slack
are you willing to give her in the campaign like this to sort of, hey, she
sees the polls, she is not politically safe maybe to be out front on it.
When you look at that, how much, you know, how much leadership do you want
to see from her versus how much are you willing to say, hey, she has got to
deal with these polls?

DJUAN TRENT, MISS KENTUCKY 2010: I think that one of the things that
really anyone who is watching a political race wants to see if someone be
bold in their decisions. She is saying, you know, everyone deserves their
rights, but then at the same time she is kind of riding the fence and
saying, you know, everyone deserves their rights, but we can`t make anyone
do anything. And people want to hear her say, just like the farmer urged
her, you do believe in Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, right? They don`t
want to hear her say I kind of believe in it, but I`m not so sure that I

CROSS: The most important word that she said in that statement, Steve, was

TRENT: Right.

CROSS: Because that`s what people in Kentucky see as the threat. You
know, marriage is all bound up in religion. And the resistance to this
begins to erode when people see another really basic fundamental thing, the
need to love and beloved. And as people realize that`s what`s going on
here, I think their opinions will continue to evolve and favor.

KORNACKI: Yeah, and that`s - I want to broaden this out. We`ll take a
quick break here. Because it`s - Kentucky isn`t the only red state where
something like this is playing out. And again and again you hear -- we
were just looking this week at Democrats trying to navigate this issue in
these red states and they come back to providing protection for churches
for religious groups, from not having to perform gay marriages, if they
don`t want to. We`ll talk about all of the red states and how Democrats
are dealing with the issue when we come back.



country are evolving on that issue and moving in a direction that
demonstrates support for it. So I think it is time to reopen that
conversation and ask Texans where they are on it to see if that`s something
we might change legislatively if it doesn`t happen constitutionally.


KORNACKI: That is Wendy Davis, a Democratic candidate for Governor in
Texas last month on whether she would push for legislation to overturn her
state`s ban on same sex marriage. Abby, you covered Texas politics like
nobody else. This is another, you know, very conservative red state. This
is -- I haven`t seen the latest polling on gay marriage there, but I
imagine it`s probably fairly similar to Kentucky. When there was a court
ruling for it recently, Rick Perry, you know, the outgoing governor was
quick to condemn it. There`s a lot of -- it`s an uphill battle, I know,
that Wendy Davis is facing, but when it comes to navigating same sex
marriage in Texas, can you give us a taste of what she`s dealing with?

ABBY RAPOPORT, THE AMERICAN PROSPECT: Well, the big difference, I think,
between Texas and Kentucky, right, is obviously that there`s a much higher
proportion in voters` color. And I think because of that you have an
interesting dynamic. People like in Houston governor - excuse me, Houston
mayor, not quite its own state yet.


RAPOPORT: You know, went and got married, she`s a lesbian. In San Antonio
Mayor Castro has been quite out in front in his support of gay marriage.
And so in these cities, which are huge population centers, but largely
voters of color, you are seeing a pretty strong shift, I think, to sort of
being unafraid of the political implications of saying I support gay
marriage. Meanwhile you`ve got to win the rest of the state and that`s
Wendy Davis` problem. Wendy Davis has to walk this line of trying to kind
of attract more voters from suburbs, more white voters and interesting, I
think, break is that women tend to support gay marriage much more than men.
And so, if you look at Wendy Davis as in sort of the battleground Texas,
which is like group that - kind of former Obama staffers are trying to make
Texas a competitive state, they are really looking at increasing voter
turnout among voters of color, particularly Latino voters, and trying to
swing female voters. And I think those - that sort of the political
calculus in Texas for someone like Wendy Davis is trying to maybe not get
too far, but certainly the people down the road like Julian Castro who
you`ve got to figure also thinks he has a pretty strong political future in
the state, is probably thinking, you know, soon enough, those groups are
going to add up to enough that I don`t need to worry so much about these
old, white, evangelical voters who might .

KORNACKI: Right. I mean like I said, we can - look in Kentucky. We can
see, you know, ten years ago, 75 percent, now 55 percent. You can imagine
in ten more years that will probably change a little bit more. Mark, I
wonder how you look at that. We were trying to go through the list before
the show and who are the remaining Democratic senators who are against gay
marriage? And I think its Mark Pryor and Joe Manchin and there`s a little
question of exactly where Mary Landrieu comes in. I`ll play a clip here.
This is from November. Joe Manchin didn`t ask me anything when I was - -
and he was asked about gay marriage. And this is how he addressed it.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D) WEST VIRGINIA: I was raised on a little farm in West
Virginia. I don`t believe in any aspect of discrimination. I wasn`t
raised that way, no matter who you are, what you are, no discrimination.
Human beings should treat each other as human beings. With that being
said, I do believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.


KORNACKI: So, I wonder how do you think about this nationally. Because
West Virginia is, obviously, a very conservative state. There`s a senate
race playing out this year where Republicans, you know, currently are
expected to win. You have somebody like Joe Manchin who is still against
gay marriage, but he`s also for end of the employment nondiscrimination
act. You can make the case that from the U.S. senator standpoint it`s more
important, you know, from the gay right standpoint, to be voting for ENDA
than to have a position on gay marriage. Because the Senate is probably
going to be dealing with ENDA more than gay marriage. How do you think
about somebody like Joe Manchin? Do you say, yeah, we`ve got to cut him
some slack here because he`s from West Virginia?

MARC SOLOMON, FREEDOM TO MARRY: Well, what it tells is that the people are
ahead of the politicians in the south, but this "Washington Post" poll
showed that you talked about first was that 50 percent of southerners
across the board support the freedom of marriage. 42 percent oppose. And
I think the politicians are catching up to where people are. And things
are moving so quickly that it`s hard for the elected officials to catch up
to where people are.

KORNACKI: But it`s still, like we say, in Kentucky it`s still, it would
seem the numbers suggest a weapon that Republicans and opponents of gay
marriage could use like the Bush campaign in 2004. Djuan, I`m interested
in your personal story as well in Kentucky. Because I think that can tell
something about the culture of the state. When you announced that you are
gay, I imagine it was a big surprise to a lot of people in the state. And
tell me about what the reaction was like. What did you hear from

TRENT: I`ve gotten a lot of positive reaction. And on the flip side of
that, there have also -- let me go back to what actually prompted the
writing of the blog and the coming out. I was involved in a lot of
conversations where I was hearing people say things like, this is the
abomination of our nation and this is, you know, Adam and Eve, not Adam and
Steve kind of things. And it fired me up. Because, you know, people would
be talking to me not knowing, you know, hey, I`m gay as well. I don`t
believe in what you`re saying. And I think that people are not aware
enough to know, and the more that we bring about that awareness, the more
it, I guess, kind of brings about that sensitivity in people to understand
like this is not a conversation about those people. Like, these are people
that are your neighbors. These are people that you work with. These are
people that you see in the drive-through every day, wherever you go, like
they are everywhere. And I think that`s what really needs to be the main
focus of the conversation is understanding that these are just human

RAPOPORT: I was going to say I think, you know, also the sort of shift
from it being a conversation about marriage and the sort of threat to
marriage versus a conversation about discrimination, right, the sort of
Arizona laws that get so much attention, you know, and you have the sort of
comparison to lunch counters, right, and sort of the idea that this is a
civil rights issue as opposed to this is a threat to your church. I think
that`s been a transition since the Bush years that`s really made it a lot
more -- given a lot more political space for people in these states like
Joe Manchin, sort of gives themselves some room so then if he decides he
wants to move over further, he can say, well, I`ve always said I was
against discrimination. And now I realized this is a discrimination issue,

CROSS: Right.

RAPOPORT: You know, and I was going to say, in Texas you have Mark
McKinnon who was one of the Bush administration architects around the 2004
election, I think, pushed heavily some of the rhetoric -- I don`t know that
he personally but was very involved in a campaign that was using this as a
wedge issue who is now, I mean, I`m sure you can speak to this more, but
now has taken the lead in a Texas group on trying to win more rights for
gay men and women in Texas.

SOLOMON: He`s one of our chairs of southern - for the Freedom to Marry.
And things are changing quickly. Because people are thinking about their
kids and they are thinking about what kind of legacy they want to present
to their kids. You know, when this issue came up to me, was I for
discrimination or was I against it? Do I want to treat others as so the
way I wanted to be treated? And we are seeing that a lot. All over the
country. Things are moving so quickly.

KORNACKI: Let`s - I want to talk about sort of where the end game is on
this. You know, talking years down the line. We`ve reached a point now
we`ve put the map up on the screen before where there`s sort of a gay
marriage divide in this country that almost mirrors the red state/blue
state divide. So, when this becomes something that is as accepted in red
states as in blue states, we are trying to figure when that is going to
happen and what to look for. We`ll pick that conversation up right after


KORNACKI: So, I want to ask you, Al, if this is sort of - If Kentucky is
sort of a test this year of the potency of running against gay marriage,
because on two fronts here, first, we`ve already talked about in the intro
how Matt Bevin and how the Senate conservatives fund this group that looks,
you know, to take out incumbent Republican senators, is going after Mitch
McConnell and trying to, you know, tie him to this federal judge who said
that out of state gay marriages should be legal in Kentucky. Do you think
that they are going to get traction with that attack on Mitch McConnell?
Is that going to work? And then we turn around to the general election, we
talked about how, you know, Grimes has been so hesitant to really, you
know, be out in front on this. Do you suspect that`s going to - it`s going
to be an issue that affects her, that hurts her and all this November, or
are we going to be talking at the end of the year Kentucky like, hey, you
know, the state may be against it, but the bite is out of it as an issue?

CROSS: Well, I don`t think McConnell is in danger of losing his primary.
But he runs the risk of losing the votes in the general election. A lot of
Republicans who really don`t care for him, they think he`s been too much of
a moderate, too much of an apostate. His voting record suggests otherwise,
of course. And he has avoided social conservative issues. He`s never
really run on them. In this case, his opponent in the primary and his
allies are trying to identify him with the judge who he is joined at the
hip politically with. That will probably go into that portfolio of issues
that help define McConnell for those voters, probably help Bevin a little
bit, but it`s not going to make a big difference. In the fall I don`t see
McConnell using social conservative issues unless he sees a clear advantage
to it. Even he`s a great believer in surveys.

KORNACKI: I mean the poll - 55-35 percent, you know.

CROSS: But he`s always been uncomfortable running, I think, on socially
conservative issues. Socially conservative. Wrong emphasis there. So, it
would be a real turn for him, if he did that. I think he realizes that
there are plenty of outside groups that can use that issue to his benefit.

KORNACKI: So, and we`re talking about, you know, when and how gay marriage
comes to red state America and right now what we`re seeing is certainly
what we are seeing and Kentucky is court rulings and then the question of
will attorneys general be defending these? If they do defend them, can
they even win their court cases? Is that - because it was always this
debate over whether, you know, if the state`s electorate isn`t ready, like
if you look at 35 percent in Kentucky saying they`re for it, do you think
this is a good way to sort of introduce gay marriage to Kentucky when the
polling is still as low as it is? Will that stir extra resentment? Will
that make it tougher to win over people to accept gay marriage?

SOLOMON: I don`t think so. Things are moving so quickly in this country.
And, you know, when people find - once they meet couples who are getting
married, is that they are just like anybody else, they live down the
street, they go to church, et cetera, et cetera. So, you know, I think
that those numbers will grow very quickly as they`re growing across the
country and across the south at 50 percent. So, I`m not worried. There`s
also the - under the Constitution that these judges seven out of seven now
over the past year have followed. And in places like Oklahoma and Texas
and Kentucky. So I`m - you know, I think things are going well and I think
the people of Kentucky will be fine with it.

KORNACKI: You know, I mean are we going to reach a point where we look to
that national poll, you know, white evangelical voters overwhelmingly
oppose this still. It`s the reason why that 59 percent national support
isn`t much higher.

CROSS: That is why people in Kentucky aren`t going to be quite as OK with
it as you may think. Because we do have this large block of white
evangelical voters.

KORNACKI: Right. So, that`s where the opposition is coming from - but can
we - is that going to drop? Is that - is there .

CROSS: But those people are not going to abandon their core beliefs.

SOLOMON: But what I`ll tell you, even millennial Evangelicals are right
about 50/50 on the issue, so things are changing even with evangelicals.
It`s a generational thing.

KORNACKI: So, given it`s true.

TRENT: Right.

KORNACKI: Give it ten more years and the Evangelicals thing will be about
50 and they do - overall number get over 70 at that point.

CROSS: It will probably take a little longer than that in my state, but
the trend will continue.

KORNACKI: Well, you`ve told us 20 years.


KORNACKI: We`ll try to hold you to that. Anyway, I want to thank Al Cross
from "The Courier Journal," former Miss Kentucky, Djuan Trent, Abby
Rapoport with the American Prospect, and Marc Solomon of freedom to marry.
We`re getting our drum roll ready. Because we`re going to need it next.


KORNACKI: It`s the biggest popularity contest this year at American
politics, but is it predictive of future results? We`ll be talking most
likely to succeed when we come back.


KORNACKI: All of the votes have been counted and we can tell you that the
winner of yesterday`s CPAC presidential straw poll is Rand Paul, the
Kentucky senator scoring his second consecutive victory at the annual
conservative gallery. Topping the field with 31 percent he was followed by
Ted Cruz who finished a very distant second with just 11 percent. Dr. Ben
Carson who has been prominent in right-wing media the past year, have nine
percent and Chris Christie got eight percent.

You know, we know the track record of this straw poll when it comes to
actually predicting the GOP nominee isn`t that good, past winners have
included Rand Paul, George Allen and Steve Forbes, none of whom ever came
close to the nomination. But still, Rand Paul`s margin of victory is
impressive enough to tell us something about where the conservative base is
right now and even if you put the straw pull itself aside, CPAC itself is a
big public exhibition of the right`s current passions. 11,000 people
attended this year`s three-day event, which wrapped up when that straw poll
tally was announced. In those three days, the conservative attendees did a
lot more than just sit around waiting for presidential contenders to speak.
They were also going to argue over and hash out a policy agenda, it`s where
new strategies are formulated and the candidates who would lead them are

For the past 72 hours, the National Harbor Convention center just across
from D.C. has been buzzing with conservative bloggers and radio hosts,
intellectual leaders, state legislatures, policy analysts, donors, the
party activists who organize phone banks, who knock on doors, and who form
voluntary armies every election year.

So let`s forget about the candidates for a minute. There are other people,
those are the people I just mentioned, who I really would like to hear
from. And so yesterday we sent MSNBC`s Perry Bacon Jr., he`s the political
editor of the Grio to talk to the real players in the conservative movement
and to find out what`s animating them on the right, where they want their
movement to go in 2014 and beyond. Here is this exclusive report.


PERRY BACON JR. MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: What do you all think about the
government? I`m not a very big fan of it myself. This is on the title
"Don`t tread on me."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The most conservative convention of the year, I mean
it`s like the Oscar is for the conservatives.

BACON: What are some issues you hope the candidates talk about in 2016?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think it`s the fiscal issues. I think the
fiscal issues are having a huge effect in this country. Our nation`s debt
$17 trillion.

STATE REP. MIKE HILL (R) FLORIDA: I want to hear a balanced budget. If we
can do it in the states, it can be done nationwide, also.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Entitlement reform is absolutely something that young
people are going to want to see. They should raise the Social Security
age, raise the Medicare/retirement ages.

JENNY BETH MARTIN, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: There`s a plan called the penny
plan. And if we cut one penny out of every dollar that the government
spends, just one penny, we could reduce our deficit and have a balanced
budget within three years.

STATE SEN. JIM BANKS (R) INDIANA: We are poised to pass a piece of
legislation in Indiana that would make our corporate tax rate the second
lowest in the country. That`s a conservative policy, a conservative idea
that undoubtedly will create jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I would like to see the Republican Party do is to
address those issues, folks that are suffering, you know, from paycheck to
paycheck, the jobholder, not so much the job creator.

FMR. SEN. RICK SANTORUM, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: We can do all sorts of things,
cut taxes and everything, but, look, when the family unit breaks down, when
communities break down, you know, people aren`t going to do well. The
marriage revolution would be, I think, a very positive thing and it`s not -
- to me I don`t see it as a left/right thing at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`d like to see them say, you know what - we`re
seeing tons of movement on marijuana legalization in the states. Let`s
make that part of the Republican Party platform.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No surveillance, no government interference on our
personal lives.

conservatives and Republicans, to take the lead in reforming mandatory
minimums, which was a bipartisan fit of madness on drugs and other issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people are reluctant to accept gay marriage
and I think they are going to have to get over it. Because the majority of
America clearly has moved in that direction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My number one candidate or nominee for 2016 is Scott


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I actually voted for Condoleezza Rice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ben Carson is the only candidate who can beat Hillary
Clinton, because he`s the only candidate the GOP field who can get 17
percent of the black vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m looking for a governor or someone with extensive
executive experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like Scott Walker. He is my favorite.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I voted for Huckabee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, Rand Paul always - he always gives a good speech.
And I mean if he wins the nomination, I would definitely work very hard for

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like Rand Paul best because he is from my hometown
in Lake Jackson, Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m supporting Rand Paul. He and the liberty people
are taking over the Republican Party. It`s not going to be the Republican
Party that we`re used to seeing.


KORNACKI: All right. For more on what went down there at CPAC, MSNBC
contributor Perry Bacon Jr., politics editor at, joins us. And
here in the studio, we have Josh Barro, also an MSNBC contributor. So,
with the politics report of "The New York Times," the conservative writer
and now a contributor with "Forbes," Carrie Sheffield. Full disclosure, we
found out Carrie`s brother was one of the people who was included in that
video saying the party should evolve on gay marriage.

But Perry, I`ll start with you since you put this together. A bunch of
interesting quotes you collected. I like the guy who said he has got the
math all figured out, I guess. Republicans nominate Ben Carson, they get
exactly 17 percent of the black vote and they beat Hillary Clinton.


KORNACKI: There`s your formula, a winning formula in 2016. But putting
that aside, I wonder if you could tell us - you know, we`ve been talking
since 2012 about, you know, the Republican Party put out its you autopsy
after that election and how they have to change, how they have to broaden
their appeal to win national elections. Were you hearing anything at this
conference? I mean, it`s hinted at, at some of the interviews there, but
was there anything that seemed to have yield almost like a new consensus
that might be emerging on the right, that might be different from what we
have been seeing and hearing from the conservative movement for the last
five years?

PERRY BACON JR., MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: We heard a lot of different ideas.
The two things that I was struck by was there was a criminal justice panel
that Rick Perry and Grover Norquist are both on. And a lot of talk about
mandatory minimums. Someone talked about marijuana, decriminalization.
Those kinds of issues were new, I thought. And there`s a little push
there. The second thing I thought from both the people we talked to were
grassroots and also from the candidates, if you think about the wave of gay
marriage rulings in the country in favor of that, I thought this
congressman had a lot more criticism of activist judges or talk about
traditional marriage. That issue was not discussed very much. And I
thought that was striking to (INAUDIBLE) to be can the Republicans move
toward a more libertarian view on that? Talk about religious liberty more,
banning gay marriage less. Those are the two things, and of course the
other thing is, lots of talk about fiscal issues. Everyone talked about
fiscal issues very much. Little - very little to talk about the Ukraine,
for instance, which is our big issue in the news this week. But no -- very
little foreign policy at CPAC.

KORNACKI: Carrie, we had George Allen, you know, Steve Forbes, the list of
people who have won CPAC and gone nowhere in presidential politics as
legend. And Ron Paul, you know, we learned to dismiss the Ron Paul
victories in these things because his supporters basically were outside the
Republican Party, but they could come to events like this, they could pack
them, they could make noise.

BACON: Right.

KORNACKI: Rand Paul is a savvier political figure than his father. He`s
been a lot more strategic in how he`s approached this. I wonder how
representative you think -- how representative you think CPAC is of the
conservative movement, sort of at-large and does Rand Paul`s showing in the
straw poll mean more than Ron Paul`s victories the last couple of years?

CARRIE SHEFFIELD, FORBES: That`s the big question. So, I mean if you look
historically Mitt Romney won in `07 to `09, then it was Ron Paul `10 to
`11. Then Romney in `12, and then Rand Paul at `13, `14. So, Romney did
end up getting the nomination, so you could say that that is sort of a
bellwether. But the Paul name, I think the jury is still out to whether
sort of Rand Paul`s brand of, you know, let`s fight the drones, whether
this is going to be relevant to the mainstream base. At this point, I
think it`s still a big question mark.

KORNACKI: And, Josh, just, you know, watching this from afar, did you hear
anything different, anything like, wow, this conservative movement has
changed or is in the process of changing in some meaningful way? Did you
hear anything different come out of this?

JOSH BARRO, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Not really, but CPAC isn`t the venue I
would expect to hear it out of. CPAC is sort of a pep rally for
conservatives. I, you know, I was on a panel there a few years ago and
it`s a lot of college students and retirees who are the older attendees
tend to be very conservative and very movement oriented, aren`t going to be
the sort of people who are enthusiastic to modernize or strategically
figure out how to get the party to 50 percent plus one. The college
students have a strong emphasis toward libertarianism. So, I think you`re
going to see a nominee in the party as you almost always do, comes out of
the establishment wing whether that`s Scott Walker or Paul Ryan or Jeb
Bush, but CPAC is not going to be their basis.

SHEFFIELD: There was one positive thing and that was the women at CPAC
this year. I think women were very strongly represented, and we had
younger women, so people like Mary Linda Garcia, women of color, she`s
running for Congress in New Hampshire. She spoke. Erica Herald, she`s
African-American, running for Congress in Illinois. There are other panels
with women. So, I think women - they were very well represented, which is

KORNACKI: And Josh mentions the - we`ll pick it up in one second. I have
to fit a break in here and I just want to tease on the other side. The
straw poll was interesting this year, because they polled 26 candidates.
They also polled some issues. And there were some interesting results
there. We`re going to talk about those when we come back.


KORNACKI: So I just want to the get these quick poll numbers in. In
addition to the straw poll, they asked on this ballot at CPAC should
marijuana be legalized. 41 percent said yes for recreational. 21 percent
for medicinal. 31 percent saying it should remain illegal. 52 percent
saying it`s time for America to stand up for America`s allies to stand up
and defend themselves. 75 percent disapprove of the NSA monitoring of
phone calls and scanning emails. Only 19 percent in favor. I think the
estimate was that half of the people voting at straw poll were between 18
and 25. That might be talking -getting into that younger libertarianism
Josh was talking about. But Perry, I know, before the break you wanted to
get in. So, go ahead. What were you going to say?

BACON: One thing about the straw poll results I do think is worth thinking
about, is Marco Rubio finished in second last year with 23 percent. He
almost won. He`s way, way behind. I think he`s finishing seventh now and
I think that is a sign, though, that if -- Chris Christie declined a little
bit. Marco Rubio has really declined in the - conservative activists in
this last year and that`s all about immigration, of course.

KORNACKI: Immigration. And an interesting thing is Marco Rubio, there was
a story this week about how he sees his path back by being sort of the
hawkish alternative to Rand Paul and foreign policy. And when you see a
statistic like this in the exit poll, there`s a questions of how much
traction .

BARRO: Yeah.

KORNACKI: Anybody can get on that.

BARRO: Well, and Chris Christie has been playing that same card. The big
fight he had with Rand Paul was about foreign policy. But I think with
Rubio, his problem is that he hasn`t been able to pick a position and stick
with it. He irritated conservatives on immigration, but it`s not like he
made immigration reform supporters very happy because he realized he`d
gotten out too far and then tried to calibrate his position. I think the
more likely establishment candidates are Scott Walker who hasn`t really
made any big national mistakes within the Republican Party. He needs to
finish his reelect and then he can focus on the national race. But I
agree, I think, Rubio is not in a good position.

KORNACKI: And Carrie, 20 seconds.

SHEFFIELD: I just want to say, there is something that I found concerning
about this and a blogger from Brookings pointed it out. So, the panel they
had on minority outreach was basically tumble weeds going across the room.
Don`t get me wrong, I love CPAC, I spent my 18th birthday at CPAC, I became
a woman in a very legal sense at CPAC.


SHEFFIELD: But when you see - like that where it`s totally tumble weeds,
when it`s - these are the demographics, the movement you need to be
reaching out to, that`s very concerning.

KORNACKI: It is a very personal admission.


KORNACKI: I appreciate that. I want to thanks, TheGrio`s Perry Bacon Jr.
form making the trip to see- for helping us with that video. So to Josh
Barro, "The New York Times," the conservative rhetoric Carrie Sheffield for
coming in this morning.

Two months into the scandal. Is there a possibility that Chris Christie
could come out of all of this with his political future fully intact? We`ll
look at it from that direction. After this.


KORNACKI: The air and rescue teams have been searching the area of the
South China Sea south of Vietnam for more than 24 hours now to find that
missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet. They have more than doubled the
radius of their search area now that Malaysian officials say radar
indicates the flight may have tried to turn back, although no distress
signal from the aircraft was ever received. The Boeing 777 aircraft went
missing on its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing almost two days ago now.
The airline is appearing to say this morning that the window on expecting
good news seems to be closing.


HUGH DUNLEAVY, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: We have communication to the family
members. After more than 30 hours without any contact with the aircraft,
we believe that the family members should prepare themselves for the worst.


KORNACKI: Now one U.S. Navy ship and one U.S. aircraft are assisting in
the efforts. Three Americans are among the 239 people who were onboard
that aircraft. The team of federal U.S. safety experts is also en route to
Asia to be ready to assist in the investigation. That team includes
accident investigators from the NTSB, it`s the National Transportation
Safety Board, and technical experts from the FAA and Boeing. We`ll have
more updates from MSNBC on this developing story throughout the morning.

But let`s turn now to a story that`s been big news nationally for many
months now. And one that you are very familiar with if you are a regular
viewer of this program. If you`ve been following our coverage of Chris
Christie and the scandal and allegations that have sprouted up around him,
and maybe you`ve been asking yourself what we`ve been asking ourselves,
just how much damage will all of this do to Christie`s political standing,
his long-term hopes to run for president in 2016? His shorter term desire
to see through his role as chairman of the Republican Governors
Association, even his basic ability to continue functioning day-to-day as
New Jersey`s governor?

So, we thought we would approach all of this from a slightly different
angle this morning. We`re used to thinking about this story as if Christie
is free falling politically with no path to redemption in site. No path to
redemption even close. But what if the damage isn`t actually that severe?
And what if it doesn`t get much worse than this for the governor? Look at
it this way, we know that Christie enjoyed astronomical approval ratings
and popularity as governor from the moment Hurricane Sandy hit in October
of 2012 all the way through his 2013 re-election campaign, which went with
60 percent of the vote, and right up until the moment of Bridget Kelly`s
infamous time for some traffic problems for Fort Lee email surfaced. And
we know the minute that email came out and undercut Christie`s absolute
insistence that the George Washington bridge traffic jam couldn`t possibly
have been some kind of petty vengeance scheme involving his own appointees,
the minute that Christie`s months of mockery of the story blew up in his
face and he held that infamous or famous two hour press conference in early
January, that almost literally at that moment all of that popularity he
gained and sustained from Sandy vanished. You can see it there on your

But here`s the thing. It`s now been exactly two months since that press
conference, since Christie fired Bridget Kelly, since he separated himself
from Bill Stepien, since he dissed David Wildstein and made some very
clear, very absolute statements about what he says was his total lack of
knowledge of the true nature of the lane closures until that Bridget Kelly
email went public on January 8. And it`s been almost two months since
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer appeared on this show to accuse senior members of
Christie`s administration of linking her city`s Sandy funds to her approval
of a major development project represented by the law firm of one of
Christie`s closest allies. Charges they have repeatedly denied.

And his favorability in New Jersey, well, it`s still way down from where it
was in those post-Sandy glory days. But it`s also not that bad. 55
percent in the Rutgers -Eagleton poll just out this week. Scandal or no
scandal a 55 percent approval rating for a Republican governor in a deeply
blue state is really nothing to sniff at. And there was a little more good
news from the poll for Christie. Asked if they would change their votes
from last November`s election if they knew then what they know now about
Christie and the scandal and the allegations, 87 percent of voters who
voted for him, said they would still be with him. Just six percent said
they would have switched to his Democratic opponent. And this came the
same week that a federal audit concluded that Christie`s administration
hadn`t acted improperly when it hastily awarded a no-bid contract to a
company called Ashbritt to haul off debris from Sandy. That company is
represented by the law firm of Haley Barbour, he former Mississippi
governor and top D.C. lobbyist who has been publicly defending Christie
during this scandal, the Ashbritt contract has been a cajole, Christie`s
opponents have been using to attack him. But the audit concluded that the
state had, quote, "complied with applicable federal and state procurement

Christie also held another town hall meeting this week, this his third
since the scandal and allegations exploded. And once again, not a single
question asked of him about the bridge lane closure or about Mayor Zimmer`s
accusations. Is this because the events have all been held in Republican-
friendly areas or is it a sign that as Christie is happy to claim, the
public doesn`t care nearly as much about the scandal as we in the press
assume they do?

Obviously no one can argue that there has been no damage to Christie from
all of this and that no one in the general public doesn`t care. For that
matter, there are still some very ominous signs for Christie outside of his
home state. On the national stage. Until a few months ago he was seen as
one of the favorites for the 2016 Republican nomination. But a poll this
week found that of all the likely GOP candidates, Christie now has a
dubious distinction: more Republicans say they would definitely not
support him in their primaries than any other candidate. And Christie`s
standing against Hillary Clinton in head-to-head polling has taken a
significant hit.

But Christie did receive at least a decent reception at the Conservative
Political Action Conference this week and played up conservative views that
he shied away from addressing in New Jersey, perhaps most notably on
abortion, bashed Barack Obama, and the attack to the media. Reaction from
the crowd wasn`t electric, but it wasn`t hostile either. For all it`s
worth, John McCain said this week that Christie is still, quote, "a very
viable candidate for 2016." So, add all of this together, and you have to
admit that even after the scandal, even after the allegations and the
scrutiny he`s endured for the past few months, there is a path out of this
mess for Chris Christie, a way that he can emerge not unscathed, not
unbruised, but also not buried politically.

Right now when it comes to the Christie scandal and allegations we`re in a
bit of a holding pattern. The state legislative committee investigating
the lane closures is going to court this Tuesday to try to compel both
Kelly and Stepien to comply with subpoenas. Kelly and Stepien are both
refusing on Fifth Amendment grounds. We also know that the U.S. Attorney
for New Jersey is sniffing around. We know that Mayor Zimmer has met with
federal prosecutors and turned over documents. That FBI agents have
interviewed others in Hoboken. We learned in the past week thanks to court
filings from their lawyers fighting those subpoenas from the state
legislative committee that federal agents have also tried to make contact
with Kelly and Stepien. And each of their lawyers say they believe their
clients are, quote, "at the very least the subjects of a federal

And, of course there`s the matter of Wildstein whose lawyer has asserted
that "evidence exists that Christie knew of the lane closures as they took
place" and who has made it clear that his client wants to cut a deal. If
he has immunity from the relevant entities he`ll talk. That`s what
Wildstein`s lawyer is saying. So, there are a lot of balls that are in the
air here. A lot we still don`t know. A lot that is still to play out. So
we figure we`d look at the possibility that Christie is able to emerge from
all of this with his political viability intact. What would have to happen
for that to happen? What would have to be true? What do you need to
believe right now if you believe that whatever further revelations there
are in the scandal Christie will make it out alive politically?

Here to discuss this, we have New Jersey assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, who
is also now a candidate for Congress, MSNBC contributor, a professor at
Baruch College, who has worked with us a lot in New Jersey reporting Brian
Murphy, Terry Golway, a longtime Jersey reporter and now director of Kean
University Center for History, and author of the new book "Machine Made:
Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics." Republican New
Jersey Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, a member of the special investigative
committee that is looking into these lane closures.

So packed a lot into that intro. Thank you for joining us, by the way.
What I thought we would do is go through a number of the questions that
have been raised from the documents that have been released, from the
allegations that have been raised by the mayor of Hoboken and just sort of
talk around, dissect them a little bit. What sort of from Christie`s
standpoint, what has to be true, what do you have to believe if he`s going
to be OK? So, for example, let`s - I`ll start with this one. This is from
the text messages and emails that David Wildstein provided to the committee
back now two months ago that really set this all off. And it was an
exchange between Wildstein and Kelly on Monday, August Fifth. OK, and you
remember that the infamous "time for some traffic" email went out on August
13. This is the email that suggests Kelly and Wildstein are trying to
arrange a meeting between Port Authority Chairman David Samson, his name
has come up a lot on this, and Governor Christie. And Wildstein, the sort
of the - the command from the committee to Wildstein was only turn over
documents that are relevant to the lane closures.

So in turning this over, Wildstein is strongly hinting, is strongly
suggesting that this attempted meeting or this possible meeting that may
have taken place between the governor himself and David Samson is related
to the closure. So, one thing you have to believe is either this meeting
didn`t take place, there was no - and this is a red herring, there was no
Christie/Samson meeting, or the meeting took place and a week before "the
time for some traffic problems" email went out from Bridget Kelly, the
subject never came up at all. This is one of the great mysteries, I think,
in all of this.

HOLLY SCHEPSISI, (R ) NJ ASSEMBLYWOMAN: Sitting on the committee and
actually reviewing a lot of these documents, it`s very difficult to put a
lot of what we have received into any sort of context because what you`re
talking is almost - dumps of thousands of pages of documents that aren`t
put in order necessarily by date. We have multiple copies of things. And
so merely having something like that being provided to us I don`t believe
is indicative of anything in and of itself. If we had had an opportunity
to actually interview some of these people, and that`s not going to occur
because of the Fifth Amendment arguments that have been made, it`s very
difficult to tie that together.

KORNACKI: Do you - I mean you`re sitting on this committee. Because here
is an example. We have some Wildstein/Kelly texts. Kelly is fighting,
turning over anything to this committee. Possibly if she did turn over
documents to the committee we would get a lot more context to this exchange
and we might learn if there was a meeting between the governor and David
Samson. Do you want her to be releasing these documents? Are you glad the
committee is taking her to court to try to .

SCHEPSISI: Well, as a member of the committee, I think it`s important that
we get the full picture that we investigate and try to understand what
occurred. Do I think that there`s a likely scenario that we`re going to be
sitting here at the same time next year still discussing, you know, what
could have been in Bridget emails, what could have been in Bill Stepien`s
emails, I think it`s very possible. I think that this is a legal issue
that is going to continue for quite a long period of time. But as
committee members, we had to at least go out and attempt to get the
information so that we could try to understand why this occurred and how
this occurred.

UPENDRA CHIVUKULA, (D) N.J. ASSEMBLYMAN: One other thing, Steve, is that
there`s spontaneity is there. Whenever you send a text message and you
really - text or emails, you know, a lot of times you don`t think through
the whole thing. So what is in your mind, sometimes comes up, that`s why
trying to read between the lines I think it`s difficult. We need to get
that information as a scientist like Rush Hold (ph), I like to collect more
data. And I think if - I wish Bridget Kelly comes forward with the
documents and Bill Stepien comes forward with the documents, because I
think for Governor Christie to be a rival candidate on the national level,
he has to come out clean, because he has to tell us what he knows and what
he does not know. I think that`s the most important thing. Because people
are dying to know - because we want to put an end to this thing, because we
want to make sure that the people - well with proper transparency.

KORNACKI: Well, and that`s - and he has been -- I mean, he could not have
been more clear in his public statement on January 9 that I knew nothing.
I had no clue, no - until January 8 when that Bridget Kelly e-mail and then
all of the other stuff came out, which brings me to another question that
really kind of hangs over this is, this was an email that was forwarded,
this is from Patrick Foye, he was - he is the executive director of the
Port Authority. He`s the guy that ended the lane closures on September 13.
And he fired off this email that called them hasty, ill-advised, said they
possibly violated federal and state law. We have - I think it`s from Bill
Baroni`s emails that were turned over that that email from Patrick Foye on
the morning of September 13 was forwarded just hours later and marked
urgent to a woman named Regina Egea (ph) And Regina Egea was Authorities
director for Chris Christie. So, it places her basically in the governor`s
office, she is currently his pick if his current chief of staff ever leaves
to become attorney general, she`s the pick to replace his current chief of
staff. She is very close to Chris Christie. That gets to the question of
how does Regina Egea get an e-mail like that and Chris Christie doesn`t
find out about it.

TERRY GOLWAY, KEAN UNIVERCITY CENTER: Well, you know, that is a good
questions. But I wonder as we are talking about Christie`s viability both
as a governor of New Jersey and how he can continue to govern and then at
the national level. I think, you know, people are learning more about the
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey these days. And they ever
thought they would. And this is an institution that was founded in the
1920s to be an apolitical, you know, bi-state model of cooperation. I`m
not sure that, you know, the average Republican voter is really going to
pay close attention to the specific details. I think the bigger picture is
what matters. And if Governor Christie a year from now is able to say with
all of these investigations nobody has been able to lay a glove on me, then
he is politically viable.

KORNACKI: Yeah. And that begs the question with - with all of this, and
we have a few more I want to go through. We have got to squeeze a break in
here. But he has put himself in this position where I knew nothing before
January 8. So these are sort of the points of vulnerability where it`s
possible if not plausible that as we learn more that answer -- that
statement from Chris Christie could be undercut and then there would be
tremendous political implications. We have more of this to go through.
We will, as soon as we come back from the break.



GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: I had no knowledge or involvement in
this issue, in its planning or its execution. And I am stunned by the
abject stupidity that was shown here.


KORNACKI: So, again, that was - that is Chris Christie`s bottom line on
this and that is, you know if that story holds up, then I agree. I think
he can get out of this with, you know, politically relatively intact. But
if that story is undercut in any way, that absolute statement on this, then
the implications could be considerable.

So, we are looking at the potential what we have seen from the revelations
that have come out there is that the potential weak spots in that absolute
statement, here is another one to bring up, and this is from September 12,
this is the third day of the closures, OK? And this is from Christina
Renna who worked directly under Bridget Kelly in the governor`s office and
what happened that day, apparently, was her deputy, a guy named Evan
Ridley, you could see in her note here, this is Christina Rena writing to
Bridget Kelly explaining how this happened that basically Mayor Sokolich
from Fort Lee had been trying to get through the administration. We had
seen in other documents that they had no interest, that Bridget Kelly did
not want to see him - didn`t want to talk to him at all. He called from a
secretary`s phone number that Evan Ridley didn`t recognize. And so, Evan
Ridley then talks to Mark Sokolich about the closures, then told Christina
Renna - and Christina Renna immediately fires off this almost apologetic
email explaining how he got through to Bridget Kelly. These are people in
the governor`s office, Brian. So one thing you have to believe for
Christie`s statement to hold up is this was an operation that was limited
to knowledge of the nature of this was limited to like those three people
in the governor`s office and no one else in this governor`s office had an
inkling of it or if they can did no one told the governor that they could
be operating out of his office like that and he wouldn`t know.

BRIAN MURPHY, BARUCH COLLEGE: Yeah, I mean the thing is a white board
exists, which lists the various indicators there are that people in the
governor`s office knew about this and that the problem with the press
conference is that you have to believe that there are a lot of coincidences
and there are a lot of things. You have to believe there are a lot of
coincidences and you have to believe that the governor`s office has managed
a very, very sort of loose way to buy into the story that Christie simply
didn`t know about this, especially when we know from that initial emails
that week that giving Sokolich radio silence that the chain of custody of
that question is Baroni asking Wildstein, Baroni saying to Wildstein, look,
Sokolich called our office sort of saying what do we do? And David
Wildstein reaching out to Bridget Kelly and saying this call was made and
she writes, did he write back? And did he call back? And Wildstein says,
no. And Bridget Kelly says thank you.


MURPHY: It makes it seem like the operation is being - for whatever
reason, all right? We don`t know the motive. And I think the motive is
difficult, the motive is interesting, the motive is why we keep fixating on
the story. It`s a gonzo-ish kind of story and we`d like to know what the
answer is to this. Because we don`t usually get to see infrastructure used
in this way. But, you know, trying to figure out why -- why it is that
operation is being run out of Trenton and how it`s possible that, right,
Kelly can know about it in an office that isn`t really physically set up
for people to not know about things?

SCHEPISI: Just putting into context we were talking about within two
months of an election, the gubernatorial election with over 70 - there`s 70
municipalities in Bergen County alone, - dealing with on a day-to-day basis
with mayors calling, aftermath of Sandy, there are a lot of logical reasons
to look at this and accept that, yes, Governor Christie did not know about
this. And thus far we`re several months into the investigation. We`ve
received documents from over 15 people. There are thousands upon thousands
of pages of documents that have been put forth. There`s nothing in just
looking objectively that ties him to it other than tangential things.

KORNACKI: Right. Well, and again, the key is -- part of the key is this
Tuesday. Because the documents that everybody is really interested in are
the Bridget Kelly, Bill Stepien documents, which they are fighting. So
let`s see if and when we actually get to look at those, but I think to
broaden it out a little bit here, I think people looking at this less
granularly have a hard time -- here is an example. In early December, Bill
Baroni and David Wildstein both announced, both decided they are going to
resign from the Port Authority. This comes at the same time that Pat Foye
and other Port Authority officials testify in Trenton that this was not --
there was no traffic study. This whole story there had been a traffic
study, there was no traffic study. They testify. This comes two months
after "The Wall Street Journal" reports on the memo from Foye. It says
this might have broken - there have been months of reporting now and at
this point hearings in Trenton that really suggest something nefarious is
going on here, and Christie`s story is not for another month, did I even
suspect it?

SCHEPISI: Well, I think more importantly just going back to, you know,
talking about him emerging, from the poll that just came out, from the
Rutgers-Eagleton poll, the average person whether or not they believe
Governor Christie or not, they still support him. And this is two months
in. So is he going to emerge from this absent some sort of smoking gun
that nobody has seen thus far? Yes.


GOLWAY: He`ll never be the rock star that he was in October. Again, now,
Chris, that`s setting the bar pretty high.


GOLWAY: But he`s never going to have, I don`t think, in New Jersey and
throughout the country, he`s never going to have that special status that
he had when he seemed to be on his way to this tremendous victory, you
know, just a few months ago.

CHIVUKULA: I think as an engineer I offer a solution. He is conducting an
internal study, review of what happened. Maybe he can release some of that
information that will come out clean. I mean he had nothing to do with it.
What`s there to fear?

KORNACKI: Right. The internal review, that`s been the whole story unto
itself. Anyway, we`ve run out of time here. So I want to thank Terry
Golway of Kean University, New Jersey Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, New
Jersey Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula. Thank you for joining us. We have
sharpened our number two pencils. We`re not afraid to use them. That`s
straight ahead.


KORNACKI: Supposedly fake news, but sometimes it speaks the truth.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDY CENTRAL: It is SAT time again, and I`m sure a lot
of high school students are out there watching my show right now just
trying to relax and get their minds off of studying. Well, I just want to
say stop relaxing. It`s the most important test of your life!



KORNACKI: The most important test of your life is about to undergo some
big changes. And maybe once the mysterious organization administers the
SATs revamps the test, it won`t be so abstruse. Abstruse - do you know
what that word means? Can you use it in the sentence? Well, students need
to know what abstruse means. In the new verbal portion of the SAT. That
answer and many others right after this.

KORNACKI: When was the last time you were asked about your SAT score? In
a job interview, a parent/teacher conference? Does the 2013 standard tax
reform ask for your Social Security number and then your math and verbal
score? Unless you`ve recently applied to college there`s a possibility you
might not even remember your SAT score, at least that`s what you tell
people when they ask. All I know is I got 200 points for putting my name
on it and it was all downhill from there. Anyway, because your SAT score
is essentially - IS one thing that is used -- the important thing that is
used for getting into college, it is how we have measured high school
students for a long, long time. People who created the test back in 1926
wanted a way of factoring out what students learned in high school
entirely. So they came up with something that was set to measure
scholastic aptitude. Instead, test (INAUDIBLE) whether a student was cut
out for the rigors of higher education, but there have been criticisms that
by straying so far from what students actually tackle in high school, the
test isn`t an accurate measure of what those teenagers can actually do or
how they will do once they get to college.

Colleges and universities say that over the years they have been seeing a
disparity between what the SAT score predicts for a student`s future higher
education and that student`s grade point average once they start taking
college level classes. What the test has been shown to measure is wealth.
It is an excellent predictor of how much money their parents make. The
higher the family income, the higher a student`s score. In all sections of
the test. There have been attempts to overhaul the tests in the past. In
2006, an essay section was added, and that`s been open to criticism, too,
because you can basically make stuff up on it, you can provide false
evidence, you can use words out of context to support your argument. And
the graders of the test are only allowed to assess the coherence of the
writing, not its accuracy.

Retired MIT professor Les Perlman who`s been studying the way the test has
been administered says it didn`t matter what you put on that part of the
test. Quote, "You can tell them the War of 1812 began in 1945. Having
details essay - having, excuse me, I said mattered, but not having factual
accuracy. Just use words like plethora or myriad and maybe a quote from
FDR. You are well on your way to scoring much higher. So that`s one
reason that this week the College Board, the company that administers the
test, announced that it is overhauling the SAT. There will be no more
essay, or this will be optional. What is now a 2,400 overall score test is
back to being 1,600 overall points, that`s the best score. The essay, as
we say, is optional. The other reason to the overhaul is this. They are
changing the test to make it more reflective and relevant to a college
ready curriculum. An attempt to measure how well students are doing in
high school instead of simply predicting how well they might do in college.
In other words, less aptitude and more I`ve got this. So, here now to help
me discuss whether the new test is likely to do a better job than the old
test, whether the SAT as a test is worth having at all, Robert Franek, he
is the publisher at the Princeton Review, the standardized test prep
company, Brian Murphy is back with us. He is a professor at Baruch
College, William Hiss, he is the former dean of admission at Baits College,
one of the growing number of test optional schools, Rehema Ellis, she is
the education correspondent with NBC News.

And Rehema, I guess I will just start with you. We spelled out some of the
broad changes for people who, you know, took the SATs, maybe, you know, ten
years ago or so or five years ago. What next year will be so different
about this test?

next year, but it will be in 2016. So for today`s freshmen in high school
they`ll be the first class that actually will be taking this test. And you
pointed out what some of the differences will be. Number one, it`s going
from a 2,400 score down to 1,600. The essay is optional. Calculators
currently, which are used on the test, is they are going to have - they
will have just a limited use going forward.

KORNACKI: What`s the reason? I remember the big thing was we had to get
this TI-82 calculator, when I took it, it was very important for the test.
The reason for taking the calculator out, was, does it measure some
different skill without the calculator? Or is that?

ELLIS: I`m not really sure. I asked David Coleman that question because
in a 21ST century, and with a bunch of digital natives why not let them use
calculators in the math test? And he says they want to test more of the
depth and the breadth that students have in terms of their mathematical
knowledge, and so they are going to have an opportunity to put that to the
test on the exam coming up in 2016.

KORNACKI: And so, Robert, I mean this is your business. Are people ready
to take this test, what do you think of the changes that have been made to

ROBERT FRANEK, THE PRINCETON REVIEW: A couple of things. I mean we have
long been critical of the college boards specifically around the SAT. And
we heard it from the College Board David Coleman this week. The SAT is not
predictive of college success, it is not a good test. But when we start to
sort of dig down into why, we start to think about some of the market share
issues between the ACT and the SAT. There is lots of other things to
unravel than just the question of the SAT. Being a predictor of college

KORNACKI: Well, you say the SAT and the ACT, so when I was growing up they
say, look, if you`re from like your Iowa you take the ACT, you`re from the
northeast you take the SAT. But apparently, the ACT has been surging in
its popularity. What - it surpassed, I guess, last year that more people
took the ACT than the SAT? What is the reason for that? What are the ACT
doing that the SAT isn`t doing and is it a better predictor of college?

FRANEK: A couple of different. And you`re absolutely right. The myth was
that everybody in the great middle of the country took the ACT and
everybody on the left or the right coached took the SAT. The truth is that
any college is going to accept you based on your ACT or SAT scores. When
we start to think about it just five years ago the number of test takers
taking the SAT was around 725,000, 730,000 students. This year and for the
last two years, they have trumped the SAT as the biggest test in the land.
So, right close to 1.7 million test takers for the ACT as well. So, when
we start to think about it, the SAT and I`ve been teaching both ACT and SAT
as well as 4,000 teachers at the Princeton Review, for a long time - ACT
looks and feels like a high school exam. The instructions are very
straightforward. As we were talking about before, it`s tied to what a
student would likely be learning in high school. So, substantive things
like the SAT subject, things students will likely see in the classroom.
The SAT - we - at the Princeton Review, is - one thing - how well you take
the SAT. Not predictor of college success and an (INAUDIBLE) test.

KORNACKI: Well, see, and if it looks more -- if it`s designed to be more
like the curriculum that the students would have encountered and to give
you a sense of how well the students mastered that material, it - they
raise the question of why not just look at grade point average? Because
then that`s the most direct measure of how they handle the material they
encountered. Bill, I think you`ve done some research on this. You come
from a school that made it optional a while ago for students to submit, to
even submit SAT scores. But what have you found in terms of the difference
between college performances of the students who took the SATs versus who
didn`t take the SATs?

WILLIAM HISS, FMR. DEAN OF ADMISSIONS, BAITS: We did a national study of
33 institutions, private, public, minority serving, arts, 123,000 students
and found that there was no difference whatsoever on either cumulative GPA
in college or in graduation rates between the students who submitted tests
and the students who did not. We also found that those students who were
likely to not submit their tests one way or the other, more likely to be
first generation college students, minority students of all groups,
slightly more likely to be women, Pell Grant recipients, low income
students, and students with learning differences like dyslexia. The SAT.
Or the ACT, any high speed test is an extraordinarily poor way to think
you`re going to measure a youngster who has a learning difference. And yet
some of them are brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

KORNACKI: And that`s why I think we showed the chart in the interim,
there`s this direct correlation between family income and an SAT score and
that gets into this whole question of prepping for the test. You know, if
your family can afford it and your family, you know, hey, junior is going
to college, junior is going to get to a good college, then they`re going to
shell out money for, you know, what, coaching on this test, you know,
giving - hey, look, they tend to do it this way. You know, this is the
best guessing strategy. There`s a whole element of that to this, too,
isn`t there?

MURPHY: Yeah, there`s a much more boutique industry that exists in your
business, right, where people can get really much more personalized one-on-
one instruction on how to gain this test. The problem from my standpoint
as someone in a classroom is that high SAT scores don`t correlate at all
into classroom performance.


MURPHY: And the biggest -- the thing that`s alarming about the test
changes, in my mind, is the biggest challenge my students tend to have,
which is Baruch College, one of the most diverse college campuses in the
country, my students need to know how to help with writing. The SAT is now
eliminating the writing requirement. I mean one of the things they talk
about, is we want to have, you know, more attention on documents and
reading and interpretation. And we`re going to dump all these arcane,
obscure vocabulary. And then when the document they list is the
Declaration of independence. I mean I`ve been - a U.S. history professor.
Like can you- you know, just looking at this, "the attitude have been dept
(ph) to the voice of justice and consigvinity(ph)" - that`s like one
sentence in the Declaration. There`s at least one SAT word in just - in
like six-word sentence.


MURPHY: I mean you cannot -- these are not things that exist in a vacuum.

KORNACKI: Well, I remember when I was in high school my -- we had to
choose a foreign language to take and I was encouraged to take Latin
because, you know, the Latin-made roots and this - the SAT words were going
-- taking Latin was going to improve your SAT scores. That was the reason
for taking Latin. And, of course, Latin a very valuable language to me
now. If I go to an ultra-traditional Catholic church I can maybe
understand half the mass. That`s about it. Anyway, there was some news
this week also about financial aid that the College Board is going to be
offering. I know, Rehema, you report about that. We are going to talk
about that. You know, we`ll also just talk about how much the SAT and the
standardized tests, really, how much do they matter - in admissions process
and what ideally should the admissions process look like? That`s after



country who perform extremely well on SATs today, but do not claim the
opportunities they have earned. 50 to 70 percent of the poorest kids who
do the best SAT do not apply to a single selective college even though they
could go to any one of them.


KORNACKI: That`s David Coleman, the president of the College Boards
speaking to NBC`s Rehema Ellis this week. There have been financial aid
changes to the SAT. That are on tap for 2016. And Rehema, I wonder if you
tell us a little bit about what that means exactly, what the financial aid
changes mean in terms of opening of access to the test to more people and
if you think that makes - that`s going to make any significant difference.

ELLIS: Well, they hope it will. It means that they`re going to provide
for fee waivers for college applications. And for a kid who is struggling
just to get from one day to the next, we have a lot of schools in this
country - one out of five goes to school in this country and they are
considered low income and they don`t eat well. So, we`re talking about
kids in some instances who don`t have food. And whether or not they have
the money to pay for a college application. So the College Board is saying
we`re going to provide some fee waivers to make that possible and hopefully
encourage that student to go on and gain access hopefully to the college of
their choice.

KORNACKI: Well, so what - Bill, I know Baits - it`s optional, the test,
but in general let`s say it`s a selective college, it still requires the
SAT. Or the ACT, I`ve always wondered how much is that generally being
weighted when the admissions people sit down and they look through you your
college grades, the recommendation letters from teachers, your
extracurricular activities, all of these things, how much does the SAT, how
decisive is that in determining, you know, whether somebody gets into
school right now?

HISS: The answer probably varies, as the SAT score goes up or down from
that college`s averages. But the real issue is, does the test predict what
it`s supposed to predict, which is performance in the college. And that`s
precisely what we found in our study. It does not predict. So I think
increasingly with now hundreds of colleges with optional testing, there
will be more and more people saying, like the kid on the side of the road,
the emperor doesn`t have any clothes on.

KORNACKI: Well, do you see a role, any role at all, for any kind of
national standardized test for college admissions or do you think they just
- you don`t need it at all? You need school that should come up with its
own criteria?

HISS: The data in the studies that have been done suggests that the
national criteria we should be using are four years of high school grades.
The high school GPA, that my own belief as somebody who`s spent 35 years
researching this topic is, that the human mind is simply so complex, fluid,
multifaceted that trying to design a single national exam to measure
performance or capability or promise is a monumental trip up a blind alley.

FRANEK: I will say no.

KORNACKI: Well, that - if we went to that world, no SATs, no ACTs at all,
just high school grades, you guys would lose some business on that, I would

FRANEK: Well, I mean when we start to think about it, we`re much more than
just an SAT company, I teach for ACT, every other standardized test under
the sun for graduate school admissions as well. And plus, providing so
much free information for students as well as books and so on. So, what I
think about is that we`ve been doing the survey at Princeton Review, we had
a little over 1,500 four-year colleges completed this year. The first
thing they`re looking at as Bill was saying, is high school GPA and the -
of your classes, second, are standardized tests. We`re thinking about two-
thirds of the four-year colleges in the U.S. alone are still looking at SAT
and ACT scores for academic admission and many of them combining GPA, SAT
and ACT scores to give out scholarships to college. So, however you
figured - the SAT is a poor test, absolutely, but it is a test of weight.

KORNACKI: Well, Brian, I heard you start to mention this during the break
and it made me wonder, colleges seem to care in - amount about the annual -
what is the U.S. news rankings, right, you know, who is the number one,
number two. I went to number 150 or whatever. But SAT scores, the average
SAT score of the incoming class is a huge part, I think, of that that
formula. So the college here has an incentive, maybe, to keep using the
SATs as a way of playing that game, of raising their average SAT score,
raising their ranking and then being able to be, in a quote, more
prestigious school.

MUPRPHY: Right. And selectivity, and selectivity is based on the number
of people that you get, the number of applications you get and the number
of people you turn down, number - you admit. But I mean - I think the
structures are really important here. And looking at what the SAT --
looking at what the College Board has done, right? You have the David
Coleman, head of the College Board, is also one of the people who`s been in
charge of designing the common core. And now we find out that the new test
is going to more - is going to be more reflective of what`s in the common
core and this strikes me, looking at it as an economic historian, this is a
way to begin to build a safer market place for yourself, right? Is that you
get -- you have your test match up with the curriculum that`s being used in
high schools, as a backdoor way to make sure that your test is going to be
the one that students will gravitate toward when it comes time to apply for
college. And that`s why you announce this at South by Southwest, you
announce it at a marketing conference.

KORNACKI: Right. So .

ELLIS: But at the same time, we are asking students to be tested on things
that they are learning in school. And I grant you, that there`s some
concern about the fact that David Cohen was one of the architects of the
common core. But 46 states have adopted the common core, even though
what`s come under fire now as to whether or not it`s going to go forward
smoothly. But we are asking students to look at things that are more
relevant to their lives in terms of how they are tested. So whether he had
a marketing incentive to do this or whether or not there`s some real
interest in testing what students are going to learn, I guess that is
what`s up for debate.

KORNACKI: Actually, we are out of time on this one. But when we come
back, what we should know for the week ahead. And also, the definition of
that word, abstruse, if you haven`t looked it up and you care, we`ll give
it to you, that`s ahead.


KORNACKI: All righty. It`s that time when we find out what our guests
think we should know. I`ll start with you, Bill.

HISS: To young people and their families, your high school grades matter
and they matter a lot, but that`s encouraging news. You can control that.
The tests, it turns out, are not very good predictors. I hope we will find
a way to get rid of them.


ELLIS: April 16th, the College Board is going to be announcing more
details about the redesigned SATs, so people will be paying attention to
that. And also, I think people should start thinking of those who are
going to college, financial aid, looking out - looking for different
sources to provide the money that they need to not only go to school, but
to pay for it.


FRANEK: If you`re a junior or a senior and you`re taking the ACT right
now, remember, there`s no penalty for wrong answers, so you should totally
guess. On the SAT, if you can eliminate two of the answer choices, you
should guess as well. And if you`re a senior in high school right now
waiting for your letters to come back in the mail, which they will be very
shortly, hold until May 1st national decision deadline, you`ll not only get
your admission letter, but also those financial aid packages as well.

KORNACKI: All right. Free advice.

MURPHY: Norm Ornstein stole Veronica Morris (ph) movie thing yesterday,
it`s like I`ll say that one of the things people should be aware of, when
you send your kids off to college, three quarters of college instruction in
this country takes place, is administered by an adjunct who makes on
average $20,000 a year. So parents can be a big -- the parents who pay
those tuition checks can have an influence on who colleges hire and who
your kids are going to get instructed by.

KORNACKI: All right, and I know that abstruse means, difficult to
understand or obscure. And I know that because I`m looking at the monitor
and it has it on there. I want to thank William Hiss from Baits College,
NBC News`s Rehema Ellis, Robert Franek of the Princeton Review, and MSNBC
Brian Murphy. Thanks for getting up. And thank you for joining us.
Coming up next is "MHP," and on the program today, the housing market
appears to be back, but could it collapse all over again? Stick around,
Ari Melber is in for Melissa today and he is up next.


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