The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Transcript 1/20/2016
Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
Date: January 20, 2016
Guest: Michael Steele, Wendy Davis, Anne Gearan, Einer Elhauge, Michael
Cohen, Ben Wikler, Dean Baker, Michael Barr
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: That does it for us tonight, we will see you again
tomorrow, now it`s time for THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O`Donnell. Good
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD: Rachel, I haven`t said it enough,
great reporting on Flint.
You`re the MVP of that story, I don`t know where we`d be with that story if
you hadn`t led the way for a year.
MADDOW: Well, I couldn`t have done it without the activists in Flint
making a huge stink in telling their story themselves. But thank you,
thank you my friend, I appreciate it –
O`DONNELL: You got it out there.
MADDOW: Thanks –
O`DONNELL: Thank you Rachel. Well, tonight, another Harvard law professor
joins us to answer the question, is Ted Cruz a natural-born citizen
eligible to be president.
And Donald Trump has found an easy way to look just a tiny bit more
statesman-like on stage. Just stand near Sarah Palin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & PRESIDENT, TRUMP ORGANIZATIONS & FOUNDER, TRUMP
ENTERTAINMENT RESORTS: Oh, lookie, oh, lookie.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Trump-Palin show rolling through Oklahoma this
SARAH PALIN, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: We want you in fact this time to
drill, baby drill –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I`ll be gone!
PALIN: I see how they treat those who go rogue like Mr. Trump does.
JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN & TELEVISION HOST: She agreed to endorse him and he
agreed to let her shoot that fuzzy animal off of his head.
PALIN: No more pussyfooting around!
TRUMP: What`s more fun than a Trump rally, right?
CONAN O`BRIEN, COMEDIAN & TELEVISION HOST: I love that those two have
joined forces –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes –
O`BRIEN: It`s like the Riddler and the Joker.
TRUMP: Certainly there`d be a role somewhere in the administration if she
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Palin`s endorsement is the latest prize in an ongoing
battle between Trump and Cruz.
TRUMP: Look, Ted Cruz has a problem. He`s a Canadian citizen until just
recently. A Canadian citizen.
PALIN: Are you ready to stump for Trump!?
KIMMEL: Is she – is she still talking? It`s –
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Here`s how Donald Trump`s hometown newspaper, the “New York
Daily News” welcomed Sarah Palin to the Trump campaign.
This front page has been seen around the world, thanks to the world wide
But if you`re in New York today, you`ve had the pleasure of being able to
hold it in your hands, stare at it for as long as you want, contemplate
where you will hang it once it is framed.
It is January 20th, only January 20th and we already have a winner for best
headline of the year.
The “I`m with Stupid” tour continued today in Oklahoma.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Everybody wanted her endorsement, she said what you`re doing,
Donald, is amazing. It`s a movement, and it is a movement.
PALIN: That`s the beauty of Trump`s candidacy. The way that he goes
rogue. We can trust then that things are going to be different when he`s
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Ted Cruz is now fighting Sarah Palin with Glenn Beck, who will
be appearing with Ted Cruz at (AUDIO GAP 00:03:35-36) when Sarah Palin and
tea party won a hard fought election and were under attack in 2010.
Donald J. Trump was giving money to Pelosi, Reid and Rom. Republicans
worried about the fate of their party with Donald Trump or Ted Cruz at the
top of the ticket now seem to be leaning toward Donald Trump in the choice
they thought they`d never have to make.
Former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, who was also the Senate
majority leader and has endorsed Jeb Bush said today that he thinks Donald
Trump would do better in a general election than Ted Cruz.
Senator Dole said that with Cruz as the nominee, Hillary Clinton would,
“win in a waltz and that the Republican Party would suffer cataclysmic and
Ted Cruz has attacked Senator Dole along with John McCain and Mitt Romney
for failing to win the presidency when they were Republican nominees.
And so the race for the Republican presidential nomination has become
everything you could ask for in a Donald Trump-driven reality show,
Two teams who`ve never done this before trying to get the Republican
presidential nomination for a candidate.
On team Trump, we have Sarah Palin, Hulk Hogan and Lou Ferrigno. And on
team Cruz, we now have Glenn Beck and the Duck Dynasty guy.
Joining us now, Anne Gearan; political correspondent for “The Washington
Post” who covers the Clinton campaign, Wendy Davis; former member of the
Texas State Senate and Michael Steele; former RNC chairman and an Msnbc
Michael, in this reality show that we`ve got on your side of the campaign -
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Yes –
O`DONNELL: Who is your money on? Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin, which one –
Which one of those teams (AUDIO GAP 00:00:28-30) –
STEELE: That they – I still think Trump has a little bit more of an edge
You know, Sarah gets an endorsement aside, this really has been an eight-
month, now nine-month odyssey in which Trump has redefined the political
He`s playing an asymmetrical political game against guys who still fight
And you know, this move with Sarah Palin, well, a lot of folks want to
ridicule it. And you know, a lot of folks out of New York and Hollywood
want to have fun with it.
There`s still a great cache that she brings to the table in the south.
When you`re going to make that run for the SEC primary, to have Sarah Palin
work in that – work in that for you is very strong and very helpful.
So there`s a long and short-term game going on here, Lawrence, and Donald
Trump is playing both of them pretty well right now.
O`DONNELL: Wendy Davis, each side tends to at certain points forget that
there`s going to be a general election when they`re locked in –
WENDY DAVIS, FORMER UNITED STATES SENATOR: Right –
O`DONNELL: These primary campaigns. And the Palin moment strikes me as
possibly one of those.
How are Democrats regarding what the entrance of Sarah Palin to this
campaign can mean for Democrats in the general election?
DAVIS: I think it really goes to what Michael said at the very end of his
comment a minute ago, the long game and the short game.
And this might work in the short game for Donald Trump to have Sarah Palin
by his side.
But in the long game, as we move into the general election, I think it
shows how very much out of the mainstream he is.
That he is aligning himself with people like her, with extremist attitudes
about reproductive rights, being anti-environmental reforms, being anti-
smart reforms on guns.
They are showing just how out of step they are with the mainstream America,
and I think when we get to that general election, we`re going to see, not
only Democrats who are going to line up behind Hillary Clinton when she
gets the nomination.
But we`re also going to see more moderate Republicans who say they have a
distaste for the direction that they see a Donald Trump and a Sarah Palin
taking the party.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to some of the things Glenn Beck has been saying
about Donald Trump before today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, TELEVISION PERSONALITY: I think Donald Trump is an extremist.
I do. This guy I believe is dangerous. I believe he is dangerous.
If they put Donald Trump in – try to put him in office, if that`s what the
people want there, you`re going to see an end to the Republican Party.
It will just be over. There`ll just be nothing left.
Enough of the third grade politics, grow up, Donald Trump, grow up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Anne Gearan, I`m sorry, Glenn Beck has been ready for this for
weeks. He has been hammering Donald Trump consistently.
There`s a lot of stuff he doesn`t like about what Trump has to say. And
so, when he gets on the campaign trail, it`s going to be something to
ANNE GEARAN, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely. I
mean, Glenn Beck is one of the conservative voices who really feel that
Donald Trump has hijacked the conservative movement and hijacked the
Republican Party and hijacked the primary process.
And he sees Cruz as a more pure embodiment of the conservative ideals that
he wants to see talked about on the campaign trail.
So, you know, fine, that`s – he`s made his endorsement and he`ll go out
for him. But it`s clear that the timing of this is meant to answer the
Palin is a conservative voice who plays well with the tea party in Iowa,
and Cruz has been ahead of Trump in Iowa.
Trump was trying to play the Palin card to puncture Cruz a little bit,
particularly in Iowa.
And then as Michael said, yes, down the road Palin can help. But I mean,
this is really intended as a short-term antidote for being behind in Iowa.
So, Cruz comes back the next day and says well, you know, I`ll raise you
one with Glenn Beck.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Donald Trump said today about Ted Cruz
being the so-called outsider and how cozy he has been with Wall Street
banks and how they`ve helped him.
Let`s listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This guy with two bank loans that we know of. But the problem is,
he didn`t do it purposely.
Because what he wanted to do is say, I will protect you from Goldman Sachs,
I will protect you from Citibank, and I will protect you from the banks
because I`m Robin Hood, and I`m just a wonderful senator and I`m going to
protect you from these banks.
And then he`s borrowing from the banks. That`s a problem, OK, that`s a
problem. And I think when you go to caucus, you should think about that
problem, OK? You should think about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Michael Steele, we`ve entered that zone in the campaign where
each one of the Republican frontrunners every day is supplying very useful
video for the Democrats in the general election if one of them becomes the
STEELE: Yes, I mean, that`s always the danger. The primary is nothing
more than a seeding ground for outtakes and video snafus and all of the
replay during a general election.
And as we said earlier, the focus really is now getting your base
organized, getting it galvanized and moving it out to vote.
And that`s particularly important as you know, Lawrence, in these caucus
states where you`ve got to work the ground.
I mean, you could have a ground game in a primary, you need to have an
underground game in a caucus state because that really is pulling out the
roots of the party to get them out to vote.
And the real question that sits out there as you hear these sound bites
going back and forth is, is this a reflection of what`s happening on the
Is this a reflection of just the typical back and forth in a campaign? All
of that is going to get played out in the next couple of weeks.
And we`ll see just how strong Donald Trump is able to get that base out, as
he says, when you go to caucus.
Well, you`ve got to get them to caucus. And if you`re not able to do that,
Cruz will have the day.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what – how Cruz today tried to portray Donald
Trump as the tool of the Washington establishment where I believe Donald
Trump does not have a single endorsement.
Not from one senator or one member of Congress. Let`s listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: The Washington establishment is rushing over to support Donald
Trump. We`re seeing that happen every day and Mr. Trump is welcoming the
support of the Washington establishment.
Indeed Mr. Trump said that they should support him because he said Ted
won`t go along to get along.
He won`t make deals with the Democrats. Well, I don`t think there are a
whole lot of Republicans who think the problem with Republican leader –
that`s the problem with Republican leadership (AUDIO GAP 00:02:31-34).
Is that they make deals on everything, they surrender at the outset, they
stand for nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Anne Gearan, are you bumping into members of the Washington
establishment on the street there in Washington as they rush past you to
try to find Donald Trump to sign up?
GEARAN: Yes, I got knocked over on the way here by a whole car load full
of them. No, it`s really funny.
I mean, I just found that statement to be odd today, because I mean, by and
large, a lot of the Washington establishment doesn`t like Ted Cruz.
I mean, he famously got in a gigantic fight with the speaker of the – the
leader of the Senate last year.
You know, there is no more establishment than that. So, for him to sort of
be saying, you know, aw-shucks, they really ought to like me better, it
just seems a little odd to me.
O`DONNELL: Anne Gearan, Michael Steele and Wendy Davis, thank you all for
joining me tonight, appreciate it –
GEARAN: Thank you –
STEELE: Bye Lawrence, take care.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, another Harvard Law School professor has taken a
look at Ted Cruz`s eligibility to be president and what he found was
surprising even to him.
And the new Clinton campaign attack on Bernie Sanders is that he can`t win
because he`s a socialist.
Never mind that all of our presidents since Franklin Roosevelt have been
socialists with only slightly varying degrees of enthusiasm.
And later, representatives of the Clinton campaign and the Sanders campaign
will face off on a debate right here on THE LAST WORD.
O`DONNELL: With less than a week now before the filing deadline in
Kentucky, how many Democrats are running against Republican Rand Paul for
the United States Senate seat from Kentucky?
How many? Exactly zero so far. The filing deadline in Kentucky is January
26th and not one Democrat has declared a candidacy for Senate in Kentucky.
Rand Paul will still have to win the Republican caucus on March 5th in
Kentucky if he wants to be the Republican candidate for Senate.
Up next, another Harvard Law School professor has taken a very close look
at Ted Cruz`s eligibility to be president, and he didn`t find what he
expected to find.
O`DONNELL: Today in New Hampshire, Ted Cruz said a few words, very few
words about his and his father`s lives, beginning with when his father left
Cuba in 1957.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: Fled to America. He came here in 1957, he was 18 years old. Anyone
18? All right, 18.
Imagine coming to a brand-new country. You don`t know anybody, you can`t
And my dad had a $100 sewn in his underwear. Actually, I don`t advise
carrying money in your underwear.
And he got a job washing dishes, making 50 cents an hour. And he worked
seven days a week, he paid his way through school.
And then he and my mom ended up starting a small business together. So, I
grew up in Texas as the son of two small business owners.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Unfortunately for Ted Cruz, the story has a few more layers
His father Rafael Cruz got married in Texas, had two children and got
divorced before he met the woman who would then become Ted Cruz`s mother.
He married that woman and they moved to Canada where Rafael gave up his
Cuban citizenship for the first time and became a Canadian citizen and a
Ted Cruz`s mother`s name also appears on the list of eligible voters in
1974 in Canada.
But Ted Cruz insists his mother never gave up her U.S. citizenship and
never obtained Canadian citizenship.
Ted Cruz was born in Canada in 1970, whereupon he became a natural-born
And he insists at the same time, he became a natural-born citizen of the
United States as described in the constitution as a requirement for the
office of the presidency.
Ted Cruz insists that the definition of natural-born citizen as it appears
in the constitution includes anyone born anywhere in the world to at least
one American parent.
In the last two weeks or so of controversy over this issue, as more legal
scholars take a closer look at what the constitution really means by the
words natural-born citizen.
Most of them now strongly disagree with Ted Cruz`s claim that it is
absolutely certain that he is eligible for the presidency.
Here is professor – the professor who taught Ted Cruz constitutional law
at Harvard Law School, Laurence Tribe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURENCE TRIBE, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Without amending the
constitution or getting a definitive ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court,
it`s just wrong to say, as Senator Cruz has tried to say, that it`s a
settled matter. It isn`t settled.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Einer Elhauge, a professor at Harvard Law
School, he wrote the article in Salon today entitled, “Ted Cruz is not
eligible to run for president.”
Professor, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
EINER ELHAUGE, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Delighted to be here.
O`DONNELL: You know, as I read your piece, it felt to me like you traveled
the same road I did.
Which is, let`s say, four weeks ago, just kind of had the feeling assume
that the Ted Cruz position is right.
That if you`re born abroad with at least one American parent, you`re a
natural-born citizen for these purposes.
But as soon as I started reading your review articles about it, and
beginning with the 2005 BUL(ph) article 100 pages.
It suddenly got way more complicated than that, and led to Laurence Tribe
on this program, saying, it is absolutely unsettled law.
You now have come to the conclusion that Ted Cruz does not qualify. Is
that your reading of it?
ELHAUGE: Yes, that is my reading. And I did go down the same journey you
did. I started there, but the closer I looked, the more it seemed like not
only is it unsettled, but had to see the argument that he is eligible is
O`DONNELL: Yes, I thought, if you asked me two weeks ago, I would have
said it`s the stronger of the two arguments.
But as you stick with it, it just gets harder and harder. Explain what
we`re dealing with.
When we`re talking about a phrase in the constitution that has never been
tested by the Supreme Court.
If it were to be tested by the Supreme Court now, what are some of the
things that they would actually be likely to ignore?
Some of the things written by Congress since the constitution that they
would probably ignore and what would they concentrate on to try to find
ELHAUGE: Well, the – was attacked to the constitution, so it says you
have to be a natural-born citizen.
But if you look at that phrase, it can`t just mean somebody born a citizen,
which is what Ted Cruz wants to say.
Because that would leave the word natural out. And if you look at the time
of the constitution, what natural meant was natural law, natural rights,
that is common law.
Meaning it`s not statutory meanings. And the common law actually is quite
clear and not disputed really.
And common law, the only way to be a natural-born citizen is to either be
born in the sovereign territory or be born abroad to somebody who is
serving your country.
Like being born to an ambassador or being born to a soldier. So, John
McCain was often compared to Ted Cruz, it`s actually totally different.
Because John McCain was both born in the Panama canal zone, which is a U.S.
territory, and he was born to parents who were both U.S. citizens who were
working for the U.S. military.
So he actually doubly qualified as naturally born. But Ted Cruz was born
in Canada and his mother, while a U.S. citizen, was not working for the
So, he just doesn`t qualify under the meaning of naturally-born citizen.
O`DONNELL: Now, you did examine the best argument for Ted Cruz in your
piece, and it seems to lean on the very first naturalization law written by
the first Congress.
Many of the people involved in that were involved in the writing of the
constitution. So, tell us about what we see in that first law.
ELHAUGE: Sure. What – after the constitution – obviously, you can`t
amend the constitution statute afterwards.
Well, if the Congress pass was a statute that said if you`re born abroad to
a U.S. citizen, you shall be considered as a natural-born citizen.
Well, being considered as something is not the same thing as being
something. I mean, I may say I consider you as my brother.
That doesn`t mean that I had a DNA test, and it turns out we share the same
parents. It means I treat you like I treat –
O`DONNELL: But –
ELHAUGE: My brother –
O`DONNELL: Wouldn`t it mean to that Congress that you get all the
privileges of a natural-born citizen?
ELHAUGE: Well, as Madison made clear, Congress does not have the power to
define constitutional terms.
The only power Congress has was to naturalize citizens. That is to
naturalize somebody who is an alien into a citizen.
And so Madison actually said, when they reconsidered that, said, well, you
know, that phrasing actually isn`t quite right.
And they amended the statute to drop naturally-born to just say people who
are born abroad to a citizen are automatically citizens.
But not that they`re naturally-born citizens.
O`DONNELL: And it`s worth noting that the constitution also provides
qualifications for the Senate and the house and it says citizen.
It does not say natural-born citizen in those offices. So, they thought –
ELHAUGE: Yes, the President is the only one –
O`DONNELL: It was a very serious distinction to be made here.
ELHAUGE: Yes, they seem to think that the President above all, they didn`t
want somebody who is commander-in-chief, whose loyalty could possibly be
And so, this is what they came up with as the test.
O`DONNELL: What do you see happening here down the road if Ted Cruz were
to get ahead of Donald Trump and would be on his way to this nomination.
Or might something happen before just in terms of, say, qualifying for a
ELHAUGE: Well, I think that`s – the ballot qualification would be where
it comes up.
It seems to me that in every state, there is some state election official
who must preside, who is qualified to be on the ballot.
If one of those 50 states says, well, actually, we looked at this argument
and Ted Cruz is not eligible to be on the ballot.
I`m sure at that point, Ted Cruz would file a lawsuit and then it would get
into the judicial system.
O`DONNELL: And so just to clarify, the difference between – or everything
we`ve seen written by Congress in statute in the constitution is that you
have to always go back to the constitution.
Because for example, if the Congress had written a law saying, well, you
don`t have to be 35, you can be 29, you can be 32, that would have
absolutely no meaning.
And it wouldn`t mean you`d be able to run for president if you were 32.
That would get thrown out instantly.
ELHAUGE: That`s right. Congress can`t amend the constitution, we`d have
to pass a constitutional amendment, which is much more difficult.
O`DONNELL: Professor Einer Elhauge, thank you very much for joining us
tonight, really appreciate your contribution to this issue.
ELHAUGE: Thank you so much –
O`DONNELL: Thank you. Up next, why the “New York Times” says the Clinton
campaign is now, “alarmed”, that`s their word, alarmed by the Bernie
Sanders surge in the polls.
O`DONNELL: Hillary Clinton`s campaign supporters are alarmed. That is the
“New York Times`” word, alarmed at the Bernie Sanders surge according to
“New York Times.” And, their strategy to stop Senator Sanders is to raise
doubt about the electability of a self-declared socialist.
Now, you can imagine just how that went over with a self-declared
socialist. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri helped lead the charge
today saying “The republicans will not touch him because they cannot wait
to run an ad with a hammer and sickle.” Here is Senator McCaskill with
MSNBC`s Kasie Hunt today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D) MISSOURI: I think it would be absolutely
impossible for a self-declared socialist to win in a state like Missouri.
And, you got to win states like Missouri if you are going to win the
presidency. States like Indiana, states like Ohio, states like
Pennsylvania. It is very hard, I think, for most Americans to see how
socialism would cure the problems that we are facing right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: It turns out, you do not have to win Missouri. Just ask Barack
Obama who lost Missouri twice. Missouri Democratic Governor Jay Nixon
said, “As far as having Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket, it would
be a meltdown all the way down the ballot.” The socialist attacks on
Bernie Sanders come almost seven years after “Newsweek” ran this cover
story entitled, “We are all socialists now.”
Every attacker of Bernie Sanders` socialism including republicans believe
in some socialism themselves. They all support the continuation of massive
socialist programs like Social Security and Medicare. And, most of the
presidential candidates including Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz support the
government`s socialist intervention in the ethanol market in Iowa and
agricultural socialism generally as well as, of course, sports socialism
for taxpayer-funded stadiums, where the richest athletes in the world play
Joining us now for the socialists calling the other socialists too much of
a socialist debate our Ben Wikler, Washington director of moveon.org, the
progressive root that has endorsed Bernie Sanders. And, Boston Globe
Columnist, Michael Cohen. Michael`s latest article is entitled “Bernie
Sanders Does Not Get How Politics Works.”
Michael, it is fascinating for me to watch this because – I think America
just have two kinds of socialist, the self-declared of which there are very
few, and then the self-deluded, who have no idea what socialism is and do
not understand that this became a much more socialistic country every year
from the new deal forward; and that Eisenhower and republican presidents
like Reagan, all of them, supported these socialist programs. But, of
course, they dared never use the word. And, that is the big difference
between them and Bernie Sanders.
MICHAEL COHEN, BOSTON GLOBE COLUMNIST: I mean it is a big part of the
difference, absolutely. But, you know, it is also true that Sanders
supports socialist programs. I mean single payer health care is a good
example of that, but not just rhetoric for Sanders. I mean he has
proposals that, I think, you know, if he were to become the nominee of the
party, it would certainly be ripe for republican attacks.
And, you know, I think in the case of Sanders, he has to be assessed by
what he believes and what he would do as president. And, you know, he has
ideas that are socialist and he can judge whether they are good or bad, but
they are what they are and they should be discussed on the merits of the
proposals, not just on the ideas of them.
O`DONNELL: Ben Wikler, what is your reaction to the “Let us attack Bernie
for being a socialist” campaign.
BEN WIKLER, SUPPORTS BERNIE SANDERS FOR PRESIDENT: The problem with the
attack on Bernie Sanders is that the actual policies that he is advocating
are both very popular in the democratic base and also popular across the
And, to give you one example with the word social in it, he is a proponent
for expanding social security, which polls incredibly well in the states
like Missouri and in states like Texas and everywhere else in the country.
These are policies that when people hear about them, they support them in
large numbers. And, they are policies, frankly, that you do not hear about
for most other candidates, which is one reason why I think Sanders` support
is so passionate and so ready to turn out and mobilize and knock on doors
and do all the things that actually get people elected.
O`DONNELL: Michael, I have to say, I have a feeling that we have all
turned French here and no one has told politicians. And, we experienced
that with Bill Clinton`s sex scandals in the 1990s. It turned out and they
happened before he was elected president. I mean I will never forget the
day here in New York, Gennifer Flowers was playing her tapes of her
conversations with Bill Clinton during their affair in Arkansas.
And, it turned out the voters did not care. They had grown up faster than
the political media did and then politicians lid. And, it seems to me this
has that same feeling to it, the self-proclaimed socialist. And, by the
way, count me among those surprised by this, that the self-proclaimed
socialist is soaring in the polls and never once flinching from the use of
the world socialist when people throw it in his face.
COHEN: Well, but he is soaring in the polls in the democratic primary.
You know, I think that is not the same thing as saying he is soaring in the
polls in the general election. And, I think, you know, back to what Ben
said, you know, single payer may poll well among democrats, and people may
even not poll well among the electorate, but once it gets defined more
closely, when people say what it means, they may not be as much strong
support for it.
And, let us face it, there would be a lot of institutional opposition to
single payer not just among doctors and hospitals but among democrats.
Democrats who could not swear to public options six years, who are unlikely
to support single payer now. So, I think, you know, it is well and good to
say that we started moving in its direction, but once he gets defined by
republicans, the support that we are seeing now, it will evaporate.
And, certainly, I think you know Sanders has gotten a bit of a free ride up
to this point, where there has not been a great deal of scrutiny of his
ideas and some of the proposals that he has. And, once that occurs, I
would expect his poll numbers would not be doing as well as they are right
O`DONNELL: Ben, your response.
WIKLER: You know, one place where Sanders is better and better known is
New Hampshire. And, in New Hampshire, he is trouncing all of the
republicans in head to head matchups by, you know, more than any other
democratic candidate. So, my sense is actually kind of the opposite, which
is that once people get to know Sanders, once they hear what he is standing
for, his support goes up. And, one thing to keep in mind is that in a city
that you made of –
COHEN: No. That is one state, Ben.
WIKLER: It is to run out of money, but if you got supporters who are
giving small donations like all of Sanders` supports, you can keep raising
money every time you are attacked.
COHEN: Ben, you are talking about one state, that is a particularly
affluent state. That is particularly a white state and you are saying –
that is neighboring to Vermont. I think, with all due respect, I think to
argue that because as New Hampshire goes, the rest of the country goes is
not really a coherent argument.
I mean we will see how it goes in South Carolina and Nevada and elsewhere.
But, frankly, I think that the more people that actually get to see what
Sanders believes, you know, especially outside of Iowa and New Hampshire
where people have seen a lot of him, you may not have the same kind of
support. And, certainly up to this point, you have not seen Sanders`
ability to appeal to minority voters the way that certainly Hillary Clinton
And, actually, if he were to become a nominee of the party, I mean, again,
you know, republicans have made an art form out of defining democratic
candidates. What they would do to a 74-year-old socialist candidate from
Vermont, I can only imagine. But, I think it would not be pretty. It does
not mean that he cannot win. It does not mean that he cannot be
successful, but you have to be honest about what kind of candidate he could
be in a general election.
O`DONNELL: Ben, a quick last word.
WIKLER: Sure. Republicans are going to attack any democratic nominee,
tooth and claw. There is no question about that. The question is whether
that person is going to have someone`s standing with them. And, Sanders
has shown that that he can build and to stay in a movement.
In every state that he visits thousands of people turn out. And, those
people will be talking to their friends, to their family, knocking on doors
and donating every time he is punched. You got to punch back.
O`DONNELL: Ben Wikler and Michael Cohen, thank you both for joining us
tonight. Thank you very much.
COHEN: Thank you.
WIKLER: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, President Obama talks about the water crisis in
Flint, Michigan and he talked about it in very personal terms.
O`DONNELL: Today, the day after Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder, apologized
for the water poisoning in Flint, Michigan, during his state of the state
address, the governor `s office released a 274-page document containing
what it says are all of the relevant e-mails that the governor sent and
received on that crisis.
NBC News reports that Governor Snyder`s staff was at least partially
relying on information from other state officials that later proved to be
incorrect. While speaking about the auto industry event in Detroit, 70
miles from Flint, today, President Obama said this about the crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: I am very proud of what I have done as
president. But, the only job that is more important to me is the job of
father. And, I know that if I was a parent up there, I would be beside
myself that my kids` health could be at risk.
That is why over the weekend, I declared a federal emergency in Flint. To
send more resources on top of the assistance that we have already put on
the ground. Yesterday, I met with Mayor Weaver in the White House, in the
And, I told her that we are going to have her back and all the people of
Flint`s back as they work their way through this terrible tragedy. You
cannot shortchange basic services that we provide to our people and that we
together provide as a government to make sure that the public health and
safety is preserved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Coming up, another Clinton versus Sanders issues debate.
Representatives from each campaign will join us.
O`DONNELL: In Davos, Switzerland, Vice President Joe Biden made an
impassioned statement about global gay rights.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I have had it up to here with culture. I
really mean it. Culture never justifies rank, raw, discrimination or
violation of human rights violations. There is no cultural justification.
None. None. None. None.
And, think of the countries still hiding behind, this is our culture.
Well, the people used to be cannibals. That was part of their culture.
People used to do terrible things, as part of the culture. The progress of
human kind has been a steady progress toward acknowledging the basic
fundamental rights of other people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: At least 75 countries participating in that conference in
Switzerland have laws against homosexuality. Coming up, another issue
debate between the Clinton campaign and the Sanders campaign.
O`DONNELL: Do you ever get the feeling that there are things around you
that you cannot see, like over in that corner? I think those are chair,
but it is kind of dark. The things that are just out there?
Well, two astronomers at cal tech have just published a paper, saying that
there could be a planet ten times bigger than Earth in our solar system
that we have just never noticed before, because it is somewhere out there
beyond Neptune. Those two professors are hoping that existing telescopes
have a chance at spotting this mystery planet in just a few years.
Up next, another debate – issue debate between the Clinton campaign and
the Sanders campaign.
O`DONNELL: Time for another “Last Word” Hillary versus Bernie debate.
Without Hillary or Bernie, the Clinton campaign and the Sanders campaign
have each offered participants in tonight`s debate, who will join us in a
A new Monmouth National Poll shows Bernie Sanders has 46 percent support
and Hillary Clinton has 29 percent support when democrats and democratic-
leaning voters are asked, “Which candidate would do a better job dealing
with Wall Street?”
Joining us now Dean Baker, an economist, co-director of the Center for
Economic and Policy Research and a Bernie Sanders supporter. Also with us
Michael Barr, Professor at the University of Michigan Law School, a former
assistant secretary in the Obama Administration and Treasury Department.
He worked in the Dodd Frank Bill and he is a Hillary Clinton for president
Dean Baker, I am going to just start this off with one question and let you
go back and forth. Why would Bernie Sanders approach to Wall Street be
better than Hillary Clinton`s?
DEAN BAKER, ECONOMIST AND A BERNIE SANDERS SUPPORTER: Well, I think to a
large extent, when you look at regulation at the end of the day it really
ends up being a matter of political will. If you go back to the, you know,
housing bubble years, Alan Greenspan could have stopped the housing bubble.
He had the authority both through the Feds regulation mortgages and simply
through the Fed`s bully pulpit. Its ability to call attention to the fact
that house prices are hugely out of line. He did not do that because he
had no interest in doing that. His friends were making lots of money.
And, I think when you look at the story here, you have on the one hand
Secretary Clinton who has been very close to Wall Street, received millions
of dollars in speaker`s fees and campaign donations. On the other hand,
you have Senator Sanders, who has been a lifelong opponent of Wall Street.
And, if you ask the concrete question, “Which one do you believe will
really be prepared to crackdown on the financial industry?” I think you
are hard pressed to say that, that would be Secretary Clinton.
O`DONNELL: Michael Barr, your response?
MICHAEL BARR, SUPPORTS HILLARY CLINTON FOR PRESIDENT: I think that
secretary Clinton`s plan is strong. It is detailed. It is comprehensive.
It is credible. She has issued a series of proposals to reign in risky
shadow banking practices, to deal with the problem of trading in the
shadows, to impose a tax on the riskiest forms of borrowing by the largest
She has detailed enforcement mechanisms to ensure accountability from
managers of the largest financial institutions to make sure that they take
a hit when their firm`s capital drops, when their firm is suffering from
fines and penalties. The managers are held accountable. These are
detailed and credible plans.
I have to say, I have been working in the trenches on financial reform for
many, many years. And, my view, this is the toughest, the most credible
plan that I have seen. And, I think that if you compare that to the
proposal that Senator Sanders has put out, you will see that Clinton really
takes it to the important issues and has the strongest and most credible
and most detailed plan to take that on.
And, I think fundamentally, when you ask voters at the end of the day, “Do
they want somebody who is going to propose a set of detailed and credible
and strong measures to take on the system, or do they want a more sort of
I think that they are going to want something that actually changes the
financial system, that actually makes it safer, that actually makes it
fairer, that actually makes it better harness to the needs of everyday
Americans. And, I think that is Hillary`s plan. And, I am a strong
BAKER: I do not see Senator Sanders` proposals as being symbolic. They
are fairly concrete. He want to break up the largest banks. He wants to
downsize the financial industries. So, to be very concrete, if we look at
where we are today compared to where we were before the crisis, the sixth
largest banks are considerably larger relative to the size of the economy
than they were before the crisis.
The financial sector has grown. It was little less than 17 percent of GDP
before the crisis. It is now 18 percent of GDP today. We are going the
wrong way. So, Senator Sanders is being very concrete. He wants to
downsize the largest banks. They want to downsize the industry with the
financial transactions tax, which will eliminate a huge amount of waste in
the financial industry and ideally divert this to sectors where it will be
BARR: I think this is a just, you know, fundamentally mistaken. If you
look at the basic facts, the largest financial institutions merged or were
acquired by other institutions in the financial crisis –
BARR: – as a way to try and stem off the collapse of the financial
sector. But, if you look at what has happened under Dodd Frank since the
reform had been put in place, the financial system is significantly better
capitalized. Derivatives trading has moved out of the shadows and has now
You have got a serious set of steps to improve consumer protection, most
prominently with the new consumer financial protection bureau. And,
Hillary Clinton made it clear that she is standing firm for these measures.
She is going to fight off the republican attacks. Because frankly all the
republicans want to do is tear down the consumer financial protection.
And, under these reforms –
BAKER: There are certainly positives, but to see this as being fixed –
BARR: And she has proposed 15 pages of detailed measures to make the
system safer and fairer in the future.
BAKER: I mean post Dodd-Frank made a long – with billions of dollars with
JP Morgan totally unaccounted for. We also had – just last week, we had
Goldman Sachs makes a settlement, where they are paying, you know, billions
of dollars of fines. No admission of guilt.
BARR: And, that is exactly why he looks at Hillary`s plan. Hillary says
exactly what she would do in those circumstances. Those managers would be
held accountable –
BAKER: But, I mean you are telling Dodd-Frank. I am just saying this is
post Dodd-Frank. We are still seeing the same set of shenanigans.
O`DONNELL: Michael. Michael. Let us let Dean finish his point in
response to you, Michael. Go ahead, Dean.
BAKER: Yes. So, I am just saying, you know, this is post Dodd-Frank.
And, again, there is a lot of good reforms, and Michael worked on that. I
appreciate that. He did a lot of good of things. But, the point is, we
still see much of the same corruption that we had, you know, before the
crisis. And, again, you know, maybe Secretary Clinton will change that.
But, I think it is hard for people to be confident that given her closeness
to the top people in the industry.
O`DONNELL: Michael Barr, what would you say to Sanders` supporters who
worry about Hillary Clinton`s financial relationship with Wall Street both
in campaign contributions and lecture fees?
BARR: If you look at where she stood on these issues, I started working
with her 20 years ago on Microfinance for low-income families. She stood
for a long time for making the system fairer for households and for
families. And, if you look at what she has actually proposed and what she
has set out to do, I think the evidence – the proof is in the pudding.
If you look exactly at what she said about accountability for top
executives, about taxes for the very wealthiest, about going after the
carried interest loophole, these are tough reforms. These go right after
the key questions that Dean and I think both agree need to take on. We
need to make the financial system safer. We need to make it faire. We
need to make it better harness the real economy. And, these measures do
O`DONNELL: Dean Baker, I got ten seconds for a “Last Word.”
BAKER: Well, again, I think Sanders has very concrete proposals. He wants
to downsize largest banks in this financial transaction tax to downsize the
industry. That is what we need to see. And, these are as concrete as
you can get.
O`DONNELL: Dean Baker and Michael Barr, thank you very much for this
debate. I really appreciate it.
BARR: My pleasure.
O`DONNELL: Chris Hayes is up next.
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