The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 02/25/13
ED SCHULTZ, “THE ED SHOW” HOST: That`s “THE ED SHOW.” I`m Ed
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed.
The only thing that is going to top yours and David Edelstein`s take
on Michelle Obama at the Oscars last night is the take we`ve got coming up
on Iran. Iran had a very serious reaction to first lady.
SCHULTZ: Yes, they did.
MADDOW: We`re going to be getting to that in a minute.
SCHULTZ: They`re paying attention.
MADDOW: Yes, I guess that`s good. At least we know they`re watching.
SCHULTZ: That`s right.
MADDOW: Ed, thanks a lot, man. Take it easy.
SCHULTZ: Thank you.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
One of the major challenges that the Republican Party had this past
election cycle was that their presidential candidate did not attract much
interest. I don`t mean that in a personal sense. I don`t mean it to be
mean. I mean it in a technical sense, in a measurable sense.
If during this election cycle, you gave people the option of clicking
online on something that said Barack Obama or you gave people the option of
clicking online on something that said Mitt Romney, more people would click
on the thing that said Barack Obama, consistently, by a lot.
In a controversial article last summer, right in the heat of the
campaign, an article that acknowledged what everybody else in the media
already knew was true, but had not admitted out loud, the Web site BuzzFeed
finally put a headline on it and put it up in black and white. “Mitt
Romney is terrible for traffic.” They mean web traffic.
They did what essentially amounted to a control experiment in terms of
people`s interest online in the two candidates. Look, 29 photos of baby
Barack Obama versus 30 photos of Mitt Romney as a child.
Essentially, you`re offering the same thing. Reliably adorable
childhood images of people you know now as full grown men. It`s the same
comparison, right? Apples to apples. Well, the photos of baby Obama got
just under 70,000 views. The photos of baby Romney just over 6,000 views.
That is worse than 10 to one.
OK, maybe it`s a baby thing. How about if we age them a little?
Barack Obama, I have to say, was not the world`s most handsome
teenager. Those were kind of his awkward years. Whereas, Mitt Romney was
quite possibly the world`s best teenager, he was really at his shiniest
when he was in high school.
They both ended up as very handsome adult men, but they went through
their awkward periods, their gawky periods at different ages. But even
with that, again, the young man photos of Barack Obama get roughly 70,000
views. The comparable photos of young man Mitt Romney get less than 1/5
This is not a Republican versus Democrat thing or a conservative
versus liberal thing either. I mean, at the height of her powers, put
Sarah Palin`s click per headline stats up against any Democrat you can
imagine or any combination of Democrats you can imagine and she would blow
everybody out of the water. Conservatives can attract interest – just not
this one, for whatever reason.
The Romney campaign even today is still trying to defend their online
presence during the presidential campaign. The campaign senior strategist
Stu Stevens wrote in the op-ed in the “Washington Post” today that
President Obama did not win the election because he won the Facebook wars.
He won the Facebook wars because he was winning the election – whatever
you need to tell yourself, big guy.
But regardless of whether or not it was the fault of the Romney folks,
people`s relative disinterest in him compared to his Democratic opponent
ended up being an important dynamic. It ended up being an important part
of understanding how that campaign unfolded overall.
Well, that controversial but true story from BuzzFeed about the
relative online appeal of each candidate, that was last summer, June of
2012. Mitt Romney is terrible for traffic. Now, BuzzFeed has given us the
sequel. Now, we must all admit that there is another thing that is
terrible for traffic, a thing that I will not say out-loud for fear that
you will turn off this television show if I do.
It is the thing going on in Washington right now that is a crisis, a
self-inflicted preplanned crisis that the White House and Congress agreed
ahead of time to inflict on themselves and on the country.
It turns out it is the 2013 equivalent of a baby picture of Mitt
Romney in 2012. Awww, yes, not interested.
The Pew Research Center for the people in the press did a big national
poll where they asked people what they`re paying attention to in the news.
It turns out that self-inflicted crises in Washington just aren`t what they
used to. They compared crises in the first big fight over the debt ceiling
that President Obama had with Congress in the summer of 2011, they found
that half the country was paying a lot of attention to that crisis.
Compare that with the proportion of people who are paying a lot of
attention to this crisis, which in policy terms substantively is just as
big a deal. It turns out it`s only half as interesting to the country.
Only 27 percent of the country is paying a great deal attention to this
And honestly, you know what? You can see why. This is not the part
where I`m going to give you some lament about the country being shallow or
craven or easily distracted. I think actually we`re smart, and we do not
like falling for things more than once.
And what they are pulling in Washington right now is an old trick.
For the first two years that President Obama was in office, you will recall
that Democrats also controlled the House and the Senate. And together,
they passed health reform, they passed Wall Street reform, they passed the
Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, they repealed “don`t ask, don`t tell,” they
reformed student loans, they reformed credit cards, they ratify the START
They got a lot done. They certainly didn`t get everything that they
wanted to do, but they`ve got a lot done, which is what you would expect to
when one party controls the legislative and executive branches.
Then in 2010, as is what to happen over American history, the pendulum
swung back in the other direction and the Republicans took control of the
Once Republicans got sworn in January 2011, we started this new game
that we do now as a country. Republicans were sworn in the House in
January. By early April, just a few short weeks later, a couple of months
after taking over the House, they were already veering within less an hour
of a government shutdown.
House Speaker John Boehner announces the deal just before 11:00 p.m.
The agreement comes together in a few frantic hours at the Capitol with a
midnight deadline looming.
That was the drama, remember? The first government shutdown fun times
fight of the new Congress. That was the one where just about the last
Republican demand standing which they ultimately let go of was shutting
down funding for Planned Parenthood. They put the whole government hinging
on that. That was April 2011, three months after they got sworn in, they
came within minutes of shutting down the government.
And then three months after that, ding ding ding, time future a crisis
July 2011, it was the down-to-the-wire self-imposed “hair on fire”
crisis of the debt ceiling. We might not make blow through the debt
ceiling. We might not make good on the country`s debts. We`re going the
make this a crisis when we don`t need to. But we`re going to self-inflict
Running up to that brink got our nation`s credit rating downgraded.
And that was so much fun, they didn`t even wait three months for the next
self-imposed crisis. They threatened another government shutdown in
September 2011. This time government shutdown averted with just days to
And then we took a break for the election. And as soon as the
election was over, everybody rushed back to the brink.
December 2012, the fiscal cliff – self-imposed crisis, economic
Armageddon. Everybody cancel your new year`s plans. We have arranged a
new crisis for ourselves. And as planned, we are on if brink.
And now, we`re having another one. It`s apparently our odd year cycle
now, when we`re in an odd year when there isn`t an election going on, every
two or three months, we put the country in dire economic danger on purpose.
And the reason I know that that`s the schedule is because after this
current crisis whose name shall not be spoken on this television show,
after this current crisis passes, however it gets resolved, the next two
crises we`re going to have are already preplanned. They`re already on the
calendar. We`re going to be due for another government shutdown standoff,
fun times crisis next month, and then the next debt ceiling crisis is
already teed up for a short time later, roughly in May.
President Obama spoke to the nation`s governors today gathered for the
National Governors Association meeting. He asked governors to advise their
congressional delegations about how this current crisis would hurt their
state, how it would be a dumb and serious self-inflicted wound, and
Congress shouldn`t do it.
House Republican leaders held a press conference today in which they
each explained in term how bad this crisis will be if they do not fix it
before the brink arrives at the end of this week, and they also announce
they`d plan to do nothing to avoid it. Their strategy seems to be, yes,
this will be an unnecessary, serious, self-inflicted economic wound to the
country, but we plan to let it happen anyway, and somehow we plan to
benefit from it politically anyway because we have genius political
messaging around this self-inflicted wound.
What is the all-healing Republican messaging around this crisis?
Well, if you ask Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, he says it would lead to
an economic disaster. If you ask his Republican colleague Tom Price,
congressman, it would get this economy rolling again.
According to Republican Congressman Jeff Miller, this crisis will
throw our nation into another recession.
If you ask Republican Senator Rand Paul, this crisis, it`s a pittance.
It`s just really nibbling at the edges. No big deal.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner says this crisis threatens
national security. Republican Congressman Tom Cole says, fiscal questions
I can totally see how they are going to win the message war on this
thing, right? They just have to pick one of their seven messages on it
before deciding to award the points here.
How this particular crisis is fought over to some people I`m sure is
politically fascinating. To most of the country, though, it is un-
fascinating. It is not fascinating at all.
It seems like the inarguably important and interesting thing here is
that we keep doing this. This is how we govern now. Between President
Obama and the Republican-led House of Representatives, this is how the
United States government works now.
We`re not lurching from crisis to crisis because crises keep arising
naturally in the world and we have to respond to them, we`re lurching from
crisis to crisis to crisis to crisis because we keep creating new crises on
purpose to lurch toward. This is a plan. The relationship between the
president and Congress has been purposefully structured now so they
accomplish the basic decisions of governing only threw supposed leverage
derived from threatening the country and from people feeling afraid of
But now, wolf has been cried. This trick is old enough now that this
may be a crisis in term of the harm that`s about to be inflicted on the
country, but it is not a crisis in the sense that anybody feels
particularly crisisy about it. Nobody feels any one way in particular
about it. Everybody is trying not to think about it, because this just
keeps happening over and over again.
This is a tactic. This is one way you can run a country. But if this
tactic depends on us being riveted through fear or outrage or just interest
or sheer deadline-driven drama, that`s over. It doesn`t work anymore. We
have done this enough times now that we`re inured. We`re over it.
So, now, what this tactic means is you are just wantonly proposing
harming the country. And we are waiting without much interest to see
whether or not you`re going to do it.
Do normal countries do this? Do normal countries govern this way? Is
this in any sense normal for us? Has our country ever been run this way
before for a significant amount of time?
Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian
and author of nine books on politics and political figures.
Mr. Beschloss, Michael, it`s great to see you. Thank you for being
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Good to see you,
Rachel, of course.
MADDOW: The last question there, does this happen at other times in
American history where the president and the Congress function this way?
BESCHLOSS: Not quite like this. You know, this was James Madison`s
idea, that you would have a presidency and a Congress opposing each other.
That way no one would get too much power. But if Madison came back
tonight, I think he would tear out what little hair he had.
And the reason is that you saw someone like Andrew Jackson or Harry
Truman campaigning against congress well and good. But it`s only in recent
years that you`ve had this almost nuclear game of chicken that we`re seeing
now. And we also saw in 1995 with Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich.
And I think one dangerous thing about right now is that on both sides,
people tend to be a little bit sanguine in remembering 1995. Through a
political lens, there may even be some Democrats who might even say it
turned out to be good for the Democrats because Clinton was able to
position himself as a moderate, keeping the barbarians from the gate. And
on the Republican side they can say yes, we took some heat for being
confrontational, but didn`t we win both houses of congress in 1996?
So I think that memory is a very dangerous thing. And it certainly
isn`t a break on this rush to the edge of destruction that we`re seeing
MADDOW: Because the fights are over fiscal issues and economic issues
broadly speaking, I have to ask about how much of a threat to the country
we are seeing and how much actual damage we are seeing inflicted.
I mean, Republicans in particular have argued a lot about the idea of
MADDOW: That we should pursue governments in a way that we don`t put
too many question marks ahead of the American people and business in terms
of what is coming down the pike. Is harm being done? Is there a
historical lens we can tell whether or not it`s being done?
BESCHLOSS: Well, I think Bill Clinton would have said that in 1993.
He had a deficit reduction plan that he sent to Congress with an effort to
give people an idea of what they could expect from this economy. And if he
were here, he would complain that not a single Republican on either side
voted for his plan.
So that would have been against the idea of economic security. But at
the same time, there may be some Republicans, and I hope there sure are
not, but some of them may remember the fact that when there is a recession,
it usually isn`t named after someone in Congress. It`s usually named after
a president. And I hope that some are not cavalier than idea about that
MADDOW: That`s been alleged off and on over the past few years by
Democrats talking about Republican obstruction in the Congress.
MADDOW: And they`ve always resisted it. But that has to loom over
this. In terms of strategy, both sides have been talking about, and in
some cases complaining about the outside game, whether or not it is
appropriate to try to be engaging with the American people through the
media, through political events rather than negotiating, rather than
working in Washington.
What do you see – how do I don`t see the White House`s effort to try
to take its message on this directly to the states and to the people?
BESCHLOSS: I think it will help, but it won`t help in the way that it
helped Bill Clinton to do that in 1995, because in 1995, a president`s
voice was a lot more dominant than it is right now. There was only one
cable television network. The Internet was primitive. A president had a
lot bigger role in the national dialogue than a president does now.
So I think Barack Obama cannot depend on his ability to frame this in
a way that he would like to see it framed.
MADDOW: One last question for you, and this may be prescriptive in
the way I ask it, in which case you can scold me or not answer, sir.
BESCHLOSS: I would never scold you, Rachel.
MADDOW: When presidents have had particularly difficult relationships
with Congress in the past, what are the ways out of that for presidents?
Obviously, part of it is blunt force, just win further elections –
MADDOW: – by increasingly bludgeoning numbers and overwhelming your
opponents. That`s one approach. Everybody wants to do that, but not
MADDOW: How else have presidents gotten themselves out of messes like
BESCHLOSS: I hate to say it, Rachel, but one way they did it is to
say we`re in a Cold War, and if we do not make it up with our opponents in
Congress, it`s going to be a danger to national security. You know, if we
don`t have money going to military bases, that might invite the Soviets to
One reason you have seen these confrontations in `95 and now, now, you
wouldn`t have seen it during the Cold War. Now there is no longer that
kind of overwhelming threat. And so I think congress feels and presidents,
people around presidents sometimes feel it`s not as dangerous.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, it`s
always a – I both feel smarter from talking to you and I feel lucky to
have you here. Thank you very much.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you, Rachel. Thanks very much.
MADDOW: All right. Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
turned a lot of heads over the weekend when he spoke out recording the
Obama administration`s controversial drone program. He did that on Chris
Hayes` show yesterday, and it was kind of a blockbuster.
Robert Gibbs is here tonight to talk about the implications of what he
And later on, an Oscar fashion story from me, which is awkward for
obvious reasons, took the government of Iran to make it possible on this
MADDOW: Hey. It`s election eve, that story is coming up.
Plus, Robert Gibbs is here for the interview after the proverbial
bombshell he dropped on Chris Hayes` show yesterday on MSNBC.
Plus, fake t-shirts. Shiny, spangly pretty t-shirts that are not real
that are being faked in today`s news.
That`s all ahead.
MADDOW: “The New York Times” reports that yesterday, shortly after
1:00 p.m. Eastern, right in the middle of Times Square, a group of about
200 people who had just been milling around like ordinary tourists or like
ordinary New Yorkers, yesterday all at once on some secret signal, the 200
of them all threw their hands into the air at the same time and held their
hands above their head, frozen, with no explanation.
A long moment passed, and then they all sunk to the ground at the same
time, 26 seconds elapsed – 26 seconds to represent the 26 victims killed
in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. With the
symbolic victims laying on the ground in Times Square, others drew chalk
outlines around their bodies and wrote in the victims` names there has been
lot of public pressure since the Sandy Hook shootings to advance the public
discussion on gun control and gun violence.
This pressure has come in many, many different forms – speeches,
marches, protests, and now big flash mobs in Times Square.
Tomorrow in Illinois, we`re going to get one of our first tests for
how well that public pressure has worked. That story is coming up.
Also, we`ve got Robert Gibbs here on set.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Happy election eve. In the first election for federal office
since we picked a president, voting will begin tomorrow at 6:00 a.m. This
will be the primary for the congressional seat that Jesse Jackson Jr.
resigned back in November. The district is in Chicago, and in a chunk of
the city`s southern suburbs. It`s a heavily Democratic district.
So, whoever wins the primary tomorrow is consider likely to win the
seat overall and to take a seat in Congress in April.
Because of those juicy Democratic prospects, at the outset, 17
different Democrats lined up to compete in this primary, which is crazy.
The candidate with the most name recognition was former Congresswoman
Debbie Halvorson, a supporter of gun rights who touts her A rating with the
National Rifle Association. Or who did tout that rating with the National
Rifle Association before this year – because this is both the first
election for federal office since we picked a president, and also the first
federal election since Newtown, since the elementary massacre at Sandy Hook
Elementary in December.
Even though she has touted her A rating from the NRA in the past, now,
former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson is instead touting her support for
universal background checks for gun purchases. This time around, she
insists she has not lobbied the NRA for an endorsement.
Who, Debbie Halvorson pals with the NRA? You have the wrong number.
That A rating from the NRA must have been a political asset in the
past, but now, it has to be feeling like it`s more trouble that it`s worth.
In January, a super PAC funded by New York City Mike Bloomberg started
running ads against Debbie Halvorson and against another candidate in the
race who also had an A rating from the NRA. The ads have been inescapable
in Chicago, on TV.
And even if you don`t watch TV: (a), you should. TV is way better
now. But (b), the Bloomberg group has still been inescapable in the form
of mailers that they`ve been sending out to people in the district, lots
and lots of mailers. Quote, “Debbie Halvorson put the NRA before our
family`s safety.” And, “Debbie Halvorson, A from the NRA, F from Illinois
families.” And, “Debbie Halvorson`s views on guns earned an A from the
NRA. If the NRA says yes, we should say no.”
But the Bloomberg PAC ad onslaught making the NRA and guns a big issue
in this race, one of the formally pro-NRA candidates decided that she would
drop out. State Senator Toi Hutchinson left the race 48 hours after the
Bloomberg PAC started advertising against her by name as well.
Gun reform was not all that big an issue in this race at the
beginning. But now that Mike Bloomberg has spent more than 2 million bucks
on this race, being seen as once an ally of the NRA is apparently enough to
get you to quit the race. And now, tonight on the eve of the election,
whether that all is enough to determine the winner of the primary, we do
And the hints about what is going to happen tomorrow are all wobbly,
and therefore very interesting. One poll shows Debbie Halvorson with a
four-point lead even after all that Bloomberg spending against her.
Now, this poll I should tell you is the work of a local radio host and
Republican strategist, who was convicted a few years ago for falsifying
signatures. He told us today we should not hold that against him. He just
got caught on the wrong end of a political prosecution.
In any case, his radio host poll of likely voters shows Debbie
Halvorson leading the pro-gun reform candidate who was endorsed by the
Bloomberg PAC, that`s former state rep, Robin Kelly.
A different poll a group called We Ask America shows a very different
result in the same race. In that poll, Robin Kelly, the pro-gun reform
candidate, she leads by 18 points. Now, on this one, I should tell you
that the folks who conducted this survey describe it as an automated poll
they did for a local political website. They would not release the full
details of the poll. So we know very little about it. And we vouch for it
as little as we vouch for the other poll.
The only thing we know, of the two candidates we`ve got, these two
kind of eh polls, robin Kelly is in one of them up by 17 or 18 points, and
in the other down by 4 points to Debbie Halvorson.
Further, the Chicago press is describing this as a three-way race now,
not a two-way race. Former Congresswoman Debbie Halvors9On with the name
recognition and the NRA gold star, former state lawmaker Robin Kelly, who
has based almost her entire campaign on stopping gun violence and who lives
in the suburbs, but also another guy, Chicago alderman Anthony Beale, who
was also big on gun reform, like Robin Kelly is. Alderman Beale`s chance
depends on turning out the votes inside specific wards in Chicago where he
was first elected in 1999.
Because this is a primary for a special election in a very off year,
turnout is expected to be low, maybe as low as 20,000. And that`s
interesting enough, because a turnout of 20,000, congressional district to
represent hundreds of thousands of people. But 20,000 people are going to
make the decision? That`s low enough that any sway in any direction, any
under the radar vote could swing this thing.
And there is no runoff here. It`s winner-take-all, highest tally gets
the nod. Fascinating.
Polls open at 6:00 a.m. and close at 7:00 p.m. local time in Chicago.
We will bring you the results tomorrow as we get them in.
MADDOW: Here is why you do not want to be White House press
secretary. I mean, there is the long hours, there`s the stress, there`s
the extra stress on top of the stress, but then there is this too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REPORTER: In light of the Times Square bomber citing drone strikes as
a reason for doing what he did, I`m wondering what kind of discussions
that`s happened within the administration about that policy?
ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: None that I would
get into publicly.
REPORTER: A U.S. drone strike killed eight Germans in Pakistan today.
Do you have any information about that?
GIBBS: I don`t. And if I did, if I did, I wouldn`t get into it. No.
REPORTER: And other U.S. officials have confirmed these predator
drone air strikes in Pakistan. What is it about not confirming whether the
president was consulted –
GIBBS: I`m not going to get into these matters.
REPORTER: Compromise organizational –
GIBBS: I`m not going to get into these matters.
REPORTER: Don`t you think there is justifiable curiosity, Robert,
about the president`s first military –
GIBBS: I think there are many things you should be justifiably
curious about, but I`m not going to get into talking about this.
REPORTER: If other members of the government are confirming this, why
is it that you can`t comment?
GIBBS: I`m not going to get into these matters.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: I`m not going to get into these matters. Keep asking. There
will be no answers.
You know, it was not just Robert Gibbs` problem. It turns out it is a
problem of that job, no matter who has the job.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REPORTER: Reported a drone strike today along the Af-Pak border
region. As you know, Afghan and Pakistani officials have been vocal about
their concerns about them possibly killing civilians as opposed to
terrorists. What can you say to address their concerns? And can you talk
a little bit about the president`s thinking about when it comes to drone
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, I won`t talk about
anything specific like that.
REPORTER: Did drone strikes make it less simple to the American
people to understand when these are secret and often done without –
CARNEY: You`re trying to get me to talk about things that I can`t
talk about from the podium.
REPORTER: The president acknowledged the drones, why can`t you?
CARNEY: Again, I`m just going to point you to what he said and not
discuss further this issue.
REPORTER: It`s a facade. It`s silly.
CARNEY: Bill, I`m sorry.
REPORTER: If John Brennan is confirmed CIA director, is it safe to
assume the drone program will continue? And –
CARNEY: I`m just not going to. I think there have been some
discussion of the drone program as it relates to the Department of Defense.
But I`m not going to get into any further discussion of it here.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Wait, at the last bit there, there was a clue. As it relates
to the Department of Defense, so maybe the Department of Defense is the
police to ask. Maybe we have been asking in the wrong place.
Let`s ask at the Department of Defense. Let`s ask the military.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REPORTER: Also ask you for an update on Pentagon drone operations.
GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Probably not.
REPORTER: Well, let`s hear what you have to say when I ask the
REPORTER: It has now been widely acknowledged that the U.S. military
earlier this year, the military, Pentagon, flew drone operations over
Pakistan`s border region in cooperation with the Pakistanis to collect
reconnaissance information and show it to them.
Can you talk about why the U.S. military is now flying drone
operations or did fly drone operations over Pakistan?
MORRELL: I can`t. I know you say it`s widely acknowledged. I don`t
know how widely anything has been acknowledged on that count. I don`t
think it`s appropriate for me at this podium to discuss operations that may
or may not be taking place.
REPORTER: What concerns do you have that these U.S. government drone
strikes in Pakistan may be backfiring now and simply creating more enemies
of the United States?
MORRELL: I refer your questions to other people. That`s not
something we speak to or are involved in.
REPORTER: Who would you refer them to, Geoff? Where should I –
MORRELL: Do you not want a question, Justin?
REPORTER: I do want a question, but Barbara is still talking.
MORRELL: Barbara, do you have a follow?
REPORTER: Would you tell me where you would refer that to?
MORRELL: You`d have to talk to somebody other than the Pentagon. We
don`t talk to those operational matters because they don`t involve us.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: They don`t involve us. You have to talk to somebody – not
here. I refer your questions to other people.
I think he is talking about the CIA. Let`s check with the CIA then to
see how the CIA handles these questions at their daily press briefs.
All right there. They don`t do that. And so, that`s where questions
about this policy go to die.
This week, in addition to the Chuck Hagel defense secretary
nomination, the Senate is expected to advance President Obama`s nominee to
head the CIA, John Brennan. Senator John McCain is proposing holding up
the nomination of John Brennan because – well, John McCain.
But even in the midst of that conflict, there is an interesting
confluence of opinion right now that something major should be changed in
Mr. Brennan`s field of expertise. Mr. Brennan broached the subject in a
“Washington Post” profile that ran about him last October. The acting
director of the CIA from whom Mr. Brennan would take over if he is
confirmed, that acting director raised the issue in an article “The New
York Times” published about the CIA in December.
And now, the man, the Republican senator who is threatening to hold up
the Brennan nomination so the acting director has to stay on, this
Republican senator, he too says that he agrees that something big needs to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What we really need to do is take this
whole program out of the hands of the Central Intelligence Agency and put
it into the Department of Defense where you have adequate oversight, you
have committee oversights, you have all the things that are built in as our
oversight the Department of Defense. But since when is the intelligence
agency supposed to be an air force of drones that goes around killing
people? I believe that it`s a job for the Department of Defense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So says John McCain. So says the man whose nomination John
McCain is threatening to block. So says the man who would be replaced by
the man whose nomination John McCain is threatening to block.
What if drones were used like normal tools of war? What if drones
were used by the military instead of by our government that makes grown men
have to deny to our faces that we know something is going on? Would that
stop the “now you see it, oh, no you didn`t” denial that has sometimes made
a joke out of the job of explaining the actions of the United States of
Let`s ask a guy who is in a position to know, because he recently had
that job. We`ll be right back with that.
MADDOW: Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is going to
be sitting at this desk on camera, and everything. He`s here for the
interview in just a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS HAYES, UP WITH CHRIS HAYES: Do you think the White House has
been forthcoming, sufficiently forthcoming? We have these seven memos
right now. We haven`t seen any of those.
HAYES: The white paper got released right before Brennan, not by the
White House, but leak apparently.
Do you think you have been sufficiently forthcoming and the White
House has been sufficiently forth coming on this stuff?
GIBBS: Well, I think you have seen recently the president discuss the
need and desire to be more forthcoming. I certainly think there are
aspects of that program that are and will remain highly sensitive and very
But let me give you an example here, Chris. When I went through the
process of becoming press secretary, one of the things – one of the first
things they told me was you`re not even to acknowledge the drone program.
You`re not even to discuss that it exists.
GIBBS: And so, I would get a question like that, and literally, I
couldn`t tell you what Major asks, because once I figured out it`s about
the drone program, I realized I`m not supposed to talk about it.
And – here is what`s inherently crazy about that proposition. You`re
being asked a question base on reporting of a program that exists.
GIBBS: So you`re the official government spokesperson –
GIBBS: – acting as if the entire program – pay no attention to the
man behind the curtain. I think in many ways, and I think what the
president has seen, and I have not talked to him about this. I want to be
careful. This is my opinion.
HAYES: Yes, yes.
GIBBS: But I think what the president has seen is our denial of the
existence of the program when it`s obviously happening undermines people`s
confidence overall in the decisions that their government makes. And in
order to bolster that confidence and bolster the belief that we`re making
those correct decisions on this policy, you do have to lift the veil some
to both acknowledge that it exists, as he has done, but also to do it in a
way that provides better understanding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs speaking with
Chris Hayes on “UP WITH CHRIS HAYES” this weekend here on MSNBC.
Joining us for the interview is Robert Gibbs. He was White House
press secretary for the Obama administration. He is now an MSNBC
contributor, and hopefully not regretting it yet.
GIBBS: Not yet. I`ll tell you in a few minutes.
MADDOW: All right.
Well, why were you told that you can`t talk about it? Why were you
told you can`t acknowledge the existence of the program?
GIBBS: Well, part of this program is highly classified, highly top
secret. And quite frankly, this program has existed for many years. And
very few, if any have ever publicly acknowledged that. That started –
that changed a bit last year, late April of 2012, when John Brennan, who
understood probably better than anybody the inherent tension that I spoke
about, which is it`s not sustainable to have somebody sitting in the front
row of the White House briefing room, or any journalist reading in the
newspaper about a terrorist that has been killed by a program that when you
ask me about it, I don`t even talk about the fact that the program is
He understood there was that inherent unsustainable tension, and that
some transparency absolutely had to take place. That`s why I think if you
– and if your viewers go back and look at that speech that John gives in
April of 2012, it`s an extraordinary speech. It took a long time to get
that speech through the bureaucracy and through the government so that
somebody could finally on camera begin to speak about what this program
MADDOW: Going through the transcripts of all the different White
House press briefings and all the time –
MADDOW: But you see after that speech, instead of you having to say,
I will not speak about this, instead we see Jay Carney being able to say I
refer you to Mr. Brennan`s speech –
MADDOW: – and everything. At least that that could be the on-record
comment about it.
But let me ask you specifically. I mean, drones are a tool. They`re
not – there is nothing magic about them. There is nothing different about
them than other forms of waging war. We drop those same missiles from
other platforms as well.
Could you talk about a drone strike that was operated by the U.S.
military in Afghanistan, but you couldn`t talk about one that was operated
by another government agency somewhere else?
GIBBS: You probably would have a lot more leeway as I think John has
talked about. You would have a lot more leeway if you moved the military
activities of our government specifically into –
MADDOW: The military.
GIBBS: The government, the part of the government that does military.
Now, that`s not to say the intelligence community doesn`t have a big
role to play. Intelligence gathering, identifying where the bad guys are
should and always will be the mission of the Central Intelligence Agency
and all of our intelligence agencies.
But I think what John believes is when we need to deal with any aspect
of military activities, those military activities should be conducted by
the Pentagon. And I think that, again, is a change in the program because,
again, John understands where we are is just not sustainable.
MADDOW: It would change a lot – this is the argument that John
McCain has made, and I agree with him on very little, national security and
otherwise. But the argument he`s made is actually what seems right to me,
which is that it`s not necessarily an operational distinction between who
can fly the drone. The military is very adept at flying drones and killing
people with them.
The issue is legal and democratic. It`s in terms of the types of
accountability and oversight that we have are different between something
being done by the CIA and something done –
GIBBS: Absolutely. Different parts of the law. And more
importantly, I will say this – the drone program has saved lives in this
country. It has saved a lot of lives in our military. It is – it`s a
program that has done great damage to al Qaeda. And that`s a very, very
MADDOW: I don`t think that is the controversial part of it. I think
the controversial part of it is we seem to be waging war with part of our
country that isn`t designed to be accountable to us as civilians for war-
GIBBS: And again, I think that`s – the important aspect of what the
president said during the State of the Union was to say, look, we are a
democracy. We are a country that is bigger than any one person, regardless
of who that president is. That president always has to be accountable to
the people. That`s the type of change that John was pushing for in that
MADDOW: OK. So two questions come from that for me. Number is, we
have seen John Brennan explicitly, Geoff Morrell sort of to the press,
excuse me, Mike Morell, the acting director to the CEO, to the press –
foreign policy heads like John McCain in the Senate making the argument
that it should be military instead of CIA.
Should we see the president`s nomination of John Brennan to run the
CIA as a sign that the president agrees with that, and that that change is
going to happen?
GIBBS: I believe so. And I think –
GIBBS: – I think, you know, John has been at the forefront of this.
It was John`s idea to give that speech in April. It`s John`s idea to
understand that again, we had this – something just simply unsustainable.
You cannot continue with this program in the society and the democracy and
the values that we have in it by continuing to hide something and keep it
under such depths of secrecy, and also as you said, not to have some real
MADDOW: Yes. I mean, I understand the argument for why missions have
to be secret, why operations have to be secret. I don`t understand why law
has to be secret. And I don`t understand how we can, in a democratic
system, as you`re suggesting, have something that kills many people, that
goes on for years, that is a large-scale program that the government
MADDOW: And so, if it moves to military, maybe it there will be less
denial. But there is still that issue of secret law. I mean, after we
heard from the president that you can`t take my word for it in the State of
the Union, we need to have more transparency in the issue, since then, even
just the intelligence community trying to pry those legal matters out of
the White House to explain why it is that there is legal reasoning that
says this is legal – that, to me, strikes of secret law, which doesn`t
seem in line with the president`s assertions in the State of the Union.
GIBBS: Well, first of all, I think the beginnings of the memos that
were seen by the intelligence committee, the OLC memos, were released in
fact because of part of that transparency.
But, look, this is not going – we`re not going to put this on
Wikipedia overnight in this government. Again, these are highly
complicated, highly classified operations.
MADDOW: But the operations can be classified. How can the law be
GIBBS: I don`t think the – I think – again, I think you will see
the beginnings in walking people through the legal justifications for a
whole host of these operations. And I think again, that is what I think
the president believes, and John believes so are so important to make more
public and to have more people understand.
As you said, there will always be aspects of this program,
operationally as it relates to entities in foreign governments that always
will be highly classified. But I think you will see the beginnings, as you
heard John do in April, and then the president do most recently in the
State of the Union to begin to lift that veil a bit.
MADDOW: I think we`re in an incredibly intense moment right now
because I think both John Brennan and President Obama have made great
arguments for lifting that veil. And now everybody is waiting to see how
that`s going to be like.
Robert Gibbs, we are lucky to have you here to help us understand it.
Thanks for being willing to be both made fun of and set up for different
conversations in your first night here.
GIBBS: Thank you. It`s what we do.
MADDOW: It`s good to see you.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Best new thing in the world – OK, as you know, the Oscars
these days have an aftermath. The Oscars were last night, but even before
the Oscars standing on the red rug outside, that gives us at least a full
day of coverage of movie stars and entrance into the event.
Then after that, the event is something like that five freaking hours
long, then everybody tweets and Facebooks and writes columns and declares
who gave the worst speech or made the worst joke or whatever, and then
everybody apologizes for the really worst jokes.
But then my favorite part of Oscar`s aftermath is when we find out
what Iran thought. Last year, they thought very bad things about the
Oscars, at least officially, because a film called “A Separation” won the
Oscar for best foreign language film. It was the second film from Iran to
be nominated for an Academy Award, but it was the first one to win. And
you would think that would be a good thing for the nation of Iran.
But then the director gave his acceptance speech, which apparently was
a problem in Iran. He said, “Iran`s glorious culture, a rich and ancient
culture, has been hidden under the dust of politics. I proudly offer this
award to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and
civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”
It`s nice, right? That is what the Iranian director said on Oscar
The state-approve Fars news agency in Iran did not like that speech at
all. They disliked it so much that they enhanced it. They changed it.
Again, here is what he actually said, “I proudly offer this award to
the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and
civilizations, despite hostility and resentment.”
Here`s what Fars reported that he said, “I proudly offer this award to
the people of my country who despite all the tensions and hostility of
recent months between Iran and the West over Iran`s nuclear program,
respect all cultures and civilizations.”
That`s not what he said. But Iran`s Oscar aftermath is all about
making the Oscars into what Iran needs the Oscars to be. So, that is what
happened last year.
This year`s Oscar aftermath in Iran was even weirder. As you know,
the first lady, Michelle Obama, awarded the best picture Oscar, live from
the White House, via satellite, and the Oscar went to “Argo,” based on a
true story thriller about CIA operator Tony Mendez and the Canadian embassy
in Iran, smuggling six U.S. diplomats out of Tehran, right in the middle of
the hostage crisis in 1979.
Now, as you might imagine, Iran`s state-sponsored media was not
psyched that “Argo” won best picture. If you look at the headline on
Iran`s Press TV Web site, “Argo wins Oscar in Hollywood`s dirty anti-Iran
But over at the Fars news agency, the same one that last year enhanced
the director`s acceptance speech, this year they decided they would instead
enhance First Lady Michelle Obama, because that – that is not what First
Lady Michelle Obama wore last night at the Oscars. The image here is kind
of tiny, but as you can see, Iran`s state-run media digitally altered
Michelle Obama`s shoulder-bearing gown with its low square cut neck line,
and they basically made it look the first lady was wearing a sparkly silver
t-shirt. They PhotoShopped First Lady Michelle Obama into a whole new
outfit that she did not wear.
The Web site, EnduringAmerica.com was the first to point this out this
morning. Iranian state-run media giving a whole new meaning to the term
I know people love the Oscars, I know that watching what Iran state TV
does to the Oscars the day after is always better than the Oscars to me,
and so it qualifies today as my best new thing in the world.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Have a great night.
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