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Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 1/10/2016

Guests: Vince Warren, Jonathan Metzl, Lucia McBath, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Arthur C. Brooks, Angy Rivera, Jamal Simmons, Sabrina Siddiqui, Robert Traynham, Juan Manuel Benitez, Tianna Gaines-Turner, Rebecca Vallas

Show: MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY Date: January 10, 2016 Guest: Vince Warren, Jonathan Metzl, Lucia McBath, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Arthur C. Brooks, Angy Rivera, Jamal Simmons, Sabrina Siddiqui, Robert Traynham, Juan Manuel Benitez, Tianna Gaines-Turner, Rebecca Vallas


MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST, MSNBC: This morning my question: Who gets to defy the Federal government? Plus, the one-time "Oath Keeper" who tried to arm Black Lives Matter activists. And a true comic book sheroe, straight out of Philadelphia. But first, President Obama is literally moved to action.


HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Police departments around the country say they are on alert after a gunman attacked a Philadelphia police officer on Thursday night, wounding the officer.


Police say 30-year-old Edward Archer approached Jesse Hartnett in a car late Thursday night and opened fire. Officer Hartnett was struck three times and remains in critical but stable condition. Philadelphia police say Archer claimed that he shot Officer Hartnett quote in the name of Islam. He is in custody. Joining me now is correspondent Adam Reese in Philadelphia. Adam, what do we know so far about this suspect, and who he is, and how he got his hands on the gun?


Oh, we -- I think we maybe lost Adam on remote. So sorry about that. We will come back to that story.


It`s a critical question, in part because this sort of ongoing gun violence that President Obama took head on this week when he announced several executive actions designed to further regulate access to guns, actions that he says will ultimately save lives. In his many public statements, the President has addressed directly critics who claim to oppose strengthened restrictions, based on their claims (inaudible) the Second Amendment, that right to keep and bear arms. The President very clearly reminded us that he was once a Constitutional Law professor. No, seriously. He really literally reminded us.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe in the Second Amendment, no matter how many times people try to twist my words around. I taught Constitutional Law, I know a little bit about this.


HARRIS-PERRY: Then President Obama went on to argue that a citizen`s Second Amendment rights can be restricted without being infringed, just like any other rights. There are limits on your free speech and on your right to privacy. But he also made another nuanced Constitutional argument, that the rights enshrined in the Second Amendment must be balanced alongside the others rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Yes, citizens have a right to bear arms. But that`s not the only liberty that matters.


OBAMA: Because our right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina, and that was denied Jews in Kansas City, and that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights too. Our right to peaceful assembly, that right was robbed from movie goers in Aurora and Lafayette.


HARRIS-PERRY: In fact, this was the argument he was making when the President was brought to tears.


OBAMA: Our unalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those rights were stripped from college kids in Blackburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine. And, and from first graders in Newtown, first graders.


HARRIS-PERRY: Joining me now is Jonathan Metzl, Director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society in Vanderbilt University, and Research Director for the Safe Tennessee Project; and Vince Warren, Executive Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights. So, Vince, I want to start with you, with the President`s constitutional argument that he made here. Is that just kind of soaring rhetoric, or is that actually a sound argument about balancing the Second Amendment against these others?

VINCE WARREN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It`s a sound argument. The constitutional rights that we have that are enshrined, they all can`t be implemented at the exact same level, and they all frankly shouldn`t be implemented at the exact same level. And there has to be some sort of balance, not only between what the rights are, how one right affects another. Those are really key because at some level one constitutional right can unconstitutionally infringe another constitutional right. But I think also what`s important is that we have look at what`s happening today, what`s happening -- 30,000 gun deaths that happen a year. That the President does have, and is entitled to have, regulatory authority.


WARREN: .to be able to, to, to regulate how those rights are -- how those rights are implemented, so that we don`t have complete and total chaos with this sort of blind constitutional mandate.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, his moment, the President`s moment on Tuesday -- and, you know, obviously, he goes on and has an entire week -- but I want to pause on this moment on Tuesday in part because of the power of seeing so many families who have experienced loss standing there together, because he was making a constitutional argument, because there was so much emotion, and I guess, Johnathan, part of what I`m wondering is do we know anything about what actually moves the needle? What actually convinces people to see this gun question somewhat differently?

METZL: Well, I think that Vince is absolutely right, that personally what`s happening here is a misreading -- I mean as an American citizen who cares about the rule of law, I`m upset for the Constitution because I feel like many of the arguments that are out there right now about what the Second Amendment does and doesn`t say are being completely misrepresented. The Second Amendment is about the right to bear arms.


It says nothing about background checks, it says nothing about the right to sell arms. And so in that regard, it the -- one of the ironies here is that in, in the press conference, for example, President Obama was actually in part agreeing, ironically enough, with Justice Scalia in his 2008 and the famous kind of Washington, D.C., versus Heller decision that basically said, yes, we have a Second Amendment right, but that that is not across the board, everybody can take, take guns everywhere.


And so in that way I think that partially what`s happening in -- after Tuesday, and since then, is taking on some of these central myths. Beyond what the executive action was, I think that in a way many of these myths have been allowed to just sit and say, oh, my gosh, the Second Amendment say everything. And I think partially what`s happening is we`re addressing head on many of the central myths about gun ownership in this country.

HARRIS-PERRY: So it seems and feels to me like part of those myths are rooted in kind of our imagined understanding about what our founders were thinking about in each and every one of these moments, whether we`re talking about the First Amendment, or the Fifth, or any of those. So give us some insight into what that Second Amendment is meant to be.

WARREN: The Second Amendment, it`s, it`s designed to allow militias to be able to thrive. And the, the constitutional discussion back then was people were afraid that the Federal government was going to limit, limit the State government from forming militias, and put everything into a national army.


WARREN: And so the idea is that states have sovereign rights, so the state should be able to have --


.to pull together militias without the Federal government interfering. That`s essentially what it was. Now what is not contemplated is the notion of the individual in that, in that context.


WARREN: This is really -- this has shifted from a Second Amendment right to this individual notion that individuals should be able to carry guns anywhere that they want to have them, have them any place that they want to sell them.


WARREN: .to who they want to sell them. It`s actually been blown out of proportion, mostly by the gun lobby, to try to stimulate gun sales, as opposed to what it was really designed to, which was a balance of power.


HARRIS-PERRY: So, Jonathan, let me just ask this question that I think for me is part of why we wanted to start with the conversation about the Officer being shot in Philadelphia. Also a shootout in New York this past night. Would reducing the number of guns owned by American citizens make the work the police officer do safer?

METZL: Well, I think that you can state in a factual way that places that have fewer guns have less gun crime. And so the direct answer is yes. I think that in a way I just want to repeat what President Obama said many times on CNN and in his press conference. The answer here, given where we are as a society, is not taking away people`s guns. There are common sense steps that we can do. So I think that another way to think about that question is do background checks, a central component of the executive action, do background checks reduce gun crime? And I think across the board in states that have effective background check, background checks, in place, you see about a 40 to 50 percent reduction or diminishment of everything that we kind of care about. So there`s less gun suicide, there`s less partner violence, there are lower rates of homicide. And so in that regard, I think the question right now is, given where we are right now as a society, what can we do to lower those rates of gun crime? And I think that that system is what President Obama is trying to strengthen.

HARRIS-PERRY: And (inaudible) for the President to say that, that we can go from 30,000 a year to 28,000, and that would be, you know, 2,000 families that matter. And it still, it kind of makes you feel like, isn`t -- we`re talking about the margin, such small margins, and so many people in this country still dying at the hands of guns. Promise much, much more on guns, but up next, I want to bring in the woman who was standing right there with President Obama during Tuesday`s emotional address.


HARRIS-PERRY: President Obama was not alone when he announced his new executive actions on guns this week, survivors of gun violence stood with him.


Many were parents who had buried a child and subsequently turned their lives to activism, parents like Lucia McBath, right there behind the President. Her son, Jordan Davis, was shot to death at a gas station in Florida more than three years ago. He was 17 years old. Lucy McBath joins us now from Atlanta and she is the Faith and Outreach Leader for Everytown for Gun Safety. So nice to see you this morning.


HARRIS-PERRY: So you were here us last week in, in what I think was another extremely emotional conversation with Tamir Rice`s mother. And then, and then this on Tuesday. Are you feeling more optimistic now?

McBATH: Absolutely. I`ve been on cloud nine ever since because this is a monumental movement towards guns safety, gun violence prevention, in this country.


And having been a victim of gun violence, affected by this tragic, tragic kind of gun violence in the country, and working with victims every single day on this very issue, it was very profound for us to stand there with President Obama. Gun violence victims, many that you never even saw in the room, and know that everything that we`ve been appealing to our, our Congress for in terms of, you know, creating some solutions in this country towards stemming the tide of gun violence, that finally we were being heard, and that President Obama was taking a very courageous, bold step with his executive orders to create, you know, a safer community for all of us.


So we were very, very excited and just -- you could feel the electricity, you could feel just people were just so excited about, you know, finally moving forward in keeping our communities safe.

HARRIS-PERRY: In fact, let`s take a listen for a moment to the President talking about all of you who were there in the room with him.


OBAMA: In this room right here there are a lot of stories. There`s a lot of heartache. There`s a lot of resilience, there`s a lot of strength, but there`s also a lot of pain. And this is just a small sample.


HARRIS-PERRY: So you did get a sense watching it, for all of us who were at home, that you all weren`t just props, you really had been working with the administration over some period of time to try to get some movement on this.


McBATH: Absolutely. We`ve worked very closely with President Obama in terms of messaging and providing policy information and research from which they could utilize for him to make, you know, this very credible decision, very important decision. So, and you know, actually working with all of the Everytown survivor network victims that we`ve been pounding on the doors of our Congressmen, we`ve been doing the work, we`ve been hitting the pavement for years now, trying to really get our Congressman to understand what`s been happening in the country is very critical, that they are accountable to us. And so, yes, we`ve been very, very involved, deeply involved in everything that has actually happened this week. So we`ve been very proud about our momentum, how we`ve been able to impact President Obama and his administration with the work that we`ve been doing.


HARRIS-PERRY: I want to ask you what you think Jordan would think of where you were standing in that moment, and if you think he would be proud of you and the work that you`ve been doing?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) McBATH: As I was standing there, I kept trying not to cry because I kept saying that, you know, my child Jordan, as well as my father, would be so very, very proud of the work that I`ve been doing and, and being able to stand there with President Obama as he did something that was so critic for preserving the sanctity and preservation of human life.


And, and I could see Jordan saying, yeh, Mom, go ahead, Mom, you`re doing it. And then my father understanding that everything that he worked for in the Civil Rights Movement, that was all coming full circle for me, that I now was standing behind President Obama as my father stood behind Lyndon Baines Johnson when he was signing the Civil Rights Act. That I now had come full circle, and that my legacy is tied to my son`s, as well as my father`s, and really doing something that`s going to be meaningful for, for the legacy of this country.

HARRIS-PERRY: Lucia McBath in Atlanta, Georgia, thank you, not only for being here today, but for your continued work.

McBATH: Thank you very much.

HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, guns in the home.


HARRIS-PERRY: Terrifying mass shooting and high-profile officer-involved incidents have dominated the national conversation on gun violence in recent years. But most deaths by gun are not headline-grabbing massacres. They`re more private, more intimate, and perhaps in that way, even more horrifying. Domestic violence, make no mistake, domestic violence is a gun issue. According to the CDC, more than one in three women and one in four men in the United States have been victims of domestic violence. It is a widespread public health problem, and every year 1,600 women and 700 men are killed by their intimate partners. One of the biggest risk factors that domestic violence will become fatal is the presence of a gun. Among those who have an abusive partner, the risk of being murdered by that partner increased 500 times if the abuser has access to a gun. Again, you are five times more likely to be killed by your abuser if your abuser can get their hands on a gun. That`s not a small problem. From 2001 to 2012 at least 6,410 women were murdered by an intimate partner using a gun. That`s more than the number of U.S. troops killed in action in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Joining my panel now is Melissa Mark- Viverito, who is the Speaker of the New York City Council.

HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so much for the work that you have been doing here in the city around this question. What do we not know about intimate partner violence and guns?

MELISSA MARK-VIVERITO, SPEAKER OF THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL: Well, (inaudible) unfortunately, this issue continues to be sort of a taboo subject. The idea that this happens in the home, and therefore it`s a private matter to be discussed. No, it`s a very much a public issue and for the reasons you cited, right? In New York City the statistics from 2014, 20 percent of the homicides that we had in the City of New York were related to domestic violence incident. And if someone has access to a gun, as you were saying, it increases. It may lead to actual death. So that is an issue that concerns us, right? Women that are in an abusive relationship have the ability to be saved. Right now, if you`re talking about the use of a gun, then we have reached the point of no return.


MARK-VIVERITO: .where the potential of that woman losing her life is much more real. So there is an issue, and now domestic violence has become a real priority. And that is why I recently spoke out on the issue of the trade with the Yankees.


MARK-VIVERITO: When you have a, a, a sports figure who is now being grabbed on the check because he`s being accused of a domestic violence incident, who was -- who acknowledged using a gun out of a domestic violence situation, that concerns me. We have to speak out around those matters and take those matters as an opportunity to make a statement. So I`m really.

HARRIS-PERRY: The high-profile one gives a moment to talk about the more ordinary moments. You know, I think, Jonathan, you and I talk about this all the time that, when we have any kind of agreement in the public (sphere) around gun restriction, it tends to be let`s get guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. But in fact it would actually be perhaps even more life-saving to have those who have been -- who have stalking misdemeanors and that sort of thing, right, not being able to have access to guns.

METZL: Well, this is why the background checks are effective when they are, is that there are patterns to gun violence. So I think statistics are pretty much overwhelming in this regard. That it`s not persons diagnosed with mental illness that have a problem with gun violence. It`s persons who have past histories of violence, the presence of substances, alcohol and drugs, at the moment of encounter, people with histories of domestic use and abuse, and people who are -- the one mental issue is suicide (validing). And so in that regard, even though it`s understandable why this issue is being framed as the crazy strangers coming after you. In fact, 85 percent of gun, gun incidents in this country happen within social networks. You`re much more likely to be shot by your friend, your neighbor, or the person you get in a fight with at a bar, than you are by some crazy stranger. And, certainly, that`s been, that`s been borne, that`s been borne out, I think, by statistics. It`s really looking at these social networks that is important.

HARRIS-PERRY: Well, and (inaudible), you know, it`s interesting, as you tell those stories events, I wonder how that shifts in part. You know, we were talking about constitutional rights, and we think of those rights as very public rights. Our rights vis-…-vis the government. But if we, if we step back a little bit and think about unwilling we have been to enter into private spaces, into homes, into these social networks, I wonder if that`s part of the challenge that we face in reducing gun violence.

WARREN: That`s exactly the challenge because the constitutional argument is used as a right to keep individuals having guns anyway that they want. But the nature of the constitutional discussion is to protect the Federal government from over -- from overreaching.


WARREN: And it doesn`t get into the heart of what is happening in the home. I also think part of the political debate is that the, the gun lobby is really trying to get people scared about what they`re scared about. And they`re afraid of terrorists, and they`re afraid of black crime, and they`re of mental health issues.


And those things in some ways have nothing to do with what is actually going to keep people safer. And I think domestic violence is a perfect example.


HARRIS-PERRY: And, Councilwoman, when we talk about domestic violence we tend to think of it as an issue between two adults, the man and the woman in the relationship, or, or two individuals in a same-sex relationship. But in fact children are also the victims here between accidents and these incidents. Every three days in this country.


HARRIS-PERRY: .every three days we lose as many children as we lose -- as we lost in Sandy Hook. What can we begin to do at local levels, at national levels, to address this?

MARK-VIVERITO: You know, we have -- come from a premise of we ex -- we are intolerant to violence in all aspects of our lives. And if it`s behind closed doors, it`s not reason not to speak out. Not only is in terms of the actual physical impact on the children, and who may lose their lives in the process as well, but it is a cycle of violence. If we witness that, if we accept it, if we tolerate that level of violence and don`t speak out against it, we`re actually being complicit. And that repeating itself in future generations. So we`ve got to be very public about not accepting this. And when people say, well, this is an issue that should not be discussed, I have absolutely no patience for that. And as a woman it offends me because we know of it. And also the impact it has primarily in communities of color. When you have 30 percent, according to the DOJ statistics, of African-American women that are saying that in one aspect of their lives they`ve experienced intimate partner violence, that`s problematic. When 25 percent of Latinas are experiencing that too. And then people that are hesitant to access services that may be available to them. So it`s really problematic. That`s why the City Council has invested millions of dollars towards organizations that are doing this work on the ground. So we got to keep bringing it out and using opportunities like the Yankee deal, for instance, as a way of highlighting what is wrong with our society.

HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back I`m going to kind of do a little twist on the Deborah Cox question. How did we get here? No country`s supposed to be here. Will we be done with the gun violence at this point?


HARRIS-PERRY: On Tuesday, President Obama pointed out that his gun control measures were once politically palatable on both sides of the aisle, citing Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and even the NRA.


OBAMA: Even the NRA used to support expanded background checks. And, by the way, most of its members still do. Most Republican voters still do. How did we get here? How did we get to the place where people think requiring a comprehensive background check means taking away people`s guns?


HARRIS-PERRY: Joining us now from Washington, D.C., is Arkadi Gerney, who is Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, whose work focuses on crime and gun policy. So, Arkadi, can you answer the President`s question? How is it that we got here?

ARKADI GERNEY, SR. FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, it`s a tough question to answer, but, but in a country where we have 33,000 people who are dying from gun violence every year. But you can definitely see some trends over the last several decades where, you know, the debate has become more polarized.


And what you see among gun owners, and surveys of gun owners, is that over all in the U.S. gun ownership is going down. So 40 years ago, 47 percent of homes in the U.S., according to the General Social Survey, had guns in them. Now it`s down to 31 percent. But the number of guns that are being sold each year is going up. So what you see is more and more guns concentrated in fewer hands and, to a degree, gun owners have become somewhat more extreme. But, even among gun owners, you see that majorities of gun owners, even majorities of NRA members, support expanded background checks. So there is, I think, this opportunity for a breakthrough.


But there`s no question that there are several million gun owners who are very extreme, very anxious about the Federal government and have bought into the NRA`s argument that any change, no matter how modest, is a slippery slope towards getting rid of all the guns.

HARRIS-PERRY: Arkadi, stay with us. I, I don`t want you to leave, but I do want to come back out to my panel for a moment. I want to play for you a little sound from the CNN town hall this week in which the President talked about this language of conspiracy theories around the idea that these background checks would be about taking away guns.


OBAMA: I`m sorry, Cooper, yes, it is fair to call it a conspiracy. What, what are you saying? Are you suggesting that the notion that we are creating a plot to take everybody`s guns away so that we can impose martial law.

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR "ANDERSON COOPER 360 ," CNN: Not everybody, but there`s certainly.

OBAMA: .is a conspiracy? Yes, that is a conspiracy. I would hope that you would agree with that.


HARRIS-PERRY: So this idea of taking guns away versus background checks -- so, Vincent, help me for a second here. What is it that a background check actually does?

WARREN: The background check is, it`s regulation that allows people before they`re purchasing a gun and before they actually have access to the gun, to take a look at their background to see what kind of indicators that they have, to make sure that they`re the type of person that will not be using that type gun, the gun in a terrible way. It`s a fairly standard thing. We have background checks and licensing for a variety of things. You can`t, you can`t be a lawyer without having a background check and, you know, there`s probably a good reason for that. It`s the same thing with guns.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, Jonathan, are they effective? Because the other side, you`ll sometimes hear, is well, they`re not effective enough. They, they won`t actually make a difference.

METZL: Well, the problem so far, and I think Vince is exactly right, we background -- you have a background check when you buy an air plane ticket.


METZL: .and when you get your driver`s license, and issues like that. And, and you`re just passed through a data base to see your particular history. And, and I think that, in a way, the problem with background checks -- so states that have strong background checks do see dramatic reductions or lower values of again things we care about. Forty percent fewer cops shot on the job, for example, with states that have stricter background checks. Less, less partner violence, less suicide. The problem with the background check system is that there are gaping holes. So people who should not have guns, people who we don`t want to have guns, people with histories of domestic violence, for example, or people with criminal records, people on the no-fly list, they`ve been able to get guns because they can buy them from private sellers, at gun shows, on, and these Facebook groups. So in a way what President Obama`s doing, but I think it`s going to be effective over all, is saying we need a more uniform standard.


METZL: .because we don`t want those people to be able to get guns.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, Congresswoman, part of the challenge in making these kinds of policies, at least at the Federal level, has been this kind of polarization ideologically. At a local level, are people able to come together to make decisions based on sort of what`s good for the public health of a community that might not be as polarized as the discourse we see at the top.

MARK-VIVERITO: Well, listen, you know -- first of all, I`ve got to say I`m extremely proud of our President and the steps that he`s taking. I think that leadership he`s demonstrating is really going to lead us in a new historic direction. And, and I thank him for that. New York City thankfully has, when it comes to background checks, a very thorough process, where every aspect of your history is looked at, and the NYPD actually has to interview people that are requesting licenses. But at a very high local level, there are communities that are unfortunately living the reality of violence every day. You just alluded to an incident this morning which (actually) was in my District in the South Bronx, where, thankfully, Officer Stewart is fine. But the first things I got from the officers when I got on the scene, the first comment, is there`s too many guns on the -- in the streets.


MARK-VIVERITO: So we could have a very strict background process here in New York City, but guns are being accessed through other areas and are hitting our streets each and every day. So this is a real concern. We are united, you know, to have officers, and to have lay people, and everyone being united in saying we want to limit, and thanking the President for his leadership. I think that this is a unifying moment right now. And too many young people are losing their lives, and it really is something that needs to stop.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, Arkadi, let me come back to you -- we kind of asked the question of the history of how we got here in terms of a space where there is now this concentration of guns. I wonder if there is alternative histories, any other streams of history that belong to us as Americans, that give you some hope about the possibilities of also changing this tide.

GERNEY: Yeh, no question. And the President mentioned this in his remarks on Tuesday, which is the example of where we`ve come on cars and car safety.


Look, we have a car culture in America, people love their cars. They like big cars and fast cars, and cars of (inaudible) every colors. But we found a way to preserve our car culture and make cars much, much safer. You`re 80 percent less likely to die for every mile you travel in a car today than 60 years ago. It`s saved tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of lives.


And it wasn`t one thing. It wasn`t just seat belt laws, and it wasn`t just technology, and it wasn`t just drunk driving enforcement, and culture change. It was all those things together. I think that is the model for guns. If we can do all those things, step by step by step, it will save lives. And it may save just a few number of lives, but in a problem that, you know, kills more than 30,000 people. As the President said in his remarks, if we get it down to 28,000, that`s 2,000 extra people every single year. And if we can just keep chipping away at it, the, the benefits will be really, really significant, but it`s going to take a movement, and we`re going to really need people to really say that this is a litmus test issue.


GERNEY: Because it is for some people on the other side.

HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Arkadi Gerney in Washington, D.C.

And up next, the brain behind the conservative response to poverty.


HARRIS-PERRY: Right now in Columbia, South Carolina, top political leaders are gathering to discuss poverty in America. And they`re all Republican. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Tim Scott are moderating the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity, named after the late Republican Congressman Jack Kemp, who was clearly committed to fighting poverty.

Seven Republican presidential contenders are expected to attend, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Governor Chris Christy of New Jersey, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Also former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The Forum is aimed at showcasing the GOP`s outreach to low income voters in the presidential race. The American Enterprise Institute, which focuses on public policy, is one of the co-sponsors of today`s event, and joining me today from Columbia is the President of AEI, Arthur Brooks, who`s really been a driving force behind getting the GOP to focus on poverty. Nice to have you this morning.


HARRIS-PERRY: Pretty good. Look, we`ve seen a resurgence of interest in this conversation about poverty among Republicans in recent years. And I`m wondering why you think that has happened?

BROOKS: Well, it`s happened because it`s really necessary, and a lot of Republicans, just from a sheer political interest standpoint, figured out that it`s, it feels pretty bad to lose because people think that Republicans don`t care about people like them. And so, as a practical matter, they needed to start talking in a way that reflected what was written on their hearts about less fortunate Americans.


But it also has been an opportunity for a new generation of candidates and leaders in the Republican Party to, to feel liberated to, to indeed say what they care about. So it`s beyond self-interest. It is something that a lot of Republicans deeply care about. I think it`s kind of a new day, and I`m optimistic we`re going to hear more along these lines.


HARRIS-PERRY: So one of the things I know that you talk about a great deal is the importance of the free enterprise system as a best solution for poverty, which certainly seems to be true in a kind of comparative, aggregate sense, you know, over time. But on the other hand, if you take something like elderly poverty in the post-World War II era here in the U.S., it`s not more free enterprise. It`s actually a safety net, it`s the implementation of Social Security that seems to drive down poverty for the elderly. So talk to me a little bit about how you see that relationship between, on the one hand, robust free enterprise and, on the other hand, a safety net.

BROOKS: Well, I think it`s really important for Liberals and Conservatives to recognize that there shouldn`t be antagonism between the safety net and free enterprise. I would really like to see -- and I encourage Republicans all the time in my capacity as President of AEI -- to declare peace on the safety net. My view personally is that the free enterprise system has as one of its greatest accomplishments the achievement of the safety net.


BROOKS: It is the largesse of capitalism that`s made it possible for the first time in human history. But I think it`s important for Liberals to declare peace on free enterprise as well.


We`re looking for the balance between those two things to create a better for people so they can`t fall too far, so they can earn their own success as well. You need both.


HARRIS-PERRY: So this is really interesting to me because it does feel to me like those two things working together have been when we`ve seen of the greatest reduction in poverty, at least in the U.S. context. And yet you have, for example, Governor -- former Governor Bush calling for an end all together of the Supplemental Nutrition Program, or what some people call food stamps program, as part of an overhaul. I want to hear from you a little bit, both about that, but also about the expansion of the earned income tax credit.

BROOKS: Right. So I think that it`s important to remember, even though we are declaring peace on the safety net, that not every single program in the safety net is good all the time. They are experiments.


Some of them fail. We need a safety net that works better, and staying with old ideas, with programs that haven`t worked, actually hurts the poor a lot. So I think that we shouldn`t condemn people that are talking about getting rid of some things and helping others. My own view is that the food stamp program has been fantastic. We need with the food stamp program, and many other parts, a work requirement because that`s more helpful to poor people. And, and work is a really a central component of how the safety net can integrate with a free enterprise system. The EITC, the Earned Income Tax Credit, you just brought it up, is a perfect example. This sine qua non, the highest state we can get to in the safety net is coming up with programs that reward work, so that people can earn their success. That`s a question of dignity and potential. Melissa, you and I, we think so much about the dignity that we get from our work, and poor people deserve that too. The Earned Income Tax Credit is the best possible program to make that happen, to make work pay, and we should expand it, especially to single men. That`s something that conservatives and President Barack Obama agree on. We really should get that done soon.

HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask you a final question. You know, Jack Kemp is a model of a version of Republican leadership, and maybe even of Democratic leadership -- you know, relative to the kind of moderate leadership that we don`t see nearly as much in our more polarized discourse these days. And I`m wondering, when you`re looking currently at the primaries of both parties, if you feel optimistic about the capacity to find common ground, rather than polarization on the question of inequality?


BROOKS: Yeh, you know, I love this question. Inequality for sure is something we should be able to unite around. Inequality of opportunity, not necessarily inequality of income. And here`s the big way we can actually bring the country back together again between (inaudible) and conservative. When there`s a competition of ideas that has a common moral consensus, then it doesn`t become a holy war of politics. And the common moral consensus must be in the American experiment pushing opportunity to people who need it the most. Look, we got to examine our consciences here. We don`t have very much time.


We should make sure that all of our work goes to the benefit of people who have less power than we have. If we can do that, then we can -- then we can have a competition of ideas between right and left because we`re trying to help people who don`t have power to have a better life. And that is not a holy war. That is a common crusade as Americans, and I think we can get there, Melissa.


HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Arthur Brooks, in Columbia, South Carolina. I hope next time you`re in the New York area you`ll stop by nerd land.

And up next, the President`s immigration raids.


HARRIS-PERRY: Back in November of 2014, one of the most politically controversial decisions of his presidency, President Obama announced major changes to the way the government would enforce immigration laws.


Under the President`s plan of deferred action about 45 percent of undocumented immigrants would be allowed to stay in the U.S. He said come on out of the shadows, because the plan gave legal status to 3.8 million people, including 3.5 million parents of U.S. citizens who`d been living in the country for at least five years. However, this past weekend, I.C.E. agents started conducting raids, detaining at least 121 undocumented immigrants in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, including dozens of families with children. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, said this. "The focus of this weekend`s operations were adults and their children who were apprehended after May 1, 2014, crossing the southern border illegally, having exhausted appropriate legal remedies." What in the world? Isn`t this the exact thing the President said was going to end? The 2014 plan failed to provide protection for 6.2 million undocumented immigrants. It also applied only to people who entered the U.S. before the beginning of that year. And the raids have sparked outrage from immigrant advocates who question the detainment and deportation of hundreds non- violent people, many of them minors, children.


Back when he announced his plan, November 2014, President Obama told the country that deporting waves of people is quote not who we are. So, who are we then? Joining the panel now is Angie Rivera, an undocumented youth advice columnist and a core member of the New York State Youth Leadership Council. What are people in communities saying this week?

ANGY RIVERA, COLUMNIST "ASK ANGY": Well, we`re seeing a lot of things, right? We`re definitely scared, angry, frustrated, and I think it, it`s one of the biggest hypocrisies, right, to save that we`re going to give undocumented youth this deferred action program because we love immigrant youth and their families, and then go on and deport four-year-olds, right, and their parents. And to say that these raids have just started happening is not true. We`ve seen these raids happen for years under the Obama administration. We have deported more than two million people, right, in his whole presidency. And so like (trans) immigrants, black immigrants, people with convictions, have been saying this is happening, we are being targeted. And it shouldn`t have taken this for us to be outraged.

HARRIS-PERRY: I guess for me, this was a hard week because I was feeling so good about the President`s decisions and, and public statements around restricting access to guns, around background checks, and then this happening. And I keep thinking, how is this a security priority for the country?

MARK-VIVERITO: And I was, I was saying the same thing, that we can praise him on this one, but on this one definitely it`s a wrong move. New York City, we take pride in the work that we have done to embrace our undocumented immigrant communities, because we know the vast majority come here and are looking for refuge and to provide for their families, and are contributing positively to our city. So not to see these children, who are refugees -- they`re seeking asylum from extremely violent, horrific situations -- now being rounded up and sent back. It is not who we are. And so the City of New York has invested resources, the Council has taken a leadership, to provide legal resources to every single undocumented and unaccompanied minor that is here and facing deportation proceedings. We have been buffered to a certain extent from these round of raids, I believe because of the work that we`ve done, despite the inaction at the Federal level. So this deplorable. It is horrific. And it is sending hysteria and real concern across communities, and it is putting people back into the shadows. So this is very counter-productive, and I thank all of the Democratic leaders who have stood up and said this has to stop, and stop now.

HARRIS-PERRY: And the word you just used there to me is so critical, and it`s critical even from the perspective of a, of a legal status. Many of these folks are refugees, right? Which is a different sort of story than kind of an economic immigrant, someone coming looking for opportunity, which is its own, I think, potentially at least morally neutral kind of thing. But, as a legal matter, trying to escape a circumstance of extraordinary violence in Central and South America, that -- shouldn`t that provide some protection here?

WARREN: Oh, abso -- and it does provide detect -- protections, if you do it right. We have always in this country been very willfully confused about people who are coming for economic opportunities and people who are refugees. They are two entirely different categories.


WARREN: It happens in Central America, it happens in South America, it happens in the Caribbean. And we just close our eyes to this and we short of see the brown coming in. Are they going to work for us? No. Then we`re going to send them back. It, it`s crazy. But here, here`s, here`s what needs to be -- what people need to understand, and I believe -- I completely agree with the speaker. In New York, in New York City and New York State have done an outstanding job because a lot of the communities that we take care of our people, and that for a community coming from Honduras and some of these places, a lot of these places, they settle in New York State, and they don`t just need to be warehoused somewhere. There needs to be family reunification, there needs to be mental health services, there need to be help figuring out how to document what`s been happening to them. And I would point out that we shouldn`t believe the rhetoric that this is just because of gang violence in Central America.


WARREN: This also because of political instability. And let`s go back to the 2009 Honduras coup.

HARRIS-PERRY: I was going to say, and who`s responsible in part for that?

WARREN: I`m just saying we had a whole lawsuit about that at the Center for Constitutional Rights. So we need to unpack what`s happening, but we should not -- and I`m happy to hear people on this panel say this -- we should not give the President a pass on this. This is really one of the most outrageous and one of the saddest parts of his, of his presidency.

HARRIS-PERRY: Then how do you address the question of political accountability for a community that, of course, doesn`t actually have the vote? How do you hold the, the administration accountable for these efforts which are creating such fear and terror in communities?

RIVERA: Yeh. Well, I think something that`s, that`s been really amazing about the immigrant rights movement is that undocumented youth has stepped out of the shadows, and have conducted actions. Even just yesterday, right, they were blocking detention centers and being arrested here in New York City.


And so it`s so critical for us to hold elected official(s) accountable, all of them, right? Because we were so focused on the comments Trump was making, while not holding this administration accountable, that allows these mass raids to happen.


HARRIS-PERRY: Will, will the immigrant rights community, like the Black Lives Matter community, inject this into the conversation, particularly for the Democratic primary?

RIVERA: Yes, most definitely. I think the immigrant rights movement and Black Lives Matter have so much in common to fight for right now.


RIVERA: .because all of our communities are under attack. And this, this enforcement, right, it`s not just immigration, but it`s also NYPD, it`s also the FBI. And so all of us are definitely working together to make sure that this does not happen, because one deportation is too many.

HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you to Melissa Mark-Ritone -- oh, excuse me. Vivaritone.


HARRIS-PERRY: Vivarito. I`m sorry, the way it`s spelled was bizarre. And not `cause it`s actually spelled that way, but it was on my prompter odd. And Angy Rivera, Johnathan Metzl, and Vince Warren. I`m going to be back on our next hour, but coming up, the stand-off in Oregon, and the comic book store owner who`s a shero in her own right. There`s more Nerdland at the top of the hour.


HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. And in just two days, a national television audience will gather for one of the first moments in a year of last moments of President Barack Obama`s presidency. Because Tuesday night is the President`s final State of the Union Address. And he`s got just one more chance to stand before the largest bully pulpit available to an American president and bring us the coming attractions for what he hopes to accomplish before he leaves the White House for the final time. He even released a trailer of sorts to give us a sneak peek into what`s on his mind as he prepares the speech.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: It is what I want to focus on in this State of the Union Address. Not just the remarkable progress we`ve made, not just what I want to get done in the year ahead but what we all need to do together in the years to come. The big things that will guarantee an even stronger, better, more prosperous America for our kids.


HARRIS-PERRY: Now, we can certainly expect some of the State of the Union standards to which we`ve all become accustomed. There will be love from Democrats in the form of raucous applause, as always enthusiastically led by the President`s right-hand man, Vice President Joe Biden. Oh, Joe, why didn`t you run? And of course, there will be the usual opposing party side eyes from Republicans who during those same moments will remain most emphatically in their seats. And there will be First Lady Michelle Obama, looking fabulous and slaying every damn thing, while seated next to special invited guests that President Obama will shout out in the everyday Americans portion of his address.

And with the rebounding economy and a declining unemployment rate, it is likely that we`re going to hear the President`s familiar assurance that, yes, State of the Union is strong. But, there are also a few ways we can expect a flip of a traditional so-too script. Now, we are in the full swing of a presidential election. So look for the President`s policy agenda to do more than signal his hopes for his own legacy. He will also be setting up an assist for the democratic successor to take it all the way for a win. Then there will be one of the biggest changes we`ll see in the optics of his speech this year. Over the President`s left shoulder, instead of the requisite looks of disapproval from the tanned face of former Speaker of the House John Boehner, we can now look forward to the relatively paler countenance of his successor, new House Speaker Paul Ryan. And then there is this.

The last State of the Union is also the first State of the Union since the full-blown emergence of "The Bucket List." Making federal prison visiting an Amazing Grace singing and selfie stick using folks who want to pop off chicken gun reform action taking cry like nobody is watching no-damns Obama. We don`t look for a lame duck president on Tuesday night because President Obama has already let us know that he`s not going out like that. Of course the truth is, we won`t really know what will happen until it happens but the political punditry is betting that whatever it is is going to be big. So we thought why not do as pundits do when trying to predict the outcome of a political event that have yet to happen and engage in a lot of wild and rampant speculation.

What if the President and the First Lady Michelle Obama take their cues from another power couple performance this week and switch roles ala Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan on the season premiere of "Lip Sync Battle." Maybe inspired by Channing`s channeling of his inner Beyonce and Jenna`s paying homage to his famous Mike XXL stripper pictorial and had arrive that phony. Maybe the Obamas will (INAUDIBLE) First Lady delivering the speech on stage and the President holding it down on the audience. Maybe she`ll drop more #Flotus bars with the few lines of DMX where my dogs at to welcome none other than a special guest appearance by Sonny and Bo.

And as long as we are talking surprise guests, maybe they`ll be inspired by another epic moment from the show when Queen B herself showed up to show Channing how it`s done. Hey, no, that If B showed up for Dewan Tatum you know she`s coming at the Obama`s call. What if the President decide to go into full no-damns Obama mode and upgrades what sorry Mr. President was a kind of weak sauce might drop on the Jimmy Fallon show in 2012, only this time he goes all rock him on him and slams it down when he`s done to make sure it is broke. Okay, fine, none of those things are going to happen. But this is the last State of the Union from our first African-American president. This is historic, unchartered territory, people. So, the one thing we know for certain is, it is going to be a State of the Union not to be missed.

Back with me now, Jamal Simmons, democratic strategist and co-founder of Sabrina Siddiqui, political reporter for the Guardian. Robert Traynham, MSNBC contributor and former Bush-Cheney senior advisor and VP of Communications for the Bipartisan Policy Center. And Juan Manuel Benitez who is political reporter and host of Pura Politica on New York One Noticias. I`m sorry I made you all sit through that.



HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. You know, anything can happen. We`re just going to be wildly speculative. So what do you think will happen?

JAMAL SIMMONS, CO-FOUNDER, CREATE.COM: Well, I think what we know is he`s probably not going to give the full-on list.


SIMMONS: We`ve heard that before. But if you look at his travel schedule, he`s going to Omaha, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He`s going to places he hasn`t been before. And perhaps, perhaps he may be starting to make the case about poverty, particularly maybe as it impacts some White-Americans which we don`t hear a lot about and how his policies will make lives better and the next president needs to focus on the broad-based issues of income inequality.

HARRIS-PERRY: Do you see it as a likely assist for whomever will be the democratic nominee?

JUAN MANUAL BENITEZ, HOST, PURA POLITICA, NY1 NOTICIAS: Yes and no. I think to begin with, it is going to be a bucket speech. Again, a victory lap after all these years. And I think that we`re going to see him turning to that inspirational leader that we can basically predict. Barack Obama is going to turn into after he leaves the White House. On the other hand, yes, he has to lay the groundwork for the democratic nominee. So, maybe he`s going to lay out some big themes and also he`s going to try to make this election a continuation election instead of a change election. And it all depends on the economy. Right now the economy is pretty strong. Although we have this lavish recovery, unemployment is really, really -- five percent right now, it`s really down. So, we`re going to see if in November, the economy keeps the way it is right now and the growth numbers are the same way, maybe voters are going to vote again with their pockets and they`re going to give Democrats another presidency.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is -- on the one hand the possibility that he`s going to focus on poverty, but to focus on poverty would be to make certain kinds of claims about sort of the holes that have occurred in the economic recovery.

ROBERT TRAYNHAM, FORMER BUSH/CHENEY SENIOR ADVISOR: That`s correct. I agree with both points. And I think what the President is going to do is he`s going to threat the needle. And it`s three needles. One is about his legacy and what he`s accomplished over the last almost eight years. But also he`s going to hopefully out lay the future and he`s going to talk about probably poverty but he`s going to link it probably to the jobless economy, and say there`s still a lot of work to be done. Then he can link it to China and talk about the devaluation of the currency over there. He can also talk about the trade imbalance. So, there`s a lot of things he can do to talk about -- there`s still a lot of work to be done, and then pass the baton presumably to a Republican or Democrat, hopefully a Democrat. So, therefore Hillary --

HARRIS-PERRY: From his perspective --

TRAYNHAM: From his perspective. So, therefore, on Wednesday morning, Hillary Clinton will be asked about the President`s speech to convince. She can take those themes and then apply it to her candidacy.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: And I think that in addition to the domestic agenda when he does this kind of future look at what the post-Obama years should look like, he`s also going to talk a lot about the role of the United States on the world stage. Because you have obviously this National Security crisis where you have escalating fears over the rice of ISIS, you have questions being raised over his handling of foreign policy and you remember when he came in, of course, you know, after the Iraq war a large part of his message was how do we view U.S. diplomatic relations around the world. And I think you`ll going to see him try and re-affirm why his world view was actually the right approach for the country and also he will cite from my understanding from some administration officials for example the nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S.- Cuba resumption of diplomatic ties and then I think also try to make -- at least re-affirm people`s confidence in his approach to terrorism around the world.

HARRIS-PERRY: Will he go directly at the appalling humanitarian crisis in Syria right now? Because that -- again, that is a bit of a challenge given some of the choices that he made.

SIDDIQUI: I think that he has. I think he`s used to believe pulpits certainly in recent months is to push back against those who do not believe for example that the United States should be bringing in more refugees. I don`t think he will dedicate a significant portion of his speech but he will link it to immigration and --

HARRIS-PERRY: There is a Syrian refugee who is going to be in the First Lady`s box which suggests to me that he`s going, you know, if you`re in that box --

TRAYNHAM: He`s pretty good at this. And what it is, it is called the heroes in the balcony. Ronald Reagan did this in 1982 where you actually put a human face to good versus evil.


TRAYNHAM: And President Obama is really good at articulating a vision. He`s very good as an aspirational leader. He will do that on Tuesday night. He will make us feel good as Americans.

HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I want to say one more thing about the box. Because this is kind of his Beyonce moment because he`s going to look back at it. Because he`s got two really important figures from the 2008 campaign that are going to be in the box. Let`s take a listen to a conversation about that.


DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The President`s sat us down late last year to say, look, I don`t want it to be a list of policy choices. We have a lot of policy -- you`ll hear a lot about that over the course of this year. But what he wants to do is talk about a vision for the future of this country. We feel like we can win this future. We feel very optimistic about the future. That`s a big difference between us and what`s going on in this public debate right now. And that`s what you hear about on Tuesday night.


HARRIS-PERRY: Well, so that wasn`t quite the one that I was looking for which is about Edith Childs and Earl Smith who are going to be the two folks from the 2008 campaign, are going to be there. And that`s the person who vote, created, "Fired up and ready to go," right? If you remember that, Earl Smith who gave him the kind of good luck charm. Right? And so, it is kind of this reminder that those things are -- that your point about like that inspirational leader who we remember.

TRAYNHAM: It is the embodiment of hope. And it goes -- well, it`s going back to ground zero and reminding all of us that this is what this is all about. This is about the human faces that make this stuff possible. So, you know, and it is a brilliant strategy to kind of go back to Circa 2007 to remind people that this is really what this is about and this is why I`m president of the United States.

SIMMONS: And they were talking about the future and he`s talking about foreign policy, like that`s going to go. That actually is a help for Hillary Clinton without him endorsing her because Bernie Sanders really doesn`t have a foreign policy/national security agenda. And so the more that becomes an issue in the democratic primary, it reminds people of the stakes that are at play. And that maybe she is a little bit more prepared to do the full job than maybe Bernie is.

SIDDIQUI: Another issue with the box is that he plans to have an empty seat to represent the victims of gun violence. And you remember one of his most powerful and memorable moments in a State of the Union Address was actually in 2013 when he had families of victims of gun violence sitting with Michelle Obama and he said they deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords, the children of Newtown, the children of Aurora. And I think he will point to that empty seat to try and give another take on why there needs to be greater gun control. We know that that`s not going to happen in Congress, but he views it as such a major part of his legacy.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And the emotional appeal -- the President who we saw on Tuesday, was you know, undoubtedly now a week later that piece will still be there still. Don`t miss MSNBC`s live coverage of State of the Union this Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Up next, more. The President is a tough act to follow but we`re going to take a look at who will be in the hot seat for the Republicans.


HARRIS-PERRY: The President`s last ever State of the Union Address on Tuesday night is going to be a tough act to follow. But the Republican Party is going to give it their best shot and their choice for the post rebuttal address, this year`s chosen one is South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Now, there`s no question that Governor Haley has a pretty low bar for success given the most memorable moments from her rebuttal predecessors. They were not exactly moments that wanted -- that anyone wants to remember, but here they are. There was Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal`s response to the President`s 2009 joint address to Congress in which he was widely panned by many rebuttal watchers for the milquetoast response that fell far short of matching the President`s soaring rhetoric.

And then of course my favorite, Marco Rubio, all anyone could talk about, the morning of at speech was what seemed like his unquenchable thirst. Nevertheless, the GOP`s choice of Nikki Haley signals the party`s high hopes for her ability to hold down not only the rebuttable but maybe possibly the VP slot on the presidential election ticket. You know, I`ve been saying this for a year, especially after what I think was the really lovely way that she managed the confederate flag question.

TRAYNHAM: Look, you said it artfully, and that is whoever does the President`s rebuttal, the bar is set so low. There`s no doubt about it. However, Nikki Haley is a unique person. Although we did say that about Bobby Jindal as well.

HARRIS-PERRY: No, I didn`t.

TRAYNHAM: But Nikki Haley is articulate. She is very, very bright, and she clearly comes from a state that`s very important to the presidential primary process after New Hampshire and Iowa. So, it is going to be really important to see which she does. More importantly it`s going to be important to see if she does anything differently, whether that`s going to be a town hall format, whether it`s going to be in front of a fireplace. Whatever the case maybe. Clearly we know what she`s going to say. Everything the President is for. She`s going to be against. But more importantly to your point, I think it`s going to be really interesting to look at her, to a vice presidential lens. If you have a potential vice presidential lens. Does she have to gravitas issue articulate? How comfortable is she is in front of a national audience. We`ll see.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, I just really hope they don`t put her in front of a fireplace on a couch. I mean, like, they should make her seem executive not --

SIMMONS: She`s helped here because normally you wouldn`t necessarily pick a South Carolina politician because of all the racial issues that exist in South Carolina. But now she`s inoculated herself from all those attacks. And so, the Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, perhaps. Then you`ve got, you know, perhaps Nikki Haley at the bottom of the ticket to a male nominee.

TRAYNHAM: The interesting thing about Nikki Haley is, she proactively handled the flag. It wasn`t like she was pushed into this position, she went out front on this and obviously all the Republicans kind of follow by her name. She did it brilliantly, she really did.

HARRIS-PERRY: She really did. Like I mean, whatever you think about all the rest of the policies in that moment in which the whole country was -- in fact the whole world was watching she really did beautifully handle it. And I don`t think there is any way you can build to take that from her.

SIDDIQUI: And I think what`s notable about her is in his very fractured Republican primary where there is so much conversation about the divisions that are being created and the rhetoric against immigrants and the struggles that they`re having with demographics, it`s not just about the confederate flags. To me, that was one of the big moments. But another moments she had amid the Syrian refugee crisis, she was one of the few Republican governors who said South Carolina will open its doors to Syrian refugees. She`s tried to -- I think present herself as a more unifying figure among Republicans and that`s something that they`ve been lacking --

HARRIS-PERRY: She also has a big economic story out of South Carolina.


HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s part of that sort of the rise of, you know, I hate to say this -- the rise of the new south, right? In the sense of the economic, but, you know, part of -- I had long thought she was the VP choice but if Cruz or Rubio end up at the top, can you imagine a ticket where both folks on the Republican side are people of color?

BENITEZ: That will be difficult not only because of that but also because of the age. Because they can say Marco Rubio`s too young. And I think they are the same age, early 40s.


BENITEZ: On the other hand I think it is great that they picked Nikki Haley. Any time one of the major parties puts forward a female executive we don`t see that many women in politics. We were talking about Hillary Clinton, Democratic Party, or Carly Fiorina, but it is a male dominated conversation so far. I think it is great when any of the parties highlight the talent that they have.

TRAYNHAM: That`s a lot of change at the top.

HARRIS-PERRY: That`s a lot of change.

TRAYNHAM: I`m not sure the American people are comfortable with that. However --

SIMMONS: The American people might be --


TRAYNHAM: You really think the American people are ready for a first -- Cuban-American president and also an Indian-American vice president?

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, we can. Yes.


Look, I mean, look, they`re not my cup of tea but let me say this. For me, the fact that it is even possible on the Republican side is an extraordinary shift in what the American political milieu is. Right? The fact that it is even a possibility that there could be two people of color, very reasonably considered at the top of the ticket. Whether or not it actually happens. And so, it is impart for me also a push about what`s happening on the democratic side. Right? Is that, at the moment we don`t seem to have a bench of executives of that depth and it is a question about what the party will, in part, do.

And let me just -- one more thing, coming back to the President`s State of the Union though. You`ve made the point about Rubio and Haley both being young. This is a president leaving after two terms who is extremely young, who may have as much life left after the American presidency as before. And I`m just wondering how that affects the State of the Union looks like. I mean, he is setting out like not a five or ten-year legacy, he might be setting out a four or five-decade set of work.

SIMMONS: And don`t forget, Bill Clinton picked Al Gore and they were about the same age, and that set that whole new direction, new party, new America sense. If the Republican said that, it would actually be a master`s stroke, I`m just not sure that they can actually pull it off.

SIDDIQUI: I think in a primary, the Donald Trump in their conversation around immigration, that they`d been having. I think that would be an obstacle for them because they do would have that potential where would that suppress turnout among their base. I think that if you`ve seen the reaction to immigration issue on -- that`s dominated really, that`s defying their primary, that`s where it becomes difficult for that --

HARRIS-PERRY: Have you seen how their base feels about Hillary Clinton if she ends up at the top?


HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, there are various ways to stoke turnout.



TRAYNHAM: But what`s ironic about this, to your point, you`re earlier point is, we are all talking about color and poverty and race and so forth in the Republican Party. Just this weekend, South Carolina, there was Jack Kemp -- or Kimmy Kemp --


TRAYNHAM: -- the son of Jack Kemp --

HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Hey, that is my upcoming blog. And you know how to handle --



But in fact, thank you to Jamal Simmons and Sabrina Siddiqui. Robert and Juan are sticking around to talk about that.

But up next, how little common sense helped to launch a revolution.


HARRIS-PERRY: On this day in 1776, writer Thomas Paine published the pamphlet "Common Sense" and helped write a critical chapter in American history. The 47-page pamphlet with its stirring yet simple language is credited with uniting both colonial residents and political leaders on the idea of American Independence from Britain. Paine was a poor and uneducated English who had been in the colonies for just a little more than a year when he wrote, "I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense. There is something very absurd in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island."

He painted the struggle of 13 colonies as a valiant battle that would transform the world writing, "The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. We have the power to begin the world again." The pamphlet was an instant and influential hit selling more than half a million copies and Payne backed up his words with action not only fighting with the continental army once the revolutionary war began but donating his share of the profit from "Common Sense" to buy supplies. During the war, he wrote a series of dispatches known as "The American Crisis."

And as George Washington was preparing to cross the frozen Delaware River with troops suffering from exhaustion and frostbite, he tried to inspire them with these words from Paine. "These are the times that try men`s souls. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have this consolation with us that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." The next day, Washington and his troops went on to a critical victory and the words of Thomas Paine have echoed throughout American history stirring people across the political divide. In 1980, Ronald Reagan quoted Paine while accepting the Republican presidential nomination.


RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are no words to express the extraordinary strength and character of this breed of people we call American. They are the kind of men and women Tom Paine had in mind when he wrote, during the darkest days of the American Revolution, we have it in our power to begin the world over again.


HARRIS-PERRY: Twenty nine years later, the first African-American president in his first inaugural address would invoke the words of Paine, the very words used to inspire droops during the American Revolution.


OBAMA: In a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people. Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country alarmed at one common danger came forth to meet it.


HARRIS-PERRY: The words of Thomas Paine, words that have inspired generations of Americans helped turn 13 colonies into a mighty country and have their biggest impact in a small pamphlet first published on this day January 10th, 1776.


HARRIS-PERRY: Yesterday several of the Republican candidates for president took on the issue of poverty at a forum in South Carolina hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation. Now, before we get to what they said, it is helpful to know who Jack Kemp was and what he meant and still means to the Republican Party. Kemp was a long-time member of Congress, a vice presidential candidate and secretary of the Federal Housing Department. Most importantly, he was the man most responsible for the Republican Party`s focus on tax cuts as a tool of economic growth and prosperity. And it was Kemp who convinced Ronald Reagan to run for president on a promise of tax cuts. And Kemp who authored the 23 percent tax cut that Reagan signed into law.

But, Kemp also dubbed himself a, quote, "bleeding heart conservative," and he didn`t advocate cutting government benefits to pay for those tax cuts. In fact, as housing secretary under the first President Bush, he pushed for more spending on anti-poverty programs. He spoke passionately about America`s duty to help the poor and his centerpiece proposal was a quarter billion dollar program that sold public housing units to tenants. Unfortunately, there isn`t necessarily the evidence to suggest that Kemp`s programs did anything to alleviate poverty and they did not continue after his tenure. But, Kemp remains a model to conservatives like House Speaker Paul Ryan who moderated yesterday`s forum. And who`s carved out a space for himself as the Republican voice on poverty. One common theme among the 2016ers speaking at the forum was that the Republicans must do a better job of selling themselves as the party of poor.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It begins by convincing people that you actually care about what they`re going through, because what the other side is going to say is the Republicans, the conservatives, they`re just looking to gut the anti-poverty programs.

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When we go there and we talk about what we believe, they actually resonate with it and we have to stop having this phobia. We have much better policies than the Democrats do.

FMR. GOV. JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You got to go sell it. The good news is, we have a huge opportunity here because the President`s policies have failed.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And our party has failed in going in to those places because we`ve said, well, we don`t get instant gratification back. So therefore, why go there. And we need to go there, show up and campaign in places where we`re uncomfortable.


HARRIS-PERRY: Joining my panel now, Tianna Gaines-Turner from the Witness to Hunger Program. And Rebecca Vallas who is director of Anti-Poverty Policy, the Center for American Progress.

Tianna, I want to start with you. It`s nice to have you back at the table.

TIANNA GAINES-TURNER, LOW INCOME MOTHER: Thank you so much for having me.

HARRIS-PERRY: Happy New Year!

TURNER: Happy New Year!

HARRIS-PERRY: So, what do you think about this idea that the primary problem that Republicans have is simply in selling their programs and explaining clearly enough how the plans of the Republican Party will impact and affect and assist people living in poverty?

GAINES-TURNER: Well, I think that it is really funny that they feel like they have to sell themselves, that the wording to me was just a little bit funny. But I am happy that they are, you know, taking abreast of it and they`re all working for it but I don`t need as I said before, anyone to tell my story. I can tell my story best. And I did remember at some point in time he said, well, we are listening. It is one thing to listen, and it is another thing to hear, and it is another thing to act. And at this point in time in 2016, we need action. We don`t need head talking pieces. We don`t need someone to pretend that they understand what`s going on. We need for you to invite me to the table so that I can tell you exactly what works, and what doesn`t work and how we can work together to make sure that these programs stay in and to make sure that we have a voice at the table.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, I think this -- to me, both of those points are such critical ones. Rebecca, both that, it is good that both -- at least I just want to assert and you can tell me if you think I`m wrong -- that it is good that both parties are thinking and talking about putting issues of poverty on the table but in order to listen, it can`t just be just candidates, right? We actually have to have folks living in circumstances of poverty to have conversations.

REBECCA VALLAS, DIRECTOR, ANTI-POVERTY POLICY CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Yes. I couldn`t agree more. And that`s why I`m always honored to be sitting this close to Tianna and having this conversation with you. I think unfortunately we have seen that Republicans have gotten better at selling themselves on this. Right? They have upped their game big-time when it comes to talking about poverty. Gone are the days of the 47 percent, now we`re hearing opportunity and we`re hearing right to rise. The problem is that once you get beneath the surface, it might be better lipstick but it is the same old pig. Right? It`s about block granting and slashing vital programs and sending them to the states. It is about telling everyone to get married.

Telling everyone to just get a job. What you didn`t hear yesterday was what should have been top of the agenda if Republicans really were serious about expanding opportunity and cutting poverty and that is raising the minimum wage. In this country our federal minimum wage is a poverty wage. And so what that means is, we`ve got millions of Americans who are working harder than ever and they`re falling further and further behind and they aren`t able to make ends meet through work alone. They have to turn to public assistance. If you were to raise the minimum wage you would not only lift millions of Americans out of poverty but you would also shrink spending on public assistance which is what Republicans are claiming that they want to do.

HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, for me, like, this was -- this was maybe the most distressing piece of the forum for me was the distinction between people living in poverty and people working. When in fact we know that working people in this country are working and living in poverty. Just so you know that I`m not just making this up. Let`s take a listen to a bunch of the candidates talking about the needs for work as though working alone can alleviate poverty.


BUSH: Work needs to be the single biggest requirements. No more waivers as this administration has done. There should be real work eligibility.

CHRISTIE: You have to do more than just talk about work. You have to really reward the people who are out there doing it.

KASICH: So we got to make sure that we have the incentives for people to rise and not put them in a position of where they go to work and they lose more than what they gain and they`re like this system is terrible.

CARSON: Let`s teach those people that when they go to work, they get skills, they meet people, they get opportunities, they get to climb the ladder, they get much better off than the person who`s just sitting at home receiving those things.


BENITEZ: The problem here is, that no matter how much you say that you need to show up and talk to those people and sell the message, if you don`t listen to the experts, if you don`t talk to people like them to learn about the issues and how to alleviate this problem, then you don`t have a message to sell. And the only thing that people are hearing so far for decades is that trickle-down economics is going to rise them up from poverty. And we`ve seen before from experience that doesn`t work. Trickle-down economics and also the message, well, if you`re still poor, you`re not trying hard enough.

TRAYNHAM: First, let me just applaud the Republican Party for having this conversation.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Yes. That`s right.

TRAYNHAM: And I think first and foremost, they`re starting off with a positive, first.


TRAYNHAM: Let`s applaud them for doing that.


TRAYNHAM: And also, back to Jack Kemp, we said a few moments ago, he is the one who started this conversation 30, almost 40 years ago. So, again I think we need to focus on that a little bit. I also want to be political but also a little personal. So, the political. This is South Carolina, these are presidential candidates on the eve of a South Carolina primary so what they are speaking in is political code about work. That`s first and foremost. And I hate to say that but that`s just the moral reality of other situation. Now the personal. We now know that there are a lot of people out there that are working poor. We know that people are living paycheck to paycheck and the harder they work and the longer they work, they still bring homeless.

We know that 40.2 million people are living in poverty. We know that $24,000 a year is not enough to live in any city in America. So, we know that. The question becomes is, into your point which I think is really are important, is the selling part. I view this as very transactional. We sell a lot of things but we as the consumers or you as the consumer choose whether or not this is a good product or not.


TRAYNHAM: And the Republican Party has to do a much better job not just of selling or marketing themselves to all Americans but to your point, Rebecca, it`s going deeper into the details here. And let`s just really be honest about the details. As well intentioned as a lot of our programs are, whether it is head start, whether it is welfare, there are some kinks in that system and there is room for improvement.


TRAYNHAM: Let`s have the conversation about the room for improvement and let`s have a conversation about what really works and what`s not working.

HARRIS-PERRY: All right. And let`s do it right after the break.



HARRIS-PERRY: House Speaker Paul Ryan appeared on Face the Nation this morning and asked about past Republicans who toured poor areas when campaigning like Jack Kemp. He said this --


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think it is a mistake that`s been made. I think that`s exactly right. We have got to go and compete for the minds and the hearts and the votes of everybody in this country, no matter who they are. And what I think we`ve had is one party takes a group of people for granted and another party has not paid attention to them.


HARRIS-PERRY: So you got a chance to meet Mr. Ryan.


HARRIS-PERRY: And tell me a little bit about the context of that.

GAINES-TURNER: So, I went down and I was able to speak as an expert witness. Which I don`t think of myself as an expert. I think of myself speaking out for so many people that don`t have a voice at the Republican House Budget Committee. And I`m sadly to say that that was a great accomplishment and I appreciate it but I felt like, where we at now --


GAINES-TURNER: -- as we were saying before the break. You know, I would love to have another conversation with Mr. Paul Ryan because he is now in a different place.


GAINES-TURNER: So he has now the power to sit down across the table from me and let`s have a joint conversation. I was a little disturbed about, you know, the conversation that was work, work, work, work, work. What about those who work constantly, every day? As you said, sometimes, two, three jobs. And yet can still cannot find themselves to pull themselves out of poverty. Let`s talk about the single parent, let`s talk about the working people. Like you said, it`s the working -- the people who work the hardest are always seems like sometimes we`re the ones that are talked about as if we`re the people over there.


GAINES-TURNER: When you start realizing that we`re not the people over there, that we need to be the people over here and so we can talk together --


GAINES-TURNER: -- and stop acting like kids in the sandbox throwing sand back and forth and realize that we`re really people, then we can really get a solid answer to exactly what they are trying to do and what they`re going to do.

HARRIS-PERRY: And there was this moment when Mr. Ryan was considering whether or not to become, to take the offer to become the speaker. And he said this, I just want to play it to remind ourselves. Oh, I`m sorry. But he said that he really didn`t want to give up time with his family. And I know, you know, you`re a mother. You work. Your husband has been working. You know, you all have four children. Let`s take a moment and listen.


RYAN: I cannot, and I will not, give up my family time.


HARRIS-PERRY: So, simple enough. But I just want to let you respond.

GAINES-TURNER: Well, you know, it always -- it really perturbed me, and I`m going to be honest, when he said he wouldn`t give up his family time because we give up family time all the time. We give up family time when we have to go back and forth to sit in, you know, food pantry lines. We give up time when we have to go back and forth to the welfare office. We give up our -- my family time with my family is just as important as his family time. And I feel like at first, they did not want to, you know, even think about the thought of making sure that they held on to sick and paid family leave to those who have kids with medical disabilities like myself. It wasn`t even a question. But you almost demanded it. You know, when he -- I`m not going to give up my family time. So I found that to be, you know, really sad that it`s -- so it`s basically you do as I say and not do as I do type of motto.

VALLAS: Wait. To Tianna`s point, right, and I think this really gets to the very heart of it. I think, unfortunately, what we heard at yesterday`s summit was that Republicans view poverty as an us and them issue. They`ve been talking about I`m going to go out and sell this to these other people. Poverty is about all of us. Right?


VALLAS: And actually if you look at these numbers, we are not talking about some permanent class of people who are stuck at the bottom year in and year out. We`re talking about musical chairs. We`re talking about people --

HARRIS-PERRY: Americans cycling through poverty --

VALLAS: Yes. Yes. And when you actually look at it. Half of Americans will experience at least one year of being poor or teetering right on the edge of poverty. And when you add in needing to turn to a safety net or becoming unemployed, we`re talking about four in five Americans. Right? So, this is all of us. It is not some "other," or people across on the wrong side of the tracks.

HARRIS-PERRY: And let me also just say, it is also, in part, why anti- poverty programs don`t just look, you know, we saw Mr. Bush say that he would want to cut food stamps. Right? But you know what else in an anti- poverty program, it`s a high-quality public transportation system, right? Building infrastructure. Because if you don`t have to wait for the bus for an hour and a half, right? You can actually see your kids for a moment before you have to get on the bus to go to work but we often don`t talk about that kind of infrastructure development as constituting anti-poverty program but it in fact is.

TRAYNHAM: Yes. I`m a bit befuddled.


TRAYNHAM: Because again, I go back to my earlier point. At least we`re having on the Republican side the conversation. Because I`m looking at it from a different angle. If we weren`t having this conversation, it is almost like damned if you do, damned if you don`t. If we weren`t having a conversation, people would be probably be sitting around this table saying, why aren`t they`re not talking about this. Why aren`t they having a conversation about? Now, you can disagree with the policy, you can disagree with the process, but at least they`re thinking about this proactively.

So, again I go back to that. And so, and again, this is something that we choose not to talk about because I guess it is an inconvenient truth but there are some policies that are in place that are not working. I mean, can we just acknowledge that and then the question becomes is how can we have a collective conversation putting the Republican and Democrat, liberal/conservative lens aside and saying how do we improve all Americans live --

HARRIS-PERRY: Let me just say, food stamps are working. So, let me just, let me say this. The stamp program actually is the main things that keeps folks from falling even further down.

TRAYNHAM: It is a vital safety net.

BENITEZ: How are you going to set the bar so low? How can you say -- unless you`re talking about it, that means that a major political party is saying that well, we didn`t really give up on the poor. We are talking about their issues for one day and we`re just telling them that maybe they`re not listening to us.

TRAYNHAM: So what is your solution in that case?

BENITEZ: The solution is that they need to come up with specific proposals, number one. They have to come up with more than just a "no" when the other parties proposing free community college or raising the minimum wage. And then if they admire so much of Ronald Reagan, why don`t they come to the South Bronx like he did.

VALLAS: I could not agree more. Talking is a great first step. Right? But if we give them too much credit for just talking and we ignore the fact that you can drive a truck through the gap between their rhetoric and the reality of their policies, we are doing a major disservice to 47 million Americans.

HARRIS-PERRY: I want to say thank you to Tianna Gaines-Turner, to Rebecca Vallas, to Robert Traynham and to Juan Manuel Benitez.

And up next, the weirdest thing of the year -- so far.


HARRIS-PERRY: Now that we`re comfortably settled into 2016, it`s time to start a new tradition here. And I`m calling it the weirdest thing in the world -- excuse me, this year, so far. I quote that one. OK. But for the first installment it`s much ado about booties. More specifically, the booties of Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio. It all started last week when "The New York Times" Michael Barbaro tweeted that Senator Rubio was rocking some seriously fashionable black booties in New Hampshire. Setting off a media firestorm. And his GOP rivals wasted no time in getting in on the fun, like Rand Paul.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m here in Whoopi Goldberg`s office trying to choose some shoes. We`ve seen Rubio has those cool new boots and I don`t want to be outdone.


HARRIS-PERRY: Carly Fiorina meanwhile raised the stakes, and Rick Tyler, communications director for Ted Cruz`s campaign tweeted a New York magazine article proclaiming that a vote for Marco Rubio is a vote for men`s high heeled booties. And while Mr. Rubio rightfully called the whole thing craziness, he is said to have set the slick looking floor shines aside for now which is a shame because, don`t get me wrong, there may be a little perverse justice in the fact that the biggest fashion firestorm of the campaign does not center on either of the women candidates but the whole thing is terribly one-sided as Mr. Rubio is far from the only man of the GOP to take pride in his footwear.

Now, let`s take a look at these black ostrich cowboy boots with, as you can see, a small heel for support. Nice, right? Well, guess what, Rick Tyler. Those are none other than your guy Ted Cruz`s preferred argument books. He`s also been seen on the campaign trail sporting another pair in Carmel. And they`re gorgeous. And back in October, Jeb Bush opted for a little flair on his debating boots. And let`s not forget President Ronald Reagan, the macho cowboy president himself kicking up his heels without any shame. So, Senator Rubio, don`t mind the haters. Who doesn`t enjoy rocking a fly pair of shoes from time to time? I know. I do. But honestly, with the sprint to Iowa and New Hampshire now in full swing, the fact -- the biggest political story at the beginning of the year for the race in 2016 turned out to be about the shoes the candidates are running in? Uh-hm. Well, that`s got to be about the weirdest thing that`s happened this year -- so far anyway.

One last note. Today is a bit of a sad day here in Nerdland. After leading this team for nearly four years, our executive producer Eric Salzmans moving on to an exciting new gig here at MSNBC. And over the years, we`ve seen nerd come and we`ve seen nerds go. It`s our nature as a business, lots of talented young producers who stop through "MHP" show on their way to greatness. But through every transition, Eric was here. The true king of Nerdland. Eric who makes coming to work, well, an adventure. And there is nothing quite like Eric on those days when his mood is up and his coffee cup is full.

He has 1,000 ideas an hour. Boundless energy. Jaw-dropping enthusiasm, endless stories and corny jokes. And a personal sound track of songs that he`s composed for his daughters, just to make all the mundane daily tasks special. And while all the nerd loves Eric, what he and I have is special. You see, I might not be the easiest host to produce, but Eric has always been the first and best supporter of this show and of me. I`ve made TV with Eric longer than I was married to my first husband. Eric is our irreplaceable inspiration. Our fierce advocate. Our creative partner. Our true friend and our great teacher. Eric is the little nerd who could. The mighty leader of our motley crew. We`re going to miss you every day. But as we say, once a nerd, always a nerd. That`s our show for today.

Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m not going to cry, and I`m going to see you next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Right now it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT." But Richard Lui is in for Alex. Hey, Richard.

RICHARD LUI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hey, cheers to Alex. Cheers to you, Melissa. Thank you so much.

Sean Penn`s interview with El Chapo. That story of how he was able to get in touched with the drug lord.

Plus, the legal trouble that could lie ahead for him as a result.

Tired than ever, you know, what three weeks to go before Iowa, new numbers from an NBC News Poll of the Race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

And historic cold. The soul-crushing temperatures in store for the wild card game between the Seahawks and the Vikings. Don`t go anywhere. We`ll be right back.


LUI: Hello to you. It`s high noon in the east. Nine in the west. Welcome to WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT. I`m Richard Lui in for Alex today.

At this hour, Sean Penn meeting El Chapo. The actor lands a controversial interview with the Mexican drug lord. What the fallout could be for Penn and the actress who helped make that happen.