The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/16/14

Guests:
Nancy Youssef, Dave Helling
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

The Sunni militant group ISIS has released a new video today. It is not as
overtly gory as some of their other recent videos. It`s also not as long,
it`s only about 2 1/2 minutes long. I`m happy to say that this latest
video from them does not include the beheading of a hostage like three of
their recent videos have shown. But in its own way, this footage that ISIS
has released today through their online media arm, even though it is not
overtly gory, it is very, very chilling, particularly for an American
audience. Because what they released today is this.

And I need to tell you, this has not been verified by NBC News, so all I
can tell you for sure is what this terrorist group says they are showing in
these images and what some terrorism analyst groups say about it. But what
ISIS says they`re showing here is the remains of a Syrian military jet,
which ISIS says it shot down over Syria.

One of the groups that monitors terrorist group postings like this, group
called Flashpoint Global Partners, they say that their analysis of this
footage indicates that the type of plane ISIS shot down and that you`re
seeing the wreckage of here is one of these. It`s a variant on a Russian-
origin MIG fighter jet. And it`s the kind of plane that looks sort of like
this when it is intact.

Russia has been the main arms supplier to Syria for decades. So it would
make sense at one level that if it was a Syrian military jet that was shot
down, it would be a Russian-origin aircraft like this.

That said, the footage that ISIS posted online today of this plane that
they say they shot down, it does show, as you can see here, it shows a lot
of component parts with instructions written on them, apparently in
English.

Again, NBC News has not verified this content. And I am not enough of an
aeronautics expert to tell you what exactly the specific components and
these English instructions mean in terms of what was shot down or at least
what this wreckage is that turned up in this ISIS footage that was released
today.

But if the reports about what happened here are accurate, if this was a
Syrian warplane conducting airstrikes against ISIS, near the ISIS
headquarters in Raqqah, in eastern Syria. If that`s what happened, if ISIS
was able to use anti-aircraft weapons to shoot down a Syrian military
plane, that is a turning point in terms of what kind of war this is. I
mean, we knew ISIS had antiaircraft weapons so at some level we knew this
was coming but before today something like this had never happened before.

If ISIS now has the proven ability to shoot down military aircraft that are
conducting air strikes against them, that not only has immediate
implications for the Syrian military effort against ISIS, which is now a
year`s long effort in the middle of that civil war, it also, of course, has
really big implications for us, to the United States. U.S. drones and U.S.
manned aircraft with pilots in them, have already conducted more than a
month of air strikes against ISIS targets inside Iraq.

And after President Obama announced last week that he`d be expanding that
effort, we`re now just waiting to hear when those air strikes are going to
cross the border and start happening inside Syria, as well. Apparently,
President Obama has authorized air strikes in Syria. It`s just a matter of
when they would start.

And again, we have known for weeks now that ISIS, among all the things that
it has, they have heavy anti-aircraft artillery buried in those regular
notices that we`ve been getting almost every day now from the Pentagon
about where they`re bombing ISIS and what the success of those air strikes
has been buried in those reports. You often see several sentences into it,
references from the Pentagon to the antiaircraft weaponry that U.S. pilots
are targeting and trying to blow up when they are bombing ISIS targets.

But if what ISIS posted online today is true, we now not only know that
they have weapons that theoretically could shoot down planes. And we now
know that they want to shoot down planes. In addition to that now, though,
we know that they can shoot down planes because they`ve done it.

So in terms of what we are getting ourselves involved in here, well, today
U.S. planes completely what we`re told is they`re 167th air strike of ISIS
targets inside Iraq. That`s what the Pentagon announced today. Five more
strikes bringing the total number to 167. All inside Iraq. When the other
show drops and those air strikes start inside Syria, then U.S. pilots will
be facing a dual threat.

On the one hand, the prospect of being shot down over Syria by ISIS
antiaircraft weapons, and also the possibility of being shot down over
Syria by the Syrian military because the Syrian military has pretty
advanced Russian made antiaircraft systems. So if we`re bombing Syria,
this is not going to be the same kind of bombing that`s happened in tribal
regions in Pakistan and Somalia and Yemen. These drone campaigns and U.S.
air strikes that have been going on for all these years.

These are going to be different because there`s no agreement in Syria.
There`s no tacit agreement, no overt agreement with the Syrian government
that they`re going to allow U.S. planes to do these air strikes inside
Syria without the Syrian military shooting at our planes. And ISIS has
antiaircraft weapons, too. Both in Syria and in Iraq where we`re already
bombing them.

So this is a qualitatively different kind of operation that U.S. troops
have started in Iraq already and that they`re about to expand into an even
more dangerous environment where not just one target on the ground but two
targets on the ground might be shooting back.

Today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin
Dempsey, short of dropped the pretense that somehow what American pilots
are doing right now is not combat. He answered a direct and blunt question
from Senator James Inhofe today. The question from the senator was blunt.
But the answer that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs gave him was even more
blunt that the question had been. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: In your opinion, let me
ask you two questions, General Dempsey. In your opinion, are the pilots
dropping bombs in Iraq as they`re now doing a direct combat mission? And
secondly, will U.S. forces be prepared to provide combat search and rescue
if a pilot gets shot down? Will they put boots on the ground to make that
rescue successful?

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Yes and yes.

INHOFE: While I appreciate that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Yes, so yes, if a U.S. pilot gets shot down in Iraq or in Syria,
there will be American boots on the ground to find that pilot and rescue
him or her no matter where they have come down. And, also, yes to the
second question. The Americans pilots flying missions over Iraq right now
and soon to be in Syria are in combat already. Yes, and yes. According to
the chairman of the Joint Chiefs today.

Can I just put on – just going to break script here for a moment? Can I
just put on a media criticism hat for just a second? Regardless of the
hat, can I just point out for a second how ridiculous the beltway press is
when they report on stuff like this?

There was this eruption of headlines today from all the beltway press.
When Martin Dempsey, that same general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, when
he said if conditions on the ground change, if this conflict shifts over
time, he could imagine the circumstance in which he would recommend to
President Obama that U.S. ground troops be used in Iraq or in Syria. He
could imagine a scenario in which he might make that recommendation to the
president.

The beltway just erupted today over that. Scandal. Well, the president
has said no ground troops. The administration keeps saying no ground
troops. But here`s General Dempsey saying, I could imagine recommending
ground troops at some point.

You know what that is? That is not a scandal. Because we have this
notable and important thing in this country in which the guys in uniforms,
no matter how many medals and stars and fancy hats and all those things
that they have, they do not get to decide whether or how the United States
conducts a war.

I mean, some of the generals involved in this effort against ISIS have
already recommended to President Obama that ground troops be used. When
U.S. airplanes were bombing near the Mosul dam in Iraq, the general in
charge of special operations apparently recommended to President Obama that
U.S. ground troops be used there. That U.S. ground troops be put on the
ground at the Mosul dam to target those air strikes.

That recommendation was made by the general. But you know what, the
president turned down the recommendation. He said no. Because the
president is the person who makes the decision. And he said no ground
troops. The military makes military recommendations to the president and
the president decides whether to accept them or not.

That is not a scandal. If they recommend something to him and he says no
to that, that`s not a scandal. That`s actually a America. That is our
system of government. It`s one of the best things about it. That`s sort
of a whole civilian control of the military things and how that works.
That`s why the guy in the suit is the commander-in-chief, not the guy in
the uniform.

It`s very simple stuff. Right? This is like first day of what`s America
class. The beltway is completely confused by this dynamic. It makes me
crazy.

Sorry. My mom told me the other day, you know, honey, I`ve been really
enjoying your show, but when you yell – I know, I shouldn`t yell. I`m
sorry. I`m sorry, mom.

Now, on the other hand, I should tell you, when the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs says the U.S. pilots who are doing these bombing missions, when he
says, yes, those bombing missions are combat missions and we shouldn`t say
that that isn`t combat, what they`re doing, on that, he`s right about that.
The beltway apparently didn`t really pick up on that.

The general was right about that. And what he said about that really is
contradicting everybody in the beltway. Everybody in the administration,
everybody in Congress, everybody in the beltway press who is saying that
combat troops aren`t being used here when we`ve got plenty of troops there
and what they`re in is combat. There are more than 1100 men and women in
the U.S. military, soon to be more like 1500 men and women in the U.S.
military who are serving in Iraq right now.

The number is expected to go up to something like 1600 in coming days and
weeks. They`re either there to fly combat missions, dangerous combat
missions against an enemy armed with antiaircraft weapons, or they`re there
in support of those dangerous combat missions. This is combat.

As Congressman Jim McGovern said today, quote, “This is a war. Maybe I`ve
got to look up what the new definition of what war is but if bombing people
isn`t war, I don`t know what the hell is.”

And so the question is, is ISIS worth a war? If we drop the pretense and
when we recognize that when you`ve got U.S. pilots flying combat missions
against the target, that can shoot them down, we drop the pretense and
admit that that is war. The question for us as a nation is, is ISIS worth
a war?

Is it worth putting U.S. troops back in combat to fight this terrorist
group. If we stop with the euphemisms, if we admit that there are real
risks here, real flesh and blood, life and death risks here. Are those
risks worth the benefits? Is it likely to succeed to fight these terrorist
group in this way? These are hard, hard questions.

And so therefore Congress does not want to ask them or answer them. At
least not any time soon because of course there`s an election 49 days from
today. To avoid the hard questions of whether or not to authorize this
war. This authorize this new combat mission in the Middle East. Congress
has now decided what they`re going to do. They`re going to let it happen
without themselves weighing in on it at all.

They`re just going to let the president authorize this alone with no debate
and no authorization at least for a while. At least until after the
election. In the meantime, though, so as to look like they are not
completely shirking their responsibilities, Congress has decided to bite
off a small piece of this problem that they think might be easier to chew.

The House tomorrow is going to vote on what`s being described as the far
simpler, far smaller matter of whether the U.S. should provide weapons and
training to Syrian rebels. House is due to vote on that tomorrow. The
Senate is due to vote on it on Thursday or on Friday.

To be clear, what they`re voting on is not the question of whether or not
the U.S. should be using our own military force in Iraq and Syria. They`re
putting that off for a while. Instead, what they`re voting on is this
separate question of whether the U.S. should be up arming rebel groups in
Syria. Because they think that`s supposed to be an easier question.
Supposed to be easier, right?

I mean, yes, sure, ISIS is also a rebel group inside Syria. And you don`t
want to arm and train them when the whole idea is we`re supposed to be
fighting them. But that means that you just have to survey the landscape
of Syrian rebels and pick out the good ones. Not the ISIS ones or not the
one who might help ISIS or turn over to ISIS the weapons that we have just
given them. You just have to focus in on the good ones. It should be
easy, right?

The comedian Andy Borowitz in June drew up this helpful application form to
show how easy this process could be. He called it the moderate Syrian
rebel application form. And it`s multiple choice. So to see if you
qualify for millions of dollars in American weapons, please choose an
answer for the following questions.

Number one, first question, as a Syrian rebel, I think the word or phrase
that best describes me is, A, moderate, B, very moderate, C, crazy moderate
or D, other. Second question, I became a Syrian rebel because I believe
in, A, truth, B, justice, C, the American way, or D, creating an Islamic
caliphate. Question three, if I were given a highly lethal automatic
weapon by the United States I would, A, only kill exactly the people that
the United States wants me to kill, B, try to kill the right people with
the caveat that I`ve never actually used an automatic weapon before., C, I
would kill people only after submitting them to a rigorous vetting process,
or D, I would immediately let the weapon fall into the wrong hands.

Andy Borowitz posted that in June. Today he posted an update under this
headline, “John Kerry claims U.S. has found a moderate Syrian rebel,” in
what Secretary of State John Kerry described as a significant foreign
policy coup. The U.S. claimed on Tuesday that it had successfully located
a moderate Syrian rebel. The secretary of state said the Syrian had been
appropriately vetted and was deemed moderately rebellious.

(LAUGHTER)

Yes. The great Andy Borowitz is just making fun with that stuff, but the
fact that he has been making that particular brand of fun for months now is
a good reminder that this policy has been kicking around for months now.
This policy, this proposal that the U.S. can somehow find the good rebels
to arm in Syria. It`s been kicking around for a long time and there`s a
reason why there`s been no formal decision made by Congress to go ahead
with that on any great scale. Because it`s really risky. Risky enough to
make fun of in the pages of the “New Yorker,” right?

I mean, risky enough that the administration has been really open about the
risks. All the way to the top. And in the military, the chairman of the
Joint Chiefs himself, Martin Dempsey wrote a letter to the Senate last July
spelling out the risks of trying to find moderates among the Syrian rebels,
to train and arm them. He said the risks include extremists gaining access
to those weapons that we were trying to provide to the moderates.

He also voices this sort of delicately worded worry that if the U.S. arms
and trains the Syrian rebels, we may end up having a, quote, “inadvertent
association with war crimes due to vetting difficulties.” You know, that`s
if the moderate rebel application process doesn`t work out the way we
hoped. The same doubts were voiced today in Congress including by members
of the president`s own country, as both the House and the Senate prepared
for this same vote on this piece of this big problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: How can you truly
vet them and how can we have any hope that if they do agree to fight ISIL
on some level, not just Assad, that they will continue to do so and not
align themselves with ISIL. And they feel like Assad is in their sides?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: And those weapons will
probably be used against us at some time in the future. If everything
that`s happened in the past, I have a hard time understanding why all of a
sudden we`re going to convince these 5,000 to turn and fight ISIS, who`s
fighting the same religious war that they`re fighting against the Assad
regime? It doesn`t make any sense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Joe Manchin today voicing doubts
about arming and training the Syrian rebels. Those doubts are coming from
both Houses of Congress, from both sides of the aisle.

Last month; President Obama himself expressed his own doubts about arming
and training those rebels.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With respect to Syria, it`s
always been a fantasy this idea that we could provide some light arms or
even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up
of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth. And that they were
going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state, but also a well-
armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah.
That was never in the cards.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You`re finding that now because
you`re trying to arm people, find people? What are you finding?

OBAMA: There`s not as much capacity as you would hope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Congress does not want to vote on whether the U.S. ought to start
waging a new war in the Middle East. Even as those combat missions are
already on the way. Congress does not want to vote on that. Instead, they
have broken off what they hope will be an easier decision about whether to
train and arm the Syrian rebels.

And that vote is due to happen over the next 48 hours in Congress.
Probably tomorrow in the House, supposed to be Friday in the Senate but you
know senators want to go home Friday and campaign, right? So you know
they`re going to push that up to Thursday.

There`s no reason not to think that this is going to be an easy vote.
Right? And there`s no way to predict how it`s going to go. Anybody who`s
honest about this question knows that it`s a hard thing to decide.
Otherwise, this would have been months ago – a year ago when they first
started talking about doing this.

But here`s one really important thing that`s been lost in the debate so
far. One really specific important thing. And Thomas Friedman was getting
at this in his follow-up question to President Obama there. His last point
is crucial and that has been lost so far. One ought to be a good debate.
Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRIEDMAN: You`re finding that now because you`re trying to arm people,
find people? What are you finding?

OBAMA: There`s not as much capacity as you would hope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It`s kind of broken up in the way he`s saying the question there.
“You`re finding that now because you`re trying to arm people.” What he`s
alluding to there is the fact that we`re already doing this. The United
States government is already arming and training the rebels in Syria.
That`s supposedly what the big debate is about in Congress right now. And
the big vote in Congress this week, instead of voting on the actual war
they`re going to vote on this little piece of it?

But this little piece of it is already happening. It`s the CIA doing it.
And like everything the CIA does, it`s a covert action so they don`t want
to talk about it. But it`s not a secret, really. It`s already happening.
It`s already happening. There`s already efforts underway for months now to
arm and train those rebels. Debate in Congress is just to ramp that up and
expand it and make it less covert.

If that`s the case, shouldn`t we know if what we`ve done already is
working? And if we`ve been doing this already for months, has it been
successful? And if it hasn`t been successful, presumably shouldn`t we
wonder why we would do more of it? If it has been successful, then why are
we starting our own war now out of apparent desperation and so fast that it
can`t even wait for Congress to vote?

Joining us now is Nancy Youssef. She`s a national security correspondent
for McClatchy Newspaper. She`s covered the American government`s current
ongoing campaign conducted under the CIA to arm and train the Syrian rebels
among lots of other things in this region.

Miss Youssef, thanks very much for being here.

NANCY YOUSSEF, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPER: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: So the CIA has already been part of an effort. And in fact a
multinational effort to arm and train rebels in Syria. How has that
operation gone thus far? Has it met the objectives that it was set out to
meet in the first place?

YOUSSEF: Well, so far they`ve trained about 3,000 and this is a program
that began last spring and the first fighters started showing up in
September. And given this progress that ISIS has made, the territory that
they`ve taken in that time, it is a program that has frankly struggled.
The fighters themselves are divided. They don`t have any real leadership.
They lose timeline off of the battlefield. The definition of a moderate,
it depends on who you ask.

And the fact they have only been able to train 3,000 against an ISIS force
that is upwards of 31,000 now really strikes as some of the challenges that
this program has faced. Perhaps the biggest one of all and the one that
will continue to confront this effort is a lot of these fighters don`t want
to fight ISIS immediately. Their primary concern is getting rid of the
Assad regime and then dealing with ISIS.

And so convincing them to change their objectives and align themselves with
people, their fellow rebels, to fight ISIS, and not Bashar al-Assad, that
is, in the immediate, the biggest challenge facing this program and has
been a challenge of this program from its inception last spring.

MADDOW: So this program, as you say, started last spring. There`s a
political question that I think is worth asking about. Why Congress is
voting on this while letting the authorization for the use of military
force by U.S. forces sort of drift until after the midterm elections.
That`s a political question but there is sort of this strategic question
about whether or not what they are voting on in this program would just
expand that thing we`re already doing, or whether this would change the
program in some significant way.

You say they`ve already trained about 3,000 rebels through the existing
program. They`re saying they`d want to do about 5,000 rebels over the
course of a year under what they`re debating now. Would they be doing it
in a significantly different way?

YOUSSEF: Well, it would be gunned by the military versus the CIA. And of
course the military has done this for upwards of a decade in Iraq. And so
that would perhaps be the biggest change. We`ll perhaps don`t see a change
in the types of weapons that are provided, the duration of the training
under the CIA. It was over a period of months. The Pentagon has said that
they could do it in a matter of weeks and so that would be a big
difference.

But perhaps most – the biggest change you would see in the two programs is
where the CIA was something – it was covert. This would be something that
would perhaps lay the groundwork for training more if successful whereas
the CIA, one of those essentially trial program in terms of creating a
rebel force. This would be laying the ground for – training more fighting
the course of the conflict depending on how these fighters do.

MADDOW: That`s a very interesting and I think important structural point.
This idea that when you were doing something at a covert level, yes, you
can avoid political debate on it because it`s technically covert but it
also to certain extent limits the scale of what you can do before it`s too
big for you to avoid talking about it.

Fascinating.

Nancy Youssef, national security correspondent from McClatchy Newspapers,
thanks for helping us talk about this part of this tonight. I appreciate
it.

YOUSSEF: Thank you.

MADDOW: Thank you.

McClatchy, I would say in general, as a news organization has been
invaluable in terms of getting parts of these debates about national
security in the Middle East into the national discussion in the United
States that wouldn`t be there if McClatchy reporters weren`t there covering
those hard angles on this stuff. They are proud to be an impolitic news
organization when they need to be and we are a better country for it.

Anyway, so lots more to come tonight, including some breaking news on the
NFL scandal and a big, long thing about space disco.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: There is some breaking news to report on at this hour, which is
that the union representing NFL players has tonight officially filed an
appeal in the Ray Rice case. Ray Rice was originally handed a two-game
suspension after he was arrested on domestic violence charges earlier this
year and then charged with a third-degree felony.

The NFL, after that, decided to change that sentence. They decided,
instead, to suspend Ray Rice indefinitely after a videotape was made public
last week which showed the domestic violence incident in question.

The tape showed Mr. Rice knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an
elevator and then dragging her unconscious body out of that elevator into a
casino lobby.

Well, the NFL players` union had until midnight tonight to make a decision
on whether they would appeal Ray Rice`s punishment. And the players`
association has now decided to do so. A representative for the players`
union telling NBC News tonight that they believe that there was not a fair
and impartial process in this case. There not a fair and impartial process
that caused the NFL to switch from its original two-game suspension to the
indefinite/forever suspension that Ray Rice has now.

They say Ray Rice was not afforded due process in that decision and that`s
why they are sticking up for him in this appeal.

Now normally an appeal like this would be overseen by the commissioner of
the NFL. He would act basically as the judge and jury in a case like this.
But the players` union tonight has also asked that NFL Commissioner Roger
Goodell recuse himself from this case entirely. That`s in part because
Roger Goodell would likely be called as a witness in this appeal. So he
shouldn`t be judging a case in which he`s also a witness.

The NFL has not yet commented on whether Commissioner Roger Goodell will in
fact recuse himself. But again, this breaking news tonight that the NFL
players union is officially appealing the Ray Rice suspension. This means
that as much as they would really like to put this behind them, the NFL is
not going to be able to put this case behind them any time soon.
Especially today as more and more sponsors voiced their concern with the
league and they`re handling of these matters.

This continues to move very fast. We`ll let you know as we learn more.
We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Something is changing in election land. Watch this, Nate Silver,
the famous stats guy at 538.com, his statistical model predicted back at
the end of August a 60 percent probability that Republicans would take
control of the Senate in this year`s election. So, that`s late August.
Republicans with a 60 percent chance. But now look at this. As of last
night, Nate Silver`s model has dropped that probability from 60 percent to
55 percent. Democrats` chances getting better, Republicans chances getting
worse. And it`s not just 538. When Nate Silver left the “New York Times”
and took all of that monster web traffic with him, the New York Times in
his wake built something called the upshot. And the upshot at “The New
York Times” at the end of August for them, they said the Republicans had a
65 percent chance of taking over the Senate. So, again, that`s last
August, Republicans have a 65 percent chance. Now, they have dropped that
probability from 65 percent to 50/50. Now, the New York Times says it`s a
tosser. Both parties have an equal likelihood of winning the majority in
the Senate. And it`s not just 538 and “The New York Times.” Because here
is “The Washington Post.” “The Washington Post” election widget. Their
prediction model, the thing it`s called election lab, in late August,
election lab`s prediction was that Republicans have a 57 percent
probability of taking over the Senate. Now, they have dropped that
probability from 57 to 50.1 percent.

So at 538, “The New York Times”, the “Washington Post,” all of these
statistical sites where they are aggregating all the polls from around the
country coming up with a big picture prediction about who`s going to win in
November, all three of them were saying that Republicans have an even or
better chance of taking over the Senate for the rest of the Obama
presidency. One source that`s disagreed with all the others for weeks now
is the Princeton election consortium which is run by Sam Wong. Sam Wong in
his statistical model in Princeton correctly predicted the outcome of every
single U.S. Senate race in the country in 2012. Something that nobody else
did, at least as far as we can tell. And all along, in this election
cycle, Sam Wong, in the Princeton election consortium, they have been way
more bullish than everybody else, on the Democrats` chances for holding on
to control of the Senate. So, when everybody else was predicting last
month that the Republicans had a 57-60, 65 percent chance of winning the
Senate, Sam Wong in Princeton, they were saying the opposite. They were
saying, in that same time frame at the end of August, that it was actually
the Democrats who had a 70 percent chance of holding on to the Senate. The
Democrats, not the Republicans.

That was the Sam Wong view at the end of August.

Well, today, look. Like everyone else, he, too, thinks that the Democrats
chances are getting better.

He was already bullish on Democrats` chances of holding on to the Senate,
but now he`s upped his prediction from Democrats having a 70 percent chance
of holding on to instead having a 78 percent chance.

The people who were down on the Democrats chances are now suddenly up on
the Democrats` chances, and the people who were already up on the Democrats
chances today, they`re way up on the Democrat`s chances. What`s going on?
Why is all of this turning around and happening right now? Well, of
course, it is multiple states, multiple races, multiple polls, lots of
different numbers. But it is also one amazing story. Which happened today
in a little little-noticed state Supreme Court in the middle of the
country. And that story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: As they try to win control of the U.S. Senate this year, National
Republicans said not counted on having to for the Republican Senate seat
that they already hold in Kansas. And if his lazy days campaign schedule
is anything to go by, longtime incumbent Kansas Senator Pat Roberts had
also not expected to have to fight very hard to hold onto his seat. But,
now, Senator Roberts and Republicans more broadly, appeared to have woken
up to the fact that they do have a real fight on their hands in blood red
Kansas, of all places.

National Republicans are flown in a new team of seasoned Republicans pros
from Washington to take over the Roberts campaign from the locals?

They`ve also started running these new ads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kansans are struggling, and Barack Obama`s failed
policies are hurting working families. Pat Roberts is fighting back and
getting results.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Republican Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran say
the money for the national bio and agro defense facility was approved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The national bio and agro defense facility proposed for
the Kansas State campus in Manhattan would bring in more than 300 high
paying jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pat Roberts, strong effective leadership in challenging
times.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: OK. That ad, fresh today from the newly re-invigorated Pat
Roberts` campaign in Kansas. But look at the headlines that flash by in
the ad. See, it`s very fine print, but where it says Roberts marshals
efforts to put defense facility in Kansas? The date on that is from seven
years ago. 2007. Also, this other one, huge win, bio defense lab, boost
entire state. That one is from six years ago. That`s from 2008. You can
see Senator Roberts in the middle there in the light-colored suit with a
shovel.

Senator Roberts did do work in D.C. to try to get the federal government to
build this national bio and agro defense facility in Kansa, and in a way,
he did win. At one point, they were going to get that thing built in
Kansas. Bringing home the pork. Yeah, jobs. But that was a really long
time ago. That was even before Barack Obama was elected president. That
was before this term for Kansas - Kansas Senator Pat Roberts in the Senate.
And if you look at this more recent record, well, this year in January,
Senator Roberts actually voted to defund that same project.

And, you know, that`s fine. Folks change their minds. But that`s also -
the kind of thing that local press is going to notice. If you start all of
sudden running campaign ads toting your support for something that you just
voted to defund. Embarrassing. It has not been a great reboot for the Pat
Roberts campaign: he`s a long-time incumbent. He`s supposed to be sailing
the victory here. That all changed, though, this month, when the Democrat
in the race dropped out. The Democrat was running against him. Dropped
out of the race, that made way for a popular independent candidate to run
against unpopular Senator Roberts in a two way race. A two way race, in
which the latest polls show Pat Roberts losing his seat to the independent
guy who`s running against him. We`ll have more on that in just a second.

But since they have to get out- they are already in trouble in Kansas. The
National Republican Party has stepped in to try to rescue their Kansas
candidate. They flew out this new team to take over the campaign. They
put out those new ads today. Republicans are also fighting for him in
court in Kansas. The Kansas Supreme Court today heard arguments about
whether that Democratic candidate would in fact be allowed to drop out of
the race. The Republican Secretary of State in Kansas, the guy named Kris
Kobach, he has ruled that the Democratic candidate didn`t fill out his
paperwork in exactly the right way. So, he will not be allowed to quit.
So now the Kansas Supreme Court has to decide whether the Democrat will be
allowed to take himself off the ballot or whether the Republicans in Kansas
state government can force him to stay on the ballot. In which case Pat
Roberts has a much better chance of keeping his seat, and national
Republicans have a much better chance of holding onto the entire United
States Senate. We expect a ruling on this case from the Kansas Supreme
Court, probably to come down really fast. It could come down as early as
tomorrow, even as though they just heard arguments today. They need to
move fast, because the ballots have to get printed in Kansas on Friday.
So, there isn`t much wiggle room here.

In terms of the stakes here, though, as promised, here is that polling from
today. Which does suggest that even a court- mandated three-way race, even
if they don`t let the Democrat off the ballot that might not be enough to
help Senator Roberts now. Today`s polling is of likely voters, and it
shows the independent in the race, Greg Orman, leading the senator by ten
points if they are in a two-way race. That`s head-to-head. The senator,
the incumbent, senator trailing by ten.

Even if this does stay a three-way race, though, if the court decides that
the Democrat has to be forced to stay on the ballot, Pat Roberts is still
trailing in a three-way race by seven points, which is still a lot,
especially when you`re the incumbent.

Whatever the Kansas Supreme Court decides, this is not what Republicans
expected to find themselves doing seven weeks from the election. But what
is the Kansas Supreme Court going to decide here?

Joining us now is Dave Helling, political reporter for the “Kansas City
Star.” He`s been following this story closely from the start. Mr. Helen,
great to see you. Thanks for being back with us.

DAVE HELLING, KANSAS CITY STAR: You bet.

MADDOW: So, watching those oral arguments, it`s always folly (ph) to
extrapolate from oral arguments, to predict what the court is going to do.
But will you do it anyway? Do you have a sense of how they felt about this
case?

HELLING: Well, since you ask, yes, I will speculate a bit. You`re right.
You don`t want to prejudge based on what judges, justices ask in court,
Rachel, because sometimes they like to pretend they are reporters and ask
questions on both sides of an issue. But in this case, you did get the
sense today that the judges, by the way, many of them Democrats, or
appointed by Democrats, are pretty skeptical of this idea that Kris Kobach
could force Chad Taylor to stay on the ballot. They did suggest that he`s
ruled differently in other cases that involved people who have left the
ballot. So, again, without being too aggressive in prejudging their
decision, it does seem like the justices or majority of justices are
skeptical of this idea, that Chad Taylor who says he has no interest in f
running for office, he should actually be forced to be on a ballot.

MADDOW: I`m glad you raised that issue about precedent here. I understand
that one of the things they went through today with the lawyers were other
instances of people trying to drop off the ballot. People applying to Kris
Kobach`s office and saying hey, I want out of this race. In general, with
those precedents, with those other candidates, were they perfectly explicit
to the letter of the law and saying exactly why they wanted to get off the
ballot according to the terms that the Chad Taylor cases didn`t meet? What
did you make for that evidence?

HELLING: No, the Kris Kobach has said look, you have to say specifically,
you have to declare in that letter why you are incapable of holding office.
That`s what the statute said. But these other letters didn`t make a
blatant statement of incapability. Some of them have said look, I`m too
busy, I`m worried about my other scheduling. I just can`t serve. And
Kobach said, well, at that point, I have the discretion to determine
whether or not the excuse in the letter is sufficient to meet the standard
in the law. And Tony for Chad Taylor said well, that`s pretty silly. I
mean as long as you substantially comply, as these other people did, you
should be able to get off the ballot and again, the judges seem to indicate
that they had some sympathy for that argument.

MADDOW: Dave, we are seeing the Roberts campaign ramp up, especially with
this - the cavalry being brought in from Washington to supplant his local
team.

HELLING: Right.

MADDOW: How do you assess the Orman campaign? The independent candidate
in this race? Is he running a good campaign in Kansas terms?

HELLING: To date, he`s running a very good campaign. Remember, Rachel,
three months ago, nobody had ever heard of Greg Orman. Nobody - n either
party he was a virtually unknown in the state. And now as you suggest he
leads by ten points in one on one matchup with Pat Roberts in the latest
poll. So, he`s doing something right. I think the spots are very sort of
neutral. They`re very positive. They suggest that both sides have a
problem and as an independent, Greg Orman can solve problems in Washington.

Now, you know, we are seven weeks away, a lot of things could happen. You
mentioned the rescuers if you will, from the East Coast coming out of
Kansas. One of the people involved in the Roberts campaign is a guy named
Alan Cobb as a consultant. Alan Cobb is closely connected with Koch
industries and Americans for prosperities. So, we don`t know yet whether
there will be a lot of third party involvement from either side in this
race. That could change the calculus. We do expect it to get a little
nastier before Election Day. At this point, Greg Oman is running an
almost-perfect campaign, which you almost have to do to beat Pat Roberts.

MADDOW: Great heads up in terms of what to keep an eye on. Dave Helling,
political reporter for “The Kansas City Star.” Thanks, Dave, I really
appreciate it.

HELLING: You bet.

MADDOW: Thanks.

HELLING: You bet.

MADDOW: All right. I will meet you at the crossroads of Studio 54 and the
final frontier coming up next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: OK, just ahead there is a legitimate news reason for this, I
promise. And it involves Vladimir Putin. It is a bad news story for
Vladimir Putin, it is good news overall and it involves this song and this
dance specifically I swear. It`s next and I love my job.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Vladimir Putin, disco and blackmail. Here`s how they fit
together. If you were born in the 1970s or later you basically missed
disco. Yes, you know what it is. You can probably hit the high points in
terms of “Saturday Night Fever” and Studio 54 and even if you can`t
remember that the bland was chic and the song was “Le Frick” you can
probably still freak out.

(MUSIC)

MADDOW: If you weren`t of dancing age by the late `70s it was possible to
miss disco because the disco era did not last all that long. And if you
missed the disco era you probably do not remember that there were also
disco subgenres, there was Euro disco typified by Newt Gingrich`s favorite
band, Abba seen here singing about “Waterloo.” There`s a specific sub-
variant of Polish disco that survives to this day, they call it disco polo
and there was a specific variant of disco called space disco. See what you
missed out on, my fellow 40-year olds?

This was a spacey era in pop culture. Disco was there to take advantage of
it. The movie “Star Wars” came out in 1977 and this song, which was called
“I love playing court to his courtship trooper” (ph) was written in `78,
came out in 1979, and its lyrics were about “Star Wars,” about fighting for
the federation.

(MUSIC)

MADDOW: We conquer space!

Perhaps, the foremost example of space disco, the song “I lost my heart to
a starship trooper.” It did very well with the top ten single in the U.K.,
and it launched for singing career of the lay in the leotard. The teenage
lead vocalist for the song was Sarah Brightman, she got her start in space
disco. And now she wants to go to space itself.

Sarah Brightman is now in her 50s, she is very successful, she sold tens of
millions of records as a crossover pop classical artist, and now she plans
to become a space tourist. She`s paid something like $15 million for the
privilege of traveling along as a passenger on a Russian spaceflight.
She`s tentatively due to go up next year at around this time. She traveled
to Russia already to do some preliminary medical testing to see if she`s
fit enough to make the trip into space. But here`s where Vladimir Putin
comes in. And blackmail. Right now, yes, it is embarrassing that the
Russian space agency has to fund itself by offering $50 million tickets to
celebrities, yes. But right now the Russian space agency is the only ride
in the world for anybody who wants to go to the international space
station. Since the U.S. Space shuttle program shut down in 2011 when we
want to put our astronauts on the space station now we have to get in line
with the celebrities and pay the Russians to give us a ride to space.
Vladimir Putin and the Russians have a monopoly on manned spaceflight right
now and like any good monopolists, they are abusing it. By using the
monopoly control over that resource to get what they want. Quietly last
week the Russians announced that anybody wanting to get a ride into space
with them, anybody wanting to ride along on a Soyuz spacecraft now may have
to do their preflight training in Crimea.

Russia invaded Crimea and took it over six months ago. The world,
including the U.S. doesn`t recognize Crimea as part of Russia. They
recognize it as still part of Ukraine, the country that Russia took it
from, but Russia now says they`re about to insist that the mandatory
cosmonaut training for people who want to ride into space with them is
going to happen in the part of Russia that is called Crimea. So you don`t
recognize Crimea as part of Russia? You can`t fly into space. That goes
for you, American astronauts, planning to fly to the space station in the
next couple of years and, yes that goes for you Sarah Brightman would-be
starship trooper. Everybody has to kiss Putin`s ring and go to Crimea and
call it Russia if they want to go to space. That`s what Russia announced
last week.

Well, today NASA announced that they would fix it. Today NASA announced
that the Russian monopoly on flying people into space is over. Boeing and
the company SpaceX founded by the Tesla guy will both receive multibillion
dollar contracts to get the U.S. back into the business of delivering
humans safely into and out of space within the next three years. SpaceX
has already been delivering cargo to the space station, but NASA`s
announcement today means they`ll be delivering humans as well, soon, may
not be soon enough to prevent Sarah Brightman from having to go to Crimea
and call it Russia, which Putin will collect as blackmail along with her
$52 million but it would stop the spectacle of more of that blackmail in
the future. Her space tourist mandatory cosmonaut space training is due to
start in January 2015. SpaceX and Boeing are supposed to be ready to take
humans in 2017. Maybe she`ll decide she can wait.

Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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