'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, September 14th, 2011
Guest host: David Shuster
watch whole playlist
#5 'Passing Play', Markos Moulitsas
#5 'Isn't That Special', Nate Silver
#4 'Rigging The Vote', Ian Millhiser
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
# Time Marches On!
#3 'What Went Wrong', Bob Cavnar
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
#1 'Preventive Scare', Lizz Winstead
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
printable PDF transcript
Guests: Bob Cavnar, David Shuster, Ian Millhiser, Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, Nate Silver
DAVID SHUSTER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Working to pass. The president continues to sell his bill in North Carolina.
(Excerpt from video clip) BARACK OBAMA: Pass this bill. Pass this bill. Pass this jobs bill. Pass this jobs bill. Pass this bill.
SHUSTER: And in our nation's capital, the CBO chief all but endorses the Obama plan, but are the CBO and the American public enough to convince Speaker Boehner to work with the president?
Putting the "special" in special election, Republicans take over Anthony Weiner's seat and hold one in Nevada. Is this an indication of things to come in 2012? Nate Silver joins us to break down the numbers.
If you can't beat 'em, change the rules. Pennsylvania's Republican legislature and Republican governor are attempting to tamper with the Electoral College in a way that just happens to favor the GOP. How to rig an election, Pennsylvania-style.
Murdoch-gate - Parliament recalls James Murdoch, yet the U.S. Congress is still taking a pass on an investigation of any kind. I'm sure there's a perfectly good reason.
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: We want to make sure that we don't enter the ground that is most inappropriate for us, which is, we don't start picking on media.
SHUSTER: And Michele Bachmann doubles down on her stance against government-issued HPV vaccinations.
(Excerpt from video clip) MICHELE BACHMANN: I had a mother, last night, come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that - took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. It can have very dangerous side effects.
SHUSTER: Congresswoman, the science is clear. You are wrong again. Just stop talking. All that and more now on "Countdown."
SHUSTER: Good evening from New York. I'm David Shuster sitting in for Keith Olbermann.
This is Wednesday, September the 14th, 419 days until the 2012 presidential election. But you might think it was just 19 days to the election if you saw President Obama today. The fifth story on "Countdown," the president was in campaign mode again. This time, in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, pushing hard for the passage of his American Jobs Act in front of a pumped-up crowd at North Carolina State's Reynolds Auditorium. Mr. Obama demanded action from the 112th Congress.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: My question is, what's Congress waiting for? There's work to be done. There are workers ready to do it. Let's pass this jobs bill right away, and let's get it done. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE). Let's go.
SHUSTER: Not content with prodding Congress at large, the president is also pushing Congressional Republicans.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: Some of them were even quoted as saying, even if they agreed with some of the things in this bill, that they don't want to pass it because it would give me a win.
SHUSTER: And there is a win, of sorts, for the president in the latest Gallup poll. Adults were asked if their representative should vote for a bill similar to the president's proposal. Forty-five percent said yes, 32 percent said no. However, opponents of the jobs act can take comfort from these Bloomberg News polls. When adults were asked if the jobs act would cut unemployment, only 40 percent said yes, it would. Fifty-one percent said, no, it would not cut unemployment. And a whopping majority, 62 percent disapprove of how the president's handling the economy. Just 33 percent approve.
However, Douglas Elmendorf, director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, has now announced his approval of the strategy embedded in the jobs act, telling the deficit-cutting super committee that the most effective fiscal policies would be policies that cut taxes or increase spending in the near term, but over the medium and longer term move in the opposite direction. Just like the president's.
Now, Mr. Obama has to convince Republican House leaders, like Majority Leader John Boehner, if he's not already convinced. According to a story on the political website, the White House believes Boehner will help push a jobs bill through rather than face the wrath of voters fed up with Congress. Democratic pollster John Angelo, "If they don't meet Obama halfway, a third of the way, a quarter of the way, they will risk losing the majority because they will be viewed as playing politics with jobs."
Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling doesn't seem intimidated or much impressed with the jobs act. He told Politico, "I don't know how one could assert that you can promote job growth by simultaneously giving job creators a one-year temporary tax relief coupled with permanent tax increases. I don't understand the logic." Meanwhile, Senate Democrats and the Senate's lone Independent don't understand the logic of cutting Social Security.
(Excerpt from video clip) BERNIE SANDERS: Despite a lot of right-wing rhetoric for the country, Social Security is not going broke and has not contributed one penny to our serious deficit problem.
(Excerpt from video clip) BARBARA BOXER: Even if we make no changes to the program at all, we could still pay 100 percent of benefits through 2037. Social Security is in surplus.
SHUSTER: Political division seen in surplus again, too. For more, we're joined by Daily Kos founder and publisher, and "Countdown" contributor Markos Moulitsas. Markos, always great to have you on the program.
MARKOS MOULITSAS: Good evening, David.
SHUSTER: So, Markos, the president on the campaign trail for his jobs act, not just calling out Congress, but calling out Republicans, too. It seems in keeping with the new, more aggressive Obama we finally saw last week in the big speech. How crucial is this day-to-day hammering in terms of following up with the Republicans this way?
MOULITSAS: Yeah, well, Republicans have no real appetite to do anything right now. They would rather sit on their butts, let the economy go into the gutter and then blame Obama for inaction. So, they don't want to take any role whatsoever. The problem they have, of course, is that they were actually elected to lead the House. The voters gave them a mandate to help govern, and so they're sort of trapped. I mean, they'd rather do nothing. Now they'd still rather do nothing, so it - I think it'll take Obama repeatedly beating them over the heads to try to get them to take some action. 'Cause otherwise, there's just no reason for them to do so.
SHUSTER: And by beating the Republicans over the head, could that possibly change the president's numbers? I mean, Americans seem pretty split on the jobs act. Is this hard sell going to follow through or is this just the start of the campaign that involves essentially saying, "Okay, I'm going to punish the Republicans, and we'll see how that affects my numbers"?
MOULITSAS: Well, I got to say that we've seen, what, two years of Obama basically trying to negotiate with Republicans, doing, you know, just bending over backwards to try to appease them, find ways to work together, and it hasn't worked. And if - they're sort of being the grownup in the room, they like to say. If being the grownup in the room was a political winner, I guess the numbers would be better, but, in fact, his numbers amongst Independents and the broader electorate are pretty much in the gutter. So, now he's been more aggressive, and we've seen already, in the last week, that his numbers have improved. I think people want to see the president engaged. They want to see him fighting for jobs because that's what they care about. So, whether he actually succeeds or not, just the act of showing some spirit, I suspect, is having a great result, is having a great effect on voters.
SHUSTER: I want to talk about this theory about John Boehner in just a second, but there was yet another report tonight, this time from The New York Times, about Democrats essentially abandoning the president on the overall pact, essentially coming out one after another, saying, "Look, this has to go, piece by piece." What do you make of that?
MOULITSAS: Yeah, well, that's typical Democratic behavior. I mean, we've never seen anything different. It's - hopefully, I think, right now, it's politically expeditious for them to, sort of, step away from the president, but if the president's numbers start rebounding, if he starts rallying support for the jobs bill, I think they're not going to have a choice, and they're going to have to go along. And, to me, a lot of this is political posturing. It's to show how independent they are compared to the president, but if there's an actual chance of this thing passing I have a hard time seeing most of these Democrats lining up in opposition.
SHUSTER: Now, regarding John Boehner and this idea that he's going to push his caucus to support the jobs act in some form because Republicans fear being labeled as a "do-nothing" Congress on jobs? What do you make of that logic, which is actually coming from some Obama Administration officials?
MOULITSAS: Well, I mean, the reality is that if they want this thing to pass, they're going to have to get Boehner's approval. There's no moderate Republican Caucus in the House that they can peel away, the way that Republicans peel away blue-dog Democrats. So, they need Boehner's approval. Is that going to happen? Probably not, but they're going to have to at least try.
Now, Boehner has a choice, and this, I think, a much more difficult choice. He can either continue to obstruct, the way they have been for the last couple of years, or they can actually do something to help the American people, create some jobs, and yet they may help Obama get re-elected. But, here's the thing, it will help them get re-elected because there's going to be pork in that bill. There's going to be transportation and infrastructure projects, and right now, for the first time, in polling history, Gallup and Pew and CNN and other polls, most voters want to see their own congressperson lose political office, wants to see them thrown out. They want to throw out their bums. That's never happened. They want to throw out other peoples' bums. So, Republicans realize that if you have an electorate ready to throw out the bums, Republicans have the big advantage. They're the ones that are going to be disproportionately affected. They have to do something. Pork is a good way to do that, and showing that they actually care about governing, that will probably help them as well.
SHUSTER: And finally, Democrats and Bernie Sanders, they are rallying behind Social Security today. The president has indicated that he'll put Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block. Is Social Security also at risk?
MOULITSAS: All of these projects, programs, are at risk, and it's one thing that I think progressives have to be very vigilant about, that in this zeal to show reasonableness and compromise, that we're actually going to throw away some of the most popular and effective government programs that we have, to date. Now, Republicans want to see these programs gutted because they don't like anything that makes government popular. So, we know their motivation. I'm not sure what Obama's motivation is. I don't know if this is just a pretense of showing some reasonableness or if he's actually serious about gutting these programs. But from my perspective, that's a non-starter, and I'm hoping that Berry - Bernie Sanders and other Democrats stand firm against any cuts of those entitlement programs.
SHUSTER: Markos Moulitsas, Daily Kos founder, publisher, and "Countdown" contributor. Markos, thanks again for coming on the program.
MOULITSAS: Thank you very much.
SHUSTER: You're welcome.
While President Obama was out stumping for his jobs act today, Democrats in Nevada and New York were recovering from defeats in two special elections. In Nevada, former state Senator Mark Amodei beat Democrat Kate Marshal. Winning in a district that has yet to send a Democrat to Washington or anywhere else. Amodei ran on a hard-line, GOP platform, no tax hikes and a balanced budget amendment.
(Excerpt from video clip) MARK AMODEI: But that message is unmistakable, and that is it's time to start a change. And If you think it's just a Nevada thing, I heard a rumor that some guy who's a lot older than I am got elected in New York tonight who's a Republican in a district that they didn't think they had any Republicans in.
SHUSTER: No, Congressman, they have Republicans up here, too. But in the district that sent disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner to Washington, Republican Bob Turner did win in an upset. And he too had a message for Washington.
(Excerpt from video clip) BOB TURNER: We've been told this is a referendum. And we're ready to say, Mr. President, we are on the wrong track.
SHUSTER: With us now, Nate Silver who writes and reports the FiveThirtyEight blog for The New York Times. Nate, good to have you on the program.
NATE SILVER: Yeah, thanks.
SHUSTER: So these losses for Democrats, Nevada and New York, are they significant or not?
SILVER: Yeah, I mean, it's real people voting on real candidates and real issues. I think you can talk about how much you can extrapolate the results from one district to the whole country. But to have both in one night - where there are, I think, fairly good excuses maybe in any one individual case, more so in New York where it's a very quirky district - but, you know, to have them both happen in one night is just that there might be kind of a common thread in that, you know, in these open seat races, Democrats are going to have a lot of issues if the political climate is like it - what it is right now next November.
SHUSTER: And yet there's some Democrats who like to say, "Look this is a district in Nevada the GOP has always carried, and you're talking about a district in New York involving the disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner." But what jumps out at you as far as other issues that are sort of part of the more national dialogue that may be at play here?
SILVER: Well, in the Nevada race, in particular, where it was more the definitional kind of national issue campaign, Democrats lost that that seat by 22 points. And even though it's a Republican-leaning seat, that's one where in an average cycle you might expect to lose by eight or nine points. It almost went for Obama in 2008. In a good cycle, you might expect it to be competitive there. They didn't win it in '06 and '08, but they came - they came very close. So, this feels more like a 2010 environment, at least last night was a little micro version of the 2010 environment, and that's bad news obviously for Obama, bad news for Democrats in the Senate where they have a lot incumbents up. And the House, they kind of lost everything you can lose, more or less, in 2010. So, they might not lose a lot more. But you don't want to have a national environment playing out like that next November.
SHUSTER: I got to ask you about the president's numbers. You always have such an interesting take and the figures you look at always strike me as so significant. The president, some mixed results in the Bloomberg poll, horrible results in the Gallup polls, numbers have ticked up a bit. Does is that increase the chances that Republicans say, "Okay, because our numbers are also so low, we have to do something."
SILVER: Right. Well, actually, one effect, I think, this race - these races last night might have had is that it will discourage the GOP from being nervous about their own seats. I think they might be wrong. We didn't have Republican incumbents or any incumbents on the ballot last night. So, it's no a good test of that. But they might say, "Hey, look, things are going pretty well for us where we obstruct Obama, and our numbers might go down, but his go down further. And he's the one who's probably more vulnerable next year." And so, I think it won't help with any of the legislation Obama might want to see passed.
SHUSTER: What are the numbers that you're looking at as far as President Obama's re-elect?
SILVER: So, you know - I think it's a little early to look at things like state-by-state numbers, but you could always look at Florida and Ohio and Pennsylvania where his numbers are not especially good. You know, you also look at the favorability numbers for his opponents, potentially. I think Rick Perry would be a big help to Obama, maybe would be worth an extra three or four points versus someone like Romney, who's going to have more appeal to independent voters and make it harder for Obama to carry states, I think, like Virginia, that he carried in 2008. But Obama has got kind of a hope that the economy gets better and maybe a prayer if Rick Perry becomes the nominee. Otherwise, it could be tough.
SHUSTER: In talking to Obama re-elect campaign officials, they say, "Look, we need to make this election not a referendum on the president because of these numbers, but we need to define the opponent, have a choice between a Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann, whatever, and President Obama." What does - does that typically work in terms of a re-elect for a president? And do you see the numbers possibly adding up that way perhaps because of the vulnerability you're seeing right now with the Republican field?
SILVER: Well, it works if your opponent is eager to engage in that battle. And I think Rick Perry, both substantively and stylistically, is someone who would cost him a few points and very much likes to engage at a personal level, almost can't help himself. So, he would - he'd be, I think, a dream for their advertisers and their campaign strategists. Doesn't mean that he wouldn't be electable. It's going to be, even at best, I think, a tough re-election for Obama, but Rick Perry would make the race. Rick Perry versus Barack Obama, which Obama can maybe win. With Romney, he really needs Romney to make a gaffe or something or he needs the job numbers to get better, I think.
SHUSTER: And do you see any of the numbers improving in some of these key battleground states, like Florida, like Michigan, like Pennsylvania, Ohio?
SILVER: I mean, no - frankly, no, I haven't seen any particular good numbers for Obama in three or four weeks. Sometimes the head-to-head polls against Perry or Romney aren't as bad for him as other indicators. You know, it does seem maybe now like his approval ratings are, you know, 40 percent instead of 38 percent. But that's, you know, that's probably not going to get it done next year.
SHUSTER: Nate Silver, who writes the 538 blog for The New York Times. Nate, great to finally meet you after these many years. We appreciate you coming in.
SILVER: Yeah. Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: From winner takes all to winner takes some. Republicans in Pennsylvania want to change how the state awards votes in the Presidential Electoral College. The impact on President Obama could be dramatic. That's next. This is "Countdown."
SHUSTER: President Obama's re-election road map is now facing a huge obstacle in the state of Pennsylvania. The Republican governor of that state backed by the Republican-led legislature, they want to change how Electoral College votes are awarded, guaranteeing Republicans could lose a state again and still give the GOP candidate a boost.
This has not been a good day for BP, the company involved in that massive oil spill last year. It now appears the company kept some scientific findings away from government investigators.
In Washington, Congressional Republicans are making it clear they have no interest in investigating Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp., even as hacking allegations pile up in England and now here in the United States.
The mom Michele Bachmann may end up having little impact on the GOP presidential race. To the extent anybody believes what she said this week, Bachmann may be increasing the chances of young girls getting cancer.
SHUSTER: The Republicans' latest strategy for beating President Obama in 2012? Dilute the Democratic electoral vote dominance in a crucial state.
In our fourth story on the "Countdown," a Mother Jones investigation has found that Republican state legislatures in Pennsylvania are preparing to unleash a plan that would change the way the state's Electoral College votes are allocated and actually hand votes to the Republican candidate. Pennsylvania typically goes blue. In fact, the Keystone state has gone to Democrats in each of the last five presidential elections. Still it is a major battleground state because as former Governor Ed Rendell told The Pittsburgh Tribune Review yesterday, "Presidential elections are decided by basically Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio - [uh, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Ohio] and Florida, because each is a swing state with a large block of electoral votes up for grabs."
Enter, Pennsylvania's current governor, Republican Tom Corbett. Under his plan, which has support of the Republican-led state legislature, nearly half of the electoral votes would practically be guaranteed to go to the GOP candidate. Here's how the GOP plan would work. Instead of Pennsylvania giving all of its 20 electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most votes at the ballot box, the state would allow each congressional district to cast its own electoral vote. Wouldn't you know it? With a Republican-controlled legislature and governor, the recently redrawn district lines favor the GOP.
That means that even if Mr. Obama did win the state overall, the Republican districts' 12 electoral votes would still go to the Republican candidate. Mr. Obama would get only the six Democratic district votes plus two for winning the popular vote. So, even if more people there voted for him, he'd still walk away with four fewer electoral votes.
Yale Constitutional Law professor, Akhil Reed Amar, told Mother Jones, "This is not American fair play. It's a bipartisan steamroller trying to structure the world so that even the person who wins the state loses the state's electoral vote. That is new under the sun. This is big."
Joining us now, Ian Millhiser, policy analyst at the Center for American Progress and a blogger for Think Progress. Ian, thanks for being here tonight.
IAN MILLHISER: It's good to be here. Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: So there is an argument that could be made that the Electoral College is an imperfect system, so why not reform it?
MILLHISER: Well, the Electoral College is a very imperfect system, and if we wanted to talk about changing every state, so that every state electorate were chosen by congressional districts rather than by the state as a whole, I'm willing to have that conversation. But the problem here is you're taking a blue state and you're saying in that blue state the Republican candidate gets up to 12 free electoral votes, but you're not telling Texas that they have to give free electoral votes to Democrats. You're not telling the red states that they have to give up those free electoral votes, so you can't do this piecemeal. When you can pick one state and say only this state has to give away free electoral votes to the other party, that's not reform. That's election rigging.
SHUSTER: What do you make in terms of the legal footing of the Republican governor and the Republican legislature to do this? And is there anything Democrats or even the Obama re-election campaign can do to stop it?
MILLHISER: This is one of the unfortunate quirks about our Constitution is this actually legal. You know, the Constitution actually says that Pennsylvania could pass a law saying that Rick Perry gets to choose who gets all of the Pennsylvania electoral votes. This is a really messed up system because the way that it works is that states have the power to choose how they want to assign their electors. They haven't done so in the past, though, because all 50 states have recognized how illegitimate a president would be if we were to move away from an election and towards an election-rigging system. So, this is something that doesn't just threaten the integrity of who gets elected, it then threatens the legitimacy of the person who gets elected. What are we going to do with a president who only won because of foul play?
SHUSTER: Is the impact sort of in the context of, well, imagine, say, Nevada or Iowa or some state that has six or seven electoral votes - imagine all of a sudden putting that in the Republican column? Is that the impact of what could happen here because of Pennsylvania?
MILLHISER: The impact here is huge. You know, the impact right here is about 12 electoral votes, and that's a good, medium-sized state right there. And there's a lot of states that look like Pennsylvania. You know, Wisconsin and Michigan are both states that lean blue, but currently have very, very red governments. If Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan all sign on to this kind of election-rigging scam, that means that a state the size of Texas gets given away for free to the Republican candidate.
SHUSTER: Any indication that some of these states - Wisconsin, Michigan, others - are actually moving in the same direction that Pennsylvania's trying to go?
MILLHISER: Well, it's a new story. You know, the news just broke very recently that Pennsylvania is playing with this, but it makes me nervous. What makes me nervous is that in all of these GOP-led states, you're seeing voter ID laws which really just disenfranchise minorities and low-income voters. You're seeing efforts to decrease people's opportunity to register to vote. You're seeing laws that decrease people's chances to vote early. So, you're seeing all of these opportunities taken to disenfranchise voters, and if they're willing to play that game, I'm scared they'll be willing to play this Pennsylvania game as well.
SHUSTER: What's been the pushback so far given that this is a new story and do you think that there's a chance that somehow, some way, Republicans in Pennsylvania will say, "Look, we want to be fair. Let's do this across the country or let's not do it at all"?
MILLHISER: I'm not optimistic that we're going to see that kind of fairness, but there's two things that give me hope. One is that you're seeing a few Republican members of Congress who are saying, "Look, if you do this, it's going to shift resources into my district because Democrats are going to want that electoral vote, and it could cause me to lose my seat, and I don't want that." The other thing that gives me a lot of hope, and this is the real solution to the problem - the Electoral College - is something called the national popular vote. This is a plan that says that if a bunch - a group of states that equal - that equal a majority of electoral vote all get together and say no matter who wins our state, we're giving all of our electoral votes to the winner of the national vote. Then we get to live in a real democracy. Then we get to live in a democracy where whoever wins the most votes in this country gets to be president of the United States, and that's how it should be.
SHUSTER: And there you're talking about how Al Gore should have won the presidency back in 2000 if the states had done just that?
MILLHISER: I think - yeah, Al Gore should have won, and in 2012, whoever gets the most votes should win. You know? I mean, I think this is very simple that if Rick Perry gets the most votes, he gets to be president. If Mitt Romney gets the most votes, he gets to be president. And if Barack Obama gets the most votes, he should get to be president, as well. I think that is the fairest system and it's the one that honors the democratic principles that our founders laid out the best.
SHUSTER: Ian Millhiser. Ian, thanks so much for coming on. We appreciate it.
MILLHISER: Thank you.
SHUSTER: Just ahead, it now it appears that BP, the company responsible for last year's oil spill trying to keep an internal scientific report away from government investigators. Oops.
We, of course, will never keep anything away from you, especially if it involves the circle of life, panda style. "Time Marches On!" next.
SHUSTER: Coming up, Michele Bachmann doubles down on her stance against vaccinating girls and offers some fake science about mental retardation.
But first, the sanity break. It was on this day in 1814 poet Francis Scott Key wrote the poem which would go on to be the lyrics of our National Anthem. After witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy, Key was inspired the following morning that the American flag flying above the fort was still there. Key's lyrics were later set to music under the title "The Star-Spangled Banner." And the lyrics would go unchanged for almost 200 years until they were slightly amended by Cyndi Lauper.
"Time Marches On!"
We begin at the zoo in Chongqing, China, where this giant panda, Ya Ya, recently gave birth to two panda babies. It seems Ya Ya is trying to put together some sort of divine secret sisterhood. Here, we see one of the baby pandas at eight days old. Aw! At least they're telling us it's a panda. For my money, it could just as well be a baby ferret or maybe a marmoset. And the proud mother holds her baby in her arms. Sleep, baby panda, for tomorrow you begin your kung-fu training.
We move from the newest of pandas to the oldest. Over at the Beijing zoo, this giant panda, Ying Hua, relaxes in a rocking chair. Nothing like sitting back in old age and looking over at the amazing panda adventure that was your life. The fun, the hijinks, the panda-monium. Although Ying does seem a little bit cranky about all the onlookers. "Hey, you kids! Get off my porch."
And finally, it's tea time at this Iranian café. Must be short-staffed, so the owner decides to serve some tea himself. Looks like he's going to try to carry a few at a time. Wait a second. It seems like more than a few. It's 11? And he lines up a few more for the other hand. I guess he'll just fill them with hot tea over at the table. What? That's 11 cups of hot tea balanced on one arm of a very brave man. This is the craziest thing I've ever seen at a tea party, and that's saying a lot these days.
"Time Marches On!"
Up next, BP is trying to juggle some damning evidence and all of the lawsuits filed over last year's oil spill. The degree of difficulty for BP's defense just soared off the charts. Flammable gas deposits, an internal BP report and efforts to hide it all from investigators. You're watching "Countdown."
SHUSTER: "Countdown" comes to you live each week night at 8 p.m. Eastern. The program is replayed at 11 p.m., 2 p.m., 7 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m.
This was a rough day for oil giant BP. According to a new report by The Associated Press, BP failed to tell government investigators about a deposit of flammable gas that may have contributed to last year's disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, an Interior Department report puts most blame for the disaster on BP. Contractors Halliburton and Trans-Ocean share the blame as well.
In our third story on the "Countdown," the U.S. Interior Department is now declaring that the failure of the cement seal in the Macondo well caused the explosion and fire that killed 11 people and tarred the gulf for months. Halliburton mixed and tested the cement, but BP was responsible for the project. BP "wants other parties to acknowledge their roles in the accident."
Halliburton hasn't commented. Trans-Ocean wants critics to lay off their drill crews.
According to the Interior Report's Executive Summary, "The loss of life at the Macondo site on April 20, 2010, and the subsequent pollution of the Gulf of Mexico through the summer of 2010 were the result of poor risk management, last-minute changes to plans, failure to observe and respond to critical indicators, inadequate well-control response and insufficient emergency bridge response training by companies and individuals responsible at the Macondo well and for the operation of the Deepwater Horizon."
Let's bring in oil-industry expert Bob Cavnar, author of "Disaster on the Horizon." Mr. Cavnar, good evening.
BOB CAVNAR: Great to be with you, David.
SHUSTER: So, now it's official, the U.S. Government via the Department of Interior says, BP was responsible. Your reaction?
CAVNAR: That they are absolutely correct, David. In the oil and gas business, the operator of record, the recorded owner of the well, is responsible for all operations. So, BP can continue to try to push responsibility off to their contractors, but the ultimate responsibility belongs to BP, because all of those decisions made on that rig during those days were all their responsibility.
SHUSTER: What do you make of this new Associated Press story that BP failed to give investigators an internal report prepared by BP's scientists about a deposit of flammable gas? I mean, even if the flammable gas area was not a major contributing factor, couldn't BP's effort to hide that report help bolster the case they were trying to cover things up?
CAVNAR: That's really their problem, David. In the - in the off-shore especially, industry best practices require that all hydrocarbon-bearing zones be covered by at least 500 feet of cement. In this particular case, BP didn't disclose, as Halliburton alleges, that - that this carbon - hydrocarbon-bearing zone, which was above the primary zone, was not disclosed to them. So the cement job they designed was not designed to cover that zone by 500 feet. It may not have contributed to the blowout, but it certainly adds to the long list of facts that BP left out of reports, both to the government, to the public and to their contractors.
SHUSTER: And when a company withholds evidence, at least in my experience, aren't we getting into the area of criminal obstruction of justice, or at least, giving an ace of spades to whoever might be bringing a civil lawsuit?
CAVNAR: It's a real problem for them. It adds a lot of credibility to others' claims that BP did not disclose. If you'll recall, one really clear point to this was in the first couple of days of the blowout, you'll recall that Admiral Mary E. Landry from the Coast Guard told everybody, told the public that the well had stopped flowing. At that very same time, BP had ROVs on bottom trying to desperately shut in the blowout preventer. So BP allowed the government go on national television and mislead the public that the well was not flowing when indeed it was. This is just one more example of that kind of behavior.
SHUSTER: As far as what the gulf looks like now, there have been some recent sightings of tar balls in the area. Are these new or is it just residue from last year?
CAVNAR: I've got to tell you, David, I really think it's - it's residue from - from the spill last year. The report today really confirmed for me - and I really like this report, because it was by the Coast Guard and the BOEMRE, which is the governing body of our oil and gas operations. It was a joint report, so I feel like it was pretty objective. It confirmed for me that the well is now sealed. But we have to remember, BP put 5 million barrels of oil in that area last year, and some of that's got to be coming to the surface now. That's probably what we're seeing.
SHUSTER: Were there any surprises in the report that jumped out at you?
CAVNAR: You know, there were a few things. I really was interested in the section about the flow path of gas from the hydrocarbon-bearing zone at the bottom to the surface. The report pretty well confirmed, for me, anyway, that the blowout was actually a result of the failure of the cement in the very bottom of the well and the safety valves at the bottom of the well. So there was either a major casing failure there or a major failure of the cement job and that float equipment that allowed the well to flow up to the center. And that's the first time I have seen a clear case, or at least clear evidence, of those conclusions.
SHUSTER: Bob Cavnar, an oil-industry expert and author, and Bob, a fascinating report today, and we're so glad you are with us tonight to help us go through it. We appreciate it.
CAVNAR: Happy to be with you.
SHUSTER: Even if Michele Bachmann finds herself shut out in the GOP presidential nomination, she will always be remembered by the scientific and medical community for buffoonery that may actually heighten the risk of some girls getting cancer.
But up next, this has been another dramatic day in the hacking scandal in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. The latest on that, and the effort by a top Congressional Republican to block a Congressional investigation.
SHUSTER: Republican Darrell Issa, when asked about investigating News Corp, says it would be inappropriate for Congress to pick on the media. Well, that's funny, because he's never had a problem picking on The New York Times.
And, according to scientists and doctors, HPV vaccinations prevent cancer. So what does Michele Bachman have against stopping HPV?
SHUSTER: More dramatic developments in the hacking scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
In London, the publisher of the now defunct News of the World tabloid says he's uncovered tens of thousands of documents and e-mails that may contain evidence about the paper's hacking operation. This comes as a British Parliamentary committee says it will recall James Murdoch for further testimony. You'll recall Murdoch testified the phone hacking was limited to one rogue reporter.
Well, two News of the World executives then testified that they made James aware of an email that made it clear other reporters were also involved in hacking. Meanwhile, here in the United States, News Corp.'s shareholders have filed suit, alleging the company board led by the Murdochs knew about illegal practices in the United States for over 10 years. In court documents, the stockholders allege the board knew that U.S. subsidiaries, News America Marketing and NDS Group, were illegally hacking competitors' computers.
The suit also says the board, "Has not lifted a finger to engage in any oversight of Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch, even when given clear warnings that business practices were illegal."
Also, several members of Congress have asked the House Oversight Committee to conduct its own investigation of News Corp.'s alleged wire-tapping of 9/11 families. But yesterday on Fox News, Committee Chairman Republican Darrell Issa shot down the request.
(Excerpt from video clip) Darrell Issa: This is a story that is about a unit in another country, and we want to make sure that we don't enter the ground that is most inappropriate for us, which is we don't start picking on media, whether they're the left or the right, just because we can.
SHUSTER: Congressman, you don't start picking on the media? You and your taxpayer-funded communication staff repeatedly harassed The New York Times for certain reporting actions you didn't like. And The Times didn't wiretap anybody. Secondly, the 9/11 victims who were allegedly hacked, they were living in the United States. They were not living in another country. Thirdly, congressman, there is every indication that News Corp. broke a U.S. law known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Finally, your hands-off attitude is the very approach that enabled News Corp. to possibly break so many laws in the first place.
British politicians refused to take on the company or investigate News Corp. practices. In turn, the company's news outlets felt they had free reign to wiretap celebrities or hack victims of 9/11. Is that what you want here in the United States? And by the way, congressman, the next time you want to make false statements like the one about 9/11 families being victimized overseas, I dare you - I dare you to make that assertion anywhere but on Murdoch-owned Fox News. Because, you see, a real news organization, they would follow up and not let you get away with such a misleading claim.
SHUSTER: The Republican Party understands the dark art of politics, but its candidates seem to struggle with science.
The latest example starts with the human papillomavirus, or HPV. It is a sexually transmitted disease that has infected approximately 20 million Americans. Each year, about 12,000 women get cervical cancer because of HPV infections. But there is a vaccine that can prevent women from contracting the disease, a vaccine that can be administered to girls as young as 9. Virginia and Washington, D.C., have passed legislation mandating girls receive the vaccine. Rick Perry signed a similar executive order for girls in Texas in 2007.
In our number one story, Michele Bachmann continues to use her public megaphone against young girls receiving this life-saving vaccine, and now she's going even further. It all started Monday night during the tea party debate in an attempt to make Rick Perry seem in favor of government health care, Bachmann attacked him for mandating HPV vaccinations.
(Excerpt from video clip) MICHELE BACHMANN: I'm a mom of three children. And to have innocent, little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out wrong. That should never be done. That's a violation of liberty interests. Little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don't get a mulligan. They don't get a do-over.
SHUSTER: Potentially dangerous drug? What about the definitely dangerous cancer?
But it did not end there. In an appearance Tuesday on the "Today Show", the congresswoman brought it to the next level, suggesting the HPV vaccine can cause mental retardation.
(Excerpt from video clip) BACHMANN: But I had a mother last night come up to me, here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate - she told me that her little daughter took that vaccine - that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. It can have very dangerous side effects. The mother was crying when she came up to me last night. I didn't know who she was before the debate. This is the very real concern, and people have to draw their own conclusion.
SHUSTER: Yes. Do not listen to people who have studied the vaccine. Draw your own conclusions or draw conclusions from people you don't know.
The fact of the matter is that the FDA approved - the FDA approved the vaccine, which the Centers for Disease Control says is, "Recommended for girls and women age 13 through 26 years of age." And that, "Studies have found no serious side effects."
Then again, Michele Bachmann doesn't let facts and research get in the way of her scare tactics and her strange political maneuvers. For more, let's bring in Lizz Winstead, comedian and co-creator of "The Daily Show," who is currently on a national comedy tour for Planned Parenthood. Lizz, thanks so much for being here.
LIZZ WINSTEAD: Thanks, David.
SHUSTER: So a lot of people have come out against Mrs. Bachmann here. A spokesperson for The Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership came out very strongly against her, saying, "Congresswoman Bachmann's decision to spread fear of vaccines is dangerous and irresponsible. There is zero credible scientific evidence that vaccines cause mental retardation or autism. She should cease trying to foment fear in order to advance her political agenda."
So, how far off was she?
WINSTEAD: Well, apparently, way far off. And what's so fascinating is that - this seems to be a part of her tactic, where she will say something absurd that nobody buys, and then she will go in for the one-two punch with something insane. And normally, she doesn't get called out. And I think this has become a giant story, because Limbaugh's calling her out, and all of these people.
But what I find interesting is when she was in the state legislature in Minnesota, in 1993, and I'm from there, Minnesota passed a Hep B vaccine. Mandatory. She didn't utter a peep. I looked, I researched, The Star Tribune did an article, nothing. She did not utter a peep. You get Hep B the same way, through sexual intercourse. Says nothing.
But what I want to know is, where is this woman? You know, who is this person? Are there journalists out there trying to find her? There's a bioethicist who studies at the University of Minnesota, was offered 1,000 bucks to get the records of this kid. Because don't we all want to know? This sounds like something that was totally made up. Because every politician, when they're on the stump, they go, "I met Nancy in Iowa, and Nancy's a, you know, a nurse" - they always know some name and they have a thing. She threw out this weird story. I just don't buy that there was really ever a person. I think she just came out and said, "I met a woman who said their kid had the" - and all of a sudden at 12, the child becomes mentally retarded? Does that even happen?
SHUSTER: No, I mean, most children - I mean, if they're going to show signs of mental retardation, it's much earlier.
SHUSTER: But there is the possibility, whether this is made up or part of Michele Bachmann's imagination, that it could have real consequences on some kids. In other words, if their parents say, "Oh, because Michele Bachmann said so, I'm not going to let my kid get a vaccine," and the kid gets HPV and then gets cancer.
WINSTEAD: Well, there's been 35 million vaccines that people have gotten over the course of this, and there has been nothing like this. Every single - you know, and I'm a comedian - but every single piece of science, and scientist who have studied this, have said this is utterly absurd and in fact dangerous. Although, I would have to say if Michele Bachmann said there was a vaccine that would prevent "the gay," she would personally distribute it and pour it into the cereal of children. I really believe that.
SHUSTER: This is not the first ridiculous thing Michele Bachmann has said.
SHUSTER: Whether it was saying that we should investigate the anti-American Congress or claiming that the Census will be used to round up people and put them in concentration camps. With all of this craziness, is there anything that Michele Bachmann could say that would surprise you?
WINSTEAD: Yes - that she sleeps with her husband.
What? Can you say that? I'm sorry.
SHUSTER: It came out today that Michele Bachmann -
WINSTEAD: It came out today?
SHUSTER: No, no.
WINSTEAD: Oh, wait. What? Okay. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You said something else entirely.
SHUSTER: It came out today Michele Bachmann's going to be on "The Tonight Show." By the way, I think you were making a reference to the questions about Michele Bachmann's husband's sexual orientation.
WINSTEAD: Who is totally not gay.
SHUSTER: Totally not gay.
WINSTEAD: Totally not gay.
SHUSTER: Michele Bachmann's going to apparently be on "The Tonight Show."
SHUSTER: I'm not sure that's the sort of question that is going to be asked of her, but -
WINSTEAD: Is Jack Hanna bringing her out? I'm curious. In case she goes crazy, then she needs a wrangler.
SHUSTER: Are there any other shows that you think, other than "The Tonight Show," that she would be good on?
WINSTEAD: Like "16 and Vaccinated"? Is that what you were thinking? Something along those lines? "Cervix with the Stars?" I could go on.
SHUSTER: I tried to come up with one referring to her husband as sort of "The Odd Couple."
WINSTEAD: Oh that's - yeah.
SHUSTER: Or maybe "Three's Company" or something.
WINSTEAD: Or maybe, how about "HPV for Vendetta?" No? These are so wrong. All of a sudden I'm live hash-tag Twittering on your show. What happened? This is devolving.
SHUSTER: Well, let's go even further. Imagine Michele Bachmann wins the Republican Presidential nomination - could happen, I suppose.
SHUSTER: It's also what - you know, the way the mood of the country and the president's numbers that Michele Bachmann - despite all the crazy things that she said, I suppose there's a way she could get a majority of the votes and become President of The United States.
WINSTEAD: What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you with this hypothesis of hell?
SHUSTER: Well, let's just say, what would that Bachmann presidency look like? Other than people fleeing to Canada and Mexico?
WINSTEAD: Exactly. Well, Dante would probably have something to say about it, maybe six or seven rung. You know, it would be something - it would be a stark, stark place, I think. It may be very much like the rapture. If the rapture's not going to happen, I think the goal of these Republicans is to make it look as much like the rapture did happen as possible.
SHUSTER: Science has got to matter at some point though, right?
WINSTEAD: Well, it does matter to sane people. I mean, 'cause here's what I never understood about these people. If you believe in God, and that God created all things, then God created science. Like, what is - like, I can't - I can't.
SHUSTER: Lizz, thank you so much for coming on. Always appreciate it.
SHUSTER: Lizz Winstead, always great to have you on the program. Well, that's it for "Countdown," and what a spirited finish to this one, thanks to Lizz Winstead, who we always love. Lizz, thanks so much.
I'm David Shuster, in for Keith Olbermann.