Tuesday, March 16, 2010

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for
video podcast

Guest: Ezra Klein; Sen. Debbie Stabenow


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories

will you be talking about tomorrow?

The final roadblocks to reform: The tea party and the Republicans join

forces in a last-ditch effort to lie about health care reform.


REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: I don't want to make you sick, but I

brought an abortion to show you today.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: My favorite sign that I saw

said "Grandma isn't shovel-ready."


O'DONNELL: When not lying about the bill, they're attacking the

procedure. First, reconciliation was evil. Now, deem and pass is evil -

despite a long history of the GOP using those same tools.

The latest on the health care fight with Howard Fineman, Ezra Klein

and Senator Debbie Stabenow.

A new low for even the right-wing: The likes of Beck and Limbaugh

attack an 11-year-old boy who is pushing for health care reform because he

lost his mother.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, your mom would have still

died because Obamacare doesn't kick in until 2014, if they sign it this



O'DONNELL: The hybrid truth.


PRIUS DRIVER: I'm doing over 90.

911 OPERATOR: You're over 90?

PRIUS DRIVER: Yes, hold on.


O'DONNELL: First, California; now, New York. Toyota is getting

aggressive in controlling its runaway P.R. problem over runaway Prius


And, will Tiger Woods be master of his domain? He's launching his

comeback at the Masters in less than a month. Is his return to golf the

only way for him to turn the page?

All that and more - now on Countdown.


TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: I thought I could get away with

whatever I wanted to.



O'DONNELL: Good evening from New York. I'm Lawrence O'Donnell, in

for Keith Olbermann.

As if it were not welcoming enough that in this great experiment we

call democracy, anyone is allowed to roam the halls of congressional office

buildings to drop in on lawmakers unannounced. Today, members of the House

were instructed to greet their tea party protester guests with light

snacks, water and coffee. It is not clear if the tea party is consumed

their refreshment with the full realization that some of them were paid

for, no doubt, with the very taxes that they just love to protest against.

A much smaller crowd than expected showed up for today's rally on

Capitol Hill to kill health care reform. FreedomWorks, Dick Armey's group

that organized the protest - which makes the event fake grassroots - told

CNN that somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 people were on hand. That's the

biggest number they could come up with to exaggerate turnout.

The Democratic National Committee, in comparison, places the number of

protesters at only 300.

Today's award for most inappropriate sign goes to President Obama

climbing into a coffin next to the words "kill the bill."

At the start of the rally, Michele Bachmann said her favorite tea

party sign is one from September's protest that read, "Grandma is not


As a good segue as any for Bachmann to repeat the lie that the elderly

will be denied care if the Democrats' bill becomes law, Louie Gohmert of

Texas took a graphic approach to claim falsely that the bill funds



GOHMERT: I brought the bill that's being talked about. Now, I don't

want to offend anybody. I'm sure that there are here - people here who

think abortion is OK and I don't want to make you -


GOHMERT: I don't want to make you sick, but I brought an abortion to

show you today.

There's a whole lot of demon going on. There's a lot of demons around

here, apparently.


O'DONNELL: A doctor at the rally told "Talking Points Memo" that

Speaker Nancy Pelosi should be tried for treason because the self-executing

rule known as "deem and pass" is unconstitutional.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reason in trying Nancy Pelosi for treason, is

that something that you think that should be done? Is that - explain that


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure. If she votes for the bill because it has

nothing to do with being constitutional. When you deem a bill, that's not

how - that's not how the House of Representatives is supposed to pass a

bill. Have the courage to vote on the bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you call that treason?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would call that stepping on the Constitution.

When you take an oath to uphold the Constitution and you don't - yes, I

think you should be tried for treason.


O'DONNELL: That man may be a good doctor, but he needs to get his

hands on a high school government text fast and go straight to the section

on the Supreme Court - which is still kept very busy by Republicans and

Democrats in local and state and federal government who continue to enact

laws of questionable constitutionality. No legislators have yet been

charged with treason for having done so.

Lots to talk about with Howard Fineman, MSNBC political analyst and

senior Washington correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Howard, today, Steve King of Iowa called for another "Velvet

Revolution." He told "The Huffington Post" that he wanted the tea partiers

to "storm this city. Fill this city up, fill this city, jam this place so

full they can't get in, they can't get out, and they will have to

capitulate to the will of the American people."

Howard, how did that work out for Steve King today? Could you get in

and out? Were you able to move around at all?


both inside the Capitol and on the grounds, especially out on the east

front. And I didn't see a lot of capitulating going on.

I did talk to some tea partiers who told me they were disappointed by

the crowd. I talked to a guy who'd driven out all the way from Missouri,

gotten a flat tire on the way, got there just in time for the thing to be

winding down. He said he was very disappointed by the crowd.

It's the standard issue but the sort of the low tide of the standard

crowd, Lawrence. You had the hard line abortion - you know, pro-lifers,

you had the "take up the guns" crowd, you had the people who think that

Nancy Pelosi is trying to ruin not only the currency but the Constitution.

It was the usual suspects, only very few of them.

O'DONNELL: Now, the last time they did this, it seemed to me, all the

encouragement the House needed to actually go and pass the bill.


O'DONNELL: So, going by their record on these pre-vote protests, it

doesn't - it's not going so good. But is the turnout - is the big drop

in turnout about organization? Is it about a sense of fatalism that this

thing is going to pass and there's nothing they can do? Or is it a -


O'DONNELL: - drop in energy and interest in this subject?

FINEMAN: Well, I think it's a combination of all those things,

Lawrence. I think there is a sort of done deal sense, even though the vote

is really close. We'll be tracking all the way up until, you know,

whenever, midnight Saturday in the House. I think there's a sense that

it's done deal.

I think, Barack Obama, by his sheer persistence, and the House

leadership and the Senate leadership on the Democratic side, their sheer

persistence and willingness to pursue this have, to some extent, I think

exhausted the opposition.

And, you know, you worked in the Congress. I covered the Congress and

legislatures. At some point everybody says, "OK, let's vote. Let's vote."

And that's sort of where we are right now.

O'DONNELL: Howard, there's word tonight that Dennis Kucinich is

holding a press conference tomorrow morning to announce his vote on health

care reform. Now, he announced his vote on health care reform on this

program to me saying that he was absolutely going to vote against it again,

having voted against it the first time, saying it does not do enough.

Since then, the president flew to his district yesterday, gave that

speech, talked about Natoma Canfield's plight. Natoma Canfield, on this

program last night, from her hospital bed, asked Dennis Kucinich to vote

for this bill.

Would he be holding a press conference to announce how he is going to

vote if he is still a "no" vote, if nothing has changed?

FINEMAN: Well, let's move from conjecture to what I think is going to

happen, Lawrence. I have - I have from some very good sources tonight

that Kucinich is going to come out tomorrow in support of the bill. And I

think that's going to be very important because it's all hanging in the

balance right now. Dennis Kucinich happens to have stumbled in a key role


And it's important not just for his vote, which I'm pretty sure now -

based on my sources - is going it will be yes, but because Dennis Kucinich

will supply a kind of heat shield for President Obama and even Nancy Pelosi

from the direction of the left and the Democratic Party who are dead-set in

favor of a public option in the bill. They are furious that the Senate

version that's going to be voted on does not have the public option.

I think, not only will Kucinich say, "I have reluctantly concluded I'm

going to vote for it," but he's going to make the argument which I think

President Obama made to him in private that this is just a first step.

That Social Security began with small steps. Medicare began with small

steps. And so, this bill will be one step on the road to a public option.

I think that is what he is going say tomorrow.

O'DONNELL: We'll be watching the Kucinich press conference tomorrow


Howard Fineman of MSNBC and "Newsweek" - thank you very much for your

time tonight.

FINEMAN: Thanks, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: For more on what happens next, let's turn to Ezra Klein of

"The Washington Post" and "Newsweek."

Ezra, the whip counts that I've seen being passed around this

afternoon do not indicate that it's close. They have large clumps of

congressmen on those lists, some of them surprising names for me to see,

who they don't feel they have the yes from yet.

How close do you think, at this point, given the whip counts, given

everything that's flying around there - how close do you think Nancy

Pelosi is to getting the 216 she needs?

EZRA KLEIN, THE WASHINGTON POST: My understanding is that people on

both sides of the aisle, leadership on both sides, think Nancy Pelosi has

around 200. But I should tell you, Lawrence, I have a personal rule that I

don't do whip counts for this reason. Right before a bill passes, as you

know from being in the Senate, it is the time of maximum lying by

representatives and senators. People trying to increase their leverage,

increase the chances Barack Obama comes to their district, or they can

promise more money for their election, or they get a concession in the

final bill.

So, you get a lot of folks who proclaim themselves undying opponents,

and then, three days later, like potentially Representative Kucinich

tomorrow, switch to qualified supporters when they get what they wanted.

So, it's a time of real sort of insincerity in statements.

O'DONNELL: And now, there's - all this talk about the self-executing

rule in the House, the "deem and pass" way. They are, in effect, in the

House of Representatives, trying to find a way for the Democrats to vote on

this bill and be able to say they never really voted on the Senate bill,

which will be the underlying bill that is deemed pass if you vote on the

bill on top of it.

Is this the cover that Democrats need to cast this vote? And will it

work as cover?

KLEIN: Oh, my God. They seem to think it is. I can't possibly

imagine how and it seems they've just done themselves a lot of damage with


Quick background here, David Dreier, when he was running the rules

committee for the Republicans, he used the "deem and pass" 35 times. This

is not unprecedented, but it is dumb.

And in particular, it's dumb because at a time the Democrats are

trying to protect themselves from argument that they are making special

deals, that they're twisting the rules to fit their purposes, they come out

with this thing that doesn't make sense to any living human being. They're

going to pass the Senate bill as part of deem and pass.

And the idea that because they are deeming it passed as opposed to

passing it passed, there will be some difference in the mind of any voter

anywhere, except to think Democrats are being underhanded in some way they

can't quite explain frankly baffles me.

O'DONNELL: Well, it's all about apparently, Ezra, trying to be able

to say, when you're campaigning -

KLEIN: Right.

O'DONNELL: - I never voted for that dirty deal in Nebraska and I

never voted for that dirty deal in Florida or Louisiana, or whatever thing

in the Senate bill you think is a dirty deal. I didn't vote for that.

The trouble is, the way I read that vote, I think you did.

KLEIN: Yes, you did vote for it and I can promise you, your

Republican opponent is going to say you voted for it. And if you've been

attempting to explain to other people that you didn't vote for it, you are

quickly going to just come across as insincere.

The Democrats have been much better off. I think the Senate and House

bill are very close. And I understand there's a political toxicity to the

Nelson deal and the Florida deal and other pieces for it, but to say that -

this Senate bill, it is imperfect beginning and we are going to fix it.

And that is what's going to happen from now on.

Every year, we're going to come back and we're going to make this

better and better and better. We will vote on the public option. Vote on

paying doctors differently. And this is how health care work from now on,

a start and then an improvement and then another and then another. And

they can promise they will do this forever to make this is a system that

America can be proud of.

They'd be in a whole lot better shape than if they came out and said,

"This bill is terrible," even though it's very close to the House bill, and

now, we're going to put 11 pages on top of it that will make it fine. Deem

and pass is just not good politics. It's too Washington for people.

O'DONNELL: Ezra Klein of "The Washington Post" and "Newsweek" -

thank you for your time tonight.

KLEIN: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: Coming up: the flipside of surviving the tea party.

Senator Debbie Stabenow on what it was really like on Capitol Hill today

and the latest on the health care negotiations.

And later, the return of Tiger Woods is no longer a mystery. The

Masters, the scene of his first major victory, will be where golf great

truly begins his professional rehabilitation.


O'DONNELL: Coming up: The critical week in health care reform.

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan joins us for the latest on where things

stand on Capitol Hill tonight.

And later, the right-wingers want to stop reform so bad they'll stoop

so low as to attack an 11-year-old for saying his mother died because she

couldn't afford health insurance.

That and more - ahead on Countdown.


O'DONNELL: Today's tea party invasion of Capitol Hill was an historic

event, transforming politics in the nation's capital just as much as the

last time they did it. That's what happens when you get thousands or

hundreds or certainly dozens anyway of people determined to block passage

of a health care bill that exists primarily in the minds of Sarah Palin and

Glenn Beck.

And as we mentioned in the previous segment, the latest outrage is

over the fact that House Democrats may use a legislative procedure known as

"deem and pass" because this will allow House Democrats feel they have

actually avoided actually voting on the Senate health care bill, despite

the fact the House has - you guessed it - voted deem and pass and will

have to vote to deem and pass the bill.

With us tonight from Capitol Hill is Democratic Senator Debbie

Stabenow of Michigan, who sits on the budget and finance committees. Good

evening, Senator.


O'DONNELL: I'm sorry. I'm getting mixed up on deem and pass every

time I try to pass through it.

Let me start with the question about House Democrats. We know what

their plan is. They're trying to get this things passed by the end of the



O'DONNELL: What is the plan of action in the Senate if this passes

the House? What would be the schedule of action in the Senate?

STABENOW: Well, Lawrence, we'll - we will take it up as soon as the

House passes it, sometime next week is what we are assuming right now.

And so, we're - we are anxious to get this taken care of. We know

what this means in terms of families and small businesses and manufactures.

Frankly, it's as much a jobs bill as anything else - certainly, in my

state, where we're losing jobs because of rising health care costs. So, we

are anxious to get it done.

O'DONNELL: Not to get too technical, but is there any committee

action contemplated before taking it to the floor in the Senate or will it

go from the House of Representatives straight down to the will of the


STABENOW: Well, as I understand it now, as we've been talking about

it, it would go directly to the floor.

O'DONNELL: And are you surprised that House Democrats think that the

bill you voted for in the Senate is so bad they don't want their

fingerprints on it in any way. They want to be able to deny they voted for


STABENOW: Well, I - you know, I appreciate the concerns that came up

about certain special provisions.

But, Lawrence, I have to say that we have a bill that makes sure that

costs go down for families and small businesses. I'm very proud to have

authored an immediate tax cut for small businesses this year, as soon as we

pass it, up to a 35 percent tax cut. All the provisions like eliminating

preexisting conditions for children would happen immediately. For adults,

we set up a special fund. If they can't find insurance, they can buy into


Another provision I'm very proud to have co-authored with Senator

Kerry is a provision to help early retirees, people 55 and older, to be

able to get help right now - this year - to bring their costs down.

We have 17 different provisions that will take effect right now this

year that are in the Senate bill.

And I think that what we have done is a good bill. And I appreciate

the differences between the House and the Senate, but I think people will

find that this really does help them. It brings down costs. It creates

more access. It holds insurance companies accountable and it's important

to move it forward.

O'DONNELL: Now, Senator, it must be fun for you, people in the

Senate, to watch all the pressure on the House for a change. They had a

fairly -


O'DONNELL: - relatively easy time passing the bill in last year

compared to the Senate.


O'DONNELL: But can you guarantee the House that if they do pass this,

that the Senate will be able to get it through reconciliation intact? That

the Senate parliamentarian will accept everything sent over by the House

and that you actually do have the 50 votes plus the vice president in the

Senate to pass that?

STABENOW: I have absolutely no reason to believe that the votes

aren't there. Everything I hear from colleagues, everything that we

discuss together indicates to me and it gives me confidence that the votes

are there. And we certainly are willing to demonstrate that to the House

before they move ahead. We're going to be working with them on


And, you know, reconciliation is really just a majority vote, as you

know. This is really about just letting democracy work. And the

provisions in this 51-vote corrections bill actually make the bill better.

There are things that I would have liked to have done in the Senate that we

didn't get done that I think actually make it more affordable for families,

address the excise tax which I believe needs to be addressed, tackles what

was Nebraska only help, now to reach out and make sure every state is

treated fairly in Medicaid.

So, there are things that I think should have been done anyway.

O'DONNELL: Senator, before we go, quickly, I just have to ask what it

was like having the tea partiers in the hallways today. Did they flood

your office? Did they try to slow you down on the way to votes? Was there

were there any problems at all?

STABENOW: Well, I've seen folks - you know, folks who are in the

halls and coming to our office. I mean, we are willing to sit down with

people, talk about what is really in the bill and not in the bill.

I think, most importantly, Lawrence, I have to say before leaving

tonight that with all the protesting from Senator McConnell and the

Republicans about how bad this would be for Democrats, you would think

they'd be rushing to the floor to help us pass it. And the old saying,

"Thou dost protest too much," I think comes to mind, because the reality

is, if this was so bad for us, they would let us pass it immediately.

They know that when you provide a tax cuts to small business, when you

lower the cost for families, you hold insurance companies accountable, and

you help people be able to afford insurance that that's a good thing.

O'DONNELL: Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan - thank you

for your perspective tonight.


O'DONNELL: There is nothing off-limits in attacking supporters of

health care reform for the right-wing talking heads. Glenn Beck and

company criticize an 11-year-old boy who is fighting for reform after his

mother died because she didn't have insurance.

And later, one day after Toyota investigators raise doubts about a

Prius accident in San Diego - now, they're traveling to New York to get to

the bottom of an accident there. The great P.R. pushback begins.


O'DONNELL: Ahead on Countdown: Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck take aim

at an 11-year-old boy because he wants health care reform after his mother

died. Chris Hayes joins us on the new low for even the right wing crowd.

And later, Tiger Woods makes it official. He's returning to

professional golf for the Masters. Eugene Robinson will tell us if that is

the perfect place for Woods to stage a comeback.


O'DONNELL: Michelle Malkin warns of a new dubious poster boy for Dem

care; Glenn Beck attacks his family; while Rush Limbaugh calls his message

a sob story. If you thought the right couldn't sink any lower in their

hysteria over health care reform, they just did. Their latest target an

11-year-old boy.

Marcelas Owens, a fifth grater from Seattle, speaking at a news

conference alongside his grandmother and senior Senate Democrats, sharing

the story of his mother, Tiffany.


MARCELAS OWENS, MOTHER DIED OF CANCER: My mom was diagnosed with

pulmonary hypertension in 2006. She missed so much work that she lost her

job. And along with her job, she lost her health care. And losing her

health care ended up causing her her life. And I wanted to finish her

fight for health care. So I don't want any other kid to go through the

pain our family has gone through.


O'DONNELL: Tiffany Owens died at the age of 27 of pulmonary

hypertension. As Media Matters reports, her story and the son's telling of

it sent the right wing noise machine into over drive. The website News

Busters calling the 11-year-old a spokesman for a liberal lobby. Attacking

his grandmother, Gena Owens, for her attack with the Washington Area

Network, a consumer advocacy group.

Glenn Beck taking that attack, questioning Ms. Owens' motives by

attacking her group and the issues it supports.


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: There are pesky phrases in that one that

we should point out: social justice, shared community and collective

responsibility. Let's not forget "truly democratic society." Well, we're

not a democratic society. I think that was the Soviet Union. I believe it

is the Democratic Socialist Republic in China as well.


O'DONNELL: Beck then went after the group that helped Marcelas and

his grandmother get to Capitol Hill.


BECK: The trip was paid for by Health Care for America Now. That is

the George Soros funded, Barack Obama approved, group fighting for health

care. Since all of these groups are so concerned and so involved now, may

I ask where were you when Marcelas' mother was vomiting blood? Wasn't this

the perfect opportunity to help provide a decent quality of life for all,

or at least for one? You had somebody in your own ranks that knew that -

her mother knew. Dare I ask, where was grandma?


O'DONNELL: Desperate to catch up with Beck, Michelle Malkin and Rush

Limbaugh also joined in. To refresh your memory, the pair also targeted

12-year-old Graeme Frost and his family in 2007. Graeme gave a Democratic

radio address objecting to President Bush's veto of a bill that expanded

SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance program. That led Malkin to

call his parents spoiled brats and Limbaugh to question the family's


In the case of Marcelas Owens, Malkin called him "a human kiddy shield

for the Dems," with Limbaugh echoing the sentiment.



exploitative. An 11-year-old kid being forced to tell this story all over,

just to benefit the Democrat party and Barack Obama. I would also say this

to Marcelas Owens, well, your mom would have still died, because Obama care

doesn't kick in until 2014, if they sign it this year.


O'DONNELL: Really, rush? That's what you would say to an 11-year-old

kid about his dead mother? Come on, Rush. Tell your listeners the truth

on this one. Even you would never say that to an 11-year-old. I know

being mean is part of your business model, and I know it's easy to say

things you regret in three hours of live radio, but now you really should

do what your dead mother, Millie, taught you to do in a situation like

this: apologize.

Come on, Rush. Tell Marcelas you're sorry. You saw him, Rush. He is

a classy kid. He'll accept your apology. You just have to be big enough

to say you're sorry. Go ahead, Rush. You can do it. It's not that hard.

Make Millie proud of her little boy.

Time now to call in the Washington editor of "The Nation" magazine,

Chris Hayes. Good evening, Chris. What can possibly be gained in American

politics by attacking an 11-year-old kid who lost his mother? I missed the

lesson where that's good politics.

CHRIS HAYES, "THE NATION": Well, yeah. I mean, I don't know how much

they are thinking strategically in going after him. I think it is a reflex

that the kind of attack mode is always the prime instinct, particularly for

people like Malkin and Beck and Limbaugh.

I also think - to be honest, I think these are compelling stories. I

think putting a human face on what's going on, what the stakes of health

care are, is threatening. It really makes them uncomfortable. I think

there's both a kind of just knee jerk reaction, where they just want to

destroy anyone that stands in their way, but also there's the implicit

recognition of the strategic vitality of a message that actually focuses on

real human beings.

O'DONNELL: It does seem like the anecdotes are driving them crazy

somehow, that the true stories of health care reform, of the holes in the

health care system, of the way people are being victimized in the health

care system, just drive them nuts.

In politics, you tend to use each other's weapons. If you tell a

story to illustrate your point, I'm going to tell a story to illustrate my

point. But they've got, what, 40, 43 million people on Medicare in this

country, close to 50 million on Medicaid in this country. They can't find

one person in that group to come out and say, my government health

insurance is bad? My government health insurance has failed me? They

can't find one?

HAYES: Right, well, look, they don't want to do that, because when

you look at the demographics of the conservative movement and of the

Republican party, it is a lot of people who are on Medicare. I think they

have been very worried about being seen as attacking Medicare and all this.

That is why we got all this weird jujitsu about government hands off

Medicare, et cetera.

I don't know why they haven't gone out. Look, there's a lot of people

out there. People are discontent about a lot of things. But I think, at

this point, because they are not trying to proactively offer anything,

their mode - the rhetorical mode is to raise questions and to point out,

you know, errors and to go after people in the most sort of brutal, ad

hominem way, to try to kill the bill.

There is nothing other than that. Whatever comes into view is what

they attack.

O'DONNELL: You know, I'm getting the feeling by this kind of

desperate attack - I don't know Rush Limbaugh, but there is no way he

would say that to an 11-year-old. He knows he wouldn't say it to an 11-

year-old. And he just blurts that out on the radio. Combining that with

what we saw a few hundred Tea Partiers maybe is the best that Dick Armey

and his machine and all of that support he has to organize - that's the

best he could do on the lawn of the capitol today? I'm getting a feeling

of the emotional air going out of the tires of opposition here.

HAYES: Look, I think you're putting your finger on something. If you

look at the polling data, we've seen the popularity of the bill begin to

move up. It's actually - the inflection point was right after the Scott

Brown election. Since the president has sort of gotten out front, since

there have been less process stories, and since they have also focused the

message on what the stakes are for actual people, and what the current

system allows to happen, the cracks that millions of people fall through -

all of those things have pushed up the approval of the bill.

I think there's been a real messaging improvement. I think the right

recognizes that, and they're trying to fight back against it. I also think

they realize that this is probably going to be passed.

O'DONNELL: Chris Hayes of "The Nation," thank you for looking inside

yourself and somehow finding the decency to come to the defense of an 11-

year-old boy whose mother died.

HAYES: I'm a stand up guy.

O'DONNELL: Thanks, Chris.

HAYES: See you, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Coming up, Toyota is fighting back in the latest round of

Prius problems. First, they call the high-profile San Diego accident into

question. Now their own investigators are coming to New York for another

accident investigation.

Later, Tiger Woods back in the swing of things, so to speak. He is

returning to golf at the Masters next month. Will it be a triumphant


When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, her exclusive sit down

interview with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. She will ask him about his

part in the steps that led to the financial meltdown.


O'DONNELL: Humanity has always had mysteries, the Loch Ness Monster,

Bigfoot, and now the runaway Prius. Toyota today said it will investigate

a runaway Prius report from Westchester, New York, after government testing

on the Prius that allegedly sped out of control on a California highway

last week found no evidence to prove or disprove that driver's story.

The story had already raised eyebrows because the 911 dispatcher

repeatedly asked the driver to shift the car in neutral or, you know, turn

it off. The driver later said he was afraid to shift the car into neutral

because that might flip the car over. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports on the



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The system was tested under driving conditions -


just release a statement. They made a statement by putting on a show.

Company executives rolled out a handful of 2008 Prius Hybrids to

demonstrate the car's brake override system.

Toyota was so eager to prove their point, they allowed reporters to

get behind the wheel of a similar Prius at speeds of 50 miles an hour and

then have their drivers -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring the speed up to 60, 70, 80 -

ALMAGUER: Try to simulate an out-of-control acceleration at 85 miles

an hour. In every instance, when the brake was pushed firmly down, the car

slowed down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the car comes to a stop.

ALMAGUER: Shown here in this Toyota video to simulate a stuck

accelerator, Toyota test drivers punched the gas pedal, then simultaneously

hit the brake with pressure. They say that overrides the throttle, as the

brakes slow the car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is going on? Is your accelerator stuck?


ALMAGUER: Last week, James Sikes told investigators he lost control

of his Prius when it accelerated over 90 miles per hour. For more than 20

minutes, he claimed he was pressing hard on his brakes but the car wouldn't

slow down. Toyota says their investigation shows that is simply not


BOB WALTZ, TOYOTA QUALITY CONTROL, VP: I can tell you the information

that we found was not consistent with the claim that was made.

ALMAGUER: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA,

agrees. Their investigators, who worked alongside Toyota, were also unable

to replicate James Sikes' claims using his car.

KATE LINEBAUGH, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Toyota feels like the media

really hasn't been in its corner. So it is trying to re-establish its

reputation and regain credibility.

ALMAGUER: According to NHTSA, their probe did reveal that Sikes'

front brake pads were almost completely worn out. Toyota shows that shows

Sikes may have ridden the brakes off on on, but never applied consistent


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gas pedal felt like it was stuck in fast


ALMAGUER: James Sikes is no longer speaking to the press and

continues to stick by his story. His attorney says just because Toyota

couldn't replicate the incident doesn't necessarily prove Sikes' sudden

acceleration didn't happen.


O'DONNELL: That was Miguel Almaguer reporting.

Coming up, Tiger Woods announces the start of his professional

comeback, the Masters early next month. Eugene Robinson will tell us if

that is the right move for Tiger after everything he has been through.


O'DONNELL: The last time Tiger Woods played professional golf was on

November 15th last year in Australia. Then the "National Enquirer"

reported that Woods was accompanied on that journey down under by his

mistress Rachel Uchitel. Thanksgiving at the Woods house was difficult,

and Mr. Woods hasn't been hitting anything since.

But today, the comeback plan was unveiled. Tiger Woods will return to

the links in Augusta, Georgia, at the Masters Tournament on April 8th. A

statement on his website reading, in part, "the Masters is where I won my

first major. I view this tournament with great respect. After a long and

necessary time away from the game, I feel like I'm ready to start my season

at Augusta."

He continues, "I have undergone almost two months of in-patient

therapy and I am continuing my treatment. Although I'm returning to

competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life."

About that personal life, Tiger and his Wife, Elin Nordegren, have

been working together - have been working through their issues following

all those reports of broken marital vows. First the "Enquirer" had the

Rachel Uchitel story, then porn stars, an alleged call girl, a waitress and

others popped up. Woods publicly apologized for what he described as

personal failings in December, before heading into therapy.

The world's most famous athlete lost several but not all of his

sponsorship deals. He has hired former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

to coordinate his return to golf. "USA Today" speculates Woods may conduct

his first interview to coincide with his Masters appearance.

As for actual golf coverage, ESPN will tee up the eye balls with the

early rounds of the Masters on April 8th, and CBS gets the weekend ratings

bonanza if Woods makes the cut.

But for those of you who can't wait until April, Comedy Central has

you covered. Tomorrow night's season premier of "South Park" delivers its

take on Tiger Woods and the horrible plague on society that is sexual



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted

to. I felt I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all of

the temptations around me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, sex addicts, what other destructive

behaviors did we engage in that led to our ultimate downfall. Anyone have

another example? Yes, Tiger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having sex with lots of girls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having sex with employees.


O'DONNELL: Joining me now is a golfer who has never been parodied on

"South Park," "Washington Post" columnist and MSNBC analyst Eugene


Eugene, the bookies already have Tiger Woods as the favorite to win

the Masters, just coming right off the bench into the game. He is the

favorite to win. Does he need to win? Does he need another one of those

green jackets to get the golf fans back on his side?


eventually, maybe not this year. He certainly doesn't have to win the

tournament this year. Look, people are going to watch. Clearly, people

are going to watch the Masters to see him com back. But people are going

to watch, going forward, because the difference between watching a golf

tournament with Tiger Woods and without Tiger Woods is basically the

difference between thrilling and boring.

Ratings plummet when he is not in a tournament. I think probably the

happiest people in the country today are the golf commissioner and the

networks that carry golf tournaments.

O'DONNELL: Eugene, I don't play golf. I don't know what it is like

to come back from not playing competitively. How important is it for these

guys to continue to be out there on the tour in order to stay sharp? What

does he lose by being out of the tour in terms of sharpness?

ROBINSON: He loses that last bit of competitive edge, they say. I

play golf. I'm a bad golfer, like most golfers. So I have no idea what it

feels like to hit some of the shots that Tiger Woods hits. But that

amazing ability that he has to seize the moment, to conceive and execute

what others would think of as an impossible shot, under unbelievable

pressure to win the tournament - I mean, he does it again and again and

again. That can't be as sharp as it normally is coming back after a


On the other hand, he has come back before. He is not always the

sharpest on his first outing, but he gets back pretty fast.

O'DONNELL: There was that period after his father passed away that he

was out for several weeks, nine weeks, and he came back and he didn't make

the cut in the tournament when he came back. There was a real diminution.

Then there's the concentration issue in a situation like that, coming back

after your father's death. What about the concentration issue, in this

game that's all about concentration, after what he's coming back from?

ROBINSON: That is what is going to be so fascinating to watch,

because, of course, one of the almost super human abilities Tiger Woods has

is this concentration, this focus, this ability to block everything out.

How do you block this out?

He has picked the perfect venue. The Masters is an incredibly

controlled venue, of course. Every detail is managed by the private club,

Augusta National, to the point that they have in the past barred television

commentators who have said things that the club didn't think were dignified

or appropriate.

They're very protective of their past champions. Tiger Woods has won

the tournament four times. I anticipate they will be very protective of

him, too. So this is the one tournament where he can play and he doesn't

have to worry about being accosted on every hole, or really perhaps

accosted at all by packs of rude journalists.

O'DONNELL: What about the Ari Fleischer part of this? Why would a

Republican former White House press secretary be the right guy to manage

your re-entry in this venue?

ROBINSON: Beats me.

O'DONNELL: OK. We share that feeling, Gene. I know Ari. He was

good at his job, but I don't get this part of it.

ROBINSON: I don't quite get that part either. I think I would have

picked someone the public has a more simpatico image of. The last most

people saw of Ari Fleischer, he was defending some pretty unpopular

policies, under attack at the White House. I'm not sure that's - but, as

you said, he is good at his job and maybe his role is going to be more

orchestrating behind the scenes, rather than getting in front of a podium

and saying what Mr. Woods meant to say was the following.

O'DONNELL: At the end of this tournament, win or lose, is the right

picture for Tiger to be one of those golfers with his arm around his wife

as he's leaving the golf course at the end of this whole thing?

ROBINSON: I sure don't think so. I'm not anticipating that. This is

an intensely competitive guy. He comes back to tournaments to win. The

right picture for him is putting on the green jacket for a fifth time.

That is what he'll be trying to do.

O'DONNELL: Eugene Robinson, thank you for guiding me through the

longest conversation about golf I have ever been in in my life.

ROBINSON: You're welcome, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: That will have to do it for this Tuesday's edition of

Countdown. I'm Lawrence O'Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann. Our MSNBC

coverage continues now.