The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/02/14
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks a lot.
Thank you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Friday.
All right. This at first glance looks like a really awesome paint job, and
sort of detailing job on this car, right?
And this look is kind of a trend in cars now, if you`ve noticed – the
blackout package – where you get a black car, with black trim, and black
wheels, no chrome at all, everything`s blacked out. It`s very stuffy
But you know what? That is not what is going on in this picture. And we
know that in part because this picture was taken in 2007, and that`s before
the blackout look was popular in cars. But it`s also because what this
picture is, is part of the documentation of an oil spill that happened in
the Vancouver area in 2007.
Here`s another couple angles on that same poor car. Yes, that`s not paint.
It`s crude oil.
The pictures of that oil spill that happened in 2007 up near Vancouver,
they`re really dramatic pictures. In part because that oil spill gushed
like a cartoon oil spill. In part, though, the pictures are very dramatic
from that spill because it happened right in the middle of a totally normal
In terms of why this oil spill happened, this is the picture that`s the
equivalent of the bank robber covered in the dye pack. It was this guy,
this excavator that was digging apparently a new storm drain in the turn of
Burnaby in British Columbia. Look, he did – when oops, did we hit
something? Oh, God, oh, geez, what did we do?
Yes, despite the sort of adorable advertising campaign involving a cartoon
horse who reminds you that you should call before you dig anything to make
sure there isn`t say a 300,000 barrel a day pressurized pipeline where
you`re going to stick your shovel, that construction crew in the Vancouver
area in Burnaby in 2007, they just made an unbelievable gusher of a mess.
The pipeline that they hit is a pipeline that runs from the Alberta oil
fields – so roughly from Edmonton – all the way across Canada westward to
Vancouver. It`s called the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
And the company that operates that pipeline has just applied for permission
to the federal government in Canada to basically triple the capacity of
that pipeline. Right now, it carries 300,000 barrels a day. They want it
to carry almost 900,000 barrels a day.
If they were able to do that that would not only mean a much bigger
pipeline physically snaking its way across Canada toward Vancouver. It
would also mean, at the end of the line there, on the West Coast, there
would be a lot more oil-related traffic. For what to do with that oil that
we`re getting out of the now triple the size pipeline.
Instead of eight oil tankers per month pulling up at the end of the
pipeline to load up in British Columbia, they`d go from eight a month to
more like 34 a month. So, instead of a tanker or two every week it would
be a tanker or two every day.
This decision about the pipeline has big implications for life in Canada.
It`s a big decision for the Canadian government as to whether or not
they`re going to approve this thing.
The approval application for that pipeline expansion is 15,000 pages long.
And in the application, the pipeline company, Kinder Morgan, they`re
called, they do reckon with the possibility that their pipeline might burst
again. And, of course, if it`s triple the size, of course, this time if it
bursts it would be a much bigger deal. It would be just a much bigger
In their application, they explain what they would do to try to make a
rupture like that not happen. They explained how they would plan to
respond if there was another big pipeline spill.
But Kinder Morgan has apparently been eating their wheaties or something,
because in addition to applying to expand this pipeline, they have taken
the whole risk of a spill thing one amazing step further.
Look, this is the head line from “The Vancouver Sun.” “Kinder Morgan
pipeline application says, oil spills can have both negative and positive
effects.” Positive – yes, yes. We understand that there might be an oil
spill from our giant pipeline, but have you considered the benefits of an
Seriously that is what they`re arguing in their application to triple the
size of their pipeline. This is from their application, quote, “Spills can
have both positive and negative effects on local and regional economies
over the short and long-term.” “Spill response,” they say, “spill response
and cleanup creates business and employment opportunities for affected
Now, as to whether or not your community`s oil spill is going to be a good
thing or a bad thing for you, Kinder Morgan in their application they say
they`ve got it all worked out, this is how they calculate it, they say the
net overall effect depends on the size and extent of the spill, the
associated demand for cleanup services and personnel, the capacity of local
and regional businesses to meet this demand, and the willingness of local
businesses and residents to pursue response opportunities.
Turn that frown upside down oil-soaked neighborhood. You can get a job
cleaning it up. If you just have the right attitude.
Hey, you, sperm whale. Want to tow some boom before you die? Yes, we`ll
make it worth you while. You get a job out of it.
That is seriously what Kinder Morgan is arguing to the freaking Canadian
government about why they should be allowed to triple the capacity of their
pipeline. More oil means more chances for oil spills. And more oil spills
means more jobs cleaning up oil spills.
Honestly, this is like, in old movies and old cartoons like you`d see a
vacuum cleaner salesman, the guy would come and knock on the door and if
you open the door, he`d dump the bag of dirt, you know, coffee grounds or
whatever into your rug, hey, I`m offering to sell you a vacuum cleaner to
clean it up. That`s what Kinder Morgan is doing.
If you let us triple the size of our pipeline, we might spill more oil, and
then you could hire yourselves to clean it up. Wouldn`t that be great?
The Canadian member of parliament who represents the town where the
pipeline has already burst once, his response to the company`s assertion
that oil spills can be a good thing was this. Quote, “We know Kinder
Morgan is using every trick in the book to push this pipeline through our
community, but this, this one takes the cake.”
Kinder Morgan is actually an American company. They`re based in Houston.
They`re huge, huge firm. And they`re not just proposing this expanded
pipeline in Canada. They`re also proposing new and expanded pipelines all
over the United States – including one that they want to go through New
I happen to live in the part of western Massachusetts where they are trying
to put that pipeline through. And headlines like these headlines out of
Canada, about Kinder Morgan, they`re part of the reason that people are
losing their minds about the prospect that this company might be running a
pipeline through Massachusetts. But, you know, as a country, actually as a
continent, pipeline capacity for carrying crude oil is really maxed out
right now and that has happened over a really short period of time.
There`s obviously been a huge production increase in North American oil in
places like the North Dakota Bakken formation and Alberta tar sands. The
means of moving that oil around, though, getting it to refineries, getting
it to port, the means of moving that oil around have not expended at the
same rate that production has.
And so, we have got, and whether we`ve got enough of it – whether we`ve
got enough of it or not, the technology for moving oil in terms of what
we`ve got is, is, is terrible in terms of its safety. So, there`s this
question of how much capacity that we have and there`s also a question of
how safe our means of transporting oil are even before we expand that.
This is the Mayflower, Arkansas, oil spill. This was Mayflower, Arkansas,
learning the hard way that they had a lousy Exxon oil pipeline running
under their town. This is how they found out it was there when it burst.
And there`s the pipeline that ran under the Kalamazoo River in Michigan
until it didn`t. It touched thousands of barrels of tar sands oil that
they actually don`t know how to clean up into that previously pristine
There`s the Yellowstone River in Montana being introduced to the content of
another Exxon pipeline that was not supposed to have a river running
through it. There`s the North Dakota wheat field that nobody knew was
disguising a burst oil pipeline until the area that the pipeline had
leeched into saturated an area seven football fields wide. Just this week,
this is the headline in the “Anchorage Daily News” oily mist sprayed over
27 acres at Prudhoe Bay. That was a BP pipeline that bursts and was
spraying for two hours in Alaska this week before anybody noticed it.
So, the pipelines that we have got, they`re leaking like they`re made out
of spun sugar and it`s raining. The political fights are endless and epic
over the new pipelines that the industry wants to build – whether it`s
that Keystone pipeline that would cut across the entire length of the
country or other proposed extensions of existing pipelines or that Kinder
Morgan pipeline that think want to put through western Massachusetts.
Pipeline capacity is maxed out and troubled already. Proposed expansions
are super contentious.
But meanwhile, production is up. Meanwhile they are still pumping oil in
record amounts in North America. And it`s got to go somewhere. And if
they can`t squeeze any more oil into our leaky, lousy pipeline system
they`ve decided instead to move it a different way.
Next time, you`re stopped at a railroad crossing waiting for the train to
go by, count the cars. The average train carrying rail cars full of crude
oil is now more than 100 cars long.
And this is something that has not happened gradually. This is brand-new.
This is one of the most amazing changes over time of any kind during the
Look at this. This – I find this remarkable. In the year that President
Obama was elected in 2008, that year nationwide, there were 9,500 rail cars
full of crude oil moving around the country. That was 2008.
Last year, the number was 415,000. Nothing goes up that much in five
years. Nothing increases 40-fold over a period of five years. But this
And while that is amazing change in our country, and hey trains are neat,
the problem with this particular revolution in how we move what around the
country is that there`s a reason people have started calling these things
bomb trains. And that`s because they keep blowing up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Explosions sent flames and thick, black smoke billowing into the
sky after a train, carrying crude oil, derailed near Castleton, North
Dakota, about half an hour west of Fargo.
Crews are letting the blaze burn itself out. So, investigators are not
expected to get close enough to gather evidence until later today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Crews are letting that blaze burn itself out. Investigators could
not get close enough to that explosion to gather evidence from it. That
was from Castleton, North Dakota. That was in December.
Six months before that disaster, of course, it was July, the town of Lac-
Megantic in Quebec, that looked more like a war zone. That gigantic
explosion happened when a runaway train of 73 cars carrying crude oil
exploded in that town. It killed 47 people and destroyed most of the town,
150 firefighters fought that blaze. It took four days to even start to get
it under control.
Think about that, burning for four straight days. Well, in January of this
year, in New Brunswick in Canada, another train carrying crude oil derailed
causing a gigantic explosion. This time, too, emergency responders decided
that their best option maybe their only option was to just let it burn
itself out. It had to stop itself. Again that one burned for four
Then, this week in Lynchburg, Virginia, another train derailment, another
explosion. This time, witnesses report flames reaching 80 feet into the
air. Local reporters wrote that it was a miracle the entire town of
Lynchburg, Virginia, was not burned down.
And again, how did they deal with the explosion and the fire? They let it
burn. Firefighters had to wait for that fire to burn itself out. And when
I say wait, I mean wait and hope.
That fire resulted in the unnerving spectacle of the James River in
Virginia also catching fire. Because some of the punctured derailed train
cars full of crude oil, they tumbled into the James River while they were
on fire, thus setting the river on fire.
James River is not only a major tributary leading into the super
ecologically sensitive Chesapeake Bay, it`s also a source of drinking water
for Richmond, Virginia, which is about 100 miles downstream. Richmond
ended up diverting its intake of water to protect itself from the oil spill
That Lynchburg blast happened just two days ago. It happened on Wednesday.
Exactly one week before the Lynchburg derailment and explosion and the fire
they couldn`t put out, it was the last week on the job for the chair of the
National Transportation Safety Board last week, and one week before the
explosion in Lynchburg on the Wednesday of her last week on the job, the
outgoing chair of the NTSB warned that the cars we use to ship oil on
trains, where we`ve had this 40-fold increase over the last five years, she
warned that those cars actually cannot safely transport oil.
The National Transportation Safety Board chair says the Obama
administration needs to take steps immediately to protect the public from
potentially catastrophic oil train accidents, even if it means using
emergency authority. There isn`t time to wait for the cumbersome federal
rulemaking process to run its normal course said the outgoing chair, we are
very clear, she said, that that issue needs to be acted on very quickly.
There`s a very high risk here that has not been addressed.
She said federal regulators have the power to issue emergency orders to
protect the public rather than run the risk of another accident occurring
before regulations are in place. Noting that the federal rulemaking
process often takes many years to complete the outgoing NTSB chair said
that it is not acceptable – that that wait is not acceptable for this
risk. She said, quote the rules aren`t moving fast enough. We don`t need
a higher body count before they move forward. She said that last
And then this Wednesday, one week later to the day, this is what happened.
In Lynchburg, Virginia, with exactly the kind of rail cars she was saying
are not safe to transport that kind of oil.
And then hours after, literally hours after that explosion in Lynchburg,
Virginia, while Lynchburg was still burning, the Transportation Department
delivered its proposed new rules about this stuff to the White House, the
new rules for transporting oil by rail.
The NTSB, meanwhile, wants the Obama administration to act on an emergency
basis to impose new safeguards through the powers of the presidency, rather
than putting them through the normal rulemaking process.
The hazardous materials committee for the International Association of Fire
Chiefs says that normal fire departments in normal communities all along
these rail lines all across the United States do not have the ability to
fight the kind of fires that happen when things go wrong on these trains.
If an oil car on a rail on a train blows up, normal fire departments do not
have the ability to stop the fire. Had that Lynchburg train not derailed
it was on its way here, to what you see on the right side of your screen
there to coastal Virginia – a new shipping terminal for oil at Yorktown,
On its way there that train line passes right through historic colonial
Williamsburg, where the fire chief there also told the associated press
this week that his fire department does not have the means to put out the
kind of fire that happens when crude oil blows up in these soda-can rail
cars. There goes colonial Williamsburg. Better let it burn out.
Last week, Canada announced emergency action to try to stop these bomb
trains from blowing up. They announced that the oldest and most dangerous
rail cars, 5,000 of them, would be taken off Canadian rail within the next
month. Another 65,000 cars will be replaced or retrofitted within three
But when it comes to oil production, and moving oil around, the United
States and Canada are totally integrated. I mean, yes, that`s a big land
border we`ve got with Canada, but oil trains are crossing it moving both
directions, all day long, every day.
And Canada just declared that a type of unsafe rail car that we use by the
tens of thousands in this country will be illegal to use in Canada as of
the end of this month. We use it here but we can`t use it there. How is
that going to work?
You can`t have an American oil train chugging up to Canada to go pick up
some tar sands oil from Alberta, but half the cars on it are not allowed to
be on Canadian rails. You can`t have it, so that some cars are legal in
the United States, and not legal in Canada, when we`ve got a totally
integrated oil economy with Canada.
Yes, part of the emergency here is that these things keep blowing up. The
regulators cannot get the warnings out fast enough before another town has
something like this happen. But the other part of the emergency here is
that it is, it would seem, logistically impossible for Canada to get its
act together on this subject without us, as a by-product, also having to
get our act together.
And the recommendation from the safety people to the Obama administration
right now is that the administration, the president, should act
unilaterally. That President Obama should skip the normal rulemaking
process, and do this on his own as an emergency matter. Get those unsafe
rail cars off the rails right now before another Lynchburg happens. He
should do it by presidential decree, essentially.
What is the Obama administration going to do with that recommendation?
They got the new proposed safety regulations delivered to them while
Lynchburg was still on fire this week. What are they going to do? Is the
administration going to act? And if the president acts on this on his own
authority, how much are the Republicans going to freak out about it if he
Joining us now is Russell Gold. He`s a senior energy reporter for “The
Wall Street Journal.” He`s the author of “The Boom: How Fracking Ignited
the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World.”
Mr. Gold, thanks very much for being with us. Appreciate your time.
RUSSELL GOLD, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: So the issue of whether or not we can safely move oil around the
country, is Canada moving on this in a way that is forcing the United
States to act or are both countries thinking about this in the same way?
GOLD: No. I definitely think Canada by moving ahead is putting a lot of
pressure on the United States. You made an excellent point before. How
can Canada declare that these DOT 111 tanker cars aren`t safe, shouldn`t be
on the rails, but yet they are in the United States? That`s just something
that doesn`t – it`s not going to be able to last for too long.
MADDOW: Is that, I guess, is that the cause of a sort of regulatory
emergency in the United States? I mean, the folks who work on these rules
note that the regular rulemaking process here does take years, the NTSB has
been complaining about these rail cars for 20 years now, and nothing has
happened about it even when the industry says that they acknowledge that
some changes should be made.
Does that logistical dilemma that Canada has just put us in mean that this
sort of has to move fast now?
GOLD: Well, actually, I think that it`s moving fast and there`s a lot of
urgency being felt in Washington, because of all these explosions and all
these incidents you`ve seen happen.
You know, everyone – many people have heard of the North Dakota oil boom
what`s going on in the Bakken. The Bakken couldn`t exist if it weren`t
moving all of that crude out by rail. There`s just so much of it right now
and the crude itself is so flammable, much more flammable than what you
found typically on the Gulf Coast, some of the historic oil fields.
So, what`s really driving this emergency is the number of trains – as you
pointed out – that are moving on the rails and how flammable and
combustible this crude is.
MADDOW: And some of the pictures we`re showing right now is just a
reminder when you`ve got a pipeline and something goes wrong in a pipeline
it can be devastating. When something`s going wrong on a train, that`s a
disaster that goes through a lot of main streets in small town America and
even in big city America it`s very close to human development in lots of
ways as we saw this week it`s a very scary effect in Lynchburg it`s a
miracle that nobody was hurt in that spill.
Essentially, were the old rules for transporting oil by rail designed both
for a much smaller volume in terms of how much is being moved but also for
a less flammable product? A less dangerous product?
GOLD: Oh, absolutely. Crude oil doesn`t explode like we`ve seen it
typically. Castleton, North Dakota, in December, 10 story tall fire balls.
In Lynchburg this week, eight story flames shooting up.
That`s not typical of crude. So, one of the first things that people
inside the industry and then regulators began to ask is, why is the crude
exploding like this?
And it`s taken awhile but as we reported and the Canadians regulators have
also said now, this is really flammable crude. And the rules that we have
in place really are not designed to grapple with moving so much volume of
crude all across the country, East Coast, West Coast, down into the Gulf
Coast, the tankers just right now are not up to the task as we`ve seen.
MADDOW: Do you expect, if the administration does try to move quickly on
this and you say that there is some urgency and some real sense of movement
here certainly the sort of sounding alarm from the outgoing NTSB chair last
week right before this Lynchburg disaster happened makes it feel like
people associated with the administration feel urgently here – from your
reporting and covering the industry and how it has grown and its influence
in Washington, do you think that there will be either a partisan or an
industry driven freak-out if the administration pushes for these
regulations to change quickly?
GOLD: Well, the industry has accepted a lot of changes. They`ve gone on
with allowing slower moving trains, which were designed to slow down, to
prevent derailment. The real crux of the matter are these tanker cars,
because if you`re talking about taking tens of thousands of tanker cars
that are right now used in the oil trade and upgrading them or
strengthening them, that is just going to take a lot of time and money.
And that`s where we`ve seen pushback.
It`s going to be a fight as to do you need to retro fit these tanker cars
and how quickly. And I would expect a lot of contention. The relationship
right now between the oil industry and the Department of Transportation is
MADDOW: Russell Gold, senior energy reporter at “The Wall Street Journal”,
author of “The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution
and Changed the World” – it`s really helpful to have you here to help us
sort through this. Thanks very much.
GOLD: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us. Big show tonight.
MADDOW: Right around lunch time today, at the Rose Garden at the White
House, just outside the Oval Office, President Obama and German Chancellor
Angela Merkel met the press. Angela Merkel is here in the U.S. to talk
about the situation in Ukraine, and what the west can do to try to change
the behavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin and that was what the
majority of this press conference today was about on this beautiful spring
day in Washington.
But, watch this. Watch the question that President Obama got from one of
the foreign news agencies that was there to cover the press conference.
And that the president called on today. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TANGI QUEMENER, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE: Earlier this week, an inmate died in
Oklahoma in what critics have called an inhumane manner because of a
seemingly botched execution. Human right groups put the United States in
the dubious company of China, Iran and Saudi Arabia when it comes to the
prevalence (ph) of executions. Some countries have expressed their
concerns, as well.
What are your thoughts on this, and does this raise moral questions about
U.S. justice and global reputation?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I don`t imagine that President Obama was expecting to get a
question on that today, especially not from a foreign reporter. But given
the chance to ask the president of the United States about anything, what
that Agence France reporter wanted to ask the president about was
Oklahoma`s botched execution earlier this week. The execution that state
officials tried to call off halfway through it when they realized they had
not killed the prisoner and they didn`t know how they would finish the job.
They tried to end the execution process at that point. Somehow, we still
don`t know how, but then they say the prisoner later died of a heart attack
behind closed doors.
Agence France-Presse asked President Obama for his reaction to that today.
Here`s how the president responded. Listen to the very end of his answer
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happened in Oklahoma is
deeply troubling. In the application of the death penalty in this country,
we have seen significant problems, racial bias, uneven application of the
death penalty. Then this situation in Oklahoma, I think, just highlights
some of the significant problems there.
So, I`ll be discussing with Eric Holder, and others, you know, you know, to
get me an analysis of what steps have been taken, not just in this
particular instance, but more broadly in this area. I think we do have to,
as a society, ask ourselves some – some difficult and profound questions
around these issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President saying there, I`ll be discussing these with – the issue
with Eric Holder, Attorney General Eric Holder.
It`s not clear what those discussions, what those conversations will entail
or what exactly the president meant. The president basically just said
there that he wants to look at the issue broadly. Presumably not just this
situation in Oklahoma, but there will apparently be a review of some kind
undertaken at the federal level at the presidential level based on what
happened this week Tuesday night in Oklahoma.
I don`t think President Obama expected to get that question. And his big
Angela Merkel/let`s talk about Putin press conference today. But he did
get that question and in so doing, he made some news.
I`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Joel McHale is a very, very funny person. And that is always good
news for him, and for the people who watch his TV show. But this weekend,
the fact that Joel McHale is a very, very funny person becomes a matter of
national importance. And that very serious story is ahead.
MADDOW: The U.S. Defense Department is massive. It is bigger than any
private sector employer in the United States. It`s bigger than any private
sector employer or public sector employer anywhere in the world. It is the
single largest organization of human beings on the planet Earth.
And within the U.S. government the second largest agency after the Defense
Department is the V.A. It used to be the Veterans Administration. It`s
now the Department of Veterans Affairs.
And the reason that the V.A. is so huge is partly because defense is so
huge. We have a ton of veterans in this country.
But the other main reason the V.A. is so ginormous is because veterans have
their own health care system. It`s not a private insurance system like you
might have through your job or maybe you got through Obamacare. It`s not a
public insurance system like we`re all looking forward to having from
Medicare when we get older.
What we do for veterans is not like anything else we do in this country.
The V.A. medical system more than anything is like what they`ve got in
Britain, with their national health service. It`s socialized medicine.
And I mean that despite any ideological backlash the term may cause.
It`s true. V.A. owns the hospitals and it owns the clinics, it runs them
itself, it hires the doctors and the nurses. V.A. health care is a totally
different thing than the health care system that nonveterans have in this
And it`s a pretty good system. The V.A. gets to brag basically every year
about the patient satisfaction ratings that show that veterans consistently
rate their experience with V.A. medical centers higher than the rest of us
nonveterans rate our experiences with private hospitals.
And, at the same time, problems, as the huge bureaucracy at the V.A. has
created paper nightmares, like this one, at a V.A. office in Winston-Salem,
this paper nightmare here was so bad it threatened to collapse the building
under the weight of all those paper files, literally. Between an
antiquated paper filing system, a computer system that did not speak to the
computer system used for troop files at the Defense Department, which after
all is where veterans come from, an influx in new veterans needing care
after coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress and the
administration increasing eligibility for V.A. care for things like
exposure to Agent Orange, the inability of V.A. to adapt quickly enough to
deal with the signature wound of the post-9/11 wars traumatic brain injury
– between all of these factors, the backlog for disability claims, and the
wait time for some basic health care from V.A., particularly mental health
care, it`s been bad. And at times it has been at crisis levels for some
V.A. facilities around the country.
Funding for the V.A. has not been hit as hard as some other agencies in
Washington and that`s thanks almost entirely to smart and loud work by
veterans organizations making sure that that`s funding was protected.
And when problems at the V.A. or with the treatment of veterans get
discussed in Washington, veterans get paid the best lip service of anyone
in Washington at all. But lip service only goes so far. And the suicide
rates and the unemployment rates for veterans are still way, way too high.
The access to mental health care in particular is still not adequate for
The backlog on those disability claims is dropping but it`s still terrible.
And the wait time for health care at some facilities for basic first
appointments and for follow-up specialist care not only still needs fixing
the various V.A. facilities around the country, it has now given rise to a
roiling scandal at one V.A. health system in particular. The one in
The V.A.`s inspector general is investigating claims that administrators
there may have kept two parallel sets of books – one official waiting list
which showed that veterans were waiting not too shabby 14 to 30 days for
their health appointments. And then a real list, a secret list that it
kept on the side unofficially which reportedly showed that wait times were
more like a year.
This unofficial real list allegedly included more than 1,000 names,
including 40 veterans who died before receiving those very long-awaited
appointments. The allegations have been reported extensively in “The
Arizona Republic” and at CNN.
They`ve been denied by the top V.A. administrators in Phoenix, and the top
official in charge of health care at the V.A. said this past week that the
department found no evidence of the secret wait list or any effort to
manipulate the apparent wait times faced by the veterans at that medical
Now, at the request of the acting inspector general and the V.A., the V.A.
Secretary Eric Shinseki has suspended the top two administrators at the
Phoenix V.A. and another nonexecutive employee. Republican Congressman
Jeff Miller who chairs the Veterans Committee in the House, he says the
V.A. has allowed documents to be destroyed that would have been crucial to
the investigation into these allegations.
A doctor currently employed at the Phoenix V.A. has declared herself a
government whistle-blower and has said that administrators were destroying
documents related to this investigation as recently as this weekend, she
says those documents should have been preserved for the investigation.
And when inspector general investigation is complete into what happened in
phoenix, the head of the veterans committee in the Senate, independent
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, he says to expect senate hearings on
this matter, as well. What is going on at this V.A. center in Phoenix?
Should we feel comfortable yet that we know what`s going on there?
And is this alleged scandal there a Phoenix-specific problem, or is this
potentially a nationwide problem? A systemic problem in this huge system
that we count on as a nation to make good on some of the most sober and
honor-bound promises that we make to anyone as a country?
Joining us now is independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He`s
chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
Senator Sanders, it`s really nice to see you. Thanks for being here.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: My pleasure.
MADDOW: So, overall what is your response to these allegations about the
Phoenix V.A.? Do you feel like – as chair of the veterans committee in
the Senate, do you feel like you have a handle on how serious these
allegations are and what really happened?
SANDERS: Well, Rachel, the allegations are very, very serious. As you
noted, the director of the hospital denies them.
What is going on now is exactly the right thing. The inspector general of
the V.A., an independent entity, is going down there, they`re in Phoenix
right now, and they`re going to do an exhaustive investigation to get to
the truth of the matter.
And what I have said and say again that as soon as that investigation is
completed, we`re going to do a hearing or a series of hearings on what has
happened in Phoenix.
So, I think we`re moving in the right direction. We`re going to get the
facts, and we`re going to go forward with hearings after we get the facts.
MADDOW: What seems troubling to me, I`ve been following this story since
it first broke in Arizona papers and people first started covering it
nationally – what seemed like a troubling development to me was when we
had the head of health care for the V.A. say, yes, we sent people to
Phoenix – this is not the inspector general`s office, this is the person
who is the head of the health care within the system – we looked into it,
we don`t think there`s anything to it. We don`t see any evidence of a
parallel waiting system or any effort to gain the systems in terms of the
And then basically, immediately after those claims were made within the
V.A., the inspector general asks the secretary to suspend three top
employees at that system.
That sounds like two very different interpretations of the same problem.
SANDERS: Well, maybe, Rachel, maybe, and maybe not. I think what the
secretary wants to see happen is an independent investigation. What the
inspector general`s office has said is that they can pursue that
investigation best if they put on administrative leave the leaders of the
hospital so they can go unimpeded, if you like, into all of the records. I
think that is the right thing to do.
But I`ll tell you one thing that does concern me, Rachel, and I agree with
much of what you said in your opening remarks about the V.A. There are
some 300,000 V.A. employees, many of them veterans, working in 151 medical
centers, in 900 primary health care facilities.
And what a whole lot of independent studies have said is that the quality
of care that veterans are receiving at the V.A., in all of these
facilities, by and large, is good-quality care, in many respects, it is
better than the care received at private hospitals, and in many ways more
cost effective. And the V.A. in a number of areas is doing some cutting-
edge work on tele-health, using complementary and alternative medicine,
infection prevention, et cetera, et cetera.
So, we have got to take a hard look, an objective look at what`s going on
in Phoenix, and if these allegations are true, if we find that they are
true, we are going to deal with it and deal with it in a very, very strong
In my view, people who have put their lives on the line to defend this
country deserve the best quality health care available, and I`m going to
fight to make sure that that happens, and that abuses, alleged abuses, such
as we are hearing from Phoenix, do not occur any place else.
MADDOW: I think that`s an important contextual point. And you see that in
the patient satisfaction surveys when you compare how people feel about
their private health care versus what people are getting from the V.A. and
you see how often rates comparably or even better in those satisfaction
surveys. And I take that point exactly.
I wonder, though, with the attention that has been paid, particularly to
the issue of the disability claims backlog and also the wait times for
veterans to get in to services at the V.A., I wonder if the pressure on
that and I think the V.A. has felt political pressure to get those numbers
down to improve those numbers, if there is a risk that by accident
Washington has created an incentive system where V.A. administrators at the
local level feel like they have to lie about those problems in order to
hold onto their jobs.
SANDERS: Well, that is something we have to take a look at and I hope it
is not true.
But, I also have to point out something to you, Rachel, that I think you
know. Washington is now very, very highly politicized. You got a whole
lot of Republicans who want to repeal Obamacare. They want to end Medicare
as we know it.
The Ryan Republican budget in the House made savage cuts in Medicaid. You
have Republican governors all over this country who do not want to expand
Medicaid to their people, with the result that a lot of people, or some
people will die, because they don`t get in to the doctor`s office when they
And within that context, and that anti-government mentality that many
Republicans have, I fear very much that there might be a politicalization
of the V.A. So, we want to look at any and every problem that exists in
But as you indicated, let`s be frank, the V.A. is a socialized health care
system. And I think it is fair to say that most Republicans are not
terribly enthusiastic about socialized health care systems.
So I think one of the fears that I have is that some of the overall
criticisms of the V.A., and I`m not talking about what`s going on at
Phoenix, that is a serious allegation that we have to look at, may be
political. So, that`s something that we have to keep in mind.
MADDOW: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont – thank you very much for
joining us tonight. Please stay in touch with us on this issue. It`s got
a lot of people very concerned and I know that you`re taking it very
seriously, sir. Thank you.
SANDERS: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Lots coming up tonight, including something important
about what you`re going to be doing this weekend that you might not know
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TERENCE HUNT, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Now we turn to a veteran of the stand-up
comedy circuit and television. Jon Stewart is considered one of America`s
top young comedians. He has hosted his own night time talk show for MTV,
aptly titled, “The Jon Stewart Show.”
There is a lot more about Jon Stewart I could tell you. But one of the
nicest things is simply this – he showed up when some one else didn`t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Once upon a time, no one in Washington knew who this Jon Stewart
guy was. So he had to get the big wind up comical “here`s a guy you have
never heard of” intro. But in the end, they were happy to have him and he
was very obviously happy to have the gig.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: I am very happy to be here. And let me say this is
the nicest Seder I have ever been to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Jon Stewart, young, pre-“Daily Show,” still not all that far
removed from college Jon Stewart, was the third choice to headline the
White House correspondents dinner in the year 1997. Rosie O`Donnell was
asked and she said no. Dennis Miller was asked and he said no. And so,
they found this guy, Jon Stewart, to do the White House correspondents`
dinner. And then look what he became.
Hold that thought. We`ve got more coming up. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NORM MACDONALD, COMEDIAN: I heard last night that President Clinton
charged Abraham Lincoln`s ghost $10,000 to sleep in his own bed. That
doesn`t seem right to me, you know? I mean –
Look, the president, you know has come under a lot of fire for raising
money. But you know, you know, he`s good at it. He`s good at raising
money. That`s not a bad thing. Every president has done it. It`s just
that President Clinton is very, very, very good at it.
Do you know he has organized in the past year, over 100 fund-raising
dinners and over 200 fund-raising midnight snacks, did you know that?
Is he laughing? Is he?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Is the president – as he is drinking a lot of water ultimately he
is laughing. Tomorrow night in Washington, the White House correspondents`
dinner which affords – let`s be honest, the ethically dubious and arguably
in poor taste annual public opportunity for members of the White House
press corps to all but canoodle with the people they`re supposed to be
And even though that overall point of the event is honestly kind of skivvy,
the one civic virtue, sincerely, about the White House correspondent`s
dinner, it is funny even when comedy pushes the limit for what you are
allowed to say in polite company.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: But this is amazing, you know, the first black
president – I know you are biracial – but the first black president. You
know, proud to be able to say that, the first black president. You know?
Well, that`s unless you screw up. And then it is going to be up with the
half white guy, huh? Who voted for the mulatto, what the hell?
STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: We`re not so different, he and I. We both get
I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs
least. And by the standard we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.
I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things.
Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers
and rubble and recently flooded city squares.
And that send a strong message that no matter what happens to America, she
will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo-ops in the world.
SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN: Donald Trump has been saying he will run for
president as a Republican, which is surprising since I just assumed he was
running as a joke.
Donald Trump often appears on FOX which is ironic, because a FOX often
appears on Donald Trump`s head.
If you are at “The Washington Post” table with Trump, and you can`t finish
your entree, don`t worry the fox will eat it.
Donald Trump owns the Miss USA pageant, which is great for Republicans
because it will streamline their search for a vice president.
Donald Trump said recently he has a great relationship with the blacks,
unless the blacks are a family of white people, I bet he is mistaken.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: I`m not sure President Obama wanted to laugh at that one. But
Seth Meyers made it impossible not to.
This year I have to tell you, Joel McHale, the host of MSNBC, is going to
be showing the whole thing, including the president`s speech and
everything. It`s tomorrow night, live on MSNBC, starting at 9:00 p.m.
Honestly the correspondent`s dinner may be a skeevy thing in person, but on
TV, you get the best of it, because it is genuinely always funny. The
president is always funny. The comic is always funny. And it`s going to
be tomorrow night, right here live, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Don`t miss it.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again Monday.
Now go to prison. Bye! Bye!
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