The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/10/13
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thanks, my friend.
SCHULTZ: Thank you.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
There were quite a few laugh-out-loud moments in the last election.
But most of them, honestly, were from the Republican primaries. Come on.
Very few of the laugh-out-loud moments from the last election involved
President Obama himself telling a laugh-out-loud deadpan joke. But it did
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Governor Romney
maybe hasn`t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You
mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did
in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because
the nature of our military`s changed. We have these things called aircraft
carriers where planes land on them. We have ships that go underwater,
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ships that go underwater.
After that moment in the third presidential debate last year, there
was a brief but fascinating flurry of really earnest fact-checking about
the question of whether or not there really are fewer bayonets in the U.S.
military right now. Remember?
TMZ had an exclusive inside scoop on outrage from the bayonet
community. “We are not obsolete.”
In fact, the last famous bayonet charge in American history was in
1951 during the Korean War. But as Rajiv Chandrasekaran of “The Washington
Post” noted at the time of that debate, it was in 2004 when some of our
British allies were out of ammunition in a big battle in Basra, in Iraq,
and they resorted in that battle to using a bayonet charge to fight their
And for those guys, thank goodness, they not only still had the
equipment, but they had been trained in how to use it. If you`re going to
do battle and target your enemy in wartime using a bayonet, you obviously
have to have the skills to do that. It is a very close quarters way of
I mean, there`s hand to hand. That`s as close as you get, right?
There`s the bayonet. That`s probably next closest. Or some other form of
warfare that is about cutting somebody with something you are holding.
But beyond that, warfare and our means of attacking each other as
humans have evolved to put all sorts of distance between us and whoever it
is that we are trying to hurt or kill. A small handgun or even a big but
inaccurate gun you still have to be pretty close to the person you`re
trying to kill but not as close as you had to be with the bayonet.
In terms of a grenade that you have to throw, that lethal force can be
projected a distance away from yourself that is derived directly from the
strength of your arm. So I don`t know, maybe about 180 feet.
And you have a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, the same kind of
weapon can be propelled about 1,000 feet away from you.
A sniper rifle can be lethal up from to a mile away.
The highest altitude from which U.S. bombers can drop bombs is
considered to be about 9 1/2 miles.
When the guns get really, really big, the distance at which they are
lethality effective goes up as well. The generally accepted range say for
a howitzer is about 14 miles.
We have never fired an intercontinental ballistic missile except in
testing but the ones that we`ve still got in silos up in the Plain States
aimed at what used to be the Soviet Union, they have a range of 6,000 miles
Ever since man stopped just throwing rocks and started using sling
shots and then advanced to catapults, people have been able to project
lethal force. People have been able to inflict injuries or death on their
enemies in wartime from a relatively safe distance. From a distance that
relatively speaking keeps at a safe distance the person who is pulling the
In the debate now over the most modern form of American warfare, which
is killing people using planes that don`t have pilots, using unmanned
flying robots in far-away countries, what is often portrayed as novel and
especially morally troubling about that means of killing people is that
there isn`t a person inside the plane. There isn`t a person inside the
plane that has the missiles on it. That the person piloting the aircraft
and pulling the trigger to fire the missile used in that attack is actually
thousands of miles away in Virginia, say, or Nevada, or somewhere, rather
than him or herself actually being at the battlefield.
But the idea that the ethically relevant thing about a drone is how
far away you the trigger puller are from the explosion or the damage that
you cause with your weapon, that is a quantitative matter. That is not a
qualitative matter. We have always been able to project force far away
from the person who is exerting it.
The ethical sensitivity here is really not about the particular type
of weapon of war we are using. It is that we are killing people using that
weapon of war in place that aren`t war zones. And that is the unnerving
consequence of the whole idea of a war on terror, or a war against a non-
state actor that could be anywhere in the world and that therefore
designates that war as taking place everywhere.
The most frequent, outside a war zone place where our government
carries out these kinds of attacks is of course in Pakistan. In 2010, we
saw what the Obama administration was going to be like on this score.
There was a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan roughly every three days in 2010.
The New America Foundation tracks these things and their record shows it
was an unprecedented spike in terms of how frequently we were killing
people in Pakistan using this particular method of killing people even
though Pakistan is supposedly not a war zone for us, at least not more than
anywhere else in the world.
Interestingly, though, in 2011, it dropped off. In 2011 we launched
from dropping drone strikes in Pakistan roughly every three days to
launching them on average every five days. Then in 2012, it dropped off
even further. We were launching a drone strike in Pakistan about every
seven or eight days as of 2012.
Well, how is this year shaping up? It is January 10th. So, so far,
there have only been 10 days in 2013. Of those 10 days in 2013, so far, we
have launched a drone strike in Pakistan on seven out of those 10 days.
Now, maybe that is an aberration. Maybe those are the only seven we will
have this year and by the end of the year, our average will keep up this
year-to-year pattern of decline.
But seven strikes in the first 10 days of the year, that`s kind of off
the hook, right? Of course, the most amazing thing about this as a matter
of policy is that it isn`t really a matter of policy, or at least it isn`t
publicly a matter of policy. The administration, when we have a drone
strike in Pakistan, never says, yes, we just launched a drone strike in
When you talk to people in the administration, or when they are
willing to go on the record to the press about these things, they will
describe these drone strikes as having been reported. They never full on
admit that the United States is carrying them out.
But it is the United States carrying them out. The fact that we know
that these things are happening and that our government nevertheless
considers them to be deniable is frankly one of the more Orwellian things
about being an American citizen in the 21st century.
The closest thing we have to a face for the drone policy or the drone
non-policy is this man. He is the face of this policy that we have of
killing people outside of war zones using this particular tool. And he is
the face of the policy both because he is the man who is reported to bring
specific names and specific details of specific targets to the president
for the president`s personal approval. So to the extent that there is a
kill list, this guy is reportedly the keeper of the list.
But the other reason that he is the face of the policy is that he is
the member of the administration who came forward to give a speech about
This past spring, it was John Brennan who gave the first ever U.S.
policy address, admitting to some of our drone strikes and defending them
as both wise and legal.
John Brennan also this past fall told “The Washington Post” this –
quote, “I think the rule should be that if we`re going to take actions
overseas that result in the deaths of people, the United States should take
responsibility for that. We should. But we don`t. At least not for all
of the drone strikes that we launch.
The deniable drone strikes, the ones the U.S. does not take
responsibility for, the ones the U.S. does not admit to even though
everybody knows we`re responsible for them, those are the ones that are
committed as covert action. They`re the ones that are launched by the CIA.
As John Brennan has now been nominated to head the CIA, he`s being
described as somebody who wants to bring this policy out of the dark. Not
that he wants to stop killing people using this particular tool, but he
thinks we should do it in a way that is more accountable. He specifically
thinks we ought to admit we are doing it. And even more specifically than
that he is said to prefer to have the military do these strikes instead of
Now, we may or may not like what our military does in wartime. But
the rules under which our military operates and the political expectations
we have when they do operate are that we get to know what they`re doing.
And our political leaders, who are at the top of their chain of command are
therefore responsible for giving the orders, and our political leaders can
be voted out of office if we do not like what they have the military do.
We do not have that luxury, the accountability when our government doesn`t
admit to what we do.
This idea of killing people with drones is not a qualitatively novel
thing. This idea that it is basically just a form of killing people in
warfare and should – therefore, the military should do it, this idea is
said to be one that John Brennan favors, have the military do it, not the
CIA. That`s not a new idea, either.
The 9/11 Commission made that same recommendation back in 2004.
Quote, “Paramilitary operations, whether clandestine or covert, should
shift to the Defense Department.”
Remember when we as a country supposedly accepted all the
recommendations of the 9/11 Commission? That one was accepted in theory
but obviously never acted on. John Brennan is now on tap to be the new
head of the CIA. He said he agrees with that idea. At least we`re told he
agrees with that idea.
But while he has had the job of leading the overall counterterrorism
policies of the Obama administration, we have seen no such shift in
So why are we now supposed to believe, now that he`s up to be the
director of the CIA, which is a senate confirmable job, why are we now
supposed to believe that regardless of how things have gone under his
leadership so far it all might change and get a lot more accountable and
more transparent and he gets this new job?
If he does want to bring drone war – drone warfare out of the dark
and put it on more authoritatively legal and accountable grounds, if he
moves to run the CIA, will that make him more able to effect that change in
our government if he really wants to do if, if he really has wanted to do
it all along but hasn`t been able to pull it off? I mean, it is kind of
hard to believe he`s going to go run an agency so he can give some of that
agency`s authorities away.
Or are we to believe that the president, who is nominating John
Brennan to run the CIA, that the president also wants to make this change,
that the president, who has used drone warfare in an unprecedented way, who
has been unprecedentedly aggressive on that subject, that this president
wants to bring the drones out of the dark too, and therefore he needs to
move John Brennan over to the CIA because he knows then he`ll have a CIA
director in press who will acquiesce to the CIA losing that particular job
of running all our flying killer robots and never having to answer for it.
The critique from the left on President Obama on national security and
there`s a lot of them, you could go into any level of detail on any one of
them, but the big ones are one he hasn`t closed Guantanamo, although we
know he is trying to do that and it is Congress who blocked him. Two, that
we are still in Afghanistan in big numbers. We shall see how quickly we
get out there have when he comes one his recommendations for the speed of
But there is also this third thing. That the wholesale embrace of the
secretive, pseudo-legal deniable, Orwellian means of raining death from the
sky all over the world, even in places where we`re not technically at war
and never admitting to it.
Does President Obama appointing John Brennan to run the CIA mean that
he does care about that critique from the left? Or is it the opposite? By
promoting the architect of the drone program we`ve got now, is this a punch
the hippie moment?
Is it a sign he`s happy for drone warfare to be his legacy and it`s
becoming entrenched, it`s getting promoted, it`s not going to change?
Which is it?
Joining us now is Bill Burton. He`s former White House deputy
secretary for the Obama administration. He`s co-founder of Priorities USA
Political Action Committee and he`s a good sport who rushed over here when
we suddenly changed the time at which he need to arrive.
Thank you for hustling over here. I really appreciate it.
BILL BURTON, PRIORITIES USA CO-FOUNDER: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Is this a punch the hippie moment? Does the White – is the
White House concerned by the critique of drones from the left or do they
share any of the aspects of that critique?
BURTON: Well, even if you just take this back a step from talking
about whether we`re just talking about the left who has a critique or the
American people who have a right to know certain things about what the
government is doing, I think it`s worth noting that the CIA is accountable
and they are accountable to Congress.
And anytime Congress wants to have a conversation with the head of the
CIA they bring him down and have a conversation with him. Sometimes those
conversations are open. Sometimes those conversations are not. But
Congress does have oversight legally over what the CIA is doing.
And as for John Brennan, this is a guy who you note is for
accountability, is for transparency, and is the guy who gave the first
speech as you noted that talked about the drone program that the United
States has. The question that we have to ask ourselves is if the
presumption is that the president has to do every single thing in his power
to keep the American people safe, then how is he going to do it? If
there`s bad guys in Yemen who are a part of al Qaeda, is he going to send a
drone in to go and get them?
And I`m not revealing any classified information. Is he going to send
a drone in to get them? Or is he going to put thousands of American troops
on the ground to go get them by some sort of standard rules of warfare that
some might think are better to prosecute a war –
MADDOW: I think that –
BURTON: – and I don`t think that`s the best way to necessarily
prosecute this war.
MADDOW: That`s not what I`m arguing, though. And I don`t think
that`s what this debate is about.
I think that we kill people in wartime using all sorts of means that
Americans would find distasteful when viewing them from the comfort of our
living rooms, right?
MADDOW: Killing people in wartime is something you do by all sorts of
horrible means. Drones used by the military in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and
places like that are not something that have ever attracted attention.
The use of drones in Yemen and Somalia by the U.S. military in ways
that were admitted to by U.S. policymakers I also don`t think upset very
I think the thing that is morally different is covert action, denying
that it`s happening. It has been reported that there has been a drone
strike in Waziristan. Yes, I have seen those reports. I will not comment
on whether or not that is an action of our government.
The covert nature of them when they are done by the CIA seems to be
what bothers John Brennan. He keeps saying it should be done by the
The question is whether or not he is going to be in more of a position
to change that if he runs CIA or less?
BURTON: Well, he`s certainly going to be in a position that`s a lot
more accountable to Congress, and he`ll be in a place where whenever the
heads of the committees on intelligence call him down, he can certainly
answer questions about what he`s doing, how he`s doing it, how this war is
But when you have known members of al Qaeda and their leadership and
you`re going after them, it makes sense that the American government does
every single thing it can to keep us safe, because the rules of warfare
change. During the American Revolution, the British thought, you know, you
could march in a field. The other guys march in a field, everybody just
shoots until everybody`s dead.
When al Qaeda flew planes into buildings in New York City and in
Washington, D.C., they changed the rules of warfare, too. When Congress
said the American government can go after al Qaeda, they authorized the use
of force against al Qaeda. And that`s what`s being prosecuted right now.
MADDOW: When it is the CIA doing it, though – and you talked to
members of Congress about what oversight is like on intelligence matters
especially on issues like this. And they say, yes, we go into a room we`re
not allowed to have any staffers we`re not allowed to take any notes and we
get out we`re not allowed to talk to anybody about it.
So you tell me how strong an oversight rule that I have here. The –
BURTON: They still get to vote on it. They still get to vote on
budgets. They still get to vote on the policies. They still get to –
they still get to do their role of oversight even though they don`t have
BURTON: They could certainly defund the drone program.
MADDOW: Well, the way that this works right now doesn`t necessarily
affect nuances of modern warfare so much as that it affects the basic idea
that American policy should be accountable to American voters. And when we
have policy that is deniable, when our political leaders don`t admit it to
us, they`re not allowed to admit it to us, then there`s something wrong
democratically. There`s not something wrong with the rules of war.
And that could change. There`s nothing operationally more capable
about the CIA than the military. The military can do everything
operationally that the CIA can do.
Just a matter of the legal authority under which it`s being done. How
do we find out what the president thinks about that when he won`t admit
that he`s doing it?
BURTON: Well, Rachel, two things. For starters, there have been
things that the American government has done to keep Americans safe for the
last two centuries that Americans don`t know all the details about. And
sometimes, it makes sense that you and I don`t know every single thing that
the government is doing and every single mission because it affects your
ability to do those things.
The government has to be careful. And, of course, the president is as
careful as humanly possible in following the rule of law and making sure
that we are doing everything we can to keep people safe, but within the
bounds of what Americans think that we ought to be doing. But, yes, that`s
right. The government does sometimes have secrets.
The second thing I will say is just if you take a step back from this
debate, the thing that the American people missed in this last presidential
election was a real debate over these issues.
MADDOW: Yes. Mitt Romney was not capable of holding up his side of
BURTON: Mitt Romney couldn`t hold up his side of the debate and he
basically ceded all this to President Obama.
And if I just take off my Obama hat for a second, put on my analyst
hat, I think it will probably be – we get a chance in this confirmation
hearing to have a conversation about these things, but it will probably not
be until the Democratic primary in 2016 where we have a full airing of this
debate and people really discuss where do we think the country ought to be
on these issues, and did we do everything right, did we do something that`s
And, you know, I think the fact that Mitt Romney wasn`t able to come
to the table and have a conversation about these issues means that all of
us lost out on it.
MADDOW: The Republicans are not capable of participating in this
debate. That`s why I think it`s so interesting and the confirmation
hearings may be so interesting. If in fact this nominee in particular
thinks that we ought to be doing things in a way that`s more accountable
than has been true under the leadership of his counterterrorism adviser.
And I just want to make sure we have the debate even if the
Republicans can`t hack it. And I`m hoping that you will help.
BURTON: Well, he`s certainly shown more transparency than we`ve ever
seen in this. So –
MADDOW: Bill Burton, thank you for rushing in here and be willing to
fight with me about this. I appreciate.
BURTON: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Thanks a lot.
All right. Vice President Biden – speaking of fighting – spent part
of his day across the table from the National Rifle Association today.
Guess how that went.
MADDOW: The great Ezra Klein wrote recently at “The Washington Post”
that for all the good-natured joking about our nation`s vice president, old
handsome and all that, Joe Biden, Ezra said, is secretly, incredibly
That thesis about the vice president`s effectiveness is about to get a
major road test. Today alone, the vice president met with a bunch of
political pressure groups who are not exactly thrilled with his current
task, which is to come up with policies to deter gun violence in our
Among the vice president`s guests today were the NRA. How that went
and how it stands up to Ezra`s thesis is coming up.
MADDOW: A political miracle was proclaimed in Washington today with
the rather shocking news announced unexpectedly that something big is not
only about to get done, it is about to get done early.
Here was the president speaking on December 19th.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact that this
problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing. The fact
that we can`t prevent every act of violence doesn`t mean we can`t steadily
reduce the violence and prevent the very worst violence.
That`s why I`ve asked the vice president to lead an effort that
includes members of my cabinet and outside organizations to come up with a
set of concrete proposals no later than January.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: No later than January. Meaning by the end of January, you
guys have got to have something figured out.
The president insisted in those remarks on December 19th that he
really wanted to move fast. He said, “This is not some Washington
commission. This is not something where folks are going to be studying the
issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and pushed
aside.” He said, “This is a team that has a very specific task to pull
together real reforms right now.”
The president emphasizing again and again how big a deal he wanted to
make about going fast. He wanted to go fast. He wanted recommendations
for action not within months but within weeks. He wanted it by the end of
Well, today we learned from Joe Biden that he`s going to beat that
deadline by 2 1/2 weeks. The vice president says he`s going to have his
recommendations to President Obama by Tuesday. This upcoming Tuesday, the
As a lifelong procrastinator, I`m kind of jealous. But as somebody
who covers the news for a living, I`m surprised. This usually does not
happen. Everything`s always down to the wire, right?
But this is happening early. It`s happening faster than even
expected. And it`s really important that it is happening that way.
The same week of the president`s press conference, a “Washington Post”
op-ed, a person who is the top White House assistant on domestic policy
issues, one of the last times we pride ourselves out of moral traction to
do something about reforming our laws on guns, wrote with some advice for
President Obama. He said, “Fifty years later essentially it`s all about
urgency, it`s all about the timeliness and how quickly you could act.”
Quote, “If ever there was a moment for President Obama to learn from
history, it is now, in the wake of Friday`s shootings at the elementary
school in Newtown, Connecticut. The timely lesson for Obama, drawn from
the experience of Lyndon B. Johnson, the last president to aggressively
fight for comprehensive gun control, is this: demand action on
comprehensive gun control immediately, from this Congress, or lose the
opportunity during your presidency.”
Joseph Califano then goes on to quote LBJ directly in terms of the way
he instructed his staff directly back in 1968. Listen. “In the aftermath
of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, President Johnson pressed
Congress to act gun control legislation he had sent to Capitol Hill years
earlier. After the assassination, LBJ ordered all of us on his staff to
act swiftly. Quote, he said, “We have only two weeks, maybe even 10 days,”
he said, “before the gun lobby gets organized.”
After Newtown, President Obama was not suggesting action on gun reform
in 10 days or two weeks but he was asking for it within six weeks, by the
end of January. And now, Joe Biden has sped up that six-week time frame to
four weeks. And the consequence of that, just like back in 1968, is that
the gun lobby is having a hard time getting organized. Just like LBJ said.
The same dynamic is actually at work not just at the federal level but
in New York state where New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday
in his state of the state address called for new state-level restrictions
on guns in New York. And he`s not kidding. He was not just calling for
something in a speech he hopes people will start working on.
The state assembly speaker today said legislative leaders and the
governor are already 95 percent of the way done. With an agreement on a
new package of gun reforms in the state and the Republicans in the state
Senate are already telling reporters that they are not intending to block
this deal for new gun laws.
Mr. Cuomo`s state of the state speech was yesterday. New York state
lawmakers come back next week, and the word in New York is that they`re not
just going to start considering what was in that speech next week. They
are going to have a vote next week on that package of reforms. Done.
Because speed is of the essence, because momentum is on your side, and
why would you give the other side more time to get organized? Just like
Well, the way that the other side is organized or not is starting to
come into sharper focus right now as we get closer and closer to specifics.
at least at the federal level, in terms of what we`re going to do on this
The gun lobby, the NRA at least, in some ways is a victim of their own
success. Their political M.O. is to prevent anybody from even bringing up
gun control legislation, to make it seem politically impossible to even
broach the subject. And so they`re not used to having the debate, their
side of the argument, with powerful, motivated, organized proponents of the
In other words, they have been so successful at shutting down any
possible debate over gun control in this country that they now seem
legitimately surprised that there might be a legitimate debate in this
country over gun control.
Their reaction today to their meeting with Vice President Joe Biden in
Washington was that they said they were disappointed. That was their word,
“disappointed,” that one of the subjects of discussion was reforming gun
Yes, what did you think you were there to talk about? This is the
list of gun owner groups and gun advocacy groups that Vice President Biden
met with today. In this ongoing series of meetings he`s having toward
producing a list of recommendations that we now know will come next week.
The National Rifle Association is fourth there on the list.
Other than the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has the
distinction of being headquartered in Newtown, Connecticut, where that
massive school shooting was last month, none of these other groups are
really seen as all that influential in the field or even all that well-
But there are other gun advocacy groups in the country besides the
NRA, who were not at that meeting today. Take, for example, from the `08
presidential election. The NRA in that election endorsed John McCain for
president, saying he had steadfastly voted against every gun and ammunition
ban in Congress. That was the NRA endorsement of McCain for president in
At the same time, the Gun Owners of America, which is a competing
organization, they compete with the NRA. They were denouncing John McCain
as a liberal gun grabber. Not only did they not endorse McCain in his 2008
election, they gave him an F rating on their A to F scale as a politician.
This competing group with the NRA touts an endorsement on their web
page from Ron Paul. Ron Paul calling them the only no compromise gun lobby
in Washington. Because you know those NRA guys, they`re the appeasers.
And to prove it, the Gun Owners of America points to moments like
after the Virginia Tech shooting when the NRA agreed to go along with an
effort by the Brady Campaign to try to tighten up the part of federal
background checks to keep people with diagnosed mental illness from getting
their hands on weapons the way the Virginia Tech shooter did.
The NRA did work on that with the Brady Campaign even though nothing
came out of that. But the Gun Owners of America opposed that work.
If you want to get even further out there, consider the bill that
passed the Republican-controlled House in 2011. It would force states to
accept permits for concealed weapons that were issued in other states, even
if they themselves had tighter rules about this thing.
The bill would essentially eliminate the ability of a state to
regulate who can have a concealed weapon in their state if the state allows
concealed at all. It would force the rules from the least restrictive
states in the country onto every else no matter what other states wanted.
You`d think this would go down on predictable lines, right? You`d think
you`d have Carolyn McCarthy and the other famous voices for gun regulation
in Congress against it and you`d have the gun rights stuff – gun rights
guys on the other side.
And indeed the NRA and the Gun Owners of America with reservations
said they were for this thing. But then you go further out on the limb,
and there`s the National Association for Gun Rights saying they were
Why were they against that? Are they just some gun control group that
has a weird counterintuitive name? No, this group is so anti-gun control
that they see even a law like this as a secret Trojan horse to allow the
government to come in and take your guns. Any regulation on guns at all,
even if it`s one designed to allow more access to guns, they think is too
They do not even accept the legitimacy of pro-gun proliferation laws
because it`s a law and a law, that can`t be allowed. This is what the pro-
gun side of the conversation is like. These are the kind of fights these
guys have with each other. That side of the argument is not just the NRA.
It`s the NRA arguing over how many well-armed angels can dance on the head
of a pin with even more fringe groups that get even more fundamentalist
over time and are rewarded for their fundamentalism.
When the NRA came out after what happened in Newtown and shocked the
country with their demand for more guns as a response to that kind of
carnage, they weren`t trying to win an argument with a country that was
horrified by gun violence and trying to do something about it. They were
trying to hold on to their own seat at the table. They were talking to the
other pro gun groups out there that are even more extreme than them. They
were trying to hold on to their gun anarchy, fundamentalist, uncompromising
They`re like a Republican political who in the real world seems like a
super conservative until he`s facing a Tea Party challenge in a Republican
primary and all of a sudden you`ve got Orrin Hatch saying he`ll burn down
the country over an individual mandate for health reform when he used to
sponsor the individual mandate for health reform. These guys are worried
about getting primaried.
In terms of whether or not the gun lobby is well organized here,
whether they`ve got their act together, the NRA with their response to the
meeting with vice president Biden today, with their immediate response to
Newtown which horrified the country, which everything they have done since,
all shows that they are so preoccupied with fending off a challenge from
inside the pro-gun movement, they`re so worried about their own right flank
that they`re not capable of any sort of political acuity in participating
in the wider discussion.
I mean, they got their chance, but they could not pull it off. They
are not well-organized enough to do it. They are confused as to who they
should be fighting with, and they do not appear to be able to fight a two-
Meanwhile, on the other side, on the other side of this debate, that
side has literally never been so organized and so ambitious as they are
right now. The marquee powerful and rich political figure on that side of
the debate is of course New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He has been
thinking strategically about this issue for a long time, in ways that are
now beginning to pay off.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Does that dynamic change now? Does the NRA
have disproportionate power? You argued a moment ago that they didn`t have
the power they once had in a presidential election.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK CITY: Look, I`ll give you a
good example. One of the things they decided to do in this last election
was to support some candidates that were running against those that had
great records with the NRA, where the NRA was putting their money into one
side. I decided to put my money into the other side.
GREGORY: Joe Baca in California, one of those Democrats that you –
BLOOMBERG: We won four out of seven. Four out of seven where the NRA
supported every one of those four and we won with a small amount of money.
There is this myth that the NRA is so powerful –
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Mr. Bloomberg`s experimental anti-NRA PAC spending, it did
focus on seven races in 2012. He didn`t win all of them. But he did win
four of those races. And it didn`t take him a ton of money to do it. And
as we reported last night, the NRA`s own spending was profoundly impotent
in the last election. Less than 1 percent of their multimillion-dollar
expenditure in 2012 was spent on winning candidates. They wasted more than
99 percent of their money in 2012.
Mike Bloomberg up against them won most of his races. And now there`s
more. On the same day that Mike Bloomberg`s group, Mayors Against Illegal
Guns, started running this ad on the second anniversary of the Tucson
shooting that nearly killed Gabby Giffords. On the same day they started
running this ad demanding a plan, a concrete plan of action in Washington
and not just platitudes, Gabby Giffords herself, the survivor of that
shooting, she and her husband launched not just a generic political
initiative to push for improvement someday or increased awareness on this
Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly launched a political action committee to
fund a real nuts and bolts political effort to oppose candidates who will
stand in their way and to promote and reward candidates who will help on
this issue. They stated today their initial fund-raising goal is $20
The money in politics is supposed to be gross, right? Ooh, it`s so
impure. And it`s true, it is very impure. But it is also the reason why
we think of the NRA as powerful, that they will devote resources, money, at
campaign time to punish candidates who don`t do what they want and to
reward candidates who will. That money is what supposedly creates the
political fear of the NRA.
Well, what if that fear isn`t one-side one-sided? What if the fear
and the disincentives and incentives it creates don`t end up only on one
That`s the new landscape of this policy issue with Bloomberg and what
Gabby Giffords is doing in terms of money. And it is also how the gun
reform side has now started to operate on a day-to-day basis.
Now, this past weekend, the Beltway dissolved into cynical puddles of
uselessness when on ABC`s Sunday morning show, the newly elected centrist
Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota had this to say about the
prospects for gun reform via this process that Joe Biden is heading up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP (D), NORTH DAKOTA: What I hear from the
administration and if “The Washington Post” is to be believed, that`s way,
way in extreme of what I think is necessary or even should be talked about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When this brand new Senator Heidi Heitkamp said that last
weekend, the entire beltway collectively smirked, right? Started putting
exclamation marks on their repeated insistence of the NRA`s chosen common
wisdom on this issue.
See? We told you. We`ve always told you nothing can be done.
See? No matter how much the country wants it, our political system
does not work on this issue. Politicians only answer to the NRA. That`s
the only thing they will respond to. They`re so rah frayed of the NRA that
nothing can be done.
Our democratic process is hopeless before the power of the NRA. The
NRA like Matt Drudge rules our world.
That was the reaction from the Beltway, right?
But look at what happened two days after that appearance on
television. Two days after Heidi Heitkamp went on that Sunday morning show
and said what she said about any discussion of gun control being way
extreme, a group called the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence started running
this ad in both places where Heidi Heitkamp has offices – in Washington,
D.C., where she`s just setting up her Senate office, and back home in North
It says, “Shame on you Heidi Heitkamp for telling the country on
Sunday that the Obama administration`s response to Newtown is extreme.
Seventy-four percent of NRA members support criminal background checks on
all gun buyers. Blocking common sense solutions to keep military-style
weapons out of dangerous hands? Now, that is extreme.”
And then in prototypical meant to be intimidating style, they gone go
on to list her office phone number and district the reader of this ad to
tell Senator Heitkamp it`s time to stand up for American families not the
gun lobby. They give her direct number and tell people to call her. And I
have no idea whether anybody called.
But this kind of thing is designed to make a member of Congress feel
like there is a political threat to them and not just on one side of this
issue but on both sides. And after that happened, she said that thing she
said on Sunday, those ads came out on Tuesday, and after that Senator
Heitkamp put out a statement clarifying that while she does believe that
Americans have a right to bear arms, quote, “with that right come
The senator stating affirmatively, “We have a responsibility to keep
guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.” She said, “Every
option must be considered. All options must be on the table when it comes
to addressing gun violence in America.” Still a pro gun rights statement
from the senator but it is a measured, “I`m willing to be constructive”
pro-gun rights statement which is nothing like what she said on that Sunday
One ad run in the right places with the right tone and run fast, right
away, no time to let anything sink in. Time is of the essence. And the
people trying to move forward on this issue, despite all the obstacles in
their path, seem to be very appreciative of how much time is of the essence
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HEITKAMP: What I hear from the administration and if the “Washington
Post” is to be believed, that`s way in extreme of what I think is necessary
or even should be talked about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was incoming U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota
talking about potential gun control measures coming from the White House.
After ads were run against her based on that statement, Senator Heitkamp
later put out a statement clarifying a more moderate-sounding position on
Joining us now is Ladd Everitt from the Coalition to Stop Gun
Violence, which is the group that ran the newspaper ads, asking voters to
call Senator Heitkamp about her stance on the issue.
Thank you for being here, Mr. Everitt. It`s nice to have you here.
LADD EVERITT, COALITION TO STOP GUN VIOLENCE: Yes. Thanks for having
MADDOW: I have described the way I think you guys responded to
Senator Heitkamp in terms of her comments in your ad and what happened
thereafter. Did I get that right? Can you help us understand your
organization`s thinking in how you approach this?
EVERITT: No, I mean, I think you did a great job of explaining it. I
mean, you know, absolutely, we were reacting to words that we found very
offensive. You know, one thing you didn`t have a moment to mention was
that the ad was signed by four parents who lost their children in mass
shootings including Roxanna Green, the mother of Christina Taylor Green,
the 9-year-old who was killed in the Tucson mass shooting.
And you know, like you said, we wanted to send a very clear message
here. And that message is that, you know, the era of no accountability is
over. If you are a politician who shills for the NRA, who is putting our
families basically in the line of fire, you`re no longer going to be able
to do that without paying a political price.
MADDOW: Is there room in terms of your view of that accountability
for a politician like Heidi Heitkamp or anybody else to be a self-defined
pro-Second Amendment, pro-gun rights legislator but also be amenable toward
what you would consider to be common sense gun regulations?
EVERITT: I would say absolutely. And you read a line from the ad
itself which tells that polling shows that 75 percent of NRA members
support background checks on all gun sales. So, you know, I think the data
clearly shows that the NRA leadership is broadly out of step with their own
membership. And I think, yes, a politician like Senator Heitkamp
absolutely can support the Second Amendment while offering some common
sense solutions to prevent people like Adam Lanza from getting immediate
access to assault rifles and other weapons.
MADDOW: We`ve heard Michael Bloomberg and others on your side of this
debate trying to change the common wisdom about how powerful the NRA really
is. Trying to sort of turn on the lights and look under the bed at this
bogey man that they have made themselves out to be who as somebody who can
threaten a politician`s career with just one wrong vote.
Do you believe their power is overstated, and what do you think the
evidence is for that?
EVERITT: Well, I mean, it`s incredibly overstated. I mean, you
showed the statistic from the Sunlight Foundation that shows that their top
PAC performed worse than any other PAC in the nation in the November
elections. You know, they lost seven out of eight senate races where they
put more than $100,000 in. They got clobbered in the presidential race.
Their campaign slogan was all in. They were going all in because they
were telling people that President Obama literally was going to destroy all
freedom in America. Well, no one responded to that message. No one cared.
So, you know, if on one hand they want to claim that they single-
handedly supposedly won the 1994 and 2000 election – well, you`ve got to
own up to getting shellacked in this one.
MADDOW: Ladd Everitt, the director of communications for the
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, taking an aggressive and proudly aggressive
approach on this issue. Keep us posted on how you see this going, sir.
It`s nice to have you here. Thank you.
EVERITT: Thanks so much, Rachel.
So how does the idea of zero American troops in Afghanistan sound to
you? The Obama administration apparently wants to know how that sounds to
you. That whole possibly encouraging but to be determined story is coming
MADDOW: So this was the headline on Tuesday, “Rescued by a Bailout,
AIG May Sue Its Savior.” The company that did more than any other to
basically tank the world economy in 2008 got $182 million taxpayer bail out
but now they are going to sue us for not saving them kindly enough?
In response to that news on Tuesday, just about everybody from the
less significant, cable news hosts, to the more significant, Senator
Elizabeth Warren of the Banking Committee, we all collectively lost our
minds at the unmitigated gall of AIG of even thinking of doing this.
Update, they are not doing it.
They heard the case from their former CEO who wanted them to sue
taxpayers and they said no. AIG initially said they`d take a few weeks to
make the decision. But they didn`t. They decided the same day they heard
the case. No, we`re not going to do it.
They added words to the affect of, and please do not be mad at us
about this anymore.
If Tuesday`s headlines before a trial balloon, that balloon was rather
quickly blown to smithereens with a contrite insurance behemoth urgently
backing away from wreckage. But it turns out that is the second most
interesting trial balloon in today`s news. The other one, the more
important one, is next.
MADDOW: On Monday of this week, ABC senior foreign affairs
correspondent Martha Raddatz, the great Martha Raddatz, reported this
tidbit from an anonymous administration official. Quote, “At first, the
military hope there might be as many as 20,000 U.S. troops left behind
after combat operations in Afghanistan official cease at the end of 2014.
But now, an administration official is saying that number will not exceed
10,000 and could even be zero.”
Zero, really? That was Monday. Martha Raddatz.
Then, Tuesday, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes
was asked about that on a conference call with reporters.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REPORTER: There`s been some talk in recent days in some circles about
a so-called zero option, that is no U.S. troops to remain on the ground
based in Afghanistan after 2014. Is that an option you`re considering?
BEN RHODES, DEF. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: That would be an option
that we would consider, because again, we – the president does not view
these negotiations as having a goal to keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
He views these negotiations as in service of the two missions, security
missions identified post-2014, again, counterterrorism, particularly
focused on al Qaeda and its affiliates, and training and equipping of ANSF.
So that`s the objective and that`s what causes us to look for different
potential troop numbers or – or not having a potential troops in the
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Or not having potential troops in the country as a
possibility, as in zero.
So, on Monday, Martha Raddatz. On Tuesday, that conference call.
Again on Tuesday, “The Washington Post” reported the White House was
floating the idea of zero.
But then “The Washington Post” quoted a senior defense official saying
that the troop levels that were under serious consideration ranged from
2,500 to 6,000.
Behold, the classic Beltway trial balloon. A number is allowed to
anonymously escape the confines of the White House. It is not denied as
being within the realm of possibility when they were asked about it.
And even though the president is not out there talking about it on the
record, the whole idea is to let the balloon float and see how high it
flies before somebody shots it down. In this case, the balloon is still
floating. The idea of a very small, residual force in Afghanistan or none
at all and perhaps and significant drawdown to those low numbers, it`s so
far generating precisely zero outrage, provided you do not count the
stopped clock that is Senator John McCain who is always outraged.
Yesterday, John McCain tweeted a link to a neoconservative op-ed
saying if we end the war in Afghanistan, the whole thing will have been a
waste. But honestly, John McCain regularly falls in the forest and nobody
Other than him, if you heard a chest bumping outcry about the
Afghanistan war, how it has to be longer and bigger and we can`t bring
I have not heard that outcry. The balloon is still floating.
President Obama is meeting with President Karzai tomorrow, and maybe
this big balloon float has all just been a show for President Karzai`s
benefit. But it has also revealed where American politics are in year 12
of this war.
Nobody is outraged by the prospect of it being all the way over.
Nobody is shooting this balloon down.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Thanks for being with us tonight. Have a good one.
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