The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/15/09

Sen. Tom Harkin, Sen. Arlen Specter, Jan Schakowsky, Barney Frank

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening from Washington—where a lot of the most important people on Capitol Hill have agreed to talk to us about what‘s going on in this town right now.

Senator Tom Harkin, head of the health committee, on the dramatic turn in the last 24 hours in the fight for health reform.

Senator Arlen Specter, who left the Republican Party this year, on the Republican—he‘ll be here to talk about the Republican base throwing itself another anti-health reform festival of tea bags today in Washington.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois will join us on news today that prisoners at Guantanamo will be transferred to her home state.

And Congressman Barney Frank is here to talk about the fact that banks still aren‘t lending, even as the rest of the economy finally starts to show a pulse.

All those folks are here with us tonight.  Very exciting.  That‘s all coming up.

But we begin tonight with the president summoning all the Senate Democrats and Joe Lieberman to the White House this afternoon to push for health reform.  The president emerged from that meeting, still making the case for health reform—still saying it would be a good thing to pass and a bad thing to not pass.

But does it sound to you like after talking to the 60 people responsible for getting this thing passed that he thinks it will pass?



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There is still work to be done in the next few days.  I think it‘s important for every single member of the Senate to take a careful look at what‘s in the bill.  I‘m feeling cautiously optimistic that we can get this done and start rolling up our sleeves and getting to the work, improving the lives of the American people.


MADDOW:  The president‘s renewed insistence that health reform be passed today—somewhat livened by his declared caution in saying that he thinks it will.

The vice president appeared on this network this morning on morning Joe, and he reminded the conservadems and Senator “I can‘t wait to join the Republican filibuster” Joe Lieberman how important health reform is to the president and to the country.  Joe Biden essentially dared Senator Lieberman to keep blocking this.



are, on the Hill, if they don‘t fear him are underestimating the steel in

this guy‘s spine.  This to him is the single most important thing to get

done now.  And I think any Democrat who decides for their own shallow

purposes—if that were the case—to scuttle this is not going to have a

you know, in the southern parts of our states, Joe, is not going to have a friend in the Lord.



MADDOW:  Veiled threats and voiced caution aside, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, the guy who counts the votes, says today that he thinks there will be 60 votes for reform by next week.

The question is: what is going to have to be given up in the dream of reform in order to get all 60 of those votes?  What exactly will health reform look like once it‘s tailored to the frequently changing whims of the independent senator from Connecticut?  Well, Senator Lieberman himself offered one hint today.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  If as appears to be happening the so-called public option, government-run insurance program is out, and the Medicare buy-in is out, and there‘s no other attempts to bring things like that in, I‘m getting toward that position where I can say what I‘ve wanted to say all along, that I‘m ready to vote for health care reform.


MADDOW:  So, no public option, no Medicare buy-in, and we might be in business.  Yay!

Former DNC chairman, Howard Dean, and Markus Moulitsas, founder of the influential lefty Web site, DailyKos, and some others on the left today reacted to the downgrading of health reform, by saying the bill should now be killed.

The president and Democratic members of Congress now facing a situation in which they‘ll have to hope they haven‘t so alienated and disappointed the Democratic base that they will lose health reform, because they traded away everything that made liberals like the idea of it in the first place.

Here now, I‘m guessing, to tell me that I‘m wrong about that is Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, chairman of the health, education and labor pensions committee.

Senator Harkin, thank you so much for coming on.

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-IA), HEALTH COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Am I wrong?  The liberal base seems to me to be cracking over this.  Is it a real worry?

HARKIN:  Well, look, we‘ve always been concerned about that.  But we have a really good bill here.  And I‘ll put my progressive credentials up against anyone in the entire United States Congress.

Now look, you know, that old adage about don‘t let the perfect be the enemy be good—I think that‘s what we‘re confronting here.  If I might use an analogy, what we‘re buying here, Rachel is not a mansion.  We‘re buying a modest home, but it‘s got a great foundation.

Think about that—we‘re going to cover 31 million more Americans.  We‘re going to extend this kind of coverage.  We‘re going to help small businesses.

We have the most progressive wellness and prevention policies we‘ve ever passed in this Congress, in that bill.  It‘s got a nice roof, too. 

Because it protects a lot of people, we crack down on these terrible abuses

by insurance companies.


But the key to this is that this home, we can put additions on to it in the future.  But if we don‘t have the starter home, we‘re never going to be able to put those additions on.

The time is now, I plead with all of my progressive friends—now is the time to get over this hurdle.  If this bill, Rachel, were so bad, why are 40 Republicans on the Hill going after it day after day after day and trying to kill it?

MADDOW:  They would be vote—they would be going day after day after day against a vote to approve apple pie as a positive thing, right?  They‘re willing in obstructing anything associated with this president or with Democrats.

Liberals are worried that this is going to essentially buy health insurance companies 30 million or 40 million new customers without protections that the American people want to make sure that we have some—more of a say against what we feel is an industry that‘s dominated by the insurance companies.

HARKIN:  Well, first, as I said, you know, this is not the 10 Commandments written in stone.


HARKIN:  This is the law.  We change laws.  Social Security is different today than when it was passed, so is Medicare—so is a lot of things.

These things will change as we go ahead.  But we‘re never going to get to that, unless we break the back of the health insurance industry that‘s been strangling us for years.  That‘s what this bill does.


HARKIN:  Oh, my gosh.  First of all, all the insurance reforms that we have in there, I can go back to Iowa.  After this bill passes in the Senate, I can go back and look a woman in the eye and I will say, “No longer can an insurance company discriminate against you because you‘re a woman.”  I can go to a family and say, “If you lose your job, you‘re not going to lose your coverage, you‘re going to keep your coverage.”

I can go to a small business that‘s being strangled in my state because they have maybe one insurance company that will cover them and I can say, “Now, you‘re going to be able to go on the exchange.  You‘ll have a lot of different insurance companies bidding for your business.  Now, that puts you in the driver‘s seat.”

There‘s a lot of good stuff in here for the American people.

MADDOW:  On the issue of what can be achieved now, and the perfect not being an enemy of the good, as you said.  There‘s been a lot of talk about the prospect of reconciliation; that a much more progressive bill could be passed if you went to reconciliation.

And, of course, that has implications.  You couldn‘t pass any of those insurance reforms that you just described.  You could pass an expansion of Medicare, expansion of Medicaid, expansion of SCHIP, maybe a public option – a lot of the other things that progressives have really been interested in.


MADDOW:  Aren‘t those insurance reforms you just described so popular that those could pass as a separate thing?

HARKIN:  I‘ve heard that before, but I‘m not certain about that.  I mean, it would take a whole other legislative process.  We‘ve got a lot on our plate for next year that we‘re going to have to be dealing with next year, Rachel.

In my own committee, I‘ve got the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that we‘ve got to do.  We‘ve got a whole jobs bill that we‘ve got to work on next year.  There‘s a lot of things lined up that we have to do.  We‘re going to go back and start over again?

I don‘t think if we were to go to this reconciliation route, I don‘t -

first of all, I don‘t know we‘d get this in reconciliation.  And secondly, I don‘t know that we‘d get the other good things we got, like prevention and wellness programs, and cracking down on insurance company abuses.


And another thing that‘s not talked about that we have in this bill is we‘re moving in this bill towards a quality-based reimbursement system rather than a quantity-based insurance system.  You won‘t get that in reconciliation.  So, I‘d tell you, I—and I got to tell you, I—we‘re going to get the 60 votes.  We‘re going to get the 60 votes.

MADDOW:  You‘re going to get Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman and.

HARKIN:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  Is it more—are you more likely to get a Republican like Senator Collins or Senator Snowe than you are to get Senator Nelson or Senator Lieberman at this point?

HARKIN:  Not at this point.  Not at this point.  And we have to get this done now.  We‘re so close—so close—to getting over this hurdle.

Yes, do I like everything in this bill?  No.  I would much rather have had a public option.  I have been one of the strongest fighters for a public option.  I was a strong fighter for reducing the age—the buy-in for Medicare that Howard Dean was talking about.

But I‘m a realist.  I don‘t have the votes.  Do I chuck everything out the door?  No.  Let‘s get this thing done, and then in the future, next year, and the year after, and the year after, let‘s come back and put those additions on this modest house.

MADDOW:  Are you worried about the polling that suggests that without a public option, which progressives and actually, the majority of Americans, quite like (INAUDIBLE)…

HARKIN:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  Without that, that the Democrats who might otherwise turn out in 2010 are going to sit on their hands, they‘re going to be unenthused, they‘re going to say, “Well, Senate Democrats had 60 votes and they still couldn‘t get it done, why are going to be turned out?”  Are you worried about it dampening enthusiasm, unless there is something quite progressive coming up very soon to brag about?

HARKIN:  Well, I think this bill is progressive, Rachel.  I mean, the things that we have in this bill move us so far from where we are today, in so many ways.  Kids being covered, as I mentioned, moving towards quality reimbursements, the crackdown on insurance company abuses—this is all very progressive.  It‘s been overshadowed by the fight for the public option.


HARKIN:  . which as you know, I supported, or the Medicare buy-in.

But we shouldn‘t let those two just doom the whole bill.  There‘s still a lot of—and I think on our base, when the Democratic Party base out there that I care very much about—when they begin to learn more and more as we go into next year, what‘s really in this bill and how this works, I believe they‘re going to—they‘re going to say, “You know, they did a pretty darn good job.”

MADDOW:  Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, chair of the health, education, labor pensions committee—thank you for your time.  Good luck, sir.  Thank you.

HARKIN:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Another big day here in Washington for tea partiers as zillions or maybe dozens of people convened to protest health reform—which if you believe their signs, is still a secret plot to kill people by making sure more of them have insurance.  The modern Republican base turned Republican Senator Arlen Specter into Democratic Senator Arlen Specter, he joins us right here—next.

And later, Congressman Barney Frank explains why big banks still aren‘t lending a year after we bailed them out so they‘d start lending.

Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Forget all that deficit-shrinking, cost-saving, expanded insurance coverage, health reform is actually a secret plot to kill you.  So says the corporate-sponsored grassroots Armey that showed up in Washington today.  And by Armey, I mean, Dick Armey, who called me names today in front of a big booing, hissing crowd.  Who-hoo!

Up next: former Republican senator, Democratic Senator Arlen Specter.

Stay with us.


MADDOW:  As you may have noticed, we‘ve been doing the show from here in Washington, D.C., yesterday and today, in part because we were really excited to send our intrepid producer Mike Urbeitz (ph) to cover what promised to be a very, very photogenic anti-health reform event today.

Last week, the Tea Party Patriots announced their intention to storm the U.S. Capitol today to hold what they called a die-in.  Their plan was to meet near the steps of the Capitol and then, quote, “go inside the Senate offices and hallways and play out the role of patients waiting for treatment in government controlled medical facilities.  As the day goes on, some of us will pretend to die from our untreated illnesses and collapse on the floor.”

Mike, get your camera, people pretending to die.

Oddly, for all of the photogenic promise of this event, it was actually sort of hard to find today.  Dave Weigel from “The Washington Independent” did manage to find the “diers,” somehow, at least in time to hear a pep talk from the guy who organized the event in which he tried to summon the spirit of the 9-12 rally earlier this year.  And he said that rally had attracted 1 million people.  Then, just a few seconds later, he upped the estimate of the 9-12 crowd size and said it had contained 2 million people.

That 9-12 march is getting bigger and bigger all the time, the more time goes by.

Originally, park police estimated the crowd in the tens of thousands.  Then, according to Senator Jim DeMint, it was hundreds of thousands.  Then the organizers of the event revised that up to 1.5 billion people, which FOX News‘ Glenn Beck promptly upped to 1.7 million people.  Now, today, it finally hit 2 million people.

The further away we get from the 9-12 march the bigger its legend grows.  At some point, I will have been there, you will have been, too.  It will be like Woodstock.  Ultimately, though, it doesn‘t seem anybody died in today at the Senate despite plans—at least nobody died in in ways that were visible to observers.  It‘s possible, of course, they were dying inside.

The protestors, though, once again, did bravely storm the plaza leading up to the U.S. Capitol.  And what they lack in an honest appreciation of their own numbers, they more than make up for in the vituperation of their signage.  There were the usual suspects, the “Obama as Hitler” signs.  There was—this was one of our favorites, “Stop the Marxist baby killing death care bill.”  And this one, “Obama has a prescription for America, Democrat Party is the needle, socialism is the drug.”

Amidst that signage, a number of Republican U.S. senators took to the stage to address this crowd.


SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA:  The health care bill ain‘t about health care.


COBURN:  The health care bill is about government control.

SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  This health care bill is important, but it‘s not just about health care.  It‘s about a government that‘s lost track of the Constitution.

SEN. RICHARD BURR ®, NORTH CAROLINA:  I truly believe the American people have spoken.  They don‘t want bigger government.  They don‘t want more spending.  And they don‘t want higher health care costs.

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON ®, GEORGIA:  We will not be intimidated into a national health care program that will not work.


MADDOW:  Joining us now is Democratic Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Senator Specter, thank you so much for coming on the show.  It‘s nice to have you.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Glad to be with you, Rachel. 

Thanks for the invitation.

MADDOW:  Events like this today, either by virtue of their size, or their timing or their tone—do they ever have an effect on legislation?

SPECTER:  Not much.  They are citizens.  They have a right to assemble.  They have a right to petition their government.  And I believe we should listen respectfully, consider their views and then make our own judgments.

MADDOW:  I know that you just came from a meeting at the White House with President Obama, talking about the status of health reform right now.

What can you tell us about its overall—its overall prospects?  And I guess most of those prospects are to be divined within the Democratic Caucus right now.

SPECTER:  I believe the chances are good, we will get a bill.  It takes all 60 to agree.  There are many, many different points of view, and you have to respect other views.  But I think that it will be a good bill.

MADDOW:  Senator Lieberman will be on board at the end of the day or not?

SPECTER:  That‘s my—that‘s my judgment that he—that he will.  He has expressed himself and the final product may well reflect concessions to him.  But he‘s a senator, and he votes his conscience.

MADDOW:  Big picture here, and one of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you today is because it does seem sort of remarkable that at this point, with this health care bill, we‘re not talking about Republicans at all?  We‘re almost guaranteed virtually 100 percent Republican opposition to this legislation like there has been to almost every other piece of legislation that has passed this year.  You left the Republican Party this past year, saying that you didn‘t want your political future to be decided by Republican primary voters.

What do you think of the direction of the party since you left?

SPECTER:  Well, Rachel, I left because the Republicans wouldn‘t talk to Democrats on the stimulus.  And it seemed to me that we were heading to 1929 depression if we didn‘t pass it.  And I think it‘s going to work out in the long run.  We aren‘t sure yet.

But one thing we are sure about, and that is if we hadn‘t passed the stimulus, we would have been in a depression.  The economists are pretty well-aligned.  My state got $16 billion, kept schoolteachers at work, paid Medicaid, kept firemen, kept police at work.

Now, we find the same situation has arisen with health care.  And we are supposed to govern.  That is what we are supposed to do.

And I would welcome any of the Republicans to come forward with ideas, and let‘s consider them.  And let‘s debate them, and let‘s make a judgment.

But let‘s not say filibuster, filibuster, filibuster.  That‘s all we‘ve had.  It is obstructionism.

We had a caucus last evening and a lot of long speeches, and when my turn came, I said, “I have two sentences.”  Sentence number one is: the bill is better than what we have now.  The second sentence was: let‘s not let the obstructionists stop us from governing.  And that‘s why I came over to add the 60th vote so that we could move ahead on the important problems facing America.

MADDOW:  Sometimes the Democrats talk about having 60 votes in a way that feels more theoretical than actual, because Senator Lieberman—sometimes Senator Nelson, some of the other more conservative senators don‘t seem to have any, I guess—don‘t seem to have any loyalty to the party on procedural votes.  There‘s no sense that even if they want to oppose legislation they should stick with their party against a Republican filibuster.

Do you think there ought to be a party loyalty on procedural votes?

SPECTER:  Well, I think there should be.  When you talk about procedural votes, there are nuances of that.  If—sometimes a procedural vote may be—may be determinative.  But it is not theoretical that you have 60 votes, you have 60 people who are willing to come together, sit down and talk and try to have a consensus.  And those votes are real.

MADDOW:  Of course, if those 60 senators, though, only voted to not filibuster, then health reform could pass with 50 votes.  And nobody is talking about health reform passing with 50 votes.

SPECTER:  Well, you cannot get much of health reform with 50 votes when you are talking, what is, about reconciliation.

MADDOW:  Well, no, it would be if nobody filibustered.  If no Democrat agreed to filibuster, the Republicans couldn‘t stop the Democrats from passing everything on 51 votes.  You wouldn‘t have to use reconciliation.

If Senator Nelson and Senator Lieberman only agreed to go along on procedural votes, then we wouldn‘t have to be worried about the filibuster or reconciliation.  But they can‘t seem to get that unity even just to bring debate to a close.

SPECTER:  Well, the factor is that sometimes the filibuster is the determinative vote.


SPECTER:  And that‘s what some senators feel.  My view is: we ought to go ahead.

MADDOW:  Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, it‘s your first time on this show.  I appreciate you making the time for us today.

SPECTER:  (INAUDIBLE) Rachel, I enjoyed being here.

MADDOW:  Thank you.  Nice to see you.

SPECTER:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Also speaking at the anti-health reform rally today in Washington was former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who apparently has a new talking point about me.  I‘ll play that for you a little later and then I will be pressing into my scrapbook.  It‘s very special.



GOV. PAT QUINN (D), ILLINOIS:  Thomson, Illinois has been selected to be the prison in our state, the state of Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, to incarcerate detainees from Guantanamo Bay, as well as the site of a new federal prison that will be located in western Illinois.


MADDOW:  And the winner is: Thomson, Illinois!

The Obama administration announcing today that although local officials in Hardin, Montana, and Marion, Illinois, and Standish, Michigan, and Florence, Colorado, had all said they would welcome the jobs and economic boost that would be expected from getting some very new—some new very high security federal prisoners.  It is Thomson, Illinois, that‘s going to get them.

Thomson wants the prisoners because it has a giant $120 million prison facility sitting in their town basically unused because the state hasn‘t been able to afford to open it.

When the prison was built, the town was already prepped to accept more than 1,000 maximum security prisoners, and happy to do so because of the number of jobs the prison was expected to bring to the region.  If the new plan goes through, this new plan, the prison will be bought by the federal government.  It will be remade into a super-duper maximum security facility.  Some of the prison will then be run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the wing holding a few prisoners from Guantanamo will be run by the Pentagon.

So, Thomson, Illinois, and the surrounding region will finally get those jobs it has been expecting.  The estimated economic benefit is roughly 3,000 jobs and roughly $1 billion in economic activity.  The Thomson, Illinois, village president, a man named Jerry Hebeler—forgive me if I mispronouncing your name, Mr. Hebeler—told the “Associated Press” today, quote, “It will be good for the village and the surrounding area, especially with all the jobs that have been lost here.”

The town is psyched about this development.  The state‘s governor requested to the White House that Guantanamo prisoners be moved there.  The two senators from the state are in favor, which means, of course, cue the outrage.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER:  I think the administration wasn‘t around for 9/11.


MADDOW:  You know, the president is young, but he‘s not eight.  He‘s not 8 years old.  He actually was around.

The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, also put out this statement today.  Quote, “The administration has failed to explain how transferring terrorists to Guantanamo North will make Americans safer than keeping these terrorists off our shores in the secure facility of Cuba.”

The secure facility of Cuba, Guantanamo, right?  Which John McCain, the Republican Party‘s presidential candidate last year promised to close.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I believe we should close Guantanamo and work with our allies.



MADDOW:  Also promising to close Guantanamo, another notorious softie.


GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT:  I‘d like to end Guantanamo.  I‘d like it to be over with.


MADDOW:  Even on the specific question of moving Guantanamo prisoners to this specific prison at Thomson, Illinois, the most interesting fight is among conservatives, since groups like the American Conservative Union and Americans for Tax Reform are backing the plan even as lead Republicans in Congress denounce it in full hyperbole—actually per hyperbole would be even funnier.

The politicization of terrorism has always made for entertaining politics.  But at this point, this is sort of starting to look like anarchist soccer.  You know how you play anarchist soccer?  It‘s two teams, one field, three goals—go.

Joining us now is Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky from Illinois.  She chairs the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation.  Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming back on the show. 



MADDOW:  Given that both George Bush and John McCain wanted to close Guantanamo, how do you assess the outrage that we‘re seeing right now from Republican leaders on this? 

SCHAKOWSKY:  There‘s somehow a calculation that the polling would indicate this is a bad idea, that people are afraid.  But if you look at the support that all of the local communities - and by the way, it‘s Duke - his nickname is Duke Heebler(ph). 

MADDOW:  Oh, OK.  Duke -

SCHAKOWSKY:  Had actually requested - he put every question to the governor to seek the Guantanamo prisoners to come, the city counsels, the county board, the local Republican state representatives, all the people in the town, the local business owners. 

There‘s enormous support for this, so I‘m really not quite sure, the political calculation, particularly that Illinois Republicans have made like Mark Kirk who‘s running for U.S. Senate.  

MADDOW:  I was going to ask about that, because it would seem - it would make sense to me.  At least, it would be intellectually coherent for people like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who have nothing to do with Illinois, to come out and sort of demagogue on this issue to make national politics out of something that is desired at the local level. 

Congressman Mark Kirk wants to be the next senator from Illinois.  He‘s making a calculation that this is going to help him win at least the primary if not the Senate race.  He sort of built his whole campaign around this.

SCHAKOWSKY:  Actually, the editorial boards, not only in Chicago, but around the state, have pretty much excluded him for the fear-mongering he‘s done around this.  And so I don‘t know what the political advantage that the sees in this. 

MADDOW:  Is this a done deal?  What are the next steps for the Obama administration‘s plan to go through?  I guess they instruct the Bureau of Prisons to buy the facility first. 

SCHAKOWSKY:  Actually, the members of the Illinois delegation met with the head of the Bureau of Prisons as well as the Department of Homeland Security.  It looks like the sail is going to go through. 

A lot of the details are still unclear as far as how many would actually be transferred to the Thomson Center.  But it looks pretty much like a done deal, and there‘s a lot of excitement about that. 

MADDOW:  The economic impact certainly sorely needed in that corner of the state, I know. 

SCHAKOWSKY:  Yes, I mean, we‘re talking 3,000 jobs although, 1,500 are going to be military personnel that will move to the area to actually guard the prisoners.  But lots of local jobs have been promised and certainly, the stimulus to the economy there, which has over a 10 percent unemployment rate.  

MADDOW:  I want to ask you one other question, not on the Thomson situation, but on health reform.  A bill that looks like the one that - a bill that looks like the one that‘s going to probably pass the Senate without expansion of Medicare, without public option, would that have trouble passing in the House? 

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, I certainly think that we‘re going to do everything we can to make some improvements in a conference committee or in some sort of an agreement with the Senate, so that the bill that actually gets sent back to them looks better than the one that is being handed over to us. 

I mean, it‘s just - it is a huge disappointment in so many ways.  I think we have to understand all the details, what is left that is really going to help control the cost of health care for average people and really get a handle on it. 

But right now, I think we have a lot of work to do.  The problem that we face is, there‘s 60 votes.  No matter how you cut it, it has to go through a gauntlet of 60 votes in the Senate.  And it‘s infuriating.  It really is infuriating. 

MADDOW:  I know how you feel. 


MADDOW:  Very, very acutely.  Very acutely.  Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, it‘s nice to have you here.  Thank you very much for coming in. 

SCHAKOWSKY:  Thanks, Rachel.  I appreciate it. 

MADDOW:  The big banks are paying back the TARP loans, which is a nice step one.  But step two is supposed to involve those banks making more loans to us.  So we could have an economy.  Still waiting on that one.  House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank joins us in just a moment.


MADDOW:  Still ahead, Congressman Barney Frank will be here.  But first, a couple holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  North Korea may not be able to feed its population.  North Korea may not be able to Photoshop their dictator into photos with soldiers very well.  Remember when they get them a totally different shadow than they gave the soldiers who were standing next to them? 

North Korea may be a totally dysfunctional isolation tank of a country run by a jump-suited tyrant.  But if there‘s one thing that North Korea can do, it‘s militarism.  When North Korea tested another nuclear weapon this year, the U.N. slapped sanctions on them which banned North Korea from selling weapons. 

Even as that country‘s population continues to be malnourished, it‘s estimated that the regime has been making hundreds of millions of dollars a year selling missiles and missile parts and other weapons.  It‘s illegal for North Korea to sell any weaponry to any other country now. 

But this past weekend, a big Russian-made four engine plane from North Korea landed in Thailand to refuel.  Its cargo was listed as oil drilling equipment that was supposed to be headed for Sri Lanka. 

Thai police boarded the plane and found that what was supposed to be oil drilling equipment was actually 35 tons of explosives - rocket propelled grenades, parts of surface-to-air missiles and other weapons.  Uh-oh.

Thai police now say they‘re working on figuring out which lucky despot somewhere in the world was expecting those illegal weapons.  The crew of the plane are under arrest. 

It turns out they are four guys from Kazakhstan and one guy from Belarus, again flying a giant Russian plane stacked with illegal North Korean weapons landing in Thailand bound for who-knows-where. 

Point of pride for the U.S. of A in this very international story

it was apparently us who tipped off the Thai police that the plane was worth a second look.  I suggest Jake Gyllenhaal plays the pilot from Kazakhstan, Tony Jaa plays the head of the Thai police.  And who can we get to play Kim Jong-Il?  You know, actually, I bet if we just asked him, he would play himself.  Don‘t you think?  I think that he totally would, if he‘s actually still alive. 

And finally, at today‘s big anti-health reform rally in Washington, former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey gave a pep talk to the crowd as he introduced featured guest speaker, Sen. Tom Coburn.  And then, things got really weird and my personal Blackberry started having a connection. 



REPRESENTATIVES MAJORITY LEADER:  I can‘t pass up my moment with Doc Coburn, because the last time Doc Coburn, the senator from Oklahoma, who is practicing medicine all his life. 

The last time he and I were together, I had the amazing opportunity to watch him receive a lecture on health care from a woman name Maddox (sic), a television personality, who I‘m told has a PhD in something that doesn‘t matter. 

Who knew she was qualified to lecture the good physician on health care in America because she had actually gone to a doctor once?  So when Doc Coburn gets here, you ought to appreciate the fact that he had the strength to stand up to this world renowned expert on health care. 


MADDOW:  Yay, I‘m famous!  For the record, I think what Mr. Armey was talking about, is when he, Sen. Coburn and I were on “Meet the Press” together. 

When I heard that today, I did not remember ever lecturing Sen.  Coburn on anything.  But I went back and watched the tape of that appearance again and it turns out that there was only really one back-and-forth between me and Sen. Coburn in that whole show. 


DAVID GREGORY, HOST, “MEET THE PRESS”:  This image this week outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire town hall even that the president had.  This man with a gun strapped to his leg held that sign, “Is time to water the tree of liberty.”  When this element comes out in larger numbers because of this debate, what troubles you about that? 

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK):  Well, I‘m troubled any time when we stop having confidence in our government.  But we‘ve earned it.  

MADDOW (on camera):  I take issue with the idea that the government has done anything to earn the kind of threats of violence that we have seen.  

COBURN:  I didn‘t say we have.  

MADDOW:  Well, you -


COBURN:  Well, what I said it is indicative of the loss of confidence.  And when people are afraid, they do all sorts of things that they normally wouldn‘t do. 

MADDOW:  I don‘t think -

COBURN:  And we have undermined, by our actions, whether it be earmarking and corruption and disconnection between integrity and character and what we do, and what the people expect.  And these are just symptoms of a lack of confidence in what we‘ve done.

MADDOW:  Whether or not the government has acted in a way that you feel is defensible, I don‘t think the government has done anything to earn, in your words, the threat that the blood of tyrants must run in the street, which is what the literal threat was from that man with the gun strapped to his leg in New Hampshire.  I don‘t think the government has done anything to earn that. 


MADDOW:  That was my only exchange with Tom Coburn in front of Dick Armey.  Now, if Mr. Armey thinks that I was not qualified to be in that discussion because Senator Coburn is a gynecologist and I‘m not, I wonder why Dick Armey thought he was qualified to be in that room.


MADDOW:  Here in our nation‘s capitol today, the Washington, D.C. city council voted 11 to two in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.  The mayor promised to sign the bill into law.  And while Congress has the ultimate veto power over D.C.‘s laws, which has always been a little weird, the Democratic majority in Congress might make a veto of this particular law less likely. 

In which case, same-sex couples could start marrying in D.C. as early as March.  Which would make the map of same sex marriage rights in this country the only map ever created that includes New England, the District of Columbia and Iowa. 


MADDOW:  After a gasping, wheezing, rattling swoon dating back to roughly December 2007 which ended with a wretched crumple last spring, there are some signs that the American economy has a pulse, a faint pulse, but a pulse nonetheless. 

Alert your serotonin levels, there‘s actually some moderately good news about to be described on primetime cable.  Job losses have slowed.  Unemployment took a break from rising last month though it‘s still at a ridiculously high 10 percent. 

The stock market is doing better.  Look at how low the Dow was last spring, and look where it is now, hovering about 10,000.  People have a little more money in their pockets.  The net worth of households actually rose five percent last quarter. 

And there‘s more, stuff like growth in the overall GDP, wholesale trade, manufacturing, capacity utilization of factories - all up, moderately up.  But still, moderately up is better than plunging off a cliff tied to an anvil which is where we were. 

Do you know what‘s still down, though?  Loans.  Banks still aren‘t loaning anyone any money.  The banking industry has reduced lending for five quarters in a row now even after getting a giant cash infusion from taxpayers to the tune of, oh say, $245 billion. 

So thanks to the bailout, the banks got their money, got their balance sheets back in the black.  They managed to pay back their loans.  They‘re estimated to be paying about $30 billion in compensation and bonuses this year. 

But still no sign of a loan the rest of us were supposed to get, the ones that were supposed to keep, you know, businesses afloat and regular people employed. 


OBAMA:  America‘s banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry.  We expect them to explore every responsible way to help get our economy moving again. 


MADDOW:  After top bankers left a meeting with the president yesterday, they made lots of rosy promises to jumpstart lending again. 

What we‘re all left wondering is, A, whether they‘ll keep those promises about loaning people money again, and B, whether the president also got a promise from them to call off their army of lobbyists, armed to the teeth to stop new regulations for Wall Street, new regulations that just passed the house. 

Joining us now is Congressman Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts.  He‘s chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, which shepherded a sweeping overhaul of the nation‘s financial regulatory system through the House on Friday.  Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us. 


COMMITTEE:  Thank you, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  What about these promises from the banks that they will start lending more.  Do you believe them? 

FRANK:  I‘m very skeptical.  You know, they also told the president that, gee, they were really surprised to find out that their lobbyists, who they‘re paying a significant amount of money, were actually fighting us every step of the way.  I‘m not skeptical, but I just deny any notion that we‘ve been in a death struggle with these people for months.

And it turned out the bosses didn‘t know what they were doing.  I do want to make one distinction, by the way.  The community banks, the small banks who, on the whole, didn‘t get the TARP money.  Many of them are willing - we have a separate problem there. 

I‘ve been told in many places - I travel around and try to meet with the local bankers, the community bankers.  They didn‘t get involved in these exotic franchises.  They didn‘t cause the problem and they didn‘t, on the whole, make the bad subprime loans. 

They have been told by some of the bank examiners, who work for the federal regulators, to be careful.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the culture of the bank examiners.  In the history the world, nobody who works in the FDIC, where they control the currency, has ever been yelled for a loan that should have been made and wasn‘t.  All the abuse came from loans that were made and shouldn‘t have been. 

And we‘ve been pressing the regulators to say, look, don‘t overreact.  We do want more loans.  The top people, though - part of what we try to do in the regulations that you just described - we want to get them out of some of the exotic things they‘ve been doing. 

For instance, Paul Volcker, a very distinguished, fairly conservative guy, urged us to stop big banks from proprietary trading.  That is, swapping these instruments on their own account.  They don‘t make money by making loans and getting the interest on the loans.  They make money by the financial manipulation. 

We‘ve empowered the regulators to make them stop it.  We‘ve tried to cut back on what they make from derivative traders by putting them on exchanges where the price were going to down. 

So the short answer is the big banks have found a lot of other ways to make money and haven‘t been making loans.  The small banks - some have been willing to make loans and have been restricted.  So the answer to your question, again, is I‘m very skeptical. 

MADDOW:  There has been, of course, criticism from the left that in regulations, some of the big banks are going to be getting a lot of what they want like the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which seems great.  A lot of institutions exempt from oversight (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


FRANK:  Here‘s the way that works.  Nobody will be exempt from the rules they write.  They write rules for every bank - not just banks, by the way, payday lenders and the non-banks that have been bumped. 

So everybody is covered by the rules.  And everybody who has a complaint about any bank goes to them.  When it comes to the ongoing examination, banks with $10 billion in assets or less are not regulated - are not going to be examined by the consumer agency.  But the big banks, banks over $10 billion will be. 

And by the way, people have noted, yes, when you exempt the banks under $10 billion, you exempt 98 percent of the banks for 20 percent of the assets.  The banks above $10 billion have 80 percent of the assets.  So 80 percent of the bank assets and all the big banks are fully - get the full impact of the consumer agency. 

MADDOW:  What about the worry that the derivatives market, there‘s

great opportunity to finally regulate the derivatives market which has been

sort of wild west for so long.  Are there loopholes in the derivative

regulations are we going to get those -

FRANK:  Well, not loopholes.  Here‘s the intellectual (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  There are two types of people that use derivatives.  They are financial entities, the banks, investment houses who make money off of them. 

If they are involved between themselves, have to go on an exchange and trade in a fully public way.  Then we have the end-users, the airlines, farmers, John Deere, Boeing, people who use the derivatives but get them a lead to control for commercial risk. 

We wanted to push them on to exchanges, to be honest, that sort of help.  They had enough political support to say, we‘re nervous about that.  So if you are legitimately hedging for a commercial risk, you have to make it public.  And you have to make the price - so there will be no more of the darkness.

But you don‘t have to go on the exchange.  The key point though is this, and this is where a loophole would come in - who decides what‘s what?  And under our bill, the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Commodities Futures Trading Commission are the ones who decide it. 

So we think that‘s the way - in other words, yes, if you are Boeing or - and you are saying, look, “I‘m not trying to make money off this.  I just want to control for volatility and currency.  And I‘m hedging but only for that reason and I‘m not putting anybody at risk.”  If the CFTC or the SEC finds that that‘s true, you‘re out.  But for the financial entities, they would be covered. 

MADDOW:  Is there any chance that the bill gets stronger in the

Senate?  Or is that going to be definitely get weakened in the Senate

because of the banking industry and others -

FRANK:  Well, you know, the banking industry and, you know, this terrible de facto amendment of the U.S. Constitution that says you need 60 votes instead of 51.  It‘s terribly antidemocratic with a small D.

I worry about that.  Sen. Dodd is really trying very hard.  And he‘s been unfairly criticized by other people.  And I think he is - I know he‘s dedicated to fixing this.  And at any rate, when we go into conference, what I‘m confident is we‘ll be able to work this out.  And then it‘s an up or down vote. 

Although, I‘ve got to say, you know, no Republican voted for any of this.  And when the Republicans got to make their key motion, the motion to recommit, which is the best effort to - they offered a motion which said, we‘re going to take back all the TARP money, which bothered me because now we‘re trying to get the TARP money to the unemployed to help pay mortgages and to small banks. 

They had zero regulation.  In the final bill they offered, there was nothing about any form of regulation.  Their position is, please stop picking on big banks. 

MADDOW:  Congressman Barney Frank, the chairman of the Banking Committee in the House who‘s had a very busy year.  Thank you for coming in. 

FRANK:  Thank you, Rachel.  Good to see you. 

MADDOW:  It‘s nice to see you, sir.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Sen.

Ron Wyden on the state of health reform.  And we will be right back.


MADDOW:  We turn now to our allegorical outrage correspondent, Mr.

Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent. 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  Is the new movie “Avatar” really just a Trojan horse filled with liberal propaganda?  Could we be that lucky? 


(voice-over):  So who‘s psyched about “Avatar?”  Director James Cameron is back with a gajillion dollar eco-sci-fi war movie colossus set on Pandora, the planet of the blue hotties.  Mr. “Aliens” “Titanic” “Terminator” discussed his opus on the “Today” show.


MEREDITH VIEIRA, CO-ANCHOR, THE “TODAY” SHOW:  There‘s a love story.  And also there is a message about, you know, greed and when people want a lot of things, imperialism - all of that. 

JAMES CAMERON, PRODUCER:  And how that tends to destroy the environment and so on.  And here they are doing the same thing on another pristine planet that we‘ve done here on earth.  So it‘s a way sort of looking back at ourselves from this other world and seeing what we‘re doing here.


JONES:  Danger, suspiciously high levels of historical awareness detected.  Activate automatic right-wing knee-jerkery now. 

On a blog called “Big Hollywood,” Breitbart critic John Nolte pitched quite the hissy, quote, “‘Avatar‘ is a thinly disguised, heavy-handed and simplistic sci-fi fantasy/allegory critical of America from our founding straight through the Iraq War, in which the human characters want to ‘strip mine‘ the alien planet for its resources.”

Curse you, James Cameron.  How dare you question our reassuring self-mythology?  Leave it to liberals to drain all the fun out of violating the land and wiping out indigenous peoples.  Typical. 

But take heart, conservatives.  If Cameron‘s track record is any indicator, “Avatar‘s” left-wing screed will only be seen by half the planet. 


MADDOW:  Why won‘t somebody stand up for strip-mining and art? 

JONES:  You people are no fun. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent. 

JONES:  Sure.

MADDOW:  Appreciate it.  That does it for us tonight.  We‘ll see you tomorrow night.  “COUNTDOWN” starts right now.  Have a good one.



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