'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, February 8th, 2012
Guest host: David Shuster
#5 'Big Mo'', Nia-Malika Henderson
#5 'Big Mo'', Craig Crawford
#4 'Holy Contraception', Sarah Posner
# Time Marches On!
#3 'Big Brothers', Andrew Kroll
#2 'Move This!'
#1 'Ap-Polling Numbers', Heather Hurlburt
printable PDF transcript
On the show: David Shuster, Nia-Malika Henderson, Craig Crawford, Heather Hurlburt, Andy Kroll, Sarah Posner
DAVID SHUSTER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK SANTORUM: Conservatism is alive and well.
SHUSTER: Not good news for Mitt Romney. So let the excuses begin.
(Excerpt from video clip) MITT ROMNEY: We think we can beat Senator Santorum where we compete head-to-head in an aggressive way.
SHUSTER: Meaning - spend a ton of money in negative ads. The Republican race drags on.
(Excerpt from video clip) JOHN BOEHNER: If the president does not reverse the department's attack on religious freedom, then the Congress - acting on behalf of the American people, and the Constitution that we're sworn to uphold and defend - must.
SHUSTER: A good old-fashioned GOP crusade, now with only 42 percent Catholic support.
A shocking new poll reveals 77 percent of liberals support the President's use of drone aircraft. And 70 percent back his policy on Guantanamo. Keeping it open, that is.
And - game on. Michelle Obama may have crushed Jimmy Fallon. But I know one TV host who can take her on.
All that, and more - whew! - on "Countdown."
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: Are you ready for a little competition?
SHUSTER: Good evening, everybody. This is Wednesday, February 8th, 273 days until the 2012 presidential election. I'm David Shuster, sitting in for Keith Olbermann.
Rick Santorum scores three wins in one night, but does he have the money to compete in the big states to come for the GOP presidential nomination?
In our fifth story of the "Countdown" - it was a series of stumbles for Mitt Romney, celebrated in this mocking tribute from Rick Santorum in a Texas pastors' forum today.
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: One of the great gifts that I've had in my political career is that no one ever thinks that I could ever win anything.
SHUSTER: Actually, Santorum won two House terms and one Senate term from Pennsylvania, along with a clean sweep of last night's Republican presidential battles. Santorum won 45 percent of GOP voters at the Minnesota caucus, trouncing Ron Paul, Romney and Newt Gingrich.
Santorum also won the GOP's Colorado caucus with 40 percent of the vote. Romney had his best showing of the night with 35 percent. And Santorum more than doubled Romney's tally in the Republican Missouri primary. Ron Paul limped in at third with 12 percent. Newt Gingrich didn't get any votes because he failed to qualify for the ballot.
Of course, none of last night's votes are actually binding. Missouri will hold the official caucus in March, but it didn't stop Santorum from telling conservative voters that he, and not Mitt, is their man.
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: On those issues - heath care, the environment, cap-and-trade and on the Wall Street bailouts - Mitt Romney has the same positions as Barack Obama.
SHUSTER: As for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor made a brief concession speech last night, without conceding much.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: This was a good night for Rick Santorum, but I expect to become our nominee with your help.
SHUSTER: Texas Congressman Ron Paul might not be able to say that with a straight face but he still seemed happy with his results.
(Excerpt from video clip) RON PAUL: Believe it or not, we did very well tonight and have a very, very strong second place.
SHUSTER: That may be fine for Paul, but not for Mitt. And, with many conservative voters not sure he meets their sniff test, Romney tried looking towards the future.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: There is no such thing as coronation in presidential politics. It's meant to be a long process. There are big states coming up with a lot of delegates, we'll compete actively there.
SHUSTER: And Romney has the money to do it. At least $19 million, according to CNN, plus his $200 million fortune and his super PAC. But even with just $1 million on hand before last night, Santorum insisted he would do fine.
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: We're doing very, very well raising money. I think last night we raised $250,000 online.
SHUSTER: Not to mention contributions from the man on Santorum's left, mutual-fund manager and billionaire Foster Friess. According to The Guardian newspaper, Friess helped set up - and contributed more than $2 million to - Santorum's "Red, White and Blue" super PAC.
Wait, aren't super PACs supposed to avoid contact with the candidates they support?
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: Foster doesn't run the super PAC and we don't talk about anything regarding those matters. So, he's someone - again - who is a friend and will continue to be a good friend.
SHUSTER: And while Santorum basked in his victory, Newt Gingrich campaigned in Ohio and posted a web ad aimed squarely at Mitt Romney's claim to support gun owners' Second Amendment rights. It even included a soundbite from Romney's run for governor of Massachusetts.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts, I support them. I won't chip away at them. I believe they help protect us and provide for our safety.
SHUSTER: You know, I can see how some NRA conservatives might have a little trouble with that.
For more on last night's GOP contests and Mitt Romney's electoral slump, we're joined by Nia-Malika Henderson, national political reporter for The Washington Post. Nia, good of you to join us tonight. Did anyone -
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: It's great to be here.
SHUSTER: Did anyone see Santorum coming last night?
HENDERSON: Absolutely not, and I think if anyone tells you differently they're not telling you the truth. I think - sure, folks expected that he would do well in Minnesota and Missouri, and he certainly did. But this win in Colorado - a convincing win, five or six points - was very, very unexpected.
It certainly caught Romney by surprise. I think it caught the political press corps by surprise, as well. I think it showed that Santorum had a smart strategy. Coming off of Florida, coming off of Nevada, he very much focused on these states that could at least give him some bragging rights.
Sure, there are no delegates that are going to be awarded out of these victories, but now he's able to have some momentum, he's able to tell his supporters that he was able to win. He just sent out a note to his supporters, casting these victories as huge, huge victories and - of course - asking for money too. And, you saw over the last couple of hours, he was able to raise about $250,000 - which he talked about - and a lot of that money came in online in the hours after his victory.
SHUSTER: Mitt Romney talked as if he didn't really put much effort into these races. Is that correct, and - given that we're talking about two non-binding caucuses and a beauty contest, essentially, as Missouri's primary - how significant are these Santorum wins, or Romney setbacks, if you will?
HENDERSON: Well, they're incredibly significant, I think, for Santorum's narrative, which is - that in a contest between Romney and Santorum, his argument is that he does well. His argument is that conservatives will rally around him, ultimately, and if you have a contest like Missouri, certainly, that seems to prove his argument. So I think, for him, it means a good deal.
For Romney, he's going to have to pivot now to Santorum. Already, we've seen the Romney attack machine ramping up. They're going to have a bunch of conference calls tomorrow in Oklahoma, which is where Santorum will be, talking about Santorum's record. So, now we're going to have Romney, again, trying to run to the right of Rick Santorum, which is going to be awfully hard, especially on social issues.
Mitt Romney was down in Georgia today, for the first time talking about his faith. He didn't say Mormon, he didn't say the "M" word, which he rarely says, but he did talk about his faith.
And you can see in some of his public, you know, discourse and public speeches that he's also trying to appeal to sort of blue-collar roots. He talked about his father last night and his father's humble origins. And that's a place where Rick Santorum, for instance, thinks that he'll do very well - in states like Ohio and Michigan - and that is resonating with some of these blue-collar voters. It'll be so important in those states.
SHUSTER: And as far as Romney running to the right, as you said, there was a lot of talk today about conservative voters - except those in Florida, or course - who have been looking at Romney's record and are just troubled by what they see. Santorum and Gingrich have certainly been trying to make that point every day. Is Romney really in some trouble with conservatives?
HENDERSON: He is in trouble with conservatives and certainly, I think, poll after poll outside of Florida shows that. Shows that conservatives would rather have somebody else, shows that conservatives really want somebody who is less moderate than he is and more to the right on a whole host of issues - whether it's health care, whether it's social issues - they seem to believe what Newt Gingrich has said, and that is that Mitt Romney is more of a moderate.
And so, he has to really try to figure out how is he going to sell himself. I think that has been the key difficulty, the key gap that he's had over these last many months and selling himself to Republicans. Sure, he's very good at attack politics - he was able to level Rick Perry pretty quickly, you saw him do the same thing with Newt Gingrich, he's going to try to do the same thing with Rick Santorum - but he has yet be able to articulate a case for why is he running for president. It's that same, I think, question that Admiral Stockdale asked on stage in that debate many years ago, saying, "Who is he and why is he here?" Those are the questions, I think, Mitt Romney has yet to answer. So we'll see, in the days and weeks ahead, whether or not he's able to do that.
SHUSTER: As for Newt Gingrich, he was not in any of the contests last night. He didn't even comment after they ended. What is his strategy, going forward, and how much do Santorum's wins essentially affect Newt Gingrich's chances in this race?
HENDERSON: Yeah, I think that's a really great question. I was with him today in Ohio, he said very little - nothing, actually - about his rivals in his speech. He was at a manufacturing plant.
He, too, is going to try to focus on blue-collar workers in states like Ohio, in Michigan. But, he's also betting that he will have a really good time down south in terms of connecting with voters, in terms of doing well in those contests. Of course, Mitt Romney was in Georgia today - in some ways suggesting that he's not going to cede the south to Newt Gingrich - but I think he is certainly looking forward to doing well down there.
You saw the ad that he cut today, about gun owners and gun rights. They're going to look to the south and see if they can really - have a real contrast between Mitt Romney and essentially say, "This guy's a Massachusetts liberal." They might start calling him that, as they did in Florida, and really try to contrast those records. It obviously worked for him very well in South Carolina and he's hoping that in states like Georgia, in states like Tennessee - that will come up on Tuesday, March 6th, in this next contest - that he will be able to do well.
SHUSTER: Washington Post national political reporter, Nia Malika-Henderson. Nia, always great to have you on the program. Thank you.
HENDERSON: Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: For more now on Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and the money game, we're joined by Craig Crawford, politics blogger on craigcrawford.com and author of "The Politics of Life."
Craig, Romney has all the money and endorsements he seems to need to win. On the other hand, you titled your post today "GOP Buyers' Remorse." Is that what showed up in those results last night?
CRAIG CRAWFORD: Well, I don't know what kind of return policy they have at Staples, that company that Romney co-founded, but it looks like a lot of GOP voters are looking at that. They want to return the merchandise. Every time Romney does well, it seems like, in the next state or two, they back off. We saw it after New Hampshire and South Carolina, after Florida and Nevada. He does well there, and suddenly, these three states say, "No, no, no, wait a minute."
I think something else is going on here. The culture war is back, David. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and Obama's HHS did Santorum a great favor, putting gay marriage and abortion - abortion pills - back on the headlines. And that woke from the dead a lot of those right-wing social conservatives, where Santorum really speaks their language. He speaks their language better than Romney speaks French.
SHUSTER: As far as Rick Santorum, he insists that he's got enough money to go forward, not to mention a billionaire on his side, Foster Friess. How important is Friess and the "Red, White and Blue" super PAC to the Santorum campaign? And, even with Friess, does Santorum have - or can he get - the resources to compete with Romney?
CRAWFORD: Well, he spent around five or six hours of the day in Texas talking to big-money folks. I don't know if he shake, rattled and rolled with them, but that was the purpose of it. And also, this billionaire - that is one impact of these super PACs, it's they can keep campaigns that ought to go away alive. It's sort of like phantom pain, or something. With all that money, you can just keep going and just wait and see what happens. It didn't used to be that way.
SHUSTER: And as far as the lack of money, Santorum said today that, "If money made the difference," he, because he didn't have any, "wouldn't have won four primaries so far." Is he right, and isn't money supposed to be the mother's milk of politics, as we like to say?
CRAWFORD: Well, I'd take a look at what happened to Newt Gingrich to counter that statement by Santorum, because all that money that Romney spent against Gingrich - and his super PAC just tearing his limbs off in Florida - had a huge impact, obviously. We haven't - Santorum has not experienced that yet.
And so, that will become - that test will be coming. We have already gotten signals from the Romney side, Romney himself and some of the things he said. He's going to portray Santorum as a Washington insider - a captive of Washington - which is pretty much the argument they made with Gingrich. It depends on whether they can find enough good stuff, enough hot buttons, like they did with Gingrich and his ethics problem as speaker, for example, to lay on Santorum.
SHUSTER: We've got a few weeks ahead without much on the GOP calendar, as you've pointed out. What do Santorum and Gingrich have to do to chip away at Romney's lead in this sort of lull before the next storm?
CRAWFORD: Well - Romney chasing these guys, it's kind of like chasing cats across a parking lot. They're going to be all over - he's got - he's got the weapons to go after them, but they just keep moving around.
And so, I think they're going to pick off - Santorum's going to look at the midwest, Michigan - proportional delegate allegation there, big blue-collar vote, some evangelicals - even though Romney is from there and his father was governor, that'd be a huge psychological win. Even if Santorum came in a close second, that would be embarrassing to Romney.
And then, of course, Gingrich is going south and he's going to be picking out states there.
So, they're going to play a kind of an electoral game of Twister with Romney and make him defend himself against two candidates across these states. I'd say the silver lining for Romney here is - with Santorum doing so well last night - is he still - that conservative vote is still getting split, assuming Gingrich can stay on life support. The longer they're splitting that vote, we learned in Missouri - where Gingrich wasn't on the ballot - just how badly Romney can lose when that vote is consolidated in just one person.
SHUSTER: Meanwhile, there is President Obama. He's building his war chest, says that he will now welcome super PAC money as well. How does the money war look from the perspective of the Oval Office?
CRAWFORD: Well, I guess, like generals lining up their infantry, they're looking at the opposition, figuring out where their weak spots are. We've gotten a little - a little sign of what will happen, as one of the only ads that I'm aware of that Obama's super PAC has done so far was a defensive ad against the Solyndra attacks by Karl Rove's super PAC. So, they'll be able to use it to watch what the opposition does, where they hit them, and figure out where it's working and how they defend it. Use the ads that way.
I believe, at some point, when Romney is really the presumed nominee, they have to start defining him on their terms as the one percenter - the 0.6 percenter, actually - which fits into their argument. And they've got to do that themselves. I know he's getting beat up by Republicans already, but they cannot let this man get out there and define himself, ultimately, without putting their own stamp on it.
SHUSTER: I agree with you one hundred percent. Thank you, Craig Crawford. Craig, always a pleasure having you on the program.
CRAWFORD: Good to be here.
SHUSTER: Up next, the debate over contraception. House Speaker John Boehner is now accusing President Obama of attacking religious liberty. Most Catholics, though, believe the President's new policy is appropriate.
And later, the Koch brothers aren't holding back in that Wisconsin recall election. We'll tell you what they want from Republican Governor Walker in return.
This is "Countdown."
SHUSTER: A new Gallup poll reveals that voter-approval ratings for Congress have dropped again to an all-time low. The awful numbers in Congress come just as the Republican leadership picks a fight with President Obama over contraception. But even on this issue, and among religious voters, the numbers have abandoned the GOP.
There are some surprising poll numbers tonight on the view that progressives have now of terror policies that began during the Bush administration.
And the video of that kid's marshmallow-cannon demonstration at the White House has gone viral. But there's even more to the story.
SHUSTER: The First Amendment to the Constitution reads, in part, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." But the question that broke out in Congress today is whether a government mandate to protect women's health infringes on religious practices.
In our fourth story on the "Countdown" - Republican lawmakers have now joined Catholic leaders in criticizing the Obama administration. They are demanding the administration reverse the mandate that requires religious schools and hospital to offer insurance plans to cover birth control. Under fire at the White House today, Press Secretary Jay Carney said the administration is sticking by its plan, but hopes to strike a balance between the needs of women and the concerns of religious groups.
(Excerpt from video clip) JAY CARNEY: We want to work with all these organizations to implement this policy in a way that is as sensitive to their concerns as possible. But let's be clear, we are committed - the president is committed - to ensuring that women have access to contraception without paying any extra cost, no matter where they work.
SHUSTER: But Republicans say this won't suffice. In a rare floor speech today, House Speaker John Boehner said that if President Obama doesn't reverse his decision, Congress will do it for him.
(Excerpt from video clip) JOHN BOEHNER: In imposing this requirement, the federal government has drifted dangerously beyond its constitutional boundaries, encroaching on religious freedom in a manner than affects millions of Americans and harms some of our nation's most vital institutions.
SHUSTER: But according to the American people, at least, it seems Congress doesn't always know best. A new Gallup poll shows a record-low 10 percent of Americans say they now approve of the job Congress is doing. That's down from 13 percent in January.
And when it comes to insurance coverage, the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found that a majority of Americans, 55 percent, agree that employers should be required to provide their employees with health-care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost. As for Catholic voters? The support was even higher. Fifty-eight percent support the administration plan.
Still, with the right wing unsure about Mitt Romney in the GOP presidential race, the front-runner took the opportunity this week to pander to them by bashing the administration mandate.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: Think of what that does to people in faiths who do not share those views. This is a violation of conscience.
SHUSTER: The only problem? Let's turn again to Jay Carney.
(Excerpt from video clip) CARNEY: This is, I think, ironic that - Mitt Romney is expressing - criticizing the president for pursuing a policy that's virtually identical to the one that was in place when he was governor of Massachusetts.
SHUSTER: But Romney says that's not quite the case. Rather, that the law was already in place when he took office and that he did not support it.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I worked to try to remove all of those mandated coverages, such as contraceptive coverage.
SHUSTER: Joining us now - Sarah Posner, author of "God's Profits: Faith, Fraud and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters." Sarah, thanks so much for your time tonight. We appreciate it.
SARAH POSNER: No problem. Thanks, David.
SHUSTER: There were a few headlines yesterday reporting that the White House was looking to make a deal on this issue, although Jay Carney seemed to put that down today in his news conference. Your thoughts?
POSNER: Well, I think the White House finds itself in a political bind. On the one hand, it's confident that it's right about this contraceptive-benefit coverage, even for employees of religious institutions. But on the other hand, it feels - or it senses - that it's under pressure not just from Catholic bishops, but liberal Catholics like the columnist E.J. Dionne, who wrote in The Washington Post last week that Obama botched this politically by not heeding the demands of the bishops that religious institutions be exempt from the requirement.
SHUSTER: When it comes down to it, though, how close does this mandate, in fact, violate - or get to violating - the First Amendment, as Speaker Boehner and Republicans are claiming?
POSNER: It does not violate the First Amendment. The bishops are misrepresenting a legal issue in order to create a political issue. There are 28 states, in addition to Massachusetts, in which these very similar requirements are in place. In New York and California, the Catholic Charities challenged these laws and lost.
The courts held that these laws did not violate the Catholics' - or any religious group's - free exercise of religion, that in order for a law to violate somebody's free exercise, it has to impinge - substantially burden - their religious practice. And there is no substantial burden on Catholics' religious practice by providing coverage - insurance coverage for contraception for other people.
No one is making Catholics who do not want contraception to take it. No one is making the bishops take it, and so it's not really a First Amendment issue in the eyes of the courts. And the bishops have tried to turn it into a political issue, by elevating questions about LGBT rights and access to reproductive care as violations of their religious freedom, which - constitutionally - it is not.
SHUSTER: The polls we looked at from the Public Religion Research Institute - 55 percent of Americans and 58 percent of Catholics support the plan. So, is this just a play by Boehner and Romney for the far right?
POSNER: Well, I think that what they're hoping is to mobilize the base against Obama. To try to, obviously, bring people to the polls who will be very angered about this because of their lobbying against it, because of their campaign to frame this as a religious-freedom issue, to frame it as Obama's "war on religion," as some Republicans like to say.
So, it's partly that, to mobilize people to the polls, but I think it's also to drive a wedge between Obama and more moderate and liberal Catholics. They know that Catholics are swing voters and they're hoping to drive a wedge between Obama and the more moderate Catholic voters. But, as you pointed out, the polling this week showed something otherwise. It showed that Catholics were perfectly okay with this rule and, I might add, that 98 percent of Catholic women who are sexually active use contraception in contravention of the Vatican's teaching.
SHUSTER: Romney slams the Obama administration, the Obama administration comes back and says, "Well, it's ironic that Romney is slamming us because we're essentially doing something that's identical to Massachusetts." And then Romney comes back and says, "I worked to try and remove all these mandated coverages, such as contraceptive coverage, when I was governor of Massachusetts." I think it seems like maybe that depends on what the definitions of "worked" is. But what's your view?
POSNER: Well, I think - the more interesting thing to me - is that Romney is taking this up now. He has never before - before he won the Florida primary - never before really took up this issue. Newt Gingrich was really pushing this issue in Florida, and I was down in Florida, and there were a lot of Catholic voters down there who were on Gingrich's side on this. It really felt like Gingrich was pushing Romney towards taking this position. And Romney, interestingly enough, belongs to a religious tradition that condones the use of birth control. So all of the sudden, he's up in arms about Catholics being deprived - the rights of Catholics - supposed rights of Catholics - to be - being infringed upon by this contraceptive rule, which his church finds okay.
SHUSTER: Sarah Posner, author of "God's Profits: Faith, Fraud and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters." Sarah, thanks again for your time. We appreciate it.
POSNER: Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: You're welcome.
Coming up, Governor Scott Walker is getting some help in that Wisconsin recall election. The Koch brothers have just given him $700,000.
But next, we are going to give you the secret behind that kid's marshmallow cannon, unveiled at the White House. In "Time Marches On!"
SHUSTER: Coming up, generous donors contribute $700,000 to defend the reputation of Scott Walker. And when you think generosity, you think - that's right! The Koch Brothers.
But first, the "Sanity Break," and it was on this day in 1922 actress Audrey Meadows was born. Born Audrey Cotter in Wu'Chang, China, she moved with her family to New England at age six.
Audrey would go on to become a TV icon playing Ralph Kramden's wife Alice on "The Honeymooners." In a classic recurring scene from the show, Ralph would threaten to send Alice "to the moon," presumably to start a moon colony and eventually apply for statehood.
"Time Marches On!"
VIDEO: President Obama shoots a marshmallow cannon.
We begin, as we always do, with weaponized marshmallows. Here, we see the president of the United States testing out the extreme marshmallow cannon designed by 14-year-old Joey Hudy.
Obama pumps it up, Joey redirects the cannon, they pull the trigger and - bang! Look out, graham crackers and chocolate, the marshmallow is coming in for a hard landing.
Now, here's a little secret, all those in attendance - this wasn't picked up by the microphones - they said it was a good show and wanted s'more. Get it, some more, s'more.
VIDEO: German scientists develop robots that can have a catch.
We travel to Germany, where scientists have already created a robot that can catch a baseball. So naturally, they've developed one that can throw.
At the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics German Aerospace Center safety school, they've recently introduced "Agile Justin," the natural counterpart to their catching robot "Rollin' Justin."
It's a short-lived game of baseball, since one can only throw and the other can only catch. Nonetheless, they have a scrimmage set up next week against Cleatus, the Fox NFL Sunday robot.
VIDEO: Cat wanders onto pitch, stops English Premier League soccer match.
Finally, we end with the "TMO" Adorable Clip of the Day. Typical English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Tottenham.
Now, English football is a little different from American soccer. The main difference is they let cats play.
This cat ran onto the field, stopping the action, but eventually left when he realized his favorite club, "Meow-chester" United wasn't playing. What, you would have preferred New "Cat-sel" United?
"Time Marches On!"
Just ahead, Michelle Obama wants all of us to exercise. But she appears to have glossed over the difference between Division Three competition and Division One. So, we are going to help her.
But up next, the Koch brothers have just dumped more than $700,000 into Wisconsin to help Governor Scott Walker advertise against the recall. We will tell you what they want in return.
This is "Countdown."
SHUSTER: We bring you "Countdown" live each night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, primary replays at 11:00 p.m. and 2 a.m. Eastern.
With the recall battle heating up in the Badger state, political influence is bargain-priced for the Koch Brothers.
In our third story on the Countdown - the non-profit foundation Americans For Prosperity, founded and funded by the Koch brothers, has pitched in at least $700,000 for a pair of ads in Wisconsin defending Scott Walker's reputation.
The current ad airing in that state is a minute-long praise of Walker's budgetary policies. The spot claims his removal of collective-bargaining rights for state workers and slashing $1 billion in education funding helped avoid mass layoffs. But the ad downplays the loss of 35,000 Wisconsin jobs over the past six months and it also fails to mention Walker's measures spurred the largest protests the state has ever seen.
The ad never refers to Walker by name, because the foundation's 501c3 status prohibits it from participating in political campaigns. But since 2010, billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch have committed $5 million to television ads supporting Walker. And this $700,000 ad buy is chump change compared to the $60 million the brothers pledged to defeat President Obama in 2012.
As election officials in the state process over one million recall signatures, Governor Walker is fundraising hard, courtesy of a quirk in Wisconsin law that suspends donor contribution limits during a recall, allowing candidates to raise unlimited cash while petitions are circulated and reviewed.
Andy Kroll has been covering the tea party's efforts to save Scott Walker in Wisconsin and he joins us from Washington. Andy, thanks for your time tonight.
ANDY KROLL: Thanks for having me.
SHUSTER: What's the payoff for the Kochs' investment in Scott Walker? What do they get for their money?
KROLL: They get a confirmation that the tea party agenda that Scott Walker embodies can be defended and, you know, is popular and can be sustained both in Wisconsin and around the country.
The tea party groups admit that Wisconsin Governor Walker's recall is essentially Ground Zero for them. The agenda that Walker has pushed through, you know - cutting bargaining rights, slashing public funding for education, rejecting federal funds for high speed - health care - this is the wet dream for tea partiers.
So his recall is, essentially, not just a referendum on Walker, but a referendum on the tea party's agenda at large. The Koch brothers' investment is going to try to keep that agenda - going into Wisconsin to show the nation that, you know, the public wants it, whether because it's rammed down their throats from Koch brothers' money, or because people actually support it. But there's a lot at stake here, and that's why you're seeing big groups like Americans for Prosperity dump six figures into television ads.
SHUSTER: And never mind the sort of look back, is there also something they expect from Scott Walker moving forward?
KROLL: Oh, without a doubt, both in Wisconsin - where Koch Industries has interests in natural gas, where they have interests in other natural resources - and nationally. Who knows where Scott Walker is going to be four, five, six years from now? His name has been brought up as a potential vice presidential candidate. And so, they see Walker as - not just an investment in his agenda in the next three years, his first term in office - but also an investment in him going forward. He's a rising star in the GOP and you're seeing the tea party hitch their wagon to him early on.
SHUSTER: How effective have these sort of cash shipments to Walker been in terms of sort shaping this race on his terms?
KROLL: They haven't been effective at all. They haven't moved the dial. The polling numbers coming out of Wisconsin are almost unchanged between November, when the recall effort began, and now.
You know, Wisconsin is very much divided on the issue of recalling Governor Walker. Sometimes it's a slight advantage to Wisconsinites saying, "Yes, he needs to be recalled." It's 47 - 49-47. You know, a recent poll from Marquette University showed a slight advantage toward Walker, but really, there's no big swing in favor of the governor there, and it's unclear whether it's just a matter of pumping more money in the state or whether the public's opinion of the Walker administration is so entrenched that even Koch's money isn't going to shift the playing field that much.
SHUSTER: And yet, if Walker's numbers don't - aren't moving, does that, essentially, give another incentive for the Koch brothers to try and throw in even more? In other words, are we going to see even more money from them? I think Talking Points Memo recently reported that the recall election could reach as much as $100 million.
KROLL: $700,000 on a two ads is chump change. This is the very, very tippy top of the iceberg here. That $100 million number that you mentioned, I've heard that from political experts in Wisconsin. This is going to be the political battle of the spring. I mean, it's going to easily overshadow the biggest presidential primaries and the spending in those races. This is going to be the marquee race in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker against a Democrat who has yet to be nominated - yet to be picked, that process is underway. But, $100 million could easily be the figure we see there.
This fight is going to spread out, it's going to stretch through into May and June. The election could be in late May and early June. And we're going to see just a gusher of cash, a lot from outside the state pouring into Wisconsin for this fight.
SHUSTER: And the irony of Scott Walker blaming the recalls on out-of-state union interests, which he says are pouring money into Wisconsin while he continues to shuffle in and out of the state for fundraisers?
KROLL: The keynote to make here is that, on the day United Wisconsin - the grassroots group that spearheaded the recall effort - turned in its one million plus signatures, Scott Walker was not in Wisconsin. Scott Walker was in Manhattan, fundraising with the former chief of AIG, the global insurance company that was bailed out by billions of taxpayer dollars. That is all you need to know about this race.
He is raking - Governor Walker is raking in millions, from the biggest megadonors in the Republican Party - guys like Foster Friess, like Bob Perry in Texas. All the big corporate players are getting involved in his defense. More of his money is coming from out of state than it is in state. So, he really doesn't have any ground to stand on, claiming that this is some Obama for America, out-of-state effort trying to get him out of office.
SHUSTER: Andy Kroll of Mother Jones. Andy, great stuff tonight. Thanks for your time.
KROLL: Thank you.
SHUSTER: Coming up, an intriguing new poll shows most progressives support President Obama's decision to keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the same policy progressives hated under President Bush.
And just ahead, we can all agree on the importance of exercise. But, first lady Michelle Obama, it's time to ratchet up your athletic challenges and I'm going to help.
SHUSTER: When the Obama administration continued the Bush policy of using Guantanamo Bay as a prison, many progressives were outraged. The outrage has largely gone away, according to some stunning new polls.
And, first lady Michelle Obama, if you want some attention for your exercise initiative, Jimmy Fallon is not the guy. We will show you a more athletic challenger.
SHUSTER: One of the signature issues for first lady Michelle Obama is something known as the "Let's Move Initiative." It's an effort to draw more attention to physical fitness and underscore the importance of exercise.
Last night, NBC late-night host Jimmy Fallon did his part, with a trip to the White House where he challenged the first lady to a competition. Watch.
(Excerpt from video clip) MICHELLE OBAMA: So, we are going to start with a stair race. Are you ready to do this?
(Excerpt from video clip) JIMMY FALLON: I was born ready.
(Excerpt from video clip) SURVIVOR: Risin' up, back on the street/Did my time, took my chances/Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet/Just a man and his will to survive/It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the fight/Risin' up to the challenge of our rival/And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night/And he's watching us all with the eye of the tiger.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: You all right, Jimmy?
SHUSTER: Jimmy was fine. By the way, Mrs. First Lady, all of us on this broadcast are glad you hit him in the head after seeing the way he throws. Embarrassing.
Anyway, for everybody keeping score at home, the first lady and Fallon were tied going into the final competition, a potato sack race. Naturally, the first lady won and Jimmy Fallon lost.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: Well, Jimmy that was fun. And thank you so much for coming to the White House and raising awareness for "Let's Move."
(Excerpt from video clip) FALLON: It was my pleasure. I think the most important thing for the kids to learn is that it's all about being active and having fun. It doesn't matter if you won or if you lost, you know?
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: It matters.
SHUSTER: That's right. It does matter. But it also matters who your competition is. And, Mrs. First Lady, Jimmy Fallon? Sure, he's funny, musical, and a good actor, but he's no athlete. I, on the other hand, I am an athlete. Varsity letter man at Bloomington South, a triathlete during college, a softball champion today! On behalf of all on-camera talents who are athletic - all three of us - I'm issuing you a challenge, Mrs. First Lady. It's time for you to take on some real competition.
Push-ups? I can do push-ups. How many, KO? Thirty? Three thousand? Push-ups.
Dodge ball? This is an arm for dodge ball. Hey, Matt.
And now it's time for the sack race. Hey, Kathy, how about a sack? Thank you. See this? This is how I get to work every day. This is how I get to all the editorial meetings. Just like this, all day long. All day long! It's all just a walk in the park for Mr. Shuster.
Mrs. First Lady, bravo on the exercise initiative. But next time, bring a real athlete to the White House. You know, me. You, me, Current Television, an interview, some exercise competition - that is how we're going to get this nation in shape.
Kathy, a little touch up for Mr. Shuster?
SHUSTER: At the time of his departure in 2009, George W. Bush had national approval ratings in the mid-20s. It seemed that Americans, as a whole, rejected the policies of George W. Bush and were looking for a change in direction.
But in our number-one story tonight - new poll results released today show a startling level of support by liberal Democrats for some of the George W. Bush policies that President Obama has either continued or expanded.
In the 2008 election, Guantanamo Bay military prison was used as an example of what was wrong with America's foreign policy, a place where inmates were held without trial and, in some instances, tortured. Guantanamo Bay represented everything counter to what America stood for, at least according to candidate Obama. On his second day in office, now-President Obama signed an executive order stipulating that Guantanamo Bay prison be closed within the year. Polls at the time showed that 64 percent of Democrats agreed with his decision to shut down the prison. That was three years ago.
Guantanamo still remains an active military prison. While circumstances may not have changed, public opinion certainly has. According to a new Washington Post poll, 70 percent of Americans approve of Obama's decision to keep the Guantanamo Bay prison open, including 53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats.
More remarkable may be the blanket approval for President Obama's expansion of the drone program. You know, the possibly-illegal program that is so secretive that, when the ACLU requested documents about the program, the administration refused to even acknowledge that the program, or documents about that program, even exist. According to the poll, an overwhelming 83 percent of Americans approve of Obama's use of drones, including 77 percent of liberal Democrats.
Perhaps most perplexing is that 58 percent of self-described Democrats still approve of drone strikes, even when the target is an American citizen.
Joining me now is Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National Security Network. Heather, thanks for your time tonight.
Has anything changed with Guantanamo Bay and drones since President Obama took office?
HEATHER HURLBURT: Three big things have changed. And, as far as the American people are concerned, that I think explain the numbers that you are talking about.
First of all, nobody new has gone to Guantanamo and there hasn't been any new scandals around it. Nobody's being tortured there any more. The public knows that.
Second, the big change the administration did make, of course, is to pull out of Iraq, start pulling out of Afghanistan, not start any new land wars. And so, those numbers on drones - what I think people are saying there is, "Do we like the idea of drone policy as opposed to troops on the ground?" Not, "Do we endorse drones - eyes in the sky - as an answer to all of our problems?" But we like it a heck of a lot better than big land wars.
And third, you know, we had two or three years of ceaseless rhetoric from some parts of the far right saying, you know, "You can't trust Guantanamo detainees. If you let them out, they'll be in your supermarkets, they'll be in your schools," while our side was basically silent, or trying to pass a health-care bill, or deciding we had other priorities.
So that, to my mind, is really what explains the flip-flop in public opinion.
SHUSTER: Could it also be that this about Democrats simply trusting President Obama with his control of Guantanamo Bay and drones, and trusting the president more than they did with President Bush?
HURLBURT: Well, that's true of Americans and national security policy overall.
And look, we should stop and say that there's a huge success here, that this is a president running for re-election as a confident national security president which, you know, breaks a 30-year tradition of Democrats being seen as weak on national security. That's over.
And Americans, in general, tend to give their president the benefit of the doubt on national security until he or she does something really outrageous, as President Bush did. And of course, Democrats trust the government, that's who we are. We believe - we want to believe in government until proven otherwise.
SHUSTER: With the drones, do people truly understand what is going on with that program?
HURLBURT: No, nobody does. And that's, to my mind, the biggest problem about drones, about targeted killing - whether using drones, whether using something else - that - not only has the administration not wanted to release any information, as you said - but Congress has really fallen down on its oversight function.
And drones - I tend to think of 1946 or '47, with the nuclear program. We're at the edge of this new world, which no one understands the implications of, and no one - inside the government or out - really has a good set of answers on how we ought to be using them, how we ought to be restricting them, and who - and how - we can provide the kind of oversight that we like to think is guaranteed as Americans.
SHUSTER: With such blanket approval, is there any chance either Guantanamo Bay prison or drone attacks are ever eliminated?
HURLBURT: Drone attacks will never be eliminated. Drone technology is here to stay. More countries are getting them. You read about Mexican drug lords building their own. So, drones are not going away.
Guantanamo can be closed one of two ways, I think. Either there's a national revolution against the use of Islamophobia for political purposes and a turning our backs on that, collectively, and then we can have an honest, non-scaremongering conversation about why it would better to close it for national security reasons. Or, frankly, you get a new president - and, frankly, I think it would be easier for a Republican president who could go to a Republican congress and say, "Look, to my surprise, the guys at the Defense Department - the CIA, the DIA - are all telling me that thing, as General Petraeus has done, as the Secretaries of Defense have done, that this thing is a negative for us and we should close it."
And that would, frankly, be easier for a Republican to do than a Democrat too. So, I wouldn't give up yet.
SHUSTER: And does this simply take - does Guantanamo Bay, the drones - is this simply off the table as far as the election is concerned?
HURLBURT: Yeah, well - yes, but because there is going continue to be attempts to score political points around it for the next six, eight months. So, we're going to hear a lot of overheated, scaremongering rhetoric about it.
SHUSTER: Heather Hurlburt. Heather, thank you, as always. We appreciate you coming on the program.
HURLBURT: Great to be with you.
SHUSTER: And that is our show for tonight.
For highlights of this, or any other program on Current TV, check out our awesome webpage at current.com. That is current.com.
I'm David Shuster, on behalf of all of us at "Countdown," thanks for watching. Another great show tomorrow night. Have a terrific evening, everybody.