The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/15/13
STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Thank you for joining us at home tonight.
Rachel has the night off. She will be back tomorrow.
This has really been an extraordinary day in American politics and we
begin our coverage here almost where we left it. In the Senate tonight,
Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are again
trying to hammer out a bipartisan deal to end the shutdown of the federal
government and keep the government from blowing past the debt ceiling and
defaulting international bills.
Senators Reid and McConnell announced yesterday that they were close
to agreement and then the whole thing fell apart in a giant clattering
mess, only to start all over again tonight in the U.S. Senate. It`s been
kind of like the movie “Groundhog Day”, only a little scarier and a lot
And our story begins here, the speaker of the House, there`s no need
to adjust your set because this is supposed to be a photo of Jim DeMint,
because Jim DeMint – this is the Jim DeMint who resigned from the Senate
back in January and who last served in the Senate eight years ago. He
might as well be based on what happened today the person who controls the
United States House of Representatives.
The guy who actually has the title of the Speaker of House, John
Boehner, gets to hold the gavel so he controls that but not much more.
Even though Jim DeMint no longer holds any office in this country anymore,
because he resigned from the Senate on New Year`s Day, he now runs a
conservative think tank. Even though he`s no longer in Congress, Jim
DeMint might as well be the speaker of the House.
Today, we entered day 15 of the government shutdown. We`re just over
24 hours away of defaulting on our national debt, from hitting the debt
ceiling and running out of money to pay our bills. And while there were
Tea Party Republicans who say they`re not worried about the Thursday
deadline for hitting the debt ceiling, world financial leaders are warning
of, quote, “massive disruption the world over.” The U.S. goes into
China is calling for a de-Americanized world because of the, quote,
“intensifying domestic political turmoil in the United States.”
The U.S. was put on notice today from one of the big credit ratings
agencies, quote, “The repeated brinkmanship over the debt ceiling dents
confidence in the effectiveness of the U.S. government and political
institutions. The agency is threatening to downgrade America`s credit
which could cost us billions of dollars in higher interest payments.
Those are some of the consequences of letting the U.S. default. It
was with that catastrophe getting closer by the hour that Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday hammered a
short term fix, the framework for a deal that would reopen the government
and raise the debt ceiling temporarily.
And that was how the nation went to bed last night, with signs of the
deal was close at hand. A bipartisan plan was taking shape in the Senate.
The House Republicans were set to talk about how to handle it this morning.
That`s where we left the news at around this time last night.
That is not where Congress left the news, because late last night,
after senators reed and McConnell announced that they were on the verge of
that deal, Republican Ted Cruz went to work. Now, Cruz has spent the last
few weeks meeting with and delivering pep talks to Republicans in the
House. He`s been egging them on to shutdown the government, telling them
not to cave in, not to listen to House Republican leadership, not to fear
any political consequences.
And last nights on the news, the Senate would be sending over a plan
for the House to consider, Cruz met with about 20 House Republicans at this
Washington Tex-Mex joint. Quoting the “Roll Call” report, the group is a
collection of members that have often given leadership headaches in recent
years, by opposing both compromised measures as well as packages crafted by
Continuing from “Roll Call”, quote, “The dinner meeting was held in a
private basement room, and the group was spotted by majority whip Kevin
Let`s stop there for a second and remember that the job of he whip,
this is Kevin McCarthy`s job as the Republican whip in the House is to keep
Republican members in line, to keep them voting in the right way, the way
that leadership wants them to vote. And at this, the most sensitive
possible moment, last night at this Tex-Mex joint, Kevin McCarthy, the
whip, discovers Ted Cruz, who`s not even a member of the House, apparently
whipping Republican voters against the bill that the party desperately
needs, right there in Tortilla Coast.
That Tortilla Coast summit set the stage for what played out today in
Washington, because John Boehner spent today desperately trying to craft a
measure that could pass unanimous conservative support, a measure that
could get all of those Republicans who met with Ted Cruz last night on
And all day today, reports trickled out of the Capitol of different
sweeteners, different combinations that Boehner and his team were toying
with – tinkering with to try to win over the right. Over in the Senate,
both parties gave up talking for a while, gave up to see what Boehner could
put together. Finally, middle of the afternoon, a House vote was scheduled
for a Republican authored bill to reopen the government and to lift the
Boehner set that vote for tonight. That all happened late this
afternoon. And the next thing to happen was this – Heritage Action
announced that it would score that vote, it`s the political arm of Jim
DeMint`s Heritage Foundation. It posted a notice this evening that
Republicans had better no on Boehner`s new plan for ending the shutdown and
raising the debt ceiling.
DeMint has been calling the shutdown a temporary slowdown and with
that notice, he essentially told Republicans in Congress to keep it going.
That left Boehner with no choice but to call off the vote, not because he
didn`t want to pass a bill, not because he didn`t want to get this all
behind him but because he didn`t have the votes.
So, now, it`s back to Senator Reid and back to Senator McConnell.
They`ve resumed their bipartisan talks. There are reports that a deal is
imminent. Any deal they reach still has to get through the House. John
Boehner still has to somehow get it done.
Can he get that done? Can he survive getting that done? Why should
anyone believe he can? He`s not been able to do it so far. If crashing
through the debt ceiling would be terrible for Congress to allow, where
does John Boehner get the votes to make sure it doesn`t happen?
Joining us now is Robert Costa. He`s the Washington editor for
“National Review.” He`s one of the best-sourced reporters on the Hill.
Someone you should follow on Twitter to know what Republicans are doing
Thanks for being here, Robert. Appreciate the time.
So, let`s start with the reports we`re all hearing about, you know,
McConnell and Reid are back to talking again, imminent deal, do we have a
basic sense of what the contours of that deal are going to be?
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL REVIEW: At this point, Republicans have such
little leverage. Senate Republicans are hoping the House Republicans could
pass something tonight. But when that plan fell apart, now it goes back to
the Senate and all the Republicans in Senate are trying to do right now,
Steve, is protect sequestration. That`s it. They know they`re on the
ropes and that`s all they can possibly get.
KORNACKI: So, what – let`s say we get an announcement that
Reid/McConnell have officially come up with a deal. It`s generally a deal
that the Democrats are happy about, given the circumstances. The question
then is, (a), are we confident that Boehner will take this deal that comes
out of the Senate and actually put it on the floor for a vote in the House?
Are we confident that will happen?
COSTA: I`m not entirely confident of that? They say Boehner has two
options, he can accept what the Senate brokers tomorrow morning. Or he can
try to float some kind of six-week extension of simply the debt limit. I
think the leadership would like to embrace the Senate deal. But as we saw
today, the way things are so fragile in the House, Boehner may just go for
a debt limit extension.
KORNACKI: And do we have any sense of how Democrats will respond to
COSTA: They would be very unhappy. The Democrats, as much as
Republicans want to get beyond this impasse, and the Democrats I think are
ready in the House to support whatever comes out of the Senate. But
Boehner starts trying to really tinker with the Senate deal, it could be
chaos on Wednesday and Thursday night.
KORNACKI: So, it absolutely could. So you`re talking about the two
choices that Boehner sort of se sees himself having right now. This whole
issue he`s been talking about since he became speaker in 2011, he`s ought
got to worry about the coup. He`s always got to be looking around the
corner for the threat to his leadership.
Do you think that if he put the deal that was cut by Reid and by cut
McConnell on the floor, I think it`s pretty safe to say it would pass. The
question is, could he survive something like happening as speaker?
COSTA: I actually think he could survive because what we have seen a
lot of political theater from the leadership. They`re trying to prove step
by step that they`re doing everything they can. They`re exhausting all
possible options on the table before they accept some kind of deal.
So, that`s why tonight`s failure to pass something in the House, on
the surface, it`s a huge failure for the leadership, but it does show those
conservatives on the right that the House can`t even come up with an
agreement on its own plan, and maybe that`s a lesson to them that they have
to move toward the Senate deal.
KORNACKI: Well, and that brings me to next part of this, because the
dates that are sort of floating around out there for if this Senate becomes
the deal that ends up getting passed in the end and we`re able to avert the
crisis here, we`re talking about the continuing resolution that funds the
government, the government being open through January 15, we`re talking
about the next debt ceiling deadline being set for February 7. So, it`s
not too far off from the future.
You look at everything we`ve just been through the last few weeks, you
look at all this sort of dancing around that Boehner has to do, that he
still is doing really as we speak right now – is there any sense that we
won`t go through this all over again in January and early February?
COSTA: I think the closer we get to the midterms, there`s going to be
a reluctance on both sides to have another type of showdown. Republicans,
especially in the House, are very interested in the House in having a
showdown on Obamacare, on the C.R. – let`s say it goes into early January
of 2014, they want to have a fight on the delay of the individual mandate.
This is going – Obamacare is the Republican`s message ahead of 2014.
So don`t look for them to relent in any way.
KORNACKI: And we talked about it in a set of there, you know, this
announcement from the Jim DeMint, the announcement from Heritage today that
basically said this is a key vote, if you`re a Republican in the House, you
better be voting against this thing.
Can you talk about what affect that had on the most conservative
members of the House? And what effect maybe that meeting with Ted Cruz we
talked about at the Taco joint, the Mexican restaurant last night, what
effect that might have had in the most conservative member, the sort of
these outside pressure groups or in the case of Cruz as senator coming over
and talking to them, what affect that`s had on Boehner`s ability to lead
and how that played out today?
COSTA: It`s easy at first blush to shrug off some group like Heritage
Action or shrugged off what happened at Tortilla Coast with Senator Cruz
with House conservatives. But in the way the Republican Party functions
right now in the House, these are critical events because the leadership
has very limited ability, no earmarks to really whip votes. And so, these
outside movement groups like Heritage Action and movement leaders like
Senator Cruz have been really able to corral votes in the House.
They have been, as you said in the introduction, whipping votes in the
House. That`s something we really have never seen in the American
politics. It`s almost surreal to watch unfold., but its happening.
KORNACKI: And what do you expect, Robert? I mean, you know the
factions of the Republican membership in the House really well. We always
hear about there`s this really hardcore group of sort of Ted Cruz type
Republicans in the House and there`s some sort of secondary layers of that,
But if the Senate deal, the framework of which you`re sort of
describing, goes to the floor in the House, how many House Republicans, do
you think, safely could vote for that? What kind of support do you think
it would get?
COSTA: It`s very fluid, because you know that bloc of 50 you
mentioned, the bloc of conservative hardliners they`re going to resist it.
And the question is, does that larger group, I call them the silent
majority, 100 to 140 House Republicans who are center right, are they
influenced by that bloc of 50, and do they as they did tonight with the
House bill, resist and just push it back against the leadership? That
could easily be the case. And that`s what Boehner grappling with? What
does Boehner do if his conference is not influenced by him but by that bloc
KORNACKI: And Robert Costa, a quick question at the end because I
think everybody – there`s so much sort of craziness in the air today, but
the bottom line, do you expect that when this debt default deadline comes
later this week, that we will ultimately be in the clear, we will not be
having a debt default, are you confident at least that will be the outcome?
COSTA: I think Speaker Boehner from day one has said he wants to
avoid a default. He said that publicly and privately. The question is,
can he bring something to the floor that does do that. Tonight show that
he has difficulty bringing anything to the floor. So we`ll have to see.
KORNACKI: All right. Not very encouraging there. But, Robert Costa,
Washington editor of “The National Review” – we thank you very much for
joining us tonight.
Now, the only clear thing in this battle is that one party has not
wavered in its position. Why Democrats have been so consistent. That is
next. And we`ll be talking to a Democratic member of the House about it.
KORNACKI: After House Democratic leaders met with the president at
the White House today, they held a press conference. Up there, there you
can see Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the rest of her leadership team,
Steny Hoyer, James Clyburn, Xavier Becerra, I think there`s Chris Van
Hollen over there.
One by one, they took turn at the microphone and they all said that
the plan Republican House leaders were crafting to end the shutdown and
avert a default would receive absolutely zero support from Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: They have to know if it is
as it has been described that they`ll have to do that with 100 percent
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: What`s notable here is that the plan that House Republicans
were working on, the plan that those Democratic leaders pronounced
themselves unalterably opposed to actually isn`t when you get down to it,
that different substantively from the bipartisan deal that is apparently
taking shape in the Senate. It`s a deal the Democrats seem ready to
The main difference is apparently over Obamacare, which taking place
in the Senate would make relatively small changes to the law, nothing that
would seriously undermine it.
House Republican leaders were talking about differently relatively
small changes, but they also weren`t target about defunding the law
anymore. They seem to be acknowledging that they have lost on that point.
So why did Democrats denounce what they were planning so swiftly?
The answer only makes sense when you think of this point in the
context of the last three years, because it`s redrawing a line in the sand
that was essentially wiped away in the wake of 2010 election. The
Democrats lost control of the House and Republicans picked up more seats
than in any midterm election in almost 75 years.
It was back then a sheepish feeling to put it mildly among Democrats
including the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m not recommending
for every future president that they take a shellacking like I did last
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That was President Obama the day after that shellacking
back in November 2010. Two years earlier, being elected with the largest
share of the vote for any Democrat since LBJ. And now, here he was
acknowledging just how far public opinion had shifted.
I get it, he was telling the country, I was going to change. That was
Then, the next month, December 2010, after that shellacking but before
the new Congress class got sworn into office, the administration made a
deal with congressional Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts. Obama had
actually campaigned in 2008 on the pledge to get rid of them, but after
losing so badly at the polls, he changed his tune and he cut a deal that
also included some new stimulus money.
For the most part, the left hated it. The polls also showed that the
public actually liked it, they liked what they were seeing a real
bipartisan deal. So, the White House that was take-home message, take a
conciliatory tone, work with congressional Republicans, be practical, cut
deals, and you get rewarded.
This was going to be the White House`s way back from that disaster of
2010. The only problem with the plan, Bush tax cuts deal in December 2010
was made when Democrats had lame duck majorities in the House and the
Senate. In January 2011, scores of Democrats officially left office. A
brand-new batch of 63 Republican freshman were sworn in, freshman who
didn`t share the White House`s desire to make deals. These are freshmen
who won office by pledging to fight Obama on everything and to compromise
This is the backdrop for what became the lowest moment of the Obama
presidency. He spent the first seven months of 2011 convinced he could
strike a sweeping fiscal deal with that new Republican Congress. He
entered into talks with John Boehner as a debt ceiling deadline approached
and then he discovered that Boehner`s caucus had zero interest in any deal
with Obama`s name on it. The lowest moment of Obama`s first term.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, TRMS HOST: Word of the controversial S&P downgrade
coming tonight, of course, in the wake of yesterday`s 513-point drop in the
Dow Jones. Markets around the world doing the same yesterday.
Today, the U.S. stock market had finished largely flat. Two other big
credit rating agencies, Moody`s and Fitch thus far have maintained the
nation`s AAA rating, although they have warned lawmakers that downgrades
were possible in the future.
A downgrade of course is what the Obama administration and Congress
were hoping to avoid when the president signed a deal to raise the debt
ceiling at the very last minute to keep the U.S. from defaulting on its
debt. This downgrade of the nation`s credit rating is essentially an
indictment of the nation`s political process.
At roughly 8:20 p.m. Eastern Time tonight, after n a night full of
confusion as to whether this would happen, and whether there should be
scene as legitimate if it did happen, S&P went ahead with their downgrade
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: It is summer of 2011. House Republicans claimed the debt
cells as leverage and they threatened a default if the president didn`t
give away the store. It took a last-second deal to avoid catastrophe back
then. It`s a deal that haunts everyone to this day through what`s known as
Markets freaked out in 2011, the credit of the United States was
downgraded, the Republicans, those dozens of freshman Republicans who came
to Washington and promised never to blink, they walked away from all of
that who believed the threat of a default was just standard operating
procedure from the minority party in Washington.
President Obama and Democrats took a different lesson away from that,
though, that the line in the sand that had previously prevented debt
ceiling hostage-taking had to be re-established.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: They have to know if it is as it has been described that
they`ll have to do that with 100 percent Republican votes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Joining us now is Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a Democrat of
California, a member of the House Budget Committee.
Congresswoman Lee, thanks for being here tonight.
I wonder if we could start with, we talked a little bit there about
what happened in the summer of 2011 when the president who had been sort of
humbled by the 2010 midterms who decided his way back was going to be
through compromising and negotiating with Republicans and he tried to
compromise and negotiate over the debt ceiling with them, he felt that he
got burned. I wonder how that experience of watching that all play out and
of living through that in 2011 has shaped how you`ve approached this
current crisis and this current showdown.
REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, Steve, first of all, I did
not support that deal, because we saw what was to come, understanding that
the Tea Party Republicans once again came here to Washington, D.C. to
Congress, to do one thing and that was to dismantle and to decimate
government. And we saw that in 2011, we see that now.
This is part of who they are, this is their agenda, this is what they
want to do and I think the history that you have recounted tonight, I`m
glad you`re doing this because people have to remember who the radical
extremists are and they are obsessed with denying millions of Americans
affordable health care.
KORNACKI: And I always thought, Congresswoman, at that moment when
that debt ceiling deal, that last second deal that ended up sticking us
with the sequester, when that was struck at the end of the summer of 2012,
that was sort of a turning point in the Obama presidency, it was after
that, he went to Congress and he had his American Jobs Acts speech, he gave
his speech in Kansas a few months after that. He`s sort of tone towards
the Republican Party in Washington and the way he talked about the
challenges he was facing in Washington to the American people really seemed
to change at that moment.
Is that something that you saw?
LEE: I saw that, but I also have to say that since President Obama
took office, he has consistently and constantly tried to reach across the
aisle, work with Republicans to try to get some bipartisan agreement. When
the Recovery Act came forward, he worked very diligently to try to get them
to support it and in fact, we put in provisions that I did not want to vote
for. But because we had worked with the Republicans, the president really
tried and we did not get one vote for the Recovery Act.
So he`s been trying from day one to seek bipartisan agreements. Now,
here we are, very close to a default. I mean, what in the world are these
radical individuals who have come to Congress trying to do? They`re trying
to do one thing and that is to dismantle and decimate government and the
American people, thank God are realizing this.
And so, hopefully, within the next 24 hours, they will come to their
senses and Speaker Boehner will have courage enough to bring the bill
forward, what comes from the Senate so that we can vote so that we can open
the government up, we can make sure that we do not default on our debts,
pay our bills and move forward and try to negotiate a budget that`s real
for the American people.
KORNACKI: Let me ask you a little bit about this deal that seems to
be taking shape in the Senate right now, in the context of what we`re sort
of laying out here about sort of stopping the Republican Party or stopping
any opposition party in the future from claiming the debt ceiling, from
claiming the threat of default as leverage, as negotiating leverage. This
whole shutdown, this whole debt ceiling, you know, crisis was precipitated
by Republicans looking to get major changes to Obamacare, looking basically
to gut Obamacare with these threats, and Democrats saying there`s going to
be absolutely no negotiations on Obamacare, this is a line in the sand,
which had been drawn in the past, we`re going to redraw it right now.
The reporting we`re getting and we had Robert Costa on in the last
segment, the reporting we`re getting about the Senate deal is there`s
probably going to be one small, very small, but a small Obamacare change in
the Senate deal. It involved verification for people entering, you know,
into the intent, for people getting subsidies from the federal government
for the Affordable Care Act.
Do you think the fact that anything was changed at all about
Obamacare, if that`s the reality and the final zeal. Do you think you`ve
succeeded still in sort of re-establishing the tradition of nobody claims
the debt ceiling as leverage? Or do you think that anything that was given
away o Obamacare at all is a problem?
LEE: We don`t know exactly what`s taking place, what will be in the
Senate agreement. But I can tell you one thing, the American people
understand that the radical right wing Republicans have held this country
hostage, they created this shutdown, people need to go back to work,
government services meet to be provided and we must pay our bills and we
should not default on our debt.
None of these issues should be negotiated. This is a given. We pay
our bills and we keep the government open. The rest of the world is
looking, watching us and can you imagine what people are thinking?
Here we are saying that we`re going to negotiate or at least the
radical Tea Party extremists want to negotiate on paying our bills and want
to negotiate to open up the government. That is unacceptable. We need to
pass what we call a C.R., which is a budget bill, at a level that I detest
really, it`s too low with the sequester level. But we need to pass that so
we can get to a real budget committee and begin to talk about how we move
That`s what we need to do. We`ve compromised quite a bit. So we need
to put the bill up. We need to ask the speaker to have some courage, I
know that there are enough Republicans to vote for that bill. We need to
do that and move on.
KORNACKI: All right. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Democrat of
California, member of the House Committee on the budget, thanks for joining
If the Democratic Party is as united as we`ve ever seen, the
Republican Party is as divided as we have ever seen it. A 19th century
warning for the GOP, that`s coming up.
KORNACKI: This was the scene earlier this afternoon inside the Oval
Office at the White House. President Obama meeting with House Democrats,
meeting with his Vice President Joe Biden. Joe Biden sitting in that room
today alongside President Obama, Joe Biden getting plucked out of the
Senate in 2008 to become President Obama`s running mate is a move that
changed the course of American history in ways that we are all living with
I`ll explain that coming up.
KORNACKI: There are a couple of ways of thinking about the Republican
Party dysfunction that`s at the heart of all the suspense now playing out
in Washington. One is that it`s just a phase, that the Tea Party uprising
has temporarily paralyzed the GOP. It`s helped to elect dozens of true
believers, far right, anti-government purists who pried themselves on
standing up not just to the Obama White House but also to their own party`s
leadership in Washington.
It`s also scared the daylights out of Republican office holders who
aren`t true believers but they bite their tongues and play along with the
Tea Party anyway because they don`t want to be its next victims. This is
basically the story of John Boehner`s speakership. But maybe, maybe it
will all pass.
The poisonous poll numbers will take a real toll and scare some of the
true believers straight. The business community, as the party`s financial
backbone, maybe that will reassert itself, maybe the passions of the base
will cool off. The true believers will slowly realize that they can`t get
everything they want if the party isn`t big enough to win national
That is the happy ending the Republican Party establishment is hoping
for. It won`t happen next week, it won`t happen next month, but eventually
they hope, the GOP will evolve back into a relatively healthy, relatively
functional political party.
But when you watch the extraordinary lengths, the increasingly
extraordinarily lengths that John Boehner has to go through, just to do
things like averted default, and the fact that we`re sitting here on the
eve of a default and we`re still not sure how actually be able to avert
one, well, it raises another possibility.
What if this isn`t just a passing phase in the history of the
Republican Party. What if we`re actually living through a bigger, more
fundamental turning point?
It`s probably worth remembering here the political parties don`t have
to be permanent. We think of the Democrats and Republicans as ageless,
eternal entities and they have been the two major parties in the country
for 150 years now. About the only thing that the party has kept for all
those years is it`s name.
Once upon a time, there was no region more in love with the Democratic
Party than the South, the white segregationist South. Through a series of
dramatic events in the middle of the 20th century, when Harry Truman
integrated the military, when northern Democrats pushed through a civil
rights plank in 1948, when LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which
through a series of events like that that the white South split off from
the Democratic Party.
Not coincidentally, that series of events also marked the berth of the
modern Republican Party. For generations after the civil war, there was
basically no such thing as the Republican Party in the South, because the
GOP had been the party of northern liberals, anti-segregation, pro-civil
But when those white Southerners came up for grabs, the conservative
movement of the Republican Party made common cause with them, and together
they changed, they shaped and they defined the modern Republican Party.
And sometimes parties don`t even get to keep their names. Sometimes
they just disappear. Mentions the Whig Party might get you a laugh these
days, but it was a real party leading up to the civil war. It was in
alliance between business interest and more or less in the north and the
slave owners in the South.
The Whig sprang up in the 1830s to fight Andrew Jackson. They wanted
to push for national bank, for infrastructure improvements, for schools.
They wanted the federal government to create conditions favorable to
commerce. Jackson and his party, the Democrats, preferred the idea of an
Some of the biggest names in American political history were Whigs.
Henry Clay was one, Daniel Webster was one, some young congressman named
Abraham Lincoln was one of them. And there were three Whig presidents in
the 1840s and 1850s.
The coalition that built the party, the coalition that the party
depended on, it wasn`t stable. It became impossible to avoid the issue of
slavery. On that issue there was just no common ground. The party
fractured, and the Whigs of the North folded into the new anti-slavery
party. They were called the Republicans, and the Whigs of the South became
Democrats. And the Whig Party itself was then tossed in the scrapheap of
I`m not here predicting right now that today`s Republicans are going
to go the way of the Whigs. But if one thing is clear right now, is that
the coalition that defines today`s Republican Party isn`t stable, at least
not at this moment.
Republicans have been the party of business for a long time. It`s
where they raise their money. It`s where they recruit a lot of their
candidates from. How many times have they invoked job creators these past
We`re watching right now the interests of the Tea Party and the
interests of the business community diverge. Businesses terrified of the
default. It hates the idea of a default. It can`t understand why a
quixotic quest to defund Obamacare is worth linking to the debt ceiling.
And the Tea Party? Well, it doesn`t seem to care that much.
Establishment figures like John Boehner are stumped about what to do about
Actually I`m stumped too, because I can`t see how the alliance between
business money and Tea Party populism can last. It feels like something
has going to have to give, something is going to have to give soon.
Joining us now to tell us if that`s right is Norman Ornstein. He`s a
resident scholar the American Enterprise Institute. He`s also the author
of the book, “It`s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American
Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism.”
Norm, we thank you for joining us tonight.
I guess I`ll start with that point about what looks to me about the
instability of today`s Republican coalition, with the business community on
one hand and the Tea Party populace on the other. And it`s so striking to
me how liberal the Tea Party populace ands their representatives in
Congress seem to care about what business is telling them.
NORMAN ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I think that`s right,
Steve. You know, it`s great to see you do history which is so rare on
But I`ll give you another historical analogy, which is you take it
back to the 1940s when Robert Taft led another insurgent wing and a deep
division in the Republican Party, really the main street conservatives
against the Wall Street moderates, it was Wendell Willke and Tom Dewey, but
the moderates prevailed. They prevailed up until Barry Goldwater basically
was able to secure a nomination and he got whomped. And Ronald Reagan came
in as one of those insurgents but, in fact, governed as a pragmatist.
Now, what we`re seeing is real triumph of a wing that is much more
radical than what Robert Taft represented. And the business community has
no place to go.
But it`s so difficult in our system for a third party to emerge or a
party to splinter because it`s not likely to me that the business community
or there`s no moderate wing really of the Republican Party left, the
pragmatic conservatives will go over to the Democratic Party, and I don`t
think they have the cojones or the resources at this point to basically win
the party back from the more radical wing.
So I think this is going to go on for a while and it`s possible we`ll
see an independent candidate emerge for president in 2016. But I don`t see
a bunch of candidates running for Congress or having any chance of winning.
KORNACKI: Also, I`m glad you appreciate the history because we have
got Taft, we have got the Whig Party, this is ratings gold for 9:00 in
primetime I`m sure.
But talk about that for a minute, I guess. I wonder sometimes when I
look at what happened today in the House, when I look at John Boehner, he
clearly wants to get this behind him. He`s clearly wanted to get this
behind him for a long time. And he would like to be able to get
Republicans to agree on what he`s proposing today.
He`s undercut completely by an outside group. He`s undercut by a
member of the Senate, Ted Cruz. He`s undercut by Jim DeMint, who left
elected politics because he thought he would have more influence at an
It seems like that`s a major source of dysfunction into today`s
Republican Party and until you address that, anybody in John Boehner`s
position isn`t going to be able to do anything.
ORNSTEIN: You know, tribal media which have such enormous power, it`s
talk radio, it`s cable television, it`s blogs joined with the new politics
of money that`s given such enormous power to these outside groups, not the
business groups so much but the more radical groups really have put
enormous amount of pressure on establishment leaders.
You know, Tom and I in the book you mentioned, we brought it up to
date with a new paperback edition really have focused more on the outside
forces than the inside ones, because the unfortunate really is that there
aren`t going to be any reforms that are going to change this process. What
we need is a counterrevolution from pragmatic conservatives to begin to put
money in to counter the influence of groups like the Club for Growth, to
have a more aggressive effort outside, to counter the Heritage Actions and
bring their party back, not to be a moderate party or a liberal party, but
a straight-forward and pretty ardently conservative party instead of a
Right now, those efforts are very, very fledgling, and maybe this new
debacle, which after all isn`t going way. We`re going to back again in
January with Friday the 13th part four, we may begin to activate that. But
we`re sure not there yet.
KORNACKI: Well, yes, maybe you could pick up that point, what do you
think happens with what we`re hearing January 15th, the government, if
this all passes, if this gets resolved this week, January 15 would be the
new deadline, February 7th would be the next debt ceiling default.
Do you think Democrats have succeeded here at all changing the norms
of the system so that Republicans won`t do this again, or do you think we
will go through the brinkmanship again and do you think that Boehner having
gone through what he`s going through right now would be able to do anything
in that situation if this comes again?
ORNSTEIN: I`ll tell you the truth, I`m fearful, because I think what
the Limbaughs and Huckabees and Cruzes are going to be saying after all
this is our spineless leaders folded. If they had only held on, if they
kept the government shut, if they had gone through a default, which really
wouldn`t do much of anything bad for the economy, then Obama would have
cracked and we would have gotten what we wanted.
I think that`s going to make life more difficult for both Mitch
McConnell and for John Boehner when we get back to this in January.
They`re not going to be closer to having a party that`s chasten, that
realizes that they`ve damaged themselves deeply, and they better find
another set of battlegrounds in which to fight. And I think that`s the
problem with doing a short-term. Now, although, it`s obviously, the only
KORNACKI: All right. Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American
Enterprise Institute, author of the book, “It`s Even Worse Than It Looks:
How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of
Extremism,” also, tonight our senior Whig Party analyst, – Norm Ornstein,
thank you for joining us tonight.
ORNSTEIN: My pleasure, Steve. Thank you.
KORNACKI: Still ahead, the political event that eventually led to
this debt ceiling debacle in the first place. I`ll give you a hint,
there`s a witch involved.
KORNACKI: This is one of my Tuesday night traditions, cuing up the
MSNBC election night music. And tonight, as an added bonus, there`s
actually a real reason to let it play, because it is election night in the
commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Bay Staters went to the polls today to pick candidates for the
congressional election in the fifth district. While I love any election
anywhere in the country, this one is particularly exciting for me because
the district is my home district. But I have to admit, this race is a bit
obscure and it`s gotten much national attention, except for this
particularly great campaign ad that went viral last month for one of the
least likely candidates to win the race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE REP. CARL SCIORTINO, JR. (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I`m Carl Sciortino
and I`ll never forget that conversation with my dad.
CARL SCIORTINO, SR., SON RUNNING FOR CONGRESS: That`s me.
CARL SCIORTINO, JR.: Where I had to come out and tell him –
CARL SCIORTINO, SR.: Wait for this.
CARL SCIORTINO, JR.: – that I was a Massachusetts liberal.
CARL SCIORTINO, SR.: And he`s proud of it.
CARL SCIORTINO, JR.: Dad`s in the Tea Party.
CARL SCIORTINO, SR.: Damn right.
It was bad enough him taking on the big banks and the corporations in
CARL SCIORTINO, JR.: They weren`t paying the fair share paying their
fair way in taxes.
CARL SCIORTINO, SR.: And he wrote the buffer zone law.
CARL SCIORTINO, JR.: To protect women entering abortion clinics from
CARL SCIORTINO, SR.: It`s gone all the way to the Supreme Court. I
was kind of proud of that.
CARL SCIORTINO, JR.: But here`s the one that drives him crazy.
CARL SCIORTINO, SR.: He wants to go to Congress, take out the NRA,
and the Tea Party.
CARL SCIORTINO, JR.: I won`t give up on an assault weapons ban.
CARL SCIORTINO, SR.: Or universal background checks, or banning high-
CARL SCIORTINO, JR.: There are some things you don`t stop fighting
Also the right to choose, equal pay for women, and equal rights, for -
- well, everybody.
CARL SCIORTINO, SR.: He`s been like this for 35 years.
CARL SCIORTINO, JR.: It`s why I approve this message.
And I still love you, dad.
CARL SCIORTINO, SR.: Me too, son.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The State Representative Carl Sciortino who before that
perfectly edited campaign had next to zero chance of actually winning
tonight`s Democratic primary. His ad which was seen by hundreds of
thousands of people on the web alone, put Sciortino on the map and gave him
some visibility in a very crowded feel. There were seven Democrats who
were running to replace long time Congressman Ed Markey who won the race to
replace now Secretary of State John Kerry in the Senate.
Markey held the seat for 37 years. He first won it back in 1976. He
actually won it with a very catchy campaign ad that`s famous in
Massachusetts. It`s a heavily Democratic district in the suburbs of
Boston. It is one of the bluest in the state that`s already very blue,
making the primary tonight pretty much the deciding election for this
And the results are now and we can tell you that with 90 percent of
the precinct, State Senator Katherine Clark has been declared the winner
with 33 percent of the vote. Carl Sciortino came in third place tonight
with 16 percent. Tonight`s Democratic nominee, that is Katherine Clark,
she will go to on face Republican Frank Addivinola, who took the GOP
nomination this evening.
Special election will be held in December. It looks like Katherine
Clark, though, is going to Congress. This has been a banner year for
special elections. The next one when voters go off to the poll in the
special Wednesday election to pick the new U.S. senator. Democrat with
national appeal, Newark`s mayor, Cory Booker, or Tea Party Republican,
Watch this space.
KORNACKI: So here we are. Not for the first time in the last three
years asking whether John Boehner will be able to survive putting on the
House floor a bill the Tea Party will hate. Here we are asking, yet again,
whether even House Republican who in their hearts would decide it`s in
their political self interest to vote no anyway.
This is story that led us to the moment, 26 hours from the default
deadline. It`s the story that led us into the shutdown. It`s the story
that took us from one pointless, one destructive, one maddening episode of
brinkmanship to another ever since Republicans gained control of the House.
It`s the story of why a sophomore Republican House member with no
leadership position, with no legislative accomplishments named Tim
Huelskamp, why he can threaten as he did today, fellow Republicans with
primary challenges and why those fellow Republicans will take him
And to understand all of this, to make sense of what seems to be an
endless string of moments like this, all you have to do is go back to one
specific night, three years ago. The evening of September 14th, 2010, in
the state of Delaware.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Christine O`Donnell virtually unknown a few
weeks ago. This morning, she is officially the GOP candidate for the
Senate seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: O`Donnell defeated nine-term representative Mike
Castle in Delaware`s Republican Senate primary. She`s now the sixth Tea
Party candidate to win a primary race this year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And I really think that day and that race is the root of
everything we`re living through right now. Of the political stalemate that
is basically defined Washington for the last two years and it promises to
do so all the way through the end of Barack Obama`s presidency at least.
That Delaware Senate race explains it all. It explains the basic
nature of the Tea Party movement. It`s a conservative uprising that begun
when Barack Obama became president, but it`s an uprising that wasn`t just
directed at Obama and the Democrats. It`s an uprising that was also aimed
at Republicans, because of how the conservative base, how the Tea Party,
chose to explain Obama`s election in 2008.
They couldn`t tell themselves their ideology had been repudiated by
the rest of the country. That Americans had rejected conservatism and
embraced the left of center philosophy. So, instead, they came up with
story that blamed George W. Bush and it blamed the Republicans in
Washington who supported him. They`re telling, Bush betrayed the cause as
He spent too much money. He attacked government too little. He
bailed out the banks. He had given conservatism a bad name which left
voters desperately searching for a new direction, which led them to Obama.
That`s how the Tea Party retroactively assess the Bush years, how it
explained Obama`s victory. How the Tea Party became something of a
purification movement to cleanse the party of the sellouts who helped Bush,
who spoiled conservatism, who helped elect Obama.
And Mike Castle, the guy who lost to Christine O`Donnell, was the
textbook Republican. He`s been in Washington for 18 years. He`s been in
politics a lot longer. He was a moderate Republican. He`d work with
Democrats. He voted for No Child Left Behind, the Medicare prescription
drug plan. He voted for TARP.
Mike Castle was exactly the kind of Republican the Tea Party rose up
to fight. 2010 Delaware Senate primary also explains the depth of the
base`s desire to purge Republicans like Castle. He was a former
lieutenant-governor, a former governor, an eight-term congressman from the
state`s lone district. He was impeccably credentialed.
And he opposed by a gadfly with no name recognition, no money, no
experience and incredible, obvious political baggage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTINE O`DONNELL: I`m not a witch. I`m nothing you have heard.
I`m you. None of us are perfect. But none of us can be happy with what we
see all around us. I`ll go to Washington and do what you`d do.
I`m Christine O`Donnell, and I approve this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And that gadfly candidate who had to pay money to tell
people she wasn`t a witch, she won the primary. O`Donnell`s victory showed
as far as base was concerned, literally anyone was better than some one
like Mike Castle, who had experience and money and endorsement of the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE CASTLE (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: The last several weeks have
been spirited shall we say. And the voters in the Republican primary have
spoken. I respect that decision. I would like to thank the Republican
Party for its support. I had a very nice speech prepared here, hoping I
would win this race.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The primary also explained how little Tea Party cares about
winning elections. Outside of the GOP base, Castle was immensely popular
in Delaware. He was a general election shoo-in. He`s a guaranteed Senate
seat pickup for the GOP.
O`Donnell was a guaranteed loser, a fringe, far right figure in a blue
state. This was obvious on primary day. But the base picked O`Donnell
anyway. Of course he was crushed in November, and Democrats won the Senate
race they were otherwise going to lose.
That whole story, how Castle was targeted, how Castle was beaten, whom
Castle was beaten by, that story is the Rosetta Stone of Tea Party era
politics. If you understand what happened to him, why it happened to him,
you understand everything that has gone on in Washington since then, why we
are in a shutdown and why we are staring down the barrel of debt default
Because the story of Mike Castle and Christine O`Donnell sums up the
threat that every Republican member of Congress lives with every day. If
they`re judged to be conservative, if they`re judged to be disloyal to the
cause, disloyal to the tribe, if they give an inch of space on their right,
they could become the Tea Party`s next target.
If the Tea Party targets you they can beat you with anybody. That`s
the lesson of Delaware. That`s the lesson lives in the office of every
Republican member of Congress. September 14th, 2010, we are living with
what happened that day.
And as long as we are, there is no obvious way out of the mess that is
Washington these days.
That does it for us tonight. Rachel will be back tomorrow night.
Remember, you can see my show “UP” weekend mornings at 8:00 Eastern.
Now, it is time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Have a great.
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