Washington Watch Roundtable: State Of The Union Address, Romney Fulfilling His Legal Tax Obligation

Roland Martin and the Washington Watch roundtable discuss President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, plus Mitt Romney’s money and fulfilling his legal tax obligation.

This week’s Washington Watch roundtable features Hilary Shelton, executive vice president of the NAACP, April Ryan, the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, Robert Traynham, MSNBC political analyst and Keli Goff, contributing editor for Loop21.com.

MR. MARTIN:  All right, folks.  Welcome back to “Washington Watch.”  Our panel is still fired up.

All right.  Let’s get right to it.  Look, this week, the President gave his State of the Union address; and, look, as I told Valerie Jarrett, he’s not somebody who’s going to throw some roundhouses – but he had some stiff jabs in his speech, Robert.  And it was very interesting when he actually said, “We had this big debt ceiling fight.  What did we get out of that whole deal?”

MR. TRAYNHAM:  Um-hum.

MR. MARTIN:  I mean there were some direct challenges to members of Congress, saying, “It’s time for you to get off your butt and do some work.”

MR. TRAYNHAM:  It was a political speech against a do-nothing Congress in a presidential year.  He did what he had to do.  And, you know, although I didn’t agree with everything he said in the speech, I actually admired him because it reminded me of the Barack Obama in 2008 – the Barack Obama who was the challenger; who, quite frankly, had everything to gain and nothing to lose; who, quite frankly, said, “Look, this is who I am.  This is what I stand for.  Either you’re going to lead with me, you’re going to follow me, or get the heck out of the way.”

MS. GOFF:  You know it’s funny.  As – as, like, probably everyone else at this table, I was live-tweeting the State of the Union address, and do you know what single comment got the most re-tweets of anything I wrote –


MS. GOFF:  — that night?  I said, “If this piece had a subtitle, it would be ‘You Want a Piece of Me?’”  And that got re-tweeted out the wazoo, because it was the most, I felt, tough, in-your-face messaging – like Robert’s saying – that we’ve heard from him.  And a lot of people have been waiting for that –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. TRAYNHAM:  Um-hum.

MS. GOFF:  — especially in the Black community.  I’ve heard from a lot of people who –

MR. MARTIN:  Now, Hilary, on –

MS. GOFF:  — say, “I wanna” –

MR. MARTIN:  — policy –

MS. GOFF:  — “hear him fighting now[?].”

MR. MARTIN:  — on policy –


MR. MARTIN:  — in this speech, first of all, what – what stood out [was] he talked about the education college credit, also the plan for home foreclosures.  Let’s be honest.  The President’s – the President’s plans – there have been multiple ones when it comes to dealing with the foreclosure crisis – they’ve been an abysmal failure, so this is like a restart after restart after restart.  What was the biggest policy initiative for you in the speech?

MR. SHELTON:  Well, it’s manufacturing, quite frankly.  He reclaimed what the U.S. has always been best at.  If there’s one industry that’s moved more African-Americans and other Americans into the middle class, it’s manufacturing.  And tying those to good, living-wage jobs that are union jobs as well, and the benefits that go along with that, but then recognizing you can’t do that in a vacuum.  You also have to talk about training and education and other opportunities.

MR. MARTIN:  That’s where community colleges came in –


MR. SHELTON:  Community colleges came in, retraining came in, mentorship programs came in.  All that’s extremely important as we move our nation forward.

MS. RYAN:  And the suggestion for states to have students either graduate or stay in school until 18.

MR. SHELTON:  Absolutely.

MR. MARTIN:  How perfect was it –

MR. SHELTON:  Absolutely.

MR. MARTIN:  — for Mitt Romney to release his taxes on the exact same day of the State of the Union address?  I’m sure Mitt’s people thought it would get buried with –


MR. MARTIN:  — the State of the Union, but it dovetailed [with] what the President –

MS. GOFF:  President gave.

MR. MARTIN:  — gave in his speech.

MR. TRAYNHAM:  But you know what, though?  But it – right, it – it totally did; it played right into the President’s hand.  However, it still neutralized the issue to a certain degree.  We know that Mitt Romney’s a wealthy man.  We know that Mitt Romney has been stumbling on the whole – on the whole wealth issue.  We – so – and – and so from a strategic standpoint, it was a loss, but not a big loss, for Romney to release it on –

MR. MARTIN:  But he –

MR. TRAYNHAM:  — Tuesday night.

MR. SHELTON:  But – but it –

MR. MARTIN:  — Keli –

MR. SHELTON:  — but it – but it made the President’s point.

I’m sorry.  Go ahead, Keli.

MS. GOFF:  Well, no, what I was going to say [was] also, when he – he threw out that number about the Buffett tax, I think for a lot of Americans, that was kind of –

MR. SHELTON:  Exactly.

MS. GOFF:  — a fluid idea, but when  you hear the word “million” – you hear the term[s] “million dollars” and “Buffet” tax; and then you hear someone else was able to give, you know, $350,000 in speaking fees and a lot of money – $750,000 – to charity – that’s not that much –

MR. MARTIN:  Oh, yeah, but –

MS. GOFF:  — [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  — but – bu- — but –

MS. GOFF:  — [crosstalk].

MR. MARTIN:  — but also shifting millions of dollars into these trusts for his children –

MS. GOFF:  And Switzerland.

MR. MARTIN:  — and – ri- — so – but s- — here’s what I thought about – about —

MR. SHELTON:  [Crosstalk.]

MR. MARTIN:  — you were about to say in terms of the narrative.  We heard this Warren Buffett deal for the longest – the “Buffett rule.”  I think Americans were sitting there going, “Okay.  I really don’t see it.”

MS. GOFF:  Exactly.

MR. SHELTON:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  So, by Mitt Romney releasing it, you actually saw, “Oh!  Here’s a guy” –

MS. GOFF:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — “who said, ‘I’m une-” – “I’m unemployed.”  “I don’t have a job,” but he made 40 million bucks in a couple of –

MR. SHELTON:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — years –

MR. SHELTON:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — who wasn’t working, solely based off –

MR. TRAYNHAM:  But it’s a more – [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  — the amount of money that he earned.

MR. TRAYNHAM:  — but – right, but it’s a more nu- —

MR. SHELTON:  [Crosstalk] – fix those loopholes.

MR. TRAYNHAM:  — but it’s a more nuanced art- — argument to a certain degree.

Look, let me go back to the President for a second.  He did a very good job of threading the needle.  He did a very good job on Tuesday night by saying, “You know what?  We do not begrudge you for your success.  That’s the American way.  However, you should pay your fair share of taxes.”

MR. SHELTON:  That’s the –

MR. TRAYNHAM:  No question –

MS. GOFF:  And – [crosstalk] –

MR. SHELTON:  — that is the –

MS. GOFF:  — too –

MR. SHELTON:  — point.  That is the point.

MS. GOFF:  — [crosstalk] – it too, which is important.

MR. TRAYNHAM:  — that’s right.  However, you – if you triangulate to Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney said, “I pay my taxes.  I pay every single dime that I owe to” –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. TRAYNHAM:  — “the federal government, but not a dollar more.”

MR. MARTIN:  A- — and, of course –

MR. SHELTON:  That’s right.  That’s – [crosstalk]- —

MR. MARTIN:  — remember, a- — with – with 2007, Bank Capital, they were one of the groups who fought against the change in the law.  Sen. Charles Grassley of I- — of Iowa wa- — proposed the bill – Republican – and they even said, “No, no, no.”  The hedge money ma- — lobbyists came down, got that bill killed.

MS. GOFF:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  Who was one of the people who disagreed with that bill? It was Mitt Romney.

MR. SHELTON:  Well, of course.

MS. GOFF:  [Crosstalk]- —

MR. SHELTON:  But – but let me also put it in – [unintelligible] – context, now.  What you have is exhibit A, in my opinion.  As the President began laying out that everybody’s got to pay their fair share; for those who much is given, much is required, what Mitt Romney was able to say quite legally was that, “I pay my fair share,” but indee- — what he was really saying was, “I pay my legal obligation.”


MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. SHELTON:  But the legal obligation –

MR. TRAYNHAM:  But – but – but –

MS. GOFF:  [Crosstalk]- —


MR. TRAYNHAM:  — Hilary –

MR. SHELTON:  — [crosstalk] –

MS. GOFF:  — what – what’s hurting Ro- —

MR. SHELTON:  — [crosstalk] – disadvantage.

MS. GOFF:  — but can I tell you what’s – what’s hur- —

MR. TRAYNHAM:  But every American relates –

MS. GOFF:  — what’s actually hurting –

MR. TRAYNHAM:  — to that, though.

MS. GOFF:  — [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  Nah – no, no, no.

MS. GOFF:  — [crosstalk] –

MR. SHELTON:  No, but not –

MS. GOFF:  — [crosstalk] –

MR. SHELTON:  — in this case.  Not in –

MR. MARTIN:  — [crosstalk] – maybe they –

MR. SHELTON:  — this case.

MR. MARTIN:  — e- — every – every American –

MS. GOFF:  — [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  — doesn’t use the phraseology “my legal obligation.”

MS. GOFF:  — but can – but can I tell you what –


MR. MARTIN:  They don’t.


MR. MARTIN:  Hold on.  Keli.

MR. SHELTON:  Exactly.  [Chuckles.]


MS. RYAN:  [Crosstalk.]

MR. MARTIN:  One second.  One second.


MR. MARTIN:  April –

MS. RYAN:  [Crosstalk]- —

MS. GOFF:  [Crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  — April, April, one second.


MS. GOFF:  — thanks, Roland.  Can I – can I tell you what actually. I think, is hurting Mitt Romney much more than the legality issue, much more than the “I” – “I pay my fair share” issue is that he looks into a camera – and this – no one has written about this – and he keeps saying, “I didn’t inherit a dime,” “I didn’t inherit a dime,” “I didn’t inherit a dime.”  “Everything I have I earned.”  And people are sitting at home and thinking, “Your father was a governor.  You came from a million-dollar family.  Your father” –

MS. RYAN:  [Crosstalk] –

MS. GOFF:  — “bought your first” –

MS. RYAN:  — privileged.

MS. GOFF:  — “house.”

MS. RYAN:  Amen!

MS. GOFF:  “Your father” — “Your father invested in your first companies” –

MS. RYAN:  And that’s where[?] it[?] –

MS. GOFF:  — “and you’re saying, ‘I don’t’” –

MS. RYAN:  — began anyway.

MS. GOFF:  — “‘want to pay more because I earned everything I have’?”  It falls completely bogus –

MR. MARTIN:  April.

MS. GOFF:  — and inauthentic.  And –

MR. MARTIN:  April, then –

MS. GOFF:  — that’s what’s –

MR. MARTIN:  — Robert.

MS. GOFF:  — hurting him.

MS. RYAN:  The bottom line is – and let’s just make this real simple for the American public – when you go to your tax preparer, you want to make sure you don’t have to pay any more than you have to.

MR. SHELTON:  Absolutely.

MS. RYAN:  “But what about this?  I just had this renovation done.”  “I just did this.”  “I just did that.”  So, I mean he fits into that thing, but –


MS. RYAN:  — again, going –

MR. MARTIN:  — a- — actually – actually –

MS. RYAN:  — back to what –

MR. MARTIN:  — most Americans file a[n] EZ form, and the- — they – they don’ need to have a conversation about deductions.

MR. SHELTON:  That’s right.

MS. RYAN:  Well – well –

MR. MARTIN:  Tha- — that’s most Americans.

MS. GOFF:  Right.

MS. RYAN:  — okay.  Well, certain people who make above a certain amount – let’s say the people – as Pres. Obama would say, the 250 – 250,000- —

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. RYAN:  — -plus – okay –

MR. MARTIN:  Absolutely.

MS. RYAN:  — they’re doing that.  But, you know, going back to what Hilary says, yes.  He’s paying what the law requires.  And he’s probably pulling loopholes –

MR. MARTIN:  But – but – but –

MS. RYAN:  — so he won’t –

MR. MARTIN:  — here’s the –

MS. RYAN:  — have to.

MR. SHELTON:  Absolutely.  [Crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  — here’s the point – and I want Robert –

MS. RYAN:  Trust that!


MR. MARTIN:  — to have final – the final 30 seconds on this.  I get he is paying what the law requires, but the point the President is making [is] he – he is a part of the very group – they have fought and spent millions to prevent the laws from being changed.

MR. SHELTON:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  So, when you say, “Oh, no, no.  I’m paying” – “I’m paying,” you know, “what” –

MS. GOFF:  [Crosstalk] – unfair laws.

MR. MARTIN:  — “the law says” – but I also have worked hard to make sure I didn’t have to pay more.


MR. TRAYNHAM:  I think the interesting thing about all of this is that Mitt Romney’s getting stronger in his argument that, “Look, I’m paying my fair share – not a dollar more,” “I didn’t inherit a penny,” and it seems like that he’s getting much more comfortable.  Look, if you rewind a couple of months ago, he seemed like he was very defensive about his wealth.

MR. MARTIN:  Of course.

MR. TRAYNHAM:  He seemed like he was uncomfortable being rich.  But n- — and that’s okay.  I mean that’s –

MS. RYAN:  He can give me some – [crosstalk] –


MR. TRAYNHAM:  — I w- — I wish I had his money.

MR. MARTIN:  Right, right.

MS. GOFF:  [Chuckles.]

MR. TRAYNHAM:  But when you –


MR. TRAYNHAM:  — but when you fast-forward, now that the nomination is slipping –

MR. MARTIN:  I gotcha.

MR. TRAYNHAM:  — away from him, it seems like he’s getting much more comfortable with his argument.

MR. MARTIN:  I – I – I will tell you this here.  [The] bottom line for me is when you[’ve] got to go talk to those blue-collar voters –

MS. GOFF:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — who’re White, in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and people you said –


MR. MARTIN:  — when he said, “Don’t bail out GM,” and GM is back to [being] the number one automaker in the world, it’s going to be a hard argument, as a rich guy, making that point.

MS. GOFF:  And they liked the State of the Union –

MR. MARTIN:  Got it.  Hilary –

MS. GOFF:  — they liked the State of the Union.

MR. MARTIN:  — I gotta –

MS. GOFF:  It got high marks.

MR. MARTIN:  — go.  Hilary, April, Robert, Keli, we appreciate it.  Thanks a bunch.