The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/04/14
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for staying us with
the next hour. Happy Friday.
ABC giveth and ABC taketh away. New Jersey governor and 2016
Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie at this time last week was
launching his supposed comeback tour. The governor simultaneously
releasing a report that he commissioned from his office`s own lawyers – a
report which he said totally exonerated himself and the ongoing scandal
over lanes to the busiest bridge in the world being shut down, as a way of
the Christie administration exacting some sort of political revenge against
the mayor of one New Jersey town.
And one 24-hour period, the governor released that report. He held
his first press conference on the matter since the scandal broke open in
January. At the press conference, he essentially said that the whole
matter was over and he was relieved to put it behind him.
And the governor also, this time last week, launched a media charm
offensive doing the requisite multipart softball interview on the FOX News
Channel, and also appearing on ABC`s “World News with Diane Sawyer.” That
was this time last week. Governor Christie setting off on a well staged
managed let`s put this all behind us tour with ABC`s flagship news show
playing a key role in that.
But now today, new late breaking news in the scandal broken of all
places on ABC News. This is how it was reported on WABC here in New York
City. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TV ANCHOR: A new development tonight in the bridge-gate scandal in
New Jersey. Members of Governor Christie`s staff testified today before a
federal grand jury. U.S. attorney in New Jersey convening that grand jury
to investigate the involvement of Christie staff in the George Washington
Bridge backup, allegedly for political retribution against the mayor of
Fort Lee. The grand jury today meeting in Newark and hearing testimony
from the governor`s press secretary, Michael Drewniak. His attorney
insists Drewniak is just a witness and not the target of any investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: ABC breaking the news tonight that a federal grand jury has
now begun hearing testimony from witnesses in the New Jersey bridge
scandal. This is the first time that has ever been reported.
We knew that at least a preliminary inquiry had been started by
federal prosecutors, but before this late breaking news tonight, we had no
idea that the inquiry had gone so far that they were subpoenaing members of
the Christie administration to appear and testify under oath before that
grand jury. ABC appears to have landed this scoop today by spotting a
member of the Christie administration at the federal courthouse in Newark.
They spotted Michael Drewniak, the governor`s press secretary, along with
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you aware of when the grand jury actually
began hearing testimony in this matter?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no information about that. As I said,
we`re here because we were subpoenaed to be here today and we`re here
because we were required to cooperate and that`s what we`re doing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does Mike have any information about Governor
Christie`s personal knowledge or direct role –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not going to comment about anything with
respect to that. We`re here, we`re here to answer questions and that`s
what Michael did today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is Michael Drewniak at the end, the big bald guy on the
left side of your screen. He`s this famously pugnacious aggressive
spokesman for Chris Christie. He`s famous for swearing at people and
screaming at people. It is kind of amazing just to see him standing there
tight lipped and letting his lawyer do all the talking for him today.
ABC is characterizing this news tonight that Michael Drewniak had to
testify to a grand jury today. They`re characterizing this as confirmation
for the first time that what started out as a preliminary inquiry into the
governor`s office has now become a criminal investigation.
Quoting ABC, and I think it`s important now they phrase this, what ABC
says is this. “The convening of the grand jury is evidence that the U.S.
attorney`s investigation has progressed beyond an inquiry and moved to the
I`m not sure that is true. Not trying to take away from ABC`s scoop
here, but I think the way they have phrased this and what they may be
implying here may not actually be true.
We knew that a federal grand jury was involved in the bridge-gate
investigation already. We knew that because people had been subpoenaed to
submit documents to the U.S. attorney and when a U.S. attorney wants to
send out a subpoena, he has to get a grand jury to do that. So, we knew
there were subpoenas and that means we knew a grand jury was involved.
That, itself, is not news. What ABC is implying in its reporting
tonight is that a new grand jury has been appointed by federal prosecutors
specifically to work on the bridge-gate case. And theoretically, that may
be true, but there is no evidence to suggest that that has actually
I mean, if a new federal grand jury had been impanel specifically to
work on this one case, that would be a huge deal.
Despite ABC`s reporting, though, it does not seem like a new federal
grand jury has been impanel. It seems like this is the same grand jury
that`s been there all along, issuing subpoenas and looking at evidence.
The new development here, the real new development here, credit to ABC
for getting the scoop, the new thing here is that the grand jury sitting in
Newark that was already looking into this matter, that grand jury has moved
on to a new phase of the investigation in which they are hearing testimony.
Witnesses are being compelled to testify before them.
We do not know if Michael Drewniak, the governor`s spokesman, was the
first witness who had to testify or if there were other witnesses before
him that we never found out about it. The U.S. attorney looking into this
case has been very tight-lipped, and it seems clear that Mr. Drewniak and
his lawyer did not expect to be talking to reporters today when they were
leaving the courthouse after that testimony. Frankly, they both looked
like they were going to barf when ABC door-stopped them and started asking
them these questions.
This is a federal criminal inquiry into what happened on that bridge
and who in governor Christie`s administration was in on it and whether it
was a federal criminal offense. It has to be very uncomfortable for
everybody involved. I mean, most especially the governor who keeps trying
to say this is all over, I want to go back to running for president. It`s
not over. And today`s new news tells us that it is farther along and
potentially even more serious than we knew before today.
Joining us now to help us get specific about this, help us understand
what this news means is a man who is, himself, a former U.S. attorney,
former federal prosecutor. Kendall Coffey joins us now.
Mr. Coffey, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I
appreciate having you here.
KENDALL COFFEY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Thanks for inviting me,
MADDOW: Let me ask you first if the way I explained this news makes
sense to you. Does that seem – is what I just did an accurate description
of what the grand jury`s role would be in this proceeding?
COFFEY: Exactly. And I think you`re also right in the sense that I
don`t see an indication there will be a brand new grand jury for this. It
will be the same grand jury process that`s been applicable all along. But
as you also indicated, Rachel, the fact that they`re now to the point of
getting a witness in – a witness who`s clearly an insider under oath, that
is an indication of significant movement in the process, because you don`t
do that at the very beginning.
And as you know, the feds don`t get people in there to ask questions a
bunch of questions sort of randomly. They`ve done a lot of homework before
bringing him in. It`s part of a detailed roadmap down to the street
address and the apartment number that they are using in conducting this
investigation. So, whatever, Governor Christie may have thought about
where things stood last week, I think we all know that this is serious
business and seriously frightening business if you`re somebody who thinks
they may be in the target zone of this investigation.
MADDOW: Mr. Drewniak, his lawyer was very clear on this. And we
should be very clear. There`s no indication that he is a target of the
investigation. His lawyer is saying he`s simply there as a witness. But
as a matter of procedure, somebody called to testify before a grand jury,
even just as a witness as Mr. Drewniak apparently was, do they have a
choice about whether or not to do it? Is this something where you`re
legally compelled to do it and there`s really no question?
COFFEY: Well, they`ve always got a choice in the sense that somebody
can take the Fifth Amendment. It appears here he is not. So, I think what
we`re seeing, guessing lots of speculation, the feds aren`t going to say a
single word about what`s going on inside the federal grand jury
But with respect to this witness` status, what his attorney says makes
a certain amount of sense. He`s there as a witness. Otherwise, frankly,
he wouldn`t be there. And the corollary to that is the feds don`t bring in
somebody early on typically if that person is a likely target.
They want to put everything together, build up to getting somebody to
cooperate, flip, turn evidence against maybe the real ultimate targets.
And so, while we`re not at the beginning of this investigation, we`re far
from the end. And I think it`s reasonable to conclude that up to now, this
particular witness is a witness no more than that.
MADDOW: In terms of the new reporting today, it does seem like it was
a scoop by ABC who physically was at the courthouse and saw, Mr. Drewniak.
I don`t mean to speculate on the way they reported this out. But it feels
like that`s the way they figured out that Michael Drewniak was there.
There was certainly no more formal announcement he was going in to give
testimony to the grand jury. We`ve heard nothing from the U.S. attorney`s
office in terms of the progress of their investigation or the fact they
were interviewing witnesses.
Do you think it`s possible that other people have been testifying that
were far into this process and they just haven`t – people have been able
to get in and out of there without people noticing them?
COFFEY: Entirely possible. It sounds like somebody just stumbled
into the fact this particular witness was there. But as we know, as your
viewers know and as you know well, the feds have an absolute duty of
secrecy with respect to what goes on inside a grand jury investigation.
Witnesses and their attorneys can at times talk about it if they want to.
Usually you`re trying to make nice with the feds. The feds are
telling you if you`re a grand jury witness, we would prefer, strongly
prefer that you don`t say a word about what is covered inside this
investigation to anybody. And most of the time, if the feds tell you to,
you know, stay mum about it. People aren`t going to tug on Superman`s cape
and they`re going to tend to keep it very, very low key.
So there could have been other witnesses. We have no idea at this
point whether this was the first witness, the fifth, or one of many to
MADDOW: Former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey – thank you for helping
us understand this. I think it`s worth being precise about the facts here
and you`ve really helped us do that. Thank you, sir.
COFFEY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you.
Again, the breaking news tonight reported late today by ABC News that
members of the Christie administration, at least one, the governor`s
spokesman, has been called to testify before the federal criminal grand
jury who`s looking into this matter.
This does not necessarily tell us something with exactitude about
where the investigation has gone, but it does mean that it has progressed
further than previously known. They`ve now moved to the point where they
are investigating by interviewing witnesses, by taking testimony from
witnesses under oath at the federal courthouse in Newark. And we didn`t
know that was happening before we learned it today.
All right. Happy Friday. We don`t exactly have a best new thing in
the world at the end of the show tonight but have unexpectedly good news
about really terrible people who have been doing terrible things. We saved
it for the end of the show tonight so you can start your weekend off well.
Stay with us tonight. This is going to be a fun show.
MADDOW: The nation of Italy is shaped like a boot. Like a
fashionable high heeled boot.
Not all the country fits inside the boot, though. At the end of the
toe of the boot, that is Sicily. That`s the part of Italy that sticks way
out into the Mediterranean Sea.
But Italy actually goes way further south even than that, because this
island way out in the middle of the Mediterranean, more than 100 miles
southwest of Sicily is an island that is actually closer to Africa than it
is to mainland Italy. But that little island, itself, is still part of
It`s a tiny little island. It`s about eight square miles and it`s
called Lampedusa. It has a population of about 4,500 people. But because
it is Italy, because it is part of Europe and because it is only 70 miles
off the coast of Tunisia in Africa, what Lampedusa has really become is a
place where immigrants from Africa desperately try to get themselves to, so
they can get themselves to Europe. And it is only 70 miles from Tunisia,
but that is 70 rough miles of open ocean and something like 20,000 people
are thought to have died trying to cross that 70 miles of open water in
order to try to find their way to a better life.
Not long after he became the new pope of the Catholic Church, Pope
Francis last year, last July, he visited Lampedusa, tiny out of the way
ends of the earth island. And he said mass there.
He criticized what he called the globalization of indifference to
immigrants and the risks they take and the ways that they die. And he
tossed a wreath into the sea to recognize the 20,000 lives that have been
lost, 20,000 people who have died trying to get to this tiny little island
so they can get to Europe.
There is a reason why this new pope has been able to get so many
people to take a second look at the Catholic Church, right? This week, a
bunch of senior leaders from the American Catholic Church decided to
emulate what Pope Francis did at Lampedusa by going to the place in our
country where immigrants risk their lives and die trying to get here.
Cardinal Sean O`Malley of Boston and eight other American Catholic
bishops went to Arizona this week. They walked one of the trails through
the Arizona desert where immigrants try to cross into this country, where
many have died. Like Pope Francis did on that Italian island, they left a
wreath at the border in honor of those who have died trying to cross the
What was truly amazing, at least what was visually stunning, is that
the cardinal and these eight bishops, they then celebrated mass literally
on the border. You see there`s this fence there behind them. It kind of
looks like a wall behind them, saw there was an E3 painted on it. That is
the border fence that divides Nogales, Arizona, from Nogales, Mexico.
The mass was said in English and in Spanish for congregants who sat on
this side of the border and on the other side of the border in Mexico. The
mass included the bishops, themselves, giving communion at the height of
the service through the fence, through the border fence. People reaching
their hands through the fence. Many of them in tears, to receive the
Eucharist from some of the most senior clergy from the Catholic Church.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARDINAL SEAN O`MALLEY, BOSTON CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP: We know that the
border is lined with unmarked graves of thousands who have died alone and
nameless. We are here today to say they are not forgotten. Sometimes
they`re called illegal aliens, an expression that makes them sound like
Martians. But they are our neighbors. They are our brothers and sisters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s Cardinal O`Malley from Boston.
One of the bishops who celebrated the border mass with Cardinal
O`Malley this week has now written to the Department of Homeland Security
on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asking Homeland
Security to start limiting the number of people they deport across the
border. Homeland Security, of course, is the agency that President Obama
asked to review deportation policies recently to see if deportation
policies can be made any more humane.
The Department of Homeland Security says no specific timeline has been
announced for when that review will be complete, but it is under way and
the bishops are asking for reform and for lenience for immigrants and there
are hunger strikers in Eric Cantor`s home district right now and it is all
happening in the context of this increased pressure on President Obama to
do whatever he can to lessen the harm caused by our screwed up broken
immigration system if Congress won`t act, themselves.
And that pressure on the president apparently extended to the
president`s recent one-on-one conversation with the pope, himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In terms of domestic
issues, the two issues that we touched on other than the fact that I
invited and urged him to come visit the United States telling him that
people would be overjoyed to see him, was immigration reform. And, you
know, as someone who came from Latin America, I think he was very mindful
of the plight of so many immigrants who are wonderful people working hard,
making contributions, many of their children are U.S. citizens and, yet,
they still live in the shadows, in many cases, have been deported and are
separated from families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The pope lobbying the president.
The president further explained in that press conference that he told
the pope in their recent meeting that he still believes that there`s a
chance that the U.S. Congress could pass immigration reform legislation.
Remember, it`s already passed the Senate. Just needs to come up for a vote
in the house. The president says he still thinks it is possible John
Boehner might do that. Nobody else seems to think that is possible.
One Democratic congressman who`s worked intensively on this issue took
to the floor of the House this week – yes, to tell Republicans once again
they ought to bring that bill up for a vote, they ought to pass immigration
But Congressman Luis Gutierrez this week went a step further and also
told Republicans if they do not bring it up for a vote, if they don`t pass
a bill, he warned Republicans on the floor of the House this week that he
fully expects that the president will act alone. The president will make
more changes through executive action on this issue.
And, yes, that will undoubtedly freak out Republicans if and when he
does it, but according to Congressman Gutierrez, he says that is coming.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS: The Republicans threaten to
impeach the president? What`s new, Mr. Speaker? Look, you got to remember
for the first three or four years he was president, leaders in the
Republican Party – I mean, presidential candidates and entire cable TV
networks questioned the president`s own immigration status.
We had birthers denying the president was born in America. They
question whether he was an undocumented immigrant, himself. They demanded
to see his papers.
Now, we have deportation deniers falsely suggesting President Obama is
not enforcing the law. He`s really not deporting people, they say. That`s
all fake. Something Obama, Univision and Telemundo cooked up.
The president knows the kind of pain that congressional inaction has
caused for families and children. The president wants to be an
emancipator, not a deporter. And he will act if he has to.
If you give him no choice, this president is going to take charge
himself. As well he should.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Congressman Luis Gutierrez saying this week in Congress not
just that he supports immigration reform, but specifically that he believes
President Obama will act if Congress doesn`t. He was emphatic about it.
He said he saw it in the president`s eyes when he met with him on this
And, of course, none of us put mush stock anymore on what politicians
see in each other`s eyes. Thank you, George Bush and Vladimir Putin.
But Congressman Luis Gutierrez isn`t the first person to say something
like this about what he`s expecting from President Obama. This is
essentially the word on the street now about immigration reform, that
President Obama is going to do it himself to the extent that he can. He`s
going to use his executive powers more than he already has to make some
significant changes on deportations and on immigration policy overall.
Is that prospect scary enough to Republicans that it might goose them
into acting, themselves, in Congress, or are Republicans absolutely done on
this issue? If the rumors are true that the president has more that he`s
going to do on this issue, acting alone, what can he do acting alone, and
when`s he going to do it?
Tick tock. Watch this space.
MADDOW: This is the mugshot for the man who until recently was the
Republican majority leader in the Wisconsin assembly. We have a mugshot
for him because he`s now been charged with two counts of felony second
degree sexual assault. And those charges were enough to get Wisconsin
Republicans to vote to make him not their majority leader anymore.
But those charges were not enough to get Republicans to kick him out
of the legislature. Look at the new headline. Look, “Republicans back off
their efforts to expel him from the legislature.”
Want to see the mugshot again? Yes. They`re keeping this guy. Two
counts of felony second degree sexual assault. They`re keeping him in the
Yes, this is a problem for Wisconsin Republicans right now. But it is
not only a problem for Wisconsin Republicans and that story is coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Turns out it is not $7.1 million. It is $10 million at
least. On Tuesday, President Obama and a quite ostentatiously excited Vice
President Joe Biden appeared in the Rose Garden to take a bit of a victory
lap on the signature legislation of this presidency, Obamacare. It had
been projected by the bean counters that if Obamacare was on track, then 6
million people would have to sign up for private insurance by Monday of
this week by the end of the enrollment period.
They originally said it needed to be 7 million people. But then they
revised that number down to 6 million when they had all those initial
troubles with the Web site. Well, come Monday, come the deadline, not only
did they hit 6 million, they hit 7.1 million.
And Joe Biden was able to stand behind the president with happy
fingers, woo, we did it. They got their standing ovations and the
president got to announce that the law was here to stay.
Well, today they fleshed out the enrollment numbers a bit further
releasing the news in addition to the 7.1 million people who signed up for
private insurance under Obamacare, about 3 million people at least got new
health insurance through Medicaid. So that gets us up and over 10 million
enrollees and counting.
No matter how vociferously Republicans have denounced this thing from
the very beginning, it worked. And this week is going to be remembered as
a very important week in American politics because of that.
Before this week, the only two things that were sure about American
electoral politics this year was that “A,” Republicans are running on a
much better map than the Democrats are this year. They`ve got basically a
structural advantage in both the House and the Senate heading into this
year`s election. And that is still true.
But “B,” the other thing that we knew before this week was that every
Republican in the country was going to run basically the exact same
campaign this year. Vote for me. I`m against Obamacare.
And that was the basic truth, right, about what it means to be a
Republican running for office, running for re-election in 2014. They`re
going to run against Obamacare. That, this week, just got a little bit
wobbly. Because there really are millions of people who did not have
health insurance before who have it now because of this law. And we know
as of this week that the law is working and it is hitting its targets.
And, yes, some Republicans running in some places will still shoot at
the Obamacare bill in their ads, right? They`ll still be running campaigns
that are all about how terrible Obamacare is.
But not every Republican, not anymore. That is no longer a given that
that will be the campaign that every Republican runs. Just look at the
Beltway press just this week.
Look at politico.com, their big splash headline all day long after the
president`s happy announcement in the rose garden about the 7 million
signups. Look at their headline, “ACA critics: Homina, homina, homina.”
“Back in the fall, conservatives seized on the flubbed Obamacare rollout as
proof that President Barack Obama`s brand of liberalism doesn`t work. But
on Tuesday, Obamacare signups passed 7 million. Now, the law`s opponents
aren`t about to say that critique was wrong, but they have lost the best
evidence that they had.”
Look at “The Hill” as well. “GOP gets Obamacare angst.” “Anxious
Senate Republicans are worried party leaders are focusing too much this
election year on Obamacare. GOP strategists warn party leaders not to put
all their eggs into the Obamacare basket if they want to capture as many
Democratic seats as possible in November. Republican operatives say GOP
leaders would be wise to shift some of their emphasis away from Obamacare
now that the enrollment deadline has passed and now that the enrollment
target has been surpassed.”
But if this is no longer going to be a single issue Obamacare-only
election, that election that everybody expected before this week, then
what`s it going to be instead? What`s going to try to fill that vacuum as
Obamacare deflates as an issue? The newly re-energized Democrats
apparently would like it to be something that drives voter turnout. Since
that is their big challenge in any midterm election year, they particularly
think it`s their challenge this year.
And the Democrats apparently think they`ve got a silver bullet issue
that will do that work for them. The day after President Obama took his
Rose Garden victory lap, he went out and did an old school campaign-style
event with the Democratic Senate candidate this year in Michigan. He`s
Congressman Gary Peters. Now, the Senate seat in Michigan is an open seat.
The seat that Carl Levin is retiring from, but it`s going to be a hard seat
for Democrats to hold.
This Michigan polling from February shows Gary Peters trailing
Republican Terri Lynn Land by three points. Look at this from the same
poll. Gary Peters may be down by three against the Republican candidate,
but there is a Democratic skewed issue headed for the ballot in Michigan
that`s not only leading, it`s leading by 24 points.
The polling in Michigan is 60-36 in favor of raising the minimum wage.
Everybody says this year that Senate candidates and congressional
candidates are all keeping their distance from President Obama this year,
that no Democrat wants to do a campaign event with him. This week, there
was Gary Peters with President Obama coming down the steps of Air Force One
And what issue was the subject of the Gary Peters/Barack Obama
campaign rally in Michigan? It was really 100 percent all about the issue
of the minimum wage. And very palpably, the president could not have been
happier to talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Before I came here today, I stopped at Zingerman`s which is
the – which is the right thing to do when you`re in Ann Arbor. I stopped
for two reasons.
The first is, the Reuben is killer. So I ordered, like, the small,
and it didn`t look that small. So I gave half to Valerie Jarrett who`s
traveling with us.
And then after I finished the half, I wanted the half back. But it
was – it was too – it was too late. All she had left was the pickle. So
I took the pickle.
But, so one of the reasons I went was because sandwiches are
outstanding. The second reason, though, is Zingerman`s is a business that
treats its workers well and rewards honest work with honest wages.
And that`s worth celebrating. And that`s what I`m here to talk about
today. How do we rebuild an economy that creates jobs and opportunities
for every American? And I want to focus on something a lot of people in
Michigan are working very hard to accomplish right now, and that is raising
the minimum wage to help more folks get ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If this sounds like President Obama back in campaign mode,
this was absolutely President Obama back in campaign mode.
One point in the speech this week, he called out Congressman Gary
Peters by name as a champion of raising the minimum wage. He told
everybody in the audience they should call the politicians who represent
them in Michigan and ask them if they support raising the minimum wage.
It`s because when Democrats talk about the issue of raising the
minimum wage, they not only like to talk about why they think it makes good
economic sense, they also like to just talk about the fact that it`s a
really, really popular thing that Republicans basically don`t want to do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: You would think this would be a no brainer. Politically,
you`d think that folks would be rushing to do this. Nearly three in four
Americans support raising the minimum wage. Nearly three in four.
Here`s the problem: Republicans in Congress, not Republicans out in
America, because some of them get paid the minimum wage, so they want to
see a raise. Republicans in Congress don`t want to vote to raise it at
all. In fact, some want to just scrap the minimum wage.
One House Republican said it`s outlived its usefulness. No, that`s
what he said. Others said – no, don`t boo, organize.
So that`s what you need to do. Because they – they may not hear the
boos, but they can read a petition and they can see votes. You`ve got some
Republicans saying we shouldn`t raise the minimum wage because – they said
this – because, well, it just helps young people.
Now, first of all, I think it`s pretty good to help young people. I
don`t know what`s wrong with helping young people.
Folks who say that probably, next thing you know they`ll say, get off
my lawn. I think it`s OK to help young people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And that is the whole game right there for Democrats. Think
the president is happy to be talking about this issue? The president is
happy to be talking about this issue.
This week, when Obamacare had its big public success, Republicans lost
the unifying slam dunk issue they were all going to run on this year, that
they were going to run against Obamacare as a failed policy. That happened
this week, and this week, Democrats jumped in two feet totally behind
trying to make this election also about a totally different issue which is
the minimum wage.
And it`s no accident that President Obama was at the University of
Michigan talking about this, right? Talking to this very young audience
about how much the minimum wage would help young people and how Democrats
want to help young people even if Republicans don`t want to help. I mean,
Democrats need their core voters including young voters to turn out in
midterm elections this year in way bigger numbers than they usually do.
When the president talked about signing petitions on the minimum wage
and how politicians recognized that, that is specifically because in
Michigan, they are right now trying to get hundreds of thousands of
signatures in that state in order to get raising the minimum wage on to the
ballot this November. So it can be on the same ballot right alongside the
name Gary Peters, Democrat for U.S. Senate.
And the Democrats want to do that, not only because they do want to
raise the minimum wage as a matter of policy, Democrats also believe that
getting people to turn out to vote for that very popular issue will drive
Democratic turnout, and it will, therefore, in a broader sense help
Democratic candidates win.
Democrats in 34 states are moving in one way or another to increase
the minimum wage. And that is in addition to what the Democrats are doing
on the issue in Washington.
And it`s one thing to do able to see how Democrats are trying to fill
the vacuum with another issue, as Obamacare deflates a little as an issue.
But is there reason to believe that this issue, that this minimum wage
issue, could drive turnout in the way Democrats need it to?
If they have any hope of winning that seat in Michigan, and enough of
the other seats across the country that will determine the fate of Congress
and this president`s last two years in office.
Joining us now is Jeff Liszt. He`s a Democratic pollster who`s worked
on these issues.
Mr. Liszt, thank you for being here.
JEFF LISZT, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Always good to see you.
MADDOW: Tactically speaking, can the issue of raising the minimum
wage goose turnout in a way Democrats are hoping it will?
LISZT: Well, it can. But I think it`s important first to acknowledge
that there are 3.6 million Americans who are making the minimum wage. It`s
possible to work full time and still be in poverty. And so, raising the
minimum wage is first and foremost important for those Americans.
But I think once you look beyond that, it`s not just Americans who
make the minimum wage who are important targets for the minimum wage issue,
because even in the middle class, people are working harder, their
productivity is rising, but their wages are flat and as a profound sense of
economic unfairness that they`re working harder and they can`t get ahead.
And when you talk about the minimum wage, you`re articulating values
of basic economic fairness that resonate with people who are making well
over the minimum wage.
MADDOW: So it helps Democrats, you`re saying, position themselves in
the contest, position themselves in the argument in a way that`s solid for
them even if it`s not specifically on one specific ballot issue or on a
specific piece of legislation?
LISZT: Right. There`s no question that people who make the minimum
wage who are disproportionately women, disproportionately over 20 and
single women are an important turnout target for Democrats.
But I think as an issue, and as an issue that you can message around,
minimum wage fits in with things like earned sick days, with things like
equal pay for women who earn 77 cents on the dollar for what a man earns
for doing the same job. And they combine to tell a broader story of
economic fairness. And when Democrats are successful at telling that
story, they win elections.
MADDOW: One of the things that people who study the minimum wage as a
Democratic turnout effort always point to is a bunch of elections in 2006 -
- 2006 was a good year for Democrats, but in a couple of states like I`m
thinking Missouri and in Montana, there were Senate races in those states,
Jon Tester`s Senate race, Claire McCaskill`s Senate race where it was
thought they didn`t really necessarily have a shot and there were minimum
wage issues on the ballot alongside those candidates that year that won by
mega margins, 50 and 60-point margins.
When you`ve got two points on the ballot and one is winning by that
much more, does it drag others races along with it?
LISZT: Well, I think it does if you have one candidate on one side of
the issue and another who`s on another.
LISZT: It`s a simple way of saying not only whose side you`re on but
whose side your opponent is not on, being the working people of the state.
And it also provides a valuable organizing tool. It provides a tool you
can use when you`re going door to door, when you`re building the kind of
ground game that`s important to win in a state like Missouri.
MADDOW: Well, on that point, from Republicans` perspective, if
Republicans in Washington are trying to block the minimum wage and they`re
seen as being against the minimum wage, President Obama clearly making that
case in Michigan. If an individual Republican candidate somewhere,
Michigan, or somewhere else comes out and says, yes, I actually am for
raising the minimum wage though the rest of my party isn`t, can they
benefit? Or does the one party get tarred as for it and one party get
tarred as against it?
LISZT: Well, I think that if you are a Republican and you have the
courage to come out in favor of it, I think it says something about you
economically. I think that President Obama brought this up as well. It`s
not rank-and-file Republicans out in America who are opposed to raising the
MADDOW: Not with 75 percent support, right?
LISZT: Right. You`ve got a majority of Republicans who support
raising the minimum wage, and it`s only in Washington, D.C., that you`ve
got a big disconnect with the Republican leadership.
MADDOW: Jeff Liszt, Democratic pollster. Thanks for helping us
understand this. Appreciate your time.
LISZT: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, Charles Dickens, it turns out Charles Dickens is
absolutely disgusted with Wisconsin. And he has put it in writing and it`s
really weird and that story is coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. In 1842, there were 26 states in the Union. Slavery was
still legal. The civil war wouldn`t be fought for another two decades.
And a famous British author named Charles Dickens came to visit
America. The book he wrote about his travels in America in 1842 was called
“American Notes for General Circulation.”
And in the book, Mr. Dickens wrote about a lot of the things he loved
about the United States. He loved Boston. He loved democracy. He loved
our small “R” republican institutions.
But Mr. Dickens also thought slavery in particular made us a pretty
brutal country. And he wrote in “American Notes” that you could see the
brutalizing effect of slavery in this country in the ways we conducted
ourselves even when slaves weren`t directly involved.
For example, Charles Dickens included in his book, in “American
Notes”, an account he read in a newspaper while he was here. It was an
account about Wisconsin politicians shooting each other.
It was February 11th, 1842, and Wisconsin legislators were debating
the appointment of a new sheriff in Grant County, Wisconsin. According to
Dickens, quote, “In the course of the debate, Mr. Charles C.P. Arndt made
some statements that Mr. R. Vineyard pronounced false. Mr. Vineyard made
use of violent and insulting language to which Mr. Arndt made no reply.
After the adjournment, though, Mr. Arndt stepped up to Mr. Vineyard and
requested him to retract what he said. Mr. Vineyard refused to retract
and, in fact, he repeated the offensive words. Mr. Arndt struck a blow.
Mr. Vineyard stepped back a pace, he drew a pistol and he shot Mr. Arndt
That really happened. On February 11th, 1842, one Wisconsin
legislator shot dead another legislator who had offended him in a debate.
He did it in front of everyone. And that is how James R. Vineyard earned
the distinction of becoming the first lawmaker in the territory of
Wisconsin to become expelled from office.
Shooting a fellow legislator is a good way to lose your job as a
legislator. It turns out it`s also a way to offend visiting famous authors
who then write up the shooting for publication to show what a bunch of
savages these Americans are.
But back in 1842, at least Wisconsin did have the good taste to throw
the guy out of office after he did the shooting. They just didn`t pretend
it didn`t happen.
If you go to the Wisconsin Historical Society today, you can see the
actual vest that was worn by Charles Arndt when he got shot in that
argument. They have a handy little arrow there pointing out the bullet
Wisconsin is owning up to this thing. They`ve got the vest on display
and they threw out the guy who did the shooting.
Bad behavior in legislatures, of course, did not stop back in 1842,
even really seriously bad behavior in legislatures. And the challenge that
remains for our politicians today is that they really do need to throw
people out of politics. They need to throw people out of the legislature
if when those people do really, truly terrible things. And some places
have a harder time with this than others.
But tonight, we`ve got some long awaited and unexpectedly good news
about an unexpectedly terrible U.S. state. Charles Dickens would still be
disgusted with what they`ve done b, but at least some of our particularly
terrible 21st century politicians are getting thrown out of politics, and
that good news story is next.
MADDOW: An important update on the ongoing saga on why the word
“politician” has become an insult in our country and how we can possibly
start to turn that around.
OK, we`re at the start of the month of April, right? The start of the
fourth month of year. And that is a very hopeful time, it turns out, in
the great state of California, because it means that California gets
another shot, California gets a fourth try at getting through a whole
calendar month in 2014 without another California senator getting indicted
or convicted on multiple felony criminal charges.
April so far is a clean slate. Maybe this will be the first month
that we make it, you guys.
Because in January, month one, it was Democratic Senator Roderick
Wright who was convicted of not one, not two, but eight felonies.
Then came month number two, February. This time it was Ron Calderon,
charged with 24 counts of felony corruption. Mr. Calderon pled not guilty
to all of them and of course, everyone is presumed innocent, but the fact
remains he`s currently under indictment on 24 felony charges.
Then, it was month three. In like a lion. Democratic State Senator
Leland Yee indicted on seven federal felony charges, including multiple
corruption counts and also gun running. Gun running? Seriously? Yes, gun
running. All told, he`s looking at a potential 125 years in prison.
Did I mention that one of the gun running charges was about him
obtaining shoulder-fired missiles for an undercover FBI agent?
So, yes, that`s how the first three months of the year have gone for
California state Senate Democrats. How`s your 20124 so far?
Here`s the thing, though. One senator was not only indicted but
convicted on multiple felonies, that senator refused to resign his Senate
seat. His fellow Democrats stripped him of his committee assignments, but
when it came time to vote on kicking him out of the Senate, they voted no.
The president of the state Senate about that vote and this is amazing,
he said, quote, “The integrity of this institution cannot tolerate a
convicted felon in its ranks? But at this time, Senator Wright is not a
Yes, actually, Senator Wright totally was a convicted felon. And he
was a convicted felon, when you`re convicted of eight felonies, that means
literally you are a convicted felon. That`s what those words mean in
English. But they voted not to kick him out.
Then when the second guy got arrested and indicted on 24 felony
counts, he, too, was allowed to take a leave of absence, but his fellow
Democrats voted not to kick him out of the Senate.
Then, when a third month rolled around and a third senator being
arrested and charged with multiple felonies in California, the question was
not oh, my God, what`s going on in the California state Senate, the
question then became, no, seriously, what is going on in the California
state Senate? Because it`s one thing to have a terrible problem where all
your senators are being arrested all the time, but it is another thing
entirely for there to be a state legislator where getting arrested and
indicted or even convicted on multiple felony counts doesn`t cause you to
lose your job. You get to keep being a senator. How can that be?
We reported last week on the third arrest of a California state
senator in as many months, and while I can happily report now that four
days into the month of April, four days into month four, there has not yet
been another senator arrested, I can also report that the California Senate
has finally decided that the trifecta here was maybe too embarrassing and
so this past week, they finally voted to suspend these three guys from the
Amazingly, they`re still being paid, but at least they`re suspended
and they are no longer serving senators in the most populous state in the
Union while felony charges are pending against them, or while they have
just been convicted of felony charges. It is amazing that it was this hard
to do it.
But California is now inching along, and the word politician is still
an insult in our country, but at least for now in California, it`s know
longer an expletive, it`s just still an insult.
Stay tuned, though. The month is still young and California is a big
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again Monday night.
Now, make like a legislator and go to prison.
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