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MSNBC "Morning Joe" - Transcript


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MR. SCARBOROUGH: Let's bring in right now Democratic Senator from Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Is she still there?

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Senator, great to see -- (cross talk).

SEN. MCCASKILL: I'm here. Hey, I've got something I've got to talk to you guys about first that's been bugging me.


SEN. MCCASKILL: I watched you at the White House, outside. I turned on the TV and I look at King Joe and Mika, and there's this nice blanket, and you look all warm. And then I look over at poor Barnicle and Willie, and they have no blanket.


SEN. MCCASKILL: Can you guys not do a blanket for them next time? It seemed very unfair.


(Cross talk, laughter.)

MR. SCARBOROUGH: -- Senator, trust me, and I'm not going to get into the details, they keep each other warm. (Laughter.) So we don't have to worry about them.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Wow. You know --

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Senator, we've been talking the past couple days, the Warren Buffett quotes about how there needs to be more focus on the Treasury crisis. This morning we've been talking about how the Treasury Department's still fairly empty.

Do you think we're going to get more officials confirmed through the Senate and into the Treasury Department to help Tim Geithner soon?

SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, I know that Harry Reid said last night we're going to nominations today, and going to stay --

They're trying to throw tacks in front of the bus on some of these nominations now, on the Republican side of the aisle. So I think we're going to force some votes on nominations yet this week.

But I've got to tell you, from where I sit, it feels like the White House is singularly focused on the economy. It is a very, very tough problem. It's complex. But they are busy working on regulations, which is an important part of this equation.

They are busy working on the housing crisis, which is an important part of this problem. They're busy working on the financial stability of our credit markets, which is an incredibly important part of this problem.

And it feels like, from Congress, that they are hyper-focused on just the economy.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: All right. Well, then, what is it -- of all the criticism, what do you make of it that they are not focused, the administration, the president specifically and Geithner specifically, on the core of the problem, the banking crisis.

We hear this again and again and again that they're not focusing on the root of the problem.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: From Warren Buffett and Jack Welch.


SEN. MCCASKILL: I think they are focusing. I think that there is a -- when you're trying to support a free market system, you want the government to do no harm.

And so the fact that they're being cautious in some regards about, for example, the scope of the regulations -- for example, how exactly do we get to these toxic assets without wasting taxpayer money? That is why these evaluations of these banks are ongoing right now.

I think they're moving steadily. I think they've done some bold things that, frankly, they took a lot of political heat for. That stimulus wasn't exactly a walk in the park in terms of political support. So I think that they are doing exactly what they need to do.

Now, people need to remember this is the beginning of a new government. This is not a president that can actually say, well, forget about appointing a Cabinet; forget about everything else going in government. He's only been there for a couple of months, and an entire government has to be set up.

So -- and there's a lot of pressure on him to do other things, like Lilly Ledbetter and children's health insurance.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: I think that's fair.

SEN. MCCASKILL: He made a lot of promises in the campaign, and he's trying to keep as many of them as he can.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Mike Barnicle.

MR. BARNICLE: So Senator, we have this near-epidemic banking crisis, financial services crisis. And there is the perception, I think, that some people have that the administration, while focusing on it, obviously, isn't focusing intently enough on it.

How much of that perception do you think is fueled by the fact that you have Secretary Geithner sitting in Treasury basically by himself? There's no undersecretary there, there's not a whole lot of staff support there.

How much of the problem is perception and having to do with the lack of appointments right now confirmed by the Senate?

SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, I think there's a modest perception problem. But some of that is just --

When you have this kind of environment, Mike, where people are angry and afraid and frustrated, there's a human nature involved that everybody wants to blame somebody and be made at somebody. And I think that's part of what's going on here.

I see Larry Summers out there constantly; he's on the Hill constantly. I see Geithner and Bernanke all the time. I think these guys have the weight of the world, literally, on their shoulders and I think they're doing some heavy lifting. And under the circumstances, I think they're doing a good job.

Remember, this TALF program, which people aren't talking about, that is in the works, which is very important, where we're going to take some capital assets and securitize them, move them out to cause more liquidity.

There really are some things going on, but it's complex and it does -- sometimes doesn't fit well into a sound bite.

MR. BARNICLE: Well, as usual, you make great common sense, because you're more Missouri than Washington, in the reference you just made to people being angry.

And yet you hear the clips from United States senators and United States congressmen basically attacking the financial services system.

And it seems, to some ears, when you hear that, that they think revenge is a policy.

They're hammering the banks; they're hammering what has happened in the last five or six years. Do you think there's too much of that going on in Washington right now?

SEN. MCCASKILL: I think it's -- a very ingrained habit. The only thing that's more ingrained than earmarking on the Hill is the notion that when you see a political environment that you can get points in, you go for it.

And this is the kind of political environment that it's like shooting fish in a barrel to play to the anger of the American people. The hardest thing to do right now is to move through the anxious -- the anxiety out there and try to do what's right to get this financial system back on firm footing and get our economy thriving again.

It's hard. People are really mad. Really mad.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: John Heilemann.

MR. HEILEMANN: Senator McCaskill, John Heilemann here. I'm going to ask you --

MS. BRZEZINSKI: He's not mad. (Laughter.)

MR. HEILEMANN: I'm not, at least not at the moment.

I'm going to ask you about a slightly different topic, which is after the passage of the first big stimulus bill, there was some criticism from economists and some on the left that the bill was actually too small. And that criticism continues to bubble along.

You know that there's now some hints out of the White House that they might be open to bringing up a second stimulus. Speaker Pelosi yesterday said that she'd be open to a second stimulus.

Do you think that we're going to need a second stimulus bill and, if so, are you -- do you greet that eagerly or with great reluctance and (agitation ?)?

SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, anybody who is telling you the truth would say they're not going to welcome it eagerly -- that runs for office. (Chuckles.) And I think it's too early.

I think it's way too early to talk about a second stimulus. I think, as hard as it is, we've got to keep working on this financial credit system right now, make sure that we get credit flowing again, and work on the housing issue. And then maybe, down the line. But I think it's way too early to talk about that.

The thing about the stimulus is everybody agreed that we needed one. Some thought it was too big; some thought it was too small. It was kind of like Goldilocks.

But everyone needs to remember there was not any Republican that I ever heard or any economist that didn't support the notion that stimulative spending by the government is what's called for in this kind of recession.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Senator, let me ask you just about the political realities of your state. A Democrat from Missouri, you are from the ultimate bellwether state.


MR. SCARBOROUGH: And I think you've got to know this. So walk -- not only your voters, but Americans, through it.

If a Republican were to run against you in the future -- I guess you're up in '12, right?


MR. SCARBOROUGH: I would say, well, gee, she voted for George Bush's $165 billion stimulus package, and the $400 billion bailout of Fannie and Freddie, and the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, and the $800 billion stimulus package, and a 750 billion (dollars) additional --


MR. SCARBOROUGH: You understand. It seems to me that you are in a much more difficult position, because you really are the ideological middle of America than, say, a Chuck Schumer or a Barbara Boxer.

Tell me, how do you explain to your citizens in Missouri that we can't just say no. How do you keep them going along to the next bailout and the next bailout and the next bailout?

SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, I just try to speak plainly and vote very independently.

This has not been an easy couple of weeks for me.


SEN. MCCASKILL: As you guys know, I don't earmark. I don't participate in earmarking. I voted with McCain to pull them all out and to reduce the spending, and I voted no on the omnibus last night. I was one of three Democrats.

I have a record that shows I'm not afraid to vote against my party's leadership if I think, on principle, it's not what Missourians want or need.

And so I think maintaining that independence, as hard as it -- (laughs) -- the last couple of caucuses have been rough.


SEN. MCCASKILL: But maintaining that independence is really important.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: So, okay. I didn't realize you just answered my question. You voted no on the omnibus package last night.


MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, I'll tell you what. I was just a lowly member of the House, but I got pounded in so many caucus meetings by Republicans. And every time they shouted and screamed at me, I knew I was on the right path. (Laughs.)

Because you're representing Missouri; you're not representing Washington politicians, right?

SEN. MCCASKILL: I'll tell you what was interesting last night. I don't think you guys have talked about it yet.

We had eight Republicans vote for the omnibus last night in the Senate. That's a big number.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Wow. That is a big number.

SEN. MCCASKILL: Big number.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: I'd call that bipartisan, actually.

SEN. MCCASKILL: I would definitely call it bipartisan.

MR. HEILEMANN: I'm curious though. Does Senator McCaskill think that Barack Obama should veto that spending -- that omnibus bill? Do you think he's wrong to let it go through, Senator?

SEN. MCCASKILL: You know, I understand what he's doing. Changing earmarking on Capitol Hill is probably one of the hardest challenges he's going to tackle.

These guys love the process of earmarking. They've been doing it for a long time, Republicans and Democrats. He's getting incredible pushback. Incredible pushback.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: No doubt. Both parties do it too much.

MR. HEILEMANN: Sounds like she has more courage than the president does, though, on this issue.

MR. BARNICLE: Hey, Senator, quickly, have you seen any visible evidence back in Missouri of any of this money flowing back into local cities and towns and projects?

SEN. MCCASKILL: Absolutely. We moved the first dirt, building a very dangerous bridge in rural Missouri that's important to our agricultural economy. We had people on the job within 48 hours of when the bill was signed. Missourians get to work.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: All right. Senator --

MS. BRZEZINSKI: All right. Senator Claire McCaskill, thank you very much for putting up with us on the show this morning.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Thanks a lot.

SEN. MCCASKILL: Thank you.

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