The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/12/14
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Happy Friday. Thanks for joining us this hour.
Let`s play spot the difference. A really big change has happened. See if
you can spot what it is. This is what we were told yesterday. It was
consistent across different parts of government. Yesterday this was the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I don`t know whether you want to
call it a war or a sustained counter terrorism campaign or I think frankly
this is a counterterrorism operation that will take time.
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe what we were engaged in is not a
full pledged war like we were before. It`s a heightened level of counter
terrorism operation. And it have its own pace, its own dynamic, but it`s
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. That was yesterday. National Security Adviser Susan Rice,
Secretary of State John Kerry, both saying the same thing. This is counter
terrorism. You can call it a war if you want to but it`s not a war. It`s
That was yesterday. Now spot the difference. Because this is today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Make no mistake. We know
we`re at war with ISIL in the same way we`re at war and continue to be at
war with al Qaeda and its affiliates.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yesterday, we were not at war. Today, war has been declared in
the literal sense of the word declared. Today is when they started calling
it war. It started at 1:52 Eastern Time today. That`s when Pentagon Press
Secretary Rear Admiral Kirby said for the first time, we are at war with
Was that a screw up? Did the Pentagon spokesman just get out a little over
his schemes on this particular job? Did he really mean to say that?
Apparently it was not a screw up because 12 minutes after he broke the news
at the Pentagon, in the White House briefing room 12 minutes later, it
became clear that that was not a slip of the tongue. That was not a screw
up at the Pentagon. Rather it is official.
It wasn`t true yesterday, but today we are declaring, and by declaring I
mean saying, that we are at war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The United States is at war
with ISIL in the same way that we are at war with al Qaeda and it`s al
Qaeda affiliates all around the globe. So in the same way that the United
States is at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates around the globe, the
United States is at war with ISIL. OK? And so in the same way that we are
at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates around the globe, we are at war
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is new today. But if the repetition means anything,
apparently they mean it. The Pentagon and White House both rolling out
that new identical line saying we are at war with this group, ISIS or ISIL
which operates in Syria and Iraq. And it`s a little awkward that they`re
calling it war, war, war today because the secretary of state yesterday and
the national security adviser, they asked directly if we were at war and
they said no, call it a counter terrorism operations instead.
So do we have a disagreement about this? The White House and the Pentagon
think one thing and the secretary of state and the national security
adviser think another? They may have been disagreeing overnight but now
it`s settles because as soon as John Kerry`s State Department held their
briefing today, they also made clear that they have updated their verbiage
since yesterday as well. Now their line as well is very clear. This is
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We are at war with ISIL in the
same way that we are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates around the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: State Department spokeswoman. So as of this afternoon, it`s war.
War has been declared by which I mean it has been spoken, it has been
described, it`s been asserted by the spokespeople from various government
departments at their regularly scheduled press briefings on a Friday
Is that the way we declare a war now? It seems like kind of unceremonious
start to a war. But even though the government is all of a sudden using
that very specific language to describe what`s going on, it doesn`t mean
that there`s clarity about what they mean when they call it a war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EARNEST: Well, I`ll let other people determine what the precise legal or
academic definition of war may be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. Well, whatever the definition of war may be, something did
change today pretty dramatically. The United States government shifted on
a dime from talking about counter terrorism against ISIS militants to now
saying we`re not just starting a war against them. We are already in a war
against them. The United States is at war.
Why did this dramatic change happen today? It wasn`t true yesterday, it`s
true today. And I`m not sure we know yet exactly why the government made
this change today to say we`re at war when they wouldn`t say it before? If
I had to guess, I might pause it. That this is part of the reason why they
have just made this sudden change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL KAWCZYNSKI, CONSERVATIVE PARTY: Why is it that our allies in the
Middle East like Saudi, Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and others cannot take
military action? Why does it fall on us yet again?
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Put simply, is it in Britain`s
nation interest to maintain an international taboo about the use of
chemical weapons on the battlefield? My argument is yes, it is. Yes, of
course intelligence is part of this picture but let`s not pretend there is
one smoking piece intelligence that can solve the whole problem. This is a
judgment issue in one which honorable members will have to make a judgment.
This have to be surely a basic point. Evidence should precede decision,
not decision precede evidence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do not rule out supporting the prime minister. I
just want to make this point. I do not rule out supporting the prime
minister but I believe you have to make a better case than he did today on
CAMERON: It is very clear tonight that while the House has not passed a
motion, it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views
of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get
that and the government will act accordingly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It was one year ago in the U.K. British Prime Minister David
Cameron was very confident he was going to win that vote. And he took
measures to ensure that he would win that vote.
That vote in the House of Commons was taken as a three-line whip, which is
less exciting than it sounds, but still kind of a big deal. When parties
whip the vote, right, they`re basically taking disciplinary measures to
ensure that all the members of their party vote the way the party wants
them to on that matter. It can be, in Britain, a one-line whip, a two-line
whip, or in very extreme, a three-line whip.
If you`re a member of parliament and you defy a three-line whip on a vote,
that is a very, very serious matter. That is something, supposed to be the
kind of offense for which you can lose your position in the party. You can
get kicked out of the party for that.
Well, the conservatives three-lined whipped that vote on using military
force against Syria a year ago. And even so, with a three-line whip, they
lost that vote more than two dozen members of David Cameron`s
unconservative party voted no, another two dozen members of his party did
not even bother to show up for the vote. And they lost that vote. And
because of it Britain did not use military force against Syria.
That was this time last year. Now, this week, here in our country, in the
48 hours that have passed since President Obama gave his big address to the
nation about Syria this week, in that 48-hour window, we have gone from
basically a foregone political conclusion that there was no way our
Congress was going to take a vote on this issue, to all of a sudden, a
situation today where it appears like they very well might.
Something has changed very quickly in the last 48 hours. It seems like we
are deciding as a nation that Congress really ought to step up and make a
decision here. This is the editorial of “USA Today,” making the case that
Congress needs to vote, “The squeamish should be forced to declare
themselves now rather than winning from a tough reelection vote.”
And here`s the “Washington Post.” “Congress has a duty to go beyond
writing the check. It should also debate the policy and vote to authorize
Here`s the “L.A. Times.” In a democracy, the use of military might
requires ratification by the people`s representatives. Congress, this
Congress, should vote on any and all military action Obama takes against
this new enemy.”
Here`s “The New York Times” just excoriating Congress for even thinking
they might be able to weasel out of this vote. The “Times” says, “Some
lawmakers have made it known that they`d rather not face a war
authorization vote shortly before midterm elections, saying they`d rather
sit on the fence for a while to see whether an expanded military campaign
starts looking like a success story or a debacle.”
Quote, “The cowardice in Congress, never to be underestimated, is
Congress should weigh in. And soon.
The winds have shifted on this. Really fast. At the beginning of this
week even, it seemed perfectly clear that there was no chance that Congress
would do its constitutional duty and vote on whether or not we ought to go
to war. But now the informal whip count that we`ve been keeping on line of
members of Congress to say actually yes, we should debate this, and we do
want to vote on it, our whip count, which you can see at Maddowblog.com,
it`s been growing by leaps and bounds, in particular lots more Republican
members of Congress, they`re saying they are OK with having that debate and
with taking a vote.
At the “Washington Post,” Ed O`Keefe and Robert Costa are also reporting
this, too. They describe now growing support among lawmakers to debate the
issue. They say the idea of holding an up or down vote, a standalone up or
down vote to authorize President Obama`s military strategy is drawing,
quote, “wide support among lawmakers now.”
It`s further evidence, very specific evidence that Congress might actually
do what the Congress does – what the Constitution says they`re supposed to
do here, further and surprising evidence came today in the news that
Congress is going to come back from their long weekend early next week.
Yes, they were planning on working on Monday. Naturally. Monday is a
precious campaign day in this home stretch before the midterms but they`re
planning to come back and work on Monday, than giving up that campaign day
to come back to D.C. a day early in part to make time to vote on part of
President Obama`s plan for how he wants to fight ISIS. They want to vote
specifically on whether we should provide more assistance to Syrian rebel
groups that are fighting ISIS. They also want to make time to start
holding hearings on the other parts of the president`s proposal.
And I almost cannot believe these words are coming out of my mouth, but
this does not seem like a particularly partisan decision on that part of
Congress. Yes, right? It doesn`t seem like a partisan scheme of one party
or the other. It seems like Congress really might be coming back to
Washington to do something that`s going to be hard to do, where there
aren`t clear partisan consequences to their actions, they`d even screwed up
their carefully calibrated do-nothing political schedules.
It`s pretty close to election time in order to come back to Washington and
talk about a hard thing. It`s a miracle. It`s a small miracle, a
political miracle. But kind of a miracle. And President Obama is the one
who appears to have brought it on with this primetime address to the nation
on Wednesday night in which he made the case for why the United States
should fight ISIS and how he wants to fight is.
More than 70 percent of Americans in the CNN poll now said they want
Congress to vote on that. Editorial boards across the country say they
want Congress to vote on that. Members of Congress who would not commit to
vote on this before are now saying increasingly, OK, all right, we
acknowledge that maybe this is our job. We ought to be debating this and
voting now. It seems like they`re going to vote on this. And the
president accomplished that changed in Washington with this speech.
And I have to say it`s not at all clear that he wanted to accomplish that
with this speech. But it does appear to be what he`s got. And so, as the
White House is very keenly aware, in part, because they saw it happened to
their very good friend, David Cameron, just last year, even with his three-
lined whip on that vote, the White House is very keenly aware that if
Congress really is going to vote on this, that they`re going to take it up,
they`re going to vote on whether or not to authorize military force. That
means there`s a chance that Congress will vote no.
And so as the winds have shifted in Washington very suddenly, to make it
seem like yes, there very well may be a vote in Congress. Maybe even
before the election? Is that why the administration today made this
equally sudden shift to describe us as already being at war with ISIS
already. If we are already at war and Congress votes no, then from the
White House`s perspective, they can say, OK, Congress, that`s good to know
that you don`t want to start doing anything new.
But we weren`t already at war with ISIS before you ever took that vote. So
we`re not going to change anything. Right? A no vote might be
embarrassing or might curtail something that they wanted to do in terms of
expanding what they were doing, but if we`re already at war before Congress
takes the vote then the Congress – than the Congress won`t slow down what
they`re doing in the Middle East.
Did the Obama administration just declare that we are already at war today?
Basically, as an insurance policy in case Congress votes that we shouldn`t
be at war.
Chuck Todd, the moderator of “Meet the Press,” joins us to help me climb
down off this roof. That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIRBY: This is not the Iraq war of 2002. But make no mistake, we know we
are at war with ISIL in the same way we are at war and continue to be at
war with al Qaeda and its affiliates.
EARNEST: The United States is at war in the same way that we are at war
with al Qaeda.
HARF: We are at war with ISIL in the same way that we are at war with al
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The Pentagon, the White House and the State Department all today,
suddenly using the words “at war” as in the U.S. is at war with ISIL. All
of them looking down at papers in the exact same way while reading exactly
the same line.
Just yesterday the secretary of state and the National Security adviser
were asked directly if this is a war, both of them said no, this isn`t a
war. You should call it a counter terrorism operation. But, today, this
is new from the Obama administration. A small word change with a
potentially very big meaning.
Joining us now is Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and of course the
moderator of “Meet the Press.”
Chuck, thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it.
CHUCK TODD, “MEET THE PRESS” MODERATOR: Of course, Rachel. Thanks for
MADDOW: So is – is the White House explaining this shift in language,
suddenly saying with very specific notes we are at war in a way that they
didn`t say it before?
TODD: They`re not. This is basically a cave into not having a semantics
argument with the Republicans inside the beltway. And you and I both know
how quickly that can blow up into what would become a silly debate. But
this, this actually has its roots. And you remember this very well. A
decade ago when there was a lot of criticism, Democrats in general, in
particular John Kerry, when he was a candidate for president, Barack Obama
when he`s a candidate, and he`s been very careful.
There was always a lot of criticism lobbed at president – then-President
Bush for using the phrase “war on terror,” meaning there is no – and a lot
of Democrats, a lot of people said, hey, you can`t be at war with a tactic
that is – that is not a war. What does that mean? And the president, you
know, I – well, he`s very careful here but tonight he said it was a
campaign against ISIS to degrade and this has been – so this is where this
has its roots.
I think this is – was their gut instinct. This was what they believed. I
honestly think they caved simply not to have silly debate on semantic that
you know Washington could get itself all in a fuss over.
MADDOW: So I have a cockamamie theory on this that I`m going to give you
lots of opportunity to shoot down. Because I fully admit that this could
be just completely made up. But it seems to me like there is a new sort of
wind blowing in Washington that it seems like it might be more possible
that Congress might take a vote on this issue. Not just on funding the
rebels or just – or some side issue about it, but whether or not to
If Congress did take a vote on it and they voted no, wouldn`t it be more
convenient for the White House if they`ve been saying for a long time in
events that we already were at war? Then it would be sort of like, yes,
yes, Congress, we`re interested to know that you don`t want to start a new
thing but this war already existed before you ever heard it.
TODD: Yes. Well, I think that you – look, I think you`re not wrong.
That`s not too cockamamie of a way to think, I mean, because don`t forget
the president is justifying this. He has said, I don`t need Congress`
authorization, I already have it.
MADDOW: Right. Right.
TODD: And he`s using the same – he`s using the same legal – same legal
justification that President Bush used with that initial war authorization
and that`s what this White House believes.
I don`t – I`m with you, I do think there is a demand for a vote. I think
the fact that the calendar is still in the even number on it, we`re still
on 14, elections 52 days away. You saw NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll.
There really is sort of a mini panic in the public over ISIS, over the
beheadings, and that created some anxiety. So I don`t think you – you`re
not going to see Harry Reid or John Boehner. One thing they`re going to
agree on is not to bring up a vote now. But I think after the election I
think you could see a vote.
And frankly, Rachel, I don`t understand, it doesn`t seem as if Congress
learned the initial lesson from the Iraq war, which is why are you guys –
why are you guys agreeing to this so quickly? Why aren`t you holding the
administration`s feet to the fire on exactly what the strategy is. How do
you prevent a slippery slope, you`re saying no troops, no combat troops on
the ground in Syria? How do you prevent this slippery slope from
And the fact that we`re not having any of those hearings, any of that
debate, any of that discussion makes me think that a lot of these guys
didn`t learn the lesson from the Iraq war.
MADDOW: And the hearings will start next week. There will be some
hearings starting next week. I thought it was a remarkable – at least
remarkably unexpected development that the House said they would come back
a day early next week.
MADDOW: Not only coming back and do what – they`re used to long weekends.
Not only coming back early but coming back when they`re really needing the
time to campaign in their home districts. It does seem like they`re giving
themselves some time on this. But to be clear, you feel like if they are
going to vote, they may sort of schedule it and talk about it and they`ll
have hearings now, but maybe during the lame duck?
TODD: Right. Two votes. Right? They`re going do the initial vote on
Monday for the training of that moderate Syrian opposition. The so-called
moderate Syrian opposition, whatever –
TODD: Whatever exist of it. And then I think you`ll see them say – I
think there`s enough momentum now where they`re going to have to at least
verbally promise to do another vote. But they`ll postpone it until after
MADDOW: Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and of course moderator of
“Meet the Press” which is worth spending your Sunday morning with on which
he`s going to have much more on this newly declared war on ISIS this
Chuck, thanks very much.
TODD: You bet.
MADDOW: Really appreciate having you here.
All right. Much more ahead on tonight`s show, including the super weird
red state ballot surprises that could decide which party controls the
United States Senate for the last two years of the Obama presidency.
Please stay with us for that.
But, first, one more thing about the human side of these world events and
this new declaration of war on ISIS. The folks over at “Esquire” magazine
this weekend have done I think a smart and excellent tribute to Jim Foley,
the American journalist who was executed last month by ISIS after spending
two years in captivity inside Syria.
“Esquire” has taken its classic feature about the fallen man photo from
9/11? It`s the photo that you see and it shows a man falling from the Twin
Towers on 9/11. It`s framed really exactly between towers. It`s one of
the unforgettable images of 9/11. Maybe one of the unforgettable images of
the century thus far. “Esquire” published a seminal piece about the
falling man photo. It gets re-circulated really widely, really widely read
every year particularly around the 9/11 anniversary.
Well, this year, “Esquire” decided to put the falling man story behind a
pay wall. But it`s an optional pay wall. You can still read the article
without paying, but if you agree to give them $2.99 to read that piece,
that money all goes directly to a James Foley scholarship fund, which is
being set up at his alma matter at Marquette University.
If you want to learn more about it, either the fund or what “Esquire” is
doing about it, we`ve posted a link for you at Maddowblog.com.
All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Last night, we gave you a sneak peek of this chart, possibly the
weirdest ever presented on this program. Tonight we will explain this
totally functional political chart as a way of trying to keep track of one
of the weirdest political stories in the country right now.
Lavon, Lois, Lanie, Les, and yes, you, too, Lola, your time is at hand.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK, there are three states in the country right now where,
surprise, it turns out that who`s on the ballot in the election this year
is not really who`s running for office. Either the ballot isn`t going to
reflect who`s really running or the ballot changed at the last minute after
a lot of campaigning had already been done. And so it`s not going to be
who people expect to see on the ballot.
Something like this happens somewhere in the elections every year. But for
some reason, it`s happening all over the place this year in a whole bunch
of red states. And in all the places where it`s happening in red states
this year, it`s because of bad news for the Republican Party. One of these
in Alaska, which is a pretty red state. And where the governor is Sean
Parnell. He was Sarah Palin`s lieutenant governor and when she quit half
way through her first term in order to pursue a career in bar fights and
reality television, Sean Parnell was elevated to the governorship in Alaska
and now he is running for reelection there.
Sean Parnell was looking at a pretty easy walk to reelection as Alaska
governor mostly because he`s running against a split field. There was both
a good Democratic candidate and a good independent candidate running
against him and they were splitting the vote against him.
So what happened in Alaska is that that good, independent candidate and
that good Democratic candidate, they decided that they would stop splitting
the vote against Sean Parnell and, instead, get together to try to beat
him. They`re now running as a fusion ticket against him. The independent
is the candidate for governor, the Democrat is his running mate and,
surprise, Sean Parnell, that is not who you expected to be running against
But the ballot changed and now Sean Parnell is probably in way more trouble
than he was before in terms of his reelection chances. And that
governorship is seen now as a potential Independent/Democratic pick-up.
Another red state with a real surprise on the ballot is Nebraska. Nebraska
is a really, really, really red state. The governor is a Republican named
Dave Heineman. He`s not running for reelection and everybody thought that,
like in Alaska, his lieutenant governor would step up and run to replace
him. The lieutenant governor, a handsome guy, former paramedic, eight
years as lieutenant governor, he announced way back in 2011 that he would
be running in 2014 to replace Governor Heineman when he stepped down this
But, then, the “Omaha News Herald” put in a Freedom of Information Act
request for the phone records on the lieutenant governor`s state-owned cell
phone. Uh-oh. Quote, “A month long investigation by the Omaha World
Herald uncovered a secret life during the lieutenant governor`s travels
around the state involving 2,300 phone calls to four women other than his
The governor – the lieutenant governor refused comments on this story.
One of the women then told the paper lots of details about what she said
was her years long, a full with the lieutenant governor and ultimately he
resigned. So Governor Heineman needed a new lieutenant governor after that
Again, the governor`s name is Heineman. The man he picked for his new
lieutenant is named Heidemann. So it`s Governor Heineman and Lt. Gov.
And this week, Lieutenant Governor Heidemann also resigned after another
kind of domestic dispute. And, in his case, it was a domestic dispute
involving police. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it stems from a
violent confrontation between the lieutenant governor, Lavon Heidemann, and
his sister Lois. Lavon and Lois apparently argued about land that is
farmed by Lavon and their brother Les, but which is now going to be farmed
by Lois and their other brother Lanie instead of Lavon and Les. And it all
happened at the home of their mother, Lola.
This dispute between the Lieutenant Governor Lavon and Lois, Lanie and Les,
also there`s Lola. So that happened. Police report and all the rest, a
tearful resignation. And now the Heineman- Heidemann ticket is no longer.
You could look it up. I love it. But because this is a weird election
year, and there is weird stuff like this going on in red states all around
the country, it appeared that not Lola, Les, Lanie or Lois but Lavon would
not be able to take his name off the ballot in Nebraska.
The scandal and the police report and the resigning from the lieutenant
governorship and the trying to get his name off the ballot, it all,
legally, happened too late. There`s no provision in Nebraska law for
getting your name off the ballot if you want to do so after the deadline
has passed. They decided to let it slide for him now.
Now the Nebraska secretary of state has decided that actually Lavon
Heidemann can take his name off the ballot. Secretary of state says that,
although the state deadline to remove the candidate was September 1st, and
this all happened thereafter, the secretary of state says he has a duty to
make sure the ballots are accurate and didn`t confuse voters. So Lavon
Heidemann is being replaced after all very late in the game.
And yes, Nebraska is a very red state. But the Democratic candidate for
governor there is a good and credible candidate.
Could that new scandal in Nebraska and the Nebraska Republicans serial
troubles with the governor`s running mates, could that new scandal which is
getting a lot of play in the local press, affect Democrats` chances of
winning that governorship?
I do. We`ll see. But there is a third red state where the ballot itself
is the shock this year and where Republicans might end up losing a seat.
Because of it a seat that they never thought they had to worry about
before. And that red state is Kansas. And in Kansas, things have just
gone completely unexpectedly pear-shaped for the Republican Party very
quickly this year.
That story is unfolding fast and quickly in the courts right now, has
national implications and we`ve got a report on that story for you coming
up next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: A gesture indicating uncertainty. This is what the affidavit
says. So let`s say somebody asked you a question. You`re uncertain about
the answer but you do not want to say out loud that you are uncertain about
the answer. You don`t want to say it. You would prefer to gesture your
What are your choices? There`s the classic shrug. There`s the – I guess
like the wobbly hand. That`s like jazz hands. And then there`s the less
commonly used shoulderless shrug. I mean, one of those gestures indicating
uncertainty. Turns out could win the Republican Party`s chances of winning
control of the United States Senate this year. And here`s why.
This is not just any random parallelogram. This is the state of Kansas
which has Kansas counties voted in the last presidential election. Kansas
is a very red state. Very red. But look at this, these are the latest
three polls for the governor`s race in deep, red Kansas this year. Look at
that. The Republican governor of Kansas in that red state looks like he
very well might lose his effort to get re-elected in Kansas.
Sam Brownback may be a Republican governor in a Republican state but he is
an unpopular one. His Democratic opponent, Paul Davis, says that he`s Sam
Brownback has basically turned Kansas into a far-right ideological
laboratory with terrible results for the state. Even a lot of Kansas
Republicans seem to agree with some of that critique. Dozens of moderate
Kansas Republicans even some conservative Kansas Republicans have publicly
crossed over to say they`re supporting the Democrat, they`re supporting
Paul Davis against their party`s own governor.
But it`s not just him in trouble. The other really nationally high profile
Republican in Kansas state government is a guy named Kris Kobach. Kris
Kobach is kind of a national Tea Party poster boy. He may just be the
secretary of state in a smallish square state but for years Kris Kobach has
used that perch to travel the country, writing anti-immigrant legislation
for Republicans in other states.
You can thank him for Arizona`s “papers, please” law for example. He`s
also been the Republican Party`s chief national marketer of all kinds of
laws to make it harder to vote, starting with voter ID laws and going
downhill from there.
Kris Kobach is a very smart guy. He went to Harvard, he went to Yale Law
School, he went to Oxford. He`s used his position in Kansas to make
himself a national figure and kind of a far-right very aggressive edge of
the Republican Party. The conservative movement, has always had big plans
for Kris Kobach`s bright future.
But right now he, too, is also looking like there`s a chance he could lose
his reelection race in Kansas alongside Sam Brownback. The last poll on
his race in deep red Kansas shows Kris Kobach trailing his Democratic
opponent in his reelection race. I mean, not trailing by a lot, trailing
by three points, but still trailing.
In Kansas. In Kansas. A Kansas. A state that picked Mitt Romney over
Barack Obama by 21 points in the last election. Kansas is a state where,
since before World War II, they have sent only Republicans to the United
States Senate. An unbroken string of Republican U.S. senators going back
generations from 1930s. But now, maybe even that could change as well.
Last week, in Kansas, the Democrat running for Senate against Republican
Senator Pat Roberts, the Democrat in that race, announced that he no longer
wanted to run for the U.S. Senate. The Democrat`s name is Chad Taylor.
And Chad Taylor`s announcement that he wanted to drop out, that was kind of
a bombshell in that Senate race because him dropping out would mean that
the race for that Senate seat would be between Republican incumbent
senator, Pat Roberts, and an independent candidate named Greg Orman.
Without the Democrat in the race, splitting the anti-Pat Roberts votes with
Mr. Orman, this well-funded, basically centrist independent guy, suddenly,
has a very good chance of winning Pat Roberts` Senate seat and turning that
seat from red into not red. This is how Pat Roberts was sailing to
election when there were two guys splitting the vote against him. This is
how the polling says Pat Roberts might very well lose his seat if one of
those guys drops out.
So high stakes right now for Republicans in Kansas. Right? Kansas is not
supposed to be a place where Republicans have a hard time defending a U.S.
Senate seat. But if this Democrat, Chad Taylor, isn`t on the ballot,
Kansas is going to be a tough race for Republicans. And as secretary of
state, Kris Kobach is – as he`s worrying about his own skin in his own
reelection race right now in Kansas, Kris Kobach is also working on a
little something-something that he`s got going on in his office that could
save the skin of U.S. Senator Pat Roberts.
When the Democrat Chad Taylor went to withdraw from the Senate race last
week, Chad Taylor went down to the secretary of state`s office in Topeka.
He went down in person, it was deadline day, the last he could legally
remove his name from the ballot, he spoke with Kris Kobach`s deputy, the
state elections` director, who he says gave him explicit instructions as to
how to go about getting his name removed from the November ballot.
Chad Taylor says he followed those explicit instructions and then he says
he asked the Kansas elections director if his name, indeed, would be
removed from the November ballot. According to Mr. Taylor, the director of
elections told him yes. So the Democrat dropping out of the race, he
leaves the secretary of state`s office that day having heard a yes from the
director of elections. Yes, your name has been removed from the November
The following day, Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state, announced that
actually no, Chad Taylor would not be allowed to withdraw his name from the
November ballot because he hadn`t filed his paperwork correctly. Really?
And then we get to the shrug. So Kris Kobach`s office has now released a
sworn affidavit from the elections director. From the guy who Chad Taylor
says told him yes, OK, you`ve done it right. You`re off the ballot. This
sworn affidavit says that yes, Chad Taylor did ask if his name would be
removed from the ballot. But, according to the affidavit, no one ever
spoke any words in response to that question. Instead, the elections
director says he gestured but the answer was uncertain.
Look at the affidavit, it`s amazing, it`s like a human magic 8 ball.
Quote, “He asked if his name would be removed from the ballot. And I, in
response, gestured, but the answer was uncertain.” But again, quote, “Mr.
Taylor asked if his name would be removed from the candidate list and I
gestured by shrugging my shoulders as to indicate, we`ll see.”
So now we know. It wasn`t this, it wasn`t this, it was the classic shrug.
The secretary of state`s office in Kansas says nobody ever told Chad Taylor
his name would be removed from the ballot or not. We gave him the “we`ll
see” shrug. Why would he think that would be enough?
The argument here is that he sought official advice in person about how to
do this properly before the deadline and the response from the Kansas state
government was to shrug in his face. What?
It`s amazing. Here`s the kick of it. In that same affidavit, the director
of elections, the shrugger, admits that after he shrugged his noncommittal
response, he did instruct then removed Chad Taylor`s name from the
candidate list. But then he says his boss, Secretary of State Kris Kobach,
called into the office and instructed him to put Chad Taylor`s name back
And Kansas Supreme Court is going to hear this case on Tuesday. They`re
going to make a financial decision about whether Republican Secretary of
State Kris Kobach can force the Democratic state candidate to remain on the
ballot even though he doesn`t want to be there, even though he applied in
person at the state elections office to have his name taken off the ballot
before the deadline by which he had to make that decision. The court is
going to hear that on Tuesday.
And Tuesday isn`t a moment too soon to figure this out because the state of
Kansas has to start printing their absentee ballots for this race a week
from today. Kansas has one week to figure this out before those all-
important ballots are printed, which may determine who`s the next U.S.
senator from Kansas, but, also, who controls the U.S. Senate in the
And, in the meantime, there is suddenly a giant spotlight coming all the
way from the beltway directed at this race. National Republicans are all
of a sudden fundraising for Pat Roberts there, all of a sudden campaigning
for him, the Roberts campaign has new guys running it, flown in from
Washington. Well, recent imports, right? Mitt Romney personally has
jumped in to help.
Kansas Senate? That`s supposed to be an easy one for Republicans this
fall. Can Washington Republicans save this race for Pat Roberts? And, if
not, can Kris Kobach?
Joining us now is Dave Helling, political reporter at the “Kansas City
Star” who has been covering this insanely entertaining race very closely.
Mr. Helling, thanks for being here. Appreciate your time.
DAVE HELLING, KANSAS CITY STAR: Great to be here. By the way, there are a
lot of gestures going on in Kansas, Rachel, right now, not all of them
involving shoulders, as you might imagine.
MADDOW: I love the idea that – that their defense to this is yes, he
asked us a direct question and our response was –
HELLING: Well, they`re playing a lot of politics as you can imagine with
the ballot out here. And a lot of eyes are focused on the Supreme Court
which we`ll meet Tuesday. Six members of that court, six judges sitting
there, four of them appointed by a Democrat, a Democrat`s name that you
might recognize, Kathleen Sebelius, when she was governor. I So think the
general assumption out here in Kansas is that the court will find that Kris
Kobach erred and that indeed Chad Taylor`s name should come off the ballot.
We don`t know that for a fact. We do expect a rather quick decision.
MADDOW: Is Senator Pat Roberts in as much trouble as he looks to be from
the polling? I mean, from outside, it looks like if it is a one-on-one
match between him and that very well financed independent, he might have a
hard time holding on to that seat.
HELLING: Yes, here`s the thing to understand about Pat Roberts. He has
never really had a difficult race in Kansas, stretching all the way back to
1980. He`s a Republican in what may be the most Republican state in
America. And yet in that latest poll, he had 36 percent of the vote in
Kansas. One-third of the voters in this state say now that they would vote
to re-elect Pat Roberts. That means he is in serious trouble.
Now we have to see what kind of campaign Greg Orman runs. We do have to
see what happens to Chad Taylor`s name on the ballot. But Pat Roberts has
a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it. He was really hit
pretty hard, Rachel, as you know, during the primary by a Tea Party guy
named Milton Wolf. That was the guy that really made an issue of Pat
Roberts` residency which continues to be a problem.
Pat Roberts is being hit by the Tea Party on his right and by Chad – by
Greg Orman in sort of the middle. And he`s got seven weeks to figure that
MADDOW: Well, we`re watching Pat Roberts struggle, but what`s fascinating
to me, as you say, one of the most Republican states in the country, maybe
the most Republican state, we see Pat Roberts in trouble. We see Governor
Brownback in trouble. We maybe even see Secretary of State Kris Kobach,
who has a big national profile for that kind of a job, we`ll see him
potentially in trouble. What`s going on with the Kansas election this year
at large? Are all of those individual problems or is it – should we
HELLING: No, we should connect them. And we`ll see how it all plays out
of course when voters go to the polls. But I think what you`re seeing out
here, Rachel, is whether or not the rubber band gets snapping back from the
most rightward tilt of the Republican Party. I mean, you do get the sense,
talking with moderate Republicans that they are concerned that for whatever
reason, the pendulum to mix my metaphors, has swung so far to the right
that it needs to come back a little bit.
Brownback, of course, you`ve talked about it on your show repeatedly, has
problems on tax policy. Pat Roberts went very far to the right because he
feared a Tea Party challenge. And now it`s very difficult for him to get
back to the middle, particularly because Greg Orman is not a Democrat.
You know, Pat Roberts expected to a race against a Democrat and there`s a
formula for that. And Democrats as you noted just don`t do well in Senate
races in Kansas but in this particular case, Greg Orman has been very
successful of sort of saying, I`m not a Republican or a Democrat. And that
has really flummoxed, if you will, Pat Roberts and his campaign. And so
they`re trying now to figure out a way to push Orman to the left and make
their race easier.
MADDOW: And we`re seeing that flown-in crew from Washington try to turn
that Roberts campaign toward that. It`s just fascinating to watch.
Dave Helling, political reporter for the Kansas City Star, I envy you your
beaks in years like this. Thanks very much. Great to have you here.
All right. The best new thing in the world is both sorry they needed this
week and it is next on the show. Please stay with us.
MADDOW: Best new thing in a world, yay, happy Friday. All right. As you
know we are about seven weeks away from a big national elections this year
that we have on November elections this year that we have on November 4th.
As we gear up for those elections, it`s important to keep in mind, that
while U.S. elections can be dramatic and consequential and exciting and
occasionally hilarious, we Americans by and large do not tend to vote in
Even in the 2008 presidential election in which more people turned out to
vote than in any election in the previous four decades, the percent of
eligible voters who actually voted in that blockbuster election was just 57
percent. More than 40 percent of the country`s voting age population
didn`t show up even for that one.
We Americans love democracy. We do not always love the act of taking part
in our democracy. But because we think highly of ourselves and we think
highly of our democracy it is always sort of a punch to our collective
civic gut every time we hear that somebody else somewhere else in the world
is doing it better than us. It does happen. You heard these really high
voter turnout rates from other countries, right?
In most cases, though, when it`s a really high voter turnout, there`s
usually a catch. 2002 when Saddam was still in power in Iraq. They held
their national elections and afterwards an Iraqi officials came out and
announced that there were over 11 million eligible voters in that year`s
presidential election. And wouldn`t you know it, no kidding, every single
one of them turned out and voted for President Saddam Hussein. One hundred
percent voter turnouts and the margin of victory is 100 percent.
Seven more years. Dictatorships amazingly see high voter turnout elections
all the time. But in modern democracies, one of the freedoms that we all
have is the freedom to vote or not to vote. And in our little democracy
here, lots of us choose not to vote, and that is the way it is in lots of
There is one modern Western democracy right now, though, that is
challenging that norm in a mind blowing way. Scotland has been part of the
United Kingdom for over 300 years. And while Scotland has its own
parliament, it still operates within the sovereign state, that is the UK.
As you probably heard the Scotts are now preparing for a referendum on
independence. Vote yes to secede, vote no to stay part of the UK. It just
takes a simple majority to pass this thing and form a new country. It`s a
binding vote. Voting is open to everyone 16 year of age or older in
And you don`t have to vote in this referendum, it`s not compulsory, but
apparently everybody in Scotland wants to vote. Everyone. We learned
today that voter registration for this upcoming voluntary referendum in
Scotland next week is now approaching 100 percent. There are an estimated
4.4 million Scottish citizens who are of voting age, almost 4.3 million of
them have already registered to vote in the referendum which means that
Scotland could very well have basically a 100 percent turnout for this vote
next week. Without a dictator to blame it on.
A hundred percent turnout in a voluntary election where there`s only one
thing on the ballot, independence, yes or no. Exercising your civic duty
at a rate of 100 percent of the country, obviously that is the best new
thing in the world today. Imagine if that happened here. Who would be
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again Monday.
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