'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Guests: Eugene Robinson, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Markos Moulitsas, Queen Noor, Rep. Nita Lowey,
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Markup or hold up on the health care bill? One amendment, two hours of debate. More than 500 amendments to go.
Penalty to the GOP for delay of game.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: Our job is to sit here and do it as long as it takes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got plenty of questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio on the need for speed on Capitol Hill.
From delay to distraction: Republican leader Eric Cantor says there are more pressing priorities than health care in this country. To make his point in his first town hall, he tells a woman pressing for the public option for a sick relative to turn to charity for help.
"Yes, we can" meets the U.N. General Assembly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The time has come for the world to move in a new direction. We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Tonight, on the world view of his young presidency, our special guest: Her Majesty, Queen Noor of Jordan.
And then there's Moammar Gadhafi, a wild speech but the drama about where he's going to sleep in the U.S. could be its own new reality show. Where will Gadhafi get to pitch his traveling tent?
And going global: Sarah from Alaska takes her show on the road, all the way to Hong Kong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I'm going to call it like I see it and I will share with you candidly as view right from Main Street -
Main Street USA.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: She goes all the way to China to bring up death panels.
Could she just stick to Facebook and skip the jet lag?
All that and more - now on Countdown.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PALIN: You can actually see Russia.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Good evening from Los Angeles. I'm Lawrence O'Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.
The Senate Finance Committee got bogged down this morning when it spent two hours discussing just one of the 564 proposed amendments in its long-awaited health care bill - at that rate, four amendments a day, 20 a week, 80 a month.
In our fifth story on the Countdown: Does the Senate Finance Committee really need seven months to vote on its version of the health care bill?
Day two of the markup of the bill getting off to a slow start. If yesterday, Republicans were complaining that they needed more time to understand the proposal, today, they were looking to delay the vote, starting with the handiwork of sometimes sleeping Republican Senator Jim Bunning, who proposed an amendment that would have required the Congressional Budget Office to evaluate the bill in technical legislative language before voting on it. Waiting for the legislative language draft to be written and for the CBO to evaluate that would delay the process by at least two weeks.
Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine argued, that was not a lot to ask for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOWE: And I truly do not understand the skepticism about this request. I don't understand the reluctance, nor do I understand the resistance. This is about doing our job. If it takes two more weeks, it takes two more weeks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: The Bunning amendment would have required the committee to have the legislative language of the bill along with the CBO cost estimate posted on the Internet for 72 hours before voting on it. Democrat Kent Conrad questioned what civilian could possibly understand it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KENT CONRAD (D-ND), FINANCE COMMITTEE: Let me just read you some legislative language that comes out of this committee. Tell me if this will help the American people understand what we're really doing.
M.A. benchmark based on plans competitive bids. One in general, Section 1853, Sub J of the Social Security Act, 42 USC 1935W/23J is amended, A, by striking amounts for purposes and inserting amounts. Number one in general for purposes. B, by redesignating paragraphs one and two as subparagraphs A and B respectively and indemning the subparagraphs appropriately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Pure poetry.
Unlike yesterday's session when Senator Bunning had trouble keeping his eyes open, drifting off for a short nap, that's him on the far end of the table. The Kentucky Republican was able to honor the Senate tradition of staying awake for debate on his own amendment.
The Bunning amendment was defeated but just barely, by a vote of 12 to 11. Democrat Blanche Lincoln voted with the Republicans - as this program predicted she would on occasion. Still, it looks like Senator Lincoln is leaning toward voting for the Baucus bill in the end.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BLANCE LINCOLN (D-AR), FINANCE COMMITTEE: For some time, I have said I cannot support any health reform proposal that the Congressional Budget Office cannot certify as reducing the deficit and bringing down the cost of health care over the long-term and in the out years. Under the chairman's amazing leadership, the mark as proposed does meet these very important goals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Much to talk about tonight with Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio and a member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which has already passed its own health care bill.
Thank you for your time tonight, Senator.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Of course, Lawrence, thank you for what you do. Thanks.
O'DONNELL: Senator, your committee took what, about three weeks to get a bill marked up? It looks like the finance committee is going slower than you did.
BROWN: Well, we started off fairly slowly the first few days. The Republicans were doing a slow walk. We went through only, you know, a couple of three, four dozen amendments in the first four days. We ended up doing 11 days of markup.
Chris Dodd, the chairman who handled it very well, simply said, "On some days, we're going to stay here tonight until we finish this title of the bill." And amazingly enough, the debate got shorter because people didn't want to work until 2:00 or 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, and we finish at 9:00, 10:00 or 11:00 at night. And that's one of the ways to doing it.
But it's clear throughout this whole process, Lawrence, the Republicans - delay is their friend. And they played that out in negotiations with Grassley and Enzi during the negotiations with Baucus and Conrad and Bingaman and Snowe. They're doing it again.
Delay is what kills health care reform. It plays into the hands of the drug industry and the insurance industry. They keep this going long enough, they think they can defeat it. That's why, you know, we don't run roughshod over them, we simply set some rules. We move forward and we get this bill to the floor sometime in October.
O'DONNELL: Now, we learned yesterday with studies that came out indicating that in your state of Ohio, health care premiums have risen seven times faster than median wages. And I don't see anything in the Senate Finance Committee bill that addresses that, do you?
BROWN: There are a few things. I mean, I like the health bill in the three.
You know, understand, there are four bills that have already passed out of committee: education and labor, ways and means, and energy and commerce in the House, the health committee in the Senate, our legislation. Each of those bills is good. Each of them has a strong public option.
If I think about Republican delays, all I can think about as I go from Lima to Akron to Warren to Dayton to Chillicothe is 390 Ohioans every single day lose their health insurance - 390 people in my state lose health insurance every day. And when I hear Republicans trying to slow-walk this, it's an insult to those 390 people every single day.
We're not going to rush this and do it next week on the floor. We're going to do this and get this committee going, do it in October in the first round votes. Get it to the president sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas so we can start the New Year by providing health insurance to people that don't have it, giving people consumer protections.
Those who are happy with their plans would need protection against preexisting condition and other kinds of disqualifications when the insurance companies rescind people's health care. It helps small business provide the insurance - that every small business person I know in Ohio that talks to me about this wants to provide insurance if they can afford it.
The health bill, the other three bills in the House all do that. Those - that's the bill we're going to send to the president's desk, something that looks like that.
O'DONNELL: Senator, there's the expectation that the bill that you voted on in your committee will be somehow merged with the bill that comes out of Senator Baucus' committee. Is there anything that you voted on in your committee that absolutely must be in the final bill in order to get your vote?
BROWN: Yes. I mean, I don't think there's any one thing that would cause me to vote no. I have - I helped to write the public option with Senator Whitehouse, senator from Rhode Island. Senator Kennedy and Senator Dodd asked us to write the language for that.
I'd have great difficulty voting for it without the public option. I'd have great difficulty voting for it if we're going to mandate people getting insurance. We've got to - we've got to help with tax credits, refundable tax credits for the lowest-income citizens we're telling to get insurance, to help them pay for that insurance.
Any one of those, I'd have great difficulty - if they were not in the bill - supporting it. I don't know what it's going to look like yet. But I do think we're going to have a good bill, with a solid, strong public option that ends up at the president's desk. And I look forward to being on the right side of history in voting for this bill.
You know, I think, Lawrence, that some number of Republicans - I know people that went through the Medicare debate, some Republicans that had buyer's remorse after they voted no some years later. And I think some Republicans are going to think, you know, "I don't want to be on the wrong history. I'm going to come around and make this bill bipartisan in the end, even with the public option."
That's my hope. That's what I think we'll happen come November and December. Not yet in the finance committee, but it will happen in November and December.
O'DONNELL: Senator Sherrod brown of Ohio, thanks for your perspective tonight.
BROWN: My pleasure. Thank you, Lawrence.
O'DONNELL: For more on where things stand in the Senate tonight, let's turn to our own Eugene Robinson, associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post."
Thanks for joining us, Gene.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Great to be here, Lawrence.
O'DONNELL: Gene, one amendment takes two hours. We've done the math here. It's seven months to get it out of the committee. Is this a microcosm? Is this a kind of a prelude to what we're going to see when they finally get out on the Senate floor, where the grand tradition of the Senate which is called unlimited debate, which is to say unlimited amendments?
ROBINSON: Unlimited debate. Lawrence, you know the workings of the
Senate better than - as well as anybody does. It is - it is - it's not
to say it's not designed for efficiency is an understatement. It's, in some ways, designed for inefficiency.
So, I don't think, this pace, this starting pace - you do the math as you did - will continue to the whole time. But I do agree that delay is definitely a tool of those who oppose health care reform. And to the extent that Republicans can draw this out, and the Senate rules, let them draw it out a lot - I think they're going to try to do it.
O'DONNELL: But one of the things that you see in this delay process, as occurred today with some of the amendments that were offered to Chairman Baucus is, he actually considers accepting them - meaning, they don't play as absurdly ridiculous delay tactics. A lot of this input to the public can certainly sound like a perfectly rational addition to what Senator Baucus is trying to do.
ROBINSON: Yes, it sounds rational. For example, today's amendment - it sounds rational to say, "Well, let's see the actual language of the bill." But you heard that snippet that was read. I mean, this is incomprehensible, gibberish to a lot of people.
The bills have to be written in this arcane language, as you know, because you pass a law, it has to amend other laws, repeal other laws, it's got to refer to the whole fabric of U.S. law. And something as big as health care, obviously, is going to have many, many ramifications on many existing laws. And - so, it has to be written that way. It is - you can't just pick it up and read it. It's not a page-turner.
O'DONNELL: And, Gene, it seems that, what the polling is indicating is that delay also erodes support in the public. Polls just are not turning President Obama's way as time goes on. Gallup Poll came out yesterday indicating that people overwhelmingly believe that whatever they do, it's going to end up costing me more money." People who already have health insurance, despite all these protestations from the Obama administration: what we're trying to do is cut your costs.
So, that's one of the other casualties of delays is the message struggle that leaves the president with, which is why he's doing this big media blitz, isn't it?
ROBINSON: That's exactly right. It makes the message campaign more difficult for the president. But there is - there are underlying poll numbers that still give impetus to this whole effort on health care reform, which is that if you ask people cold, you know, does - do we need health insurance reform? People say, yes, we do.
Now - and I think the complaint that I hear when I travel around the country, most often about Washington, is they never get anything done. I think, in the end, there is a - there is certainly a great risk to the Democrats if they don't get this done because they seem ineffectual and incompetent. But I also think there's a risk to Republicans if they are seen ultimately as obstructing the actual doing of something in Washington, which people don't see enough of.
O'DONNELL: Well, the other perspective for Democrats is: are we trying to do something that the public doesn't want? In which case, what you're looking at is bravery on the Democrats part if they really do legislate into public opposition, right? I mean, that's the bigger worry that they have.
ROBINSON: Well, that's true. And they should have that worry. I think there instinct is that - as Senator Brown said - that they're on the right side of history, that they haven't done a very good job of selling what they're doing, and they better start doing a better job of that. But that ultimately, if people understand what they're trying to do, and how it would help them, that people will support it. I think that's what they believe. It's a gamble, but, you know, they knew the job was dangerous when they took it.
O'DONNELL: And they need people to understand it within 12 months after they pass it for that 2012 election.
O'DONNELL: Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post" - thanks for joining us tonight.
ROBINSON: Great to be here, Lawrence.
O'DONNELL: Up next on Countdown: Representative Eric Cantor unveils the Republican version of a public option. Plan A: Sell all your stuff, maybe in a public option, until you can afford health care. Plan B; if that doesn't work, there's always charity.
And later: President Obama's first address to the U.N. General
Assembly. How his message to world leaders resonated? Our special guest:
Queen Noor of Jordan.
O'DONNELL: Straight ahead: A woman pleads for health care for a sick relative, Eric Cantor says, try a charity.
Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi finding out just how hated he is in New York. No one will let him pitch his Bedouin tent in their backyard.
And Sarah Palin's big Hong Kong speech. She claims to speak for all of Main Street USA.
That's next - this is Countdown.
O'DONNELL: Eric Cantor, the number two Republican in the House of Representatives says the speaker of the House is, quote, "living in another world," end quote, because she said the viciousness in the health care debate could lead to violence.
And in our fourth story tonight: Countdown has confirmed that, in fact, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of us do indeed live in another world from Cantor, a world known as reality.
Meanwhile, in Cantor world, quote, "I have not been anywhere over the last several months where I would even think such a situation where violence is in the offing exists." Because such situations have not occurred in Cantor world, they must not exist.
So, why haven't any of Mr. Cantor's town halls gotten even the slightest bit ugly? Perhaps because he only held three and they were all held on the telephone.
His first public forum taking questions on health care was this week, bipartisan, diverse, and ran by a newspaper rather than one of the right-wing groups fueling the behavior that has Speaker Pelosi so concerned. One woman there asked what to do about a sick relative who lost their job and now has no insurance to pay for the surgery she needs to remove the growing tumors in her stomach.
Mr. Cantor had plenty of time to think about his answer while Democrat Bobby Scott responded. Mr. Cantor then explained Republican health care. First, sell everything you own - your house, your car, whatever - to pay your medical bills, until you are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, a government-run health care program. And if that doesn't work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MINORITY WHIP: I guess I would ask what the situation is, in terms of income eligibility and the existing programs that are out there, because if we look at the uninsured right now, there is probably 23 percent, 24 percent of the uninsured that is already eligible for an existing government program that frankly the government has not done an adequate job at going out and making people aware and signing them up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: And if that doesn't work, get on your knees, stick out your hand and beg for charity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CANTOR: I know that there are programs, there are charitable organizations, there are hospitals here who do provide charity care, that if there's an instance of indigency, and the individual is not eligible for existing programs, that there can be some cooperative effort. No one in this country, given who we are, should ever be sitting without an option to go and be address in terms of health care. And that's really - that's really what I'm here to tell you. There are resources available.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Let's bring in Markos Moulitsas, founder and publisher of the Daily Kos, and author of "Taking on the System: Rules for Radical Change in the Digital Era."
Thanks for your time tonight, Markos.
MARKOS MOULITSAS, DAILYKOS.COM: Always glad to be here, Lawrence.
O'DONNELL: You know, earlier, Senator Coburn told a woman whose husband suffered traumatic brain injury, that her neighbors should pitch in. Now we hear Eric Cantor saying turn to charity, but only after making yourself poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. I mean, is that exactly the kind of answer that would make reasonable Republicans in his audience think, "Wow, we really do need health care reform in this country"?
MOULITSAS: Well, we really do need health care reform. And if there were any reasonable Republicans left, I think they would believe that. But unfortunately, that party has been taken over by this fringe tea bagger component that's led by the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the Republican Party, who really believe that if you can't afford something, then you do not deserve it. That certainly applies to health care.
So, you know, at the end of the day, there are no government programs that can help these people. There are no private charities that can help these people, because if there were, we wouldn't have this problem. We're having this debate precisely because the current system is broken.
O'DONNELL: Now Congressman Cantor finding himself talking to constituents about health care for the first time, also said he thinks that more uninsured people should take advantage of government programs, run by government bureaucrats, something he usually inveighs against. Is he even listening to his own answers on this thing?
MOULITSAS: Look, intellectual consistency isn't exactly a strong suit of the Republican Party or any Republicans. But I'm sure Democrats would be more than happy to work with Eric Cantor to identify this mythical government programs that can help this problem and work to bolster them to truly solve this health care crisis.
O'DONNELL: You know, and he complained today about Democratic intransigence on health care that the Democrats are road-blocking everything in the Congress because the only thing they want to do is health care. But in the Senate Finance Committee, we watch the Republicans all day long successfully slow that process to a crawl. So, I mean, who's really blocking who here?
MOULITSAS: Well, Republicans have no interest in reforming. That much is obvious. But I have to say, you know, you can give a pass to those Democrats who are working hand-in-hand with Republicans to obstruct. I mean, the American people elected vast Democratic majorities in Congress to make this stuff happen.
And if you're an insurance lobbyist, you know that Republicans have no power anymore, you have to go after certain Democrats and they've done that very effectively. And a few, handful of Democrats, unfortunately, are working hand-in-hand with Republicans to stop this.
O'DONNELL: Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, thank you very much for joining us.
MOULITSAS: Thank you.
O'DONNELL: Sarah Palin defends her death panel lies, where does she make this defense? In Hong Kong, in her first paid speech since quitting her job as Alaska governor.
And later, the Moammar mayhem - no place to pitch his tent in the
Ahead on Countdown.
O'DONNELL: Still ahead on Countdown: President Obama tells the U.N. General Assembly he will never apologize for defending the interests of the United States, and tells other world leaders it's time to step up and not wait for the United States to fix everything.
And then, there's Gadhafi, already causing problems before he even started his speech. New Jersey refused his traveling tent. Bedford, New York, doesn't want it either. Where will the lions sleep tonight?
O'DONNELL: Today was certainly not President Obama's first time on the world stage. But in our third story on the Countdown, It was his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, the full General Assembly, as America's 44th president. And in an only at the UN side show, there was Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi, who spoke for one hour and 36 minutes from a couple of pages of handwritten, pardon the expression, bullet points.
President Obama was warmly received today by the UN General Assembly, and he used the opportunity to acknowledge recent mistrust, but also to make sure that he will not make apologies where America's vital interests are at stake.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This has fed an almost reflective of anti-Americanism, which too often has served as an excuse for collective inaction. Like all of you, my responsibility is to act in the interests of my nation and my people. And I will never apologize for defending those interests.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: The president was able to point to a list of notable policy changes under his leadership, like America's ban on torture, his order to close Guantanamo, and his administration's new commitment to combat global warming.
He also tried to turn a familiar criticism of the U.S. on its head.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Then for wacko theatricality, UN style, the next speaker did not disappoint. The Libyan Mr. Gadhafi seethed with hatred for all things Israeli, and most things American in his first address to the UN ever. More than half of the General Assembly seats were empty by the end of Gadhafi's speech. And the exhausted English language interpreter had to be replaced.
The only real surprise is the way in which Gadhafi praised President Obama, suggesting that President Obama should stay as the U.S. leader, quote, forever.
And then Gadhafi proceed to attack the United States for everything, from the JFK assassination, up to and including President Obama's current policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A great pleasure now to welcome her majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, who is a humanitarian, activist and co-founder of Global Zero, an international group devoted to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Queen Noor will be sitting in on tomorrow's closed session of the UN Security Council as a special guest. Thanks so much for your time tonight.
QUEEN NOOR, CO-FOUNDER, GLOBALZERO.ORG: Thank you. Thank you for your interest.
O'DONNELL: Now what was President Obama's mission today? What do you think he set out to accomplish and what do you think he actually did accomplish to that audience?
NOOR: I can't speak for the president, of course. But in listening
to his remarks and having watched his progress since he became president,
in terms of trying to reset America's relations with the rest of the world,
I think this was a continuation of the effort to emphasize the collective -
the requirement that there be collective action to resolve so many of the global problems that face us, that there needs to be a cooperation and dialogue, and the United States is open and willing to do that.
And the rest of the world are greeting a new president, a new tone, and, god willing, a new set of priorities and policies to address some of these key issues. Climate change having featured, and nuclear disarmament having featured as well in the pillars that he articulated as critical to our future.
O'DONNELL: And what are we to make of Gadhafi's speech, where he praises Obama personally, and then attacks the United States so virulently? Is that a common reaction in the region that, you know, we love your president, but we hate your country?
NOOR: I think President Gadhafi clearly had a lot on his mind. And I, of course, was listening for references to the elimination of nuclear weapons in most of the speeches today. And was very, very heartened by President Obama, President Medvedev and the president of China's very clear calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons, which of course at Global Zero, that is the reason d'etre, the reason that we exist. And we are very heartened by their support, and by the session that will be held tomorrow, the UN Security Council special session that will be chaired by President Obama.
We hope that will be the beginning of a process that is multilateral, which the nuclear and non-nuclear states join together, to work together for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
O'DONNELL: Do you see President Obama as having any advantage in that negotiation that his predecessors have not had? Is there some reason for us to hope that he can make more head way in nuclear disarmament than President Bush could have?
NOOR: He's certainly been very clear about it. And that always helps. And he and the Russian president, President Medvedev, made a historic commitment to work together in April for the elimination of nuclear weapons. And that has been repeated and it was again repeated today.
So this is historic. Tomorrow's UN Security Council meeting will also be historic, if the resolution is passed by the members of the Security Council to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons, because the experts believe that the only way to avoid or to prevent the nuclear threat increasing is, in fact, to eliminate all nuclear weapons.
There is no in between. And we are very close to a nuclear tipping point, in which it will be impossible to rein in the dangers that these weapons pose, in terms of nuclear terrorism, in terms of non-state actors. or even the accidents that have occurred and affected so many millions of people over the years.
O'DONNELL: Queen Noor of Jordan, great thanks for giving us your insights tonight.
NOOR: Thank you very much. And I hope your audience will go to GlobalZero.org and learn more about the organization. Thank you.
O'DONNELL: All right.
The bizarre sideshow at the United Nations all day surrounded Gadhafi, not due to his first-ever speech to the UN, but his sleeping accommodations. New Yorkers do not want the despised Libyan leader setting up his trademark traveling tent.
And Sarah Palin delivered her first speech in Asia. Even though she was in china, she managed to bring up those mythical death panels yet again. Of course she did.
And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, Palin's call for deregulating the financial markets. Paul Krugman will explain why that might not be such a great idea.
O'DONNELL: Last night, the town of Bedford, New York stopped the construction of Moammar Gadhafi's Bedouin tent being built on an estate owned by Donald Trump. In our number two story tonight, new questions about whether Gadhafi would get to sleep under the stars appear to have been answered. Bedford town hall officials confirmed to NBC News that Gadhafi's tent has been dismantled and removed from the Trump property.
The Trump organization has issued the following statement: "we have requested that the tenant occupying the property in Bedford, New York remove the tent that was erected. They have complied with this request. Additionally, Mr. Gadhafi will not be going to the property."
Last month, Gadhafi's plan to tent out in Inglewood, New Jersey were rebuffed by Garden State legislators. Prior to Bedford, he asked for permission to build a tent in New York's Central Park. That request was denied.
In the past, Gadhafi has taken his Bedouin tent wherever he traveled, from Paris to Rome or Belgium. It is his preferred form of overnight stay outside of Tripoli. This week presented a unique problem for the Libyan leader. New York's skyscraper hotels are not an option, because Gadhafi, who has no fear of palling around with terrorists, is actually afraid of elevators.
Joining me now is Congresswoman Nita Lowey. She represents New York's 18th district, which includes the town of Bedford. Congresswoman, welcome, thank you for joining us tonight.
REP. NITA LOWEY (D), NEW YORK: Thank you, Larry, for asking me.
O'DONNELL: Can you confirm for us now that Moammar Gadhafi is not sleeping in your district tonight?
LOWEY: Well, frankly, I've been in touch with the local officials all day, the State Department. Donald Trump didn't return my call, although I have known him since he was a kid, when we all lived in Queens. And it's clear that the tent was taken down, and we're following it very carefully.
Westchester County police were asked to provide security. This is really extraordinary, when you think that he was about to camp out in the backyards of victim's families.
O'DONNELL: Now, I don't know Donald Trump as you do. But I've been sure for a long time that there isn't anything that he isn't willing to do for money. But knowing him as you have, growing up in Queens, did you ever think even Donald Trump would go this far?
LOWEY: I'm very glad he made a wise decision, because this was so shocking to the victims' families that Gadhafi would camp out in their backyards. I knew one of the families - in fact, we went to high holiday services together. And the grief and the pain has consumed all of them. And to think that Gadhafi was coming to Westchester County was totally - totally outrageous to everybody who was living there.
O'DONNELL: And you represent families of victims. New York State was unfortunately heavily represented in the victims of that plane crash. And I know that New York senators and Congress members have had to deal with this aftermath for a long time. Is there - do you think that maybe somewhere else in the country that this would have gone more smoothly? I mean, have we forgotten Lockerbie elsewhere in the country? Is this just a New York thing?
LOWEY: Well, Larry, I think that for the last couple of years, Gadhafi was trying to make amends. But the picture of Gadhafi embracing the bomber, the mastermind of the destruction of Pan Am 103, was beyond anyone's expectation. It was outrageous. So if he ever tried to make amends, he certainly didn't do it in the last couple of weeks, embracing him.
O'DONNELL: What do you think we should do in the future? These kind of things are predictable. Should we recommend to leaders that they should stay in their own missions in New York, and embassies, and they shouldn't try to do this kind of thing?
LOWEY: Frankly, Gadhafi stayed last night in the Libyan Mission in New York. And there was no reason why he had to camp out in the backyard of the victims' families. And although there isn't a legal justification, I was told, by the State Department to keep them from traveling, certainly it was common sense that he should be told rather forcefully, and others who may or may not come to New York and have that background, that they would not be welcome if they moved outside of the Mission.
O'DONNELL: Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York, thanks for your time tonight. And let us know when Donald Trump returns that call, will you?
LOWEY: Thank you, Larry.
O'DONNELL: Coming up, Sarah Palin's speech to business leaders in Hong Kong. If they expected her to say something new, they did not get what they paid for. Next on Countdown.
O'DONNELL: She says she represents Main Street, USA, and wants to be called a common sense conservative. She then went on to blast the bailouts, derived liberalism, questioned President Obama's campaign promises, critiqued his administration's policies, and of course bring up the death panels. Our number one story, Sarah Palin gives her first paid speech since quitting on Alaska.
It was closed for the press, naturally. The ex-governor venturing into international territory, speaking to a room full of investors and bankers at the annual CLSA Conference in Hong Kong for money. Big money.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN, FMR. GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: I'm going to call it like I see it, and I will share with you candidly a view coming from Main Street. Main Street, USA.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Ms. Palin covering a wide range of topics, from cap and trade to terrorism and Afghanistan. The "Wall Street Journal" reports Ms. Palin never referred to President Obama by name, but called his campaign promises nebulous, utopian sounding. "Now ten months later, though, a lot of Americans are asking, more government, is that the change we want?"
Mrs. Palin also explained to the bankers the cause of the financial crisis. I hope they were taking notes. Quote, "we got into this mess because of government interference in the first place," end quote. "The Federal Reserve was the root of the collapse."
She added, "the words Fox and hen house come to mind."
The international bankers were offered such profundities as, "we're not interested in government fixes. We're interested in freedom."
She also brought up her death panel hallucination that she posted for free on Facebook. "I seem to have acquired notoriety in the national debate and all because of two words, death panel. And it is a serious term. It was intended to sound a warning about the rationing that is sure to follow if big government tries to simultaneously increase health care coverage while also claiming to decrease costs."
The reviews from the crowd were mixed, ranging from "she was brilliant" to "she frightens me." And the AFP reports some U.S. delegates walked out of the speech, quote, in disgust. One remarking, quote, "it was awful. We couldn't stand it any longer."
Joining us now, national editor for "Vanity Fair," Todd Purdum. Good evening, Todd. Thanks for joining us.
TODD PURDUM, "VANITY FAIR": Hi, Lawrence. Glad to be here.
O'DONNELL: Todd, we learned in this segment last night that Tom Delay is doing "Dancing With the Stars" because it actually pays a lot more than you think. So he's in it for the money. Sarah Palin is doing this speech for the money. I've been trying to figure out ballpark how much. What do you get, Sarah Palin? What do you have to pay her to fly across the Pacific and give this speech?
PURDUM: You know, I've never been very good at guessing how many jelly beans are in the jar. But 20 years ago, President Reagan briefly scandalized Washington after he left office by taking two million dollars for a single speaking trip to Japan. So you have to figure that Governor Palin is making someplace in the neighborhood of a quarter million dollars. There have been some reports suggesting it was 300,000 dollars.
She's not doing it for chump change, that's for sure.
O'DONNELL: And this is - this is her business. This is what she does now. She's going to be speaking for money. We're going to see a lot of this, right?
PURDUM: Apparently so.
O'DONNELL: And she didn't ever use his name, but she did bad mouth the president on foreign soil. Now, we have been led to believe that Republicans just don't do that. That's a real no-no in Sarah Palin's America, isn't it?
PURDUM: It is. She bad mouthed him rather gently. But the truth is Governor Palin doesn't think the rules apply to her. Rules are for suckers in her view. So I think she would be the last person to consider the inconsistencies, say, of the right wing criticism of the Dixie Chick when they criticized President Bush, and she wouldn't hesitate to criticize President Obama in Alaska or China or Hong Kong or anyplace else.
O'DONNELL: Now, why did big money corporate audiences, presumably a pretty sharp audience that knows a thing or two about the world - why do they pay for such nonsense? Why do they sit there listening to someone who can't teach them anything?
PURDUM: Well, Lawrence, you live in Los Angeles. Everybody loves the circus. I think everybody also loves to be first with the - first with the most and the latest. So this is her big debut. These people probably wanted to tell their attendees, you know, you'll hear her. You can't hear her anyplace else. In truth, she hasn't been making very many public appearances. So I think it's everybody loves a show.
O'DONNELL: Now, the CLFA, of course, closed Palin's speech to the media. They said that they did that after she indicated that - this is quoting, "after she indicated that she would have to adjust her speech if reporters were present." The AFP reports that Mrs. Palin only took prearranged questions. So is this how it's going to operate? This will be the deal when you hire Sarah Palin to speak, no press and pre-written questions that she can check out before she even gives the speech?
PURDUM: I honestly don't think that could be the deal if she's serious about pursuing a political career. She has to accept much more give and take than that. In fact, it occurred to me, she didn't seem to say anything especially controversial, but if she had, it might have really hurt her if there wasn't coverage of the speech, because then we would be left to parse the second-hand accounts of people who tried to say what she said, as opposed to having her own words.
In some ways, it's much safer for a politician to have his or her own words than to have the twisted secondhand account of listeners recounting them. So I don't think she can get away with that in the long term.
O'DONNELL: And speaking in these controlled environments this way doesn't really seem like a good Spring Training exercise for going to Iowa and campaigning for president in the free-wheeling environment that you run into out there, does it?
PURDUM: No, not necessarily. I think what's fascinating and somewhat poignant is if she had made the speech in January or February or March, instead of making it now, people might have been saying on a program like this, this is exactly what she should be doing. She's burnishing her credentials. Instead, she really frittered away that period after the campaign last year, and got in trouble at home in Alaska. And this is a little bit late for her to be doing this now.
O'DONNELL: Todd Purdum of "Vanity Fair," thanks for joining us tonight.
PURDUM: Thank you.
O'DONNELL: That will have to do it for this Wednesday's edition of Countdown. I'm Lawrence O'Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann. Our MSNBC coverage continues now with, of course, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW." Good evening, Rachel. How's it going over there?
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END