The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/21/13
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this
hour, on an historic day in American politics.
Today really was a really, really, really big day.
This is Richard Toronto. Do not be distracted by his last name. He
is not a mayor. He is not Canadian. He has nothing to do with crack
cocaine. He is nothing to do with Canadian football, nothing to do with
anything that looks anything like this.
Rather, Richard Toronto is a lawyer who is focused on intellectual
property issues. He has had a very successful, very highfalutin legal
career. And Mr. Toronto was nominated for a prestigious federal judgeship
a couple of years ago, November 2011.
He was nominated and then nothing. Nothing happened. Republicans in
the Senate would not allow there to be a vote on his nomination. And
beyond that, they insisted that there would have to be a super majority
vote to confirm him a judge.
So, not just a majority of the Senate could vote for this guy, it
would have to be a super majority, as if he were a treaty or a
constitutional amendment or something. And so, Richard Toronto, no
relation, waited month after month after month after month after month
after month after month after month after month after month after month.
And then, finally, this spring, 17 months after he was first nominated,
after he had been waiting almost a year and a half, they finally - eh,
decided to put Richard Toronto`s nomination up for a vote in the United
And do you want to know what the vote was?
The vote was 91-0. Zero votes against him. No Republicans had any
problem with him whatsoever.
So, what was all that about, then?
This is what happens under President Barack Obama has never been true
before in American history. There have only been judicial and executive
branch filibusters on nominees since the `60s. But using them to make
people wait years after they are nominated for something, before their
nomination actually gets voted on, this is a new thing. This is a new
thing. The Republicans the in the Senate saved this one up for this
On Tuesday of this week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote
this ruling, which allowed Texas, basically, to keep shutting down abortion
clinics in the state. The new Texas anti-abortion law that it`s already
shut down a third of the clinics in that state, it`s sort of on the bubble,
legally, and the Supreme Court had to decide whether to put a hold on the
law while it is being challenged or whether they would let the law go
And Justice Scalia wrote this ruling saying, yeah, let that go ahead
and shut all those clinics done in the meantime.
The four justices who disagreed with him were these guys. Stephen
Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan. They were on
the losing side of that argument about Texas. The other justices who sided
with Justice Scalia were Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, and even though
they did not sign the ruling, we know mathematically, because the Scalia
side won, that the other two justices on the court, Justice Roberts and
Justice Kennedy also sided with Scalia on this ruling.
So this was the two sides in this really important Texas abortion
ruling this week.
But, now, look at this breakdown. The side voting to keep the clinics
open in Texas, those judges were appointed by President Obama, President
Obama, President Clinton, President Clinton. The side that voted to shut
down the clinics, those justices were appointed by George W. Bush, George
W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan.
Notice a trend? Notice any pattern here?
Presidents appoint judges. This is one of the fundamental things that
presidents do. If you boil presidents down, this is one of the last things
left in the pot of gelatinous down there. It is one of the most
fundamental and consequential things that American presidents do. It is
part and parcel of the job, it always has been. Like it or lump it, if you
elect a president, that president will choose judicial nominees to fill
vacant seats on federal courts. That`s the deal in electing a president.
And in the past, we`ve had plenty, plenty of fights over how bad a
president`s judgment can be in who he picks for the bench, or how radically
ambitious he can be in terms of the ideology of his nominees.
There`s been plenty of fights in the past about the quality of judges
chosen by various presidents. So like Ruth Bader Ginsburg did a lot of
work for the ACLU. Is that going to be OK with everybody when they vote on
Or Caitlin Halligan (ph), a more recent nominee. She was involved in
a litigation around gun manufacturers.
Clarence Thomas had the sexual harassment allegations, famously.
Harriet Miers apparently revealed under questioning that she did not
know what the Fourth Amendment did, or the Fifth Amendment. Also, yeah,
don`t keep asking.
There have been fights in the past about people who were picked to be
judges about their qualifications, their temperament, whether they were a
good person for that job.
What`s new is this: there is no objection to this guy. Republicans
don`t think there`s anything wrong with this guy. No Republican cast a
vote against him. But you still got to wait for 17 months anyway because
we`re going to block the vote on you, filibuster your nomination, and make
everybody take extraordinary measures to let you get anywhere near the
bench, even though we have no problem with you as a nominee. That is new.
And that is not a fight over Mr. Toronto. That is not a fight about
anybody specifically the president is picking. That is a fight about
whether or not this president, like all other presidents who went before
him, is allowed to put people on the federal bench.
This is a fight about President Obama. It`s not that they dislike the
nominees. They don`t think that a president named Barack Obama should be
allowed his nominees for the federal bench. Liberals tend to like FDR,
right? The New Deal. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I
welcome their hatred.
Liberals love this guy. You know, I`m a liberal, I love the guy.
One terrible thing that FDR did was he did try to pack the Supreme
Court. The Supreme Court kept striking down his New Deal-era legislation,
saying it was unconstitutional. FDR`s proposed fix for that is that he
would add a whole bunch of new judges to the court.
Not that he would pick new nominees for the court, but he would
actually make the court larger. He`d leave the existing judges where they
were, but he`d add half a dozen new judges to the court, all at once, all
of which he would point, and voila, new majority.
FDR kind of thought about how to do that and he did not get away with
it. And no matter what else you think about him as a president and as a
historical figure, it really is an abiding scandal of his presidency that
he even batted that idea around. In addition to their unprecedented
systemic blockade of judges, this week Republicans tried to pull an FDR on
one of the nation`s most important federal courts.
Republicans generally do not want President Obama appointing judges to
federal courts anywhere in the country. But they really, really don`t want
President Obama appointing judges to what`s considered the second most
powerful court in the nation under the Supreme Court. It`s the appeals
court that sits in Washington, D.C., and as the court in D.C., it deals
with a lot of questions about the constitutionality of various federal
regulations and actions by the federal government.
This is the court where John Roberts, for example, was a judge before
he went to the Supreme Court in 2005. His seat there on that court has
been vacant ever since he went to the Supreme Court. And two of the other
seats on that court are vacant as well. There are three vacancies on that
really important court.
And the Republicans do not want to allow President Obama to put any
nominees on that court to fill those vacancies. And so, they have tried to
do what FDR tried to do, kind of. They tried to change the number of seats
on the court so that they could get their or preserve their desired
Between the number of seats on the court that are filled right now and
retired justices who also do work on cases when the case load there is
heavy, right now on that court, there`s a strong and actually quite
aggressive conservative majority on that court. Republicans love that.
So, the Republicans under Chuck Grassley of Iowa have been trying to
eliminate three of the seats on that court right now, the three seats that
are now vacant. They have tried to change the size of the court, shrink
it, so there`s no more vacancies.
So, President Obama would not be allowed to appoint any judges to fill
those empty seats. Get rid of the empty seats, he can`t appoint anybody,
the court stays conservative, problem solved. Like FDR, they tried it, but
they did not get away with it.
They did, however, this week and last week, filibuster President
Obama`s three nominees to the vacant seats on that court. None of whom
they had any particular objection to as people. The first one they
filibustered, Patricia Millet there on the left. She was an assistant
attorney general in the George W. Bush administration. What was their
objection going to be to her?
These nominees got majority votes in Congress, but majority is not
enough. Republicans used is a filibuster to block them anyway, all of
And you know what? Democrats just decided they had had enough. After
years of fighting about this and pleading and promising and fuming and
plotting and threatening over and over and over again, that they would do
something about this if Republicans kept it up, today, Democrats finally
actually did something. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
They called for an appeal of a parliamentary ruling on the floor of
the Senate by a majority vote, they overturned the parliamentarian`s
ruling. It seemed like kind of a quiet exchange, but in doing that, they
changed the rules of the United States Senate, so Republicans can`t just
block judges anymore. Judges can be blocked on an up or down vote, on a
majority vote, like always, but they cannot be blocked anymore with just a
minority of votes. Republicans cannot force that anymore.
And I know, as I`m hearing myself saying it, I know that it sounds
like it`s not that much of a change, but this is a huge freaking deal.
This is like 3-inch headlines. This is like people who don`t even care
about politics really ought to care about this.
Here`s our explainer. This is a huge deal. And Republicans have lost
their minds about this, now that Democrats finally did it. Orrin Hatch
today said Democrats will rue the day!
Mitch McConnell said, “You will regret this and you will regret this
sooner rather than later.”
David Vitter, my favorite today, said that this was a dictatorial
But what this actually was in terms of how we got here was just an
amazingly reckless miscalculation by the Republican side. Yes, it was the
Democrats who pulled the trigger today, but the Democrats had said that
they would pull the trigger if this kept happening. Republicans assumed
that they could keep pushing the Democrats further and further and further
on this. They believe that no matter the threats, Democrats would never
actually do what was completely within their power to do. So they kept
And Democrats said that filibustering, specifically, filibustering
these three themes for that D.C. court would be pushing them too far and
they would change the rules.
Mitch McConnell did not believe it. He calculated that it would not
happen. Thought it was worth doing anyway. Democrats would never follow
through on their threat.
Look at this, though. If you want to understand the depth of what
Mitch McConnell just did here with his calculation, look at this. I`m not
sure this has been on TV at all today. This month, as of November 21st,
2013, this is the official balance on the courts right now in the whole
country, in terms of full-time federal judges who are already working as
judges in this country.
Look, as of November 1st this year, there are 390 full-time federal
judges in this country, who were appointed by Republicans. And there are
390 full-time federal judges in this country who were appointed by
Democrats. As of November 1st, as of this month right now, the federal
judiciary is exactly even in terms of Republican or Democratic influence on
who is sitting on the bench.
President Obama was trying to add three more Democratic nominees to
that list and Republicans decided, no. It was unprecedented. They had no
objections to these judges as people. They could make no case against them
other than the fact that they just didn`t want the president to have
So they blocked those three nominations, said they didn`t want anybody
in those vacant seats. That`s where they drew the line. They said no,
Democrats said, don`t do it, don`t block these three. That will be pushing
us too far. The Republicans said, no, we can`t take it. You will not be
allowed to add those three nominees.
But you see what the gray pie is there on the pie graph there.
There`s 390 Republican, 390 Democrat, that gray part there, that`s how many
vacancies there are right now on the federal bench, 93.
So think about that for a second. If the Republicans had given in on
those three judges or even given in on just one or two of those three
judges, I`m telling you, we would not be where we are right now today.
That would have let the steam out of the Democrats` fury. That would
have made the Democrats` rage on this issue calm significantly. If the
Republicans had left the balance of the federal courts go from 50/50 to,
what would it be like, 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent, if they had just left
those one or two or maybe three of those nominees through, the Democrats
would still be gnashing their teeth and still be complaining and annoyed,
but this would still be a story that was too boring to put on television.
Instead the Republicans took a hard line on those three nominees and
now it is Katy bar the door. There is no reason why President Obama cannot
fill all 93 of those judgeships if he wants to. He only needs Democratic
votes to do it.
What were you thinking, Mitch McConnell? The minute after they
changed the rule today in the Senate, one of those three nominees for that
court in D.C. sailed right through. She got 55 votes and that`s all it
takes now. Now she will be a judge, and so will the other two, and so will
93 more if the president wants it.
The federal judiciary, if the president wants to, is going to get 90
new Democratic appointed judges because Mitch McConnell didn`t, apparently,
think this through. Yeah, the Democrats did it, but it was always in their
power to. Why didn`t Mitch McConnell think they would?
This is a huge change in Washington. And it does not apply just to
judges. It also applies to executive branch nominations.
So, yes, the Republicans picked this year to filibuster a nominee for
secretary of defense for the first time in U.S. history, and they did it
during a time of war. But they`re not going to be able to do things like
that anymore either. This is what the Democrats circulated today via press
release and on social media, to make the case for why they did this. This
is judicial nominees and executive branch nominees filibustered under all
previous presidents, since you`ve been able to do that in America, in the
entire industry of the country.
Half of the times this has happened in our country has been under
President Obama, and that ended today. Happy Thursday! This is a huge
Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Mr. Beschloss, thank you for being here.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: My pleasure,
MADDOW: We have talked before about the difficulties presidents have
in second terms, and traditionally they turn to things like foreign policy,
where they`ve got more leeway to act without Congress sticking their nose
in, because they can`t get anything done in Congress.
How does this change the presidency of President Obama?
BESCHLOSS: Well, first of all, it makes him look like an activist.
He`s not passively dealing with a House and Senate that is not passing his
legislation, but it actually puts him at a tradition, because 1917, Woodrow
Wilson was about to become a wartime president. He did not look with great
favor on the idea of having to deal with Senate filibusters while trying to
conduct that war.
He referred to the filibuster as a little group of willful men who
render the United States government helpless and contemptible, a phrase
that probably could be used nowadays.
So what did Wilson do? Went to the leaders of the Senate and said,
this really can`t happen. Why don`t we find a way of shutting down
filibusters? That`s when they came up with cloture. The idea that if you
had two-thirds, you could stop a filibuster and end the debate. Even then,
that had not been there before.
MADDOW: Wow. So, the evolution of rules on this subject isn`t just
about something that we call the nuclear option. There`s been negotiation
led by presidents on this fact.
BESCHLOSS: Absolutely. And the nuclear option, which is a term that
was actually coined by Trent Lott in 2003, as the Senate Republican leader,
it`s actually a misnomer, because it implies if this is something that`s
sort of way out of constitutional tradition. What the Constitution said is
that Senate and the House, they make their own rules.
MADDOW: In terms of how we got here, I think when a change like this
happens, everybody is sort of shocked and there`s time to explain it, and
then, I think, the instinct is to step back and say, what does this mean
about us, that we had to have this dramatic change?
MADDOW: And for me, I find myself thinking about all these sort of
gentleman`s agreements and all of these things about comedy in the Senate
and decorum. And not backroom deal, but sort of cloakroom deals, the way
they get things done.
MADDOW: It seems like we keep hearing those are done away with.
People are campaigning against each other in their home states, leaders are
campaign against each other, not following the traditions and decorum.
Were the old rules of Congress essentially only capable of moving
things along as long as that gentlemanly stuff was in place? And as that
gentlemanly stuff and those rules of decorum fall away, the rules
essentially have to follow suit, they also have to change in order to keep
the institution functioning?
BESCHLOSS: Yes. And to your point – and conservatives who feel very
strongly about James Madison and the fact that power should counteract
power and the best laws and policy come out of huge conflict – forget that
the other part of Madison was, you have to have negotiation, compromise,
and people are talking, and you don`t have a situation where you have this
kind of a deadlock.
MADDOW: As a study of both leaders and also institutions in our
political history, what do you make of the threats from the Republicans
that Democrats will rue the day that this will come back and hurt them more
than they can ever hurt Republicans with what they`ve done today?
BESCHLOSS: I think you`ll have to look very hard in 200 years of
American history where there`s been a mass movement protesting a change in
Senate rules. Maybe you can find one, Rachel, but I can`t do it.
MADDOW: If it would happen, it would definitely be around THE RACHEL
MADDOW SHOW staff, because get very excited about this stuff. Michael
Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, thank you for sharing with us
on this. You were the first person we wanted to call when we realized this
is actually happening.
BESCHLOSS: A pleasure always. Thank you always.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: On the day that President John F. Kennedy was killed,
November 22nd, 1963, that was a Friday. And the Boston Symphony Orchestra
was preparing for its regular afternoon concert that day. As the crowd
entered into symphony hall in Boston, the first reports that the president
had been shot were already circulating, but that afternoon, when news
finally crossed the wires that the president was not just shot, but he had
been killed – when that happened, the concert by the Boston Symphony
Orchestra was already under way.
And so, it was left to the conductor of the orchestra to announce,
live, to that crowd, in symphony hall, what had just happened. And an
audio recording was being made of the performance that day. And the audio
recording captured the conductor`s announcement and the response from the
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CONDUCTOR ERICH LEINSDORF: Ladies and gentlemen, we have a press
report over the wires. We hope that it is unconfirmed, but we have to
doubt it, that the president of the United States has been the victim of an
LEINSDORF: We will play the funeral march from Beethoven`s Third
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: The first gasp from the crowd when they are told that
President Kennedy is dead, obviously just shock and surprise. The second
gasp when the conductor introduces the funeral march is almost a more
heartbreaking sound, because it almost sounds angry from people who cannot
believe that they have just been told.
Last week, “Time” magazine interviewed the Boston Symphony Orchestra`s
longtime librarian, who was tasked that day by the conductor, just 10
minutes before the performance, to find and then collate and distribute to
the orchestra the music for that movement of Beethoven`s Third Symphony so
they could play the funeral march.
He told “Time,” quote, “The musicians were already there on the stage,
in their places, and, of course, the hall was filled with people. I had to
tell each of the musicians as I was handing out the music what was going
on. That was the first they knew of the death. It was not an easy moment
for them or for me.”
One of the most intimate and almost surprisingly poetic accounts of
what happened that day is an audio diary that was recorded late in the day
by the wife of then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Ladybird Johnson kept
an audio diary throughout her entire time in the White House, and one of
her audio entries, remarkably, is her personal recollections at the end of
the day after she had been in Dallas in the motorcade when the shooting
The car for Vice President Johnson and his wife was just a couple of
cars behind President Kennedy`s in the motorcade. But this is how Lady
Bird Johnson that day in her audio diary remembered going to the hospital
in Dallas after the shooting and coming across a distraught First Lady
Jacqueline Kennedy in the hallway of the hospital.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
LADY BIRD JOHNSON, FORMER FIRST LADY: Suddenly, I found myself face-
to-face with Jackie in a small hall, I think it was right outside the
operating room. You always think of her, or somebody like her, as being
insulated, protected, sort of on Olympus.
She was quite alone. I don`t think I ever saw anybody so much alone
in my life. I went up to her, put my arms around her, and said something,
I`m sure it was quite banal, like God help us all, because my feelings for
her were too tumultuous to put into words.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Lady Bird Johnson`s entire diary entry from that day is
written out, longhand, and it has since been completely digitized and it is
now available at the LBJ library Web site along with the corresponding
Lyndon Johnson, of course, rose to the presidency in the wake of
President Kennedy`s assassination, and once LBJ became president, one of
his first orders of business in 1963 was to appoint a high-level commission
to investigate the assassination. That, of course, was the Warren
Commission, named after Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren.
Thanks to all the stuff now being digitized, we can now hear the
process of how that commission came to be, as it was happening, and it
turns out it was a fascinating thing. The two men that President Johnson
wanted to head up that commission were Chief Justice Earl Warren, but also,
Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, who was a Democrat. He was a
The problem was that Senate Russell hated Earl Warren. Senator
Russell was a Southern segregationist and Earl Warren was a pro-civil
rights progressive on the Supreme Court, and Richard Russell really
When LBJ told Senator Richard Russell that he wanted him to serve on
this commission alongside Earl Warren, Senator Russell said, no, he refused
to do it. And when Senator Russell refused him, President Johnson
essentially lifted that senator above his head and hurled him down to
Richard Russell was a lion at the Senate. They named the first Senate
office building after him. He was a really big deal, even as early as
1963. But just listen how to LBJ leaned into him.
This is a phone call between President Johnson and Richard Russell.
This is only a week after President Kennedy`s death. And what happens on
this phone call is that Senator Russell is pleading, trying in vain to get
out of serving on the Warren Commission and LBJ squashes him like a bug.
This is amazing. Listen to this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
FORMER SEN. RICHARD RUSSELL (D), GEORGIA: Well, now, Mr. President, I
know I don`t have to tell you of my devotion to you, but I just can`t serve
on that commission. I`m highly honored you`d think about me in connection
with it, but I couldn`t serve there with Chief Justice Warren. I don`t
like that man. I don`t have any confidence in him.
LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Dick, it`s already been announced
and you can serve with anybody for the good of America. Now, the reason
I`ve asked Warren is because he`s the chief justice of this country and
we`ve got to have the highest judicial people we can have.
The reason I ask you is because you have that same kind of temperament
and you can do anything for your country. And don`t go giving me that kind
of stuff about you can`t serve with anybody. You can do anything.
RUSSELL: It`s not only that, I just don`t think the chief justice
should have served on it.
JOHNSON: Well, the chief justice ought to do anything he can to save
America. You`ve never turned your country down.
Well, this is not me. This is your country. And the members of the
special commission are Chief Justice Warren, Senator Richard Russell, and
I`ll go right down the list. I`ve got Allen Dulles and John McCloy.
But you`re my man on that commission and you`re going to do it. And
don`t tell me what you can do and what you can`t, because I can`t arrest
you, and I`m not going to put the FBI on you, but you (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
sure going to serve. I`ll tell you that.
RUSSELL: Mr. President, please –
JOHNSON: No, it`s already done. It`s been announced.
RUSSELL: You mean you`ve given that –
JOHNSON: Yes. Yes, it is already in the papers you`re on it. And
you`re going to be my man on it.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: You mean you`ve already given that? Yes, yes, it is already
in the papers and you are on it. And you know what? Senator Richard
Russell was on it. No was not an option. Amazing.
This week, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination,
the Government Printing Office announced that it`s releasing for the first
time the complete digital version of the Warren Commission report, the
entire 888-page report right now is accessible online for the first time
ever. Bits and pieces have been digitized and out online before. I`ve got
a piece of it that`s on an LP record. But this is the first time you can
get the whole thing in one place online.
The Kennedy assassination happened at a moment in our history where it
was just late enough in terms of the available technology that a lot of
things that were happening then were being recorded, not only on audio
tape, but in a lot of cases on film as well.
For that reason, and because a lot of this stuff is now digitized and
available widely online, we are able to not just experience this as
history, but also to experience the gravity of that event in a way that we
really have not been able to before, if you weren`t really there when it
happened. There`s more available to us now than ever before, including
stuff made available just this week.
If you want to check out some of these recordings we just referenced
here, we`ve posted links to everything I`ve just played here and more at
(BEEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAMMY FAYE BAKKER MESSNER, TELEVANGELIST: Now, just because I`m a
Christian doesn`t mean I don`t like nice things either. I love nice things
and Jim and I work very, very hard for nice things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: For those too young to recall, that was Tammy Faye Bakker,
one of the most famous televangelists of all time. And the relationship
between televangelism news about politics this week turns out to have a
surprising turn in it. And that story is coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Turns out you can Yelp a whole city. This is the Yelp page
for Colorado Springs, Colorado, the entire city of Colorado Springs,
apparently, gets 3 1/2 stars out of 5. And yes, as one person pointed out,
it is weird to review a whole city all at once on Yelp.
Quote, “Seriously, we`re reviewing the entire city of Colorado
Springs?” Wink, smiley face.
But mostly the two things people mention when they are reviewing
Colorado Springs on yelp are, number one, it has very, very pretty
mountains, and number two, Focus on the Family. People on Yelp cannot help
but point that out constantly, that Focus on the Family, the right-wing
evangelical group, is really a very big presence in the town.
Focus on the Family has been around since the late `70s founded by an
evangelical Christian leader who had studied psychology. His name is James
Focus on the Family started out in California, but in 1991, they
picked up all 400 of their employees and they made a new home base for
themselves in Colorado Springs. At the time they said, it was just an
economic decision. Colorado was cheaper, they wouldn`t have to pay as high
as salaries as they had to pay in California and they did have a really big
But Focus on the Family moved to Colorado, and under James Dobson,
they went on to become a really big player in Republican Party politics.
Remember, in 2008, it was a big hubbub when James Dobson refused to
endorse John McCain for president against Barack Obama until the way last
minute in the campaign. Mr. Dobson really wanted Mike Huckabee instead and
he did not like Mr. McCain, but he grudgingly, lately, gave him his
One of the many side projects launched by Focus on the Family after
they moved to Colorado Springs was kind of a sister organization called
Love Won Out. It was an organization designed to cure people of being gay.
They would help you pray the gay away. Homosexuality is treatable, so if
you end up gay, it`s just your fault for refusing to be treated and cured.
As Focus on the Family got bigger and more influential over the years,
it ended up turning Colorado Springs into almost kind of a company town.
Colorado Springs became the evangelical capital of the country, by some
people`s measure. And that, of course, had huge repercussions for the
town, just ask Yelp.
But it also had repercussions for one specific branch of the United
States military. The HQ for Focus on the Family is just a very, very short
drive away from the United States Air Force Academy, which was already in
Colorado Springs when Focus on the Family moved there in the 1990s.
But in the last couple of decades, there has been signs of struggle
over the outsized influence of evangelical believes and conservative
Christian values on the Air Force Academy – on the institution, on the
faculty, and on the student body, which, of course, is the elite, soon-to-
be officer corps of the U.S. Air Force.
In 2006, some Air Force recruiters and recent academy graduates filed
a lawsuit against the Air Force, alleging illegal religious coercion
against cadets and pressure to proselytize to new recruits. They said they
had been subject to aggressive proselytizes and had received lower
performance reviews if they didn`t attend prayer group and church. They
said they were told they need to accept Jesus in order to be able to do
their Air Force jobs.
Around that same time, a chaplain at the Air Force academy spoke up
publicly about what she called a systemic and pervasive problem of
religious proselytizing. She was a chaplain. She said she tried to help
fix the problem at the academy, but her attempts were watered down by her
She attributed the problem in part, quote, to the academy`s location
in Colorado Springs, there`s significant crossover between the leadership
of the academies and those organizations and churches in or near Colorado
Springs, including Focus on the Family. That was the 1990s.
By 2010, an internal Air Force survey showed that 41 percent of cadets
to the academy still reported feeling like they were being proselytized to
by evangelical Christians while they were cadets, that they were being
pressured to accept the specific values of a specific religion while they
were training to become Air Force officers.
In light of this history, it`s a kind of long history now, when news
broke this week that the Air Force Academy had hired in 2009 a leader in
the ex-gay movement to oversee the mandatory counseling program for all
academy cadets, they hired him in 2009, and promoted him to oversee that
counseling program in 2011 – when that story broke this week, that
instantly became a really big deal.
The story was broken by John Aravosis after an academy graduate, who`s
on the board of OutServe, the national organization for LGBT service
members, Air Force Lieutenant Josh Seefried, he visited the academy and
discovered that Dr. Michael Rosebush was the chief of coaching development
at the Air Force Academy. And he had a decades-long history as a counselor
who believed he could turn gay men straight, through religious counseling.
The job he had right before he came to the Air Force was being the
president of coaching confidant, in which he would charge you a fee to talk
to you over the phone in a way that he said would make you not gay anymore.
This was his professional career before coming to the Air Force. He
wrote books about curing gayness. He was a director at the big cure the
gay groups at NARTH and Exodus International. Exodus International
actually acquired Focus on the Family`s pray away the gay group Love Won
Out before Exodus itself went out of business earlier this year.
Dr. Michael Rosebush`s entire professional career has been counseling
people to try to make gay men not gay anymore. He also worked for Focus on
the Family itself. He served as vice president there for a time.
There`s nothing about the Air Force Academy leadership right now, or
the Air Force leadership right now, that indicates that they`re driven by
some anti-gay agenda. And they clearly do not want to be known as an anti-
gay institution. The superintendent of the academy met with the LBGT group
on campus this week after this story broke.
The Air Force has taken steps this week to reach out to the media.
They`ve tried to explain why they hired Dr. Rosebush and never say it had
anything to do with his lifelong career of trying to turn gay people into
straight people. They say he just designed and analyzed their coaching
They stressed he doesn`t do any one-on-one coaching with the cadets.
They say over and over again, don`t worry, he does not personally coach or
counsels the cadets – just oversees the whole program.
And, OK. But the fact that you`re trying to make the public feel
better about this situation, by telling people that he`s not personally
interacting with the cadets one on one kind of begs the question, why is he
on staff in the first place? Why did you hire him – especially in light
of the very specific recent history of the Air Force Academy? Why would a
quack ex-gay therapist with decades of experience doing that kind of quack
ex-gay therapy be hired to oversee anything, much less the mandatory
counseling program for all U.S. Air Force Academy cadets?
Joining us now for the interview tonight is Scott Hines. Scott Hines
was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Academy in 1992. By his
senior year, he was commanding a third of the cadet force. He was gay, and
of course he had to be closeted.
The Air Force Academy referred him as a cadet to Ted Haggard`s New
Life Church in Colorado Springs, for him to undergo therapy designed to
turn him into a straight man. It didn`t take.
Mr. Hines is now a city council member in Rancho Mirage, California.
He`s also a former mayor of that city.
Mr. Hines, thank you for being with us.
SCOTT HINES, AIR FORCE ACADEMY GRADUATE: Thank you, Rachel. Thanks
for having me.
MADDOW: I`ve got to ask your – first, let me ask you, if anything
about having been there as a gay cadet strikes you wrong? If any of that
doesn`t resonate with you in terms of your experience, and also your
reaction to this news about the counseling program.
HINES: Well, I think you`re very accurate in painting what is really
a decades-long history. And the academy has been working very hard,
particularly in the last five to six years, to really overcome this culture
that`s really developed at the academy, that`s very much influenced by the
community that`s around them.
My reaction to the news this week was one of being horrified. You
know, I experience conversion therapy several times in my time in the Air
Force, but as cadet, I was referred through the new life church and then to
a reparative therapy program in Colorado Springs, which I secretly
participated in. This was pre “don`t ask, don`t tell,” keep in mind.
HINES: As a trailer park kid, this was my ticket out of poverty, to
go to the academy. So I wasn`t going to talk to anybody about this on
campus. And in that program, I suffered a lot of trauma. You know, this
is a harmful, harmful type of therapy –
MADDOW: You were referred by the academy to do it?
HINES: I was. I went to the cadet counseling center, and said I`m
struggling, and used all the terms without saying, I think I`m gay. And
the captain at time was a member of New Life Church, put me over there, Mr.
Haggard took me under his wing. I was put in – involved in a men`s group
of other men who were struggling, many who were active duty as well, and
then put into a counseling program that ended up being quite destructive in
MADDOW: And then in terms of it being destructive, you did graduate
from the academy as a very well-regarded and decorated cadet and went on to
a long active duty career in the Air Force.
What kind of trouble did that counseling cause you, when you say it
was damaging, what do you mean?
HINES: As is often the case, men who claim to be ex-gay are not ex-
gay, and my ex-gay therapist turned out to not be so ex-gay and became
quite a predator. So –
MADDOW: Sexually, towards you?
HINES: Yes. Without getting into a lot of details, which I`ve really
tried to put that in the past, in my life, it was, obviously, very
detrimental. I have not talked to many people about this, Rachel. Not my
family and not others and it brings up a lot of emotion.
So, you can imagine when I heard this week that a reparative therapist
is heading these programs, and out right in the middle of this, given my
experiences and what I probably expect are the experiences of other young
cadets, it was just horrifying.
MADDOW: One of the things, when you reached out to us when we first
broadcast this story, one of the things I find striking is that somebody
who had been an exception to your bad experience around these issues at the
academy, somebody who was a major there, an instructor at the academy, who
is now a superintendent at the academy, a three-star general –
MADDOW: – my guess then is that you have confidence in her, somebody
who had been humane towards you on this issue.
HINES: You bet.
MADDOW: – that the academy can fix this.
HINES: And you`re referring to Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson,
who`s now superintendent of the academy.
Michelle at the time was a major. She was a political science
instructor and my academic adviser. And I really credit her with helping
me deal with that.
She never knew about it. She never knew it happened. She never knew
I was gay. But she went a long way, as every instructor there should in
building my self-esteem, giving me hope for the future, really inspiring me
to serve my country.
I credit her with probably saving me during that time of depression
and really some suicidal thoughts after having gone through that trauma.
Today, I am so proud that she is the new face of leadership at the Air
Force Academy. She is a special person – first female cadet commander at
the academy. She was a Rhodes scholar. She`s now the first female
commander of the academy.
And I have supreme confidence that if anybody can turn around this
culture at the academy, it`s her.
MADDOW: It feels like from their reaction to this reporting, at first
it felt having dealt with a lot of PR operations when we cover story that
don`t make people look good, felt they scurried at first. Now what they
are doing feels like there is a commitment, both, not to be known as an
anti-gay institution but also to fix this.
I would expect – I will just speak personally – I would expect this
situation is not sustainable. They cannot keep somebody in charge of
counseling now that if only through the press they know it history.
HINES: You know, it makes you wonder if it is out of her hands. It`s
definitely got the Pentagon`s attention at this point. At least he needs
to be reassigned. I want to hear that he denounces reparative therapy
before he has any interaction with cadets at the academy.
I really hope that Michelle is able to turn the culture of the
academy. You know what happens, Rachel, is that people Air Force officers
who are Christian fundamentalists, work assignments to the academy because
they know they can get follow on hires at Focus on the Family and these
Christian organizations. It`s very much a planning for your future type of
an assignment to the academy. So, it makes sense you are promoting your
Christian beliefs to get your street cred, while you`re there teaching, so
that afterwards, you have a hope that James Dobson will hire to his staff.
MADDOW: It`s like a geopolitical accident that we`re living with the
MADDOW: Scott Hines, Air Force Academy graduate, city council member
now in Rancho Mirage, California, went on to a distinguished active duty
career in the Air Force, we should say, after your time at the academy.
It`s really honor to have you here to talk about this. Thank you.
HINES: Thanks for drawing attention to this. Appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Thanks.
MADDOW: We have a corrections moment and vital information about why
Jerry Falwell is going down a water slide in a black suit with a white
shirt and black tie on, holding himself. Hold on. That`s coming up.
MADDOW: I got something wrong on the show this week. Turns out it is
kind of amazing. Remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker? Famous
televangelists, who got very, very rich preaching on television and telling
people to send them money.
One of the things Jim and Tammy Faye they did with all the money they
made in televangelism is that they built a theme park, Heritage USA, which
does not exist anymore, but it did give us one of the greatest photos of
all time, which was their fellow televangelist Jerry Falwell going down the
Heritage USA water slide in a suit.
Jan and Paul Crouch took their money from being televangelists and
they used it to make the Holy Land experience where Bill Maher memorably
has a debate with a guy paid to look like Jesus in his atheism documentary.
It`s also the prayer tower in Tulsa, Oklahoma, built by televangelists Oral
Real credit, though, goes to Oral Roberts for starting televangelists
building colleges. Oral Roberts University was founded in Oklahoma in the
Remember Jimmy Swaggart? He founded the World Evangelism Bible
Pat Robertson started the Christian Broadcasting Network University,
which became Regent University.
Jerry Falwell founded Liberty University.
Televangelists used to build themselves mansions, and towers, and
theme parks. Now, they build colleges. And it turns out they help each
other out, and sometimes it`s hard to tell them apart.
When Oral Roberts University failed to have a law school, they boxed
up their whole law school library and mailed it to Pat Robertson so he
could have a law school. He built a law school and now is now a player in
The George W. Bush administration put a former dean from the Pat
Robertson law school in charge of hiring in the Bush administration.
But it was the lobbying group associated with Jerry Falwell`s law
school putting up the press release saying Obamacare would mandate free sex
changes, and it is the dean of the Jerry Falwell law school who appeared at
Marco Rubio`s big anti-gay rights speech that he gave this past weekend to
try to help his chances of getting nominated by the Republican Party for
I said this week that Marco Rubio gave his anti-gay rights speech with
a guy from Pat Robertson school. It turns out with a guy from the Jerry
Falwell school. I`m always getting these guys mixed up and their law
schools. I very much regret the error. I conflated my televangelists.
And the fact remains if you want the Republican Party to nominate you
for president, you really do have to kiss the rings of the televangelists
community because they`re still part of what makes the Republican Party
tick in the 21st century. Be healed, Republican Party, be healed.
That does it for us tonight.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Have a great night.
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