The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 02/23/09

Guests:
Robert Reich, Jonathan Turley, David Corn, Kent Jones, Cleave Jones
Transcript:

ALISON STEWART, GUEST HOST:  And thank you for staying with us for the next hour.  Rachel is feeling a bit fluey tonight.  But the show goes on.

We also took big notes at speeches made by Dustin “Lance” Black and Sean Penn at the Oscars last night.  And one of the people mentioned in both speeches, Cleave Jones, who was a friend and colleague of Harvey Milk and the man responsible for the AIDS quilt, well, he will join us tonight with his reaction to the big wins and powerful statements made to an audience of 36.3 million viewers in this country alone.

Also, Karl Rove was supposed to give a deposition on Capitol Hill today but he didn‘t show - again.  That and more—tonight.

But first—after a month of battling for the most expensive piece of legislation in U.S. history, President Obama executed a high-speed political “You do it.”  It‘s belt-tightening week in Washington.  President Obama kicked off the festivities today with a fiscal responsibility summit attended by members of both parties.

Now, on the agenda—the president‘s plan to slash the federal deficit in half by 2013.  He says he can do it.  More on that momentarily with our guest, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

Not on the official agenda—the president made what could be interpreted as a reminder to congressional Republicans about who is the boss with a capital “B.”  With members of his cabinet behind him, President Obama ended the summit by gathering the attendees, labor unions, top economists and lawmakers on both sides, including Republicans John McCain and Eric Cantor, well, to a press conference setting.

Let the stage craft begin!

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® ARIZONA:  We all know how large the defense budget is.  We all know that the cost overruns your helicopter is now going to cost as much as Air Force One.  I don‘t think that there‘s anymore graphic demonstration of how good ideas have cost taxpayers enormous amount of money.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:  I have already talked to Gates about a thorough review of the helicopter situation.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  Of course, I‘ve never had a helicopter before.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Well played, Mr. McCain.

President Obama then moved on to the number two Republican in the House and, possibly, his loudest critic, Congressman Eric Cantor, the man who is instrumental in securing the unanimous House Republican “no” to the stimulus package.  And, apparently, the president is on a first name basis with the loyal opposition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Eric, you got some thoughts?

REP. ERIC CANTOR, ® VIRGINIA:  Mr. President, I want to thank you very much for having us.  It‘s a great opportunity I think for us to really come together on some of these very, very big issues.

You said before when we were in discussions on the stimulus debate that we are going to have some very tough choices to make.  And we look forward to your address tomorrow night and, you know, working through some of these very big issues as well as trying to address what Secretary Geithner‘s plate in the immediate, as far as the banks fix, the housing fix and others.  Thank you.

OBAMA:  Thanks.  Max …

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Oh, if only thought bubbles were real.  What if Congressman Eric would just say to Mr. President‘s face what he was thinking?  And what if we really knew what the president‘s response meant besides move on?  Which he did.

Eventually, to Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, who suggested that the Democrats in the House were not inclusive of the Republicans in the recovery bill process, President Obama offered a helpful hint.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  On the one hand, the majority has to be inclusive.  On the other hand, the minority has to be constructive.  What you should see, I think, is the majority saying, what are your ideas; the minority has got to then come up with those ideas and not just want to blow the thing up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Got it?

Finally, President Obama accepted Democratic Senator Thomas Carper of Delaware‘s suggestion that he continue to reach out to the minority party.  Senator Carper compared to the parable of sowing seeds and his seeds would eventually find fertile soil.  President Obama found the opportunity to do what in comedy is known as the “callback” at Congressman Cantor‘s expense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Well, I will certainly do that, Tom, because I‘m just a glutton for punishment.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  I‘m going to keep on talking to Eric Cantor.  Some day, sooner or later, he‘s going to say, boy, Obama had a good idea.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  It‘s going to happen.  You watch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Now, to his point, a “New York Times” poll reveals ¾ of Americans think Obama has been trying to work with Republicans.  But only three in 10 Americans said Republicans are doing the same, with 63 percent saying that Republicans oppose the economic stimulus package primarily for political reasons rather than policy concerns.

Tomorrow night, President Obama delivers a state of the union-like speech to a joint session of Congress.  And on Thursday, Mr. Obama releases the outlines of his first budget.

So, what do we already know about Obama‘s era of fiscal responsibility?  Well, the president will forgo some of the budget, shall we say, choices that President Bush relied on, including—such as not including the cost of wars or natural disaster emergency relief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  For too long, our budget process in Washington has been an exercise in deception.  A series of accounting tricks to hide the extent of our spending and the shortfalls in our revenue, and hope that the American people won‘t notice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Transparency.  As to the president‘s plan to cut the deficit in half by 2013?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We cannot and will not sustain deficits like this without end.  Contrary to the prevailing wisdom in Washington these past few years, we cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences to the next budget, the next administration or the next generation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Given the massive spending now necessitated by the recession, the news today that the government might take as much as 40 percent of Citigroup in exchange for a massive infusion of capital.  Can President Obama do two things at once that are seemingly contradictory—announcing plans of cutting the deficit in half after passing a stimulus bill?  Is it like having abstinence education the day after the prom?

Joining me now is Robert Reich, the former labor secretary under President Clinton, and now, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Professor Reich, thank you so much for taking the time tonight.

ROBERT REICH, FMR. CLINTON LABOR SECRETARY:  Good evening, Alison.

It is possible for the president to do two things that seem contrary at the same time.  In fact, he might be able to do three or four things that seem contrary.  With that kind of approval record, he can do almost anything.

STEWART:  Well, let me ask you—the president today announced some big goals to cut down the deficit, including rising tax rates on the wealthy, reducing our troops in Iraq.  What else can he plan that could cut that deficit by so very much?

REICH:  Of course, the big monster in the center of the room that nobody wants to talk about right now is not Social Security, it is Medicare.  Medicare costs are eating up a huge portion of the budget.  And even when and if the economy turns up, there is going to be hell to pay with regard to Medicare.  So, that‘s a big issue that presumably he should and probably wants to begin to tackle.

STEWART:  Now, what works to reducing the deficit when you were in the Clinton administration?

REICH:  Well, we went through the budget line by line and cut out all of those things that you might call—what ever president calls waste, fraud and abuse.  We also postponed a lot of the big public investments that Bill Clinton wanted to make in 1993, 1994.

But, Alison, remember, those times were markedly different from right now.  Right now, we are going into an ever-deepening recession.  The government has got to spend money just to keep people employed.  In 1993, 1994, at the start of Bill Clinton‘s administration, we were coming out of a recession and inflation was the big enemy, not recession or worse.

STEWART:  It‘s such a huge number to think, to get down to just over $500 billion in four years.  Can he do it?

REICH:  If everything goes absolutely right, if the economy turns around, if we don‘t need another stimulus package, if we don‘t need more bank bailouts, if, in fact, everybody gets paid back because the banks are doing better and the auto companies are doing better, if there is really sunny times ahead—then we can get it down to $500 billion or so.

STEWART:  I counted four “ifs” in that answer thought.  That‘s a lot of “ifs.”

REICH:  Well, I was going to give you about eight more “ifs.”

(LAUGHTER)

REICH:  Because it‘s a very iffy proposition.  You know, I was and I think it makes sense politically, in the short term, for the president to make that promise, or show that aspiration, the audacity of hope, as it were because he‘s going to be unveiling his budget for next year, and Tim Geithner may be coming back to Congress wanting even more money for Wall Street and there are a lot of big bills coming out, a lot of money to pay.

So, he‘s got to get the support not so much of Republicans but of blue dog Democrats, conservative Democrats who are very concerned about budget deficits.  And that was today‘s performance.  So, I think that‘s what he is trying—those are the people he‘s trying to reassure.

STEWART:  Yes, I have to ask you about that.  What did you make of this event, this afternoon, the president calling on Senator McCain and Representative Cantor?  It was like he was a student—he was a teacher and they were students and he was calling on them in class.  Was it effective?

REICH:  Well, it was enormously effective.  I mean, for President Obama to be standing there in command of the class and for John McCain, Senator McCain to be there in the sixth row, called on, even though he was the first one to be asked if he had something to say, it was as if—yes, as if the president was the professor and everybody else are students.

He maintained throughout, I thought Obama maintained not only good humor, even joking with the Republicans, but more importantly, a sense that he was completely and totally in control and in command.  And he‘s not only commander-in-chief of the military, he‘s commander-in-chief of the economy.  And there was no doubt about that today.

STEWART:  Robert Reich, labor secretary under President Clinton and now a professor himself at the University of California at Berkeley—thank you very much for your time tonight.

REICH:  Thanks, Alison.  Bye.

STEWART:  Did you see refuse the stimulus?  Really?  You want to play it like that?  Several GOP governors have threatened to blow off millions of their dollars their states could use badly.  Why?  Principle they say.

President Obama isn‘t buying it.  He thinks it‘s all about another “P” word—politics.  And he‘s kind of mocking them for it.

And next, Karl Rove ignores a subpoena to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee—again.  Constitutional law professor, Jonathan Turley, will join us to help Scrub, Rinse, Repeat.

Oh, but first, One More Thing about the tough economy and the Republican Party.  It‘s hard out there for a former Bush administration official.  During his last days in office, then-President George W. Bush did something called burrowing, inserting dozens of people into government posts.  Now, a little over a month since the administration has gone, only 25 percent to 30 percent of his former appointees who are looking for full-time jobs found them.

According to the “Wall Street Journal,” some of the unlucky and unemployed, former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and former Interior Secretary Kirk Kempthorne, he of the $236,000 office bathroom renovation.  How do you spin that one on a resume?  Good eye for projects that need work?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

STEWART:  It‘s time for another episode of GOP in Exile, as THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW tracks the trials and tribulations of the party out of power.  Tonight‘s question, with a nation in financial crisis what matters to Republicans?  Tonight‘s episode stars Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama.

At a town hall meeting over the weekend, Shelby was asked about the veracity of the debunk rumor that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen.  He replied, quote, “Well, his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven‘t seen any birth certificate.  You have to be born in America to be president,” end quote.

Senator Shelby‘s office says his comments were distorted and taken out of context, that he was just laying out the constitutional qualifications to be president.  It was just a civics lesson, which included the constitutional fact that Senator Shelby hasn‘t seen the president‘s birth certificate.

And you know what?  The Dow closed today at its lowest levels since 1997 and economists expect unemployment to hit 9 percent this year.  So, what was the senator saying again?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Congressional Democrats, Karl Rove is just not that into you, or the subpoenas you keep hoping will make him testimony.

Today, the former top Bush adviser proved it again.  He had been ordered to appear at a deposition for the House Judiciary Committee at 10:00 o‘clock this morning.  Everything was set to go.  According to a judiciary spokesperson, the court reporter and council were there ready to get Mr. Rove‘s testimony.  But once again, the man known as “the architect” was a no-show.

For almost two years, Congress has been trying to get Mr. Rove to testify.  Both the House and the Senate judiciary committees have played the usually persuasive subpoena card.  But Rove keeps standing them up anyway.  He claims that his work in the White House means he has executive privilege and is exempt from testifying.

There are two main Bush era controversies about which committee members want to question Mr. Rove: the firing of eight U.S. attorneys in 2006, a scandal, frankly, that Mr. Rove is linked to by e-mails indicating he was aware of the firings from an early stage, and the prosecution of former Democratic governor, Don Siegelman, of Alabama what Siegelman claims was politically motivated.

But as a former aide of a former president, can Mr. Rove plausibly use executive privilege to avoid telling Congress what they want to know?  A federal judge has rejected that claim from White House counsel, Harriet Miers, and former chief of staff, Josh Bolten.  Both are now appealing that ruling.

So, what‘s it going to take to get Karl Rove to sit down and start talking?  If the third subpoena wasn‘t the charm, what is?

Joining me now: Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University Law School.

Thanks for being with us.

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL:  Hi, Alison.

STEWART:  So, what happens next?  How can Congress get Karl Rove to testify?

TURLEY:  Well, it‘s becoming clear that it‘s going to take a great deal.  He‘s not coming voluntarily.  He is—he is refusing what is usually a binding obligation to appear.  And I don‘t think Congress has ever faced in its history a more flagrant example of contempt.

What makes this even more difficult and more egregious is that he doesn‘t have a good basis for this.  He doesn‘t have a viable claim.  But he‘s not even showing up.  That‘s the astonishing thing.  And if you have a claim that you have some form of privilege, you usually show up and invoke the privilege.  You don‘t just simply tell Congress that—I‘m just not prepared to come over and answer a formal subpoena.

STEWART:  How long can this go on?  Or is this a judicial staring contest to see who blinks first?

TURLEY:  Well, you know what?  It‘s really a one-man staring contest because there is no contest.  There is no game.  Congress has a right to get his testimony under these circumstances.  He‘s yet to articulate a plausible argument under the Constitution that he can‘t testify.  The argument he‘s made has been, as you noted, rejected.

And so, the question is not who‘s going to blink first; the question is: When is Congress going to simply tire of this game and to explain to Karl Rove that you are not a nation unto yourself?  You have an obligation as a citizen to appear and if you don‘t, then there are legal ramifications.

STEWART:  Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten are apparently negotiating about testifying.  What kind of effect could that have on what happens to Mr. Rove and his executive privilege claim?

TURLEY:  Well, I think that Miers and Bolten are expecting a negative ruling.  The ruling that went against them was very well-based.  Most scholars, I think, agree that they do not have the executive privilege claim that was made by the Bush administration.

These claims are just sweeping.  They would blow a hole right through the balance of power—the checks and balances in our system.  It‘s simply unsustainable in the way that the Bush administration articulated it.

It doesn‘t mean that there aren‘t some valid—like executive privilege claims.  But it‘s an extreme assertion that they‘ve made.  It‘s just not something you can maintain.

So, if they finally recognize that and they‘re prepared to testify, it will leave Karl Rove all alone in a middle of a field.  And he‘s got to worry about one rather obvious problem.  If he ends up being charged, he will be tried in the District of Columbia.  And I doubt he wants to see the inside of a courtroom as a defendant.

STEWART:  I want to get your take on President Obama‘s administration apparently siding with the Bush administration in trying to quash a lawsuit that would force the White House to try to recover what could be millions of missing e-mails from the Bush era.  Is this a sign that the Obama administration is not all that interested in helping the House get to Rove‘s testimony?

TURLEY:  Well, this is one of the points that has distressed many of us.  The Obama administration is carrying a lot of water for the Bush administration.  And each day, they seem to be taking the position of the Bush White House.

Here they‘re trying to kill litigation that is so important to historians and civil libertarians, to people who believe in the balance of power, the preservation of presidential records.  All of the merits are on the other side of the case that Obama has now taken.  And he is doing exactly what the Bush administration tried to do, and that is to extinguish this litigation.

And this is coming on the heels of statements supporting the Bush administration on the treatment of detainees, endorsing the rhetoric on the war of terror, the refusal, so far, to investigate war crimes.  It‘s a very worrisome trend.  And I think that people who have a lot of faith in President Obama and his closest allies have to be the first to call him to account and say—you know, these weren‘t good arguments before, and to take them second hand and to argue them in court makes you equally guilty of the type of excesses of your predecessor.

STEWART:  This is clearly to be continued.

Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University—thank you so much for your time tonight.

TURLEY:  Thanks, Alison.

STEWART:  Last night, .both Sean Penn and Dustin “Lance” Black won Oscars for the film, “Milk”—the story of slain San Francisco‘s supervisor, Harvey Milk.  Each winner made a impassioned speech denouncing California‘s decision on Proposition Eight and the state‘s opposition to gay marriage.  No one knows more about this fight than activist Cleave Jones, who was a friend and colleague of Harvey Milk and is played in the film by Emile Hirsch.

We are excited to have Mr. Jones himself with us tonight to react to the Oscars and the big speeches, to talk about what it all means.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Today at the White House, President Obama said some Republican governors have called to debate on the stimulus to be, quote, “lost in cable chatter.”  I think I resemble this remark.  On this cable show, we are going to have a calm, fair discussion about those governors with David Corn, Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones.”  That‘s coming right up.  Calm.

First, though, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in the news today.  So, you may have heard, we are having some money problems here in the United States.  Our government is in about $10 trillion worth of debt.  Of the people, by the people, for the people, and from the people, as it turns out—so, where will we get $9 million in aid to help rebuild Gaza after Israel‘s assault last month?  Who knows?

But the “Associated Press” reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce the aid package and the $900 million will be the number.  Israel‘s military operation in Gaza Strip left an estimated $2 billion in damage.  So, a group of donors will meet next week in Egypt to raise money to rebuild and fund humanitarian efforts.

The U.S. portion has to be approved by Congress where it could face some hurdles since the United States is broke and also considers Hamas, the democratic-elected power in Gaza to be a terrorist organization.  The “A.P.” reports that the money will not be handled by Hamas but will be distributed through the United Nations or the Palestinian Authority.

Senator John Kerry, last week, toured the devastated area and becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Gaza since Hamas came to official power, though Kerry did not meet anyone from Hamas on his visit.  Unanimous officials told reporters it‘s believed the cash can strengthen the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is seen as central to the reconstruction of Gaza.

The U.S. aid package signals two possible changes in U.S. foreign policy.  How will the Obama administration deal with the Israeli/Palestinian question and where are we going to get the money?  Stay tuned.

Another story of impossible to understand amounts of money, Texas billionaire, alleged large-scale broker and reported bon vivant, Sir Allen Stanford, has left the government of Antigua and its people dealing with the fallout of his alleged $8 billion worth of fraud.  Stanford‘s alleged dirty dealings have infested all aspects of life in the Caribbean country.  He was the largest private employer on the island.  Hundreds of people there rely on him for work.  His businesses include the Stanford International Bank headquarters, three branches of a local bank, two restaurants, a newspaper, and a cricket stadium.

The country‘s prime minister will call a special session of parliament this week to figure out how to deal with the potential loss of jobs on the island—thanks to Sir Allen Stanford who had his passport revoked last week.

Now, finally, lawyers at troubled mortgage lender, Freddie Mac, are

investigating Freddie Mac—which is kind of like letting Sir Allen

Stanford investigate himself, which would be well, a little bit fishy.  The

Freddie Mac‘s self-exam is looking at how it spent $2 million of a lobbying

campaign to stop new regulations from being implemented.  According to the

“A.P.,” Freddie Mac paid $2 million to DCI Group, a Republican lobbying

firm, to target seven Republicans, sponsored Republican Senator Chuck Hagel

to stop legislation sponsored by Republican Chuck Hagel.

Why so much effort in blocking Hagel‘s proposal?  His measure would have forced them to sell hundreds of billions of dollars worth their assets from their mortgage portfolio.  Hagel‘s measure died along with the housing boom.

Another issue the internal inquiry is looking into?  Freddie Mac execs‘ personal use of a company-leased sky box and company-paid tickets at the Verizon Center, the sport and entertainment arena in D.C. 

The executive who oversaw that $2 million lobbying effort was photographed by the AP at a hockey game four months ago in the luxury box.  Talk about speeding away from getting a speeding ticket. 

The investigation is happening as Freddie prepares to take $200 billion more in bailout money.  It is unclear if they are using that money on the investigation or just on more hockey tickets. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Welcome back.  I‘m Alison Stewart.  Rachel is feeling under the weather tonight but should be back tomorrow. 

OK.  Pop quiz.  You‘re the governor of a state whose unemployment rate is 5.5 percent and likely rising.  Your state is facing a projected $1.7 billion budget shortfall.  Your residents are still piecing together their lives and trying to rebuild more than three years after being hit by a devastating hurricane.  What do you do when the federal government offers you a lot of money to relieve your state‘s financial stress? 

Right.  You take it.  But not if you are Louisiana‘s Governor Bobby Jindal.  The nation‘s youngest gov who is one of a handle of Republican governors who, in the face of economic calamity and rising unemployment rates in their states saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to some of the stimulus money aimed at propping up their states and getting them on the road to recovery. 

As Republican governors wrestle with their inner Reagans over whether or not to take the stimulus cash, the cash is on the move.  President Obama announced today he is proceeding full speed ahead, fast tracking a portion of the stimulus money aimed at helping states with rising Medicaid costs. 

All told, $15 billion of stimulus money will move out to the states starting on Wednesday.  And yes, there is a money nanny of sorts who will make sure the money is spent effectively and efficiently.  Actually, there are two financial caretakers - Vice President Biden and Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devany. 

President Obama announced they will oversee all of the stimulus spending.  So the stim train is moving out of the station.  The debate is over.  The bill has been signed.  The money is about to out the door.  The only question now, will Republican governors who have claimed they will turn down the some of the money actually turn the money down?  Today, President Obama suggested otherwise. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I just want to make sure that we are having an honest debate and presenting to the American people a full sum accounting of what is going on in this program. 

If we agree on 90 percent of the stuff, and we‘re spending all our time on television arguing about one, two, three percent of the spending in this thing and somehow it‘s being characterized in broad brush as wasteful spending, that starts sounding more like politics and that‘s what right now we don‘t have time to do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Now, we weren‘t there in the room but a White House pool reporter was and noted to whom Mr. Obama seemed to make those comments, quote, “Obama looked towards Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Gov Haley Barbour and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who were to his right.” 

All three southern Republican governors - all three have led the very public “I don‘t want your stinking stimulus cash campaign” in recent days. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R-LA):  The bigger philosophical point is this - I just have a fundamental disagreement with this package. 

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R-MS):  There is some we won‘t take in Mississippi. 

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R-SC):  At times, it sounds like the Soviet grand quarters of Stalin‘s time.  “X” number of jobs will be created because Washington says so, and that‘s not the way jobs get created. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Not only are those Republican governors now being called out by President Obama for threatening to resist the help, those Republican governors are now being second guessed by some high-profile fellow Republican governors. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R-FL):  You know, if people run for office in order to try to help their constituents, the people of their state or their district or their country.  The people of our country want people in office who will put common sense in their decision-making process. 

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R-CA):  You‘ve got to go beyond just the principles.  You‘ve got to go and say what is right for the country right now?  By derailing everything, it‘s not going to help anybody and it creates instability and insecurity. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  California Governor Schwarzenegger has already said he‘ll take the money.  His fellow Republican governors don‘t want.  And today, New York Senate delegation said, “Us, too,” telling President Obama in a letter, quote, “If any governor - Democrat or Republican - leaves stimulus money on the table, then we respectfully request funds be distributed to New York.” 

So what exactly is the political calculation behind turning down stimulus money in the middle of a giant recession when Americans, presumably constituents, desperately, frankly just need help? 

Joining us now is David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” magazine.  David, thanks for being with us tonight. 

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “MOTHER JONES” MAGAZINE:  Good to be with you. 

STEWART:  When you look at the Republican governors supporting the stimulus like Charlie Crist, and those opposing like Bobby Jindal, can you glean anything about Republican ideology on this one?  What are the signs of politics and what are the signs of principle? 

CORN:  Well, maybe we should salute them for standing by principle.  These people, you know, are in a very distinct minority now.  They believe in these troubling economic times, we should not be looking to government. 

Listen, the core of the Republican Party, it‘s conservative ideology, has always been a free market anti-government fetish.  And off of these they want to carry that on because they think it‘s going to help if they are running in 2012 or if they actually believe it.  I don‘t know which is worse.  I say let‘s see how the political market will respond to them down the road. 

Eventually, Alison, all this will work out.  His first press conference a week or so back, Barack Obama was asked, well, “How will you measure your success of your stimulus?”  And he, being something of an adult, said, “Well, come back in a year and let‘s see if we created and saved jobs in that point in time.”  Well, he has asked for - he has said that 3.5 million jobs will be created or saved by this package. 

If we are on the road to that, then you can say it‘s been a success.  Now, at that point in time, if there is any sort of positive consequence of the stimulus bill, how are Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour and Mark Sanford going to justify their stand to their own constituents? 

I mean, they want to say, you know, “We don‘t want to be part of this.”  That‘s why, eventually - I think in this case, it doesn‘t always work this way in politics.  But eventually, reality will determine who has the better political argument. 

STEWART:  Looking at the common denominator of those who might not take the money, all southern Republican governors.  What can we read into that? 

CORN:  Well, they are all conservative.  And you look at who is taking the money.  You know, particularly Gov. Schwarzenegger - you know, he‘s like, “Give me the money now.”  You know, he has been a moderate Republican.  He‘s worked with Democrats. 

But it‘s - you know, you have Jim Huntsman of Utah who is taking the money.  Charlie Crist is not - you know, is somewhat of, I think, probably more practical than ideological.  And these people certainly are not looking to score either ideological or political or principle points. 

STEWART:  We have practical, principle and politics here.  They don‘t seem to be the best friends here. 

CORN:  No.  Sometimes - believe it or not, sometimes, they are not.  I mean, Barack Obama said, you know, “We don‘t have time for politics.”  But we always have time for politics. 

And it is very hard to separate out.  I‘ve just - I can see the campaign ad here.  If the Republicans who voted against the bill in the Congress and who don‘t take the money get on the wrong side of this a year or two out, even in the conservative Republican territory, they could be into trouble. 

But it all depends on whether this succeeds or not.  They‘re taking - you know, put principle aside for a minute.  They are taking a calculated political risk.  The Republicans who all voted no in the House and most of the Republicans voted no in the Senate and these governor who are sort of saying, “We don‘t want to be a part of this,” even though I think in the end, they‘ll take most of the money. 

I mean, the Republican Party is already very marginalized.  It has nothing to say about the big problems we face now.  After eight years of Bush and we had 12 years of Republican control of the House and the Senate, what do they have to say about regulating markets, about using government to get out of the holes created by the past administration? 

They have nothing to tell us about solving the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan.  So really, what are they left with other than saying, “We are not going to take federal funds”? 

It is not much of a platform for the party.  And what is happening is you have two conflicting messages coming out of the party.  When the party is back on its heels, you have one set of governors saying one thing, another set of governors saying something else.  And so the Republican brand - I hate using that term - already very weak is becoming weaker by the day …

STEWART:  And hard to define.

CORN:  … to continue to have this internal debate. 

STEWART:  David Corn, Washington bureau chief from “Mother Jones” magazine, thanks for walking us through that. 

CORN:  My pleasure, Alison. 

STEWART:  The big marks made at the Oscars last night - I mean, besides the well-deserved “Slumdog Millionaire” of it all, were the acceptance speeches for the film “Milk.”  Poignant and pointed speeches, they got huge receptions from the audience. 

Cleave Jones a friend of Harvey Milk‘s and a fellow activist will be here next with his reaction. 

Oh, but first, one more thing from today‘s news in Washington, the lady is back.  At work that is - 75-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg appeared alert and lively when she returned to the bench today just 18 days after surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her pancreas as well her spleen. 

Justice Ginsburg‘s return to the bench came immediately on the heels of the rather insensitive assessment of her prognosis from Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky. 

Sen. Bunning was speaking publicly about his support for conservative judges when he warned his audience that the battle over Supreme Court would soon be back on the front-burner because Justice Ginsburg‘s illness, saying quote, “Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest that anybody would live.” 

Classy.  Supportive.  Bunning‘s office issued an apology today, saying the senator hopes Justice Ginsburg recovers quickly.  In the process, the senator‘s office misspelled her last name in the press release.  We couldn‘t make up that part up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  What could have been the most colorful Oscar acceptance speech in history was not meant to be.  It was Sean Penn who won best actor last night, not the resurrected Mickey Rourke.  Oh, he of the silver tooth and otherwise scruffy haute couture, Mickey got a shot at the microphone anyway in Saturday‘s Independent Spirit Awards, where he took home the prize for best actor and for the bluest speech since they started keeping records. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICKEY ROURKE, ACTOR:  But Darren, you know what, if they ain‘t got the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) to bring it, then (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  We exposed some issues in this film that were very controversial like the steroids and cocaine and (EXPLETIVE DELETED) the girl in the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) bathroom.  But you know, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) like those happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

STEWART:  And depending on your interest on the proverbial train wreck, it is either a good thing or just a crying shame Mickey Rourke didn‘t win the Oscar. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALISON:  Political speeches are nothing new at the Oscars, often spontaneous, sometimes uncomfortable, occasionally unwelcome at Hollywood‘s prom night.  They got dressed up for that? 

But last night, two of the most moving acceptance speeches were political, explicitly political and personal, too.  Here actor Sean Penn and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black both accepting awards in their respective categories for the film “Milk,” about the life of gay rights activist and San Francisco politician Harvey Milk. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN PENN, ACTOR:  I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren‘s eyes if they continue that way of support.  We‘ve got to have equal rights for everyone. 

DUSTIN LANCE BLACK, SCREENWRITER, “MILK”:  When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California.  And I heard the story of Harvey Milk. 

And it gave me hope.  It gave me the hope to live my life.  It gave me the hope that one day I could live my life openly as who I am and maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married. 

No matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon I promise you, you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours. 

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  The applause was strong and clear and filled a room in a state where 3 ½ months ago, voters passed Proposition 8, taking away the right of same-sex couples to marry, a right they gained last year, thanks to a California Supreme Court ruling, a victory many observers attributed in large part to the $30 million spent in support of Prop 8. 

Meanwhile in Hawaii, the State Senate will likely vote on same-sex civil unions tomorrow after the statehouse passed the bill earlier this month.  And in Rhode Island, a same-sex marriage bill has been introduced every year since 1997.  Thursday, Rhode Island‘s Senate Judiciary Committee will meet to discuss this year‘s version of the bill. 

On March 5th, the California Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether or not to overthrow the state‘s gay marriage ban.  Might the memorable Oscar night speech steer any of the state‘s debates? 

Joining me now is a man mentioned in those acceptance speeches, gay rights activist Cleave Jones, who works with the organization Unite Here.  Jones is a friend and colleague of Harvey Milk and was portrayed by actor Emile Hirsch in the Oscar-winning film, “Milk.”

Thank you so much for making the time for us tonight after what‘s been an incredible week, I can imagine. 

CLEAVE JONES, GAY RIGHTS ACTIVIST:  My pleasure.  I‘m a big fan of the show.  Thank you for having me.

STEWART:  Sean Penn and Dustin Lance Black seem to put life back into this issue for today at least.  Can a night at the Oscars make a difference about an issue where both sides feel so strongly that they are right? 

C. JONES:  Well, this has been a long struggle and I‘m sure it will continue for many years.  But certainly, last night was very important.  It was important to hear Dustin Lance Black‘s very personal experience. 

And it was also important to hear Sean Penn speak out as a heterosexual man who has come to understand the importance of full equal protection under the law in all 50 states.  So I think last night was a huge shot in the arm for our movement and I‘m very, very proud of both of them. 

STEWART:  When you heard the speeches, how did you feel as an activist and then, how did you feel as Cleave, just a man listening to the speech? 

C. JONES:  Well, I thought they were both very beautifully delivered. 

I think Harvey Milk would be enormously proud of it.  I knew Harvey well.  I‘ve come to know Sean and Dustin Lance Black very well.  I‘m so proud of them.

But you know, when I was listening to Lance speak in particular, I was thinking about all the young people who, right now, are contemplating taking their lives because they know that they are different from other people. 

And I think that that‘s one of the great tragedies that‘s often lost in the political debates.  And when we see the Republicans and the preachers exploiting that, the consequence of those words is so often violence directed against gay people from the outside and also the deaths of many young people who fear the future so terribly. 

So I thought that those were life-saving speeches and I‘m very, very grateful to them both. 

STEWART:  Have you spoken with Sean Penn since the speech since last night?  Do you know if he was aware of it was received?

C. JONES:  Yes, of course, I spent time with him last night.  I was so happy to be able to congratulate him.  I‘ve gotten to know him rather well over the last couple of years.  And I think he just did a perfect job. 

And you know, people have their impressions of Sean.  But those of us who know him, know him to be a very thoughtful, extremely intelligent and very real person.  And I‘m proud to consider him a friend and grateful for the assistance that he‘s showing our movement. 

You know, I think that for too long, we have accepted this failed strategy of allowing our rights to be debated state by state, county by county, city by city.  We‘ve settled for compromises for far too long.  We‘ve settled for fractions of equality. 

And I think that that is going to end.  And we‘re now going to insist on full equality, equal protection under the law in all areas governed by civil law in all 50 states. 

And I hope people see this film and are inspired by what we did in San Francisco in 1978.  But for strategy, I think people need to look back to 1964 when it became clear to the great leaders of the civil rights movement that many of the southern states and many others probably would never willingly extend equal protection under the law to the African-Americans. 

It was then that President Johnson and the Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, extending equal protection under the law in all areas of the country.  That‘s what we need today.  That‘s what we‘re calling upon the leaders of Congress and Barack Obama to do. 

STEWART:  Cleave Jones was a friend and colleague of Harvey Milk.  Mr.

Jones, thanks again for your time tonight. 

C. JONES:  My pleasure.  Thank you for having me. 

STEWART:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith asks Julian Bonds of the NAACP about this cartoon from the “New York Post.” 

And next on this show, Kent Jones joins me for the weak - that‘s with an A - in review.  George W. Bush is a bigger hero than Lincoln.  Says who? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Now, it‘s time for weak in review with Kent Jones where we highlight special achievements in lame-itude.  Kent, the week is just 24 hours old.  How much weakness can there be? 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Oh, but the lameness is already begun, Alison.  First up, poll of the weak.  Harris Paul asked Americans to name their top 10 heroes, President Obama was first, followed by Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King, OK?  Not the weak part.

Then in fourth place was Ronald Reagan, then George W. Bush, then Abraham Lincoln, John McCain, John F. Kennedy, hero-pilot Chesley Sullenberger and finally, Mother Teresa. 

Reagan and Bush ahead of Lincoln, JFK, Sulley and Mother Teresa? 

Weak.  Definitely weak. 

STEWART:  Especially in the birthday month of Mr. Lincoln.  That‘s not nice. 

K. JONES:  I‘m not over it yet.  Next up, the quote of the weak.  Republican U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt from Missouri told a crowd cheering partisans this weekend about President Obama‘s stimulus plan, quote, “I guess you can‘t be Franklin Roosevelt if you don‘t create a Depression.”  Weak.  Alison, so weak. 

STEWART:  You know, I wasn‘t around in 1929.  But my mind, Depression

-

K. JONES:  Yes, yes.  Hoover.  Yes, yes.  Next up, overdue travel amenity of the week - U.S. Airways will resume offering free beverages on flights starting March 1st.  The airline took some heat after it began charging a dollar for coffee and tea and $2 for bottled water and soft drink.  Now, they are free again.  Weak.  Absolutely weak.

STEWART:  Peanuts are now $20. 

K. JONES:  Yes.  Peanuts - but they‘re really good.  And finally, the pointless competition of the weak.  Vendors from around the word came to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia this weekend for the 19th Annual Water Tasting Competition. 

Some of the categories featured in the contest were municipal, bottled, purified and sparkling.  It‘s water.  I‘m sorry, that‘s weak.  Poor W - weak.

STEWART:  Thanks, Kent. 

K. JONES:  Sure.

STEWART:  “COUNTDOWN” up next. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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