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Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

By Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow Show - August 29, 2011

Guest Host: Melissa Harris-PerryGuests: Ezra Klein, E.J. Dionne, Richard Engel, Bernie Sanders, Lou Dubose

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, "THE LAST WORD": And once again, if you`d like to donate money to the Free Clinics, go to www.freeclinics.us.

You can have "THE LAST WORD" online at our TheLastWord.MSNBC.com. You can, follow my tweets @Lawrence.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is up next. And tonight, in Rachel`s chair is the ever versatile Melissa Harris-Perry.

Good evening, Melissa.

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, GUEST HOST: Hi, Lawrence. It`s so good to see you back.

O`DONNELL: Hey, thanks for sitting in for me last week. That was great.

HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely.

Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. Rachel does have the night off and I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.

So what did you do this weekend? If you live in the eastern U.S., chances are your weekend revolved around a storm named Irene, that may not have delivered its worse case possibility, but did cause enormous damage from North Carolina, all the way up to Canada. At least 37 people were killed by the massive storm, and the high winds knocked down as many trees that around 5 million Americans are now without power.

But it`s what the storm did after it left the Atlantic coast and went inland that took many by surprise. The land lock state of Vermont, you know, home to all those green mountains, got walloped by Irene, which was a tropical storm by the time it got there. So, high winds weren`t the problem, rain was the problem.

Today, Vermont is dealing with its worst flooding since 1927, flooding that has killed at least two people. And because of all that rain, the Vermont state capitol was almost flooded twice this weekend, first when Irene slammed through the town and again when officials were weighing whether to release water from a nearby dam to relieve the pressure.

The state of Connecticut is also reeling tonight, not a single town in the Nutmeg State was spared by the storm by flooding or from damage along the shoreline. There are power outages in every city and town in the state, nearly half of all residents are in the dark tonight.

It`s too early to know exactly how much it will cost to clean all of this up, to fix everything that was damaged from North Carolina to New England. But in New Jersey, Governor Christie said that his state alone may have suffered tens of billions of dollars in damage.

The state of Maryland said the federal government will reimburse the state for 75 percent of what it spends on emergency preparedness in response to Irene.

And in New York, Governor Cuomo said the cost of the storm to the state would be high, but it would offset by federal disaster relief -- because after all, that`s what happens in the wake of a disaster, right? That`s why Barack Obama has been going to FEMA and meeting with the secretary of homeland security and signing all of those emergency declarations for state after state after state.

Part of what the government exists to do is to respond to disasters like Hurricane Irene, to help citizens get back on their feet after a devastating storm. But out on the campaign trail, candidates for president have been suggesting something else.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don`t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We`ve had an earthquake. We`ve had a hurricane. He said, are you going to start listening to me here? Listen to the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS-PERRY: Congresswoman Bachmann said later that she was just joking, nothing funnier than a deadly hurricane. She meant it all humorously. She added that the national debt poses a threat to relief efforts?

Now, another presidential candidate believes he can leverage big savings really, really easily. Congressman Ron Paul believes that since we used to do without FEMA, we can just do without it again. He cited as an example the hurricane that struck his district in the year 1900 in Galveston, Texas.

Now, quoting him, "We should be like 1900. We should be like 1940, 1950, 1960. I live on the Gulf Coast and we deal with hurricanes all the time."

With all due respect, I live in the Gulf Coast, too, and what I know is that somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 people died in the Galveston hurricane. So many bodies that people couldn`t bury them all. Barrels of free whisky were handed out to dull the horror of the funeral fires that burn across the city for weeks on end.

That seemed to be the extent the government could respond, to dull your pain with some free liquor. Sorry, we can`t do more.

Now, the majority leader of Congress right now isn`t quite suggesting that we get rid of FEMA. Instead, Congressman Eric Cantor has been requiring that spending cuts be made somewhere else to pay for a disaster. And he`s been very consistent about this.

After the tornado in Joplin, Missouri, this spring, the disaster funding to deal with that was taken from the Energy Department`s budget. Sorry, developers of vehicles, that money`s got to come from somewhere, which means that when FEMA need money now, right now, to respond to hurricane Irene, it had to take money intended for the Joplin recovery and spend it on Irene.

Sorry, tornado-leveled town, rebuilding will have to wait. You are yesterday`s disaster.

In just over four months, Americans will begin voting for whom they think America`s next president should be. Will that be someone who runs a government so small as to be inconsequential? A government that exists as a reflection of God`s wrath? Or will it be a governing body with the desire and the means to help pick up the pieces and rebuild when disaster strikes?

Joining us now from Burlington, Vermont, is independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Thank you so much for your time tonight.

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