The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/26/12
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: If I could cleave something off Tom Brady to
help you out, I might, but you`d have to bribe me really bad.
ED SCHULTZ, “THE ED SHOW” HOST: OK. I`m easy. Do it.
MADDOW: Thanks, man. Appreciate it.
And thanks to you to you at home for staying with us for the next
We actually need to start tonight with some breaking news from
Washington, D.C. NBC News is reporting tonight that the new CIA director,
the one after David Petraeus resigned unexpectedly recently, the acting
director of the CIA, Michael Morell, is going to be accompanying the U.N.
Ambassador Susan Rice tomorrow at a meeting that she is taking with
Now, this is important because it would appear to be laying the
groundwork for Susan Rice`s potential nomination for the position of
secretary of state. Susan Rice to succeed the current Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton. NBC first reported tonight that Ambassador Rice
was paying visits to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
That committee will be her first stop on her nominating process if the
president does pick her for secretary of state.
Senator John McCain later confirmed to NBC News that he will be
meeting with Ambassador Rice tomorrow, alongside his fellow Republican
Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Lindsey Graham of South
Carolina. Both Senator Graham and Senator Ayotte have joined John McCain
in criticizing the potential nomination of Susan Rice, criticizing that
nomination on the basis of Ambassador Rice`s role in explaining what
happened in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Now, NBC`s Andrea Mitchell is reporting tonight that the acting
director of the CIA is going to be joining Ambassador Rice in person for
that meeting tomorrow with those critical senators. We will keep you
posted if we learn more about this breaking news tonight. But the long and
short of this is, number one, the acting CIA director getting directly
involved in trying to resolve the factual matters here that have been
contested by these Republican senators, and two, honestly, we have the
strongest signal we have had yet about who the president will likely
nominate to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, the highest
profile position in the cabinet, arguably, alongside the attorney general.
But it`s big news in politics and big news in terms of American
diplomacy. Cabinet nominations are not always fights for reelected
presidents. But in this case, a Susan Rice secretary of state nomination
is something that some Republicans have said they would love to have a big
fight over. Signs tonight indicating that the president is not going to be
shying away from that fight – big news from Washington tonight.
And the context for the start of a second term here in terms of this
president could not be more stark. We think about this historically. When
Ronald Reagan was reelected to the presidency in 1984, for example, Ronald
Reagan won this many states on the electoral map that year. You can stop
your counting now. He won 49.
Walter Mondale, his opponent, won just one state that year. Ronald
Reagan, 49 states. It was a landslide. Look at the electoral vote tally
that year, 1984. Ronald Reagan, 525, Walter Mondale, 13. Wow.
With that much wind in his sales from that overwhelming victory in
1984, the newly reelected President Reagan decided that what he was going
to sail toward in his second term, what he would prioritize after that
overwhelming endorsement of him in that election, that endorsement of him
as president, what he would work on was war in Central America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: President Reagan warned today of what he called
a new danger, support for the leftist government of Nicaragua from Iran`s
Ayatollah Khomeini. As Chris Wallace reports tonight, the president sees
that as still another reason that we should renew our support of
Nicaragua`s anti-Sandinista rebels, the Contras.
RONALD REAGAN, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: A new danger we see in Central
America is the support being given to Sandinista by Colonel Gadhafi`s
Libya, the PLO, and most recently, the Ayatollah Khomeini`s Iran.
REPORTER: President brought up the Iranian connection today as he
tried to put pressure on Congress to resume funding for the anti-Sandinista
rebels in Nicaragua.
REAGAN: Countering this by supporting Nicaraguan freedom fighters is
essentially acting in self-defense.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Self-defense – which would be true if he were the president
of Nicaragua. But as president of the United States of America, President
Reagan, even after the huge victory, could not convince the United States
of America that waging war in Nicaragua would actually be self-defense,
would actually be in our self-interest.
So, President Reagan when he couldn`t persuade the country that we
ought to do this, decided instead that he would wage that war that he
wanted in secret. And that secret war in Central America led to the huge
second term failure of the Ronald Reagan presidency, which was the Iran-
It is amazing that in that scandal, he avoided impeachment. With 14
administration officials up to and including the defense secretary were
indicted. The only reason most of them staid out of prison is because
Poppy Bush pardoned them when he became president. It was just a
catastrophe. That was Ronald Reagan`s second term after he got reelected
with a map that looked like this.
When FDR got reelected to his second term, the map was almost the
exact opposite. Look, this was 1936. FDR did even better than Reagan if
you count electorally. FDR got 523 electoral votes. His opponent, Alf
Landon, got eight electoral votes.
In the same way that Reagan did 50 years later, FDR came back to
Washington with big plans for what he would do in his second term now that
the country had given him this huge vote of confidence.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Tonight, sitting at my
desk in the White House, I make my first radio report to the people in my
second term of office.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: This was one of FDR`s patented fireside chats, taking his
message right to the American people.
And in this first one that he did after getting reelected by the
closest thing we have to a unanimous vote in this country, he said that he
wanted to change the U.S. Supreme Court. He wanted to add more judges to
the Supreme Court and he wanted to give them the president the power to
replace sitting justices. It was a radical proposal.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ROOSEVELT: Those opposing this plan have sought to arouse prejudice
and fear by crying that I am seeking to “pack” the Supreme Court. If the
appointment of such justices can be called “packing the courts”, then I say
that I and with me the vast majority of the American people favor doing
just that thing now.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Right after being reelected to his second term, Franklin
Roosevelt made his case for packing the courts, saying he had the American
people on his side to do that. He did not have the American people on his
side to do that. Or at least he didn`t have enough of them on his side to
prevent that unsuccessful proposal from going down in history books indices
everywhere as FDR`s court-packing scheme. Nothing ever gets called a
scheme if it works or if people look kindly upon it, right? But that was
FDR`s second term.
Do you want to know when Watergate happened? Richard Nixon`s second
Do you want to know when Katrina happened and the second Great
American Depression? That would be George W. Bush`s second term.
When Barack Obama got elected the first time, while we`re falling into
that second Great Depression, the satirical newspaper “The Onion” summed up
the situation perfectly with this headline, “Black man given nation`s worst
job.” But that was for the start of his first term.
Honestly, it might be more apt for second term, right? The second
term is when the job, generally speaking, turns out to be a difficult job
I mean, if you all the way go back to Woodrow Wilson, it was after
World War I in his second term when he tried to get the United States to
join the League of Nations, which does not exist because we didn`t join,
and that was pretty much the end of Woodrow Wilson. That was his second
When it was Harry Truman in his second term during the Korean War,
that`s when he fired General MacArthur, who was the commanding general of
that war at the time. The country responded by throwing parades for the
general who got fired. And Harry Truman left office with approval ratings
that Dick Cheney would kill for, but for everyone else in the country that
second term would see that as a disaster.
Second terms are almost always seen, if not as a disaster, then at
least as the time when the big disappointments happen, the big challenges,
and often the big failures.
When the Soviet Union beat us, when the Soviet Union beat the United
States to put the first space satellite into orbit, when no nation had ever
put something like that – ever put something up in space and had it stick
there and the Soviets did it first with Sputnik, when they beat us in a
race that we were also running in, that was under President Eisenhower and
it was during President Eisenhower`s second term – second term.
It`s not like bad things and challenges and failures don`t happen in
presidents` first terms, too. They definitely do. But there`s something
that we understand as Americans to be as certain as death and taxes, and
that is if there is going to be something that really sucks in a particular
presidency, it`s probably going to happen in the second term. And that has
been true for so long that this White House has to be keenly aware of the
famous second-term curse.
And in fact, the president says he`s aware of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t presume that
because I won an election that everybody suddenly agrees with me on
everything. I`m more than familiar with all the literature about
presidential overreach in second terms. We are very cautious about that.
On the other hand, I didn`t get reelected just to bask in reelection.
I got elected to do work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It is explicitly with the context of difficult second terms
in mind that President Obama right now is reviewing what his options are
for what he wants to do now that he`s been soundly reelected by a country
that not only reelected him by a big margin, but also put more Democrats in
the Senate and more Democrats in the House to go alongside.
There`s no shortage of advice for this newly reelected president now
about what he should, what he should do in his second term that he was not
able to do in his first. “The New York Times” editorializing today that he
ought to close Guantanamo, which he says that he would still like to do,
even though he has not been able to get it down thus far.
“The New York Times” a few days ago was editorializing that he ought
to do is work on election reform, which he said on election night is
something that we`ve got to fix, those long lines at the polling places.
These protesters at the White House last week are using a giant
inflatable fake pipeline to make their case that when President Obama put
off until after the election the decision about whether or not to approve
the Keystone shale oil pipeline, that the results of this election they say
mean that he shouldn`t approve this pipeline when he gets around to it
early next year.
The New York City police commissioner took a direct proverbial shot at
President Obama this weekend when he said the president had not led on the
issue of gun control, and that the president ought to do so in his second
If you swing a dead cat within a 12-block radius of the U.S. capitol
right now, you will find somebody who insists what the president must do
with his second, first and foremost, is comprehensive immigration reform.
Facing all of this advice and all of these competing pressures, nobody
can say what exactly this president most wants to do in his second term.
Nobody can yet say what his overall second term agenda is going to be.
But he and his White House and even his presidential election campaign
which theoretically has disbanded but still seems to be around, they have
been more than clear that what the president is going to do first is work
on getting the Bush tax cuts extended for all income levels below a quarter
million dollars. Income above a quarter million dollars will go back to
the Clinton era tax rates. That is the president`s first priority.
And that is forced on him in part by the scheduled expiration of those
tax cuts at the end of the year. But it also seems to be embraced as what
he wants to work on. President Obama is not arguing for that tax cut
expiration date to be extended, to be put off for awhile so he can work on
something else in the meantime. He very much seems to want this fight.
And he`s not only talking about it at every public opportunity, reminding
everybody that it is what he campaigned on when he won reelection.
“The New York Times” is also now reporting that he`s employing the
contact list and supporter information mega database that he built during
his reelection campaign toward trying to win that particular policy fight.
And again, in addition to that, we now know, there`s the breaking news
from this hour of the president seeming to be lining his ducks up in a row
for potentially nominating U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of
state, the potential nominee taking meetings with the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, including his biggest critic, John McCain, tomorrow
morning. She will be taking that meeting alongside the acting director of
the CIA. He`s going to be there in person at the meeting, according to
Andrea Mitchell reporting tonight for NBC News.
In addition to this fight over the Bush tax cuts, there`s news tonight
about Susan Rice`s assignment the president was s not shying away from that
So, we know what he seems to be doing first. And we know what he`s
being pressured to do over the course of his second term. And we know what
he says he would like to get done in the second term that he wasn`t able to
get done in his first term, even though we tried.
But looming over all of those factors, looming over all of the
decisions that the White House and the president himself are making right
now over what to do with this second term, how to start this second term,
looming over all of it is the modern American history and even the not-so-
modern American history – the history that the best-laid plan for the
president`s second term more often than not get derailed.
For all of the advice that a newly reelected president gets, history
offers maybe the best caution for thinking that a second-term president can
control how history remembers him. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: As with other second term presidents, aides say Bill
Clinton still hopes to leave his mark but with smaller steps – an approach
more likely to please politicians than historians.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I would say if he`s
interested in impressing scholars of the future, one thing he can do is to
some extent turn back on that very modest strategy of the last two years.
REPORTER: Really? And take risks?
BESCHLOSS: Take some risks and also identify some issue where he can
take a courageous position, convert Americans to his point of view, and
make it easier for future presidents.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Could do. Or he could have an affair with an intern named
Monica Lewinsky and see how the second term works out. Your choice about
how to handle the second term, sir.
Things don`t always go as we think they are going to go, second terms
Joining us is a man who did have excellent advice for President
Clinton at the start of President Clinton`s second term, except for maybe
the “take a risk” part. We didn`t know how that would work out. NBC News
presidential historian Michael Beschloss joins us now.
Mr. Beschloss, thank you for being here. It`s nice to have you here.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you, Rachel. I`m waiting for you to show my baby
pictures. I thought that was great.
MADDOW: I was going to say you are one of the few people who we can -
- don`t take this the wrong way – but we can show historical archive
footage and you look better now than you did then.
BESCHLOSS: That`s the nicest thing to say. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about the president`s comments in his first
press statement after being reelected that he`s painfully aware of the
modern presidential history of overreach in the second term, implying that
he`s been reading that history and he`s trying to take its lessons.
What are the lessons of modern presidential history in terms of the
BESCHLOSS: Well, often not great, as you have been saying. And I
think, first of all, we`ve got to give him some points for actually reading
the history and benefiting from it, because oftentimes, presidents either
don`t read it or they don`t learn the lessons.
But I think he has. And one of the first lessons, he was referring to
it in that press conference, is don`t think that your reelection gives you
a mandate that goes beyond what it really is. Don`t overreach.
Lyndon Johnson, 1965, had the biggest landslide in history and
prosecuted the Vietnam War for years, tens of thousands of Americans dead
on the basis of a very flimsy resolution. That was overreach.
1973, I`m not even going to talk about Richard Nixon and Watergate.
We forget the fact that Nixon came into a second term, wanted to roll back
the Great Society and New Deal, and people said, well, you don`t have
either house of Congress. He said, fine. What I`m going to do is
impoundment. I just won`t spend the money for programs I don`t like. And
he started doing it.
Had he continued, had Watergate not come about, he might well have
been impeached for that.
MADDOW: It is remarkable to see that as such a consistent theme in
history. And I`m generally skeptical of things that seem that consistent.
But some of these things seem to be brought on by presidential overreach.
Some of them seem to be brought on by other forms of presidential stupidity
or bad luck or just incompetence.
MADDOW: Thinking about the response to Katrina, thinking about the
affair with the intern in President Clinton`s second term. As the
president right now is saying that he`s going to try to draft the support
from his reelection, trying to draft the energy and the technical
information he`s got about his supporters to help him get his second term
agenda brought across, is there anybody who has laid out a historical
template for that? Do we know if that fits into this pattern?
BESCHLOSS: That`s very smart. You know, oftentimes, presidents will
say, you know, I just got this big landslide and anyone in Congress who
opposes me, I`ll go back to their district or state and campaign against
them. They wind up not often doing it.
The Obama campaign twice now has been one of the most effective
campaign operations in American history. It`s going to be fascinating if
we can see for the first time him using that on behalf of the things he
MADDOW: We have seen the president right now telegraph obviously that
he`s working on the tax issue. We`re also seeing, although it`s not
officially, we`re seeing signs that this Susan Rice nomination for
secretary of state, which John McCain had essentially picked a fight over
and said, if you do this I will do anything in my power to block that.
He`s moderated his position somewhat, but there`s the issue of having to
refill a cabinet, staff positions for a second term.
Are there lessons in terms of losing your best people, getting fresh
ideas from fresh sources? It seems interesting to me that the president
would, with his first nomination, pick something that`s really going to
test his resolve.
BESCHLOSS: I think that`s right. And it may be his intentionally
trying to sort of leave a line in the sand, showing that he does have the
power, even to get through a nomination that some people on Capitol Hill do
not support. So I think we may well see that.
But, you know, Rachel, it`s human nature that people grow tired after
one term. Often times, they leave. And also in terms of trying to get
great talent from outside the government, oftentimes, people are a lot more
attracted to work for a president in the sort of fire of his first months
in office than they are for a president who is going to be a lame duck
fairly soon in the second term.
So often times, the second term people are not as good as you find in
MADDOW: And the picking a fight over them therefore has a different
MADDOW: NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss, it`s
always such a pleasure to have you here, sir. Thank you so much.
BESCHLOSS: You, too. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. The good news, Republicans have learned a lesson since
their resounding electoral defeat. The bad news, it`s not the lesson they
said they were going to learn. It`s backwards totally. It doesn`t even
sound right when you sing it. That`s next.
MADDOW: In the great state of Indiana, the Republican Party has taken
a long, hard look at what just happened in this last election, losing their
U.S. Senate seat, looking the presidency. They`ve taken the long, hard
look at how the two parties fared in this past election, and what people
thought about the various issues they had a chance to vote on in this
election. They took the proverbial post-election cold shower you have to
take after your party loses a national election and Indiana Republicans
decided that after this election, in response to this election, what they
really need to do is doubly, triply, extra ban gay marriage.
Even though gay marriage is already banned there, you cannot get
married if you are same sex couple in Indiana right now. Already – it is
already illegal, but the Indiana Republican Party has decided that their
priority for the new legislative session after this selection is to extra,
doubly, triply ban it by changing the constitution of the state of Indiana
to make it even more illegal than it already is, because you know, why not?
Indiana University law students today released a report explaining how
the Republicans` idea for extra, super triply banning gay marriage in the
constitution could have broad, unintended consequences for more than 600
other laws already on the books in that state.
You know, it`s funny. If you listen to the beltway talk about what`s
going on in American politics right now, the major narrative about what`s
going on is about the sort of course correction happening in the Republican
Party, right? The Republican Party has learned its lesson.
If only in the interest of self-preservation, Republicans are right
now giving up on these policy stances that cost them so much in the last
election that made their party seem essentially pre-modern. All of this
stuff that alienated women and young people, and non-white people and gay
people. I mean, if you listen to the Beltway media, the Republican course
correction on this problem post-election, a course correction is totally
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: We didn`t sell a positive vision. We
didn`t explain to people what we`re for.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: We have to show we`re serious about
reaching out and helping everyone, not just a group here, not just a group
there, but everyone in this country to live their piece of the American
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It`s one thing to shoot
yourself in the foot. Just don`t reload the gun. I intend to not reload
this gun when it comes to Hispanics. I intend to tear this wall down and
pass an immigration reform bill.
REP. AARON SCHOCK (R), ILLINOIS: I think it makes sense for
Republicans to get out front on immigration.
GRAHAM: We`re in a death spiral because of rhetoric around
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Obviously, we have to do immigration
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: If you listen to the beltway media, you would think the new
Republican Party is out there organizing migrant farm workers holding “Si,
si, puede” signs, right? Shutting down the border patrol.
And I`m sure for electoral reasons, the new Republican Party would
like it to seem like: (a), they are new, and (b), that`s what they are
But where Republicans are really this control of government like say
in Kansas where Republicans control the legislature and the governorship
and can pretty much do whatever they want, what`s their big Republican “Si,
si, puede” post-election pro-immigration reform move there? A state
crackdown on immigrants who want to go to college. We need to shut that
All over the country if you look at state newspapers and state news
bureaus right now covering what it is that Republicans are planning to do,
where they have governing authority in the states, the contrast between
that reporting, about what Republicans are doing, and the Beltway
discussion about what Republicans theoretically ought to maybe be doing,
it`s like reading news from two totally different universes. It`s totally
Look at the issue of abortion in women`s health. Here`s what it
sounds like inside the beltway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: When we talk about women`s
issues and the social issues, people have to stop trying to act like the
women as throw away here. Republican candidates who got high profile and
said some very stupid things, I think that really tainted the party.
DAN SENOR, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: Our side got invested in really
idiotic debate about contraception during the primary. And, obviously,
when we have top tier NSRC recruited Senate candidates actually fomenting a
discussion about rape, this is not healthy.
MCCAIN: As far as young women are concerned, absolutely. I don`t
think anybody like me – I can state my position on abortion, but to –
other than that, leave the issue alone.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: If you are only getting a beltway-driven national picture of
the Republican Party`s post-election strategy, you would think that they
had figured out that they are prioritizing rolling back abortion rights and
access to contraception was maybe a bad idea and they figured out that they
need to move on from that. In fact, if you listen to the beltway media,
you would think that not only are they learning this lesson, but they`ve
learned it and they have moved on from it, they have changed.
Somebody forgot to tell that to the Republicans who are running things
in this country. One of the first things Ohio Republicans did after the
election, one of the first things they did was hold a committee on
defunding Planned Parenthood.
And again, if you look at local, state based coverage of what
Republicans are publicly planning on doing, where they have governing
authority, you`d never know the beltway decided the whole abortion thing is
done with. Because in Wisconsin, Republican legislators there are talking
about four new different anti-abortion bills for the new session, including
a forced ultrasound bill because maybe America needs two governor
Republicans are lining up to sponsor this stuff. That`s true in
Wisconsin House and the Wisconsin Senate.
In Arkansas, same deal – Republicans announcing their intention to
push through a bunch of new anti-abortion bills that have failed to win
approval in previous sessions.
In Michigan, same thing, Republicans planning to revive their
sweeping, omnibus anti-abortion legislation that passed the House last
session, in which experts say if it passes all the way though, it would
likely shut down most of the state`s abortion clinics.
Americans` experience of what Republican governance is like is
happening at the state level, not at the federal level, right? Republicans
in Washington are talking about theoretically what they would do if they
were in charge of something. But they are not in charge of anything.
Americans real-lived experience of Republicans in charge, of
Republicans enacting their policies and people being expected to live under
them, that is happening in places where Republicans are not at all changing
their tune, on going after immigrants, demonizing immigrants for trying to
go to college? Like that`s the country`s biggest problem?
Republicans on those states are doubly, triply, extra banning gay
marriage even in places where it`s already illegal. Republicans in those
places are doing everything in their power to restrict not just abortion
rights, but even, yes, still – access to contraception.
These are not just the fight that that brought us the 2012 election
results and then we`re totally settled thereafter. Republicans are still
waging these wars. Somebody ought to tell the beltway. Or maybe it`s
funnier if we don`t.
MADDOW: OK. Can I just say one more thing about John McCain going on
his 21st Sunday show of the year yesterday and saying the Republican Party
really needs to work on immigration reform, obviously, and needs to leave
the abortion issue alone?
For the record with everybody taking John McCain on a Sunday show so
seriously about what the Republican Party is going to do or even what John
McCain personally is going to do, for the record, here`s what John McCain
himself has actually done on those issues. On abortion rights and women`s
health, here`s how John McCain has personally modeled this behavior that he
prescribes now for his party on the abortion issue and on women`s health.
The folks at NARAL keep track of these things. His voting record,
right, on how he`s left the abortion issue alone when he has had a chance
to vote on it as a senator dozens of times, continually voting not to leave
abortion alone at all, but to intervene to roll back abortion rights or
take them away from American women entirely, as a matter of policy. That`s
how he has left that issue alone.
He also said Sunday in that same breath that the Republican Party
needs to work on comprehensive immigration reform, obviously.
Well, here`s how John McCain led on the issue of immigration reform
when he had the chance to be his party`s leader on that subject. Here`s
his determined leadership on that issue back in `08 when he had the chance
to lead on it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your original immigration proposal in 2006 was
much broader and included a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants
who were already here. What I`m wondering is – and you seem to be down
playing that part – at this point, if your original proposal came to a
vote in the Senate floor, would you vote for it?
MCCAIN: It won`t. It won`t. That`s why we went through the debate.
No, I would not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: No, I wouldn`t vote on my own bill. Why would I vote for my
What would happen if the Sunday shows stopped booking John McCain
every week? What he says there does not even reflect the reality of his
own life and politics, let alone anybody else`s life in politics, 21
Sundays this year so far and the years not even in its last month. When
does it start being embarrassing to put that senator on TV every week as if
he`s someone whose words mean something?
MADDOW: Here`s a word term. It`s kind of slang really, fais-do-do.
Fais-do-do comes from Cajun country in Louisiana. It means literally fall
asleep, the way your mom and your dad might tell you nighty night. What
you see here is a dance contest from around the time of World War II when
couples tried to stay on their feet for as long as humanly possible. In
Cajun country, you might call an all-nighter like this a fais-do-do. A
fall asleep or kind of maybe don`t fall asleep.
We have a version of the fais-do-do in politics. We like to think we
do. It was memorialized and dramatized by Frank Capra. In “Mr. Smith Goes
to Washington”, Mr. Smith talks for a full day in that one, 24 hours.
Filibusters rarely last as long as that.
In 1930s, Senator Huey Long of Louisiana talked for 15 hours once. In
1953, Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon talked for 22 hours and 26 minutes over
an oil bill. A few years later, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina
spent 24 hours and 18 minutes up there defending white Southerners from
Civil Rights Act of 1957.
In the Senate, you need 60 votes to stop a senator from talking so you
can move on to actually vote on whatever you`re going to vote on. You need
60 votes to shut it down. And back then, until you got those 60 votes,
whoever was in the minority just kept talking. Fais-do-do, no voting, I`m
still talking and you can`t stop me – nighty night.
We know about those old examples of filibustering because a filibuster
used to happen so rarely that when it did happen, the public noticed. But
they are not very rare anymore. They`re not even really filibusters
anymore, in the sense that a Huey Long or a Strom Thurmond might recognize.
These days any senator can block any piece of legislation in effect
just by raising a hand and saying so. A senator can block legislation
indefinitely without even paying the cause of anybody noticing and having
the constituents back home asked what the heck their senator is doing,
taking up all that time in Washington, holding the floor to make some big
With the filibuster now being so comparatively cheap to come by, it
has become unusually plentiful in Washington. The modern Senate is setting
records for filibustering. You effectively need not a majority, but 60
votes, a super majority to do anything now. And so, yes, as you would
expect, our current Congress has passed fewer laws since World War II,
The Senate is passing less than 3 percent of all bills introduced,
compared to say the 1950s, that`s a drop off of roughly 90 percent.
But here`s the thing. The Senate can do something about this. The
Senate can change the rules for filibusters with a simple majority vote,
with 51 votes, on the first day of the new session and only on that day can
they make that change with 51 votes.
Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, has said he wants
to make some changes. Among his ideas would be to make it so that debate
has to start before a filibuster can begin. He might require any senator
wishing to filibuster bill to actually stand up there and talk to which
Republicans are now replying, basically, if you guys do that, we the
minority are going to burn the place down.
Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma saying today, quote, “I think the
backlash will be severe. If you take away minority rights, which is what
you`re doing because you`re an ineffective leader, you`ll destroy this
place. If you destroy the place, we`ll do what we have to fight back.”
Senator John Cornyn says if Democrats change the rules, quote, “It
will shut down the Senate. It`s such an abuse of power.”
You might reasonably ask how their threats of a shutdown Senate,
right, differ materially from the shutdown Senate now when the minority
will not allow a majority vote on anything, thus, giving themselves, the
minority, the power to control of the Senate. We called Senator Coburn and
Senator Cornyn today and asked them what specifically they propose to do if
the Democrats do manage to tweak the filibuster.
Senator Cornyn`s office got back to us, but not yet with an answer.
If we do get that answer, we`ll let you know.
Senator Coburn did not respond, but he did give Politico.com a hint of
what he might do. He told them, quote, “I will filibuster any way I can.
If you want to filibuster, you ought to be willing to get out and earn it.
I don`t have any problems with that.”
Senator Coburn in other word says he will respond to being told he has
to really old-time filibuster by really old-time filibustering. He`ll
stand up there and make his case. I actually think the Democrats would be
OK with that. I think that is in fact what they are proposing. What`s
your objection, sir?
I don`t know yet whether Harry Reid and the Democrats can muster 51
votes for changing the rules on the first day of the new session when that
new session starts in January. But judging from the response across the
aisle, it sort of appears that Mr. Reid`s side is at least winning argument
already, given that their opponents are saying that they`ll do what the
Democrats are proposing to do as their way of objecting to what the
Democrats are proposing to do.
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio joins us next.
MADDOW: Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio joins us straight ahead. Stay
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: What these Democrats
have in mind is a fundamental change in the way the Senate operates for the
purpose of consolidating their own power and further marginalizing the
minority voices the Senate was built to protect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Republican Senator Mitch McConnell today on why Democrats
should not change the Senate rules in order to stop his minority Republican
Party from controlling what happens in the Senate.
Joining us now for the interview is Sherrod Brown. He`s the
Democratic Senator from Ohio who just won reelection by a big five-point
margin even though he got buried under $60 million in ads run against him
by dark money conservative groups.
Senator Brown, congratulations on your reelection. I haven`t seen you
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Thank you, Rachel. And I heard you
call the race on your show, so thank you.
Senator, if you are going to be in the Senate for another six years
now, I have to ask you directly, should the rules in the Senate change
there on day one in January?
BROWN: Yes, absolutely. The same gentleman you just listened to,
Mitch McConnell, talked about the dysfunction or what would happen in the
Senate. That`s what`s happened the last four years. He was the same
gentleman who two years ago that after the 2010 elections, that his number
one goal was to defeat the president of the United States in the next
election. And he did everything to do that, including invoking filibuster
time after time after time after time.
We have never seen anything like the four years of blocking action in
the Senate. That`s been the real abuse of power. Not we want to do where
we want to get the Senate moving so it could enact the people`s will.
We`re asking just to begin to debate these issues. They block issues
from even coming in the floor to debate. That`s what Senator Merkley and
Senator Tom Udall have been advocating for some time. Senator Reid is now
supportive. I feel good about our chances in a month or so.
MADDOW: I always hear from beltway folks that no majority party
should ever want to change the rules about this because you will wish you
hadn`t when your party becomes the minority. If you and the Democrats were
in the minority some time during the next term of yours, could you live
with the rule changes that the Democrats and Senator Reid are proposing
BROWN: I could, because I think that the public – I mean, after
elections, the public thinks some things should happen. It`s pretty clear
the public spoke loudly this year.
They reelected a president who carried almost all of the swing states,
won by 100 electoral votes, picked up Senate seats where the numbers were
stacked against us in terms of the number of Senate seats on the ballot,
going back to 1964 numbers literally. And picked up House seats and didn`t
win a majority because of redistricting, if you look at all the numbers of
House votes for Democrats and Republicans across the country.
So, it`s clear the public wants something done and McConnell doesn`t
want us to do any of these things, to move any of this forward. And that`s
the importance of making the Senate a more functional body so that we can
confirm judges. There are so many empty judgeships that could be doing the
people`s business but they`ve been blocked with issue after issue after
issue, just bring them forward and debate, speak your piece and let the
votes fall where they might.
MADDOW: And Senator McConnell`s big, long floor speech about this
today and those very incendiary quotes from Senator Tom Coburn, Senator
John Cornyn, they are really shaken the bars of the cage here. They`re
talking about burning down this institution essentially if you guys are
able to go forward and change these rules.
What do you think the Republicans might do? Could they do real damage
to the institution if they decided that they were going to pull out all the
stops to stop the Democrats from doing this?
BROWN: I think they can do symbolic things. I heard what you said
about Senator Coburn, he`ll go to the floor and talk and talk and talk, and
that`s fine. That`s sort of the old fashioned filibuster. But after he`s
done and he will be done at some point, maybe somebody else will do the
same. But at some point, we begin – we change the rule, begin to vote on
things. We see up or down votes on the people`s business.
And I think the public, I heard – most people don`t talk about
process when you`re out campaigning or out at town hall meetings, but I
heard so many times, what are you going to do so the Senate can actually
get things done?
The public wants things done. They don`t care a lot about arcane
Senate rules and rule 22 and what used to happen in the Senate. They know
the Senate is a more dysfunctional body than it`s been in years and years
and years and they want to see something happen. They want – they voted
for change and we want to be able to move forward.
MADDOW: This is something that gets discussed forever, but when I
talk to senators such as yourself, when I talked to other people who are
involved in the process that would make this potentially happen, it feels
like this year, it`s the real deal.
We`ll see if that`s true.
BROWN: It`s our best chance.
MADDOW: Sherrod Brown, Democratic senator from Ohio – thank you,
sir. It`s great to see you.
MADDOW: All right. Still ahead, who is being dug up tomorrow? And
why? It turns out, it`s important. That`s coming up.
MADDOW: OK. Here`s a weird one. In 1993, the president of Turkey
died apparently of a heart attack. I say apparently, because his family
claimed he did not die of natural causes. They said he was assassinated.
He had survived a previous assassination attempt when somebody had shot
him. But when he did die in `93, his family said they feared he had been
There was no autopsy. The blood samples taken to determine the cause
of death, they apparently went woxies (ph) and then last month, on the
orders of prosecutors investigating the case, Turkey decided to dig him up.
Turkey dug up their former president`s body and tested it for poisons that
might have killed him. And according to Turkish state media, they found
Investigators reportedly found four things. The well-known
insecticide DDT, a related and also poisonous compound called DDE, plus, a
highly toxic metal and two radioactive compounds, including polonium.
Here`s the thing – this former Turkish president might in the be the
most famous world leader to be exhumed under a cloud of suspicious about
his cause of death only to test positive for radioactive polonium
poisoning. He might not even be the most famous one of those this week,
because tomorrow, they are digging up Yasser Arafat.
In 2004, Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority, fell
ill. He was flown to a French hospital for care. But within a couple of
weeks, he was dead. Doctors said the official cause of death was some sort
of inexplicable blood condition and a stroke.
But most Palestinians did not believe that. The sudden illness, that
non-diagnosis, the fact that no autopsy was ever perform, not to mention
the political and emotional turmoil surrounding his death, a lot of people,
Arafat`s family in particular, thought maybe he had been murdered. Well,
that was eight years ago when he died.
Then this summer, news channel al Jazeera launched a lengthy
journalistic investigation into his death, based in part on Arafat`s widow
giving them her late husband`s medical files and some of his belongings.
The belongings she handed over included some of the clothes he was wearing
at the end of his life. One of those gauzy hospital hat things and a
toothbrush of his.
Al Jazeera sent those items to a lab in Switzerland. The Swiss
scientists conducted a number of specific tests for signs of specific
poisons and eventually, they landed on polonium. The same radioactive
element that Turkish investigators allegedly found in their president the
Swiss reportedly found in trace amount on Yasser Arafat`s clothing.
Now, that does not mean that the Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat,
was murdered. Polonium exists in a natural form. So, maybe it was that.
It`s also possible his clothes were exposed to it after he died.
But all this means really is the only way to know for sure that`s what
killed him is to test his body itself. And so, the Palestinians himself
are digging him up. They are exhuming Arafat`s body tomorrow. They`ve
already removed the stones from his tomb in the West Bank, and have sealed
it off from view, as you can see here. Scientists and investigators from
France, and Russia and Switzerland are already on site at the tomb.
Tomorrow, they will open it. The scientists will remove samples from
the body, which they will then test independently from one another. Some
of them tested in France, some in Russia, some in Switzerland, then the
remaining remains of Yasser Arafat will be reburied that same day in a
We are told to expect the results of the three independent tests in
those three different countries about four months from now, and that is
because the manmade, very rare form of polonium that they`ll be looking for
as a potential murder weapon, it is a half-life of about four months, the
kind you find in nature doesn`t have that kind of half-life. So if they
find it in his body that they`re going to take out of the tomb tomorrow,
it`s still a big if, they will need to watch what happens to that polonium
over time to know if the radiation was just an environmental thing or if it
Other than these two political leaders who may have been killed by
polonium, there are only a handful of people who have been killed by the
stuff. One was Marie Curie`s daughter. She was accidentally exposed to it
in a lab accident.
Another was the Russian spy-turned-dissident Alexander Litvinenko.
His tea was allegedly tainted with polonium in a fancy London hotel in
So, Marie Curie`s daughter, a Russian dissent, a Turkish president and
Yasser Arafat. The Wikipedia page of polonium poisoning is getting to be a
page-turner. It all happens tomorrow. We will keep you posted.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.” Have a
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