The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/16/10

Guests:
Dave Weigel, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, David Corn
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Merry Christmas and have a good New Year to you, Keith.

If you think I‘m going to leave you alone between now and the New Year‘s, you‘ve got another on thing coming.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  It‘s theatrical thing.  It‘s a TV.  No, never mind.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

We start with breaking news out of Washington.  What we were expecting to bring you at this hour was a high stakes showdown on the Senate floor between Democrats and Republicans.  We expected to show you Democrats calling the Republicans‘ bluff tonight over a spending bill that Democrats hoped to pass before the end of the year.  It‘s the spending bill to, you know, fund the government.  It‘s the spending bill to fund the entire U.S. government through the next year.

Earlier today, Republicans threatened to paralyze the Senate by having that bill, all 1,924 pages of it, read out loud on the Senate floor.  Even though it was a bill that they helped author, even though a handful of Senate Republicans reportedly said they would support it when it came up for a vote.  Senate Republicans decided instead to obstruct it, to effectively kill it by forcing Democrats to have it read out loud pointlessly on the Senate floor—a move that would halt all Senate action for upwards of 50 hours.

What we expected to bring you right now tonight was Democrats forcing Republicans to follow through on that threat.  We had it all planned out.  That was not to be.  Within the last hour, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Republican obstruction in this case worked.  Actually just the threat of Republican obstruction worked.  There will be no readings of the bill out loud on the Senate floor tonight.

But Senator Reid announced that Democrats will be withdrawing the spending bill altogether, a year of work to fund each department in the government down the drain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI:  This was a bipartisan effort, drafted by Republicans and Democrats.  It came to the floor after months of work by Democrats and Republicans.  And it was presented to this body in a bipartisan way to vote on.  I wasn‘t going to vote on it.  I‘m against it.

But I you just—so I think that I have a slight bit of credibility to call these guys on this notion that this is something that sprung from nowhere out of some backroom on the Democratic side of the aisle.  This sprung from a bipartisan effort of the appropriations committee and every member on that side of the aisle knows it.  They know it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator Claire McCaskill not speaking from notes.

This run-out-the-clock strategy that Republicans are employing is an attempt to prevent the Senate from taking up all the other work that the Senate is trying to get to, things like the nukes treaty with Russia, the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” the DREAM Act.

On those last two items, there is some big news to report as well.  Tonight, Senator Reid announced that the Senate will hold votes this Saturday on the DREAM Act and stand-alone bill to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” Saturday.  Those votes right now scheduled for Saturday.

There‘s action on the House side of Capitol Hill tonight as well.  At this hour, the House is debating the tax cuts compromise that President Obama struck with congressional Republicans.  You may recall the Senate passed this bill last night.  It has now moved over to the House for its approval there.

The debate is expected to continue for the next few hours with a final vote coming sometime around midnight.  Now, if you‘re saying to yourself right now, wait a second, the House—didn‘t the House already pass the extension of the Bush tax cuts?  Didn‘t they?  Yes.  You would be correct.

Two weeks ago, House Democrats passed a version of the tax cuts bill.  That was the one favored by President Obama and most Democrats.  Remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER:  On this vote, the yeas are 234.  The nays are 188.  The motion is adopted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The motion is adopted.  The motion that House Democrats passed that night was the extension of the Bush tax cuts that President Obama and congressional Democrats campaigned on.  It was tax cuts just for income below a quarter million.  The bonus tax cuts for income over a quarter million for the richest Americans, those were allowed to expire.  That‘s what they passed.

Also the estate tax would return to the level that it was at during the Clinton administration.  Sorry, we‘ve got a huge deficit problem.  And those things don‘t do anything for the economy.  They only benefit rich people.  And we just can‘t afford these giveaways to the rich right now.

President Obama and congressional Democrats campaigned on that policy and House Democrats did it.  House Democrats got that done.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI:  The motion is adopted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The motion is adopted.  Except that it wasn‘t.  That version of the tax cuts bill—yes, it passed the House, but it died in the United States Senate.  It fell victim to a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

This phenomenon of House Democrats passing something that President Obama and Democrats campaigned on only to see it die in the Senate, this is not a lonely phenomenon.  This has lots and lots and lots of company.  You remember when Democrats campaigned on passing cap-and-trade energy legislation?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  On this vote, yeas are 219.  Nays are 212.  The bill is passed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The bill is passed, cap-and-trade energy legislation.  Remember when Democrats campaigned on passing comprehensive health reform that included a public option?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI:  The yeas are 220.  The nays are 215.  The bill is passed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Comprehensive health reform, including a public option.  Remember when Democrats campaigned on finally repealing the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy.  House Democrats not only did that.  They did it twice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  On this vote, the yeas are 234, and the nays are 194.  The amendment is adopted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Also, Barney Frank then went on to say when it passed the second time the yeas are 250, the nays are 175.  That motion was adopted, too.

“Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” repeal passed the House twice.

Remember when Democrats led by President Obama promised that they would toughen the disclosure rules on corporate campaign donations?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  On this vote, 219, yeas; 206, nays.  The bill is passed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Passed.  Disclosure rules on corporate campaign donations, they passed that.

You remember when Democrats campaigned on immigration reform, granting legal status to immigrants, to complete two years of college or join the military, the DREAM Act?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI:  On this vote, the yeas are 216.  The nays are 198.  The motion is adopted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Yet again, the motion is adopted.  The motion is adopted. 

The motion is adopted.  The motion is adopted.

All of these things have been adopted, right?  All of these things have been done by Nancy Pelosi and Democrats in the House.

Democrats campaigned on these things.  The president pushed for them.  The House got it done.  Then they all died in the United States Senate.

One of the consequences of the big, big Democratic victories in the House in 2006 and 2008 is that it allowed us to see, it allowed us to know what sort of laws you can get passed if the Democratic agenda, President Obama‘s agenda is enacted.  Health reform with a public option, no more “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” energy legislation that finally cuts the carbon emissions, a greater amount of disclosure in corporate campaign contributions, no more bonus tax cuts for the rich—all of this was campaigned on by President Obama.

All of this has been done by the House.  All of this has been achieved by Nancy Pelosi.  And all of it died in the Senate slowly and painfully shortly thereafter.

The distance between that world—what is it Pelosi-stan, right –  the difference between that world, the House, where all of those things were achieved and the world that we have got with Congress now on the verge of extending bonus tax cuts for the richest Americans, even though Democrats are the majority in both houses right now.  The distance between those things, the distance in what the House has done and what has been done overall, that‘s the enthusiasm gap.  You‘re looking for it, there it is.

The right turned out in the last election and the left did not turn out in the last election.  That‘s the gap they fell into.  And, ultimately, that‘s what the United States Senate being broken has wrought.  What the House has giveth, the Senate has taketh away, with the endless filibusters, with the endless obstructions and delay tactics, one of which proved to be successful tonight.

The margin that Democrats have over Republicans in the House and the Senate has been equal.  Things have died in the Senate, not because Democrats didn‘t have the votes.  They had the votes.  The Senate broke.

Without President Obama recognizing the problem that is the U.S.  Senate, without him acknowledging that it is a broken institution that may be should be fixed, it‘s sort of game over in terms of the rest of his agenda.  And it‘s therefore sort of game over for his support from his base, especially with a whole slew of Republicans on their way to Washington in January.

The distance between what the president supporters want to see happen and what ends up happening continues to grow.  Unrest and frustration among the president‘s core supporters continues to build.

The president—this presidency—has a problem right now and it is called the United States Senate.  It is a problem that can be fixed.  The question is, will it?

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Senator Klobuchar, thank you for joining us tonight.  I don‘t think that you personally are broken.  I think it‘s where you work.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA:  Well, thank you for clarifying that because that was quite a lead-in, Rachel.

And before we get started on how we can fix this, I do want to point out one thing, I hope you‘ll be a little happier if after a year of the Democrats in the Senate standing up for “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” we get that repeal done, standing against it, standing up to repeal it, that we get that done on a Saturday.  That is the plan.

We have picked up some votes because of the pressure over the time that we have pushed and pushed for this to get done, this repeal.  Seventy percent of active duty soldiers and National Guard members say that they can live with this.  We‘ve got the top military brass supporting this from Gates to Mullen.  And we have got the United States Senate, nearly every Democrat behind us.  We‘ve picked up at least four Republican votes.

And I just want to say, despite all of these problems, that is going to be something that you should celebrate as a victory.  People should—as frustrated as they can get, I do hope they realize that this is a major victory.

MADDOW:  Let me—let me ask you specifically about that, because there have been moderate Republicans, people like Scott Brown, Senator Snowe from Maine, Senator Murkowski from Alaska—I‘m sure they‘re upset with me calling them moderate.  So, I take it back.

But there have some Republican senators who have said that they support repeal in principle but they voted against it the last time it came up in the Senate, not long ago, with procedural objections.  And they wanted things to be sequenced differently.  They wanted amendments to be handled differently.

Why shouldn‘t we believe that‘s just going to happen again on Saturday?

KLOBUCHAR:  Well, we‘re just very hopeful.  This is a stand-alone bill.  They have said—these Republicans have said that they support this repeal.  So, this is their chance to vote on this repeal.

It‘s not associated with anything else.  It‘s a simple stand-alone bill.  And I believe we‘re going to do this.

We also have the DREAM Act up.

The START Treaty, which is another great example of the kind of delay you‘re talking about.  That treaty was done five months ago, Rachel.  This is the treaty that first was the baby of Ronald Reagan.  Then went on the last time it was modified was under Gorge Bush.

You have seen everyone from Condoleezza Rice to Colin Powell supporting it.  Yet, it ahs been delayed in the Senate, and not because of the Democrats in the Senate.

This is about our national security.  This is about going without a START Treaty which would regulate and allow for inspection of nuclear arms in the country of Russia, which clearly has had issue with loose nukes and not putting the kind of money that they need to put into their security.  We have been without a treaty for a year.

And that is why the Democrats in the Senate, along with a few brave Republicans here, are pushing to get this done.

So, I believe those are two examples where the Senate—just to show you—is worth to the nth hour.  We will work through Christmas if we need to to get these important bills passed.

MADDOW:  Do you think that there is an appetite to change the rules of the Senate?  To change the rules of the Senate so that the filibuster cannot be used in the specific way that it has been used throughout this Congress to block every single piece of significant legislation and require 60 votes on everything the Senate votes on?

KLOBUCHAR:  I believe that there is a way to change the rules.  We have all of these—the new senators that have come in.  A lot of us have managed things.  And we‘re frankly appalled by the abuses that are going on.

All we want is an up-or-down vote on things.  You know, sometimes things will pass.  Sometimes things will fail.  But we need to get to those up-or-down votes.  Dozens and dozens of judges that went through the judiciary committee, not exactly a wimpy committee on the Republican side, went through unanimously, still are sitting there on the floor.  That‘s what we‘re dealing with.

So, a group of us started this.  We are going clear through to the beginning of the next Congress with some ideas.  Get rid of the secret hold.  Why does America want bills and judges and nominees to be secretly held?  They want to know.

This has always you been a country of openness.  That is the foundation of our democracy.  Make people stand up and debate.  You could see whether people agreed with Bernie or not, but Bernie did last Friday when he stood there for eight hours, that‘s what we want to see.

If people are going to hold bills or they‘re going to filibuster things, make them stand and explain why.  Make them do what you saw in that movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  Those are just a few of the ideas that we are talking about.

MADDOW:  Do you think, though, on the first day of the new Congress, on January 5th, that there will be a vote on changing those rules, that constitutional option, as they call it, would take 51 votes to establish new rules?  Do you see that happening on January 5th?  If it doesn‘t happen then, it‘s much harder to change it for another couple of years.

KLOBUCHAR:  You‘re exactly right.  That is the time to do it.  And by the way, just to make clear, this isn‘t changing the Constitution, right?  It‘s just a tool that has been used in the past that is OK‘d by vice presidents who preside over the Senate from Hubert Humphrey to Rockefeller to Nixon.

So, this is something that has been ruled on in the past.  And so, the idea here is to simply either through negotiations or through emotions that Tom Udall is planning on making to get some of these rules changed.

MADDOW:  Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, it‘s always a real pleasure to have you on the show.  Thanks for joining us.

KLOBUCHAR:  Well, it is great to be on again.  And we‘re fixing our stadium, Rachel, so you can visit.

MADDOW:  Oh, it‘s excellent.  It was very sad the way it just deflated like that.

KLOBUCHAR:  Yes, I know.  But it is—it‘s getting fixed.  And, you know, I wrote a book on that stadium, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Did you really?

KLOBUCHAR:  Yes, it was my senior essay in college.  I haven‘t really confessed it.  Except you just have a way of bringing things out of people.  And there you go, a little fact.

MADDOW:  Can I extract from you right now an invitation to go with you through the Metrodome when it‘s fixed?

KLOBUCHAR:  You can.  But don‘t wear a pointy hat in the top row.

MADDOW:  Excellent.  Well done.  And no darts.

KLOBUCHAR:  All right.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

KLOBUCHAR:  OK.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Appreciate it.

All right.  Still ahead: our government gridlock—it can be fixed.  It can be fixed on a single day in the first week of January.  And if it doesn‘t get fixed that day, it can‘t get fixed for another two years.  Nothing ever works like that with that specific a fix for it in politics. 

But in this case, it does.  That‘s coming up.

Also on tap, Bobby Jindal.  Niagara Falls looking very differently than you would expect it to look.  Jon Bon Jovi and the latest installment of Newt Gingrich versus the very charming Dallas strip club owner.

All of that is still ahead.  Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Here‘s one of the awkward things about fixing Washington that I think Senator Klobuchar was just alluding to.  The people who have been around longest in Washington don‘t feel that much urgency about fixing Washington.  After all, they‘ve survived there a long time.  It‘s the new arrivals who are trying to figure out how you they‘re going to survive in Washington.  They‘re the ones who seem to be the most shocked by what‘s broken and the most moved to fix it.

New senators arriving in Washington thinking that the Senate is a law-making body—those are the ones who have been most shocked into action by the fact that it‘s no longer true that the Senate is a law-making body.

If the Senate doesn‘t run on majority rules anymore, if it takes a super majority not to do an exceptional thing but to do everything, then it is no longer a functioning legislature.  How can that be fixed?

Well, if the old hens in Washington were worked up about it, it wouldn‘t that hard to fix.  You can change the rules of the Senate with a single majority vote if you do it on the first day that Congress is in session.  It‘s not that big a deal if the powers that be wanted to make it happen.

The problem is that the people who really do want to make it happen are not the powers that be.  They‘re the junior senators.  They‘re the young ones.  And they don‘t generally get to call the shots.

So, instead of trying to pull this off by persuading the big shots, that the big shots want to do this, because maybe the big shots can‘t be persuaded to that, the junior senators instead are organizing.  They are trying to get the public and frankly the common-tariat behind the idea that the Senate rules should change and that they should change on January 5th with a vote on that day—making a case for changing the rules and also for what the new rules should be.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON:  It says to the American people: here is my position.  This is why I‘m not ready to have a vote yet.  This is what is most important.  Here is my case.

In other words, senators stand on the floor literally, stand on the floor and make their case to the American public.  And the American public and their colleagues can say, you‘re a hero or, you‘re a bum.

DAVE WEIGEL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  I have a question about whether you talked about this with incoming senators of either party.  I‘m wondering if you look at the votes you might have, where you‘ve seen support from people coming into the Senate.

MERKLEY:  I would say among the Democrats of the last three classes, it‘s overwhelming support for addressing this abuse.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Overwhelming support.

The man you just heard there questioning Senator Jeff Merkley about changing the Senate rules is Dave Weigel, political reporter for Slate.com and an MSNBC contributor.

Dave, thanks very much for joining us.  Appreciate your time.

WEIGEL:  Thank you for having me.

MADDOW:  So, that audio that we just played is from a conference call that these two young senators, Senator Merkley and Senator Udall held today about trying to get momentum going for this idea of vote on January 5th.  Is it your sense they‘ve got a strategy to build up public support for the rules change?

WEIGEL:  Well, the strategy has been in place for almost two years.  Merkley took a little while to talk about it, but, you know, Jeff Merkley, Tom Udall, Mark Udall, Tom Harkin, have been giving interviews about this subject for a very long time, usually to liberal outlets.  And on this call, it was mostly liberal outlets that were asking questions, progressive outlets.

And basically the rest of the media has not been taking it seriously because there‘s a disbelief that any of this can happen.  I mean, the strategy coming out of this call today was for this to come up at a caucus meeting tomorrow.  And this caucus meeting tomorrow is going to be if you‘ve been paying attention to the Senate tonight, very heated.

Unless people calm down a lot, unless they have very powerful smelling salts at home, Democrats are going to come tomorrow, you know, looking for a way to change the way the Senate has been.  I mean, that‘s why they‘re going to have cloture votes possibly on Saturday on the DREAM Act and “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  And I guess the strategy is to pull this into that.  OK, Democrats, you want to change this, here is the thing that we‘ve been talking about that no one takes seriously that can help you change it.

MADDOW:  My sense about this is that the reason it feels like this is impossible is because senators are always so worked up.  And people who comment on the Senate, people who comment on politics, are always so worked about the symptoms of the disease they can‘t possibly think about the disease itself.  They‘re so upset about how dysfunctional the Senate is.  They‘re so wrapped up in what it takes to get through the Senate right now that they‘re unwilling, they‘re sort of unable to take the larger view of the Senate as a broken institution.

That‘s mostly a persuasion and argument problem as far as I can tell.  And so, then, the most important question is whether or not senators like Merkley and Udall, and Klobuchar, who just told me she sees herself as part of this movement, whether they are persuasive to their fellow senators.

WEIGEL:  It‘s really hard to tell because this isn‘t something people want to show their cards on before January 5th.  It‘s really not.  You played that audio of the question about which senators might come in and be amenable to this.

They continuously mentioned Dan Coates, who‘s kind of coming into the Senate as a Rip Van Winkle.  He left the Senate in 1999.  He was a Republican from Indiana.  He had a nice life in the private sector, is coming back and has said he doesn‘t think the Senate should operate the way it does now, which implies that something has changed in the past 12 years.

I mean, what these Democrats are trying to do is point out there has been a slippery slope in terms of how often the filibuster can be used to block things.  But maybe there could be a different slope that takes this for the other direction.  Maybe the rules that be have been calcified, you know, real quickly—again, Coates was there 12 years ago, it was very different for him, can be broken up.  They can start with a very—I mean, Merkley reform is just to force an actual debate when something is filibustered, if cloture fails and actual debate has to happen.

That is a very tiny step back from—not quite the precipice.  That implies more action the Senate usually takes.  That‘s a very step back from the way things—small step back from the way things have been going.

MADDOW:  Nobody‘s talking about trying to get rid of the filibuster.  Well, almost nobody is talking about that.  The—you hear the constant caveat from every Democrat who‘s considering these rules changes that they fully expect that at some point in their career, maybe soon, they‘ll be in the minority.  And so, they don‘t want to do anything that would literally disenfranchise minority, that would take away the minority rights to actually affect legislation.  They just want to make not so easy to require a super majority.  They want to make it something that actually takes a little pain.

Given that, I think given their reluctance to be caricatured on this, do you get a sense of who their audience is?  Who it‘s most important that they persuade?

WEIGEL:  Well, they need to persuade, if we have (INAUDIBLE) they need to persuade 48 more people.  And they need to persuade the vice president at some point from now to January 5th.  I guess—I think what‘s important here is that they are trying to persuade more Democrats, who are not interested in fundamental reform, maybe some Republicans—so, that‘s unlikely—by including in the reforms they could vote on January 5th, making it easier for the minority party to introduce amendments.

Basically saying, all right, things—this is not a static situation.  One day, we‘ll be in the minority.  Right now, you‘re in the minority.  You get more power to change things and to prevent us from situations like the one—well, the one a couple of hours ago where an omnibus bill that some of us opposed, that most of us added items to for several years, collapses because the only way to stop bills is a nuclear strength threat.  OK, we‘ll make it easier for you.

I guess the risk—Republicans aren‘t showing their cards on this either.  The way they look at this showdown on January 5th is that if they start a debate on changing rules, they could create some mischief of their own and try to add more permanent rule changes.  But, honestly, the biggest impediment to Merkley and the rest of the people is that no one takes it seriously.  And I guess—if they want to get inspired or be optimistic, look at what happened tonight with earmarks, look at what happened with the omnibus bill.

For a number of years, John McCain, Tom Coburn and a few have been shouting in the dark about how we had to defeat bills that included earmarks, didn‘t work for a number of years, didn‘t work last year, omnibus was signed.  This year, it collapses.  So, it is possible just by shouting loudly enough and getting taken seriously to shift the reality of the Senate.

It is unique in that way.  It takes this long and this much pressure to do it.  But, you know, I don‘t want to sound like I‘m Deepak Chopra here saying that they need to change the way people think about it, but they really do.  I mean, they just need to change this from something that people think is a complete pipe dream to something that is attractive to enough senators to have a—what could be one vote on January 5th or a discussion that takes a couple of days and it‘s not completely enough down the first few days of the Senate.  It‘s risky, but just having this discussion is making it more likely to happen.

MADDOW:  Dave Weigel, “Slate” political reporter and MSNBC contributor and fan of pipe dreams like I am—thank you very much for your insight, Dave.  Appreciate it.

WEIGEL:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  OK.  Still ahead: Mike Huckabee is curiously morphing stance on something that he insists he has only one stance on.

Also, “Debunktion Junction.”  Also, something about veterans and something that made me very angry.

Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Hey, good news.  If you are a veteran or if there are veterans among your friends or in your family, or if you are just somebody who thinks that a country breaks its promises to veterans is a country with problems, then there is good news for you today. 

Congress just passed a big update to the GI Bill.  It covers the National Guard.  It covers vocational schools.  It covers things like book stipends.  And it passed - it passed, it passed, it passed.  It passed in this Congress.  Both houses of Congress, it is passed.  It is done.  It is going to President Obama for his signature. 

Do you remember that Republican Congressman who tried to use veterans to kill health reform, the guy who put out a nonsense scare story that health reform was a secret plot to kill veterans? 

That guy, Congressman Steve Buyer, voted against the updated GI Bill today, naturally, because he‘s just that kind of guy when it comes to veterans.  But that congressman lost this one.  Veterans won.  The GI Bill improvements are a done deal.  It is a big win for veterans and for America keeping our promises to veterans despite Congressman Steve Buyer. 

Congressman is retiring this year.  Don‘t let the door hit you on the way out, sir.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Debunktion junction, what‘s my function?  All right.  Ready?  First up, true or false - Republican presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee, has been slimed on the Internet by a gutter snipe, lame-stream, lowlife claiming that even though he now hates the idea of a cap-and-trade policy, he used to support that idea.  Mike Huckabee never supported cap-and-trade.  Is that true or is that false? 

False.  Though Mr. Huckabee would please like you to be confused about that.  The former Arkansas governor wrote at his Web site yesterday, quote, “In a recent Internet post, a contributor makes the claim that I supported cap and trade in late 2007 while running for president.  To put it simply, that‘s just not true.  I never did support and never would support it, period.”  Period. 

He never did support cap and trade and he never would support cap and trade, except for when he totally, totally did. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR):  I also support cap and trade of carbon emissions.  And I was disappointed that the Senate rejected - the Senate rejected a carbon counting system to measure the sources of emissions because that would have been the first and most important step toward implementing true cap and trade. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Mike Huckabee, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, on tape of 2007, not merely supporting cap and trade, but vigorously supporting true cap and trade. 

Now, he says, “I never did support and never would support it, period.”  Mr. Huckabee is not telling the truth.  Changing your mind is not such a bad idea in politics.  Lying about changing your mind is a bad idea everywhere.  Everything‘s on tape these days, you guys. 

All right.  Next up, true or false - back in 1969, the American side of Niagara Falls stopped falling.  Niagara falls went dry.  Is that true or is that false? 

True, as just found, never-before-seen photographs show.  Back in June of 1969, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned the American side of the falls from this to this.  Why?  Because they wanted to shore up some of the faults in the river bed to prevent erosion and they wanted to remove some of the loose rock that had accumulated at the base of the falls threatening to permanently block up the water fall. 

In order to do all of that, the engineers built a 600-foot dam that diverted the water over the Canadian side of the falls while they made the repairs on the American side.  The American side went dry.  It took just over five months to complete the work. 

And then, on November 25th, 1969, they turned it back on.  The engineers dismantled the dam.  They restored the American Niagara Falls back to what the falls have been doing for over 12,000 years, which is, of course, falling.  Very impressive. 

Finally, true or false - Jon Bon Jovi is working for the White House. 

Jon Bon Jovi - yes, that Jon bon Jovi - White House.  True or false? 

True.  This week, President Obama signed an executive order creating the White House Council for Community Solutions.  One of the members of that council none other than Jersey rock legend, Jon Bon Jovi. 

According to the executive order, Mr. Bon Jovi and his fellow council members are to provide advice to the president on the best ways to mobilize citizens, nonprofits, businesses and government to work more effectively together to solve specific community needs. 

Jon Bon Jovi, White House appointee - it is true, an appointment that made one person in our newsroom very, very happy.  MSNBC super-producer, Rani Kahle(ph), a Bon Jovi super fan, seen here rocking out at numerous Bon Jovi concerts on the “Today” show plaza, rocking her socks off and singing every word and she is not kidding about it. 

Congratulations, Mr. Bon Jovi and, more importantly, congratulations, Rani.  We know how proud you are.  We‘ll be right back.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Still ahead tonight on “THE LAST WORD,” Lawrence O‘Donnell talks with Sen. Michael Bennett about Republicans using Christmas as a stalling tactic.  Also, on this show, the saga of Newt Gingrich versus the Dallas strip club continues.  And it gets so much better.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  George W. Bush‘s second term - his second term in office was dominated by broad dissatisfaction with him as a president and an intense Republican president to decide who would lead the Republican Party in his wake. 

That primary process characterized by all of the major candidates running away from him like Winnie the Pooh sprinting from a swarm of bees.  What was the biggest negative issue that made everybody hate George Bush in the second term, even Republicans? 

I mean, honestly, pick your poison.  But the big one, the foundational issue of discontent with George W. Bush in his second term was Iraq. 

From 2006 to 2009, 60 percent of the country said the Iraq War was not worth fighting.  When you talk with Bush administration veterans now, and, yes, some of them do talk to me, although never on TV, the public‘s hatred of the war in Iraq is what they describe as the overall limiting factor, the contextual constraint that made it impossible for George W. Bush to break through in his second term, to rescue his popularity. 

It dominated everything.  Sixty percent of the country said the Iraq War was not worth fighting.  Right now, 60 percent of the country says the Afghanistan War is not worth fighting, the same percentage that opposed Iraq that essentially dominated George W. Bush‘s second term. 

Will this war become as important to Barack Obama‘s presidency as the Iraq War was to George Bush‘s presidency?  So far it‘s not.  The Afghanistan War and most foreign policy issues were essentially absent in the last midterm election and they‘re mostly absent from the menu of things that people fight about in politics these days. 

But it is looming.  Sixty percent of the country says the war is not worth fighting.  That number has risen by more than 20 points since Mr.  Obama was elected. 

Today, the president‘s review of his worst strategy essentially kicked the issue down the road saying he‘s going to - the president saying he‘s going to keep with his plan to withdraw troops starting next summer. 

More ominously, there were leaks this week of two new intelligence estimates on Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Those NIEs say essentially that the war cannot be won. 

From the “Washington Post” today, quote, “The Afghanistan estimate warns that it will be difficult for the U.S. and its allies to prevail unless Pakistan roots out militant groups that take sanctuary within its borders.  The Pakistan estimate concludes that it is unlikely the government in Islamabad will do that.” 

Quoting an anonymous U.S. official, quote, “So you‘re left with the question: Is the conclusion that we‘re going to lose?” 

The war is not a dominant issue in American politics right now.  The war is hugely unpopular.  And the relationship between this president and the Democratic base could frankly use some work.  So what happens here? 

Joining us now is David Corn, Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” magazine and, full disclosure, my buddy.  David, it‘s good to see you, my friend.  Thanks for being here. 

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “MOTHER JONES” MAGAZINE:  Sure thing, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  I think that you and I both see Afghanistan as sort of a sleeper issue, a looming giant of a political issue, but a giant that is asleep right now.  What do you think will eventually push it to the forefront? 

CORN:  I have to have full disclosure myself here.  I predicted several times in the last few years that Afghanistan will become a hot political issue.  And I‘ve been wrong. 

But I still think, you know, that there‘s the potential for that.  I mean, the popularity, as you know, of the war is falling.  And there‘s often a fight, not much of a fight, not a high-profile fight, in the late winter/spring time over the funding for the war. 

And up to now it‘s mainly been liberal Democrats in the House that have complained.  But because Obama was their president, their commander-in-chief, those fights never got too passionate, never got too long, and didn‘t get a lot of media attention. 

But I‘m wondering now if Democrats in the minority in the House might make more of an issue.  On the other side of the equation, no doubt the White House and President Obama will be making the case to them this spring. 

Listen, I‘ve made a promise.  I‘m going to start some form of disengagement, can‘t say how big, but some form of disengagement this coming summer.  Don‘t cut me off at the knees just yet.  So that may keep things on the QT for a while longer. 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about one thing the president said today that I thought was important and telling about his own feelings about the war.  It‘s something I think most people are missing.  We‘ve got a quick sound bite from what he said today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Much of this progress, much of this

is the result of us having sent a clear signal that we will begin the

transition of responsibility to Afghans and start reducing American forces

next July.  This sense of urgency also helped galvanize the coalition -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Isn‘t the president saying there that it is strategically important to leave, that winning - that success depends on having an exit date?  Doesn‘t that imply he really does want to go? 

CORN:  I think he does want to go.  I think he would like to get out of Afghanistan and not have it become a political issue.  More importantly, perhaps, not have it sucking up $125 billion a year when we‘re in very difficult economic times here. 

But this is kind of a contradiction at the core of his policy.  He gets out there, as he did today and says being in Afghanistan is critically important to the security of this country. 

But we also have to leave and we have to leave soon.  Now, the rationale behind that is that this puts pressure on the Afghans and others to get their act together.  No, we‘re not going to stay there long enough and that they‘re going to have to train their troops and take on the Taliban by the agreed-upon date of 2014. 

The more difficult end of all of this is who knows if the Afghans will be able to do that.  I mean, the president says we‘re making progress, but clearly not enough progress to say for sure it‘s going to happen. 

And certainly, from the intelligence estimates we‘ve seen, that may not even be enough.  So the real crunch of a question for President Obama will be if, come the summertime and even afterwards, the military says to him, listen, it‘s our estimation that the Afghans are just really not ready for this.  Then what will President Obama do? 

MADDOW:  Right.  Is that a reason to stay or is that a reason to leave?  My guess is that he will think that is a reason to leave.  But we‘ll see.  David Corn, Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” magazine, you‘re very smart about this stuff.  Thanks for joining us. 

CORN:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Coming up, we get another chance to use our bright, blinking fake neon sign that says “Live Newt Girls.”  We live for this story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Tonight, we have brand-new developments in the dramatic, often fraught relationship between Newt Gingrich and the topless club in Dallas known as The Lodge. 

Mr. Gingrich, you may remember, offered The Lodge a 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year Award, which was to include a certificate, a novelty gavel and a special dinner in Washington with Newt himself, all for the low, low price of a $5,000 donation to Newt Gingrich‘s political group, American Solutions. 

Of course, the folks at The Lodge understood that this award was a very, very, very thinly disguised fundraising scam, but they were excited to meet Gingrich and happy to fork over the $5,000. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PRECKER, PR MANAGER, THE LODGE:  We got the fax from them with this lovely invitation and a facsimile of the award that Dawn was going to get and the gavel that she‘d be presented with, signed by Mr. Gingrich, and the menu of a lovely dinner. 

DAWN RIZOS, OWNER, THE LODGE:  Oh, we knew it was a fundraiser.  We thought it would be a wonderful award to add to our foyer especially with the signed gavel by Newt and a picture with him and the opportunity to visit with him. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  But then, just days before the awards dinner, Mr. Gingrich found out that The Lodge is a gentleman‘s club.  And he canceled the invitation.  He rescinded the award.  He ultimately returned their $5,000 check. 

The gavel, however, was not returned to Newt Gingrich.  Dawn Rizos and Mike Precker from The Lodge sent the gavel to us.  It is right here.  I use it to restore order during unusually contentious staff meetings. 

As for the $5,000, Dawn Rizos used it to open a shelter for sick and injured dogs, a shelter she christened “Newt‘s Nook.”  Now, at that time, we tried and tried to ask Mr. Gingrich about this award fiasco, but he wasn‘t returning any of our calls. 

Eventually, though, “The Dallas Morning News” got him on the record.  He told them, quote, “We have a firm which scans for entrepreneurs and small businesses.  The way the firm was listed, it looked like it was a very successful restaurant.”  It is. 

“Part two of that description apparently didn‘t come to the attention of our folks.  And of course, the minute it did, we decided that, probably, we didn‘t think that was an appropriate award.”  

So it‘s all a big misunderstanding.  The screeners for Newt Gingrich‘s fundraising team didn‘t do a very good job screening.  So he accidentally almost gave a sort of fake award to a strip club in exchange for $5,000 to Newt.

And that strip club, of course, is not the sort of establishment Newt Gingrich wants to be seen giving fake awards to in exchange for $5,000. 

So end of story, right?  Not so much.  Turns out this week, Dawn Rizos, the owner of The Lodge, got another fundraising scam letter from Newt Gingrich with another super-tempting offer and, of course, another solicitation for money. 

Here‘s the letter that Dawn Rizos received this week.  It refers to Ms. Rizos as, quote, “a key member of the American Solutions family of supporters” and notifies her that she‘ll be getting an American Solutions membership card in the mail in a few weeks. 

There‘s even a neat little mock-up of what her Newt Gingrich organization membership card will look like once she has replied to the letter confirming her information. 

Oh, and as long as she‘s replying to the letter, she might as well send Newt Gingrich some cash, please.  Quote, “Will you enclose a special year-end contribution of $1,000 or even as much as $2,000 to American Solutions, Ms. Rizos?” 

Having already been rejected once by Newt Gingrich and his fickle fundraiser scam screeners, Dawn Rizos is approaching this latest offer with caution.  She is not sending him a cash contribution of $1,000 or even as much as $2,000. 

Before she sends Newt Gingrich any more money, she says she wants to talk to him about that rude dis-invitation from last year.  In a letter to Mr. Gingrich today, Dawn Rizos tells him, quote, “As you may know, I am still disappointed that you returned my $5,000 donation last year and revoked my invitation to a private dinner with you.” 

“I would like the opportunity to speak with you about what happened last year before I make another donation to American Solutions.  However, I am very happy to respond with your membership card with one of my own.” 

And instead of sending Newt Gingrich the $1,000 or $2,000 he asked for, Dawn Rizos sent him a lifetime VIP membership card to The Lodge.  Lifetime VIP. 

We eagerly await the next move from Mr. Gingrich and we hope he never fires the screeners for his fundraising scam team, so we can keep using this sign which we love. 

Before we wrap the show tonight, and hand off to Lawrence, there‘s one last thing.  Tonight is the end of the Larry King era in American television.  Larry King tonight signing off his CNN show that airs in this hour for the last time. 

After 50,000 interviews, 50 years in the business, 25 years on that specific show on CNN - after all of that, Larry King does not have an enemy in the world.  He is a giant of this medium and this industry, and all of us here at this other 9:00 p.m. show - all of us here at MSNBC wish him all the best.  We salute you, sir. 

That does it for us tonight.  Now it‘s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell. 

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

END   

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