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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Bill Maher "Meddling" In The Political Process, One-on-One Interview With Bill Maher; Program Matches Service Dogs With Disabled Vets

Aired February 14, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Sharper is facing similar sex assault investigations in Arizona, Louisiana, and Nevada. In light of the pending cases, prosecutors want his bail raised to $10 million. Sharper and his attorney could not be immediately reached for comment. He played in the league for 14 years. He won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints back in 2009.

When we come back, my interview with Bill Maher, we talk Hillary, pot, and his warning to members of Congress about his pending push to unseat one of them.


BILL MAHER, HOST, HBO's "REALTIME WITH BILL MAHER": I detected some of these responses from the Republican congressmen that they are a little afraid of the disinfectant that is sunlight. And you should be very afraid.


TAPPER: Plus, the pope gives a little love advice to those doubting marriage, what he told them coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In the "Pop Culture Lead," why just hurl your comedic barbs from the sidelines when you can directly tamper with how Washington works. Well, that's the new game plan, anyway, for liberal comedian, Bill Maher, host of HBO's "Realtime with Bill Maher." He says this year his show will be entering into the exciting world of outright meddling with the political process by working with his fans to flip a district and knock a lawmaker of his audiences' choosing.

I spoke with Maher and asked him to explain his new plot.


MAHER: Well, after I got Obama elected last year with my million dollar contribution, I thought, what the hell, I'll keep going. No, I just think a lot of it was because we were reading a lot about how people are so dissatisfied with their Congress person. You know, there's a tremendous paradox in America that the approval rating of Congress is sometimes as low as 10 percent and yet the rate of Congress people who have returned office is over 90. How can that be?

So we thought we would test it and the response has been amazing. People really do on an individual district basis not like the people that are representing them very often and we think that if we shine a little light on some of these people we might be able to flip one.

TAPPER: So roll call, one of the newspapers of the Capitol Hill, asked some Republican members of Congress what they thought. Congressman Steve King, Republican of Iowa, he said, you should run. He said, quote, "Anybody that would put their name on the ballot is deserving of our respect. So let's see if I can start to respect Bill Maher." That was his thing and he said also, then all of the comedians can make fun of you. Have you ever thought about running for office?

MAHER: Steve King, the second creepiest -- I mean, the first creepiest -- of course not. I'm an atheist pot smoker. It's never going to happen. Nor is it something I'd ever want to do. And I detect in some of these responses from Republican congressmen that they are a little afraid of the disinfectant that is sunlight. And you should be afraid, be very afraid.

TAPPER: So you were active, as you mentioned, in the 2012 election. You gave $1 million to Priorities USA, the pro-Obama super PAC. Do you have any favorites for 2016? Is there anyone you want to see run, not for comedic purposes but for leadership?

MAHER: I thought you were going to ask do you have any money left. Well, for my own selfish reasons I'd like to see Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and the rest of the insane clown posse run and I'm sure there will be people on the ride right who will be great fodder for us. But I'm a patriot first I like to think so I want the most qualified people. I don't know who that is, anymore, on the right.

I mean, there was Chris Christie. He was going to be the guy who bridged -- no pun intended -- the gap between the crazies and potty trained Republicans. But he doesn't look like he's going anywhere anymore. I don't even know who to root for on the Republican side. On the Democratic side, we all know it's going to be Hillary so why are we even talking about that for.

TAPPER: I remember a time when you were a more libertarian and you didn't like either party. Do you think you have changed in your politics or do you think the parties have changed?

MAHER: Absolutely the parties. I haven't changed at all. I mean, libertarian, I don't know how that stuck around my neck like a millstone. All I ever said was that I think, you know, people should be able to do whatever they do to themselves. If it doesn't anybody else, it shouldn't be a law.

I think this is basic libertarianism. Libertarians are the ones who became at Ann Rand nut cases who think we shouldn't have traffic lights and FEMA should not exist and people should fend for themselves in a hurricane. I don't think what they think anymore. But absolutely, I mean, this is well-documented, that it's the Republican Party that moved to the right. I mean, you can tell this by the fact that Democratic policies like Obamacare are old Republican policies. Cap and trade is an old Republican policy.

The Republican Party of 20 years ago because the Democratic Party today and our biggest problem in politics I think is that we don't really have a left party.

TAPPER: You're outspoken on the issue of marijuana. The president made headlines bay saying that marijuana, in his view, is no more dangerous than alcohol. I interviewed him a while ago and I asked him about that.


TAPPER: Are you considering not making marijuana a schedule one narcotic?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well, first of all, what is or is not a schedule one narcotic is a job for Congress.

TAPPER: I think it's the DEA.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It's not something by ourselves that we start changing.

TAPPER: So it is within the power of the attorney general to change the classification. Are you frustrated, though, more largely about the president's position on marijuana legalization or do you support where he is because he has changed a bit?

MAHER: Well, I mean, he is evolving very slowly. I'm hoping Joe Biden makes another gaffe like he did with gay marriage and forces the president to evolve a little more quickly. I forgave him a lot more in the first term. I understood why the first black president couldn't be the one to get into office and go let's spark up everybody. It will make all the other decisions easier.

But it is the second term. I don't know what he's got to lose. And let's be honest, he was in something called the chum gang when he was in Hawaii. If anybody knows that marijuana doesn't prevent you from rising to the top, it would be him. And, you know, we arrest an awful lot of people for simple possession and it affects your life. It affects housing, it affects getting into college, jobs, voting, it's not a trivial matter.

And it's -- you know, the main reason drug arrests is why we throw more people in prison per capita than any other nation on earth. And, you know, the prison alcohol and pharmaceutical industries benefit greatly from marijuana remaining illegal and I just hope the evolution on the part of the Democrats goes as quickly as it did once it started with gay marriage.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, more of my interview with Bill Maher, he weighs in on the sudden resurrection of former President Bill Clinton's sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky in the late '90s.


MAHER: As I recall, Hillary was only ever abetted by the fact that her husband cheated on her. It turned her into the Jennifer Aniston of America.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing with our "Pop Culture Lead." He's been a staple of the political comedy scene for two decades. In part two of my interview with Bill Maher talking about the Republican strategy of reviving the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late '90s in anticipation of a White House run by former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Back then, of course, it was a topic that was a boom for every comic, especially Maher.


TAPPER: I wonder if you're going through your old computer files, brushing off your floppy disks, see if you can reuse them for your HBO show?

MAHER: No, I don't want to appear older than I am, Jake. Watching Jay Leno get sent out to pasture this week. I want to pretend that I was too young to cover Monica Lewinsky or really know who she is. I heard something about it when I was in graduate school, but I'm not really sure who she is. No, I think it's pretty funny.

Of course, it's going to backfire because this is supposed to hurt Hillary? As I recall, Hillary was only ever abetted by the fact that her husband cheated on her. It turned her into the Jennifer Aniston of America. Americans only loved her more.

I don't know how Rand Paul thinks he's going to drag Hillary into this and, plus, Bill Clinton, let's be honest, at some point, you know, if you hang around long enough like an old building, let's say, you become respectable and that's Bill Clinton now.

Somehow the guy, who the Republicans accused of everything from rape to murdering Vince Foster and the most corrupt guy, he's great now. He's a great guy. They love him. So I just don't get how that strategy is going to pay off for them.

TAPPER: You're still doing a lot of standup on the weekend and you have some dates coming up and some pretty red states Greenville, South Carolina, February 22nd, at Birmingham, Alabama, on February 23rd. When you go into these red states, how do the audiences receive you?

MAHER: Awesome. Just this weekend I was in Mobile, Alabama, and Corpus Christi, Texas. First of all, I always laugh when I hear the Tea Party people say I want my country back because they don't see the country. I see the country almost every weekend and I can tell you Tea Party people it hasn't gone anywhere. You have it back.

And I think they would be surprised to find out is that in so many of these -- as you call them red states, there are so many progressives thinking, free thinking, liberal-thinking people. That's one of the great things about America. When we have a landslide victory in some state, it's usually 60/40. That's a landside.

And that means 40 percent of the people don't think like the majority. So I love to go to the places where -- yes, there are mostly perhaps conservatives. Some places you might even say rednecks. But there are a lot of people who think very differently and when they come to my show, I think not only do they laugh a lot, but they look around and say, wow, there's a lot more people that think like me than I ever knew.

TAPPER: Finally, what is it like watching all this intense weather coverage from sunny Los Angeles?

MAHER: It's fantastic. I grew up on the east coast. My sister still lives there and I hear about it all the time. It's been a brutal winter, but I never understood why people want to stay there. I mean, I understand sometimes people have to stay. They have jobs. They have kids. Parents have to take care of them and so forth. But I just never understood the human desire to be in places that punish you.

When I left New York people said, how can you leave New York? How can you leave the intellectual climate and the artistic climate and I said what about the climate? That affects my mood a lot more than the intellectual climate. I can get "The New York Times" out here in California.

TAPPER: Bill Maher, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

MAHER: Sure, Jake. Great to see you.


TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD, a way of giving back to those who sacrificed so much. The new program matching service dogs with service members. Learn more about it coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. It's time now for "The Buried Lead." That's what we call stories that we think are not getting enough attention. Millions of Americans were probably tempted to put a Valentine's Day personal ads that read something like this, "Wanted a playful companion who loves to snuggle, enjoys long walks in the park and eating the crumbs I drop on the floor."

Let's face it, you never have to worry about a dog needing space or wanting to take a break. The cupid will not be able to take any of the credit for bringing potentially hundreds of service dogs into the wounded warriors. That honor will instead go to Petsmart and a group called Canine Companions for Independence.

As of today, they have a new partnership that will make it easier for disabled veterans to get one of these amazing animals completely free of charge.


TAPPER (voice-over): You've probably seen the videos, a loving dog, a proud service member, a tear-jerking welcome home from men's best friend. There's no hiding that these troops are important to the dogs. But increasingly thousands of veterans are coming to think of dogs as their lifelines.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a great position to be able to check their ears.

TAPPER: This is a room filled with service dogs in training. They seemed a bit more relaxed than those other excited dogs right now, but this group works hard for the benefit of those fighting to live a more normal life.

The non-profit group Canine Companions for Independence trains thousands of service dogs nationwide to help with a wide range of tasks from turning on lights to shutting doors to simply lifting their mood. Sergeant Calvin Smith spent a decade in the Marine Corps, including two tours in Iraq.

After surviving both a Humvee crash and an IED explosion, smith returned to California with injuries to his brain, back, and legs. For five years, this black lab Chesney has helped him with balance and small tasks, giving peace of mind to Smith and his entire family, including the supportive cat.

Today, Pet Smart announced that it is teaming up with Canine Companions for Independence to launch Pet Smart for Patriots, a nationwide effort to provide companions such as these to veterans in need, free of charge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's tough to ask for help. We've got to take care of our own.

TAPPER: Bruce Thorn is also a combat veteran and one of Pet Smart's top executives.

BRUCE THORN, SVP, STORE OPERATIONS AND SERVICES, PETSMART: It's not normal for servicemen and women today to think they need help. They always -- there's humility. They say, help someone else.

TAPPER: Smith wanted to help someone else first and insisted his own injuries were too minor to warrant a canine assistant.

SGT. CALVIN SMITH, IRAQ VETERAN: Kind of push it back like no, I'm good. Give it to somebody else, you know. I'm not that injured.

TAPPER: Accepting Chesney has enabled him to be more independent.

SMITH: Before I was always having to depend on people and it was like having my life back because he's been a huge part of me with the recovery process I find it only physical, but he's the best bud. He's definitely the meaning of man's best friend.

TAPPER: As Pet Smart for Patriots launches nationwide today, Thorn and Smith are hopeful that more veterans will experience the kind of friendship offered by Chesney.


TAPPER: Another reason why the pet smart partnership is so valuable, the cost of breeding and training these dogs is not cheap. According to Canine Companions for Independence, the price tag is usually around $50,000 per dog. Those wounded warriors interested in the program can check out their local PetSmart for more information.

It's sort of his job to love all mankind. So who better than the pope has advice on loving the one you are with on this Valentine's Day. Pope Francis gave advice to thousands of young couples. Put a ring on it. The pope said couples should not be afraid to get married. When it comes to weddings, don't focus on the parties but the purpose.

The next co-host of love lines with "Dr. Drew," but let's not forget that Valentine's Day actually started as a Christian holiday. If you're making a last minute chocolate run, I hope you are on the west coast because if you are on the east coast and waiting until 5:00 on Valentine's Day, you failed today as a significant other.

But your favorite chocolate provider may have upped the price and not just because it's a holiday. The demand is up for cocoa, partly because of the new-found love for dark chocolate in places like China and Middle East starting to eat more of the delicious commodity.

The "Wall Street Journal" reports that Mars, Hershey and other candy maker say, cocoa production needs to increase by 25 percent by the year 2020 or we could be facing a shortage. The fun fact according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American consumer spent nearly $150 in 2012 on sweets.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Brianna Keilar who is filling in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a great Valentine's Day. We'll see you next week.