'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Thursday, December 16th, 2010
Video via MSNBC: Oddball, Worst Persons
The toss: Theatrical thing
Guests: Ezra Klein, Howard Fineman, Rep. Barney Frank, Eugene Robinson, Kevin Spacey
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Disorder in the House. Democrats revolt as leadership tries to turn a vote on an amendment to at least increase the estate tax into a vote on the entire tax compromise.
Not that any of it necessarily matters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm just trying to run out the clock.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: He wants to read aloud the 1,924 pages of the omnibus spending bill so nothing gets passed, especially not the START Treaty. The omnibus bill, full of Republican earmarks Republicans are now condemning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm going to fight as hard as I can against President Obama on these earmarks and my Republican colleagues who hate to vote for them but love to get them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So, with DeMint's four corners offense, the "don't ask, don't tell" votes are there, but the vote itself may not happen in time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: We cannot let the clock to be used as an excuse or people's desire to get home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The report to the president on Afghanistan: everything's leaving here fine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Are we buying that when 60 percent of the country now tells a new poll this war is not worth fighting?
"Worsts": old timer's day. What would Jesus do about unemployment insurance? "He'd cut it," says Billo.
And Kevin Spacey stars as "Casino Jack," Jack Abramoff.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR (as Jack Abramoff): Yes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Agent Patterson with the FBI.
SPACEY: Yes. I have to call you back. Mr. President -
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And then there's the part where he learned Abramoff does impressions of Clinton and Reagan and Al Pacino? Our guest: Kevin Spacey.
All the news and commentary - now on Countdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPACEY: I'm the super lobbyist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York. This is Thursday, December 16th, 691 days until the 2012 presidential election.
Breaking news at this hour: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has just pulled the omnibus spending bill that would have funded the government for the next calendar year. This takes out the Jim DeMint threat to have the whole bill read aloud in its entirety, but it also leaves government - speaking anyway - without any funding.
Reid said nine Republicans complaining about earmarks, some of them marked by Republicans, that reneged on their commitments to support that omnibus.
The House tonight on the road to ramming through almost a trillion dollars in tax cuts that our kids will have to pay for, plus interests.
And our fifth story tonight: Democrats battling Republicans, battling Democrats in the final days of the 111th Congress.
We begin with $858 billion in tax cuts expected now to pass the House tonight. Debate beginning only hours after back-and-forth on how House leadership would give progressive Democrats a chance to register their opposition to the bill without opening the door to amendments that might kill the bill or change it and a force the new version back to the Senate, putting passage at risk.
Originally, Speaker Pelosi planned to bring two versions to the floor. The one passed by the Senate and another with a higher estate tax. But progressives wanted to be able to vote for a higher estate tax without going on record for the Bush tax for the wealthy - tax cuts for the wealthy as well. Pelosi predicting the vote would come tonight.
House members hoping to leave before the snow in Washington gets any worse - no metaphor meant there. It means snow, literally.
And unlike the Senate, voting after a report in today's "Washington Post" made public just how much was included in the bill for special interest tax cuts, $55 billion - $55 billion in tax breaks for mom and pop businesses, like NASCAR raceways and Shell Oil.
Shell, just one big energy company benefitting from a $600 billion tax credit on ethanol - a credit the Government Accountability Office says has done little to boost ethanol usage.
NASCAR racetracks, another racing facility, is getting $40 million in tax breaks over two years. Sorry, two more years. The tax break had already been in place.
Microsoft and other companies picking up $6 billion in tax credits for doing R&D and doing it in the United States.
Let's turn first to MSNBC contributor, Ezra Klein, also columnist for "Newsweek" and staff writer for "The Washington Post."
Ezra, good evening.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right. Let's start with the mess in the House as opposed to the mess in the Senate. Explain what happened in the House today if you would.
KLEIN: So, they were going back and forth on rules. And they're fighting over the estate tax fix. And it's very important to realize how cramped a debate this really is. What the Democrats want is an estate tax with a $3.5 million exemption. So, if you got an estate up to $3.5 million, it doesn't get taxed at all.
And what the Republicans want and what's in the tax deal right now is a $5 million exemption. If nobody does anything, the estate tax that comes has a $1 million exemption. So, that would raise $700 billion versus $300 billion for what's in the deal now.
And what is important here is what the Democrats want is closer to what the Republicans want than what would happen if we did nothing. So, it's important to realize that there's a lot of sound and fury in the House right now over a deal that isn't that different, over an amendment that wouldn't change the bill that much. And what's going on now is a debate over rules.
So, originally, we're going to have a rule in which you had to vote on the amendment. And if you voted for the amendment, then the tax deal was passed. And now, you're going to have a more normal vote. But, first, you can vote on the amendment and then you can vote on the tax deal separately.
OLBERMANN: All right. What's the big deal about sending this back to the Senate?
KLEIN: If you - if they managed to pass the estate tax amendment, even they bring it down a little bit, the likely outcome is that the Senate won't accept it. The Republicans will do a straight filibuster and they'll say, we had a deal with the president and we cut the deal with the president, you guys have changed it. We're not going to stands for this.
The Tea Party already doesn't like this deal. A lot of the Republicans 2012 presidential candidates like Palin and Romney, they're attacking the deal. So, it could very easily blow up the whole bill.
In that world, either the bill is come back to the House and the House passes it, or nobody passes anything. And we essentially go into the New Year waiting until John Boehner takes over and this gets renegotiated.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned the Tea Party dismissal of this idea. What happened to the common cause between that faction on the right and progressives on the left? I mean, did progressives just decide, you know, we don't want to carry the blame for taxes going up on the 1st of January?
KLEIN: I don't think there were ever was as much as common cause as some might have thought. The two sides don't like the deal, but they don't like it for different reason. The Tea Party is essentially being convinced of now is that there's too much in horrible things like unemployment insurance in the bill, and to some degree, deficit spending.
But much for the point, they were fine with the tax cuts - the Bush tax cuts for the rich. It's the things like the unemployment insurance, the payroll tax cut, which helps middle class families. Those are the things they don't like.
Conversely, what the Democrats and progressives don't like are the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
So, what split them is that eventually the Democrats came down and said, we're actually going to try to change this in a way we like. And changing it in a way they like, bringing down the estate tax, is having the Tea Party, for reasons that frankly baffle me a little bit, but something the Tea Party, in theory, doesn't like.
So, now, you're - now, you're seeing those two moving back to their respective corners again.
OLBERMANN: MSNBC contributor Ezra Klein - thank you, Ezra
KLEIN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Of course, even if House members do manage to get out of Washington tonight, that still leaves an entire congressional chamber, the U.S. Senate, capable of shutting down the government. Government funding expires Saturday at midnight.
Senate leaders got two House on bills to extend the funding. One simply would freeze spending at current levels through next September. Democrats were threatening to go with the other called the omnibus that wraps up the various agency spending bills the Senate has failed to pass this year into one mega $1.1 trillion bill adjusting spending levels, including $8 billion in earmarks.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, possibly taking note of Tea Party anger over his compromise with the president on tax cuts and unemployment insurance is now so outraged over those earmarks he is offering a shorter freeze to lock in current spending only through February, when, of course, the new Republican House could then draft a new spending bill without all those earmarks. All those earmarks, 42 of which McConnell himself inserted into the bill - since he was for the bill before he was against it. Total cost, $113 million.
Republican Senator John Thune equally outraged, explaining his 28 earmarks worth $39 million to "The National Journal." And quoting him, "Well, those projects were projects that were vetted. Those were projects that we - I mean, I support those projects. But I don't support this bill."
Republican Senator John McCain called on the carpet by "Economist" magazine for mocking specific earmarks which the magazine pointed out provide viable funding for things like enhancing agricultural production, protecting American livestock from disease, and researching American history.
One anonymous House Republican telling "Roll Call" today that they will find a way around their self-imposed earmark ban next year anyway, quote, "Build a better rat trap. You just get smarter rats." Best description of the Senate ever.
Senate Leader Reid predicted this afternoon Republicans would fall in line and avoid the government shutdown, also coming out against them and President Obama to defend earmarks, reminding Republicans that without Congress directing funds to specific projects, the only branch of government able to do that would be the president, and the Constitution does give the power of the first to the Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: The little Constitution that we have doesn't have a lot of information in it. But what is in it is what runs this country. And I am convinced that I do not want to give up more power to the White House, whether it's George Bush or Barack Obama. And I'm going to fight as hard as I can against President Obama on these earmarks and my Republican colleagues who hate to vote for them but love to get them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: This before air tonight, Mr. Reid blinked, as we told you earlier, pulled the omnibus bill, said he would work with Senator McConnell on a temporary spending extension, one that will put next year's budget in the hands of next year's congress.
Joining us now, MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman, senior political editor of "The Huffington Post."
Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The continuing resolution they're going to work on essentially means the new Congress, the Republican House and almost Republican Senate get to write the 2012 budget. Is that correct? What are the implications?
FINEMAN: That is correct. And the main headline, Keith, is that the Tea Party's in control, at least for now in the Senate.
What happened here is that they took down the bill with all the earmarks in it. Now, Harry Reid can wave the copy of the Constitution and Mitch McConnell can defend him or not defend him, or whatever he and Thune were doing.
But the fact is that because the Republican leadership was blindsided, I think, by Tea Party anger about the tax bill, they were determined to get out ahead of this. And Mitch McConnell who could have dismissed this or cut a deal with Harry Reid in the past perhaps, whatever he'd said on the floor, couldn't deliver the votes this time.
And Harry Reid said the nine or so Republicans who had promised to vote in a way to allow that omnibus bill, which contained the Obama administration and Democrats' priorities for this coming year - you know, year's spending, they had to pull it because they couldn't get the votes.
So, all the talk about readings the bill on the floor and all that, that's all out the window now. The Tea Party won this round.
OLBERMANN: But, certainly, there were two options left for Mr. Reid, either he could have gone along with this temporary measure and handed this ball off to the 2011 Senate and Congress or he could have said, OK, there's no support. You're going to blink. We're not going to blink. We're going to let you shut this down.
I mean, don't Democrats normally benefit from shutdowns? Was that not the backlash - turning point against Gingrich?
FINEMAN: Yes. It was the turning point against Newt Gingrich 15 years ago. I don't think Democrats are as confident of their ability to spend things as they were back then. And I think they worried that they wouldn't necessarily win the ball game.
Although, it's got to be said that the reason why all this stuff is jammed up at the end like this, the reason why it's so dramatic and controversial right now, after the election, is that - is that the Republicans slow-walked all these spending bills. They threatened to completely slow-walk them so that the only alternative with this big omnibus thing, which now, post-election, with the rise of the Tea Party they should the down.
So, what the argument is going to be about now, what it is that this very minute is how long to extend that continuing resolution for. Democrats could have tried.
FINEMAN: I don't think they were confident they'd win the confrontation.
OLBERMANN: Yes, I think you're right about confidence. I think they're less confident these days that they can find their offices without assistance.
Back in the House, what's all the - what was all agita over the symbolic votes to register protests? And if they could hold things up for that, why couldn't they hold things up and block the entire bill?
FINEMAN: Well, they couldn't really hold things up for that. I mean, they couldn't really hold up the whole bill. The numbers just weren't there and the pressure from the president was sufficiently great that I don't think it was possible. All they're really asking for here, as Ezra pointed out, is the opportunity to properly express their anger and dismay.
You know, they weren't sure they could win a confrontation over shutting down the government. They know they can't win a confrontation that results in everybody's taxes going up on Jan 1. They just - they just don't - they just don't have the stomach for it I don't think. And in the end, they're going to agree probably late tonight to pass that bill.
OLBERMANN: You want to express anger and dismay, you've got to show on this network, you don't get a job in the House or the Senate. I mean, there's a different place you to do that. You can do something while you're elected to the House of Representatives.
FINEMAN: That's true.
OLBERMANN: What is the - is there - is this an unusual historical point for us at this - at this sort of stalemate in the Senate and the House? Or is this more typical than we think?
FINEMAN: Well, I think it's typical of the way things are going to be because the processes of the Congress have fallen apart. We've talked a lot about the filibuster, it's more than that. Bills that used to be considered in some kind of regular order - and that's a wonderful phrase that they used in the Senate - regular order. There is no regular order anymore.
Everything is shoved into a dramatic partisan confrontation. And that's the way I think it's going to be and I think it's going to be more that way with the Tea Party. I was really - I'm really struck by the fact that the Tea Party era had sort of begun on the Senate side. And the dynamic all along, Keith, is going to be Mitch McConnell and his leadership structure trying to keep ahead of and try to keep control of and try to ride without get thrown off by the Tea Party movement.
OLBERMANN: And we get used to it. It's government not doing anything.
OLBERMANN: MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman - thank you, Howard. Take care.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: "Don't ask, don't tell" will be repealed by the Senate unless the couplet becomes a triplet. And it's "don't ask, don't tell," don't vote. Congressman Barney Frank - next.
OLBERMANN: Bad ironic news for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." It has the votes now to pass, but it may not get the vote up-or-down.
The president's report is released. We're right on track to achieve our goals in Vietnam - Afghanistan. Sorry, sorry. Afghanistan.
It's old timers' day in "Worsts." This is a bunch of people you may barely remember reassemble to spout their unintelligible nonsense.
And Kevin Spacey as "Casino Jack" Abramoff. He'll join us. Mr.
Spacey, not Mr. Abramoff.
OLBERMANN: Now that the House has overwhelming passed a stand-alone repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," now, the Senate has clearly got more than 60 votes in support of repeal.
In our fourth story on the Countdown, the actually end of our grown government's blatant institutional discrimination and federally mandated lying on that score is near - but only if certain Senate Republicans are unsuccessful at running out the clock.
At first blush, it looks good because the House's stand-alone repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" means that it will not get slowed down by the mammoth defense authorization bill you and it proceeds to the Senate under special rules - meaning it has to get through one cloture vote, not two.
And in the Senate, as of today, four GOP senators have said they would support the stand-alone repeal of DADT, along with 57 Democrats. That makes enough to overcome the filibuster.
But time is running. And tonight, word that Majority Leader Harry Reid will file for cloture on both "don't ask, don't tell" and the DREAM Act. Meaning that votes for both could come as early as Saturday - DREAM Act not expected to get through the House certainly.
Early today, a champion of repeal, Senator Joe Lieberman, had called on Senator Reid to give the repeal of DADT priority over the START Treaty, which he says could be ratified next year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIEBERMAN: We can't allow the clock to be used or people's desire to get home. I know everybody wants to go home for Christmas. Well, most people work up until the day before Christmas. If we stay here until Thursday, let's say, and we leave on Thursday, that gives plenty of time to do the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" done and maybe deal with the START Treaty as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, wants to run out the clock, his term, on START, which could imperil that and anything else to that matter because when you hear him say the word "read," he actually means read out loud slowly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEMINT: And so, we were going to make them read the bill. But then they decided they didn't want to do that. So, they gave me an agreement to burn a whole day. I'm just trying to run out the clock on this bad legislation so that they can't do anymore damage before the reinforcements get here in January.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let's turn now to Congressman Barney Frank in Massachusetts. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: The good news part of this. Is there actual, really, depend upon it kind of hope that this could get done this year?
FRANK: Oh, absolutely. Joe Lieberman deserves a lot of credit for this.
FRANK: Joe Lieberman told Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer that if we would have send over "don't ask, don't tell" separately, we passed it as part of the overall bill, that he believed he could get through both the procedure hurdles and get enough votes. We did that. We did it to be cooperative. There's been - for one of the rare examples of good House/Senate Democratic cooperation.
Interestingly, that the bill on "don't ask, don't tell" - we got 25 more votes - actually, 35 more votes for it this time than we did last time. The report, the momentum is on our side.
And Senator Reid, as you noted, has filed cloture, we're told, tonight. The vote will be Saturday. The Republicans had also - some of them have been hiding behind the argument that we had to do the tax bill, we had to do the funding of the government, those will be out of the way. So, I am confident now that we have it.
By the way, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer were also clear we were not prepared in the House to pass the rest of the defense bill until the Senate had move to get cloture on "don't ask, don't tell." Now, the way is clear for both of those to happen.
Can I just say, by the way?
FRANK: You quoted Jim DeMint. Of all the phony Republican arguments, one of the phoniest is, oh, well, we shouldn't be doing this in the lame duck session. We shouldn't do anything important in the lame duck session. If you believe that, then impeaching the president of the United States is unimportant because the Republicans did that in the lame duck session of 1998.
OLBERMANN: Of course, impeaching the president in 1998 was unimportant. And I'm sure he doesn't feel that way, but it sort of circles back in itself.
FRANK: Exactly right. But we do have the votes for "don't ask, don't tell." Frankly, some of the Republicans, I think, were trying to hide behind it. Some were legitimate. In any case, yes, there were, as you counted up, we think there were 63 senators, more than four that said they were going to vote. All but one Democrat, Senator Manchin of West Virginia, had committed.
Democrats had been very good at this. There had been partisan differences. And I want to give credit to Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, working with Joe Lieberman. They said to us, if you give it to us in this form, it will make it easier. And we did that.
And we've hold up on the defense authorization. There's kind of a dance going on.
Once the Senate passes cloture, then I will be very supportive of the rest of the defense authorization bill being voted on. I'm not going to vote for it, it's too much money. But I think we are overwhelmingly likely now to see the end of this terrible discrimination.
The other argument they made us well - it will be a distraction. The notion is that, and it's really hot, you have these brave young men and women. And they can stand on the firing line. They can be shot at. They can see their best friends blown up.
But the sight of a lesbian would disarrange them and freak them out. I think they underestimate these young people. And we're going to finally get to - the distraction is the policy.
FRANK: Not getting rid of it. The distraction is the military people who are serving, who have to look over their shoulders. It's the money that's spent that good people have thrown out. We're going to end the distraction of this bigoted policy.
OLBERMANN: When the House passed its repeal yesterday, the White House put out a statement that applauded that. If it is ultimately repealed, does that mean the president's handling of this was successful? Is it as simple as that?
FRANK: Yes, (INAUDIBLE). I will tell you that I was a little disappointed. You know, I have to tell you, on the Monday after the election, I spoke to the White House, the chief of the staff, to Senators Reid, Durbin and Schumer, and said, look, and Senator Levin, who's been very good on this, Carl Levin - we've got to get this done. You know, there were a number of good things to do. And you sometimes can't get them all done.
But, yes, the president - his energy after the election was very much there. By the way, to get him credit, he also I think was ready to say - he had been defending this in court because presidents are supposed to defend laws. But he and I had spoken and some others.
If, in fact, it had been filibustered or if it still is, I don't think it to be, then I believe he has no longer any obligation to defend it in court. If he's against it, the House majority has voted against it, an overwhelming majority of the Senate votes against it, the administrators don't want it. That lost its legitimacy. And he's made that clear. So, yes, I think the president was very helpful in this.
OLBERMANN: Do you expect that to happen? In fact - let's put those two unlikely possibilities together, that there is some sort of stall that works in the Senate. Do you think that the president will actually do that in short order?
FRANK: Yes, he will drop has his defense because the argument has been, well, you know, you're the president. You have this obligation.
I think that's generally right. We don't want the presidents picking and choosing what laws they defend in court.
But this one will have lost its legitimacy, its moral legitimacy, its majoritarian claim. It won't a case anybody can argue to the courts overturning the will of the voting public, the voters. Majorities in the House and the Senate have said no more to this.
But I am confident and I give the president credit. Joe Lieberman, Harry Reid and great leadership from Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi. I am overwhelming confident we're going to get rid of this.
OLBERMANN: No chances to make one. It sounds good. Representative Barney Frank - great thanks for your time as always, sir.
FRANK: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Everything is going fine in Afghanistan. Well, the withdrawal starting next July might really be a withdrawal that doesn't seriously start until 2014. But other than that, it's an excellent report the president revealed today.
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1961 was born a visionary who had everything but time. Dead two months after only his 32nd birthday. His work in some defined by his conclusion, that the world is a lot like a ride at an amusement park. "The Bill Hicks is Still Ahead of His Time Clip of the Week."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL HICKS, COMEDIAN: It's just a ride. We can change it any time we want. It's only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money, the choice right now between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door and buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: On what would have been Bill Hicks' 49th birthday.
Let's play "Oddball."
OLBERMANN: To the Internets and Oddball's continuing coverage of people breaking stuff. This man is demonstrating how many different body parts he can break boards with. After getting through the first two boards with ease, he moves on to the round house. Using an official Tae Kwan Do chair, he leaps up and the whiff. But he didn't get that fancy belt by giving up, so he tries it again.
Down goes board man. I think he invented a new branch of martial arts, Tae Kwan Doh.
Los Angeles, California, hello. This is it tonight for Larry King, the end of his tenure on CNN.
Katmandu, Nepal, hello. He's been doing this so long that when C-Span interviewed him in 1982, his radio career had already been going for a quarter century. His TV show would not begin for another three years. Skaneateles, New York, hello.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: All I wanted to do was broadcast. I have no other memory of any other wish. No desire. Never said I wanted to be a fireman, policeman. My mother would tell me at times that when I was five, six-year-old, I would listen to the radio, be hypnotized by it. I wanted to be on the radio. And to have that come to you, and to be doing it 25 years, and television and the like, is - it's still a kick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: They didn't have radio when you were five years old. Larry King, who has been a friend and supporter of mine for more than a decade, who delights in every second he is a spoofed, to whom the smallest kindness is the greatest thing that ever happened, will be sorely missed by all of us, especially I think CNN, when they figure out it wasn't the host who was the problem with a feature interview show at 9:00. It was the idea of a feature interview show at 9:00.
The Afghanistan report and what it says or does not say about how the rapid withdrawal will be once it starts next July, next.
OLBERMANN: According to the "Washington Post"/ABC News poll, released today, a record 60 percent of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan is, quote, not worth fighting. In our third story, with the public opinion on the war as backdrop, today the president presented an optimistic view of our efforts there.
According to multiple reports this week, that optimism is not shared by this nation's intelligence community. Nor is it shared by the head of the Afghan government, who apparently told General David Petraeus just at the moment he happens to like the Taliban better than he does America.
A year ago at West Point, the president announced his new strategy for Afghanistan, including a 30,000 troop surge. Today, the update; accordingly to President Obama, we are making significant progress in achieving our core goal, disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, al Qaeda's senior leadership in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is under more pressure than at any point since they fled Afghanistan nine years ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: According to the president, the Taliban's momentum has been arrested and/or reversed in much of the country, though he says that progress is fragile and reversible. Just like our relationship with President Karzai. The "Washington Post" reporting that during an October dispute over private security forces, Mr. Karzai told U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General Petraeus that he had three main enemies, the Taliban, the U.S. and the international community.
And Karzai then reportedly said, quote, "if I had to choose sides today, I'd choose the Taliban." Back to our president today and his assessment of Pakistan's effort in this war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We will continue to help strengthen Pakistani's capacity to root out terrorists. Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough. So we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Two national intelligence estimates, leaked by Congress, filled in what the president today left blank on Pakistan. "The New York Times" reporting the consensus view among America's intelligence community is that, quote, "although there have been gains for the United States and NATO in the war, the unwillingness of Pakistan to shut down militant sanctuaries in its lawless tribal region remains a serious obstacle. American military commanders say insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops, and then return to Pakistan for rest and resupply."
Let's turn now to Eugene Robinson, "Washington Post" associate editor, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, MSNBC political analyst, and the author of the new book "Disintegration, The Splintering of Black America."
Good evening, Gene.
EUGENE ROBINSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right, according to these NIEs, there is still is a gaping hole in Pakistan, and that is resulting in our troops being killed in Afghanistan. And according to your newspaper, President Karzai is an increasingly unwilling partner, to be polite about it. And the president says we're on track to achieve our goals. One of these three things doesn't belong here. Which is it?
ROBINSON: Well, my interpretation is that we're on track to achieve our goals. But the track just runs in a circle basically. We're on track, but we're not getting anywhere.
You know, the White House says well, those NIE estimates, those are out of date. That doesn't really reflect the situation right now. But the assessment that was released today, in fact, basically says the same thing. It's not quite as frank about Karzai, but it is just as frank about Pakistan and those sanctuaries for the - for al Qaeda on the other side of the border.
How are we going to fix that? Well, we're going to have greater cooperation. We're going to have another session of the U.S./Afghanistan/Pakistan trilateral dialogue. I'm sure that's going to do it, Keith. I think that will fix it, that next meeting of that trilateral dialogue. It's - I'm wondering how does this policy gets us to where the president says we have to get.
OLBERMANN: I have a strong sense of deja vu, because I remember sitting with you at a famous restaurant in Washington in October 2009, hearing basically this same thing. I'm wondering if this is - the presumption is that - from the polling here that 60 percent say the war is not worth fighting. The internals suggest that is because people no longer view the threat from Afghanistan as a security threat here.
Is that maybe not giving people enough credit for this, that it's not just that or we don't have a good assessment of what the threat is, but people don't see any progress, don't see anything other than that circular track you talked about?
ROBINSON: People I think don't see anything other than the circular track. I think are paying attention. I think people realize, for example, that in terms of attempted terrorist attacks on the United States or U.S. interests or, indeed, European interests, those really seem to be coming from al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula, the Yemen-based kind of branch or franchise of al Qaeda.
Clearly, those people have more range of motion, more opportunity to do these sorts of things than al Qaeda classic, which is presumably in the caves somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan, and kind of bottled down. People perhaps recognize what's actual happening.
OLBERMANN: The Defense Secretary Mr. Gates was asked about the pace and the scope of the draw down beginning next July, and essentially he punted. For anybody who was expecting troops home soon, how would they or should they view the White House report today? Is 2014 the new next July? Are they going to meet the next July start point, but it's only one service man per month? What's happening?
ROBINSON: You know, it might be two or three per month. I think clearly 2014 is the new 2011 in terms of potential withdrawal. Now, if you talk to the folks in the White House, they say we're serious with 2014. That's when we hand it over Afghans and pack up and we're out of there.
But for 2011, for next summer, which was supposed to be the beginning of a serious draw down, now you're told that well, yes, it will be the beginning of a draw down, but, you know, probably not very fast at first, and probably not very many. I kind of doubt actually that we're going to see really a significant number of our troops come home next summer.
OLBERMANN: Politically that's going to bite somebody in the back side again too.
ROBINSON: Yes, I think it is. I think people are going to be upset.
OLBERMANN: The guy who runs that restaurant we were at. Gene Robinson of the "Washington Post," always a pleasure. Thank you, sir.
ROBINSON: Great to talk to you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Lou Dobbs compares the passage of any legislation in any lame duck session of Congress to a coup d'etat. I thought he was retired. Evidently not really.
It's just out and already he's nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the ultimate Washington con man - not Bush, Jack Abramoff. The star of "Casino Jack," Kevin Spacey will be here.
And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, she'll discuss the finer points of Republican stalling with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.
OLBERMANN: Kevin Spacey on his new film in which he portrays Jack Abramoff. He's here next. First, get out your pitchforks and torches, time for today's nominees for Worst Persons in the World.
Something special, it's old timers day. At first, you may not remember these names, but I think they might just come back to you.
The bronze to Lou Dobbs, who isn't retired, he's lingering along in well earned radio obscurity. And he does not like the lame duck session. "I gotta tell you, it's an insult to every American that this Congress would even think of taking up substantive legislation without hearings. Driving it through a lame duck session simply to subvert the will of the people, because that is what this is. I mean, this is - this is lame duck sessions being run not much differently than if there were a coup d'etat of our government."
You should listen to Lou about coup d'etats. He was there when the guys behind the French Third Republic knocked off Emperor Louis Napoleon in Paris in 1870.
The runner-up - here's somebody else you didn't know was still working, Rush Limbaugh. "Maybe the real terrorists that we face are on Capitol Hill. I mean, really, who's doing as good a job undermining what this country stands for as the terrorists? Dingy Harry, Nancy Pelosi. I mean, look, if they call us hostage takers and gangsters, then why can't we call them what they are? They are terrorists."
You know why you don't hear a lot from or about Limbaugh anymore?
Because he's gone crazy. One too many Cherry Blow Pop.
But our winner - my God, is Bill O'Reilly still talking? The
reference to the well known popularity deity is not accidental. Bill-O's
most recent, quote, column, unquote, entitled, "Keep Christ in Unemployment." "There comes a time when compassion can cause disaster. You open your home to scores of homeless folks, you will not have a home for long. There is a capacity problem for every noble intent. There are millions of Americans who are not responsible. The cold truth is that the rest of us cannot afford to support them. Guys like Congressmen Jim McDermott don't make distinctions like that. For them, the baby Jesus wants to provide, no matter what the circumstance. But being a Christian, I know that while Jesus promoted charity at the highest level, he was not self destructive. The lord helps those who help themselves, does he not?"
I don't know, pal. Because the phrase "the lord helps those who helps themselves" is not in the Bible, which is where one has to assume O'Reilly is getting his nonsensical, Catholic school drop out, holier than though can't.
Here are two things that are in the Bible, one about O'Reilly's topic and one about O'Reilly. Luke 14, versus 12 to 14: "When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just."
On a more personal note, Judges 15:16, "and Sampson said, with the jaw bone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men."
Bill "Jaw Bone of an Ass" O'Reilly, today's Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: You knew that Jack Abramoff, who was at the center of the most massive case of political impropriety since Watergate. You knew the Abramoff whose remarkably versatile crookedness led all the way to the Bush White House and led to 20 convictions.
But you probably didn't know the other Jack Abramoff, the true Abramoff, the Abramoff you loved, the Abramoff with a song in his heart. All right, he did impressions. How about that?
In our number one story, they made a movie about him, "Casino Jack." In the title role, Kevin Spacey has already earned a Golden Globe nomination, and he joins me in a moment.
First, the quick history lesson. Abramoff diverting tens of millions of dollars in lobbying fees to wine and dine lawmakers, lavish them with travel and campaign contributions, courting them on behalf of Native American tribe casinos, his most lucrative clients.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2006, served 3.5 years in a federal prison for fraud, corruption and conspiracy. But he always walked really nicely.
The Abramoff dealings led to the conviction of lawmakers and bureaucrats and businessmen, 20 of them all told, including Bush White House budget official David Safabia (ph), and former Republican Congressman Bob Ney, Bob Ney who is now you studying meditation with Buddhists in India.
As for Mr. Abramoff, he recently finished a stint working at a kosher pizzeria in Baltimore, while living in a halfway house. Owner Ron Rosebluth (ph) told the Associate Press, "I was able to get some of his expertise in marketing. It was nice. It was interesting. It was nice. He was very helpful."
Plus, there were the 49 million large cheese to go for those casinos. That ability to charm and his drive to succeed permeates through Kevin Spacey's portrayal in "Casino Jack."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR: Some people say Jack Abramoff moves too fast. Jack Abramoff cuts corners. Well, I say to them, if that's the difference between me and my family having a good life and walking and using the subway every day, then so be it. I will not allow my family to be slaves. I will not allow the world I touch to be vanilla.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joining me now, as promised, the star of "Casino Jack ," which opens tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles.
SPACEY: I liked your opening, but you also - you failed to mention that Tom Delay was also part of the whole scandal, ended up on "Dancing With the Stars."
OLBERMANN: That's true.
SPACEY: And has recently been found guilty in Texas.
OLBERMANN: But he had the best mug shot of all time, that big smiling, beaming ad campaign. It's good to see you again. Thank you for coming in.
SPACEY: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: You went to prison to see Abramoff and sort of research it firsthand.
SPACEY: Yes, George Hicken, our sadly departed director - passed away last month unexpectedly. George had gone and met with Abramoff four times and then told me he thought I might get a chance to meet him. So I decided I didn't want to look at any of the research. I just wanted to go meet the man.
So we went to Maryland Cumberland Federal Prison and spent a whole lot of time with the man himself. It was a really unique opportunity, first of all, to meet him in that circumstance. Probably not the best place that he wanted to meet people.
But other than the fact I think he was bitterly disappointed it wasn't George Clooney playing him, we had a really frank, very open conversation. I was more interested in sort of the emotional terrain of what he was going through in those two years, rather than the case itself. I knew I could vet other people and I could find out what was factual and what was not.
But he was - I could see even in those circumstances that when he was at the top of his game, why he was as successful as he was. He's very passionate and charming. Believed in Republican principles, was a faithful man, dedicated to his family and his religion, charming, funny, impressionist, as you mentioned.
And I do impressions in the movie, as he did. Everyone who knew him talked about how he - I know, because no one ever reported about that. But he used to sit apparently at Signatures Restaurant, which is his restaurant in D.C., and hold court, and be being Ronald Reagan and be doing Dolph Lundgren, because he produced a couple of Dolph Lundgren films.
OLBERMANN: Right. He had been a producer.
SPACEY: And so in the movie, I do all of those people that I did. I do have to admit I've expanded his repertoire. He never did Bill Clinton.
OLBERMANN: Oh, so that's your -
SPACEY: That's mine, But then again, I've never done a Dolph Lundgren. He's expanded mine.
OLBERMANN: I don't want to focus on it, because there's so much to talk about. That is the most - one of the most delightful, unknown facts that I've had, in my experience, particularly in this subject, since I found out that the late Walter Mattheu - he told me that he did a series of impressions of sports broadcasters, Vin Scully, Howard Kosell, ten or 12 of them, and then proceeded to do them for me at a dinner.
SPACEY: And do them well?
OLBERMANN: No. They were all just versions of a Walter Mattheu
impression. I just sat there and -
SPACEY: And he's on the starting line.
OLBERMANN: No, it was always, this is Vin Scully at Dodgers Stadium.
What do you think? So my - were any - did you hear any of the Abramoff - - did he do the impressions for you? Was he any good?
SPACEY: He was very good. Lots of people talked about it. In fact, in the film, I do a number of ones that he did, including Sylvester Stallone in "Rocky," which he apparently loved to do.
So, in a weird way - I mean, look, we've made a movie that we hope is entertaining and funny, because, look, some of these circumstances are so outrageous, it is inherently funny anyway. But we also are trying to make some political points about the hypocrisy of - I mean, look, this is a guy who - he made some really bad judgments and he's paid for that. But at the end of the day, he was also part of a culture and part of an environment that, quite frankly, is still going on.
So the idea that we threw this bad guy in prison and look how we cleaned up the industry - I think we just had an election that kind of proved that's not exactly the truth.
OLBERMANN: Certainly the staffing of the elected people right off K Street suggests that there are several other Jack Abramoffs, maybe not as good at it, waiting to be found. About you and playing factual characters, whether it was Clarence Darrow or Bobby Darin or Ron Klain in "Recount," the characterizations are very layered. You wind up like seeing things in Clarence Darrow that you really don't like. It's not one way or the other. Is the reverse likely to happen with Jack Abramoff? We're going to find ourselves liking him?
SPACEY: Here's what's been interesting: we went down to D.C. and we showed the movie there. And if there was one screening I wish George Hicken had been at, it would have been the D.C. screening. And what was interesting was that we found the audience there was laughing at stuff about 15 seconds before anybody else in any other screening, because they saw it coming.
But I think that there's something quite fascinating about looking at somebody who has been so vilified in the press and sort of made into a kind of villainous caricature. How do you take a person like that and make them into a fully rounded human being? That's what I love about the acting profession. It's a very humanizing experience.
When you have to put yourself in someone else's shoes, and imagine what it was like - if they're not just an evil person who was setting out to do evil, which is, you know, probably interesting to play for about ten seconds.
OLBERMANN: But rare in real life.
SPACEY: Rare in real life. So you're trying to look at circumstances. You're trying to look at what the decision-making was, what did he think he was doing? On a lot of other levels, in addition to things he did that he got in trouble for, I couldn't find any evidence that he had a fabulous Swiss chalet, that he had his own private jet, that he was living high on the hog.
So you look at all that money and say what was he doing with it. In his mind, I think he was trying to do good things and therefore justify some of the other stuff that he did do.
OLBERMANN: So it's - we've had Mr. Klain already. Now Mr. Abramoff. Is there another political figure? Is there anybody else you want to take a shot at?
SPACEY: Pat Moynihan.
SPACEY: Yes, what a great figure.
OLBERMANN: Oh, my goodness.
SPACEY: Probably a really great story too. There's actually just been a book that came out about Moynihan. You know, someone like that - watching from a distance, as I do now from England - I mean, I remember even just recently - and I'm sure you've had shows about it, that there was someone running for Congress, I believe, who ran on the Constitution. She was a Constitutionalist. Then it turned out she hadn't actually read the document.
It makes you kind of long for the day when people who go into politics or public service have integrity; they believe in what they're doing; and they know what they're doing and they know why they're doing it. I think that what this film tries to highlight is what happens when money and power and influence invade our political system.
OLBERMANN: And expertise at those things, too. It doesn't necessarily - expertise is a wonderful thing to have if it you're Moynihan. It may not be such a great thing to have it you're Jack Abramoff.
Kevin Spacey's film is called "Casino Jack." Obviously, that's Jack Abramoff. congratulations on the Golden Globe nomination.
SPACEY: Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: Looking forward to this. And thanks again for coming in as well.
SPACEY: You bet.
OLBERMANN: That is December 16th, ten days since the Republicans got the deal for taxes for the rich. Mr. Boehner, where are the jobs? I'm Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.
Now to discuss what is not being achieved by Republican stalling in the Senate, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow. Rachel, I won't get a chance to you otherwise. Merry Christmas. Have a good new year.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END