The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 06/19/14
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
The last time President Obama took to the White House briefing room
to deliver remarks about the Iraq and U.S. military was almost three years
ago. Friday, October 21st, 2011. The president announced that day that
after nearly nine years, America`s war in Iraq was coming to an end. He
announced the withdrawal of nearly all troops in Iraq by year`s end that
Well, today, as the long simmering sectarian civil war in Iraq
continues to devolve from terrible to even more terrible, today, President
Obama took to the White House briefing room again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have had advisers
in Iraq through our embassy and we`re prepared to send a small number of
additional American military advisers, up to 300, to assess how we can best
train, advise, and support Iraqi`s security forces going forward. American
forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as
they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region
and American interests as well.
And going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise
military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground
requires it. If we do, I will consult closely with Congress and leaders in
Iraq and in the region. Meanwhile, the United States will not pursue
military options that support one sect inside Iraq at the expense of
another. There`s no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not one
that is led by the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There is no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not
one that is led by the United States.
President did say, though, today that he is sending up to 300 members
of our military back into Iraq right now. President described those 300
service members as advisers. It`s unclear exactly what that means, but he
says those advisers will be deployed to help Iraqi military forces fight a
more effective fight, themselves, against the Sunni militant insurgents who
are now trying to hold territory across Iraq and ultimately apparently
trying to topple the Iraqi government.
The president said today, what`s clear from the last decade is the
need for the U.S. to ask hard questions before we take action abroad,
particularly military action. He said in response to a question today,
bluntly, he said, “American combat troops are not going to be fighting in
Iraq again.” He said, quote, “We always have to guard against mission
creep” and these advisers will not be the start of some large scale re-
intervention in Iraq.”
And the president stressed today both in his prepared remarks and in
his answers to questions that he will consult closely with Congress on what
to do with this bad situation in Iraq.
Well, today`s speech comes on the heels of President Obama`s private
closed-door meeting yesterday with the congressional leadership, meetings
like these also do not happen that often. The last one of these was late
last summer when it appeared likely that President Obama could be taking
military action against the Assad regime in Syria. American airstrikes
against Syria were reported to be imminent.
But then in the midst of that tension last summer, President Obama
announced in the Rose Garden that if there was going to be U.S. military
action against Syria, Congress would have to take a vote and authorize it.
And so, he summoned congressional leadership, same way he did yesterday, to
discuss this whole U.S. military action idea.
And wouldn`t you know it, we never ended up sending the U.S. military
to Syria because Congress never took it up. Talk is cheap, it turns out.
Particularly, tough talk about wars you don`t have to fight yourself. That
kind of talk really is cheap.
Yesterday, President Obama summoned Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell
and Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner all over again. And it`s important that
these meetings happen, right? Because Article 1 Section 8 of the
Constitution is crystal clear. The Constitution gives Congress the job of
making actual decisions about war.
The old congressionally approved military authorization to use force
in Iraq, back from the last Iraq war, that has functionally expired.
Remember our war in Iraq ended there in 2011 and we were very formal about
the whole thing.
Arguably the president still has leftover congressionally approved
authorization to use military force around the world against al Qaeda and
the other folks who planned 9/11, but that 2001 authorization doesn`t help
with this Iraq issue, either, since al Qaeda formally disowned this ISIS
Sunni group earlier this year. So, the 2001 post-9/11 authorization to use
military force, that shouldn`t apply to that group in Iraq.
Under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, President Obama has
authority on his own to deploy U.S. forces on a short-term basis, provided
he notifies Congress, but that unilateral authority only lasts for 60 days,
if Congress doesn`t authorize those troops. President Obama`s notification
to congress about the couple hundred new troops he just sent into Iraq to
protect the U.S. embassy and U.S. personnel there, that notification was
sent to Congress on Monday. It lasts for 60 days. So there`s 56 days left
to go on that.
But then, what? I mean, constitutionally, there really is no way
around the fact that Congress has to put its money where its mouth is. The
power to use force, the power to authorize using force lies very
specifically in the hands of Congress. Congress does not really seem like
that want that responsibility. None of them do.
Coming out of yesterday`s meeting, House Democratic Leader Nancy
Pelosi put out a statement saying this. Quote, “I do not believe the
president needs any further legislative authority to pursue the particular
options for increased security assistance discussed today.” On the other
side of the aisle, in the other house, Senator Mitch McConnell said, quote,
“The president briefed us on the situation in Iraq and indicated he didn`t
feel he had any need for authority from us for steps that he might take and
indicated he would keep us posted.”
There`s no separate statement from John Boehner but an aide says he
agrees with Senator McConnell`s assessment that Congress doesn`t actually
have to do anything here.
This is a bipartisan thing. Nobody wants to be asked exactly what to
do. Nobody wants to have to decide. It`s much easier just to complain,
right? Nobody really wants to be on the record voting to authorize force
or voting not to authorize force. It`s a sticky place to be. Nobody knows
how this thing is going to work out. Which side of it do you want to be
As the president came out today and said what he wants to do, said
what he thinks the stakes are, said what his principles are in approaching
something like this, the president did this part and then rightfully and
specifically and repeatedly said he will consult with Congress when it
comes to using force. Congress, meanwhile, is running in the other
direction saying, no, no thanks, you just do your thing. Article 1 Section
8 be damned. That part of the Constitution, eh.
Profiles in courage this isn`t so far.
Joining us now is John Stanton, Washington, D.C., bureau chief at
Mr. Stanton, thank you for being with us.
JOHN STANTON, BUZZFEED: It`s good to be here.
MADDOW: The hawks in D.C. and think tank-ville have been screaming
for a new war in Iraq and boots on the ground and all the rest of it.
President Obama is pledging today no boots on the ground other than these
small numbers of advisers. Is the screaming from Capitol Hill now being
quieted to the extent that Congress is actually being asked specifically
what to do?
STANTON: Yes, you know, I think what`s going on right now, frankly,
they came in and sort of said there is this very serious situation.
Members on both sides of the aisle almost unanimously that I talked to
today agree that they feel like something has to be done, and they all
seemed to be more than happy to let the White House sort of take care of
this and have it on them which I think, you know, helps the White House in
some ways but also hurts them, because I think they`re a little concerned,
frankly, you know, what they`re trying to do right now may or may not work
and end up holding the bag.
And, you know, I think Democrats and Republicans don`t, as you say,
want to take a vote on this right now. And you got pretty much Rand Paul
is the lone voice out there saying he doesn`t have the authority to do
this. He shouldn`t be allowed to do this. You know, that we`ve
essentially created a permanent war and we`re allowing them to continue
He`s really the only person that has spoken out against it at this
MADDOW: Well, on that point – who am I, what do I know? But it
doesn`t look to me like either of the existing authorizations for using
military force, the Iraq specific one or the post-9/11 one – it doesn`t
look to me like either of those would include new troops to Iraq in this
situation. Is there agreement in Congress on the analysis, basically on
the facts, that the president`s got 60 days before Congress actually really
does need to go on the record here? Is there an agreement that that`s the
legal situation at hand?
STANTON: No, no. Not at all.
There are certain members, Senator Murphy, for instance, from
Connecticut who says, look, he has sort of the 60-day authority to go out
and take some action to protect U.S. interests. And he is onboard with
that. But past that, he would want to see the president come back to
Congress for a new authorization.
MADDOW: Right. Yes.
STANTON: Then you have a lot of other members that are reading
either the 2001 AUMF or the 2003 AUMF as giving him the authority. There
are those who say the Iraq authorization still applies because there`s a
little bit of wiggle room in some of the language that talks about Iraq
generally to do this. There are those who say, well, ISIS may end up re-
reconciling with al Qaeda and that point could then trigger the 2001 AUMF.
I think to a certain degree frankly a lot of members are hoping that
gets resolved, either the situation calms down or becomes a situation in
which there`s more clear legal authority for him to continue doing what he
wants to do without their getting involved.
MADDOW: It`s amazing. They`ll find any path toward not actually
having to make a decision that they can ever be held accountable for or
ever have to explain. It`s so much easier to complain. Amazing stuff.
John Stanton, D.C. bureau chief for “BuzzFeed” – thanks for your
time tonight, John. Appreciate it.
MADDOW: I will say – for all of the ink spilled already talking
about what to do in Iraq, even about the Washington debate about it, this
dynamic that John was just describing there as members of Congress try to
find ways to avoid having to exercise their constitutional responsibility
to be the ones who decide, that is phenomenal to me. And it is every
single member of Congress ought to have to answer for that dynamic until
they stop doing it because it`s one major freaking constitutional cop-out.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: If something – God forbid – happens to the president of
the United States, the understudy, person who steps in to become president
in that instance is, of course, the vice president. If something, God
forbid, happens to both the president and the vice president, then the
person who steps in to become president is the speaker of the House.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, third in line.
Being speaker of the House is a really powerful job on a day-to-day
basis, right? Even before you consider that the speaker is the next in
line to assume the presidency after the vice president. I mean, given how
powerful and how high-profile the speaker job is, and given how the
Republican speaker of the House right now is by far the highest ranking and
most powerful Republican in all of U.S. politics, it has always been a
little bit weird that for almost the whole time that John Boehner has had
this hugely important job in Washington, he has also had all these people
not just in the Beltway press but on his own side of the aisle basically
clamoring for his retirement, advocating for his retirement, claiming that
they heard John Boehner is about to retire, taking bets on when John
Boehner is going to step down.
John Boehner is only 64 years old. He hasn`t even been speaker for
two whole terms yet. He seems to be in fine health. I don`t mean this in
a snarky way, honestly I do not. His skin no longer has that unusual and
sort of unnatural orangey tone that it used to have, which I think led to
jokes maybe he was unhealthy and was covering up it somehow.
He`s not sick, he`s not old. He hasn`t been there for that long.
There are no sign the Republicans are going to lose the majority any time
So, why is there so much speculation in the beltway and advocacy in
his own party that John Boehner must retire? That he must be about to
I don`t understand it. But that constant expectation that John
Boehner is on his way out the door, that`s part of why it`s such a big deal
when the guy who`s second in command to John Boehner lost his seat in
Congress in that Virginia Republican primary a week ago. Being the number
two guy in Congress, being the House majority leader, that`s a big job and
it`s a big deal for the man holding that job to have lost his seat.
But when Eric Cantor lost his seat, it took on importance that was
even more outsized than it otherwise would have been because Eric Cantor
wasn`t just any number two guy in Congress. He was the number two guy to a
number one guy who everybody apparently expects is going to quit at any
moment. Eric Cantor didn`t just get fired from Congress when he was
serving as House majority leader, he got fired from Congress as the obvious
heir apparent to become speaker when John Boehner leaves the job, and for
whatever reason everybody always thinks John Boehner leaving that job is an
Well, today, House Republicans huddled behind closed doors and voted
for the new house majority leader to replace Eric Cantor. They selected a
man named Kevin McCarthy from California, even though nobody seems to be
terrifically excited about him.
Mr. McCarthy only had one Tea Party challenger running against him.
A congressman named Raul Labrador but nobody ever took Mr. Labrador
seriously in terms of that challenge.
There was a more hotly contested race for the number three job among
the House leadership. Republicans chose Louisiana Congressman Steve
Scalise for the number three job. The headline, of course, is this. Now,
this man, this man is now second in command to John Boehner.
And because of this peculiar and insistent expectation that John
Boehner is always thought to be on the verge of quitting, starting today,
starting tonight, the headlines about Kevin McCarthy are about to start
shifting from Kevin McCarthy just elected House majority leader, to Kevin
McCarthy, the man who any minute now is about to become the new speaker of
the House, when John Boehner quits. Kevin McCarthy, third in line to the
presidency. Ah, tea party freak-out.
The vote to pick Kevin McCarthy, not a Tea Party guy, to be John
Boehner`s top deputy, that was vote was mid-afternoon today. The dawning
recognition that that means the Republicans just elected Kevin McCarthy to
be their next speaker of the House, the most powerful Republican in
politics, and he`s not a Tea Party guy?
That recognition should dawn some time later tonight when Tea Party
Republicans around the country will sit bolt upright in bed and realize
what they`ve just done. You want to set your watch by the next Tea Party
freak-out against their own party, it should be some time between now and
tomorrow morning and it`s probably worth waiting up for.
HAYES: So, it`s a wicked big news today, including a proverbial
lightning bolt in Wisconsin that appears to have zapped Republican Governor
Scott Walker. That story is ahead.
Plus, I got to tell you at the end of the show tonight we have
something special, something different than we usually do. We`ve got
exclusive footage that we picked up today in Mississippi. I think the
footage is pretty amazing. And that story is right at the end of the show
tonight and I hope you will stay put for it.
That`s ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Today was such a big news day it feels like Friday. It was
a particularly big and bad news day for governors who dream about being
president. Three governors who want to be president, two Republicans and a
Democrat, got terrible, terrible news today. In all three cases, they kind
of made the bad news, themselves.
At least that`s allegedly the case about Governor Scott Walker in
Wisconsin. Governor Walker has not been coy about the fact he would like
to be seen as a presidential contender. First, though, he has to be re-
elected this year in Wisconsin. He`s running against a well-regarded,
well-funded Democrat named Mary Burke. It`s going to be a real contest in
And Governor Scott Walker`s re-election campaign probably knew today
was going to be a bad news day for them when they saw this headline this
morning based on new federal data. Wisconsin, 37th in job creation.
Scott Walker, of course, ran as the guy who was going to create jobs
in Wisconsin. And when you make something the central point of why you`re
running for office, being bad at that specific thing ends up being a really
big political liability. But then so does this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Top story, in newly released court documents,
prosecutors accuse Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker of personally overseeing
what they`re calling a sweeping criminal scheme.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In those documents, prosecutors describe how
Walker was personally orchestrating a criminal scheme to circumvent state
election and campaign finance laws.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is the news that Scott Walker got today that made the
terrible jobs news actually seem nice in comparison. This is from an
ongoing criminal investigation into Governor Scott Walker and his campaign
and conservative groups in Wisconsin and around the country. And today, a
federal appeals court judge ordered that documents in this previously
secret case needed to be made public.
So, this is not new information legally, but it is now known to the
public for the very first time, that what prosecutors are alleging in this
ongoing criminal case is that Governor Scott Walker personally was involved
in a criminal scheme to illegally coordinate election activities and
Again, this has apparently been the prosecutor`s allegation against
Governor Walker all along. It`s just that we the public learned it for the
first time today. And so, there it is all over the news today, all over
Wisconsin, all over the country in black and white. Prosecutors say
Governor Scott Walker part of criminal scheme.
Yes. So that was bad day in the news for governor who wants do be
president number one today.
But bad day in the news for governor who wants to be president number
two today, that one happened in New Jersey. Last week, “The Wall Street
Journal” reported federal prosecutors investigating New Jersey Governor
Chris Christie for the bridge shutdown scheme and a number of other related
corruption allegations in New Jersey. Last week, “The Journal” reported
those prosecutors were no longer just working with the existing grand jury
that hears the evidence in all federal cases in that jurisdiction. Last
week, Heather Haddon reported that federal prosecutors had empanelled a new
special grand jury just to hear the Chris Christie corruption cases.
Then, today, “Esquire” magazine published this, an article citing two
anonymous sources saying that charges are likely against four staffers and
appointees of Governor Christie. We do not know who the sources are for
this story or what their agendas might be, but those anonymous sources
supposedly close to the investigation also tell “Esquire” that there is, in
fact, a new special grand jury that`s been empanelled and go on to name
which specific charges they say are being considered on issues including
the shutting down of the bridge.
The prosecutor who`s heading up the federal criminal investigation
into Chris Christie, his name is Fishman in New Jersey. He`s famously
tight lipped. His office is not commenting officially on this reporting at
But after what the “Wall Street Journal” said last week and what
“Esquire” magazine said today – well, that made for bad day in the news
for governor who wants to be president number two.
Bad day in the news for governor who wants to be president number
three is about former governor from the other side of the aisle. Montana
Governor Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat who`s been very noisy about the fact
he wants to be seen as an alternative to Hillary Clinton if the Democrats
are looking for somebody else to run for president.
Well, former Governor Brian Schweitzer did a long interview with “The
National Journal” magazine. The subtitle of the article gives some hint
that it maybe was going to be some trouble. The headline “The Gonzo
Option.” The subtitle, “How much can you run for mouth while you`re
running for president?”
The article was posted today. Brian Schweitzer has already
apologized to the things he said to the reporter in this article. But what
he said to the reporter in this article is not the kind of thing that an
apology usually makes go away. Talking about Senator Dianne Feinstein,
criticizing the NSA after having previously supported the NSA very
strongly. Governor Schweitzer is quoted as saying, oh, God, “She was the
woman who was standing under the street light with her dress pulled all the
way up over her knees and now she says I`m a nun when it comes to this
spying.” Then, he adds quickly, “I mean, maybe that`s the wrong metaphor.”
Yes, sir, wrong metaphor is a place to start with that.
But then go on to the next paragraph of the story. Asked about Eric
Cantor losing his seat in Virginia, here`s Brian Schweitzer`s quote to “The
National Journal”, “Don`t hold this against me but I`m going to blurt it
out. How do I say this? Men in the South, they are a little effeminate.
They just have effeminate mannerisms. If you`re a regular person and you
turned on the TV, you saw Eric Cantor talking, I would say, I`m fine with
gay people, that`s all right, but my gaydar is 60 percent, 70 percent. But
he`s not, I think, so I don`t know. Again, I couldn`t care less. I`m
Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana, again, has apologized for these
remarks. He called them stupid and insensitive. He said he`s deeply sorry
for having said these things.
But, you know, even just the Dianne Feinstein comments alone, is
there really a deeply sorry deep enough for that? And granted Governor
Brian Schweitzer`s bad day is not about potential indictments and federal
prosecutors the way Governor Scott Walker and Governor Chris Christie`s bad
news days are today, but then he still more than qualifies for bad day in
the news for governor who wants to be president number three today and
perhaps the Brian Schweitzer one should have been exclamation point.
Big weird news day today. Much more ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Sometimes this thing happens. When public figures leave the
spotlight for a while, specifically public figures of the male persuasion
and they emerge from their time away having completely blown off shaving
while they were gone. After the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore took a
bit of time off and he grew a full beard.
In 2008, when Conan O`Brien came back to late night, after a brief
hiatus, he brought with him a thick soup strainer around the mouth region.
This year, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had a must
discussed post-holiday beard for a few weeks, a bulky hobbity chin moss
quality to it. Yesterday was Jay Carney`s last day on the job as press
secretary. So, we`ll see if the beard makes a comeback.
But now, one of our own. Someone we have missed very, very much
around here and are glad to see again. Also, he`s bringing with him a new
facial friend as he comes back to the public eye. Perhaps he can explain
this syndrome and tell us how he`s been.
Joining us is my friend Lawrence O`Donnell and his beard back with us
after a nearly three-month convalescence after a car accident that he has
now recovered from.
Lawrence, it`s great to see you, my friend. How are you?
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, “THE LAST WORD” HOST: Rachel, this is a
medically induced beard. You know, I had surgery and I was in the hospital
for almost two weeks and there`s a period there where I literally didn`t
have the strength to shave. And then before you know it, you`ve got a
And then actually, and there are some medical reasoning for this,
there came a point where they didn`t want me to shave because the risk of
any kind of blood loss for me in any way would be very high. And so, there
are people who they will say to guys after surgery, you know, best if you
just don`t shave.
But the other beards are really interesting there, and we left out a
really, really big one from last summer which was Jon Stewart`s beard.
MADDOW: Oh, yes.
O`DONNELL: Remember, he went off to direct the movie for two months,
he came back with this full beard. And what I liked about it was it very
clearly said to the audience, the whole time for the first week or two that
he had that beard, that, yes, I`ve been away, I know, we`re going to work
this out and get back together. And then, you know, a couple weeks in the
beard was gone and he was completely back.
MADDOW: Well, do you – even though yours was prescribed, it was
literally medically induced, is this the new you? And do you think you`re
going to use it as sort of like an on ramp back to the show? When do we
get you back?
O`DONNELL: Rachel, we`ve been searching for the real me for so long
now. And, but this is, you know, this is my, I don`t know, 400th beard. I
went through, you know, a real easy rider period during my motorcycle years
with the long hair and long beards and all that stuff and I`ve had a lot of
those different looks so it`s kind of the old me back again.
And I`m ready to start doing my TV show again on Monday. Don`t tell
Ari Melber. It`s going to be a practical joke. He`s going to show up and
I`ll do it on Monday. I`m going to do it right from this L.A. MSNBC studio
that I`m in right now for a couple weeks then back to 30 Rock in July for
the mother ship. And I can`t wait. It`s going to be a lot of fun.
MADDOW: Have you been – obviously when you were convalescing
especially at the beginning and dealing with surgery and all that stuff, I
know and I hope that you were completely turned off from the news. Now
that you are sort of re-entering orbit, are you – do you feel like it`s
groundhog day and all the same things we were talking about?
O`DONNELL: No, I was completely disconnected and I haven`t even yet
really kind of curved back into the news. I didn`t catch any of your show
before right now. I mean, you know, the only thing I`m absolutely sure of,
I know the Iraq war is over. I know that. But really nothing else. I`m
not up to date on anything else really.
MADDOW: Lawrence O`Donnell, I`m not going to spoil the surprise for
O`DONNELL: Hey, Monday night. Monday night, Rachel. You can once
again say, “And now it`s time for `THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL`”,
and every one of those words will be true, including the Lawrence and
MADDOW: I said it a lot when the Lawrence O`Donnell part was not
true because I just couldn`t stop doing it. Both in your memory but also
because I`m just hard wired. We are all really, really, really looking
forward to having you back, Lawrence.
Congratulations on your recovery. We missed you terribly. It`s
great that you`re back Monday. Thanks, man.
O`DONNELL: Thank you for the book, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: Absolutely. It was hard to get.
All right. Coming up, we took a little field trip today to the Deep
South. We got some footage today in Mississippi that is exclusive to the
show that you won`t see anywhere else and that I think is kind of magic.
I`m really proud of this special that we`re just about to do right now.
Stay with us. That`s next.
MADDOW: OK. This is a test. But it is not merely a test.
Famously, in June 1964, college students from all around the country
decided to spend the summer in the great state of Mississippi. All over
the country that year, young people who were involved in the fight for
civil rights or who wanted to be involved in that fight, they decided to
head into Mississippi, into the heat of the summer that year, to try to
register African-American Mississippi citizens to vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can`t hit right here, you pull yourself
across a little bit more. The only place he can hit you is across the
ribs, across the back, across the front. That`s it. Protect all the front
of your body and I think that`s the most important part to protect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When they were making the decision to go that year to
Mississippi, they knew that what they were going to be getting into was
dangerous work. They knew it was going to be physically dangerous. As
part of getting ready to go, the students practiced what to say and what to
do. They practiced how to react if, say, a mob attacked them at a county
courthouse when they were in Mississippi.
Before they when, they tested themselves and they trained themselves.
They tried to inure themselves to manage the violence they expected to
When they finished their training, they piled their suitcases into
their cars and they drove across country to Mississippi for Freedom Summer
These are images of some of the first volunteers to arrive in
Mississippi. They`re welcomed in the state with a glass of milk. They
were also welcomed in the state with this news that was just beginning to
break, about three of their fellow volunteers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is some mystery and some fear concerning
three of the civil rights workers, two whites from New York City and Negro
from Mississippi. Police say they arrested the three men for speeding
yesterday but released them after they posted bond. They have not been
heard from since.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They have not been heard from since. They would never be
heard from again. Those three young volunteers, three young men, were
killed 50 years ago this week. They were killed 50 years ago Saturday.
Those three men, of course, are very famous now in American civil
rights and American history. Their names are James Chaney, he was the one
from Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
Have you ever heard of the old “Mississippi Burning” movie? That
movie is the story of what happened to these three young men, and I will
warn you that some of the pictures from the time are a little graphic.
What happened in their case, is that these three young men, three young
volunteers had gone to investigate a church burning near the eastern
Mississippi town of Philadelphia, but their car got a flat tire and they
had to stop and the sheriff in Philadelphia, Mississippi, arrested them,
took them into custody on the allegation of speeding.
Because they were taken into custody, that meant that everybody in
town knew who they were and where they were and when they were there. And
that, of course, meant that everybody in town knew how to find them. When
the sheriff released those three men from the jail that night, they knew
enough to be afraid and they raced for the safety of their home base which
was about 45 miles away in the town of Meridian, Mississippi. They didn`t
make it those 45 miles to Meridian, instead, they just disappeared, for
weeks. No sign of them.
Investigators ultimately found their bodies six weeks later buried in
an earthen dam at a place called the Old Jolly Farm just outside
Philadelphia, the town where they`d been pulled over. Goodman and
Schwerner, the two white men of the three, they were both shot in the
chest, but Mr. Chaney, the black man from Mississippi, they shot him in the
Not long before she died, the late Maya Angelou wrote a foreword to a
book about the murders of these three. She said the camaraderie of those
three young men in death changed the way she saw the world. She said she
had never expected ever that white people would die for the sake of black
She said, quote, “Those three young men represent 300,000 young men
and women who dared, who had the courage to go to the lion`s den and try to
scrub the lion`s teeth.”
The families of the three men stayed together during the long search
for them. And during the funerals that followed once their bodies were
found, the widow of one of the two white men, the widow of Michael
Schwerner, she asked that Michael Schwerner be buried alongside James
Chaney, the man from Mississippi. But the rules of Jim Crow would not
permit them from being buried next to each other. Segregation even after
death, segregation even in burial.
So, in death, James Chaney was buried alone in Mississippi. He was
buried in a segregated cemetery. James Chaney was buried high up on a hill
on the outskirts of his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi. Reports at the
time said on their way to the memorial service for James Chaney, the
mourners passed through a gauntlet of local residents who came on the
street to jeer at them and scream at them as they tried to go to his
Over the years, we`ve become a country in which no one is really
willing to say out loud they were one of the people jeering and screaming
that day, right? Those murders changed the country. Because those murders
changed the country, we`ve come to see those three young men as American
martyrs – martyrs for African-Americans having the right to vote, martyrs
for an end to racial law in our country. Those three young men who were
killed and all the hundreds of thousands of Americans who marched and who
worked and who got thrown into jail, and who gave their money and provided
food or a place to sleep to all those volunteers, we have what is supposed
to be a consensus now as a country that the people on the side of civil
rights, what they did in 1964, that was noble.
And in addition to being noble and right, it also worked. They won.
The summer after James Chaney and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were
killed and bodies hid inside the earthen dam in Mississippi, President
Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, the following summer.
No more taxes, no more literacy tests or tricks designed to keep legal
voters from actually being able to vote. Johnson`s signature on that law
resulted directly from the sacrifices of people like those three civil
rights workers who were killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
But just below the level at which we are willing to talk openly about
it, outside of polite company and what we are willing to admit to in the
light of day, and in conversations with our names attached to our quotes,
there isn`t actually a consensus view on the heroism of James Chaney and
Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. They`re not heroes to everyone.
Part of how you can tell that is what happened to James Chaney`s
grave after they put him in the ground.
“NBC Nightly News” sent a reporter there to the gravesite in 1988, on
the occasion on that movie coming up, “Mississippi Burning”, and this is
what they found at James Chaney`s grave in Mississippi in 1988.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: In reality, the headstone has been totally knocked off by
vandals, thrown in a ditch nearby and now totally disappeared. This
granite block, crudely labeled, 1964, James Chaney, is all that now
Kim Bode (ph), NBC News, Meridian, Mississippi.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They did bury James Chaney with a proper headstone, but
vandals broke it off and threw it in the ditch. It almost defies
believing, right, if you didn`t see it for yourself. But that is what they
found in 1988.
And I should tell you that the situation did not stay like that.
James Chaney`s brother got him a new headstone the following year to
replace the one that had been wrecked. Well, today, because it is 50 years
this week since James Chaney was killed, we sent a producer for this show,
Laura Conaway, to the cemetery where James Chaney is buried, to see what
has happened there now.
A member of the Okatibbee Missionary Baptist Church where James
Chaney is buried in the cemetery, a woman named Ruby McFarland, she showed
us the site today. Ruby McFarland was a college student herself the year
Mr. Chaney and other young men were killed in Mississippi. She also worked
on voter registration and pickets at restaurants.
She walked us across the churchyard today and passed the many graves
today to the one that you really cannot miss. That one belongs to James
Chaney, who had to be buried there alone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUBY MCFARLAND, OKATIBBEE MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH: His picture was
TRMS PRODUCER: What happened to it?
MCFARLAND: Well, it was all cracked up, like somebody had damaged
it. It was knocked over. When they put this one, they installed this so
it couldn`t be damaged easily.
TRMS PRODUCER: What did it mean to you over the years to see people
knock down the tombstone or knock out the picture?
MCFARLAND: That there`s just still evil, hatred, and, you know, that
something I feel like will continue, you know? We don`t live in a perfect
world. As the song goes, a change is going to come, and that change is
coming, slowly. But we do have people that are concerned and they know
that one human being is no better than the next.
And that`s how I felt about the workers that was with Chaney, when,
you know, they came to Mississippi to help register people and educate
people on the importance of registration and what it means, you know?
That`s one of the highlights of our American Constitution, to register and
to vote, so that you can have a voice in what`s going on.
TRMS PRODUCER: Do you remember when the Voting Rights Act past?
MCFARLAND: Yes, I do. Yes, I do. I think it gave the people more
confidence, more security. Like I say, the people that had really been
working hard could see some of the fruit of their hard work, really.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: For all that was done to James Chaney`s grave over the
years, the marker there is still standing now. Only because his brother
had it propped up with these heavy metal braces so people couldn`t knock it
James Chaney`s grave stop had to be physically bolstered with metal
braces to prop it up against any attempt to knock it down, and it is
standing today, proud in its scars and standing. Those braces have
themselves become sort of their own symbol now of not giving in and not
And in the face of that, and because the metal braces made it harder
to do, at some point we`re told today that the repeated vandalism of the
gravestone did stop. Ms. McFarland told us today that it`s hard to tell
exactly when people finally stopped trying to destroy his headstone over
and over again. She says in the last few years, the cemetery has even now
started to see visits from tour groups traveling out there in Meridian to
honor James Chaney and to see where he`s buried.
Last summer, the United States Supreme Court struck down the part of
the Voting Rights Act that allowed for extra scrutiny for states like
Mississippi. The part that stopped states like Mississippi who have a
history from stopping their black citizens from voting, the Supreme Court
blocked the part of the Voting Rights Act that made Mississippi and other
states to have to get federal permission to change voting rules to make
sure they didn`t use those rules once again to hurt black people`s voting
When the Supreme Court overturned that part of LBJ`s Voting Rights
Act this past summer, that same day, that day, Mississippi, as well as
Alabama, and North Carolina, and Texas, they all announced that very day
that they would move ahead immediately with new restrictions on voting,
restrictions they wanted to institute before but they had been blocked by
old the voting rights law that banned changes that were too racist, too
racially discriminatory in their impact.
With that law out of the way, those states went ahead with those
changes on the very first day that they could. And 50 years exactly since
Goodman and Chaney and Schwerner died in Philadelphia, Mississippi, trying
to overturn voting rules that discriminated against black Americans, today,
this year, there are new restrictions on the way all around the country
that we vote.
A new report from the Brennan Center this week points out that the
places where it`s going to be harder to vote in this year`s election in
2014, those places follow a pretty distinct pattern. It`s going to be
harder to vote in this year`s elections in places where black turnout is
the highest in the country and in places where Latino population growth is
the strongest in the country.
Look at this – of the top 11 states for black voter turnout, seven
of them have new restrictions on voting going into effect for this year`s
election. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth in
the country, nine of those 12 states have past laws to make it harder to
vote this year.
And the state of Mississippi is on both of those lists. The changes
that state government wanted in Mississippi, they were seen as too racist
to be approved, while Mississippi was under federal oversight. But the
second that federal oversight was lifted, Mississippi pushed ahead.
Since that big Supreme Court ruling last summer, Republicans in
Congress have talked occasionally about maybe some kind of legislative fix
for the Voting Rights Act, some way to bring the law back, strengthen the
Congressman Eric Cantor was the biggest talker of them all. He
started the last couple of years making civil rights pilgrimages to the
South with Congressman John Lewis. He walked across the bridge at Selma
with John Lewis. Congressman Cantor came back from those pilgrimages
saying yes, we ought to do something to prop up the Voting Rights Act that
the Supreme Court has destroyed, but Eric Cantor apparently was really just
all talk on the issue, he never actually signed on for legislation to do
that, even though he talked about it all the time. Now of course he is
soon to be former Congressman Eric Cantor.
And the heart of the Voting Rights Act is dead, and Republican
control of Congress apparently means that part of it will stay dead, at
least for the foreseeable future.
For now, the Obama administration is using the bit that remains of
the Voting Rights Act to do what they can at the federal level to try to
prop up the law that way. Hoping that the Republicans in Congress who
don`t want to bring it back, maybe they`ll get embarrassed about that or
maybe they get replaced in an election and maybe a future Congress not too
far off will see fit to reinstate that law that people died for.
And this summer of 2014, heading towards this year`s elections where
vote will be harder this year, this summer of 2014 marks 50 years since
Freedom Summer Mississippi 1964. And this week, this very week, marks 50
years since James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were
killed in Mississippi, and then they would not let Schwerner and Chaney be
buried together because one of them is black and one of them is white.
And the black man`s gravestone stands there, like the American
achievement that he died for, right? Still standing, propped up, damaged,
braced, chipped, pitted. We`ve come to agree that they were heroes, right?
I mean, today, the day the Republicans replaced Eric Cantor who made a big
show of re-enacting the marches at Selma, and it was in his power and he
Today, when at least in public we agree that those young men 50 years
ago are our heroes, today, do we come to a new agreement about the voting
rights that they died for? Do we have the will to do that? It is 50 years
since Freedom Summer, 50 years since they died. Is this back on the
This is a test, but it is not merely a test.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you tomorrow night.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD.”
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>