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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 3/17/2016

Guests: Stuart Stevens, Charlie Pierce, Eugene Robinson, John Nichols, Virg Bernero, Charlie Pierce

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: March 17, 2016 Guest: Stuart Stevens, Charlie Pierce, Eugene Robinson, John Nichols, Virg Bernero, Charlie Pierce

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: That does it for us tonight, one of the top 18 programs airing on basic cable at 9:00 p.m. check your local listings.

We will 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, wouldn`t you like to have a job that included something called recess?

MADDOW: Yes, not since 5th grade --


O`DONNELL: Why don`t we -- why don`t we try it at 30 rock. You know, like, I don`t know 1:30 every day recess --

MADDOW: I would settle just for lunch, you know what I mean?

O`DONNELL: Yes, that, too --

MADDOW: We`re going to have lunch and recess, I would take it --

O`DONNELL: That, too, that would be great --

MADDOW: Thank you my friend --

O`DONNELL: Thanks, Rachel --

MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Well, as predicted right here, Republicans are finally using Abraham Lincoln against Donald Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A new group of conservatives scrambled to stop Donald Trump at all costs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul Ryan acknowledge for the first time that the convention could be open in Cleveland.

ERICK ERICKSON, BLOGGER: Abraham Lincoln, it took him three ballots to become the Republican nominee.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: To even address or hint to violence is unacceptable.

ERICKSON: So, if he can do it without riots in the streets, the other candidates should be able to do it as well.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Any effort to help anybody but the Republican nominee helps Hillary Clinton.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: We are going to go all the way to Cleveland.

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, MEET THE PRESS: It was an explosive hearing at times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree that the EPA should have done more.

TODD: It was also an emotional one on Capitol Hill today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They should have rushed in sooner to rescue the people of Michigan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As both Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and the EPA chief Gina McCarthy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have the authority, you have the backing of the federal government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Face the House Oversight Committee investigating the lead painted water in Flint, Michigan.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: President Obama`s nominee for the Supreme Court Merrick Garland made his first visit to Capitol Hill today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I cannot imagine any senator standing up and saying I`m not going do my duty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not going to change my position.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I used to make a living identifying absurdity. I`m hearing a lot of it today.


O`DONNELL: The most powerful Republican in government who is second in line in the line of succession for the presidency, the speaker of the house Paul Ryan insisted today that he will not become a candidate for president if the Republicans have a contested convention.

But he will be the most powerful person at that convention. Paul Ryan will be the chairman of the Republican convention.

He will be the master of the convention rules and the interpreter of the convention rules.

The convention parliamentarian will work for him. And Paul Ryan, chairman of the Republican convention is clearly not buying Donald Trump`s idea that whoever shows up at that convention with the most delegates, even if it`s not a majority, should just get the nomination automatically.


RYAN: Nothing`s changed other than the perception that there`s more likely to become an open convention than we thought before.

So, we`re getting our minds around the idea that this could very well become a reality and therefore those of us who are involved in the convention need to respect that.


O`DONNELL: Need to respect that. That is a message aimed directly at the Republican frontrunner who respects nothing.

That is the chairman of the convention saying that the rules of the convention enforced by him will determine what happens at the convention, not the wishful thinking of Donald Trump.


RYAN: My goal is to be dispassionate and to be Switzerland, to be neutral and dispassionate and to make sure that the rule of law prevails and to make sure that the delegates make their decision however the rules require them to do that.


O`DONNELL: Republicans trying to stop Trump today finally started echoing what I`ve been saying for days about how Abraham Lincoln got the Republican presidential nomination.


ERICKSON: In 1860, Abraham Lincoln, it took him three ballots to become the Republican nominee.

So, if he can do it without riots on the streets, the other candidates should be able to do it as well.


O`DONNELL: Erick Erickson was part of an emergency stop Trump meeting in Washington today.


ERICKSON: We find Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both unacceptable and want to call for a unity ticket within the Republican Party now.

Have those conservatives, Republican candidates who have already dropped out to hold their delegates on the first ballot so Donald Trump can`t get to a 1,237 delegates.

And then after the first ballot, try to shake the party without Trump.


O`DONNELL: The group released a written statement saying, "we believe that the issue of Donald Trump is greater than an issue of party.

It is an issue of morals and character that all Americans, not just those of us in the conservative movement must confront.

We call for a unity ticket that unites the Republican Party." Marco Rubio, the former golden boy of the Republican Party announced today that he will not be on that unity ticket or any ticket.

Because after failing to unite Republicans in his home state to support his candidacy for president, he plans to quit politics.


RUBIO: No, I`m not going to be anybody`s vice president. I`m not -- I`m just not going to -- I don`t want -- I`m not interested in being vice president.

I don`t mean that in a disrespectful way. I`m not going to be vice president, I`m not running for governor of Florida.

I`m going to finish out my term in the Senate over the next ten months. We`re going to work really hard here and we have some things we want to achieve and then I`ll be a private citizen in January.


O`DONNELL: The last time the Republicans went into a convention without a nominee locked in place was 1976 when Ronald Reagan tried to snatch the nomination away from President Gerald Ford who went into the convention with only 43 more delegates than Reagan.

The mastermind of the Reagan strategy at that convention was Charlie Black who this week signed on to John Kasich`s campaign.

Charlie Black told Chuck Todd today that the Kasich campaign hopes to follow the Abraham Lincoln model and grab the nomination on the third ballot.


CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: John Kasich would have a very good chance to win an open competitive convention that went more than a couple of ballots.

And that`s the strategy he`s going to win some more primaries too. If you add all this up, it could be that Trump goes in with about 40 percent, Cruz goes in with about 25 percent.

And you got 35 percent that are either for Kasich or were for Rubio or uncommitted, which gives you a chance for a mainstream conservative against two outliers who can win the general election to win.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Stuart Stevens; columnist for the "Daily Beast" and former chief strategist for Mitt Romney`s presidential campaign.

Also with us, Joy Reid; Msnbc national correspondent who has been out on that campaign trail everywhere.

And Charlie Pierce; writer-at-large for "Esquire". Joy Reid, these scenarios sound crazy to anyone who doesn`t know the history of contested conventions.

Anything can happen there.

JOY REID, MSNBC NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is correct and I think that we`re getting yet another civics lesson through this crazy campaign.

Which is that much as you and I do not elect the president of the United States with our popular votes, we just decide which electors will go to the electoral college.

And they -- this is -- decide who is the president. In these primaries, your vote does not determine who the nominee is.

It simply decides which delegates will get to go with pledges written in support of a certain candidate.

And they will vote at the convention according to whatever rules the chairman of the convention decides are the rules that year and that is how the nominee is chosen.

Eisenhower was chosen that way, on the Democratic side, Hubert Humphrey was simply imposed on the Democratic electorate, he didn`t run in a single primary.

This is the system, folks, it`s the same way and it`s been for a very long time.

O`DONNELL: Stuart Stevens, you`ve been there, you were there four years ago at the Republican convention where your candidate had it locked up, none of this was ever an issue.

I assume the rules weren`t that important because there wasn`t anything that was going to be contentious in that Florida convention.

But this time with the Charlie Blacks moving in, we`ve got a real game going on here if Donald Trump doesn`t show up with the majority.

STUART STEVENS, COLUMNIST, DAILY BEAST & FORMER CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST FOR MITT ROMNEY: Yes, listen, you know, I`ve been long fascinated by this. I wrote a novel that`s coming out in June about a setting a brokered convention.

Because it`s just a fascinating study and sort of a human hot box of emotions. Look, I think it`s going to be tough for Donald Trump to get to 1,237.

And what you`re seeing is a real resistance to Donald Trump because he`ll be a disaster electorally and I think this also just sees lingering moral issues with Donald Trump that bother people across the board.

What I think really is going to be fascinating here is the stress test that this puts these candidates under.

This is a period where they`re going to be watched very carefully and in many ways it`s sort of going to be like their recount period in back in 2000.

Where these candidates are going to be under tremendous unnatural pressures and you have to see how they handle it.

Now, so far, I`d say Donald Trump is not doing a very good job. But in some ways I suppose it`s an opportunity for the guy to sort of step up and be bigger, but he usually doesn`t do very well in those moments.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Erick Erickson said today about what this means for the party.


ERICKSON: I think that if Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, the Republican Party ceases to be the party that I was an elected representative of.

So, there is going to have to be the ground work for a new political party in the country that represents people who typically have been Republican voters in the past.


O`DONNELL: Charlie Pierce, the United States did perfectly OK up until about the 1850s without a Republican Party existing.

Might we be on the verge of a return to that condition?

CHARLIE PIERCE, WRITER-AT-LARGE, ESQUIRE: First of all, in honor of Saint Patrick`s Day, I`d like to say something about Erick Erickson and my grandmother would have said which is who is Erick Erickson when he`s at home.


I mean, what kind of power broker are we dealing with here. Second of all, I want Stuart -- if Stuart Stevens really has a novel about a brokered convention coming out this Summer, I want him picking the rest of my NCAA bracket.



PIERCE: It`s plainly, no, it`s (INAUDIBLE), and third, I don`t know, honestly, I don`t know whether it would be good or bad for Paul Ryan to preside over a convention where they finagle Donald Trump out of the nomination.

I have no idea what the Republican Party is going to look like in a month let alone when the convention rolls around.

O`DONNELL: But Joy, this is one of those situations where the Republicans have no good choice.

REID: Right --

O`DONNELL: If Donald Trump shows up there without enough delegates to secure the nomination, then he`s showing up as the weakest nominee they`ve seen since Gerald Ford and possibly weaker because he may well show up with fewer delegates than Gerald Ford showed up with.

So, what do you do? Do you go forward with this inexperienced candidate who is the weakest nominee you maybe have ever had or do you come up with some other result which the convention is empowered to do.

REID: Yes, and you know what? Lawrence, the party is already split. Ever since the emergence of a tea party, they have essentially been two Republican Parties operating under the same umbrella.

And a split was probably inevitable, but having just come from Cleveland, I can tell you there will be no overtime for any police officers in that city.

There is already a sense of real nervousness about what will happen. You`ve already had Donald Trump essentially threaten riots if he doesn`t get his way.

Parties have a self interest, there are entities that do operate in their own self interest.

Of course they want to prevent this person who is just a little more than a vulgarian.

It`s ironic that Erick Erickson who is known to be quite the vulgarian himself is standing up for sort of the integrity of the Republican Party.

But they have a self interest in preventing it themselves from being essentially destroyed by somebody who is going to march into that convention without the support of anyone there.

Remember the people who come to the convention are partisan. They are the Republican establishment, they`re going to sit there and watch Donald Trump become the nominee, no they`re going to fight it.

And if they do, there will be consequences and have to live with them just like the Republican Party has to live with the consequence of allowing and helping to create Donald Trump.

O`DONNELL: Stuart, with Paul Ryan as the most important non-candidate going to that convention, he`s already taken a number of stances against Donald Trump.

Against things Donald Trump has said. He came out as soon as Donald Trump said ban Muslims from entering the country.

Paul Ryan came out against that. He came out against Donald Trump`s hesitance about rejecting the support of white supremacist and so on.

With Paul Ryan in that position, with this party where it is, do you see it the way I do that there is no good choice.

There is no choice everybody can just cheer about when they leave Cleveland?

STEVENS: Listen, man, the analogy I`ve been using is the guns of August -- you know, the book about the start of World War I.

I`ll be happy if we can just avoid, you know, ending up in the asylum, killing each other. My goal here is straightforward.

I don`t want Donald Trump to be the nominee of the Republican Party. I think he`s a horrible person.

He represents I think a dark side of the American spirit in so many ways and I think it would be an absolute disaster for the party and for the country where he had represented major party.

So, how we get there, I`m less concerned about than getting there. That to me is the essential goal.

PIERCE: Lawrence --

O`DONNELL: Stuart, you see this as a -- as a moral matter as well as a political matter?

STEVENS: Oh, absolutely. Listen, Donald Trump is a bigot. I mean, this is a party -- let`s just see how far we`ve wandered here.

You know, George Bush 39 is the person who signed the American for Disabilities Act. Now, we have someone who`s out there mocking people with disabilities.

We have someone who`s accusing George Bush 41 of being a war criminal. I mean, this is just -- talking about our neighbors to the south as rapist.

No, it is absolutely a moral question.

O`DONNELL: All right, we`re going to have to take a break here, when we come back, Stuart Stevens has written the must-read of the day about the big problem Republicans have with white voters.

There just aren`t enough of them.


O`DONNELL: Today, Paul Ryan who will be the chairman of the Republican National Convention criticized the frontrunner for the Republican nomination saying -- for saying that there will be riots if he doesn`t get that nomination.


RYAN: Nobody should say such things in my opinion because to even address or hint to violence is unacceptable.


O`DONNELL: We`ll be right back.


O`DONNELL: When Donald Trump looks out at his rally audiences, once they`ve forcibly removed all of the protesters, he sees a sea of white.

Trump audiences are the only political audiences that we`ve ever seen that are actually whiter than the people who attend the Republican conventions.

But Donald Trump and the Republican Party have a very serious problem with white voters. As Stuart Stevens points out in today`s must-read piece in the "Daily Beast".

There aren`t enough white voters for the GOP to win. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won 56 percent of white voters and won a landslide victory of 44 states in 2012.

Mitt Romney won 59 percent of whites and lost with 24 states. We`re back with Stuart Stevens for more on this.

Also joined by Eugene Robinson; Pulitzer Prize-winning opinion writer for the "Washington Post" and an Msnbc political analyst.

Stuart, whenever I read your stuff, I always learn something. You do the homework and you do the math.

And none of us know how to do math around here. So, I was -- I was quite struck by that. I did not realize until reading your piece.

That Mitt Romney actually got a larger percentage of the white vote than Ronald Reagan got.

What else don`t Republicans know about the math of the white vote and winning national elections?

STEVENS: Well, I think, one of the myths out there is to, well, is to a lot of white voters weren`t motivated as they were for Ronald Reagan.

When in fact a higher percentage of white voters not only voted for Mitt Romney, but a higher percentage turned out for Mitt Romney.

Look, this is what I call the lost tribes of Amazon theory. That if we just paddle the canoe far enough up the Amazon and bang the drum loud enough.

These hidden voters will come to the river`s edge and vote for us. They`re just not there.

The country`s changing and you have to build a party that will be able to get a coalition of white and non-white voters.

Mitt Romney was able to get 17 percent non-white voters. To win consistently, you`re going to have to get that up to, you know, north of 25 percent.

O`DONNELL: And Gene, in Stuart`s piece, he points out where the electoral college begins.

Kind of you know, as soon as you stop voting on election day it`s pretty well guaranteed that the Democrats are going to start the night with 242 electoral votes because there`s these 16 states that they always win, that deliver the 242.

The Republicans can guarantee that they will start the night with only 103 electoral votes --


O`DONNELL: With 13 states that they`re guaranteed to get. And so there`s -- there`re the Republicans starting off the night only like 28 electoral votes short of winning the presidency.

And Republicans are out there now thinking that Donald Trump is somehow going to create this gigantic turnout of voters who`ve never been there before who are going to change all that math.

ROBINSON: Right, and that`s not going to happen. It doesn`t happen and smart Republicans like Stuart have realized this for some time.

They can`t do math at the RNC, and you know, you saw in the post-Romney autopsy, a version of this basically.

The party has to expand its appeal to African-Americans, to Latinos, the country`s biggest minority group, to Asian Americans or fastest growing minority group.

All those groups as you saw in the graphic heavily for Barack Obama.

If the party were to nominate someone like Donald Trump, assuming the Republican Party didn`t just itemize, it would certainly solidify these -- this sort of new American coalition, this relationship with the Democratic Party.

And it would be a long Winter for Republicans.

O`DONNELL: And Stuart, making a move in the right directions here, politically, hasn`t been easy for the Republicans in the last four years.

They tried initially to do something on immigration reform. That got shot down by the right wing of the Republican Party.

What else could they have tried to do to try to gain some ground here with non-white voters?

STEVENS: Well, look, I mean, let`s just step back. You have two -- you know, a 74-year-old white guy in Democratic Party and a 60-something year- old white woman.

On the Republican side, you had two Cuban-Americans, an African-American, a woman who is a much more diverse group running.

So, that in itself is a start. But it`s not just policy, the policy is part of it. It`s being able to reach out to these voters with the sense that you care about these voters.

And that`s the thing about Donald Trump. It`s not that Donald Trump has some tough stance on immigration per se that`s killing any chances that Republicans are going to have.

I mean, that`s not a particularly positive factor, but it`s when he calls Mexicans rapists.

When he talks about Muslims in these -- in terms of they`re really just not American. We don`t have a religious test in America.

When he talks about -- this horrible language that he uses of dipping bullets in pigs and shooting Muslims.

I mean, we just don`t do this in America. This is something about -- this is fundamentally hateful to different groups.

And it just -- you know, it just sends a terribly wrong signal and where that person to be the nominee of the party I think would have devastating electoral consequences.

But it`s just a terrible sign to send to the world that one of the national parties would choose to nominate someone like this.

ROBINSON: But you know -- you know, Lawrence, I mean, I think that Stuart is right, but it is policy too.

I mean, I think the Republican Party really does need to think about how to -- how to design and yes modify policies that appeal to minority voters and the party just doesn`t do that.

The party sort of sticks with a very sort of standard Reagan tax cut, deregulation ideology without -- which is -- you know, fine for a small business owners and people like that, that they`re trying to appeal to.

But doesn`t say a lot to average minority voters. It really doesn`t connect with them.

And so, in a -- in a state like my home state of South Carolina, you have some very simpatico Republican figures like Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott who people like and respect.

And in the end, African-Americans, sort of Hispanics are not going to vote for because they don`t like the policies.

O`DONNELL: Stuart Stevens and Gene Robinson, thank you both for joining us tonight, I really appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Good to be here.

STEVENS: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, President Obama is now getting involved or may be getting involved in the Democratic primary.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST OF "LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL" SHOW: "The New York Times" reports today, quote, "President Obama privately told a group of democratic donors last Friday that Senator Bernie Sanders is nearing the point where his campaign against Hillary Clinton will come to an end and that the party must soon come together to back her."

The president`s comments were summarized but not quoted for "The New York Times" by three people present at a fund raising event last week in Austin, Texas where the president said that.

And, the comments were later confirmed by a White House official. All of those Times` sources for this story remain anonymous. Today, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who was present when the president made those comments said this.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: President Obama made a case that would be familiar to all of you, which is that as democrats move through this competitive primary process, we need to be mindful of the fact that our success in November in electing a democratic president will depend on the commitment and ability of the Democratic Party to come together behind our nominee. The president did not indicate or specify a preference in the race.


O`DONNELL: "The Times" report does say, quote, "President Obama stressed that he was not endorsing either candidate. Joining us now, John Nichols, the National Affairs Correspondent for "The Nation" magazine and co-author of "People Get Ready, The Fight Against A Jobless Economy and A Citizenless Democracy. Back with us, Joy Reid, the author of "Fracture: About Barack Obama and The Clintons." Joy, you are the expert. Barack Obama and the Clintons, what do you make of this story?

JOY REID, MSNBC NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, the reality is Barack Obama knows Hillary Clinton a lot better than he knows Bernie Sanders. He is a lot closer to Hillary Clinton. And, if you talk to Obama people, and particularly Obama people, who did not sign on with the Hillary Clinton campaign for one reason or another, you will still hear the sense that Hillary Clinton is, a, the most likely nominee.

She, obviously, is the democrat of the two, longstanding democrat and the party apparatus is much more behind her. And, I talked to an Obama person today, who essentially said, "Look at a certain point, the party has to start focusing on things like voter registration and voter mobilization.

And, if the coordinated campaign cannot get started and Hillary Clinton is still focusing on Bernie Sanders, then she is not doing that important party building, important voter reg. So, I think there is a sense and I would not be surprised if President Obama would -- if he could make a public declaration, would make it for Hillary Clinton.

O`DONNELL: Just so happens Bernie Sanders was here in the last hour with Rachel Maddow. Let us listen to what he said about this.


BERNIE SANDERS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not want to speculate on what he said or what he did not say. In fact, I have heard there has been some push back from the White House kind of indicating that he did not say that.

When only half of the American people have participated in the political process, when some of the largest states in this country, people in those states have not yet been able to voice their opinion on who should be the democratic nominee, I think it is absurd for anybody to suggest that those people not have a right to cast a vote.


O`DONNELL: John Nichols, your reaction?

JOHN NICHOLS, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: Well, I would start off by saying that I have enough respect for Barack Obama to -- and his political skills, to be pretty sure that he would not make a major statement about the 2016 presidential race to a bunch of donors in Austin, Texas.

If he wants to send a signal, this is a very skilled political figure. He can do it and much more direct and I think much able ways than this. So, what we have is a situation where I think he went to meet with a group of folks. They talked about a lot of politics, as joy well points out.

I think he walked through some political scenarios, I am sure all that happened. But one thing to remember is, the Democratic Party in the last number of election cycles where they actually have won the presidency in an open year and in competitive year had contests that went on into May and June.

Barack Obama, himself, is familiar with that reality and then turned around and did a very, very good job of winning the presidency. That happened in 1992. Bill Clinton was still wrestling with Jerry Brown well into May. And, what I think we need to understand is, the process that is going on right now is very, very healthy for the Democratic Party.

It is great that the Democratic Party is having debates and is having people get mobilized and come to rallies. And, by comparison to the republicans, I think the democratic race looks very vibrant and very encouraging. So, I do not see why people would want to dial that down, so that all anybody talks about is what Donald Trump or somebody that does not like Donald Trump is doing.

O`DONNELL: Joy, that is I think a great point is that imagine where the democrats would be right now if their primaries were already over. The Trump domination of the news cycle has been just overwhelming for everyone involved in dealing with it like us as well as the public. Without what is going on in the democratic side, without those debates they have been having, what would the public even know about what the democrats` positions are.

REID: Yes. And, I think one of the issues for Hillary Clinton is that, you know, she has been saying in rallies that if she could just start getting to Trump it would be a good thing. But, you know, she does have that reality that she did take the primary all the way to June when she was running in the democratic primary against then-Senator Barack Obama.

Of course, there had been a lot more contests in the bag and she was a lot closer than Bernie Sanders is. I mean his mathematical distance from her is orders of magnitude greater just as a statistical matter than hers was. But the idea, yes, there has been a lot less excitement generated on the democratic side in terms of turnout partly because the republican race has so dominated things.

But, I think the other kind of argument that you are hearing and again I am just telling you what I heard speaking to an Obama person was that the problem is this, when Barack Obama was the leader, he was actually registering voters along the way and he was actually carrying this sort of movement behind him and so was Hillary Clinton. That is not happening so much now and I think that is why people are getting nervous.

O`DONNELL: Joy Reid and John Nichols, thank you both very much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.

REID: Thank you.

NICHOLS: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Up next, Michigan governor faces an angry congressional hearing. Everyone was angry in that hearing about the poisoning of the water and children in Flint, Michigan.



O`DONNELL: Today, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder testified before the house committee on oversight and government reform about the Flint water crisis. It was an appearance where a politician says he is taking responsibility and not trying to shift blame, while right before your eyes he tries to shift blame, in this case to the federal government. Even though poisoning the water supply in Flint was entirely the result of the governor`s bright idea to seize control of the local government in flint.


RICK SNYDER, (R) MICHIGAN GOVERNOR: We are taking responsibility in Michigan and we are taking action and that is absolutely essential here in Washington too. Inefficient, ineffective and unaccountable bureaucrats at the EPA allowed this disaster to continue unnecessarily. I am glad to be sitting next to the administrator from the EPA, because all of us must acknowledge our responsibility and be held accountable.


O`DONNELL: So, the governor whose policies poisoned the water then blames the bureaucrats at the EPA for allowing his mistake to continue, the very same EPA that republicans want to cut funding for or abolish in their wildest dreams. Here is the how she EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy replied.


GINA MCCARTHY, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Looking back on Flint from day one, the state provided our regional office with confusing, incomplete and absolutely incorrect information. Their interactions with us were intransient, misleading and contentious. And, as a result, EPA staff had insufficient information to understand the potential scope of the lead problem until more than a year after that water supply was switched.


O`DONNELL: Predictably the republicans on the committee tried to blame the EPA, which of course is their way of blaming President Obama. And, the democrats on the committee tried to keep the blame focused on the republicans in Michigan, whose decisions poisoned the water and the children in Flint.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND: When things got rough for you and your administration started being investigated by law enforcement, you got the people of Michigan to pay your legal fees. Governor, do you admit here today that you have asked the people of Michigan for more than $1 million to pay for your criminal and civil defense fees.


REP CUMMINGS: And, it makes me sick to think you found a way to have the State of Michigan pay over $1 million in legal fees, yet you thought so little of the people in Flint that you could not be bothered to ask the legislator for money to switch them over to clean water. You cannot be trusted and I got to tell you, you need to resign.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Virg Bernero, Mayor of Lansing Michigan. He also ran against Governor Snyder in 2010. Mr. Mayor, when you consider the million dollars in legal fees versus the thousands of dollars, maybe $36,000 a year, it would have cost to make the clean water choice in Flint. And, it is just a stunning comparison there.

VIRG BERNERO, (D) MAYOR OF LANSING, MI: There were so many mistakes along the way, Lawrence. And, when you hear the governor say, he takes responsibility, but it is really these other people`s fault that is a little disheartening and a little disingenuous as well.

You know, the mayor of Flint is working triple time. She has been incredible. Mayor Karen Weaver is trying to address this problem. The people of Flint had been without good water for almost coming up on two years. They have been using bottled water for three months. You know, very difficult to take care of your family, to cook for them, to bathe.

They are told it is OK to use the water to bathe, but some people have rashes. They do not trust what they are being told. It is time to fix the problem. And, the governor, what he has not done, is pulled up alongside and behind the mayor, because he no longer has autocratic power. He has given it up.

He had total power when this crisis happened. He had taken the place of the city council and the mayor that is how we got here. But, he has yet to really support the new mayor of Flint, who needs and deserves his support to get real help to the citizens of flint. This was a manmade manufactured crisis, but it is a crisis nonetheless.

It is a disaster for the people of Flint, and they deserve disaster relief and they do not have it to this day, to this day Lawrence, they are using bottled water. Where is the help that he promises? He says, we are on it, we are doing it, but the lead is still there. They have not gotten the lead out. I do not see the plan to get the lead out and they are not supporting the mayor`s plan to get the lead out.

O`DONNELL: Let us listen to what Representative Grisham said to the governor about exactly what they are trying to do to help people now.

REP. MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM, (D) NEW MEXICO CONGRESSWOMAN: Tell me the constituents that you responded to based on that report.

GOV. SNYDER: The constituents? We are out to talk to every person in Flint.

REP. GRISHAM: You are talking to them? So, that is your response to date is to know who is effected, maybe, by your report and then to talk to them.

GOV. SNYDER: Not maybe. It is to go to their homes to actually have an opportunity to ask, "Would you like a filter? Would you like a water test? How can we help support you in terms of giving water?"


O`DONNELL: Mr. Mayor, it is amazing that he thinks that people in Flint would just like to have a little filter to stick on to that poisoned water to take care of them.

MAYOR BERNERO: They made this switch, Lawrence, almost two years ago. They put these people in peril. These are people, themselves, people with elderly parents, people with young kids. They were lied to by the government and then you are asking them what would they like?

What they would like is what every American takes for granted, which is clean, safe water. That is what they would like, governor, and that is what they deserve. There is a lot of things that have come out of this testimony. I think it is great that congress is demanding accountability and transparency.

It is more than just closing the barn door after the horse got out, because this affects a lot of communities around the country. So, I help that congress will keep digging, but we got to put the pressure on locally. I am doing what I can to help the mayor of Flint from Lansing, because we got the lead pipes most of them out of Lansing.

And, we are trying to assist Flint in doing that, but they need resources. They need -- and the state should pay for it. The state has a huge surplus, which they basically stole from local governments by underfunding cities for years.

And, now, they are going to have to use that surplus to fix the problem that they created. If you break it, you buy it. And, they clearly broke it. He should stop trying to blame other people. Step up and fix the problem and get the lead out in Flint.

O`DONNELL: Mayor Virg Bernero, thank you very much for joining us once again. I really appreciate it.

MAYOR BERNERO: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, this Senator Al Franken says that what he has been hearing from Republican Senators about the Supreme Court reminds him of the stuff he used to write for Saturday Night Live.



O`DONNELL: Forty-eight years ago, March 16, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy announced late in the campaign season that he was entering the race for the democratic presidential nomination posing a challenge to Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson and to the Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy, who was the first to announce his candidacy that year.


ROBERT F. KENNEDY, (D-MA) FMR. SENATOR: I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I previously communicated this decision to President Johnson and late last night my brother Senator Edward Kennedy traveled to Wisconsin to communicate my decision to Senator McCarthy. I made clear through my brother to Senator McCarthy that my candidacy would not be an opposition to his, but in harmony.


O`DONNELL: Senator Robert Kennedy`s campaign lasted less than three months. It ended when he was assassinated here in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968.


O`DONNELL: And, now for the good news. A 9-year-old Ewan Baker Drum is Detroit`s Super Ewan. When he was in 3rd grade, Ewan told his parents that when he became a teenager, he wanted to give food and clothing to the homeless. His parents told him, he did not have to wait.

And, so, with the help of his parents, the nonprofit organization, "Super Ewan Inc" was born. Now, once a month "Super Ewan" and his super volunteers distribute food, clothing and basic necessities to the homeless.

Last year, Ewan`s short film was one of 15 chosen for the White House student film festival whose theme was the "Impact of Giving Back." The website, little things, recently caught up with Super Ewan.


EWAN BAKER DRUM, FOUNDER OF SUPER EWAN INC: After I put on my cape, I go into the dining room and I make a sandwich and start filling out the bag with candy, cookies, apples and chips.



DRUM: This is the packet for my friends and I call them super friends, because I do not like to call them homeless.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: I wish more kids could be like him. If I had a son or daughter, I would like my kid to be just like that.



O`DONNELL: As is traditional for Supreme Court nominees Judge Merrick Garland met with senators today. The democratic leader of the senate, Harry Reid and the senior democrat on the judiciary committee, Vermont`s Patrick Leahy. But, as is not traditional and in fact has never happened before.

Senate republicans are still refusing to consider the nomination in any way. No hearings, no votes. Today, at a senate judiciary committee, meaning to consider other business, Senator Al Franken said this:


SEN. ALAN STUART "AL" FRANKEN, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Supreme Court nominees have gotten hearings for the last 100 years since 1916. You cannot say I want the people to decide, wait for the next president, "Oh, wait a minute. If we lose the election, then we will vote for this guy. Then we will have this." Will you at least admit to me that is contradictory.

ORRIN HATCH, (R) UTAH SENIOR SENATOR: If I was in your shoes, I would be saying, "Well, that is wonderful. At least we are going to vote for this nominee one way or the other."

SEN. FRANKEN: No, it is double talk. Do not you see that as double talk? Do not you see that, though? Does not anyone here see that? I guess not. I guess not.


O`DONNELL: And, Charlie Pierce is back with us. And, Charlie, Senator Franken went on to say at certain points that what the republicans were saying reminded him of the stuff he used to write at "Saturday Night Live."

CHARLIE PIERCE, WRITER AT LARGE, ESQUIRE: Yes, that was the Al Franken from his old job that you do not see very much in the senate. You know, he has been a real work horse and not a show pony there. But, that is our Al Franken going back for a second.

O`DONNELL: Yes. And, he also raised a challenge to the senators when he said what about -- why do not you just do absolutely nothing. Let us listen to why he said that.

SEN. FRANKEN: You could be the rope-a-dope senate and not knew anything. Here is what the constitution says, "Provides only that the congress must be in session at least once a year." Is that what you guys want?

"The congress shall assemble at least once in every year and such meetings shall begin at noon on the third day of January." The American people are looking at this and seeing what this is. This is obstruction.


O`DONNELL: Charlie, I have seen a lot of senate hearings and I have not seen any moments like that.

PIERCE: No, that was a good one. You know, what bothers me about this thing is that the president is free to nominate anybody he wants and he has done that. The senate is free not to do anything about it. But what the republicans seem to want is they want to not do anything about it, but pay no political price for that.

And, I am sorry, they cannot have both of those. They cannot decide -- they cannot not have hearings on this nominee, but they got to stand the political gap for it. They cannot hide behind some fanciful constitution of the mind.

And, you know, they cannot say, we will let the people decide on it because the people decided in 2012, who was going to nominate Supreme Court Justices between January of 2013 and January of 2017. And, just as the historical note, John Marshal was a lame duck appointment, who invented the job pretty much as a chief justice.


O`DONNELL: Yes. It goes back ways. Charlie Pierce gets tonight`s "Last Word." Thank you, Charlie.

PIERCE: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Chris Hayes is up next.