The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/16/10

Guests:
John Stanton
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Welcome to another—I can‘t believe we‘re doing this.  Welcome to another episode of “Pin the Debt on the Donkey,” everyone.

Not only can I not believe we are doing this, I can‘t believe we‘re doing it for a second time.  But we are.

All right.  The challenge, as always, is to figure out which U.S.  presidents saddled America with the most debt during his time in office.  And which presidents didn‘t.

Our two contestants this evening are RACHEL MADDOW SHOW producer, Vanessa Silverton-Peel.  Hello, Vanessa.

Also return for another appearance on “Pin the Debt on the Donkey,” the one and only Kent Jones.

Thank you both very much for being here tonight.  It‘s good to see you both.

All right.  Fingers on your buzzers, everyone.  Are your ready?

First question: Of the last five U.S. presidents who, during his time in office, increased the national debt by the largest percentage?

(BUZZER)

MADDOW:  Vanessa?

VANESSA SILVERTON-PEEL, TRMS PRODUCER:  Bill Clinton.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Jimmy Carter.

MADDOW:  No.  Although I have to say that we‘ve greatly improved the wah-wah since the first episode of the show.  And for that, we can thank our friends in the union.

Anyway, the correct answer is neither Vanessa‘s guess of Bill Clinton nor Kent‘s guess of Jimmy Carter.  The correct answer is Ronald Reagan.

During Ronald Reagan‘s eight years in office, President Reagan grew the national debt by 186 percent.  So, we have no points to award on that first question.

All right.  Next question: Of the last five U.S. presidents, who increased the national debt by the smallest percentage?

(MUSIC)

MADDOW:  Kent?

JONES:  George Bush, Sr.

MADDOW:  No, no.  Sorry.  Vanessa?

SILVERTON-PEEL:  George Bush, Jr.

MADDOW:  No, no.  Very sorry to both of you.  But very much enjoying the wah-wah.  The correct answer is our 42nd president, William Jefferson Clinton.

During President Clinton‘s eight years in office, he grew the national debt by the smallest percentage of any of the last five presidents.  It was just over 40 percent.

So, you both suck at this, which means we‘ve got a neck and neck race at this point.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Next question: Of the last five U.S. presidents, the three with the worst performance on the national debt were of which party?

(BUZZER)

MADDOW:  Kent?

JONES:  Democratic Party.

MADDOW:  No, I‘m sorry.  Vanessa?

SILVERTON-PEEL:  The Green Party.

MADDOW:  Yes.  OK.  No.  Sorry, that would be the Republican Party.

In addition to Ronald Reagan exploding the debt 186 percent on his watch, President Reagan‘s successor George H.W. Bush grew the debt 53 percent during his four years and George W. Bush grew it 77 percent during his 8 years.  Those were the three worst performances of the last five presidents—all Republican presidents.

All right.  Final question.  Are you guys ready?  Hands on your buzzers.

Of the last five U.S. presidents, the two who had the best performance on the national debt were Bill Clinton and who else?

(BUZZER)

MADDOW:  Vanessa?

SILVERTON-PEEL:  George Bush, Sr.

MADDOW:  No, I‘m sorry.  Kent?

JONES:  Reagan.  Reagan.  It got to be Reagan.  That chart is wrong.

MADDOW:  It was not Reagan.

JONES:  The chart is wrong.

MADDOW:  It was not Reagan. The chart is right.

JONES:  Reagan.

MADDOW:  Chart wins.  Kent loses!

The two presidents who grew the debt the least during their years in office were Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.  Of the last five presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter did the best.  President carter grew the debt a little more than 41 percent while he was in office.

This is the second time I think we have played this game.  And this is the second time we were unable to crown a winner.

That‘s going to have to do it for another edition of “Pin the Debt on the Donkey.”

(MUSIC)

MADDOW:  Can you tell we didn‘t rehearse?  Yes.  Presidential leadership on dealing with the national debt over the course of my entire lifetime has been something that has really gone along party lines.  In empirical l terms, Democrats have done a much better job than Republicans have.

Now, if that feels counterintuitive to you, if there‘s a voice in your head saying, hey, wait, the Republicans are the fiscal conservatives, the Democrats are the irresponsible profligate spenders, that—if there is a voice in your head that is saying that, that‘s because the press has been quite content to listen to what Republicans say they are doing rather than actually reporting on what they are doing on fiscal issues.

A perfect case in point today on Capitol Hill: Senate Republicans holding a press conference that they say is all about—well, here, listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  We have a great opportunity here to demonstrate that we are responding to what the American people clearly would like for us to do: cut the spending, cut the debt.

SEN. JOHN THUNE ®, SOUTH DAKOTA:  Hopefully, the Democrats will join us as we embark upon on an agenda that tries to rein in out-of-control government, get spending and debt under control.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO ®, WYOMING:  We‘ve clearly heard the American people say focus on jobs, the economy, the debt and the spending, and they were screaming out loud: stop the spending.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  Stop the spending, cut the debt—that‘s what Republicans say their priorities are.  Cutting the deficit, cutting the debt—that‘s what they say they are doing.

What are they actually proposing to do?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA:  Republicans are absolutely determined to oppose any tax increase on any American in the coming months.  We‘re going to continue to fight in the House to make sure that no American sees a tax increase on January 1st, not one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Tax cuts.  Tax cuts—first priority.

Now, of course, both parties want tax cuts right now for the first $250,000 of income that anyone earns.  The difference between the two parties, the difference between Democrats and Republicans, is that Republicans want to make sure you get tax cuts on any income you earn over your first quarter of a million dollars.

According to Republicans, if you make more than $250,000 a year, you should get a tax cut on all of the income above that level in addition to getting tax cuts on income below that level.

In order to achieve just that extra amount of tax cuts, just for the rich people, just for people earning over $250,000, Republicans are willing – in order to do that, Republicans are willing to add $700 billion to the debt, $700 billion.

In addition to tax cuts, Senate Republicans also laid out this objective today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARRASSO:  Certainly, the new health care law—we‘re going to work together to repeal and replace this health care law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Repeal health reform.  On the same day Republicans redoubled their efforts to kill health reform, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office highlighted that the Democrats‘ new health reform law, if fully implemented, would result in a, quote, “notable improvement in the long-term debt outlook.”

Earlier this year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculated that health reform would reduce the deficit by $138 billion.

Republicans apparently want that $138 billion added back on to the deficit.

Then there‘s the issue of defense spending.  A majority of all of the discretionary spending that we have in this country is defense spending.  And because Republicans want to be thought of as fiscal conservatives, a number of Republicans who just been elected to office are now making noises that they‘d be willing to consider defense cuts.  That is fiscally great in the abstract.

The problem is when it comes down to actually making those decisions.  Here‘s the top Republican on the House side.  His name is Republican Congressman Buck McKeon of California.  He‘s the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

What does he think about this defense cuts idea?  Yesterday, Mr.  McKeon said of the defense cuts, quote, “Let me put this in the simplest terms possible: cutting defense spending amidst two wars is a red line for me and should be a red line for all Americans.”

On the Senate side, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee is a man you might have heard of named John McCain.  Senator John McCain now leading the charge in the Republican Party against anyone in his party who would dare suggest any cuts to defense.

Yesterday, he went after Republican Rand Paul, saying, quote, “Already, he has talked about withdrawals from or cuts in defense, et cetera.  And a number of others are, too.  So I worry a lot about the rise of protectionism and isolationism in the Republican Party.”

In other words, defense cuts not on my watch.  And I‘m the guy who‘s on watch for our party on this.

Last month, 57 members of Congress signed on to a report that proposed $960 billion worth of cuts that could come out of the defense budget, precisely one Republican was willing to put his name on that—one, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas.

One of that report‘s biggest ticket proposed cuts was nuclear weapons—since, you know, we already have more than 5,000 of them.  And you can only blow up the world so many times.  So, let‘s save a little money, right?  Let‘s maybe cut back on the nuclear weapons.  That would save a lot of money.

Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona is the Republican who is making the direct Republican response to that.  As of today, Jon Kyl‘s response has been to secure $14 billion of brand new nuclear weapons spending from the Obama administration.  He‘s apparently holding out for more.

In case you were curious just how serious Republicans are about cutting defense, that‘s what we‘ve got so far.

And, of course, it‘s an article of faith that Republicans are against cap and trade climate legislation, right?  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that cap-and-trade—which remember was a Republican idea in the first place—cap-and-trade would reduce the deficit by $19 billion.  Republicans are against that, too.

Think about the distance between what Republicans say they are doing and what they are actually proposing.  Republicans spent all day bragging about how much they want to cut the deficit, while simultaneously proposing adding to the deficit $700 billion, plus $138 billion, plus $14 billion, plus $19 billion—all added to the deficit as they proclaim that they want to cut the deficit.

But because they are banking on the press only writing down what they say they‘re going to do, rather than what they‘re actually proposing, Republicans also took time today at their press conference to name-drop a new Republican senator named Marco Rubio.  Marco Rubio inexplicably has been made into the Republicans‘ showcase freshman for fiscal conservatism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER ®, TENNESSEE:  Our goal as a country should be to make sure that the next generation is a period of American exceptionalism or American greatness as our new senator, Marco Rubio, talks about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Mr. Rubio, it should be noted, has been very specific about what his economic plan is coming to Washington.  And because he says he‘s a fiscal conservative, you‘ve probably heard that he‘s a fiscal conservative.

But what‘s his actual plan?  Well, in addition to all the generic Republican proposals to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit, Marco Rubio also wants to make changes to tax policy on the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax—changes that would add an additional $989 billion to the deficit.

And while he is proposing that he would like you to say that he is a fiscal conservative.  Just say it.  It‘s like me insisting to you I am short and pretty.  Actually, I‘m enormous, and I‘m sort of average looking.

I mean, come on.  Somebody should report—somebody should report so we can decide what it is that Republicans are actually proposing.  Not just what they are saying about what they‘re proposing.

And this is not a new situation.  Republican presidents have always tried to sell themselves, have always tried to sell the whole Republican ideology as if it‘s about somehow cutting down the red ink, getting back into the black, getting deficits under control, cracking down on the debt.  But look at what they‘ve done.

Democratic presidents have exactly the opposite reputation on debt issues.  But if you look at their record, they‘re the ones who have actually walked the walk.

This year‘s crop of congressional Republicans are proposing adding to the deficit billions and billions and billions and billions and billions of dollars—for tax cuts for rich people, for new nuclear weapons, so oil companies don‘t have to deal with cap-and-trade, so health insurance companies don‘t have to insure sick people.  Those causes are important enough to these supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans that they are willing to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit in order to accomplish those goals.  Debt be damned, deficit be damned, we don‘t care, those things are too important.

But you know who they say has got to sacrifice?  Here‘s the headline from today‘s “Wall Street Journal” about what‘s expected from the lame duck Congress.  “Spending Worries Put Jobless Benefits at Risk.”

Even though Republicans are willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars for all of those other things, you know where they draw the line?  People without jobs, people who have paid into the unemployment insurance system and now would like to collect.  People without jobs need to go without.  Hey, got to tighten your belt.

Tax cuts for rich people?  Sure.

New nuclear weapons?  Sure.

Subsistence funding for the unemployed?  Sorry, no way, got to be fiscally responsible.

Writing down what they say is not reporting.  If you just write down what they say, that‘s called publicizing.  Writing down what they actually do, what they are proposing in terms of policy, that is reporting.

And it is the distance between what they say and what they‘re actually doing that is the news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Some very interesting news tonight about the most discussed, most politically charged item on the lame duck Congress‘ agenda.  The expiration or the extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Sam Stein of “Huffington Post” today reports that Democrats in Congress and the White House may ultimately force a vote on the extension of tax cuts for everybody making less than $250,000 a year.  They would force a vote on that alone—which would allow tax cuts on income over $250,000 a year to expire.  If Republicans wanted to pursue giving additional tax cuts to income over $250,000 a year, they‘d have to pursue it on their own without Democratic help.

Despite their control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, Democrats have largely been reported to be willing to compromise with Republicans, meaning in all likelihood they would go along with Republican desire to extend all the Bush tax cuts, including ones for income over $250,000 a year—a provision that alone would add $700 billion to the debt.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has been in talks with both congressional Democrats and the White House, and Sam Stein reports Trumka tonight saying, quote, “To date, no one that I‘m aware of said voting to extend only the middle class tax cuts is not a good policy strategy, that‘s not good policy, and that‘s not good for the country.”

Might Democrats actually do it, might they exert their electorally earned authority before December 31st and actually try to do something about the deficit?  That is the $700 billion question on Capitol Hill right now.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In their epic quest to seem fiscally responsible without actually being fiscally responsible, this year‘s Republicans have come up with a genius move.  They voted today to voluntarily restrict themselves from identifying specific targets for funding in their districts in spending bills.

This practice is usually nicknamed “earmarking.”  Contrary to the common wisdom, it does not increase the amount of money that is spent by the federal government.  It does not add to the deficit.  It is just a means of directing money that‘s already slated to be spent, directing it to specific projects.

Even if you got rid of all the dollars that are earmarked, that are being directed to specific projects, you wouldn‘t make a dent in total spending, right?  I mean, overall, really, it doesn‘t even register.

Of the $3.5 trillion federal budget, it sounds like a lot, but it‘s a big country, about $16 billion is found in earmarks.  That is less than one-half of 1 percent.

That is a dot on a freckle.  That is a fork in an atom.  That is a tiny line in a pie chart that doesn‘t look like a slice.  That‘s our best approximation of it.

So, restricting earmarks does not really reduce spending.  But Republicans sure make it sound like it does.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL:  The abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Symbol being the operative word there.  That Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking yesterday.

And what you see scrolling by here on the screen right now—these are just some of the $927 million in earmarks that he personally has secured for his home state.  According to the Web site, LegiStorm, which tracks these things.

This isn‘t counting the ones that he had co-sponsors for.  And this list is for stuff he‘s earmarked since 2008.  Public buses and Gunpowder Creek trail system, wildlife refuge, defense projects.  It‘s all very neat.

But remember, Senator Mitch McConnell opposes these things that he has secured $927 million of.  At least now, he says he opposes them.  And now, he says he opposes them in the name of trying to seem fiscally conservative while actually not doing anything to be fiscally conservative.

The earmarks issue has nothing to do with spending or the deficit.  These issues are not related.  But they have made it sound like these issues are related.

And when you make a policy based on what something sound like, rather than what it actually is, you get moments of pure genius in American politics like this.  Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who has been one of the loudest voices on the right, denouncing earmarks.  She has also a congresswoman who has secured millions of dollars of earmarks for her own district.

Confronted with this awkwardness by the “Minneapolis Star Tribune” this week, Ms. Bachmann seemed to realize that that really did sound bad, to be inveighing publicly against earmarks all the while securing millions of dollars worth of earmarks.

To fix that problem, Michele Bachmann has proposed this amazing solution.  She has proposed redefinition.  Telling the “Star Tribune” she supports a redefinition of what an earmark is.

Because the congresswoman had asked for and received multiple transportation earmarks for her district, she now says, quote, “Advocating for transportation projects for ones district in my mind does not equate to an earmark.”

Yes it does, regardless of what‘s in your mind.

When you make policy based on what things sound like rather than what they are, you are inviting people to just start pronouncing things differently in order to say that they have changed.

Joining us now is John Stanton, staff writer for “Roll Call” newspaper in Washington.

Mr. Stanton, it‘s nice to see you.  Thanks very much for your time.

JOHN STANTON, ROLL CALL:  Good to be here.

MADDOW:  Senate Republicans voted to ban the practice of earmarks today.  But they weren‘t voting on that legally.  This wasn‘t legislation.  What exactly did they do?

STANTON:  What they voted on was a voluntary moratorium on earmarks without actually recorded votes.  So, if you don‘t technically know how everybody in the conference was voting.  We know some of the folks—Jim DeMint, for instance, obviously, has supported it.  He‘s the guy that was behind it.

But, you know, guys like Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, who is a very big earmarker, a very big proponent of earmarking—and he‘s essentially already said he won‘t abide by the voluntary ban.  So, it‘s really more sort of like Senator McConnell said on his floor speech, a way for the Republicans to at least try to show that they‘re being serious about paying attention to what Tea Partiers and others said in the election.

MADDOW:  So, sort of a symbolic resolution, but they obviously think the symbolism on this is important.  I know the House isn‘t expected to vote on their version of the earmark ban until January, but didn‘t—didn‘t House Republicans already try something like this before?

STANTON:  Well, they did.  This year, they actually had a ban on earmarks and they didn‘t request them, generally speaking.

However, this year was a little easy for them to do it because they knew that appropriations bills weren‘t going to actually be passed.  It was an election year.  The atmosphere as everyone remembers was very toxic.  So, they knew that it was sort of an easy choice for them to make.

Democrats did a similar thing in the House where that was weaker than what Republicans did.  But they were also able to do it because they knew that there, you know, there were going to be no actual votes on earmarks or appropriations bills.  So, it was—you know, it was much easier for them to do it.

Now, I think they‘re going to try to do it again this coming year and we‘ll see how folks like Congressman Bachmann sort of deal with finding a way to get around some of the rules or find creative ways to interpret them.

MADDOW:  The reason this seems like such a big, important story to me is because there‘s been all this clamor throughout this whole election season and since the election in particular about getting serious about reducing spending and attacking the deficit.  And the first thing that they have done is something that is, substantively, utterly meaningless—substantively, they won‘t actually do anything to the deficit at all and won‘t really do anything to spending.

That‘s why Michele Bachmann is somebody who I don‘t generally go out of my way to quote.  Her remarks on this seem like they are a microcosm on all of this.  She said that she would like to consider transportation districts that she names for her own district.  She doesn‘t want to call those earmarks anymore.

Does she have a case to make?  Isn‘t that a classic definition of an earmark?

STANTON:  Well, it is.  In fact, that‘s exactly what almost all earmarks are.  You know, people have sort of created this idea in their head of all earmarks are sort of the bridge to nowhere or the Coconut Grove earmark in Florida from a few years ago—sort of, you know, sketchy looking earmarks that may or may not be justified, that may or may not be tied to some kind of corruption.

And people, you know, it‘s become tied to things like that.  And in people‘s minds, earmarks are sort of become a bad word and for reasons I think that have political expediency.  You know, Republicans have also tied earmarks to the broader issue of spending and debt.  And, you know, as you say, it doesn‘t have much of an effect on spending.  Even if you were to actually eliminate the funding in the earmarks, it would do virtually nothing to bring down the debt.

MADDOW:  I couldn‘t have said it clearly—more clearly myself, which is why I wanted you to say it because you make a lot more sense than I do.

“Roll Call‘s” John Stanton—it is always a real pleasure to have you on the show, John.  Thanks a lot.

STANTON:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele once famously said, “I am the gift that keeps on giving.”  So true.  He was so right—and then actually makes the payroll that he has now in as chairman of the Republican Party much the pity for cable news producers everywhere.

Some very interesting twists and turns today at the RNC.  That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  In the elections this year, Republicans did better than most expectations for them in the House, but they did slightly worse than most expectations in the Senate.  Why did they do worse in the Senate than polls suggested they would? 

Good question - one with lots of answers.  A few days after the election, Republican Congressman Spencer Baucus famously blamed Sarah Palin, saying that it was her endorsees that cost Republicans control of the Senate. 

Mr. Baucus‘ complaint essentially a variant of the claim that tea party candidacies didn‘t turn out the Republican base, but they also cost the party some seats by putting up candidates who were a challenge for voters to love. 

All interesting theories, all somewhat quantifiable, all endlessly spin-able.  But more substantively, Republicans have also been making a structural argument, a structural argument that the Republican Party, itself, was too disorganized and too poorly run this year to convert voter sentiment in their favor into more Republican seats, that they missed seats they should have picked up because they weren‘t financially and logistically together enough to win elections that they really should have won. 

The first iteration of that argument or at least the first evidence for that argument came from the Davis Intelligence Group the weekend after the election.  Their post-election analysis was that we would have a Senator-elect Ken Buck in Colorado and a Senator-elect Dino Rossi in Washington State, neither of which we have. 

Have the get out the vote efforts actually gotten out the vote?  Because the party was not more organized, more on that, those seats were lost to Democrats.  Today, that argument got way more personal and way more pointed.  The political director of the Republican National Committee quit his job this morning.  And not only did he quit; “Politico.com” obtained a long letter he wrote to chairman Michael Steele and the RNC‘s executive committee explaining why he was quitting. 

The now former RNC political director says Michael Steele as party chairman has let the party‘s major donor base fall apart.  He says the party‘s 72-hour turnout effort was shelved this year due to a lack of funding and without notice to the states that were gearing up to roll that out. 

He says while it used to cost the Republican Party about 50 cents in fundraising costs for every $1 that the party raised, now it costs them closer to 70 cents for every $1 raised.  The RNC gave state parties less money.  The RNC gave candidates less money. 

The RNC did not fund the “get out the vote” efforts for some Senate and governor‘s races.  The RNC did not run their own ads for their candidates.  Bottom line, this insider-turned-critic, the former political director from the committee, says the RNC is broke. 

“Politico‘s” bombshell excerpt from the political director‘s resignation letter is this very, very, very, very bad Republican math. 

It says, quote, “In the previous two non-presidential cycles,” so he means in 2002 and 2006, “the RNC carried over $4.8 million and $3.1 million respectively in cash reserve balances in the presidential cycles.  In stark contrast, we enter this year‘s presidential cycle with 100 percent of the RNC‘s $15 million in lines of credit tapped out and unpaid bills likely to add millions to that debt.”

So usually they‘re at $3 million to $5 million in the black right now.  But Michael Steele has them more than $15 million in the red?  Ow?  Ow, ow, ow?  The RNC, today, defended its fundraising under Michael Steele, but these are damning allegations from somebody who was in a position to know. 

And no one other than Mr. Steele‘s RNC, itself, is jumping into the breach today to defend him after these allegations came out.  You know, for most of this year, the knives out for Michael Steele among Republicans all seem to be a small number of sources, all leaking to the same reporter at the “Washington Times.” 

The “Washington Times” is a conservative paper but it‘s mostly just a strange paper.  Now, Republicans who have it out for Michael Steele are going mainstream.  I really, really, really wonder what happens next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  I‘m really starting to love this part of the show.  Ready? 

Debunktion(ph) junction, what‘s my function? 

Story number one - true or false?  People afraid of Muslims - people who are afraid of Muslims are freaking out in Phoenix because they think there is a giant mosque being built next to Interstate 10.  Is that true or false? 

True.  They are, in fact, freaking out.  That is true.  Now, true or false, there is a giant mosque being built next to Interstate 10 in Phoenix, Arizona?  False.  The thing that is being built, the thing that people who are afraid of Muslims are losing their minds about because it has a dome and looks a little bit mosque-y, mosque-ish, mosque-like, that building that local KPNX and KPHO are reporting that people are freaking out about, is actually a church. 

It‘s Christian, which due to the existence of the First Amendment, is actually a totally and completely irrelevant point.  Still, domes and their terrifying lack of corners.  It‘s all very scary, I know. 

Story number two - true or false?  Even though new members of Congress and new senators do not get sworn in until January, three new senators are being seated immediately because their elections were special elections for Joe Biden‘s seat in Delaware, Robert Byrd‘s seat in West Virginia and President Obama‘s old seat in Illinois.  Is that true or false? 

False.  This is interesting and weird.  Two of those three senators, Chris Coons and Joe Manchin were, in fact, sworn in yesterday.  But the third one, the new senator from Illinois, was not sworn in.  Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, won a special election just like Chris Coons and Joe Manchin did. 

But Illinois‘ Board of Elections can‘t get it together to get Mark Kirk sworn in for another couple of weeks.  They can‘t get their act together to certify the election until November 23rd - next Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, three weeks after the election. 

And so even though we knew this was coming because a court said they were going to have that long to do it before we knew who was going to win that race, still, we‘re left with this weird situation where Mark Kirk, sort of inexplicably, is not seated until after the first part of the lame duck session in Congress. 

Story number three - true or false?  The owners of the Chicago Cubs are anti-government-spending crusaders.  In the post-Citizens United World, they are emerging as real players in the anti-spending advocacy world.  Is that true or false? 

True.  Also false.  The Ricketts family not only owns the Chicago Cubs.  The patriarch of the family funds and runs a group called Taxpayer Against Earmarks; also, the Ending Spending Fund.  

His political activism through those groups included a ton of support for candidates including Sharron Angle of Nevada.  The groups are described as crusading against government spending. 

As “Huffington Post” picked up from the “Windy City Watch,” the Ricketts family - since the election, they put in a big pitch for the state of Illinois to borrow and spend $300 million to renovate Wrigley Field which is the home of the Chicago Cubs which the Ricketts family owns. 

So in terms of our debunkery responsibilities here, it is true that the Chicago Cubs owners are crusaders against government spending and it is false that the Chicago Cubs owners are against government spending when that‘s spending is spent on them. 

One final note.  Yesterday, we reported on the mystery of Bucky Badger and the University of Wisconsin football team this weekend.  The mascot for the Wisconsin football team, Bucky Badger, does pushups equal to the number of points of the Wisconsin football team has put up on the scoreboard every time Wisconsin scores.  So when Wisconsin scored 83 points in their last game this weekend, that meant poor old Bucky Badger was on the hook for a total of 535 pushups, all while wearing a heavy Bucky head and rain-soaked Bucky suit. 

After the first half and 89 pushups, Bucky Badger left the stadium and then somebody in the Bucky Badger suit came back out.  It happened again later on in the fourth quarter.  We asked on yesterday‘s show, is there more than one Bucky Badger? 

Yes.  The Wisconsin “State Journal” confirms today that there‘s more one Bucky Badger.  At Saturday‘s game, there were, in fact, three Bucky Badger portrayers and share just two very sweaty Bucky Badger suits for the whole game. 

The first Bucky Badger did a total of 158 pushups.  The second Bucky completed 294 pushups.  And the third Bucky did 83 pushups.  Meaning they did approximately 148, 284, and 73 more respectively than I concurrently do.  And I‘m being generous to myself.  On, Wisconsin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Everyone knew Congressman Charlie Rangel was in deep trouble with a slew of alleged ethics violations.  Two weeks ago tonight, 80 percent of voters in Congressman Rangel‘s district voted to reelect him again anyway. 

Tonight, Congressman Charlie Rangel has been convicted on 11 counts of ethics violations.  What happens next is next.

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MADDOW:  A House panel has convicted Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of 11 counts of ethics violations.  The eight-member bipartisan subcommittee decided unanimously that Congressman Rangel broke rules ranging from failing to disclose $600,000 assets and income to using Congressional stationery and staff to solicit donations for a private project. 

Mr. Rangel‘s defense was to ask for more time to hire a new lawyer claiming he can‘t afford to pay his old one.  The panel said no, and the Congressman walked out of yesterday‘s hearing in protest. 

This afternoon, Congressman Rangel released a statement calling the decision against him unfair.  Tonight, he spoke with reporters and argued again that he should have been given more time to get a new lawyer. 

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REP. CHARLES B. RANGEL (D-NY):  I‘ve never heard of the possibility of someone being accused of something and not having the time to get a lawyer.  And they say, well, you‘ve known about this over two years.  For over two years, I‘ve had a lawyer and $2 million bills. 

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MADDOW:  Now, Congressman Rangel awaits a decision by the Full House Ethics Committee, which will meet to decide his punishment. 

Joining us now is NBC News Congressional producer, Shawna Thomas.  Shawna, thanks very much for being here.  I really appreciate your help with this. 

SHAWNA THOMAS, CONGRESSIONAL PRODUCER, NBC NEWS:  No problem, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  So walk us through what happens next for Charlie Rangel.  What sort of punishment is he looking at potentially? 

THOMAS:  Well, as you said, the entire Ethics Committee is going to meet on Thursday.  And they will decide - they will hear from their counsel, they could hear from counsel from Rangel or Rangel, himself, on what they think the sanction should be. 

And that list can range from expulsion to a fine.  Now, most likely, not going to get expelled.  However, what was suggested by someone who was part of the investigative subcommittee back this summer was a reprimand. 

MADDOW:  If he does face a reprimand, will that effectively render him powerless in Congress?  Will he not be able to function as a Congressman?  Is that the sort of thing that will take away essentially the power that he‘s been able to accrue through seniority over all these years? 

THOMAS:  No, not necessarily.  I mean, he lost the chairmanship for the Ways and Means Committee earlier in the year.  That was sort of a big blow to him.  But being reprimanded by the House of Representatives does not mean he doesn‘t get to vote or doesn‘t get to participate in committees. 

So he doesn‘t really lose power, but it is an official reprimand on the record. 

MADDOW:  Is it possible he could in legal trouble over some of these charges and not just in essence be in trouble at work but also be in trouble with the actual criminal law? 

THOMAS:  Well, most likely not.  I had one lawyer friend tell me the DOJ could investigate unicorns if they wanted to.  However, they are not going to in this case.  He‘s probably not going to be in any legal trouble for what he‘s doing today. 

MADDOW:  Shawna, the big picture here in terms of what the House Ethics process is, a lot of people today complaining that Charlie Rangel‘s - the process that has been here is not proportional to the things he is accused of. 

It‘s very hard for those of us following these things to know because it seems so random as to who‘s brought up on charges, what we‘re able to know about those charges and whether or not people are able to adequately defend themselves. 

Has this called into question for people whether or not this process, this ethics process, makes sense? 

THOMAS:  Well, I mean, they say that there is a process and that it does make sense.  It‘s a little - you‘re right.  It‘s hard to tell because so much of it happens behind closed doors and it‘s such a long process. 

But there is something to be said for if it gets to this point, if it gets to the point where it is a public trial.  And mind you, the last time this happened was Jim Traficant, and this doesn‘t even come close to the level of Jim Traficant.

But if it gets to this point, there are a lot of members of Congress who have looked through these allegations, who have talked to each other and have decided that this isn‘t the road that they should pursue. 

MADDOW:  NBC News congressional producer, Shawna Thomas, you help us make sense of this stuff all day.  And I‘m particularly grateful for you staying up to do it on TV.  Thanks a lot, Shawna. 

THOMAS:  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  Coming up next on “THE LAST WORD,” Lawrence O‘Donnell talks to one man who is challenging Michael Steele to run the Republican Party. 

And next on this show, something actually quite serious.  Please do stay with us. 

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BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Of all the military decorations that a president and a nation can bestow, there is none higher than the Medal of Honor.  Now, today is particularly special. 

Since the end of the Vietnam War, the Medal of Honor has been awarded nine times for conspicuous gallantry in an ongoing or recent conflict.  And sadly, our nation has been unable to present this decoration to the recipients themselves because each gave his life, his last full measure of devotion for our country. 

Today, therefore, marks the first time in nearly 40 years that the recipient of the Medal of Honor for an ongoing conflict has been able to come to the White House and accept this recognition in person. 

It is my privilege to present our nation‘s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to a soldier as humble as he is heroic, Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta. 

Sal and his platoon were several days into a mission in the Korangal Valley, the most dangerous valley in northeast Afghanistan.  The moon was full.  The light it cast was enough to travel by without using their night vision goggles. 

With heavy gear on their backs and air support overhead, they made their way single file down a rocky ridge crest along terrain so steep that sliding was sometimes easier than walking. 

They hadn‘t traveled a quarter mile before the silence was shattered.  There was an ambush so close that the cracks of the guns and the whiz of the bullets were simultaneous.  Tracer fire hammered the ridge at hundreds of rounds per minute, more, Sal said later, than the stars in the sky. 

The apache gun ships above saw it all but couldn‘t engage with the enemy so close to our soldiers.  The next platoon heard the shooting but were too far away to join the fight in time. 

When the two lead men were hit by enemy fire and knocked down instantly, when the third was struck in the helmet and fell to the ground, Sal charged headlong into the wall of bullets to pull him to safety behind what little cover there was. 

As he did, Sal was hit twice, one round slamming into his body armor, the other shattering a weapon slung across his back.  They were pinned down and two wounded Americans still lay up ahead. 

So Sal and his comrades regrouped and counterattacked.  They threw grenades using the explosions as cover to run forward, shooting at the muzzle flashes still erupting from the trees.  Then, they did it again and again, throwing grenades, charging ahead. 

Finally, they reached one of their men.  He‘d been shot twice in the leg, but he had kept returning fire until his gun jammed.  As another soldier tended to his wounds, Sal sprinted ahead at every step meeting relentless enemy fire with his own. 

He crested a hill alone with no cover but the dust kicked up by the storm of bullets still biting into the ground.  There, he saw a chilling sight.  The silhouettes of two insurgents carrying the other wounded American away, who happened to be one of Sal‘s best friends. 

Sal never broke stride.  He leapt forward.  He took aim.  He killed one of the insurgents and wounded the other who ran off.  Sal found his friend alive but badly wounded.  Sal had saved him from the enemy.  Now, he had to try to save his life. 

Even as bullets impacted all around him, Sal grabbed his friend by the vest and dragged him to cover.  For nearly an hour, Sal worked to stop the bleeding and helped his friend breathe until the Medevac arrived to lift the wounded from the ridge. 

American gun ships worked to clear the enemy from the hills.  And with the battle over, first platoon picked up their gear and resumed their march through the valley.  They continued their mission. 

It had been as intense and violent a firefight as any soldier will experience.  By the time it was finished, every member of 1st platoon had shrapnel or a bullet hole in their gear. 

Five were wounded and two gave their lives - Sal‘s friend sergeant Joshua C. Brennan and the platoon medic, Specialist Hugo B. Mendoza. 

STAFF SGT. SALVATORE A. GIUNTA (U.S. ARMY):  Although I‘m the one standing here wearing this medal right now, I want to make it be known that this represents all service members from all branches that have been in Afghanistan since 2001, Iraq since 2003, who were there yesterday, there today and will go again tomorrow. 

This is an incredible time, but it‘s also kind of a bittersweet time.  Times like this - because of this day, I lost two dear friends of mine, Specialist Hugo Mendoza and Sgt. Joshua Brennan. 

And although this is so positive, I would give this back in a second to have my friends with me right now.  And there‘s so many others other than Sgt. Brennan and Specialist Mendoza that are the unsung heroes of this war and will never come back and return a handshake or give a hug or see their family again. 

And we have to take the time to remember them because that is the quality of American soldiers we have, wanting to go to war and fight and do whatever is necessary until the battle‘s done.  Thanks for coming again.  Take care. 

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MADDOW:  Medal of Honor is the highest military award given by the United States of America.  It is bestowed very rarely.  It is bestowed excruciatingly rarely to those who survive to receive it.  Today, is an important day. 

Now, it‘s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell.

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