The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/23/09

Guests:
Sen. Sherrod Brown, Jane Hamsher, John Ralston, Yvonne Wenger, David Weigel
Transcript:

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, GUEST HOST: Thanks, Keith.

And thank you for staying with us for the next hour. Rachel is taking some well-deserved Thanksgiving time off. But we still have a jam-packed show tonight.

The majority leader is looking to compromise with his conservative Dem colleagues on health care reform, while touting the whole “motion to proceed” vote as something unprecedented. Someone please remind him what happened 15 years ago. He was there.

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio will join us.

Senator John Ensign of Nevada is back under his bus as his former aide, the husband of his former mistress, reveals even more details about the sordid affair. His partner in C Street and adultery, Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina finally gets charged with something, 37 ethics violations.

And get ready for the tea party. “Tea Party: The Documentary,” that is. It’s for real.

All that and much more-coming up.

But we begin tonight with potential danger for Democrats pushing for health care reform in the United States Senate. Senate Democrats scored a major victory Saturday night in their vote to allow debate to go forward on health reform. Democrats needed every member of their caucus to stay in line, and they did. That, it turns out, was the easy part.

The hard part: getting every one of those senators to stay on board to allow the final vote on health care reform. As things stand tonight, that will not happen.

Tonight, four members of the Democratic Caucus are pledging to block that final vote if the public option that’s in the bill stays in the bill. Perhaps as a result tonight, there is growing talk about compromise. This deadlock in the Democratic Caucus has reportedly led Majority Leader Harry Reid to begin searching for two possible compromise solutions. One is the triggered public option offered by Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine and the other by Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware.

At this point, the pressure is on Harry Reid to deliver on the reform that he’s been promising. After Saturday night’s vote, Senator Reid issued a statement reading, quote, “What just happened now has never happened in the long history of the United States Senate. For the first time ever, the Senate will debate a bill that puts health care decisions in the hands of the people.”

Actually, I think the history is a little different than that, because not only have we been here before, but Harry Reid himself has been here before. In 1994, when I was chief-of-staff of the Senate Finance Committee and at the floor manager’s desk on the Senate floor when we introduced the health care reform bill, Harry Reid was a second-term U.S. senator. Hillary Clinton’s health care reform bill came up for debate on the floor of the United States Senate, and it came up by unanimous consent.

Want to see?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 9, 1994)

SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL (D), MAINE: Madam President, and members of the Senate, tonight, we begin debate on health care reform legislation. We will undertake no more important task in this Congress. What we do will affect every American family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: I was sitting there right behind Mitchell off camera in the C-SPAN frame. That was Democratic Leader George Mitchell. It was August 9th, 1994, historic day in the Senate, bringing health care reform to the floor of the Senate for the first time. The results turned out to be a complete political wipeout for the Democrats.

The Republican strategy was not to add anything to the bill but primarily to simply strike out certain passages of the bill. Even Democrats couldn’t support some of these passages of the bill when they were held up to public scrutiny. Republicans began by passing amendment after amendment. They all passed by the identical vote of 100 to nothing.

Even Teddy Kennedy, who helped write portions of the bill, voted in favor of Republican amendments that stripped some of his work out of the bill. After about a week of this, the Senate began its August recess and the bill was never seen again. We have been here before. And the question of whether this year’s effort will meet the same fate could come down to an upcoming vote that’s not even on anyone’s radar yet.

The Senate will begin its debate on health reform the first week of December. That gives them exactly 15 work days to complete work on the bill before the Christmas recess. The Senate has never done anything complicated in 15 days.

Recently, the Senate passed a non-controversial extension of unemployment benefits. There was no opposition. The final vote was 98 to nothing. But it took a month on the Senate floor and three cloture votes to get to the final passage of the bill.

Now, to make matters worse for health care reform, probably in mid-December, the Senate will have to stop completely in its tracks before December 18th, to take up the urgent and absolutely necessary matter of raising this country’s debt ceiling. The debt ceiling is essentially America’s credit card limit. It’s how many trillions of dollars we as a country can charge to our credit card and pay later.

This vote cannot be delayed. If it is, the country will default on its debt and all hell will break loose in ways we have never seen. So this must be passed. That means the health care bill will have to be pushed aside on the Senate floor. That will cost the Democrats two days of floor time in the United States Senate, at least.

And it will serve at a very difficult moment to remind the country of just how deep our deficit spending hole already is-a reminder that the Democrats would prefer to avoid when they are voting to increase government spending on health care. Saturday night’s vote to allow the debate was an easy procedural vote.

The next few weeks will determine if we’re going to go back to the future of 1994.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. He is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Senator Brown, thank you for joining us tonight.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Yes. That was one optimistic set of assumptions there, Lawrence.

O’DONNELL: Senator, you weren’t there in ‘94, so I thought you needed a little refresher.

BROWN: Well, I was in the House-I was in the House in ‘94.

O’DONNELL: Right.

BROWN: But let me go back further in history to 1965. And I talked to a gentleman by the name of Byron Cans in Cleveland not too long ago, who is a lawyer-a young lawyer in the Senate those days. He said Medicare was very, very hard to pass. And, you know, the difference between 1994 and today is shows like this one, and the Internet and the activism that so many Americans have shown.

With public option still in the bill because of the “Olbermann Show” and “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW and people on the Internet and people speaking out and a lot of activists engaging with their House members and senators to push this-to push this progressive agenda. So, that’s one of the big differences from today from a decade and a half ago.

O’DONNELL: I completely agree. It’s made a real difference in the dynamic from the left side of the political dynamics of this thing.

Senator, the Senate bill has a new tax in it that wasn’t in the finance committee bill, which is an increase in the Medicare tax. We now have a bundle of taxes in the Senate bill that no one campaigned for, never mentioned in Barack Obama’s political campaign, not mentioned in yours.

How do the Democrats defend in 2010 having voted for these-assuming you get to vote for these on the Senate floor and pass them all-you will have passed a package of taxation to pay for this bill that no one campaigned for, but you’re going to have to defend in the campaign in 2010, how will you do that?

BROWN: Well, first, this bill, unlike the Bush tax cuts, unlike the Iraq war, unlike the Medicare privatization in fact pays for itself, will actually pay down the deficit several hundred million dollars over the next 10 years. That’s number one.

Number two, it’s a mix of taxes that are generally pretty fair. I don’t agree entirely with the way it’s done. I would like a surtax on people making over a quarter or half million dollars a year. I think that would be the best way to do this. The Medicare tax is only for people that are upper income. The tax on employers, the excise tax, if you will, on benefits, I don’t agree with. But I think this package overall takes us in the right direction.

So, I think we’re-I mean this, when you said 15 work days, it’s a lot more than 15 because we’re going to be working weekends. We’re going to work into the night. We need to-Harry Reid knows this-we need to stay here and do-I’m in Cleveland now, but we need in Washington starting Monday and do whatever it takes to get this bill passed in the Senate in December and to the president’s desk prior to the State of the Union in January. That’s absolutely our commitment.

O’DONNELL: OK, Senator. I’m going to throw in every day-every day

between December 1st and December 25th. I’m going to give you 24 full work days. I’m going to have you working until midnight on Christmas Eve and it will be impossible to pass this bill in 24 days. There’s going to be-as you know-there’s going to be hundreds of amendments to this bill. From the Democratic side there’s probably going to be over 100 amendments to this bill. It will roll over into January.

How do you handle the calendar in January when you’re also going to be intersecting with appropriations bills that have to be passed or the government will be forced into shutdown if they’re not passed?

BROWN: Well, we do-as you know, Lawrence, we do a continuing resolution to get us through the appropriations bills. I mean, we obviously want to do as many of those individually, because it runs the government more efficiently, it allows us to plan better for the future. But we’re going to do what we have to do.

I have confidence we can. I mean, I’ve never-go back to when we-when we wrote this bill in the health, education, labor, pension committee. We had 11 days of markup, longer than I’ve ever seen. We processed on any bill in my time in the House and the Senate, we processed hundreds of amendments. We passed 160 Republican amendments. It had a bipartisan flavor to it, except on, obviously, the really big questions like public option and mandatory issue and all mandatory enrollment and all of that.

But I’m still optimistic. I think-I know it’s easy to be pessimistic about this, but we’re committed to doing this. And the overwhelming majority of the Democratic Caucus is committed to this. We know the president’s success or failure of his-at least the first half of his first term depends on this. It’s the most important-next to my vote against the Iraq war, this is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my professional career.

I think-I’m not speaking for my colleagues but a whole bunch of them would say the same thing. And our commitment-Republicans are going to try to delay everything. That’s their role, they think. They’re the “party of no.”

They-you know-but when I think of it this way, Lawrence, 400 – more than 400 people in my state, in Cleveland, in Toledo, in Dayton, in Youngstown, 400 people every day lose insurance in this state, I’m committed to fixing this.

O’DONNELL: Senator, just quickly, is there any deal-breaker for you in this bill? I mean, it’s a tough time to be a loyal Democrat because you guys have been-guys like you have been on this from the start and you’re seeing the holdouts get these concessions at the last minute, big concessions; money concessions to their states.

Don’t you, sitting there in Ohio, start to think of a certain point, “Wait a minute, shouldn’t I be a holdout? Shouldn’t I, you know, waver at the last minute and grab something for Ohio in this deal?”

BROWN: Yes. I mean, we’re always doing-I talked to Rahm Emanuel tonight and David Axelrod about, not about this bill, but about some major things in Ohio. We’re always doing that.

My focus is on getting this bill passed. I think that I-I mean, of course, we see these kinds of things, but we need to get it passed. And that doesn’t mean continuing to move to the right. I mean, that’s what has happened in some ways in this bill. The public option is not the way Sheldon Whitehouse and I wrote it, or wanted to write it back in the HELP Committee in July. It’s compromised. It’s still solid and still strong.

Some of the other things on the prescription drug issues we’re going to try to fix on the floor so that the drug companies don’t get their way as much as they’ve kind of done through some of this process. We’ve got a lot to do to keep this bill and make sure it’s strong and make sure it’s a progressive bill that we wrote in the HELP Committee four months ago.

But, again, I’m confident we’re going to be able to do that. And I think, in the end, these four Democrats-obviously, I don’t speak for anybody else, but they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. They don’t want to look back and think, “You know, I killed this bill myself on a procedural vote, the most important thing-the most important domestic piece of legislation in five and perhaps four decades. I killed it on a procedural vote.”

I don’t think my colleagues, any of the four of them, are going to want to-or are going to think that way when it comes time to do cloture at the end of this process later in the month.

O’DONNELL: Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio-thank you for your time tonight.

BROWN: Thanks, Lawrence.

O’DONNELL: And I hope your family gets to see you on Christmas Eve.

BROWN: Thanks.

O’DONNELL: Perhaps the people leaning hardest on conservative Democratic senators are liberal activists who are running commercials and threatening to try to run primary candidates against Democratic senators not supporting health reform. But just how far are they willing to push?

The head of one of the leading activist groups, Firedoglake, Jane Hamsher -

she joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG HAMPTON, HUSBAND OF SEN. ENSIGN’S MISTRESS: His power and his influence has led to the complete destruction of my life today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: That’s Republican Senator John Ensign’s former chief-of-staff talking about Ensign after the Nevada senator admitted having an affair with that man’s wife. Today, he’s speaking out and providing new details about the end of that affair and the beginning of the growing scandal. That’s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN (D), ARKANSAS: I will not allow my decision on this vote to be dictated by pressure from my political opponents nor the liberal interest groups from outside Arkansas that threaten me with their money and their political opposition.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: Senator Lincoln of Arkansas on the floor of the Senate Saturday, leaving liberal interest groups with some tough strategic decision to make, at what point does a Democrat become unsupportable in a primary based on their position on health care reform? And at what point does the weakened health care Senate bill become unsupportable anyway?

Joining me now is Jane Hamsher, founder and publisher of Firedoglake.com, whose political action committee, ActBlue, was raising money to identify Arkansas voters who would support a primary challenger against Senator Lincoln if Lincoln filibusters the public option.

Jane, I think I heard Senator Lincoln talking about you on Saturday on the floor. Wasn’t she?

JANE HAMSHER, FIREDOGLAKE.COM: Do you think so?

O’DONNELL: I think so.

HAMSHER: Do you think Blanche was speaking to me?

O’DONNELL: I think so. Have you become a single-issue voter over health care reform?

HAMSHER: I think that we can multitask. We actually circulated a letter last week signed by heads of the AFL-CIO, the SEIU, and Naomi Klein, leading economist that Alan Grayson took to the finance committee and whipped votes to get the bill to audit the Fed passed.

So, we’re capable of doing more than one thing at one time, but we probably do a lot.

O’DONNELL: I mean, if, for example, the senator would vote not your way on health care reform but vote the right way on troop increases-funding for troop increases on Afghanistan or a Supreme Court justice or something like that, you’d look at the totality of the voting record and say, “Well, we didn’t get her on health care reform but she voted for Sonia Sotomayor, she did this, this and this, so we’re not going to try to knock her out.”

HAMSHER: Well, unfortunately, I don’t really have to make that choice because the four senators we’re looking at who are going to block the public option are-tend to be bad on everything. I mean, Blanche Lincoln against voted the oil and gas windfall tax. She voted to deregulate banks that led to the banking crisis, voted for the bailout, and then took tons of money from all of these interests.

So, her negatives in Arkansas are really strong already. She’s worried about outside groups. She should be worried about inside groups that are very unhappy with her leadership. Her numbers are bad. And she may very well be looking at primary challenges.

O’DONNELL: Jane, do you worry if you help deliver a bruising primary campaign in the state like Arkansas that you could end up, in effect, electing the Republican because you’ve done all this damage to both of the Democrats running in a primary?

HAMSHER: Well, let’s remember that Arkansas has not Democratic senators. Three of their four Congress people are Democrats. They’ve got a Democratic governor and it is a strong Democratic state.

So, I personally think that if Blanche Lincoln has those high of negatives right now, that she-that what we’re looking at may be a situation where a primary challenger could actually stand a stronger chance of defeating a Republican in the general than she could.

O’DONNELL: And, Jane, to the bill itself, where’s the cutoff point for you? Where does it become something you can’t support as the amendment process goes on?

HAMSHER: Well, Howard Dean said it today and I would say the same thing. On June 23rd, we said if there’s no public option in the final bill, we will work to defeat it. We’ve got the signatures of 65 members of Congress who said that they would vote against a billing that doesn’t have a public option. And given how many Democrats are just going to vote against anything, that it doesn’t have any health care, we’re not going to need 65 by any-by a long shot. So.

O’DONNELL: Jane, there’s another piece, the difference between the House and the Senate. The Senate does not provide any emergency funding for people who are waiting for the health care benefits to take effect in the Senate bill. That means that there are certain cancer patients out there who would be deprived of treatment while they’re waiting until 2013 and 2014 for all of these health care provisions to take effect. The House has dealt with that.

Do you want the Senate to deal with that?

HAMSHER: Absolutely. You know, one of the reasons that health care is so personal to me is because I’m a three-time breast cancer survivor. And it’s unimaginable to me what people-like the people who showed up at Keith Olbermann’s health care clinics this week in Arkansas must be going through, who were diagnosed with cancer seven years ago and haven’t been able to get any kind of treatment at all.

You know, Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter was there rolling up his sleeves and helping these people all day on Saturday when Blanche Lincoln was, you know, having her theatrics on the floor of the Senate, saying she could not vote for a public option, when at the same time her Web site says that she supports a public option.

(CROSSTALK)

O’DONNELL: Jane Hamsher, founder and publisher of Firedoglake, thanks for joining us tonight. And don’t make any plans for Christmas Eve. You’re going to be watching the Senate floor that night.

HAMSHER: Thanks so much.

O’DONNELL: Senator John Ensign’s former chief-of-staff whose wife had an affair with the senator is talking tonight and is giving new details about the $96,000 gift-gift Ensign’s parents gave to him after the affair came out that Ensign was having with this man’s wife. Marital vows were broken. Were laws?

Jon Ralston from “The Las Vegas Sun” joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA: Last year, I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage. It’s absolutely the worst thing that I’ve ever done in my life. I take full responsibility for my actions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: That’s Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada admitting in a press conference last June that he’d had an affair with the wife of one of his top aides.

Once a rising star in the Republican Party, Ensign has been-oh, this is nice-the prompter says Ensign has been hip deep in scandal since news of the affair broke. And today, the scandal level rose even higher.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG HAMPTON, HUSBAND OF SEN. ENSIGN’S MISTRESS: His power and his influence has led to the complete destruction of my life today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: That’s Doug Hampton speaking about Senator Ensign, his former boss and former best friend, at his June press conference. Senator Ensign admitted having an affair with Doug Hampton’s wife, Cindy, who also worked for ensign as his campaign treasurer. And ever since then, there has been a flood of details about the affair and its aftermath-details Doug Hampton is now talking about on national television.

So, just how did Senator Ensign react when he was confronted about his affair with Doug Hampton’s wife?

Here’s the story from Doug Hampton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAMPTON: I say, what are we going to do? Are we going to destroy each other’s lives? Is this it?

Oh, gosh, no, no, no. It’s the biggest mistake we’ve ever made. We do not want this.

John cries like a kid. Puts his head in his hands and cries like a little boy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: A little boy.

Hampton also provides new details about the other scandals spawned by the Ensign affair, like the $96,000 Senator Ensign’s parents paid to Hampton and his family. After the affair was exposed, the check was signed by Ensign’s father, a casino mogul. One Ensign attorney said that the money was just a gift-a gift-part of a pattern of generosity to family friends.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAMPTON: Pattern of generosity? Oh, hey, listen, we realize our son is having an affair with your wife. Maybe some money will help.

It’s ridiculous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: Hampton is also using the platform of a new national interview to reaffirm allegations he made last months that after he learned of the affair, Senator Ensign helped him get a job as a lobbyist, even though he knew it was a violation of ethics rules.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, ABC NEWS: Is Senator Ensign himself lining up clients for you?

HAMPTON: Absolutely. Hey, I talked to so and so, call him.

MCFADDEN: So, let me make sure I understand what you are saying. There’s no doubt in your mind that John Ensign understood that ethics laws were being broken as well?

HAMPTON: There’s no doubt in my mind.

MCFADDEN: This is a serious allegation you’re making against a sitting United States senator. That he knowingly assisted you.

HAMPTON: Why would a client hire Doug Hampton if he didn’t think that he was going to have access to John Ensign’s office? It’s the only reason why I would hire him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: Wow. Remember the days of “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”?

And apparently, now that Doug Hampton is speaking out, what happens in C Street no longer stays in C Street, because Hampton is now making specific allegations about Senator Ensign’s C Street roommate, Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAMPTON: Tom Coburn said, “What I would do, Doug, if I was you, is I would have them buy your home, give you a million bucks so you could get started over and that’s what I’m willing to help you negotiate.”

MCFADDEN: And what happened?

HAMPTON: John said, “No can do. Not going to happen.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: A million bucks? Senator Coburn denies there was a negotiation but says he did serve as an intermediary between Senator Ensign and Mr. Hampton. And, yes, sure, intermediaries usually do negotiation, but Sen. Coburn says he didn’t negotiate.

And Sen. Coburn is one of those soldiers of Christ living together on C Street, praying together every day. So he must be telling the truth, right?

Joining us now is John Ralston. He is a columnist for “The Las Vegas Sun” and landed the first Doug Hampton interview four months ago on his Las Vegas show “Face to Face with John Ralston.” John, thanks for being here tonight.

JOHN RALSTON, COLUMNIST, “LAS VEGAS SUN”: Hi, Lawrence.

O’DONNELL: John, what are the new revelations we’re getting out of this new interview with Doug Hampton?

RALSTON: I’m not sure we’re getting a lot of new revelations. I mean, the contours, as you outlined them, came out first on my program, then were kind of fleshed out a little bit in the “New York Times” interview.

But there aren’t really a lot of new details. It’s just the breadth of what he’s saying. He’s putting out some more sordid, “let’s avert our eyes” kind of stuff about the affair, the text message he intercepted from John Ensign to his wife.

But in the end, you hit on the crux of it. This has gone way beyond the sex scandal. It’s whether or not John Ensign broke any laws. Did he actually try to give severance and hush money through his parents and then not disclose it? More than $25,000? That’s a felony.

Did he actually not just set up Doug Hampton with clients, which would be kind of unseemly but OK? But did he then knowingly set up Doug Hampton to lobby people? He says he set up a meeting with administration officials. That’s breaking (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What Doug Hampton has essentially said now is, “I’m a criminal but John Ensign knew I was a criminal and he broke the law, too.”

O’DONNELL: Now, those issues are all being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee. Is there any investigation going on by law enforcement officials in Nevada about this?

RALSTON: There’s been no talk of that. The only law enforcement that I’ve heard about is the Department of Justice. They told “Politico” earlier this week or last week that they were not that interested in it. I guess they have some other things going on, maybe in New York City.

Pretty soon John Ensign may be on the back burner. The question is, you know better than I do, Lawrence, having been around D.C. What is that Ethics Committee going to ever do? The really interesting thing Doug Hampton is saying neither the Ethics Committee folks nor the Justice Department have even contacted him when he claims to have all this evidence, these handwritten notes, the canceled checks, E-mails, phone records - all that kind of stuff.

Why wouldn’t the Justice Department and Ethics Committee have asked for that information yet? That’s a very good question, I think.

O’DONNELL: Yes, I don’t know why they’d be dragging their feet because that seems like preliminary investigative material. But my guess on it, John, is what the political target for the Senate Ethics Committee investigation would be is some kind of release of a finding or information in around September of 2010.

So there will be a big report on a Republican senator’s scandal as the Democrats are going into their re-election battles in 2010. That would be the political timing that would serve them, wouldn’t it?

RALSTON: No, that’s is the cynicism borne of just too many years in Washington, D.C., Lawrence. I can’t imagine that something like that would happen. But, listen, you talk about the guy who really has the biggest problems next year maybe, except Chris Dodd or maybe including Chris Dodd, and that’s the other senator from Nevada, Harry Reid.

Now, if you don’t think Harry Reid is capable of that cunning a maneuver, yes, you and I both think that. So I’m not so sure that you’re wrong. I think Harry Reid loves having John Ensign not resign, have him there for a target for the Democrats in 2010 when they might have, as you well know, some problems.

O’DONNELL: John, whose polling numbers are better in Nevada right now of the two senators, Ensign and Reid?

RALSTON: Well, it’s nothing for either of them to be proud of. Ensign’s were slightly better but not much better. And his last polling was a month or a month and a half ago. He has been dropping like a rock. He was the most popular elected statewide official perhaps before that June 16th press conference. He’s now upside down as is Harry Reid. Reid’s numbers are probably slightly worse, though, right now.

O’DONNELL: Jon Ralston, columnist for “The Las Vegas Sun” and my favorite Nevada political analyst. Thank you for joining us tonight.

RALSTON: Thank you, Lawrence.

O’DONNELL: Breaking news today from north - from South Carolina, in the scandal involving Gov. Mark Sanford, who has admitted an affair with a woman in Argentina. An ethics panel in South Carolina has released its report, and it may have some surprising news for the governor. That story coming up next. Scandal night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O’DONNELL: It was a big screaming breaking news alert today. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford charged with 37 - 37 ethics violations.

So finally, after months of false starts, South Carolina is now serious about going after Gov. Sanford, a one-time rising star in the Republican Party whose affair with a woman in Argentina and the revelations of his secret trip to visit her there sent his poll numbers tumbling and shattered his political future.

Thirty-seven charges. Let’s start with the very worst, “That Marshall C. Sanford did use his official position for his own personal benefit by authorizing, approving and/or allowing the purchase a business class ticket.” The first 28 charges are just like that, actually, either flying business or first class or using a state-owned airplane. The rules there just allow the governor to fly coach.

Charge number 31, “Receiving reimbursement of $181.23 for direct marketing services and telephone, Internet and/or cable services.”

Charge number 36, “Receiving reimbursement of $96.95 for direct marketing services and a ticket to attend the 2009 presidential inauguration.”

South Carolina’s chief executive and captain of the ship leaves on a secret trip, doesn’t tell anyone where he’s going. But the Ethics Commission is very, very concerned that he didn’t pay his cable bill.

Joining us now from Columbia, South Carolina, is Yvonne Wenger, state house reporter for the “Charleston Post and Courier.” Yvonne, thank you very much for your time tonight.

YVONNE WENGER, STATE HOUSE REPORTER, “CHARLESTON POST AND COURIER”:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

O’DONNELL: Yvonne, I can’t tell you how disappointed I am. I mean, I studied this thing and - “That Marshall C. Sanford did use his official position for his own personal benefit, authorizing, approving, and/or allowing the purchase of a business class ticket.” That’s the worst that we’ve got on this guy?

WENGER: Yes, three months it took the Ethics Commission to come up with this report. And today, they released the list of the 37 charges that they found probable cause for. And just as you said in the intro, the charges are for campaign reimbursements ranging from $40 to $865 and about 19 business class or first class tickets.

O’DONNELL: Now, you know, it seems to me that what’s really happened here is the governor has just weirded them out down there. His behavior was just off the wall. They saw that news conference where this was a guy in love like they’d never seen before.

And their real charge against him is, “Governor, you’ve just become way too weird. All we’ve got is business class tickets. That’s what we’re going to have to use to get you out of here.” Isn’t that what this really is now?

WENGER: Sanford certainly has his share of political enemies in this state based on his two terms in office and the way he engaged the state legislature, which is much more powerful than the executive branch.

But it is illegal in South Carolina to take travel accommodations that aren’t the cheapest available. And Sanford is not the first governor to fly business class and certainly not the only one in the country that does it regularly.

But this is - this report’s going to now go to the House Judiciary Committee and House Speaker Bobby Harrell has said that the things in this report, unless there’s more evidence in the 1,200-page investigation summary that goes along with this report, that he doesn’t think there’s anything here that rises to the level of impeachment.

O’DONNELL: So what are the prospects when this thing gets examined by the legislature? What are the chances of impeachment at this stage?

WENGER: I would say that the chances of impeachment are really slim. But I think that this is going to be a big to-do down here in South Carolina just because of the number of political enemies that the governor has. They want to see him kind of raked over the coals and just like to see this drawn out.

O’DONNELL: Yvonne Wenger, state house reporter for the “Courier and Post,” newspaper in South Carolina. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

WENGER: Thank you.

O’DONNELL: Looking for a good comedy to see this Thanksgiving weekend? How about a documentary about the tea party movement? It’s the funniest not-supposed-to-be-funny movie the right wing has ever put together, ever. We’ll have a sneak peek next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were ignored. They were mocked. But in the end, they would not be silenced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don’t get involved in the process, your voice is never heard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A greater cause united them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don’t care what party you’re in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A greater outcome awaits them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We’re here to be great, not mediocre.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This Thanksgiving, the story of 2009 becomes the living history of the second American Revolution. “Tea Party: The Documentary Film.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: No. It’s not a spoof or a parody. It’s a real documentary about the tea party movement set to go straight to DVD on, what else, Thanksgiving.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We’ll give them some stimulus. Fire!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: The documentary promises to reveal, quote, “What is at the heart of this nationwide surge of civic engagement.” So what is at the heart of it? Well, the documentary was written by a guy listed as a staff member on the Americans for Prosperity Web site, the right wing front group funded in part by the oil and gas industry.

And the documentary, if we can call it that, was publicized in a Web cast preview today that featured Freedom Works, the corporate-funded, purportedly grassroots organization that’s actively organizing tea parties. And that’s actually run by the former House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. DICK ARMEY (R-TX), FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER (through telephone): There has been nothing that I have ever seen in all the years that I’ve been involved in politics in America that is such a great statement of - for liberty in this country as what we’ve seen this past year in the tea party movement.

The Republicans, if they’re going to respond to these folks, have got to step up and say, “Yes, we hear your message. We understand and we’re on your side.”

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O’DONNELL: Joining us now, David Weigel, reporter for “The Washington Independent.” Mr. Weigel, thanks for coming over tonight.

DAVID WEIGEL, REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT”: Oh, thanks so much for having me.

O’DONNELL: First of all, we have to come up with a new word.

“Documentary,” I’m afraid, just doesn’t work here. We have the term

“mockumentary” for deliberate comedies made in the documentary style. But

we’ll figure this one out, what we’re really going to call this thing. But

you’ve to people -

WEIGEL: Coke-u-mentary maybe.

O’DONNELL: Perfect. And you’ve talked to the people who have made this thing. What do they think they’re going to accomplish?

WEIGEL: They’re earnest, I’d say that. I mean, you pointed out Joel Foster who is the public face of this project, is doing some work for Americans for Prosperity.

But the project is trying to, I think, refocus the attention of the nation in so far as it pays attention to the tea party movement to the more average people who showed up on the mall.

Dick Armey is going to continue to publicize it because media follower he is. But Jenny Beth Martin is one of the five people who star in the film. She is one of the organizers of Tea Party Patriots, a fairly regular Republican activist. Tried to start a small business. Declared bankruptcy. That’s all part of the movie.

The movie, I think, is an attempt - I mean, it depends on who sees it, I think. But it’s an attempt to say, look, these are real Americans. Forget all the allegations of corporate-funding and Astroturf.

O’DONNELL: Now, Dick Armey - you couldn’t get more Establishment Republican than Dick Armey and the leadership, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives when he was in Congress. And he is now some kind of rabble rouser from outside the party? Are we to believe this?

WEIGEL: Well, he is a rabble rouser from outside the party. He took on Newt Gingrich. He took on Michael Steele. He went in, guns ablaze, into New York 23 and, well, it didn’t turn out so well in the end but got the Republican Party to denounce its own candidate and get behind a conservative party candidate.

I think, to the surprise of a lot of people, he has remade himself as a watchdog of what real conservatism is. I do think, you know, they want to make sure that look, he is a guy who will ride one of the horses at the front of this parade.

But look at the people behind him. They’re the real story here. It’s a bit of an inside-outside game. That’s what I think Dick Armey is trying to be, a leader who is at the same time, led by real, patriotic Americans.

O’DONNELL: Now, does this kind of effort with this piece of film - is this welcome to someone like Michael Steele? Does this help him in party building in some way?

WEIGEL: It’s a good question because Michael Steele took a hit and, you know, threw some punches over that special election in New York I just mentioned. After the election, they had a lot to celebrate at the Republican National Committee.

But he did say, look, anyone who thinks New York 23, where we lost a safe Republican seat, was a win is wrong. And I think people like Armey, people in the Republican base, people who cut checks to the RNC, are saying, “No. You need to understand that if you don’t follow these principles and look to leadership like the five people who starred in this movie then you’re not leading a Republican party we want to lead.”

O’DONNELL: David Weigel reporter for “The Washington Independent,” thanks for coming on the show tonight.

WEIGEL: Thank you very much.

O’DONNELL: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse joins Keith as four members of the Democratic caucus threaten to kill any health reform bill with a public option.

And next on this show, the sure fire way to rescue a ratings-challenged awards show. Producer Guy One, also known as Bill Wolff, joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O’DONNELL: Joining me now with tonight’s “Cocktail Moment,” what in the movie business they call “the martini shot,” the executive producer of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, producer Guy One to all you Twitters out there, Mr. Bill Wolff.

BILL WOLFF, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: Well-dropped Hollywood reference. Really well done, Lawrence.

Yes, it’s a cocktail moment. While you and I were reading the 2,000-page health reform bill again last night, Lawrence, I’m going to tell you, more entertaining than I suspected the first time.

A plurality of Americans was gathered around the flat screen as in merry golden days of yore enjoying the national tradition as old as Rachel Maddow herself. I speak of course of the American Music Awards which are, by far, one of the top five or six made for TV music award shows.

Dick Clark, of course, started them up in 1973. And then they were hosted by Michael Jackson, Donny Osmond, and Rodney Allen Rippy. I kid thee not. May I recommend Wikipedia?

Anyway, the AMAs have come a long way from the more innocent, profit-driven beginnings. They’re still profit-driven of course, but far less innocent. Witness the closing act.

That is Adam Lambert last seen on the cover of “The Rolling Stone” before that, last seen finishing second on “American Idol” this year to some other guy who is currently not famous.

Last night “Glambert” as he is widely known put on a rather expressive show as he writhed and whipped and grabbed and made out with various people while performing his new single “For Your Entertainment” which is not about the ring toss at the county fair, Lawrence.

And then, because “for Your Entertainment” might also include schadenfreude, Adam Lambert did this. Yes, he fell. There he is falling that, of course, among the risks I’m unwilling to take for my art, Lawrence, which is watching TV on my couch and commenting aloud to no one.

But Adam Lambert’s tumble was a distant second to the fall of the night and that honor belonged to Jennifer Lopez. Yes, J-Lo. J-Lo is totally back with a song about expensive shoes, I gather, and last night performing with the troupe of sinewy gents dressed up to look like prize fighters. She showed off her legendary dancing and singing skills. Look at her go. Look at all of that dignity, Lawrence.

And then, this. Indignity. Ooh. That’s a fall right on her oft-publicized tucus, Lawrence. Tucus - the same at buttocks. Boom. Right back up, because it’s not how many times you fall on your tucus.

It’s how many times you get up and keep singing about expensive shoes.

Anyway, it was neither Adam Lambert’s fault nor Jennifer Lopez’ that was driving people nuts today. It was Mr. Lambert’s racy performance. In case you were unaware “The View’s” Elisabeth Hasselbeck is back from maternity leave and she is not happy with Adam Lambert.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELISABETH HASSELBECK, CO-HOST, “THE VIEW”: Quite frankly, I found it to be really over the line. There was an aggression that was sort of - that came across - subjectively, it seemed to be an aggression, a sexual aggression that came across in the performance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFF: It’s good to have Elisabeth back. I had forgotten what was

supposed to believe. In case you’re wondering what the rest of America

thought of the AMA spectacle, Lawrence, and I know you were, these were the

highest-rated American Music Awards in seven years. Now, Lawrence -

O’DONNELL: Whoa.

WOLFF: Yes. That’s right. You’re a showbiz guy. Now, you spent sometime in Los Angeles. Were you, Lawrence, at the American Music Awards?

O’DONNELL: You know, it was the first one I’ve missed but I did not know Lady Gaga was going to be there. I would have been there if I knew.

WOLFF: That would have changed your plans. Disappoints me, changes my view of you, but we’re going to work on that in the next 90 seconds.

Now, next obvious question, will you be at the White House for tomorrow night’s big state dinner?

O’DONNELL: I’ve got a dentist appointment tomorrow night.

WOLFF: I won’t be there either and the White House was gravely disappointed when I said I couldn’t come but there is cable news to produce. Howard Dean guest hosting tomorrow. Don’t miss it, Lawrence.

Anyway, tomorrow is the first state dinner of the Obama administration being thrown to honor Prime Minister Singh of India. They usually hold these things in the State Dining Room, but the place only holds about 40.

Like a wedding featuring a lot of cousins and spouses and everybody the groom ever met, the guest list got out of control and the White House expecting 400 hungry people. And that moved the whole thing out on the lawn under a tent.

Now, the guest list remains somewhat of a mystery but among those expected to attend are Hollywood mogul types, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen and super agent Ari Emanuel.

Now, Spielberg made “Jaws,” so he’s got a lifetime pass. And Katzenberg’s got “Shrek,” so he’s in. Geffen survived the record business so does mess with it. But who does Ari Emanuel know?

O’DONNELL: I don’t know. Maybe somebody - it might be he has a relative in the White House or something like that.

WOLFF: No. It’s all that inside business.

O’DONNELL: I don’t know. Anyway, thanks, Bill. And thank you for watching tonight. We’ll be back again tomorrow night. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.

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

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