The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/21/13
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you.
It has been a long hard day in the suburbs of Oklahoma City. We now
know that the confirmed death toll for yesterday`s massive tornado in
Moore, Oklahoma, is 24, and nine of those victims are children.
The reason for the smaller death toll compared to what we were told
last night is that authorities say many of the victims were inadvertently
counted twice last night in the chaos of the tornado`s immediate aftermath.
Still, though, even with the lower number today, authorities are still
cautioning they expect the overall death toll may still rise if more
victims are found. All night long last night and all throughout the day
today, emergency responders have been combing through the debris block by
block, car by car. You can see some of the markings they are using. The
orange x here means no victims inside this vehicle. So, emergency crews
can move on.
In terms of whether or not there`s hope for finding anybody else
alive, the fire chief in Moore, Oklahoma, today said he is 98 percent sure
that there are no more survivors to recover. He says that every damaged
home in the city has been searched at least once already. He says his goal
– the fire chief`s goal is that there will be searches of every destroyed
property just to be 100 percent sure that no one has been left behind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
CHIEF GARY BIRD, MOORE, OK FIRE DEPARTMENT: We are out. We started
with a primary search yesterday and secondary search. We made it through,
I will say, most of the structures, most of the vehicles, most of the
But the ones that we didn`t make it through yesterday, we`ll make it
through today for sure. And a second and third time, we`ll be through
every damaged piece of property in this city at least three times before
we`re done and we hope to be done by dark tonight.
GOV. MARY FALLIN (R), OKLAHOMA: First and foremost, emergency and
goal is to have rescue and recovery, to make sure that uncovered every
piece of debris and gone through every building, piece of land itself to
see if there might be someone that survived the storm or experienced some
CHIEF BILL CITTY, OKLAHOMA CITY POLICE DEPT.: If there`s anybody out
there, citizens that have not found loved ones, we would ask them to go
ahead and call us at 2971129 and report that and let us have the
opportunity maybe to locate them.
CRAIG FUGATE, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Let people know you`re okay. One
of the challenges with this type of event is because the devastation is so
bad, it`s difficult to get a handle on how many people may be missing. So,
if you have – if you did live in the areas, you we impacted, let people
know you are OK so we`re not looking for people we don`t need to be looking
BIRD: The search and rescue teams are going through every individual
house looking for everything and anything and if they need to, they take
the dogs in also.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: They`ll take the dogs in also.
Emergency crews have been bringing in rescue dogs and cadaver dogs to
help search through the rubble, to listen for and to sniff for victims, to
climb and burrow in places that human rescuers may not be able to reach.
First responders have also been getting assistance from the Oklahoma
National Guard and the Oklahoma Air National Guard. Those troops have been
able to assist not only just with sheer manpower and things like perimeter
security, but also with specific equipment, specific technical equipment
that they have to try to find people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SECOND LT. GABRIEL BIRD, U.S. AIR FORCE: We`ve got a team of eight
individuals, tactical vehicles and a lot of our equipment that we would use
in combat operations such as thermal imagers, night vision equipment,
communications equipment. We`re here at ground zero basically looking to
get put into the search and rescue portion so we can go out with thermal
imagers and night visions, see in the dark and hopefully, you know, help
Thermal imagers allow us to see cold, warm bodies, people in the dark.
Night vision equipment, we can see in the dark. Low light instances.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We talked with the Oklahoma Air National Guard today. And
they described to us their thermal imagers that you just heard that soldier
describing there. They are essentially a handheld monocle-like device,
it`s a handheld device, or you can mount it on some of flash – or some
sort, or any other sort of device but it`s small enough to hold in your
hand. It gives you a black and white image.
This one you are looking at here, this is a thermal imaging device
that`s not the exact equipment the guard is using. It`s a similar device
that you can buy. In the field, it shows what the soldier right next to
you might look like if you were looking through that thermal scanner, that
thermal imaging device at that person.
It`s a totally different look, totally different function from what
you would see if you were instead wearing night vision goggles, where
everything looks that familiar shade of green.
It`s one shot I want to show you of airmen from the Oklahoma Air
National Guard using one of these thermal imaging devices last night when
they were going house to house in Moore, Oklahoma, looking for survivors.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s white hot (ph) right now. If you need to
switch, just let me know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is a team from the Oklahoma Air National Guard. They
were also part of the search and rescue team at the Plaza Towers Elementary
School, which of course was completely destroyed yesterday in a direct hit
from the tornado.
We`ve had no further reports today on the progress of the search at
Plaza Towers Elementary, where, of course, a number of older grades of kids
were known to be saved but there were looming questions all day yesterday
and through the night and now into today about the fate of the kids in the
younger grades, including all of the way down to kindergarten.
“Associated Press” photographer Sue Ogrocki published her own account
today of what she saw when she reached Plaza Towers Elementary yesterday
afternoon. She got here shortly after the storm and says she expected a
scene of chaos but instead she says, quote, “It was calm and orderly as
police and firefighters pulled children out one by one from beneath a large
chunk of a collapsed wall. Parents and neighborhood volunteers stood in a
line and passed the rescued children from one set of arms to another
carrying them out of harm`s way. Adults carried the children through a
field littered with shredded pieces of wood, cinder block and insulation to
a triage center in a parking lot. They worked quickly and quietly so
rescuers could hear voices of children trapped beneath the rubble. I know
that some students were among those who died in the tornado, but for a
moment, there was hope in the devastation.”
In the half hour of that “A.P.” photographer Sue Ogrocki was outside
that destroyed elementary school yesterday right after the storm passed,
she said she saw rescuers pull about a dozen children alive from the
There has been no word from anyone yet of further rescues today. The
National Weather Service estimating this afternoon that yesterday`s tornado
rated EF-5. That`s the very top of the scale for how tornadoes are
measured. They also say yesterday`s Oklahoma tornado had winds of at least
200 miles per hour.
There`s a lot that officials will have to do to rebuild from a storm
of this magnitude. Not just houses and schools and power lines, and maybe
water treatment plants and cell phone towers. They already started on what
would seem like a smaller thing, which is replacing street signs. It turns
out it`s necessary in the very short-term to help give first responders and
even some residents some sense in this now unfamiliar landscape of exactly
where they are when they are in Moore, Oklahoma.
President Obama saying this morning that he`s instructing his disaster
response team to get tornado victims in Oklahoma everything they need,
quote, “right away.” FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, who you say just a
moment, has been on the ground in Oklahoma today. But right now, as the
hours tick by, what emergency responders need most is, frankly, to try to
stop the clock as everybody worries that maybe running out on the hope of
finding alive anymore victims of yesterday`s disaster.
Joining us now is the mayor of Oklahoma City, Mick Cornett.
Mayor Cornett, thank you for your time tonight, sir. I know this is
incredibly busy night for you. Thank you.
MAYOR MICK CORNETT (R), OKLAHOMA CITY: Thank you, Rachel. It has
been the end of a long day.
MADDOW: What can you tell us about the latest in terms of search and
rescue efforts in Moore. We`re hearing overall that the worry is that
rescue efforts essentially will have to wind down shortly if not now just
because of passage of time.
Do you expect they`ll still find any survivors?
CORNETT: No. No. I don`t have any reason to expect that they`ll
find any survivors. I went into ground zero today and had to look at the
most devastating parts myself. And, Rachel, I can tell you, it`s
unimaginable that anyone walked out of that debris alive.
But, you know, debris four foot high as far as you can see and inside
the debris school books and children`s toys and cars standing on end.
Sticks and pieces of wood just broken like match sticks out there.
I don`t see how people climbed out of that debris and lived to tell
the stories, but some remarkable stories are emerging from out of that
I really think the most emotional aspects of this are yet to come. I
think later in the week we`re going to have to start burying kids that
didn`t survive that grade school. And I think that`s when it`s really
going to hit home just how tragic and horrible this event has been for
MADDOW: In terms of the major infrastructure in the city, there were
initial reports yesterday about a water treatment plant being offline and
that potentially posing some larger issues for the region. We later heard
that maybe those initial reports had been overblown.
Are there large scale infrastructure issues either in terms of water,
gas, power, water treatment, sewage treatment, those kind of things that
will have a regional impact?
CORNETT: Well, power – power was out and so the water treatment
plant lacked the power, but power has now been restored and water levels
are back to their normal pressure.
But as far as infrastructure goes, electricity is going to be out in
many areas for quite some time. And so, you`re going to have a lot of
situations where crews are coming in from around the region to try to help
our power company try to restore order in that respect.
There`s going to be a tremendous amount of cleanup and debris as far
as the infrastructure goes and sometimes that`s where the federal
government`s help can come in and aid from a long-term budgetary
The insurance commissioner is also walking around. They`re talking
the damage here is probably going to be in the billions of dollars. That`s
going to have an economic impact in a lot of different ways.
MADDOW: This obviously is an area of the country that has dealt with
tornado devastation before, sometimes on large scale like this. When you
as the mayor of Oklahoma City think about rebuilding, is there anything
that you want to try to prioritize in terms of increasing the survivability
of future storms, the resilience of your communities and surrounding areas
when storms like this inevitably come back through again?
CORNETT: I think one of the conversations we have to have is about
the specific area where this storm tracked, because this is the third time
in 15 years. I mean, Oklahoma City has only had three significant
tornadoes in that time, two really bad, the two really worse in our city`s
history, and they`ve all three come on almost an exact same axis across the
same part of the city and part of the metro.
We need to figure out why that`s occurring if we can. Hopefully,
there`s some sort of science that can help us explain that and understand
it. And if that leads us to changing some of the planning for the city or
some of the building requirements, so be it. I would like to see us have a
conversation to figure out what`s going on here.
MADDOW: Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, I know you have a lot of
deal tonight, I appreciate you giving us some of your time, Mr. Mayor.
Thank you very, very much.
CORNETT: You bet, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: I appreciate it.
I want to bring into the conversation now somebody who`s been very
helpful to us in the last 24 hours in terms of getting the word out about
the response in the Oklahoma City suburbs, and in the state at large. It`s
the state`s Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb. He has been touring the
disaster site on the ground today, but to see extent of the damage and also
to meet with survivors and local officials.
I know that he brought along his boots and work gloves in case he need
to pitch in even though he is the lieutenant governor.
Mr. Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb, thank you very much for your time
tonight, sir. It`s good to have you with us.
LT. GOV. TODD LAMB (R), OKLAHOMA: You`re welcome, Rachel.
MADDOW: We spoke with you last night in the immediate aftermath of
the storm, when we were trying to get our heads around exactly what the
disaster site was going to be like in terms of scale. Seeing it on the
ground today in daylight, what can you tell us about how things are looking
and how this compares to previous disasters.
LAMB: Well, Rachel, it`s horrific. Absolutely horrific.
As you and I discussed last night, I was at the emergency operations
center. I saw the images on television. I arrived on site here at 5:50
this morning. Once the sun finally rose and I saw daylight absolutely
horrific devastation here in Moore, Oklahoma.
To the credit of the rescue workers and first responders overnight, I
know you reported this many times as has MSNBC, 101 survivors found
throughout the night, midnight hour, shows the hard work and love of these
fellow Oklahomans trying to find their neighbors and loved ones amidst this
rubble and it will continue.
I`m the eternal optimist. Not false hope, but I have great hope and
faith until we know for sure. Until we know beyond a shadow of a doubt
that we are not missing anybody whatsoever. Until that time occurs, I
believe there`s still hope and there`s still a chance and there`s still
opportunity and we have faith that we might find another survivor until
every body is accounted for.
MADDOW: Locally right now where you are in Moore but also broadly
over the state, are you getting the right amount of help? Are you getting
– are you not getting too much that it`s crowding out people`s ability to
actually do the work and not too little so that you are needing something
that you`re not getting? Is the help that you`re getting from around the
country what you need at this point?
LAMB: That`s a very important question and very appropriate question.
Too much help can at times be counterproductive. Just yesterday, last
evening, the fire chief here in Moore said we have enough volunteers and
enough help in that regard – the professional help, the first responders,
medical personnel, law enforcement, military, et cetera, et cetera. We`ve
had all of the help that we`ve needed.
Governor Fallin yesterday evening when I was with her, she talked to
the regional manager of FEMA. She requested federal disaster relief. She
talked (ph) with the president last night. President Obama pledged any
support he could give through the federal government to Oklahoma. Every
request that state of Oklahoma has made has been met by the federal
government at this point.
MADDOW: Let me ask you the question I just asked Oklahoma City Mayor
Mick Cornett, when you think about repeated devastation sadly in this
specific part of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City suburbs having been hit so many
different times by tornadoes, obviously tornadoes are just part of prairie
life. But in these built up areas, there`s been such devastation over the
last generation over the past couple decades.
When you think about the prospect of rebuilding in these areas, is
there anything that can be done or that should be prioritized in terms of
increasing the survivability from big storms like this, increasing the
resilience of the communities, their ability to withstand this kind of
LAMB: Well, that`s a very, very big question that would take a lot of
time to answer. I look forward to visiting with Congressman Tom Cole whose
district we`re in right now. You probably know Congressman Cole from your
experience in D.C. and politics. We`re in his district. He took the tour
today. We weren`t together. I look forward to visiting with m with
thoughts or suggestions he has regarding his hometown of Moore, Oklahoma,
and his congressional district.
Right now, look around, you`ve seen the images. Your station has
reported all day long, various images and talked a lot of personal
testimony of those that have been struck here in Moore. They love their
hometown. It`s a hometown. Everybody has a hometown.
And Moore`s hometown to a lot of folks. And these individuals who
have been struck just yesterday, even if they were struck before the
community was struck before three times in the last 14 years, they want to
rebuild here because they love their hometown and I suspect that`s what
MADDOW: Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb, thank you for joining
You know, some day a million years from now, we`ll get you on the show
and you and I will fight about some petty thing in politics or something.
But for now, I just want to say please stay in touch with us on this over
the next few days as this continues – the struggle continues in your state
and good luck to you, sir. Thank you so much.
LAMB: You`re welcome.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
All right. If you think you can imagine what 200-mile-an-hour winds
feel like, you cannot. Not unless you have personally been through it.
There`s nothing like that experience in normal human life that can help you
But these 200-mile-an-hour storms happen. They recur in specific
parts of the country and how survivable they are now and in the future
depends in part on people not only imagining winds that strong, but
replicating winds that strong in a lab environment. That`s kind of
amazing. Hold on.
MADDOW: There are certain dates that resonate across the country as
dates. 9/11 for example, everybody knows what you mean if you say 9/11 or
For generations just saying December 7th had about the same effect.
Everybody knew what you meant if you just said that date, a date that will
live in infamy, right?
For the people of Newtown, Connecticut, it`s the same. The date for
them which will always mean the same thing now forever is December 14th.
That`s the kind of context you needed if you want to understand the
front page of “The Oklahoman” newspaper today. “Worse Than May 3rd.” It
says, “The monster returned.”
When you say May 3rd in Oklahoma, it`s one of those dates everybody
knows what you`re referring to, May 3rd, 1999, when an outbreak of
tornadoes careened through Kansas and Oklahoma, and one of those tornadoes,
an F-5, with record-breaking wind speeds of over 300 miles an hour, drove
straight through Moore, Oklahoma, and Bridge Creek and other Oklahoma City
suburbs. That one twister that day in 1999 took the lives of three dozen
people and injured hundreds of people and now, the same place has been
But since May 3rd, since the storm 14 years ago that changed the
meaning of that date in Oklahoma forever, since then, something important
has changed in that region. It is technological. It turned out to be
really important for some people yesterday and that story is next.
MADDOW: If you drive out of suburban Moore, Oklahoma, where that
devastating tornado hit yesterday. If you drive out of Moore, a couple
hours to the Southeast, you`ll reach a country town called Tushka,
Oklahoma. Population, not much, 312, population in the last count.
Tushka is much smaller than Moore, Oklahoma. But like Moore, it is
also right in the heart of tornado country. In April 2011, an EF-3
tornado, the one you see here, in fact, flattened much of Tushka, Oklahoma.
It tore up buildings and houses. It killed two people.
But the astounding thing is that almost everybody in Tushka survived
the storm even though the town survived the whole town. They survived
because most of the people in town took shelter in special safe rooms that
were designed to protect them.
One of the oldest laws of surviving a tornado is to get yourself
underground if you possibly can, right? Get into a basement if you have
one or especially built storm cellar. But beyond that, now, you can also
buy especially built above-ground safe room, designed to withstand
incredible winds and flying debris of a monster storm.
Back in 1947, the town of Tushka built a public shelter for the town
that`s below ground. It`s next to the high school. It`s basically a 45-
foot long tunnel with steel doors at each end.
But then, just a few years ago, Tushka decided to supplement that.
They added a second shelter and this one was above ground. A concrete
reinforced above ground safe room. It cost about $150,000. It was paid
for mostly by a grant from FEMA and they put that new above ground shelter
right next to the preschool in town.
When that big EF-3 tornado came in April 2011, something like two-
thirds of the whole town`s total population piled into those two shelters.
The winds outside reached 165 miles an hour and the people of the town
stood inside shoulder to shoulder with their dogs and their kids and they
waited it out.
Quoting “The Tulsa World”, “Across town, two elderly sisters were
caught inside their home. They died in the storm`s fury. But each and
every person who sought refuge in the two public shelters walked out alive
Tushka`s mayor, Brickle Griffin, told the paper at the time, “The
death toll would have been higher if there hadn`t been the safe room to
take shelter in. We are thankful we had that.”
If you want to know what people do with the roughly 15 minutes lead
time that the National Weather Service on average is usually able to give
when a tornado is coming to your town, if you are within 15 minutes of
Tushka, Oklahoma, apparently what you do is you use that lead time to drive
to Tushka to get into one of those town shelters. People in the
surrounding area all come to town to get into that community shelter.
“The Tulsa World” says statewide, Oklahoma has 77 of these big safe
rooms like Tushka`s scattered around the state. Community safe rooms.
Most of them were funded by FEMA grants and they are incredibly valuable
resources for those communities. That tornado in 2011, the one that nearly
everybody survived because of those safe rooms, that tornado wiped out
Tushka`s school entirely, so the town had to build a whole new school from
the ground up.
The superintendent of the school district there told us today the very
first question the town asked when they realized they needed to build a new
school, the very first question they asked was, where are the safe rooms
going to go? That`s what superintendent Bill Pingleton asked, where are
the safe rooms going to go for the next time a big storm happens because we
are pretty sure, it might happen here.
For the rebuilt school this time around, they settled on three big
safe rooms. One for each wing of the school so the students in any part of
the building can get to the shelter with one-minute`s notice. Each of the
reinforced steel and concrete rooms can hold 150 people.
The three safe rooms double as classrooms, so they`re not sitting
empty all the time. They use them as classrooms when there aren`t storms
and to fit them out as safe rooms, it cost $150,000 more than if they had
just been normal classrooms. The expense is covered by a grant by FEMA.
But even so, per square foot, they really only cost a little more than
to build than a regular classroom. It`s not free, the superintendent told
us today, but it really is not all that expensive either.
If right now listening to this at home, you were wishing that there
were more of these kinds of things around in Tornado County, you are not
West Memphis, Arkansas, got a FEMA grant a couple of years ago for
building a safe room that hold a thousand people. Victoria County, Texas,
on the Gulf Coast got a FEMA grant just this month for a community safe
room there. FEMA also has grants for individual families who want to buy a
safe room for their homes.
Not every home owner who wants grant gets one but if you qualify, FEMA
will cover three quarters of the cost of your personal safe room up to
Homeowners in Moore, Oklahoma, have used FEMA grants to build safe
rooms there. It has happened. The city has been trying to participate in
that grant program in a bigger way. They`ve been trying to get more FEMA
funding to build more shelters in Moore, Oklahoma. In recent months and
years, they say they have had trouble getting through the application
In February of this year, officials in Moore announced on their Web
site that they were trying to get Moore funding for shelters, but they said
the FEMA requirements in their words were, quote, “a constantly moving
target.” That was in February that they said that.
Then, yesterday of course, 14 years after the big May 3rd tornado, 10
years after the other big one that hit Moore in 2003, it happened again.
And we cannot know for sure what difference more safe rooms might have
made, if any, in Moore, Oklahoma, yesterday when that historic and deadly
tornado struck. We cannot know.
We do know two schools leveled by that twister did not have safe
rooms, and we do know that teachers and kids describe trying to hide in
closets and hide in the hallways, hide in bathrooms as that twister
approached. They knew to get safe. They just had to make do trying to get
safe as best they could in a normal building.
We know that at one of the schools, all the children survived. We
know at one of the other schools, some kids were lost. How many yet we do
At a press conference this afternoon, Oklahoma officials said they
have funded over 100 safe rooms for schools around the state, just not the
schools that got hit yesterday.
Oklahoma officials are talking now about maybe looking into requiring
safe rooms in more places, like for example schools, for the good of
community, for the good of the state, for the good of the people of
Oklahoma. The school superintendent in Tushka tells us that there were
people last night in both of his town`s safe rooms, both the underground
old one, and the above ground new one – the shelters that saved them
People sought shelter there last night just in case. He said he could
not help thinking about the folks up the road at the schools in Moore. He
told us today, “It was on my mind last night when they were huddled in the
hallways. It is a tough situation.”
Joining us now is Larry Tanner. He is a research associate at the
National Wind Institute at Texas Tech University, which tests the ability
of these safe rooms to withstand the kind of abuse they are dealt in a
Mr. Tanner, thank you very much for being with us tonight.
LARRY TANNER, NATIONAL WIND INSTITUTE: You`re very welcome, Rachel.
MADDOW: You are an expert on these things and you work in this field
and I do not. Let me first ask you if in terms of explaining safe rooms
and how they have functioned in the past and how towns rely on them, is
that basically your understanding?
TANNER: Well, safe rooms certainly will if they`re tested, safe rooms
will certainly protect you from these kinds of storms, no doubt.
MADDOW: What kind of wind speeds can structures withstand? How do
you test them and what kind of failures are you looking for when you put
them through these tests?
TANNER: The FEMA guidelines require wind pressures for the storm come
from a 250-mile-per-hour ground speed tornado and that`s speed on the
ground and that the typical debris generated by that storm would be a
wooden 2x4 that`s 15 pounds and propelled at 100 miles an hour.
MADDOW: So, you recreate those conditions in a lab using these
commercially available buildings. Do you feel like people who are
marketing these – obviously this is a public safety issue, this is also a
business. When you are finding people marketing these, are their products
good products? When people market these things as safe, are you generally
finding that they`re right?
TANNER: Well, anything that`s come through our laboratory we list
those companies on our Web site and, you know, we`re very confident that if
they`re going to go to the trouble and expense of doing the testing, that
they`re sincere in protecting their customers.
Of course, there are certain manufacturers out there that do not go
through the testing regimen and the reliability of their shelters, you
know, I have no idea of how reliable they are.
MADDOW: What do you think is stopping the country from building more
of these safe rooms for homes and schools? Obviously there is expense.
They`re not the most expensive things in the world particularly if you
average them against the cost of recurring disasters like tornadoes in
parts of the country we know to be prone to them.
Do you think that if we had more safe rooms, it would have made a
difference in a situation like Moore yesterday?
TANNER: Very definitely. It would have made a difference especially
in those schools. You know, we know that there are more safe rooms in the
area. I investigated the 2003 storm and personally went to all of the – a
number of the homes in the previously damaged area of `99 and a lot of
those homes had been rebuilt with safe rooms. And that was a result of the
first FEMA grant for residential safe rooms.
And there`s been a lot that have been installed in that area and we`re
getting ready to go right back out to Moore and try to validate the
existence of residential shelters and if there were any community shelters
in the area.
Larry Tanner, research associate at the National Wind Institute at
Texas Tech University – thank you for helping us to understand this
tonight, sir. Appreciate your time.
TANNER: You`re very welcome.
MADDOW: Thank you.
Our coverage of the tornado damage and rescue efforts in Oklahoma is
going to continue tonight, of course. But coming up next, we`re going to
take a quick look at the other news that`s happening elsewhere today,
including a very big piece of news that just happened this evening in
Washington. That story is next.
MADDOW: Obviously, all eyes today and tonight continue to be on
Oklahoma City even as the Oklahoma City mayor told us earlier this hour
that he personally does not expect anymore survivors to be found in Moore,
Oklahoma, after that tornado there yesterday. The rescue and recovery
efforts do, of course, still continue there.
Tonight, we`re going to get back to that coverage in just a moment.
But we also want to give you an update on what`s happening today in
Washington and in other news outside of the storm.
First and foremost, there was a major development in D.C. within the
last couple of hours, on one of the biggest legislative items on President
Obama`s second term agenda. Tonight, in the United States Senate, the
judiciary committee passed a proposed national overhaul of the country`s
immigration laws. The vote was 13-5, which means that three Republicans on
that panel voted with the Democratic majority to move the immigration bill
Now, the important thing is what happens next here is the Republican
Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, said earlier today that the Republicans are
not going to block this bill from coming to the Senate floor for a full
vote. Bottom line, that means it appears unusually likely that something
major that actually comprehensive immigration reform might pass the United
States Senate, maybe even without having to overcome a filibuster. So,
that is a very big deal. Just have to stay tuned on that one.
Also today, there was a major federal court ruling related to the
killing of Osama bin Laden. Since the raid on bin Laden`s compound in
Pakistan in 2011, there have been a lot of efforts by advocacy groups to
try to get the government to turn over photographers that were taken of bin
Laden`s corpse after his death. More than 50 images of dead bin Laden were
taken the night he was killed and those images have been classified as top
secret by the U.S. government.
The government has refused to release those images publicly saying
they provide no information of public utility but they are potent enough to
endanger American lives particularly abroad if they were released.
Well, today, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled in the
government`s favor. They ruled the government is not trying to hide
something by keeping these photos secret but the release of the photos
could lead to, quote, “the killing of Americans and violence against
American interests”. And so, the photos do not need to be released.
The conservative group that lost this case today does have the option
to appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court, but we do not yet know if they
Also today, it was a really bizarre incident inside one of the world`s
most recognizable landmarks. This is the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris,
France – or Notre Dame if you`re fancier that I usually am.
Today, that historic cathedral, that 900-year-old cathedral was the
scene of a dramatic politically motivated suicide. A 78-year-old far right
nationalist writer in France who is known for his anti-gay marriage views,
he walked into the cathedral, pulled out a gun and killed himself right in
front of the altar, in front of hundreds of tourists.
In his final essay, which was posted on his Web site earlier in the
day, the man criticized France`s adoption of what he called a vile law
legalizing gay marriage and gay adoption. The president of France signed
that law into bill, of course, on Saturday. Same-sex marriages are set to
begin in France later this month.
Back here in the U.S., there was a big vote with international
implications in the U.S. Senate today. In addition to the immigration
bill, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on legislation calling
for the U.S. to arm the rebels in Syria, to arm the groups fighting against
the Assad regime in that civil war for the past two years.
It was a 15-3 vote, 15-3. Very lopsided vote. Both Democrats and
Republicans calling for arming the Syrian opposition. They only votes
against were from Democratic Senators Tom Udall, and Chris Murphy, and from
Republican Senator Rand Paul. That`s it.
This vote is by no means definitive in terms of what the U.S. will do,
but it does put a lot of pressure on Secretary of State John Kerry who
arrived in the Middle East today for a week-long trip that is aimed at
building support for some kind of peaceful end to the war in Syria.
Secretary Kerry`s former colleagues in the Senate, really not making
his job any easier today.
There was also big news out of the great state of Arizona. A federal
court in Arizona struck down that state`s ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
The law that the court struck down today was signed by Arizona`s Governor
Jan Brewer last April. It makes abortion illegal in the state even before
the fetus has traditionally been thought to be viable.
But today, the ninth circuit court of appeals said what everybody
knows to be true that ban is unconstitutional under the terms set out by
Roe versus Wade. A lot of states have this style of ban. A lot of states
have enacted this style ban in the last few years. Arizona did take a
slightly different approach to it in terms of its technical terminology for
how it defines when the ban takes effect.
So, it`s unclear how widely this ruling will apply but conceivably
this ruling today from the ninth circuit could strike down a similar ban in
Idaho because that state falls under the jurisdiction of the ninth circuit,
just like Arizona does. We`ll have to see what happens in Idaho and the
rest of the circuit. But proponents of this ban in Arizona are suggesting
that they may appeal today`s ruling all of the way up to the Supreme Court.
In the state of Arkansas today, the state`s treasurer who is a
Democrat faced increasing pressure to step down from her job after she was
arrested by the FBI. She is charged with conspiring to extort money as a
public official and transferring state business in exchange for that money.
This case with the Arkansas state treasurer involves a bond broker.
It also involves rolls of hundred dollar bills that were allegedly
delivered in pie boxes. That also had pies in them.
Everybody in Arkansas politics in both parties up to and including the
Democratic governor have called on the state treasurer to resign. After
initially resisting yesterday, on the day she was arrested, tonight she has
finally resigned. Her resignation took effect at 5:00 p.m. this evening
local time. If convicted, the Arkansas state treasurer faces the
possibility of 20 years behind bars.
In the state of Virginia today, the state Republican Party is now
officially in possession of its slate of candidates who will run in
Virginia`s statewide elections this fall. Those candidates were chosen at
a party convention over the weekend. Not a primary but a convention. They
include the Republican Party`s candidates for governor and lieutenant
governor and attorney general.
Again, this was not a primary. This was a party convention that
picked candidates. There was no statewide voting here, it was just the
Republican loyalists who showed up. And those Republican loyalists who
showed up for the convention picked candidates for the statewide election
who are very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very
conservative. A very conservative Tea Party style slate of candidates.
Barring further breaking news developments, tomorrow, we will have
more on that important political story on tomorrow night`s show, but
suffice to say, I didn`t use enough verys in describing them.
Today was the second day of really dramatic protests at the site of
the Justice Department headquarters in Washington D.C. These protests
began yesterday when activists blocked traffic in front of the Justice
Department, beginning at around 2:00 in the afternoon. The protesters
managed to shut down Constitution Avenue in D.C. for hours yesterday,
before a total of 17 of them were arrested.
These activists are protesting the fact that the Justice Department
has not taken enough action in their view against big banks that illegally
foreclosed on people in the wake of the financial crisis. The protesters
pitched tents outside Justice Department`s headquarters last night, and
then early this morning, police attempted to dislodge them from their
location and there were a number of additional arrests today including at
least one activist who appears on this tape to have been tasered by police
We will see if this protest continue tomorrow, but this tasering, this
apparent tasering and multiple arrests and blocking Constitution Avenue for
hours, this is a major protest site in Washington.
Finally, the other big story to watch in Washington today was
anticipation that continues to build for a major address that President
Obama has scheduled to deliver on Thursday. It`s going to be a major
address from the president on the subject of civil liberties.
The president is expected to address the drone program of targeting
killings abroad, as well as his efforts to close the prison that we
maintain in Cuba, at Guantanamo. This is going to be the first time that
the president has spoken at length on those issues in a very long time.
The news outlet “Reuters” is reporting that the Obama administration
may be planning to announce that they`re moving a significant portion of
the drone program out of the hands of the CIA and into the remit of the
military, and that may sound like we`re going to be droning people in far
away countries, but it would be a big deal in terms of the accountability
of that program here at home, how much we as Americans are allowed to know
about that particular way we have been waging war in an ongoing way. We do
not know yet if the president is going to discuss that exact policy change
specifically in his speech on Thursday. I`m guessing he will.
We, of course, will learn more when the speech happens and tomorrow
night on the show we`re going to have the Pentagon`s former general counsel
during President Obama`s first term, Jeh Johnson, will be our guest
tomorrow to discuss that big news and talk about president`s big speech on
these matters might mean.
Right now, these stories, all of the other stories in the country are
understandably all on the back burner in favor of continued focus on what`s
still under way right now in Oklahoma and continuing response at this hour
and to just the unimaginably large tornado that hit Oklahoma City yesterday
We`re going to have the latest from the rescue efforts coming up right
MADDOW: We will have more from Oklahoma ahead. Before we do that,
one other story worth keeping an eye on now that is the on-going, still
unfolding drama surrounding the IRS.
These are Tea Party protesters today at the IRS office in
Philadelphia. Tea Party group said they would protest at IRS offices all
over the country today, but local coverage of whether or not these protests
actually happened does seem to be sparse. Tea Party protesters did show up
specifically at the IRS office in Cincinnati, which is the office where key
words like Tea Party and patriot were used to single out groups for special
scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.
Conservative Tea Party movement was in the midst of sort of fading to
black when the IRS apologized for its actions and thrust this issue into
the headlines a little over a week ago. Tea Partiers now, of course, are
hoping that the scandal women reenergize and reinvigorate their movement.
It otherwise mostly has just been absorbed into the regular churn of
Republican Party politics. But Tea Partiers are hoping now with the IRS as
a convenient adversary, they could be back.
The first hearings on the IRS scandal were held in Congress last week,
there were more held today. There will be more held tomorrow. That`s
alongside many over congressional committees that are investigating the
same scandal but have not yet gotten around to holding their own hearings.
All of that alongside an FBI criminal investigation into whether anyone
actually broke the law in this scandal.
And it is in that context we got the news today that the head of the
part of the IRS where it all happens is going to take the Fifth tomorrow.
This is Lois Lerner, who is not a political appointee. She`s been in her
job since the Bush administration. But she is the one who clumsily
apologized for this behavior by her IRS division in the first place.
She has been subpoenaed to testify to Congress tomorrow. But, today,
her lawyer said that rather than testify under oath she will plead the
Fifth. She will invoke her right against self-incrimination.
And yet, the committee will make her show up in person to plead the
Fifth rather than excuse her from testifying, which is what her lawyer
asked for on the grounds that he could promise she really was not going to
say anything. The committee is not excusing her. They`re going to make
her show up and sit there and say repeatedly that she will not answer their
The other side of the story that proceeds the pace is the increasingly
incoherent upset over the timing of when this IRS problem became widely
known. Was it not just a bad thing that the IRS was doing but also a
cover-up of the bad thing the IRS was doing?
Reporters at the White House press briefing pressed Jay Carney on the
alleged secrecy of the initial investigation into this bad conduct by the
IRS. Why was it kept secret so long? Why did nobody know about this
For the record, I just want to point out this. This was posted online
publicly in October. It is the official public unclassified free to
everyone notification that the IRS investigation was under way. This was
posted publicly online in October and, yes, there was a lot about the
scandal that is scandalous. There`s a lot that is scandalous about this
IRS story, it will look particularly scandalous when the IRS official shows
up at Congress and pleads the fifth tomorrow.
But the idea that the investigation of this IRS problem was somehow
kept secret, that it was covered up and that`s also a scandal, that is not
true. Here it is. Publicly disclosed last year on the Internet machine
for everybody. You can look it up.
Novel idea, I know.
MADDOW: In the suburbs of Oklahoma City tonight, they`re still
assessing damage of yesterday`s rare EF-5 category tornado. After
declaring a state of emergency in Oklahoma, the president pledged federal
help to victims of the storm, quote, “right away.”
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will be visiting Oklahoma
tomorrow, but on her way there, she`s going to stop in Joplin, Missouri to
speak at a ceremony marking the anniversary of another massive tornado that
ravaged Joplin two years ago, took the lives of 161 people.
Secretary Napolitano will then fly from Joplin, Missouri, to Moore,
Oklahoma, where she`s planning on meeting with local officials there and
inspecting the damage.
You know, in 1999, in May, 1999, when the huge tornado with the
fastest speeds ever recorded on earth, when it hit Moore, Oklahoma, that up
until that point had been the most expensive tornado in American history.
That was the first tornado, Moore Oklahoma, May 3rd, 1999, to cause more
than a billion dollars damage on the ground.
That was eclipsed when Joplin was hit couple years ago. Before now,
Joplin actually was the reigning record holder for the most expensive
tornado in history. Today, there are sad new estimates that Moore,
Oklahoma, may once again end up being the record-holder in that sad
Moore`s fire chief says it is his goal to search everything three
times before the window on finding more survivors closes. The mayor of
Oklahoma City tonight told us live that he does not expect to find any more
victims alive in Moore.
The latest death toll confirmed by the city`s examiner`s office is
that at least 24 people have been killed, nine of them kids.
Lawrence O`Donnell is going to pick up our live coverage now. Thank
you for being with us.
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