The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/04/11
CHRIS HAYES, GUEST HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thanks so much. Rachel is off tonight, but the next hour is stacked up with pressing questions on the eve of the 112thCongress.
Like what gives Republicans the idea that they know love and respect the Constitution more than, say, the president—whom they mock for being a constitutional lawyer. Why would an administration which won on health care reform and financial reform want to hire a major domo who appears to have opposed both achievements? And why are there even more birds falling out of the sky all over the Bible belt?
I‘m not sure I want to know the answer to the last one, but here we go. Beginning tonight with the brand-new Republican Congress that set to be sworn around high noon tomorrow, even before day one, even before it‘s officially sworn in, even before it presides over the House for the very first time, the behavior currently on display from the GOP‘s new class could provide a very important indication of what‘s to come.
There‘s this often quoted, probably misquoted observation about popular causes in American culture. It goes like this. Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket. Begins as a movement, becomes a business, ends up as a racket.
As this new Republican Congress readies itself to take control in Washington, they would be wise to print that quote out and tape to it their desk, because a more accurate description could not be found for the previous Republican takeover of Washington.
The last time Republicans surged to power in Congress, riding a wave of backlash anger during a midterm election was back in 1994. It was Newt Gingrich‘s Contract with America, the Republican revolution. It was all of these high-minded ideals about cleaning up Washington, changing the way things are done, draining the swamp, et cetera, et cetera.
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NEWT GINGRICH ® THEN-INCOMING HOUSE SPEAKER: I will stand there as the representative of a relatively poor family, and I‘ll stand there as a representative of just thousands of everyday decent, hard-working patriotic Americans who simply want their government to be as good as they want their children to be.
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HAYES: Now, all that group did was, by a decade later, become among the most corrupt congressional classes of all time. The Newt Gingrich-led Republican class of 1994 set a new standard in Washington for ethics violations, convictions, arrests, and all around bad behavior.
And Gingrich himself led by example.
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RACHEL MADDOW, TRMS HOST: Mr. Gingrich himself was ordered by the House to pay a $300,000 ethics penalty in an investigation over misuse of tax-exempt funds. He was nearly forced out as speaker. He then quit as speaker and quit Congress altogether in 1998.
Mr. Gingrich was just the tip of the class of 1994. Republican ethics iceberg, though, class of ‘94 Republican Bob Ney was indicted and went to prison on federal corruption charges. Class of ‘94s Republican Wes Cooley was convicted first of having lied to voters. Yes, you can be convicted for that. He was later indicted on unrelated federal money laundering and tax charges.
Also in the class of 1994, the very famous Republican Mark Sanford. The Republican class of 1994 also included John Ensign, also a family values campaigner, now remarkably still a senator. Another Republican revolution 1994 classmate was Mark Foley, another family values, loudly anti-gay campaigner who resigned in disgrace after his sexually aggressive text messages to underage male congressional pages were published.
The holier than thou family values-proclaiming Republican class of ‘94 also included at least three more members of Congress who after getting elected divorced their wives and took up instead with people who worked for them.
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HAYES: The Gingrich revolution in Washington gave way to crime and corruption with impressively staggering speed. While that whole messy decade ultimately swept Mr. Gingrich from power, it left congressional Republicans with a new public face.
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TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: In the House, one controversial member is getting a promotion, Texas Republican Tom DeLay from whip to majority leader now.
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HAYES: Republican Congressman Thomas Dale DeLay, the Hammer. Mr. DeLay was in hindsight probably not the wisest choice to be the new face of the party.
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TV ANCHOR: Tonight, indicted, Tom DeLay facing criminal conspiracy charges. The house majority leader calls the prosecutor a partisan fanatic.
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HAYES: Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich, Bob Ney, Mark Foley, this in part is why Democrats were able to sweep back into power in 2006. What began as a movement turned into a business which turned into a racket.
What we‘re presented as this ideologically pure, virtuous insurrection became a historically corrupt racket really, really quickly. And now, 16 years later, Republicans appear to be dispatching with the intervening movement and business stops and going straight to racket.
As Republicans in the House gear up to take control tomorrow, there will be a few familiar faces around the Capitol. This week, it was reported that three former Tom DeLay staffers have now been tapped for key positions by this house Republican leadership team. Incoming House Speaker John Boehner and number three House Republican Kevin McCarthy are both loading up with Tom DeLay‘s old team. None of the staffers, it should be noted, were ever implicated in any of Mr. DeLay‘s wrongdoing.
But as Steve Benen at “The Washington Monthly” observes, quote, “getting the old gang back together isn‘t exactly encouraging.”
And it won‘t just be former Tom DeLay staffers filling up the offices of these new Republican congressmen who came to town pledging to clean up the joint.
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CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: You have chosen an energy lobbyist as your chief of staff. Is that the right person to drain the swamp in Washington, an energy lobbyist?
SEN.-ELECT MIKE LEE ®, UTAH: I‘ve hired the brightest political mind, political consultant and lobbyist in Utah.
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HAYES: It was incoming Republican Senator-elect Mike Lee of Utah defending his choice of a lobbyist to be his new chief of staff.
It‘s not just Mike Lee. Lobbyist, it turns out, was a very popular choice among Republicans this year when it came to choosing top aides. Republican Senator-elect Ron Johnson of Wisconsin also tapped a D.C. lobbyist to be his chief of staff. Mr. Johnson won his election in November by attacking Democrat Russ Feingold as being, quote, “on the side of special interests,” and, you guessed it, lobbyist.
Incoming Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has also hired a lobbyist as a top aide as has Congressman-elect Charlie Bass of New Hampshire, Chip Cravaack of Minnesota, Robert Dold of Illinois, Steve Pearce of New Mexico and Jeff Denham of California. Lobbyists all around.
And it‘s not just that these incoming congressmen are surrounding themselves with lobbyists, it‘s also the corrupting special interest money they campaign so fervently against. Check this out from “The Washington Post” last month. “After Republican Francisco Canseco beat Democratic Congressman Ciro Rodriguez as part of the Republican wave on November 2nd, the Tea Party favorite declared, ‘It‘s going to be a new day in Washington.‘ Two weeks later, Canseco was in the heart of Washington for a $1,000-a-head fundraiser at the Capitol Hill Club.”
According to “The Post,” “Dozens of freshmen lawmakers have held receptions at Capitol Hill bistros and corporate townhouses in recent weeks, taking money from K Street lobbyists and other powerbrokers within days of their victories.”
They haven‘t even been sworn in yet, and they‘re already holding special interest fundraisers—none bigger than one set for tonight. On the eve of the first day of the new Congress, tonight at the glitzy W Hotel in Washington—it‘s very nice, I‘ve been there—incoming Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of California is throwing a lavish lobbyists fundraiser for his fellow incoming Republican House members. Quote, “Lobbyists, political action committee managers and others paying the $2,500 ticket price will be treated to a performance by country music star LeAnn Rimes. A $50,000 package includes a block of eight tickets and a VIP suite at the W.
What begins as a movement becomes a business, which quickly turns into a racket.
Now, to be clear, this is not just a Republican problem. Congress is fundamentally broken and corrupt, and the Democrats are part of that problem, too. But over the past two decades, right up until today, Republicans really are proving themselves to be gold medallists in the race to become a racket.
Joining us now is Thomas Frank, columnist for “Harper‘s” magazine, author of the book “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule.”
Thomas, how are you?
THOMAS FRANK, HARPER‘S MAGAZINE: I‘m good. Yourself, Chris?
HAYES: I‘m good. So, OK, what do you think of that thesis about that quote, the ark of the ‘94 Gingrich revolution sort of—
FRANK: I disagree with all that. I mean, you know, I remember exactly where I was when - I was living in Chicago at the time when they came in ‘94 and ‘95, and all the stuff about the idealistic freshmen that was the mime in the mass media, the idealistic freshman, they‘re so idealistic. I don‘t know if you know about this, Chris, but they had great idealists.
And it is not like it took a really long time for them to come in and sell out. They are sold out already. Remember, they believe salesmanship is a virtue. These are people who think that the market is something holy, and that government is a criminal enterprise, OK.
We‘re not just talking about—you know, I grew up around Republicans, there‘s a lot of good Republicans in America. We‘re talking about true believers in a very strange, you know, pretty right-wing doctrine.
FRANK: Ideologues. And the listen that I—this is the—I mean, “The Wrecking Crew” is largely about Jack Abramoff‘s career. He was really one of this group, although he was a member of Congress. He came to Washington with the freshmen—the idealistic freshmen in 1994 and stayed here and helped bring them down.
FRANK: But the lesson that I kept trying to hammer away at in “The Wrecking Crew” is that in this conservative world, in the world of conservative D.C., you can be an idealist and a boodler (ph) at the same time. They don‘t—they don‘t contradict each other.
HAYES: That‘s the first time boodler has been said on cable news.
HAYES: So, what you‘re saying—what you‘re saying is the racket is the cause. The cause and the racket are one and the same.
FRANK: Yes, conservatism in this town anyway. Look, you go back to place like Wichita or Kansas City, you know, where I‘m from and conservatism can be something very idealistic and often something very noble, OK? Here in Washington, D.C., it is an industry. People don‘t go into it, you know, because they really, really believe in it. I mean, that‘s helpful, of course.
FRANK: But it‘s also—it is a lucrative career option. And conservatives themselves say this all the time.
HAYES: OK. So, I want to can ask you this question because I know that if I were—if I were a conservative watching this, and there is a guy named Tim Carney who I really respect. He writes about these issues a lot from the other side. He‘s a conservative. And he says, look, look, the Democrats are the same way. Nancy Pelosi, she is having fundraisers at PhRMA. This is sort—there‘s sort of no difference between the two. I wonder what you think of that.
FRANK: Well, I think you can probably document—I mean, there is a difference. But there‘s also similarities, OK? And I don‘t like to let Democrats off the hook.
And you probably used to read me in “The Wall Street Journal.” maybe you did, maybe you didn‘t. I used to be a columnist there.
And I like—I went pretty hard on old Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress. I had a lot of fun kicking them around. It was a blast. You know, them and their lobbyist pals, they make me very angry, the Democrats do.
But I think there is a palpable difference. I mean—hell, I don‘t want to come to the Democrats‘ rescue. But just let me point out you can probably document it in financial terms if you had to. I remember seeing a statistic, OK, in 1995 when the Republicans came in Congress. The price—the ticket price to a fundraiser leaped overnight by—it was something like $250 to a $1,000, OK? Overnight when they took power, OK?
Now, why is that? And I thought about that for a long time. What—in terms of, you know, just simple economic terms, what can explain that, OK? Is it that suddenly, you know, there‘s a lot fewer fundraisers and so the price goes? And what I finally, after thinking about this for a really long time, it‘s—no, the only thing that can explain it is the quality of the goods for sale. You think about it.
HAYES: Right. You‘re getting more in return. It‘s a better investment.
HAYES: So, finally here, I want to ask you: what should we look for as this new Congress is inaugurated? You know, what—who—what should we be looking out future as the signs of the next sort of Abramoff or the places where these—you know, we‘re going to see the next great scandals erupt?
FRANK: I think the main thing is to watch the personalities. That stuff that you were showing about the various lobbyists coming in. I mean, that‘s a very good canary in the coal mine kind of thing.
And one of the things that I did in “The Wrecking Crew” is go back and look at how the different—the waves of conservative idealism led to K Street, or led to these awful things. By the way, you know, we shouldn‘t just be talking about Congress. Do you remember, this is getting a little far away, do you remember Ollie North?
HAYES: Of course.
FRANK: A very idealistic man.
FRANK: I mean, this goes all the way back. This is what the Reagan administration is all about, the George W. Bush administration, and that sort of thing. But keep an eye on what happens with people like Jack Abramoff‘s good friend Grover Norquist.
FRANK: Well, with these new members of Congress, the idealistic freshmen be going to his meetings again? You know, what about the other members of the Abramoff gang? What about the other members of the wrecking crew? Will they be back in?
HAYES: They‘re getting back together.
FRANK: Exactly. Go down to Charlie Palmers (ph) and see what a price on a bottle of Chateau Lafite, what happens to that, you know? There‘s a way to gauge it, you know?
HAYES: Tom Frank, columnist for “Harper‘s” magazine and also author of “The Wrecking Crew”—thanks so much. Appreciate it.
FRANK: Sure thing. My pleasure.
HAYES: To replace outgoing Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama is considering another Chicago insider, Bill Daley, who is the brother of outgoing Chicago mayor. It‘s been suggested that some on the left would be unhappy with that choice. Confirmation of that suggestion‘s accuracy—next.
HAYES: New Speaker of the House John Boehner and his fellow Republicans plan to kick off the 112th Congress by having the Constitution read aloud on the House floor. Because gosh darn it, they‘ve had enough of the Obama administration and its insidious insistence on quartering soldiers. “Slate‘s” Dahlia Lithwick joins us for that. Stick around.
HAYES: According to published reports this week, White House consumer financial protection guru Elizabeth Warren will name Holly Petraeus to join the newly created Consumer Protection Bureau. The wife of David Petraeus, who has long been an advocate for military families, will oversee efforts to protect military families from predatory lenders.
Things got so bad on that score that in 2006, the Republican Congress actually passed a law capping the interest rates payday lenders could charge to active duty military and their families.
The announcement is a reminder of what was one of the biggest progressive victories of the Obama administration, the inclusion of a real Consumer Finance Protection Bureau against the sustained and strenuous opposition of the big Wall Street banks. Those same banks who made a lot of money ripping off consumers for years and manufacturing a credit bubble that nearly broke the world economy thought the status quo ante was just fine. In fact, according to an April 7th “Wall Street Journal” article, when the White House called one prominent JPMorgan executive to ask for support for the consumer protection measure, he said no because, quote, “his boss believed that sufficient consumer safeguards were already on the books.”
Which bring us to another piece of news out of the White House this week—according to “The New York Times,” that same JPMorgan banker who opposed the Consumer Protection Bureau is now being considered to become the next White House chief of staff. According to “The Times” and others, White House has interviewed Bill Daley, brother of current mayor, to replace current interim chief of staff Pete Rouse. Other candidates reportedly being considered include Rouse himself, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and apparently, current agricultural secretary Tom Vilsack.
If you‘ve been thinking that big business and big banks don‘t have nearly enough control over Washington, then Bill Daley should be your clear favorite of these candidates. In 2000, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney declared Daley‘s record put him squarely on the opposite side of working families.
Now, Daley has a long fancy pants resume in business and Democratic politics. Around the 1996 Democratic convention in Chicago, served as commerce secretary under Bill Clinton and was campaign manager of Al Gore‘s 2000 campaign, and stipulated that the skills that make for a good White House chief of staff aren‘t necessarily dependent on a great liberal vision for America.
But the White House chief of staff is a tremendously powerful position. And before choosing him, you would think the White House would want to see if Daley at least broadly shares the president‘s agenda.
So, what about the Affordable Care Act? The signature accomplishment of President Obama‘s first two years? Here is what possible future chief of staff Bill Daley told “The New York Times” last year. Quote, “They miscalculated on health care. The election of ‘08 sent a message that after 30 years of center-right governing, we had moved to center-left, not left.”
Remember, this was the all-in, high-stakes brutal battle the White House chose to wage its first two years in office. They undertook it in the face of naysayers and doubters and delivered what something Democratic presidents had pursued for more than half a century—national guaranteed health insurance for all.
And Bill Daley thinks it was a mistake. He thinks the president‘s universal health insurance plan was too left, despite the fact it was based on the center right plan signed into law by Massachusetts Republican governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
And then there‘s the matter of financial regulation, the other major domestic policy accomplishment of Obama‘s first two years in office. It‘s not just that Daley opposed the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. From 2005 to 2007, Daley co-chaired a commission on the regulation of U.S. capital markets in the 21st century. You‘ll be shocked to hear that the commission‘s final report urged Congress to pare back the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations passed in the wake of Enron and urged regulators to take a lighter touch. It was issued in March 2007 just as the world economy entered the beginning of the catastrophic financial crisis facilitated by regulators taking an exceedingly light touch.
Even worse, the commission was put together by none other than the United States Chamber of Commerce, the same entity recently seen spending unprecedented millions to elect Republicans and destroy the president‘s agenda. Short of Rush Limbaugh and FOX News, this White House faces no enemy more implacable than the chamber.
And Bill Daley is their buddy. All this doesn‘t even touch on the slightly incestuous spectacle of the White House chief of staff leaving to run for mayor of Chicago only to be replaced by the current mayor of Chicago‘s brother.
To help sort out what the hell the White House is thinking, let‘s turn to “Huffington Post” political reporter Sam Stein.
Sam, how are you?
SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: Good. How are you?
HAYES: What are they thinking?
STEIN: Well, they‘re thinking just from talking to people that this is probably the best choice, not with respect to the White House itself, but with respect to the 2012 campaign. They want someone at the top running the show that essentially has good ties to David Axelrod in Chicago, which is where the campaign reelection is going to be headquartered, and someone who actually know how to actually run a campaign. And as you noted, he helped with Al Gore‘s effort. He also helped Joe Biden‘s effort in 1998.
And so, they want someone who will be sort of interchangeable in Democratic politics and can run that. But they‘re risking a lot of bad press in the process.
HAYES: Well, so, it sounds like what you‘re saying is something distinct from what‘s – what‘s been reported it seems is that these business connection he have are sort of a feature not a bug, right?
HAYES: But the whole idea is that you get Bill Daley in to smooth things over with the business community.
STEIN: Exactly. And I think that‘s sort of a side element to it, which is that there‘s the supposedly bad relations with Wall Street. And because Bill Daley serves with JPMorgan and he will, all of a sudden, you know, create all this goodwill between the two parties—obviously, I don‘t think anyone who has the same take on politics expects that to happen. Wall Street is doing perfectly well right now. They have great profits. The fact they‘re bringing in Bill Daley doesn‘t change the animus they‘ll feel towards this White House.
In essence, he is sort of that key person who will know all the key players in the Obama orbit. And you want someone, the chief of staff, while you‘re running for reelect, who knows the Chicago team and who knows what it‘s like in an election campaign.
HAYES: Well, let‘s talk about the optics a little bit. So, he‘s an executive at JPMorgan Chase. The bank received $25 billion in bailout money, of course, and a $30 billion subprime mortgage business. I mean, this is just right in the crosshairs of this entire sort of I think corrupt kind of Wall Street Washington access that—
HAYES: – whether it‘s the Tea Party or left, it seems to be the kind of thing that really riles people up.
STEIN: And this, of course, was something that was a huge complaint going into the 2010 elections where a lot of Democrats, and not just progressives, but, you know, straight forward Democrats said Obama is not being tough enough on the banks, despite this whole idea that he‘s to bad on business, that he should take something like an FDR stance where he embraces the banks as his enemy—
STEIN: Yes, exactly. And then to cozy up like this and appoint someone who worked at JPMorgan, which had a subprime mortgage industry, like you said $30 billion, who fought regulations, who fought one of the—not just the chief component of regulatory form, but Obama‘s baby. I mean, that was a baby. He fought for it.
That‘s problematic and that sends a really bad message, I think, for the president in terms of the idea that he‘s too beholden to banks.
HAYES: Yes, and I also think it‘s problematic because when Elizabeth Warren was appointed to the position inside the White House, as opposed to (INAUDIBLE) bureau, the White House was saying , o, it will be better. They won‘t filibuster her. If you then bring in as her boss the person who opposed her agency, it seems to not spell—you know, it seems to spell doom.
STEIN: Well, it seems like they‘re on two different pages. But the only thing that I have to caution as I‘m talking to people who support Bill Daley, and it‘s not just center-left Democrats. There are some progressives out there who think he‘d do a good job. They say, you know, Obama is his own man. You know, Rahm Emanuel didn‘t want the president to tackle health care at one point in time. He did it anyway. Joe Biden didn‘t want to go into Afghanistan with that number of troops. He did it anyway.
So, maybe he we should look at Obama before we judge what kind of policy characteristics the chief of staff will apply.
HAYES: Very fair point. Sam Stein, “Huffington Post‘s” White House correspondent—appreciate it.
HAYES: Frightening portents of the end of days round two are coming soon. Turn down the snark just in case. But remain calm, humans, there‘s Debunktion at the junction—next.
HAYES: “Debunktion Junction,” what‘s my function? As a special guest fill-in debunker, I take my responsibility of carrying on Rachel Maddow‘s work uber seriously.
My first true or false question tonight is one that has caused this program much confusion in the past.
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MADDOW: When I have reported in the last few weeks on this show on the fate of the big overhaul for food safety, that information on this show has been untrustworthy. I pronounced it dead, then it was alive, then it was alive, but in poor health and then life support and it was dead, then alive. And now, it is completely healthy and living indefinitely. A White House official told us tonight, quote, “It will be law soon.” Tada! But you didn‘t hear it from me.
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HAYES: Ok. So in light of all that, I‘m kind of scared to weigh in but here goes; the food safety bill, a source of—a source of much confusion on this very program in the past, has finally become law. Is that true or false?
That‘s true. On his first day back in the White House after vacation, President Obama actually signed the food safety bill into law. And here is a picture to prove it, straight off the White House flicker page. So this should be the last time you hear about the food safety bill on this program.
Actually, that‘s not necessarily true. You may hear about it again because of this guy. Congressman Jack Kingston, Republican from Georgia, is about to take over a subcommittee that controls the purse strings for the Food and Drug Administration. And he tells Bloomberg News that he‘s inclined to use his power to, quote, “Trim this whole package back”. That‘s how you gut a law without actually going through the bother of repealing it.
The food safety law would have a recognizable form, but no life force. It would essentially be a zombie. So to recap, food safety bill dead, then alive, then writhing in pain, then near death then dead, now alive, but possibly soon a zombie. Neither dead nor living—undead. Ok.
Next question. True or false, the world is not ending.
False if you‘re a bird in parts of the south; from a literal bird‘s-eye view of Arkansas and Louisiana and Kentucky. That‘s notwithstanding what the guy in the next clip is about to tell you.
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HAYES: But it does not appear that the world is ending, even if we‘re still not exactly sure of what happened to the Red Wing black birds.
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HAYES: We brought you this story yesterday, the town of Beebe, Arkansas was still collecting the carcasses of thousands of birds that fell from the sky on New Year‘s Eve. One theory held that it was the apocalypse maybe, which we rashly debunked. Another theory said the birds had somehow been affected by fireworks.
Today the newspaper in Baton Rouge, Louisiana reports that hundreds of dead birds also turned up on Louisiana Highway 1; some of them Red Wing black birds, some of them starlings. And a woman in Gilbertsville, Kentucky tells the local NBC station that she found dozens of dead birds in her yard, but she assumed her pets had killed them, which does happen.
Now with these new cases, the timing alone would seem to rule out New Year‘s celebrating as the cause. So that leaves either a whole lot of cats or else the apocalypse. If you‘re looking for why some people would think birds falling from the sky is a sign of the world ending, well, very strictly speaking, it‘s biblical.
For example, “I will sweep away the birds in the sky.” That‘s in Zephaniah Chapter 1 for those of you paging through at home. On the other hand the U.S. Geological survey says we‘ve seen at least a thousand black birds die at once like this about 16 times in the last 30 years which either makes you feel better, or it doesn‘t.
Thank you for playing. We‘ll be right back, unless, well, you know.
HAYES: When Sarah Palin was asked last year if she would run for president in 2012, here is what she said.
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SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It‘s going to entail a discussion with my family. A real—a real close look at the lay of the land, and to consider whether it—there are those with that common-sense conservative pro-Constitution passion.
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HAYES: The rally in Reno, Nevada she described Tea Party candidates thusly.
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PALIN: You know that the Tea Party candidates are Constitutionalists.
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HAYES: The half-term governor and failed vice presidential candidate is not the only one to describe Tea Partiers as being in favor of our country‘s founding document.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Tea Party today invokes our founding fathers and says if only they want to be Constitutionalists.
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HAYES: When the former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo couldn‘t run for governor in Colorado last year as a Republican because another guy had already secured the nomination, the man who once proposed bombing Mecca turned to something called the American Constitution Party. It sounds austere and reverential, right? America, the Constitution and who does a lot of party.
But the American Constitution Party platform includes all kinds of not austere, not reverential things. Like making it legal to threaten the lives of women seeking abortions, not letting voters pick their senators, the 17th Amendment be damned. Oh and my favorite right wing obsession retaking the Panama Canal.
Before there were freedom fries and a flag pin on every lapel in Washington, D.C., there was a long and proud tradition of using the words “Constitution” and Constitutionalists” to mean my right wing beliefs and that tradition is still alive and well.
On Thursday freshly-elected, newly-empowered Republicans will read the Constitution aloud on the floor of the House of Representatives. They will also propose a new rule requiring legislation to explain how and why it is Constitutional.
At the presumptive Speaker of the House John Boehner‘s request, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts swore in members of Boehner‘s staff today. Yes, you heard me right—his staff. The man who swears in the President, but not the president‘s staff tasked with swearing in congressional staffers.
And if that‘s not Constitutional-loving enough for you, fear not, Republican. Republican Congresswoman and cable TV mascot Michele Bachmann has got you covered.
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LOU DOBBS: As you got a terrific idea that you‘re going to implement with a new Congress; a course on the Constitution for incoming Congressman and women.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: If we‘re going to practice every week if you will, our craft, which is studying and learning the declaration of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Justice Scalia has graciously agreed to kick off our class. We‘ll wrap our round—our minds around this magnificent document that will set the tone for the week we‘re in Washington.
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HAYES: First the Republicans claim the flag for themselves. And now they‘re moving in on the Constitution. And I say hands off my commerce clause and substantive due process.
Joining us now is Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for Slate. Dahlia, it‘s great to see you.
DAHLIA LITHWICK, SENIOR EDITOR, SLATE: Its good do see you, Chris.
HAYES: So am I right that this is sort of a long-running thing? There is some sort of historical precedent for the kind of Constitution fetish on the right?
LITHWICK: I—I—I think so. I think, you know, the way some people rub Buddha and they think the magic will come off. I think there‘s a long-standing tradition in this country. You know all you need to do is read Jeff Shesol‘s fantastic book about the FDR court-packing era or Noah Feldman‘s also fantastic book about same era. And you hear the same rhetoric. The rhetoric that goes, you know, conservatives the only ones who really care about the words on the paper and the meaning and the framers and all this stuff.
And, you know, the—whoever it is that—that doesn‘t agree with their policy program is not adhering to the Constitution. So this does have a long-standing tradition.
The other thing that‘s a little bit interesting, Chris, is that for a secular country, we‘re awfully religious about the Constitution.
HAYES: Yes that‘s right.
LITHWICK: So everything you just played in that clip—
LITHWICK: – you could sort of talk about the bible in the same way. And so I think there is a sort of fetishivation (ph) here that is of a piece with the sort of need for a religious document that‘s immutable and perfect in every way.
HAYES: That‘s a really good point. And what—I—I guess my question here to play devil‘s advocate. You know, ok, fine. They—they kind of fetishize the—the Constitution, and they had—they give it this sort of biblical textual status.
You know, what‘s wrong with that? Is this—is this—is this sort of harmless? Or is there something kind of insidious underneath that?
LITHWICK: Well, I think there‘s nothing wrong with it. And in even I would go one further and say I think it‘s a fantastic proposition that we all sit down and talk about what‘s in the Constitution.
But in doing so, let‘s be honest and say we don‘t get to say “boo, boo, boo, boo” when we get to the 14th Amendment.
LITHWICK: You don‘t get to glide over the 17th Amendment or the 16th Amendment or the bits and pieces you don‘t like. And so I think part of what‘s a little bit fraud about this conversation is that the same people who are fetishizing and reifying the document as written, as framed by the framers and you know bracket the idea that there wasn‘t one framer, and there was no such one agenda embodied in this.
But even if you bracket that idea, I think there‘s a real problem with the idea that we‘re trying to sort of fetishize and reify the document at the same moment that we‘re falling over ourselves to amend and change the parts we don‘t like.
And I also I think the other thing that bothers me about it, is that it seems very connected to this notion that—that we‘ve seen in—in judicial—in Supreme Court confirmation hearings, which is that the meaning of the document is just plainly clear. That all it takes to understand what the Constitution means is some—is an umpire to use Roberts‘s metaphor, some kind of robotic meaning of the text when that‘s just clearly not the case, right?
LITHWICK: Well not only is it not the case, but it‘s an incredibly attractive sound bite when you ask Justice Antonin Scalia what something means or how he goes about Constitutional interpretation. He invariably says easy. Because it‘s real important to suggest that it‘s easy. You just look at the words on the page and they leap up at you, and it‘s just clear. It‘s abundantly clear, and there is no question.
When you read Justice Steven Breyer, who just wrote another brilliant I think, book about this, when he says no, it‘s really complicated. It‘s open-ended, it‘s deliberately open-ended, none of the frame agree, they were bickering all the time, everything is a compromise, it‘s flexible, it‘s meant to change.
You know, you fall asleep after the first sentence. It‘s so—
LITHWICK: – not a sound bite and yet it‘s so profoundly true.
And so I think there is this disparity when one side says it‘s easy, and Justice Scalia is going to teach you how to do it in six minutes. And the other side says not only is it hard, but it may be impossible. Moreover, it is all those things by design. That‘s just not an attractive notion again, for people who want a fixed immutable document that tells them what to do.
HAYES: Yes, the founders—Alexander Hamilton did not come down from the mountain with the—with the tablets on either side.
Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for Slate also, if might editorialize, one of the wittiest, sharpest best writers on the entire Internet.
Thanks so much for joining us. Dahlia I really, really appreciate it.
LITHWICK: Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: Coming up on “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL”, now that President Obama‘s numbers are up, will Republicans take that as a sign to get along or obstruct? Congressman Phil Row and Peter Welch are Lawrence‘s guest.
And on this show, tomorrow is the big day, the Senate‘s historic shot at getting rid of the filibuster and ending partisan gridlock forever. What could possibly go wrong? I‘ll tell you, just ahead.
HAYES: Tomorrow the Senate has a rare and precious open window of opportunity to fix itself, and once again become a functioning legislative body. Just ahead, meet the people who want to slam that window on our fingers. Stick around.
HAYES: You hear the word “martyr” tossed around a lot, especially in
reference to politics to describe politicians. Rarely is the term used
accurately. Rarely are the politicians in question actually willing to accept death rather than renounce their beliefs. Rarely have they endangered themselves in an act of true moral heroism.
That was not the case for the governor of Pakistan‘s Punjab province; someone who took a stand—an outspoken, very public stand—who took it knowing that it would put him in danger.
And today taking that stand cost him his life. Police say the Governor, Salman Taseer was gunned down at a market in Islamabad by one of his own elite bodyguards. He was shot at least nine times by a man assigned to protect him. The bodyguard surrendered to police. That‘s him there. He told them he killed the governor because Taseer opposed Pakistan‘s harsh blasphemy law.
The law was being used to prosecute or persecute a Christian Pakistani woman who was accused of blasphemy after she angered some of her fellow agricultural workers. Her supporters say the problem started when she touched the water bowl of fellow workers and it ended with charges against her for making derogatory marks against the prophet Mohamed.
And when she was convicted of making those alleged derogatory remarks she received the mandatory sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan, which is death.
Two months ago Governor Taseer paid that woman a visit. He was photographed with her. He proposed changing the blasphemy law and he took his very public campaign to save her life to Twitter.
On New Year‘s Eve he posted, quote, “I was under huge pressure to cow down before rightest (ph) pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I‘m the last man standing.”
One day later he wrote “Unimpressed by mullah rightest madrassa demo yesterday. Small numbers abusive, well no organized general public support.”
Here is the demonstration Taseer was talking about. In speeches and protests across Pakistan on Friday religious leaders warned the government against altering the blasphemy law, the one with the mandatory death sentence. Most politicians tried to placate the religious extremists by assuring them that the government did not intend to change or repeal the law.
One politician did not do that. One politician said he was unimpressed and called the protesters abusive. That kind of honest and courage is rare. That kind of honesty and courage is especially rare in a place that is being torn apart by religious extremists. Three years after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
Nearly ten years into the war the U.S. is raging right next door if not increasingly within Pakistan itself. Friends of Governor Salman Taseer are saying he knew he was risking his life by speaking out. Fatwas have been issued against him.
Today he was gunned down by his own bodyguard for defending a woman against a mandatory death sentence for refusing to back down. It cost him his life and he suspected it would. And that is worthy of tribute. It is worthy of the title of martyr.
HAYES: If you ever Google the words “Maddow” and “broken” and “senate”, you find a filibuster, that arcane, esoteric, gridlock-making, government-shackling Senate procedure has been a frequent topic of conversation on this show. We‘ve also been spending a lot of time with the people who are leading the effort to reform the Senate.
People like Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and just last night Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Tonight we introduce you to some of the people who are proud to have abused the rules, to have bargained in bad faith and to have filibustered the most recent version of the Senate into one of the most maddening deliberative bodies in the history of the union.
Today filibuster lovers congregated at the Conservative Heritage Foundation to defend the status quo. The event was titled “The Filibuster a Unique Parliamentary Tool of the Senate”. What resulted was perhaps a unique political gift to the advocates of Senate reform.
Who was speaking at the event or in a room that size, speaking at the get-together, as Think Progress reported earlier, corporate lobbyist, Bill Wichterman whose company represents C, formerly known as Blackwater showed up. Also Steven Duffield who, when he‘s not the policy director at Karl Rove‘s Crossroads GPS is a lobbyist whose firm hypes this as one of their selling points: “Your organization has an interest in the bill that has proven controversial and you require advocacy before those legislators; often backbench senate Republicans who may exercise their prerogatives to delay or obstruct. Endgame strategies will give you new ways to manages your interests in a legislative environment that gives great power to individual senators.”
Great power to individual senators, in other words, is like a special interest all-you-can-eat buffet. And all it takes to quietly kill some legislation is persuading one Senator to do it, the entire legislative agenda spread out sumptuously before you.
The keynote speaker, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee; he‘d like you to think that forcing actual filibusters to actually be on the floor of the senate, finally in the spirit of Jimmy Stewart‘s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” will cut off debate on the floor of the senate.
Here‘s some of what he said this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER ®, TENNESSEE: Now, there‘s no doubt that the Senate has been reduced to a shadow of itself as the world‘s greatest deliberative body. But the demise of the Senate is not because Republicans seek to filibuster. The real obstructionists have been the Democratic majority, which for an unprecedented number of times use their majority advantage to limit debate, not to allow amendments and to bypass normal committee consideration of legislation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Joining us to talk about the filibuster, anti-filibuster busters is Ezra Klein who writes for “The Washington Post” and “Newsweek” and is also an MSNBC contributor. How are you doing?
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening, Keith. Chris, I‘m sorry, not Keith.
HAYES: Well played, my friend.
KLEIN: Another K name. I apologize.
HAYES: Is this the beginning of a more conservative effort to beat back the filibuster? I think—is this the sort of the army‘s gathering to beat back this rules reform?
KLEIN: I think you have to assume there will be an army, whether or not a heritage panel as a beginning of it is unclear. But obviously, Democrats counter-mobilized when Bill Frist attempted to free judicial nominations from the filibuster in ‘05. And certainly Republicans will counter-mobilize no matter how small the rules change is this year.
They‘re right that in theory what Democrats would like to do is make it a little bit more easier to pass—make it a little bit easier to pass a legislation through the U.S. senate. The odd thing is that the rules Democrats are actually proposing or seem likely to propose at this point, anyway probably wouldn‘t do that. We‘re likely to have a very, very large battle about a series of rules changes which would have no effect at all.
HAYES: So, I‘ll follow up on that. What do you mean by this no effect? Because I want to ask about the sort of ideological balance on this, why do you see this ending up in no big changes?
KLEIN: So, there are two problems in the filibuster, two real effects it has on the Senate. The first one all of our audience know here, right, 60 votes for everything the Senate does which is unprecedented in the U.S. Senate. The other which is somewhat less known is that breaking a filibuster even if you have tons of vote, even if you have 82 votes takes about a week—week and a half—depending on how much the offending senators want to drag it out.
That means that on the smaller bills or judicial nominations, say, Harry Reid has to decide do I want to spend a week and half of floor time on this problem? If he can‘t say he does, if he has to pass an appropriations bill or he‘s got to pass health care reform that just gets it tossed off the agenda. And it means that a lot of the daily routine business in the senate never gets done.
You can imagine reforms that would solve one or both those problems. I appreciate the reforms that Senators Merkley and Udall are pushing. They would—as you say, make the filibuster more “Mr. Smith goes to Washington”-like. But it does not appear—that wouldn‘t solve either problem. Saying it would be easier for Republicans or Democrats when they‘re in the minority to take a long time with a filibuster doesn‘t change the amount of time the filibuster takes. It goes in the opposite direction.
And then number two, it doesn‘t change the number of votes you would need to break a filibuster. So it would not in any way make legislation easier to past. If you believe the problem is gridlock as opposed to an insufficient amount of floor debate, these reforms wouldn‘t have a lot to do for you.
HAYES: Finally I want to ask you if you think that there kind of an ideological balance to this issue. I mean is it just that the majority of them like the filibuster when they‘re the majority and the minority loves it and vice versa. Or is there something sort of embedded into the filibuster that itself that is reactionary.
KLEIN: The filibuster is small “c” conservative in that it is for the status quo. Sometimes that is good for Republicans and sometimes it‘s good for Democrats. Obviously Democrats liked it during social security privatization although that never got close enough that it actually needed to be filibustered.
But I tend to believe the reason to oppose or support filibuster reform has to do with believing government should be more accountable. Believing that a majority party should come in and say, we‘re going to do x, y, and z and then get judged on doing or not doing x, y, and z.
What we have now is a system in which we elect people they say will do x, y, or z can‘t do it due to Senate gridlock and then people blame them on not getting things done when they don‘t really understand why nothing done.
HAYES: Ezra Klein, “Washington Post”, “Newsweek” and MSNBC contributor, thanks so much.
KLEIN: Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: That does it for us tonight. We‘ll see you again tomorrow night.
Until then, you can read more of my work at the nation.com, “The Nation” magazine where you can follow me on Twitter, user name ChrisLHayes.
Now it‘s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell. Good evening, Lawrence.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC HOST, “THE LAST WORD”: Good evening Chris.
Thank you very much Chris.
HAYES: You bet.
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