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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/17/12

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Jarred Bernstein, Keith Ellison

EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC ANCHOR: Thank you to you at home for sticking around for the next hour. Rachel has a well-deserved night off. It is common for Republicans to venerate Ronald Reagan, for them to laud his achievements, his record, to try and name everything in sight after him. What is not common, what was, in fact, really surprising was when at the height of the big Obama-Hillary primary battle back in `08, Obama began trying to win over Democratic voters by talking up the gipper. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. (END VIDEO CLIP) KLEIN: Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of American conservatism, was a transformational president according to Barack Obama, more successful that even in the really successful recent Democratic president, Bill Clinton. Now when Obama said that, the strategy at work was pretty clear. Mr. Obama was at once diminishing the impact of Bill Clinton and therefore taking a shot at the idea of nominating another Clinton, and he was trying to appeal to conservative-leaning moderates, people he would eventually need to win the election. And he was trying to appeal to liberals who wanted their own Reagan, their own transformational leader. But Obama praising Ronald Reagan was part of what has become a common trend now. Happens a lot that presidents who are controversial at the time become unifying icons in retrospect. But the rallying around the retiree effect happens through a kind of selective forgetting. We make these former presidents unifying by forgetting who they were and what they actually did. We forget about the things that divided us about them when they`re actually in office. The nation`s 39th president found himself -- seemingly out of nowhere -- injected right into this year`s presidential race just a month ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, would you have gone after bin Laden? MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would have given the order, Governor? ROMNEY: Well, of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order. (END VIDEO CLIP) KLEIN: Now, look, Jimmy Carter`s reputation as a peace nick is undeserved. He presided over a military build-up against the Soviet Union and he himself served on a nuclear submarine, which is quite a bit more military service than Mitt Romney has offered the country. Nevertheless, it is unusual to see a Republican candidate ever saying a nice thing about Jimmy Carter, much is said about his instincts on foreign policy and his willingness to take the fight to America`s enemies, even to the point as only to make the current president`s success in killing the most wanted man alive look less impressive. But Mitt Romney does have a Democrat who he now compliments without having so much hidden meaning. Mr. Romney does have a Democrat who he compliments unabashedly on the campaign trail. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: President Clinton made efforts to reform welfare as we know it. President Clinton, remember, he said the era of big government was over. President Clinton was signaling to his own party that Democrats should no longer try to govern by proposing a new program for every problem. President Obama tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer of discarded ideas. (END VIDEO CLIP) KLEIN: That Clinton sounds like a good guy. And Mitt Romney has been traveling the country in recent weeks singing his praises. What he seems to have forgotten and maybe just slipped his mind or something about Bill Clinton is what Republicans actually thought of Clinton`s program back in the 1990s specifically what they thought of his economic plan. When Bill Clinton came into office pretty much the very first thing he did was he tried to pass a budget to reduce the deficit. You would have thought that is exactly what Republicans would have wanted from him. Here comes a Democratic president and immediately he takes an axe to the nation`s budget deficit. But Bill Clinton didn`t get one Republican vote for his 1993 budget. Not one. Not a single Republican anywhere in the House or Senate voted for his economic plan. In fact, they went even further than not voting for it. They actively predicted that Bill Clinton`s 1993 budget would spell doom for the nation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I believe this will lead to a recession next year. This is the Democrat machine`s recession and each one of them will be held personally accountable. PAUL COVERDELL, FORMER SENATOR: It`s going to slow the economy. It`s going to put people out of work, I`ve been saying for the last week the person I feel the worst about in all this is that person who`s filling out a job application. Because It`s an a tight job market now and it`s only going to get tighter. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The proof will be in the pudding. We`re going to come back here next year, there will be higher deficits. There will be more spending. We`ll continue to have a very slow economy. People aren`t going to work. (END VIDEO CLIP) KLEIN: By the way, did you catch Newt Gingrich`s tie in that? That was amazing. OK, so did it lead to a recession? Did the Clinton budget leave us with fewer jobs? It did not. In fact the exact opposite happened. During the Clinton administration, 23 million jobs were created. And President Clinton took the massive deficit of the late `80s and early `90s and turned them into giant surpluses, quite the contrary of what now Ohio Governor Kasich predicted. What did Republicans hate so much about Bill Clinton`s economic plan, though? Well, it raised taxes. His 1993 budget created new top tax brackets for the nation`s highest income ear earners, it raised the corporate tax rate to 35 percent, it raised the gas tax, it raised taxes, a lot of them, all at once. And one of the effects of that is that it helped Bill Clinton close the deficit because -- and this is an important principle of budgeting -- taxes close deficits. That is what they do. What Bill Clinton believed in was responsible fiscal management. Yes, he also cut spending, that was crucial to it as well. But he understood that in order to close the deficit, part of the deficit that was partially the result of previous tax cuts, you had to be willing to increase taxes, that`s half the budget there. Republicans warned that would tank the economy, though, that it would cause a recession, that it wouldn`t close the deficit and they were dead wrong. And now all of these years later, they have forgotten all those lessons. In their rush to make Bill Clinton the good Democrat and Barack Obama the bad one they`ve forgotten all of what Clinton actually did and everything they should have learned from it. Since the Clinton administration, Republicans took economic policy in this country in the exact opposite direction. That they are trying to create an experiment. They decided to pass multiple rounds of tax cuts, the Bush tax cuts both version 1 and 2, resulted in a massive increase in the deficit between 2001 and 2011, they added more than $1.8 trillion to the debt, making them the single largest policy contributor to today`s debt. Much bigger than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the stimulus or Medicare part B. And this chart which Talking Points Memo made using the data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows the Bush tax cuts, if extended, are projected to be the main policy source of deficits in the next decade, adding more than $5 trillion to the national credit card. $5 trillion. Every Republican I`m aware of favors extending those tax cuts. But you know that Social Security crisis you`re always hearing about? To put them in perspective, you could fill the program`s budget hole for the next 75 years with less than half the Bush tax cuts. Less than half. And if you want more evidence that lower taxes lead to higher deficits, here are tax receipts over the last few years. As you can see when the recession hits in 2009, they plummet and not coincidentally, that is exactly when deficits explode. So we have had both a policy experiment and a natural experiment in lowering taxes and both have led to higher deficits. And under Clinton we had a policy experiment in raising them and we got a balance d budget and we still had a decade of frankly extraordinary growth. And yet when President Bush`s former budget director, Rob Portman, was asked on Tuesday what caused the deficits in the Bush administration, he didn`t mention the Bush tax cuts. He said instead that, quote, "After 9/11 more were spent on homeland security, on defense." Tax cuts? What tax cuts? Now Romney, by the way, wants to increase defense spending by $1 trillion over the next decade. So that lesson hasn`t been learned either. But put it aside. Tax cuts, not defense spending, was the main contributor of budget deficits in the Bush years. And Bush`s budget director of all people should know that. This is not at this point for the Republican Party, though, a matter of budgeting or economic evidence. It is a matter on taxes of religion and dogma. On taxes Republicans refuse to learn the lessons of even really recent history. Even the predictions they were caught on tape making. And you can be assured that if Barack Obama win reelection and follows through on his promise to extend all the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, and to reduce the deficit by raising taxes on the rich and cutting spending, that one day, not too long from now, Republicans will look back and will say, you know, that Obama wasn`t so bad. This guy got the economy, got the importance of lower taxes, who`s willing to make tough choices. Why can`t Democrats today be more like him? Joining us now is Jarred Bernstein, former chief economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, and now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Parties, and an MSNBC contributor. Gerald, it is good to see you. JARRED BERNSTEIN, FORMER ECONOMIC ADVISOR TO VP BIDEN: Good to see you, Ezra. KLEIN: So, has Romney proposed anything like a return Clinton`s policies? Is there anything there? BERNSTEIN: No. Far from it. If anything, he`s proposed, and quite explicitly, a return to the policies that we associated with the George W. Bush part of the experiment. That`s the experiment that works off the trickle down supply side notions, the idea that if you cut taxes sharply for those at the top of the scale, that`s going to create enough growth and economic activity not only to offset your tax losses but to uplift the middle class and lower-income people. As you very carefully took us through just then, it absolutely doesn`t work on either one of those counts. Your tax charts show that, amazingly, when you cut tax rates, cut tax revenues fall and you`re stuck with big deficits. But I think particularly importantly, and I`d underscore this part of your introduction, the economy of the supply-side trickle down Bush years was so different for the broad middle class, for low-income people, than the economy of the Clinton years particularly the second half of the 1990s, There you saw middle class income rising at the rate of economic growth, rising at the rate of productivity, for the first time in decades. Poverty falling sharply. Very different outcomes in the trickle down Bush years where the middle class face stagnant incomes. KLEIN: Right. And that was the first economic expansion for his business cycle I think post-war where you had poverty increase and median wages decrease. I mean it was somewhat uniquely bad. But I want to get your budget expertise here. Let`s say you wanted to do - - what you really wanted to go the whole Republican here to term a phrase. You want to balance a budget without touching revenues at all. You just keep them where the Bush tax cuts left them. What sort of cuts do you need to make? BERNSTEIN: Well, let`s talk about the revenues as a share of the economy. That`s the best way to look at this. So if you want to collect something like 18 percent of GDP and revenue, you`d have to cut spending, which is right now elevated, 24 percent or so, a great deal, you know, 6 percent of GDP to get those even. But Mitt Romney wants to go below that. His tax cuts would take us down to revenue levels that were probably in the 15 percent range, actually about where we are now largely because of the recession. That would mean massive, massive -- massive, massive spending cuts. Now you also have to appreciate something you pointed out. He wants to significantly increase defense spending. That means you have to cut the heck out of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, everything else government does. The only thing you`re really going to be able to keep up with is defense and interest on the debt. We simply wouldn`t recognize government and it -- and it would come nowhere near the ability to meet the challenges it faces whether it`s retirement, security, climate change, you name it. KLEIN: Well, one of the arguments Mitt Romney makes is that what Bill Clinton did so effectively was he reformed welfare. I mean that was the specific policy he pointed out there. BERNSTEIN: Right. KLEIN: And he says -- Mitt Romney says he will do a similar thing to what Bill Clinton did with welfare, to Medicaid, to housing assistance, to job re-training, to food stamps. Largely he`s sort of saying he`ll welfare reformize the entire federal government. That is primarily the only way to really explain how he`ll get cuts. So I know the Center on Budget and Policy Parties where you work and studied this pretty extensively. BERNSTEIN: Yes. KLEIN: So can you get major savings out of -- exporting the welfare reform model in so many different areas of the budget? BERNSTEIN: You can get significant savings from there and it`s a terrible mistake. Look, I happen to be a big fan of Bill Clinton and his legacy. But there`s a couple of things that I think if you look back at them, have not gone well. When you do what Bill Clinton did to welfare, which is you turn it over to the states, you turn it into a block grant, you give the states a fixed sum year after year, and you say, good luck, deal with it, even if we hit a recession. That works pretty well. Welfare reform actually works better than people thought it would when the economy was booming in the latter `90s. But when we hit the recession and particularly when he hit the great recession the one we`re coming out of now, welfare performed terribly. it really didn`t provide a safety net at all. And if you start -- taking the food stamps and training programs, all the other benefits and the safety net, you will lose their counter cyclicality. You will lose their ability to catch people when the economy stumbles. And you might get some savings but that`s precisely the type of gutting of government that we need if we`re going to have a kind of economy, a kind of society that I think you and I and many of our viewers recognize as fair and youthful. KLEIN: It always seems remarkable to me that after a recession in which we needed counter cyclical spending so much and which state budget deficits prove so unable -- BERNSTEIN: Right. KLEIN: -- to handle these programs if people want to go to something what they -- the federal government has less flexibility to help in a recession. BERNSTEIN: Exactly. Be very -- be very weary of this block granting notions, the savings are illusory because the costs are steep. KLEIN: Jared Bernstein, former chief economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden and now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Parties, and an MSNBC and CNBC contributor, and a budget wonk. Thank you very much. (LAUGHTER) BERNSTEIN: So are you. KLEIN: Next up, a way overdue legal challenge to the gridlock dysfunctional mess that is our Congress. And later, the best new thing in the world with extra geekiness. Yes. Stick around. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KLEIN: This just in, the presumptive Republican nominee stands up for what he believes in, sort of. You can`t quite say exactly what that is. Some trouble at the way back machine on the campaign trail today. That story coming right up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KLEIN: We have never had a president who knew the Senate better than Lyndon Baines Johnson. I mean no one. The third volume of Robert Caro`s remarkable series of biographies of Johnson is called simply "Master of the Senate." And so you`d better believe when LBJ chose someone to act as his go-between in the Senate that staffer knew exactly what he was doing. And knew he couldn`t mess it up. That staffer`s name was Mike Manatos. And after the 1964 election, the one where Johnson routed Barry Goldwater, putting 44 stats and 486 electoral votes, Manatos issues a memo to the Johnson campaign. That memo is one of the most remarkable telling documents in the story of how Washington became so broken. The memo`s subject was Medicare. Johnson planned to pass a bill after the election. And Manatos knew -- and Manatos was gaming out how it might fare in the Senate. After going through all the new Medicare supporters who have won in the election, and all the old Medicare supporters who had lost it, Manatos comes to his bottom line. If all our supporters are present and voting, we would win by a vote of 55-45. Do you see what is so crazy about that? What makes that one sentence so remarkable, 55-45, 55 votes to pass Medicare, not 60. Neither Manatos nor Johnson were worried about the filibuster. This is the key fact of the modern Senate. The one thing you need to understand before you can understand anything else about it. It was not always like this. You did not always need 60 votes for everything you did. This graph shows a number of cloture filings since 1919. Cloture is a vote you take to break a filibuster. So it`s a good way of tracking how many filibusters there are. And there are a lot more now than there have ever been before. In fact there have been more filibusters during Obama`s time in office during than in the `50s, `60s, and `70s combined. During the time of Vietnam civil rights, during the time we created Medicare and Medicaid and welfare and Head Start. This is not what the founders intended at all. They thought about it, actually, during the constitutional convention the idea of requiring Congress to use a two-thirds majority vote came up. But it was rejected. In Federalist 22 Alexander Hamilton savaged the idea of a super majority Congress writing that, quote, "Its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of government and to substitute the pleasure of an insignificant turbulent or corrupt junta to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority." In Federalist 58 James Madison was more temperament but not much kinder to the concept. Quote, "In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws be pursued, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It`ll be no longer the majority that would rule. The power would be transferred to the minority." So if they didn`t intend it, how did we get the filibuster? In 1806, after being prodded by Aaron Burr, the Senate chose to clean up its rule book which was complicated and redundant. One change it makes is to delete something called the previous question motion. That was a motion senators used to end the debate and whatever they were talking about and move to the next topic. They recommended axing it because it was hardly ever used. Senators were gentlemen, they knew when to stop talking. But that was the moment the Senate created the filibuster. Nobody knew it at the time. It`d be three more decades before the first filibuster was actually mounted which meant it was five decades after the ratification of the Constitution. But the filibuster was an intended consequence, a mistake. Folks like to quote George Washington in saying the Senate is a cooling saucer of democracy, but when he said that, if he said that, there was no filibuster. It was a cooling saucer because Senators weren`t directly elected by the people but were chosen by the state legislatures because their terms were six years long, because each state got two senators no matter its population because only a third of them were up for re-election at any given time. All that made the Senate a cumbersome and deliberative body protected from the passions of a quick majority. But adding the filibuster has turned the cooling saucer of democracy into a freezer. It has eroded accountability because voters are no longer judging the majority on what they did. But without quite knowing if they`re the majority on what the minority allowed them to do or kept them from doing. That is not how Washington is supposed to work which is why the organization Common Cause has launched a lawsuit arguing that the filibuster is unconstitutional. Joining me now is one of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit, Minnesota Democratic congressman, Keith Ellison. Thank you for being here, Congressman. REP. KEITH ELLISON (D-MN), JOINED FILIBUSTER LAWSUIT: Yes. Pleased to be here. Thank you. KLEIN: Congressman, why did you sign on to the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the filibuster?. You are in the House of Representatives, obviously not the Senate. So what is your role here? ELLISON: I signed on because I wanted to see democracy work. And when I voted on the Disclose Act then I voted on the Dream Act, the majority will was frustrated by this ridiculous filibuster rule. I mean these two items should be the law of the land but they`re not because of the filibuster rule. They`re literally kids walking around who would have benefitted from the Dream Act worried about their future because a minority was able to use some trickeration to just stymie their -- the will of the majority. KLEIN: Now correct me if I am wrong, the Disclose Act which reversed some of what Citizens United did creating disclosure of the spending in Super PACs and the Dream Act which would have helped some children of illegal immigrants get citizenship if they went to school, join the army, et cetera. They both have majority votes in the Senate. They just got filibustered once they got there, right? ELLISON: That`s exactly right. It is a matter of fact -- you know, it`s really kind of amazing because, you know, by defeating the Disclose Act, the very groups that I believe are behind these senators who -- we now don`t get to know who they are as they funnel massive sums of money. So we`ve got private money, we got a minority ruling the Senate. And we have compounded problems. Let`s start by getting rid of these crazy Senate rules. KLEIN: Now the constitution says that the House and Senate, Congress, have the right to make their own rules. ELLISON: Right. KLEIN: Doesn`t that say -- and Senators have over and over again not repealed the filibuster, they have not gone underneath it, they`ve ratified it different times. So doesn`t that say pretty clearly it`s constitutional and the Senate has chosen to have a filibuster and it is up to them to do so? ELLISON: No, I don`t agree with that. I think that it`s not constitutional. In fact it was contemplated and rejected. Now the fact that they have fallen into a bad practice because it increases the power of each individual there doesn`t mean that it`s constitutional. And the fact of the matter is, too, that, you know what, I want to test whether it`s constitutional but maybe this lawsuit will help the prod the Senate into acting and correcting its own business. something that has not been able to do short of a lawsuit which is why I joined this lawsuit and I`m proud to be part of it. KLEIN: Now some senators, notably Tom Harkin and Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall and Mike Bennett, and a couple of others, have been trying to reform the filibuster. And something really I thought remarkable happened about a week ago, when after a set of attempted filibusters by the Republicans, Harry Reid, majority leader Harry Reid, went to the floor of the Senate and he apologized to them. He said, I was wrong to fight your efforts to reform the filibuster. The filibuster has been abused and it should be reformed. Do you think that implies that Majority Leader Reid and the Democrats are actually going to reform the filibuster, maybe the court case isn`t necessary at this point? ELLISON: I think the court case is absolutely necessary because I don`t trust them. If you don`t put the heat on them, they`re not going to change it. Now I do think there`s a a lot of great senators who really want reform, among those, you know, Udall, Harkin, and there are many more than that. But at the end of the day, you know, they have not been able to move things forward even though several of them do want the change. So I think a lawsuit and out -- and external force is what is needed in this situation, even if that`s just to prod them to do the right thing, I don`t think that removing this lawsuit is going to -- is going to be the trick. We need to have the lawsuit move forward, see this litigated in court, if necessary. But if they fix it, they can make everything move. KLEIN: Now the key difference between the House and the Senate, of course, is proportionality. The number of people who, you know, Montana doesn`t get as many congressmen as California does, although it does get many senators. ELLISON: Right. KLEIN: Now I was sort of stunned by these numbers that are in the lawsuit. At the time of the country`s founding, seven of the 13 states representing 27 percent of the population could muster the majority in the Senate to command action. ELLISON: Right. KLEIN: Today, using the filibuster, 21 of the 50 states representing 11 percent of the population, 11 percent, can muster the 41 votes necessary to stop a majority in the Senate. Now I`m a Californian. We are arguably the most disadvantaged by the -- of the current rules. But that -- doesn`t that seem unfair? Doesn`t that seem like we`ve gone too far toward disadvantaging the large states? ELLISON: I think it`s gone too far. As a mater of face, I think that when you look at the fact that each state no matter what their population has two senators, the fact that they -- we have these crazy filibuster rules, I mean you are compounding advantage on the minority in a way that the founders never imagined, and runs contrary to the democratic spirit of our country. And so I think that it is high time to bring this to a close. Let the will of the people emerge. Let`s have some real democracy in the United States Senate. They like to call themselves a great deliberative body. I think they`ve strayed from that and I think there are members of the Senate who would be pretty happy to be able to return to a real democracy in the Senate. KLEIN: Minnesota Democratic congressman, Keith Ellison, thank you so much for your time tonight. ELLISON: Thanks. KLEIN: Coming up, what the phrase character assassination means and what it does not mean at all. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Gene Robinson, joins me on that straight ahead. But first. "One More Thing," about another amazing White House letter that landed in our inbox today. The letter in question was written by President Ronald Reagan and it concerns one of the most crucial responsibilities a sitting president has. Declaring and responding to federal disasters. Fail to do it effectively and you risk turning a heck of a job into a catch phrase with traffic staying power. In 1984, President Reagan was asked to declare a federal disaster only this time with a twist. He was being asked to reiterate something was a federal disaster area. You see 7th grader Andy Smith`s mother had already declared his bedroom a federal disaster area. Really at one point or another, who`s mother hasn`t? And so Smith who seems to be pretty up on the implications of that designation, wrote to President Reagan to, quote, "request federal funds to hire a crew to clean up my room," which is exactly the kind of crazy chutzpa that earned Andy a personal handwritten reply from the president. We found it today on but it was first hyped up to be included in the book, "Reagan: A Life and Letters." Mr. Reagan points out a few procedural problems with Andy`s request but that is not ultimately why he turned him down. Quote, "This administration believe that the government has done many things that could be better done by volunteers at the local level has called upon people to practice volunteerism in solving local problems. Your situation appears to be a natural. I`m sure your mother was fully justified in proclaiming your room a disaster. Therefore you are in excellent position to launch another volunteer program to go along with the more than 3,000 under way in our nation. Congratulations. Give my best regards to your mother. Sincerely, Ronald Reagan." Any letter from a president that is not a form letter is for that reason alone awesome. But a correspondence in which a president manages to teach a child the core principles of small C conservatism that will come to define his presidency and do it with grace and humor, that`s even better. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC ANCHOR: This week, New Jersey governor Chris Christie released a video of himself as action man, Johnny on the spot a republican hero and waiting determined not be outdone, but he seemingly super human fits of New York`s Democratic Mayor Cory Booker. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys have any problems, a fire anywhere, people trapped? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like a bad automobile accident you need me to help some folks? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing like that. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A cat in a tree? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I think we`re all set here. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trooper what have we got here? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayor, thank you for coming. There are two alarm fires on state street. We do have a car broken down on river one and yes, a little girl lost her cat in a tree. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was surprised you were. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, be as you were. I`ve got this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KLEIN: The video is a parity of course and a good one. It`s fun. But like most intensive, it does points to something real. Points to Governor Christie`s not very subtle madden wish to be the guy who gets to say these words. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I got this. (END VIDEO CLIP) Tough guy, that Chris Christie. But we found something he most certainly has not got that he doesn`t even want. That story is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KLEIN: By the time the "the Rachel Maddow Show" gathered for the daily meeting early this afternoon, I thought we could dodge the Jeremiah Wright story. Yes, yes, political advertising from it impeach and attack against President Obama that resurrected the defunct four blissful years as Jeremiah Wright was a bad influence mean. And the peachy was a Republican super PAC billionaire guy. But he said by the afternoon that he rejected the ad, so I thought we would be talking about something else which was fine with me, great even. I have more tax policy to tell you about. I even had charts. But then Mitt Romney said this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to make it very clear I repudiate that effort. I think it`s the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign. I`ve been disappointed independent the campaign to date, which is focused on character assassination, character assassination. We can talk about a lot of things but the centerpiece of his campaign is quite clearly character assassination. Obviously, his effort to look at my work at Bain is to trying to characterize me in a way that isn`t accurate. Our approach was to always try to make the enterprise more successful and the purpose of the president`s ads, are not to describe success and failure, to somehow suggest I`m not a good person or not a good guy. Having the campaign focused on character assassination is one of the things I find offensive, among many others in the PAC description that came in the "New York times." And if that`s accurate, why, obviously, that`s something I repudiate. (END VIDEO CLIP) KLEIN: Yes. Yes, you heard all that correctly. That was Mitt Romney comparing a super PAC pitch that seeks to quote "explain how forces out of Obama`s control that shaped the man had made him completely the wrong choice as president in these days as times by emphasizing Reverend Wright`s inflammatory influence in his earlier years." The preacher specifically says the aim is to inflame questions on Obama`s character and competency. He was comparing that to the new Obama campaign ad featuring laid-off steel workers criticizing things that the company, Mitt Romney was actually in charged off, actually did. These two things are not the same. One is literally a pitch to go after someone`s character is an upside. The other is a criticism of someone`s record, not just their record, the part of the record they brag about all the time. Mitt Romney campaigns as a businessman. He has repeatedly claimed his knowledge of job creation. In fact, he gives the number of 100,000 or more jobs that he created. Knowledge of job creation and of how the economy works are huge qualifications he has to be president, the President Obama doesn`t have. He talks about it all the time. And he criticizes the president`s record, too, accusing him of taking America to the brink, of no longer being a society based on free enterprise, which is a fairly significant criticism. Look. Records are fair game. If Romney wants to say that President Obama has exaggerated his record, that`s reasonable, it`s even correct. If he wants to say the ad is unfair, that`s reasonable. If he wants to say private equity has been misrepresented at times, that`s probably right. Bu, it is not reasonable to call the argument that Romney`s business record doesn`t prepare him for the presidency or doesn`t show level of concerns for the jobs and livelihoods of American men and women character assassination. Because honestly, if we can`t talk about Romney`s time at Bain and he doesn`t want us to talk about the health care bill that was his signature achievement as governor but he is not trying to appeal it now that Obama passed it nationally, what are we going to talk about, the Olympics? Joining us now is MSNBC political analyst and Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for "the Washington Post," a colleague of mine, Eugene Robinson. Gene it`s great to see. EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Ezra, great to be here tonight. KLEIN: Let`s do it simply. Is talking about Bain character assassination? ROBINSON: Well, you know. You were right, Ezra, Mitt Romney does want us to talk about Olympics. And so, he wants all Olympics all the time unless we dig too deeply and, you know, find out something I inconvenient about the saving of the Olympics in which case I guess he wants us to talk about what a great guy he is. KLEIN: A good family man. ROBINSON: It`s not character assassination to talk about something a candidate actually did or did not do. And so, if he wants to talk about what President Obama has done as president or senator or state senator or community organizer or whatever, I think that`s fine. His record is certainly fair game. KLEIN: This renewed focus, albeit from a random consultancy firm trying to get an angry rich guy to give them millions of dollars, this renewed focus on Jeremiah Wright, when I saw that I thought, well look. Obama`s been in our living rooms now four years. We know the guy pretty well. We may like him or we may not like him. I mean, people have fairly firm opinion. This story is not a new story. It was hard for me to see how this has any sort of relevance except being emotionally satisfying to a strain of the right that feels John McCain did the Republican party a disservice by tamping down on that in 2008. Am I missing that? Is there more potency in this and I give it credit for? ROBINSON: Not much more. I mean, I think the people who are not going vote for President Obama and who opposed to him, some of those people might get a sort of warm and fuzzy feeling from this sort of attack campaign. And maybe there are a few people scattered across this vast great land of ours who missed the whole Jeremiah Wright thing the first time around. But, there can`t be many. And so, I don`t see where that would get the pro Romney effort. And the other thing is, frankly, I don`t see why anyone connected with the Romney campaign would want to get into the business of talking about what candidate`s listen to in church. And would then be put in the position of defending some of the now abandoned doctrines of the Mormon church. That`s not a good idea I think for that campaign? KLEIN: It`s worth saying by the way that Mitt Romney`s reticence to comment on Jeremiah Wright is not always been quite so overpowering. He has talked about him before. And so, I want to actually play you something else from this brief conversation Mitt Romney had with reporters today. One of them asked him about comments he made in February about Wright. I`m just going to play the clip, it`s a little bit odd. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I`m actually going to -- I`m not familiar precisely exactly what I said but I stand by what I said whatever it was. (END VIDEO CLIP) KLEIN: Number one. I`m going to use that all the time from now on. I have no idea what I said but I`m firmly committed to it and even surer today than it was then. But second, did Mitt Romney, in complaining about the negative ads being used against him, just give the Obama campaign the sound bite that will launch a thousand more? ROBINSON: He might well have. That is a sound bite that could be, if one wanted to do it, used in a number of contexts, about a number of issues. So, I think that`s been filed away already. My policy is to deny having said anything. But, you know, unless you can produce the tape, I didn`t say it. KLEIN: I write a blog so people can always find it. Yesterday, Mitt Romney would only refer to his latest high profile endorsement as Obama`s predecessor. Then today, he said this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Florida is certainly a state I want to win, a state which George W. Bush won. (END VIDEO CLIP) KLEIN: He said his name. That was a big step. So, real quickly, was that an accident or they -- are we seeing a willingness to embrace the previous Republican president? ROBINSON: You know, the Harry Potter movies, every once in a while someone would say Lord Voldemort and everyone would go, don`t say that word. So, I doubt it will slip out again. I think the name will be retired. It goes back to where it`s been hidden away. Clearly, he doesn`t want to go around saying George W. Bush all the time, because we know how popular that administration is. And I don`t think you will hear that repeated. KLEIN: Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the "Washington Post," someone who is up on Harry Potter mythology. Thank you so much for your time tonight. ROBINSON: Great to be here, Ezra. KLEIN: Republican governors who want to look tough by fighting the Obama administration. Heads-up, you may be about to play yourselves. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KLEIN: Today we learned JPMorgan Chase`s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, will testify before the senate about his company`s ever growing trading loss. As of this morning, the loss is now up to $3 million and counting. It`s money that is gone from the bottom line on JPMorgan`s books. But, as the presumptive Republican nominee pointed out yesterday, that money did go somewhere. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: That`s the way America works. Some people experience a loss in this case because of a bad decision. By the way, there was someone who made a gain. The $2 billion JPMorgan lost, someone else gained. (END VIDEO CLIP) KLEIN: That`s true. By the way, I accidentally said $3 million, the fact I said $3 billion. JPMorgan`s hefty loss is somebody else`s big, big gain which is sort of way you would expect from a candidate who in this previous Bain Capital orchestrated leverage by its flip company`s large profits and made big, big gains of a bit for the investor class they see that side for folks who just lived through the financial crisis, big banks losing billions of dollars all at once by making bad trade has somewhat less some ha less optimistic spin. But that`s just the America works. That`s a guy who wants to run America next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KLEIN: Because of re-districting, two incumbent democratic congressmen are running against each other in the state of New Jersey. That is Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell on the left and Democratic Congressman Steve Rothman on the right. Now, there are lots of incumbent on the coming primary races across the country now. But, this one is worth noting in particular because of an alien came down from mars and landed in Passaic (ph), it would think that politics in America is a swift race to the left. Here`s the Associate Press write up of the congressional debate this week. Quote, "Pascrell, Rothman tout liberal views in debate. Rothman to portray himself as more predictably liberal than his opponent claiming he supported same-sex marriage long before his opponent did and has an unvarnished record of supporting a woman`s right to choose while his opponent voted to restrict late-term abortions. Pascrell tried to demonstrate that he is more in step with the president, having voted with him 94 percent of the time." When former president Bill Clinton endorsed Bill Pascrell, he reminded voters that Pascrell quote, "helped to write President Obama`s healthcare law." New Jersey`s ninth national district right now is like some sort of opposite day in terms of its politics, at least when you compare it to what`s happening in the country with the conventional wisdom. There are being a liberal is advantageous to your political ambitions and supporting health care reform is a boom to your campaign. In one of the most notorious attack ads of the race, Congressman Rothman accused his opponent of supporting tax cuts for the wealthy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. STEVE ROTHMAN (D), NINTH DISTRICT, NEW JERSEY: I`m Steve Rothman when approved this message. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who wants more tax cuts for the rich? Mitt Romney, Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich and Bill Pascrell. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Republicans have great ideas. I liked some of their ideas. (END VIDEO CLIP) KLEIN: That clip of Mr. Pascrell, that clip right there at the end, that came from an interview the congressman did with Chris Matthews two years ago. And what he was talking about there when he said he liked some Republican ideas, he was talking about health reform. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST, HARDBALL: OK. Give us some hope. Is there going to be some kind of reform this year that`s agreeable to both sides? Will they do this feisty or going to something on portability, on preexisting conditions to start with, that first chart. It is going to happen? REP. BILL PASCRELL (D), EIGHT DISTRICT, NEW JERSEY: Yes. I really believe it can happen and I believe that the president should try again to reach out to the other side. I know what he tried to do in the beginning. Mr. Boehner is the leader Republican in the house. He chose the path of saying our party`s not going to support any of this. And it really puts the pressure on anybody on the other side who wants to think of ideas. And Republicans had great ideas. We had bipartisan meetings. And I liked some of their ideas. (END VIDEO CLIP) KLEIN: But not all of New Jersey Passaic. Last week, at New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie became the second republican governor to veto a key part of health reform. The law as pass by congressman signed by President Obama instructed states to set up health care exchanges. Think of this as for healthcare plan. It`s where you go to comparison shop to read customer views, to get pricing information, see the features of the plans what they cover, what they don`t cover. It`s also where regulators can protect you. They can kick out plans to misbehave with hidden fees or huge price increases. Or that make -- they can make them be transparent about traps or coverage holes. Now, states don`t have to have these exchanges ready until 2014. But the department of health and human services has doled out hundreds of millions of dollars directly to the state to help them begin setting them up. That`s millions of dollars in federal directly to state governments, including - hey, look at that, the garden state. New Jersey got about $9 million in grants for its health care exchange which Governor Christie just vetoed. So, what happens to the $9 million in federal money? No one quite seems to know. What we do know is this is a gamble for the Republican governor. It`s good and even necessary politics in the Republican party to be against the socialist government takeover of health care that the Obama administration copied from like the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. No ambitious Republican can be seen helping Obama care along, but the way the bill is written, if the states don`t set up health exchanges, the feds do it for them. So, if Obama care makes it past the Supreme Court and goes on to gets implemented, Christie, if he doesn`t reverse himself has just signed New Jersey`s health care system over to that socialist government takeover guy. He`s handed it to President Obama. That`s the irony here. In order for Republican governors to take a consistent stand against big government health care, they have to step aside and let that big government come in and set up their health care systems rather than doing it themselves. In running to the right, they might end up handing their state`s health insurance market over to the left. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KLEIN: Sometimes the best new things in the world are also the geekiest. And if they involved robots, I am pretty much sold. Therefore, today`s best new moment of geek in the world today or B.N.M.O.G. is this. This is Kathy. She suffered a stroke in 1997. And for the 15 years since then, she hasn`t moved her limbs or speaks. But, here`s Kathy moving a robotic arm to bring a battle to her lips so she can drink. There`s so, did it. Scientist at the Brown University Institute for Brain Science gave Kathy a neuron face implant. Basically, they plugged a baby astron size sensor into her skull. Kathy was asked to imagine moving her arm. The sensor It took her neurons and then transmitted that information to a computer which turns them into commands for the robot. So now, when Kathy thinks I want to move my arm, the robot arm moves. Incidentally, in the bottle, coffee. Robots are cool. Mind controlled robots are way cooler. And Kathy isn`t the first. For a few years now, if you were to Google mind controlled robots, you would find a lot of examples of this kind of thing. Here`s a man driving a car with his brain. Look, ma, no hands. Here`s a guy moving robotic fingers with his mind. Here`s a guy making a robot move on the floor behind him by thinking at the internet. The technology in all of these examples is all similar, but the reason Kathy is a big deal is she`s demonstrating for the first time that someone`s brain is no longer effectively connected to her body can still use it to generate movement. Scientists in Switzerland are also working on this idea, but without drilling into someone`s skull. This is Mark Andre. He is partially paralyzed from the neck down. He was able to use his -- last month he was able to use his brain to send simple commands to a robot through a cap of electrodes. So, the reason progress on this is pretty astounding. And I, for one, welcome our new human robot hybrid overlords. Best new moment of geek in the world today. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night. Until then, you can check out my work at Now, this time, for the last word with Lawrence O`Donnell. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END