'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, January 13th, 2012
Guest host: David Shuster
watch whole playlist
#5 'Bain Without Pain', Joe Williams
#5 'Bain Without Pain', Daniel Gross
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
#4 'A Healthy Debate', Nicole Lamoureaux
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
# Time Marches On!
#3 'Split Tea', Bill Press
#1 'Help From Above', Jamie Kilstein
printable PDF transcript
On the show: David Shuster, Nicole D. Lamoureux, Daniel Gross, Joe Williams, Bill Press
DAVID SHUSTER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The circus shifts into overdrive. Santorum claims his sweater vest "gave him this power." Perry still can't figure out which government agencies he would eliminate. And Newt takes his ad battle against Romney international.
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: And just like John Kerry, he speaks French, too.
(Excerpt from video clip) JOHN KERRY: Laissez les bon temps rouler!
(Excerpt from video clip) MITT ROMNEY: Bonjour, je m'appelle Mitt Romney.
SHUSTER: Fortunately, Romney has an ad of his own.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: We expected the Obama administration to put free markets on trial, but as The Wall Street Journal said, "Mr. Romney's GOP opponents are embarrassing themselves by taking the Obama line."
SHUSTER: Romney positions himself as the CEO America needs. Only problem - we're a country, not a corporation.
Obama looks to the future.
(Excerpt from video clip) BARACK OBAMA: We live in a 21st-century economy, but we've still got a government organized for the 20th century. So today, I'm calling on Congress to reinstate the authority that past presidents have had to streamline and reform the executive branch.
SHUSTER: While the GOP candidates look to the past.
(Excerpt from video clip) NEWT GINGRICH: The very first item on our legislative contract -
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK PERRY: First day in office -
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: Is repealing Obamacare.
(Excerpt from video clip) PERRY: Wipe out as much Obamacare as I can.
(Excerpt from video clip) MITT ROMNEY: He passed Obamacare, I'll repeal it.
SHUSTER: As a new study reveals that repealing the mandates in Obamacare could raise premiums 25 percent. So, any new ideas?
And the tea party may need divine intervention to stay relevant.
But God may be too busy helping Tim Tebow win football games, at least according to 54 percent of Republicans. The other 46 percent credit Rick Santorum's sweater vests.
All that and more, now on "Countdown."
SHUSTER: Good evening from New York. This is Friday, January 13th, 298 days until the 2012 presidential election. I'm David Shuster, sitting in for Keith Olbermann.
Today, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry dialed back their attacks on Mitt Romney's venture-capital career, while Romney kept insisting that America needs a CEO and chief as president.
In our fifth story in the "Countdown" - with the South Carolina primary just a week away, Gingrich and Perry seem to have yielded some to pressure from their fellow Republicans not to keep hammering Romney for his years at Bain Capital. For his part, Romney focused, in person, on hammering President Obama.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: And he is going to say the economy is getting better. Thanks heavens it's getting better. And it's getting better - not because of him - it's in spite of him and what he's done -
SHUSTER: But over the airwaves, Romney took on his Republican rivals for attacking him on Bain.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: We expected the Obama administration to put free markets on trial, but as The Wall Street Journal said, "Mr. Romney's GOP opponents are embarrassing themselves by taking the Obama line."
SHUSTER: Texas Governor Rick Perry squeezed off a few rounds at a South Carolina gun range, but held his fire later, criticizing his rivals later without mentioning any names.
(Excerpt from video clip) PERRY: I'm the outsider. I'm the outsider who will step on a few toes in Washington, D.C., if that is what's required.
SHUSTER: Of course, it is always possible that Governor Perry couldn't actually remember who he is running against. Earlier today, he told a radio host that he planned to get rid of three federal agencies.
(Excerpt from video clip) PERRY: Three right off the bat, you know - Commerce, Interior and Energy.
SHUSTER: Which must be news to the Department of the Interior. The last time the subject came up, Perry said he planned to get rid of the Department of Education instead. Last November, he may have sunk his chances for the GOP nomination when he could only remember the names of two agencies he hoped to trash.
(Excerpt from video clip) PERRY: Commerce, Education and the - what is the third one there?
SHUSTER: As the governor said a little later that night, "Oops."
Newt Gingrich, today, suffered through a different kind of "oops" moment over the Romney-bashing film produced by the super PAC supporting Gingrich's campaign. After deluge of criticism, the former House speaker asked the "Winning Our Future" PAC to "either edit its 'King of Bain' advertisement and movie to remove its inaccuracies, or to pull it off the air and off the Internet entirely."
However, Gingrich still wants Romney to prove he created 100,000 jobs at Bain. And Gingrich's not backing away from criticizing Romney's flip-flops on the issues, compounded by Romney's un-American language skills.
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney, he'll say anything to win. Anything. And just like John Kerry -
(Excerpt from video clip) JOHN KERRY: Laissez les bon temps rouler!
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: He speaks French, too.
(Excerpt from video clip) MITT ROMNEY: Bonjour, je m'appelle Mitt Romney.
SHUSTER: So it might have surprised Romney when Gingrich, campaigning in Florida, came out today with this:
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: It is great to be back at Versailles, and we were here a few months ago and thank you, once again. It is just wonderful to be here.
SHUSTER: In Miami, Versailles is a popular Cuban restaurant. In France, it is the former home of French kings. Perhaps Newt should have held his meet-and-greet at Starbucks instead.
While at Rick Santorum's meet-and-greet today, the former Pennsylvania senator held his fire on Bain, but not on Romney:
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK SANTORUM: I don't criticize - and I won't criticize - his work at Bain Capital, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you want your boss running for president.
SHUSTER: Especially not if it's Mitt Romney, or the rest of the GOP field. And while Santorum is still looking for a primary victory, he claimed to have scored with his fashion sense. Take a look at that sweater vest. Nothing special? Well, according to Santorum, it deserves some of the credit for a speech that turned his campaign around in Iowa. He told an interviewer Tuesday:
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: The virtual world said, you know, just, "Wow, that speech just blew everybody else away," and - and they started to say it must have been the vest.
SHUSTER: Sanatorium wrapped - ramped that up. He told a South Carolina crowd, "That vest gave me this power."
Unfortunately for Rick Santorum, the vest didn't give the power to get on the Virginia primary ballot. Or Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, or John Huntsman either. A federal judge today rejected their challenge to state rules that will now limit that primary to Romney and Ron Paul. Perhaps the challengers' lawyers should have won - should have worn sweater vests too.
For more on the GOP primary campaign, we're joined by Joe Williams, White House reporter for Politico. Joe, good evening.
JOE WILLIAMS: Hi, nice to be here.
SHUSTER: Joe, the push back on Gingrich and Perry for attacking Romney on Bain as "un-Republican."
It seemed to work with Perry today, but will Gingrich hold his fire? I mean, beyond asking his super PAC - which he's not allowed to coordinate with - to correct some of the mistakes the Washington Post found in their anti-Romney film. And if they make the cuts he requested, hasn't Gingrich broken the law?
WILLIAMS: Well, he hasn't broken the law, literally, in that he's putting it out there. He is asking them to do something, not directly advising them or ordering them to do something.
And anyway, the damage has already been done, the ad has been out there. He has gotten tons of free media off of that. People have been talking about it, the buzz is out there. So, I don't think that pulling it off the air, at this point, is going to be relevant at all. It is already out there, it's already had the hits, and people are going to pick up on it, regardless.
SHUSTER: Mitt Romney is taking the high road, hammering President Obama and pretty much leaving his rivals alone. Is that working for Romney? Will we see a change if he doesn't win decisively in South Carolina next week?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think you'll - you'll see a change to the degree that Romney is not a guy who moves very quickly on the fly. You'll notice he does a lot of teleprompting now. His off-the-cuff remarks are very, very scripted. So, he is not a guy who I expect to change 180 degrees - or even 70 degrees - if things weren't working, necessarily, to his advantage.
But I think what you'll see is him attempting shore up his defense for the Bain Capital attacks. You are already starting to hear it in the ad he produced about creating more jobs. And in the Republican heavyweights, calling other parties in and saying, "Look, ease up on the capitalism stuff, we've got an election to win here."
So, he may not necessarily have to, but he certainly is going to have to develop some kind of a strategy to deal with those sorts of things.
SHUSTER: Regarding Rick Perry's latest federal-agency fumble - what does it say of his preparation that, after making a fool of himself, he still can't get it right? And Perry also tried calling on a mannequin with its hand raised for a question today. Maybe a sign that it is time for him to get off of the campaign trial for good?
WILLIAMS: Well, it's almost too easy, at this point, to make fun of Rick Perry. Look, it's a long season - long days, long nights - not necessarily thinking all that quickly on his feet. So, I don't think it hurts him to the extent that he is not getting a lot of traction anyway.
It may be good preparation for the time ahead, but, you know, he's going to stay in because he has the money to stay in. At least past South Carolina. Remember, he almost called it quits after New Hampshire and didn't. Mainly because he thought that South Carolina could be a good state for him to rebound. So far, no good. Look for him to make some more hard decisions down the road. Probably sooner rather than later.
SHUSTER: And this Gingrich ad attacking Romney for speaking French - tying him to John Kerry and, earlier, Mike Dukakis with that ad. What do you make of that attack?
WILLIAMS: Me no! Oh, no. Zut alors! I mean what - what - it's almost comical. I mean - he speaks French, therefore he is not one of us. He is very suspicious because he's got that continental air about him. I mean, it's almost to silly to make fun of this.
But, it strikes home in a place like South Carolina, and there's a reason why he's using it - because people don't like that. You are talking about a state that was first to go to war in the Civil War, and a state that really very much prides itself on "God, guns, and country." So, it's an effective line of attack, even if it's silly in the abstract.
SHUSTER: Speaking of comical - Rick Santorum and his sweater vest. Does he think a folksy touch like that will help in South Carolina? I don't recall them wearing sweater vests in South Carolina.
WILLIAMS: Well, no, not typically. But this one reminds me of the line from "Major League" where they said, you know, "If you think you are playing well because of a certain article of clothing, then you are."
So certainly, if he thinks he's campaigning better because he's wearing a sweater vest, fine. Every campaign has its gimmicks. We had Herman Cain and his yellow ties. We had George W. Bush and his cowboy boots. We've had - you can go back to almost any campaign you can think of. In Boston, Scott Brown - his barn coat was his trademark. His barn coat and his pickup truck. Every campaign has props. This is nothing more than that. If he thinks he is campaigning better because he is wearing one? Fine.
SHUSTER: Joe Williams, White House reporter for Politico. Joe, thanks for coming on the program. Have a great weekend.
WILLIAMS: My pleasure. You, too.
SHUSTER: Now, for more on Mitt Romney's claim that what America really needs a former CEO and venture capitalist in the White House, we're pleased to be joined by Daniel Gross, economics editor and columnist with Yahoo! Finance. Dan, good evening to you.
DANIEL GROSS: Bon soir, David. Je m'appelle Daniel.
SHUSTER: Romney's claim to the presidency, at its core, is that America needs a former CEO and venture capitalist in the White House to turn the economy around - and maybe help these relationships with France. He claims to have saved companies at Bain and that he can save the U.S. the same way. What would that look like, if he were in charge?
GROSS: Well, we might sell off Alaska, shut down Nevada, fire the postal service, and, you know, restructure the Navy into a - you know, a regatta that we would sell tickets to.
There is a big difference between running a company and running a economy. And there's a big difference between running a company and running the government. So I think while, on paper, the notion that - in a down economic time - a former businessman who talks a good game on the economy is your candidate, when you start to go underneath that kind of headline and say, "Okay, what are the differences between a company and a country? What are the differences between a company and an economy?" it's not such a no-brainer.
SHUSTER: Romney's job at Bain was all about maximizing corporate profits. Any crossover between that skill set and the Oval Office?
GROSS: I think this is one of the biggest differences. When you think about private equity - and they are playing this like a attack on private equity is an attack on free enterprise - it's a business that really functions very different than other businesses. They get a fee for managing the money that investigators give them. When they buy a company, the company frequently pays them a fee for managing it.
One of the ways they get returns is by - they acquire a company, they'll take out a hundred million dollars in debt and pay themselves a dividend, and say, "We got an investment return." Which is - you own a house, you take out a million mortgage and say, "Hey, look, a million dollars in income!"
And we all know what comes next. And there are many instances where private equity firms, after having paid themselves a dividend, then default on that debt. And default on their obligations to bond holders, to banks and to workers. Plenty of examples of private equity companies that have left unfunded pensions, which the government then picks up.
And I think that's the big difference between companies and governments. Governments can't walk away from their bond payments. They can't walk away from their older workers. They can't just renege on obligations. And that's part of the business model in the private sector.
SHUSTER: Romney told the crowd today, "I'm concerned about the poor in this country." He also said, "We have to make sure the safety net for our poor is always strong." What sort of effect would the policies he is pushing, including turning key programs over to the states, what would that have on the safety net?
GROSS: Well, I think he is very concerned about the poor. He is concerned they might vote this year.
You know, Romney, again - at first brush - he is a moderate. He has some of that noblesse oblige. He said before, "I don't want to cut taxes for people above $200,000, the rich are doing just fine. I'm worried about the middle class."
He knows he has this baggage of being the guy worth $250 million. If you got him in one of those quiet places where he wants to talk about policy, he might support a minimum wage, but he is unlikely to come out for it now. So when you go across the line of policies that are intended to, sort of, benefit the poor - other than trickle-down economics, he doesn't have much to offer.
And historically, he talks about turning Medicaid back to the states. That includes states like South Carolina and Mississippi that have incredibly high rates of poverty, incredibly high rates of lack of insurance among their population. The notion that these guys, left to their own devices, will do a better job is also laughable.
SHUSTER: The idea that private equity firms break up companies and sell parts of them off, how does that translate?
GROSS: There is sort of a bizarre thing where all of a sudden Newt Gingrich has found a political ad with falsehoods that he doesn't approve of, and it is one that is attacking Romney and actually doing some good. That ad - that documentary that is running - they are poking holes in the data and facts, but it could be one of those examples of being 80 percent wrong and 100 percent right.
Because you can construct real, actual stories - not just about Bain Capital but about other private equity firms - where they have come in and, you know, if they can make money, if they think they can make money by building a business up, they will do that, but if they think they can make money by selling it or cutting payments or things like that, they will do that.
And they tend to have a play book. And the play book involves coming in and saying, "Oh look, you have a pension fund? Let's change that to a defined-contribution plan. Oh look, your workers are getting paid this much? Well, we can threaten to move it to China and pay less." This is part of the play book of corporate America, and again, I don't think that plays particularly well in this electorate.
SHUSTER: Great reporting, as always, from Yahoo Finance editor Daniel Gross. Dan, merci beaucoup.
GROSS: Any time.
SHUSTER: Just ahead, if the Republicans get their wish and repeal Obamacare, what would that do to our health-care costs? A nonpartisan organization suggests it is even worse than you think.
And later, Mitt Romney's latest campaign ad features his help with an Indiana steel mill. What the ad neglects to mention is that the mill succeeded largely thanks to government assistance.
SHUSTER: The Republican presidential candidates make the promise every day - they will repeal Obama care. Well, a nonpartisan organization released a study showing that repealing the new health-care system would cause premiums to skyrocket.
Mitt Romney's latest campaign commercial defends his work at Bain Capital. The spot credits Romney with building businesses and creating jobs, even though one of the businesses highlighted in the commercial owes most of its success to government assistance.
Divine intervention, you bet. Most Republicans, according to a new poll, now believe that God actually favors Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.
But I'm giving thanks this week to Howard Stern, whose callers made it on air over at C-SPAN in "Time Marches On!"
SHUSTER: The idea of shrinking the size and scope of the federal government has long been a Republican talking point, particularly during election season. But today, Barack - President Barack Obama may have changed all that.
In our fourth story on the "Countdown" - while the president counters Republican accusations on government waste and asks Congress to give him the power to shrink government, there is news that the GOP's efforts to shrink the president's health-care reforms may be misguided.
First, there's President Obama speaking today to business leaders at the White House.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: I ran for office pledging to make our government leaner and smarter and more consumer-friendly. And from the moment I got here, I saw, up close, what many of you know to be true - the government we have is not the government that we need. Today, I'm calling on Congress to reinstate the authority that past presidents have had to streamline and reform the executive branch.
SHUSTER: That authority had been in place for about 50 years until it lapsed in 1984 during Ronald Reagan's presidency.
President Obama said today his first order of business would be to combine the six federal departments that focus on business and trade. A White House official said the move would save $3 billion over 10 years, although it could also lead to the loss of one to two thousand jobs.
As for the GOP response, a spokesman for Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell said, "After presiding over one of the largest expansions of government in history, it's interesting to see the president finally acknowledge that Washington is out of control. We'll be sure to give it a careful review once the White House provides us with the details."
While the candidates running to compete against the president in 2012 also appear to be taking their time deciding whether or not they support this plan, one thing they have clearly do not support is the president's health-care plan:
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: He passed Obamacare, I'll repeal it.
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: The very first item on our legislative contract at newt.org is repealing Obamacare.
(Excerpt from video clip) PAUL: I think a good way to start once we sort of take over things in Washington will be to get rid of Obamacare.
(Excerpt from video clip) PERRY: First day in office, I will use an executive order to wipe out as much Obamacare as I can while introducing legislation to Congress to wipe it off the books.
SHUSTER: The biggest sticking point of the plan has been the individual health-insurance mandate - the requirement that all Americans purchase an insurance policy or pay a penalty. But a new study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds that - if the mandate were to be repealed - insurance premiums would rise by as much as 25 percent.
Yesterday, nearly 500 state lawmakers - including at least one from each state - filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold the law. Twenty-six state attorneys general are suing to overturn the individual insurance mandate. The Supreme Court is expected to rule early this summer as to whether the mandate is constitutional.
Joining us now, Nicole Lamoureux, executive director at the National Association of Free Clinics. Nicole, thanks for your time tonight.
NICOLE LAMOUREUX: Thanks for having me.
SHUSTER: So, never mind the 25 percent increase in premiums. Would Americans, in fact, be better off on all the other stuff without Obama's health-care reforms?
LAMOUREUX: Well, I think we can say that the short answer to that is "You don't know." Of course we need some help. The ACA is just a first step.
As we hear from the presidential candidates on the GOP side all the time, those that are uninsured are "lazy, living on the dole and should be getting a job." And as viewers of this show know, there is nothing that is further from the truth.
The ACA gives people the opportunity to have health-care coverage, especially for those people who have so desperately longed for it, and couldn't afford it. When were are talking about health-care premiums, up to 25 percent increase without the individual mandate - that's ridiculous. Most people can't afford their insurance premiums now. Heck, we have people who come to our clinics and can't afford four-dollar medication. Having a $1200, $1500 insurance premium is out of question.
SHUSTER: Even with the president's insurance mandate in place, 26 million Americans are left uninsured. Is there anything that can be done to change that?
LAMOUREUX: Well, I mean - I'm glad that you bring that up. We all acknowledge that this is just a first step. I think that the majority of the president's base would say that the number one thing they would like to see him do is go back to a universal health-care option, a single-payer option, and really take into account a plan that will cover all Americans.
SHUSTER: Are you talking about, like, a Medicare for all, essentially?
LAMOUREUX: Exactly - a Medicare-for-all program. There are a couple of pieces of legislation right now that are out there that might be really interesting to people to understand that. This system, as the ACA, it really addresses broad issues, but it doesn't address affordability, accessibility or portability for all Americans.
SHUSTER: Do you see any political appetite, though, towards that type of step - even if you call it something else or tell the American people, "No, this isn't universal coverage. It is something a little bit different?"
LAMOUREUX: Well, I think that you don't see it, obviously, from the GOP's side. I mean, all they keep saying is, "We're going to repeal Obamacare." After awhile, I think even that gets a little bit old. And I do know many Democrats are shying away from that. But if you talk to the base, the grassroots efforts, that's what they are looking for. They are looking for a real health-care solution.
SHUSTER: How do you think be the best outcome of the Supreme Court case this summer? And how do you think, in reality, this is going to go?
LAMOUREUX: Well, I think probably for the administration the best outcome would be that they would uphold the individual mandate. They would say, "This is completely legal and let's move forward with the plan as it is right now." I'm really hopeful that's the way it will go. The majority of people who come to the free and charitable clinics cannot afford health-care coverage without that individual mandate.
SHUSTER: But if the individual mandate is struck down, does that torpedo the entire health-care plan?
LAMOUREUX: I don't think so. I think you can look at it like a giant ball of yarn and we're a big, giant knot in the middle. It will unravel some things, but - even in the study that was released today - they say the individual mandate is one portion of it, but it doesn't directly affect, say, the expansion of Medicaid to 133 percent of the poverty level.
SHUSTER: Nicole, as far as people that are not paying close attention to the details here, what is the one thing that is still out there, that is still wrong with the health-care system, among other things, that needs to be fixed next?
LAMOUREUX: Well, I think the one thing is that everyone is not covered. At the end of the day, 26 million Americans are not going to be covered. They are not going to have access to health care. It is one thing to take off half of the millions of Americans that don't have coverage, but 26 is still a lot.
I really would challenge the administration, one thing that can be done is - bring together those experts in the safety-net field. Those people who service the uninsured every single day. Give them a seat at the table. You know, we hear the GOP candidates saying, "Charities can take care of all of the sick." That is something we have never claimed to be able to do, but we can be the experts and help the president come with a plan that will truly cover all Americans.
SHUSTER: "Countdown" contributor Nicole Lamoureux. Nicole, thanks for you time tonight. Have a great weekend.
LAMOUREUX: Thank you.
SHUSTER: Coming up, Mitt Romney wants voters to believe he built companies and created jobs all by himself. But records show that, in several deals, the key was government assistance.
And later, according to a new poll, most Republicans believe that God cares about Tim Tebow and therefore favors the Denver Broncos. Lord help us.
SHUSTER: Coming up, with their political influence rapidly diminishing, it might be time to pack up your teddy bears and put your doilies away, the tea party is coming to an end.
But first, the "Sanity Break," and today is Friday the thirteenth, which - if you happen to be the superstitious type - this may be a day that frightens you.
This fear of Friday the Thirteenth is known as friggatriskaidekaphobia, and the earliest documented reference to it in English appeared in 1869.
Now, I don't want to alarm anyone who's already a bit fearful today, but there were reports this morning that Sarah Palin was seen gassing up the old "One Nation" tour bus. Ooh, spooky.
"Time Marches On!"
VIDEO: Prank callers on C-SPAN.
We begin, as we almost always do, with the most exciting moments of the week on C-SPAN. You heard me right, exciting moments on C-SPAN. During one of C-SPAN's call-in segments on Monday, a caller decided to have a little fun. And then another caller decided to try again the next day.
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: I was wondering what size lead do you think he needs to avoid disappointment, and also how big is Mitt Romney's penis?
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN #2: My question is, regards how turnout will affect the eventual results. And Mr. Chairman, do you believe that Mitt Romney has a big penis?
SHUSTER: This was the one and only time anyone ever said, "Hey, did you see C-SPAN last night? It was great!"
VIDEO: Cat steals note.
To the world of cats.
And one of the bummers of being a cat is you're always left out of the loop. In this case, when his owner is reading a secret note, this cat simply has to find out what it says.
"I'll take that!"
The irony is the note said, "Whatever you do, don't show this to the cat."
VIDEO: Pug throws a screaming fit.
Finally, we end - as always - by checking in on Newt Gingrich's latest stump speech.
He actually seems to be making a lot more sense than he normally does.
"Time Marches On!"
Just ahead, there is now every indication that the political phenomenon known as the tea party is coming to an end. The group is getting a civil war, just not the one pundits once imagined.
And later, Mitt Romney is now trying to defend himself against the charges of "vulture capitalism," but his latest ad puts the "H" in hypocrisy.
This is "Countdown."
SHUSTER: After weeks of seeing their power erode, members of the tea party are getting new indications tonight that their political influence seems to be dying.
In our third story on the "Countdown" - the three-year-old populist movement that helped the Republicans seize the House of Representatives in 2010 is now settling into a secondary roll in this year's presidential primary. By all accounts, the tea partiers are sharply divided over who to support.
While in Washington, associates to House Speaker John Boehner have just indicated that he is prepared to put the party in the back seat for the next round of talks on extending the payroll-tax cuts for the year.
You may recall how the tea party's "No Compromise" mantra, almost uniformly embraced by the 85 House Republican freshman, nearly torpedoed Congressional debt-limit negotiations last month. And those negotiations already threatened the fragile economic recovery.
Today, a top house Republican leadership aide told the Reuters News Agency, "I think Boehner will seek a more-accommodating approach to get a good percentage of Democrats to vote for it. Even if it costs him a lot of House Republican freshman. His instincts will be not to be so reliant on House Republican freshman."
As if getting abandoned by the House Speaker wasn't bad enough, the tea party faces the ongoing problem of having its influence spread thin and defused in the GOP presidential primaries. While the tea partiers seem united in their distaste for Mitt Romney, the group still cannot agree on which Romney alternative they should coalesce behind.
And, despite vigorous discussions and back-channel communications with the Perry, Gingrich and Santorum campaigns, the tea partiers acknowledge they are still far away from being able to unite. In November, former Secretary of Defense Colin Powell doubted the tea party's ability to pick a candidate.
(Excerpt from video clip) COLIN POWELL: Unless two people in disagreement with each other don't find a way to reach out to one another and make compromises, you don't get a consensus that allows you to move forward. But the tea party point of view - of no compromise whatsoever - is not a point of view that will eventually produce a presidential candidate who will win.
SHUSTER: And, by the way, former Secretary of State. I know he's not the former Secretary of Defense.
Despite efforts to unite it, the tea party remains true to its uncompromising roots. The pragmatic option would be rallying around one conservative candidate in South Carolina. But by doing so, the tea party defies its own core populist principles. A new survey by Pew Research Center highlights the splintering in support. Republican voters who agree with the tea party support Romney 26 percent while Santorum and Gingrich each draw 24 percent.
Let's bring in Bill Press, host of the nationally syndicated radio program "The Bill Press Show" and author of "Toxic Talk." Bill, thanks as always for your time tonight.
BILL PRESS: All right, David, good to see you. I hope you appreciate the fact that I wore my Rick Santorum sweater vest tonight. Just for you, David, I want you to know.
SHUSTER: You will have special powers, Bill.
Support for the tea party, and with the Republican Party, has fallen sharply over the last year, because of all of though infighting among the base and tea party members. Should we expect more machinations like what we're seeing now from Speaker Boehner, with his maneuvering around tea party members to try and get a deal on the payroll-tax cut?
PRESS: Absolutely. Look, I think the tea party movement is going to end up being the most short-lived political movement in this country since the Donald Trump campaign.
But Boehner has come to realize, as well as other Republicans, that they made a big mistake. Instead of taking the strong, attractive populist segments - or platforms, if you will - of the tea party people, and weaving them into the Republican party, they basically surrendered the Republican party, and let the tea party take it over and now they are ruing the day.
But I think, David, it may be - it may be too late, because the - the vote on the Paul Ryan plan to get rid of Medicare, tea party vote? They can't deny that.
The whole deal about the debt ceiling and willing to shut down the government and have the entire credit rating of the United States be destroyed, they've got to live with that.
And the refusal to extend the payroll-tax cut for more than two months, they have got to live with that.
So Boehner has finally wised up, but it may be too late.
SHUSTER: Nationwide, the tea party crowd has embraced, then abandoned, the rotating cast of Republican rivals to Romney, bouncing from Michele Bachmann to Herman Cain, from Rick Perry to Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum and the movement seems to be - remain deeply divided on several far-from-perfect candidates. Do you see the tea party bridging that divide before next week's South Carolina primary?
PRESS: You know what I love about this, David, is - the Republicans are acting like Democrats used to act, right? And I just sit back and laugh at it in two ways.
First of all, I call them "kamikaze Republicans," - they used to call us "kamikaze Democrats" - who would rather go off the cliff for a principal than win an argument or win an election - and that's classic tea party strategy.
And the other thing is, they are eating their own. Mitt Romney's great blessing today in South Carolina is he doesn't just have one tea party opponent, he has the little - smaller government, states' rights tea party candidate, Ron Paul, and he's got the three evangelical, social conservatives - Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry, and they are all taking each other on, and Mitt Romney is a beneficiary of that.
SHUSTER: What would it take for the tea party leaders to try to coalesce around one of those tea party possible candidates?
PRESS: Well, for three or four of them to drop out, which is not going to happen. Because they all have their super PACs. Because of Citizens United, and their ability to create these super PACs, which - let's be honest - they control. Right? The idea that they don't know who is putting the money in and what the money is being spent for is bologna.
Because they each have their super PAC now - and they have a super ego - I think, even though they know they are not going to win, there is every reason for them to stay in this thing. So, unless they have, basically, a sex-change operation, I don't think it is going to change.
SHUSTER: And what do you make of tea party forefather South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint endorsing Mitt Romney?
PRESS: Rots of ruck, right? You know, with that - even with that, as we know, the evangelicals and the social conservatives are going to meet this week to try to coalesce behind a single candidate - either Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, or Newt Gingrich.
Now, David Shuster, you know - for the social conservatives even to consider Newt Gingrich as the Christian model candidate just proves they don't believe in anything. And, by the way, they also, of course, despise all authority, they reject all authority.
So, even Jim DeMint, who is their godfather, if he says, "We ought to go in this direction," they are going to say, "Oh, no, no, no. We're tea party people, we're independent. We're not going to go there."
SHUSTER: Bill Press. Bill, thanks as always. Have a great weekend.
PRESS: Amen, brother.
Just ahead, Tim Tebow can scramble better than most QBs in the NFL. But, according to most Republicans, Tebow's gridiron success is the work of God. Dear Lord.
But up next, Mitt Romney says government gets in the way of creating jobs, even as his latest ad features a company he owned that grew thanks to government assistance.
This is "Countdown."
SHUSTER: If God really exists, I have a feeling that she, yes she, is too busy these days to get involved with the Denver Broncos. Most Republicans, though, don't share my view. A new poll reveals a majority of GOP voters are convinced the almighty favors Tim Tebow.
And the almighty state of Indiana gave a huge amount of government assistance to a steel mill owned by Mitt Romney's Bain Capital. So why is Romney hammering such government help now? Oh, that's right - the GOP presidential nomination.
SHUSTER: This week, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has faced a barrage of attacks over how he made his personal fortune. Rick Perry has accused Romney's company, Bain Capital, of engaging in vulture capitalism and profiting from worker layoffs. Today, the Romney campaign tried to counter the charges by releasing a new television ad. The spot features a few successful companies that Romney's firm was involved in.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: This is a business Mitt Romney helped start. And this one. And this steel mill. Mitt Romney helped create and ran a company that invested in struggling businesses, grew new ones and rebuilt old ones, creating thousands of jobs. Those are the facts.
SHUSTER: But the ad leaves out other crucial facts. That steel mill mentioned in the commercial, Steel Dynamics? It is true that, in 1994, Romney's Bain Capital invested just over 18 million dollars in the company and sold its stake in Steel Dynamics five years later for $104 million - an $85 million profit. Yes, in 5 years, Romney's company pocketed $85 million.
But here's what else happened during those five years: Steel Dynamics, located in Northeastern Indiana, received a lot of government help.
According to public records, the state of Indiana gave $13.6 million in tax credits, energy grants and road construction. DeKalb County, Indiana - where the first mill was built - gave $23 million in tax credits and finance bonds, and residents in Dekalb county were assessed a new income tax to help pay for the bonds.
In other words, it wasn't just Mitt Romney who helped grow the steel company, it was the state government in Indiana and the local government in DeKalb County. There's nothing wrong with that. Many companies and communities have benefitted from public-private partnerships. Mitt Romney knows that well, given the many occasions he encouraged such partnerships.
The problem is that conservatives refer to such government help as "corporate welfare," or in this case, it would be $37 million in corporate welfare. And wouldn't you know it, in this presidential campaign, Romney has been singing from the conservative hymn book. Hypocrisy? You bet.
And this past week, Romney put it in all caps, when he argued that government involvement creates economic problems:
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: Fundamentally, what happens in America that creates jobs is not government. It has its role. But, by and large, it gets in the way of creating jobs.
SHUSTER: Yes, the CEO who made $85 million in a deal the government partnered in says government gets in the way of creating jobs. Amazing. Also amazing was a recent Romney attack on President Obama for facilitating public-private partnerships, most notably in rebuilding the auto industry.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: This president is a crony capitalist. He's a job killer. And it's going to keep America from creating the jobs we need. We are a merit society. Please don't change America to something we are not.
SHUSTER: Governor Romney, come on. If you really believe that public-private partnerships amount to crony capitalism, and that America is a strictly merit society, the money you made from Steel Dynamics is tainted. So, please give it back and run an ad apologizing for the deal.
Furthermore, if you do want to keep promoting the success of that steel company, at least be honest about what happened. It's easy. Say something like this: "Hi, I'm Mitt Romney. And I want to publicly thank the people of Indiana. I also want to offer gratitude to the citizens of DeKalb county for their higher taxes. Together, the government assistance that went to my steel company helped all of us at Bain Capital make a fortune."
Honesty, Governor. Give it a try sometime.
SHUSTER: Tim Tebow is a very accomplished football player. In college he won two national championships, as well as the Heisman Trophy. He has carried that success into the NFL, culminating this past Sunday with an unexpected victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tim Tebow is also a highly devoted Christian.
In our number-one story - apparently, the American people see a cause-and-effect relationship between his faith and his football success, with a plurality of respondents believing that God himself intervenes to help Tim Tebow succeeded.
When asked if Tim Tebow's success was due in part to "divine intervention," over 43 percent of respondents answered yes, including 54 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Hispanics. Not to sound cynical, but really, America?
The most well-known Christian player before Tebow was the late Reggie White, nicknamed the "Minister of Defense." When the Hall of Fame defensive end won two Super bowls as a member of the Packers, no one claimed it was God carrying the team to victory.
So, to claim Tebow's success is due to divine intervention is ludicrous. Or is it? The signs are seemingly undeniable.
First, there is the halo that appeared over Mile High Stadium Sunday as the game was going on. Against the Steelers, Tebow threw for 316 yards, averaging 31.6 yards per completion. Tebow's favorite biblical verse? You guessed it - John 3-16. Hang on, it gets weirder.
Demaryius Thomas, the second-year receiver who caught the game-winning touchdown, was born on Christmas Day 1987. For the game, he had 204 yards receiving. In the book of John, Chapter 20, Verse 4: "Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first."
So, a receiver born on Christmas catches the amount of yards that corresponds to a Bible verse about running? Clearly, a sign of divine intervention.
Or - maybe it had to do with Tim Tebow passing for a career high, combined with the 4th-best defense in the league and the 5th-best rushing attack in the league.
Let's bring in comedian and co-host of Citizen Radio, Jamie Kilstein. Jamie, thanks for your time tonight.
JAMIE KILSTEIN: Thanks for having me back.
SHUSTER: In your mind, is there divine intervention helping Tim Tebow to win football games?
KILSTEIN: You know, this may shock a lot of people, because it's a progressive show, but I do have faith, I do believe there is divine intervention. Mainly because - if you look around the world, at all of the disease and poverty and you watch videos of soldiers pissing on the corpses of dead people who were murdered in just another senseless war - the only possible explanation is that God has been too busy watching TV, helping a stupid football player win a stupid game so millionaire coaches can make more money.
SHUSTER: How do you explain - I mean, maybe you just have - all the signs: the halo, the Bible verses, the player born on Christmas Day, Tebow wining a game in the NFL?
KILSTEIN: I mean, the way people look for signs, it's like, "Oh my God, a dude was born on the same day as another dude and a possibly fictional other dude."
Like, I don't understand why Republicans, like - they refuse to look at science, but they'll look at signs all day long. They won't look at the facts that global warming is man-made, but Jesus shows up in a grilled-cheese sandwich, and I guess the Broncos are going to the Super Bowl.
SHUSTER: Fifty-four percent of Republicans believe that Tebow is receiving help from the divine. Are these the same people that believed George W. Bush when he said God told him to invade Iraq.
KILSTEIN: They have to be. Here is what cracks me up, though - for a political party that is all about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, these guys lean on God for a lot of handouts.
Like, these are the same people - they tell the single mother who was just laid off, "You can't get unemployment or food stamps. What am I going to do? Talk to my friend in the sky to help me." That is cheating and Ronald Regan would be ashamed of you.
SHUSTER: In a poll of 1,500 people done by ESPN, Tim Tebow was named the most popular athlete with a whopping three percent. Should we be impressed by that? I mean, that's 45 people saying they like Tebow, and - all of a sudden - he is labeled "the most popular athlete in America."
KILSTEIN: The way they phrase it is totally ridiculous. That's not popular. That's as popular as Michael Bay movies, John Huntsman and spam. I'm pretty sure you can find three percent of Republicans that like Evo Morales, and you're not going to start saying that Evo Morales is the most popular Republican politician ever. "God must have put him there!"
SHUSTER: I know Tebow has knocked down any idea of him running for office, but if Tebow was receiving divine intervention, and with Rick Santorum's sweater vest giving him power, could anyone defeat a Tebow/Santorum ticket?
KILSTEIN: Dude, I think my cats, Desmond and Penny, could defeat Santorum. You know, if you're going to use God like Santorum does, or - or you're going to talk about Jesus all the time - why don't you actually do what Jesus supposedly did in the Bible? Which is help the poor, go after the bankers, instead of making your platform, you know, using God's name to drive gay kids to suicide or force women to give birth, like Digby says, or throw a ball real good, I guess.
SHUSTER: Is there enough divine intervention possible for Tebow to win this weekend over the New England Patriots or at least cover the spread?
KILSTEIN: I don't care, I'm boycotting the Bible and the game because of him. I'll be with a bunch of my journalist friends watching UFC from Brazil. Brazil has crazy, religious athletes as well, but at least gay marriage is legal there. Go Jose Aldo!
SHUSTER: Jamie Kilstein. God has certainly blessed you, Jamie. Thanks, as always, for joining us tonight. We appreciate it.
KILSTEIN: Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: Wow, what a week.
And that's our show for tonight. I'm David Shuster. On behalf of all of us here at "Countdown," thanks for watching. Special programming note, State of the Union coverage is coming up on Current TV the next couple of weeks and, of course, we are going to continue the coverage of the Republican primary. What a mash-up this is.
Again, if you like politics you can't miss the coverage here on "Countdown."
Thanks for watching, everybody. Have a great weekend.