Lawrence O'Donnell: 'Stunningly Ignorant' Cantor Would Fail Citizenship Test

Kicking off the March 30 edition of "Last Word," MSNBC anchor Lawrence O'Donnell unleashed a torrent of insults aimed at Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

"House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is the most stunningly ignorant member in the history of the Congress," bellowed O'Donnell. "That's right. Eric Cantor revealed today in a press conference that he does not know how a bill becomes a law. Seriously. He doesn't."

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Just to clarify, Cantor mistakenly declared in a press conference yesterday that if the Senate does not pass a budget before the continuing resolution expires, H.R. 1, the appropriations bill passed by the House on February 19, 2011, would become the law of the land. Of course, H.R. 1 would not become law unless it is passed by the Senate and signed by the president.

O'Donnell seized on the Republican lawmaker's error to launch into a rancorous diatribe:

Every day that Eric Cantor let's pass without an apology to his constituents, to the Congress, to the president, and to every high school student in America who knows more about government than he does, Eric Cantor stands as an unpardonable embarrassment to every adult in his congressional district who voted for him, and a stain on the intelligence of every Republican House member who voted for him for leader.

After snickering that Cantor "would obviously fail a citizenship test" and was lucky that "rank stupidity is not an expellable offense," O'Donnell took a swipe at the broader conservative movement, referring to "overwhelming Tea Party idiocy."

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), brought on after O'Donnell finished his offensive soliloquy, disagreed with the incensed anchor about Cantor's intelligence: "Well, I think he is smarter or at least better informed than you're asserting, but less straightforward."

For the record, O'Donnell thinks Cantor is "the most ignorant member in the history of Congress" for misspeaking about legislative procedure, but he doesn't think it is particularly offensive for a member of Congress to wonder aloud whether overpopulation could cause Guam to "tip over and capsize" as long as the mistaken member is a Democrat.

O'Donnell also believes that Cantor stands as an "unpardonable embarrassment" to his constituents, but when Rep. Charles Rangel, a Democrat, was censured for violating House ethics rules, O'Donnell failed to even mention the historic event on his November 15, 2010 program, according to a Nexis search.

A transcript of the relevant portions of the segment can be found below:

MSNBC
Last Word
March 30, 2011

LAWRENCE O'`DONNELL: Good evening from New York. Congress has just nine days to find a day to continue funding the federal government. And today, the number two Republican in the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, shocked the world by admitting he has no idea how to solve the budget problem because he has no idea how a bill becomes law.

Rep. ERIC CANTOR (R-Va.): On Friday, we will bring to the floor the government prevention – excuse me, prevention of government shut down act. And that will say to the American people the Senate's got to act prior to the expiration of C.R. If it does not act, H.R. 1 becomes the law of the land.

O'DONNELL: That's right. A Republican leader in the House of Representatives actually said a bill that passes the House can become the law of the land if the Senate does not act on it. Of course, a bill cannot become the law of the land unless passed in word-for-word, identical form by the House and the Senate, and then signed by the president of the United States. Those three things must happen – as every American child knows that has seen any version of how a bill becomes a law, animated or not. No other Congress in its history has ever believed that a bill could become a law with only one of those three things happening. Here is how the shock waves spread through Washington after Cantor's delusional statement.

Rep. JOHN BOEHNER (R-Ohio): The Senate's got to act prior to expiration of C.R. If it does not act, H.R.1 becomes the law of the land. And if there's a partial shut down, members will not get paid, simple as that. We're serious. We want to take care of this problem so that we can get on about the business of this nation and get Americans back to work.

Rep. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-Calif.): Well, just coming off the last week in the district, one thing was always interesting, when people would ask the question. I said, we first have to realize why we're here.

O'DONNELL: Okay. So, it wasn't exactly a shock wave that hit Washington when Eric Cantor revealed he knows nothing about the workings of Congress and the workings of the American government – which tells you what the news media and the rest of Washington and the country have come to expect of congressional Republicans. Michele Bachmann has inured them all to utter idiocy. They are impervious to it. A roomful of Washington reporters can sit there and hear a Republican leader of Congress say the stupidest thing that's ever said in a congressional news conference and not respond in any way. This was no slip of the tongue by Cantor. He actually believes that this can happen. He intends to have the House vote on a bill on Friday that says, quote, "If the Senate fails to pass a measure before April 6th, 2011, providing for the appropriations of the departments and agencies of the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, H.R.1, as passed by the House on February 19th, 2011, becomes law."


And Eric Cantor, who would obviously fail a citizenship test, actually believes that if the House passes that language, a law will then be enacted without any action from the Senate, and without the president's signature. The luckiest man in the United States House of Representatives now is Eric Cantor, lucky that rank stupidity is not an expellable offense. He is also lucky the press corps has unanimously in this era of overwhelming Tea Party idiocy has exemplified on a daily basis by Michele Bachmann and others, define idiocy down to the point where Eric Cantor is still, even after today's press conference, taken seriously by the political press.

Every day that Eric Cantor let's pass without an apology to his constituents, to the Congress, to the president, and to every high school student in America who knows more about government than he does, Eric Cantor stands as an unpardonable embarrassment to every adult in his congressional district who voted for him, and a stain on the intelligence of every Republican House member who voted for him for leader.

Joining me now is Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, who did not vote for Eric Cantor for leader. Thank you for joining us tonight, Congressman Frank.

Rep. BARNEY FRANK (D-Mass.): It's an important night. So, I'm glad to be here.

O'DONNELL: Congressman Frank, I'm absolutely stunned that Eric Cantor could stand there and say something that the House votes on Friday will become law – will become law. That he can stand there and completely ignore the required signature by the president of the United States, completely ignore action by another body. And the most shocking thing about it, you know him better than I do – he seems to believe this is possible.

FRANK: Well, I think he is smarter or at least better informed than you're asserting, but less straightforward. I think he's playing a game here – although if you interpret it, it is possible to take him literally. And he says this will become the law of the land, you don't understand what land he's talking about. As with Congressman Bachmann and some others, when you talk about people that sometimes inhabit cloud cuckoo land. And in cloud cuckoo land, that could be the case.

--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.