'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
Guest host: David Shuster
watch whole playlist
#5 'State of the Campaign', Steve Kornacki
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
#5 'State of the Campaign', Ben White
#4 'Good Luck Gabby!', Daniel Hernandez
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
# Time Marches On!
#3 'Great Scott?', Graeme Zielinski
#2 'Taxing Our Patience'
#1 '"All Out" On Energy', Susan Casey-Lefkowitz
printable PDF transcript
On the show: David Shuster, Daniel Hernandez, Steve Kornacki, Ben White, Graeme Zielinski, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz
DAVID SHUSTER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? A State of the Union on fairness and responsibility. Cue the Republican attacks.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY: We've got a president who is detached from reality.
SHUSTER: As the GOP candidates pick a fight with the president, Gingrich has his own skeletons to worry about.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) NANCY PELOSI: [Gingrich] is not going to be president of the United States. That's not going to happen. Let me just make my prediction and stand by it. It isn't going to happen.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) KING: Why are you so sure?
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) PELOSI: There's something I know.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH: I have no idea what's in Nancy Pelosi's head. If she knows something, I have a simple challenge - spit it out.
SHUSTER: Hyping a not-so-natural resource.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA: We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.
SHUSTER: What the frak? It's good to be a Koch stooge. Scott Walker raised $12 million in the past year. This revelation, on the same day polls show him leading all potential Democratic candidates. And Representative Gabrielle Giffords, with the help of a colleague, tenders her letter of resignation.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: I have more work to do on my recovery before I can again serve in elected office.
SHUSTER: She steps down from office in a tearful ceremony on the House floor. All that and more, now, on "Countdown."
SHUSTER: Good evening, this is Wednesday, January the 25th, 287 days until the 2012 presidential election. I'm David Shuster sitting in for Keith Olbermann. President Obama is now road testing his themes from last night's State of the Union address while the GOP presidential contenders are directing their fire on the president and on each other. In our fifth story in the "Countdown," the president has started a five-state tour that looks and feels like a campaign trip. And if it looks and feels like a campaign trip, it is one. While Newt Gingrich wonders if Nancy Pelosi tripped over her tongue when she claimed as she did last week on this news hour that she knew something that would keep Gingrich from becoming president. We begin with President Obama. He has now opened a five-state trip that will take him through Iowa, Arizona, Nevada, Michigan and Colorado. Today at a conveyor belt plant in Iowa and echoing last night's speech, the president staked his claim for re-election.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Our economy is getting stronger. We've got a lot of work to do, but it's getting stronger, and we've come way too far to turn back now.
SHUSTER: The president also defended his plan to strip tax breaks from the nation's wealthiest.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Do we want to keep investing in everything that's important to our long-term growth or do we keep these tax cuts for folks who don't need them and weren't even asking for them? Because we can't do both. I want to be very clear about this. We cannot do both.
SHUSTER: House Speaker John Boehner, no fan of Mr. Obama's State of the Union, today launched one of the GOP's favorites attacks on the president.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) JOHN BOEHNER: As we saw last night in the president's speech, the politics of dividing America, the politics of envy, are central to what he's trying to do in his campaign.
SHUSTER: Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a rare moment of candor confessed that a different politics of division might be at the root of Washington's gridlock.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) ERIC CANTOR: There are a lot of serious issues that, unfortunately, the White House and we see things very differently on, and that has a lot to do with the frustration out there across the country.
SHUSTER: Meanwhile across the state of Florida, the GOP presidential primary race keeps getting tighter. The latest CNN/Time poll shows Mitt Romney leading with 36 percent while Newt Gingrich trails by 2 points and Rick Santorum and Ron Paul lag behind. And while Romney and Gingrich mirror those totals in the new Quinnipiac poll, the Public Policy Poll has Gingrich ahead of Romney by 5 points. On the campaign trail, former Senator Rick Santorum showed his or his staff's rhetorical skills with an attack that the conflated Newt's controversial past with the president's record in office.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM: We need someone who isn't going to be the Republican nominee who isn't going to be the issue in the campaign. We need someone who's going to make Barack Obama the issue in this campaign.
SHUSTER: Former Governor Romney tried the same approach in his campaign speech.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I think it's time to have a president who's not just a lobbyist and not just a legislator and not just a blamer and a campaigner, but a president who knows how to get the job done.
SHUSTER: As for Gingrich, he was in his element as he denounced Mr. Obama's proposed tax plan with a less than subtle dig at the president's intelligence.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: This is perfectly classic left-wing demagoguery, and it would be the most anti-jobs single step you could take. Now there's a possibility the president just didn't understand what he was saying.
SHUSTER: No. But the political world was all ears after the House minority leader made this assessment of Newt's chance of becoming president.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) NANCY PELOSI: It isn't going to happen.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) KING: Why are you so sure?
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) PELOSI: There's something I know. The Republicans if they choose to nominate him, that's their prerogative. I don't even think that's going to happen.
SHUSTER: So what's up, Newt?
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH: I have no idea what's in Nancy Pelosi's head. If she knows something, I have a simple challenge - spit it out. Tell us what it is. I have no idea what she's talking about.
SHUSTER: As we mentioned, Minority Leader Pelosi made a similar comment on this program last week. Today her spokesman added that the something she knows is that Newt will not be president. He also said anyone interested can look up the House ethics report on former Speaker Gingrich, and you can find all four volumes online. For more on the Republican reaction to last night's State of the Union address, we're joined by Steve Kornacki, news editor with Salon. Steve, thanks for being with us.
STEVE KORNACKI: Sure.
SHUSTER: As The Washington Post headline described the speech as confrontation wrapped in kumbaya, is that how you saw it? And was the president more or less reaching out to the Republicans with one hand while throwing down the gauntlet with the other?
KORNACKI: Yeah, I mean I think at this point in his presidency, he is reaching out to them with one hand but really only rhetorically. I think what happened here was there was a legitimate outreach effort on his behalf for the first two and a half years of his presidency. And if anything, his administration decided after the 2010 midterms when he got his clock cleaned to really kind of extend that even more. That's what resulted in the offer of the grand bargain last summer and all this stuff. But what happened last summer was that there was a conclusion by the White House when the debt ceiling thing happened that you cannot negotiate with the Republican Party or the tea party Obama era. And the only thing you can do is beat them in election and then maybe have a chance to implement your agenda after doing that. So that's the mode they've been in. The problem is, you get to a speech like last night, you can't just come out and say that, especially at the State of the Union. So this is about a balancing act for the next year. It's about continuing to try to show the American people what he did do for this first two and a half years, reach out offers of bipartisan, that sort of thing, but with no expectation he'll take you up on it. But that's what makes the argument compelling, that "Hey, I offered, you saw me offer and this is what they did, they turned away."
SHUSTER: As far as the personal side of the politics, Speaker Boehner reported today that he and the president have a good personal relationship, and then Boehner essentially savaged the speech as more of the same before accusing the president of "playing politics of envy." Can we assume that means none of the president's proposals are getting through regardless of the ever-shrinking approval numbers for Congress?
KORNACKI: I think that's basically right. I don't think there's any expectation that it's going to be suddenly the era of good feelings and great cooperation in 2012. We have already seen the situation John Boehner is in as House speaker. He really is the most weak House speaker that we have seen in decades almost, if ever. Because he is entirely at the mercy of the House Republican conference that believes any form of cooperation, any form of compromise with Barack Obama is a sellout of conservative principles and on top of that never really believed from the start of this Congress that John Boehner's one of them. So not only is it tough for him to negotiate with Obama to begin with, it's extra tough because he risks a mutiny, because they already didn't believe in him. He has Eric Cantor right behind him who's waiting for that moment he can move in there. So we've seen time and again, John Boehner just is not in position to negotiate even if he wants to.
SHUSTER: And never mind the leadership. You mentioned the Republican caucus. Were there any Republicans who said that they liked even any part of the speech and that they could support anything the president proposed?
KORNACKI: And that's the exact same thing. We could try to read their minds. Maybe a hundred of them sitting in that audience last night liked some of it, but the lesson that every Republican in Congress takes out of the tea party era is if you stray from the Republican base, if you stray from the conservative message at all, you're going to get a primary challenge and you'll probably lose that primary challenge to the tea party. And so that has enforced this discipline on the Republican side that we've seen, where we have to oppose Obama up and down on everything. And maybe there are some actual pragmatic people there, but they are not free to be pragmatic at this point in history.
SHUSTER: There was a poll that found that an overwhelming majority of voters, 91 percent, approved of the president's overall message in last night's State of the Union. Any chance the GOP takes those numbers into consideration?
KORNACKI: No, I don't think so. You can put a little bit of a grain of salt there because the State of the Union address, whoever gives it, usually goes over well. It probably won't stay there that long. The one area I would point to, though, is Obama has specifically talked about the payroll tax cut extension, which will come up next month. And the Republicans really took a licking at the end of last year for dragging their heels on that. I think this time around, the Republicans will be more accommodating on that specific point. Beyond that, I don't think so.
SHUSTER: Newt Gingrich is a slur on the president's intelligence as he attacked his tax plan. What was Newt, what does that get Newt Gingrich?
KORNACKI: Well, what it gets him in his mind is a repeat of what happened in South Carolina because, you know, you saw Newt Gingrich on Monday night trying to be the statesman in that debate. He wasn't really arguing with Mitt Romney's attacks, he was trying to restrain himself, and he came across like he'd been given a sedative. If Newt Gingrich has any chance in Florida, has any chance in this Republican race, it's by channeling the sort of resentment of the Republican Party base toward Barack Obama. It's not a general election strategy that's going to work, but in a Republican primary, turning that arrogance into a statement of "I'm so much smarter than Barack Obama" actually might go over well.
SHUSTER: Steve Kornacki, news editor at Salon. Steve, great stuff as always. Thanks for coming in.
And with us now for more on the GOP 2012 campaign, Ben White, a reporter with Politico. And Ben, speaking of Newt Gingrich, he's surging ahead in Florida in the latest polls. Can he keep this up heading to Tuesday's primary, and is there a sense out there that maybe he's already peaked?
BEN WHITE: Yeah, it's too soon to say if he's peaked. But, David, as you know, Newt Gingrich has a history of rising and falling. I think he has risen and fallen three or four times already in this campaign. He's never been that comfortable in that front-runner role. And I think as Steve was talking about, you saw that in the debate Monday night, where it did look like he had a sedative. Part of it was that there was no audience there to cheer him on. But he did not have the kind of energy and attack mode that he is best in. And today he was in Florida - obviously you want to talk on the space coast about going to the moon, but he is talking about lunar colonies, some of the weirder Newt stuff that tends to get him in trouble. So you couple that with a bad debate, and you to have wonder: are we getting into another deal here where he peaks and then falls?
But I think the counter to that is as Steve was talking about, and I think accurately, this is very much an Occupy Wall Street versus a tea party kind of election right now, and Mitt Romney is not the candidate of the tea party, not the candidate of anger, not the kind of person who really appeals to that hatred of Barack Obama that Newt Gingrich does. And so that's why you see Newt Gingrich talking about the food stamp president, the guy who wants to keep people on the food stamp rolls, throws out that red meat in a way that Romney can't. So I think the narrative traditionally is, Newt rises, Newt falls, but there is something underpinning him here which is the nature of this primary electorate, which is very angry.
SHUSTER: And then there's Rick Santorum, who's trying to knock Newt out of his orbit while still insisting this is a three-man race. According to the polls, Santorum's numbers and Ron Paul's together don't come close to challenging either Gingrich or Romney. So if Santorum cannot pull ahead of Gingrich or at least get a lot closer on Tuesday, is Florida it for the Santorum campaign?
WHITE: I would imagine it probably is. Obviously the Ron Paul campaign is permanent and he doesn't go anywhere, but Santorum peaked in Iowa where he ultimately won. He got the disservice of having that win delivered to him late and so he didn't get to capitalize on the momentum so much. But really, honestly, I don't see a future for him out of Florida if he can't improve his numbers. And there's no real indication right now that his numbers are going up. It's a Gingrich-Romney race, and Santorum is fading deep into third. It takes a lot of money to go forward into Super Tuesday states, and it's all about TV advertising from there. He doesn't have the super PAC help that these other guys have. So it's hard to see Santorum moving forward out of Florida.
SHUSTER: And speaking of super PAC help, looking at Gingrich and Romney, their super PACs, Romney's super PAC was essentially outspending the Gingrich super PAC something like $14 to $1. That's now going to be evened a little bit because of Sheldon Adelson's family, but Newt's still going to be at a disadvantage, right?
WHITE: He will be at a disadvantage - this $5 million new money from Shelly Adelson out of Las Vegas is certainly going to help him. It's going to keep the Bain ads on the air, I would assume, or whatever else Newt wants to put up as anti-Romney ads to keep Romney from gaining any momentum. Romney's always going to be able to outspend him. Romney has unlimited resources from his friends on Wall Street, friends to back his campaign. But I don't think if Newt drops here, it's going to be a matter of him not having enough money. I think it's going to be Newt being Newt and torpedoing his own campaign through odd statements and through lack of energy in the debates. I think we will probably see a different Newt tomorrow night in the debate. 'Cause I think he probably felt a little stunned by his inability to play that aloof front-runner. It's just not him. So he's going to come out harder and attack Romney in the way people like to see. And I don't think it's going to be a lack of money that sinks Newt. If anything sinks Newt, it's going to be Newt.
SHUSTER: Any chance that Nancy Pelosi with this back and forth is being a bit Machiavellian? That she knows the far right hates her to the extent that she can draw Newt Gingrich into attacking her? That raises Gingrich in a way that Democrats know it increases the chances that Gingrich actually gets the nomination and would be easier to defeat in the general?
WHITE: I like the three-dimensional chess you're playing here, David - very good, and I think possibly accurate. I think she knows that there's nothing that the right likes more than to hate Nancy Pelosi. So anything she says against Gingrich, they're going to come and get his back. Does she have some super secret knowledge about Newt Gingrich that can knock him out of a presidential race? I doubt it. I have no idea. But I think what she's trying to do is, "I know his history in the House, I know everything in the Ethics Committee report." Of course, anybody else could go and find it if they wanted to. I think she - you may be right - is just trying to gin people up to keep Newt going. Maybe they think they can get Newt into the general. I still see that as an unlikely possibility. They would much rather run against Newt Gingrich than Mitt Romney.
SHUSTER: Ben White from Politico. Ben, great stuff from you tonight as well. Thank you, we appreciate it.
WHITE: Take it easy.
SHUSTER: Just ahead, the two years' worth of tax returns Mitt Romney released this week suggest he may have paid a 0 percent rate in the 2009 return that he won't make public. I'll explain. But up next, the resignation of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. As you will see, words cannot describe how emotional the scene was today on the House floor. You're watching "Countdown."
SHUSTER: It was just over a year ago that a gunman in Tucson, Arizona, killed 6 people and wounded 13 others, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Today, Giffords resigned from Congress in a heart-wrenching scene on the House floor. In Wisconsin, this is a good time to own a television station. We just got some numbers on the amount of money Governor Scott Walker has raised to spend on ads in the coming recall election.
President Obama's State of the Union speech last night seemed to take a lot of environmentalists by surprise and not in a good way. And Mitt Romney says the 2010 and 2011 tax returns he released this week are all we are going to get. Governor, is that because you paid close to zero to the IRS in 2008 and 2009? The clues in the returns released so far, ahead on "Countdown."
SHUSTER: This past year for Representative Gabrielle Giffords was one of battles, first fighting to live, then the struggle to walk and talk. Throughout the entire ordeal, she drew strength from the desire to represent her district again. In our fourth story, this morning in an emotional ceremony, she officially tendered her resignation. A little after 10 this morning Representative Giffords entered the House chamber, slowly escorted by her close friend Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. After several minutes of cheering, House members, led by Minority Leader Pelosi, held an 18-minute tribute to her.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) PELOSI: You will be missed in the House of Representatives, but your legacy in this Congress and your leadership in our nation will certainly endure.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) MAN: Congresswoman Gabby Giffords' strength against all odds serves and will continue to serve as a daily inspiration to all of us.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) STENY HOYER: None of us on this floor are talented enough to summon the rhetoric that all of us feel in our hearts. Gabby, we love you. We have missed you.
SHUSTER: It was then time for the official resignation letter. With Giffords unable to read the words herself, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz spoke in her stead.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: "The only way I ever served my district and Congress was by giving 100 percent." I would add it is 150. "This past year, that is what I have given to my recovery. My district deserves to elect a U.S. representative who can give 100 percent to the job now. For that reason, I have submitted the attached letter of resignation to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Every day, I am working hard. I will recover and will return. We will work together again for Arizona, and for all Americans."
SHUSTER: In the emotional conclusion, Representative Giffords handed her letter to Speaker Boehner, officially ending her tenure. Speaker Boehner was joined in tears by almost every member present on the floor and most spectators, including Giffords' family watching from the galleries. Moments later the House voted on the bill imposing tougher penalties on drug smugglers crossing the Mexican border. That bill passed 408-0. One year ago, college student Daniel Hernandez started as an intern working for Congresswoman Giffords five days before she was shot. Hernandez attended to Giffords and others immediately after the shooting, saving Giffords' life. He joins us now to talk about her departure. And Daniel, thanks for your time tonight.
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: Thanks for having me, David.
SHUSTER: What was your reaction when you first heard that Congresswoman Giffords would be stepping down and what did you make of what you saw today?
HERNANDEZ: You know, it was a really bittersweet thing to hear that she was stepping down. Because on one hand, I was very excited that she was going to be spending the time that she needed to just recover. And she's never been one to half-ass anything. So I knew that this was a decision that she reached relatively recently because she knew she couldn't give her 150 percent to both tasks. So it's really bittersweet to see her go. But in a sense she's not leaving because the legacy of Congresswoman Giffords is one that is going continue, and I expect her to be back. This is a comma, not a period, in her career in public service.
SHUSTER: Washington, D.C., is certainly a city where bipartisan support these days is rare. And yet representatives from both sides spoke kindly and genuinely about Congresswoman Giffords today. Is that an indication of the kind of woman she is, able to bring people together?
HERNANDEZ: You know, throughout her entire career, that's one of the things that has drawn people to Congresswoman Giffords. That's why she has been so successful in this Republican district. She's able to bring people together, Republican, Democrat. And she jokingly says vegetarians, to be able to bring them together around common-sense solutions for American problems and to make sure we are working together, not working against each other. So she has been a hard worker and will continue to be a source for bipartisan support, I'm sure, in the future.
SHUSTER: You met with the congresswoman on Monday, and the two of you shared a hug. What did she say to you in that moment?
HERNANDEZ: It was more of a silent moment of just being with each other once again. I think the biggest takeaway was, she's never been one to just leave a task unfinished, and she wanted to meet with all the people over there on the Congress corner a year ago. And in one of her final acts as a member of Congress, she sat down and spoke with all of us. And the big thing we talked about was how Houston was and she misses home. It will be good to see her come back at some point.
SHUSTER: You obviously knew her well and saw her up close before she was injured. How was she doing based on your interaction, the interaction she has with others? How much progress has she made?
HERNANDEZ: You know, it's frustrating for her, I'm sure, to know that she doesn't have the words to express, but her cognition is all there, the same personality is there, the same smile, the same Gabby hugs are still there. It's taking her longer to be able to say what she means and to be able to communicate, but the recovery has been significant, and it's miraculous and there's still a long way to go, but that's why she stepped down. Because she knows in order to focus on just her recovery so she can come back in the future at some point, she needed to just focus on that.
SHUSTER: How soon do you think we will see that return to politics?
HERNANDEZ: You know, there's no way to know, but I'm hoping it will be soon because, you know, we need Congresswoman Giffords back in some capacity here in Arizona. Because she really is a model person for the kind of public servants we need, not only in Arizona but around the country.
SHUSTER: Daniel, I'll never forget when you were honored in the State of the Union a year ago - and justifiably so - with all the accolades you've gotten. I understand that today is your 22nd birthday. Any big plans besides coming on this show?
HERNANDEZ: You know, this birthday is going to be a much calmer one because last year's was at the State of the Union. I think I'm just looking forward to spending time with close friends and getting a chance to relax because it's been a really tough year.
SHUSTER: Daniel Hernandez, who was an intern with Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and was so crucial both on the day she was injured but also in the months to follow. And Daniel, thank you again so much for coming on the show. We really appreciate it and happy birthday.
HERNANDEZ: Thanks for having me, David. Thank you.
SHUSTER: Just ahead, my analysis of the two years' worth of tax returns Mitt Romney released this week. I'll explain why the governor, now more than ever, needs to release the rest. And speaking of release, you won't believe the form displayed by the latest high school basketball legend in Illinois. "Time Marches On" is next.
SHUSTER: Coming up, Mitt Romney finally released his tax returns from the past two years, but they actually raise more questions than they answer.
But first, the "Sanity Break," and it was on this day in 1905, a 3,106-carat diamond was discovered in the Premier Mine in Pretoria, South Africa. The largest diamond ever discovered, it was named the Cullinan diamond, after the owner of the mine. The stone was then cut into nine large stones and about a hundred smaller ones, worth millions of dollars all told.
The nine diamonds were later recombined and turned into an engagement ring for Kim Kardashian.
"Time Marches On!"
We begin as we always do, with an 8-year-old Australian girl rocking out. While most little girls are into Justin Bieber, Juliet here is into something with a bit more attitude.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) JULIET: My name is Juliet and I love Robert and my fishes. But it stinks. Woo, yeah!
VIDEO: Hardcore half-pint rocks out.
SHUSTER: Reached for comment, Marilyn Manson said he found Juliet's music to be a little too loud and violent for his taste.
To the animal kingdom, where we meet the bravest cat in the history of the world. When a few pieces of chicken ended up on the shore between two animals, it began possibly the first-ever standoff between cat and alligator.
VIDEO: Cat vs. alligator.
After an intense stare-down, the gator starts to eat some of the chicken. But kitty's not having it. Yes, he's actually smacking an alligator in the face. A scary moment when the gator gets out of the water, but the courageous cat stands his ground and the gator retreats.
Hey, Floppy, may you rest in peace - I had my money on the cat the whole time.
Finally, in sports. This is Glenwood High School basketball player Daniel Helm, who after making an amazing shot in his game on Friday became an instant Illinois basketball legend. Opposing team Lincoln inbounds the ball, Helm gets a hand on it, tries to save it from going out of bounds.
VIDEO: Wrong basket.
And from way downtown, bang! And oops. Unfortunately, that was the wrong basket. His team went on to win anyway, 59-37. Helm ended the game with 5 points for Glenwood and, uh, a few points for the other team.
"Time Marches On."
Just ahead, if you think Mitt Romney's 13.9 percent tax rate the past two years is low, wait until we show you what it seems he paid in some of the returns he won't make public. But up next, "On Wisconsin!" The recall election of Governor Scott Walker is taking shape, and he has gotten millions of dollars in donations from the Koch brothers to keep up the fight.
You are watching "Countdown."
SHUSTER: We bring you "Countdown" live each week at 8 p.m. Eastern. Primary replays at 11 p.m. Eastern and 2 a.m. Eastern.
We learned long ago that money cannot buy you love, but can it buy you an election? If Wisconsin's gubernatorial recall becomes a reality, we may just find out. In our third story in the "Countdown," it became clear today that Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has raised huge sums of money to fight a potential recall challenger. And this development comes on top of new polling that shows he may have a considerable edge over any opponent. The recall effort was spurred by anger over a law Walker forced into legislature last year, effectively ending collective bargaining rights for most public workers.
Under Wisconsin law, Walker was not eligible for recall election until January of this year. Recall petitions are currently under review. Organizers say they submitted a million signatures - only 540,000 or so were required. Verification could take up to three months, and an election could take place sometime between April and June. Newly released financial reports show Walker has raised more than $12 million over the past year, $4.5 million in the last five weeks alone - 61 percent of that sum came from out-of-state contributions, $1 million from just four donors. State election laws in Wisconsin allow donors to contribute unlimited sums for a recall target until petitions are verified.
One caveat, though: the money must be spent before the recall is official. Walker certainly has been spending. In the past five weeks, he has put $4.9 million toward television and radio ads and direct mailings, and he reportedly still has $2.6 million on hand. During those same five weeks, the two groups that worked together on the signature drive, the State Democratic Party and United Wisconsin, reported raising a total of $480,000. So how has all of that cash in Walker's coffers shaped his fight? According to a new poll, Walker holds a lead of 6 to 10 percentage points over four potential Democratic opponents in hypothetical matchups for a possible recall election. When pitted against the only officially announced candidate, Democratic candidate Kathleen Falk, Walker is ahead 49 to 42 percent. And against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker's 2010 opponent, Walker leads 50 to 44.
Joining us now from Wisconsin, Graeme Zielinski, communications director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Graeme, thanks again for your time tonight.
GRAEME ZIELINSKI: Howdy, Dave.
SHUSTER: How seriously are you taking those polling numbers? I mean for one thing, the poll has a margin error of 7 percentage points or greater, an unusually high number for margin of error and a greater number than the difference between both candidates. But nonetheless, a poll is a poll.
ZIELINSKI: Yeah, polls are polls. The People's Choice Awards, where the heavy kid from "Two and a Half Men" gets the award, that's about how seriously we are taking this poll. This is not a credible poll. This is done by a guy that blows kisses to Scott Walker all the time. There's multiple problems with the poll, which I won't go into. But it's not a credible poll. It's not a credible pollster. However, even if you take these numbers, they have had the airwaves to themselves, spending $6 million, and he's only ahead by 5 or 6 [points]. And again, we don't believe this is a credible poll.
SHUSTER: Why don't you explain why you don't think this is credible. Give me some specific details.
ZIELINSKI: Well, for one thing, if you believe that the women of Wisconsin have a more favorable view of Newt Gingrich than the men of Wisconsin in an anomaly that has not shown in any poll across the country, then this is your poll. It undercounts union households, it overcounts right-wing households. There are so many problems with this poll, it really shouldn't have been released, and it's released by a very conservative law school where Scott Walker's actually an alma mater. But any serious pollster who looked at this poll doesn't consider this a serious poll. We've had four polls done by actual professionals since the recall began that are much different, that show Scott Walker losing in every one of them. And actually in all this time where he spent all this money, the numbers have actually gone down. So this is not a credible poll or pollster. Even if it were a credible poll, it's still not good news for Scott Walker.
SHUSTER: Governor Walker's delivering his annual State of the State speech to the legislature tonight. I want to read something from the prepared excerpts we received. "Our unemployment rate is down from a year ago. In fact, it's the lowest it's been since 2008. We are turning things around. We are heading in the right direction. During the past year, we added thousands of new jobs. And we balanced the state budget. We balanced it without raising taxes, without massive layoffs and without budget tricks." Graeme, is this true?
ZIELINSKI: Well, this is a pretty dishonest explanation of things. It's like saying that the magnesium production in our Western lands is at 140 percent. It has no bearing or resemblance to what is going on. His best month of job performance was in January of last year. We're the only state in America that has lost jobs for six months in a row. This has never happened in Wisconsin, that we have led in this indicator. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has said that our economic indicators are terrible. As for balancing the budget, by his own numbers, we have a bigger budget deficit than we did before, driven largely by $2.3 billion in tax giveaways to the fat cats that he's going to have tea with out in New York.
SHUSTER: Question about the rules in Wisconsin in terms of money. Are the rules for donations against Walker, are they the same as for the Walker supporters, the ones they took advantage of? In other words, can wealthy individual donors give huge sums blasting Walker before the recall is actually set?
ZIELINSKI: It depends on what committee. We have some advantages, but we don't have billionaires lined up to give us money. He has money from oil billionaires in Texas, from the largest hedge fund manager in New York, from this troika of strangers in New Jersey who are really into anti-abortion stuff and racial stuff. We don't have those people in our base. Largely, our donors are small-dollar donors. He keeps talking about this labor union money and PAC money that hasn't materialized. We have a base of small-dollar donors because we represent people right here in Wisconsin. While he is talking to people in Washington, D.C., about these out-of-state forces, we are here talking and looking at the problems facing people here in Wisconsin.
SHUSTER: The political play here for Governor Walker seems to be that by having this information come out about the polls and totals that perhaps he's trying to scare away some Democrats who may be considering getting into the recall race. Have you heard from the possible Democratic candidates? Has it had any impact on them?
ZIELINSKI: No, I think the fact that he is going to Texas and D.C. and New York to raise money from enclosed rooms with the, for instance, the co-founder of AIG - he was in a room with 17 other AIG executives last week on the day we submitted these recall petitions. This is shady stuff, this is stuff unseen before in Wisconsin history. The fact that our state is being bent over and we're having to bow to this corporate power really fires up people and really will fire up a Democratic candidate who's going to come out of this. We're going to have a good open primary. It's another thing you can thank Wisconsin for in the progressive tradition -[that] we're going to have a good open primary here and that candidates are going to be fired up with a fired-up base and ready to take on this unbridled power coming from the East and West coasts to take over Wisconsin.
SHUSTER: Graeme Zielinski. Graeme, thanks as always. We appreciate you coming on.
ZIELINSKI: Thank you so much.
SHUSTER: Up next, now that we've had a chance to review the two years of tax returns Mitt Romney made public this week, I'll show the clues as to what he's hiding in the rest. And later, environmentalists are not thrilled with what President Obama said last night in the State of the Union. We will explain why.
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SHUSTER: In his State of the Union address, President Obama said he wants to expand domestic oil and natural gas production. His proposal will open up massive new drilling along the U.S. coastline. We will take a closer look. And we already took a close look at the two years' worth of tax returns Mitt Romney released this week. If you think a 13.9 percent rate is awfully low, try zero. Yes, there are clues he paid zero in a return or two he didn't release. I'll explain next.
SHUSTER: This week, following intense pressure, Mitt Romney released some of his tax returns. Given my previous requests, I want to applaud the governor for taking this first step. However, it is only one step. Several others are needed, as I'm about to explain. The returns made public this week represent the years 2010 and 2011. They show Romney has been an extraordinarily successful businessman and extremely charitable. Over the past two years, Romney made, from a variety of investments, over $40 million. And he donated over $7 million to charity. However, when Governor Romney was asked this week at a debate to follow the lead of his father, George Romney, who ran for president in '68 and released 12 years of returns, here was the response:
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I agree with my dad on a lot of things, but we also disagree, and going out with 12 years of returns is not something I'm going to do. I'm putting out two years, which is more than anyone else on this stage. I think it'll satisfy the interest of the American people to see that I pay my taxes, where I give my charitable contributions to, and I think that's the right number.
SHUSTER: Actually, Governor, if you think a limited release is going to put this issue behind you, you are politically tone deaf. First, your 2010 return indicates you paid a rate of 13.9 percent. Furthermore, it suggests you paid far lower than that in 2009. You see, the 2010 return reveals you carried over $4.9 million in capital losses from the previous year. That means you paid no taxes on any capital gains in 2009, including no taxes on your carried interest. So how much did you pay in 2009? Zero? How close to zero was it, Governor?
Or how about 2008, the year when the investment market first crashed? Secondly, your 2010 return also lists a Swiss bank account. Your trust adviser said the account existed for diversification purposes only. Your return indicates you paid U.S. taxes on the interest in that Swiss account. And you closed the Swiss account in 2010. That's all fine. But how long did you have the Swiss account to begin with? Were you betting against U.S. currency? We would know the answers to those questions if you released your earlier returns. Thirdly, Governor, when you last ran for president, four years ago, you said you were in the process of divesting or removing all your holdings in Iran and all investments related to stem cell research. However, your charitable trust indicates you continued to buy and sell these holdings. Did you break your word about your divestment promises? Only your 2007 return can answer that.
Fourthly, Governor, how much did you make and what tax rate did you pay from 1984 to 2009? In this period, you were a corporate buyout specialist at Bain, and you then continued to receive a share of the Bain profits as part of a noncompete agreement. Only your returns from this period will show how much you made and what your rate was. Furthermore, they will also show how much you profited from deals that led to bankruptcies. I'm specifically referring to KB Toys and Dade Behring. Your firm got millions of dollars in dividends when you acquired those companies, then Bain sent KB and Dade Behring into bankruptcy, prompting thousands of U.S. workers to lose their jobs. Governor, how much did you profit in those deals? Let me be clear - I don't begrudge the money you've made. I admire self-made millionaires. And I'm convinced you followed U.S. tax laws to the letter. The issue is tax equity and tax fairness. President Obama wants to raise the capital gains rate above 15 percent. You don't. You believe that the wealthiest in our country should continue to pay a rate even less than Americans who are barely holding on in the middle class. If you are going to stand by that position, at least be honest and release 20 years' worth of your tax returns. You can then explain how keeping so much of your money through the years helped the U.S. economy.
Perhaps parking investments in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands helps America in ways I'm not aware of. Also, remember four years ago, Governor? Remember when you wanted to be considered as John McCain's vice presidential nominee? Back then, you apparently gave the McCain campaign 23 years' worth of tax returns. That's right, 23 years' worth of returns. Why not show the same respect to GOP primary voters? Governor, the 2010 and 2011 returns you made public this week are not enough. They raise more questions than they answer.
Follow your father's lead. Voters need and deserve full information. If you can't understand that, you should get out of this race.
SHUSTER: In an election year, the president's State of the Union speech tends to reveal which fights he thinks he can win and which issues he feels he needs to compromise on to appeal to the independent voters who decide national elections. In our No. 1 story on the "Countdown," President Obama urged a bold clean-energy agenda to Congress yesterday. Taking a page from the Republicans' drill-baby-drill playbook, the president called for an expansion of domestic oil and natural gas production, possibly opening 75 percent of potential offshore resources. The proposal came on the heels of Republicans on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail attacking him for rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline and the failure of solar manufacturer Solyndra.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy. A strategy that's cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs.
SHUSTER: By expanding drilling while also defending clean energy, the president is positioning himself as a moderate, particularly compared to the drill-everywhere Republicans. But for environmentalists, the choice may be the lesser of the two evils. Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace, said, "President Obama announced a potential environmental nightmare when he called tonight for more than 75 percent of offshore oil and gas resources to be exploited. The president claimed he would not compromise on oil spills, but he has approved oil exploration in the Arctic." But it wasn't all bad news for eco-activists.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury poisoning or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean.
SHUSTER: Let's bring in Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Susan, thanks for your time. What are you hearing from others on the president's energy agenda as he laid out last night?
SUSAN CASEY-LEFKOWITZ: Well, thanks for having me on the show. What we're hearing is that people are enthusiastic about the clean energy agenda. And that goes for not just people in the environmental community, but people from all walks of life across the United States. From farmers and ranchers who are worried about the Keystone XL pipeline cutting through their land and polluting their waters to business leaders and scientists and military leaders who have been warning for years about the threats of climate change.
SHUSTER: But aren't you concerned about the amount of drilling that he is essentially opening up if this proposal gets through?
CASEY-LEFKOWITZ: Big oil is putting us under a lot of pressure right now to go to ever greater lengths to get every last drop. And I think that what is clear is that we need to be moving off of oil on to a clean energy future. That's what's really necessary for jobs and for security for Americans. Any new plans to drill have to be carefully considered to see if the right safeguards are in place. There are a lot of places where we just shouldn't be going. We shouldn't be expanding tar sand drilling in Canada by taking more of that stuff in the United States, we shouldn't be drilling in the Arctic and we shouldn't be going after deep water, certainly not without safeguards in place that, for example, the BP oil commission was suggesting.
SHUSTER: But as part of that transition to clean energy that you just mentioned, the president in last year's State of the Union speech insisted that electric companies get 80 percent of their power from renewables. And this time he didn't bother to set any clean energy target. What do you make of that?
CASEY-LEFKOWITZ: When you look at the record of this administration, one of the remarkable things that's happened has been the clean car agreement, where we have fuel efficiency standards moving forward that are reducing our dependence on oil every day. They're saving consumers money at the pump, they're doing exactly what we need in terms of creating new jobs in the Midwest instead of in the Middle East. And that's a really important part of the agenda that I think is good for us to focus on as we think of what clean energy means in America.
SHUSTER: It sounds like you're being very pragmatic. And I'm sure the White House will certainly appreciate the left being pragmatic in an election year. But were there certain measures that you were disappointed that didn't get into the State of the Union last night?
CASEY-LEFKOWITZ: I think the main thing about the State of the Union is that there was a really strong emphasis on clean energy, and when that happened, what we also saw was a lot of enthusiasm from listeners across the board to that clean energy message. And what this means to me is that we're seeing a growing commitment towards clean energy. Because people are feeling climate change every day. They are feeling it in the violent storms, the droughts, the floods, the fires - they know it's real. And the only solution to fight climate change is to get off of our dependence on oil.
SHUSTER: But in an election year, are you OK with the president making some concessions on the drilling for fossil fuels?
CASEY-LEFKOWITZ: I can't comment on the politics, but when it comes to the policy, we need to be going after clean energy and not after fossil fuels. What we really need is to be looking at things like the clean car agreement, like fuel efficiency standards, to be reducing our dependence on oil. And we can do that. We have the ability right now, and that's really what's going to put America back to work.
SHUSTER: Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Susan, thanks for your time tonight. We appreciate it.
CASEY-LEFKOWITZ: Thanks for having me on the show.
SHUSTER: And that is our report for tonight. I'm David Shuster. From all of us here at "Countdown," thanks for watching the show, everybody, and have a terrific evening.