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Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 04/04/15

Guests: David Zirin, David S. Cohen, Rich Tafel, Aisha Moodie-Mills, AliArouzi, Angela Johnson, Robert Rubin, Glenn Martin, Rich Tafel, DavidCohen, Karla Holloway, Henry Washington, Beverly Bond, Sage Adams, KathieDuperval

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning my question, why do some folks have a problem with the simple fact that black girls rock? Plus a Justice Department delayed could mean justice denied. And response to the noose found on a tree at Duke University. But first, the political evolution that seems to have caught Republicans by surprise. Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. And today is one of the biggest days in college sports, the Final Four. Today in Indianapolis the final four teams in the men`s NCAA basketball tournament face-off to determine who will compete in the championship game on Monday. This is huge. Those office bracket pools, they add up. Americans will gamble more than $2 billion on March Madness this year. The NCAA makes more than 90 percent of its annual revenue, nearly a billion dollars from this tournament alone. Last year, 53 million people watched the final game of the tournament on TV and online. And thousands of fans of Michigan State, Duke, Wisconsin and Kentucky are flooding Indianapolis today to watch the games in person. Will be a welcome relief for many in Indiana to have the spotlights on the big games instead of on the state house because all this week Indiana found itself the target of a nationwide public shaming thanks to the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act the governor Mike Pence signed last Thursday. The law allows for-profit business to use their religious beliefs as a legal defense when sued by the government or another private party. The original bill made no explicit reference to LGBT folk, or a same-sex marriage, but religious freedom bills like Indiana`s or Arkansas`s or Arizona`s last year are designed to protect Christian business owners from discrimination suits if they refuse to provide services for same sex weddings. The outcry that followed was deafening. The CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, LGBT groups, the NCAA and several other state governments decried the law. Some banned their employees from traveling to Indiana at all. Mr. Pence and his Republican colleagues seemed shocked at this turn of events and they did not waste much time before back pedaling. Legislative leaders quickly huddled with business interest to write new language for the bill and by Thursday Pence had signed the new language into law. Governor Pence, however, stood by his law even as he called for the changes. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. MIKE PENCE, (R) INDIANA: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was about religious liberty, not about discrimination. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: Now, Indiana`s Religious Freedom Restoration Act includes provisions explicitly banning the law from being used to deny services on the basis of, among other things, sexual orientation or gender identity. Some of Pence`s critics backed down. Executives of Eli Lilly and Salesforce, which had both opposed the original RFRA, or RFRA, even stood with Republican leaders when they unveiled the new language. But the question remains, is this really a win? Joining me now Aisha Moodie-Mills, president and CEO of Victory Fund and Institute. Dave Zirin, sports editor at "The Nation" magazine. Rich Tafel, founder of the Log Cabin Republicans and David S. Cohen, law professor at Drexel University and co-author of the forthcoming book "Living in the Crosshairs: the Untold Stories of anti- Abortion Terrorism." All right. Aisha, is this a win? AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, PRES. & CEO, VICTORY FUND & INSTITUTE: Certainly not a win. And this thing is certainly not a fix. So essentially what happened in Indiana after all the crazy like, you know, down fall that the governor experienced is that they said, OK, what we`re going to do is we`re going to kind of resend what we`re trying to do to make sure that the non- discrimination laws that are currently on the books in some of the cities around the state essentially are not going to be trumped. Right? So what they did is they said originally the bill said that we`re going to make sure that anybody - you know, is protected under religious liberty. Now they are backpedaling, they are saying, OK, well, places like Indianapolis and South bend already have some law on the book that protects sexual orientation and gender identity from discrimination so we`re not going to create a piece of legislation that usurps that. HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, I see. All right. So, that`s interesting because my original reading of this Indiana revision of the text says this chapter does not authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide service, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or U.S. military service." I was like, wait a minute. Did we just actually get an expansion of rights? MOODIE-MILLS: No. RICH TAFEL, FOUNDER LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: No. The key words are the first two words there. This chapter. So, this law can`t be used as the basis of discrimination, but the backdrop of Indiana law, just like the law throughout almost 30 states in the country and federal law, is that discrimination based on sexual orientation is perfectly lawful. The problem is that there hasn`t been the affirmative step of adding sexual orientation into the state-wide antidiscrimination law and that`s true around most of the country and that`s the real shame of the coverage and the outcry this past week is that people have missed that fact. HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. And I mean that idea there, I think marriage has been the kind of central, defining kind of argument at the forefront of the public conscientiousness, but it certainly is neither the most important or central civil right on this issue. DAVE ZIRIN, SPORTS EDITOR, THE NATION MAGAZINE: Yeah. I mean I think people have to understand that a huge lie has been told in the media this week. And that`s that this bill in Indiana is really no different from the `93 federal bill that Bill Clinton signed and Ted Kennedy submitted. The Indiana bill is like the Frankenstein`s monster child of that `93 bill. People, I think, that`s been so lost this week, is that the `93 bill came forward religious freedom, because a Native American man took peyote as part of a religious ritual and failed the drug test and he said he should have the right to keep his job, because it was part of a religious ritual. This Indiana bill is a corporations are people, my friend bill. I mean it specifically goes through that corporations are people and therefore corporations have the right to say you violate my religion and that`s so different from what `93 was. HARRIS-PERRY: Well, so, this is also interesting to me in part because as soon as you say corporations are people, then that also draws up for me a whole set of concerns about citizens united that isn`t really at least - about civil rights per se, but is about this idea of - I think we saw the Hobby Lobby as well. Right, this idea of corporations having religious interests. TAFEL: I would disagree with the guest here saying that, OK, I think it`s a huge victory for the gay and lesbian community nationally. I think it`s really - we can look at the laws and laws are changing. The laws are really just reflections of the culture. And what we heard from the culture this week is, if you`re going to be anti-gay and that`s how it was interpreted by the public, so I realize we are getting - the public was saying that`s wrong. And a Republican conservative, one of the most conservatives in Republican Party, did an about face in a week. That`s huge. That`s a huge victory. So I realize in a legal issues, we will fight and we will see how it plays out and I agree that it`s not the deal we wanted, but we weren`t going to have any time soon a law in Indiana protecting gays and lesbians, but the fact that sexual orientation is mentioned in this bill, do I realize it, is not a traditional law - it`s huge. HARRIS-PERRY: No, right, And I think your point is well made that there are important questions about the actual law, the kind of in the weeds policy here. But there`s also just this idea that we have - that the world has shifted so much on its access that in the - I mean, look, my favorite thing that happened this week was actually in North Dakota around a very different kind of law. It was legislators actually trying to take away a protection law and a coffee shop in Fargo, North Dakota, was like, well, I`ll tell you what, if you vote down the anti-discrimination bill, we won`t serve you in our coffee shop. (LAUGHTER) HARRIS-PERRY: And I`m like, wait a minute, Fargo is a center of LGBT rights at this point? DAVID S. COHEN, AUTHOR, "LIVING IN THE CROSSHAIRS": Yeah, and that`s the thing. But the shame of it was that no one was focusing on North Dakota when the vote was happening. People were focusing on Indiana and Arkansas. And the focus on those two states took away the focus from a state that could have actually been protecting LGBT people in that state. All of the attention this week, which was wonderful, and I agree that it was a bit of a victory, but all of that attention should have been focused on North Dakota. Because if the same companies that said they were going to boycott Indiana said they were going to boycott North Dakota or Microsoft, which is a big employer there. HARRIS-PERRY: I think they might already . COHEN: Yeah. HARRIS-PERRY: I mean part of the problem is . COHEN: Microsoft is a big employer. HARRIS-PERRY: OK. I got you. All right. COHEN: They could have come out and said that we`re going to feel the same way about North Dakota that Angie`s List is feeling about Indiana. MOODIE-MILLS: But that`s - those same corporations, it will be great and it`s wonderful that they have a defensive posture, where they stand up and they say, no, you can`t do this. We are going to defend the LGBT community`s rights, if you will. Because there are people who shop with us. At the same time I`m in love for those same corporations to actually be proactive and going to all these different states and saying why don`t you have a statewide comprehensive non-discrimination policy on the books already? We do this in our businesses. That`s what`s missing. ZIRIN: Yeah, and I`d love for Walmart to care as much about child labor as they do about whether or not and sign this thing. It`s very interesting the selective morality on behalf of some of these corporate interest. But to me like, do you think this week, which was like I`m going - going to remember as Asa Hutchinson not saying for Arkansas, the governor of Arkansas, saying he wasn`t going to sign the legislation not because Walmart uses him as a meat puppet and you have to do what Walmart says in Arkansas, but because he said my son said I shouldn`t do it. There`s a generational revolt against these laws that is about LGBT and about straight kids who grew up in an atmosphere where the LGBT groups in their high schools and they are just like, how can you legislate discrimination against my friends? HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. Stick with us. Up next, we`re going to let Dave Zirin go all the way in on the power of sports. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: A major push for Indiana to revise its religious freedom law came from an unlikely source, the NCAA. The NCAA is a local business headquartered in Indianapolis and employing some 500 people, which explains part of the pull. But the College Sports Association also decides where to hold the men`s basketball tournament games, which means big business for whatever cities get chosen. Especially when it gets down to the men`s Final Four. Last year the Final Four was held in Arlington, Texas, and the region claimed that the games bring in $276 million in economic activity. This year the men`s Final Four is in Indianapolis. It will be back in 2021. And the women`s Final Four is playing for Indianapolis next year. In fact, an agreement between the NCAA and the city has Final Four games set in Indianapolis once every five years. And when the NCAA threatened to cancel those future moneymakers, it was a major reason why the religious freedom law got changed. Was it odd for you, Dave, to be on the same side with the NCAA this week? DAVE ZIRIN: Was it odd for me to be on the same side as the NCAA? HARRIS-PERRY: NASCAR. ZIRIN: NASCAR and Charles Barkley? HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. That doesn`t happen every week of your life. ZIRIN: No, this has been a very discomforting week for myself. But to me, I was thinking about it. And said, if that`s happening, if NASCAR, the NCAA, Charles Barkley and myself, all agree on the same thing, that must mean this legislation must truly be monstrous. This must go so beyond advocacy and exchanged opinions that people actually see this for what it is, which is corporations are people, my friend. We have the right to discriminate law. And they don`t even want to be associated with any kind of stink related to it. Now, the NCAA presents a tricky proposition, though, because their headquarters that you mentioned are in Indianapolis. They got some $80 million headquarters. $80 million building for 500 people. I mean it is the Taj Mahal that unpaid labor built. And so, you are getting these weird situations we talked about Walmart in the last segment. We have an institution like the NCAA, which makes billions of dollars on the basis of the - I`ve said this on your show before, the organized theft of both black and youth wealth, that`s how it makes its money. Tom Izzo, who`s in the Final Four, God bless him, he just got a $25,000 check directly from Nike for making the Final Four. Last I saw, he wasn`t wearing Nike sneakers, but he gets that check. And the NCAA, though, gets to play high and mighty and sanctimonious about this law. And I think as activists, as people who care about this stuff, we have to thread this needle kind of carefully . HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. ZIRIN: And say it is great that you`re on this side, but what are you going to do next? HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I mean this is a tough one, right? Because this really is about this idea - I guess part of what I find fascinating here from the respect of the Republican Party is threading that needle around business, economic development and this question. And all of it, of course, happening in a presidential primary season, which we`ll talk a bit more about now. But like that idea of the NCAA finding itself against a Republican governor just - and with Dave Zirin struck me as shocking this week. TAFEL: I have been working with corporations for years on the whole idea of inclusion and that the gay community was a great talent and you should hire us. And that, we have won that war. I think in the corporate world. I have to say my jaw dropped when the NCAA, even I kind of - was so close on this issue for so long, I was stunned because that is a machismo, male oriented sport and when I`m seeing the military, when I`m seeing the sports community come around, that`s why I think it`s important for us not to look as the perfect is the enemy of the good. When something good happens, we should applaud it, whether it`s the NCAA or it`s Walmart, or it`s . HARRIS-PERRY: Do you think it`s the youth thing? I mean all I kept thinking around this, is it`s in part the idea that NCAA is about young people and there`s this generational shift on the question. TAFEL: There`s some - there`s two things, I think. One, I think, in the corporate world, they have come to understand that the only competitive advantage we have as a nation is our creative class. The ability to think of new things. And they have discovered that diversity far from being something that should be forced on a company is an asset. It`s our only competitive asset globally. And so when you live in the Midwest, if you don`t have that, your kids grow up in Indiana and they bolt to the coast to live in a creative class community. Indiana has spent millions of dollars to stop the brain drain of that state. So, that`s why Indianapolis freaked out when that happened. Because for a generation, kids will be leaving the state gets branded as a place that`s not creative. HARRIS-PERRY: So, part of what I want to - having told you what the table - on this so, is the reason, in which it still feels -- and maybe to the good of the overall movement, but I think worth asking about, that the presumption here is in part about the consumption power and the class where LGBT people live, in part because so much of the movement has been about marriage equality and has been represented in the bodies of white men, white gay men who have disposable income, right? And one could say, good job using that as the kind of central front runners because people will respond, but I know that you have written so frequently and now as part of the Victory Fund, about that intersection of race and LGBT status and gender and poverty that in fact many LGBT people are not in that class, right? And so the protections needed are quite different. MOODIE-MILLS: Oh, absolutely, and I have been talking about this from the idea like you said of race and class for a long time. But I think that what we`re seeing bubble up now is this idea of live the quality versus legal equality and how those two things are going to be interact or don`t. And what people are realizing is that even when you have favorable rulings around marriage, right, which creates this lived equality that class of people you mention, cared so deeply about, and invested in, they are realizing that there are other areas in their lives that are going to be tapped away at, right? Their civil rights aren`t exactly one, just because there`s marriage equality. And I think that LGBT community has gotten a real great awakening as we see this happening here that we`re going to have to keep saying, vigilant and fighting for our rights. COHEN: Yeah, I mean when hopefully, and I`m pretty confident about it, when the Supreme Court rules that there`s marriage equality for the whole country . MOODIE-MILLS: It`s going to happen. Yes. COHEN: At the end of June. (LAUGHTER) COHEN: Looking forward to it - that in a lot of states, the couple who gets married on Sunday can come into work on Monday and put a picture on their desk and be fired for putting a picture on their desk of a man with his husband or a woman with her wife, because there`s no protection for that. So marriage equality is a huge victory, but it`s a victory for certain groups of people who want to access marriage and not for people who need the protections against employers, public accommodations, schools and landlords. HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with me. Because we want to go deep into the politics here, because up next, Jeb Bush and the religious freedom laws. Where he stands may depend on when you ask him. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: Indiana Governor Mike Pence says he did not see the backlash coming when he signed his state`s religious freedom law. But boy, was it backlash. But if Governor Pence was caught off guard, that`s nothing compared to the Republican presidential contenders who suddenly found themselves forced to take a stand on that issue that divides big business on one side and social conservatives on the other. Exhibit A. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, here`s what he had to say on Monday to a conservative radio host, listened to by more than 1 million people a week, many of them likely GOP primary voters. "I think Governor Pence has done the right thing, I think once the facts are established, people aren`t going to see this as discriminatory at all." OK, to be cleared, that was Governor Bush speaking before Indiana provided this so called fix to the law. And here`s what Mr. Bush reportedly had to say just two days later at a fundraiser in Silicon Valley, home base to the tech companies like Apple that have been some of the strongest voices against Indiana`s law. According to "The New York Times," he took a somewhat more measured stance saying "By the end of the week, I think Indiana will be in the right place. We need in a big diverse country like America, we need to have space for the people to act on their conscience. It is a constitutional right that religious freedom is a core value of our country. We shouldn`t discriminate based on sexual orientation." So, here what? I mean Apple, Silicon Valley, you know, coastal brain drain, there it was playing out right in the presidential primary. TAFEL: We`re seeing the candidates evolve in real time on the issue, because . (LAUGHTER) HARRIS-PERRY: That`s nice. OK. TAFEL: Well, I mean look at the president and Hillary Clinton and look how they have evolved on the issue because the politics changed in their party. And so, the Republicans who tried to engage that, they have got two primaries going on right now. One is, places like Iowa and South Carolina, which is the whacky wing of the Republican Party that almost dooms you for general election. But there`s also an invisible primary of donors. And this actually opens an amazing opportunity for people to ask the Republicans candidates for president why company Walmart are giving to a candidate that says this anti-gay thing. So, we actually have opened up a really interesting new lobbying mode to candidates to question where are you getting your money and why did that company give to that anti-gay Ted Cruz, I won`t buy your product. So, it`s an interesting opportunity. HARRIS-PERRY: This is - I so appreciate that you pointed out that there was a similar evolution, although perhaps not as swiftly, on the Democratic side as well. And I mean I think there`s a part of us that kind of last - but no, for real DOMA is, you know, lives in the Clinton White House, right? And it is President Obama saying, right, I`m - I`m shifting, you know, I have evolved on this issue. And in both cases, it has to do with the presumption about Republican voters. Right? So in this case, you have got to go get those Republican voters in the primary. For Clinton and for President Obama, there was this - we have got to get those Republican voters in the general election. Has everybody miscalculated about how bigoted Republican voters are? Like - No, I`m serious, like I wonder if in fact they are underestimating their own voters at this point. COHEN: I mean I sure hope so because we saw in 2004 that when marriage equality was on the ballots in a lot of states, a lot of people came out to vote against it. I don`t think we`ll see that same thing in 2016. I think this is going to be for voters in the general election a non-issue because people are past the idea that this is something that discrimination is OK. But we need to see the politicians saying that and we need to see the legislators enacting laws that do the same thing that I believe the people want. HARRIS-PERRY: OK, you know who is not past it? Cardinal Dolan. I just want to listen to him for a moment. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CARDINAL DOLAN: So, we are saying, wait a minute, without questioning the rights of the gay community, we also have to make sure that the rights of the religious community are protected. I just wish we could do that in a temperate civil way instead of screaming at each other. (END VIDEO CLIP) ZIRIN: It`s so ridiculous. Like once again, the misinformation about the Indiana law, how is a factory a religious community? How is a coffee shop a religious community? How is a bakery a religious community? HARRIS-PERRY: And how is the gay community on one hand and the religious communities on the other hand and they never even - you know, many of the religious people are also the gay people at the same time. ZIRIN: Yeah, they are gay - they are people who don`t have the luxury of being in one camp or the other, because they happen to be gay and believe in God. HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. ZIRIN: But I did want to speak to something you said because I think you`re right about the presidential race if the Democrats lack the coverage - the courage, I`m sorry, to put it front and center and say, why did you say this in the primary and actually putting it front and center. Because I think if the Democratic Party is bold, courageous and aggressive, and I don`t think those adjectives usually go with the Democratic Party, and say this is a civil rights issue of our time. Which side are you on? There`s a black transwoman in Washington D.C. who risks life every day by getting out of bed. Do you stand with protecting this person or not? And see what the Republican says. And I think the public would be on the side of the person who is bold. HARRIS-PERRY: I just want to point out. Ted Cruz, though. I don`t want to miss this. So, Ted Cruz in his first official campaign stop in Iowa said the Fortune 500 is running shamelessly to endorse the radical gay marriage agenda over religious liberty to say we will persecute a Christian pastor, a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi. So, just, you know, this is the guy - this is the one guy not in the shadow primary. This is the one guy who`s like no, really, I`m running, and is still using - so, I just want us to be careful about, oh, it`s all over. This guy is running for the Republican nomination. MOODIE-MILLS: That`s the thing and you just said it so eloquently. He has actually got to run and try to win through the primary, right? And what we know is that politicians across the board often miscalculate what motivates theirs base to come out, right? So, you see a lot of the time the people who are showing up in the primaries most vigorously who can always be relied upon, are going to be a little bit more extreme on both sides, right? And I think that part of the challenge is making sure that we have politicians who are running, but actually speaking to the needs and the interests of a broader electorate than the couple that they think they have to pander to the win because what will happen, is you`ll get more people motivated to come out. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote an op-ed and just said this week around Indiana, he`s like the problem with in this case, you know, his party, the Republicans, endorsing crazy laws like this is that they are isolating the electorate of the future, which we know are going to be minorities, are going to be a lot more women who are coming out and it`s going to be a lot of young people who come out. HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, but if you`re Ted Cruz, you`re not running in the future. You`re running right now and you`re hoping that there`s still - I mean, you know, you are trying to get to the right of Bush, right? Because this is - this is where you think you can pick up primary voters. You can actually see more of that interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan on "Meet the Press" tomorrow on NBC. But when we come back, the woman not running for president weighs in on religious freedom, I`m not talking about Hillary Clinton. Although I might talk about Hillary Clinton. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: Among the class of 2016 running - not running potential candidates on the Republican side, so far there`s a lone woman. Her name is Carly Fiorina. Now, she`s the former chief executive of Hewlett Packard. In 2008, she served as a high profile surrogate to the McCain presidential campaign and in 2010 she lost in her race for the U.S. Senate to Barbara Boxer. Speaking to Fox News this week, Ms. Fiorina said there is a more than 90 percent chance that she will run for president. Viewed as a likely long shot, Fiorina would stand out in the Republican primary not just for being a woman in a field of men, but also for being a private sector business executive in a field largely made up of career politicians. So when Fiorina weighed in this week speaking to "USA Today" on Indiana`s religious freedom law, she went directly at the private sector calling out business leaders for what she says is their hypocrisy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CARLY FIORINA: It`s interesting to me that there isn`t the same outrage in the Twitter verse about the subjugation of the rights of women and gays in many countries, in which these companies do business. Where is the outrage about that? Where`s the outrage about how gays are treated in Iran, for example? Where is the outrage about how women are treated in Algeria? (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t know what Twitter verse she hangs out in, but my Twitter verse is outraged about that kind of thing all the - outraged about it right now. It was - I mean is this a reasonable critique? The kind of like, how dare you be mad at Indiana when you do business in Algeria? ZIRIN: I really think this line of critique, which you`re hearing from other Republicans as well, where they are saying like, why is everybody going after Indiana when, say, Apple does business in these other states, that have similar laws, I think they are going to get hoisted with their own petard if to use an old expression, because it`s like - you turn around and say, oh, do we really want to talk about this? But let`s talk about the Bush family`s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Do you really want to have that conversation? Do we really want to have a conversation about other states? Or are we going to? Let`s educate people about what other states have these laws. So, there`s a way in which by trying to deflect or protect Mike Pence, that I think they are actually going to start a brush fire, which is going to make this something that`s a much bigger discussion than they want it to be. HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I just keep thinking, like is it a good strategy to run against big business in the Republican primary? I mean that seems like a bad strategy. TAFEL: I actually thought what she was doing, and this is just me coded, I thought she was actually going after Hillary Clinton as another woman in the race saying the Clinton Foundation has funded all these foreign government, they`ve taken all these money, it`s going to be a huge issue in the campaign. She`s very cozy at Wall Street. So, I thought that was .. (CROSSTALK) TAFEL: She realized it. And the Republican Party has a weird affirmative action policy, with Judge Thomas maybe being an example of it. Or Sarah Palin, where it says, we know we need diversity, so we`ll just pick someone. So, she actually has more potential in this race than people think because she`s the only woman. HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. Yeah, I don`t think for the top of the ticket, but I certainly think if Hillary Clinton ends up the Democratic nominee, that there will be a scramble to look for a woman on the VP side for the GOP. Although, my picks and I`ve said it many times, are Nikki Haley and Susana Martinez, because they are women of color and they are South and Southwest. So, they do . COHEN: And they are governors. HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. And they are governors. And they do a certain kind of work. TAFEL: And they are competent. (LAUGHTER) HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. One may disagree with them, but they - You know, I think . ZIRIN: Another business executive. She was a bad business executive. It did not go well. HARRIS-PERRY: But the idea that she`s jabbing at Hillary is an interesting one. You know I just asked my producer, oh, you know, so what has Clinton said at this moment? Like if you`re a Democrat who`s also in your own shadow primary, which is - only Hillary Clinton, like are you thrilled by what the Republicans are doing right now? And she did tweet this week - or excuse me, last week, "sad that this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn`t discriminate against people because of who they love. #lgbt." So, you know . ZIRIN: Look at that side . (LAUGHTER) HARRIS-PERRY: Hashtag DOMA. But you know, OK. Sure, why not? I`m sorry, I need to pull myself together a little bit on that one. But I do wonder if there`s a point here about accountability, right? Because that`s your point about, maybe they don`t really want to go down this road. But is there something to be said about business accountability around civil rights and human rights questions, both domestically and globally? COHEN: I mean I think businesses has played a huge role. We see this in the Supreme Court. The businesses submit amicus briefs to the court on these major issues. They helped save affirmative action, even just in a little piece, in 2003 when that before the Supreme Court. They helped defeat DOMA. And they are writing briefs to the Supreme Court about marriage equality right now. And I think they are going to help defeat that. Businesses can play a huge role in this. HARRIS-PERRY: So, but then Hobby Lobby sitting there around reproductive rights. So, I guess I`m not quite ready to welcome corporations into this because I feel like there`s a moment when we`re in kind of ideological agreement and then many moments when we`re not. And it feels to me at least as fraught as the relationship with religious identity, whether or not you want a moral religious discourse in your politics or not. MOODIE-MILLS: Yeah, we want everything to be all or nothing, right? And it`s just not - it`s a lot more complicated than that. One of the interesting thing about the businesses, though, in this conversation about LGBT rights generally is that there are larger companies in this country like, say, the Fortune 500 have been way ahead of the curve, they have been kind of at the front of the cultural shift in understanding the meaning of diversity, the power of diversity. They have had their own comprehensive non-discrimination policies internally, even as all these states have like hesitated to do so, and that is something to be said for employers who are employing a lot of people in these states, right? But I think that it is very dangerous and we try to give political will to corporations. Hobby Lobby was a complete disaster in many ways for that reason of trying to make corporations people. Though a lot of the folks who are leading the charge are much larger than the people who are in Hobby Lobby. HARRIS-PERRY: Well, let me ask one more Republican question here. I have wondered since the initiation of the Tea Party whether or not we`re going to see a durable realignment of the American political party system. Whether or not the folks that represent the Log Cabin Republicans and other economic conservatives, maybe even socially conservatives on some sets of topics, but not on others will ultimately break away or whether or not we`re just so trapped in what our current sort of distributions are that this is the only Democrat Republican Party we can imagine. They have shifted places in the past. TAFEL: May have shifted places, of course. It was the Southern Democrats and the Republican governor and the president had to go on to a Democratic governor to desegregate the South. And so - so the parties have shifted back and forth between the two names. I think there will be a conservative liberal party. The question for me about as a Republican right now is demographics cannot remain the same. Because we are a white party, we are an old party and there`s death. And so, that`s just a fact. The country is becoming diverse. It`s becoming multicultural and more secular. So, the country is changing. You don`t change into that market. Now how long does it take you to learn that lesson? To the point we made earlier in the conversation, I think they are running a primary from the past. And they don`t realize that there`s a lot of young people who are doing startups. They love to be Republican. They know more about cap tables and equity than any business person in my generation, but they can`t because of the discrimination. HARRIS-PERRY: Right. TAFEL: So, it`s going to - It will - a new conservative party. HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, it will be fascinating to watch that play out over this election, but then over the next couple of months as well. Thanks to Aisha Moodie-Mills and to Dave Zirin. Rich and David are actually going to be back in my next hour. But still to come this morning, the long, long wait of Loretta Lynch and one of the men standing in her way. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: Now look at news making headlines this morning. Incredible video is emerging from Kentucky where two days of torrential rain triggered massive flooding. In Oklahoma, a huge chunk of road collapsed and the asphalt washed away by the current below. Officials say more than 160 water rescues took place during the worst of the storm. And two new developments this morning in Thursday`s terror attack on Garissa University in Kenya. The Kenya Red Cross confirms a 19-year-old woman was found alive this morning inside a dorm at the school. She was hiding in a crawl space in the ceiling. In the meantime, five more arrests have been made and security has increased in the area. Kenyan officials say 148 people were killed when gunmen stormed the college campus. And, of course, reaction to Thursday`s big breakthrough when Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers reached a preliminary nuclear agreement. While no deal has been signed yet, the framework includes Iran`s agreement to stop making weapon`s grade plutonium and enrich less uranium and yield to international inspections. In exchange, world powers agreed to lift debilitating economic sanctions. NBC News Tehran bureau chief Ali Arouzi has reaction there from the ground in Iran, but first, I want to go to John Yang in Washington, D.C. for more on the domestic politics perspective. John, how is Congress receiving the details of this framework outlined by the administration? JOHN YANG, NBC NEWS, WASHINGTON D.C.: Well, Melissa, if you think the administration had a tough time getting this agreement with the Iranians, they are going to have perhaps even a tougher time preserving it. Keeping Congress from what they fear, what the administration fears will be derailing it. In a couple of weeks, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is going to take up a bill that would require congressional approval for any final agreement. Now the challenge to the administration, it`s probably going to go through because Republicans control both Houses, but the challenge for the administration is to keep enough Democrats off the bill so that they don`t have a veto-proof majority. Why would Democrats oppose this? Some of them legitimately have concerns about the Iranians, whether the Iranians will keep their promises. A lot of them are allies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is against this in a big, big way. There`s some who just believe that constitutionally this is not something the president should do alone. This is something that Congress should also have a say in. Now the administration knows they are in for a tough fight. It is all hands on deck for this selling of it. The president talked about it this morning in his weekly address. They have got Vice President Biden making calls. They have got chief of staff, Denis McDonough, Susan Rice, the national security adviser, they know they have got a fight on their hands. Melissa. HARRIS-PERRY: John, thank you for that update. And I want to bring in now NBC News`s Tehran bureau chief. Ali Arouzi who joins us by phone. Ali, how have Iran`s clerics, those powerful religious establishment there, reacted to the details of the framework? ALI AROUZI: Well, Melissa, the most powerful man in the country the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has remained quiet. But a litmus test of what he`s thinking is Friday clerics there, which was yesterday. Clerics who present the Friday usually speaking on his behalf. They are delivering messages that he`s approved. And throughout the country, most of the clerics who delivered their sermon promoted this deal. They said this was a good deal for Iran and that we should standby it, obviously. There is some political uncertainty of how this would pan out with Congress and everything, but they largely told the government - this was a good deal. . The President Rouhani came on television selling the deal as a huge step forward for Iran saying that this wasn`t just good for Iran, but it benefits everybody in the world. He said that he would stretch his hand to friendship out to other people. So, for the most part here, people are saying it`s a good deal, but that`s not to say it`s not without its detractors. A very vocal hardliner, who`s the editor in chief of a major newspaper here and also, oddly enough, is an adviser to the supreme leader, was very critical of the deal. He came out yesterday and said that this was a good deal for the West and a bad deal for Iran, making the analogy that Iran gave up a ready to go sad old racehorse and received a torn bridle instead. While other people, members of a hard line militia here that have been allowed in the past to organize rallies and demonstrations against a nuclear deal tweeted as soon as they found out that Iran was only allowed to keep 5,000 centrifuges tweeted we`ll have enough centrifuges left to make carrot juice. So there`s obviously a lot of detractors here. I think over the coming days and weeks, that we`ll hear more from hardliners in Iran as details of this deal become more relevant. Melissa. HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I want to go back to John for a moment. Because I`m wondering if these images of the celebrations in terms of the reception of the Iranian negotiator actually make it more difficult to do that sale - that selling job to Congress, whether or not we presume that if Iran likes it, it is necessarily bad for the U.S. YANG: I think it does the optics over, though, do complicate things. It is this heroes` welcome that the negotiators got in Tehran. I think will bolster the argument of some people, some of the opponents to this that the United States gave up too much, that the president gave up too much. He was so eager to get an agreement he gave away too much. It`s interesting, though, that some Iranians, the hardliners in Iran are saying that they didn`t get enough in this. So I think this is a complicated issue in the days ahead, Melissa. HARRIS-PERRY: Of course, in the case of negotiation, if the fringes of both parties are mad, it probably means you found a good middle. Thank you to NBC News Tehran bureau chief Ali Arouzi in Tehran. And NBC News correspondent John Yang in Washington D.C. And up next, my letter of the week. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: We learned something important from a member of the United States Senate this week. On Thursday Illinois Senator Mark Kirk announced that he will vote to confirm attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch. This makes him the fifth Republican to back the A.G. Nominee. Meaning that if all the Senate Democrats and Independents support her, Loretta Lynch will have enough votes to secure confirmation. But Mark Kirk can only vote for Loretta Lynch if someone calls for a vote, and that has not happened yet. Lynch remains in limbo as a result of one of the longest confirmation delays in modern history. As of today, she has waited 147 days to be confirmed and that is why my letter today is to the man who has the power to end the wait by calling for a vote. Senator majority leader Mitch McConnell. "Dear Senator Mitch McConnell, it`s me, Melissa, and I`m writing to say one thing, set the date. Back in November President Obama officially nominated Loretta Lynch to serve as the next attorney general of the United States. She is respected, she`s qualified, she is standing on the precipice of making history as the first African-American woman to serve as attorney general. But Mr. McConnell, you are standing in the way of one kind of history while making another. Starting tomorrow, Loretta Lynch will have waited longer than any cabinet nominee, period, in the past three administrations. All we`re asking for is a vote. So Senator, set the date. Janet Reno took 29 days. John Ashcroft, 42. Alberto Gonzales, he took 46. Michael Mukasey, 53, Eric Holder, 64. So why, as of today, is Loretta Lynch`s wait time a whopping 147 days? And what exactly has Lynch done with all that time? Well, a hell of a lot. First off, she sailed through her Senate judiciary committee in a confirmation hearing and she made the rounds on the hill. She secured the majority vote she needs for confirmation while you, on the other hand, have spent these 140 days crafting a labyrinth of delays. First, you held up her confirmation over objections to her support of President Obama`s executive actions on immigration. Now, you`re so busy sparring with Democrats about abortion language of a human trafficking bill that you just can`t make time to vote on who will become the nation`s highest law enforcement officer. Here`s the thing. Lynch has nothing to do with this partisan fight, I know this might be a shock, but the Senate can do more than one thing at a time. You can fight with the Democrats and schedule a vote. So senator, set the date. What is it that worries you about Lynch? The fact that she`s a double Harvard grad? That she`s an experienced top federal prosecutor, that she handles cases that include cybercrime and corruption, financial fraud and organized crime and terrorism? Maybe that she led one of the highest profile police brutality cases in the 1990s against the NYPD and still has the respect of former New York Mayor Republican Rudy Giuliani. Senator McConnell, set the date. But Melissa, if you refuse to set the date, well, that`s all good too. Because after all, the longer you wait, the longer Eric Holder remains attorney general and while we are all ready to see our sister A.G. assume the leadership of the DOJ, in the meantime, we`ll certainly enjoy watching Holder continue to enact aggressive civil rights protections and policing reform. More Holder, that`s just what your GOP congressional colleagues have been clamoring for, isn`t it, senator? So, Senator McConnell, you just don`t get it, a Justice Department delayed is justice denied. So set the date. Sincerely, Melissa. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. And it was a dramatic scene in an Atlanta courtroom on Wednesday. Eleven people led away in handcuffs facing up to 20 years in prison, convicted of racketeering. The same charge used to go after mobsters like the Gambino crime family. But these were not any real life Sopranos -- they were educators -- convicted in one of the largest cheating scandals in U.S. history. The verdicts capped a seven-month-long trial and years of allegations that teachers and administrators orchestrated widespread cheating on standardized tests, in the Atlanta public schools. A state investigation found that cheating had occurred in at least 44 institutions, nearly 80 percent of all Atlanta schools and involved nearly 180 educators. At the trial prosecutors claimed the educators falsified test results in an effort to earn bonuses or keep their jobs. Former school superintendent Beverly Hall, who died last month of breast cancer, was accused of pressuring teachers to inflate scores so schools could meet federal benchmarks and receive additional funding. Hall always denied the charges but during the trial, some teachers testified about the pressure that they faced. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FORMER TEACHER: It was pressure to get scores by any means necessary. FORMER TEACHER: We were changing answers on test documents. I erased, and rewrote. PROSECUTOR: And, is that what each of your colleagues was doing? FORMER TEACHER: Yes. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: Students also testified about the toll the cheating scandal has taken on their education. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STUDENT: I`m not in high school reading. I`m still in middle school reading, I think it`s the 6th grade reading level. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: After the guilty verdicts, despite the objections of several defense attorney, the judge ordered all but one of the educators to be jailed immediately, while they await sentencing. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JUDGE: I don`t like to send anybody to jail. It`s not one of the things I get a kick out of, but they have made their bed and they are going to have to lie in it. It starts today. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most appalling decision I have ever seen. I don`t see how you send educators to prison. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: The possible penalties are stunning, when you consider that seven years after a much larger cheating scandal the mortgage meltdown that nearly brought down the U.S. economy only one top Wall Street executive went to prison, and he was sentenced to less than three years. The Atlanta case not only tarnished the reputation of the school system with some 50,000 students, it`s also raised questions about the role of high stakes testing in education, and whether the entire system is putting teachers in a no-win situation. If the stakes are so high and the rule so rigid, is cheating really so unexpected? It`s a feeling some parents frustrated with underperforming schools and their communities may share. Parents like Tanya McDowell of Connecticut, who in 2012 was arrested and charged with larceny for enrolling her son in the wrong school district. Or the Ohio mom who in 2011 was sentenced to 10 days in prison for lying about her residency, to give her daughters into a better school district. And now, we have educators facing up to 20 years in prison for cheating to try and meet federal testing standards, knowing that their jobs and the future of their schools may depend on it. It all raises the question of whether this is about failing schools and teachers or failing system. Joining me now from Atlanta: Attorneys Angela Johnson and Robert Rubin, whose clients are among those educators awaiting sentencing and facing up to 20 years behind bars. So nice to have you both with us this morning. When you look at what has happened, do these convictions represent justice being served from your perspectives? ROBERT RUBIN, ATTORNEY: Go ahead, Angela. ANGELA JOHNSON, ATTORNEY: From my perspective, no, Melissa, my client Pam served the Atlanta public schools for 27 years. She was a first grade teacher. First grade scores did not count towards bonuses and she didn`t receive any bonus money. She didn`t have any financial incentive to cheat, so I think it`s a little different than the narrative that`s kind of been spread in what most people think. HARRIS-PERRY: So help me to understand what you see as different. I mean, I think -- you know, the discourse we have heard is that there were financial incentives here that these teachers were under a great deal of pressure, they made changes to these test scores, but you`re suggesting something else is going on here. Just help me understand that. RUBIN: Melissa, I would reject that very basis premise that teachers were pressured to cheat. At least in the school that I`m familiar with, my client was the principal of an elementary school, that cheating occurred before she ever got there, and teacher after teacher testified that the principal, my client, did not pressure them to cheat. I think the cheating occurred because people made individual choices to take shortcuts, to be lazy, to not believe in the children. But the testimony does not bare out that people cheated because of pressure to get high scores. JOHNSON: That`s true. HARRIS-PERRY: OK. All right. So this is fascinating to me. Stay with me. I want to come out to my table. I`ve got some folks here that I also would love to have weigh in on this. So, let me -- let me start with my panel first. Glenn Martin, president and founder of JustLeadership USA, Dafna Linzer, who is managing editor at, Rich Tafel, who was with us earlier was founder of Log Cabin Republicans, and David S. Cohen, who`s a law professor at Drexel University. So, Glenn, this is interesting, it`s a little different than what I was expecting to happen here because part of what I have been outraged about is there was a structure that encouraged bad behavior. Now I`m hearing the attorneys say, no, this is about individuals who may have made bad choices, even if my client isn`t the person who did it. GLENN MARTIN, PRES. & FOUNDER, JUSTLEADERSHIP USA: You know, what stands out for me is the severe punishment these folks are facing in the situation. If we were as addicted to education as we are to punishment, we`d be so much better off. But why would be surprised when years ago, we decided to move our education dollars into the criminal justice system that now our response to a situation like this is harsh punishment? HARRIS-PERRY: It feels to me, Dafna, also like a part of a big story we`ve told about the criminalization of -- we have talked about it as a school to prison pipeline. We have talked about the criminalization of kind of bad acts of kids, so you have kindergartners getting arrested for things that are just school violations. And so, while I don`t think this is a good set of behaviors for educators, watching them be taken away in handcuffs is just stunning to me. DAFNA LINZER, MSNBC.COM MANAGING EDITOR: Yes, this is the saddest story from beginning to end. Just as you said, from kids who didn`t get the education that their parents hoped they would get, to the teachers who felt under enormous pressure to a system that was rewarding them for getting test scores, which they probably did not have the resources to get, to seeing teachers being taken away in handcuffs. I find it stunning that the judge decided that they needed to stay in prison until sentencing unless they were severe flight risks and you can always take away a passport. I just don`t understand what the point is. And also for the governor to come out so aggressively, to make it look like he`s so great on education that he`s sending the teachers away, it`s just - - it`s heartbreaking. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Angela and Robert, let me come back to you on that. This decision to have these teachers jailed while they are waiting sentencing, were you surprised by that decision? JOHNSON: I was very surprised. It was heartbreaking. And even though you tray to prepare your clients for the worst, I think just the whole way that you saw them being treated in the process, it was r heartbreaking. I would like to clarify also that Pam is looking at possible 30 years, 20 for racketeering and 5 years each on the false statements charges, and that she was convicted on the testimony of two women who admitted to lying several times under oath to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and other parties. One got immunity and one got a misdemeanor plea deal and was under investigation at the time that she participated in the CRCT for cheating on a test the month before. So -- HARRIS-PERRY: I know you all are attorneys who are representing individuals who are still facing sentencing, so I know you have constraints. JOHNSON: Yes. HARRIS-PERRY: But you got to help me understand -- and we have no time, but still -- this is just tough for me. What is the motivation? What is going on here? What are we not understanding from sitting up here in a New York television studio about what is happening in Atlanta right now? RUBIN: Well, there`s a couple things going on. Number one, there are politicians out to make names for themselves and how they deal with education, despite the fact they cut the budget for education probably almost in half 10 years ago. This is what you get as a result, schools without resources. There`s a judge who wants to send a message to the community, whatever that is, that`s why he put the educators in jail right after the verdict. And there`s the focus on how to you fix education, which no one is talking about. Talk about the trial and the drama of a criminal trial, but no one is talking about fixing the education for these Title I children. HARRIS-PERRY: Angela Johnson and Robert Rubin in Atlanta, with a tough, tough story that we will continue to follow -- thank you for your time this morning. RUBIN: Thank you. HARRIS-PERRY: And, OK, the Iranian deal may have grabbed the most headline this week, but there was another announcement from the Obama administration this week that could have an enormous and immediate impact for thousands of people right here at home. That story is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: In August of 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, an historic piece of legislation that reduced the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine. Previous U.S. drug policy mandated a 100 to 1 sentencing gap, which meant the sentencing trigger for crack cocaine required 100 times the amount of powder to invoke the same mandatory sentence. Despite the similarities between the two forms of the drug, that law helped create a racial disparity that left a disproportionate number of African- Americans serving terms in federal prison for low level drug crimes. So, the president`s 2010 legislation was intended to decrease that disparity by narrowing the sentence gap from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1. But it didn`t apply to the nearly 30,000 people already in federal prisons who, according to the sentencing commission, would have been eligible for a reduced sentence were the law applied retroactively. Last year, the Justice Department offered a second chance to those offenders when it announced new rules expanding President Obama`s discretion to pardon or reduce their time in a prison. And the president exercised that power on Tuesday, offering clemency to 22 low level drug offenders, eight of whom had been sentenced to life sentences and would otherwise have died in jail, which brings all the president`s commutations to 43, 40 of them for drug-related sentences. It`s a number that`s earned him criticism by criminal justice advocates who say that with 35,000 inmates still waiting for clemency applications to be considered, he`s not moving fast enough. In a recent interview with "The Huffington Post", the president explained why the process has been slow going and why we can expect him to pick up the pace very soon. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The first year, the way the system worked was the Department of Justice recommended, there was an office that would recommend the pardons. Most were legitimate but they didn`t address the broader issues that we face, particularly around nonviolent drug offenses. So, we have revamped now the DOJ office. We`re now getting much more representative applicants. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: With the way clear for the names of federal drug offenders to reach his desk, the president says he will be using his pardon and clemency power more aggressively. Joining me now, Glenn Martin, president and founder of JustLeadership USA, Dafna Linzer, managing editor at MSNBC, who has done extensive reporting on the Obama administration`s pardon and commutation policies, Richard Tafel, who is founder of the Log Cabin Republicans, and now, president of the consulting firm, The Public Squared, and David Cohen, constitutional lawyer from Drexel University. So, Glenn, celebration or not enough, or both? OK MARTIN: We have an attorney general that says that we have far too many people in prison for far too for no good law enforcement reasons. Communities that are heavily impacted by the criminal justice system, poor whites, people of color, hear that as declaration of the end of a war on drugs. And when you have an end of a war, particularly a war that you`ve lost, you have a responsibility to turn back and figure out what to do with the prisoners of that war. And 35,000 people are languishing in prison, their families are broken apart, their communities are broken apart, waiting for something for a response that matches the scope of the problem. And in the president`s defense, the commutation power is a blunt instrument -- HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. MARTIN: -- in a situation where everyone`s case is highly individualized. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. MARTIN: So, this really is the president responding to the shortcoming of Congress. HARRIS-PERRY: In part, Dafna, this ought to be probably dealt with legislative action were just probably not forthcoming. And it would probably be a bad for the president to let out 35,000 drug offenders, like I could see that going badly for him. LINZER: Yes, I could see that going badly, look, I waited four years to hear the president say we revamped that office. And there are changes that have been made and I can feel more comfortable exercising my one big unfettered power there. That`s a good thing. Twenty-two people, that`s about as many as Reagan and George H.W. Bush combined over 16 years. So, 22 people, that`s a really, really low number. And there`s about 5,000 of the 35,000 who immediately could have been released had had the legislation been retroactive. So, even if it`s kind of individualized cases, and I understand that, that`s really what the pardon power is for. And, you know, I think I would not want to see the president wait until very late in his presidency as President Clinton did where all of a sudden, at the very end, you`re releasing huge numbers of people. There`s very little time for accountability and there`s also just enough time to come after him for having done huge amount of commutations with little oversight. I mean, I like to him -- HARRIS-PERRY: So, do it now while there can still be political? LINZER: He can do hundreds every month now. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. So, I get it, I mean, I do. Particularly as someone who wants to e see that drug war come down, wants to see it over and a sense of justice. On the other hand, if you were for, instance, Darrel Hayden (ph), and you were sentenced to life in prison for growing marijuana in 2002 -- I mean, sentenced to life in prison -- this is the madness of where we have gotten to. Twenty-two people, if you were the one starfish who gets to go back into the water, like, you`re happy if you`re Francis Hayden. DAVID S. COHEN, DREXEL UNIVERSITY: For the 22 people, it`s wonderful. But the president`s power is so limited. The court`s powers are very limited here. They are not going. To do anything. This is up to legislators and the states too. We can`t forget about the prisoners in state prison who also have the same problems of racial disparities and same problems with low-level drug offenders. And so, state legislatures need to jump in and do something about this too, and state commutations, putting all the focus on President Obama, he can certainly do more, but this is a legislative, political problem. HARRIS-PERRY: I just don`t want to miss. So, I get your point on the state, but I don`t want to miss what`s happened around the federal. I mean, if we look at federal inmates by the offense committed, we`re talking about nearly half, 48.7 percent are in there for drug offenses, the vast majority of those being very low level. I mean, that line, that`s just kind of everybody. It also happens in a particular moment. So, if you look again at that federal population in 1980 to 2013, it`s going along with some increase and crime is not associated with that, like crime does not do that same thing. RICH TAFEL, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: Yes, well, what`s happened is there was a high crime period. We saw the crime rate drop. But yet, the crime rate has continued to drop over the last decade but we have seen the prison population dramatically increase. And the reason I think comes back to the story we saw in the school system in Atlanta, which is we have incentivized at every level putting people in prison. Politicians -- many of our politicians have made their careers as district attorneys, so they have dramatically increased the number of people they have sentenced. That`s good. They then -- police departments have metric, how many people they can put in jail, that`s a new metric for us. And we have turned our prisons over to for-profit institutions who are on the profit system of how many people they keep and how many people they keep coming back. If we change the incentives, particularly at the prisons, if we said to prisons, we will pay you bonuses for people who do not come back, we would see a whole shift in how we treat prisoners. But right now, I think this is a very easy bipartisan issue. It`s amazing how well it polls, Republicans and Koch Foundation have spent a lot of money in this. HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve got to take a break, but that`s exactly what I want to talk about when we come back is this bipartisan coalition that has emerged on bringing down the drug war. Who would have thought it? (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What`s been encouraging is this is a rare area where we`re seeing significant bipartisan interest. I -- some of the most conservative members of the Republican Party either because of libertarian reasons or because they are concerned about the costs of -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Rick Perry. OBAMA: Rick Perry in Texas, you know, we`re seeing an interest in reform. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama in the recent interview with "The Huffington Post" discussing the unlikely political alliances that have formed to address the country`s problem with over incarceration. The issue has brought together partnerships like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who teamed up last year on a bill to reform the juvenile justice system and criminal background checks. And last week, Washington was unbelievably the site of political unity when a criminal justice summit had blue state and red state officials and Tea Party benefactors, community advocates and right wing conservative Christians all agreeing that now is the time for reform. So, Glenn, is this the moment that you and other folks have been waiting for? Or are you nervous? Sometimes when it gets bipartisan, I think, uh- oh, maybe I shouldn`t be in this coalition. MARTIN: When you look at our mental health institutions and what we did back in the late `60s and early `70s, that was also a bipartisan effort to get people out of those institutions that were damaging people and families and communities. Look what we ended up with. Those people ended up with our criminal justice system. So, my concern is, whenever you have this really top-down approach to reform where I believe that we need to do a better job of getting Americans to understand that this entire system is not working, I worry that systems of oppression are durable and they tend to reinvent themselves. And so, if the premise of our criminal system is punishment and it stays that way and we don`t think about redemption and transformation and those things, that we get some sort of reform, maybe less people in prison. But some other system of punishment that creates an underclass of citizenship in America. HARRIS-PERRY: Although I like -- so, I hear you on the notion of punishment being the underlying aspect of how we think about what is happening, but I also am really appreciative of the idea that it`s a set of financial incentives that could be simply taken away. If we look again at that same time period, 1980 to 2014 on the cost of operating the federal prison system, you`ll see, the kind of you, you know, it`s going along, all of a sudden it`s going to spike up and that spike is all in buildings and facilities, right? So that red line on the bottom there is what people actually make for working in the federal prison system, right? Wages stay low but, man, building up a prison becomes the way to do construction in your community. LINZER: But, you know what? It`s also killing the budget of the Justice Department. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. LINZER: It is taking up -- the Bureau of Prisons is taking up such a huge chunk of that budget that even the Justice Department realizes this is too hard. We have too much on our plate and cannot let this amount of money go to building these kinds of facilities. The one thing that was interesting to me in what the president said is he specifically used the word interest instead of action. So, there`s bipartisan interest and that`s true. We have good people on both sides who are taking an interest in the issue. Rick Perry aside who are had the ability to make changes in his state, it`s not enough. So, it`s great that we have Senator Booker and Senator Rand Paul, who are interested in this kind of bill -- they need to build a broader coalition in the Senate to have action. I think that`s really the test and the president sees it. HARRIS-PERRY: But it at least appear that in 2016, we`re not going to be running on law and order platforms that are about locking up more people as a way of gaining votes. That said, I also want to go back to a point you made about recidivism. The president wrote a relatively brief letter to the folks who sentences he commuted, and then part of it, he says, you know, the power to grant pardons is one of the most profound authorities. He says, I`m granting your application because you demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now, it`s up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy. You will confront many who will doubt people with criminal records can change, perhaps even you. And then he goes, you have the capacity to make good choices. I get it. It`s a lovely letter. But I also think, well, if you ban the box and people would -- you know, there`s in other words a set of structural things that aren`t addressed as fantastic as this letter is. TAFEL: Yes, I have had the opportunity to work at a homeless shelter and a third of the people that would come in would be from the prison system and say I was literally dropped off in Washington with $10 in my pocket. I have my -- I now have a record. I don`t even have my birth certificate so I can`t get a driver`s license to get a job. There`s a very -- HARRIS-PERRY: Or to vote -- TAFEL: Or to vote. And so, they would say, point blank, you know what, I had three meals a day. I just don`t know what else to do. And my family is embarrassed by me. I can`t go back on the couch anymore. So, now what? You tell me what to do. So, it was a really horrible situation. It was by -- I`m telling, any of us put in that situation, the incentives would drive us back into a system that would make money off of this process. HARRIS-PERRY: It`s hard to make good choices when the choices are so constrained in that way. TAFEL: It`s really immoral. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Glenn, you want to weigh in on that? MARTIN: No, I`m sitting here, I`m listening -- when I came out of prison, I served six years in prison, and earned a college degree while I was on the inside, which really doesn`t exist the way it used after Pell Grant eligibility was taken away of. But I went to 50 different employers looking for a job, almost every single one turning me down almost immediately after they learned that I had a criminal record, without allowing me to compete for the job like anyone else, like take the criminal record into account, look and see if there`s a relationship, public safety is an issue. Beyond that, people with criminal records need the chance to be able to compete to get back into the labor market. And we create all of these obstacles. And yet, while the person is on supervision, we tell them -- you need to find a job, you need to find stable housing, you need to become a citizen and that we put all these barriers in the way of that happening. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, again, your point about public safety is a critically important one, but we`re talking about many activities which are now legal in many states so the idea that there`s a clear public safety problem when we`re looking at low level drug offenses I think just doesn`t stand up. My thanks to Glenn Martin and Dafna Linzer, to Richard Tafel, who keeps trying to claim he`s a Republican, but I`m not sure, and to David Cohen. Up next, reaction from those on campus to a noose found in a tree at Duke University. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: The men`s final four happening today in Indianapolis, Indiana, should be the big duke university story of the week. Duke`s men`s basketball team last won the whole thing back in 2010. This year it could be a return to glory. Around 6:00 p.m., sports fans will be on the Duke Blue Devils taking the court against Michigan State Spartans. This is the game, this is the event that could have the whole country talking about Duke. Or so the university might want to believe. In reality, there`s one piece of news currently eclipsing the Final Four faceoff and it was summed up by this photograph. A photo that shows a yellow rope tied in a noose and the noose was found hanging from a tree in the middle of campus early Wednesday morning. Police removed it by 2:45 a.m. Duke university police have been investigating since Wednesday and have since identified a duke student who has admitted to hanging the noose on the tree. The university is discussing possible criminal charges with state and federal officials, but Duke officials are still investigating allegations about another incident of racial intimidation that occurred about two weeks ago when a black student reported that a group of white men chanted a racist song at her. It was the same song heard in a video that went viral last month. The video shows former University of Oklahoma students and Sigma Alpha Epsilon members chanting racial slurs and making references to lynching. Joining me now from Raleigh, North Carolina, to discuss the investigation and the current climate at Duke University are Karla Holloway, professor of English, law and African-American studies at Duke University, and the author of the new book, "Legal Fictions." And Henry Washington, vice president of the Duke University Black Student Alliance. Henry, let me start with you. How are students, particularly students of color feeling on campus right now? HENRY WASHINGTON, BLACK STUDENT ALLIANCE, DUKE: You know, I think students are feeling exhausted. I think the thing that sometimes people forget is that these huge events like a noose being hung from a tree are not things that happen every day but the kind of micro-aggressions, the things that happen every day, for instance, my intellectual legitimacy being called into question. Those kinds of things happen on a daily basis. So, I think we have to remember that, you know, the noose incident is indicative of a campus culture that`s built around issues of race, class and gender that`s problematic. HARRIS-PERRY: So, Henry, listening to you talk -- Karla, obviously, you know I`m a Duke alum at the graduate level. You were one of my advisers when I was working on my PhD. (CROSSTALK) HARRIS-PERRY: And we have -- you know, we`ve talked often about the challenge that occurs when there`s a single incident that becomes the opening point for conversation about issues of race on campus. So, we don`t yet know what this noose incident is, right? We know there was a noose. We don`t know who hung it or what their motivations were. Again, I worry, as we know has happened in the case of campus issues before, that when the conversation about those racial aggressions rest on this one moment, like I keep being nervous about how we need to enter into this conversation. KARLA HOLLOWAY, DUKE UNIVERSITY: We need to enter much more courageously than the university has in the past and to understand that the consistent - - the repetition of students feeling like Henry Washington feels and other black students I have talked to, the fact that this keeps happening at Duke is evidence of a structural problem we haven`t yet addressed. And until we address that problem, we can anticipate an isolated event resurrecting these other issues that are ongoing in the lives of black faculty staff and students at Duke. HARRIS-PERRY: So, Henry, clearly, when you talk about that sense of exhaustion -- you know, I mean, this is where you are a student, but it`s not just Duke. We have seen cases of this around the country. The SAE chant at Oklahoma, the case of Martese at the University of Virginia, who experienced the kind of being roughed up by police of the ABC board. So, are Duke students seeing this as a specific Duke moment as tied to a larger set of campus concerns in the country? WASHINGTON: I think that`s where we would like the conversation to shift. I think it`s difficult to have the conversation shift in that direction. I think a lot of students would like to say that this is an isolated incident and that, you know, the hatred or the recklessness of one student doesn`t necessarily give a commentary about what the campus culture is like, but I mean, I think that`s just not true. I think that we are, for instance, the black student alliance has released a set of four action points for the administration to consider. So, we`re hoping that this arouses the discussion around the entirety of the campus culture. HARRIS-PERRY: Let me just say this, Karla, while you are talking, we are watching a video of campus protests at Duke after this happened. And just from looking, and not that you can tell everything from looking, but man, that`s a multicultural crowd, a lot of white students, faculty and staff, you can see students there across racial backgrounds. I`m wondering if that is the story we ought to be telling rather than what at least at the moment is a relatively isolated incident. How do we put those together? HOLLOWAY: I think we put them together, I think that we understand that our audiences are broad and diverse and that the institution has to understand that when something happens that seems to address a black issue, the campus community is involved. And so, the complexity of our allies is an important part of this discussion, and the institutions taking responsibility not for isolating this as being about black students or black student feelings only, that they are outraged as well. And so, one of the things that that debate, that protest did was to give a wonderful visible indication of how many are ready to stand up and stand against this kind of aggression on campus, and not just the aggressions that come from this symbolic foolishness, but the aggressions that come from everyday life at Duke. HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to professor Karla Holloway, and also to Henry Washington, I`m particularly, has a four-point action plan. That`s -- you just do that political organizing. Just make it happen. Thank you and keep fighting for Duke. It is my alma mater in important ways and I want to see it -- HOLLOWAY: Absolutely, Melissa. HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, a very special on this day. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: On this day in 1928, a baby girl was born. Her name, Marguerite Annie Johnson. She was born poor and black nearly four decades before American law even began to recognize African-Americans as full citizens. She spent much of her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, where the ravages of the Great Depression and Jim Crow shackled black folk to grinding inequality. At just eight years old, she survived rape, but became moot after her attacker was killed, casting herself into silence she believed her own voice was responsible for the death of a man. But she did not stay in silence. Called forth by her beloved brother, Bailey, this moot girl became a woman with a legendary voice and a name by which the world came to know her, Dr. Maya Angelou. She performed as an actor and singer and dancer on the stage in the United States and abroad. She met with Malcolm X while he visited Ghana, and she went on do become a northern coordinator in the civil rights movement. Her birthday was bittersweet throughout her adulthood because it`s also on this day when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. In 1969, Angelou published the brutal and lyrical autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." It was the first of 36 books she authored. And in 1993, when fellow Arkansas native Bill Clinton was inaugurated as president of the United States, he called on Maya Angelou to mark the day with poetry and she gave us "On the Pulse of Morning". (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAYA ANGELOU, POET: The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change, here on the pulse of this fine day, you may have the courage to look up and out and upon me, the rock, the river, the tree, your country. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: To know these accomplishments is not enough. To begin to glimpse her power, you must understand what it meant to encounter Maya Angelou even for a moment. First Lady Michelle Obama captured the essence of Angelou`s power with these words. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Maya Angelou knew us. She knew our hope, our pain, our ambition, our fear, our anger, our shame, and she assured us that despite it all, in fact, because of it all, we were good. That was Maya Angelou`s reach. She touched me, all of you. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: Indeed she did, because Dr. Angelou was a teacher. She joined the faculty of Wake Forest University in 1982, and a decade later, I took my first course with her as a student at Wake forest. She demanded that we read widely, discuss openly, that we disagree respectfully and that we leave her classroom different than when we entered. "I am not a writer who teaches," she said. "I`m a teacher who writes. But I had to work at Wake Forest to know that." She was my teacher, indeed she was the world`s teacher. And on Tuesday, the United States Postal Service is unveiling the Maya Angelou forever stamp, a fitting tribute to the girl from Stamps, Arkansas, who became a woman, who changed the world with her words. Dr. Angelou made her final transition last May at the age of 86, and she left us too soon. But today, we rejoice and celebrate the life and gift of Dr. Maya Angelou who was born this day, April 4th, 1928. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS-PERRY: Tomorrow evening, millions of people are expected to watch this year`s Black Girls Rock Awards on BET. Now, the award show that is, quote, "dedicated to honoring exceptional women of color around the world who stand as inspirational and positive role models." At the show`s taping, I was honored to have the opportunity to join extraordinary women, such as Ava DuVernay, Sisley Tyson, Jada Pinkett Smith, and First Lady Michelle Obama, who had a powerful message for all. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: To all the young women here tonight and all across the country, let me say those words again, Black Girls Rock! We rock. Let me tell you, I am so proud of you. My husband, your president, is so proud of you. (END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS-PERRY: And although many of us black girls were proud to have the first lady rocking with us, there was an audible backlash on social media, questioning why there needed to be an event specifically for black girls, with some tweeting, using the #whitegirlsrock. Here to tell us why black girls rock and why it matters, Black Girls Rock founder and CEO Beverly Bond and her mentees, Sage Adams and Kathie Duperval. So, Beverly, why does it matter to have black girls rock as a specific space? BEVERLY BOND, FOUNDER, BLACK GIRLS ROCK: Because we are excluded so much in media. And it was important for us to have this affirmation that`s missing, you know? It shouldn`t be surprising to people, especially people tuning in to Black Entertainment Television that there would be a show that recognizes women of color. HARRIS-PERRY: Sage and Kathy, I`m so interested in what it meant to you to hear the first lady say, I`m proud of you, my husband, your president, is proud of you. I know how I was feeling as a grown-up girl but sort of what it meant as a young woman to hear those words. SAGE ADAMS, BLACK GIRLS ROCK, MENTEE: So, for me, representation has never really been there for people who look like me. So sitting there hearing her say that, it felt like someone was telling me not only do you rock, but I know you rock and it`s cool. Affirmation is not just about knowing something but hearing it from all different places. It was really cool to hear that from the first lady. HARRIS-PERRY: That`s valuable insight, being able to be seen. How was your experience? KATHIE DUPERVAL, BLACK GIRLS ROCK MENTEE: Definitely. I think that hearing that is so important. I remember the first time I watch the award show and all the people who were there that year told us over and over and over again that black girls rock. I know it was just one time. But hearing that one time was just so important, because you leave there just feeling so empowered and inspired and feeling like you can take on the world. HARRIS-PERRY: So, I loved that and I was so honored to be a part of that night. But I also want people to know that yes, it is an awards show, but Black Girls Rock is much bigger than that. Tell me about the bigger structure that is around this moment. BOND: Well, you know, when I started black girls rock, I understood, that there needed -- this affirmation was bigger than me. It was an idea that I had for a t-shirt. You know what, in that same moment, I was like, this is way bigger than a t-shirt. This is an affirmation our girls don`t hear. They don`t see on TV. They don`t see from everything -- from, you know, selling cosmetics, if we`re in a cosmetic ad, for example, we`re altering our natural aesthetic. We don`t play the leading ladies to men who look like us. You know, we`re missing in the story, our narrative is missing. Or when we do see ourselves, a lot of times, we`re being degraded, and so -- or demeaned. I knew there needed to be a counter to that. So, I knew I needed to start not only the awards show to show what young girls what role models look like, who they are and to share our accomplishments with the world. But I also knew it was important to mentor our young girls and to make sure that they had a place and space to find not only the affirmation of knowing that they rock but giving them tools to understand how to become better and be greater. HARRIS-PERRY: So, I`d be interested, what are the tools you`ve learned as being part of black girls rock, in terms of a leadership? What new thing can you take hold of as you become a young woman leader? DUPERVAL: Well, deejaying is like the main part of our organization and deejaying has completely changed my perspective. I think when you`re behind two turntables, it gives you a certain power in a room. You`re controlling the music that people listen to, as well as you`re giving the audience a sort of feel-good. So, I think it was just important for me to go through that. It really like opened up the door for me to participate more and speak more and just open up. HARRIS-PERRY: How about you? ADAMS: Well, I`m the president of the Book Club. So, for me, it`s like really cool because I get to bring like Black Girls Rock to my academics, as well as my sisters. And so -- HARRIS-PERRY: What have you guys been reading? ADAMS: We read "The Bluest Eye". We read "Black Like Me". We read (INAUDIBLE), which is like my favorite. HARRIS-PERRY: Everyone loves it. ADAMS: Exactly. And it was cool to do the research, because even though I`m bringing this information to them and we`re all learning together, I kind of realized that I hadn`t been taking in a lot of black literature. So, it was important for me to do that research and bring the books to them, because in that little two-step process I learned so much. HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s interesting -- both of you, although talking about literature on one hand and books on one hand and music on the other, you`re actually talking about the same idea of setting the tone, setting the music, creating the air that we`re breathing. And this idea of young women of color doing that, young black girls who are generating the world we`re now living in. BOND: Absolutely. It`s funny because they read your book, too, if Emily was still the president of book club. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. BOND: You know? But it`s important for our young leaders to have a space where they can come together. It`s important for them to be affirmed, and important for them to understand that discipline, integrity, work ethic, the importance of service, those are the things that we really emphasize in Black Girls Rock programs. HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder when you encounter negative images of black girls and black women in popular culture, because there`s a lot, what do you do to kind of push back and fight back against it? ADAMS: Well, the whole idea, I have braids right now and there`s this whole thing that black girls can`t do anything with their hair, like whatever, whatever. So I think, like, wow, like I could really take this back, like I could really own this. So I got really bright braids. HARRIS-PERRY: I`m actually -- the level of jealousy I have about your braids right now is very high. I`ve repeatedly wanted to do red, white and blue in mine. ADAMS: Exactly. I feel like reclaiming those images and like making them your own, and I get a lot of comments from white people from every type of people on the street, oh, those are really cool, those are really cool. For me, that`s taking back those negative images and showing people that my culture is beautiful and just as beautiful as yours. HARRIS-PERRY: I love that. I just love that idea of taking spaces that are often negative, turning them into a giving and empowering agency to black girls who undoubtedly rock. And not only I`m a black girl, but I`m a mom of two black girls. And so, I so appreciate this kind of intervention in our culture. Thank you to Beverly Bond and to Sage Adams and to Kathie Duperval. Once again, 7:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow evening for First Lady Michelle Obama, Tracy Ellis Ross, Regina King and more when Black Girls Rock Awards airs on BET. That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. Dorian Warren is going to be here tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. I`m taking Eastern Sunday off. But he`ll be talking millennials, their vote and their digital footprint. "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" is next. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END