The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/22/09

Guests:
John Stanton, Ana Marie Cox, Howard Dean
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Appreciate that.

And thank you at home for tuning in tonight.

           

There is the urgent business of health reform to discuss tonight, major developments today.  And both Dr. Howard Dean and “Roll Call‘s” John Stanton will be here to help us with that.

And a Democratic congressman flips to the Republican Party today.  The Republican response is worth asking Ana Marie Cox about.

But the cannot wait portion of the show features really inspired lip-synching that makes me believe in the future of this country.  I cannot wait.  I hope you will wait.

It is all ahead this hour.

We begin tonight, though, with the exact date and time at which hell will freeze over.  You can mark it in your calendar.  Hell will freeze over at 8:00 a.m. Eastern on Thursday, December 24th.

Yesterday afternoon, Republican Senator John Cornyn vowed on behalf of Senate Republicans to filibuster health reform, saying, quote, “‘til the bitter end, ‘til hell freezes over, and we‘re skating on the ice.”

The bitter end, hell freezing over, skating on the ice plan was that the Senate would vote on health reform at the earliest at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Christmas Eve, with all of the intervening legislative maneuvering, the realistic time line was actually more like 10:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Not only did Senate Republicans say that was perfectly fine with them, Republicans said they were willing to stay even longer than that.  They were willing to stay past the bitter end.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR:  So, you‘ll take it right up to Christmas Eve, late Christmas Eve that evening, even though it is clear that they have the votes?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER ®, TENNESSEE:  We‘re ready to stay until Valentine‘s Day if we need to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Valentine‘s Day, ha!  Christmas is nothing.  We will stay until February.  And then today?  Caved.

For all of their bluster about holding up this vote as long as humanly possible, Republicans decided that making the threat was much more fun than actually making good on the threat.  This afternoon, Mitch McConnell, head of the Republicans in the Senate, stood rather sheepishly behind Harry Reid as Mr. Reid announced that Republicans had given in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NEV), MAJORITY LEADER:  Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that all post-cloture time be considered expired on H.R.  3590, at 8:00 a.m., Thursday, December 24th.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Eight a.m.  And just like that, Republicans, it turns out, will not fight this until the bitter end.  They will make sure that everything‘s wrapped by 8:00 in the morning so they can go home way before Valentine‘s Day, while hell is still really hot.

Really, this is only a partial case, because if they stopped filibustering right now, this bill could pass today.  The bill could pass within an hour.  Democrats have the votes, it‘s a forgone conclusion.

Even though the Republicans aren‘t sticking with their bluff to stretch this out through the night of Christmas Eve, they are still making it take until the morning of Christmas Eve.  And how are they going to use that intervening time?  Well, if the intractably unanimous Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming has anything to say about it, Republicans are apparently going to pass their time with humiliating partisan missteps that will make it into the controversy section of their Wikipedia entries no matter what else they ever do in their whole, entire lives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO ®, WYOMING:  There have been a number of references to our friend and colleague, the late Senator Ted Kennedy.  Let‘s take a look about the book that his brother John Kennedy wrote, “Profiles in Courage.”  And as we‘ve seen all of this, it‘s time for one courageous Democrat to stand up and say this is about our country.  This is about our country, not about a kickback.

It needs one courageous Democrat, one out of 60, to stand up and say, “I am going to vote no.”  We need the kind of courage that John Kennedy wrote about in “Profiles in Courage”.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Have the courage to vote no on health reform, just like John F. Kennedy would have wanted you to.  Wow!

For the record, President John F. Kennedy not only campaigned for the presidency on health reform, he not only put health reform in the State of the Union address, he not only made addresses to the nation from the White House on health reform, in May of 1962, President Kennedy gave a speech about a little idea we now call Medicare to an overflow crowd of 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York city while 45 White House spokesman simultaneously addressed their own rallies on health care in cities across the country.

Health reform was one of John F. Kennedy‘s signature political issues in his ascendance to the presidency.  Don‘t tell John Barrasso as he understands it, JFK would want Democrats to be brave and join with John Barrasso to kill health reform now.

John F. Kennedy‘s youngest brother, Edward, aka Teddy, served in the Senate for 40 years, calling health reform the cause of his life.  Ted Kennedy‘s widow, Vicki Kennedy, was at the Senate for the cloture vote for health reform at 1:00 in the morning on Monday, cheering and congratulating Democrats for having the courage, if you will, to stand together to pass health reform.

Senator John Barrasso now invoking the memory of Jack Kennedy to try to convince Democrats that what John F. Kennedy would really want for them is for them to help Republicans to kill this thing.

Senator Barrasso, I never served with Jack Kennedy.  I never knew Jack Kennedy.  Jack Kennedy was never a friend of mine.  But I can tell, even from here, that you‘re no Jack Kennedy.

For his part, President Obama‘s plan to vacation at his childhood home in Hawaii has been put off until the Senate holds its final vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I will not leave until my friends in the Senate have completed their work.  My attitude is that if they‘re making these sacrifices to provide health care to all Americans, then the least I can do is to be around and provide them any encouragement, last minute help where necessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That vote is now expected to happen at 8:0 a.m. on Christmas Eve.  Unless, of course, Senate Republicans decide they want to knock off a little earlier.

Joining us again tonight is John Stanton.  He‘s a reporter for “Roll Call” newspaper.

John, it‘s good to have you on the show again.  Thanks for joining us.

JOHN STANTON, ROLL CALL:  It‘s good to be here.

MADDOW:  When we talked last night, the Republican leadership had just informed their members that they were sticking to their plan, planning to stay until 7:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.  What changed between then and now?

STANTON:  Well, two things sort of changed.

One is there‘s a big ice storm that‘s about to hit the Midwest, which is going to make travel difficult for a number of Republicans and Democrats.  You have the west coast delegations like California that are going to try to get home.  You have folks in Kansas, like Senator Brownback.  They‘re going to need to go through Chicago or St. Louis on their way home.  And it‘s supposed to hit in smaller traffic, on the travel I guess, on Christmas Eve.

So, that has put some pressure on them.

The other thing that happened was that Senator Reid wanted to try to get out Wednesday evening.  But Republicans had to stay in at least until passed midnight so they could get into Christmas Eve so they could technically stay in until Christmas Eve.  What ended up happening is that Senator Reid gave them an agreement to allow them to have a series of votes on a long-term debt extension in January, January 20th, on a bunch of issues like TARP and climate change and other things in exchange for moving back the close-up date for this week.

MADDOW:  I‘m no expert on the comity of the Senate, comity with the “T.”  We talk a lot Senate comedy with “D.”  It‘s more like what we usually talk about.  But this Kennedy analogy struck me today as—at least it seems to me to be unusual, for Republicans to keep invoking the Kennedys in their anti-health reform efforts.  Ted Kennedy, of course, only died a couple of months ago, the Senate‘s foremost champion on health reform.

Is that an unusual thing to do, given the sort of unofficial rules of the Senate?

STANTON:  It‘s a little unusual to say the least, I think.  Especially since Senator Kennedy was clearly for public option and for a much broader reform plan that‘s going through.  You know, Republicans have done something like this, similar, they‘ve invoked votes on Social Security and on Medicare to say, well, these are all bipartisan votes, but particularly the Medicare vote, a lot of Republicans oppose that vote.  So, you know, they sort of cherry-picked a little bit on that.

MADDOW:  When you talked about the Republicans needing to ensure in their deal with Senator Reid that they actually stayed until Christmas Eve, why does—why is Christmas Eve a magic date for them?  Why did they think they had to stay, at least until after midnight on that day?

STANTON:  Well, there are two things at play there.  One is that their base has really come down hard on them about trying to slow down or stop this bill.  And they‘ve been trying to demonstrate that.

But also, they‘ve—you know, they‘ve made a very big stink about being in until Christmas Eve at the earliest and, you know, they felt that if they backed out of it, it would look—it would look probably sort of bad.  So, I think that‘s a big part of that.

MADDOW:  They said they would do it, so they have to look like they‘re doing it.

STANTON:  Exactly.

MADDOW:  What do you expect—when Senate Democrats and Republicans finally get to go home to their home districts—what do you expect to se in terms of politics of health reform?  Do you think we‘re going to see a lot of summer style campaigning against them?

STANTON:  I think so.  I think you‘ll see a fair number of town halls, you‘ll see the campaign committees and the RNC will be going after blues dog Democrats, moderate Democrats in the House, and then folks like Ben Nelson in the Senate, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln—anybody who they think if they can build enough pressure while they‘re at home, talking to constituents to back out of the deal.  They‘re going to have to go to conference with the House, and that‘s really, that next vote, which is scheduled to happen sometime in January, is going to be the big next target.  So.

MADDOW:  And in terms of what happens with that conference committee, everybody‘s talking about that both in terms of it being the next thing that needs to happen for this to pass, but also, it‘s the place where a lot of progressives in particular are hoping the bill is going to get better.  The conference committee process is a little bit obtuse.  It‘s a little hard to tell what‘s going on.

Are all the same delay tactics going to be available to Republicans during that whole conference committee process?

STANTON:  Well, during the conference committee process, no.  Most will probably happen behind closed doors.  It sounds like leadership on both chambers are looking to use about $20 billion.  It‘s between the House and Senate versions to try to bring in House moderates and maybe some progressives by giving them some sweeteners in their states.

But once it comes out of the conference and comes from the House, back to the Senate, that‘s when you‘ll probably see the same sort of tactics.  It won‘t take as long under the rules, but probably several days.

MADDOW:  John Stanton, reporter for “Roll Call” newspaper, helping translate what often feels like just a big, fake show.  John Stanton, thank you very much for your time.  Appreciate it.

STANTON:  Any time.

MADDOW:  Today, a freshman congressman from Alabama announced that he is leaving the Democratic Party to become a Republican.  But which party is he joining—the Michael Steele Republican establishment or the “Purge all the moderates” tea party party?  It‘s the art of renting a room in a burning house.  Ana Marie Cox joins us next for that.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We‘ve all been there, standing at the fax machine with a handful of paper trying to figure out which way to feed the document in.  Face up, face down, face—now, but we‘ve probably have all been like this one teabagging faxer.  Mad as the cat in the snow bank for the handful of screed scrolled emphatically in black marker determined to send the message to Congress and yet totally unable to figure out which way to feed the government in.

Now, the folks at Wonkette got ahold of this person‘s fax from a Capitol Hill source.  The amazing thing is, that whoever sent this anti-health reform manifesto wrote it so vehemently that even though it got fed into the fax machine upside down, you can still read, you can still read it if you got a mirror.  OK.

So, this one says, “Stop the Reid bill or we will vote you out, too.”  And it‘s signed, “American tea party,” and it‘s sort of scripty on the tea party part like, its signature.

This one say—oh, yes, “Health care, you vote for it, we will vote you out.  Republicans, Democrats or independence—the American tea party!” exclamation point.

And, “This bill for illegal immigrants, we will vote you out next election—American tea party.”

And—yes, I can‘t help you with this one.  Still, though, impressive.  The message totally comes through if the recipient watched Mr.  Wizard or read all of the encyclopedia brown books as a child.  But otherwise.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The Republican Party‘s efforts to reinvent itself post-Bush and post-McCain have been, I think, the greatest show on American politics over the past year.  Now, one of the biggest unanswered questions about who the new Republican Party will be has been answered.  This spring, conservative activists opposed everything from the Federal Reserve to government help for people facing foreclosure, to the citizenship proof of the president‘s citizenship, started protests they called tea parties at that time.

Now, famously, the organizers of one tea party event in Chicago turned down a request from the Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele when he asked if he could attend and address the crowd at a tea party.  Since then, the tea partiers have split amongst themselves and split and split and split again—in some cases, filing lawsuits against one another, denouncing each other‘s groups and events and tactics.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and his corporate-funded FreedomWorks advocacy organization have exploited the tea party brand as well as anyone—even going so far as to sell speaking slots at a supposedly grassroots tea party event for the low, low price of $10,000.

Monday, though, the mainstreaming of the tea party phenomenon was advanced, that principle divide between the tea partiers and the Republican Party that they claimed had deserted its principles—apparently, that‘s really 2009, because yesterday, Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele held a joint phone press conference with Dick Armey.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  I‘m just very honored to be able to work with citizens all across this country, grassroots activists, tea partiers, and others who are fighting the good fight.  One of the leaders in this fight, and I‘m very honored to have him on this call with us, is Dick Armey, a man of principle.

DICK ARMEY ®, FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  Given my point of view, my love of individual liberty, there‘s no place I can turn in politics except to the Republican parties who in the past have demonstrated during the Reagan years that they are quite capable of serving the cause of liberty and serving it well.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So much for the tea party contingent running insufficiently, right-wing Republicans out of the party, right?

Well, now, at least according to Dick Armey and Michael Steele, the Republican Party are the tea partiers and the tea partiers are the Republican Party, they are GOP-baggers, the tea-publicans.  They are one.  At least they were on Monday.

It turns out that happy political marriage lasted one day.  It already appears to be over.  Today, a very, very conservative Democratic Congressman from Northern Alabama, Parker Griffith, a man with no known first name, switched from being a very conservative Democrat to being a very conservative Republican.

Parker Griffith, Democrat, in his first year in office, voted against the president‘s budget.  He voted against the stimulus.  He voted against the cap-and-trade global warming bill.  He voted against health reform.  He voted against even Wall Street reform, the new financial regulations.

He even voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which is the bill that said women should get paid the same as men.  He voted no on that.  And remember, he‘s a Democrat.

But that‘s not all.  In August, at a town hall meeting, Parker Griffith was quoted by the “Huntsville Times” as telling his constituents that even though he was Democrat, he wouldn‘t vote for Nancy Pelosi to be speaker of the House.  Democrats, sort of, vote unanimously for Nancy Pelosi to be speaker of the House.  But Griffith said he would not.

And then he said, “If she doesn‘t like it, I‘ve got a gift certificate to the mental health center.”  Classy, right?

So, as of today, Parker Griffith is not a Democrat who won‘t vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker or for any of the major Democratic agenda items.  He‘s a Republican who won‘t do those things.

The Republican establishment reacted with glee.  The National Republican Congressional Committee moving immediately to take down an attack ad they had run against Mr. Griffith, accusing him of being a terrorist lover.  The RNC putting out a statement welcome him to the party, welcoming him to the party that called him a terrorist lover.

And GOP el jefe in exile, Sarah Palin, welcoming Mr. Griffith with a tweet, which used her trademark, no spacing and punctuation.

Here‘s the really interesting part of this, though: even as the Republican establishment welcomes Parker Griffith, hardcore conservatives at Red State and Club for Growth say they will teabag him, they will Dede Scozzafava him.  They say he is not right-wing enough for them.

At Red State today, quote, “We should now hope him to be an extremely endangered Republican in a primary.  We can pick this guy off and get a real Republican in that seat.”

The main Republican candidate who had been planning to run against Griffith when Griffith was a Democrat took one look at that fight between the Republican Party embracing Mr. Griffith, and the teabaggers attacking him, and they decided to side with the tea baggers, saying that he will stay in the race to beat Mr. Griffith even if Mr. Griffith is a Republican now.

And so, another split between the GOP and the conservative activists.  The marriage of the Republican Party and the tea party conservatives who give them meaning comes to an end, with just one day after it was consummated on a joint Michael Steele-Dick Armey conference call.

Joining us now is Ana Marie Cox, national correspondent and host of “Inside Story” on Air America Radio.

Ana Marie, thank you for coming on the show tonight.

ANA MARIE COX, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW:  How‘s Tampa?

COX:  Tampa is dark as far as I can tell.  I really haven‘t seen much of Florida.  I just barely escaped D.C. after the snow-my-God weekend.  I‘ve actually been traveling so much that I barely know where I am.  But thank you for reminding me.  Tampa, yes.

MADDOW:  Sure.  That‘s very good.  I can tell from the background there.  I‘m sorry, it‘s not—not why you‘re here and what got on the show.

Does this look to you like the early days of that Scozzafava race in Upstate New York where the Republican establishment is welcoming the Republican, in this case a guy who just switched parties, but the conservative movement isn‘t having it?

COX:  It is.  And it‘s right down to the fact that the guy is actually not even a very good Republican, even though he‘s more of a Republican that he‘s a Democrat.  He still voted with Democrats about 85 percent of the time, according to “Washington Post.” So, he‘s actually not a very conservative Republican, and he‘s facing this really, really tough primary with people who are already excited to run against him, who are now even more excited to run against him.  And they suddenly got the national attention like they got in Upstate New York when Doug Hoffman entered the race as the tea party candidate against Dede Scozzafava.

MADDOW:  But, there is—there is a sort of nuance here I think about this race.  In his district, McCain beat Obama by 23 points.  So, you think, all right, obviously, a very conservative district.  But it‘s a district that.

COX:  Right.

MADDOW:  . did elect a Democratic member of Congress.  And I just wonder if that‘s going to be the big tension of 2010: Republicans having a chance to pick up seats from purple districts, but scaring off voters by demanding that their candidates be really, really, really red.

COX:  Oh, I think that‘s definitely in danger of happening.  And I think that you‘re never going to get like a liberal Democrat in that district.

But, right now, they probably have the best chance to get a more liberal Democrat in that district than they‘ve ever had, because it seems like what‘s going to happen in that primary is—I have to say, things do not look good for him.  They looked bad for him when he was a Democrat.  Now, he suddenly got this negative attention from both Republicans and Democrats.  And he has some people that are really fired up, and have the base and also have some—will be getting some of that national support like Doug Hoffman got.  But that doesn‘t mean they‘re going to win the race.  That means he might win the primary.

But actually, all that national attention and all that pushing to the right tends to scare off—like you said—the people that actually turn up and vote in these local elections.  So, you have someone like the Democrat winning in Upstate New York for the first time in however many years it was.

MADDOW:  Right.

COX:  … which is a long time.  It‘s so long ago.

MADDOW:  Well, this one—this one complicated, though, by the fact that it‘s also—it‘s going to be a runoff between whoever—I mean, you have to get 50 percent of the vote or there‘s a runoff election here.  So, we might end up, even in the general election, choosing between two Republicans even though one of them used to be a Democrat.

On the national issue, Ana Marie, how much of the ideological credibility and appeal of the conservative movement is predicated on them not being in bed with the Republican Party?  I mean, did Dick Armey hurt himself with conservatives by doing that joint appearance with Michael Steele?

COX:  I don‘t think he hurt himself in part because—because that—his group is so out in front on this tea party stuff, and they‘re so—they‘re so strident about it.  And I was really struck by that phone call and listening to it with you a little while ago, how Michael Steele was welcoming Dick Armey and says he feels honored to have Dick Armey on the call.  Usually, that is not the dynamic you see with a national party and with what is actually kind of a fringy group.  Let‘s face it.

Let‘s remember, the reason why you and I can get excited about the tea party people—I won‘t used word, I won‘t use the word GOP-baggers, I guess.

MADDOW:  Yes.

COX:  We get excited about that, is that we know that normal, sane, rational voters are frightened by them.

MADDOW:  Yes.

COX:  And they are.  I mean, when I—when I look and I see Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney and Dick Armey being called like the leaders of this new conservative movement, I‘m kind of like, that‘s great.  You know, go, go, please, try and run that way.

Please try and do it—because right now, I mean, party idea is not even the point any more.  Everyone‘s very suspicious both on the left and right of Washington, right?  We‘re actually going to be having some races where people may be actually judged on their ideological values, and not on their party tags that they bring to the table.

MADDOW:  Ana Marie Cox, Air America correspondent—thank you very much for being here.  And please, please enjoy Tampa while you‘re there.

COX:  Thank you.  It‘s so warm.

MADDOW:  Yes, good.  Thanks.

All right. Some members of Congress this week formed a UAV caucus.  They formed an unmanned aerial vehicle caucus in Congress, a caucus that‘s all about drones.  The caucus has—the Congress has a UAV caucus now.  But the Congress does not—as far as we know—have an A.V. Club.  If Congress did have an A.V. Club, Senator Roland Burris might have had some better luck today.

We will bring Senator Burris some inspiration in a moment from high school A.V. club geniuses who have produced the most awesome teenage lip-sync battle in history.  I‘m very excited.  It‘s coming up.

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MADDOW:  Do you remember that anti-health reform activist in Florida, he was a doctor who mass-emailed out this charming, racist anti-health reform flyer over the summer?  Oh, it‘s so clever.  See, the president is not just a witch doctor with a bone through his nose, the president is a commie witch doctor with a bone through his nose.  Oh, the satire. 

Now, the activist who was caught sending around that E-mail, Dr.  David McCaleb, has a new anti-health reform strategy now.  Now, he is trying to lure liberals who are unhappy with the Senate health reform bill into working with him to kill the bill. 

In an E-mail to progressives, McCaleb quotes Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, MSNBC‘s own Ed Schultz and “Salon.com‘s” Glenn Greenwald criticizing the Senate bill. 

He then follows up with his own liberal cult action, saying, quote, “Last July, many of you E-mailed me to express your anger over an E-mail I forwarded on that was offensive.  I kept your E-mail addresses because I identify with fighters like you.  Please mobilize your forces and call your representative and senators in Congress.  Tell them you will work to make sure they are unelected next time if they approve of this.”

You know, it is true some liberals have joined conservatives in the kill-the-bill caucus, a lot non-conservatives objecting to the Senate health bill on policy grounds, including now New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Governor David Paterson, both of who are saying the Senate bill would be bad for the State of New York. 

So with all the Republicans objecting on political grounds and conservatives objecting on ideological grounds, and liberals objecting on policy grounds, the kill-the-bill caucus has become a pretty big tent.  Not that big, though.  Safe to assume there‘s no tent quite big enough to fit the racist witch doctor E-mail guy inside it, huh? 

Joining us now is former Vermont governor and DNC chairman, Howard Dean.  Gov. Dean, thank you so much for coming on the show.  It‘s good to have you back. 

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), FMR. DNC CHAIRMAN:  Thanks for having me on. 

MADDOW:  Last week on this show, I have to confess to you, we included your floating disembodied head alongside with the yellow jumpsuit “Kill Bill” caucus - people trying to kill health reform. 

We did that, not out of disrespect, but because you were saying that the bill should be killed.  You‘re no longer saying that.  Why have you changed your feelings on that? 

DEAN:  There‘s two reasons in essence.  The first is the bill was improved.  What the president and the Congress have essentially done is to expand the existing system, not to reform the system.  There are a lot of things that have been changed. 

There are faults as we talked about last week.  In the intervening week, they tightened up the cost control.  Money was added for community health centers, for wellness and prevention.  They increased doctor reimbursements for rural physicians. 

So they‘ve done a number of things that will make this approach more likely to work.  It also is going to a conference committee with a body that did vote for public option.  In my view, in order to have any reform, you‘ve got to have a public option. 

You‘ve got to give Americans a choice between different kinds of system and not just require that we be in the system we already have.  That may or may not happen in the House. 

The second thing is, honestly, you see the Republicans up there, carrying on the way they are.  I basically concluded that, you know, maybe we should just pass this thing.  It‘s going to take an awful lot of time to work on it.  But if the Republicans hate it, there must be some good in it.  

MADDOW:  In terms of the process, it seems like we are coming to the end of the Senate process.  It seems like the bill is definitely going to pass in the Senate.  It looks like it will pass at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, on Christmas Eve. 

But then, as you say, it goes on to the conference committee and a lot of people who were disappointed in this bill, who think it got worse over time, are looking to that conference committee process to hopefully make the bill better. 

And then, there has to be another vote.  What‘s going to be your bottom line at that point?  What do you need to see in terms of improvement before you support people voting for it? 

DEAN:  Well, I would like to see a public option.  That, I think, is unlikely.  Since that‘s unlikely, I would like them to fix - most of the House bill, I think, is better than the Senate bill. 

For example, the so-called pre-existing condition.  You can charge three times as much to an older customer as you can to a younger customer in the Senate bill - the insurance companies.  In the House, it‘s twice as much.  Well, in Vermont, it‘s 20 percent more, so a whole lot less.  I‘d like to see them lower that number really substantially to make the bill more affordable. 

Secondly, I‘d like to see the biggest expansion Medicaid could possibly have using federal funds to do it, the way Ben Nelson cut the deal for Nebraska.  That should be applied to all 50 states.  When we went to universal health care for kids under 18 in my state 15 years ago, we used Medicaid as the vehicle. 

You do have to increase reimbursement to physicians, but that would be significant help.  So you know, if this is the bill that‘s going to pass and if we‘re going to have these fights for the next 30 years with insurance companies, you might as well give us a head start. 

MADDOW:  Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa said this week that in his mind, the public option is not totally dead.  He says he plans to revisit the idea of the public option in the near future.  If this bill passes, does it actually provide an appropriate foundation for a public option to be introduced as a separate matter after it passes? 

DEAN:  Actually, it does.  You could lower - the Senate‘s idea, originally, was actually better than the House‘s - the so-called Medicare compromise.  If you were allowed in a public - in the public option there will be something called an exchange.  That‘s where you‘re going to go buy your health insurance. 

All you‘ve got to do is put in that exchange a public option.  There isn‘t one now.  It‘s some kind of nonprofit hocus-pocus that‘s run by the private sector and governed by the office of personnel management. 

Really, if you gave people the choice of enrolling in Medicare if they‘re under 65 or gave them the choice of another public option, I think Medicare is a much smarter way to go because you already have the bureaucracy all set up and ready to go.  They already do a billion claims a year.

You could put that choice into the exchanges.  Once you‘ve got the exchanges set up, which is something that also came out very well in the Senate and in the House, actually.  The exchanges came out well, a little stronger in the Senate now. 

If you could modify this - Tom Harkin‘s right.  You could modify this at a later date.  I wish that weren‘t necessary.  I wish we had that change now.  But you could do it later if this doesn‘t work out.  And I think this 30-year battle with insurance companies over regulation is going to be tough to make it work properly.  

MADDOW:  Former Vermont governor and DNC chairman, Howard Dean, thanks very much for joining us tonight, sir.  It‘s always good to have you on the show. 

DEAN:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  A little later, I will use a poetry reading by the junior senator from Illinois as an excuse to show, not one, but two completely mind-blowing great music videos produced by rival high schools in Seattle.  Have you seen this? 

Given that “Glee” already had its season finale, there is nothing on television right now as good as these videos.  I‘m telling you.  We‘ve got them coming up.  Remain stationary. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Sen. Barbara Boxer talks health reform at the finish line.  And later on this show, rival high school music videos.  If your world has not been sufficiently rocked today, it‘s about to be and we vaguely tied it to a news story.  That‘s coming up. 

MADDOW:  But first a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  We have some good news and some weird news about a story that we‘ve been talking about for weeks now.  It‘s the proposed kill-the-gays bill in another country.  It has many, many ties to American conservative politicians and religious leaders. 

The bill is being proposed in Uganda, that‘s a country essentially by socially conservative American politicians interested in, say, getting the country to drop its promotion of condoms in the fight against HIV.  The country where American anti-gay quacktivists convened a conference earlier this year to preach that homosexuality was curable. 

A country whose leadership was close to the secretive American religious group, The Family, that Uganda‘s president and the legislator who introduced the kill-the-gays bill are both sad to be members of The Family. 

After the bill got some publicity and a number of American conservatives finally spoke out in opposition to it, the politics around this got sort of interesting.  Last week, the State Department‘s top diplomat in Africa told reporters he had been in touch with Uganda‘s president to express the U.S. government‘s opposition to the bill.  That‘s the good part. 

Now, here‘s the weird part that‘s really interesting.  According to new reporting in “D.C. Agenda - “D.C. Agenda” is a successor of sorts to the late lamented “Washington Blade” newspaper.  Uganda‘s president has told the U.S. State Department that he‘s going to veto the bill.

After “D.C. Agenda” first reported this, we confirmed it today with the State Department.  State says the Ugandan president has committed to the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, both in person and in a follow-up phone conversation that he, the Ugandan president, will stop the bill. 

Meanwhile, according to “D.C. Agenda,” the next U.S. step is to try to get the Ugandan president to make that commitment in public, to get him to speak out against the bill in public rather than just giving assurances in private. 

Meanwhile, conservatives here have continued to get on this moving train.  Five House Republicans, Frank Wolf of Virginia, Chris Smith of New Jersey, Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, Trent Franks of Arizona, and Joseph Cao of Louisiana - they‘re now moving beyond just telling THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW they‘re opposed to the bill and are now taking the important next step of conveying their feelings about it to Uganda‘s president saying today that they have sent a letter to him about it, opposing the kill-the-gays bill. 

This is one of those stories where initial reporting sometimes gets denied later.  But it seems like this is moving fast now, and a lot of interesting things are happening.  We will keep you posted on it.  We will continue to cover it. 

And South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is a Republican which means in 2009 that he does not support health reform.  In his case, he really, really does not support health reform. 

While arguing against the bill that is all but certain to pass the Senate this Thursday at 8:00 a.m., Sen. Graham made an argument that I think was supposed to be about health reform.  But it was one that quickly became more illustrative about him than it was about any policy issue whatsoever. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  Throughout the nation, there are going to be thousands of more people enrolled in Medicaid.  And every state, except one, is going to have to come up with matching money. 

I have 12 percent unemployment in South Carolina.  My state is on its knees.  I have 31 percent African-American population in South Carolina.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  See, we‘ve got it tough.  We‘re on our knees.  Twelve percent of our people are unemployed and 31 percent of our people are black.  Why is that a - go on.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM:  In my state, with 30 percent African-American citizens, a lot of low-income people in South Carolina, is going to cost my state $1 billion.  That‘s the same old stuff that I object to.  That‘s not change we can believe in.  That‘s sleazy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The argument here appears to be that Sen. Graham believes it is sleazy to expect a state with lots of black people in it to have health reform.  Because you know, black people.  Maybe he meant something other than what it seemed like he meant with those remarks. 

But it should be noted he did use the same, utterly inexplicable argument twice - once on the Senate floor and then, because it worked so well, once on “The Today Show,” both when asked about health reform. 

We contacted Sen. Graham‘s office today for an explanation. 

We‘ll let you know when and if we hear back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D-IL):  It was the night before Christmas and all through the Senate, the right held up a health care bill no matter what was in it.  The people had voted, they mandated reform.  But Republicans blew off the gathering storm.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was the senator from Blagojevich, Roland Burris, delivering a rather soporific re-written version of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” on the Senate floor today. 

Tonight, as it is the season for giving, we here at THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW think we have something that may help Sen. Burris, since even before the dawn of the YouTube, we as a culture have lived by a simple rule.  It must have a good beat and you must be able to dance to it. 

Take just as an example, the high school musical video battle happening between two Seattle area high schools right now via YouTube.  It started when Shorecrest High School video class students - I believe they‘re in Mitchell‘s fourth period - issued a challenge to their arch rival cross town school Shorewood High. 

Shorecrest filmed a lip dub, a four-minute long, multiple-student, lip-synched performance of Outkast‘s hit song, “Hey, Ya.”  They filmed it all in one single continuous shot.  So it‘s sort of glee meets Andre 3000 meets Robert Altman.    

(MUSIC)

I know, right?  Castro Valley High School was not like this for me.  That never just spontaneously broke out when I was in high school.  How cool is this? 

All right.  So that‘s the first one.  And they‘re challenging their cross-town rival.  So then the cross-town rival‘s video club - to be specific, Mr. Ballew‘s Video Production One class at Shorewood High School - they responded to the challenge from Shorecrest.  They made their own lip sync video.  They decided to use Hall and Oates‘ “You Make My Dreams Come True.” 

And again, just like the other school, they did it all in one continuous shot.  And I know what you‘re thinking - in the battle of what‘s cooler, no offense to Hall and Oates, but how is a Hall and Oates video going to compete with an Outkast video?  How about if the entire Hall and Oates video is shot backward?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

This is shot backwards.  All the throwing stuff is flying back into people‘s hand.  How are the Shorewood students managing to lip sync backwards, right?  The student producer behind this video apparently spent hours filming himself singing the lyrics to that song.  Then he watched that tape in reverse. 

Then, he taught the other students phonetically how to sing the song backwards so when they played the tape forwards, the lip sync appeared to be going the right direction. 

Dude, if that‘s not the first item on every college application you ever fill out, you are totally blowing it.  So Seattle Shorewood High, the backward Hall and Oates has now challenged Shorecrest, the Outkast video, to beat that. 

Shorecrest says they‘re working on something new and top secret right now.  But both original videos are obviously massive hits on the Internet and rightfully so. 

And in tribute to them and to help a senator out, we here at THE RACHEL MADDOW show have souped-up Roland Burris‘ nice but slow version “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.”  It‘s not Shorecrest versus Shorewood, but it might help.  

(MUSIC)

Yes, we can.  That is our holiday gift to you, Sen. Burris.  Links to both Shorecrest and Shorewood High Schools‘ amazing videos are up on our Web site, Rachel.MSNBC.com.  Apparently, dozens of other high schools around the country are looking at joining in the competition with their own lip dubs. 

And we here at THE RACHEL MADDOW show feel very old and inadequate and very excited to see what‘s next.  Also, we are totally starting an MSNBC AV Club.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Last week, we reported that CPAC, the big conservative convention, would be sponsored this year by the John Birch Society.  We then went on to outline the brimming kettle of kookendry(ph) that the John Birch Society has always been. 

The John Birch Society then responded by saying we had done them a huge disservice.  We were hideous liars about them.  It turns out we weren‘t at all.  The John Birch Society is totally the brimming kettle of kookendry(ph) we described in the first place. 

And because they challenged us on it, we‘re going to have a really, really good time proving that on tomorrow‘s show.  We‘re delighted to do it.  But we have to go right now because “COUNTDOWN” is about to start.  Bye.

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

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