Is Lawrence O’Donnell trying his hardest to fill a void left by the departure of Keith Olbermann? Aside from having an actual Republican member of Congress on his show — something Olbermann rarely did — one might make that conclusion after an appearance from Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King.
On his Wednesday night show, O’Donnell had a contentious, sometimes angry back-and-forth with King. After a Fox News segment from Monday night’s “Hannity” featuring a Frank Luntz focus group in which participants questioned President Barack Obama’s religion and nationality made the rounds on MSNBC, O’Donnell took it out on his guest.
O’DONNELL: Congressman, where did Barack Obama grow up?
KING: Well, by his own reports, he spent a lot of his early formative years in Indonesia.
O’DONNELL: How many?
KING: And —
O’DONNELL: Congressman, how many years did he live in Indonesia?
KING: I’m going to guess it was five or six — perhaps five or six years in Indonesia, perhaps longer. Pardon me?
O’DONNELL: Then where did he live?
KING: Then he moved to Hawaii, which is America, which is going to be your next point.
O’DONNELL: OK. So, my question to you is: you know more than your constituent about a lot of things, and awful lots of things, and you know more than constituents about Barack Obama. Why didn’t you say he grew up in Hawaii?
KING: Well —
O’DONNELL: Why couldn’t you bring yourself to say that in Iowa?
KING: It would have been a contradiction of the facts. I mean, really, very formative years, from age about 5 to 9 or 10.
O’DONNELL: He grew up in Hawaii, Congressman. Are you denying that he grew up in Hawaii?
KING: It certainly was. It certainly was. I don’t think there’s any question, part of his upbringing was in Hawaii.
That led to the next series of questioning, where O’Donnell tried to turn the table on King and his own religious beliefs.
O’DONNELL: Now, do you have any doubt about whether he is a Christian?
KING: You know, I think that is up to the president. But I will tell you that I would not — I would not present him as anything other than that. It’s his religion. That’s what he said. In fact, when he gave a speech in Cairo last year — he told the Muslim crowd that he’s a Christian.
O’DONNELL: Do you believe he’s a Christian, Congressman?
KING: I take him at his word.
O’DONNELL: Are you a Christian?
KING: Yes, sir.
O’DONNELL: Should I take you at your word, or should I maybe suspect you’re a Muslim? Do you have a Christian ID you can show me and prove to me you’re a Christian?
KING: I think I was going to ask you not to judge as I am not judging President Obama.
O’DONNELL: Do you have a Christian ID?
KING: No one has a Christian ID.
O’DONNELL: Catholics get birth certificates, get baptismal certificates. In fact, there are some religions that issue certificates of certain kinds. Do you have any?
KING: I don’t think I do. I got a certificate of baptism. So, that would be a start.
O’DONNELL: How do we know you are not a Muslim? How do you know someone is not a Muslim and is a Christian?
KING: As I’ve said, to bring us back around full circle, the president stood in Cairo and spoke to the Muslim world and professed to be a Christian. If he will stand in front of the Muslim world and make that statement, I take him at his word. I don’t — I don’t question his religion. I will say that the criticism of his religion seems to have accelerated his church going, and I think that’s a good thing.
O’DONNELL: Now, do you think the kind of meeting you had with your constituent helps clarify for them the president’s religion, or helps confuse them to the point that 40 percent — 40 percent of a Republican focus group in your state is completely wrong about the president being a Muslim?
KING: Well, I saw a poll in “The Examiner” today that showed 46 percent of Republicans believe that. So, I would submit it’s not a Republican problem. This is the president’s problem. I mean, he has done some to dispel this, but not completely.
But the most bizarre demand from O’Donnell was that the congressman dismiss his own constituents as “stupid.”
O’DONNELL: Well, let me ask you this: Republicans believe the world is flat, is that a Republican problem or a geography problem?
KING: If the president has been involved in convincing people the world is flat, it’s partly his problem, too.
O’DONNELL: If they want to believe something that stupid, whose fault is it?
KING: If you listen, the president went to Cairo and gave a speech. He said to the people in Cairo, and he went to speak to the Muslim world, that’s how he presented it. He said he’s a Christian. But he also said he grew up in three continents, of exposure to the Muslim culture, and that he’s familiar with the Muslim culture. He also talked about the call to prayer. And so, he reached out and he reminded them of his middle name.
The president has done not a lot to dispel this thing that I think is a myth. And so, I think it is the president’s problem, not a Republican problem.