Guest host: David Shuster
watch whole playlist
#5 'Mitt's The One', David Drucker
#5 'Mitt's The One', Markos Moulitsas
#4 'Recalled!', Graeme Zielinski
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
# Time Marches On!
#3 'Occupy Congress', George Zornick
#2 'Amend 2012'
#1 'Land Of The Free?', Jonathan Turley
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
printable PDF transcript
On the show: David Shuster, Jonathan Turley, Markos Moulitsas, Graeme Zielinski, David Drucker, George Zornick
DAVID SHUSTER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Things get ugly in South Carolina.
(Excerpt from video clip) JUAN WILLIAMS: If your comments are not intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities? You saw some of this reaction during your visit to a black church in South Carolina.
SHUSTER: And not just with the crowd.
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK SANTORUM: Do you believe people who were felons, who have served their time, who have extended - exhausted their parole and probation, should they be given the right to vote?
(Excerpt from video clip) MEDIATOR: Governor Romney?
(Excerpt from video clip) MITT ROMNEY: First of all, as you know, the PACs that run ads on various candidates, as we unfortunately know in this country -
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: I'm looking for an answer to the question first.
SHUSTER: But with a double digit lead nationally, are the attacks on Romney too little too late?
(Excerpt from video clip) MIKE TATE: What we have submitted today represents, beyond any challenge, reasonable, legal or otherwise.
SHUSTER: Democrats deliver 3,000 pounds of petitions, over one million signatures, nearly double the amount necessary to recall Scott Walker. Now all they need is a candidate.
(Excerpt from video clip) PROTESTERS: We are the 99 percent!
SHUSTER: Lawmakers return to Washington. Occupy protesters are there to greet them. Their message was more than, "Welcome back."
And, free no more? President Obama is now being sued over the National Defense Authorization Act. Jonathan Turley asks if America is still the land of the free. "At what point does the reduction of individual rights in our country change how we define ourselves?" He joins us.
All that and more, now on "Countdown."
SHUSTER: Good evening, this is Tuesday, January the 17th, 294 days until the 2012 presidential election. I'm David Shuster, sitting in tonight for Keith Olbermann.
Mitt Romney has a problem. He's worth at least $200 million, yet he pays his federal income tax at a rate that less than half paid by most Americans. Which may not enhance his popularity in this election year.
Our fifth story in the "Countdown" - the GOP may have an even bigger problem. Despite the best efforts of the other Republican candidates in last night's South Carolina debate, private-equity baron Mitt Romney - a perfect poster boy for the one percent - now seems even closer to locking down his party's nomination for president.
Nationwide, Republicans and GOP-leaning independents gave Romney 35 percent in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was second with 17 percent, Ron Paul third with 16, Rick Santorum fourth with 13 and Texas Governor Rick Perry brought up the rear with just nine percent of the total.
Even better numbers for Romney - 40 percent in a Fox News poll, with Santorum, Gingrich and Paul still stuck in the teens, and Rick Perry mired, again, in single digits. With numbers like that, and the resources to wage a multi-state war of attrition if South Carolina becomes tight, the front-runner today seemed confident.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I was delighted with the debate last night. There were - there were interesting moments.
SHUSTER: Like Rick Perry's demand that Romney release his income-tax returns. You know, like the other GOP candidates.
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK PERRY: My income tax have been out every year - and, Newt, I think you will let your income tax come out Thursday. And Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax so the people of this country can see how you made your money.
SHUSTER: Romney said today he would release this year's tax return in April, well after the crucial primary contest. Then he discussed the rate he expected his tax returns would show that he has been paying.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I have been paying - it's probably closer to the 15 percent rate that I think - the last ten years, I have - my income comes overwhelmingly from investments and then I get speaker's fees from time to time, but not very much.
SHUSTER: According to The New York Times, Romney earned more than $374,000 in speaker's fees last year. Now we know what "not very much money" means to Mitt Romney.
We also know what Gingrich thought of Fox News's Juan Williams questioning his claim that inner-city kids lack a strong work ethic and should work as janitors.
(Excerpt from video clip) WILLIAMS: Can't you see that this is viewed - at a minimum - as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: No, I don't see that. They would be getting money, which is a good thing if you are poor. Only the elites despise earning money.
SHUSTER: And when Williams suggested that Gingrich had belittled people by referring to President Obama as "the food-stamp president," Gingrich sneered at Juan Williams.
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: First of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.
SHUSTER: As for Rick Perry, his poll numbers may be low, but he has got enough gumption to attack the Justice Department for trying to enforce the Voting Rights Act and crowd loved it.
(Excerpt from video clip) PERRY: The state of Texas is under assault by federal government. I'm saying, also, that South Carolina is at war with this federal government and with this administration.
SHUSTER: And while foreign policy has not had much impact in the GOP debates, Rick Perry may have changed that in a hurry, with a verbal assault on Turkey, a key NATO ally with an elected, moderate Muslim government. But here is how Perry described the U.S. ally:
(Excerpt from video clip) PERRY: A country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists.
SHUSTER: A Turkish government spokesman said that, while he wouldn't comment, yet "I think you can imagine what my comment would be."
The State Department was a little more forceful:
(Excerpt from video clip) MARK TONER: Turkey, as I said, is a strong partner in the region.
SHUSTER: And while Rick Perry was busy declaring war against Washington and inciting trouble with an ally, Texas Congressman Ron Paul was urging sweetness and light in the conduct of foreign affairs.
(Excerpt from video clip) RON PAUL: Maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in foreign policy - "Don't do to other nations what we don't want to have them do to us."
SHUSTER: Nah. That would never work.
For more on last night's debate, we're joined by David Drucker, staff writer with Roll Call. David, good evening.
DAVID DRUCKER: Good evening. Good to be here.
SHUSTER: The GOP debate - who, if anyone, won last night? Did anyone - or everyone - score enough points off Mitt Romney to slow him down in South Carolina?
DRUCKER: Well, that's unclear. I think Mitt Romney won, in the sense that nobody knocked him down and knocked him off of the pedestal that he is on right now, according to all the polls.
Now, Newt may have gained some momentum. I thought Rick Santorum actually did a decent job.
But we've only got a few days to go 'til South Carolina. And the issues that many of his Republican opponents were getting Romney on are not where he's most vulnerable. Not on the conservative trust issue nor his evolving position on social issues.
They are going after him on tax records and on his business background. And if I'm Mitt Romney, I know I am going to be attacked for something, especially since I've been rising in the polls. I would rather depend my business record than anything else.
SHUSTER: The national polls seem to show Romney is all but a lock to win the nomination at this point. How much would a win in South Carolina help him, as far as forcing the rest of the field to essentially give up? And how much would a loss affect him going forward?
DRUCKER: Well, it depends how it plays out. A win in South Carolina is big for Romney, because this is always where he was supposed to have the most trouble, if you look at the early states. It would allow him to have a lot of momentum going into Florida, where I already think he has an organizational advantage. There is absentee voting going on there. It is a big state that doesn't allow for retail politicking in a way the early states do. So, it would be huge for him.
Now, if he lost South Carolina, it would depend by how much. Does he tank in the next few days - implode and come in a distant second or third? That's a problem for him, because it would - the strength that he has, the image of that, would take a hit.
Does he come in a close second? People will say, "You know what? It was always a troubled state for him."
It's a problem to lose, but it's not a huge problem. And then it's matter of who wins. I think one of the reasons Mitt Romney is doing so well right now, at least today, is because none of the alternatives excite people. Mitt Romney may not have excited people today, but neither is anybody else.
SHUSTER: And yet, the excitement that the audience last night showed when Newt Gingrich took on Juan Williams, and belittled Williams and the issues of race that he has brought up - does that work for Newt Gingrich with South Carolina voters?
DRUCKER: Well, it really could. Newt did a great job last night. And it is the kind of perform that propelled him into front-runner status earlier in the year.
The problem is - we are not judging this in a vacuum. When Newt came his comeback in the fall, it was like the "new" Newt, everybody's grandfather, the friendly guy who is telling it like it is.
But right now, Newt is being judged against everything else, which includes poor performances in Iowa and New Hampshire and all of his attacks on Mitt Romney regarding his career at Bain Capital.
It may end up playing well in the general election, when Barack Obama makes those attacks, but it doesn't do well - in my view - in a Republican primary. So, on the one hand, you have this great performance by Newt last night. On the other hand, people are judging what they heard with everything else they have been hearing and his electoral performance.
SHUSTER: As far as Rick Perry, he essentially bypassed New Hampshire to focus on South Carolina, and yet he can't seem to get out of single digits there or nationally. What's his chance in South Carolina?
DRUCKER: I don't think it's too good. You know, bypassing South Carolina - bypassing New Hampshire, excuse me - was always a problem, because South Carolinians, at least on the Republican side, take great pride in the fact that every winner of the South Carolina primary, over the last 30 years or so, has gone on to win the Republican nomination.
You skip New Hampshire, it makes you look weak. And even though Rick Perry is doing some of his best campaigning of the race, it has come, I think, a little bit "too little, too late."
SHUSTER: And any surprise that Mitt Romney, today, went and ahead and said, yes, he pays - most of the time - a 15 percent tax rate, because of how he has made his money?
DRUCKER: No, you might as well just tell the truth and get it over with. Everybody knows Mitt Romney is a wealthy man. They know about his career. And - at the end of the day, if he wins the nomination - voters are going to take that into account. They are either going to decide they want an economic turnaround artist. Either they are going to decide they want change or they are not.
Every general-election candidate has a flaw, a potentially fatal flaw. Barack Obama's was that he lacked experience four years ago. But voters wanted change and they wanted to be inspired, and that's what he delivered. So, they overlooked his flaws. The same can be said with every presidential candidate, going back in history.
So, for Mitt Romney - say it, get it out there, and move on. Otherwise, people like me are just going to keep hounding him. And if he says something that is not true, that becomes a story and it's not good for a candidate to lack credibility.
SHUSTER: David Drucker, staff writer with Roll Call. David, thanks for being on the program.
DRUCKER: Any time. Thank you.
SHUSTER: For more now on the Republican debate and Romney's political money woes, we're joined by Markos Moulitsas, founder and publisher of Daily Kos, and also a "Countdown" contributor. Markos, great to see you.
Mitt Romney says he pays around a 15 percent rate on his income tax, which is what most of us expected because of how he's made his money. Most Americans, though, pay 35 percent. How bad a moment is this for Mitt Romney? How good a moment is it for Barack Obama?
MARKOS MOULITSAS: I think it's a terrible moment for Mitt Romney. I mean, remember - just six months ago he was telling people how he also was unemployed so he could empathize with them. Well, if being unemployed means paying 15 percent on, probably, millions of dollars on investment income, plus three hundred and sixty some thousand dollars on speaker's fees, I want a little of that action myself.
SHUSTER: And plus, he didn't mention - but we reported last week - his financial disclosure forms that he's required to file show he and his wife have millions in the Cayman islands. Candidates usually like to get this information out at the start, in the hopes that it will be forgotten. Any chance this kind of information, though, gets forgotten?
MOULITSAS: Well, the smart thing for Romney to do would have been to release his information a long time ago, to get this all out there. Yeah, sure, the press would have a feeding frenzy for a few days, but - like you said - it would blow over. People move on very quickly in politics.
But, he is dribbling it out. I mean, he just hinted at it now. And it is going to be a little bit more in April. And people are going to be asking for returns from previous years. Just get it all out in the open, because the longer he drags it out, the more the press has an excuse to keep talking about it.
SHUSTER: Is part of the strategy, though, get it out - or at least get the most damaging stuff out in detail - after he has, essentially, locked up the nomination?
MOULITSAS: I'm sorry, say that again?
SHUSTER: Is the strategy here, though, for Romney - clearly - yes, dribble it out, but dribble out the most damaging stuff after he already has the nomination?
MOULITSAS: Well, he has the nomination anyway. I mean, there's very little chance that any of the other candidates can really compete in the long term. So, at this point, everybody seems to be transferring over to general-election mode, Democrats and Republican establishment itself. Republican voters seem to have already moved on past the primaries.
So, now is the time - when people are still sort of not paying attention, because it is middle of January, kind of cold and long way from the election - now is a good time to start releasing that information.
SHUSTER: What does it say about the GOP in general, that they are getting close to anointing a venture capitalist as their presidential candidate, as we are struggling in the worst economic calamity since the Depression?
MOULITSAS: Yeah, there couldn't be a worse time for a Mitt Romney candidacy, I have to say. He is the poster child of what the Occupy Wall Street movement has been all about. And when you have Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry parroting Occupy Wall Street, talking points like venture - or vulture capitalists, you know you have got a problem.
And while this may not be an issue in the Republican primary because, like I said, they are ready to move on, it is certainly going to be an issue moving forward. And it's certainly going to give the Occupy Movement a great boogey man to continue to organize around.
SHUSTER: What sort of damage - either for the primaries or, perhaps, for the general election - do you think the debate and the points that Perry and Gingrich were making on Romney, what sort of impact did those have?
MOULITSAS: It's already having an impact. I mean, we just saw some new polling - national polling - from Public Policy Polling today that showed that Mitt Romney, who was narrowly leading the president just a few weeks ago, is now trailing by five.
So, it clearly is having an impact on his favorability. People are not liking what they are seeing from the Republican Party in general and, obviously, from Mitt Romney himself as he moves right to try to appeal to that conservative primary electorate.
SHUSTER: And, Markos, what did you think of the crowd last night? It seemed like they were ready to fire on Fort Sumter and start the Civil War all over again.
MOULITSAS: They would want nothing else. There's nothing that says - that was about the worst sort of infomercial for the Republican Party possible. And given, these are the most conservative Republicans anywhere in the country, and they really lived up to their billing.
SHUSTER: Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos and a "Countdown" contributor. Markos, thanks as always.
MOULITSAS: Thank you very much.
SHUSTER: One programming note, please join "Countdown" on Saturday night for a special edition. Keith Olbermann will anchor "Countdown: South Carolina." We will have expanded coverage of the South Carolina primary results. That's live starting at 6:30 Eastern, 3:30 Pacific. "Countdown: South Carolina" this Saturday.
Coming up, a new, nonpartisan effort has begun to try and rein in the unlimited corporate spending on political ads.
But up next, today was the petition deadline in Wisconsin for this proposed recall election of Governor Scott Walker. The number of signatures delivered in Madison, it is astounding.
SHUSTER: This has not been a very good day for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Not only did recall supporters meet their petition deadline, but they delivered half a million more petitions than they needed.
Members of the U.S. House returned to Washington, D.C. today and were given a loud message from hundreds of Occupy protesters yelling at them on Capitol Hill.
President Obama's continuation of the civil liberties policies begun under George W. Bush - well, that has prompted a lawsuit by progressives.
And it was two years ago today when Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens declared that the decision by the conservative majority in Citizens United was, "at war with the views of generations of Americans." Today, the war over campaign spending took an intriguing turn.
SHUSTER: It was nearly a year ago when people in Wisconsin first marched into the capital in Madison to protest Governor Scott Walker's union bashing. Over the summer, recall elections were held for those legislators who helped steamroll Walker's bill. Two months ago, on November 15, the effort began to collect signatures to prompt a recall election of Walker himself.
And in our fourth story in the "Countdown" - today those signatures were turned in. There are nearly a million of them, nearly double the required amount. The petitions were delivered to Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board this afternoon at 3pm local time. And it came to Julie Wells, a Wisconsin grandmother and factory worker who triggered the recall, to announce how successful it was.
(Excerpt from video clip) GAB AGENT: And what are you total numbers of approximate signatures?
(Excerpt from video clip) JULIE WELLS: Approximately a million.
SHUSTER: That's right. According to recall supporters, over one million Wisconsinites signed petitions to recall Scott Walker, nearly double the necessary 540,000 needed. In addition to recalling Scott Walker, enough signatures were also collected in order to force a recall election of Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and four Republican state Senators including Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. All together, the total number of signatures collected is more than 1.9 million.
Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board now has 60 days to verify the signatures. However, due to the overwhelming amount they are expected to petition a judge for an extra 30 days. Oh, and just in case you were wondering where the governor was today? As the signatures were delivered, Governor Walker was at a fund-raiser - here in New York.
Joining us now from Madison, Wisconsin is Graeme Zielinski, communications director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Graeme, thank you for your time tonight.
GRAEME ZIELINSKI: Howdy, Dave. Thanks for having me.
SHUSTER: What was the reaction from you and other Democrats in Wisconsin when you knew you had collected over one million signatures in your effort to recall Governor Walker?
ZIELINSKI: Well, I think it would be the same reaction as finding that your kid throws left-handed at 100 miles an hour. I mean, it was an incredible reaction, and I don't think anybody saw this coming. I know Scott Walker - who is probably enjoying a nice showing of "Wicked" tonight on Broadway - I know he didn't see it coming.
He was poo-pooing it for weeks - for months. His right-wing little echo chamber here was demeaning the process, insulting the people who stood out in the cold, people who left Thanksgiving tables to circulate these petitions. They didn't see this coming. And now it has happened.
SHUSTER: What does it say, that Walker wasn't even in the state as the signatures were delivered?
ZIELINSKI: Well, it says that he was reporting to his East Coast masters. I don't think he works for the people of Wisconsin. He is not even from here. His values aren't from here. These weird policy proposals he brought to our state - imported from D.C., imported from California, imported from New York - these aren't Wisconsin things. This guy is a phony. He's always been a phony. And I think the people of Wisconsin, a million strong, showed out today and rejected him, rejected him entirely.
He has tried to say the fact that we don't have 5.6 million signatures is a reason that he is popular. Look, he has been running millions of dollars in ads, sponsored by the Koch brothers and these other weirdo groups. And it has not helped him. The meter has not moved in his direction at all.
In fact, the meter has gone the other way since the recall happened. He's been in full campaign mode. His message is failing. The little petri dish that they wanted to make Wisconsin into, that jar is busted. The people of Wisconsin went to the Government Accountability board and showed, in force, why they are going to replace him eventually.
SHUSTER: The million signatures, while it's impressive, it also almost exactly matches the one million votes that Democratic candidate for governor Tom Barrett received in 2010 when he lost to Scott Walker. So, why should folks outside of Wisconsin see these signatures as an indication that Scott Walker will be recalled, when the one million votes against him were not enough to keep him from getting there in the first place?
ZIELINSKI: Well, I don't think that's the right standard. Number one, Scott Walker was singing an entirely different tune, had a clean garment of a record when he came in. He lied to the people of Wisconsin. People have had about a year of this guy lying his rear end off. And they have seen it, not just in the attack on worker's rights, but in cuts to education, cuts to health care. Weird stuff like making sure seniors and black people can't vote. So, they have a record now.
But not only that, this million people that signed it represent only a fraction of the people that are going to vote against him eventually. So, the game has changed entirely for Scott Walker. If you think a million people - it's the biggest recall in the history of this country, per capita. It represents more people participating per capita than what happened in Ohio, than what happened in California with Gray Davis, than what happened in 1921 with Lynn Frazier, some guy named Lynn Frazier. It's the biggest recall in the history of our country.
And if Scott Walker thinks this is good news, that a couple hundred thousand more didn't sign the recall position against him, then I guess he better stay in New York, watching his musicals.
SHUSTER: You were also able to get enough signatures to recall the lieutenant governor, as well as four senators. With such a short time until the election, will there be enough time for voters to get to know all of the Democratic candidates running, especially in these small races?
ZIELINSKI: Sure. They are not Scott Walker. End of story. That's it. I'm not trying to be glib. This is going to be a decision between somebody who supports the Scott Walker agenda - cuts to education at a record rate, jobs lost for five months in a row, crazy handmaiden to Koch brothers, and some very bizarre ideas that have never been tried out here before - or people who stand for working folks, people who standing for grandmothers in Elkhorn, people who stand for retired postal workers in Cudahy, people who stand for hunters up in Shawano. This guy doesn't get it. This guy is not one of us. And people of Wisconsin understand that. They have been lied to again and again and again by this guy.
And now look - on the day, on one of the most important days in the history of the state of Wisconsin, he is out with, I guess, one of the founders of AIG, one of the guys that took our economy hostage to begin with. So, he doesn't listen to the people of Wisconsin. But he sure will listen to people with deep pockets who can fund his weirdo agenda.
SHUSTER: Graeme Zielinski, who is the communications director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Graeme, thanks again for coming on.
ZIELINSKI: Thanks, Dave. I know you went to Michigan, but thank you so much.
SHUSTER: Go Blue. But that's okay, I like Madison as well. Thanks, Graeme.
Just ahead - if you are among the 90 percent of Americans who disapprove of the way Congress does its job, you will love the welcome back greeting lawmakers got today on Capitol Hill.
But up next, it's sometimes difficult being a cameraman in the news business. Dateline - London, as "Time Marches On!"
SHUSTER: Coming up, Congress returned to Washington today, and the Occupy movement was there to greet them.
But first, time for a break. It was on this day in 1942, Cassius Marcellus Clay Junior was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Changing his name in 1964 to Muhammad Ali, he'd go on to become one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time.
To quote Ali before his 1974 bout with George Foreman, "I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I'm so mean, I make medicine sick." Happy birthday, champ.
"Time Marches On!"
VIDEO: Camerman trips during a walk-and-talk interview with David Miliband.
We begin in England, and an interview with British politician David Miliband. And now we check in with the street.
Down goes cameraman! The trick of the walking-and-talking interview is that you have to keep walking.
The cameraman was fine, but was later replaced by a tripod.
VIDEO: Goat gives sleigh ride to children in Missouri.
We travel to Missouri, where the McPhail family is having some winter fun and getting their pet goat in on the action. The goat, interestingly, not sporting the popular goatee look, is doing his very best to give the kids a sleigh ride through the snow.
He does a good job when the sleigh is empty, but once the kids get on board, he seems to need a little help.
After watching his work, Santa said he's impressed, but is probably going to stick with the reindeer.
VIDEO: Creative ice fishing tournament in South Korea.
Finally, we end - as we always do - with ice fishing in South Korea.
Kam sa ham ni da? More than sixty thousand people took part in the annual South Korean ice fishing festival, where participants fished for trout in sub-zero temperatures.
And then when they caught a trout, they put it in their shirts, because - uh, it keeps the trout fresh?
It seems a good time was had by all, and - according to news reports from North Korea - the competition was actually won by Kim Jong Il, who caught one million fish from the grave.
"Time Marches On!"
Up next, the U.S. House of Representatives went back into session today. And thousands of Occupy protesters were there to greet them.
And later, many Occupiers and tea partiers believe our political system has been corrupted by corporate money. Well, we will tell you about a new, intriguing nonpartisan effort to try and clean up the system.
This is "Countdown."
SHUSTER: We bring you "Countdown" live each night at 8pm Eastern. Primary replays at 11pm and 2am Eastern.
Four months ago today, the Occupy movement was born, right here in New York City. Today in Washington, D.C., to mark the occasion, protesters occupied perhaps this nation's most visible political symbol of our democracy, the U.S. Capitol.
In our third story on the "Countdown" - members of Congress returning to work from their holiday break were greeted today by protesters, as the Occupy movement proved it's not slowing down, despite some recent setbacks and the onset of winter. A few hundred protesters withstood morning rain to occupy the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.
Protesters later moved inside, swarming Congressional offices throughout the afternoon.
Iraq war veteran Sgt. Shamar Thomas joined a group staging a mock arrest of Democratic Senator Carl Levin inside the Senator's office, for his sponsorship of the National Defense Authorization Act.
The day's events culminated, this evening, with a march from the U.S. Capitol building to the Supreme Court and then on to the White House. During the day's activities, at least four people were arrested.
The organizing group - Occupy Congress - wrote on its website regarding today's action, "All 'elected' officials bought their way into gerrymandered seats with Wall Street money. These bankers' henchmen have shown themselves both unwilling and unable to take on the tremendous, systemic issues in our country, our place in this world. We came to show the one percent of Congress what democracy looks like."
And it would seem few Americans disagree. A new poll from ABC News puts Congressional job approval ratings at 13 percent, the lowest level in that survey to date. Eighty-four percent of those polled disapprove of the job Congress is doing.
Elsewhere in D.C., the city government is now putting new pressure on the National Park Service, run by the Obama administration, to evict some Occupiers from their encampment downtown in McPherson Square. D.C.'s mayor cited "unsanitary conditions" in a request to have those protesters moved to another Occupy encampment on Freedom Plaza.
The square is on National Park Service land and is therefore under federal, not city, jurisdiction.
And there is new, challenging news for the movement. It appears Occupy may be struggling financially. Occupy Wall Street voted to stop funding new projects due to a lack of money. They reportedly have $170,000 left from the more than $700,000 raised over the past four months, and they say that few new donations are coming in.
Joining us now, D.C. reporter for The Nation magazine, George Zornick. George, thanks for your time tonight.
GEORGE ZORNICK: Hi, David. Thanks for having me.
SHUSTER: Describe what you saw today. Did it play out as organizers had envisioned?
ZORNICK: You know, honestly, I think they got less people than, perhaps, they expected - it was probably more in the hundreds than in the thousands - but there is no doubt that the people there were very energized, they were very creative.
As you mentioned, they were taking the protests not only in front of the Capitol building, but into the offices of representatives. You know, it was noisy, it was energetic, there was a lot of live music and discussion and, you know, not a shortage of confrontation here and there with the Capitol police. So, in that sense, I think, it did get a lot of attention, even if the numbers were not what they expected.
SHUSTER: Well speaking of the numbers, some of the other demonstrations they have had in D.C. - where they erected, essentially, a soft of a building of sorts, almost a barn, in McPherson Square, or when they threatened to shut down Key Bridge - I sort of remember them being, I don't know, a hundred or so people who would participate. How did the action today compare with these other protests? Is this, essentially, the largest one they've had at Occupy DC?
ZORNICK: It is the largest one they have had in D.C. You know, the Occupy movement is essentially a non-political movement. So, in many ways, D.C. is not the most ideal ground for them. But, of course, this is where a lot of the action happens.
Compared to those earlier events, yes, this was much bigger. I would say it is probably smaller than an event which happened in December. It was also called Occupy the Capitol, though it was run by more, kind of union groups, kind of mainstream, progressive groups. So, a little bit smaller than that, but no doubt got plenty of attention in the Capitol today.
SHUSTER: Given the low Congressional approval ratings, and the fact that, even members of Congress - when you pull them aside - say they don't like the money going through politics, which is one of, sort of, the key issues for the Occupy movement. They say if you get the money out of politics, a lot of these issues can be solved. Do you see any progress on that, perhaps, because of the Occupy movement?
ZORNICK: Well, you know, there was a joke going around amongst the protesters today that the members of Congress are about to be in the one percent themselves, just by virtue of their approval rating. So, you know, I think that there was some movement, there was some softening.
Any time that members of Congress are so unpopular that people are literally storming the gates and storming their offices to voice displeasure, I think they will listen. But, of course, the central critique of this movement - which is correct - is that the system has been corrupted by too much money. So, there is an extent to which, you know, the members of the Congress can't or won't respond.
Today, Keith Ellison did introduce - directly in response to these protests, he introduced a constitutional amendment to help get money out of politics. So that's good and that's laudable. But I think they will find, and have found and will continue to find, that the money has such a firm grip on the system that change is going to be quite difficult.
SHUSTER: The creativity there, as we saw in some of the offices, is just sort of intriguing.
I'm so intrigued by also, essentially, the conflict between the Obama administration - and keep in mind that McPherson Square, as you know, it's two blocks from the White House and administration officials don't want any of, sort of, the scenes you have had in Oakland or here in New York at Zuccotti Park to play out that closely - and yet, here is the DC mayor saying we need to move them from McPherson Square. What's going on there?
ZORNICK: Well, the Park Service has said - quite laudably, I think - that they want to protect the rights of the protesters, that they consider - that while camping is illegal on these grounds - they consider this more of a 24-hour vigil that they don't want to disrupt.
And there's no doubt that - that Obama doesn't want to become kind of a vilified Bloomberg figure who evicts the protesters. No doubt if the Park Service went in, the protesters would not go easily or quietly. There would be confrontations.
But now, the Park Service is getting pressure - as you mentioned - from the D.C. mayor, who is citing a rodent infestation problem there, a spate of bad news stories where an infant was left alone in the cold.
And the mayor himself in no stranger to civil disobedience. He was actually arrested back in the spring, protesting some of the budgetary measures being pressed upon the district by the federal government. But, I mean, I think he has reached, amongst his constituents, a point where he has to say something, and it's getting a little bit harder, I think, for the Park Service to hold the line.
SHUSTER: Mayor Gray pictured there.
Thank you, George Zornick. George, great reporting as always. We appreciate it.
ZORNICK: Thanks for having me.
SHUSTER: You're welcome.
SHUSTER: Coming up, a nonpartisan organization has just proposed a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United. The amendment may unite both the far right and far left.
And later, did you know that President Obama - or any president - can now have you arrested and detained simply because he or she says so? The erosion of civil liberties, when "Countdown" continues.
SHUSTER: President Obama is now getting sued over a defense bill he signed that expands several policies affecting civil liberties first initiated under President George W. Bush.
And two years ago today, the US Supreme Court ruled that Congress must treat corporations exactly like human speakers in the political realm. Dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens said at the time, it was a decision "at war with the views of generations of Americans." Now, the war has a new front.
SHUSTER: It was exactly two years ago today when the U.S. Supreme Court made a dramatic ruling in campaign advertising, in a case known as Citizens United. In the 5-4 decision the conservative majority decided that corporations have a constitutional right to spending unlimited amounts of money influencing the outcome of our elections.
The impact of that decision has been huge.
For two years, corporate money has been flooding into election after election. In the presidential campaign, the money's been going to shadow groups known as super PACs. One group, whose money has been difficult to trace, bombarded the airways in Iowa on behalf of Mitt Romney with ads, including this one attacking Newt Gingrich.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: You know what makes Barack Obama happy? Newt Gingrich's baggage. Newt has more baggage than the airlines.
SHUSTER: Brutal. Last night, the unregulated corporate money prompted a remarkable exchange at the GOP debate. Rick Santorum noted that he is being attacked by the Romney super PAC, over a policy where Santorum has always been to the right of Romney's own record.
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: Governor Romney's super PAC has put an ad out there that suggested I am allowing felons to be able to vote from prison. I would ask Governor Romney - "Do you believe people who are felons, who have served their time, who have extended - exhausted their parole and probation, should they be given the right to vote?"
(Excerpt from video clip) MODERATOR: Governor Romney?
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: First of all, as you know the PACs that run ads -
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: I'm looking for an answer to the question first.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I don't think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote again. That's my own view.
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: In the state of Massachusetts, when you were governor, the law was that - not only could violent felons vote after they exhausted their sentences, but they could vote while they were on probation and parole, which is a more liberal position than I took when I voted for the bill in the Congress.
The ad that says that I voted to allow felons to vote is inaccurate. And if I had something in the super PAC that was supporting me that was inaccurate, I would say, "Stop it." You're representing me -
SHUSTER: Interesting exchange, but the super PAC phenomenon has become so frightening that it has prompted a peace treaty, of sorts, in Massachusetts. Republican Senator Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren have agreed to do everything they can to discourage their corporate friends and wealthy supporters to fund any super PAC.
Unfortunately, our political system can't depend on the judgments of politicians to keep corporate money out of the system. So today, the nonpartisan organization Common Cause announced a new effort in all 50 states called Amend 2012.
The goal is to pass a constitutional amendment reversing the Citizens United decision. The amendment would reaffirm that only people are people and campaign spending can be limited.
While constitutional amendments can be tricky, it is increasingly clear that growing corruption in our campaign system is a cancer that threatens our democracy. The sooner we can get money out of politics, the sooner we can ensure that the government and the political process serve the common good, rather than special interests.
Curb the excessive influence of money on government decisions and elections and illuminate the connections between lobbying money coming in and government expenditures going out.
Promote fair, honest and transparent elections.
Hold government officials accountable for working within the rule of law and under high standards of ethical conduct.
If those bullet points sound familiar, it is because I borrowed them directly from the Common Cause mission statement. You see, Common Cause is not Democratic organization or Republican organization, it is an American organization that serves as our greatest non-governmental watchdog against corruption and abuse of power.
It is time for all of us to act. Whether it's by passing a constitutional amendment, as Common Cause suggests, or by reasserting - as some legal experts advocate - that Article One, Sections Four and Five of our Constitution consigns to Congress the regulation and manner of holding elections, it does not give that authority to power to the Supreme Court.
Regardless of the process, though, something must be done.
This year, campaign spending is expected to reach $8 billion. Yes, that's billion with a "B." And most of it will go to political ads that enrich only the ad makers and TV stations that run them.
Our political system belongs to you. Our democracy belongs to you. It's time for all of us to stand up and take action.
SHUSTER: The assault on civil liberties in this country that began after 9/11 under the Bush Administration continues under the current Obama administration.
In our number-one story on the "Countdown" - Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Chris Hedges is now suing the commander-in-chief and his secretary of defense Leon Panetta in federal court here in New York.
The suit, filed last Friday, challenges the legality of the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by the President in late December and set to take effect this March. The bill allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial. Hedges says the bill's definition of a terrorist is exceedingly amorphous and may lead to the detention of American journalists who report on contentious events. This, he says, erases fundamental constitutional liberties.
(Excerpt from video clip) CHRIS HEDGES: It is a huge and egregious assault against our democracy. It overturns over 200 years of law, which has kept the military out of domestic policing.
SHUSTER: In a Washington Post op-ed last Sunday titled "Ten Reasons the U.S. is No Longer the Land of the Free," law professor Jonathan Turley points to the recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, as well as other civil liberties infringements orchestrated since 9/11 as ample grounds for reconsidering our definition of a free country.
Among the reasons are:
- The assassination of U.S. citizens, which President Obama has claimed, as President George W. Bush did before him" to order the killing of enemies of the state.
- Indefinite detention was expanded under the law signed last month, giving the government the right to strip citizens of legal protections based on its sole discretion.
- Arbitrary justice gives the commander-in-chief the power to decide whether a person will receive a trial in federal or military court.
- Warrantless searches can now be used to search everything from business documents to personal library records, without probable cause, if ordered by the president.
JONATHAN TURLEY: Hi, David.
SHUSTER: We mentioned four reason you mentioned. What are the other extraordinary powers that the government has acquired since 9/11 that infringe on civil liberties?
TURLEY: Well, you know, there is a great array. They include things like being able to transfer people to foreign countries that are part of the rendition program, even though the Obama administration no longer uses the term "renditions." It still claims the right to transfer people to other countries.
We just had a story, that was picked up by very few U.S. newspapers, that the English confirmed that one of the detainees that they have was, in fact, tortured by a foreign country, in the presence - they claim - of a CIA personnel, and this interrogation was done at our behest. The interrogation involved clear, unmistakable and rather grotesque torture.
But what you have is this myriad of powers, starting by the claim by President Obama that he can kill any American citizen at any time, anywhere in the world, on his soul authority. Two of his top attorneys recently reaffirmed that. That courts have no role in that and that they can strip citizens of their rights, based on their view that they are terrorists. Or aiders and abettors of terrorists.
All these other powers become lessers contained in that greater. And so the question then is, what are we? We - we talk a very good game about being the leader of the free world, but when you stack up all of these different powers that have accumulated since 9/11, we have a serious definitional problem.
SHUSTER: You mentioned the Obama administration's argument, their defense for this. How do you see the legal reasoning behind the Obama administration and what is your sense of how the courts will view it?
TURLEY: That's one of the problems that I list, in that the courts have repeatedly said that people do not have standing to challenge many of these national security powers. And the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, has been very aggressive in arguing that no one has the right to challenge these things.
So, for example, they have an assassination list - and that list was known to have a U.S. citizen on it, this al-Awlaki guy that was ultimately killed. His family went to federal court to challenge his being placed on a kill list.
The federal courts simply said, "You don't have standing. He'll have to come and file." Well, since he is on a list to be killed, that makes going to the clerk's office rather difficult. More importantly, if he were to retain an attorney, that attorney could be viewed as aiding and abetting, could certainly be accused of that. And no attorney could have anything to do with him. He was ultimately killed, and so was a second U.S. citizen who was with him.
And so, the argument is quite sweeping. If the president can have any one of us killed, based on his own discretion, the rest of these rights become simply lessers included in that greater, and it's a very dangerous thing.
And the fact that the federal court system is no longer a check on that power is truly frightening.
I think the framers would have been astonished to see the reaction of the American people to things like indefinite detention. They knew what indefinite detention was, they wanted to prevent it. They lived under this type of regime, of an absolute ruler saying, "You can trust me, because I'll use this power wisely." And he didn't, and so they created a system to prevent us having any type of absolute reliance on people, as Madison said, "being an angel."
SHUSTER: Do you see anything breaking the cycle any time soon?
TURLEY: The only thing that will break the cycle is for the American people to become educated about the implications of this, and to stand up and say, "Enough."
You know, that indefinitely detention law was passed by Republicans and Democrats, and there is a huge amount of misinformation and dishonest discourse going out there. A lot of Democrats are claiming that it doesn't allow for indefinite detention, which is absolutely wrong. So, there is an education aspect here.
But American citizens had this incredible, symbolic moment. You know, the indefinite-detention law was signed on New Year's Eve, and -
SHUSTER: We've got to leave - Jonathan, we have got to leave it there. Great op-ed in The Washington Post. Jonathan Turley, "Countdown" contributor, law professor at George Washington, thanks, as always.
TURLEY: Thank you, Dave.
SHUSTER: And that is our show for tonight. I'm David Shuster. On behalf of all of us at "Countdown," thanks for watching. Have a terrific night.