Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
Date: February 9, 2015
Guest: Michael Weiss, Josh Dubois, Michael Wear, Asra Nomani, Deborah
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
The veto season has begun.
RACHEL MADDOW, TRMS HOST: It`s very exciting to have a new noun to
O`DONNELL: And many more to come probably.
MADDOW: Yes, I guess.
O`DONNELL: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Well, President Obama is trying to stop Vladimir Putin and
Ukraine, Boston is praying for the snow to stop, and no one can stop Kanye.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the time a decision
reaches my desk, by definition, it`s a hard problem with no easy answers,
otherwise somebody else would have solved it, and I would never even hear
If Russia continues on its current course, Russia`s isolation will
only worsen both politically and economically.
With regard to ISIL, Germany and the United States remain united.
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a long-term operation, not a
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I don`t believe right now we need American
boots on the ground.
OBAMA: With respect to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
REPORTER: Are you thinking of not going? Do you think you`ve decided
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Oh, yes, I`m not thinking about not
going, I am not going.
OBAMA: As much as I love Angela, if she was two weeks away from an
election, she probably would not have received an invitation to the White
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`ve never seen this type of snow here in the
city of Boston and any other time in the history of our city.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My plan is to shovel over here next to my
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The state of Alabama started issuing marriage
licenses to same-section couples.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roughly two-thirds of counties refused to issue
marriage licenses, after Roy Moore urged local officials to ignore the
federal court ruling.
KANYE WEST, MUSICIAN: Beck needs to respect artistry and he should
have given his award to Beyonce. He needs to stop playing with us.
O`DONNELL: The president under bipartisan pressure from Congress to
supply weapons to Ukraine to push back Russian invaders. The president met
with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I think both Angela and I have emphasized that the prospect
for a military solution to this problem has always been -- well, it is true
that if, in fact, diplomacy fails, what I`ve asked my team to do is to look
at all options. What other means can we put in place to change Mr. Putin`s
calculus? And the possibility of lethal defensive weapons is one of those
options that`s being examined, but I have not made a decision about that
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Howard Dean, the president has some difficult calculations
to make. It`s political and strategic, and this decision about arming
HOWARD DEAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: He does. And there`s a way
three hasn`t -- an option that he hasn`t looked at. First of all, if he
does send defensive weapons, he`s going to have to think about the next
step. What happens if that means Putin puts more military effort on the
ground. Then are we going to send troops?
So, he`s got to think that question through before he goes to
defensive weapons. But there are a set of sanctions we haven`t applied
yet. And those are the sanctions that we applied to Iran to bring them
into the negotiating table. These are really, really tough sanctions.
We have the power to cut the Russians entirely out of the
international banking system, which we did in Iran. And I think that we
probably ought to do that before defensive weapons, because it`s a
possibility that defensive weapons will lead to the necessity of American
troops on the ground, and I think that`s a big step.
O`DONNELL: Joy Reid, we have such a mixed record, to put it politely,
about whom we choose to arm and what conflict. And when we arm rebels,
we`ve got a horrible record. It virtually never works the way we want to.
This, though, is arming a government. This is a different thing. But
it`s not exactly the same thick as supplying arms to Israel and up and
running operation that knows how to really defend itself.
JOY REID, THE REID REPORT: It`s complicated by the fact that when you
talk with Ukrainian side, they`re say they`re not fighting separatists who
are loyal to Russia, or interested in joining with Russia, they`re fighting
Russians. So, the possibility that we`re actually supplying arms that will
then be aimed at Russian nationals is a very real possibility and the
notion of a proxy war between the United States and Russia is very real.
I think that`s why you see a lot of caution on the part of countries
like Germany. And, of course, Angela Merkel has a relationship with
Vladimir Putin, much more than perhaps we do. So there is a possibility of
this spiraling out of control. And for Americans, we are rightly very
concerned about being sucked into yet another conflict in this part of the
world. That feels very cold-war vintage, but it is actually very dangerous
O`DONNELL: And, Josh Barro, it`s been difficult for Angela Merkel to
be onboard with this. The sanctions in particular with Russia. And so,
she gets to say to President Obama, look, we have given you a lot. We`ve
come your way a lot on this. It`s been hard for us. So, we don`t want
JOSH BARRO, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it makes sense. Europe`s economy
is much more closely tied in with Russia than the U.S. economy is. This is
in some sense a cheap thing for us. Now, it`s cheap to end up in a proxy
war, but whatever happens in the Ukraine either economically or military is
going to reverberate much more within Europe than it is in the United
States. So, it makes sense that the Europeans are more cautious.
When I look at this, I see -- you know, Russia is an unsustainable
situation in part because of the sanctions we`ve imposed and in part just
because of the falling price of oil. Russia`s basically a petro state, and
they`re not going to be able to maintain their economy as they have with
oil prices here.
So, it feels like with the application of more sanctions as the
governor discussed is Russia ought not to be able to keep doing this
forever. The question is, how long does it take for the economic pressures
to make it impossible for Russia to intervene the way it has in the
Ukraine. It might be longer than we considerable to be acceptable.
O`DONNELL: Michael Weiss, let`s go to that step and let`s say the
president decides to arm Ukraine. What does Vladimir Putin do?
MICHAEL WEISS, COLUMNIST, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: It`s a good
question. Look, I actually think there`s a false dichotomy here. One of
the things Ukraine needs most is not so-called lethal weaponry. It is non-
lethal military equipment such as surveillance drones so they can monitor
Russian and separatist positions, radio communications. I mean, I`ve
interviewed loads of Ukrainian soldiers and volunteer battalion fighters
who say they are using walkie-talkies you`ll find on paintball tournaments.
So, they`re using World War II era, in some cases, materiel. It`s not
about just sending -- really, the one weapon that they need most are
javelin anti-tank missiles. The rest of the stuff is, you could argue not
amplifying or escalating the conflict, just allowing the Ukrainians to do
what they`re already doing, but to do it much better and to defend
themselves and protect their soldiers.
O`DONNELL: Howard Dean, laid out by Michael, that sounds perfectly
reasonable. Vladimir Putin is probably not going to interpret this as just
defensive weapons that just kind of even the playing field a little bit.
DEAN: Well, I think we have to look at what Putin`s goals are.
Putin`s goal is to return as much as possible to the glory days of the
Soviet Union`s domination of Eastern Europe. And this isn`t just Ukraine.
He`s doing this in Georgia. He occupies 20 percent of the territory in
Georgia. They`ve kidnapped a border guard in Estonia and brought them and
they`re now languishing in a Russian jail. So, this is an aggressive
posture that Russia has taken.
The only reason I hesitated at the javelin anti-tank missiles is I
think you have to be willing to go the whole way if you`re going to do it.
The worst thing we could do is some partial arming, even if it`s javelin
anti-tank missiles. We`ve got to anticipate that he`s going to get more
aggressive. And we have to know exactly what we`re going to do about it
before we take the first step.
Hence my argument for cutting them entirely out of the international
banking system and hoping that sends the message. He is going to have a
lot of resistance in the Kremlin if his people start losing tons and tons
of money. They`ve lost a lot already and it could get much, much worse.
O`DONNELL: And, Joy Reid, the president is under bipartisan pressure
on this. John McCain out there today is saying that Chancellor Merkel,
President Obama are completely wrong about this, they should be rushing
arms in there right now. But there are some Democrats who support that
REID: Yes, there are Democrats who support the idea, although again,
I think that if you just stack it up, it is much more important to Russia.
They`ve seen it more important to them to take and retain Ukraine than it
is for Americans, who for the most part don`t understand necessarily what
this war or what this sort of proxy war is about.
And I think that Howard Dean makes a very good point. Russia`s very
vulnerable. Their economy is not doing well. They`re not bearing up well
under these sanctions. Yes, they are Europe`s gas station, but the oil
prices are cratering, they are low. They`re in a very vulnerable. And I
think that that the U.S. is in a position to do significant damage with
sanctions without then triggering this sort of reflex of Vladimir Putin to
go to more military force.
O`DONNELL: And the complexity of the chessboard in all matters
includes questions of the Islamic State, Chancellor Merkel being helpful
Let`s listen to what the president said today about the Islamic State.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We have a practice of not meeting with leaders right before
their elections, two weeks before their elections. As much as I love
Angela, if she was two weeks away from an election, she probably would not
have received add invitation to the White House, and I suspect she wouldn`t
have asked for one.
So, you know --
So, you know, this is just, you know, some of this just has to do with
how we do business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: I promise you, he did say something about the Islamic
But, Josh Barro, there`s been some talk that Benjamin Netanyahu has
been reconsidering this mess that has been created. Abe Foxman,
distinguished American Jewish leader saying this thing is a mistake, the
Netanyahu coming to address Congress.
BARRO: Yes. Well, I mean, if it`s a political ploy, it`s not one
that has worked. And so, it makes -- it`s not just about how it affects
U.S. politics, it`s about how it affects Israeli politics. His upcoming
election, part of the point of taking what I think he thought was going to
be a power play in the U.S. was to demonstrate he was able to bend American
officials to his will on this, which he is not going to be able to do from
So, it makes sense to me from Benjamin Netanyahu`s own political
interest to be thinking about backing away from the speech. But I can`t
predict what he`s going to do.
O`DONNELL: And, Michael Weiss, there`s poll numbers indicating that
Netanyahu has gone down in domestic polls in Israel, crucial to his
reelection as a result of this problem with Washington.
WEISS: Sure. I think it was a sort of measure of tone-deafness here,
thinking that he can appeal directly to the American electorate, go over
the president`s head, go over a lot of Congress people`s heads as well. I
mean, look, the Israelis are calculating, Netanyahu in particular, that
there is a fundamental vulnerability to the president`s strategy with Iran
and this is something that is seen by both Republicans and Democrats.
There are a lot of Democrats out there who think we`re empowering Iran
not by negotiations necessarily but by kind of turning a blind eye to
things such as the Houthi takeover in Yemen, what Shia militia groups in
Iraq are doing in the ground with indirect U.S. air support, including
ethnic cleansing of Sunni populations in Iraq and Syria. I mean, that`s an
ungodly mess that has no sign of being reconstructed or put back together
The problem is, of course, there are certain things that you just
don`t do. One of them is, in the midst of an election, say, "Screw you,
Mr. President, I`m coming to Congress."
O`DONNELL: Howard Dean, there are members of Congress who are finding
convenient reasons not to be there. Vice president is saying he`s going to
be traveling, he won`t be there. But your senator, Bernie Sanders, no
excuses, he`s just saying I`m not going. I`m absolutely not going to
Benjamin Netanyahu`s address.
DEAN: I think the prime minister has done an enormous amount of harm
to Israel over his tenure. You know, if you look at polls of Jews,
American Jews under 30, Israel is not on their radar screen. That -- this
is very, very bad what`s happened to the relationship between Israel and
the United States. My own personal view is that the prime minister has
overplayed his hand on multiple occasions. How about the vice president
going over there a few years ago, and Avigdor Lieberman I think it was
announced that there would be 2,000 more settlement dwellings put in while
Joe Biden was in Israel.
I mean, it`s -- you know, it`s also as if they deliberately decide to
poke us on eye as many times as possible. So, I think that the prime
minister`s getting what he deserves. I think the vice president to boycott
this talk as the president of the Senate is pretty extraordinary. And I
think his own poll numbers are starting to see that in Israel. This is a
really stupid thing to do, and the Israelis know it. And Netanyahu has put
his own personal interests above the interests of the nation of Israel.
And that`s never a good thing for a leader to do anywhere.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to continue more of this discussion, including
what the president really did say about Islamic State. That`s coming up.
And later, the controversy that began when President Obama said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some
other place, remember that during the crusades and inquisition, people
committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: A jury of ten women and two men has been chosen for the
trial of the man accused of murdering former Navy Seal Chris Kyle, the man
who was portrayed by Bradley cooper in the movie "American Sniper." The
judge denied the defense request for a change of venue. The defense argued
that defendant Eddie Ray Routh would not be able to get a fair trial in
Stephenville, Texas, where every showing of "American Sniper" sold out in
its first two weeks in the only movie theater there.
Seeing the movie was not only disqualifying for jurors, but they had
to be able to convince the court that they could completely disregard the
movie and consider nothing other than the evidence that will be introduced
in the trial. Opening statements in the case are scheduled for Wednesday.
We`ll bring you complete coverage of that trial here on THE LAST WORD.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: With regard to ISIL, Germany and the United States remain
united in our determination to destroy this barbaric organization. I
thanked Angela for her strong support as a member of the international
coalition that is working in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joy, so there`s another dimension to the discussion they
had earlier about Ukraine.
O`DONNELL: Remember, this is not the only help the president is
looking for in the world. He`s also got the Islamic State problem.
REID: Yes, absolutely. And when he ended that statement with Iraq,
therein lies I think the difficulty, because, of course, we do have this
coalition. There are Western countries involved in it. You obviously have
But in terms of ground forces, which most military experts believe,
you`re going to need at some point if you`re going to really defeat ISIS,
who is going to supply those ground forces, and if it is going to be
primarily Iraq, which is what U.S. officials are indicating, you`re talking
about the same Iraqi army that turned tail and ran from ISIS, leaving
behind the equipment that ISIS now owns. So --
O`DONNELL: And that supplies a rationale for what Lindsey Graham says
about this, the fact that the Iraqi military is so weak. Let`s listen to
what Lindsey Graham said about boots on the ground.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You`re going to need boots
on the ground not only in Iraq but Syria, and there`s got to be some
regional force formed with an American component, somewhere around 10,000,
I think, American soldiers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Howard Dean, 10,000 American soldiers in Syria and Iraq.
DEAN: He`s smoking the same stuff when he voted for Bush`s war in
2003. If we hadn`t gone in in 2003, we wouldn`t be in this position now.
Look, we need boots on the ground, but not ours. We cannot keep
fighting for people who won`t fight for themselves.
Now, Lindsey Graham is correct. The Iraqi army is a mess and I think
it`s a pipe dream to think it`s ever going to be any better, and they are
also, with Shia militia committing atrocities on the Sunnis, which is one
of the things that`s supporting ISIS. This can be solved with most likely
the Kurds being the essence of the fighting force and plenty of American
and coalition support.
It`s conceivable you could even get the Jordanians involved after what
happened to their pilot. I, by the way, think that when they burned the
Jordanian pilot to death, that is the turning point. I have now seen on
the television, Middle Eastern imams finally coming out and condemning the
ISIS people as un-Islamic.
That is what I`ve been waiting for. That is critical, and I think
ultimately we are now winning the propaganda war, and that`s very, very
O`DONNELL: And, Josh Barro, so immediately on the heels of that,
there comes the word that Kayla Mueller was killed during a bombing raid.
They don`t have the normal proofs that they offer for this, like a
beheading video or burning someone to death on video. But, and the
family`s still desperately hoping that she`s still with us, but it shows
once again that the Islamic State has a move, after whatever move you make.
BARRO: Right. No, I think that`s right. But I think, with, you
know, us talking about this with the Germany and the meeting this week,
this isn`t just the U.S. going to Germany and sort of asking for a series
of favors and support for things we care about. I think there`s actually a
symmetry with the Ukraine issue.
In Ukraine, we are more interested in engagement than the Germans are
because there`s all this downside for Europe. I think with ISIS, it`s the
opposite. The risks to Europe are much higher than the United States. You
have a lot more fighters who have gone from Germany and France and the U.K.
to fight over there. There`s a lot more risk of terrorism coming back into
As we saw in Paris with something just inspired by this, but in any
case, the risk from what`s metastasizing out of ISIS is much greater from
the European continent than it is here. So, I think that`s the reason to
expect good cooperation from our European allies going into this, more
enthusiastically than in Ukraine.
O`DONNELL: Howard Dean, in your neighboring state, we have a new
president poll, and we have a front runner, we have in New Hampshire, I
take New Hampshire polls much more seriously than Iowa. I think they`re
more predictive of where the country`s going. We have Jeb Bush at 16, we
have Rand Paul at 13, Scott Walker at 12, Chris Christie at 10, Mike
Huckabee at 6, Ben Carson 6, Marco Rubio 5.
How do you read that poll, Howard Dean?
DEAN: I don`t, Lawrence. I mean, I think polls at this stage of the
game are nothing more than stuff for people like us to talk about. I mean,
to say that Jeb Bush is leading the polls with 16 percent, I don`t think
This is all exercise in people who, I don`t know who did the poll, but
I just, you know, it`s hardly worth talking about.
O`DONNELL: Spoken by a man who was once leading in early presidential
DEAN: I know for a fact. They did not show up right at the right
O`DONNELL: And I mean a big lead, not 16.
DEAN: That`s right.
O`DONNELL: Joy Reid, it does seem that first poll of the serious
Republican voter, and if you start to look at -- I mean, Christie`s going
to collapse, and I know that.
O`DONNELL: America might not.
But when I look at that, I say, OK, where`s Christie`s ten going to
go? And it seems like that would float right up to Jeb. I mean, I --
based on where things stand right now, that looks like a pretty good poll
REID: Well, on the one hand, if the Bushes of Kennebunkport, Maine,
can`t do better for one of their sons at 16 percentage point in New
Hampshire, it`s not a good sign.
At the same time, I agree with you that Chris Christie is Rudy
Giuliani. That is who he is, that`s how he`s going to wind up.
And where did that flow? I think you got Scott Walker and you got Jeb
Bush. Those are the two places for establishment interest in money to go.
And, of course, Walker has sort of a similar thing in Iowa, right, where
he`s in a neighboring state, so he`s got the same media market. I think
they`re all playing about where they should be at this point.
Jeb`s upside is, to me, so overwhelmed by the downside of the Bush
brand that it`s hard for me to imagine all the establishment support going
to him. But for whatever reason, there is a bank of establishment money
that wants Jeb Bush to be the guy.
O`DONNELL: Josh Barro, I suspect when the big money looks at this
poll, they look at it and say, hmm, give me another poll. I`d like to see
another poll next week.
BARRO: I`m with the governor. I think this tells us nothing.
The other thing is, I mean, it sort of seems like support should flow
from Christie to Jeb, because they`re both sort of more moderate
candidates. But your average voter thinking about Chris Christie is not
necessarily saying, well, I want a moderate candidate, I`m for Christie.
Maybe they`re likely, I want someone who`ll take to the union, I want
Christie, those people are likely to end up with Walker.
But I think Jeb`s biggest weakness is not the Bush name. I think his
biggest weakness is he doesn`t seem to have Mitt Romney`s willingness to
debase himself on any issue where the Republican case --
REID: On immigration.
O`DONNELL: Oh, give him time.
BARRO: But Common Core is something he`s emotional about. I don`t
think he respects people who think that Common Core is evil.
REID: That I agree with.
BARRO: And he`s going to have to appeal to those people for votes.
And I don`t think he`s going to be able to.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to break it there.
Howard Dean, thank you very much tonight.
DEAN: Thanks very much.
O`DONNELL: I really appreciate it.
Coming up, we will go live to Boston, where I was yesterday. The
snow, if the snow hadn`t already buried the reporter we have standing
outside there in the snow. Where else would a reporter be? You wouldn`t
believe it was snowing, right, if we didn`t show you someone standing out
in the snow. That`s coming up.
We`re also going to have more of the reaction over the weekend to what
President Obama said about the Crusades.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER (R), MASSACHUSETTS: If I`ve learned one thing over
the course of the past two weeks, it`s -- Mother Nature makes the rules.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That`s Massachusetts` brand new governor, Charlie Baker,
who has just signed his second state of emergency declaration as another
snowstorm overwhelms the Boston area.
Tonight, Massachusetts has seen over 5 1/2 feet of snow over the last
17 days. The snow has collapsed some buildings. It has buried thousands
It`s made commuting to work or school a daily ordeal. Boston has
gotten more snow over the past 30 days than any other 30-day period in its
I was in Boston yesterday. And the good news is that the parking
meters are buried in snow, so you don`t have to pay the meters. But the
snow is so big there -- the snow banks at the parking meters are so big
that there is no room to park your car at a meter, Joy Reid, anywhere --
-- in Boston. You can`t. It`s impossible.
Joining me now from South Boston is MSNBC`s Adam Reiss.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Adam, where are you exactly, and what is that behind you.
ADAM REISS, MSNBC REPORTER: Good evening, Lawrence. From South
Boston, a frigid South Boston now, four storms in less than two weeks,
dumping 73 inches of snow.
Take a look behind me. They`re wondering, "Where do we put it all."
That`s the big challenge for officials here.
This mound behind me, some 50, 60 feet high. Trucks have been coming
in here, one ride after another all day long. Then the front loaders take
the snow from over there to over, where the melter is.
They`re bringing melters in from out of state. They`re also taking
the snow to down to the south shore, dumping it on beaches down there, 73
inches of snow.
The governor said they don`t know what to do with it. You could take
all this snow and put it in Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots play, 90
Now, the governor said in jest, "Maybe, the city should have bid for
the Winter Olympics instead of the Summer Olympics. And more snow coming
later this week with more frigid temperatures. Lawrence?
O`DONNELL: Adam Reiss, thank you very much for joining us. Coming
up, the controversy that started when President Obama spoke at the National
Prayer Breakfast about the crusades.
Over the weekend, a White House advisor explained what President Obama
meant to say when he said this --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lest we get on our high
horses and think this is unique to some other place.
MARK LEVIN, SYNDICATED RADIO SHOW HOST: Talk about high horse.
OBAMA: Remember that during the crusades, the inquisition, people
committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.
LEVIN: Would he ever say the terrible deeds committed in the name of
BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: It is simply inexplicable that Barack
Obama would compare historical injustices by Christians a thousand years
ago to the current atrocities being committed by Muslim jihadists today.
BILL MAHER, HBO HOST: I`ve made this point myself a billion (bleep)
-- that if I was living in the 16th Century, it would be Christianity
I`d be going after because they`re the ones who are the most violent and
the most intolerant.
JON MEACHAM, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "RANDOM HOUSE": The crusades ended and
the Renaissance began.
MAHER: We did it then, they`re doing it now.
AMY HOLMES, THEBLAZE ANCHOR: He is not willing to talk about radical
Islamic jihad, --
: Boko Haram and al-Qaeda and ISIS, that all say that their behavior
is coming from their interpretation of Islamic text.
DAVID BROOKS, WRITER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I`m pro-Obama. I`m
totally pro-Obama on this. I think he said the right thing.
MEACHAM: Christianity managed to reform itself.
OBAMA: In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow, all too often was
justified in the name of Christ.
BROOKS: You`re saying, you know, We`re prone to zealotry.
MEACHAM: Why question is, why he felt compelled to bring this up at
BROOKS: I have my own theory. You`re not a big fan of the Prayer
Breakfast, I think. And I think he almost enjoys creating a rhetorical
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, in Washington, Asra Nomani, a journalist
and the author of "Standing Alone -- an American Woman`s Struggle for the
Soul of Islam."
Also, Joshua Dubois, President of Values Partnerships and the Former
Director of the White House Faith-Based Initiative. Michael Wear, who
served in President Obama`s office in Faith-Based Initiatives and directed
the Faith Outreach in the Obama 2012 campaign.
Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Modern Jewish History at Emory
University, joins us from Atlanta. And, Joy Reid, Host of "The Reid
Report," who`s still with us here in New York.
Josh Dubois, in "The New York Times" on Saturday, in an article, the
administration cooperated with an effort to clear up the reaction to this,
Eric Schultz, Deputy White House Press Secretary said, quote," What I think
the President was trying to say is, over the course of human history, there
are times where extremists pervert their own religion to justify violence.
And, Josh, I think if the President had said that, there wouldn`t be
JOSH DUBOIS, PRESIDENT, VALUES PARTNERSHIPS: Well, Lawrence, with due
respect, I mean, there`s a controversy because the right set the trap and a
lot of folks, including progressives, took the bait.
The President was making a very clear point. I think he made it
He said, in a continuum of historical events, people had misused
religion to do evil things. And we can`t blame the religion itself when
people did that.
He pointed to the crusades, and then he pointed to slavery and to Jim
Crow as well. And, now, he`s saying, we can`t lay the evil deeds of ISIS
at the foot of Islam.
I think that`s a perfectly legitimate thing to say. What happened
though was that the right jumped on that and sort set the trap.
And then, unfortunately, a lot folks responded to that. But, now,
today, we see people taking the President`s side, from the center left with
E.J. Dionne, to the center right with David Brooks.
And a lot of other folks are saying, "You know what, I think the
President had a point there. And it was an important point that he made."
O`DONNELL: Michael Ware, you and Josh worked in the office Faith-
Based Initiatives together. And when they do the Prayer Breakfast speech,
is that one of the speeches that they run by your shop before it goes out.
MICHAEL WEAR, DIRECTOR, OBAMA 2012 FAITH OUTREACH: Yes, we`re
certainly involved in the speech but, always, of course, the President has
WEAR: -- the final word. And the pen is in the hands of the speech-
writing office but, yes, typically, these speeches --
O`DONNELL: I mean, if we`re looking at it as speech-writing staffers,
are there any changes that you would have suggested in that draft that
ultimately went public.
WEAR: Yes -- you know, honestly, I think -- I think the speech --
that specific segment in the speech was inartful and had in it some
assumptions that maybe weren`t necessary.
I think, if he wouldn`t have talked about getting on high horse, maybe
it wouldn`t have been taken by some the way that it was. I think there`s a
much more hopeful, positive way, he could have gone about it instead of
talking about how Christianity was used to justify all kinds of things.
What he could have said, and which actually fits in with the
President`s strategy when talking about these issues, going back to Cairo
and even previous to the Cairo speeches, you know, we have a reason to be
hopeful even in the midst of this religious violence.
Because we have a history of Christians perverting their religion to
justify slavery. But then, we also have Christians who stood up to take
back the mantle of their religion, to speak out for a God who, who crushes
oppressors and frees the slaves.
And so, I do think it was inartful, but I agree with -- Josh went with
David Brooks and others who have said that the key point was a good one.
I`ll just add though that the point is not sort of a novel one for
those who are in the audience, or for Christians themselves, sort of --
even the Southern Baptist convention that was created in large part to
support slavery, has since, you know, in Baptist terms, repented from that
and recognized it for the stain on their denomination, on Christianity that
So, the idea there was sort of that he was teaching folks in the
audience something new isn`t right, but the reminder was a good one.
O`DONNELL: In that "New York Times" article, where the administration
was working on correcting the impressions about this medieval historian on
the center of study of Islam in London, Thomas Asbridge, said, "It is the
most," referring to crusades, he said, "it`s a word you have to use with
great caution because it is the most highly-charged word can you use in the
context of the Middle East."
Asra, you didn`t approve at all of the President using that word,
ASRA NOMANI, AUTHOR, "STANDING ALONE": Well, my problem is that what
we have inherited, coming into the National Prayer Breakfast, was many
months of denial on the part of the President and the administration on
this very fundamental issue that the Islamic State is very much about
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Last fall, the President said that the Islamic State is not Islamic.
Earlier this week, last week, he said that whatever ideology it was that
caused the Islamic State guerrillas and the fighters that exist within them
to burn a soldier to death, that was all that he could state.
But, you know, I have before me the Koran. And I have post notes here
on every citation that the Islamic State has used to justify their
Christianity has had to deal with verses like Deuteronomy, right, the
war verses. But one of the verses that Islamic State people use is one
that says, "Fight against them, so that Allah will punish them --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
-- by your hands and disgrace them and give your victory over them,
and heal the breaths of a believing people." That was the title on the
video of the emulation of the Air Force pilot from Jordan -- "Healing the
Chests of the Believers."
And what I would like to argue is that we`re at a point in Islamic
history where we`re at a crossroads, just like Christians have been, just
like the Jews have been.
And we have to take passages from inside of our Koran, those war
verses that are used by the militant, and we have to take them on. And we
need liberals on our side. We need them.
DUBOIS: Yes. And that`s precisely the point. I agree with you but
that`s precisely the point that President Obama was making -- is that we
have to draw distinctions between how ISIS is interpreting these verses and
how the vast majority of Muslims interpret these same verses, just like the
NOMANI: I would argue -- I would argue --
DUBOIS: -- have to do the same thing.
NOMANI: Sure. But I would argue that nobody is putting Islam on
trial. And, ultimately -- ultimately, if we try to avoid a conversation
about Islam, it`s only the militants and the guerrillas that win.
The moderates and the liberals are not going to win. And as long as
the liberals decide that they`re going to sit on the fence and they`re
going to be politically correct about this, --
NOMANI: -- we`re not going to have honest conversations. And I
really appreciate, Lawrence, that you dare to do this, because so many
liberals have sadly sat on the fence.
And I count myself as liberal and I have felt so disheartened that
that spirit of political correctness has made it that we can`t have an
honest conversation about some very real issues in our world today.
O`DONNELL: OK, let`s --
DUBOIS: Unfortunately, a lot of people are putting Islam on trial.
O`DONNELL: Josh, excuse me, can we hold it right there, Josh. We`re
going to come right back.
O`DONNELL: I just need to get through a commercial break. We`re just
going to continue this discussion. Just hold it right there.
We`re back with more on the President`s comments at the Prayer
Breakfast. Professor Lipstadt, what was your reaction to the President`s
use of the crusades in that speech.
PROF. DEBORAH LIPSTADT, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Well, I think, first of
all, regarding the crusades, he got it precisely right.
LIPSTADT: The crusades were horrible. They were terrifying. And
they were Christian in origin or they came out of Christian sources.
But, I think, someone earlier in the program used the word,
"inartful." And that was a very kind way of putting it.
I think Asra Nomani just made a very important point -- that there`s
been a reluctance in the White House, amongst many people -- I see it on
campuses as well -- that`s where I make my -- where I live my life -- a
reluctance to name this as an expression of violence extremist Islam.
Not all Islam, not all Muslims, not at all. But there is a strong
strain of violent, extremist Islam. And unless you name something, you
can`t solve it.
We saw that this summer in our country, and in the fall, with all
sorts of problems, with shootings and Ferguson and Staten Island. And
unless you name something -- call it racism, maybe not only racism, but
unless you name it, you can`t solve it.
And I think there`s been a reluctance to name this as a strain of
violent extremist Islam. And the problem is, we`re pulling the grounds out
from under moderate Muslims who would want to address it.
But if we don`t say it`s there, then it sort of leaves them -- leaves
O`DONNELL: Joy -- Joy --
LIPSTADT: So, while I think -- I think he was making an important
point in saying, "Look, this is not only Islam`s problem." But it`s Islam
that`s having the problem right now and that`s what we`re facing right now.
And the term, "high horse," was not -- not the most desirable one. I
think that that also skewed matters.
O`DONNELL: Joy Reid, the oddity of mentioning the crusades is that
was a Catholic enterprise run by the Pope. And so, if Barack Obama is
going to get up there and say -- you know, as Asra points out, that you`re
trying to extricate Islam from the Islamic State.
And then, you figure out, if the crusades is your example, that was,
without question, a religious exercise. Yes, it included other
geopolitical objectives, but it was, without question, religious.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Well, I mean, the thing is is that -- and this
is where one of those rare times that you and I disagree -- but I think
that the relationship between the crusades and the Islamic State is an
In the case of the crusades, it was the church proper mounting a holy
war, going into the Middle East, --
O`DONNELL: Uh-hmm, yes.
REID: It became an incredible destruction in the name of the official
church. Whereas, in point of the Islamic State, they are antithetical to
I watched that 20-minute video of what they did to that pilot. That
is not the practice of religion. They are more on the order of what the
clan has done to Christianity, not a thousand years ago during the
crusades, not in 1099.
But, 50 years ago, 20 years ago, there are African-Americans alive
right now, who remember crosses -- actually, the cross, the crucifix,
burned on their lawn by people who were considered good Christians -- the
Sheriff, the good Christian folk of the community, who are perverting and
twisting the Christian religion into violent hatred of African-American.
The people who blow up abortion clinics and shoot doctors, not a
thousand years ago, in the current contemporary world, are doing so in the
name of Jesus. They`re doing so, claiming to be Christians.
And, I think, the President did very explicitly say, ISIS is taking a
religion and twisting it to sick, sadistic ends. He said that explicitly
but he also said, humility requires us to admit that extremists can exist
in any religion.
There are Buddhist monks who engage in violence. There are Christians
who engage in violence. And then, it is not only Islam capable of it. I
really don`t understand why that`s controversial.
O`DONNELL: Well, because -- because, just clearly -- we`re going to
go to break. But the point is -- we can come back to this point after the
break -- the reason is that the scale involved in the Islamic State does
not exist in any other violent perversion of any other religion on earth at
It certainly did in the crusades. But not at this time. We`re going
to have more with this discussion right after this.
So, Joy, if the President is going to mention the crusades in relation
to the Islamic State, what prevents Vladimir Putin when President Obama
wants to talk to him about incursions in Ukraine.
What prevents Vladimir Putin from saying, "Hey, you guys shot and
murdered your way all the way across continental North America,
exterminating Native Americans on the way, and violating every single
treaty with them in order to establish your 50 states, so --
-- answer to that --
O`DONNELL: -- answer that when we come back --
O`DONNELL: -- after this.
OK, so, Joy, --
-- so, Putin says after -- "Now that you`ve mentioned the crusades,
Mr. President, and you want me to, you know, be careful with Ukraine, what
about you, you know, murdering your way all the way across continental
North America, --
O`DONNELL: -- extinguishing Native American tribes as you go to
create your 50 states."
REID: Yes. And I think the answer is, nothing stops Vladimir Putin
from saying that. But I think that wisdom and leadership requires that the
President to answer back to Vladimir Putin.
There was a moral cost. There was a great cost to causing great
suffering. We`re still suffering that moral cost in our country. And you
might want to do better by your country.
O`DONNELL: And Vladimir Putin says, "Oh, so that`s why you say
America is the greatest country in the world every time you talk about" --
REID: Well, that reflex of us needing to paddle and coddle ourselves
and make ourselves feel like we`re the greatest thing ever and we have no
O`DONNELL: Right. Talk about a high horse.
REID: I don`t get that either.
O`DONNELL: That`s the highest horse there is. Asra, you wrote
something after the President`s speech, in which you mentioned and you
taught us actually that, in that video, where they burned the pilot, they
talk about the crusades and crusaders very specifically.
It`s very specific language used there. The refer to that pilot, who
they are burning to death, as a crusader detainee. That was your
translation of what they say.
NOMANI: It`s actually their translation also.
NOMANI: They literally put onto the page that the pilot was a
crusader detainee, that Jordan, Oman and every other nation involved with
the U.S. is part of a crusader coalition.
And look at this conversation. We`re having a conversation about the
crusades from hundreds of years ago.
There`s a girl in Pakistan who got shot in the face because of an
interpretation of Islam that said girls can`t go to school. There are
girls in Nigeria that are being kidnapped because of the same
interpretation of Islam.
I`ve been given death threats just because I`ve wanted to walk through
the front door of my mosque. We have a serious problem in our world today,
And if we cannot have the debate on Islam hijacked, just through the
nature of political correctness, we should not see this culture of wounds
collectors. We should actually try to find solutions.
We all know that victim cultures cannot get out of that on their
own, and that nothing we can do will get them to stop. So, we have to stop
feeding the wounds collecting.
O`DONNELL: Josh, go ahead.
DUBOIS: Yes, Lawrence, you mentioned the issue of scale, and that we
haven`t seen anything of this scale in the present day or recent past.
And, with due respect, I just have to disagree with that.
As Joy was saying, up until the middle of the last century, we saw
both the Klan and other vestiges of white supremacy ravaging the American
And, you know, those things that they were burning in lawns, they
weren`t lower-case Ts, they were crosses. They were directly using
religion to subjugate and to murder people.
But they were not doing -- that was not Christian. And just like that
was not Christian, what ISIS is doing, I don`t believe, is Islam. And I
think that`s the point the President was making.
O`DONNELL: Michael, our last word. Go ahead.
WEAR: Yes. I think Asra makes a great point about the fact that we
need to have a debate about Islam. And I think Muslims should be leading
What I disagree is, I think it`s clear for the President and his
administration, this is about more than political correctness. Right or
wrong, this is about a foreign policy judgment that there is -- that there
is a strategic gains to be made by refusing to associate Islam, the
religion, with the terror that we see in the Middle East.
And, you know, I think it`s important to be a part of that
O`DONNELL: And Professor Lipstadt, I, for one, can`t wait for all of
Islam to be able to get up on a high horse and look down and say, "We don`t
do things like that."
LIPSTADT: I think that would be great. You went back -- to go back
to your original question about Putin, you know, Putin said to Angela
Merkel, "Who are you to tell me about this. Just 70 years ago, your people
were murdering people and putting them in gas chambers and shooting them."
I think she would have apoplexy, you know. Just because something
happened -- of course, I`m talking to you from Atlanta, where there were
crosses burned not far probably from where I am, and there was certainly
terrible, terrible discrimination and terrible racism in this region.
But that doesn`t justify what`s going on now. And I think the one
other point is, we keep talking just about ISIS. This is not just about
If you listened to speeches from various imams. If you read
literature, you see this is - (inaudible), she said this is much more
O`DONNELL: Professor Lipstadt, I`m sorry, we are out of time. Josh
Dubois, Michael Ware, Asra Nomani, and Joy Reid. I thought I left enough
time for this discussion, I didn`t. I wish we had more time. Thank you
all for joining me tonight. Thank you. Chris Hayes is up next.
Copyright 2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>
Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL