The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/07/09

Frank Rich, Sarah Vowell, Kirsten Gillibrand

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, Keith. Amazing work on the “Special Comment” tonight, a very hard act to follow. Thanks.

We begin our show tonight with extreme pressure being applied to Democrats in Washington from the left. You have just heard the program-length “Special Comment” from Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s “COUNTDOWN” intended obviously to dramatically increase political pressure for health care reform. He’s specifically talking about a technique that would increase political pressure on six Senate Democrats who are key to allowing a vote on health reform.

The proposal, as Keith said, is to hold massive free health clinics weekly in the capital cities of the states represented by these six key Democratic senators. Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Senator Max Baucus of Montana, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

It has occurred in other states, doctors and nurses would donate their time to provide free care to thousands of constituents of these senators to regular Americans in these states who cannot afford health care as it is provided by the health care non-system that we’ve got now.

A similar free clinic held in Houston last month by the National Association of Free Clinics drew 1,500 people looking for treatment.

The strategy at work here is that if funds can be raised to hold clinics like these in Arkansas and Montana and Nebraska and Louisiana and Nevada, it will be a way of doing well by doing good. Americans who are un-served by the current system will get some health care. And this dramatic heart-wrenching means of providing it to them could shame their senators into getting out of the way of reform-shame into stopping what is presumed to be a Republican filibuster of any health reform bill.

Now, if seeing thousands of their uninsured or underinsured constituents in need of care isn’t enough to shame those Democratic senators into allowing a vote on health reform, there is another way to break a Republican filibuster-and here we have some news for you. We can report exclusively tonight that two major powerbrokers on the left have told MSNBC that they are encouraging a Senate strategy now in which the leadership would revoke chairmanships and other leadership positions from any Democrat who sides with a Republican filibuster to block a vote on health reform.

Regardless of how individual senators would vote ultimately on the bill, committee chairman or subcommittee chairman who allowed Republicans to force a 60-vote requirement for passing health care who filibuster, Democrats who voted with filibuster-under this type of strategy-would be in danger of losing their chairmanships. That would be the Senate equivalent of busting a lieutenant colonel down to private.

This is cracking heads time in the Democratic Party right now. This is arm-twisting, vote-counting, “Are you a real Democrat?” time for proponents of health reform.

If senators aren’t themselves shamed or pressure by their constituents into getting out of the way of reform, if threats to revoke leadership positions aren’t enough to convince senators to get out of the way of reform, there is yet still even another option. It’s through a boring-sounding Senate rule called “reconciliation,” which is essentially just blocks a filibuster for specific kinds of bills. Under reconciliation rules, Republicans couldn’t force a 60-vote requirement. The bill would have to pass with just 51 votes or just 50 votes if Vice President Joe Biden was to provide the tie breaker.

If the reconciliation rules were used, there couldn’t be a filibuster. There wouldn’t have to be 60 votes. And health reform would have a very good chance of passing. Actually, it would have a better than very good chance of passing. And so, opponents of health reform are now trying to make using reconciliation rules sound dastardly, unprecedented, crazy, who would ever do such a thing? It’s never been done before.

Here, for example, is Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma speaking on conservative talk radio this week.


SEN. JAMES INHOFE ®, OKLAHOMA: They’re going to have a hard time doing reconciliation because that would be the first time on a major tax bill that that’s been done in our nation’s history. I don’t think that Harry Reid really wants to do that.


MADDOW: That would be the first time reconciliation has been done on a major tax bill? That would be the first time.

Actually, you remember that $1.3 trillion tax cut mostly for rich people-President Bush’s first tax cut? That was passed through reconciliation. Also, the second Bush tax cut, another $350 billion-that was also passed through reconciliation.

So, when Senator Inhofe says no major tax bill has ever been passed through reconciliation-maybe he’s talking about some other country. I don’t know.

Then there’s Democratic conservative Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who has said repeatedly that Democrats should not expect him to go along with some crazy plan to pass something under reconciliation. No, Ben Nelsons says he would not vote for something under those crazy reconciliation rules. That would be way, way, way too radical.

Well, Ben Nelson, of course, not only voted for the first Bush tax cut that was done under reconciliation, when they did it again for the second Bush tax cut-Ben Nelson not only voted for that bill under reconciliation, but he was a critical vote. He was vote number 50. Vote number 51 that passed that thing was then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

The main obstacle to passing health reform right now is not just Republicans, it is conservative Democrats in the United States Senate, like Ben Nelson, like Blanche Lincoln, like Mark Pryor, et cetera. And being a conservative Democrat standing in the way of health care reform seems like it’s starting to become a lonely, increasingly uncomfortable place to be standing.

Joining us now is MSNBC analyst and senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek,” Howard Fineman.

Howard, thanks very much for joining us.


MADDOW: You wrote at today that even as you’ve been critical of President Obama’s health care reform strategy in the past, you think that he may be onto something now, that maybe things are going his way. Why do you-why do you think things have changed?

FINEMAN: Well, I think-I think he’s being patient and all that patience may work, because he’s tried very hard to bring all of these so-called stakeholders to the table, all of those different industry groups. And they think they’re rolling him. That’s what they think is going on. A lot of liberals and progressives think that’s in fact the case.

But the president could have a strategy here if he can hang on and get this thing further down the track in Congress, then I think he may have a moment where it becomes politically dangerous for all of those interest groups to get up and leave the table. He may actually be able to have some power over them as this gets down to the last moment. At least, I think that’s the White House strategy.

MADDOW: Howard, the new Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Baucus bill came out today. It says that it will save more money than had been expected before. One response that was highlighted on “The New York Times” Web site today was that hospital groups are upset because they say the new analysis shows that the bill doesn’t get close enough to universal coverage. So, it’s not going to cost as much money as expected, and it’s not covering enough people.

I wonder if this could be an occasion for making the bill more progressive, spend a little more, cover a few more people.

FINEMAN: I think it could be. I think it could be. And there’s very little cost containment in the bill either on the private side, which is, of course, the whole rationale for a public option. Remember that.

So, this is-this bill is going to successfully, I think, put a floor under the negotiations, if you will, Rachel. And I think the dynamics in negotiations, keeping in mind, though, the complexity of the Senate, they’re all going to be in the direction of trying to improve the bill as far as the president is concerned, I think.

That HBO-excuse me, HBO-that CBO-that CBO thing was very significant because the Republicans have put a lot of stock in CBO numbers. Now, they can’t walk away from the bill just based on that.

MADDOW: If it was an HBO analysis, it would have more swearing, presumably.


MADDOW: Howard, what kind of pressure are conservative Democrats feeling right now? I mean, what coming off of Keith’s hour-long “Special Comment,” he is proposing.


MADDOW: . massive free health clinics in capital cities of states that are represented by conservative Democrats. We’re seeing all these other different types of pressure on the conservative Democrats.

What do you think is most likely to have the best leverage against them?

FINEMAN: Well, I think-I think people who want true health care reform have to try everything from the outside because the interest groups, the hospitals, big pharma, the insurance companies, you name it, they’re controlling the inside game here, Rachel. And it’s a very tricky thing the White House is trying to do to try to harness that energy somehow and play it back on them. That’s the inside game, very high stakes.

Meanwhile, if you’re going put any pressure on conservative Democrats, you got to do it from the grassroots. I talked to a couple Senate offices about-about Keith’s idea and about this thing in the state capitals, that’s not on their radar screen yet. They hadn’t heard about it yet. But it should be the objective of the people out in those states to make those people fully aware of it, including Harry Reid who is, of course, the critical player.

MADDOW: Howard, one last question for you. We have been tracking the politics on health reform every day for months now. And it strikes me that looking back at the things that we’ve covered recently, we’re no longer really talking about Republicans at all.


MADDOW: . in any mainstream sort of way. It sort of like shots at Jim Inhofe when he says something like he said about reconciliation. But they’re not the heart of the story anymore.

Do you think there’s any real political oomph left from the tea party folks and the death panel people and other real vocal anti-reform forces that we saw get some traction outside of Washington this summer?

FINEMAN: I don’t think so. I think the Republicans are hoping that those people will show up and vote Republican in the 2010 midterm elections. But, in the meantime, it’s clear that the president and Democrats control the game.

And, by the way, you said Republicans are out of the picture, Republicans on the Hill are out of the picture, but Republicans in the rest of the country are getting in the picture. Now, they may have motives here, you know? Bob Dole may, you know-he says he’s reform, what does it really mean?

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mike Bloomberg, you name it. You know, they may like the bill that exists, which might not be real reform, but at least they’re being drawn in. And I think the president is slowly but surely drawing people into the room, and he might be able to close the door without letting them get out. I think that’s what he’s going to be trying to do down the road.

MADDOW: MSNBC analyst and senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek,” Howard Fineman-Howard, your reporting and insight invaluable as always. Thanks for joining us.

FINEMAN: Thanks so much, Rachel. Thank you.

MADDOW: OK. Quick quiz: In what news story can we find the overlap of Osama bin Laden, Sarah Palin, Tom Hanks, and “New York Times” columnist Frank Rich? Frank Rich does not know what I’m talking about right now and he’s now wondering why exactly he’s here.

But I promise it will all make sense when we come back in just a moment.


MADDOW: One of the things that we’ve covered pretty intensely here on this show for the past couple weeks is the war on ACORN, the demonization of the community group ACORN led by conservatives and Republicans, but acceded to by many Democrats recently as well. One hundred and seventy-two House Democrats voted with the Republicans to strip ACORN of funding a couple of weeks ago. Only seven Democratic senators voted against that same measure.

Today, their actions were lambasted by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP: We are seeing in Congress an effort to punish ACORN that goes beyond any experience I can recall. When it comes to this organization, there has been a summary execution order issued before the trial.

You don’t necessarily penalize an entire organization because of the sins or crimes of a limited number of employees. Why is this organization being treated differently than others? Why is it then the focus of attention?

This organization focuses on poor people in America. They have registered over a million voters and I’m sure that most people believe that those voters are going to vote in a certain political way. Folks on the other side of the political equation don’t care for that, a million voters voting against them. And so, they have been inspiring this effort against ACORN.


MADDOW: Finally, a defender. Better late than never. It’s about time you guys.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One million dollars for school reconstruction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charlie, listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It’s like the congressman from Kabul.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear me say it was a million, not a billion for school construction?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, we heard you. Everybody heard you, buddy. They heard you in Dover, Delaware.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I sure hope I’m not annoying you, Bob, because that’s the last thing I want to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, I was in the Roosevelt Room with the president last week. You know what he said? He said, “Afghanistan, is that still going on?”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it is. Half of the population of that country is under the age of 14. Half of the population is under the age of 14. Now, think how dangerous that is. They’re going to come home and find their families are dead. Their villages have been napalmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we helped kill the guys who did it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, but they don’t know that, Bob, because they don’t get home delivery of “The New York Times.” Even if they did, it was covert, remember? This is what we always do. We always go in with our ideals and we change the world and then we leave. We always leave. But the ball though keeps on bouncing. The ball keeps on bouncing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, we’re a little busy right now, reorganizing Eastern Europe, don’t you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We spent billions. Let’s spend a million on H.R.

118 and rebuild the schools.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charlie, nobody gives a (AUDIO BREAK) about a school in Pakistan.



MADDOW: Remember when you could smoke in Congress? That scene from the film “Charlie Wilson’s War” is our convenient pop culture package, 90-second common wisdom about what led to the rise of the Taliban, the rolling out of an Afghan welcome mat for al Qaeda and subsequent planning in Afghanistan of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Tom Hanks in “Charlie Wilson’s War” is portraying the real Congressman Charlie Wilson, who spearheaded a secret plan to fund and arm the mujahideen fighters who eventually expelled the Soviets from Afghanistan. After the Soviet withdraws, Charlie Wilson wanted-as you saw in that scene, wanted but failed to continue spending American money in Afghanistan to rebuild the country. He has long maintained that our failure to do that is in part what set up Afghanistan for the ascendants of the Taliban.

Well, now this week, Charlie Wilson says it’s time for the U.S. to get our troops out of there. In an interview with “The Scranton Times Tribune,” the former congressman said, quote, “It’s a very tough situation. It’s probably best to make a calculated withdrawal. If I were the president, I’d probably shut it down rather than lose a lot of soldiers and treasure.

I think that they’re looking at us more and more like occupiers. They’re the world’s best foot soldiers, best warriors. And they’re fearless. They’re fearless and they’ve got nothing to lose, and they have a pretty serious hatred for those who try to occupy their country. I’d rather take on a chainsaw.”

Joining us now is “New York Times” columnist Frank Rich.

Mr. Rich, thanks for coming back on the show.


MADDOW: Aren’t you glad that I wasn’t going to ask you questions about Tom Hanks?


RICH: I’m so relieved. I can’t tell you.

MADDOW: We’re at the eighth year anniversary of the war right now. And the argument is that we can’t leave, we have to take off the table even the question of withdrawing U.S. troops because if we do, the Taliban will take over again, al Qaeda will have a foothold again just like they did before 9/11. That’s sort of the common wisdom in Washington, and even, I’d say, generally in the country.

Do you think that’s the case?

RICH: No. I mean, what-I’m not saying that we should completely withdraw troops or necessarily at all, but the idea that we’re going to just be on this continuous loop, indeed, as Charlie Wilson’s history shows, is ridiculous. Jim Jones is the national security adviser to the president said in the past week or so, there are probably fewer than 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan.

So, to turn this into the central front on the war on terror as its proponents are doing seems ridiculous and squandering of American resources.

MADDOW: There are probably 100 al Qaeda operatives in Somalia. A hundred al Qaeda operatives in Yemen. A hundred al Qaeda.

RICH: Maybe even in Denver.


RICH: Or Queens. We don’t-you know?

MADDOW: Yes, 9/11 was planned in Germany, wasn’t it, in part, and we didn’t talk about invading them or trying to shore up their state.

RICH: Right. And if we get tied down there, we don’t have unlimited resources and we’re going to have to deal with real threats from a stateless threat which is what al Qaeda and al Qaeda-like terrorists are.

So, it’s sort of making-repeating the same mistake over and over again.

MADDOW: The Taliban of Afghanistan have a Web site, which I can’t read, but I did visit today. On the occasion of the anniversary of the war, they have put out a statement saying they don’t want to attack any other countries, not in Europe, not in the U.S.

It’s in contrast to the last statement from Osama bin Laden, who put out one of these threatening statements, seemingly, on the occasion of the German election, saying that if European countries don’t pull out of Afghanistan, then they will be attacked by al Qaeda.

All of these statements just make me wonder if they’re playing to our politics. If they’re savvy that this is-that is-about the debates they’re trying to affect.

RICH: Maybe so. There may be a time lag in how they perceive them, particularly in bin Laden’s case. But one thing that illustrates is, al Qaeda and Taliban can’t be so easily conflated. And whether they’re being disingenuous in those statements or not, the fact is, the Taliban is a local phenomenon in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Al Qaeda and terrorist organizations like it are international.

The tail doesn’t necessarily wag the dog-which is one reason why this talk that if the Taliban-if we prevent the Taliban from taking over in Afghanistan, we therefore vanquish al Qaeda is not right, because they’ll just pop up like air under a rug, and just pop up somewhere else.

MADDOW: Right. And you’re worried that if we continue to double down, if we double down, we triple down in this one environment where the enemy necessarily isn’t, that that makes us, overall, less able to do counterterrorism work around the globe.

RICH: It’s exactly what we did in Iraq.


RICH: Indeed, a lot of people who are-starting with John McCain, who proponing, you know, we go-proposing we go all in to Afghanistan are the ones who dropped the ball by diverting American resources from Afghanistan on this fool’s mission in Iraq.

MADDOW: Yes. You know, and I’m glad you brought up John McCain because Sarah Palin on her Facebook page-which is the platform from which she speaks now until her book comes out-she has written, quote, “Now is not the time for cold feet. Second thoughts are indecision. It is the time to act as commander-in-chief and approve the troops so clearly needed in Afghanistan.”

What that says to me, to have it stated like that from Sarah Palin is that Republicans think they got a winning political issue here.

RICH: Yes, I don’t agree with that. I mean, it does show that she sees Kabul from her window, I suspect.


RICH: But, no-the fact is, the cards really are in Obama’s hands. Polls show that the war is unpopular. People don’t want to send more troops. They don’t think it’s going well. And Republicans have failed to ratchet up the scare campaign as they did in the march to Iraq with WMDs and mushroom clouds imminently arriving here.

So, it’s become an esoteric argument and I think only in Washington is it taken seriously that the Republicans have all of this leverage. I just don’t think it’s true.

MADDOW: “New York Times” columnist Frank Rich, it’s always great to have you on the show. Thank you for coming in.

RICH: Good to see you. Thanks.

MADDOW: Senator Al Franken of Minnesota just got his first legislation passed since he became a senator, and it is a doozy. That’s coming up.

And, gay rights advocates have been significantly less than pleased

with President Obama since he’s been in office. That might be-might be

about to change just a little. We’ll talk about why with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. That’s next.



REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: No longer can we afford to let go of 13,000 qualified and honorable troops. We must do right by our taxpayer. It makes no sense that we spend $1.3 billion to train these heroes up and then just to kick ‘em out just because of their sexual orientation. And lastly, this policy simply is un-American. It goes against the very fabric which makes our country great-that we’re all created equal.


MADDOW: That was what a “call to action” looks like. And in this case, the caller was Congressman Patrick Murphy, Democrat of Pennsylvania. Congressman Murphy is a straight, married, Iraq war veteran. And he has taken the lead in the House in the effort to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Congressman Murphy held an hour-long special session, of four speeches last night on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He read letters from service members who opposed the policy. He introduced a lot of other House Democrats who are also pushing for an end to the policy. He touted the 176 co-sponsors who have now signed on to a House resolution that calls for a repeal of the law.

It sounds sort of inspiring, right? It sounds like momentum. So, naturally, after all of these stirring speeches and personal stories and the many mentions of the 176 co-sponsors, as if on cue, the proverbial Oscar the Grouch popped out of his trash can to remind everyone of the inertia that is resisting that momentum.

Immediately following the special hour against “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas took to the floor and randomly, relevant to no particular legislation being discussed, unveiled his own take on the gays.


REP. LOUIE GOHMERT ®, TEXAS: The definition of sexual orientation is wide open to all kinds of interpretation. And some day, some court, somewhere, will say, “You know what? Sexual orientation means exactly what those words mean.” If you’re orientated toward animals, bestiality, then, you know, that’s not something that can be used-held against you or any bias be held against you for that. Which means you’d have to strike any laws against bestiality, if you’re orientated toward corpses, toward children, you know, there are all kinds of perversions.


MADDOW: All kinds of perversions.

One programming note, we are planning a special segment to introduce Congressman Louie Gohmert to America on tomorrow night’s show. So, you might want to arrange for child care as this segment may very well not be suitable for children or pets or corpses.

But regardless of Louie Gohmert’s best efforts to equate being gay with plots of several of these “Saw” movies, there is suddenly a lot of policy going on around gay politics. The president is set to address the largest gay rights group in the country this weekend. He’ll speak at a human rights campaign fundraiser on Saturday.

The Gay Rights National Equality March on Washington is then set for Sunday. The Associated Press is reporting tonight that the Obama administration is about to name its first openly gay ambassador.

The Washington, D.C. city council is considering a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. And after President Obama’s national security adviser said this weekend that the president would work on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” quote, “at the right time,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has promised the first ever Senate hearings on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” responded immediately by saying, frankly, that the right time is now.

Joining us now is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York.

Senator, thank you for coming on the show.


MADDOW: Let me ask you, first off, do you know when we should expect a hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”

GILLIBRAND: I think we’ll have one this fall. And I’m looking forward to trying to have one for the Armed Services Committee probably in October or November.

MADDOW: Holding a hearing is a big step because since the implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” despite all of the controversy, all efforts to repeal it and all of the debate, there’s not been a congressional hearing on it. What do you expect to be the outcome of the hearing?

GILLIBRAND: Well, the reason why I asked Chairman Levin to hold the hearing is because I think there’s an extraordinary amount of misinformation. And I think the American public, along with our Senate colleagues and House colleagues, need to hear the facts.

This policy has been in place for 16 years. We’ve lost over 13,000 service members, more than 800 of home are in mission critical areas, about 10 percent of our foreign language speakers in Farsi, in Arabic. And when we have so much pressure on our military, we want all of the best and brightest to be able to be serving.

MADDOW: Do you think that there are Republican senators right now who are licking their chops thinking about the opportunity to talk about a gay rights issue and hearings that will be undoubtedly televised and get a lot of attention? Do you think that Republicans will try to find some political advantage in talking about gay issues in Congress?

GILLIBRAND: They may well, but the facts are that the majority of the American public think repeal should take place. Because the bottom line is that people want the best and brightest in our nation to serve in our military, particularly when we have two wars and we have terrorism concerns all across the world.

And we want these very talented and well-trained individuals to be serving, and so most people want to see a repeal of this policy. It’s undermining the strength of our military. It’s immoral. It’s something that doesn’t reflect who we are as Americans. And it’s unjust. And I think we have to move forward on this national debate. And I think the facts will speak for themselves and I’m hopeful.

MADDOW: I think that it is persuasive in terms of the argument that’s been made to the American people. We’ve certainly seen the polling numbers move a lot and all of the academic work in terms of the documenting any affect on good order and morale. And the military backs up what you’re saying.

But we both know the reason it hasn’t been repealed thus far is because Democrats believe it’s too hard to do, that costs too much political capital particularly for a president worried about seeming too liberal. Do you think the White House is going to give you substantial support?

GILLIBRAND: I think the White House will support this. I think the president supports it. He certainly has so stated over the last several months and years. It’s something that is time. I mean, it’s a timely issue that is urgent and it’s a call to action.

And I do believe, as we begin to talk about the facts and roll out the evidence, that we will have the support in Congress that we need. And I think there’s more support than you think. I think there’s a number of senators that are considering their views on this issue. And I think the benefit of a hearing is we will get this evidence out to be debated fully.

MADDOW: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, thanks very much for joining us tonight. Good luck.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you.

MADDOW: In addition to being investigated for his adultery and payoff and illegal lobbying scandal, Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada also had a very uncomfortable encounter with reporters yesterday. It turns out the answers that he gave them while running away from them turned out to be uncomfortable, too. Uncomfortable in the sense that they were demonstrably untrue. Yes. That’s next.


MADDOW: Before absorbing any conservative brow-beating about what founders intended when they first came to this land, there’s an excellent book that you and they should read about those founders. Sarah Vowell wrote it. She joins us later. And she, I promise, is worth the wait.

Plus, there’s been a serious incident in comic book relationships and gossip. It involves Archie and something about Betty and Veronica. And all I call tell you is everyone in THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW offices today was really mad about it. Kent Jones will report shortly.

But first, a few holy mackerel stories in today’s news. We begin with a follow-up to Sen. John Ensign’s failed attempt to avoid the media at all costs. You know that Sen. Ensign revealed back in June that he had had an affair with a campaign staffer, a campaign staffer who was married to a man named Doug Hampton. Doug Hampton worked in Sen. Ensign’s Senate office. Here was the failed media avoidance incident.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The “New York Times” showed E-mail documentation that you had meetings with Allegiant Air and NV energy and intervened on their behalf on specific items that they needed to cover. And Doug Hampton represented them. Now, do you deny that took place?

ENSIGN: All of these things will, you know, come out. All of these

things will come out at their due time. But there’s no question that we

complied with all of the ethics -



ENSIGN: We complied with all of the ethics rules. Remember, just like senators who leave. They have a two-year, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t talk to them. You can talk to anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But not about clients and not about matters that they’re lobbying for.

ENSIGN: I never met with Doug Hampton about any of that stuff.


MADDOW: I never met with Doug Hampton about any of that stuff. The question was, “Sen. Ensign, did you ever meet with Doug Hampton after you got him a lobbying job?” “No, I never met with Doug Hampton about any of that stuff.”

What you just saw was CNN’s Dana Bash and her producer confronting John Ensign outside of his office in Washington D.C. yesterday. They’re trying to ask the senator this, “What was your involvement with Doug Hampton after you convinced companies to hire him as a lobbyist?”

It’s an important question because former staffers are required by law to wait a year before lobbying their old bosses. And the answer that Ensign gave in this interview was zilch - nada. None. He said he had no contact with Doug Hampton on any lobbying matters.


ENSIGN: Oh, I never met with Doug Hampton about any of that stuff.


MADDOW: I never met with him about any of that lobbying stuff. Well, the “New York Times” today looked into the veracity of this statement and they found an uh-oh, quote, “Interviews and documents, however, show that Mr. Ensign had lunch in the Senate dining room in March with Mr. Hampton and executives from Allegiant Air to discuss aviation issues. That lunch took place on the same day that the airline executives, in a meeting arranged by Mr. Ensign, spoke with the Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about a dispute with a foreign carrier and other issues.”

Allegiant Air being one of Mr. Hampton’s clients on whose behalf he lobbied.


DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is there any chance that you - are you considering resigning?

ENSIGN: I am focused on doing my work. And I’m going to continue to focus on doing my work.


MADDOW: And so, too, will everyone else, senator. We will all be focusing on your work, particularly the work we now think you did with your mistress’ husband/former staffer/illegal lobbyist.

On the other side of the aisle, you have Democratic freshman Senator Al Franken of Minnesota who is, full disclosure here, my former colleague at Air America Radio. Sen. Franken just introduced and got passed his very first amendment as a U.S. senator. And I’m sure that’s very exciting for him.

And because he’s a freshman senator, his first assignment, to be honest, was a bit of a “gimme.” It was an amendment so clearly necessary and rational, such a no-brainer that no one could ever possibly vote against this, unless you’re a Republican in the 111th Congress.

In this Congress, taxpayer-subsidized rape is apparently a controversial issue. Sen. Franken’s amendment would withhold government contracts from companies that prohibit employees alleging workplace sexual assault and discrimination from taking their cases to court.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D-MN): The amendment will apply to many contractors that have already demonstrated their incompetence in efficiently carrying out defense contracts and have further demonstrated their unwillingness and their inability to protect women from sexual assault.


MADDOW: Some companies do not agree. They strongly prefer the privacy of a good old fashioned cash settlement over the alternative, the very public due process of law. The final vote on the Franken amendment was 68 to 30.

All nay votes came from the Republicans, meaning three out of four Republicans voted against the “if you are raped, you get your day in court” bill. Good luck running on that record in 2010. Sorry, no do-overs.

And finally, a little good news/bad news story for you. The good news is that researchers have made significant progress toward developing a vaccine for cocaine addiction. A new study published in “Archives of General Psychiatry,” a vaccine was found to be moderately effective at helping the body produce antibodies that prevent cocaine from producing a chemical high.

So that means the effects of cocaine are diminished. That’s the good news. The bad news? The vaccine doesn’t do a whole lot for the addiction part of the addiction. It doesn’t, in any way, diminish a person’s desire for the drug. So you don’t get high anymore but you still want the drug.

In other words, the antidote requires its own antidote. I think that’s what the pharmaceutical companies call a win-win. It will probably be cheaper in Canada.


MADDOW: As the Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority as they look for the path out of the political wilderness, the guy who has made the biggest splash recently in the anticipated 2012 race for president is finding out the hard way what it means to be a presidential candidate in the party that still worships Sarah Palin.

Next month, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will be headlining a major Republican fundraising dinner in Iowa, the state, of course, that hosts the first caucus for the 2012 election.

We have now learned that Gov. Pawlenty’s invitation came only after an initial request for Sarah Palin went unanswered. So the honor of playing second fiddle to Sarah Palin fell to Gov. Pawlenty. And the price of the dinner dropped to just $25 a person.

It is a world of Palin now for Republican politicians. The rest of them are just living in it. Wallowing in it. Feeling very, very unhappy in it, I’m guessing.



RONALD REAGAN, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life. A shining city on a hill. The shining city on a hill. I thought a bit of the shining city upon a hill. The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early pilgrim, an early freedom man.


MADDOW: Actually, John Winthrop never said “shining.” He just said “city on a hill.” It was Reagan who added shininess.

It was 1630 when John Winthrop said, quote, “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

Winthrop was talking about the Massachusetts Bay colony, which he was sailing over to establish with his fellow puritans. At the start of Sarah Vowell’s book, “The Wordy Shipmates,” which is about the puritans, as sort of the frontispiece of her book, inexplicably, with no caption, there’s this.

And I thought, at first, that this was maybe something funny that Sarah Vowell drew herself. It is not. It turns out the puritans, the pilgrims, the founders of our country, John Winthrop, et al, established their foothold here under this seal.

This official Massachusetts Bay colony seal which features a whack cartoon Indian missing an armpit with a cartoon word bubble coming out of his mouth that says, “Come over and help us.”

Come over and help us? That was the idea? Native Americans saying, “Hey, English people come over to Massachusetts and help us”?

Joining us now is someone whose writing about American history is something which I take great pleasure. Her book is “The Wordy Shipmates,” just out in paperback and it’s great. Sarah Vowell, thank you for stopping by.


MADDOW: Did they really think Native Americans were psyched for British people to come over and help us, this whole greeted-as-liberators thing?

VOWELL: Who wouldn’t be? You know, that’s, of course, as I’m sure you know, a reference to St. Paul, who had a vision that the Macedonians wanted him to come over and help them.

And this is, in fact, the real seal of the Bay colony. And I think it signifies how they thought of themselves, as, you know, coming over to help whether anyone wanted their help or not.

And I feel like this is probably one of their most important bequests to us as Americans, this kind of missionary zeal. Although just as importantly, I think, you know, the seal of New Netherlands, where we are sitting right now - that was a picture of a beaver surrounded by a string of wampum, which is, you know, native money. So that’s probably just as indicative of who we became as that one.

MADDOW: New York was about loot and Massachusetts was impugning weird motives for rescue fantasies onto people we didn’t know.

VOWEL: Yes. I mean, that does seem naive. I’m just so drawn to that seal. I should stop looking at it.

MADDOW: I’m sorry.


No, it’s fine. It’s more interesting. I thought you drew it.

VOWELL: You know, that is still the seal of Massachusetts. They just took off the “come over and help us” banner.

MADDOW: Thank god.

VOWELL: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Indian. But you know, one of the things

the English colonists did when they came over to help us eventually, you

know, during the Pequot War, they burned alive 800 men, women and children

of, you know Pequot descent, so I guess that -

MADDOW: That makes the “come over and help us” thing a lot harder to keep on the seal.

VOWELL: But you know, we’re still doing that. We’ve already done that throughout our history. Like, you know, how we liberated Cuba, which I’m sure, would be news to Cuba.

And, you know, in the last few years, we have been helping out all over the world. And so I think that idea of themselves as, you know, chosen by God to save the world, we sort of inherited.

But I think one thing we lost and certainly maybe President Reagan never really followed through on this is in that sermon of Winthrop when he was calling for his shipmates to become as a city upon a hill, what he’s saying is that they could fail. And to him, he defines this failure as a failure to take care of one another.

The sermon is called “The Model of Christian Charity,” and it’s actually all about generosity and sharing with your neighbors.

MADDOW: Well, it’s - you describe it as one of the most beautiful sentences in the English language, “We must enlighten each other, make others condition our own, rejoice together, warm together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.”

And you singled that out as a beautiful thing. It’s also - it’s a very un-Reaganism sort of thing.

VOWELL: Yes, it doesn’t really jive with, you know, slashing the housing and urban development budget and cutting school lunch programs and things like that. But that image of, you know, themselves as members of the same body, it’s so powerful and so beautiful and it’s so Christ-like.

I mean, I kept thinking about it a lot after September 11th here in New York, you know, how there was so much solidarity and real neighborliness and real civic love. And not only that, like we were sort of literally members of the same body. We were breathing the air that was our, you know, incinerated fellow citizens.

So this sermon is just much more deeper and, you know, beautiful.

I mean, it has a dark side too, I think, this ideal of theirs of community. And Winthrop wrote that sermon - he was the governor, but he had yet to govern.

When he delivered the sermon and when he got to Massachusetts and as governor, his vision of that community and holding it together was to, you know, banish and punish anyone who stuck out or spoke up or disagreed with the magistrates and the clergy.

He kicked out a lot of people who were rebel rousers. One guy - they sliced off his ears, you know, which was kind of extreme even for the time. So I guess everything costs something.

MADDOW: Sarah Vowell, the new book is - well, the new paperback version of “The Wordy Shipmates” is just out. I think it’s great.

VOWELL: I’m going to end on ear-slicing.

MADDOW: You’re going to end on ear-slicing. I was going to say, it’s like metaphorical amputation, the banishment but then, you went right for the literal amputation. And so, we’re just going to leave it there.

VOWELL: Yes. But speaking of that, anyone who’s watching this, I loved your co-worker’s hour before this. So you should watch that if it’s still in repeats or, you know, record it or something. Talk about taking care of one another.

It is coming up next on “COUNTDOWN,” which is I’m supposed to say right now. Spectacular.

VOWELL: That is what the First Amendment is for.

MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith’s hour-long special comment which Sarah Vowell says you must watch. I concur.

Next on this show, a comic’s controversy that has the staff of the show very upset. It’s a whole different idea. Kent Jones investigates. Stay with us.


MADDOW: We turn now to our comic’s matrimonial correspondent, Kent Jones. Hey, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Big news. The Archie-Betty-Veronica controversy has changed. Check it out.



JONES (voice-over): The comic book world freaked out when it was announced that Archie had chosen the rich, snotty Veronica over the sweet-girl-next-door, Betty. Dude, I don’t even know you anymore.

It got worse. In the next issue, Archie and Veronica have twins

twins that he winds up working for Veronica’s big-shot father. Could this really be happening? Yes, in his mind.

It turns out Archie took a stroll down memory lane, came to a fork in the road, and then imagined what it would be like to marry Veronica. He dreamed it. We’ve been punked by a literary device!

It’s like that season of “Dallas” all over again. Bobby Ewing’s not dead. He’s in the shower. In the next three issues, takes the other fork in the road and imagines what life would be like if he ended up with Betty. They have twins, too, blond this time. It’s good to be Archie.

Interestingly, we don’t get a sequence that shows us Veronica’s dream man, or Betty’s. But you can bet that after 70 years of not making up his mind, their fantasy life doesn’t involve having twins with this guy.


MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. Goofy stuff.

JONES: Sure.

MADDOW: Thank you for watching tonight. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann, his special comment on health care, starts right now.



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