The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/13/10

Guests:
Andrea Mitchell, Steve Clemons, Ana Marie Cox, Dahlia Lithwick
Transcript:

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  And now, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you.

           

We begin tonight with some breaking news.  Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has died.  Ambassador Holbrooke was one of the most accomplished diplomats in the modern history of our country.  He was most famous for having brokered an end to the Bosnian War in the Dayton peace accords.  He most recently has served as the president‘s key diplomat for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

President Obama expressed his hopes for Richard Holbrooke‘s recovery today just before news of the ambassador‘s death.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Richard Holbrooke has been serving this nation with distinction for nearly 50 years—from a young Foreign Service officer in Vietnam, to the architect of the accords that ended the slaughter in the Balkans, to advancing our regional efforts as our special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and countless crises and hotspots in between.

He is simply one of the giants of American foreign policy.  And as anyone who‘s ever worked with him knows or had the clear disadvantage of negotiating across the table from him, Richard is relentless.  He never stops.  He never quits, because he‘s always believed that if we stay focused, if we act on our mutual interests, that progress is possible.  Wars can end.  Peace can be forged.

So, tonight we‘re all praying for Richard‘s recovery.  To Kati and the family, our thoughts are with you.  And I know that everyone here joins me when I say that America is more secure and the world is a safer place because of the work of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

So, Michelle and I, to the entire family, just know we are thinking and praying for you—you and for Richard every single day.  And he is a tough son of a gun, so, we are confident that as hard as this is, that he is going to be putting up a tremendous fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Ambassador Richard Holbrooke on Friday fell ill while he was at the State Department.  What was initially reported as a suspected blood clot, turned out to be a torn aorta.  He underwent more than 20 hours of surgery over the weekend but he died this evening at the age of 69.

Although he was not yet even 70 years old, Mr. Holbrooke‘s diplomatic career began roughly 50 years ago.  He was in the Mekong Delta in Saigon during the Vietnam War.  He was part of the American delegation to the Paris peace talks.  I believe he was 27 years old at that time.

He offered one volume of the Pentagon papers.  He helped establish full diplomatic relations with China.  He was key to the enlargement of NATO.  He basically settled the U.S. dues dispute at the United Nations.

He was trying to settle the U.S. war in Afghanistan.  And our disastrous relationship with our would-be sort of ally, Pakistan, up until the day he died.

If there is something in U.S. foreign policy that happened under a Democratic president in the last generation, and it‘s something you heard about, then Richard Holbrooke was probably right in the middle of it.  He was certainly right in the middle of my own attempts—my show‘s own attempts to cover our 10-year Afghanistan war, which he wouldn‘t want me to say in its tenth year, but it is in its tenth year.

Joining us now is NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

Andrea, thank you so much for being here and helping us understand the importance of Richard Holbrooke today.  Appreciate it.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS:  Well, Rachel, I don‘t think you can overstate the importance of Richard Holbrooke—clearly the most gifted, the most brilliant diplomat of his generation, but also, such a larger than life personality.  You know that from having covered him.  He admired and respected you so greatly.

But just a force his personality, the way he did business, the way he tried up until his last breath to transform Afghanistan into a civilian peaceful operation and not a war zone.

MADDOW:  I was—when I first interviewed him, I struggled with finding appropriate language to describe his role.  Because while he‘s a special representative of the president for Afghanistan and Pakistan, he had previously been ambassador to the U.N., had he been special envoy to everywhere.  He had all these different titles.

I ultimately settled on this very imprecise term of uber diplomat, essentially, he was diplomat with whatever necessary portfolio the president found him—thought that he needed to have.  Is there anybody else who has that kind of role?  Or is that role really invented for him?

MITCHELL:  It was invented for him, because this was a man who was born to be secretary of state.  As a child, he was friendly with Dean Rusk‘s son.  And that was perhaps fed his desire, his interest in foreign policy, going as you said, to Vietnam, being at the Vietnam peace talks, authoring a chapter in the Pentagon papers.

But it was never to be.  But that was perhaps one of the great disappointments of his life, that he perhaps would have been John Kerry‘s secretary of state had Kerry won.  And then because of the arrangement between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and the fact that he had been a Clinton person, loyal and through up the primaries, he was clearly not going to be Barack Obama‘s choice.

He was a hard man to deal with.  He could frustrate you.  He could be annoyer in chief.  He had an enormous ego, perhaps also combined with some insecurities.

But the creativity and the energy—he was indefatigable.  I don‘t think any of us, and I have to tell you here, full disclosure, I count myself as a friend as well as someone who covered him, because knowing him all these years, you either loved him or you didn‘t.  But he would perhaps be alive right now if he had not thrown himself into this job, traveling around the world.

And I know of at least three instances where he did have blood clots and heart episodes unreported.  One reported right before they were supposed to go to Afghanistan, and he still persistent in taking that trip a day after getting out of New York hospital.  One unreported that I know of personally from having witnessed it here in Washington.  And he still did not stop.

And if you were in the embassy pressroom in Pakistan as I was some months ago, he would pester you at midnight because he had one more thing he wanted to tell you.  And he would call you or you would call him, and he would be up around the clock.  And that was just the indefatigable nature of the man, not only tireless, but bringing brilliance and creativity to everything that he did.

MADDOW:  Andrea, do you know if he knew that his health was in grave danger?

MITCHELL:  Yes.

MADDOW:  I had been in correspondence with him about Pakistan and Afghanistan—chiefly about Pakistan in recent months.  He never portrayed to me any plans to slow down his travel, for example.

MITCHELL:  No, he was not.  He would not slow down his travel.  The fact is, that he took the thankless tasks.  No one else would have taken this job, but the bottom line was that only by combing Afghanistan and Pakistan did he think you could pull all of the strengths together and make some sort of a sense out of the policy and do it on a regional basis.  And there were a lot of bumps on the road.

His greatest victory, his triumph, which is a lasting one, the legacy, will be the Bosnia accord.  He single-handedly, with his brilliant team of Chris Hill and Robert Frasure, who died.  Holbrooke was in that motorcade in August of 1995 that went off the road in Sarajevo, Holbrooke was unable to persuade Milosevic to allow them to fly in.  And so, they took the dangerous road and they lost three gifted diplomats there.  But he and Chris Hill survived and Wes Clark was with them.

And the fact is that no one else could have pulled together—gone head-to-head with Milosevic and stopped the genocide, stopped the war that no one else was able to bring to an end.  That was his triumph.  The Dayton peace accords and what he accomplished, as my colleagues who covered him and were there throughout Jamie Rubin in the State Department, Warren Christopher for whom he worked, there was no one who could have driven that through the force of personality, through backing down, this man Milosevic and others who were accused of being war criminals.  No one else could have pulled that off.

MADDOW:  NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell—thank you for making time for us on short notice, my friend.  It‘s nice to see you.  Thank you.

MITCHELL:  You bet.

MADDOW:  Joining us now is Steve Clemons, a close good friend of Richard Holbrooke, author of the political blog, “The Washington Note.”

Steve, thanks for being here.  I know you were close with Richard. 

I‘m sorry for your loss tonight.

STEVE CLEMONS, THE WASHINGTON NOTE:  Well, thank you.  I think many people who worked with him over the years are really feeling this enormous void right now.  So—

MADDOW:  Steve, for Americans who didn‘t know him, he‘s not a household name for people who don‘t know about foreign policy and don‘t follow foreign policy closely.  But for Americans who care about American power in the world, who care about not just what we can project with our military, but the rest of our power, too—how important was Richard Holbrooke to understanding that?

CLEMONS:  I think he was extremely important.  There are a lot of different factions in the foreign policy area.  There are those that worry just about weapons systems and armies and realists.  Richard really focused on great humanitarian causes and democracy and global justice.

And I often found myself a critic of this field, thinking that many people in the global justice community couldn‘t organize themselves out of the box and I mean that politely.  But Richard understood the importance of a playbook, understood the importance of how to organize to achieve results.

I never met anyone more tenaciously committed to delivering on results and negotiating and doing whatever had to be done to achieve positive outcomes.  And sometimes, people get lost in the methods and means, and thinking that has to be very moral and right.  And Richard didn‘t get lost there.  He always focused on the goals that he delivered, and I think that U.S. foreign policy now has a gaping hole, because there‘s really no one else like him.  He was of the ilk of a Kissinger, a Scowcroft, a Brzezinski, and there‘s just no one there any more.

He was—as Andrea said—it‘s going to become a cliche, larger than life.  But he was just absolutely focused on delivering.

MADDOW:  Steve, what do you think his loss means for our efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  That was his last assignment.

CLEMONS:  I think it‘s very large.  You know, he didn‘t have the security and defense portfolio, but he had the portfolio of sewing up the skeletal structure of what might be the next country there.  And dealing with—trying to get agricultural change there and trying to build civil society and get people to feel as if they could be stakeholders in their communities.

He brought together in the U.S. government about 17 different agencies

and bureaus in a regular meeting.  I remember talking to one of his senior

you know, very big critics in the White House saying, I don‘t understand why Holbrooke is just replicating the functions of government that already exist.  And my response was, Richard Holbrooke is single-handedly knocking down the bureaucratic barriers to moving forward.

           

He—one of the things that‘s not known, I‘ve been trying—I was actually negotiating with Richard the last couple weeks, trying to attend a SURA meeting.  We have in the U.S. government a weekly SURA meeting of heads of these different agencies that come together and meet with Richard and talk about the AfPak area.  It‘s going to be an interesting story to go into.

So, that—not just delivering on the ground there, but getting government to operate differently, I think was a key part of this.  The AfPak portfolio is the single most toxic portfolio one could be given.  And Richard took that.  It was a thankless task.

And I really do think he gave his life for the country in dealing with this.  And I think that there are very few people who are going to be able to hold together the structure that he put in place to try to move the U.S.  government to behave less dysfunctionally than it normally does in a very, very complex challenge.

MADDOW:  Steve Clemons, a friend of America‘s uber diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, author of the political blog, “The Washington Note”—Steve, thank you for being here, my friend.  It‘s nice for you to make time for us on short notice.

CLEMONS:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  There‘s much more to come, including the latest on the tax compromise out of Washington.  Big news on that today.  Please do stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  I think it is only fair to warn you as a consumer of news about our nation‘s politics that the Beltway media is about to become quite useless to you in your efforts to understand what is happening in our politics.  The Beltway media is about to venture into territory in which it is not capable of adequately and accurately describing what is going on, at least if passed as any prologue.

What‘s about to happen in Washington is that liberals are about to say and show what they believe about something that‘s very important.  And that will cause every mainstream publication that covers Washington from inside the Beltway to stop reporting what Washington politics are saying.  Instead, they‘ll start writing these condescending think pieces about how deluded and dumb the people are who are saying those things.  But they won‘t report what they are, because you couldn‘t possibly understand this crazy, crazy liberal talk.

We‘ve seen this happen again and again and again.  Whenever liberals become central to U.S. policies—become central to U.S. politics, the Beltway media that‘s responsible for covering what happens in Washington loses their ability to stay focused enough on what liberals are saying that they stop covering the debate itself, and instead cover the facts that liberals are complaining about something.  And they do it in a generic way that helps you understand nothing of the real debate.

We saw some of this on Friday.  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders taking to the floor of the United States Senate for 8 ½ hours—not to just stand on the floor, not to be there as some sort of procedural door stop, not to stand there and read the phone book, but to make an 8 ½ hour-long substantive case against the tax deal that made President Obama made with congressional Republicans.

Beltway media coverage about Senator Sanders was essentially about this eccentric liberal saying something for a long time, making some point by his very presence.  But damned if they would even paraphrase his argument, let alone quote him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT:  Our Republicans want—our Republican colleagues want huge tax breaks for the richest people in this country, but the reality is, that the top 1 percent already today owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.  How much more do they want?  When is enough enough?  You want it all?

Over the eight-year period of President Bush from 2001 to 2009, we lost 600,000 private sector jobs.  So, for my friends, my Republican colleagues, to tell us that we need more tax breaks for the very rich because that‘s going to create jobs, that‘s what trickle down economics is all about—what I would say to them, you had your chance, it failed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator Bernie Sanders, making a substantive, fact-driven, relatively cogent argument against President Obama‘s tax cut compromise with congressional Republicans.  Because Senator Sanders is a liberal, however, the Beltway coverage of his 8 ½-hour long, one-man stand may as well have been about him using that time to hold a love-in or some other incoherent but earnest lefty protest.

Today, the United States Senate took an important step toward approving the plan that Senator Sanders spent so much time on Friday criticizing.  By a vote of 83 to 15, the Senate moved procedurally closer today to passing President Obama‘s tax deal with congressional Republicans.

What happens next is that it goes over to the House.  What will happen in the House is that liberals and progressives will make their case against the deal.

If you were in the beltway media, that‘s your signal to go take a coffee break.  No reason to actually listen to these arguments, you know, liberals, blah, blah, blah, income disparity, blah, blah, blah, deficit, blah, blah, blah, Gilded Age, you know?

Nobody knows exactly what‘s going to happen with this deal in the House.  It is entirely possible that it will pass.  Among the substantive objections to it, though, among the reasons that it‘s going to have a rocky road is this case against it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS:  There are millions of Americans who believe that when they die, their children will have to pay an estate tax.  That is absolutely and categorically incorrect.  The people who do pay are not the rich.  It is the very, very, very rich.  Wal-Mart‘s owners, that‘s Sam Walton‘s family, the Walton‘s own Wal-Mart, they are the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, which is worth—you know, this may be dated it may be more or maybe less now, you know, about $86 billion.  That‘s what this family is worth.  One family, $86 billion.  They‘re doing pretty good.

If we abolish the estate taxes as our Republican friends would have us do, the Walton family alone would receive an estimated $32.7 billion in tax breaks if the estate tax was completely removed.  One family, $32.7 billion.  This is patently insane.  This is insane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That is not a hypothetical.  This is not some fanciful misspelled rant on a poster at a hunk for peace rally.  And I know from hunk for peace rallies.

That argument is true.  It is one of the substantive objections to what‘s wrong with the tax deal.  As Senator Sanders alluded to there, this tax deal contains a giant deficit exploding giveaway to the richest people in the country.  Because the estate tax was folded into this deal instead of what happened if you left it alone, which is that it would go back to the level it was at before the Bush tax cut.  Instead of that, the estate tax is dropping like a rock.  And it‘s not just the Walton family who will benefit from that.

The last time the Republicans tried to get rid of the estate tax was in 2006.  At that time, some of the richest families in the country banded together to support the Republican effort to kill it.  According to a report from Public Citizen at the time, 18 families pumped more than $200 million into an effort to kill the estate tax.  Why would they do that?

Well, let‘s say you‘re the Mars family, let‘s you say you‘re an heir to the Mars candy fortune, lucky you.  Best we know, the net worth of the Mars family right now is about $30 billion.  If this compromise plan with Republicans passes, it could save the Mars family about $6 billion in taxes.

Let‘s say you‘re the Campbell family.  Let‘s say you‘re an heir to the Campbell soup family fortune.  Again, lucky you.  Best we know, that family‘s net worth is about $6.8 billion.  If the president‘s compromise plan with Republicans passes, it will save the heirs to the Campbell soup fortune about $1.3 billion.  One family.

Both of those families have, in the past, lobbied to kill the estate tax.  They‘ve spent millions of dollars lobbying to kill the estate tax.  And for good reason.

If you were a member of the Mars family and your family stood to save $6 billion, thanks to the Republican estate tax plan, would you probably invest some small change in trying to get that benefit, too.

The reason—the real reason House Democrats oppose the tax deal that president Obama came to with Republicans, like the estate tax provision, the real reasons I hereby predict will not get broad and detailed prediction from the Beltway media.  But the estate tax thing used to be the kind of thing that Democrats agreed drew the sharpest contrast between the Democratic Party‘s world view and the Republican Party‘s world view.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  The Congress put it on its way to extinction.  However, it comes back to life in 2011.  And that‘s not right, and it‘s not fair.  They need to put the stake in the heart of the death tax forever.  And get rid of it.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  This is the Paris Hilton tax break.  It‘s about giving billions and billions of dollars to billionaire heirs and heiresses at a time when American taxpayers can‘t afford it.  If we, in fact, repeal or substantially cut the estate tax, this is what it means—it is breathtaking that we are even having this conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  That was then-Senator Obama back in 2006 arguing against repealing the estate tax or even substantially cutting it back.  Senator Obama pleaded with his colleagues then to stand up to that Republican-led effort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  My hope is, is that we stop this thing right here and now in the Senate.  And if we don‘t, then I‘m looking forward to having a debate in November about what, in fact, we‘ve done to the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  What we have done to the American people.

Now, President Obama says he did not want to either extend the Bush income tax rates for the richest people in the country nor did he want to give them this giant multibillion dollar estate tax giveaway.  What he called the—what did he call it?  The Paris Hilton tax break.  He didn‘t want to do those two things.

But including those two things that Republicans wanted, he thinks gave him the best deal that he could get in exchange for the things that he wanted.  Liberal Democrats in Washington say that deal isn‘t good enough and that‘s why they‘re raising the hullabaloo that they have been raising.

I know it is an unspoken Beltway rule that liberal arguments don‘t bear repeating, that liberals are always supposed to be represented in the media as incoherent.  But as a frequently incoherent and inexplicably angry liberal myself, I can say with confidence that in this instance, what liberals are thinking and arguing is very much explicable.  And the divide between what Democrats say they value and what they are able to achieve politically is an important and an emotional divide that will persist as a cleft in the Democratic Party from here on out, even if this tax deal passes.  And that will be very important in understanding U.S. tax politics between now and 2012.

Liberals do not get their side of the story told well by the Beltway press in Washington.  And then the story like this, that means the story gets missed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS:  Do you think he could take over the House—

(CROSSTALK)

MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  :  Well, they clear—

HANNITY:  Do you think the Republicans—

STEELE:  Not this year and some—

HANNITY:  You don‘t think so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this is a war of Obama‘s choosing.  This is not—this is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The four of us are—are—let‘s say for the sake of this example all wearing a hat that says GOP.  You wear your hat one way, you like to wear it, you know, kind of cocked to the left.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, yes.

STEELE:  Yes, you know because that‘s cool out west.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Right.

STEELE:  In the Midwest you guys like to wear it a little to the right.

HANNITY:  Right.

STEELE:  In the south you guys wear it—those brims straight ahead.

Now in the northeast, I wear my hat backwards.  You know, that‘s how we roll in the northeast.

So if I do something, there‘s a reason for it, even if it may look like a mistake, a gaffe, there‘s—there is a rationale, there‘s a logic behind it.

I want to see what the landscape—what the landscape looks like.  I want to see, who yells the loudest.  I want to know who says they‘re with me, but really isn‘t.  It helps me understand my position on the chess board.  It helps me understand you know, where—where the enemy camp is and where those who are inside the tent are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s all strategic?

STEELE:  It‘s all strategic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC NEWS HOST:  None of those things were mistakes, it‘s all strategic.  And Michael Steele has now looked into the tents that the enemy pitched on the chess board, and he found something very surprising in those tents.  Because today he messed up everyone in Washington‘s expectations that today he would quit.

Instead he announced he will be running again to stay chairman of the Republican Party.  Even as the Republican Party‘s infrastructure teetered; even as the Republican Party just gave up on its famed 72-hour get out the vote program for this election.  Even as people who worked with Michael Steele at the RNC went screaming to the papers with colorful tales of financial mismanagements and puff legacy; even as the RNC donors‘ money got spent at a lesbian themed bondage strip club in west Hollywood.  Remember that?

Even with all that going on, Michael Steele has decided he wants to hang on.  We probably should have seen this coming when at the start of the election season right after Labor Day this year, Michael Steele took a trip to Guam and Saipan where nobody is running for Congress.  But delegates who elect the RNC chairman were delighted to receive him and the RNC money he brought with him and left there.

We probably should have seen this coming.  But with Michael Steele, who can see anything coming?

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

STEELE:  And I don‘t need some judge sitting up there feeling bad for my opponent because of their life circumstances or their condition and short-changing me and my opportunities to get fair treatment under the law.  It‘s crazy nonsense empathetic.  I‘ll give you empathy.  Empathize right on your behind.  It‘s crazy.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  You know, we still own the URL

EmpathizeRightOnYourBehind.com.  That is still ours, we fulfilled on to it. 

We are very proud of that.

Joining us now is Ana Marie Cox, Washington correspondent for GQ magazine.  Hi Ana Marie; nice to see you.

ANA MARIE COX, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, GQ MAGAZINE:  Hi, it‘s always good to see you Rachel.

MADDOW:  EmpathizeRightOnMyBehind.com, is that my stroke of—of pure Web genius?

COX:  Perhaps can you sell that to the lesbian dominatrices that might be out of a job should Michael Steele not win re-election.  I mean, I really thought he‘s running out of full employment program for Lesbian dominatrices, I know that I personally not—being a lesbian not interested but having some sympathies—

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  Yes.

COX:  – would totally support him in his run.

He does not have the support of a lot of actual Republican National Committee members.

MADDOW:  Do you think that—he—when he—when he said that he might run, he said, if I run it will be because I know I can win.  Do you think he can‘t win?

COX:  I think he‘s going to have—an uphill battle, let‘s say.  But

we should—you know—it‘s—it‘s not surprising to me that he‘s running.  I mean, he really has nothing to lose by running.  If anything—if nothing else, he has a chance to make the case that he‘s had a good run as chairman.

And if—whereas he just—you know, sort of gave up and went home, like we just be—still making fun of him.  Whereas now, we have a little more time to make fun of him, then he may give us press material.

And—and I think that this is mainly going to be a test for the Republican Party—for the Republicans—I‘m sorry, the Republican National Committee, which really is actually very different than the Republican Party as a whole.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  Yes.

COX:  It‘s what kind of leader they want next time?  I was talking to some people today.  And they said they definitely don‘t want another Michael Steele.  The quote I have here is, “we have someone that demanded attention, and we didn‘t like it.”

MADDOW:  And it‘s a very small number of people who get to make this decision.

COX:  Right.

MADDOW:  I mean, to be a—a Republican National Committee member, and, therefore to have a vote in this, means you are probably anonymous, probably very well off.  And probably out—you have been lobbied by Michael Steele?

COX:  You‘re not—well, no, you‘re not technically anonymous.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  No, but you‘re not household name.

COX:  People who work in this area—or who are not actually committee members describe it to me as venal, pathetic 98-year-old people, and the contest is to who can suck up to them the most.  However, that‘s not an abstraction, sucking up to them is what the job is.

And I actually thought that was a very good description of the job of RNC chairman.  It is just like keep these venal, pathetic 98-year-olds happy.  I mean—and Michael Steele did it not keep them happy.

MADDOW:  He—and he bragged about that.  That was part of—that was part of what he said was his appeal.

COX:  Yes.

MADDOW:  He was like, listen, I‘m raising small dollar donations and that‘s a positive thing because it shows that I‘m—have a broad appeal.  And yes, I‘m neglecting the larger scale donors, but he sort of carried them as a badge of honor—

(CROSSTALK)

COX:  Well, to look at who is running against him—

MADDOW:  Yes.

COX:  – if you look at the people who have (INAUDIBLE) their hat, the ring of people who are talking about it, none of them are bragging about that.

MADDOW:  Yes.

COX:  Everyone who‘s running, with the exception of (INAUDIBLE) has had a working class background; a former a union member, very proud of that.  It has a background with big money Republican donors.  They‘re all people whose names you would not recognize.  They‘re—for the most part people who haven‘t held public office and aren‘t interested in having public office.

MADDOW:  Yes.

COX:  But who are interested in just raising lots and lots and lots of money.  As another person put it to me about the race this year, the race two years ago was a lot about ideology, sort of getting—getting someone different in the job.  There was a lot of talk about Twitter and Facebook and—

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  Changing the face of the Republican Party.

COX:  Changing the face of the Republican Party.

MADDOW:  Right.

COX:  The way that the people described it to me this time, is who can run the building.

MADDOW:  Yes.

COX:  Who can just get in there and—and—and have everybody be happy inside that building.  I mean, that‘s a very small group that needs to be happy inside that building.

MADDOW:  Yes.  Do you have any suggestions for me on how I can get Republican National Committee members and candidates to come on this show?  As part of our campaign—please, oh please.  No.

COX:  You might get Michael Steele.

MADDOW:  I‘ve been begging.  I will continue to.

COX:  With the good judgment that he‘s shown throughout his tenure as chairman, I think he might come on your show.

MADDOW:  I am very happy to have heard you say that.  Ana Marie Cox, very good to see you, my friend.  Thanks.

COX:  Good to see you.

MADDOW:  Still to come, Senator Orrin Hatch takes a real pop at Senator Orrin Hatch, it really landed one on him right in the kisser.  And health reform in court.

And what is surely the hardest sell in the world of tourism ever. 

That is all still to come.

But first, one more thing about the GOP in exile; about the Republican Party finding itself figuring out its leadership and what the party stands for post-Bush and post-McCain.  In Minnesota last weekend, the State Republican Party made the whole GOP in exile metaphor almost literal.

Minnesota Republicans banished 18 people from party politics as punishment for not supporting the failed Republican candidate for Minnesota governor this year.  Those banished include two former governors of Minnesota and one former U.S. senator.  They have been banned from participating in Republican Party activities for two years and they are forbidden to attend the Republican National Convention in 2012.

Apparently you can just dictate that.  One of the former governors who has been banished said the party was exhibiting what he called introverted totalitarianism.  Quote, “It‘s just plain dumb on their part.  In the long run, if the party persists with this, [it‘s] going to just become smaller and smaller.”

That former governor now banished from the party is Al Quie.  I think that‘s the way you say his last name, Q-u-i-e.  He‘s 87 years old, his grandfather helped carry the state of Minnesota for Abraham Lincoln.  I kid you not, but now he has been banished from the party.

It safe to say he‘s taking what you may call a long view on this one.

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MADDOW:  What do you call it when politicians loudly proclaim their vehement opposition to themselves?  They‘re against themselves.  What do you call that?  It starts with an h, hypo—shameless hyp—it will come to me.  We saw whatever that word is in action today when Senator Orrin Hatch Republican of Utah took a vicious swipe at Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah.

When Bill Clinton was President, Orrin Hatch had a big idea about health care.  He and 20 other Republican senators proposed that everybody would be required individually to buy health insurance.  They called it the individual mandate.  Quote, “Individual Mandate—The Secretary shall specifically make recommendations under paragraph one regarding establishing a requirement that all eligible individuals obtain health coverage through enrolment with a qualified health plan.”

Individual mandate—that was the Republican proposal, that was the Republican approach, the one that Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Senator Bob Bennett of Utah, Senator Keith Bond of Missouri and more than a dozen other Republicans all cosponsored.  That was their Republican health care idea.

That Republican idea—that Orrin Hatch proposal—finally did become law when the Democrats passed health reform last year.  So how does Orrin Hatch feel about his big Republican idea finally becoming law?

Well, when a federal judge ruled against it today in Virginia, Orrin Hatch declared, quote, “Today is a great day for liberty.”  Today is a great day for liberty, because my own idea has been rejected.  Now that that idea was adopted by a Democrat—see, it‘s just different, it feels dirty somehow.

“Slate” senior editor and legal correspondent, Dahlia Lithwick joins us in just a moment on what that big ruling means.

It‘s coming up next.

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MADDOW:  Today a federal judge in the State of Virginia ruled that a specific part, a controversial part of health reform is unconstitutional.  The judge had the opportunity to rule more broadly on other parts of the law, but he zeroed in on the individual mandate, originally a Republican proposal in health reform and said that that part of the new law does not pass constitutional muster.

How important is this for Republican efforts to dismantle health reform all together?  How important is this for Democratic efforts to try to—to try to hang on to the President‘s signature legislative achievement?

Joining us now is Dahlia Lithwick senior editor at “Slate” magazine. 

Dahlia, it‘s great to see you.  Thanks for joining us.

DAHLIA LITHWICK, SLATE SENIOR EDITOR:  Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW:  As I understand it, this means that so far we‘ve had two federal rulings essentially in favor of health reform, and one against.  How important do you see this ruling against today?

LITHWICK:  I—I think it‘s largely symbolic.  I think the White House is likely to point out that in addition to their two wins like you scored in their win column there‘s also been at least 12 efforts to—to scuttle health reform in the courts that have been dismissed at early stages by judges.

So the White House wants to really put this in the perspective of, this is a—a teeny little win in—for the opponents of health reform in a field that has been dominated by judges who want nothing to do with it.

But I think symbolically it‘s very important.  It‘s not an accident that this was the Cuccinelli suit.  This was a very bold suit, of—if you‘ll recall it was rushed through the court house before the ink was even dry on the legislation.  And this was a very bold suit because it featured a little nullification provision in the Virginia—challenge, that—in which Virginia says we don‘t even accept that.  We—we at Virginia have to—to do this, so it‘s—in some ways more interesting and more controversial than the Florida suit that‘s coming down the pike.

But really, I think it‘s just a very symbolic victory.  It says there are judges out there who are going to say the commerce clause just doesn‘t allow what President Obama sought to do.

MADDOW:  Well, in terms of the—the commerce clause, in terms of the

the constitutional ruling here.  Does this ruling today say more about the law itself, or does it say more about the varietals of justice that we have?

I mean, Judge Henry Hudson, everybody who cares about this today knows has a long history as a Republican political activist in Virginia.  He was seen as being sort of the best potential political shot for Ken Cuccinelli‘s lawsuit in—in Virginia.

Is this the case of just—this landing before the right judge and this doesn‘t necessarily tell us—what might happen if for example this gets kicked up at the Supreme Court?

LITHWICK:  Well, it‘s certainly not, again, a complete coincidence that the two judges who have upheld the health reform legislation so far have been Clinton appointees, and you know, I think observers are making great hay of the fact that this seems to say more about who appointed you than your views of the Constitution.

But I think as we watch this unfold, in different courts across the country and appeals court as they work their way up to the court, it‘s not only going to tell you an awful lot, I think, about who‘s a Republican and who‘s a Democrats, but also I think what‘s really intriguing about the Cuccinelli suit is that if what I‘m calling a sort of aspirational view of the Constitution.

Cuccinelli doesn‘t like much about the 14th Amendment, the 17th Amendment.  There are whole chunks of the Constitution that he wants to do away with, right?  He‘s challenging the EPA‘s power to regulate.  He‘s challenging the birth right—provisions of the 14th Amendment.

So he has a sort of cut and paste view of the Constitution.  And I think this is not just about the Obama health care law.  I think this is about a rather radical rewriting of the Constitution and a sensibility that there are enough judges out there.

And Rachel I‘ve said this often to you in the past, President Bush appointed one third of the sitting judges on the federal bench and I think there‘s a real hope that those judges are going to not look at what the commerce clause has said, what precedent has said, what case law has said, what has happened in the court since 1942 when the judges started thinking about the commerce class.  I think this is a lawsuit that aspires to something different, that aspires to really fundamentally rewrite the Constitution.

And I think there‘s a real hope that there‘s enough judges out there, including maybe at the Supreme Court who agree with that project that they think they really have a shot at this. 

MADDOW:  Conservative constitutional radicalism is, I think, becoming well-known in legal circles and the political impact of it is sort of only starting to trickle down into how we understand how our politics is working.  But I think you‘re right that this is one of those cases in which it all becomes very, very, very clear.

Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at “Slate” magazine, thank you for helping us make sense of this.  We really appreciate it.

LITHWICK:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  So coming up on “THE LAST WORD”, Lawrence O‘Donnell talks with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about the tax cut deal and the surprising and interesting real story about how Bill Clinton and President Obama ended up at the White House briefing room podium together on Friday. 

But first on this show, news of a literally hot, new vacation destination.  And some interesting and surprising news—unexpected news out of the Senate tonight.  Please stay with us.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Tired of the same old vacations, the crowds, the hassles?  Well, say goodbye to typical and say hello to Chernobyl.  It radiates fun.  The most famous little city in the Ukraine is about to make headlines again as a white hot travel destination.

Still worried about their little accident?  Don‘t be.  Even the Emergency Situations Ministry says go for it.  “The Chernobyl zone isn‘t as scary as the whole world thinks.  We want to work with big tour operators and attract western tourists from whom there‘s great demand.”

And why wouldn‘t there be?  There‘s so much to do like swimming, hiking, fishing.  You can feel the history in the air.  And it may just change you at a molecular level.  Come to Chernobyl, you‘ll go home glowing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That may sound utterly ridiculous, the prospect of vacationing in a place where a nuclear power plant reactor exploded in 1986 and hundreds of thousands of people had to be relocated because of the resulting radiation, a place that is still leaking radiation, but apparently that‘s true.

The Associated Press reporting today that the Ukrainian government plans to next year open Chernobyl as a tourism destination.  We set out today to debunk that as part of our old “Debunktion Junction” thing.  We could not debunk it, apparently it‘s true which I don‘t even know what to do with.

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MADDOW:  One side effect of the tax cut compromise passing the procedural vote in Washington today is that this at least partially, at least theoretically, this clears the way for other stuff to move through Congress.  And some stuff at least is on the move.

One of the biggest legislative accomplishments of the Democratic Congress elected in 2006 and 2008 while George W. Bush was still president, one of the biggest accomplishments of that Congress was the post 9/11 GI Bill.  Over Bush‘s veto threat it passed; a historic update of the landmark legislation that in many ways made the middle class possible after World War II.  The bill that paid for the education of hundreds of thousands of American GIs back from World War II and the wars after it.

The GI Bill that passed in 2008 was the first big update of the GI Bill legislation in more than a generation.  It was very much overdue and very much important.

Today the Senate passed what is called the new GI Bill 2.0.  It is a series of fixes for some of the inadvertent red tape created by the new GI Bill and it extends the bill‘s educational benefits to include a book stipend for active duty students.  It extends benefits to GIs in vocational schools and people taking distance learning.  It is all common sense stuff that fixes the GI Bill so that it works for today‘s new veterans in today‘s new world.  And it passed the Senate tonight on a voice vote.

It now heads to the House where there‘s no earthly reason to expect problems in the Democratic-led chamber; but we shall see. 

In other important military news, there‘s been news tonight that there will be news tomorrow.  After the “don‘t ask don‘t tell” repeal failed as an amendment to the bill that funds the whole U.S. Military, there has been talk and discussions since last week about hurriedly introducing the same language, repealing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” from that defense bill as a stand-alone bill.

That may happen as soon as tomorrow in the House where it‘s expected to pass without much difficulty.  In the Senate if it can come up for a vote there, the vote are there to pass it.  Movement on the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” and on everything with a chance of passing in the lame duck is going to be fast and furious over the next two days, which means you should keep watching MSNBC. 

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

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

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