The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 07/15/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. I always just assumed that was sort of your knuckleball. That‘s just sort of delayed impact.
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: It goes so fast that the sound arrives later than the pitch does.
MADDOW: Very impressive.
OLBERMANN: There you go.
MADDOW: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right. Take care.
MADDOW: And thank you at home for tuning in.
We have boiled down the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings tonight to their snappy core. The bad news is that that snappy core appears to still be the racial obsession of the Republican senators who are opposed to her.
Also, there was only one real problem with Sarah Palin‘s big debut as a policy wonk. But it was a doozie of a problem. We‘ll get to that this hour.
Plus, sharp attack survivors were on Capitol Hill today defending sharks. One of them, a survivor, not a shark, will join us along with lots of super awesome shark video.
And we have a seriously feel good follow-up to the story of Iraq‘s national baseball team coming up this hour. Stick around for the details - in part about how amazing the people who watch this show are.
But we begin tonight with new details on the secretive religious organization that finds itself at the center of two major Republican sex scandals this summer. The group is called the Family. And they run a house that a number of members of Congress live in in Washington, D.C. It‘s called C Street.
Now, we‘ve learned this summer that both Senator John Ensign of Nevada and Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina got counseling of some sort at C Street while they were both carrying on their extramarital affairs. As C Street has become an integral part of the story of those two scandals, the group‘s trademark extreme secrecy appears to be starting to crack.
First, we have new comments to report about the Family and C Street from Republican Congressman Zach Wamp of Tennessee. Congressman Wamp has lived at the C Street house for 12 years. After the Ensign scandal broke, he spoke to the “Knoxville News Sentinel” and they reported, quote, “The C Street residents have all agreed they won‘t talk about their private living arrangements, Wamp said, and he intends to honor that pact.” Quoting him, “‘I hate it that John Ensign lives in the house and this happened because it opens up all these kinds of questions,‘ Wamp said. But, he said, ‘I‘m not going to be the guy who goes out and talks.‘”
After we read that quote from the “Knoxville News Sentinel” on this show a few days ago, Congressman Wamp complains to us, insisting that those who live in the house are not actually sworn to secrecy—even though that was the clear implication of what he told that Knoxville paper. We followed up with the “Knoxville News Sentinel” again today and again, they say that Congressman Wamp‘s office has made no complaint to them like the one he‘s made to us. He‘s still only complaining to us for broadcasting what the paper printed.
Now, Congressman Wamp has given another interview about the Family, this time to “The Chattanooga Time‘s Free Press.” They asked him specifically about the C Street house.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REP. ZACH WAMP ®, TENNESSEE: It‘s a place that people can go off the Hill, and in a bipartisan way, get along and, and, you know, hold each other accountable. But it‘s not like, there‘s really nothing to talk about, except that‘s what we chose to do.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Well, I mean, it seems like—by all accounts, it seems to be a secretive group.
WAMP: But it‘s not. I‘m just telling you. It‘s where people live. And you go there to fellowship, and, you know, we happen to have a common denominator of our faith. But that‘s a good thing.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: It‘s a good thing. There‘s really nothing to talk about. We hold each other accountable. We‘re all sworn not to talk about this thing but it‘s not like that means it‘s secretive.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
WAMP: They didn‘t want to violate people‘s private decisions to come there. And you know what happens when you share and the media writes about it? Nobody comes and the whole thing evaporates. That‘s why. It‘s not secretive. It‘s that that‘s the only way something like this can exist.
That‘s why it happens that way, man. So, it‘s not like anybody is trying to hide anything. It‘s so that people will feel like they can.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: It‘s not secretive. It‘s that that‘s the only way something like this can exist. It‘s not secretive. It‘s just that if we don‘t keep secrets, nobody will come talk to us. Nobody will join.
So, they all knew about Governor Sanford‘s affair in Argentina and Senator Ensign‘s affair with this campaign treasurer. They knew about those affairs for months, while those affairs were kept secret from everyone else.
Now, yet another C Streeter is coming forward. His name is former Republican Congressman Steve Largent of Oklahoma. He lived at the C Street house while he was in Congress. He says he still participates in weekly dinners and discussions there.
Mr. Largent now tells “The Tulsa World” newspaper that he came back to C Street to participate in a confrontation between C Street members and John Ensign about his extramarital affair. He says, quote, “We are all very good friends. He was wandering off the reservation.”
“Largent said the group who confronted Ensign left unsure of its impact but eventually the meeting produced a, quote, ‘good result.‘ It turned out to be very constructive.”
Now, Mr. Largent denies that anyone at C Street suggested that John Ensign pay off his mistress or his mistress‘ family. But he does provide us a little more insight into the internal accountability that‘s at work in this mysterious group—accountability which it now seems may be designed to replace the members of this group sense of accountability to anyone outside the group.
“Mr. Largent said each of the men in”—excuse me—“each of the men who live in the house has given others license to confront each other if there‘s something going on that shouldn‘t be going on in someone‘s life.”
Asked if Senator Ensign and Mark Sanford should resign in light of their affairs, Mr. Largent said, quote, “First of all, my biggest concern is about their personal well being and their families‘ well being. Beyond that, whether they stay in office or not, I think that‘s a calculation that only they can make.”
My biggest concern is about their personal well being.
When it came to President Clinton‘s affair back in 1998, Steve Largent was a congressman then. And when he was a congressman, he had a much different view of such situations. Saying at the time, quote, “I don‘t think any reasonable people could say that the president should not resign. I think even reading the president‘s own censure resolution, you can‘t come away with any other conclusion than that this president should resign. It‘s the honorable thing to do.”
The honorable thing to do apparently is what matters when you‘re not a member of the Family. When you are a member of the Family, forget honor. It‘s your personal well being that matters now.
In both the John Ensign case and the Mark Sanford case, the more we learn about the theology of this secret group—its reason for being, the way it operates—the more the group seems to explain how these politicians were able to involve many, many other members of Congress and even former members of Congress in keeping their affairs secret and why both men who had called on other politicians to resign when they‘d had affairs are themselves refusing to resign themselves now that they have been caught doing the same thing.
There‘s still a lot we don‘t know about C Street, but the picture that‘s beginning to emerge is of a group whose members essentially agree to disclose their secrets to one another as an alternative to disclosing them to anyone else. Members who agree not to talk about the Family but who are accountable for their actions to the Family and to nobody else—democracy, right?
Joining us now once again is Jeff Sharlet. He lived with members of this secret organization for a year as part of some extraordinary reporting he did for “Harper‘s” magazine. That reporting turned into one of the hottest books on the market right now. It‘s called “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.” It‘s out now in paperback.
Jeff, thanks very much for coming back on the show tonight.
JEFF SHARLET, HARPER‘S MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: Hi, Rachel.
Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: When it comes to the issue of giving up any power, I feel like the more these members of the group start to talk publicly now, I‘m starting to get a sense of a standard here. If you‘re—if you‘re in the group, the outcome of a scandal like this is about your personal well being. If you‘re not in the group, you have to give up power as the honorable thing to do.
Do you feel like, from what you know about this group, that there is something going on about internal accountability to the members of the Family replacing accountability to anybody else?
SHARLET: That‘s exactly it. When they talk about accountability they‘re referring to accountability to your fellow brothers in this fellowship. Zach Wamp, himself, in fact, has cited a scripture verse that says “when you walk in a special fellowship together, you are purified of all sin.” But only when you‘re in that fellowship, only when you‘re in this Family.
If you‘re outside of the Family, well then you‘re accountable to the public. But inside the Family, you are accountable to a higher calling which is this idea that the Family teaches the politicians involved that they‘ve been chosen for their leadership positions not by the people who elected them but by God who they believe put them in power.
MADDOW: That‘s why the secretive nature of this group I think has anti-democratic, small d, democratic implications. I think that‘s why C Street and the Family has turned out to be the much larger story than these two individual affairs.
Jeff, Congressman Largent said that those who live in the house give each other license to intervene in each other‘s affairs. What do you know about? How does that work?
SHARLET: Yes. That reflects a document that you‘re given as you sort of move up into positions of authority within the group. You‘re assigned to a sort of core group. And that‘s what Ensign and Coburn and Largent were in, along with Senator Sam Brownback was involved to that group as well.
And when you—when you join this group, which they describe as a publicly invisible but privately identifiable group of companions or an invisible believing group—when you join this group, you agree to give the other men in your prayer cell—now it‘s called a prayer cell—you agree to give them veto rights over your life. And we‘ve seen that with Senator Ensign and the way in which the affair was handled and these questions around whether who—who directed him to give money to his mistress. It seems like he‘s getting instruction from the group.
And that‘s what I think is former Congressman Largent is referring to when he says you give one another license.
MADDOW: On that issue of secrecy, Congressman Wamp—as I mentioned in the introduction—complained to us about our essentially reading a quote from a newspaper that he—when he didn‘t complain to the newspaper about it. And I raise that again because Congressman Wamp seems to be sort of tying himself into knots about the issue of secrecy—simultaneously complaining this group isn‘t secretive but also saying that if they didn‘t keep secrets then the group would have no power. Nobody would join and the group would go away.
And now, you‘ve been talking about this in terms of how it functions among these individual members, but is secrecy integral to their idea of power and their version of Christianity?
SHARLET: Absolutely. They would defend it by just saying, “Look, we‘re avoiding institutionalization and we don‘t want to get all gunked up with bureaucracy.” At the same time, the model they give, is to say, “Look, we are Christian mafia, we‘re modeled like the mafia. And this is like the mafia. We function invisibly.”
Doug Coe, the leader of the group who has been spiritually counseling these congressmen through their affairs and so, says, the more invisible you can make your organization, the more influence you have.
You know, Congressman Wamp—Zach Wamp said, you know, “There‘s nothing to hide here” to which I can only respond—why are so many internal Family documents that you can get if you get ahold of these internal documents marked “please destroy after reading”? I don‘t write that on my documents. That seems like something you‘re doing if you are trying to hide in fact a specific document, I‘m thinking, says “We don‘t want this to leak to the public. We don‘t want our political activities to leak out to the public.”
MADDOW: In terms of the fact that members of these groups agree to divulge matters amongst themselves but not with the outside world , and thinking about this and starting to figure this out with the way they relate to the Senator Ensign scandal and Senator Sanford scandal, it got me wondering about the limits of this.
I mean, if a member of a prayer cell, one of these groups, came to the group and said, “I‘ve committed murder,” would they feel an obligation to tell people outside the group? What‘s the limit of what they would keep to themselves? These guys, a lot of people here kept these affairs secret from the public for months.
SHARLET: Yes, you know, I think one thing we have to deal with when looking at religious groups like the Family, we have to take their beliefs seriously. So, when they say your first loyalty is not to your constituents, it‘s not to the public that elects you, it‘s not even to your own personal family, it‘s to your brothers in this family, they mean it. And they do believe it seriously.
So, I think if you look at those kinds of situations where possibly a crime is being committed, I think the Family is going to attempt to address that internally. And when you look back at their history, certainly, with some of the foreign leaders they‘ve dealt with, that‘s exactly how they‘ve done it. They were very involved with a lot of the death squad leaders in Central America. And they would say, “Look, we might discuss that internally” but they‘re not going to go public with very—literally, the murder those guys were committing.
And I think we see on the level of these sort of personal ethics and professional ethics that Senator Ensign and Governor Sanford are displaying we see that same kind of approach of loyalty to the sect above loyalty to the public, to the constituents, and to the people of America.
MADDOW: Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power”—Jeff, as always, scary and illuminating. Thanks for coming back on the show.
SHARLET: Thanks very much, Rachel.
MADDOW: Sonia Sotomayor‘s Supreme Court confirmation hearing continued today and as befits the solemnity of such an occasion, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn quoted Ricky Ricardo. Thereby officially establishing the fine line between awkward and—oh, God, please tell me he did not just do that. “Slate‘s” Dahlia Lithwick will join us next to talk about that.
And later, Sarah Palin took a serious policy position on the cap-and-trade energy bill in “The Washington Post” this week—except it wasn‘t Sarah Palin‘s policy position. A whole different kind of awkward involving Governor Palin—that is coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: So, I want to just start with the comments that you‘ve made about the “wise Latina.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Of course, that‘s where you want to start. That was sort of the name of the game again today—as Republican senators chose for the third straight day at the Supreme Court nomination hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to focus on race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I‘m still concerned about some of the issues that have been raised with regard to the “wise Latina” quote where you said that they should make decisions that are better than a white male.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the lead Republican senator on the judiciary committee.
Not to be outdone, Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn sort of swung for the fences today with a brief impression of the Cuban husband character played by Desi Arnaz on “I love Lucy” in the 1950s. The strange moment came up in a strange hypothetical about gun rights.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: If I go home, get a gun, come back and shoot you, that may not be legal under New York law because you would have alternative ways to defend.
SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA: You‘d have lots of ‘splainin‘ to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You‘d have lots of ‘splainin‘ to do. Senator Coburn goes Ricky Ricardo on the first Latina nominee to the Supreme Court.
As a person who loved the Ricky Ricardo character and all of “I Love Lucy,” this is certainly—I have to say—not the most offensive thing Senator Coburn has ever said in the Senate, and it was certainly not the most revealing moment of racial fixation in these hearings. But, still.
Meanwhile, MSNBC‘s own Pat Buchanan—known in these parts as Uncle Pat—is now urging the Republicans on in one of the most over-the-top racial politics commentaries I have seen in years, arguing in his regular column at HumanEvents.com, that Republicans should be using the Sonia Sotomayor hearings even more overtly to exploit racial animus against minorities among white voters.
Pat writes, quote, “These are the folks who paid the price of affirmative action when their sons and daughters are pushed aside to make room for the Sonia Sotomayors. What Republicans must do is expose Sotomayor as a political activist whose career bespeaks a lifelong resolve to discriminate against white males.” “Sonia is first and foremost,” Pat writes, “a Latina.”
Sonia is. Somehow, I doubt that Uncle Pat and Judge Sotomayor are on a first name basis, but who knows? The stoking of white people‘s racial animus, not to stop this nomination but to get votes in the future, does seem to be the big elephant in the room, Republican strategy in these hearings anyway. We may have Mr. Buchanan‘s column to thank for making that strategy way less subtle. Pat will be here tomorrow night after the close of the hearings to talk it through with me.
But right now, we are joined with our unpaid but much appreciated de facto hearings correspondent, Dahlia Lithwick. She‘s chief legal correspondent and senior editor at Slate.com.
Dahlia, thanks very much for coming back on the show.
DAHLIA LITHWICK, SLATE.COM: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: So, today on “Slate,” you wrote that Republicans chose to turn this historic hearing into a crab and bitter conversation about the impact of race on America. You said, “It was the GOP‘s choice to turn this hearing from a conversation about diversity into a fight about race.” I‘m guessing that means no change from the race focus on day three of the hearings, then, huh?
LITHWICK: It becomes almost unfathomable, Rachel. I mean, I get it. She shouldn‘t have said the “wise Latina” thing. Question her about it once; question her about it twice.
But when you‘re going and going and going on it—when Jeff Sessions does his second round on it, it just starts to look as though maybe they don‘t understand how this sounds. Maybe they think they‘re having a civil conversation about judicial activism and interpretation and they‘re just using the “wise Latina” quote.
But every time you hear it, what comes out is, “Why do you hate white guys, Sonia?” And it‘s just, I mean, it‘s like being battered with it.
MADDOW: Well, I wanted to mention the Pat Buchanan column today. We‘re going to have Pat on the show tomorrow to talk about his column. I‘m really looking forward to that.
He is overtly urging Republicans to try to use these hearings to build support among white voters who feel under attack by minorities to really stoke that. And I feel like that‘s been the analysis that I‘ve had that I‘ve been trying to point out that‘s what it seems like they‘re doing. He is overtly urging them to do it.
When you‘re in the room—does it seem like that‘s what they‘re trying or does it seem like they think they‘re having a civil conversation?
LITHWICK: I think that they feel like they are having a jurisprudential discussion about something she said that concerns them. I mean, I really—Democrats keep going out of their way to commend them on how polite and respectful they‘re being. So, I think that there‘s just a tin ear problem here where they‘re not entirely clear on how it‘s landing, and certainly not clear that landing the same point again and again and again ad infinitum, at the risk of talking about something that‘s serious and meaningful like her record—just the aggregate of this is really overwhelming.
MADDOW: Dahlia, you‘ve also raised the issue of the Democrats‘ lost opportunity here. You said at “Slate” today that you learned more about liberal theories on jurisprudence from Democrats‘ opposition to Roberts and Alito than you could glean from how they are supporting Sotomayor. What do you mean by that?
LITHWICK: Well, this has just been an amazing lost opportunity, I think, for Democrats. You know, they had a three-day infomercial. All they needed to do for three days was just wind up and explain what‘s wrong with the John Roberts court. Why does the Roberts court have this determination to keep Americans, average Americans out of the courthouse doors? Why are they so set on doing away with the racial progress we‘ve made?
Nobody makes that point. Instead we have at least half the Democrats on the committee racing into the embrace of John Roberts—you know, promising us that Sotomayor is going to be tough on crime, loves guns, is a strict constructionist, is a minimalist. It‘s just bizarre—the extent to which John Roberts‘ shadow hovers over these hearings.
And Democrats—it‘s like Patty Hearst syndrome. They‘ve completely bought into the notion that, you know, justice is cold, bold in stripes (ph), anything over and above that is horrible.
And—so then you get these flickering moments—in fact, again today, with Al Franken who‘s been a senator for less than a week, who‘s actually making this pointed critique of the Roberts court and saying to Judge Sotomayor, “How can they talk about striking down the Voting Rights act? How can that not be activism?”
Why haven‘t all the Democrats been messaging that? It‘s really been this very confounding caught between a bunch of doctrine that they can‘t explain.
MADDOW: I guess that may be what Al meant when he talked about wanting to be the people‘s proxy in these hearings.
Dahlia Lithwick, chief legal correspondent and senior editor for Slate.com—it‘s really great to have you on the show again. We‘re going to talk about this. Thanks, Dahlia.
LITHWICK: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up: An update on what in our office we‘re calling “Operation Iraqi Baseball.”
And, Sarah Palin bravely comes out against her own position on energy.
And, scary things in water—which include both sharks and a giant unknowable blob in Alaska.
There‘s much news, large and small, still to come. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Coming up: As Sarah Palin steps down from being an elected official, she is making a move to reinvent herself—reposition herself as an ideas person, a policy wonk. Three guesses as to how that‘s turning out so far and the first two don‘t count.
But first, an update on what we‘re calling “Operation Iraqi Baseball.” Yesterday, “The McClatchy” news service ran a story about the Iraqi national baseball team which has precisely one baseball jersey for its entire squad and that‘s from a Japanese team. They have three baseballs, nine gloves that they share, and one 5-year-old softball bat. This is the Iraqi national baseball team.
McClatchy reported the Iraqi Olympic Committee has given the team enough money to enter into the international associations they need to enter if they‘re ever going to get a shot at playing another country‘s team. But other than that, they are financially tapped out. Plus, no one in Iraq sells baseball gear even if the team had the money to buy it.
Now, if you‘re a fan of this show, you may have noticed that the staff of this show and a certain host of this show happen to be big, gooey, emotional saps about sports. And so, therefore, in response to “McClatchy‘s” story I mentioned on last night‘s show that we‘ve been seeing what we can responsibly do to get the team some gear.
We didn‘t mean for that literally one sentence mention in last night‘s show to be a huge deal, but we did get a huge response on Twitter, by E-mail, by phone, from friends and from famous people and from regular viewers, coast to coast and beyond.
We got offers of everything from money to used gear to new gear to shipping help to contacts in the Iraqi government to contacts in the American government who might be able to help. The response was honestly overwhelming and really heart-warming.
Here‘s the deal. Here‘s the update. We are trying to keep it simple. There isn‘t anyone in Iraq we can figure out who sells regulation baseball gear so we have no option but to ship some in.
We have an agreement with someone who will receive the gear from us in Baghdad and deliver it to the team. The assistant coach of the national team is helping us with the logistics. He knows the gear is coming. And he‘s apparently very psyched.
We‘ve got the team‘s jersey sizes and they‘re getting their feet measured for their cleat sizes tomorrow. I bought a case of baseballs today and an official rulebook. They are already in our office. We have an agreement from a company to field us - to provide us with bats, batting gloves, fielding gloves, and cleats for the team. They should be delivered on Friday once we have shoe sizes from the men tomorrow.
We have another agreement from another company to make custom jerseys for the team. They will get 20 jerseys. And at the team‘s request, they‘ll have the post-Saddam Iraqi flag on the front and the words “Iraqi baseball” on the back above the number. Those will take some time to produce obviously and we‘ll ship those as soon as they‘re ready.
So in terms of gear and logistics, I think we‘re pretty much set. I will give you another update once the stuff is on its way. We‘re thinking probably either Friday or Monday. In the meantime, thank you. Thank you to the folks who are donating things we‘re actually sending to the team. You will get further thanks from me later.
Thank you also to the folks who offered to send gear that we‘re not going to be able to send and to people who offered logistical help and the people who offered donations. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Here is my last request. Don‘t let the generous impulse you had toward these Iraqi baseball players go to waste. It is more than just the thought that counts.
At our Web site today, at Rachel.MSNBC.com, we‘ve posted online donation links for charities that provide humanitarian help and supplies and in some cases even sports gear for Iraqi civilians.
And they do it in a way more sustainable way than any TV show could ever handle. If you were moved to help these Iraqi baseball players by this story, and so many people were, please think about making good on that impulse and making a donation if you can. The links again are at Rachel.MSNBC.com. We will have more to come.
MADDOW: In 11 days, Gov. Sarah Palin will officially leave office and become a private citizen. And this week, she appears to have started auditioning for what she wants her new role to be in the Republican Party.
Her audition is essentially a wonky op-ed published in “The Washington Post” decrying the cap-and-trade provision in the president‘s energy plan, which would reduce the emissions that cause global warming.
Gov. Palin‘s op-ed, of course, includes an obligatory swipe at the chattering class - that would be me. And lest we lose touch with her patented folksiness in this non-Twitter medium, there is, for the record, exactly one unnecessary exclamation point in the op-ed.
But aside from those signature Sarah Palin flourishes, it appears to be boilerplate Republican argument on a boilerplate Republican policy issue. And in putting it out there, Gov. Palin seems to be trying to position herself as a Republican Party ideas-person, a new conservative policy wonk maybe in the mold of Newt Gingrich or an Eric Cantor.
It‘s a logical, totally understandable strategic move for somebody trying to set themselves up for their political future. It‘s also not working out very well so far, because Gov. Palin appears to have forgotten to consult her own record on the subject before writing the op-ed.
Remember the op-ed is against cap and trade, against capping emissions. Here‘s Gov. Palin at the vice presidential debate last October.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GWEN IFILL, VICE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE MODERATOR: Do you support capping carbon emissions?
GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do. I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oops. Here‘s her elaborating on what appears to have been sort of downright enthusiastic support for cap and trade in her famous interview with Katie Couric.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, ANCHOR, CBS EVENING NEWS: John McCain proposed legislation calling for mandatory caps on global warming gases or CO2 emissions. Do you agree with that?
PALIN: I support his position on that, absolutely.
COURIC: But he somewhat backtracked on the campaign trail saying the caps wouldn‘t be mandatory. So what do you think? Do you think voluntary caps go far enough or they should be mandatory?
PALIN: He‘s got a good cap-and-trade policy that he supports and details are being hashed out even right now. But in principle, absolutely, I support all that we can do to reduce emissions and to clean up this planet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “We‘ve got to reduce emissions. He‘s got a good cap-and-trade policy.” To make matters even worse, here‘s what the McCain-Palin Web site said during the election season. It‘s a page that isn‘t posted online anymore for obvious reasons, but it‘s been preserved in time by a group focused on tracking candidates‘ positions, a group called See Through the Podium.
Quote, “John McCain and Sarah Palin have proposed a cap-and-trade system that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A climate cap-and-trade mechanism would set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions. A cap-and-trade system harnesses human ingenuity.”
As you notice, she didn‘t used to call it a “cap-and-tax program” like she does now, back when it was part of her platform as a candidate for vice president of the United States?
It does take a truly out-of-the-box thinker to come out so boldly against one‘s own policy positions, but it may not set one up well to be a policy wonk in the future.
Joining us now is “Washington Post” blogger Ezra Klein. He who wrote about Palin‘s “Washington Post” op-ed this week on his “Washington Post” blog - meow. Thanks for coming on the show, Ezra. Nice to see you.
EZRA KLEIN, BLOGGER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Great to see you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I can‘t think of you without thinking of the old tag line on your blog, “Mama said wonk you out.” So tell me this from a wonk‘s perspective. Was Gov. Palin‘s anti-cap and trade op-ed sort of in the main stream in terms of Republican energy policy? Or is she out on her own here?
KLEIN: You know, I wouldn‘t really call it anywhere in terms of policy. Gov. Sarah Palin missed a bunch of this sort of key policy concepts in cap and trade, including among other things, the words “global warming,” “climate change,” “carbon emissions,” all things that figured into the questions you just replayed her being asked a moment ago.
But you know, she plays into I think what the Republican minority is doing which is not so much having a global warming policy as having an opposition to a global warming policy. So in that, you know, she probably isn‘t mainstream, but I wouldn‘t consider it a policy position. I would consider it a sort of an opposition orientation.
MADDOW: In terms of the dynamics of Republican Party politics, and I guess, conservative politics more broadly is a better way to put it, what does it mean that she is coming out against her own previous position in favor of cap and trade? Which is more of a liability for her and conservative circles - to be for it for to be against it?
KLEIN: Oh, to be for it is definitely going to be more of a liability. You know, I think conservatives are going to use this as they see it as a weakness for Obama, right? It is on some level an energy tax. It‘s one that will get rebated to people. It‘s one that will save the globe from becoming sort of crispy over time.
But you know, it is, nevertheless, taxes. People don‘t like them. It will be a tricky thing to sell. And you know, I think she‘s in the mainstream of it there. I think she‘s going to face a bit of trouble, though, because Sarah Palin is caught between a rock and a hard place, right?
She is desperate to get credibility from, well, people like you in the mainstream media. I mean, the first thing she does after sort of quitting the governorship although she is running herself out while still governor and tweeting furiously. You wonder what she is spending her day doing.
But she comes out with a pretty wonky op-ed. She wants to be taken seriously as a thinker and that isn‘t going well yet. This read a little bit like somebody who had heard policy speeches but hadn‘t understood them. It had the sort of language you see in a policy speech but didn‘t all fit together. It‘s a bit of a strange outing.
MADDOW: The reason that Sarah Palin is - continues to be so newsworthy is because she is so popular. And in trying to think about what the Republican Party of the future looks like we, I think, have to consider a Republican Party in which Sarah Palin has a major role.
I think with this op-ed, she is signaling she‘d like that role to be a policy role. From what you know about conservative and Republican politics and what she said here, can you tell what the Republican Party future policy would be on energy if Sarah Palin‘s in it? Would it be a repudiation of what John McCain was in favor of during the campaign?
KLEIN: I mean, it looks a little bit like that. It certainly is a repudiation of what John McCain was in favor of before his campaign, when he was sort of - one of his signal issues as a moderate, as a compromiser was that he was for a true cap-and-trade plan. It had its problems but was fundamentally a good plan.
But you know, she is - I really would caution against saying that, you know, she wants her future to be in ideas. She wants her future to be in opposition. That‘s what she knows what to do.
And the people she‘s popular with are not so much the country; it‘s the media. I mean, you know, when she quit a week ago or 10 days ago, whatever it was, she went up and said, you know, “The problem is that engaging with the media is taking too much time from my job.”
And now, the first thing she does is publish in my paper. It seems a bit like the real problem was that her job was taking too much time from engaging with the media.
MADDOW: Ezra Klein, very smart points. Ezra writes an online column for “The Washington Post.” Thanks so much for joining us. It‘s nice to see you, Ezra.
KLEIN: Thank you.
MADDOW: Metaphors aside, we do not often hear about sharks on Capitol Hill. But today, a group of shark attack survivors lobbied to protect the razor-toothed ocean predators that injured them.
Coming up next we‘ll talk to Mike Degruy. He is a shark-attack survivor and a filmmaker. Stay with us.
But first, one more thing, not about Sarah Palin but about the state of which she is governor for another week and a bit. Off the Alaska coast, there currently floats a big, gnarly blob of goo in the Chukchi Sea - that‘s the sea between Alaska and Russia.
The black slime reportedly stretches for more than 10 miles. Officials say it‘s been hanging off ice, tangling up jelly fish, and someone even turned into their local wildlife department the remains of a dead goose, just bones and feathers that they found tangled up in the blob.
The coast guard insists that the blob looks and smells like something that is alive. They‘re saying they don‘t think it‘s anything like an oil spill. Samples of the slime are being tested to find out exactly what it is. We should have results of the tests hopefully next week. Meanwhile, maybe this explains the waders.
MADDOW: This morning, the Obama administration released an official letter about its position on the bill that would fund the Pentagon next year. Bills like that are massive and a letter like this is routine practice. It‘s full of fine print, detailing specific provisions of the bill that the administration is in favor of and others about which they have concerns.
In a great catch, Spencer Ackerman of “The Washington Independent” today found in the White House‘s letter an administration concern that‘s frankly now a Rachel Maddow concern.
In a paragraph on interrogation issues, the letter from the White House says, quote, “The administration also would object to any amendment requiring video recording of all intelligence interrogations.” The Obama administration is against videotaping interrogations in the middle of the criminal investigation of the CIA destroying videotapes of its interrogations?
This is the same Barack Obama whose most famous achievement as a state senator in Illinois was requiring the police there to videotape interrogations? Is this the same guy? Can we get an explanation here?
MADDOW: Here‘s a picture of the giant shark that washed up on the Long Island shore yesterday. Here it is, a 20-foot long basking shark. Researchers still need to examine the shark to figure out exactly why it died. They think it was some kind of illness, not a violent injury. Still, though, 20 feet long.
And even though this guy may have died of natural causes, billions of that fat fellow‘s fellow sharks are not so lucky. Each year, fishermen kill about 70 million sharks, many of them by something called finning. They catch sharks. They slice off their fins, and then throw the carcass back into the sea. The fins end up in shark fin soup around the world.
Now, some shark populations are seriously threatened. The counts of some types of shark are down by as much as 80 percent over the last 30 years. And one unlikely group of people is hoping to reverse that trend.
They are shark attack survivors, presumably suffering from what “Gawker.com” brilliantly today called “sharkholm syndrome.” Hat tipped to them this graphic. There were at least nine shark attack survivors on Capitol Hill today lobbying to protect their toothy attackers.
They want the Senate to pass the U.S. Shark Conservation Act. It already unanimously passed the House in March. It was introduced to the Senate by Sen. John Kerry last April. This would ban shark-finning and it would restrict shark fishing in U.S. waters.
Joining us now is Mike Degruy. He is one of the shark attack survivors who was in Washington today. He‘s also a filmmaker and a volunteer with the Pew Environment Group. Mr. Degruy, thanks very much for coming on the show.
MIKE DEGRUY, VOLUNTEER, PEW ENVIRONMENT GROUP: Well, thank, Rachel.
I appreciate it. I would say it‘s nice to see you except I can‘t.
MADDOW: Fair enough -
DEGRUY: You‘re hundreds of miles away.
MADDOW: Was this, in fact, the largest gathering of American shark survivors in one place ever?
DEGRUY: Well, it‘s certainly the largest that I ever heard of, but I have never been involved in anything like this before. So that could have happened without me knowing about it.
But it‘s a large gathering of people. If it wasn‘t a serious issue, I would think Barnum and Bailey may have had something to do with it.
MADDOW: Well, you were bitten by a shark and you are now lobbying with other folks who suffered the same fate to save them, essentially, to make sure their numbers are protected. Can you talk to me at all about how you came to this position?
DEGRUY: Well, I came to the position of being bitten by a shark by a fluke. That wasn‘t very much fun. And in fact, you know, they can do that. They can hurt you. They don‘t very often, thank heavens, or we would all be in trouble in the ocean.
But the Pew group decided they would bring together an unlikely group of people who would be able to say something about sharks and give a personal experience as we went around talking to the senators, which is what we did today.
And I think that worked out pretty well. I was very skeptical about the idea at first, in all honesty. I thought, I don‘t know if I want to wear this badge of being a shark attack guy. I want to help the sharks but I‘m not sure about the shark attack group.
But I think that it worked out. I mean, just the fact that I‘m here and we got a “Washington Post” article today, it‘s a pretty big interest in what we have to say. So it‘s worked out very well.
MADDOW: The U.S. Shark Conservation Act or just the specific piece of legislation you were lobbying on, unanimously passed the House. You did meet with senators today to discuss the bill. You said it went pretty well.
Does it seem like it‘s likely to pass in the Senate? And is this just the first step? Does more need to be done legislatively?
DEGRUY: Yes, and yes. I think that as far as the meetings that I had today and gathering together and debriefing with the rest of the people that were out talking with the senators and their staff, that it went extremely well.
We got a lot of positive feedback. But it isn‘t surprising. I mean, what we‘re doing is basically just patching holes in a law that already is on the books. The law passed in 2000. Finning is illegal in the country.
It‘s just there‘s some loopholes, which I can tell you a couple if you want. But otherwise, that‘s all we are doing is patching holes. And once that is accomplished, there‘s a much, much better way of taking care of the finning issue in this country.
And once America has it, then it‘s easy to be, you know, ambassadors to other countries and hope that the trends continue, because finning is barbaric.
MADDOW: In terms of the overall climate around the issue in this country, and I totally take your point that that‘s us getting our house in order is the first step towards us helping other people get their house in order on this. Americans - and I think a lot of people have almost a primeval fear when it comes to sharks.
When you talk to people about saving sharks, is there something that you feel like you need to get across about why they should be protected, about why there‘s something other than just scary?
DEGRUY: Yes, there is. I mean - and you‘re right, there is a primal fear. And I think it probably is rooted in the fact that these animals can eat you and there‘s something creepy about that.
DEGRUY: And in fact, they have eaten people. So, you know, you go in the water at night and it‘s - or in the daytime, any time, it‘s kind of - it‘s in your minds, especially with all of the press that sharks get. Not all good press, mind you.
So what I‘m interested in and what I try to tell others about, especially others in a position to enact law, is that they‘re a lot more than feeding machines that run around making baby sharks and eating anything in sight.
They‘re very sophisticated animals. I mean, anything that‘s had 400 million years to evolve, you can imagine how good they are at what they do. And that‘s where sharks are. They are extremely well-adapted to the environment and to be underwater.
And a look at these animals is something that can take your breath away. They‘re beautiful animals, perfectly suited to do what they do. Now, the fact that they hurt people occasionally, well, that‘s just an artifact of us going into that environment that they are so perfect predators in.
So I would like people to appreciate them for what they are. But I think more significantly, and certainly more appropriate to why I am here with the rest of the people who have been attacked is that they‘re vanishing.
That is just - they have a very low fecundity. They don‘t produce many babies. They don‘t reproduce very fast at all. They have a slow growth rate. They reach sexual maturity about halfway through their lifetime, often 10 years into it. And they just have a couple of pups. They can‘t possibly keep up with the rate of fishing.
They are going to go away. It is going to happen if we don‘t flip a switch. And if we don‘t flip it and turn our course around toward, you know, killing sharks, it‘s going to flip anyway because they‘re going to go away.
MADDOW: Mike Degruy is a shark attack survivor, a filmmaker and a volunteer with the Pew Environment Group. Thanks for your activism. Thanks for your time tonight, sir.
DEGRUY: Thank you.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith looks at what we really know about the alleged CIA assassination squads Vice President Dick Cheney ordered be kept secret from congress. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: We turn now to our low-impact frivolity correspondent Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. You know, I‘ve often wondered, couldn‘t we have an Olympics that wasn‘t so strenuous? I found one.
JONES (voice-over): Rigid sporting event is shamefully biased. It‘s limited almost exclusively to people who are athletic. Where does that leave the remaining 99 percent of regular chaps? Do they not also dream of glory on the fields of play? Indeed, they do.
And so civilized chaps gathered in London for an impeccably tailored, well-lubricated Olympics all their own. Organizer Gustav Temple explains.
GUSTAV TEMPLE, ORGANIZER, OLYMPIC EVENTS FOR CHAPS: It‘s all about an Olympic events for chaps. Now, Chaps are really not very good at sports. They can‘t run. They can‘t jump. They can‘t lift heavy machinery. They can‘t really do anything except stumble about in a big haze which is brought on by gin consumption, martinis, et cetera. So it‘s really events which will bring out the best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Literally, Olympics for people bad at sports?
JONES: Yes, exactly.
JONES: And good at other things.
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent.
MADDOW: Thank you at home for watching tonight. We‘ll see you again tomorrow night. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.