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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 2/16/2016

Guests: George Mitchell, Tim Pawlenty, Eugene Robinson, Alan Abramowitz, Vincent Fort

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: February 16, 2016 Guest: George Mitchell, Tim Pawlenty, Eugene Robinson, Alan Abramowitz, Vincent Fort

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: That does it for us tonight, we`ll see you again tomorrow, now it`s time for THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O`Donnell. Good evening Lawrence.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD: Hey Rachel, my big get tonight, I have a former Senate Majority leader here to discuss the Senate confirmation process of the Supreme Court Justices.

MADDOW: Well done --

O`DONNELL: I also have a former federal judge who went through the Senate confirmation process himself --

MADDOW: Nice --

O`DONNELL: And I have someone who was offered a seat on the United States Supreme Court --

MADDOW: You have a busy night ahead --

O`DONNELL: And turned it down.

MADDOW: You have a very busy night. How are you going to get all those people on your show?

O`DONNELL: Because it`s all one guy.


That`s the trick, it`s all one guy.

MADDOW: Well done, well done, my friend. I know exactly who you mean.

O`DONNELL: All right, thank you Rachel --

MADDOW: Thanks Lawrence --

O`DONNELL: Well, guess who is our first guest tonight?


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I intend to nominate in due time a very well qualified candidate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats say that he should whereas the constitution says that he shall.


OBAMA: Somebody who indisputably is qualified for the seat.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The Republicans say they`ll reject anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you really expect Obama not to even try to appoint someone? Your party might nominate this guy and then we could end up with a Supreme Court Justice Gary Busey.


OBAMA: I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president.

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & PRESIDENT, TRUMP ORGANIZATIONS & FOUNDER, TRUMP ENTERTAINMENT RESORTS: I object our leaders being stupid people, OK, being stupid people.


OBAMA: Being president is a serious job. It`s not hosting a talk show or a reality show. It`s hard.

TRUMP: For him to say that actually is a great compliment if you want to know the truth.


JEB BUSH, FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I`ll be a commander-in-chief, not an agitator-in-chief, not a blow-hard-in-chief.

TRUMP: Poor Bush, he comes out -- well, I don`t think that Donald Trump can`t beat Hillary Clinton but I can.

I say, well, why aren`t you beating me? Why aren`t you beating me?


OBAMA: The American people are pretty sensible, and I think they`ll make a sensible choice in the end.


O`DONNELL: The Majority leader of the United States Senate is one of the most powerful positions in the governance of the United States of America.

But that power is mostly wielded backstage, out of the limelight behind closed doors where the real power is exercised in Washington.

But this weekend, the Senate Majority leader was the first person to step into the political limelight in the immediate aftermath of the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in an unprecedented statement issued shortly after Justice Scalia`s death was announced.

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell stunned Washington and the country saying, "this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

Shortly after that, the Republican chairman of the judiciary committee Chuck Grassley echoed the majority leader in a statement saying, "it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court Justice."

Our first guest tonight, George Mitchell, knows more about this subject than anyone in the known universe.

George Mitchell is a former Senate Majority leader, a Democrat who voted along with the unanimous Senate in favor of the confirmation of Antonin Scalia in 1986.

And who before he became a senator went through the Senate confirmation process himself to become a federal judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter.

Senator Mitchell turned down a seat on the United States Supreme Court when it was offered to him by President Bill Clinton.

Senator Mitchell was there the last time the Senate considered a Supreme Court nominee during a presidential election year in 1988.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I believe the mood and the time is now right for all Americans in this bicentennial of the constitution to join together in a bipartisan effort to fulfill our constitutional obligation of restoring the United States Supreme Court to full strength.

I look forward -- and I know Judge Kennedy is looking forward to prompt hearings conducted in the spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship.


O`DONNELL: Anthony Kennedy got those hearings, he was confirmed by the United States Senate in the presidential election year of 1988 confirmed by a vote of 97-0.

Today, President Obama said this.


OBAMA: I intend to nominate in due time a very well qualified candidate.

If we are following basic precedent, then that nominee will be presented before the committees, the vote will be taken and ultimately they`ll be confirmed.

Justice Kennedy, when he was nominated by Ronald Reagan in Ronald Reagan`s last year in office.

The vote was taken and there were a whole lot of Democrats who I`m sure did not agree with Justice Kennedy on his position on a variety of issues.

But they did the right thing. They confirmed him. And if they voted against him, they certainly didn`t mount a filibuster to block a vote from even coming up.

This is the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land. It`s the one court where we would expect elected officials to rise above day-to-day politics.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, former Senate Majority leader George Mitchell. Senator, as soon as this happened, all I cared about was how soon can we get George Mitchell on the show, thank you very much.


O`DONNELL: I just want you to hear first of all what your friend Chuck Grassley said today, he`s backed off a little bit -- his comments.

Let`s hear what he said today.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions.

In other words, take it a step at a time. This is a very serious position to fill and it should be filled and debated during the campaign and filled by either Hillary Clinton, Senator Sanders or whoever is nominated by the Republicans.


O`DONNELL: So, there seems to be some give now, there may be at least a hearing.

MITCHELL: Well, there`s no historical basis for the actions being taken by the Republicans.

There`s no constitutional basis. There`s no legal basis and there`s surely no moral basis, and really the only basis is politics.

And I think it`s a very unfortunate intensification of the increased partisanship that has already brought the Senate and the house into such disrepute and disdain in the country.

A lot of the anger that`s out there on both sides is overtly, openly directed toward the Congress, and this just makes it more difficult.

I think it`s very unfortunate. It`s kind of an insult to the intelligence of the people to say the American people should decide.

They decided. They elected Barack Obama twice, the second time by 5 million votes. And the constitution prescribes a four-year term.

There`s no three-year term or a three and a half-year term or a two and a half-year term.

And I think given the importance (INAUDIBLE) in our society, could be a delicate balance that exist.

Everyone should have this sort of objective filling the seat with the best, most qualified person as soon as possible.

O`DONNELL: Are you going to turn it down again if the President --


MITCHELL: I`m too old for that now.

O`DONNELL: Senator, the -- take us through how did we get from a unanimous vote for Antonin Scalia to now at the end of Justice Scalia`s life.

His replacement is being challenged by the Majority leader in the Senate saying, we may not even give you a hearing, we may not even give you a vote.

MTCHELL: You know, Lawrence, in 1991, I was the Senate Majority leader. And the first President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

There was a lot of question about his qualification. There were 48 senators who announced against him.

I was urged by many Democratic senators, pushed by many outside groups, to take the obvious step and mount a filibuster and prevent him from sitting on the court.

I`ve always felt, even before I was a senator and as a senator and as Senate Majority leader and now, that any president duly elected ought to have the right to a vote in the Senate on whoever the President nominates for that process.

You can oppose the person`s vote, but he ought to have a vote. And so, I decided that there would be no filibuster of Clarence Thomas and he was approved by a vote of 52-48.

I`ve been asked often since then, do I regret my decision, and my answer is, I did the right thing, and I don`t regret doing the right thing.

I confessed that I hoped that we could reverse the trend that had begun in the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

When Republican Senators threatened a filibuster of Ford(ph) as to be Chief Justice, thereby beginning the downward trend that has continued to this day.

Which I think is harmful to the court, it is increased of politicization of the court itself.

It has degraded the confirmation process and it has contributed mightily to the decline of the Senate and its important constitutional role in our society.

The Senate doesn`t have the respect of the American people anymore. You can see it all over the country, you can hear it in the campaigns.

It`s a sad commentary.

O`DONNELL: The Mitch McConnell that you worked with in the Senate would not be doing this.

The political world he lives in changed around him. He`s operating on principles different from what he was operating on in the `90s.

He was one of the reasonable men of the Senate in the opposition party --


O`DONNELL: To you. What would you say to him now about this?

MITCHELL: Well, you`re right. No one person is responsible for this. In fact, both parties have abused the process.

I was opposed to Republicans filibustering Democratic presidents nominations, and I was opposed to Democrats filibustering Republican nominees to the Supreme Court.

I never participated in that in my time in the Senate. I voted on nine Supreme Court nominations.

And I voted for some, I voted against some, but there was always a vote. And so it isn`t one person and I like Mitch.

He`s -- I regard him as a friend and I think he is caught in a vortex of this downward trend that has occurred.

And both sides are pressured tremendously by these outside groups who want 100 percent fidelity to their position, to whom any form of compromise is an -- and who accuse any senator who engages in compromise of weakness, lack of conviction and want everything 100 percent the way -- on both sides.

And so you see Senators doing things that they really prefer not to be doing. You heard a hint to that in the President`s answer today on why he`s doing the filibuster against Justice Alito.

And so it isn`t one person, it isn`t one party, but I think this latest step is a destructive step in terms of the future of the Senate, the role it plays in our society and therefore for our country.

A leader in the Senate has many obligations and they sometimes conflict. I was obligated to the senators who elected me as Majority leader.

I was obligated to my party for whom I was a leader. We had a Republican president at the time.

I was obligated to the institution of the Senate and I was obligated to the American people and the constitution.

And I always kept in mind and so did Bob Dole who was a Republican leader, a very close friend of mine.

We recognized out of all of those obligations by far, the most important was to the American people and to the American constitution.

And if that meant on occasion subordinating or denying the obligations to others in that list, then so be it.

And I think really even the senators who thought I should mount a filibuster against Clarence Thomas respected the decision.

They didn`t agree with me, but they said you believe it`s right, we`ll go along with it.

O`DONNELL: I mean, you know, there could be from people in the audience a kind of naive er to this, but what I have to say that for everyone working in the Senate at the time.

Senators, staff, everyone. We could all see every day, you and Bob Dole bearing exactly that responsibility, that set of responsibilities you talk about.

It was as if it was visible as something you were carrying on your back every day and there wasn`t a person who doubted Bob Dole`s integrity in these matters or your integrity in these matters.

Is there -- is there any way to restore that in the Senate today?

MITCHELL: It`s very difficult. I thought it was tough at the time.

O`DONNELL: Yes, it --


O`DONNELL: Seemed like it couldn`t get harder, but it was in the `90s --

MITCHELL: It is much harder now. When I was elected Senate Majority leader, the first person I called was Bob Dole and I went to see him.

And I said to him these jobs are difficult if we trust each other, impossible if we don`t.

And I said to him, here is how I intend to behave towards you, toward the most basic standards of fairness and decency.

He was delighted. He responded, he shook my hand, and to this moment, not once ever has a harsh word passed between Bob Dole and me in public or in private.

We disagreed every day, we debated every day, sometimes I prevailed, sometimes he prevailed.

But we kept it away from personal attacks, away from trying to embarrass and humiliate each other.

And kept in mind that our highest obligation was the party and the country. It`s much tougher now, Lawrence, the Supreme Court decision and the Citizens United case did not create the problem of money and politics.

That`s been there from the beginning, probably from the beginning of civilization.

But it aggravated it to an extraordinary degree and it resulted in the anomalous, incredible result that even as the spectacular obscene amounts of money are pouring into the political system, the amount of transparency is declining.

So, now we have all of the -- all of the candidates, both parties with these organizations that raise tens, hundreds of millions of dollars and don`t disclose who the donors are.

The defenders of Citizens United said at the time sunlight is a great disinfectant if you disclose that`s all you need to do.

Well, we now have much more money than we ever had and we have less disclosure than we had.

So, it`s a disastrous decision. This Supreme Court said, that prior Supreme Courts were wrong in allowing restraints on campaign contributions.

It`s going to take another Supreme Court to say this Supreme Court was wrong and the earlier ones were right.

And that emphasizes the importance of the court in this election year.

O`DONNELL: Quick last question as we`ve already crashed through the commercial break --


O`DONNELL: Here --


O`DONNELL: I can talk to you all night about this. Best Senate tactician I`ve ever seen.

Do you see a way for the President to get this done?

MITCHELL: I think it`s very unlikely. He may get a hearing, he may get a pro-formal debate, but I think that getting a nominee approved will be very difficult.

I have to say I don`t agree with all of -- excuse me, the media speculation, will he nominate this type or that type.

He has one obligation to nominate the best possible person he can, and the Senate has one obligation to confirm that person if the Senate believes he or she can do the job and to reject him or her if they feel otherwise.

That`s really what it ought -- that`s what really ought to be the central objective of both sides.

But I don`t see frankly a way that the Republicans are now backed off of their position on the nominee.

They may, as you suggested, there were hints that the lines are cracking a little bit.

They may recognize the impossibility of the position without logic, without question(ph), without constitution, without law of saying we won`t even consider anybody no matter who it is.

But I`d be very surprised if they approve the nominee by President Obama.

Lawrence, if I could just say one thing. The President today I liked his press conference, except when he was asked, Mr. President you earlier said that Donald Trump wouldn`t be elected president.

What do you think now? He should have just said yes.


Instead of giving a long answer --

O`DONNELL: Right --

MITCHELL: Because I think he helped Trump. Your show --

O`DONNELL: Yes, sure --

MITCHELL: On this show, you pointed out --


That a majority of Republicans believe Obama is not an American, believe he is a Muslim.

And it is that intense hostility to him that I believe he`s finding some of this expression in this campaign.

And I think that he may have helped him today --


MITCHELL: And I see Trump use it --

O`DONNELL: Maybe it`s better to just stay out of the Trump --


O`DONNELL: Thing. Former Senator George Mitchell, thank you very much for joining me tonight, really --

MITCHELL: Thank you, Lawrence --

O`DONNELL: Appreciate it, thank you --

MITCHELL: All right --

O`DONNELL: Senator. Up next, despite the polls, one man believes Donald Trump will not be president.


O`DONNELL: Did President Obama help or hurt Donald Trump today? That is the question after this break.


O`DONNELL: President Obama doesn`t know who the next president is going to be, but there`s one candidate who he believes will not be president.


OBAMA: I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president. And the reason is because I have a lot of faith in the American people.

And I think they recognize that being president is a serious job. It`s not hosting a talk show or a reality show.

It`s not promotion. It`s not marketing. It`s hard. And a lot of people count on us getting it right.

And it`s not a matter of pandering and doing whatever will get you in the news on a given day.

And sometimes it requires you making hard decisions even when people don`t like it and doing things that are unpopular.

And standing up for people who are vulnerable, but don`t have some powerful political constituency.


O`DONNELL: And about an hour after the President said that, Donald Trump replied.


TRUMP: He has done such a lousy job as president.


You look at our budgets, you look at our spending, we can`t beat ISIS, Obamacare is terrible, we`re going to terminate it.

We`re going to absolutely terminate and replace it.


I mean, you look at everything. Our borders are like Swiss cheese.

This man has done such a bad job, he has sent us back so far and for him to say that actually is a great compliment if you want to know the truth.


We just gave -- one of the major networks called and they wanted a response and I said you`re lucky I didn`t run the last time when Romney ran, because you would have been a one-term president.

That was my statement to them.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican governor of Minnesota who run for president in 2012.

Also joining us, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winner, opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and an Msnbc political analyst.

Tim Pawlenty, did the President help or hurt Donald Trump today with that Republican voter out there?

TIM PAWLENTY, FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: Well, Lawrence, in this political science experiment known as the Trump campaign, we`ve learned a few things.

One of which is if Trump is able to get all the attention and keep the attention away from other candidates, he tends to do pretty well.

So, in that regard, the President probably helped him.

And then number two, you know, if the indictment by the President is among other things, look, you got to be willing to be president.

You got to say unpopular things, I think it`s pretty clear Donald Trump is willing to say unpopular things.

And pre-presidency resumes, we can talk about that as well. But you think you look at Donald Trump, the arc of his life and his experience, I don`t think it would be something and says -- you know, qualify to be president.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to more about what the President said about the job of president.


OBAMA: It requires being able to work with leaders around the world in a way that reflects the importance of the office.

And gives people confidence that you know the facts and you know their names and you know where they are on a map and you know something about their history.


O`DONNELL: Eugene, would it have been better if the President had said, listen, I don`t know who the Republicans are going to nominate, but I can tell you this about the job.

And then, you know, just skip any reference to Trump and say everything else that he said which clearly is a description of a job that Donald Trump could not be more unfit for.

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Right, well, you know, I frankly don`t think what the President said or didn`t say is going to make a whole lot of difference Saturday in South Carolina.

And that`s really where this race is focused right now. It`s -- you know, it`s primary by primary and South Carolina Republicans probably aren`t swayed by the President reminding them that this is the -- this is the presidency of the United States.

This is a -- this is a serious business. There will come a time one hopes if Trump were to get the nomination when voters would turn to that sort of comparison between the requirements of the job and the capabilities of the candidate and see what looks like the biggest mismatch in history.

But I don`t think we`re there yet. I don`t think we`re at the eat your peas sort of stage of this campaign.

It`s still wild and wily.

O`DONNELL: Let`s take a look at what happened today when Donald Trump invited one of his supporters up on stage.


TRUMP: Raise your hand. Who`s the person who took action over there? Well, come here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not let them intimidate you.


You back this man right here to the hill. They will say anything. They will do anything to keep in power, OK?

We don`t need who we`ve got in there now. I`m talking Republicans and Democrats --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to get some fresh bunch up there --


Some fresh blood.


O`DONNELL: Tim Pawlenty, there he is, backing the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, saying he`s talking about Republicans and Democrats.

He doesn`t like either one of them.

PAWLENTY: Lawrence, look, if you look at what`s going on with Bernie Sanders and Trump and a few of the other candidates, clearly there`s a market in this year, in this time for a major change.

Some would say revolutionary change in political terms, and that`s what Trump and Bernie Sanders represent.

And so, we can talk about the root causes of that and how it`s unfolded over time. But it`s undeniable.

The thing I would say is that is a fair criticism of Trump is, look, he`s been at this a year.

Everybody understands he`s going to say provocative things and they probably don`t believe he`s going to do all of them and he`s overstate some.

But he does need to get more serious in terms of his depth of knowledge on the issues if he`s going to be successful going into a general election.

He`s got to take the time to have learned more detail and more substance about these things other than just the declaratory bumper sticker phrases.

O`DONNELL: Gene Robinson, is he going to have to do that to win the Republican nomination?

ROBINSON: Maybe ultimately to win a nomination, I`m not sure he has to do that to win the South Carolina primary.

O`DONNELL: Right --

ROBINSON: You know, I mean, he`s doing pretty well with the shtick that he`s using right now.

But clearly as the election goes on, people are -- people will get somewhat more sober about this election, at least many voters will.

But you know, the guy he brought up there, though was -- he is the emblematic character of this election cycle so far.

A guy who just has had it with professional politicians of both parties, and is looking for something entirely different, entirely new.

And I don`t know whether that voter cares too much, you know, that Donald Trump could pick out Kyrgyzstan on an unlabeled map.

O`DONNELL: All right, quick break here. Tim Pawlenty, thank you very much for joining us tonight, really appreciate it.

PAWLENTY: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Up next, remember Ronald Reagan`s 11th commandment about Republican presidential candidates not attacking each other -- oh, boy, oh, boy, has that being destroyed. That`s next.


SEN. TED CRUZ, (R-TX) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, people will be forgiven this election season for thinking at times it seems like a bit of a circus. I cannot imagine why anyone would think that.



O`DONNEL: He is not really talking about the election season generally, which includes the campaign for the democratic presidential nomination. Everyone thinks the contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is a serious campaign run by two serious candidates for president.

And, at the same time, everyone including the republicans thinks that the contest for the republican presidential nomination is as Ted Cruz put it, "A Circus" with the most ridiculous ring master in the history of presidential campaigns.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted Cruz, who I think is totally unfit to be president, but these are minor details. I really believe that.




CRUZ: But the time for frivolity is over. The time for games is over. We need a leader who is prepared to be commander in chief.



SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R-FL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is not literally just making things up. Part of their campaign strategy is to not tell the truth and it is troubling. They really is.



JEB BUSH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Marco Rubio is a great guy. He believes in increased defense spending. But, he claims he has foreign policy experience because he goes to committee hearings to, you know, talk about and have smart people come and advise him.


O`DONNELL: In the latest South Carolina poll, Donald Trump maintains the lead among likely republican primary voters with 38 percent. Ted Cruz is at 22 percent. Marco Rubio is at 14. Jeb Bush is at 10 percent. Ben Carson at 6 percent and John Kasich way down there in the last place at 4 percent.

Joining us now, David Corn, the Washington Bureau Chief for Mother Jones and an MSNBC Political Analyst. Also with us, Alan Abramowitz, professor of political science at Emory University and the Author of "The Disappearing Center." Professor Abramowitz, what is the center, which is the independence, the largest sector of the electorate. What are they to make of this republican primary circus?

ALAN ABRAMOWITZ, AUTHOR, "THE DISAPPEARING CENTER": Well, I think the thing you have to understand about independent voters is that most of the voters are not truly independents. The large majority of independents lean toward one party or the other. And, these leaning independents are what I like to call closet partisans. In other words, they think and act very much like partisans.

So, I think the answer to that question is that it depends very much on whether you are talking about independent republicans or independent democrats. A lot of the votes that Trump is getting are actually coming from independent republicans. Bernie Sanders is getting a lot of votes from independent democrats, but they do not really have much in common with each other.

O`DONNELL: David Corn, Jeb Bush tweeted today a loving photograph of his gun. There is the tweet and he did not use up all the characters available to him. He simply wrote America. That has given us the cover of tomorrow`s New York Daily News, which uses the tweet and captions it "Dolt 45, Desperate Jeb Bush" with that tweet.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, we are not talking about America from sea to shining sea. We are talking about America from 9 millimeters to 45.



CORN: I mean, if this is your symbol of America, not the structure of Liberty, not even Wall Street, you know -- not the farmer, not the teacher, not the head start person, it is a gun? That is what America means to you, a gun?

Well, I mean, I can just see Barbara Bush shaking her head, that this is what you got do so win in South Carolina when you are at 6 percent or 10 percent, whatever he is at. You know, whatever happened to noblesse oblige that? I think Jeb Bush is killing it.

O`DONNELL: Professor, when you see a contentious primary like this where these candidates are doing to each -- they are all doing it to each other except, I have to say, John Kasich does not do this and Ben Carson does not do it. They call each other liars.

All the rest of them calling each other liars all day, exactly what Ronald Reagan said, "They should never do." How harmful is that to the eventual nominee of a process where they are trying to outshout each other in this accusation of liar?

ABRAMOWITZ: Well, I think there is no question that there are going to be a lot of sound bytes coming out of these republican debates and these commercials that are going to be used by the democrats against whoever the eventual nominee is, especially if it is Trump or Cruz.

I would have to say, though, I think that Donald Trump is creating plenty of material on his own, that there is just so much material that is going to be used by democrats against him if he is the republican nominee. He has alienated antagonized so many critical voting blocks in this country that I do not think the democrats could possibly hope for anything better.

O`DONNELL: David, I remember four years ago in certain moments, debate moments, I would see Newt Gingrich say something, go after Mitt Romney, go after him for hiding his tax returns, all sorts of things, thinking "Wow, they are really supplying some fuel for the general election here." But nothing like -- nothing like what we have seen this time.

CORN: Well, I think that is true what was just said about Donald Trump, but if you look at the number one and the number two in the republican side and included Ted Cruz there, you have two candidates that are very polar rising, some people might say Hillary Clinton is polarizing as a democrat. But, I think what is polarizing -- The only person I think who could be drawn to Ted Cruz is someone who is already very close to being an evangelical socio-conservative voter. I do not see him having any reach beyond that.

Donald Trump seems to be very much, you know, at a certain place and we are waiting to see what is going to happen in South Carolina and beyond and whether he can really get above the 35-40 percent ceiling that people have said he might have within the Republican Party. You know, Can he be a majority Republican Party candidate? I do not know, but that does not mean he still cannot win the nomination the way the rules work.

O`DONNELL: David Corn and Alan Abramowitz, thank you both for joining us tonight.

CORN: Sure thing.


O`DONNELL: Eleven days to go until the democratic primary in South Carolina, and Hillary Clinton`s lead over Bernie Sanders is narrowing. That is next.



O`DONNELL: A new poll of South Carolina democrats shows Bernie Sanders narrowing the gap with Hillary Clinton, but Hillary Clinton still has an 18 point lead, 56 to Bernie Sanders 38. Today in Harlem, Hillary Clinton said this.


HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Race still place a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind. Something is wrong when African-American men are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police. When black kids get arrested for petty crimes, but white CEO`s get away with sleazing our entire country, there is something wrong.



O`DONNELL: And, in a town hall in Charleston, South Carolina, today Bernie Sanders talked about his recent visit to Birmingham, Alabama.


BERNIE SANDERS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I went to the church where the four beautiful children were killed when the bomb exploded. And, what I did not know until I went there was that on that month, during that month when that explosion took place, and many of us are familiar with that terrible tragedy, but many of us do not know, I did not know, there were 14 bombings in Birmingham, Alabama during that month alone. Can you imagine that? In one city, 14 bombings of racists who were trying to deny people their civil rights.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now Georgia Democratic State Senator Vincent Fort and back with us, Eugene Robinson. Senator, you made news today. You made a big decision in this campaign switching your support from Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders. Why did you make that decision?

STATE SEN. VINCENT FORT, (D) GEORGIA: Well, over the last several months , I have studied Bernie`s record. I have studied his positions on issues and I found that he and I were pretty much on the same page on a full array of issues, particularly reigning in Wall Street, breaking up the big banks.

I devoted the last ten years -- most of the last ten years passing the strongest anti-predatory lending law in the country here in Georgia with then Governor Roy Barnes before it was diluted by republicans. So, I have invested a lot of time and energy on many of the issues that Bernie Sanders is devoting himself to during this campaign.

So, after taking all that into consideration, I, as a matter of principal and conscience, endorse Bernie Sanders. I am glad I did and we were with him tonight here in Atlanta and at a rally in Morehouse College.

O`DONNELL: But, Senator, it is one thing to go from undecided to Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, but to go from having chosen Hillary Clinton, changing your mind about that and switching to Bernie Sanders, what is it? Did you learn more about Hillary Clinton in the course of this campaign that made you go in this direction or was it simply that you were learning more about Bernie Sanders that you did not know?

SEN. FORT: Well, you know, this is not an anti-Clinton move. It is a pro- Bernie Sanders move. I learned more about Bernie Sanders, had a chance to go on his website over and over again, reading what his position papers. He has got some great videos on his website and listening to his speeches, that is what made me evolve into changing my support. It is not against Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton, but it is a pro-Bernie Sanders move.

O`DONNELL: Eugene Robinson in your home state of South Carolina, Hillary Clinton`s huge lead over Bernie Sanders is now down to just a big lead over Bernie Sanders.


O`DONNELL: She used to be 40 points ahead of him. Now, she is around 20 points ahead of him.

ROBINSON: Yes, and you would take a 20 point lead, right?

O`DONNELL: Exactly.

ROBINSON: You know, look, she is certainly favored to win the primary there. Got about a week and a half to go before the democratic primary in South Carolina. It is the following Saturday. So, he has time to eat into that. I do not know if Bernie Sanders has time to close what is still a very large gap. Everybody is going to be looking at how does Bernie Sanders do with African-American voters.

What I am going to be paying particularly attention to is whether he is able to replicate in South Carolina something of what he was able to do in Iowa and New Hampshire, which is the generation gap. Is there a generational divide that we see in African-Americans? Do younger African- Americans begin to take a look at Bernie Sanders? And, do they support him in perhaps larger numbers? And, I am curious about that and it will be interesting to see.

O`DONNELL: Senator Fort.


O`DONNELL: Given that you made this change yourself, when you are talking to voters who you may now be trying to persuade towards Bernie Sanders, what do you think of the key selling points to African-American voters in the south for Bernie Sanders?

SEN. FORT: Well, I think African-American voters tend to be voters who vote in their self-interest. And, the over arching issue that attracted me is I think the same issue that is going to attract African-American voters. The fact of the matter is, for example, here in Atlanta child born at our public hospital, Grady Hospital, today has a less chance than any place else in the country to move into the middle class.

You know, that is wrong. That is scandalous. No child should be encumbered by their zip code. I think African-American voters are going to listen. And, I think they are listening as reflected in the numbers in South Carolina. They are listening to what Bernie has to say about reducing the income and equality gap and making sure that everybody has a fair shot, a fair chance to move into the middle class.

I think, you know, Bernie Sanders is on the right track. He has gone from, as you said, 40 points to 16. Two weeks is a lifetime in politics. It is going to be interesting to see what happens in South Carolina and then a few days later what happens on March 1st here in Georgia and around the rest of the south.

O`DONNELL: Eugene Robinson, what kind of number would Bernie Sanders have to get for you to call it an impressive showing? And, let us assume Hillary Clinton wins, what kind of gap would you say, "Wow, Bernie got much closer than we thought possible?"

ROBINSON: Well, if it is 20 point lead now, so if it is a five-point lead or if it is -- then you would say, "Wow, he got closer." If it is a ten- point gap you would say, "Whew, he did better than a lot of people thought." If it is 15 or more, you would say, "Bernie has got a lot of work do with the key constituents, the democratic constituents, the African-Americans and going on maybe Latinos."

O`DONNELL: State Senator Vincent Fort and Eugene Robinson, thank you both for joining me tonight. I really appreciate it.

Up next, time for some good news.



O`DONNELL: And, now for the good news, Patrolman Keith Perry of the Seekonk Police Department of Massachusetts received a call last week about a woman in distress at a local Walmart. The woman had fainted in the restaurant.

And, after speaking to her, Officer Perry discovered that she was homeless, had not eaten in a while. And, knowing that a snowstorm was heading their way, Officer Perry brought the woman bread, peanut butter, Jelly, beverages and snacks and booked her a hotel room nearby, so she would have a warm place to weather that storm.

Officer Perry is a father of three and has been with the Seekonk Police Department for over two years. His story has received over 50,000 likes on the police department`s Facebook page and has been viewed more than 3 million times.

One of our producers Steve Lewis spoke to Lieutenant Matt Jardin of the Seekonk Police Department, who was not at all surprised at what Officer Perry did. The lieutenant said that this is routine behavior for Officer Perry who according to the Lieutenant Jardin, goes the extra mile every day. Patrolman Keith Perry, tonight`s good news.


O`DONNELL: Time for tonight`s "Last Word," which tonight will be a collection of random bits caught by campaign cameras.


CLINTON: One of my favorite, favorite political ads of all time, the announcer said would not it be great if somebody running for office said something, we could have an immediate reaction as to whether it was true or not, well we have trained this dog. And, the dog, if it is not true, he is going to bark and then the dog was barking on the radio.

And, so, people were like barking at each other for days after that. I am trying to figure out how we can do that with the republicans, you know. We need to get that dog and follow -- follow him around and every time they say these things like, "Oh, the great recession was caused by too much regulation," -- Aw, aw, aw, you know?



TRUMP: I am watching television and I see her barking like a dog. She is barking like a dog. And, everyone said was not that wonderful, was not that wonderful, is not that cute, is not that great? If I ever did that, I would be ridiculed all over the place.

I will not do it. I am not going to imitate her. But she is barking like a dog, and they say wonderful. If Trump does it, believe me, you would read about it, "What is wrong with Trump?"



UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: How many of you are democrats. It is your country too. It is your country too. We will take good care of you.




TRUMP: He does not do that when Bush comes in here, I will tell you.




SANDERS: Very small number of people on making huge campaign contributions. Huge as well.



O`DONNELL: Chris Hayes is up next.