The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/21/12
ED SCHULTZ, “THE ED SHOW” HOST: This is “THE ED SHOW” for this year.
I`m Ed Schultz.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Merry, merry, merry, merry
Christmas to you and Wendy. You guys have had a hell of a year. You
deserved it, man.
SCHULTZ: Thanks, Rachel. Thank you so much.
MADDOW: Hang in there. All right.
SCHULTZ: You have a merry Christmas. You bet.
MADDOW: Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for joining us tonight.
Ahead of this holiday weekend, on a day when the world of news didn`t
slow down for the holiday weekend, it rather decided to spin on its axis at
about three times its normal rate.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the
courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
That of course is the Serenity Prayer, or one well-known version of it, at
least, and that prayer is what Republican House Speaker John Boehner
reportedly recited to the Republicans in Congress last night after they
defied him and rejected their own party`s plan and decided to leave
Washington rather than participate in making policy.
To stop the Bush tax rates from expiring at the end of the year and
the giant spending cuts that have been slated to kick in at the same time.
They just left. And as they were set to leave, John Boehner stood before
them and asked for help from God.
Then today, John Boehner invoked the Almighty again, telling reporters
“God only knows” what will happen next with his congressional Republicans.
“God only knows.” That was his direct quote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: How we get there, God
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Even as the Republican Party increasingly supports displace
of religiosity by their elected officials, it is yet rare to have someone
very senior in the midst of very high stakes negotiation publicly just say
that they have no plan and no understanding what to do next other than to
ask the Lord get involved to sort it out.
We are in a rare moment for the Republican Party. But, you know, just
in terms of the Serenity Prayer, the part that is turning out important
about it is the last part, “the wisdom to know the difference” part,
because what is happening in Washington right now is not a standoff. It`s
not a fight between the two parties. It is a breakdown inside one of the
two parties wherein their own elected leadership not only isn`t in charge
of their own side, their own elected leadership doesn`t even know who is on
I mean, in terms of the Serenity Prayer, John Boehner and Eric Cantor
do not have the wisdom to know the difference, mathematically speaking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REPORTER: Do you think you have the votes to pass “Plan B” among
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: Yes. We`re going to have
the votes to pass both the tax – permanent tax relief bill, as well as the
spending reduction account.
BOEHNER: I am not convinced at all that when the bill passes the
House today, that it will die in the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: You know, the bill never got to the Senate because it never
passed the House because it turns out you guys didn`t have the votes to
pass it in the House.
And the most important thing here is that you thought you did. You
counted wrong. You thought you had the votes and you didn`t. You did not
know that you were going to lose that vote on your own legislation because
of the votes of your own side.
You didn`t know you were going to lose it until you started to lose
it, and then you had to shut everything down at emergency speed.
Whether you prefer the policies of John Boehner or you prefer the
policies of Nancy Pelosi, if you just compare them, technocratly speaking,
as our last two speakers of the House of Representatives, the clearest
difference between them is that Nancy Pelosi never lost a vote. She never
once got so confused and lost such control of the group that she was
supposed to be leading, that she did not know what they were going to do.
She never got caught out saying something would pass when it, in fact, was
not going to pass. She never put up something to pass and had it fail.
Whether or not you like what Nancy Pelosi stands for, as a speaker of
the House, Nancy Pelosi was good at her job. John Boehner is not good at
We`ve ventured this as a hypothesis very early on in his speakership,
I mean, right from the beginning. It seemed like there might be something
amiss, right? On his first day as speaker, he tried to have Republicans
pull off the stunt where they would read the whole Constitution from the
floor of the House.
But even on day one, John Boehner could not manage his own symbolic
gesture. They skipped parts of the Constitution. They skipped parts they
did not like. And some parts they skipped because they were reading it out
of a loose leaf binder and the pages stuck together. Right then, we should
have known that was a bad sign.
John Boehner did not even succeed in getting all of his members sworn
in when he took over as speaker. Two new Republican members of Congress
went to a reception and missed the swearing in. They apparently saw it
happening on a TV screen that was playing at the reception, and they sort
of tried to swear themselves in by raising their right hand to the
television. But that does not count.
And so, then, when those two members of Congress – well, when those
two guys started voting on stuff, anyway, even though they had not
officially become members of Congress, John Boehner had to go back and redo
all those votes after doing backsies and getting those guys sworn in to
something other than a television.
John Boehner insisted on new rules when he became speaker, saying
Republicans could cut spending for every bill they passed that would add to
the deficit. And then they had to exempt themselves from their own rule
for the very first bill they introduced.
When the war on women thing really picked up pace and the Republicans`
incessant focus on anti-abortion stuff started to hurt the party
politically, you may remember John Boehner insisting over and over again
that this anti-abortion stuff was a Democratic conspiracy. There was no
war on women. Republicans were not focused on abortion at all – jobs,
jobs, jobs. The furthest thing from their mind was this anti-abortion
legislation. They weren`t even working on that.
And all the while he was making that case, his own Republicans kept
introducing more and more and more and more anti-abortion legislation.
Forget what John Boehner says. He doesn`t speak for us.
Since John Boehner has been speaker, since early 2011, the House has
had real trouble just doing basic run of the mill governing stuff – bills
failing unexpectedly and needing to be pulled at the last minute and tried
again. The Republican leadership`s own legislation failing to get enough
Republican votes to pass, and that happening in public because they
couldn`t count it properly in private?
They did get better at all the symbolic stuff that does not have real
world consequences. They may not have been able to find their way through
the Constitution on the first day in the majority. But they did figure out
how to fake symbolically repeal Obamacare 33 separate times. It didn`t
mean anything, but when there were things that didn`t mean anything that
were just symbolic, ultimately, they figured out that they could get some
of that stuff done.
But when things really did matter, like in the debt ceiling standoff,
when the Republicans decided to block something they happily voted for
dozens of times under Republican presidents, they did end up having to vote
to raise the debt ceiling, but not before they pushed the fight so far and
so late that the nation`s bond rating got downgraded explicitly because of
the breakdown in basic governing capacity in Washington, and the length and
the ferocity and the pointlessness of that fight did this to job growth for
the term of that fight. Not good.
The John Boehner is bad at his job hypothesis is by now a pretty well-
founded hypothesis. That was the case even before Mr. Boehner`s Republican
caucus just imploded last night and gave up and went home and asked the
Democrats to instead see if there`s maybe something they can do about these
the end of year negotiations that the CBO says will put the country back in
recession if they are not successful.
John Boehner is in fact bad at his job. I think the hypothesis has
But now, the most important question is why. Why is he so bad at his
job? Is it just a matter of him not being up to the job as a person, as an
individual? Does he not have the capacity and somebody else could do it?
Or is his job in fact impossible? What if the fractious ideological
commitments of Republican members of Congress now are incompatible with
If you need to, say, compromise in order to govern, and one side for
political reasons cannot compromise, then they cannot govern. It`s like if
you have a peanut allergy, OK? You can`t get a job making Reese`s Pieces.
Or if you have a religious prohibition against you operating modern motor
vehicles, that`s neat. But then you cannot get a job as a bus driver.
If John Boehner`s job is making governing policy, and if John Boehner
is bad at that job because Republicans in Washington are now existentially,
politically, incapable of making governing policy, that`s against who they
are and they won`t survive if they prove that is who they are, then what we
have as a country is not just a John Boehner is bad at his job problem.
This is a problem for which we may need to find the serenity and certainty
that it will not change.
John Boehner`s job as speaker of the House will be subject to a vote
on January 3rd. You might think his speakership might be in danger given
how he`s performed in the job. But as of yet, no named other Republican is
challenging him for the job. Maybe that`s because whoever is holding the
job, the job is doomed to failure.
Today, President Obama met with Senator Harry Reid. He gave a
statement saying he expected Republicans to come back after Christmas
before the end of the year to try again. Mr. Boehner gave his own
statement saying maybe something could break the rules a little bit and
start in the Senate to fix this problem instead of starting with his side
in the House.
If that happens and they can put something together on the Senate side
that can pass the Senate, and that can earn all of Nancy Pelosi`s 193
Democrats in the House, they would need, then, 25 Republicans to defect and
vote with all the Democrats to save the country – to save us at least from
a self-inflicted recession. They would need 25 Republicans.
Among the Republicans who did side with John Boehner last night on one
bill that he was able to pass before it all fell apart, among the
Republicans who were on John Boehner`s side last night were exactly 25
Republicans who are not coming back to Congress after this year, who are
gone as of January, and on whom the usual Republican centrifugal political
forces should therefore maybe not apply.
If those 25 lame ducks defect, and Nancy Pelosi holds the Democratic
ranks, then something that Harry Reid and President Obama cook up, or from
the Senate side, might end up working out. It might end up saving the
country`s bacon. If it does not happen, then we are still counting on John
Boehner`s leadership to find a way out of this.
And if John Boehner`s leadership is your national economy`s parachute,
how do you feel about taking this leap?
Joining us now is Chris Hayes. He is author of “Twilight of the
Elites” and the host of “UP WITH CHRIS HAYES” on weekend mornings at 8:00
Eastern here on MSNBC.
CHRIS HAYES, “UP WITH CHRIS HAYES” HOST: How are you?
MADDOW: I`m weirded out by the uncertainty of the future over a very
short time period in Washington. Uncertainty of the future over a long
period, I`m wired for that. Uncertainty about what`s going to happen for
the next 12 days for something this big of a deal, I feel rattled.
HAYES: Yes. Well, votes like last night, that is very rare. I mean,
it is – and it`s funny. I came in here thinking I was going to disagree
with you, and I`ve been tracking the John Boehner bad at his job hypothesis
which I think is right in some ways, but I ultimately where you ended up in
that monologue, which is it structural, or is it some personal
I mean, I think it is structural. And last night – last night was a
combination of personal incompetence and the structural problem. The
personal incompetence was the “Plan B” compromise never made any sense,
because as one aide told one reporter, what happens after you vote is you
have the entire Republican caucus half pregnant, right? They`ve all voted
now to raise taxes and gone against the pledge they`ve signed without
gaining anything concrete.
So, the plan they cooked up made no sense. But then there`s –
MADDOW: Which was a John Boehner problem.
HAYES: Which was a John Boehner – exactly. That`s what I`m saying.
That`s a John Boehner incompetence problem.
The deeper problem about John Boehner unable to whip his own caucus
has to do with the fact that he has no credibility amongst the people that
now occupy the center of the Republican caucus. He is to the left of the
center of the Republican caucus. And he is to the left of the center of
the Republican caucus that is particularly recalcitrant, and particularly
angry and rebellious.
And I think the only possible person who could pull off doing that job
would have to be someone who is really of that part of the caucus. And the
only analogy I think to that is LBJ with the Southern Democrats passing
civil rights in the `60s, which is that it was really only LBJ in certain
ways who could be the person to sell that vote to Democrats because of
where he came from.
MADDOW: See, I feel like the fact that he doesn`t have weight with
the rest of his caucus, with the sort of – where he needs to have it with
his caucus right now is not so much ideological. I think it`s a crisis of
authority on the Republican side. I don`t think anybody, no matter where
they were on the ideological number line could move Republicans in a
leadership role, because I don`t think Republicans in the House believe in
following leadership anymore.
Anybody who is in leadership by definition is the man. They`re an
insurgent party. You should never go along. Going along should – being
part of the larger number of people doing the thing as a group marks you as
suspect in the first place. I don`t think anybody could hold the job.
HAYES: You know, thing is something to that culturally. The irony to
that of course is Newt Gingrich initiated this revolution in which he
changed the culture to be very deferential to the leader.
HAYES: Yes, he got term limits for committee chairs, so, all of the
sudden, the House leadership was controlling who was the committee. He
took the power out of the committee chairs and centralized it in the
speakers – in the minority leaders` offices and the speakers` offices.
And all of that really did change the way the entire House worked to make
it more like the Nancy Pelosi House that we saw in the Congress before it
was taken over by Boehner.
MADDOW: Salute and you do what you`re told. Yes.
HAYES: Party line votes. If you need to deliver the votes, you can
get the votes. And now, it`s now coming apart. And there is no road map
or diagram or architecture in place for what the next iteration of what the
House culture looks like from a parliamentary perspective.
MADDOW: There is no – one of the things that I think is most
important about that is that there is no credibility that can be held by
any member of the House that would give them sway over other members of the
House on the Republican side.
But there is also nobody in the conservative movement. You saw the
Grover Norquist groups fracturing on this issue. You saw – you`ve seen
the FreedomWorks coming out in favor of what John Boehner was doing and
having to take it back. There is chaos even in the conservative movement,
which is traditionally where the Republican Party has looked when they`re
HAYES: And it also means that you can`t – you can`t do this basic
deal-making. And the grand irony here I think is that once again,
Republican obstruction will save progressives from Barack Obama doing
something that they didn`t want done.
I mean, there was a moment of time back when we go back to after Scott
Brown was elected, there are voices in the White House going small on the
Affordable Care Act. And the other voices are saying, well, the
Republicans are going to kill you either way. And the Republicans could
have jumped into that opportunity and they didn`t. And what they got as a
result was the big enchilada Affordable Care Act.
A week ago, we`re talking about benefit cuts to Social Security. And
now, the Tea Party is going to have ended up killing that possible
MADDOW: That`s right. And taking whatever Harry Reid gives them.
MADDOW: Yes, it`s unbelievable. This week, I want – I want to stay
at work like I want the holiday weekend.
HAYES: That`s a little weird.
MADDOW: Chris Hayes, the host of “UP WITH CHRIS HAYES” which airs
tomorrow at 8:00 Eastern. I`m sorry that you are over this weekend, but if
I`m in my office, go come get me for pastries.
HAYES: I will. And tomorrow we`re having a the publisher of SWAT
magazine on my show.
HAYES: Along with a woman who wrote an incredible essay about loving
guns and having a gun used against her. And it`s going to be a really
MADDOW: Excellent. I`ll be there watching you if I`m not here in
MADDOW: We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: OK. We`ve got lots ahead tonight, including an unwelcomed
visit from 1980s pop icon Rick Astley.
Plus, we`ve got a very welcome visit on deck from NBC`s Richard Engel,
after a harrowing ordeal at the hands of kidnappers. Richard is here
tonight for the interview. That`s ahead.
MADDOW: President Obama announced today his first nominee to his
second term cabinet. It has been 45 days now since the election. This is
the president`s first official nomination for his cabinet.
Now, historically speaking, this is rather late. It`s taken him
longer than President Reagan after he was reelected, longer than President
Bush after he was reelect, longer than President Clinton.
But, today, President Obama did it. He announced today that he wants
Senator John Kerry to be his next secretary of state to replace Hillary
One of the reasons we may have had this announcement today, as Andrea
Mitchell pointed out today, is that the White House finally had time to
deal with this nomination only because Congress cleared the deck, when the
Republicans in Congress all decided to give up and go home and submarine
their own speaker last night, that unexpectedly left some time for making
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m very proud to
announce my choice for America`s next secretary of state, John Kerry. He
has earned the respect and trust of his Senate colleagues, Democrats and
Republicans. I think it`s fair to say that few individuals know as many
presidents and prime ministers or grasp our foreign policies as firmly as
John Kerry. And this makes him a perfect choice to guide American
diplomacy in the years ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, Senate Republicans are not expected to oppose Senator
Kerry`s nomination. Republicans were the ones, in fact, who suggested that
John Kerry be nominated in the first place, rather than U.N. Ambassador
Susan Rice, who the Republicans did not want in the job, and who they
pressured into removing her name from consideration for the job.
The John Kerry as secretary of state announcement now ends speculation
on who will fill that one seat in the president`s cabinet. But, of course,
it does set off immediately a new round of speculation about some other job
questions like, for example, who will become the senator from Massachusetts
to replace John Kerry? Who gets it on an interim basis, and then who goes
on to run in the special election for that seat to hold it on a long-term
Everybody in Massachusetts now is saying that Republican Scott Brown
will run on his party`s side in the special election. But the Democratic
side is not yet clear.
And then, the next White House personnel matter that rises immediately
to the floor is, who is going to be the secretary of defense? The person
whose name has been floated this week is Chuck Hagel. Republicans are
trying to stop his potential nomination too, even though Chuck Hagel
himself is a former Republican senator. They think he is not right wing
Chuck Hagel does not just have critics on the right, though. On the
left, there is rumbling that Democratic presidents should stop putting
Republicans in the secretary of defense job like Bill Clinton did with
William Cohen and President Obama already did once with Bob Gates.
Markos Moulitsas at “Daily Kos” calls it, “a bizarre tradition of
sorts where Democratic presidents suddenly act like Republicans are right,
that only they, Republicans, can run our national security affairs.”
So there is general criticism from the left that Democrats should stop
bolstering the myth that Republicans are stronger on defense because
they`re Republicans. And therefore, only Republicans should run defense
even when a Democrat is president.
But there is also this one very specific criticism of Chuck Hagel
individually. It`s not a general criticism. It`s about his record. Back
when it was Mr. Hagel who had the power to confirm presidential nominees or
deny them, back when he was a United States senator, Mr. Hagel stood in
opposition to President Clinton`s nominee to be the ambassador to
Luxembourg, a man named James Hormel. Senator Hagel explained at the time
that he was opposed to the nomination because Mr. Hormel was guy.
He said to his hometown paper that ambassadors, quote, “are
representing America. They`re representing our lifestyle, our values, our
standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay openly,
aggressively guy like Mr. Hormel to do an effective job.” Chuck Hagel said
that in 1998.
Today, he took it back, releasing a statement to “The Washington Post”
calling his own words back then insensitive, saying they did not reflect
the totality of his views or his public record. He apologized to Mr.
Hormel and he apologized for saying it.
He then said he supports, quote, “open service,” which means I think
he is not going to be a creep about “don`t ask, don`t tell” if he gets put
in charge of the Pentagon who has just gone through hell and high water to
repeal “don`t ask, don`t tell,” thank you very much.
We don`t know if Chuck Hagel was sorry about his attack on Hormel
before that might stop him from getting the top job at Pentagon. We don`t
know if that or anything else will stop him from getting the job. We don`t
know even know if Chuck Hagel is the president`s top choice to get
nominated for that job.
It seems like we only got the first nominee for President Obama`s new
cabinet today because of a meltdown in Congress last night. Let`s hope
that we don`t have to wait for something quite that dramatic before we get
the rest of his nominees, too.
MADDOW: Hey, one more thing about President Obama potentially picking
former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense in his
second term. In 1998, as we just mentioned, Chuck Hagel opposed the
nomination of James Hormel to be an ambassador because Mr. Hagel said James
Hormel was, quote, “too aggressively guy”. Mr. Hagel apologized for those
remarks today, 14 years later, when the record of them surfaced to
something that might potentially screw up his nomination to head the
Today, Greg Sargent at “The Washington Post” followed up with Jim
Hormel. He asked James Hormel if he accepted Chuck Hagel`s apology.
Jim Hormel said, no. Mr. Hormel telling “The Post” that the apology
was never made to him. It was only made publicly. It had the appearance
of being defense, rather than sincere. He said Chuck Hagel appeared to be
apologizing, quote, “only in the service of his attempt to get the
I do not know if President Obama wants to nominate Chuck Hagel or not.
But if he is, so far, it`s not going all that well.
MADDOW: Do you remember when the White House Rick rolled millions of
people on Twitter? If you were fortunate to not know what Rick rolling
was, allow me to demonstrate.
It was back in July 2011, the White House tweeted the following.
Fiscal policy is important, but it can sometimes be dry. And then they
pasted a link there for people to click on. And when you click on the link
to find out about this dry fiscal policies thing, this is what happened
when you clicked on the link.
(MUSIC VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: There. You have been rick rolled. Congratulations.
A rick roll is an Internet made you look prank. You promise somebody
that they`re going to see something cool and interesting and new, and then
they click on the link and get this – always this. It`s not like any
song, it`s always this song. And this song is from 1987 by a man who I`m
sure is very nice person who is named Rick Astley.
But his name is Rick, so it`s Rick rolled. This is an old online
joke. And, yes, it`s weird and annoying, but it`s annoying on purpose.
It`s annoying because you not only don`t get to see the noteworthy
thing that you were promised that you were interested enough in to click,
but you also get this song stuck in your head, and it stay there`s forever.
It`s the Rick roll, OK?
Well, earlier this week, the National Rifle Association announced that
they would be holding a major press conference to respond to the shooting
at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. And at this
press conference, they said they would offer meaningful contributions to
help make sure that nothing like Sandy Hook ever happens again.
It seems like a big deal that the NRA did that, right? They never
really say things like that after there are shootings, after mass
shootings. They never, for example, call press conferences. It`s not how
they usually handle it.
Would this actually be a new and different message from the NRA? Was
the NRA prepared to change, sing a different tune?
At the press conferences this morning, they were still teeing us up,
right? We were ready to hear some never-before, new ground from the NRA.
The nation tuned in expectantly. What would happen?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID KEENE, NRA PRESIDENT: At the end of this conference, we will
not be taking questions, but next week we will be available to any of you
who are interested in talking about these or other issues of interest to
you. So contact us, please, at this point. Thank you very much.
WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA EXEC. VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning.
The National Rifle Association, 4 million mothers, father, sons and
daughters joined the nation in –
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Same old thing. It`s going to be stuck in my head revere.
They Rick rolled us. The NRA Rick rolled the whole country.
They promised us something that sounded new, something that sounded
meaningful, something you thought maybe this time would be a change. It
would be worth tuning in for. Something you hadn`t heard before from this
very important group, right?
But then you tuned in, you clicked, and what you got is something that
they have always done, and that you have heard many, many times before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAPIERRE: There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and
corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own
people, through vicious, violent video games. I mean, we have blood-soaked
films out there. A thousand music videos, and you all know this, portray
life as a joke. And they play murder, portray murder as a way of life.
And throughout it all, too many in the national media, their corporate
owners and their stockholders act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Video games, movies, music videos, the media ought to blame.
At one point, he blamed hurricanes for whatever is the bad thing that
happens next. But definitely not guns.
And this blame everything except guns, this is not a new P.R. strategy
for the NRA. This is what they always, always do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAPIERRE: We believe that people adjudicated mentally incompetent by
a court of law should be prevented from owning guns. As discussions
continue in the weeks ahead, and I know they will, we`re going to have
many, many discussions in the weeks ahead, we`ll take our responsible place
at any gathering that seeks meaningful solutions in this country as long as
they do not erode even a little bit the freedoms this association exists to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was as far as they have ever been willing to go in the
past. That was when Wayne LaPierre at the NRA conference in 1999, not two
weeks after the Columbine shootings. That is what they said was their
meaningful contribution back then to support something that was already the
This is what the NRA does, puts the blame on everyone and every thing
other than the one thing they do not want to talk about, which is guns.
Joining us now is Councilman Ricky Burgess. He`s a Pittsburgh City
councilman from the ninth district, which includes Homewood, an area that
has had more than its share of lives lost to gun violence. You may
remember that we visited with Councilman Burgess last May when the NRA held
its annual convention in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Councilman Burgess, it`s nice to have you back on the show. It`s nice
to see you.
REV. RICKY BURGESS, PITTSBURGH CITY COUNCILMAN: Thank you very much.
It`s good to see you too, Rachel.
MADDOW: Wayne LaPierre from the NRA today made the idea that the only
way to deal with situations like we had at this elementary school in
Connecticut, the only way to deal with gun violence is more guns. More
guns would make us safer. We need armed security, he said, in every
With your experience of gun violence in your district in Pittsburgh,
what is your react to Mr. LaPierre`s proposal?
BURGESS: Well, I was saddened and shocked that he would try to solve
a problem that doesn`t exist. You see, school violence is very rare. Of
all youth violence, only 1 percent occur in schools. So youth violence in
homicides occur on street corners, in homes, in alleys. That`s where the
violence is occurring in my neighborhoods and across this country.
I am sad and shocked that the NRA, which I believe is simply a
spokespeople for the gun industry, their solution is always more guns.
Guns are killing our people. Assault rifles are killing communities. It`s
killing our nation.
The problem is that we have too many guns. We need responsible gun
laws. We have to reduce the number of guns.
The more access you give kids to guns, the more homicides you`ll have.
Eighty-four percent of all homicides by guns occur in the United States.
They don`t have this problem in other countries because they don`t have the
volume of guns. Guns are what`s killing our community, and the NRA is the
prime cheerleader for an industry going mad with guns. And the lives of
our children are the price we are paying for the gun industry to have their
MADDOW: Even as the NRA is sticking with their old line, that the
problem is mental illness, the problem is movies, the problem is the media,
the problem is President Obama they blamed today – they blamed everything
other than guns today for whatever the problem.
Even as that is happening, the conversation in Washington is turning
to whether or not there should be another approach to having an assault
weapons ban. With the gun violence that you have in Pittsburgh, does the
type of gun matter? Would specifically targeting semiautomatic military-
style assault rifles make that much of a difference? Or are there too many
guns of too many different kinds to narrow it down like that?
BURGESS: Certainly there is no reason to have assault rifles on the
But there was a shooting in my neighborhood today. About an hour from
Pittsburgh, there was a man who killed three people, one in a church, shot
a state trooper. All those occur from guns. It doesn`t really matter
whether they`re assault rifles, whether they`re pistols.
It is too many guns on the street. And until there is about 300,000
guns in the United States on the streets, until we get rid of the volume of
guns, we will continue to have the senseless tragedies. We will have
communities like mine devastated because of the results of senseless gun
violence and families like mine devastated by senseless gun deaths.
It is elimination of guns. And, unfortunately, the NRA is a
cheerleader for the manufacturing of guns. And no matter what the problem
is, their solution will always be more guns, which means more deaths, which
means, you know, 20 deaths a day across this country in urban America.
There are 20 needless, shameless deaths occurring because of gun violence.
And our streets are running red, and the NRA makes a profit. And the
gun industry makes a profit. And it`s one of the nation`s greatest shames.
MADDOW: Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess, it`s nice to see
you again, sir. Thanks very much for being with us tonight.
BURGESS: Thank you very much.
OK, my friend Richard Engel, the truly intrepid NBC News chief foreign
correspondent, is going to be joining us tonight for the interview to tell
us the whole story of his kidnapping, his time in captivity, his escape,
and what he took away from the experience.
You do not want to miss this. It`s coming up.
MADDOW: NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is back home
in the United States safe after a five-day ordeal in Syria where he and his
crew were kidnap and held hostage. It started with a fatal ambush. It
ended with a fatal firefight.
In the end, all of NBC`s personnel made it out OK. Tonight, right
here, next, Richard is here in person exclusively to map out for us how the
kidnapping happened, what happened during the time he was held hostage, and
what he thinks should be learned from this.
I spent the afternoon with Richard here at 30 Rock today talking about
this. And the answer to that last question about what he thinks is
important about this, and what should be learned from this experience is
going to surprise you. You are going to want to watch this. This is like
nothing you have ever heard.
MADDOW: OK. Here is me and Richard Engel in Afghanistan together.
Really, not my best look. But there you have it.
Here is me and Richard Engel together in Iraq. Here is me and Richard
Engel together in this room, on this show, talking about something that
involved a map. And here is Richard Engel last week in Syria, in extremis,
obviously, kidnapped and held for five days, along with his crew, which
includes Ghazi Balkiz, and John Kooistra, both of whom we`ve also worked
with on the show when we had to shoot in places more far away and dangerous
than our usual New York digs.
Richard and his crew managed to get out safe, and the chance to hear
from him the story of what happened and what it means. I`m telling you is
worth stopping anything else that you are doing right now just to hear this
out. This is worth it.
I am glad you are back, obviously.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: I`m very happy to be
MADDOW: NBC`s chief foreign correspondent. You have spent your
entire adult life reporting from places that most people have never been to
and do not understand well. Can you just tell us logistically how this
happened, where you were and how it started?
ENGEL: Yes. So, this map shows the border between Turkey and Syria.
The yellow, squiggly line there, that`s the Turkish border. So, everything
above that is Turkey. Bab al-Hawa gate is the border crossing between
Turkey and Syria.
And we crossed through Bab al-Hawa, and we were traveling in this
area. This is a very rebel-friendly area. We came down from Bab al-Hawa
and we were heading into this area in the center to meet with a rebel
commander. And we were traveling with well-known people. It was set up.
The rebel commander actually came to Bab al-Hawa to pick us up.
MADDOW: Came to the border to get you?
ENGEL: Came to the border to get us, that`s how comfortable people
felt moving in this area. We were going to meet the rebel commander, he
was going to show us his area, he said I`ll come and pick you up.
He came. We met him. He picked us up. Hello, hello, then we drive
Just a few minutes after leaving the border crossing, traveling with
the rebel commander and one of his men and our whole team, we got ambushed.
And gunmen came from the side of the road, surrounded our car, wearing ski
masks, they had a truck waiting for us. And threw us in the back of the
truck – boom, the doors close. And they drive off.
MADDOW: Large number of people, they were lying in wait. It seems
like it was a well-coordinated.
ENGEL: It was an ambush. They were out of their area. These were
government people, who would come –
ENGEL: We knew it was government by what they were saying, you know?
The rebel commander thought maybe these were other rebel unit because it
was so unusual that it would happen in this area. And he said, what are
you guys doing? Where are you talking us? We`re with the rebels.
And they said, oh, you`re with the rebels? And they started beating
him. Oh, you`re with the rebels, don`t you support Bashar al-Assad?
And he said, well, yes – at this point, what is he going to say?
Yes, of course, we support Bashar.
But they said, you dog don`t even say his name. You don`t even
deserve to say his name.
And so, we knew we were with pro-government forces. The rebel
commander was saying to them, kill me, these guys are journalists, they
have nothing to do with it. Kill me, I`m a rebel commander. Let them go.
And he had a bodyguard. So they took his bodyguard, who he just – we
just met minutes ago and the rebel commander. They took us all. They
loaded us in the back of this truck. Doors go. They drive off.
They`re beating people in the truck. They grabbed me by the hair.
They slammed me against the side of the truck. And they`re starting their
little bit of interrogation, putting duct tape around our eyes and around
They drive from there to one of their safe houses, don`t know exactly
where, but roughly in this area up here. So it is a farm house. They take
the guard, the rebel commander`s guard out of the truck. Kill him.
MADDOW: And you can`t see that happen because you are blindfolded or
you can see it happen?
ENGEL: I couldn`t see it happening because we`re blindfolded, but it
was the distance between the two of us right now.
ENGEL: So, I`m utterly convinced that it happened. And they were
dragging the body away later, which we didn`t see, but we knew it was
happening. That happened in front of us, since we were blindfolded, we
couldn`t see it but could certainly hear it.
And then they took all of us, including the rebel commander, in the
safe house. He continually said let them go, these people don`t have,
we`re pretending not to understand any Arabic, because that was a better
thing to do so we can gather information.
MADDOW: You speak Arabic, other people in the crew speak Arabic. But
the people who are holding you do not know that.
ENGEL: They don`t know that.
ENGEL: Something that proved to be very valuable over the course of
this captivity. We were taken from the farm house, we know now, we didn`t
know at the time here, to the town of Ma`arrat Misrin. And Ma`arrat Misrin
is spelled like that is half – mostly Sunni with a small Shia pocket.
Their intention was initially to kill two of us.
MADDOW: They told you that?
ENGEL: We heard him again by not speaking, letting know we speak the
MADDOW: Oh, you can listen without them fearing that they know,
ENGEL: When he went outside, our main captor, it was like a farm
house, and he was begging his commander to let him kill two of us. And the
commander refused. He said there are six of them. Come on, why don`t –
why don`t I give you four and I`ll keep two. And the commander wouldn`t
ENGEL: There was one time, they were moving – I heard them moving a
tub of water, a metal tub of water, dragging it across the floor.
So, if you`re blindfolded and you think you are about to be
interrogated. And you heard them setting up metal tubs of water and
things, I thought maybe they were going to waterboard us, maybe they`re
going to stand us in this metal tub and put electricity – your mind goes
to bad places. Then you try and push that thoughts out, and when that
doesn`t happen, you`re not interrogated or tortured, you start to feel OK,
I`m comfortable in this place. As bad as it is, and then they move you to
some new location.
MADDOW: And every time you`re move, it all starts again.
ENGEL: We were here, they wanted to move us here, to Fou`a. And
Fou`a is a place that is very hard core Shia, very loyal to the government.
It`s mostly surrounded by the rebels, it is being air-supplied by the
MADDOW: Oh, wow.
ENGEL: So this is a hand-in-glove relationship between the government
and this very nasty militia group. Getting to Fou`a wouldn`t have been a
MADDOW: And it`s not that far.
ENGEL: And it`s not that far.
ENGEL: But they don`t control the space between these two towns,
(INAUDIBLE). They have this little pocket here and they have all of this
town. But to get there is a problem for them, especially now since the
rebels are on alert.
ENGEL: And that`s how we got out. One night, the fifth night, they
decide to move us, they load us in the back of a car, back of a minivan.
They leave. They`re leaving out this direction, and they`re going to do
sort of a round about way, I assume, to get there, because they`re leaving
in the opposite side of the town.
And they got nailed. They ran into a rebel checkpoint, surprise
checkpoint they weren`t expecting.
MADDOW: Stopped their car.
ENGEL: Stopped their car, there was a gun fight. Two of the – two
of our keepers, two of the kidnappers were killed, including the one who
was our main connection.
MADDOW: He was killed in the vehicle?
ENGEL: He was killed in the vehicle.
MADDOW: That you were in.
ENGEL: That we were in. And we`ve gotten out.
MADDOW: Were you worried that you were going to get shot in a
vehicle? I mean, you were in a vehicle that somebody else wants to get
shot and killed, even if it`s people that you want to be shooting that
ENGEL: They were pretty good shots.
ENGEL: They didn`t brass up the vehicle. They were precise, they
shot the two guys, and that was it.
So – did you know that at that point you were safe, or that you were
at least relatively safe? Did you know who the people were that had been
shooting at the car?
ENGEL: No, we know that they were shooting at Shabiha, our
kidnappers. So that was already a good sign. We knew that they were their
But then when we saw them these are very hard core Islamic
fundamentalists, and the guy came up. He has a very long beard, no
mustache, turban, you know, I don`t know who are these guys and we talk to
them a little bit and it was quite clear they were from the rebel group and
they couldn`t have been nicer to us. They were hard fighters, clearly good
MADDOW: Were they Syrians?
And then they brought us back to the headquarters, gave us food and
water, let us make a phone call. And then they escorted us personally to
MADDOW: Richard, the thing that is to me – just talking about this,
hearing this story and knowing what I know of you and the other guys in the
crew. The thing that seems scary to me, is that I don`t think you did
anything wrong. It doesn`t seem like there was any sort of bad planning
here, other than being in the middle of a war zone, that you were being
reckless here, do you think you did anything wrong?
ENGEL: No, I really don`t. We were in an area that is very much
considered rebel control. The rebel commander came to meet us personally,
and he was going to take us in the area, show us the activities there and
then drive us out. Not that wild.
I had done a few days early, a trip into Aleppo that I think was much
more dangerous than this – except somebody found out that we were waiting
on that road. Waiting, and they informed on us. And they set up a trap
and they grabbed us.
MADDOW: Does that mean that a war that is in the stages that this war
is in, and territory that this – that you were trying to cover is
uncoverable? If – you have to cover it in a way that keeps you alive?
ENGEL: I think it is going to get worse. I think it is going to get
worse, because when the regime falls, there is going to be – there will be
– there will be a lot of killing between the Sunnis and Shias. There is
some sort of civil and sectarian conflict that will break out.
And I expect fighting in Lebanon, just across the border, is also
going to break out. And you may have a situation where you have Sunni/Shia
conflict in Lebanon, in Syria and Iraq, stretching from Baghdad to Beirut.
ENGEL: And if you have these many sectarian groups fighting, in
pockets, all over the place, it will be very dangerous to cover.
MADDOW: Richard Engel, you are very much capable than pretty much
anybody else that`s doing this, and the fact that this was so dangerous for
you makes it – makes me worry about the prospect of covering these things
up close. But more than anything, I`m grateful you`re back.
MADDOW: Now you have to stay here and become a dentist, a doctor.
All right. That`s going to do it for us tonight. Now, it`s time for
“THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”. Thanks for being with us. Have a
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