The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/11/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you.
And thank you at home for staying with us on this Veterans Day.
As one conservative senator finds himself in the hot glare of the spotlight for personally standing in the way of veterans’ health care; the interview tonight is the woman caught in the crossfire of this year’s Republican-conservative split, a split that may be setting up a nationwide purge of moderates out of the Republican Party. We’re joined by Dede Scozzafava.
We’re also joined by Seymour Hersh as news breaks tonight that America’s ambassador in Afghanistan is desperately Washington to not send more troops to that country.
It’s all ahead.
But we begin tonight with even more urgently breaking news. “The Associated Press” reporting within the last hour that President Obama has rejected all of the options given to him by his national security team regarding a new policy for the war in Afghanistan. :”The A.P.” citing a senior administration official reporting-again, in the last hour-that Mr. Obama is pushing his national security team to revise the options they’ve given him and to give him a new plan, specifically focused on how and when U.S. troops could turn over responsibility to the Afghan government.
This news comes after the president today held his eight meeting with his national security staff on the way forward in Afghanistan.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed this had week that President Obama was considering four options on Afghanistan. As for what those options are, unnamed officials speaking to “The New York Times” said the president was considering sending 20,000 to 25,000 troops, or another plan to send 30,000 more troops, or, still another plan, to send roughly 40,000 more, or, according to “The Times,” there was a mysterious fourth option that wasn’t defined at least as of yet, by the number of troops that would be sent.
But again, the breaking news tonight, according to “The Associated Press,” is that President Obama has rejected all of those options. Administration officials at least now telling “The A.P.” that Mr. Obama wants a strategy that makes it clear that the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan is not open-ended. According to “The A.P.,” President Obama will most likely announce his new Afghanistan war strategy shortly after he returns from a trip to Asia on November 19th.
Joining us now by phone is Anne Gearan. She’s a national security writer for “The Associated Press” who reported this news tonight.
Anne Gearan, thanks very much for joining us. I really appreciate your time.
ANNE GEARAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS (via telephone): I’m pleased to be with you.
MADDOW: When you reported tonight that the president is looking for a way to make clear that the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan is not open-ended, can you tell us any more about what that might mean he’s looking for? Is that a specific end date by which troops would leave?
GEARAN: Well, my colleague, Ben Feller, and I reported this tonight, and he really deserves credit here, too. It’s-we don’t know exactly what the-what the threat is, if there is one, that the White House is holding over Afghanistan and its leaders.
But it’s clear that the president didn’t like any of the military options he was presented. That’s been true for a while. He’s asked for those options to be reworked a couple of times. And he wants to see something else that probably incorporates, you know, troop numbers, but also a difference in strategy before he goes ahead.
MADDOW: “The Washington Post” had broke news tonight, Ms. Gearan, that Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, who, of course, until recently was a U.S. troop commander, a general in Afghanistan, had been urgently cabling Washington, D.C., at least on two occasions recently, saying, “Please don’t sent more troops right now. Afghan corruption at the governmental level is too much of a complication for the U.S. to be increasing its military footprint.”
One detail, though, in that story was that “The Washington Post” said that all of the options that were being considered by President Obama, all of the options on the table, were to increase troop numbers.
GEARAN: That’s right.
MADDOW: That’s right.
GEARAN: The options, the four that were going into today’s meeting,
all involved some form of troop increases, as we were told ahead of time by
military and other officials. The Eikenberry objections came as a bit of a
came out of the blue to a lot of officials who had been proceeding on the assumption that today’s meeting would be basically the end. I mean, the president would see the options, which he himself had asked for in one form or another, and, you know, pick A, B, C or D. And Eikenberry was a latecomer to this process, at least in the form of these very sternly-worded classified cables which we were able to confirm tonight as well.
And Eikenberry is a very important figure here. I mean, he’s someone who has both the long military experience in Afghanistan and the fairly recent diplomatic experience, and he’s been a participant in these meetings by video, as has the war commander in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal.
It’s not at all clear whether the president’s rejection of the options he was presented today had anything to do with the Eikenberry cables. But they all did come in roughly at the same time over the last several days.
MADDOW: It’s been a dramatic evening of news, as all of this information has become available to us. On the issue of the options that have been made available to the president, that, again, you’re reporting, you and Ben Feller from “The Associated Press,” tonight reporting the president has rejected, it seems to me that the closer you get to real expertise on this conflict in Afghanistan-among American experts, American veterans, people who have been there-the more likely the person you’re talking to is to emphasize that troop numbers themselves are not strategic. That there are strategic matters-strategic issues that the president needs to decide above and beyond how many troops are there.
Are you able to tell us anything about whether-what the different strategic decisions the president-the strategic options the president has been given to choose between?
GEARAN: Well, you’re absolutely right. I mean, troop numbers are really only a way to measure what you’re going to do over and above that. And they’ve become the metric by which the starry is measured and, certainly, the thing Washington is most focused on. But the White House has said all along that they were more focused on getting the wider strategy right and they would figure out how many troops it took, if any, additional, to get it done there.
The latest strategic shifts seem very closely related to the outcome of the Afghan election, or non-election. The elevation of Karzai without a second round has, on one hand, been a boon to western officials who basically wanted to get on with it and figure out who it was they were going to be dealing with and start to get the government together and figure out their next move before winter set in and before the Taliban had a lot of chance to regroup and before a lot of other bad things could have happened.
So, it did short-circuit a potentially long period of delay. But on the other hand, it has produced a very uncertain landscape for Obama, and certainly, for the NATO allies and for someone like Eikenberry, sitting there in Kabul and being the U.S. face on the ground, talking to Karzai, some of the things that Karzai has said and done in recent days have greatly irritated, if not more U.S. officials who think he’s not showing much sign that he’s going to clean house and, you know, walk a straight line.
So, there is-there’s relatively little leverage that the U.S. has other than its presence, which is most easily measured by troops. But that’s going to-what the president does from here is going to be, in some way, formed on what he wants to see happen with Karzai.
MADDOW: Anne Gearan, reporter for “The Associated Press,” who joins the byline with Ben Feller tonight on today’s breaking news from “The Associated Press” on Afghanistan-thanks very much for joining us on such short notice. I really appreciate it.
GEARAN: It’s my pleasure.
MADDOW: Again, the breaking news tonight from “The Associated Press”:
President Obama not planning to accept any of the Afghanistan war option that’s have been presented to him by his national security team, pushing instead-in “The A.P.’s” words-for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government. President Obama wanting to make clear that the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan is not open-ended.
There’s been so much speculation about what’s going to happen with, not only the U.S. war in Afghanistan, but the Washington, D.C.-based decision making process for what’s going to happen-that decision-making process just blown wide open tonight with this breaking news.
Today, while President Obama observed Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery, in Congress a bipartisan bill to help veterans is being blocked by one single solitary senator. That story is next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: As Americans observed Veterans Day today, a major bill that would help the men and women who have served our country in uniform is being blocked by one senator. His remarkable excuse when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We honor your service. We are forever grateful. And just as you have not forgotten your missing comrades, neither, ever, will we. Our servicemen and women have been doing right by America for generations. And as long as I am commander-in-chief, America’s going to do right by them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Obama speaking today at Arlington National Cemetery, marking Veterans Day, of course. Earlier, Mr. Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
And although it doesn’t get much coverage and it’s not political common wisdom, the annual pledges that politicians make on the 11th of November to uphold America’s promises to our veterans-those pledges this year are being made in a very different context than they’ve been made in recent years past. Although you won’t hear about it in the Beltway press and won’t see fights about it on cable news, we have in fact made huge progress on veterans’ issues over the last few years. It doesn’t mean there’s not miles more to go, but considered what’s happened.
Last year, Congress passed the largest increase in the Veterans Affairs Department budget in the 77-year history of that agency. In August, the new G.I. Bill went into effect, the biggest commitment to veterans’ education since the first G.I. Bill was passed all the way back in 1944.
Last month, President Obama signed a landmark advanced funding bill that gives the V.A. money to operate a year in advance. It’s one of those things that sounds really boring but it makes a huge difference as to how well that agency is able to meet its promises. V.A. health care is now accessible again to a whole class of hundreds of thousands of veterans who’d been cut off from eligibility by the Bush administration in 2003. Symbolically, the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, early on identified military families as one of her marquee issues as first lady.
The general famous for bucking the Bush administration in the lead-up to the Iraq war, who in fact got fired for that, was put in charge of the Veterans Affairs Department in the Obama administration, with a clear mandate and a clear expectation that he’d buck the system and get things done at the V.A.
Again, this is not to say that all this progress is just a done deal. There are more than 20 million veterans in this country. The V.A. is a huge bureaucracy. It still screws up plenty, and veterans still have a lot of unmet needs.
But realistically, in terms of progress made, distance covered toward keeping those promises that we talk about every Veterans Day, it has been a really big couple of years. And the reason you probably haven’t heard too much about that, the reason this is all happened a little bit under the political radar, is because caring for our veterans is not that much of a political hot potato. With the weird exception of Congressman Steve Buyer this year, trying to scare veterans into opposing health care reform, Congress has generally been recently unified in support of getting things done for the men and women who have fought our wars.
And then there’s Senator Tom Coburn. The next big thing to happen on veterans’ issues in Washington is a Senate bill aimed at improving health care access for wounded veterans, offering assistance to those who care for those veterans, ensuring equal access to care for female veterans, expanding care for veterans in rural areas. It’s called Senate Bill 1963. And the reason that it has not yet been passed is not because it’s held up in partisan wrangling or something-no, this has huge bipartisan support.
The reason this has not been passed is because of one guy, Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who has put a personal hold on the bill to block it from coming to a vote. He is the only senator to do so. And it’s earned him some of this from some of his Senate colleagues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK BEGICH (D), ALASKA: There is no excuse for not supporting our veterans and their caregivers. They have earned it, and they have earned better than what they have been provided up-to-date. The hold is unjustified, and obstructing the Senate from fulfilling its obligations to our veterans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Mr. Coburn has attempted to explain this hold by claiming that he can’t allow this bill to go forward, because he doesn’t know how it’s being paid for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA: If we want to pass a bill, then let’s
be honest about what it costs, and then let’s go do the hard work of paying
for it-rather than saying we can do this, then we can turn our backs on
the generations that follow us
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Mr. Coburn went on to say that he thinks 90 percent of America’s veterans would agree this bill shouldn’t be passed.
Now, Senator Coburn insists that it’s nothing against veterans per se; it’s just that he’s opposed to voting for anything that isn’t paid for by cutting something else. Senator Coburn’s rule on that, of course, did not constrain him from voting for funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that made this veterans’ bill necessary-funding for wars that wasn’t offset by anything. In 2005, Mr. Coburn had no problem voting for an emergency war supplemental bill that directed $82 billion of un-offset dollars toward the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Here’s how he explained that vote earlier this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: As a matter of record, did you vote for any of the supplementals?
COBURN: One. One war supplemental.
REPORTER: That was unpaid for?
COBURN: That was unpaid for.
REPORTER: And your reaction to that?
COBURN: Well, that was-I think it was the first year I was here. But go look at who hadn’t. I’ve not-I’ve not voted for one since, because it wasn’t paid for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I’ve not voted for one since-unless you count the emergency war supplemental bill that Coburn voted for in 2006. There it is right there. Coburn, yea.
Those wars which Senator Coburn was perfectly happy to vote to pay for with absolutely no explanation of how we’d cover those costs created more than 1.7 million new veterans. He’s now on principle not willing to pay for taking care of those veterans.
Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak. Congressman Sestak is the highest-ranking veteran elected to Congress. He’s a former three-star Navy admiral. He’s also a candidate for United States Senate in his home state of Pennsylvania.
Congressman Sestak, thanks very much for joining us tonight. Happy Veterans Day!
REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Happy Veterans Day! Thanks for having me on this topic very much.
MADDOW: I have-just have to ask your reaction, plain and simple, to Senator Coburn’s decision to be the lone senator blocking this bill.
SESTAK: It’s shameful. It’s shameful and it’s outrageous. We ask these men and women, my fellow vets, to go overseas and protect our lives. Then they come home and he doesn’t want to protect them for only less than two weeks of a seven-year war.
I was to a prison today, a penitentiary. I went to visit incarcerated veterans, veterans who had actually gotten there because of post-traumatic stress disorder that led them to substance abuse. This bill that he’s blocking-he’s actually going to block and stop the outreach programs that help veterans get treatment for it.
A few months ago, I toured a nursing facility in Philadelphia for our seniors after two inspections failed to find the unsafe, unsanitary conditions there, and one finally found maggots, live maggots falling out of a festering wound of one of our vets sitting there. And this bill that he’s stopping is to enhance quality inspections.
And then not to go on, but why I’m so outraged, I’ll never forget going to Bethesda and visiting about six vets one day, marines, and one soldier. This soldier was a police chief-Hispanic police chief from Vermont, a small village, small town, traumatic brain injury. His mom left her job to take care of him. The town-what a wonderful town-has never up to that day, even filled his job because they wanted to honor him. And the mother, a caretaker, leaving her job.
And this bill would have given her a stipend in health coverage so she could do, what up until then, we didn’t have enough in the V.A. to do, until the $10 billion, you mentioned, the last two years we got passed. How could this senator do this to our vets?
MADDOW: As a veteran and a legislator now, do you think there is a disconnect between the politics in Washington of voting to go to war, and the politics in Washington of voting to take care of the people who come home from war? Do you see that those things are treated separately?
SESTAK: Without a question. Too often, I’ve heard the term, “take care of our troops.” And there often seem to be just, let’s put more in the defense budget for more weaponry. Look, our troops are who they are because we invest in them and their health care and their education. We actually give them an economic opportunity.
And when they come home, if we don’t understand, as George Washington himself said, that our greatest recruiting tool for the future are going to be our veterans. We owe them the most sacred of obligation from cradle to grave. They’re the few men and women who actually raise their hand and said, “Here am I, send me.”
And you said something I think early that’s very important. And this Fort Hood tragedy brought it out. Less than one-third of 1 percent of all America’s families are actually engaged in this war overseas. Of those 1.7 million (ph) who have served, that represents about one-third of 1 percent of American families.
The strain and stress upon them, upon this mom who came back-this is politics at its worst. It’s what most irks me about Washington, D.C. Somehow, they think strength is purely military force, not understanding it’s our people. And they have forgotten that, particularly in this case.
MADDOW: Congressman Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, candidate for U.S. Senate-thank you again for your time tonight, sir. Happy Veterans Day to you. Thanks.
SESTAK: Happy Veterans Day. Thank you.
MADDOW: Whatever the president does decide on Afghanistan, he’ll have to take Pakistan, a country with nuclear weapons, into account. “New Yorker” magazine’s Seymour Hersh joins us next. Join us.
MADDOW: Tonight’s breaking news, “The Associated Press” reporting that President Obama has rejected all of the options given to him on the way forward in the war in Afghanistan. Any decision he makes about Afghanistan will, of course, have to take into account our friend-nemy across the border in Pakistan. And as Seymour Hersh details in this week’s “New Yorker” magazine, U.S. dealings with Pakistan specifically on issues of fighting the Taliban and keeping that country’s nuclear arsenal out of the hands of militants, they’re going from complicated to full-on Gordian Knot territory.
Joining us now is Seymour Hersh, staff writer for “The New Yorker” magazine.
Mr. Hersh, thanks very much for coming on the show tonight.
SEYMOUR HERSH, THE NEW YORKER MAGAZINE: Sure.
MADDOW: Before we talk Pakistan, I do need to ask your reaction to this breaking news from “The Washington Post” and “The A.P.” tonight that the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, now says, “Don’t send more troops because of Afghan corruption,” and the president, tonight, reportedly rejecting all of the options that have presented to him for sending more troops.
HERSH: Look. It could be huge. Of course, it’s very early, but it could be huge, simply that the president is finally saying, “I’m taking control.”
The one thing that mystified a lot of people, a lot of my friends on the inside was this decision to let General McChrystal write a report. We always compare Mr. Obama that to President Lincoln. But Lincoln did not let George McClellan write a report on how to win a war against the South.
There’s no general in history that will write come back, given that
assignment and say we can’t win. This is basically a war at best that’s
going to be a stalemate-a 10-year stalemate, you know, x thousands and x
the money, et cetera.
And so, Obama is just putting his foot down, and that’s great. He’s saying-he’s making a political gamble in a sense. I-it’s a little too early to say, but he’s-he’s grabbing it. He’s grabbing it, and he hasn’t been grabbing it until now.
MADDOW: On the issue of Karl Eikenberry’s cables back to Washington from the embassy in Kabul. We heard the Anne Gearan, “The A.P.” reporter, tonight, say that that decision seemed to her to be out of the blue, totally unexpected.
What do you know about Karl Eikenberry and how surprised are you by that decision?
HERSH: Oh, this is trouble in River City. This is big news, because Eikenberry-I’ll tell you, the top of the Army, General George Casey, the chief of staff, they’ve been very unhappy with the McChrystal appointment and the way things have been going. And part of it has to do with the fact that a lot of people in the army see a West Point cabal. There’s always this notion of a West Point mafia.
Eikenberry was a couple of years ahead, ‘73, class of ‘73. McChrystal, his deputy, Rodriguez, Petraeus, Odierno-they’re all either ‘74 or ‘75, they’ve all been together, and causing a lot of trauma inside the Army, which very resentful. The man that was kicked out, General McKiernan, was a William & Mary, not a West Pointer. This is one of the sub-rows of stories as I’ve been talking to people for the last eight, nine months about, obviously, not only Pakistan but Afghanistan.
This is-for Eikenberry to split, I did know that this summer, inside the embassy and inside the committee, there were a lot of-there was a lot of concerns about the stability, the actual, literally, the mental stability of Karzai. And I think Eikenberry probably knows more than most people.
This also might explain why Dick Hobert(ph), the special adviser and consultant, has had so much trouble with him. There is a lot of deep-seated problems with Karzai. And Eikenberry is simply, I think, reflecting a huge split because he’s now splitting from the McChrystal - the counterinsurgency wing that’s been dominated by Petraeus, if my guess on this, my heuristic guess on this, is right.
MADDOW: We’ve got looming over both the worry about increasing the size of America’s military footprint in Afghanistan and also the worry about U.S. troops pulling out of Afghanistan, the stability of Pakistan.
And you write in “The New Yorker” this week that American and Pakistani officials have an understanding that in the event of crisis, Americans would be allowed to provide some added security for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
Pakistani officials denying that, of course, on the record. How much access do you think the U.S. would have to Pakistan’s nukes in a crisis?
HERSH: Well, we’ve had a lot more than we’ve talked about. It’s been an ongoing process. You noticed that the Pentagon isn’t saying much because Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chief, who I find to be a very straight arrow, has been on the record publicly for months, seen twice in May, talked openly about how much we’re doing to help the Pakistan with nuclear security. It’s a huge issue for us.
The problem - the reason you write a story like this - theoretically, why would you want to write a story about the fact that we’re getting some access in a very sensitive area?
We’re worried about terrorists or jihadists or, you know, Taliban
I’m not sure who does the what there - getting access to some warhead or a loose nuke, if you will. That’s always been the Islamic bomber nightmare.
But the truth is, the reason you do this story is because when you get deeper and when you go to Pakistan and you start talking to people involved, you find out as far as they are concerned, “Oh, you Americans. We just have to make you happy. We tell you what you want and tell you what we think you want to know.”
They take these agreements far less seriously than we do. And the fact of the matter is that we really don’t know what we need to know. It’s great that we get more access and we have gotten more access. But that doesn’t mean in any way we can feel secure about what’s going on there.
It’s their weapons systems. They say they’re in control. We dream and talk about taking them out but that’s not going to be possible. There’s 80 or 100 of them.
And so we’re just pretending. We’re telling each other, well, we’ve got more access. I think it’s a serious issue that’s very much going to stay unresolved for a long time.
MADDOW: And in your interview with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, he says that Pakistan has constructed a huge tunnel system to make it impossible for anyone, including us, to monitor the transportation and storage of all of Pakistan’s nukes.
Are they doing that, specifically to keep that information from us because they think we’ll tell India about their arsenal?
HERSH: Well, that’s always the rational fear of - the Pakistanis feel we love India more than we love them. And the INDIANS, of course - I was also in Delhi on this story - they feel the same thing. Why do we love Pakistan more than they?
And so you always have that problem. In fairness of Musharraf, I brought that issue up of tunnels, because naturally, as a former president, he was reluctant. Musharraf had been very helpful after 9/11 about the nuclear arms.
This is when Secretary Powell was in the government, Secretary of State, and his department Rich Armitage. There was a great deal of information passed in that was reassuring up to a point.
We’ve always had our nose into it, clearly, not as much as the Indians. But I do bring up the tunnels for two reasons. Somebody - actually, a nuclear physicist, a Pakistani, said to me, “One reason we have these tunnels is obviously for security, to make sure they can’t be hit by an Indian bomb.”
But he also said that keeps Big Uncle - that’s us - with great sarcasm. Keeps Big Uncle, our satellites, from getting a look-see at what we’re doing. We don’t like Big Uncle watching over us all the time.
So one of the reasons the tunnels were built and constructed, we move - the Pakistanis move their warheads around and their triggers around and their delivery systems around, some of them underground, is to keep it from us, of course.
MADDOW: Documenting the allusion of our influence in the most frightening, possible terms. Seymour Hersh, staff writer for “The New Yorker” magazine. His article, “Defending the Arsenal,” in this week’s “New Yorker.” It’s a page-turner and a must-read. Mr. Hersh, it’s great to have you on the show. Thank you for your time tonight.
HERSH: Thank you.
MADDOW: On the interview tonight, the New York politician who has become a national symbol of the Grand Old Party’s Donnie Brooks over moderates and the issue of ideological purity. New York Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava joins us next.
MADDOW: Before Decision ‘09, the word “Scozzafava” was strictly a proper noun. Thanks to the purging of moderates from the Republican Party in this year’s off-year election in northern New York State, “Scozzafava” is now being used also as a verb, occasionally as a gerund. And it is officially a conservative sensation.
When national conservatives swooped into the race and forced the Republican Party’s local candidate, Dede Scozzafava, out of the race for Congress in northern New York State this year and backed the more conservative Doug Hoffman instead, the result was ultimately that a man named Bill Owens became the first Democrat to represent the district in more than a century.
And now, conservatives are working to build on that historic electoral failure. Today, we learned that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has been, forgive me, “scozzafavaed” by Republicans in his home state of South Carolina.
The Charleston County Republican Party officially censuring Sen. Graham this week on the grounds that, quote, “U.S. Senator Lindsey graham, in the name of bipartisanship, continues to weaken the Republican brand and tarnish the ideals of freedom, rule of law, and fiscal conservatism.”
Sen. Graham’s brand-weakening, freedom-tarnishing misadventures include calling for bipartisan climate change legislation, supporting the bank bailout and showing, quote, according to his friends in his home state, “a condescending attitude toward his constituents by calling them bigots when they opposed his stance on amnesty for illegal aliens.
In defense of his conservatism, Sen. Graham’s office pointed out that he was the 15th most conservative senator by 2008 by “The National Journal.” That has apparently not been enough to save him from a Scozzafavaing at home.
And now, the spread of Scozzafavafication, promises to reach well beyond South Carolina. In the coming weeks, Republicans will attempt to Scozzafava the nation with a new wave of town hall meetings that so enlivened our nation August this year.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee who is chair of the Senate Republican Conference tells “Politico.com” that, quote, “Republicans are quietly planning some 50 in-person and telephone town hall gatherings over the next three weeks to drum up opposition to Democratic health care bills.”
So if you liked the raucous town halls and tea party protests that so unnerved the mainstream Republicans this year, sounds like you’re going to love 2010.
Joining us now, the noun that gave us the verb, New York assemblywoman and former Republican congressional candidate Dede Scozzafava. Ms. Scozzafava, I apologize for verbing you, but I know that you know it’s happening. Thank you very much for coming on the show.
DEDE SCOZZAFAVA, NEW YORK ASSEMBLYWOMAN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: One of the big national news stories to come out of the election was your endorsement of Democrat Bill Owens after you dropped out. And I wanted to just clarify that with you, because I know you didn’t endorse him right away. What was the turning point? What made you decide to back him instead of Doug Hoffman?
SCOZZAFAVA: Well, I think, you know, it was kind of an emotional morning when I made the decision to drop out of the race. And I needed to take a little time and just step back from it. And then I had supporters calling me, asking me what should they do and what candidate should they endorse.
So when I got to that point, I had to think long and hard. But it came back to - I needed to endorse the candidate that I thought would best look out to represent the constituents that I currently represent in the state assembly.
And there were real differences in the two campaigns, not only in the tone of the two campaigns but also philosophically. You know, Ft. Drum is a very important part of this region.
And one candidate pledged he was not going to provide the same level of funding that John McHugh always provided to our area. And Ft. Drum is definitely an economic engine in this area. And we’re very much an area that’s transitioning from more mature industries and trying to create new technology. But we’re still very dependent on the base, and that’s been a driving force in our area.
MADDOW: A lot of attention has been paid, including on this show, to the big name, national Republican celebrities, who came and campaigned for Doug Hoffman and against you.
But I wanted to ask you what the conservative versus Republican contest looked like locally before Dick Armey and Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty all got involved.
SCOZZAFAVA: Well, I have a lot of local support. I mean, this was an open process. It was fully vetted with the 11 county chairs. All committee people had an opportunity to listen to all the candidates.
And the conservative candidate was part of the process. He promised to support the eventual Republican nominee. He also put it in writing. But at the end of the day, he just decided to run on the conservative line.
The local support was good, but it just - it got overwhelmed by what became a national agenda that really didn’t put the local interests first. In fact, Dick Armey was at an editorial board and he said, “We don’t care about the local issues. They’re parochial.”
Well, that, to me - it’s all about the local issues. It’s all about the types of things that we need to do in upstate New York in understanding the issues and dilemmas that we currently face.
MADDOW: There’s still debate going on right now about what the election in your district means for the Republican Party heading into 2010. And what it means for the Republican Party in the post-George Bush, post John McCain era. Conservatives are counting it as a victory that you dropped out. What do you think that it means for the overall health for your party?
SCOZZAFAVA: I don’t think it’s good for the health of our party. Any party that just tries to purge members that might have any sort of independent thinking, I think, eventually will run itself to very much of a minority status.
I think any sort of party has to be willing to solve the problems. And in order to solve problems, you have to look at things sometimes differently. And you do have to drive towards some sort of consensus building.
Otherwise, you have ideology that’s really not based on any sort of substance that can move an agenda forward, that can really help people in this country.
MADDOW: I know that you have recently resigned your leadership positions in the New York state assembly. I know when you endorsed Bill Owens, you got a lot of attention from a lot of very powerful Democrats across the country.
Are you definitely going to stay in the Republican Party? Are you thinking at all about moving to the Democrats?
SCOZZAFAVA: No. I plan to stay. You know, the original Republican Party was all about less government interference in the lives of individuals. It was about promoting self-sufficiency versus government dependency.
I feel my philosophy and my viewpoints and my record - I voted 95 percent with my Republican leader in the state assembly. But you know, people had a bigger agenda that they wanted to push. And the only thing I can say is anybody that endorsed the opponent didn’t vet my record.
And I hope they have a little better record in their own individual states at problem solving than they did in choosing a candidate in this race.
MADDOW: New York Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, I also do a talk radio show and I feel like, on behalf of talk radio hosts, I want to apologize for all the mean personal things that were said about you. And I want to wish you good luck moving forward. Thanks for joining us tonight.
SCOZZAFAVA: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: He revealed who the U.S. is monitoring. He put schematics for how to make nuclear weapons online. He tweeted the secret location of congressional representatives who were traveling in a war zone. He said outright that some of our American intelligence officers are helping al-Qaeda.
Get ready to meet the top Republican congressman on the issue of intelligence in the House of Representatives. That’s next.
MADDOW: It turns out that congressman/gubernatorial hopeful Pete Hoekstra’s revelations on just who the U.S. government has been monitoring abroad were just the tip of the iceberg. Details on that, next.
MADDOW: If a religious extremist in a foreign country was under surveillance by U.S. intelligence, what would you call someone who tipped off that extremist, who told that person that U.S. intelligence was watching them, and specifically, that their E-mail was compromised, that intelligence agents were reading every word of their E-mails?
What would you call the person who completely blew that intelligence effort? Blew that surveillance target? Blew that lead that U.S. intelligence was following to fight terrorism?
In this case, you’d call that person congressman - Congressman Pete Hoekstra, the highest-ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee.
As we talked about on this show last night, Congressman Hoekstra took it upon himself yesterday to disclose to “The Washington Post” that the alleged shooter in the Ft. Hood massacre, Maj. Nidal Hasan, not only had sent E-mails to a radical cleric living in Yemen. He had received two E-mails from that cleric as well. That’s news, right?
No law enforcement agency or intelligence agency has released that information. No one from the U.S. government or anywhere else had gone on record or even leaked anonymously to the press that there were E-mails from that radical cleric to Maj. Hasan.
It’s just Pete Hoekstra who said that to “The Washington Post,” thereby broadcasting to the world the previously undisclosed fact that U.S. intelligence was reading that cleric’s E-mail.
Pete Hoekstra has access to all sorts of classified information because he is the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee. When Republicans were the majority, he was Chair of Intelligence.
And people, including me, on this show, frankly clamor for there to be more oversight in Congress of what the intelligence agencies are doing, when people worry that by withholding details of what they’re doing from Congress, the intelligence agencies are forming, in effect, a secret U.S. government that does want it wants with a huge budget and no accountability. And frankly, that’s scary for democracy, and therefore the Congress ought to be told what the intelligence agencies are doing.
Do you want to see exhibit A of why that doesn’t happen, why anyone defending the intelligence agencies’ inclination to not tell things to Congress has a pretty good case to make about the grandstanding, reckless and humiliatingly dumb behavior of some of the people to whom they’re supposed to be disclosing things?
Congressman Pete Hoekstra is exhibit A. It was 2006 when Congressman Hoekstra championed the idea of putting up online, a huge archive of uncensored Iraqi government documents that had not been gone through at all to see if there was anything sensitive in them.
But Pete Hoekstra, as then chair of the Intelligence Committee, sided with conservatives who argued that our intelligence agencies couldn’t really be counted on to go through all these documents. They’d rather just post them all online, all of them, and even the charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy detailed narrative instructions about how to build nuclear weapons. Even the schematic showing how to build nuclear firing circuits and how to structure the radioactive cores of atom bombs.
Even the instructions in Arabic, of course, for how to make the lethal nerve agents tabun and sarin. You can thank the Congressman Pete Hoekstra, top Republican on Intelligence, for pushing to put all of that online, until even the Bush administration realize what a disaster Hoekstra has caused and pulled it all down.
Then, there was the time in 2007 when Pete Hoekstra leaked classified information in an op-ed in “The New York Post,” disclosing in the middle of an apparently un-ironic rant about how leaks to the news media seriously undermined anti-terrorists intelligence programs, disclosing in the middle of that, that that year’s Intelligence Bill cut human intelligence programs.
Which may have been true, but which we weren’t supposed to know since that was in the classified portion of the bill, even though Congressman Hoekstra put it in “The New York Post.”
And that was the time when Congressman Hoekstra went on a congressional delegation to Iraq. Now, we get to see photo ops of our members of Congress in Iraq when they go on these trips, but not generally until they’re home safe.
The secrecy surrounding Codels - congressional delegations to war zones - is to protect the members of Congress while they’re there. But when Pete Hoekstra is around, there’s really no such thing as secrecy.
Hoekstra helpfully tweeted in real time from Baghdad, “Just landed in Baghdad. I believe that may be the first time I had Blackberry service in Iraq.” Then two hours later, he tweeted, “Moved into Green Zone by helicopter. Iraqi flag now over palace. Headed to the new U.S. Embassy.”
So anyone wanting to take out a few members of Congress on a trip to the war zone? Congressman Hoekstra is happy to provide you with a detailed, real time itinerary.
This is the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee. They think they’ve gotten no one with better judgment than this guy. Remember when he and Rick Santorum said they found the weapons of mass destruction in IRAQ?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA): Congressman Hoekstra and I are here today to say that we have weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R-MI): These weapons have been discovered. More weapons exist. And they state that Iraq was not a WMD free zone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That’s what is called a face plant - Rick Santorum trying to become famous for something other than having said the phrase “man on dog” in an AP interview years earlier.
And Pete Hoekstra, supposedly the cream of the crop, the best the Republican Party has to offer on intelligence, calling a press conference to declare that they’ve found weapons left over from the Iran-Iraq war that everyone already knew were there.
It was like finding out that the smoking gun was a squirt gun with a leak. The intelligence community at that time essentially laughed in Santorum and Hoekstra’s faces, declaring immediately to the press that despite the breathless announcement from these two guys, the munitions dated from before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. And there’s not now news, they said, from the coalition point of view.
While most people at that point would be humiliated and would apologize for wasting everyone’s time, and Mr. Hoekstra, in stead, went on the attack, writing an op-ed for “The Wall Street Journal” in which he alleged that the intelligence community that had so embarrassed and his friend Rick over the “we found the WMD” press conference were actually a bunch of politicized intelligence officers who he called bureaucrats with friends in the media who were, quote, “using the release or withholding of documents to advance their political desires.”
And what are those political desires, Congressman Hoekstra? He said, quote, “To either damage the administration or help al-Qaeda or perhaps both.”
You know, all the al-Qaeda sympathizers in America’s intelligence agencies. And incredulous Spencer Ackerman then reporting for “The New Republic” asked Hoekstra if he really meant that there were people inside U.S. intel who were al-Qaeda sympathizers.
Hoekstra’s response, quote, “To rule out the possibility that there are people in the intelligence community that are doing this to help al-Qaeda, I think, would be naive.”
This is the guy who now gets away with saying things like this about other politicians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOEKSTRA: She has single-handedly become a wrecking ball - a wrecking crew through the morale of the intelligence community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: As opposed to Pete Hoekstra who has been awesome for morale in the intelligence community who supported our intelligence professionals by calling them al-Qaeda sympathizers and publishing classified details of their budget and outing their surveillance targets.
Jamal Ware, Mr. Hoekstra’s spokesman yesterday told us that Hoekstra didn’t know if that radical cleric knew his E-mails were being monitored before Hoekstra leaked it to “The Washington Post.”
In 2006, that same spokesman responded to complaints about Hoekstra getting nuclear bombs and sarin making instructions posted on the Internet by saying that those complaints did not sound like a big deal.
Pete Hoekstra is now running for governor in Michigan. Does anyone know if that job comes with access to sensitive information?
MADDOW: Thank you for watching tonight. We will see you tomorrow night. Until then you can E-mail us at email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>. We actually read it. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Have a very good night.
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Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user’s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC’s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.>
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.
User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user’s
personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,
nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion
that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC’s copyright or
other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal
transcript for purposes of litigation.>