NOW with Alex Wagner | March 01, 2013
>> that was president obama speaking in the brady press briefing room. sequester day is here.
>> what's important to understand is that not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away. the pain, though, will be real. so, every time that we get a piece of economic news over the next month, next two months, next six months, as long as the sequester is in place, we'll know that that economic news could have been better if congress had not failed to act.
>> the dooms day automatic armageddon spending cuts will begin shortly before midnight tonight. this morning congressional leaders headed to the white house surely to begin a round of tense, last-minute negotiations to avoid certain chaos or, you know, just to check in with the president before heading home for the weekend.
>> the house will act next week and i hope the senate will follow suit.
>> meanwhile, capitol hill is empty. if you were still holding out hope that something, anything might happen this morning senate minority leader mitch mcconnell released a statement saying, "there will be no last-minute backroom deal and absolutely no agreement to increase taxes." joining me today to discuss this and so much more, msnbc political analyst eugene robinson and new yorker's john kennedy and buzz feed editor in chief ben smith . before we go to you guys. i want to go to our white house correspondent joining us now from the lawn of the white house , kristen wellker. a little impromptu press from the president. i think it was in market contrast to speaker boehner who was very quick at the press stakeout. what did you make of the fact that the president spent so much time explaining what he thought was going on and what he thought might happen vis-a-vis the sequester.
>> a lot of public concern about what is about to happen. a lot of public confusion. but you're absolutely right. he did spend a fair amount of time answering reporters' questions. a couple things that stood out to me this afternoon, alex, first of all, no indication that this appears to be anything more than a photo-op. if you listen to the language that speaker boehner used and president obama used, the familiar talking points that they've been using. they took a hammer to each other. speaker boehner blaming this on the democrats saying it's up to the democrats in the senate now to act and president obama basically saying that i've done all i can do and you heard the reporter there press him on the issue of blame, asking him if he bears any responsibility for this current stalemate. and he basically responded with a question. well, what more can i do? i put my plan on the table. so, really underscoring the fact that this situation is deadlocked right now, alex. the other point that really stood out to me. you heard the president kind of signal what his strategy is, what his leverage point is moving forward, which is the public. if you look at the polls, the public is on his side. he referenced that saying a majority of americans agree with me and he said he's hoping that republicans listen to their constituents in the coming days and that hopefully that will make a difference to help to break this stalemate. president basically saying that these are dumb cuts. this is something we have heard him talk about before. but, again, the fact that these talking points are so familiar suggests that there wasn't any actual progress that occurred behind the scenes . now, we should say that that meeting lasted for about an hour. i, the rest of the correspondents here at the white house will certainly spend the day trying to get any nugget of information about any movement and any direction. but right now the sticking points continue to be taxes. republicans saying we're not going to agree to any new taxes. president obama saying he will not accept a deal that doesn't include new revenues. of course, the next big deadline is the continuing resolution to build and to fund the government. that comes up at the end of the month.
>> kristen welker, keep us posted. if you hear of anything changing whatsoever on the situation. eugene, the president, let's talk about the president's role here. he is forced to tread this very odd line, which is to say it's not an apocalypse, but it's bad. he's been accused of fear mongrg.
>> it's just badh for everybody to call their republican congressman and tell them to come back to the table. that's how bad it is, precisely.
>> he needs the public to feel outraged. he doesn't necessarily need them to be in pain. he wants them to be angry about this.
>> responsibly, what can the president allow? how bad can he allow it to be? if he sees something awful happening due to the sequester cuts, it seems to me he's going to feel it's incumbent on him to rectify it as far as he can. otherwise he's being derelict in his duty as president. he can't let an aircraft carrier rust to pieces or something like that. he is going to have to fix it up.
>> i would say, john, your client has an interesting analysis in today's " washington post ." neither side, i mean, the white house has sort of been offered some more power in terms of determining how bad or where these cuts hit. and they don't want to take that power. the white house doesn't want the sequester to be easier to live with. the point of these poorly constructed spending cuts in the white house 's view is that they're hard to live with and that forces both sides to compromise.
>> i think what we're seeing here is that both sides would rather go ahead than we would immediately. the republicans it serves the purpose, look, we're doing something. we came to washington it cut down the government and finally here we're doing it. for obama , i think it's a political plus here. you just saw this morning. john boehner looking like an angry man standing outside the white house . says one sentence, i'm out of here. obama comes down, i'm a reasonable man and i'm open to any suggestions but these guys won't talk to me. i think the white house is winning on this and they won on the fiscal cliff, let's keep it running for a while. it really tanks the economy, but that's not a serious danger. only a quarter of a percent of gdp. or that the public goes crazy and says that you're the president. that's where the republicans are hoping but it will take a week or two.
>> weeks. it's unclear when the public will weigh in with its sort of opinion on this, right? the president says it is not now, it may not be next week, it may not be the following week, it may not even be this month, but at some point.
>> and the white house in some ways, i think the president came out last monday and it was much more of a dooms day scenario. and they have definitely walked that back saying it's not apocalyp apocalypse, it is dumb. but i do think for republicans , they don't have a good message. very mixed message. the democrats have been very united in terms of what they're saying and i think the president did himself some good today looking like a reasonable man. i think the press conference is a better format for him than speeches because he looks like he's there and magnanimous.
>> he's not as much stage craft with first responders and people in hard hats .
>> looks more performative. so, you know, i think in some ways he has already won and keeps laying it on even thicker because people already blame the republicans for this. if you look at those polls, they are already prepared to say that this was the republicans ' fault. they are the ones that are the obstructioni obstructionists, it was no, no, no. here's obama saying common sense caucus and moderation and being reasonable. so, i think he's done himself some good today.
>> ben, to the point of the republicans and what they actually want out of this. we talked about the fracturing within the party and priorities. you have rand paul on one side saying the cuts aren't deep enough and we need to go further and then other republicans who are saying, we can't put our defense industry at risk, we need to avoid these cuts. there seem to be two lines of conversation about whether or not the sequester is good, just from the gop.
>> in this story and in the hagel story, incredibly power constituency that is not getting talked about much is the defense industry . deeply rooted in the republican party . you know, very upset about this. this isn't money going to federal workers but money going to contractors who have been contributing millions and millions of dollars to politicians for all these years. particularly the ones in norfolk, but i think politicians, republicans all over the country are very close ties to the defense industry and probably hearing a lot from them, as well.
>> what's interesting to me, eugene, there is some idea that this, because we have a continuing resolution that is on the table at the end of the month that somehow we are still going to get to a bargain. i don't know how that happens because the republicans have now said no revenues, no rev are news, no revenues. how can boehner stomach any kind of revenue raisers that will have to be part of a deal?
>> i'm not sure. he could as president obama suggested, roll back the clock to when he was ready to close tax loopholes and identify tax loopholes and somehow it's last year all over again. that sounds unlikely. what i wonder is whether the house republicans in passing the continuing resolution which boehner , speaker boehner promises today they would do would try to sort of readjust the sequester cuts in a way that puts back some of the defense money and perhaps takes more out of other discretionary spending . and then try to present president obama with a resolution to continue the operation of the government and can you not sign that? that could be the next sort of inflection point.
>> i wonder, john, there's a lot of talk about the entitlement programs . the president mentioned them today at the press conference. i thought this was really interesting. politico quotes a senior gop congressman who says this notion that republicans are eager to reform entitlements, folks, democrats have it all wrong. republicans would love to avoid the issue politically, it is the third rail of american politics . still, goes on to cite a survey of tea partiers. 85% of whom do not believe their social security or medicare --
>> i think that's another reason why people prefer the sequester. you don't have to touch entitlements. touch defense and everything else. intitemments leave it alone . this will go on all summer and get through the continuing resolution thing and the real debate will come when the debt ceiling raises during the summer. the debt ceiling is a --
>> don't say that to me. we forgot about the summer.
>> but this is just inside washington stuff. people outside aren't really watching them. let's look at the markets. the dow is up 20 points today. just gone above 14,000. any time anything happens in washington in my experience, which is 25 years now. when the markets step in.
>> that's what happened with the fiscal cliff deal. that's why the republicans came to the table with anything.
>> while the markets are calm, i don't believe anything is going to happen, to be honest.
>> i am terrified, i am terrified of the notion that