THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
May 5, 2014
Guest: Robert Costa, Jackie Fabulous; Alfred P. Doblin
ARI MELBER, GUEST HOST: IRS scandal, fail. Obamacare doesn`t work, fail.
Republicans need something new to reframe the mid-terms. And guess what?
They found it again. Benghazi.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Benghazi terror attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Benghazi is back in the headlines.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Benghazi is back. It`s a huge political issue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The story that just won`t seem to go away, and that is
this controversy over Benghazi.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: House Speaker John Boehner is forming a select
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The new House select committee to look into the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy who`s head of this new committee is a Tea Party
guy from South Carolina, Trey Gowdy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There have already been 13 hearings on Benghazi.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Multiple investigations.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fifty briefings, 25,000 pages of documents released.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, we will go through another round of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a political stunt. Everybody knows it`s a
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re all tried and true. Red herring on Benghazi.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Benghazi is an issue that unites the entire
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The base of the Republican Party is very stirred up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re looking for their own turnout as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And continues to be stirred up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Benghazi`s part of that process.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want this to go on forever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reality is it`s going to be a colossal waste of
time and taxpayer money.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The question becomes are we likely to learn anything
MELBER: Hi, I`m Ari Melber, in for Lawrence O`Donnell.
And tonight, we are back to Benghazi. Many Republicans said the 2014
campaign would be all about repeal. You remember that. And that was back
when the ACA was a political idea that had not been tested. Now, the ACA
is working with 15 million people covered. An actual repeal would take
health care away from an awful lot of voters.
A report out today in fact shows the rate of the uninsured in America is
now down to 13.4 percent. That is the lowest since Gallup started polling
that data in 2008.
But House Republicans don`t want to deal with that. So, it is back to
Benghazi. Today, they promised a vote as soon as this Thursday to do
something about Benghazi.
Well, that means doing something if you count convening politicians to
repeat talking points as doing something. Their new plan is literally to
form a committee devoted especially to this topic, a House Select Committee
There is only one I should say, only one other current select committee,
the permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. But Speaker Boehner is
already looking to a new chairman for this potential new committee, South
Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy.
And after 13 public hearings, 50 congressional briefings, 25,000 pages of
documents, what exactly do House Republicans hope to get from this new
Well, Greta Van Susteren asked Gowdy that tonight on FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: Why is this different? >
REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, it`s been so fragmented, Greta,
as you know. I can`t even attend the intel committee hearings. So, I have
no idea what they`ve uncovered. Just like they don`t come to the OGR, the
We need a list of the witnesses that have been talked to and which ones are
left to be talked to. We need a list of the documents.
I want all of the evidence. And then people can draw different conclusions
from those facts in evidence. But you can`t draw conclusions if you don`t
have all the facts. And what this committee is going to do is once and for
all lay out all the facts and then your jury can draw whatever influences
and conclusions they want to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: You don`t really hear an answer to the question about what`s
different there. Van Susteren then tried to see if House Majority Leader
Eric Cantor could come up with something better.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: There have been 14 committee hearings. Why does the select
committee make this any different?
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: First of all, I am proud of the
work that has been done thus far. There`s been a lot of serious work to
try to get to the bottom of this situation.
Obviously, the long-standing impact here is about being honest with the
public and stopping any kind of deceit or cover-up on the part of the White
House. This select committee will be able to focus its energies in
ensuring that the White House is going to be held accountable and that it
cannot just ignore congressional oversight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It`s not clear that making such oversight aggressively redundant
will make it any more serious. Here is some more context for the dedicated
committee: an insatiable appetite for all things Benghazi. Someone tweets
about Benghazi every 12 seconds. Not every 12 days or 12 minutes but every
12 seconds. And over the past month, that`s added up to over 200,000
tweets, according to one social media tracking firm. That`s from the
And a new "Politico" article about the Benghazi industrial complex adds
this, "FOX has made Benghazi a permanent part of its programming,
mentioning the word no fewer than in 1,101 programs in the past year."
To be clear, Benghazi was an actual event in Libya on September 11th, 2012,
that we remember when Ambassador Chris Stevens and three American aides
were killed in a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate. Those four Americans
lost their lives in service to our country. It is certainly a tragedy and
deserving of all kinds of questions about the security, what happened there
and what we can and must do to protect our soldiers and our diplomats in
But in the conservative imagination what you`re seeing here, what you see
in those clips, is that Benghazi is -- here`s how Jay Carney put it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It`s like a conspiracy theory
without a conspiracy. Fundamentally, it has always been about were we
trying to, you know, perpetuate a myth about what happened in Benghazi.
That information loop is fed by, you know, authorities who, in the
Republican Party in this case, reconfirm for those who want to believe in
conspiracy theories that don`t have any factual basis, but tell them
they`re true anyway, by media outlets that pound that message in to those
who are predisposed to believe it. At some point, you just have to assume
Republicans will continue this because it feeds a political objective of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Joining me now, Sam Stein, senior politics editor for "The
Huffington Post". And Ezra Klein, editor in chief of Vox.com and MSNBC
analyst. Both of you.
Sam, what more could possibly be achieved or learned through this select
SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: That`s a good question.
I wouldn`t totally dismiss the importance of having investigations into
this. Two major things have happened because of prior investigations. The
first is that we`ve sort of understood the holes that we`ve had in our
embassy security system. Second is that we`ve understood the problems
we`ve had in streamlining requests for more security and the lack of
intelligence on the ground in places like Libya.
So, there are good things that can be generated from these types of
investigations. The problem in this case is that the topic`s been a bit
beaten to death, and it seems like the incentives on the part of the
investigators are purely political. So, I wouldn`t be surprised if this --
if the Democrats in the House just decided not to go along with it because
it seems like the objective`s already written out and that they`re
basically there to figure out if the Obama administration had this great
MELBER: Yes. I mean, Sam`s putting his finger on, it Ezra. If this is an
inquisition, how should the Democrats even deal with the formation of a new
EZRA KLEIN, VOX.COM: Well, they`ve had some talk of boycotting. To be
honest, I have no idea how Democrats should deal with the committee. It
has become something that is a little bit hard almost to talk about clearly
because we`ve stopped talking about Benghazi some time ago. We`re talking
about talking points at this point.
And you heard in all the clips you played, they didn`t talk a lot about how
these committees -- how the select committee was going to find out what the
holes in the security were. They didn`t talk about how the committee would
save future lives by figuring out how to better fortify diplomatic
What they talked about was how the Obama administration had treated them,
how forth coming it had been, what e-mails it had put forward. This is
really a genuinely -- this is really generated off of very, very serious
anger on the Republican side on how they feel the Obama administration has
tried to stonewall their investigation. But their investigation is no
longer meant to uncover anything but that stonewall. It`s kind of an
infinitely meta loop.
MELBER: Yes. Sam, I understand that. And I would never diminish what our
colleagues do at "Meet the Press." There are very important interviews
But there is something weird. Take that out of it, there`s something weird
about the entire investigation hinging on the preparation that went into
one television interview.
Well, yes. I wouldn`t say it`s just about the television interview on
Sunday. There are other sort of weird things on the side, I guess you
would dispute, some people dispute weird. But for instance, where the
president was as the attack took place seems to be a fascination of
Republicans right now, whether he was in the Oval Office, whether he was in
the Situation Room. Something like that.
Whether or not a call to stand down ever took place even though that`s been
litigated and found I believe not to be true. So, there are other issues
that are part of the purview of the investigators here. But it is
predominantly centered on what Susan Rice said on that Sunday morning and
why she said it.
And what was fascinating is I just picked up the -- picked up. I looked up
"The New York Times" article from the day after the attack, September 12th,
2012. And some of the information in there was basically what Susan Rice
would say -- went on to say on Sunday, which is that there was an attack
that was generated. There was a demonstration that was generated off of
that video and the attackers took advantage of the demonstration. They
were interviewing people on the ground.
So, if you look back at the reporting at the time, it didn`t seem like
Susan Rice`s talking points were that wildly off base, but we are
relitigating this a year and a half after the fact and it does seem to be
sort of the main focus of what Republicans are going after.
MELBER: Right. And it is strange. It`s hard to think of another area
where you have this kind of real political obsession that has already been
tested and failed in a major political way in a campaign.
And so when you think back to the president staring down Mitt Romney, they
had the same intellectual problem in that debate that they have now, which
is what is the scandal? Is it the talking points? Is it the word choice?
Because you look pretty crass when you focus on that and not the security
and the lives lost.
I do want to play it. People remember it, but let`s look at that exchange
with Governor Romney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was not a spontaneous
demonstration. Is that what you`re saying?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please proceed, Governor.
ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record. Because it took
the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN: He did in fact, sir. So let me call it an act of
OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?
CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Ezra, is that a moment that Republicans want to relive on a grand
KLEIN: But it is a moment -- no. But it is a moment that powers all of
this. I mean, Republicans look at that and they don`t see Mitt Romney
getting destroyed, although that certainly was part of that moment for
What they see is the mainstream media colluding with the Obama
administration, in that case the Obama campaign, to brush us all under the
rug. Part of the fury here, part of the reason this thing refuses to die
is that Republicans kind of have a "where there`s smoke there`s fire"
approach to it. There`s just this new e-mail that came out from Ben Rhodes
through a FOIA request that said nothing different at all, but the fact it
hadn`t been turned over and the fact the media seemed to be OK with that,
it feeds all this.
There`s a very deep persecution here. I think it speaks to the Republican
Party`s national structure being at this point a relatively weak structure.
You were talking about how it`s difficult to come up with another example
of a party having this kind of obsession connected to no discernible policy
And it`s because it`s a party that is currently chasing an emotion and is
out for satisfaction of a theory it has. You typically will have a party
establishment be a little bit more goal-oriented than that. But at this
point in order to fire up the base, in order to keep the party together, in
order to keep people doing something, excited about something, the time
when there`s going to be no affirmative action done, trying to satisfy this
emotional need for closure on this and for some kind of retribution off
moments exactly like that one has become a uniting force in the GOP.
MELBER: Yes, I think that`s well put, Ezra, and all I can add to this is
perhaps governor Romney in his free time can testify before the select
committee and we can all relive the meta loop again and again.
Ezra Klein and Sam Stein, thanks for your time tonight.
STEIN: Thanks, Ari.
KLEIN: Thank you.
MELBER: And coming up, the big stakes for the GOP when voters go to the
polls tomorrow in North Carolina. On paper, it is a race for the GOP
Senate nomination but in a larger reality, it may tell us who has the power
among Republicans in the 2016 presidential race.
And then we`re going to look at some important news for the nation`s
veterans. There is another scandal that`s triggering new calls today for
the head of the V.A. to step down. We`ll explain and explain why it
And, "Saturday Night Live" is now in the middle of a heated race debate.
This time it`s a sketch with slavery jokes that`s at the heart of a new
MELBER: And now on tonight`s episode of candidates say the darnedest
things, the front-runner in Iowa`s Republican race, Joni Ernst, asked
voters for a chance to unload on Obamacare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: She`s not your typical candidate. Conservative Joni Ernst, mom,
farm girl, and a lieutenant colonel who carries more than just lipstick in
Joni Ernst will take aim at wasteful spending. And once she sets her
sights on Obamacare, Joni`s going to unload.
NARRATOR: Oh, and one more thing. Joni doesn`t miss much.
JONI ERNST (R-IA), SENATE CANDIDATE: Give me a shot. I`m Joni Ernst, and
I approve this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Yes. Give her a shot.
Things are also heating up in North Carolina`s GOP Senate primary. And up
next we have what the outcome in that race could mean for the direction of
the GOP and its ongoing identity crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: When I show up at Tea Party events, I see a
lot of people who are working class, blue collar workers. I see people of
every different race and ethnic group, much more so than I do in the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is taking sides in another internal
Republican battle. The GOP Senate primary in North Carolina. And true to
form, he is sticking it to the Republican establishment.
Today what you just saw there is Paul campaigning in charlotte for a fellow
doctor and Tea Partier, obstetrician Greg Brannon. Paul`s Tea Party Senate
colleague also endorsed Brannon who has made controversial statements like
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREG BRANNON (R-NC), SENATE CANDIDATE: The government is now keeping
itself in power by giving these goodies away. The answer is the Department
of Agriculture should go away at the federal level. And now, 80 percent of
the farm bill was food stamps. That enslaves people.
What you want to, it`s crazy but it`s true, teach people to fish instead of
giving them fish. When you`re at the behest of somebody else, you`re
actually in slavery to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Fish and slavery.
If Brannon wins, he will pull off what Lee and Paul did, a come-from-behind
victory against an arguably more establishment Republican. Brannon`s
running against Thom Tillis, a former business executive who`s currently
speaker of the North Carolina House. And that means of course he`s been at
the helm during the state`s right-wing legislative binge from new abortion
restrictions and bans on gay marriage, to those voter ID laws that sparked
the Moral Monday protests.
But if you really want to see how establishment Tillis is, just look at his
GOP endorsements. Karl Rove, check. Mitch McConnell, check. The pro-
corporate Chamber of Commerce, check. And the standard bearer of the 53
percent, Mitt Romney, check.
Joining me now is Robert Costa and Jonathan Capehart, both from "The
And, Robert, how crucial is this race for the establishment here?
ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST: It`s a major test for the Republican
establishment. It`s a crowded primary. There are eight candidates.
Beyond Tillis and Greg Brannon, you have also Mark Harris, a Baptist pastor
who`s been endorsed by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
So this is really a proxy battle right now for the current state of affairs
in the Republican Party. And it`s also a test for Jeb Bush, not just the
establishment but Bush himself. Ahead of 2016, can he bet well, can he
really help a candidate get through a primary?
MELBER: Yes. And you talk about that proxy battle and you see that,
Jonathan. We mentioned Karl Rove. That doesn`t just bring a name that is
popular in some Republican circles. It brings money, 1 1/2 million from
American Crossroads, $15 million spent total in this race so far.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. And the importance of this
race is the money and the people backing Speaker Tillis.
You know, we are -- the primary battle is tomorrow. If none of the
candidates gets 40 percent, there will be a runoff in July. And, of
course, the establishment folks are hoping that Tillis will pull it off so
that they don`t end up having a candidate battered and beaten going into a
runoff who could then possibly lose to Senator Hagan, who is -- when you
look at the polls, she`s not doing very well. They view her seat as one
they could take. But if they don`t get through -- if they don`t get
through tomorrow`s election with Tillis coming out the clear winner at 40
percent, the possibility that Kay Hagan could eke this out is very real.
MELBER: Right. And you talk about that risk, Bob. The Tea Party has been
very interested in primaries. They think that they flex muscles. They
argue it`s good for the party writ large. The counterargument as we all
know is sometimes you end up getting folks who aren`t going to carry the
day or are just too hot for a big race.
Listen to Brannon on the second amendment here for an example that has
worried some people. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRANNON: The bill of rights is not a list of rights the government was
kind to give us. It`s a list of God-given rights which it can never
infringe upon. The first natural right is sef-defense. Congress cannot
make law to regulate anything. The role of the Second Amendment is
twofold: self-defense and to protect the states from the government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Briefly, when he says protect the states from the federal
government, it makes it sound like you need guns to go against the feds,
which is pretty out there.
COSTA: Greg Brannon has been endorsed by Rand Paul, but I don`t think Rand
Paul could resist. This is another southern doctor, another former Tea
Party activist. But you have seen a lot of conservative groups like the
Senate Conservatives Fund, like the Club for Growth, they`ve resisted
enforcing in this primary. They see Brannon as someone who could be a
little radioactive, and they haven`t jumped into the primary at all.
MELBER: Yes. And I want to go into the polling because you mentioned
that, Jonathan. When you look at Kay Hagan, she is actually doing slightly
better on approval, although no one`s doing that great right now. They are
politicians. They were 34 percent against 31 percent. But when you look
at the disapproval, that`s where the story is told.
With all this money coming in, it`s raising her name ID and raised her
disapproval up to 46 percent. There`s a ton of negative information out
there on her.
CAPEHART: Right. A ton of negative information, and it`s going to keep
going because of all the money that`s come in from American Crossroads and,
of course, again if Tillis wins it out tomorrow it`ll just keep going.
But, you know, what I don`t know is how much money Senator Hagan has spent
thus far trying to counter those negative ads that have been driving up her
disapproval numbers and if she can in the months that she has left drive
down her disapproval numbers and push up her approval numbers to a point
where she could beat whoever the Republican challenger is.
MELBER: Yes, and briefly to Bob, if you see the establishment win out
here, what does that say to Rand Paul? Because he`s obviously positioning
for 2016, going down there the day before this race, putting his name out
there. But he wants to show that he has juice, not that he can`t carry the
COSTA: It`s an interesting dilemma for Senator Paul because he spent the
last few months courting Romney donors, courting former donors for George
W. Bush. Yet he still jumps into a lot of these primaries endorsing the
Tea Party favorite. I think he knows he`s competing with Senator Cruz on
this front ahead of 2016 to be the one who could be a conservative
kingmaker and this will slightly dim his star if Brannon doesn`t slip
MELBER: Yes, I think that`s fair. And that`s the interesting part. And
that`s what, by the way, some people in the Republican Party love about
Rand Paul. The man takes risks. He`s not just waiting around.
You take too many risks, though, you look like you don`t have the energy.
Robert Costa and Jonathan Capehart, thank you both.
CAPEHART: Thanks, Ari.
MELBER: Appreciate it.
Coming up, we have a comedy sketch about slavery that`s sparking a backlash
against "SNL." A friend of the writer-comedian at the center of the
controversy joins us next.
MELBER: In "The Spotlight" tonight, a brewing controversy over comedy and
slavery. "Saturday Night Live" writer Leslie Jones is facing criticism and
praise for her first appearance on the show in this "Weekend Update" skit
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESLIE JONES, COMEDIAN: Let me ask you a question. If you walked in a
club and you saw me and Lupita standing at the bar, who would you pick?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well --
JONES: Yes. I know. You would pick Lupita.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well --
JONES: But let me ask you this. If you was in the parking lot and three
Cripps is about to whoop your ass, who you going to pick then?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would pick you.
JONES: You`re damn right you will. And that`s my point. The way we view
black beauty has changed. Look at me. See, I`m single right now. But
back in the slave days, I would have never been single. I`m six feet tall
and I`m strong, Colin. Strong!
I mean, look at me. I`m a Mandingo.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re not saying you`d rather be a slave, right?
JONES: No, that is not what I`m saying. I do not want to be a slave.
Hell, I don`t like working for you white people right now, and y`all pay
I`m just saying that back in the slave days, my love life would have been
way better. Master would have hooked me up with the best brother on the
plantation and every nine months, I`d be in the corner having a super baby.
Every nine months, I`d be in the corner just popping them out. Just Shaq.
Kobe. LeBron. Kimbo Slice. Sinbad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sinbad?
JONES: That`s what I`m saying. I`m saying I would be the number one slave
draft pick. All of the plantations would want me. I`d be on television
like LeBron announcing which plantation I was going to go to.
I would be like -- I would like to take my talents to South Carolina. I do
believe that there`s going to be a lot of opportunities there for me. Now
I can`t even get a brother to take me out for a cheap dinner. I mean,
damn, can a bitch get a beef bowl? Can a bitch get a beef bowl?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can a bitch get a beef bowl?
Leslie Jones, everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was most of the skit. "SNL" hired Jones and two other cast
members, LaKendra Tookes and Sasheer Zamata in January after the show faced
scrutiny for its lack of black female cast members, an issue that was so
well known, even "SNL" parodied the limits of having only one black female
as a host.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oprah Winfrey has arrived for the dinner, and she would
love to pop in and say hello.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that`s wonderful.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What a nice surprise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn`t it? So don`t you think you should go and get
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So that Oprah can come in.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because of the whole --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, exactly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Keenan won`t?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, in that case I will leave and in a few minutes
Oprah will be here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, today there is more diversity on the show, but some are
asking if it is leading to the right jokes.
Joining me now is Karen Finney, host of MSNBC`s "Disrupt" with Karen Finney
and a comedian who has performed with Leslie, Jackie Fabulous.
Welcome to you both.
JACKIE FABULOUS, COMEDIAN: Thank you for having me.
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC HOST, DISRUPT: Hey, Ari.
MELBER: Karen, you weren`t wild about this skit. Why not?
FINNEY: Well, a couple things. I mean, I`m glad we`re having this
conversation because I get what she was trying to say about black beauty
and beauty in general and what it is to as a 6`1" woman, like I get where
she was going with that. I just don`t think -- to me it wasn`t funny. And
I think it`s hard to make light and use slavery in comedy when we`re also
looking at the right wing having compared Obamacare, for example, to
And in some of the comments, we`ve heard them use and abuse sort of and
undermine the horrors of slavery, talking about, as I say, Obamacare and
sort of other programs. And you know, in recent weeks we`ve got, you know,
we`re happy Negros and we`re picking cotton and we`re singing in the
fields. I mean, you know, all of which is not true.
And so, I think making light of that, I just don`t know that I think we`re
there yet. But you know what? I`m glad we`re having the conversation.
MELBER: Karen said she`s happy to talk about black beauty. I`m happy to
talk about black beauty.
FINNEY: You are beautiful and black.
MELBER: That suggests the segment. That`s what we`re doing. Jackie, you
perform with her. What do you make of this?
FABULOUS: I have seen this sketch from last night 8,000 times since then.
I think I laugh hysterically each time.
FABULOUS: I think I laugh hysterically each time. I think it`s funny.
She`s talking about what actually happened. If you`re bigger and stronger,
you go for more money. I can relate. You know, I have -- I can feed a
village with these boobs of mine. I understand where she`s coming from.
And it`s true. Ifs it want true, it wouldn`t be funny. This is Leslie all
the time when she performs. She`s aggressively funny. It`s her job. The
subject is sensitive, but the subject, that`s where the jokes come from.
Like we have the right, I think, in some circumstances to make light of it
because it was so horrible and we not overcame it but we moved on to
another part of our lives.
And it`s just funny. To me it was just -- we have to learn to laugh at
things even if they make us uncomfortable. Because most things that are
really funny, really, really funny kind of make you think, that`s a bit
MELBER: Right. And that`s the thing. You`re at that line. And that`s
why people, nervous laughter, happy laughter --
MELBER: -- and in this case some people weren`t laughing. She also has
pushed back. And I want to read part of her statement back.
MELBER: Because this is not just the media. This is her talking back to
her viewers. She said "now I`m betting if Chris Rock or Dave Chappell did
that joke or Jay-Z or Kanye put it in a rap they would be called
Jackie, she`s speaking to what she thinks is a double standard facing in
her case a female African-American performer.
FABULOUS: It is a double standard. "SNL" was famous for what rhymes with
pick in a box. A very famous sketch that Justin Timberlake made really
famous. Nothing happened to him that I can remember. There are kids on
the playground now singing pick in a box, you know. And then you have
sweaty balls that betty white came on did that. No one got in her back for
The more risque it is as a woman, then we get in trouble or a comedian gets
in trouble. But this is where comedy comes from. Chris Rock pushes the
envelope, and Leslie`s doing it now too. And it`s not a big deal. I think
FINNEY: But here`s the thing. I don`t think it`s a bad thing to push the
envelope. But I think when that happens it`s appropriate to have a
conversation that says let`s check this because I do think -- I`m sure it
did make some people in the audience uncomfortable. And as I say, I get
where she was going. I just think there was another way to make the point.
I do agree -- I don`t know that I agree. I mean, if I heard, you know,
those Jay-Z and those guys making the same comment, I would not think that
was funny, but that`s just me. But I mean, I do think it`s important to
have the conversation when we get pushed to this limit or that line.
FABULOUS: If I had to guess, I would assume that Leslie wrote all that bit
herself, which is a comedy set in essence, and that was also her thoughts
and her sense of humor and what she knows about history. And she got on
camera and delivered.
So that`s what comedians do. I come up with weird things in my head. I
write it down, practice, it get on camera or on a stage in front of an
audience, deliver it, I get my hopefully monster laughs, and then I go home
like that was awesome. That`s what she did. That was her job, and she did
a wonderful job at it.
FINNEY: But I think just from -- I`ll just say this again. Because I
think from a political context part of -- at least from that lens as I view
it, because we`ve seen conservatives sort of undermine the seriousness of
slavery when they talk about Obamacare and they talk about the president
and some of his programs and we`ve pushed back on that, I feel like it`s
fair to then kind of push back on making light of it in this kind of joking
fashion because I do think it pushes the envelope and in places I do think
MELBER: Yes. I mean, Karen, I feel like what you`re raising from a more
political vein, although culture is obviously political, the political
discussion over having these women on the show was important as well, is
whether we are somehow putting that racial program in a context, here`s how
slavery is discussed or mis-discussed, right?
MELBER: Or what some people are accusing the actress of doing that here,
which is falling into, that being part of that problem. I`m reminded I
want to play the president just this weekend making his own racial joke,
which is hard to do as a president. But doing it in a very different way
because he was doing it with I think some policing of potential racism.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As a general rule, things
don`t end well if the sentence starts "let me tell you something I know
about the Negro." You don`t really need to hear the rest of it. Just a
tip for you. Don`t start your sentence that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So he`s telling Cliven Bundy don`t start your sentence that way,
Jackie. And speak to that. Speak to Karen`s point that it`s fine to be
funny and push it but that this didn`t actually draw a line around how we
FABULOUS: First of all, the president killed it. Very proud of him.
FINNEY: I agree with that.
FABULOUS: OK. Second of all, I don`t think it`s every comic`s job to make
a political statement. There are so many things involved in what Leslie
did. Like we -- women comics, women comics of color, when we get an
opportunity on camera in front of the world, we have to seize it. So
partially she may have been like these jokes may rub people the wrong way
but I`m going to make these jokes, they`re going to be funny. I`m not
thinking OK, how can I get the conversation started around race relations.
That`s not our job. It is our job if we choose for it to be, we`ll make
jokes about that, but if we`re trying to entertain, which "SNL`s" entire
history is about entertaining you. They don`t really worry about being
appropriate. That`s why they`re so good. They`ve been on since before I
So I understand what you`re saying. But I don`t think the job is --
Leslie`s job. It`s not my job. Unless I get hired to make a speech and
put in funny there about politics or whatever. But politics and humor do
not always go together unless you`re George Carlin and that`s your purpose.
MELBER: We`re out of time. Real quick, Karen.
FINNEY: I don`t disagree with that was not her job. I just make a point
that there is a larger context and it`s not just politics that we`ve been
talking about this. It`s been Cliven Bundy. It`s been "Duck Dynasty." So
there is this sort of thing in larger culture where we`ve been having this
conversation. And I think putting that in context has been important.
MELBER: I hear that. Karen Finney, thank you very much. Jackie Fabulous.
FABULOUS: Thank you for having me.
MELBER: Appreciate it, both of you.
MELBER: A reminder, you can catch Karen Finney host "Disrupt" every
weekend at 4:00 p.m. eastern and stay for the joke segment of that show.
Coming up, the real reason Chris Christie won`t win in 2016. Hint, it may
have nothing to do with the George Washington bridge.
MELBER: Turning to a story we brought you last week, today there is new
video of the leader of Boko Haram, the militant Islamic group suspected of
kidnapping more than 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
MELBER: In the video there the leader brags that he was behind the
kidnappings and is even saying I will quote "sell them in the market.
Western style education should end. Girls, you should all go and get
married," he says. It has now been three weeks since more than 300 girls
ages 15 to 18 were taken by force from their government boarding school
there in northeast Nigeria. Some escaped, but more than 200 are still
missing. NBC News has learned some have already been sold across the
The U.S. is calling the kidnapping an outrage and a tragedy but is not
currently involved militarily, saying Nigeria has not asked.
MELBER: The American legion is calling for the resignation of three top
officials at the veterans affairs department in the wake of reports that
veterans have died waiting for treatment in a VA hospital, falsified
records to cover up delays. And this is a rare step for the legion. It`s
a largely non-partisan organization of 2.4 million members. The group
hasn`t called for a U.S. official to resign since back in 1941. And the
legion says it will ask the White House for the resignations for VA
secretary Eric Shinseki, the VA`s undersecretary for health Robert Petzel
and undersecretary for benefits Allison Hickey.
At issue a VA investigation that found that staff at a Colorado veterans
clinic specifically faked documents to make it look like their patients,
including many veterans, were treated within an allotted two-week period
when in fact the department found patients were waiting months, not days,
for that treatment. The VA also recently revealed that 23 veterans died in
the past four areas because of delayed cancer screenings.
"USA Today" has been reporting this and is also reporting on allegations in
phoenix that 40 other veterans at a VA hospital there died also because of
treatment delays. Many are now worried that these kind of delays are not
isolated but part of a system-wide problem here with the VA.
And joining me now to discuss all of this is Patrick Murphy, a former
congressman and Iraq war veteran and MSNBC contributor.
Thanks for being here. Is the American legion right?
PATRICK MURPHY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Ari, I`m a member of the American
legion. And I don`t think we need to take the step of saying calling for
General Shinseki or Secretary Shinseki`s resignation.
But I will tell you that if anyone has known or should have known of
veterans` records being falsified they should absolutely be fired. There
are two instances of two whistleblowers, one in Phoenix, one in Fort
Collins, Colorado showing that records were falsified. We need to get to
the bottom of this ASAP because let me tell you, the real tragedy, Ari, are
these veterans who lost their lives and their families and also the 99
percent of those men and women that work busting their tails every day
supporting these veterans within the VA clinics all across this country.
That`s who`s -- they`re the victims, beside those veterans who tragically
lost their lives. And it`s these knuckleheads who falsified documents to
make themselves look better that need to be held accountable. In my
opinion it`s criminal negligence if they did that.
MELBER: Right. And the problem with the falsification is it goes to all
of the scrutiny that`s been on these delays in the first place. And you
also have the risk of treatment that is desperately need by veterans with
mental health issues. They`ve been delayed.
I want to put this up. 22 American veterans commit suicide roughly every
single day according to the data. Politicians talk a lot about supporting
our veterans. What is the holdup in fixing this kind of logjam that we all
obviously care about?
MURPHY: Well, the VA, if we look at the big picture, Ari, the VA have made
great strides about the backlog in disability claims, which that`s a
separate issue, but they`ve cut it almost 50 percent. Veterans`
homelessness across the country, Ari, cut about 24 percent. A million
veterans going in now using the G.I. bill. And two million veterans going
to use VA health care benefits.
But the problem is exactly right. The backlog of these veterans, it should
be 14 days when they`re being seen, and it`s not. It`s not in a majority
of cases. Whether it`s for physical ailments or mental ailments. And it
is about a third of veterans who try to go in to see mental health care
providers have to wait over 14 days to get an appointment.
That is wrong. And we need to make sure we are like a bulldog on a bone
making sure these veterans are getting taken care of. And they`re not.
And that`s why General Shinseki and President Obama have made a true
commitment. The Congress has made a commitment.
As you know, Ari, the VA budget has gone up 68 percent the last six years,
from 90 billion to 155 billion. But now it`s about accountability. It`s
about being aggressive to make sure these veterans are taken care of like
they have earned.
MELBER: Absolutely, Patrick Murphy. Appreciate your view on this. I know
you know these issues as well as anyone and care a lot about them. So
thanks for giving us the breakdown. And we will stay on this story.
MURPHY: Thanks, Ari. Thanks for covering it. I appreciate it.
MELBER: You bet. Thank you.
And still to come, something I mentioned earlier. Chris Christie may have
bigger problems than even the big George Washington bridge. What it all
means for 2016. That is straight ahead.
MELBER: Rutgers University announced today that it has found a replacement
commencement speaker for former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.
Former New Jersey governor Thomas Keen will replace Rice who dropped out of
the ceremony after months of protests by students and faculty primarily
over her role in the Bush administration during the lead up to the Iraq
war. Rice issued a statement Saturday saying quote "I understand and
embrace the purpose of the commencement ceremony and I`m simply unwilling
to detract from it in any way."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOEL MCHALE, COMEDIAN: Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes?
Because I`ve got a bunch of both. I could go half and half. I know you`d
like a combo platter. Now, I get that. I`m sorry for that joke, Governor
Christie. I didn`t know I was going to tell it. But I take full
responsibility for it. Whoever wrote it will be fired. But the buck stops
here. So I will be a man and own up to it just as soon as I get to the
bottom of how it happened. Because I was unaware it happened until just
I`m appointing a blue ribbon commission of me to investigate the joke I
just told. And if I find any wrongdoing on my part, I assure you I will be
dealt with. I just looked into it. It turns out I`m not responsible for
it. Justice has been served.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was comedian Joel McHale at the White House Correspondents
Dinner this weekend poking fun at governor Chris Christie`s bridge
troubles. But the George Washington bridge may not actually be what holds
Christie back in the end from a 2016 run. Instead, it may be his actual
record in the state of New Jersey. Two ratings agencies have again cut New
Jersey`s credit rating. And a third is warning of a negative outlook after
Christie disclosed an $800 million budget gap. That is the fifth time
since Christie took office that the state`s rating has been cut. Only
California and Illinois are actually doing worse in the U.S. how does
Christie take accountability for these specific assessments of New Jersey?
By blaming President Obama, of course.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: What we`re being told initially is
this is the effect of the change in the law at the end of 2012 by the Obama
administration and the Congress to increase tax rates on upper-level
individuals. Remember that the top one percent in the state pays 40
percent of the income tax. When you keep rates on the top taxpayers, and
all the taxpayers as high as you`re keeping them, and then you try to raise
them again, people will change their behavior to avoid it. And we`re now
seeing the results of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Joining me now is Alfred P. Doblin, editorial page editor for the
Bergen County Record and something of an expert on New Jersey fiscal
history for those interested in that kind of thing.
Thanks for being here. And what do you make of the governor`s defense?
The ratings agencies put it a little differently.
ALFRED DOBLIN, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, BERGEN COUNTRY RECORD: Well, I think
the governor is trying to deflect a bit, you know. He has a good target
with Obama I guess in some changes in the tax law. But New Jersey`s fiscal
problems have been around for a long time. I mean, if you want to put it
in maybe the rosy scenario of the Republican party, there`s part of the
Republican party having a tea party and there`s a lot of politicians in New
Jersey who have been having a luau. And there`s been a lot of pork, you
know, laden into a lot of projects and there`s not a desire on the part of
the governor to deal with the fiscal reality in New Jersey, which might
mean the horrible t word, which is taxes.
MELBER: Right. Well, and you wrote about this recently in looking at what
it would take and all the little piles of money they seem to be moving
around and kicking the can down the road. New jersey`s not the only state
that does that by any means.
But it is pretty bad. I want to put up on the screen the record here.
Five credit downgrades, as I mentioned, 38th in economic health, 42nd in
the jobless rate, and then of course you have distribution of Sandy aid,
which has been somewhat controversial, to say the least. And I want to be
clear. If you live in any state and you have these kind of downgrades, it
can cost you first and foremost because it makes it more expensive for the
state to borrow.
DOBLIN: Right. That hasn`t happened yet, but that is a distinct
possibility. So it`s going to cost more to do a lot of the projects that
New Jersey needs to do because the only way it can do them at this point is
to be borrowing money. There are no recurring sources of revenue,
particularly when it comes to transportation in New Jersey. There`s
something called the transportation trust fund, the TTF. And the TTF is in
need of an ATM. And it will be broke in another year. All the revenue
that`s coming in from the tolls on these roads are going to pay off debt.
And there isn`t another place to go.
The port authority of New York and New Jersey was a great ATM. And the
down side of the bridge event is that everybody, every newspaper, every
media source, is just looking at the port authority and things that have
been less seen are coming in to light. And that is a real -- that`s a real
problem for the governor.
MELBER: So let me ask you the politics question, which is a lot of people
would say, a lot of governors say it`s good when they want to run for
president because it means they want to make sure they have a really good
record for their state. Why wouldn`t he want to have a better economic
approach here that he could then sell if he runs?
DOBLIN: Well, he doesn`t want to raise taxes. You know what I mean? He`s
a Republican that says I`m not going to raise taxes. And I guess you get
into that, you know, George Bush the first, you know, no taxes. And then
what do you do? I think some people wonder, you know, if he actually does
stay, the governor, if he doesn`t run for president, that some of the
problems that were inherent in the budget, he`s actually going to have to
deal with because he`ll be there for four years, and that in the better
scenario, you know, the stuff might have stayed on an even keel until 2016
and then a lot of the stuff that`s not sustainable becomes more
problematic. But he does not want to be seen as the tax raiser.
MELBER: And so what you`re really saying is that might be more about the
positioning for a different electorate, because in New Jersey, which is a
moderate electorate, I think it`s fair to say, there`s more he could do.
DOBLIN: Well, and I don`t think -- for example, the gas tax is rather low
in New Jersey. I don`t think it`s political suicide to consider raising
it. And I mean, the record has been open to like if you have something
else up your sleeve, that`s fine. But we haven`t seen it. And I think
nationally, though, the idea of raising taxes is anathema. The Rand Pauls
are going to be all over him in a second.
MELBER: Right. And you think the stuff continues to haunt him if there`s
DOBLIN: Yes, I do. Because there is no money in the transportation trust
fund. Democrats see the governor weakened. Certainly much more weakened
than he was a year ago, two years ago. And they`re starting to angle it
like who`s going to be the governor in 2017. So they started pushing and
MELBER: I`ve got told you, politics moves very, very quickly because it`s
a whole different scenario he`s in right now than just six months ago.
Alfred P. Doblin, you get tonight`s "Last Word." Thank you very much.
I`m Ari Melber, in for Lawrence O`Donnell.
"All In" with Chris Hayes is up next.
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