The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 07/22/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thanks, Chris. Thanks very much.
And thank at home for staying with us for the next hour.
We begin tonight with the president pushing back on what has long been feared as the toughest, most intransigent issue that there is in American domestic politics, the budget-eating, business-busting, high cost, bad outcome, paperwork, blizzard-producing, inefficient, insufficient, heretofore unreformable mess America calls the health care system.
In the 55-minute nationally televised news conference from the East Room of the White House, President Obama tried to put his personal popularity behind the thorny political task of trying to fix health care. He’s been speaking publicly on the subject so frequently in recent days you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s back out on the campaign trail, only this time, the opponent he’s running against is the contention that it’s OK to keep doing nothing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is not just about the 47 million Americans who don’t have any health insurance at all. Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick, or lose their job, or change their job. It’s about every small business that has been forced to layoff employees or cut back on their coverage because it became too expensive. It’s about the fact that the biggest driving force behind our federal deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid.
So, let me be clear: If we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit. If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket. If we don’t act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day.
These are the consequences of inaction. These are the stakes of the debate that we’re having right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: As to the Republican position, the opposition position that it’s just too expensive to reform health care, here’s what the president had to say.
MADDOW: He said, “To all, to everybody out there who has been ginned up about this idea the Obama administration wants to spend and spend and spend, the fact of the matter is that we inherited an enormous deficit, enormous long-term debt reductions. We have not reduced it as much as we need to and as I’d like to, but health care reform is not going to add to that deficit. It is designed to lower it.”
That is part of the reason, he said, why it is so important to do it and to do it now.
Of course, the most pointed question of the evening came from “The Los Angeles Times” reporter Christi Parsons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTI PARSONS, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: And you promised that health care negotiations would take place on C-SPAN, and that hasn’t happened. And your administration recently turned down a request from a watchdog group seeking a list of health care executives who had visited the White House to talk about health care reform. Also, the TARP inspector general recently said that your White House is withholding too much information on the bank bailout.
So, my question for you is: are you fulfilling your promise of transparency in the White House?
OBAMA: Well, on the list of health care executives who visited us, most of the time, you guys have been in there taking pictures. So, it hasn’t been a secret. And my understanding is, we just sent a letter out providing a full list of all the executives. But frankly, these have mostly been at least photo sprays where you could see who was participating.
With respect to all of the negotiations not being on C-SPAN, you will recall in this very room that our kickoff event was here on C-SPAN, and at a certain point, you know, you start getting into all kinds of different meetings. The Senate Finance is having a meeting. The House is having a meeting. If they want those to be on C-SPAN, then I would welcome it. But I don’t think there are a lot of secrets going on in there.
And the last question with respect to TARP, I-let me take a look at what exactly they say we have not provided. I think that we’ve provided much greater transparency than existed prior to our administration coming in. It is a big program. I don’t know exactly what’s been requested. I’ll find out. And I will have an answer for you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The president today promising to provide more information in response to a question about transparency, secrecy, and the forthcomingness of his administration about not only health care but also the financial bailout and the part of it known as TARP.
Joining us now is “Newsweek” magazine senior Washington correspondent and MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman.
Howard, thanks very much for sticking around. Nice to see you.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MNSBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Nice to see you, Rachel.
MADDOW: We’re going to be joined in just a moment by the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs. We’re told that he’s speaking to the president briefly before he comes outside to join us. If you had to guess, would you say that they’re talking about Skip Gates right now or do you think they’re talking about health care?
FINEMAN: I don’t know. They might be talking about tonsils. I think that’s the first press conference in which tonsils was referred to.
I think that what the president and Robert Gibbs are talking about is:
what did we get out of this that was useful? What should we stress?
I think the attacks on Republicans were something new in a primetime press conference in this kind of context. I think the discussion of how this would not cost the American people money in the long run but save money in the long run. Most specifically, I think, he addressed directly the notion that there were things about your health care-for all the millions of people who have health care-that would be improved: portability, a cap on total payments, the abolition of the idea that insurance companies could not give you coverage if you have a preexisting condition. That was speaking to the plus side of the equation here.
But I’ve got to say, Rachel, politically-as a political reporter-
I don’t really see what he got out of this thing tonight. I think he seemed a little tired. I think he was kind of-there was not a lot of news in it. I know that he wants to play his cards close to the vest in terms of negotiating with the Hill. But I think, for those who wanted him to come out and to declare more specifically and forcefully what he wanted to see in the bill, it was notable more for the absence of that than for the inclusion of it.
MADDOW: Howard, the other option I suppose tonight for what-how he could have hit a home run tonight, what would have been considered a major success even if he didn’t go with details-which I think would have rewarded the Washington audience-would have been to renew the sort of moral authority and moral energy around the issue for the audience watching at home such as it is. Did he try for that and not get there? Or did he make some points there?
FINEMAN: No, I couldn’t agree with you more. I think it was notable for the lack of the lift of the driving dream, Rachel. I mean, this is-this is unarguably at the center of what needs to be fixed in American society, both morally and fiscally. And the president needs to be excited about the challenge of that and needs to tell people about the better future that he’s going to help lead us to-it sounds like a cliche-but to be excited about it.
I thought he seemed tired. I thought he seemed like he was giving the same old list of non-talking points. And I think he missed an opportunity here to really explain to people what was exciting about this.
We just got done celebrating the unbelievable accomplishment of 40 years ago of landing a man on the moon, the most amazing technological achievement in all of history, arguably.
We have the brains and the ability to remake this health care system. It’s not as simple as engineering. This is human engineering. This is societal engineering. But it’s something we not only need to do but be excited about, to sort of create a new American in terms of how we view health care.
And I think that excitement, that sense of mission that was so much a
part of the Obama campaign and the Obama inauguration and the first months
of dealing with various fiscal crises and financial crises around the world
the sense of drama and urgency that he was trying to create seemed utterly missing tonight for some reason. And I think that had something to do with the fact that he’s in the middle of complex negotiations with Congress and doesn’t want to show his hand.
But I agree with you that he missed the chance-if he wasn’t going to talk about the details and show his cards in negotiation to make the moral case and make it in human terms. After all, health care is about people. You didn’t hear a lot about individuals. He didn’t approach it the way a Ronald Reagan would have approached it, who was one of his communications heroes.
Let’s hear the stories of people. Let’s hear the stories about how the messed up health care system we have-and there are a lot of messed up things about it-is affecting real individuals. He reads these 10 letters every morning. Let’s hear from the letters if he’s not going to do anything else.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about the last issue that was also raised during the press conference, Howard, and that was by Lynn. And Lynn Sweet’s question is asking about Professor Henry Louis Gates who was arrested at his home under circumstances that seem almost impossible to believe because of this.
We’ve got a quick sound bite of the president’s response to that question, moving totally away from health care but probably making some news here. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house. There was a report called into the police station that there might be a burglary taking place. So far so good, right?
I mean, if I was trying to jigger in-well, I guess this is my house now. So, it probably wouldn’t happen. But let’s say my old house in Chicago. Here I’d get shot.
OBAMA: But, so far so good. The reporting, the police are doing what they should. There’s a call. They go investigate what happens.
My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I’m sure there is some exchange of words.
But my understanding is that Professor Gates then shows his I.D. to show that this is his house. And at that point, he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.
Now, I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts what role race played in that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Howard, briefly, your response to that in terms of how you think that’s going to be received, how you think the president handled that question?
FINEMAN: Well, there’s controversy about a few of the facts, about exactly when Skip Gates showed his I.D. or whatever. But I think the fundamental sympathy of most Americans, just on the surface of it, is with Professor Gates.
It was fascinating to watch the president suddenly inhabit that character if you will, Rachel. He became a guy who had lived that experience. By the way, when he was in the Illinois legislature then state senator, Barack Obama focused a lot about racial profiling and looked at police procedures. This is something he knows a lot about both as a legislator and as a person.
And I thought it was fascinating and utterly fascinating glimpse into the state of American society today and race relations as they exist that he talked with humor about his own being, you know, living in the White House. I thought it was utterly fascinating, both sad and-but, at the same time, I thought confidence-building, too, about our ability to get through moments like this.
MADDOW: MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman-Howard, it’s always great to have you on the show. Thanks very much for joining us.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Joining us now from the White House is White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
Mr. Gibbs, thanks very much for taking time for us tonight. Nice to see you.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Happy to do it, Rachel.
How are you?
MADDOW: I’m great.
I want to talk to you about health care. I have a million questions. But we just played the clip of the last question at the press conference and the president’s response about Professor Gates up at Harvard and his experience being arrested. When the president made that joke about if he was trying to break into his house now he’d be shot, it was both a very good joke, got a big laugh, and it was also a very incisive, cutting, direct remark about racial profiling in America, and frankly, the security the president has right now.
MADDOW: Should we expect the president to expand on these remarks and on this as an issue?
GIBBS: Well, look. I think as you heard Howard talk about in just the most previous segment, this is an issue that the president has worked on with police and communities in Illinois, to raise awareness about racial profiling. I told him when I left him a few minutes ago, be careful. Don’t get locked out tonight.
Obviously, the only people not laughing at the president’s answer at one point were our friends in the Secret Service who do a wonderful job protecting him and his family. But, obviously, this is a serious issue and I think it shows that we’ve come a long way in this country but we still have a lot of work to do.
MADDOW: I imagine that the other people who are not laughing at that tonight would be the Cambridge Police Department who were described by the president as having acted stupidly in this case. As we do get more reporting about what happened, as we do hear both sides, both from the officer involved, the police department involved, and from Professor Gates about what happened, is it possible that the president will need to revisit that remark in order to not damage his relationship with first responders around the country?
GIBBS: Well, look. He has tremendous respect for police in this city, ones that keep he and his family and all of our families safe throughout the country. Understand his work on racial profiling in Illinois was with police officers working with him to identify and root out a problem that everyone is concerned about.
Obviously, the charges that were brought by the police department have been dropped. We’ll certainly continue to watch-I think, everybody in this country will continue to watch this case.
MADDOW: On the issue of health care, which was obviously the main-the main course tonight, the president tonight told Chuck Todd that he’s not blaming Republicans for what hasn’t happened thus far and for what hasn’t been accomplished yet, but he was dissatisfied with some of the-what he called the misinformation that Republicans have been putting out there. What was he referring to there?
GIBBS: Well, look. I think you’ve heard wild accusations about what health care reform means-that you’ll lose your doctor, that you won’t have choice or competition, that you won’t have real reform, that this will jack the deficit up or it won’t control costs.
I think you heard the president address each and every one of those. We’re going to cover every American. We’re going to cut costs for every American. We’re going to ensure that people have choice and competition in the health insurance that they have.
I think you’ve heard-you have heard some Republicans in the past couple days say, this is really about politics. They want to see the president defeated not because of a policy proposal but instead just out of pure politics. I don’t think that’s what Americans want or deserve out of any of their representatives, especially in a problem as vexing as health care.
I think the president tonight eloquently talked about, you know, the average family is going to watch their premiums for health care double over the next decade if we do nothing. We can’t afford, Rachel, to do nothing on a problem as important as health care.
MADDOW: I think that your administration probably reads the mood of the public correctly when assessing that. Americans generally aren’t happy with the idea of politics being the end, of scoring political points and politics.
MADDOW: . being the ultimate goal. But politics is the path that you need to travel in order to get to the political-to the end of fixing health care.
What is the realistic deadline for getting this done? And what is plan B if Congress doesn’t meet that deadline as laid out by the president?
GIBBS: Well, look. This is a process that’s going to take place in a few stages. Obviously, we’re hopeful that the House and Senate, individually, will complete work before they go home for the August recess in their individual-in the individual House and Senate. We’re going to have to come back in the fall and make sure those proposals have everything in common before it goes ultimately-we hope-to the president’s desk.
So, this is something that we’re eventually trying to get done this fall. That’s why I think this straw man argument you’ve heard that we’re rushing a solution through just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. This is the first stage of the legislative process.
And let’s be honest, Rachel. These are debates we’ve been having for not just this year or the last couple years, but for the last 40 years, as we’ve watched health insurance skyrocket, as we’ve watched millions and millions of people lose their health insurance every day.
And I think the president was most eloquent tonight when he talked about what happens if we do nothing, right? Our health care goes up. More people loss the health care they have. More people are put in jeopardy if they lose their job or change their job. And insurance companies will be allowed to continue to discriminate on the basis of a preexisting condition. All of those things are something the president wants to change and hopes Congress will change with him.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about the president’s response to one very specific question about transparency and secrecy. Christi Parson from “The L.A. Times” asked about a decision by the administration to not release the names of health industry executives who have gone to the White House to consult on health care reform. And in “The L.A. Times” today, it was reported that the administration explanation or argument was quite literally the same argument that Dick Cheney had made in 2001 about not releasing the names of executives who had visited the energy task force he was running at the time.
The president said something tonight about a letter having been sent about this with those executives’ names. Can you explain that?
GIBBS: Yes. We released the names of the executives that have been at the White House to talk to the president about health care. I’ll be happy to e-mail that-PDF of that letter to you.
What is referred to in “The L.A. Times” is there is ongoing-continuing, ongoing litigation revolving White House records and the energy task force that the vice president chaired in 2001 that you just mentioned. That’s litigation that continues in the courts today.
But our White House released the names of executives that the president has met with on health care reform to this point this afternoon.
MADDOW: Just to be clear, is the White House supporting Vice President Cheney’s arguments about that-that visitor records of who visits the White House are, in fact, presidential records and therefore not subject to public disclosure unless you want to disclose them?
GIBBS: Well-Lord knows, Rachel, for any number of reasons, I don’t want to be the spokesperson for the former vice president of the United States. But it suffice to say that-and I’ve been in meetings on this myself-we are reviewing the policy of the previous administrations that prohibits the release of what’s called waives (ph) records, and that’s the process of somebody getting into the White House in hopes of making those transparent in the near future.
MADDOW: Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary, we really appreciate you taking time to be with us tonight. Thanks very much.
GIBBS: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Even as some Democrats fight amongst themselves about health care, the Republicans actually appear very unified on health care. Their unified, single message so far is: Whoa. Hey there. What’s the rush? Slow down. No need to actually do anything any time soon.
With a big dose of urgency, Elizabeth Edwards will be joining us next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: If the president’s emotional demand tonight that we finally get a functional health care system in this country seemed a little deja vu to you, that’s because we have been hearing claims like this for a very, very, very long time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: All of our efforts to strengthen the economy will fail unless we also take this year-not next year, not five years from now, but this year-bold steps to reform our health care system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That of course was a much younger Bill Clinton during his first address to a joint session of Congress back in 1993. Kids born on the day of that speech can drive now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It is time for the Democratic Party to take up the cause of health. There probably has not been a family in this country that has been touched by sickness, illness, and disease like my own family.
I want every delegate at this convention to understand, that as long as I’m a vote and as long as I have a voice in the United States Senate, it’s going to be for that Democratic platform plank that provides decent quality health care, north and south, east and west, for all Americans as a matter of right and not a privilege.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Senator Ted Kennedy, still a champion of health care reform, speaking with amazing ire about this issue way back in 1978.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRY TRUMAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I’ve repeatedly asked Congress to pass a health care program. The nation suffers from lack of medical care. That situation can be remedied any time the Congress wants to act upon it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And that was President Harry Truman, way back in 1948 – which means that the sense of urgency about the need to reform what passes for a health care system in this country, and politicians articulating that urgency, that’s at least 61 years old. This has been a long time coming.
For some politicians today, it hasn’t been quite long enough.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, MINORITY LEADER: This is too important to be rushed. We need to take our time and do it right.
MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: It is urgent and it is indisputable.
But the problem I have with it is the rush that is underway here.
SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: This doesn’t take effect for four years, Matt. We don’t need to pass it in two weeks.
SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA: The president and some Democrats insist we must rush this plan through.
NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: But I wish he’d say three things. I wish he’d say, first of all, we’re going to slow down.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, MINORITY LEADER: It is pretty clear that they’re going to rush ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You know, unless you’re talking about evolution, there’s no way to rush anything that takes 61 years. And if there’s anything we’ve learned in 61 years of trying to get health care reform, it’s that when a politician is asked about reform and their answer is: slow-what they really mean is: no. No. Everything’s fine the way it is.
Joining us now is Elizabeth Edwards, a long-time proponent of health care reform, the wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, and author of the book “Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities.”
Mrs. Edwards, thank you so much for joining us.
ELIZABETH EDWARDS, HEALTH CARE ADVOCATE: It’s great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: After generations of fighting for this, do you personally think it’s actually going to happen this year? Do you have faith here?
EDWARDS: I actually do think it’s going to happen. I think that the American people, I know from my personal experience that’s only anecdotal, but also from polling, that the American people really think that it’s finally time that we get this done.
And I think there’s going to be a growing impatience with those opponents of health insurance reform who have been trying to delay-you know, it’s been-it’s actually a Republican Party tactic right now. The Republican National Committee has written a memo. The Republican pollster Frank Lutz has given his advice and that is to distort the plan, to demonize the plan, and do whatever you can to delay the plan.
Harry Truman, you know, his-that speech was a year before I was born. And, you know, we’re talking about a very long time to get here. And the cost is not just-you know, that we’ve got 61 years, I mean, there are costs right this minute.
You know, the president in his talk today where he was trying to take the hyperbole out of it and get back to what we’re really talking about which is health care.Fourteen thousand Americans every single day lose their health insurance. If you talk about the time between the 1st of August and Labor Day, we’re talking about 500 million Americans who are going to lose their health insurance coverage. Sixty-two percent of bankruptcy is being caused by medical costs; 50 percent of home foreclosures.
Maybe it’s not a rush for those men in suits, and those were large-those were entirely men and largely men who have been suggesting that we delay. They all have health insurance. It’s not an issue for them.
But I think people, like Senator DeMint, he’s going to go back to South Carolina and find out that when he’s trying to create a waterloo for the president, a political tactic, that he’s going to find out there’s a lot of waterloos going on in South Carolina with families who are facing real crises because there is-because we have not addressed this health insurance issue as quickly and effectively as we could.
MADDOW: The politics, of course, is the art of the possible, and health care is not only not an exception to that but maybe the greatest example of that in terms of the distance between how big a problem we know it is, how much political rhetoric is expended about it every single year and how little actually gets done. In terms of how to actually get this done, there is some debate as to whether or not this should be done in a combative way or in sort of a kumbaya way.
Do you try to bring Americans together around the idea of us all needing this in order for the country to be stronger or do you do this by campaigning against people like Jim DeMint and the Republicans who controlled Congress and didn’t want to do anything about health care and think this ought to be killed? How do you approach it?
EDWARDS: Well, I mean, I’m not-I think we-the president applauded a number of Republicans who have really tried to work with this. This is probably not kumbaya, but this has been a bipartisan effort.
The Senate historian said that the health committee-which is known as the help committee-but the health committee in the United States Senate has been going over this bill, doing what’s called markup, and the Senate historian says he doesn’t remember any committee spending as long doing a markup as the Senate Health Committee has done. And as the president pointed out, over 160 amendments have been accepted from Republicans on the House side, and the last two years we’ve had 79 congressional hearings on health care.
This is, you know, we’re-both sides are able to call witnesses. Both sides get a chance to be heard. This is not something where one side is trying to ram it through. But right now, as we get really close, and it looks like it’s going to happen, they are pulling out the big guns, which is why the Republican pollster suggests distorting the facts.
Let me say to the American public, and I really think this is important. If you hear somebody saying, “We can’t afford health care reform,” because if they use any of these words, socialization or government control of your health care decisions, or if they mention England, France, or Canada, you can be assured that they are not telling you the truth.
They are trying to scare you away from a plan that can make a real difference, not just in American families, but in the American economy as a whole.
MADDOW: You have called our current health care system immoral in the past. You’ve been very open, very disclosing with the American people about your own struggles with cancer, about the importance of health care reform, not just for the country, but in terms of the way that you live your life and in terms of what the American people have to face in their own individual families.
When you look at what we might get here, sort of the best scenario of what might come out of this if really we do get health care reform this year, is what’s on the table what’s being considered enough to actually fix it to make our health care system no longer immoral, to make it something that you think we can be proud of? Or do we need to go further?
EDWARDS: No, I actually think - you know, is this 100 percent of the solution? I think the president has said we’re unlikely to get 100 percent of Americans enrolled in health care.
But we can get pretty close, and what’s more we can get on the right road. Not only do these policies have real - the programs that are being bandied about in the House and Congress, not only do they have real reforms that can help save the health care system from the disaster, we are about to drive ourselves right off a cliff in terms of health care and the costs of that system.
Not only can we do that but we are also, at the same time, doing pilot programs to find out how we can continue to improve. In fact, that’s I think I find the most inspiring about where we’ve been going, the president’s plan to have a separate advisory council that will be making binding suggestions that could become binding on how it is we continue to improve, not just the first year but every year.
Because the idea that we have a static system that doesn’t change as we make improvements and as the situation changes would be a system that might answer our problems today but not in 10 years.
I’m actually hopeful that these solutions will, in fact, not just help our health care system now but will save Medicare in the long term because the screenings and the diagnostic tests and the wellness programs that the president discussed have the capacity to make us a fitter nation, a weller(sic) nation, find cancers before I found mine, for example, and make the treatments less expensive.
So people don’t go into Medicare which is, as we know, teetering on bankruptcy always. We have the capacity so people don’t go in as sick as they have been, fight chronic diseases and things like that, which is of course going to tax any kind of health care system.
So we have the capacity to do something right today and that puts us on the road to be even better tomorrow, 10 years from now, 20 years from now.
MADDOW: Elizabeth, your recent book “Resilience” is in part about what’s been a hell of a few years for you with your own fight with cancer, with your husband’s infidelity becoming public. And you’ve written about both eloquently in the new book.
I don’t usually ask guests this but I feel like it’s OK to ask you this for some reason, and tell me if it’s not. But how are you doing?
EDWARDS: Actually, I’m doing well. This is actually one of the reasons that inspire me to continue to speak out on health care. Because I’m doing well with a condition that many women - and women I have met that I have spoken to, are also fighting and they don’t have the resources that I have.
So when I, you know, was writing this book I thought not just about what I was going through, but what they were going through every day and how much worse it was for them, you know. I certainly have a lot to lament as we all do. Everybody mass their grief. But the grief we can fix shouldn’t we go about fixing them?
MADDOW: Elizabeth Edwards, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
It’s a real pleasure to have you here on the show. Thank you.
EDWARDS: Always great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: OK. A retired Army officer turned TV analyst and columnist goes on the air and encourages the Taliban to kill an American soldier who was currently being held hostage by the Taliban.
Then there is obviously outrage. Then the guy goes back on TV to clarify his remarks and he says just about the same thing over again. Now, the outrage has an exclamation point on it. We have some actual clarification on this incredible story, coming up.
MADDOW: Still ahead, a missing American soldier receives essentially a death sentence from an American military analyst on American TV. NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski joins us shortly to report actual facts about this disturbing story.
Plus, John Yoo, the author of the infamous Bush administration torture memos versus practical jokers, fresh, hot schadenfreude, all coming up.
But first, it’s time for a couple holy mackerel stories in today’s news. Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota had the ambitious idea this year that people who were issued concealed weapons in any state should be able to take their concealed weapon into any other state regardless of any other state’s laws because, you know, who needs states?
In arguing for the guns idea against among many others, American city mayors and New York Senator Chuck Schumer, Sen. Thune argued this, quote, “I say to my colleague from New York, that if someone who has a concealed carry permit in the state of South Dakota that goes to New York and is in Central Park, Central Park is a much safer place.”
If there’s one thing that makes New Yorkers feel safe in the park, it’s the idea that a visiting tourist from South Dakota is also there, armed. Sen. Thune’s amendment needed 60 votes to pass. It did not get 60 votes. In celebration, there will presumably be absolutely no shootings by anyone in Central Park again tonight, tourist or otherwise.
And Turkmenistan shares a final syllable with so many of its neighbors, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan. But frankly, it makes it easy from this distance to sometimes confuse Turkmenistan with some of the other very lovely stans.
To do so, I’m telling you honestly, would be a mistake because Turkmenistan has national politics unto itself, seriously. Do yourself a favor. Set a Google alert for Turkmenistan. You will not be sorry.
Here’s why. Turkmenistan’s leaders have a real flair for the grandiose. The first president to serve the newly independent nation was Saparmurat Niyazov. Sorry I had to say it slowly. I’m dumb.
He came to power in 1991. He erected a golden statue of himself in the capital that rotates 360 degrees every 24 hours so as to always follow the sun. He renamed the days of the week and the months of the year after himself and his family members.
And when he had to give up smoking, so did every single government minister in the entire country. Now, not to be outdone, Niyazov’s successor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow - thank you very much - not only has a more difficult to pronounce name, he also refuses to be outshone by his predecessor in the art of stage craft.
State media reporting today that at the opening of a new cancer hospital in Turkmenistan, the president eschewed the whole cutting a ribbon at the new facility thing. That would be what they do in normal countries. Instead, he decided to personally cut the first patient.
Mr. Berdimuhamedow, who is a trained dentist, literally, personally, performed the hospital’s first surgery. He removed a benign tumor from behind some poor patient’s ear. Now, that is government-run health care.
MADDOW: Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, who is sometimes a newspaper columnist and sometimes a military/security analyst on TV, shocked the country on a cable news show over the weekend when he openly wished for the execution of a captured American soldier.
That soldier is 23-year-old Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho. Private Bergdahl is based out of Fort Richardson, Alaska. He has been serving in Afghanistan for about five months. He’s been missing since June 30th. And on July 3rd, officials declared him missing/captured.
Now, Bergdahl’s family got their first glimpse of the soldier this weekend when the Taliban posted propaganda footage of him talking about his imprisonment by the Taliban. Tonight, a vigil is being held in Bergdahl’s hometown. And it is this heart breaking, infuriating story that has the war in Afghanistan back in the news in this country. And it is this story that put Ralph Peters cable TV to talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. COL. RALPH PETERS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Nobody in the military that I’ve heard is defending this guy. He is an apparent deserter. Reports are indeed that he abandoned his buddies, abandoned his post and walked off.
We know this private is a liar. We’re not sure if he’s a deserter, but the media needs to hit the pause button and not portray this guy as a hero. If he walked away from his post and his buddies in war time, I don’t care how hard it sounds. As far as I’m concerned the Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Lt. Col. Ralph Peters is not a well-known figure. It is not that his views carry any particular authority or weight except that they were broadcast nationally. And they were so shocking that they sparked an immediate response. Paul Rieckhoff head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, offered his reaction here on this show on Monday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: With regard to Col. Peters, he needs to shut his mouth. He doesn’t know what happened on the ground. Nobody knows what happened on the ground.
And that private is an American and he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Until we know what went down, we all deserve - he deserves our support. His family deserves our support and guys like Peters need to shut up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: On the conservative military Web site, “Black Five,” other veterans expressed similar sentiments in even blunter terms. And 22 congressional veterans from both sides of the aisle sent a letter to the head of the FOX NEWS Channel which is where Ralph Peters appeared.
They’re demanding an apology to Private Bergdahl’s family. The letter says, quote, “Mr. Peters has conveniently forgotten that soldiers in captivity are often forced to make statements contrary to their beliefs simply to stay alive. Sen. John McCain has often discussed his decision to do so while a captive of the Viet Cong. Perhaps, Mr. Peters would choose to question his patriotism as well.”
The letter also says, quote, “Ralph Peters’ implied suggestion that the Taliban should simply kill Private First Class Bergdahl to save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills was repulsive and deserves to be repudiated by your news organization.”
Given the outrage over Mr. Peters’ remarks, it is not surprising that he’s been given an opportunity to clarify his remarks on the same cable TV network last night. Here, remarkably, was his supposed clarification.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETERS: I asked a very senior military leader for a yes or no answer. Is PFC Bergdahl a deserter? The answer was, yes. Now, according to the Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as a minimum, he is AWOL in a war zone.
I was angry when this broke because I felt the media were glorifying a guy who abandoned his buddies in combat. I can guarantee you his buddies aren’t happy because he shamed his unit. On that videotape, he lied and he lied.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I can guarantee you that he ashamed his unit. Guarantee us?
NBC pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski, has reported that in reality, in the real world, quote, “senior Pentagon and military officials say there is no evidence that Bergdahl is a deserter.”
Meanwhile, completely under the radar, while no one paid attention today, the prime minister of one of the two countries where America is still at war, the prime minister of Iraq, visited the White House today, his first visit with President Obama since U.S. forces pulled out of Iraqi cities last month.
Even as the attention of Americans who aren’t part of military families are drawn elsewhere, we’ve right now got about 130,000 U.S. service members in Iraq and 57,000 in Afghanistan, many of them in incredibly difficult combat conditions, one of them in captivity in enemy hands, while he is slandered and threatened in the American media back home.
Joining us now is Jim Miklaszewski. He is chief Pentagon correspondent for NBC News. Mr. Miklaszewski, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC CHIEF PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You bet, Rachel.
MADDOW: First, let me ask you, what are Pentagon’s sources telling you about Private First Class Bergdahl? What’s their take on this allegation that he’s a deserter?
MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, you know, as you mentioned a moment ago, senior military and Pentagon officials, not only in Washington but there on the ground in Afghanistan, say there’s no question he’s not a deserter.
Now, he did leave his post by himself. He came off a patrol on June 30th, dropped off his weapon, his body armor, grabbed up a bottle of water, compass and a knife, and took off out on his own. And it was some time after that, apparently, that some local militants grabbed him and turned him over to the Taliban.
Now, should he have left the post alone? Of course, not. But it doesn’t make him a deserter. And military officials I talked to are quite outraged at Peters’ comments, not just the idea that he suggested perhaps that the Taliban should executive Bergdahl, but because it’s totally irresponsible.
Here, you have a kid, 23 years old, in custody. He’s got to be terrified. And now, these Peters’ comments could actually be used by his captors to get even deeper inside Bergdahl’s mind and further erode any further confidence that he may have that he will ever come out alive.
So in that regard, that’s what they’re more angry about, and it’s why you don’t hear military officials or even government officials talking much about this case. They tread very carefully. They don’t want to say anything that could give Bergdahl’s captors any ammunition. And what Peters said was more than a mouthful.
MADDOW: In terms of how the Pentagon approaches its strategy here, not only in trying not to advance the Taliban’s propaganda aims, trying not to give them anything else they could use against this young soldier, who they’re holding in such vulnerable conditions, but also in terms of giving themselves a good chance of getting him back, what do we know and what are they willing to say about their strategy to get Bergdahl back? How much are we able to know about how much they are trying to save him?
MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, you know, you probably won’t be surprised to know they’re not going to tell you very much about how close they may or may not be to Bergdahl. I can only tell you that military officials again on the ground in Afghanistan feel very confident that they’re getting closer to Bergdahl, that he’s somewhere inside those eastern reaches of Afghanistan, right along the Pakistan border.
But they are unwilling to share the details. Only that they feel they are getting closer and they do have some glimmer of hope that they will be able to rescue Bergdahl alive.
There is one thing working in Bergdahl’s favor, and that the Taliban, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, do not have a history of killing hostages that they take, that they hold onto them for some time actually to extract whatever it is they’re after, whether it’s a ransom or exchange of prisoners or even propaganda.
And in this case, obviously, they can use Bergdahl for their propaganda purposes. What is disturbing, though, to some military officials is that these captors have made no demands whatsoever for Bergdahl’s release.
MADDOW: Chief Pentagon correspondent for NBC News, Jim Miklaszewski, thanks very much for staying up late, well into your workday tonight, to join us. Jim, thank you very much.
MIKLASZEWSKI: OK, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up, John “torture memo” Yoo gets punked and it’s on tape. Our chief ouch correspondent Kent Jones will have that story in just a moment. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We turn now to our situationist satire correspondent, Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. You may have heard of an Australian comedy called “The Chasers’ War on Everything.” Well, the show recently turned its hidden cameras on the Bush administration torture guy, John Yoo, while he was teaching a class at Cal Berkeley. Here with more are the hosts Craig Reucassel and Chris Taylor. It’s amazing.
MADDOW: All right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it comes to torture, another person who must be sweating in his boots is this man, John Yoo, the chief legal architect of torture under George W. Bush. This is a guy who justified torture as enhanced interrogation techniques.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not with Bush. John Yoo lectures in International Law at Berkeley University. So as keen students of his work, we thought we would attend one of his lectures.
JOHN YOO, FORMER UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OFFICIAL: Talk
about the constitutionality - any questions about the constitutionality -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, professor, I’ve got one question. How long can I be required to stand here until it counts as torture.
YOO: Unfortunately, I’m going to have to end this class. Get out of here, please. Sorry about this, people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If this is awkward for you, this is very uncomfortable for me, I can tell you.
YOO: You’re putting yourself in that position.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I’d love to move but (EXPLETIVE DELETED) get buzzed.
YOO: I’m going to end class now, I’m afraid.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You’re using your right to silence. Ah, please, professor.
YOO: I’ll give you a certain amount of time before I report you to security.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excuse me, but non-class members need to leave now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a private classroom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. I’ll go to the human rights class down the road. I think you probably won’t be teaching there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He says at the end, “I’m going to the human rights class.”
JONES: Yes, “You won’t be teaching there.” Yes.
MADDOW: Wow. I love that their security is very bad ass in that print dress.
MADDOW: Very impressive. Well, thank you, Kent. Appreciate that.
MADDOW: And thank you for watching tonight. We will see you here again tomorrow night. A very special live edition of “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts right now. Thanks very much for spending your evening with us. We’ll see you tomorrow night.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.