MSNBC’s O’Donnell Defends Gruber: ‘What He Did Was Tell The Truth’

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, host of the Last Word, stopped by Morning Joe on Tuesday, November 18 and did his best to defend ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber from criticism following video of him saying that the “stupidity of the American voter” was key to getting ObamaCare passed.

Speaking to the Morning Joe panel, O’Donnell argued that “what Gruber did, specific language aside, the offensive language aside, what he did was tell the truth. Legislation always needs collective ignorance about many elements of it in order to move forward.”

As O'Donnell continued his defense of Jonathan Gruber, the MSNBC host insisted that no one who voted for ObamaCare knew more than “30% of what was in it” and the law’s details needed to be kept secret:

I promise you, there was not one person who voted for the Affordable Care Act, who can tell you more than 30% of what was in it. I had the pleasure of coming on this set, sitting in this chair, and announcing to America that there were fifteen taxes in the Affordable Care Act that no one knew about because they were developed in secret as they always are by Senate Finance Committee staff and as soon as Max Baucus' work product was finally public we then knew that.

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But through the course of that debate, those fifteen taxes did not get debated. You couldn't find anyone who could name you two or three of those taxes that were in there and that is how these things move. And one of the legislative strategies about secrecy is, as soon as you know there is a medical device tax in this bill, the medical device industry and their lobbyists will come in and try to shut that down. 

The MSNBCer went on to spin that if the American public really knew what was in ObamaCare, the law would never have passed Congress:

And so everyone who’s trying to preserve the secrecy of legislation and the moving components of it as it’s going through the process think they're doing the right thing. And in their experience tells them, it's the only way we can get this passed. 

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I guarantee you that there are elements of that legislation that the writers of it don't want discussed because they are political liabilities within the legislation. That's what Gruber was saying. 

For his part Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough pushed back at O’Donnell:

This is obviously a serious problem when you have the Speaker of the House saying that we’ve got to pass it to figure out what's in it. A couple years later, we find out this guy says, well you know what, we just had to hide it from the American people because they're too dumb. That should cause a few alarm bells.

The segment concluded with liberal Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank coming to Gruber’s defense one final time:

He [Jonathan Gruber] didn't use the word stupidity, he didn’t talk about throwing things up against a wall. So it's not the concept. It's the way he said it. And I can't wait for the hearing when they haul this guy down here, because if you guys haven’t just turned it into a verb, it will be in a week or so. 

See relevant transcript below.

MSNBC’s Morning Joe

November 18, 2014

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: I get the feeling his name [Jonathan Gruber] is going to become like a verb. Like, you just got Grubered or something. The guy, I think to Joe's point last hour, let's cut this conversation short, the president should have just said, what a jerk. 

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: Well, he did. The president didn't do what Nancy Pelosi did last week when she pretended to literally not know who Gruber was. And then you had video of her talking about Gruber years before. You know, look, this fits the Michael Kingsley definition of a gaffe. What Gruber did, specific language aside, the offensive language aside, what he did was tell the truth. 

Legislation always needs collective ignorance about many elements of it in order to move forward. I promise you, there was not one person who voted for the Affordable Care Act who could tell you more than 30% of what was in it. I had the pleasure of coming on this set, sitting in this chair, and announcing to America that there were fifteen taxes in the Affordable Care Act that no one knew about because they were developed in secret as they always are by Senate Finance Committee staff and as soon as Max Baucus' work product was finally public we then knew that. But through the course of that debate, those fifteen taxes did not get debated. 

You couldn't find anyone who could name you two or three of those taxes that were in there and that is how these things move. And one of the legislative strategies about secrecy is, as soon as you know there is a medical device tax in this bill, the medical device industry and their lobbyists will come in and try to shut that down. And so everyone who’s trying to preserve the secrecy of legislation and the moving components of it as it’s going through the process think they're doing the right thing. And in their experience tells them, it's the only way we can get this passed. 

BRZEZINSKI: Right, so if you had said it that way. That would have been the most honest way. I would have fallen asleep but-

O’DONNELL: It's still the same concept, which is we are trading, we are counting on you, the voters’ ignorance—

CHUCK TODD: That’s what an MIT economist would do—you just glossed everybody over.

BRZEZINSKI: Okay, Chuck Todd. 

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Hold on one sec. 

BRZEZINSKI: Yes?

SCARBOROUGH: Did you just do a Gruber, Lawrence? 

O’DONNELL: What I said was, what everyone that’s worked on legislation knows-

SCARBOROUGH: Did you just Gruber all over yourself?

O’DONNELL: I tried not to, Joe. I tried to just—but Joe, anyone who has worked on legislation can tell you, unless it's a really simple thing like let's increase the minimum wage by 50 cents, you know? Let’s increase the gas tax a nickel. If it's anything more complex than that, I guarantee you that there are elements of that legislation that the writers of it don't want discussed because they are political liabilities within the legislation. That's what Gruber was saying. 

SCARBOROUGH: I don't want to sound like a neophyte here. 

O’DONNELL: Yes you do. 

SCARBOROUGH: Or a Pollyanna. But Dana Milbank, if we are talking about one of the most significant pieces of legislation in a generation and I’d certainly rank it up there whether you like it or you don't like it as far as being transformative. This is obviously a serious problem when you have the Speaker of the House saying that we’ve got to pass it to figure out what's in it. A couple years later, we find out this guy says, well you know what, we just had to hide it from the American people because they're too dumb. That should cause a few alarm bells.

DANA MILBANK: Yes, but Lawrence didn't Gruber himself because he didn’t—

O’DONNELL: Thank you. 

MILBANK: He didn't use the word stupidity, he didn’t talk about throwing things up against a wall. So it's not the concept. It's the way he said it. And I can't wait for the hearing when they haul this guy down here, because if you guys haven’t just turned it into a verb, it will be in a week or so. 

Health Care Medical Insurance MSNBC Morning Joe Dana Milbank Joe Scarborough Mika Brzezinski Lawrence O'Donnell Jonathan Gruber