The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 02/06/13
ED SCHULTZ, “THE ED SHOW” HOST: I`m Ed Schultz.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thanks to you very, very
SCHULTZ: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour, where we
have breaking news.
Breaking news about a story we have been covering in detail all this
week and frankly, for a lot longer than that. Tonight for the first time,
more than a year after its existence was first leaked to “The New York
Times”, after rejecting multiple Freedom of Information Act requests, which
eventually became lawsuits demanding its release, after more than a year of
refusing to officially either confirm or deny its existence, tonight, the
president of the United States has ordered release to Congress his
administration`s legal reasoning for why the administration believes
President Obama has the power to order the killing of Americans in
counterterrorism strikes around the world.
Look at this. Ever since anybody knew such a document existed, this
is how the administration has been coping with requests to see this
document. This is a letter from the Justice Department telling the ACLU
that they neither confirm nor deny the existence of the documents described
in your request.
Quote, the fact – excuse me, “The very fact of the existence or
nonexistence of such documents is itself classified.”
That`s what they`ve been saying for more than a year. But now, as of
tonight, the administration admits that that legal reasoning memo exists.
The “Associated Press” first breaking the news late tonight, NBC News
confirming it. The president has directed the Justice Department to give
the memo to the Intelligence Committees in Congress. It is the first time
that this will have been seen outside the administration itself.
Now, the administration has openly in speeches and in public comments
asserted that it believes it is acting within the law when President Obama
or some other administration official directs that even an American citizen
can be killed. They insist that neither the Fifth Amendment right to due
process, nor the U.S. law against killing Americans abroad, nor the U.S.
law banning assassinations, nor just the law against murder, nor the laws
of war broadly, legally constrain the president from ordering the type of
assault that killed American citizen and prominent al Qaeda figure on war
al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011. Awlaki`s teenage son, also an American, was
also killed a couple of weeks after his father was killed.
Between those two killings, Charlie Savage at “The New York Times”
reported on the existence of a legal memo that the government was relying
on to claim that the attack was legal. That memo is what is being
disclosed to select members of Congress tonight. It follows by two days
the scoop by NBC News investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff, who this
week on this show disclosed a white paper that was based on the reasoning
of that secret memo.
Tonight`s disclosure follows increasingly intense questioning of the
administration on this matter by Senate Democrats, particularly by Senator
Ron Wyden of Oregon, who today told reporters that while he understood that
operations needed to be confidential, laws in this country and their
interpretation, laws are not supposed to be confidential. Ron Wyden and a
bipartisan group of 10 other senators wrote to the president this week
asking him to please clear the way for this memo to be released to
And then, tonight, we are told that the president called Senator Ron
Wyden himself and said, OK, we`re going to let you see it. After all this
time, we`re not only going to admit it exists, we`re going to let you guys
on the Intelligence Committee see this memo. It happens the night before
the president`s nominee to run the CIA will appear before the Intelligence
Committee in the Senate for confirmation hearings.
Congressional oversight on national security and war. The executive
branch recognizing that there is a rest of the government too, even on
national security. Oh, what a feeling.
Joining us now is Andrea Mitchell, NBC`s chief foreign affairs
correspondent and the host of “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS” on MSNBC.
Andrea, thank you very much for being here. It`s good to have you
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: My
MADDOW: So, why now? Why did this happen? And how big a change in
course is this for the administration?
MITCHELL: It`s a big change in course and they were up against –
Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the committee yesterday still saying
yesterday they wanted the original documents.
Then, today on our program at 1:00, Mike Rogers, the House chairman,
who carries a lot of weight about and has is very supportive of this
administration on a lot of points, he`s a former FBI guy, a Republican,
though, he said he also thought the original memos should be turned over,
that the white paper that had been turned over to them last summer that
Michael Isikoff uncovered and reported first on your show was not good
enough. That it needed to finally be the actual legal guidance that was
turned over to the Oversight Committees.
So, we`re talking about the two intelligence committees, Rachel, who
handle classified information all the time. And there haven`t been any
leaks out of those committees.
So, they were facing a confirmation hearing that was potentially
contentious. And also, other answers were given to the committee that were
revealed today from John Brennan. We can talk about that after a moment.
They knew that there were other issues they were going to have to deal
with. They needed to get this off the table.
MADDOW: Well, in terms of releasing to the intelligence committees,
it`s a very good point about who this is going to. This is not the same as
releasing this memo publicly. We presumably will still never know what is
in it, just as members of the public.
But, Andrea, do we know enough about what the administration was
concerned about in this document, that worried them so much that before
tonight, they wouldn`t even show it to the Oversight Committees in Congress
in a classified setting? Do we know what they saw as so potentially
dangerous releasing even that far?
MITCHELL: Well, I`m not sure what they thought was so dangerous
initially, other than they believe there is a precedent that this is
basically a legal memo, an advisory memo. And others have been released in
the past on other, you know, technical and intelligence issues. But they
believe that this is – they were arguing that this is the equivalent of a
lawyer`s advice to client from the Department of Justice to the White
House. And that, according to most people I talked to in he Intelligence
Committee community was really a stretch.
The argument is based on their concern, I think, also because of what
is in it. The bottom line is they were arguing that imminent danger could
also be interpreted very, very broadly to mean an ongoing, continuing
involvement in al Qaeda and plot formation, not an imminent specific
And that is according to a lot of legal experts a real stretch. And
there is a lot of concern even from the white paper that Michael unveiled.
That`s why this has become so controversial. This is a hearing where the
last thing they wanted was this much controversy and argument over these
issues on the eve of the confirmation hearing for John Brennan.
MADDOW: Do they think that they are essentially ensuring that the
confirmation hearings aren`t going to be all about this? Because at least
the senators will have confidential access to classified information that
the public doesn`t have, and so that will be discussed in closed session.
The public session there can be about more public matters, something other
than this? Are they trying to clear this off the decks for the public
MITCHELL: Absolutely. They`re trying to take this out and take some
of the sting of the hearing. There are going to be some other issues. He
answered questions they has posed, and today revealed he has twice been a
witness, a witness, not a target, of investigations into leaks – one into
a bombing plot in Yemen, and another the leak of information about the
cyber war against Iran.
So this has been a very aggressive posture. This administration has
investigated more leaks to journalists than any of its predecessors.
And, as you know, there is also the very controversial drone policy.
That is going to be front and center at the hearing, because the drone
policy has been increased some 700 percent by this administration over its
MADDOW: This is going to be fascinating to watch.
Andrea, just one last point on John Brennan. Because so much of what
he I guess represents in politics is stuff that nobody else gets to
discuss, stuff that is discussed in politics because so little is known
about it, do you think there is a chance tomorrow that the hearings are
essentially going to be a trial for the administration`s drone policies and
a trial for the administration`s counterterrorism policies more than they
are going to be a vetting of John Brennan the man, John Brennan the
potential CIA director?
MITCHELL: Well, you could argue that they are one in the same since
he was the architect of it. But he will also be asked about enhanced
interrogation, because he was a part of that. He is a veteran of the CIA.
A lot of people argue from inside the intelligence community that he
is the perfect head of the CIA because he is well-respected and has, you
know, a life-long career there. He is very close to the president. And
you can really see the body language when the president was nominating him,
just how close they are. This is a friendship. This is not just a working
So it will certainly enhance the CIA`s clout inside the White House to
have him as the head of it. There is a very highly regarded acting
director, Mike Morell, who could have been nominate in order post as well,
and is staying at the agency. So the agency is in very familiar hands
right now while we go through this process.
But this hearing, remember, is in front of the Intelligence Committee.
Ron Wyden is something of an outlier in that the intelligence committees
are pretty much very much in sync with what the administration warrants on
the war on terror. This is the first real rebellion.
MADDOW: Fascinating stuff. I think that last point that you were
making there about the closeness between the president and John Brennan and
what that might mean about the relationship between the CIA and the rest of
government moving forward if he is confirmed is underappreciated and super
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, host of
“ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS”, weekdays at 1:00 Eastern her on MSNBC – anyway,
thank you very much. I really appreciate.
MITCHELL: As always, thank you, Rachel.
I will say, Andrea`s reference to what happened on her own show today
with Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, the highly regarded Republican who
heads up intelligence matters in the House.
That`s absolutely typical of the contribution that the Andrea Mitchell
television show on MSNBC, 1:00 Eastern here on this network regularly
contributes to what`s going on in breaking news, particularly on national
security. Nobody breaks more news on a regular basis on any television
show, network, or cable, anywhere in America than Andrea Mitchell, 1:00
here Eastern on MSNBC. I`ve said it before. You didn`t believe me.
It`s true. In terms of the context here, the importance of this
breaking news tonight, consider this date. Consider April 29th, 2003.
That`s when our relationship with one of our most important allies in the
Middle East changed forever.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: We had had discussions
about our ability now to rearrange our forces in this part of the world.
By a mutual agreement, the aircraft that had been involved will, of course,
now be able to leave. And they`ll leave with our grateful – with us
grateful for the support and cooperation that the kingdom provided.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Grateful for the support throughout the operation that the
That was then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announcing that U.S.
troops would be leaving the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, would be closing our
military bases there. That was April 2003.
The U.S. had had troops in Saudi Arabia dating back to the 1950s. But
in 1990, during the First Gulf War, the number of U.S. soldiers we had in
Saudi Arabia skyrocketed. We had hundreds of thousands of American troops
in Saudi Arabia during that First Gulf War. And after that war, some
American troops stayed behind. They stayed permanently on bases in Saudi,
partly to help monitor Saddam Hussein`s activities next door.
But from the very beginning, the fact that American troops were
maintaining essentially a permanent military presence in Saudi Arabia, that
was an unpopular thing among some citizens of that country. Many Saudis
did not want a permanent U.S. military presence in a country where two of
Islam`s most sacred sites are located, Mecca and Medina.
The most notorious opponent of U.S. troops being stationed in Saudi
Arabia, the most notorious opponent of that who was not just vociferously
but violently opposed to the U.S. presence there, was, of course, Saudi
national Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden cited the U.S. military presence as
one of his justifications for the 9/11 attacks. He demanded that U.S.
troops leave Saudi Arabia.
And then right at the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003, the Bush
administration announced in fact that we would be pulling our troops out of
Saudi Arabia. It was a huge deal that we decided to do that. I`ve always
been surprised that it`s not a bigger part of what we remember as the
legacy of George W. Bush`s presidency. No more bases in Saudi Arabia.
Now, though, that has sort of been reversed, at least a little.
Today, “The New York Times” reports that some time after 2009, so some time
during the presidency of Barack Obama, the CIA built a new base in Saudi
Arabia, a base for U.S. drones. “The Times” reporting that we use that
base to launch drone strikes in Yemen. The paper has known about the
secret CIA drone base in Saudi Arabia for years, but they kept it a secret
until today`s paper.
“The Washington Post” apparently also knew it existed. These news
organizations kept this base a secret for years at the request of U.S.
But “The Times” did make it public now. They chose the timing for
making it public now. And according to the managing editor of “The New
York Times,” the reason they decided to make this public today is because
of John Brennan. Quote, “Because the architect of the base and drone
program is nominated to head the CIA.”
And, of course, he will have his confirmation hearing in the Senate
tomorrow. He will face the Senate Intelligence Committee as we were just
discussing with Andrea Mitchell.
And the lead-up to these confirmation hearing has been absolutely
fascinating if you care about this part of U.S. policy. I mean, it`s not
just that “The New York Times” published this previously secret, previously
closely held information about a drone base in Saudi Arabia tied to John
Brennan`s confirm hearing.
Also, yesterday, Tuesday, we saw the publication of a more than 200-
page report on the CIA`s rendition program, the secret program in which the
CIA is alleged to have kidnapped and detained and tortured or arranged for
the torture or facilitated the torture of terrorist suspects all around the
world during the George W. Bush era. The timing of that report, the
release of that report also seems to have been deliberately timed to
coincide with John Brennan`s confirmation hearing tomorrow. He was a
deputy executive director of the CIA during the George W. Bush years.
And the day before we got the rendition report on Monday, NBC News
Michael Isikoff broke the story of the Justice Department white paper,
addressing the legal implications of the U.S. government in some way
targeting U.S. citizens with drones.
And, now, tonight, the new breaking news that this classified memo
justifying the legality of those strikes, this memo that the administration
would not even cop to the existence of before tonight, tonight the breaking
news that the president himself has ordered that Justice Department memo
disclosed to the Intelligence Committees in Congress.
Every day this week so far we have seen just an outpouring of new
information that we didn`t have before, about the most controversial, most
secret actions and secret legal reasonings of this administration all
leading up to John Brennan`s confirmation hearing here. It`s almost like
with John Brennan set to testify before the intelligence committee,
tomorrow might be the only chance we get to see somebody from the Obama
administration have to go on the record, have to answer questions on all of
these secret things that we know our government does, but we never get to
hear anything about.
Terms of the big picture here, though, can it be a thorough,
appropriate, and fair vetting of John Brennan as an individual candidate to
run the CIA if he also effectively has to serve as the spokesperson for all
counterterrorism policies under President Barack Obama? And even in some
cases counterterrorism policies under the Bush administration?
If he has to be the point man on all of those policies for both
administrations, are there things that we will be missing? Should we worry
about missing things that are important about him as an individual
potential leader of the CIA if we simply use his confirmation hearings as a
stand-in to interrogatory all of President Obama`s counterterrorism
policies, forgive the pun? Are there more specific questions we ought to
be asking him as an individual about him and what he sees as the future of
For example, if John Brennan is confirmed and becomes head of the CIA,
do we know whether he is going to actually have more power than he has now?
Right now, he is the president`s counterterrorism adviser. Everybody knows
that he and the president are unusually close. Will he have more power
running the CIA than he has right now within the Obama administration as
the president`s counterterrorism adviser? What will he be able to do at
the CIA that he cannot do now?
Also, if John Brennan is confirmed, would he have the power to get the
CIA out of the secret drone strike business altogether? He has suggested
that that job should be returned to the military, where oversight is a more
traditional and transparently structured thing. He has said that he wants
to do that. Will he be able to do that if he wants to? Could he have had
more power to do that in the White House than he`ll a have at one of the
two agencies affected by such a change?
Tomorrow is a big day. It`s complicated stuff, and stuff that our
administration does right now that is the biggest ratio between controversy
and how much we know about it. Tomorrow is a big, big day.
MADDOW: The State of the Union of the Address is prescribed by the
Constitution. So we`ve had presidential state of the union messages or
addresses of some kind since the dawn of the republic.
But since the 1960s, for the past 50 years, we`ve also had the party
who is not the president`s party deliver a response to the State of the
Union. It`s a big honor to get the gig too. It shows that your party
think you`re an up and comer.
So far, the official party responses to President Obama have been
given by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. He went first. Mr. Jindal is
still sort of recovering from that.
In 2010, they went with Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who they
staged to make look presidential. Governor Bob McDonnell had only been in
office as governor for about five minutes by the time they had them do
this. He also went on to become nationally famous for something that,
really, honestly, did not come up in that speech, and thank God.
In 2011, it was Congressman Paul Ryan, who was then nationally known
mostly as the “kill Medicare” guy. He went on to remain the “kill
Medicare” guy who is also the one who came in second place for vice
Last year, the Republicans chose to go with the guy they were
marketing as the adult in the room, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.
Governor Daniels has since left public service and is now the president of
So it`s not exactly the “Sports Illustrated” cover curse, but from
Jindal to governor ultrasound to Paul Ryan to who now? Getting tapped to
give the State of the Union response has not been a surefire ticket to
stardom for Republican politicians in the Obama era.
So who is up next? Who gets to risk it this time? Senator Marco
Rubio, do you have presidential aspirations? Please proceed, Senator.
MSNBC`s coverage of President Obama`s 2013 State of the Union address
will start next Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. And that of course
will be followed by the official Republican Party response, which we
learned today will be delivered by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Good luck with that, sir.
MADDOW: The 1970s were an – an exceptionally – I can say it.
The 1970s were an exceptionally paranoid moment in pop culture
history. Did you ever see the 1978 movie “Capricorn One”? Did you know
about “Capricorn One”? There is a manned mission to Mars and the
astronauts are Sam Waterston, the “Law & Order” guy, and James Brolin, the
Barbra Streisand guy, and O.J. Simpson, the O.J. Simpson guy.
Only the whole thing is a fake because of budget cuts and a corrupt
profiteering government contractor. And also because of Hal Holbrook,
because it`s the 1970s.
Anyway, the landing occurs on a totally faked Mars, which is actually
a TV studio on an old military base in the desert. And nobody knows about
it being a fake. And nobody would have ever known about it being a fake
except for charming, disheveled 1970s leading man Elliott Gould. He is a
journalist who figures it all out. And there are chase scenes, and there
is a crop duster and there`s Telly Savalas and Brenda Vaccaro, the sort of
the whole 1970s there in cast. And there are even attack helicopters,
because you know black helicopters.
But Elliott Gould survives it all, and spoiler alert, the truth is
revealed. Journalists it turns out are heroes. Yay, 1970s.
See the crop duster and the attack helicopters together in the
estimate shot, I know, right? “Capricorn One.”
Right. Tonight we have a “Debunktion Junction”, which is not
specifically about “Capricorn One”, which after all was a movie, wasn`t a
really mission. And Elliott Gould already debunked it in the movie.
But tonight, we have a “Debunktion Junction” that is about a real life
allegedly totally faked thing by the federal government. And there totally
is an Elliott Gould journalist debunker character in this story who is
sticking to her story, even as everybody else tries to say it`s false.
Crazy, right? That`s coming up.
MADDOW: The Presidential Citizens Medal is the second highest
civilian honor this country, second only to the Presidential Medal of
Freedom. The Presidential Citizens Medal was created in 1969. But the
first person to win it didn`t win it until four years later in 1973.
The first one was presented by President Richard Nixon and the medal
was awarded posthumously to the great baseball player Roberto Clemente.
His widow accepted the honor on his behalf.
Roberto Clemente had died the previous year when he was only 38 years
old. He died in the crash of a cargo plane he was in that was flying to
deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims in Managua. He had helped
collect $150,000 in cash and literally tons of clothing and food donations.
“The New York Times” reported at the time that Roberto Clemente had
insisted on being aboard the cargo plane himself, along with all of the
donations because, quote, “he suspected that relief supplies were falling
into the hands of profiteers.”
So he insisted on making the trip himself with the supplies to make
sure those supplies got into the hands of the people who really needed
Oh, and he also won the National League batting championship four
times, was named to the all-star team 12 times, was named MVP once, and was
only the 11th player in baseball history to get 3,000 hits.
Roberto Clemente was an exceptional American citizen. And on May
14th, 1973, roughly five months after his death, his widow accepted the
very first Presidential Citizens Medal on his behalf. Since then, more
than 150 other Americans have been honored with this particular award.
And next Friday, President Obama is going to present that same
citizens medal, against posthumously to the six Newtown, Connecticut,
teachers and school administrators who died on December 14th trying to
protect their students at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The announcement
by the White House is jet another point of focus on gun violence, bringing
the issue to the front of the news again.
But that`s been happening a lot these days. In fact, I think it is an
important salient political point to note just how many days there have
been since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which gun
violence, gun policy, gun reform in one way or another has been a huge part
of the day`s news. It`s not an accident that guns and gun violence have
stayed in the news so much. It is very much by design that this is
The common wisdom, particularly the Beltway common wisdom, is that
reform on the issue of guns is hard, if not impossible, to achieve. And
that`s in part because, eh, we`ll get bored of even talking about this as
an issue. It will fade away. What happened at Sandy Hook was terrible,
but it will go down as just another one on a list of horrible gun massacres
that have happened in the U.S. and yes, they are terrible and horrible and
tragic and heart-wrenching, but ultimately, they effect no significant
change because they are eventually forgotten about.
Here is a sampling of that common wisdom. It holds that as of
Christmas, we as a country were basically over gun control already, that
this time the aftermath of this shooting is no different than any other
time. It`s not a watershed moment. Gun control is losing steam in
Congress. Obama is losing on gun control. Gun reform, period, is losing
steam. That`s the common wisdom, right?
And this is not to single out any of these prognosticators or pundits
as unusually wrong or unusually cynical about this country. They`re basing
this on what`s happened in the past, because in the past, even after mass
shootings, efforts at real serious meaningful gun reform have failed, or at
least they have fizzled out.
For the people who are pushing for reform on this issue right now are
also aware of that past history of failure. And they are determined
evidently by how they are behaving to break that pattern of failure this
time after this massacre and here is how you can tell. If you have a vague
feeling that there has been a qualitatively different reaction to this
particular mass shooting as compared to others, you are correct in feeling
Look at what`s happened.
The shooting at Sandy Hook happened on December 14th, OK? On December
16th, two days later, the president traveled to Connecticut to speak at an
interfaith prayer vigil at Newtown High School.
The same day on the 16th, appearing on “Meet the Press”, Democratic
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California announced plans to introduce a new
assault weapons ban in the new Congress.
Then the next day, December 17th, a new group called Newtown United,
which has since been renamed the Sandy Hook Promise, they held their first
meeting to talk about ideas for addressing gun violence, and for keeping
their town`s tragedy in the news until change was made.
Then two days later, December 19th, President Obama announces the
formation of a White House Gun Violence Task Force and puts Vice President
Biden in charge of that effort.
The next day, December 20th, Vice President Biden already gets to
work, already meeting with law enforcement leaders in Washington. And we
get the photo op to show he is doing it. That same day, the group Mayors
Against Illegal Guns makes news with data shows major gaps in the
The very next day, December 21st, President Obama observes a moment of
silence at the White House that they allow to be photographed, to honor the
victims of the Sandy Hook shootings. That same day the NRA breaks its
silence on the issue since Sandy Hook. They call for armed police officers
to be posted in every American school. That leads, of course, to a cascade
of more than 24 hours of outraged and almost uniformly disgusted response
to the NRA as a national spokesperson – as a national spokes organization
on this issue.
Then we have Christmas. And the day after Christmas, on the 26th,
Arizona`s attorney general proposed not armed guards at schools, but arming
a principal at each school to defend against potential shooters. That same
day, thousands of people lined up at a gun buyback event in Los Angeles to
trade their guns in for grocery store gift cards.
Then, in January, the issue does not die down, even as everybody says
oh, it`s over now. No. On January 2nd, Wednesday, January 2nd, former
Arizona congresswoman and gun violence victim, Gabby Giffords, meets with
New York City mayor and gun reform advocate, Michael Bloomberg. They talk
about efforts to reportedly pressure the president and Congress to act on
gun reform. They allow themselves to be photographed meeting.
January 4th, two days later, we learn that the police chief of
Waterbury, Connecticut, which is near Newtown, has issued a moratorium on
gun shows in his town after the Sandy Hook shootings. And he says why he
is doing it.
Just a few days later, January 8th, Gabby Giffords, her husband,
astronaut Mark Kelly launch a new anti-gun violence group. That same day,
a group called the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence launches an ad, a
political ad targeting newly elected North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp
for her criticism of potential gun reforms.
On January 9th, the very next day, Vice President Biden meets with gun
violence victims groups. They allow themselves to be photographed for
meeting. The same day, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in his State of the
State address promises to push for the toughest assault weapons ban in the
nation, period. It will not be long before he has got it.
The next day, January 10th, Vice President Biden again allows himself
to be photographed, makes the meeting public. He is meeting here with gun
January 11th, the next day, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
pledges to be a counterweight to the NRA, pledges to spend some of his
considerable pile of money to balance them out. He tells “The Washington
Post,” “You can organize people. I can write checks.”
The following Monday, January 14th, Vice President Biden meets with
House Democrats. And again, allows the meeting to be photographed to show
this meeting happening to talk about gun reform recommendations. The same
day, a new Gallup poll comes out showing the number of Americans who think
gun laws should be stronger is up very sharply from a year ago. Also that
same day, Maryland Governor Martin O`Malley says he plans to push for
strict new gun laws for his state in the new legislative session.
January 13th – on January 15th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signs
into law the first state gun reform to be passed since the Newtown
shootings. Told you that one was quick. That same day, the NRA releases
an ad criticizing calls for gun reform and targeting weirdly, the
president`s own children in the ad.
On January 18 – excuse me, January 16th, President Obama reads
allowed from letters that he received from children urging him to act on
gun reform. And he releases the recommendations from Joe Biden`s task
force, calling on Congress to require background checks, to ban assault
weapons, and to limit high-capacity magazines. That happened really fast
because that happened early. He said he wanted it by the end of the month.
Joe Biden got it to him by the 16th.
The same day the president also announces 23 executive acts on the
issue of guns and mental illness. And he announces his nomination for a
real permanent ATF director, which the agency had not had since 2006.
The next day for good measure, the president writes an op-ed outlining
all the stuff he had just done for the “Connecticut Post”. It`s not an
accident that it`s Connecticut, right?
The same day, New Jersey`s Republican Governor Chris Christie
announces a task force to study ways to reduce violence in his state. He
calls the NRA`s latest ad, the one that targets the president`s kids, he
calls that ad reprehensible.
The same day, Vice President Biden addresses the U.S. Conference of
Mayors. The topic: Gun violence proposals.
The next day, January 18th, the Attorney General Eric Holder addresses
the same group, in part on the same topic.
January 20th, the day that President Obama was officially sworn in at
the White House for his second term, thousands of Obama campaign alumni
meet in Washington, D.C. across town. Remember this? Under the banner of
the Obama legacy conference. The topic of discussion that day: helping the
president advance his gun safety reform legislation.
Then, of course, the 21st. What happens that day? Inauguration.
President Obama himself cites gun violence and the need to address it
during his second inaugural address.
Three days later, January 24th, Vice President Joe Biden participates
in a Google hangout with people across the country to discuss the
administration`s gun proposals.
January 26th, thousands of demonstrators, including people from
Newtown, Connecticut, gather on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to
publicly call for gun safety legislation. Organizers plan similar events
in about a dozen other cities.
Two days later, January 28th, the president, the vice president, the
attorney general hold a high profile meeting at the White House with local
police chiefs and sheriffs. That meeting includes the police chiefs from
Aurora, Colorado, and Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and Newtown, Connecticut –
communities that have all felt the effects of mass gun violence just in the
past six months.
Two days later, January 30th, the U.S. Senate holds its first hearing
on gun legislation since Newtown. That hearing in the Senate Judiciary
Committee includes an emotional statement at the top from former Arizona
Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. She encourages congress to be bold.
January 31st, the vice president personally attends the Senate
Democrats` weekly policy luncheon. The vice president attended in order to
help coordinate the push for the administration`s gun violence proposals.
Then, it`s February. February 4th, the first Monday in February,
Monday this week, President Obama takes the push for gun legislation on the
road. He goes to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to give a nationally televised
speech on gun safety reform in front of a tableau of law enforcement. The
president surrounded by local law enforcement officials as he delivers that
speech and praises Minneapolis as a model of how realistic gun reform can
work to reduce gun violence.
Then, Tuesday, yesterday, the push for gun safety reform gets
bipartisan. Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada comes out for
universal background checks. The number two House Republican, Eric Cantor,
also comes out for a beefed up background check system. And a bipartisan
group in the House, Republicans and Democrats, outline their proposals for
some gun safety reforms that they think can pass even the Republican-
And that brings us to today. Just about an hour ago, Vice President
Joe Biden attended the House Democrats retreat in Virginia. The topic he
came to discuss: gun violence.
And here is part of what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When people tell
me that you can`t prevent these kinds of occurrences, that doesn`t mean we
can`t do something to –God forbid if it happens again – diminish the
carnage. It matters. It matters.
Folks, you agree with me I`m sure. Enough is enough is enough. We
have to stand up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The common wisdom that nothing can be done on guns in this
country is based on the premise that what happened in the past will happen
again. It`s based on the fact that in the past, nothing has been done.
The common wisdom is that nothing can be done, period.
Yes, this is awful. We feel bad about it in the moment. But you wait
long enough, which is not very long, and we`ll forget about it, we`ll go
back to normal and stop talking about it.
That is not happening this time. That past history with incidents
like this in our country is known and understood not just by the pro-gun
side, but also by the gun reform side of the debate. And recognizing that,
what we have seen over the past two months is what constitutes a full-court
press and a determination that will that will not happen again. And that
is what makes this a qualitatively different matter in American politics
than it has before.
And here is what that looks like in the form of a bar graph.
Public Policy Polling just released data this week showing more
Americans now see an NRA endorsement of a particular politician as a
negative thing than those who see it as a positive thing. An NRA
endorsement in America today is more likely to lose you voters than it is
to win you voters.
The gun debate we are having in this country right now is not like
other gun debates we have had in this country in recent years. Something
new is happening.
We`ll have more on what`s new and what happens next, coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: It`s not acceptable for us to do anything other than try to do
all that we have to do, all that is reasonable. Since that day, 54 days
ago, 1,600 Americans have died at the end of a gun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Vice President Joe Biden addressing the House Democrats
retreat tonight, taking some time to mark the days since the mass shooting
at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and to push his
own party to move on reform.
Joining us now is Steve Kornacki, the co-host of MSNBC`s “THE CYCLE.”
He is a senior writer for Salon.com.
Steve, it`s good to see you.
STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Good to see you too.
MADDOW: You are the most historically minded of my fast talking
pundit friends of today, so I was trying to make the case there in the
previous segment that the volume of political action to keep gun reform in
the news and viable shows that they are cognizant, that reformers are
cognizant of the way it`s petered out in the past. They`re trying to do
something qualitatively different.
Do you think it is qualitatively different?
KORNACKI: Yes, I think it`s quantitatively different, too. If you
look at – if you look at mentions of gun control in news articles, what
you see in the past after mass shooting tragedies is, after a week, two
weeks, three weeks, it`s gone. They`re basically nonexistent. Now, more
than 50 percent of the stories mentioning gun violence and mentioning, you
know, Sandy Hook, making reference to any of this, are also mentioning the
term or the idea of gun control.
Still, more than 50 percent we`re more than a month out from this,
we`re six weeks out, that`s different than in the past. If you look at the
study that sort of track social media, or, you know, any tweets involving
gun control, Second Amendment, NRA, things like, there they actually have
been spiking weeks out from Sandy Hook.
You know, January 9th I think when, you know, Obama announced the task
force, January 16th – when he spoke about it publicly, hit on the calendar
there. You know, these terms are trending on social media now. You can`t
measure social media back in Columbine or something like that, but that
really suggests there`s sort of engagement here. But at the sort of elite,
inside the Beltway level of policymakers are talking about this and setting
the agenda with it.
But it`s also among the masses, the people who are watching, news
consumers, voters, they are interested in it. They are generally
interested in it. There`s an appetite for it, too. And, yes, so I think
there`s a quantitative difference than it has been in the past.
MADDOW: Those after-the-fact spikes in interest, that would imply
that it`s not something intrinsic to the type of tragedy this was. It`s
rather the political action in the wake of the tragedy that is working to
KORNACKI: Yes. Or the, you know, the memory of the tragedy is just -
- every time somebody`s reminded of it, you know, it just spurs a desire
for action in the interest in what, OK, what are we going to do about this
MADDOW: What do we no from modern history about the effective means
of translating broad American sympathy concern and worry, desire for broad
form of change, even if it`s not specifics, into concrete political action?
What has to happen?
KORNACKI: Well, I think the last time there was real movement on gun
was basically 20 years in the early 1990s. Back then, it wasn`t mass
shootings. It was just a high crime rate, a high murder rate, a high
shooting rate generally, you know? Like New York had 2,000 murders in
1990. What that resulted in was it finally created a public appetite that
something had to be done. There was Brady Bill, which was the five-day
waiting bill in 1993, and there was the assault weapons ban which passed in
So, it did translate into something. What I think is interesting to
watch here, if you want to look for historical precedence is what happened
then politically. In November 1994, Democrats suffered an absolute wipeout
in the election. Now, you could blame that on any number of factors – the
Clinton tax hike, health care, the attempted health care.
One lesson the Democrats chose to take from that, whether it`s valid
or not, this is what they chose to take it from it was that the push on gun
himself turned off a lot of voters they otherwise would have had. They
shut down guns for the rest of the Clinton presidency, including after
Columbine. Then Gore in 2000 lost a lot of these states with rural gun-
owning populations, Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri, states that Clinton
had carried before, and Democrat – that really reinforced the `94 message
So, what you have to look out for here, what is both sort of a warning
and an opportunity, I think is the 2014 midterms, because I think there`s
probably going to be some sort of legislative action right now. It won`t
cover the entire wish list that Obama sort of has laid out here. There
will be some action.
But I think this is a long-term thing. If can you go into the 2014
midterms and you have the president engaged, you have Democrats engaged,
you have the media engaged, and you also have, you know, for instance,
Mayor Bloomberg`s group, Mayors Against Gun Violence, he`s going to be out
of the job as mayor at the end of this year, if he throws himself into this
financially and politically in 2014, if the message that Democrats and even
some Republicans take out of 2014 is the opposite of 1994 –
MADDOW: Yes, don`t be on the wrong side of this –
KORNACKI: Right. And there`s momentum to really do more after 2014.
MADDOW: I think that`s fascinating. I think the NRA did a lot to
rarify this idea that that`s how they lost in 1994 because it was to their
MADDOW: It could be disproven this year with the big push. I think
Steve Kornacki, co-host of MSNBC`s “THE CYCLE”, senior writer for
“Salon” – thanks, Steve.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: “Debunktion Junction”, what`s my function?
OK. Reporters who cover the White House will always tell you that
it`s basically always a construction zone there. Sometimes the
construction is big and obvious, like that time last year when they hit a
water main by mistake.
But when reporters asked the White House, hey, what`s with all the
construction, mostly the White House says they can`t talk about it for
security reasons. The White House after all is one of the most high
security work places on Earth.
But last week, nevertheless, a reporter Alexis Simendinger from a Web
site called “Real Clear Politics”, she reported on very specific
construction plans at the White House. Quote, “This summer, there will be
two Oval Offices in the White House complex.” Two?
Two. Quote, “In preparation for a major, two-year renovation of the
West Wing, the government is undertaking extensive work to complete a new
executive office for President Obama. The president`s facsimile Oval
Office, created as a nearly identical replica of the most ovoid room in the
world, is slated to be ready for occupancy by August.”
So, that “Real Clear Politics” report comes about a year after another
Washington magazine, “The Washingtonian”, said the West Wing will be
overhauled and the president would have to move to account for that. But
it`s only “Real Clear Politics” that has that detail about the “stand-in
Oval Office, replicated in shape and Obama beige-ness, is being readied for
occupancy within months.” A replica Oval Office, a second Oval Office in
addition to the real one, a copy where the president will look like he`s
still working in the real one but he`s not, he`s in the fake one.
Get me a top radio conspiracy college shows stat.
So, here`s where the “Debunktion Junction” part comes in. Today, the
White House press secretary was asked about the story for the third time
since it was published last week. And, finally, Jay Carney went out of his
way to shut it down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can say specifically the
reports about a replica Oval Office are false. And no one is moving from
the West Wing, certainly not – no decisions about that have been made and
not in any time frame that –
REPORTER: You said moving from the West Wing, it means including the
CARNEY: Including the president.
REPORTER: And renovations may be made?
CARNEY: Well, yes, I don`t have – for what kinds of renovations – I
mean, you guys have looked around and seen there`s constant work being
undertaken here on the overall campus, but I don`t have anything specific,
because of the description of an alleged replica Oval Office was reported
out, I can tell you that that is false.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: False, he says. In other words, false.
MADDOW: Now, problem or at least complication. The reporter for
“Real Clear Politics” is sticking by her story. She tweeted today that her
publication stands by its report. The only reason the White House is
calling it false is because they objected specifically to the word
“replica” of what`s going on with the Oval Office.
So, the White House says false. But the reporter still says true.
MADDOW: Which is it? Is there a plan to build a second temporary
Oval Office that looks just like the current one, where President Obama
will work during construction temporarily?
The White House says –
MADDOW: The reporter says –
MADDOW: She says it`s happening.
We say at least for now we`re going to need a new sound effect.
MADDOW: Huh? I think we still need a new sound effect. That one
kind of sucked. We`ll get a new one and we`ll keep you posted as we can
figure this out.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Have a great night.
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