The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/30/09

Guests:
Michael Isikoff, Eugene Robinson, Judy Shepard, Michael Osterholm, Pete Williams
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  And thank you at home for tuning in tonight.

Michael Isikoff will be joining us this hour with some breaking news on the terrorism front.  Eugene Robinson will be joining us on a new Republican rebranding effort.  And, as Keith said, Judy Shepard will be here.  She is the mother of the late Matthew Shepard.  She‘s here tonight to respond to some hateful comments made about her son and her son‘s death on the floor of the House of Representatives this week.

That is all coming up over the course of the next hour.

But we start with today, where White House officials revealed that a member of President Obama‘s advance team contracted swine flu during the president‘s trip to Mexico earlier this month.  He is an energy department staffer who apparently did not pass the virus on to anyone else in the White House.  But he did transmit it to his wife, his son and his nephew—who all live in the state of Maryland.

The elementary school that his son goes to decided today to scrub down their entire building but they did decide to keep the school open.  The same can‘t be said for 300 other American schools in 11 states, which closed their doors today.  In Alabama, the state‘s high school athletic association even decided to cancel all sports events—state-wide, until next Tuesday.

The World Health Organization says there are 257 confirmed cases around the world—the bulk of them in Mexico and in the United States.  Public health officials now leading what best can be described as a robust response to the outbreak at every level of government.

In terms of the public reaction, well, the latest polling shows that, by and large, Americans are not that concerned.  Just 22 percent told Gallup they are worried about getting swine flu—or as we‘re supposed to call it now, the swine-origin influenza A (H1N1).  I‘m sure that will catch on.

But as we continue to get new information about the character of the official response, how can we know whether government is overreacting or underreacting or getting it about right?  I mean, in the bigger context of all of this, every year, about 36,000 Americans died from the normal flu.  As of right now, this swine flu has killed one person in the United States.  In Mexico, the number of confirmed deaths is 12.  Twelve, of course, is awful.  One is awful.

But has this virus demonstrated enough potential for havoc that it justifies, for example, shutting down hundreds of schools?  On the other hand, the World Health Organization—which you might think knows a bit about world health—yesterday raised the global pandemic alert level to five.  That‘s on a scale of one to six.

Then today, the vice president of the United States went on national television and said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRES. JOE BIDEN, UNITED STATES:  I would tell members of my family—and I have—I wouldn‘t go anywhere in confined places now.  It‘s not just going to Mexico, it‘s you‘re in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes, it‘s goes all the way through the aircraft.  If you‘re out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that‘s one thing.  If you‘re in a closed aircraft, a closed container, a closed car, a closed classroom, it‘s a different thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I took an airplane this morning, and a subway ride, and a ride in a car with a taxi driver who sort of seemed like he had the sniffles, and I had the windows rolled up.

The vice president‘s office later unclarified Mr. Biden‘s statement, saying that what he meant to say is that people who are already sick shouldn‘t do things like get on planes.

Some unhelpful obfuscation to say the least when we‘re all trying to figure out how reasonable it is to change our lives due to this threat, and how much it is reasonable to change our lives if we decide we need to.

Joining us now is Dr. Michael Osterholm.  He‘s one of the nation‘s leading infectious disease experts and the director of the University of Minnesota‘s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

Dr. Osterholm, thank you so much for helping us out here tonight.

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, CTR. FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH & POLICY: 

Good evening.

MADDOW:  I would—I would love to sort of run through a series of responses to this outbreak and get your expert assessment of how reasonable each of these is.  We have a bit of a—sort of a prudent-o-meter, a worry meter, that will apply to each technique.  Is that all right with you?

OSTERHOLM:  Sure.  Go for it.

MADDOW:  All right.  Well, let‘s start with Vice President Biden‘s statement today, that he has advised his family to avoid flying on airplanes and avoid getting into confined spaces.  How reasonable is that?

OSTERHOLM:  Well, actually, right now, it‘s not very reasonable at all.  And, in fact, we would say that it‘s bad advice, given the risk.  On the other hand, if the pandemic were really upon us and we had real risk of transmission in communities, we‘d put it as both—very prudent and at the same time now today, we‘d say not so—not such a good idea.

MADDOW:  So, under the current circumstances right now, unless things get a lot worse, that‘s on the hysterical side of things.

OSTERHOLM:  That‘s on the hysterical side, absolutely.

MADDOW:  How about the decision by 300 schools across the country today to close their doors—meaning that more than a quarter of a million American kids were kept out of school today?

OSTERHOLM:  You know, in some instances, that‘s actually a really good idea—where you have very limited school contacts, meaning you have one school, one or two students, and in fact, they have just recently come into the school with infection.  There, you actually can minimize the transmission to the rest of the community by making sure the kids don‘t get it.  So that would actually be a prudent thing.

On the other hand, we saw hysterical responses, like we did with the school district in Texas, where over 100-and-some schools were sent home for the next week.  That really did border on hysterical.

MADDOW:  How can you tell the difference between a hysterical school closing and a non-hysterical school closing?

OSTERHOLM:  When, in fact, the kids in a classroom, in a given school, were actually in contact with someone who was infected.

MADDOW:  OK.

OSTERHOLM:  That makes sense.  I would have a hard time believing that there suddenly were 120 or 130 children all in 130 different schools in the Fort Worth area that then meant that the school district should close all those schools.

MADDOW:  I got you.  OK.

How about these calls that were actually addressed by the president last night in his press conference that the U.S. should close its border with Mexico?  He rejected that out of hand last night, but what do you think about that as a proposal?

OSTERHOLM:  Actually, I think it makes no scientific sense at all.  We‘re past that stage.  As he said last night, you know, the cows are out of the barn, it‘s too late to shut the door now.  We still can deal with it in our communities and we must, to try to minimize transmission.

But on the other hand, I also want to add, it‘s not that it, in fact, is not going to be scientifically helpful but it could actually be very detrimental.  There are many critical products that we use in this country, medical supplies, drugs, all kinds of things that are all made in Europe—offshore, Asia, even in Mexico, that if we close the borders, they would soon not be coming in to us and we could actually have very serious health consequences from not allowing those products across closed borders.

MADDOW:  OK.  So, a combination of it not making any sense, and having a huge opportunity or a huge unintended consequences implication (INAUDIBLE).

OSTERHOLM:  That would be hysterical.

MADDOW:  Yes.  OK.

The—we‘ve seen people in Mexico, and in some other countries wearing protective masks over their mouths and noses.  How prudent would that be right now?

OSTERHOLM:  Masks actually are a cosmetic kind of approach, in large part.  The mask that you see these people wearing in Mexico, as you notice, the sides are open, meaning there‘s not a tight face fit around the entire face—in that sense, the virus makes its way right in.  The masks—those masks actually work if you‘re the sick person coughing into them, you can minimize the transmission.  But as they‘re using them, they‘re of little use.

Now, I want to clarify.  There is another kind of what‘s the called the mask, it‘s actual an N-95 respirator.  It looks almost like the tie-behind-your-head mask, but it‘s actually tight-fitting around the face, and that actually can be very, very help.  And so, we want to be sure that all of our people out there understand the difference between the two.

MADDOW:  So, but your generic, like hardware store “I don‘t want saw dust up my nose” masks, it doesn‘t make sense unless you are the person who is sick trying to keep other people from being coughed on by yourself.

OSTERHOLM:  Actually, believe it or not, I‘m glad you said that—because, in fact, the hardware store often sells the respirator because of the paint fumes of type of device.  So, it‘s the ones that tie behind your head that you often find in hospitals and so forth, where the surgeons are wearing them not to basically cough things into your wound, it‘s actually the painters and the people like that that use the respirators and they are readily available in hardware stores.

MADDOW:  How about the prudent—how prudent it is to take heed of the advice from the U.S. government to not travel to Mexico unnecessarily?  Is that an overreaction or does that seem normal?

OSTERHOLM:  You know, I think right now, that is prudent in the sense that there happens to be an apparent widespread transmission in Mexico.  We have cases coming back into this country that have traveled to a number of different locations.  And so, I think, for the time being, particularly if it‘s not critical travel, that is a very good idea.

I would also say that if you do have to travel there for some very specific business or family emergency purpose, then do it.  And you can actually take the antiviral drugs we talk about, Tamiflu and Relenza in advance of going there and actually can be protective if you take it while you‘re there.

MADDOW:  Dr. Osterholm, what about some countries banning pork imports.  Does that make any sense?

OSTERHOLM:  That‘s absolutely hysterical there.  There is no risk of transmission of this virus via any pork, and for that matter, even situations like yesterday in Egypt, where it was recommended that all the pigs in all of Egypt be killed so that in fact a swine flu virus would not make its way into Egypt.  Those are extremely hysterical responses.

MADDOW:  Finally, last night, President Obama played sort of “physician in chief” at his press conference.  He advised Americans to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough.  It seemed like a prudent advice, was it?

OSTERHOLM:  Absolutely prudent advice.  And not just for influenza, but a number of other infectious diseases.  So, we would actually give him a very prudent score of 10 on that.

MADDOW:  All right.  Well, Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, this has been invaluable, and now, we have this weird like number line of things that are either prudent or don‘t make any sense, and we‘ll refer to it frequently.  Thanks for your time tonight, Doctor.

OSTERHOLM:  Thank you very much.

MADDOW:  If the president authorizes something, that make it‘s legal.  Now, who does that sound like?  Richard Nixon or Condoleezza Rice?  Trick question, because the answer is both.  Coming up: We‘ll be joined by “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff, who has a little other breaking news for us about the rule of law.

But first, One More Thing about the swine flu alert.  Sorry, I meant to say the swine-origin influenza A (H1N1) alert.  Do you remember Michael Brown?  He was the man who had run the Arabian Horse Association which the Bush administration saw as qualification aplenty for being put in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In the midst of FEMA‘s disastrous non-response to Hurricane Katrina, President Bush famously congratulated Mr. Brown on how good a job he was doing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  Brownie, you‘re doing a heck of a job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Now, 3 ½ years later, Brownie has been called upon by the FOX Business Channel to assess how well the Obama administration is responding to the swine flu.  He told host Neil Cavuto today that the Obama administration is act being like “Chicken Little,” saying the sky is falling.

Take it from Michael Brown.  Take it from the man who managed the federal government‘s response to Katrina.  Take it from him.  Relax.  This is no big deal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  So far, it has been former Vice President Dick Cheney who has been leading the defense of the Bush administration against the charge that when they authorized the torture of prisoners, they broke the law and they should therefore be prosecuted.  Honestly, Vice President Cheney‘s popularity is such that he probably could not sell ants to hungry ant-eaters right now, which might explain why calls to prosecute Bush officials have been growing and not fading away since he has been leading the defense.

But now, Condoleezza Rice is weighing in as well—perhaps inadvertently—as she was caught on tape responding to persistent questioning from a student at Stanford University.

Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is waterboarding torture in your opinion?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FMR. U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.  And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Special thanks to our friends at The Young Turks for making that tape available to us.

Condoleezza Rice essentially says there that the president said it was legal, so it was legal.  Condoleezza Rice is choosing to ditto the most ill-conceived, notorious, damning, self-incriminating, failed self-defense to charges of high crimes and misdemeanors ever authored by a woebegone American politician.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MAY 19, 1977)

RICHARD NIXON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  Well, when a president does it, that means that it is not illegal.

DAVID FROST, TV HOST:  By definition.

NIXON:  Exactly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Exactly.  That was 1977.  Richard Nixon being questioned by David Frost from the behind the comforting shield of a pardon that had been provided to him by his successor, Gerald Ford.

Twenty-two years later, no such pardons have been offered to Bush administration officials and the clamor for criminal investigations continues.  Today, 61 anti-torture protesters were arrested outside the White House, part of a larger group demanding the immediate closure of the prison at Guantanamo.

Republicans today released a Bush and Cheney-style fear up video, implying that the planned closure of Guantanamo should make Americans feel unsafe.

In the midst of this political hurly-burly, one legal case was resolved today, it was resolved with a man‘s day in court, and a guilty plea—a means of bringing criminal cases to an end that didn‘t used to be nearly so controversial.

Joining us now, Michael Isikoff, MSNBC contributor and investigative correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Mike, thanks so much for coming on the show.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, Ali al-Marri is the man whose case ended in a guilty plea today.  And it seems like what‘s maybe most remarkable about pleas, that it happened in a normal, run-of-the-mill criminal court, just like we used to use.  Can you remind us how he ended up in court?  How we got here with him?

ISIKOFF:  Exactly.  Score one for the criminal justice system, might be the sort of headline on this one.

Ali al-Marri was picked up after 9/11 and was just widely suspected of being a sleeper al Qaeda agent who is dispatched to the United States, had come here on September 10th, 2001, and was believed to be plotting further, a sort of second wave of attacks after 9/11.

But rather than charging him in a criminal court, the Bush administration designated him an “enemy combatant,” stripped him of all his constitutional rights—he was legally in the United States with a green card, he was enrolled at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois—and threw him in a military brig, denied him access to a lawyer, subjected him to enhanced interrogation techniques, he wasn‘t waterboarded, but there were aggressive techniques used—and wasn‘t charged with any crime.

So, this was a part of a pattern that was emerging post 9/11, Jose Padilla, who was a U.S. citizen was the—had been previously designated enemy combatant, essentially made non-person, and this prompted a huge constitutional debate, and contest as to whether or not a president can simply unilaterally strip somebody of his rights.  This was teed up to go to the Supreme Court this January when Barack Obama took office, and the Obama administration terminated the Supreme Court case by taking him out of military brig, charging him with two counts of terrorism charges in Peoria.

And today, amazingly, he pled guilty to some pretty significant set of facts, which we can get to in a moment.  But the bottom line is—in less than two months, we‘ve learned the truth about Ali al-Marri, which is that he was in fact an al Qaeda sleeper agent, something that for the previous 5 ½ years, the U.S. government had been unable to learn.

MADDOW:  And now, and we learned it through the normal criminal justice system, without modification, thanks to 9/11.

ISIKOFF:  Right.

MADDOW:  In terms of what he confessed to, or what he pled to, we know that he said he was in regular contact with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the supposed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.  I wonder, Mike, if that means that al-Marri could be used as a witness against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ever goes on trial.

ISIKOFF:  Right.  Exactly.  That maybe the most significant part of this.

First of all, I should say that the facts here are pretty significant and people are going to find them hair-raising.  This guy was—attended an Afghan training camp, met Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was dispatched by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the United States, with specific instructions to get here by September 10th, he wasn‘t told why, it was just so get in the country by September 10th.  He was given $10,000 by one of the financiers of the 9/11 attacks, and then, upon getting here, was in communication with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, had plot—done research about cyanide gases for potential cyanide gas attack in the United States.

So, this guy was in fact the dangerous dude that a lot of law enforcement and intelligence officials thought he was all along.  In that sense, the Bush administration can argue we‘ve been vindicated here.  But the fact is, it was only learned through the criminal justice system.  Now, as a result of this guilty plea, Ali al-Marri can be called in to federal court, at a trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and asked to simply recite the facts that he plead guilty to today.

And as a result, the criminal justice system, the Justice Department, is going to have direct evidence against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as an al Qaeda conspirator, trying to attack the United States, without having to use any of the tainted evidence it got through waterboarding and the other enhanced interrogation techniques they used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

MADDOW:  So, we end up at the end of this, after all of these years and all of these constitutional crises, one after the other, provoked by this system, ending up being able to charge people and bring evidence against them as if we are a normal country under the rule of law.  This .

ISIKOFF:  Right.

MADDOW:  Yes.

ISIKOFF:  Exactly the point the Obama administration has been trying to make.  Yes.

MADDOW:  Michael Isikoff, MSNBC contributor, investigative correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine, invaluable source for us—thanks so much for joining us tonight.

ISIKOFF:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Do you remember when AIG tried to make us forget that they were AIG by changing their name?  Turns out that didn‘t work.  We still knew it was them.

Now, they‘ve got another brilliant idea—they‘re going to change their name again.  (LAUGHTER)  Why not?  That‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  New federal hate crimes legislation has passed the House of Representatives.  The bill is named for Matthew Shepard, who was murdered nearly 10 years ago in Wyoming.  Matt‘s mom, Judy Shepard, joins us next to give us her reaction to the words of Congresswoman Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, who called Matthew‘s murder, quote, “a hoax.”  That is just ahead.

But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.

If you have trouble keeping track of which countries have apparently vestigial still quite well-liked monarchies, you are not alone.  Norway?  Yes, king and queen.  Japan—emperor.  Cambodia.  Yes, it‘s hard to keep track of who still has a monarchy.

But something happened today in the Netherlands on a holiday called Queen‘s Day.  That means that none of us will probably forget that Holland is one of those countries that does still have a monarchy.

Today, in the town of Apeldoorn, which is about 55 miles east of Amsterdam, the queen of Holland, Queen Beatrix, was traveling in a parade, with her family, in an open-topped bus, when a speeding, black Suzuki Swift barreled past police barricades, through a crowd of spectators and toward the bus that was carrying the royal family.  The driver very narrowly missed the bus full of royals, but it did kill five people in the crowd and wounded 12 others, four of whom were wounded seriously.

Queen Beatrix appeared on national television to address the nation after the event.  Police arrested a 38-year-old Dutchman who they pulled out of the speeding car after it crashed.  He‘s in critical condition.

Police say he had no weapons and no explosives.  He did appear to have any links to terrorist groups, but they do say that something he said to police officers after the crash when they were pulling him out of the vehicle led police to conclude that the attack was deliberate.  Very strange, very tragic situation.  We will keep you posted if we learn more about that.

Back here at home, news was dominated today by the announced bankruptcy of Chrysler.  The president saying that the government will provide financing during the bankruptcy proceeding and that he expects a better, stronger Chrysler to emerge from a bankruptcy period that is quick, official and controlled.  Government intervention in collapsed sections of the U.S. economy continues to be a political and policy challenge for the Obama administration, with the president stating repeatedly in his third primetime press conference that he did not want the government to be in the business of running car companies or banks—or, frankly, any other private businesses.

Still, though, we do own huge public stakes in many companies now.  There‘s news today that a company of which we, American citizens, own about 80 percent, AIG, is still having trouble even trying to make people forget that fact.  You‘ll recall that the all-but-failed insurance company changed the name of its largest division back in March.  They changed it to AIU, American International Underwriters—trying to downplay the whole AIG brand thing.

Amazingly, changing AIG to AIU didn‘t seem to do the trick.  “The New York Times” today is reporting that they are now considering changing their name again—reportedly having it narrowed down to two or three new choices with no assurances that they will even keep the word “American” in the company‘s new name.  Awkward, of course, since 4/5 of the company is quite literally American, as in owned by the people of the United States of America.

Bottom line, the American International Group, AIG, is now officially the bad American business that made American, even the name “American” bad for business.

And finally, a bit of a RACHEL MADDOW SHOW PSA about a PSA.  You might remember from Veterans Day this past year, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America started this campaign.  Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP OF IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA PSA)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Welcome home, man. 

(CAPTION READS:  If you‘re a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan, you‘re not alone.  We know where you‘re coming from.)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was the kickoff campaign from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America for a new Web site, “”CommunityOfVeterans.org”.”  It‘s sort of Facebook designed but just for veterans, to try to build, as they say, a community of vets online. 

Well, now, IVA is following up with a new resource for people who are friends and family of the 1.7 million or so Americans who have served in these two ongoing wars.  It‘s called “”SupportYourVet.org”.”  And the really, really, really well-done PSA campaign for this starts today.  Check it out. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You may not know what to say, but we can help start the conversation.  Learn more at “”SupportYourVet.org”.”  

MADDOW:  Big props to the ad council and to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America for putting this together.  It is “SupportYourVet.org” and “CommunityOfVeterans.org.”  Could not be cooler.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Early on October 7th, 1998, in Laramie, Wyoming, a 21-year-old college student named Matthew Shepard was beaten and tied to a fence and left there to die.  Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, 21 and 22, at the time, have admitted to the killing.  Henderson told police that he and McKinney lured Mr. Shepard into their truck by pretending to be gay.  They then drove Mr. Shepard to the outskirts of town where they beat and robbed him and tied him up and left him for dead. 

About 18 hours after McKinney and Henderson drove away, Matt Shepard was discovered by a passing biker and rushed to the hospital where he died of his injuries five days after the crime on October 12th. 

In March of the following year, which was just a few months after her son‘s death, Matt Shepard‘s mom, Judy, went to Washington to push for an expansion of American hate crimes legislation. 

The concept behind this kind of legislation is often misconstrued but here‘s the deal as I understand it.  The idea is that the Federal Justice Department can get involved in a case to help local authorities or even to take the lead on a case if need be, in prosecuting individual serious violet crimes and murders in which the victim was selected on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability.  The idea that crimes like that are intended not only to hurt or murder an individual but to terrorize an entire community. 

And so there is a national interest in ensuring that those crimes are solved and prosecuted, particularly if local law enforcement doesn‘t want to because they are blinkered by the same prejudice that led to the crime in the first place. 

Judy Shepard has been fighting for 10 years now to get hate crimes law expanded to cover things like sexual orientation.  And yesterday, she was in D.C. as the House passed a new expanded bill by a nearly 75-vote margin.  That was her silver lining yesterday, the big deal.  Though a little cloud was having to hear Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx of North Carolina make this argument on the House floor against the bill.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. VIRGINIA FOXX ®, NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSWOMAN:  There was a bill - the Hate Crimes Bill that‘s called the Matthew Shepard Bill, is named after a very unfortunate incident that happened where a young man was killed.  But we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery.  It wasn‘t because he was gay.  This bill was named for him - a Hate Crimes Bill was named for him, but it‘s really a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  It wasn‘t because he was gay.  That‘s a hoax.  That‘s an excuse. 

Joining us now is Judy Shepard.  Mrs. Shepard, thank you so much for coming on the show and for agreeing to let us play that sound bite now so we could get your reaction to it now.  Thank you. 

JUDY SHEPARD, MOTHER OF MATTHEW SHEPARD:  No.  Thank you, Rachel, for having me on.  I welcome the opportunity to address the issue.  

MADDOW:  You probably knew there would be a contentious debate surrounding this legislation in the House.  But did you have any idea that you were in for that kind of personal attack on your son? 

SHEPARD:  Well, you know, I - attacks of lesser consequence, I guess, have been said about Matt since the beginning.  And in 2007 when it passed the House, the same sort of vitriol was spoken from the floor then as well.  I did not ever expect it to ever be called a hoax. 

Anyone who has done any research into what happened to Matt knows it was a hate crime, even though technically, we couldn‘t prosecute it that way because there was no hate crime law in Wyoming at all and no federal hate crime law protecting sexual orientation.  So we couldn‘t call it a hate crime, but it was. 

MADDOW:  Congresswoman Foxx later said that she was clarifying her comments.  She said that Matt‘s death was a tragedy.  She said the term “hoax” was a poor choice of words.  I have to say that doesn‘t really sound like an apology to me, but I don‘t want to put those words in your mouth.  Has it changed the way you feel about it? 

SHEPARD:  No. 

MADDOW:  No, it doesn‘t?  

SHEPARD:  It is.  It‘s apologizing for semantics, not for her sentiment or actually, what she said, her insensitivity and her ignorance.  She‘s apologizing for semantics.

MADDOW:  Despite this tremendous ugliness from Congresswoman Foxx, which I‘m sorry you have to hear again on this show.  But I‘m glad you said it was OK for us to play it so we could talk about it.  The good news is that the Hate Crimes Bill did pass in the House yesterday by that very large margin. 

Do you think that it‘s going to make it through the Senate, too?  And can you tell us what would change for Americans if it did become law? 

SHEPARD:  Well, I‘m very hopeful this time.  It will be more difficult in the Senate because it‘s - the rules are different.  The way they have - the procedure is different.  We know we have the president‘s support.  We know we have the support of the senators.  It‘s just how it‘s presented now that will be the key. 

I‘m very hopeful that all legislation protecting the gay and lesbian community will be addressed during Obama‘s administration and how it will change in Matt‘s case in particular, in Wyoming, because the federal law did not cover sexual orientation as a protected category. 

Laramie was not eligible for federal resources, for federal financial help.  They had to furlough four employees to pay for the investigation in the subsequent trials.  That‘s not right.  That‘s not right. 

And in any community, as you said earlier, where it appears that the legal entities are not prosecuting a crime because of their own prejudice, the Federal Government can step in and actually do the right thing.  This is an amazing advance of what already exists.  

MADDOW:  What do you say to people who argue that there isn‘t a national interest, there isn‘t a federal interest justifying why the Justice Department should help out in cases like this, that cases like this shouldn‘t be privileged over murder or a serious violent crime that was committed not because of bias? 

SHEPARD:  Right.  You know, I hear that argument all the time, special rights for special people.  It‘s not even the point.  What this does is bring us up to a level of equality in the prosecution.  As you said, personal bias in officers or prosecution is absolutely indicative of what‘s going to happen sometimes.  Not always, but sometimes. 

And we need the vehicle to be able to address it somehow.  And the crimes that are committed as hate crimes, they‘re meant to send a message to a community not to an individual.  It‘s a totally different type of crime. 

MADDOW:  Judy, shortly after Matt was killed, you started a foundation in his name, the Matthew Shepard Foundation.  I have to ask you how that‘s going.  

SHEPARD:  You know, we‘re doing OK.  We‘re very small - five employees.  And we have an office in Denver.  We do amazing things in education.  We have a couple of killer Web sites that are very, very important and dynamic and full of information.  We invite everyone to visit us.  I think we‘re doing OK.  You know, we‘re suffering from the same dilemma, all nonprofits are right now, with the very hard time finding funding.  But we‘ll be OK. 

MADDOW:  Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard and the executive director of Matthew Shepard Foundation, thank you so much for making time to join us tonight.  I know it wasn‘t easy logistically, so I‘m particularly appreciative.  Thanks.  

SHEPARD:  Well, thank you, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  You can find out more information about the Matthew Shepard Foundation at “MatthewShepard.com.”  There‘s tons of good outreach material, educational material as well, posted at “MatthewsPlace.com”  That‘s a site that particularly is useful for young people and their families. 

If you don‘t remember either of those Web sites, never fear.  They are both posted at our Web site today - links to them - at “Rachel.MSNBC.com.” 

OK.  Coming up next, the Republicans are taking their GOP in exile show on the road.  Come one, come all, meet the brand-new Republican Party.  John McCain, Mitt Romney, the president‘s brother.  Pretend you‘ve never met these guys before, OK?  Pulitzer-prize winning columnist Gene Robinson joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority, RNC chairman Michael Steele keeps delivering the Michael Steele-ness, having already promised an off-the-hook GOP makeover aimed at urban, suburban hip hop settings beyond the cutting edge, having offered up slum love to the Louisiana governor and Indian American Bobby Jindal, having derided the economic stimulus as bling-bling, having restored the use of the word “baby” to mid-1970s levels for which I, for one, am grateful.

This morning Michael Steele dropped by “Morning Joe,” baby, to talk

diversity in the Republican Party.  Everyone still wears the metaphorical

GOP baseball hat, he said.  But -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  You wear your hat one way you like to wear it, you know, kind of cocked to the left.  Yes, you know, because that‘s cool out west.  In the midwest, you guys like to wear it a little bit to the right.  In the south, you wear it with the brim straight ahead.  In the northeast, I wear my hat backwards, you know, because that‘s how we roll in the northeast. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  What did we ever talk about before there was Michael Steele?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  If you are a Republican, you are in very select company right now.  Despite no tangible barrier to entry, the party includes, by the estimation of the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, just 21 percent of the country.  Twenty-one percent of people identified themselves as Republicans.  That‘s the lowest number in more than 25 years.  And just 16 percent of independents say they even lean Republican. 

So what‘s a party that small to do?  How about a traveling road show?  The political revival on wheels is the brain child of minority whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, who today unveiled a new initiative called the National Council for a New America, featuring Jeb Bush of Florida.  He‘s not George Bush; he‘s George Bush‘s brother. 

John McCain of Arizona.  He came in second to Barack Obama.  Mitt Romney of Massachusetts - I mean, Utah and Michigan.  He came in second to John McCain. And Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana - you might remember him from his response to the president‘s not State of the Union address in January.  Boy did, that go over. 

And that is not all.  They have also reached out to the Newt kid on the block, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin of Alaska.  Those two reportedly not on board yet but they have been asked.  The list of invitees conspicuously does not include the leader himself of the party itself, RNC chairman and sound bite marvel, Michael Steele. Apparently, the traveling road show is just, you know, this side of the cutting edge. 

Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post.”  Hi, Eugene.  

EUGENE ROBINSON, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON

POST”:  Hi, Rachel.  

MADDOW:   I can never figure out if I‘d rather be on the far side of the cutting edge, about to get cut, or if I‘d like to be on the near side.  So, anyway.  Never mind.  Sorry.  Congressman Cantor said that there‘s no one who‘s not been invited to join the new road show thing.  So where is Michael Steele? 

ROBINSON:  All right.  What he meant to say was there‘s almost no one who‘s not been invited to join, because what you hear coming out of the National Council for a New America is that while, you know, this is about - this is not strictly partisan.  After all, of course, they want to build a new Republican Party, but they want independents and Democrats to come to their, I guess, revival meetings, or whatever it is they‘re going to have. 

So that‘s why they didn‘t invite Michael Steele.  I think the real reason is that they‘re just not down with the whole backwards baseball cap thing.  

MADDOW:  I thought that might not be very new America.  It‘s very ‘90s.  

ROBINSON:  That‘s not the way they roll.  And so, you know -

MADDOW:  Congressman Cantor and Sen. McCain, when they announced this today - they were both adamant this is not about re-branding the Republican Party.  What do you think it is for? 

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, take a step back.  Why wouldn‘t it be about

re-branding the Republican Party at this point?  I mean, I hope that was

smoke that they were blowing and that, in fact, they are going to try to

re-brand the Republican Party and, by the way, develop a set of ideas based

on Republican principles that have some relevance for 2009. 

And I kind of wish they would.  I mean, certainly we could use an opposition party that had a sophisticated, clever critique of the Obama administration.  It would make everything better.  It would make the administration better.  That sort of competition is supposed to be good for the country.  I think it is good for the country and we don‘t have it now.  Now, is this set of Republicans going to do that?  I‘m not sure.  

MADDOW:  It‘s striking to me that - and I don‘t mean to single him out specifically for any laudatory reason, but just because I thought he would be an obvious choice.  It‘s striking to me that this invitation doesn‘t seem to have involved Tim Pawlenty.  There are some other governors mentioned Haley Barbour, who is a former chair of the party, very conservative governor in Mississippi. 

With Pawlenty not invited, since he‘s sort of always put forward as the practical guy, it seems to me like they are not really focusing on that practical solutions aim that you‘re discussing. 

ROBINSON:  It seems to be that maybe they‘re not.  But there are - you know, Bobby Jindal, you know, is a really smart guy.  His performance in responding to the Obama speech was pretty disastrous, but he‘s very smart.  And there are other Republican thinkers involved there.  It‘s just an odd mix of people. 

Mitt Romney is not exactly, you know, the person I think of when I think next century.  But - and Sarah Palin, they say they‘ve reached out to her.  So, I don‘t know what you get except a kind of a little mini-Republican convention and the last Republican convention didn‘t really produce anything that went very far.  So I don‘t know about it. 

MADDOW:  Gene, one last very quick question.  The council wants to engage the American people to bring in views that aren‘t from Washington.  I have to ask you just - because I think you geographically know.  How far is their first stop from Washington?  It‘s in Arlington, Virginia. 

ROBINSON:  It‘s across the bridge, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  I thought -

ROBINSON:  It‘s actually part of the original boundaries of the District of Columbia.  So one hopes they get a bit further field at a later date.  

MADDOW:  That‘s how you get the Pulitzer Prize.  Thank you, Gene Robinson with (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  Always great to have you on the show, Gene.  

ROBINSON:  It‘s great to be here, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  All right.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN” Keith hosts John Dean to ask if the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just admitted to a crime and what that could mean to the question of possible prosecution. 

Next on this show, we have a cocktail moment, a much needed cocktail moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  MSNBC can bring you some breaking news right now.  We are just hearing reports attributed to government officials who are saying that Supreme Court Justice David Souter plans to retire.  Justice Souter is 69 years old.  He‘s not the oldest member of the court.  That honor goes to Justice John Paul Stevens, who is 89-year-old.  Souter fully 20 years younger than him.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg is also 76.

There had been speculation that Souter might be considering retiring because of the timing of the choice of his clerks this year. 

We are joined right now by NBC News justice correspondent, Pete Williams, who brings us this reporting.  Pete, thanks very much for joining us. 

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT:  You bet.  Well, we‘ve been told by several government sources that Justice Souter has signaled his intention to retire and that he would be stepping down.  It‘s not entirely clear whether it would be at the end of this term or whether it would be as soon as a nomination can be made. 

But, as you note, he‘s 69.  He just passed the period where he would be choosing his clerks and that‘s what got the gossip going, that maybe he wasn‘t going to stay around. 

But, we‘ve now been told by several government officials that he has signaled his intention that he intends to retire.  Now, this would mean, of course, that Barack Obama would be nominating a replacement on the Supreme Court.  And it‘s important to remember that that probably will not change the philosophical lineup of the court in any big seismic shift. 

Justice Souter, though he was appointed by George Bush was a Republican appointee, the first President George Bush.  He had two Supreme Court appointments, Clarence Thomas and David Souter.  He has, though, appointed by - the first President Bush has tended to vote with the more liberal members of the court. 

Oftentimes, cases are decided by a 5 to 4 vote and Justice Souter is one of those four who tends to vote with the more liberal members of the court, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. 

So, to have his successor chosen by a Democratic President Barack Obama and confirmed by a Democratic Senate with what appears a relatively comfortable margin in the Senate, also controlled by Democrats, means that we‘re going to get a moderate to liberal justice, although you can be sure that the Republicans will try very hard to make sure the president doesn‘t get a very liberal justice. 

But, the big news here is that David Souter intends to retire, we‘re told, by a number of government officials.  He, himself, had no comment tonight.  A spokesman for the Supreme Court said he had no comment.  And he didn‘t say anything about this.  Yesterday was the last day for oral argument of the term.  He said nothing about it publicly. 

MADDOW:  Pete, one last very quick question, is there any - all right.  We‘ve actually got to go right now.  But thank you very much for this reporting.  I appreciate it, Pete Williams.  Please stay tuned to MSNBC and “MSNBC.com” for the latest developments.  We will be staying, of course, with this breaking news that David Souter is retiring.  “COUNTDOWN” starts right now. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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