The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/17/13
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Anyway, thanks to you at home for joining
us this hour.
Once upon a time, a member of Congress shocks a watermelon. He shot a
poor defenseless watermelon with a pistol. He thought that shooting a
watermelon in his backyard might help him prove his theory that President
Bill Clinton was secretly a murderer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THEN-REP. DAN BURTON (R), INDIANA: We at my house with a homicide
detective tried to re-create a head and fired a .38 four-inch barrel into
that to see if the sound could be heard from a hundred yards away, even
though there`s an earth mover making all kinds of racket and you could hear
the bullet clearly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You could hear the bullet clearly when he shot the
watermelon. Or maybe it was a pumpkin, perhaps a honey dew, whatever. It
was a fake head that he made out of a fruit or vegetable at his backyard.
He shot it and that proved to him at least that a former deputy White House
council who killed himself in the early `90s had probably been murdered by
President Bill Clinton or something.
It was never totally clear what exactly he was after with the backyard
stunt. But Indiana Republican Congressman Dan Burton did shoot a
watermelon in his backyard. Congressman Dan Burton also spent years and
millions of dollars mounting a full scale congressional investigation into
the Clinton White House Christmas card and the list of people to whom this
evil dastardly Clinton Christmas card was sent.
There`s got to be a scandal there somewhere. Dan Burton also demanded
to know whether taxpayer dollars were being extended to respond to fan mail
that was sent to the Clinton family cat, who you will remember was named
What? You think Socks writes his own letters?
Congressman Dan Burton was involved in a lot of really embarrassing
stuff involving witch hunting the Clintons in his time in office. He also
had his share of his own embarrassments. He got caught out in an FBI
investigation of Pakistan`s military secretly funneling money to members of
the U.S. Congress. He got up on the House floor and inveighed against
President Clinton for his sexual immorality.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BURTON: No one, regardless of what party they serve, no one in which
branch of government they serve should be allowed to get a away with these
alleged sexual improprieties.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Congressman Dan Burton speaking on the House floor,
not long before he himself admitted that he too had had a long extramarital
affair which included him fathering a child who he had kept secret for
years. For all the years that he was saying publicly that politicians
should never be allowed to get away with their affairs.
That particular bit of hypocrisy led to Shelly Lewis to give Dan
Burton the greatest congressional nickname of all time, she calls him
Hoosier Daddy. Hoosier, Indiana. Hoosier Daddy. Anyway.
So, Dan Burton had his own scandals, but Dan Burton`s lasting legacy
in Congress was not just his own scandals and hypocrisies, but rather the
way he tried to make up scandals for other people and specifically the way
he use the power of one specific part of Congress to mount witch hunt after
witch hunt after witch hunt.
After the 1996 election, when President Clinton was re-elected in a
landslide and the Republicans lost seats in Congress, the Republicans in
the House decided that they were going to put Dan Burton in charge of the
House Oversight Committee. That was the perch in which Dan Burton had the
power to investigate the White House Christmas card and Socks` fan letters
and the Vince Foster suicide with the shooting of watermelon thing, and
Whitewater, and White House fundraising and, and, and, and.
In the six years that they let Dan Burton keep that chairmanship, he
used the facts that he was chair of that committee to issue more than 1,000
subpoenas. He issued so many subpoenas, at one point, he issued a subpoena
to a man who just had a name that sounded similar to one of the 140-plus
administration officials to whom he sent subpoenas as if they were party
Dan Burton was just crazed with hatred for the Democratic president.
He told his hometown paper, quote, “If I could prove 10 percent of what I
believe happened, Clinton would be gone. This guy`s a scumbag, that`s why
I`m after him.”
And that is what Dan Burton decided should be the way that Congress
would treat the sitting president while Bill Clinton was in office.
It`s kind of clear from the get-go, as soon as he got that
chairmanship that him being in charge of that very powerful committee was
going to be a little (WHISTLING).
Democrats on the committee wrote him this letter after he had only
been chairman for two months expressing, their alarm that in the first
month alone of his chairmanship, he had already issued 46 subpoenas. He
also unilaterally had declared a new Dan Burton protocol for documents, in
which he declared that he and he alone had the power to decide if he could
release to the media any and all of the documents that he obtained by
And since the documents he was trying to get by subpoena were things
like oh, say records of doctors visits to the White House to treat members
of the Clinton family, the Democratic members of this committee, they were
able to sort of shut Dan Burton down a little bit. They were at least able
to get a ruling from the congressional parliamentarian saying that,
actually, it`s the whole committee not just one guy who has to decide how
documents get handled and what documents could get released to the press.
There`s really nothing that could stop Dan Burton from being the
amazing congressman that he was for all those years that he was there. But
the Democrats way back in 1987, they were able to stop that one thing about
him and him deciding what documents he was going to release, no matter how
secret they were, right?
Now, though, the Republicans are bringing all that back. Republican
congressman whose now in charge of the Oversight Committee is Darrell Issa
of California. In 2011, when Darrell Issa`s committee held hearings on TSA
security at airports, the TSA submitted to their committee, confidential
information for their eyes only, about security breaches at U.S. airports.
And as soon as those confidential documents were given to Darrell Issa,
hey, look, they ended up in “USA Today”. They ended up in the news.
“USA Today” was very excited to have that scoop. They wrote the
documents obtained in advance by “USA Today” were submitted to a House
subcommittee on Homeland Security. And then as soon as they were submitted
to that committee, they were forwarded immediately to the press.
In 2012, same thing, Darrell Issa convened a hearing on the Fast and
Furious gun program. The ATF sent him documents that were just not
confidential, they were sealed by a court officially, because they were
going to be used in a criminal case. But as soon as Darrell Issa got them,
he published them. He put them in the congressional record.
Quoting for them, describing them in detail. Roll Call noted at the
time that because those wiretap applications were under court seal,
releasing that kind of information to the public ordinarily would be
illegal. Ordinarily, but Darrell Issa does not care. He just releases
what he wants to release.
Later in 2012, he held hearings on the attack in Benghazi. The State
Department had released to him information about specific Libyan nationals
who had worked with the U.S. government in their country. At his hearings
on Benghazi, Darrell Issa revealed their identities, the Libyans who were
working with us. Oh, what could possibly go wrong.
Congressman Issa, quote, “did not bother to redact the names of Libyan
civilians and local leaders mentioned in the cables.” Yes, why would he?
Congressman Darrell Issa is a human sieve. He`s a piece of Tupperware
where like the lids shrank in the dishwasher, but the container never did,
and now, it`s never really going to close again. It`s not airtight. It
doesn`t hold water.
I mean, at least Dan Burton said he wanted to be able to freely
release whatever documents he felt like as a form of political
intimidation. Darrell Issa doesn`t seem to be able to stop himself from
The Fast and Furious documents, the ones that were under a court seal,
when the Democrats in the Justice Department came back to him on that and
said what are you doing? This stuff was ordered sealed, as part of a
criminal case, you can`t release this – his office`s explanation for why
they leaked those documents is that they forgot they were under court seal.
But now, Darrell Issa is doing his thing on his next obsession which
is Obamacare. The top Democrat on his committee has just written to
Congressman Issa complaining that nobody wants to give their committee any
sensitive material anymore because Darrell Issa leaks it all. Because
telling Darrell Issa anything that`s a secret is the equivalent of putting
that secretly up on a billboard.
Quote, “Just last week, your office leaked to CNN emails that that
just been produced to the committee, relating to the security testing for
the Healthcare.gov Web site. It does not appear that you took any official
action associated with this leak such as a letter or even a press release,
but rather it appears that your staff simply e-mailed the documents to a
CNN reporter as soon as they received them.”
That letter was sent late last week. At the same time, the White
House, the Obama administration also just started saying no to Dan Burton -
- I mean, Darrell Issa. Darrell Issa had asked for documents that the
department of health and human services says would essentially provide the
blueprint for potential cyber attacks, not just on Healthcare.gov, but on
any spectacularly constructed federal IT system.
It`s the security testing documents for this Web site. As such, these
are obviously really, really sensitive documents and if there`s one thing
that Darrell Issa has shown he has no capacity to handle responsibly, it is
really sensitive documents. And so, the Obama administration as of the
last few days is now officially and in writing saying to Darrell Issa, no.
No, you cannot have these documents that you want to have. You can
see them, but you cannot take them with you. You can look at them. You
can review them. You can review them with your own staff and with your own
experts, but you cannot have copies of this stuff, because every time you
get copies of anything, you e-mail them to CNN.
It`s amazing fight and that fight remains unresolved. Yesterday, the
administration went so far as to go around Darrell Issa and write to John
Boehner as speaker of the House and say, if we don`t get anywhere with
Darrell, could you please make sure he stops leaking our confidential
It`s a really interesting fight in Congress. It is a legit fight and
it is one for which there is lots of precedent earned in part by the man
who called 34 witnesses and demanded more than 40,000 documents to
investigate this Christmas card back in the 90s.
But now, our new version of Dan Burton, Darrell Issa is taking hiss
show on the road. We reported in the last few weeks on how Darrell Issa
has been in Georgia and in North Carolina and Arizona, doing what he calls
congressional field hearings. But which are essentially traveling Darrell
Issa road shows, where he`s arranged all the testimony in advance, he asks
specifically for what he would like to hear. Only people opposed to
Obamacare have been invited to testify at these previous hearings. Members
of the audience are not allowed to speak at them at all so anybody who
wants to say anything positive about Obamacare has basically been talking
out on the streets and in front of Darrell Issa`s hearings because they are
not allowed to speak if they go inside.
And the state of Texas, the proportion of the population that does not
have health insurance of any kind is the highest in the nation. And Texas
is doing everything it can to try to keep it that way.
They could have cut the number of people who are uninsured by half
just by agreeing to expand their public insurance program, which the
federal government would have paid for under Obamacare. Texas said no to
that as soon as they had a chance to say no this past summer.
And then this past month, Texas went so far as to pass this 64-page
long set of regulations that`s designed to make it almost a criminal act,
almost legally impossible to help someone sign up for private health
insurance in Texas. In Texas, health care navigators will be banned by law
from explaining to people the differences between types of health insurance
plans that are being offered. They will be barred by Texas law from
recommending to anyone that they do sign up for health insurance. Texas is
doing everything it can to keep Texans from having health insurance, by any
And Darrell Issa loves the Texas strategy. And to celebrate it, he
brought his traveling anti-Obamacare road show to Texas last night,
specifically to go after the health care navigators issue the way that
Texas has. And although Chairman Issa did make a little progress, he did
allow one Democrat to speak last night, otherwise he just called on
Republican congressmen so they can talk about how much they hate Obamacare.
That`s what they call a hearing.
There was this one amazing moment when one of the Texas Republicans at
Darrell Issa`s fake hearing, decided to call essentially a new witness, at
least to bring forth the new evidence, when he sprung a surprise on the
people assembled for the Darrell Issa hearing and decided to play for
everybody there at the hearing a little thing he saw on FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: The American people are frustrated
with these changes and it is simply adding to the confusion surrounding
their health care. And then we heard this, and I would have you look at
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And when you look up at the scene, what they were showing –
look, it`s Bill O`Reilly. They showed clips from the Bill O`Reilly show at
their fake hearing, so as to get at the facts of Obamacare. Amazing.
And then at the very end of the hearing, the administration, the
administrator who was in charge of Medicare and Medicaid for the state of
Texas, he testified at this fake hearing, he testified that private medical
information is not stored online at the healthcare.gov Web site. And
Darrell Issa was incensed by this system, and his response to the
administrator, according to “The Dallas Morning News” was quote, “you need
to watch more FOX, I`m afraid.” That`s a quote.
If you really want to know what`s going on with Texas health care, I`m
afraid you`re going to have to watch more FOX News, guys in charge of Texas
Darrell Issa is not the most amazing member of Congress ever, but he
is right up there. I mean, he`s never shot a watermelon as best as we
know, but give him time.
Right now, the Obama administration is in a really big fight with
Darrell Issa over what powers he has claimed for himself and the fact that
he leaks like a sieve whenever he gets any sensitive information.
At the same time, though, Darrell Issa is now calling himself the lead
overseer in the nation, of our national rollout on health reform. And as
such he is now traveling the country holding essentially sham congressional
hearings at which he shows clips of the Bill O`Reilly show and berates
health care administrators about how they need to be watching more FOX News
if they really want to understand what`s going on.
This cannot possibly end well, can it?
Joining us now is Zeke Emanuel. He`s a former health policy advisor
at the White House.
Dr. Emanuel, thanks very much for being here, it`s nice to have you
ZEKE EMANUEL, UPENN: Nice to be back.
MADDOW: So at these somewhat ridiculous field hearings, Congressman
Issa this week decided to target navigators. What is a navigator and why
are they needed? What role do they play in the law?
EMANUEL: Well, navigators are people who help other people who are
looking for insurance go through what they care about, what kind of
insurance they want, help them with the Web site or if they`re doing it on
paper, help them on paper.
We should remember, navigators have a long history. I mean, we called
them other things, agricultural extension workers to help farmers adapt to
certain new seeds, we had these kind of extension workers to help people
sign up for Medicare in the past. We have used this kind of technique for
many different approaches and different kinds of outreach by the
And I think one particular function they serve is in complicated
families. You know, it`s one thing to go on and shop for two parents and
two kids. But there are a lot of families in America that have a lot more
complicated relationships, a grandmother raising a granddaughter or a
niece, and those kind of situations create problems for getting insurance
and figuring out what people are eligible for and the navigators can help
those kind of people.
MADDOW: I think what the congressional Republicans were doing in
Texas last night, aside from playing FOX News clips and berating state
administrators that they didn`t understand it if they didn`t understand
FOX, which was amazing. Aside from that, I think what they were doing is
they were trying to nationalize, at least put a national spotlight on what
Texas has done to shut down navigators.
I looked through those 64 pages of regulations, they essentially tell
you that it`s against the law, it`s at least against state regulations to
tell anybody the differences between various health plans or to advise
somebody that they should sign up for health insurance. It seems like they
have made it essentially almost criminal to help anybody sign up.
Do you think that that will have an overall substantial material
effect on whether or not Texans are going to be able to get signed up?
EMANUEL: Well, I think it`s going to have an effect. The navigators
are an important element. There`s lots of other ways people can sign up.
But there`s certain people who are either suspicious of things on the
Internet, find healthcare complicated and having someone they can talk to
right next to them who can help them and guide them through the process is
going to be important.
Almost all of us have been frustrated when we have gotten on the web
and tried to call a help line, and having someone next to you instead of at
the other end of a telephone can be a very good way to navigate complicated
issues. And I think that`s – you know, they are trying to try everything
they can to obstruct people being helped and I think this is – you know,
the intention is pretty clear, Texas has made very clear that they don`t
want any part of Obamacare, even though they do have about a quarter of
their population without health insurance.
And that I think is the tragedy that the very poorest of the poor in
Texas are going to be the people particularly hurt by their policies.
MADDOW: As we come up on new enrollment deadlines as we roll through
the end of the year and toward that important March date for example, one
of the things that seems like it`s another sort of X-factor in terms of
whether or not it`s going to affect how many people sign up is this plan by
the insurance companies, the insurance industry to spend roughly half a
billion dollars on advertising next year – letting people know about their
options, trying to encourage them to sign up.
What do you anticipate in terms of the effect of that spending?
EMANUEL: Well, I think, you know, this is a case where the insurers
are aligned with the expansion of the exchanges because this is the new
area of business. This is going to be a growth market. They would like to
see people come in to these markets. They want to see a balance pool that
has young people as well as sick people.
It`s in their interests and I think they`re showing this by
advertising and trying to get people to sign up. I think that will
correspond with a push by the federal government and the president to get
more people to sign up and to make them aware of their options, now that
the Web site is working reasonably well, I notice that over the last couple
of days, they improve the shop and compare that is the unanimous shopper
where you can just see what`s available in your state, so that you can see
the actual premium you`ll pay with the subsidy included.
So, these improvements are being made and I think they`re getting
ready for a big push for people to sign up over the – they basically have
about 3 1/2 more months, and I think this wave of advertising by the
insurance company is going to add to that push.
MADDOW: Yes, half a billion dollars never hurt, at least.
Zeke Emanuel, former health –
MADDOW: – policy manager at the White House, thanks for talking with
us tonight. It`s good to see you.
EMANUEL: Thank you, Rachel.
All right, if New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was hoping that today
was the day that people stopped talking about a certain traffic jam on the
world`s busiest bridge, turns out today is really, really not that day.
Starting to make a leap today and has helped that story motor its way, way
beyond the tri-state area. How this became a national story today is
MADDOW: We just screwed something up on screen. I`m sorry. We
showed a member of Congress introducing a clip from the Bill O`Reilly show
at a congressional field hearing in Texas last night, and although I said
out loud that it was Congressman Pete Sessions of Congress, on screen, we
apparently said it was Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
It wasn`t Jeff, it was Pete. It wasn`t the senator, it was the
congressman. Sessions either way, but Pete not Jeff.
Like I said, but not like we showed. How embarrassing, terribly
MADDOW: This is such an amazing story I cannot believe it. All
right. This is a man named Frank Abagnale, who you may have heard of.
Frank Abagnale was an airline pilot for Pan Am Airlines, for Pan Am. Frank
Abagnale was also doctor, he was also an accomplished lawyer. He also
spent a little time teaching college. All of that by the ripe old age of
Frank Abagnale was a con artist. He was actually never any of those
things by trade. But he managed to convince people he was all of these
things even when he was still just a teenager.
If you recognize the name Frank Abagnale, it was probably because you
have seen this movie, “Catch Me If You Can”. Frank Abagnale`s life story,
his career as a con artist portrayed in that movie by actor Leonardo
After Frank Abagnale was busted for pulling off all those
impersonations and for cashing fraudulent checks across the country, he did
serve a stint in prison, but then when he got out, he went to work for the
government. He took a job with the FBI, doing consulting for the
government and teaching FBI agents how to catch fraudsters like him –
teaching the FBI the tricks of the trade that he had enjoyed s for so long.
And we now know that that means that the Frank Abagnale, one of the
country`s most prolific and famous con artists was working inside the U.S.
government at the same time that a federal fellow government employee
somehow managed to pull off one of the craziest con man stories since the
days of Frank Abagnale. This is just absolutely nuts.
Meet John Beale. John Beale for more than two decades was an employee
of the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency. He actually was a legit
environmental expert. He worked on the Clean Air Act in the 1990s.
But during his tenure at the EPA, John Beale for years and years,
somehow managed to convince his supervisors that he was also simultaneously
secretly working for the CIA. He convinced his bosses and apparently
everybody at the EPA that he was an undercover agent at the CIA, and
because of that, he just had to disappear from his work at the EPA for very
long periods of time and they shouldn`t really ask him about it.
The deception started in 2001 when Mr. Beale informed one of his EPA
managers that he had been assigned to a special advisory group, working on
a secret project with the director of operations at the CIA. That`s the
branch of the CIA that conducts covert operations.
His assignment, Mr. Beale said, required him to be out of the office
for one day every week. Now his manager at the EPA signed off on that
agreement. But one day a week at the CIA, at the, quote, “CIA” soon turned
into lots of days a week.
In June 2008, Mr. Beale failed to report to the EPA offices for
approximately six straight months. Mr. Beale told EPA managers and
employees that he was spending time working for Langley. Langley, of
course, shorthand for CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
So, in 2008, he disappeared for six whole months without telling
anybody. And then here`s the kicker: during this lengthy unexcused
absence, Mr. Beale continued to receive his EPA salary. Mr. Beale is not
just a low profile EPA employee. He was the single highest paid employee
at the EPA and he just disappeared to go be a spy, he said.
And it was not just those six months that he took off in 2008. John
Beale also took two whole years off between 2011 and 2013 all under the
guise of his super-duper top secret work at the CIA.
Now, as you might imagine, the folks at the EPA eventually started to
get a little bit suspicious about the CIA story, after a while. But every
time they questioned him about it, he always had an answer.
Quote, “To explain his long absences, Mr. Beale told EPA officials
that he was engaged in intelligence work for the CIA either at agency
headquarters or in Pakistan. At one point, he claimed to be urgently
needed in Pakistan because the Taliban was torturing his CIA replacement
while he was away.”
And this thing worked. The EPA believed him. Even when they
questioned him and he said stuff like that. They believed him and they
kept on paying him to the tune of nearly a million dollars all in, in
salary and benefits.
John Beale did not get busted until earlier this year. He pulled this
off for more than a decade. When the EPA`s inspector general`s office
asked him what he was really doing when he claimed to be working for the
CIA? Here`s the answer, quote, “John Beale stated that during these
periods, he was actually was working around the house, riding his bicycle
and reading books.” He said he perpetrated this lie to, quote, “puff up
the image of myself.”
The EPA`s assistant inspector general who led the agency`s
investigation into John Beale told NBC`s own Michael Isikoff, quote, “I
have worked for the government for 35 years and I have never seen a
situation like this.”
He has never been to Langley. The CIA has no record of him ever
walking through the door let alone employing him.
John Beale pled guilty to fraud this past September. In federal court
tomorrow, he is finally going to be sentenced.
As I said, this is a crazy story.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: The winter Olympics in Russia are less than two months away,
they start on February 7. And today, the White House announced the
American official presidential delegation to represent the United States at
the opening ceremonies and the closing ceremonies of the Winter Games.
Now, in years past, the leaders of the U.S. delegation to the Olympics
have been really high profile political figures like First Lady Michelle
Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, President George W. Bush. This year,
though the leader of the U.S. delegation will be former Secretary of the
Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.
Now, no offense. I really mean no offense. But Janet Napolitano
isn`t even a member of the president`s cabinet member. She is currently
the president of the University of California System. But she`s top of the
In addition the delegation includes the U.S. ambassador to Russia, a
presidential assistant from the White House, a deputy secretary of state
and a bevy of former U.S. Olympians, figure skater Brian Boitano, speed
skater Bonnie Blaire, speed skater Eric Heiden. Also, two U.S. athletes
who are openly gay. Tennis star Billy Jean King and ice hockey Olympian
Caitlin Cahow. Ha, take that, Vladimir.
No word on whether the decision to send this particular group,
including two openly gay athletes has been made in response to Russia`s
recent spate of anti-gay legislating, and anti-gay violence, which the U.S.
But the combination of having openly gay people in the delegation and
pointedly, not sending any high ranking high profile people from our
government, it does seem at least like a particularly satisfying snub. I
don`t know exactly if that`s how they meant it. But that`s sure how it
More ahead. Please stay with us.
MADDOW: The woman you see here in this picture won the lottery. She
may not look all that lucky. She is after all standing in the wreckage of
her own life. This picture was taken this past May when a giant tornado
destroyed the town of Moore, Oklahoma, where she lives.
You`ll remember that that tornado was one of the biggest tornadoes
every recorded on earth, more than a mile wide, with winds greater than 200
miles an hour, leveled everything in its path, including this woman`s
But look, she is pointing to something, right? She`s pointing to the
purpose built storm shelter where she rode out the terrifying storm that
wrecked her house and her whole neighborhood. “The A.P.” photographer who
took this picture reports that the woman and her husband had literally won
a lottery for government rebates on shelters, they won which meant the cost
of it was paid for it and so they got a shelter, and when the storm hit
them dead on, they lived because they had that shelter to climb into.
Over the last decade or so, the town of Moore, Oklahoma, has really
been in a true Tornado Alley. After another deadly tornado there in 1999,
the federal government helped thousands of people pay to install storm
shelters. The federal government helped people afford this reinforced
steel and concrete rooms that are designed and tested to help you survive
what otherwise might not be survivable.
And these shelters work. I mean, that`s the important part, right?
After the utter devastation this year in Moore, Oklahoma, scientists from
Texas Tech where they design safe rooms and they test them, they went to
Moore and they walked though the neighborhoods looking for evidence of how
their research had held up in the actual storm and it turn outs that the
old-fashioned under ground shelters, yes, they worked. Also the newfangled
above ground shelters, they also worked.
Underground, above-ground, if you got into a purpose built shelter,
you survived. That`s the way most of the tiny town of Tushka, Oklahoma,
rode out the storm in 2011, in their old underground shelter, and also in
their modern above ground safe room at n the local school. What matters is
having somewhere safe to go to, having a shelter, and not everyone has that
– sometime with heart-breaking consequences.
You might remember that in Moore, Oklahoma, this year, the tornado
struck a pair of elementary schools, one of them hit square on. In the
harder hit school, the walls collapsed and seven children died. They were
smothered in the collapse of their building, because when that tornado hit,
they really had nowhere to go. Schools in Moore, Oklahoma, do not have
shelters or safe rooms.
All around the town of Moore who had those safe rooms were opening
those hatches and those doors when the storm passed finding themselves and
their neighbors alive. All of those kids in that school who had no place
to take shelter, those kids were lost.
After that storm, Oklahoma`s Republican Governor Mary Fallin, she got
asked whether the state should do more to put shelters in schools. She
said the public should have, quote, “a very vigorous discussions as to what
we can do within budgetary means.”
In Oklahoma, within budgetary means depends on what your town can
afford or wants to spend, whether your town is relatively wealthy or
relatively poor. Or whether your town was lucky enough to win a grant from
the federal government, which might help.
This spring, after those grade schoolers were killed in more, local
Democratic lawmaker in Oklahoma decided he was going to try to do something
about that vagaries. How can it be that you have to win a lottery to
prepare for tornadoes, that people in rich towns will have ways for their
kids to survive storms but nobody else will. How can it be when we know
State Representative Joe Dorman asked the legislator to set aside $5
million to build safe rooms in the 2/3 of Oklahoma schools that do not have
them, 2/3. And when Oklahoma`s very Republican legislature blocked that
idea, Mr. Dorman decided he would ask Oklahoma voters directly to approve
Volunteers fanned out across the state, collecting signatures at comic
bookstores, and at gun shows, at football games and hockey games, which I`m
not sure I know they had in Oklahoma, but they do. They kept working after
Governor Fallin said she would not support the proposal to build the storm
shelters for Oklahoma schools. They kept working even after the state
reworded their ballot measure.
They worked until the deadline yesterday, and ultimately they felt
short by about 25 percent, in bright red anti-tax, small government
Now, the story could have ended there. You try a couple of ways to
get something done, you work really hard at it, you come up short, the
state says no. What did you expect in Oklahoma, light?
But that has not been the end, because today, Joe doorman announced
that he`s taking another run at the issue and lots of other issues aside
very different means. Today, he says he`s taking the very first steps to
run for governor next year as a progressive Democrat in Oklahoma.
Joe Dorman wants to run for governor in Oklahoma against a Republican
incumbent who won last time by 20 points. Call him crazy, but his first
exploratory town hall is scheduled for a day after tomorrow. He`s going
Joining us now for the interview is Oklahoma State Representative Joe
Dorman. He`s leader of the petition drive for those storm shelters in
Oklahoma schools. And he`s now a man who is officially thinking of running
Representative Dorman, thanks very much for being with us tonight.
STATE REP. JOE DORMAN (D), OKLAHOMA: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, Mary Fallin won the governor ship in 2010, by a huge
margin, and Oklahoma is really, really Republican, or at least votes
really, really Republican.
What makes you think that you might be able to unseat here next year?
DORMAN: Going out and visiting with the persons that signed this
petition, the Oklahoma voter who saw a need for storm shelters in schools,
many of those people expressed disappointment in the governor.
And I will tell you, they admitted they were Republicans and they were
ashamed that she was opposed to this issue. And I have hope that we will
see some success with that, that we will keep this effort up and people
will vote for the individual, they won`t just vote for the party, that we
will see some common sense prevail here.
MADDOW: Why do you think that your referendum drive to try to get
storm shelters into the schools, why do you think it came up short, that
must have been a big disappointment?
DORMAN: The problem we faced was opposition from our state capitol.
The polling number showed that this was very popular.
Initially, the Republican Party chair in the state fought us. Then
Governor Fallin joined in that discussion. And then Attorney General Scott
Pruitt challenged our ballot title. Our state superintendent of public
construction Janet Berezi (ph) came out opposed to this.
We saw Republican official after official fight this and this was
simply to put this issue on the ballot to let the voters decide.
MADDOW: You could argue that a central progressive idea may be the
central progressive idea is that the people should use the government –
should be able to use our government to accomplish together what we can`t
do alone. Like, for example, building storm shelters or for that matter
schools to put them in.
Why is that central idea such a hard sell in Oklahoma? Why at least
have the Republicans in Oklahoma been so successful selling against that
DORMAN: And it`s a difference between the officials inside the
capitol building and those citizens outside. They had to lie and mislead
and confuse the voters in Oklahoma to throw in that doubt. We had so many
people that were supportive of this, until time and time again, these
officials kept throwing doubt to the voters. And I`m convinced we would
have accomplished this goal if they would have kept their mouth shut or
they would have provided a suitable alternative.
To this point, the only alternative Governor Fallin has proposed is to
let the local districts raise their own property taxes, the way they can do
it right now. There`s been no other solution presented.
MADDOW: Do you expect that if you are going to be running for
governor, and you`re going to be the Democrat on the ballot in November
this upcoming a year, that this issue about storm shelters in schools will
be a central part of your campaign?
DORMAN: I can promise it will be a central part of the campaign and
it will be a continued discussion. We are going to work hard to make
certain that that Oklahoma voters have the opportunity to vote on this
issue sometime in 2014. The voters and the people who worked hard in this
position, they deserve that opportunity to have a vote.
MADDOW: Joe Dorman, state representative from Oklahoma, leading the
fight to try to get short shelters in Oklahoma schools. It is still
amazing to me that the majority of schools in your state do not have them.
Now, a potential candidate for governor in your state.
Good luck to you sir. Stay in touch. Let us know how it goes.
DORMAN: I will. Thank you very much.
MADDOW: All right. Still to come, the biggest little traffic jam in
the whole wide world, today made it all the way to Washington.
Please stay with us. That story is ahead.
MADDOW: On the one hand today, the United States Senate did the
unexpected. They got one giant step closer to passing a budget, something
we haven`t done as a country since 2009.
At the same time, on the other hand, as Senate Republicans managed to
scrounge up the votes to do this, they also announce that they have no
plans and no intention to pay for the spending that they just voted for,
thank you very much. The Senate`s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, told
reporters that the House or the Senate will be willing to vote for a debt
ceiling increase next year, which, of course, is necessary in part because
of the debt they just agreed to incur.
So, to review what they just passed in the house and what they are
about to pass in the Senate, Republicans will not agree to pay for when the
bill comes due in March because fiscal conservatism? Lost the calculator?
More ahead. Please stay with us.
MADDOW: Hey. So it`s been a big day for the New Jersey bridge story.
It was in multiple pages “The Washington Post” today, also in “The New York
Times.” Politico.com finally picked it up. The national press and the
Beltway press all know reporting how one of Governor Chris Christie`s
appointees, one of his high school buddies suddenly and without explanation
ordered the shutdown of two of the entrance lanes onto the world`s busiest
That decision, quite predictably, caused gridlocked the entire town of
New Jersey for nearly a week back in September. Just crushing epic traffic
that paralyzed a whole town for four days imposed on purpose with no
warning and no reason given.
But the initial attempt to explain was traffic study. There was a
traffic study? Yes, there was a traffic study. That claim was quickly
contradicted by the executive director of the agency that runs the bridge.
He said, no, there was no traffic study.
Then, it turned out that two weeks before onramp-magadden, the
Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, apparently had rejected request to endorses
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in his bid for re-election.
Governor Christie was on his way to an easy victory. He did not need
anymore small city endorsement to ensure the huge margin that he got in his
reelection. I mean, in those terms, it makes very little sense that his
allies would intentionally gridlock that town, use the busiest bridge on
earth in order to teach that small city mayor a lesson. His high school
friend resigned saying that the story was distracting.
Governor Christie has continued to insist that there was nothing
political at all about the Fort Lee traffic jam. Nothing to see here.
Mistakes were made and whatever those mistakes were, don`t ask me, it has
nothing to do with me. That`s been his line so far.
Today, a big move in the case. Today, New Jersey lawmakers
investigation the shutdown had subpoenaed any and all communications
between Governor Christie`s office and the agency that runs the bridge
during the period when the shutdown happened.
And just like the press on this scandal, the investigation on this
scandal has spread from the local regional issue to now being a national
one. The chairman of the commerce science and transportation committee in
the United States Senate has now sent a letter to the agency that runs the
bridge, stating his concerns about political appointees abusing their
Quote, “Unwarranted lane closures with no public notice can have
serious ramifications on interstate commerce and safety in the region. As
the committee with oversight responsibility of the Port Authority, I
continue to have serious concerns.” And then, there are posed some pointed
What is the standard process for lane closures? How long does this
planning process typically take? What process was followed for the lane
Who knew about the decisions to close the lanes? Did anyone conduct
research into the potential impacts of closing access lanes to the busiest
bridge in the nation? And on and on and on.
The Senate is asking for a response to all of those questions and many
more by the middle of January.
But wait, there`s more. That same Senate committee and its chairman,
Senator Jay Rockefeller, have also now asked for a federal investigation.
They have asked the federal Department of Transportation to launch their
own simultaneous federal agency investigation into what happened in New
Whatever did happen still has not been explained. Governor Christie
has gone so far as to say mistakes were made. He`s gone so far as to
accept the resignations of his top two appointees at the agency, to long
time political allies of his.
But so far, he`s still trying to stick to the line that it was a
That has never seen credible and the executive director of the agency
says it`s not true. What a federal inquiry now and a new round of
subpoenas on the issue, it seems like we are likely to learn definitively
whether or not the traffic study line is true. And if the traffic study
line is proven to not be true, what happens to Chris Christie then?
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Thanks for being with us.
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