The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/13/14
RACHEL MADDOW: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. This is a lot
going on in the news today. The coal mine disaster in West Virginia that
killed 29 people, remember the big branch mind disaster? That is now being
treated not as a mine accident, but essentially as a criminal act by the
boss of that mine. That CEO is the most visible face of the coal industry
in this country. Today, he was criminally indicted, essentially for the
death of those 29 men. And he will be facing decades in prison if he is
convicted. We`re going to have more on that story coming up. Very
dramatic development there.
Also, 300 million miles away from here, there is also some - news today
about humankind having pulled off the amazing achievement of landing a
spacecraft on a speeding comet. As we reported on last night`s show, one
of the concerns about that mission is that there`s not very much gravity on
the comet. It`s only about 1/10,000 of the gravity that we have on Earth.
So, there`s been this real worry that a little landing craft that landed on
the comet would be at risk of floating away, basically not being able to
stick to the comet once it landed there. Well, we talked about that last
night on the show. The problem of the comet lander floating away? In fact,
has happened now twice in the past 24 hours. The little landing craft
can`t stick. It just floated away for a while into space before eventually
coming back down on the comet today. The problem now, though, is that it
has come back down on a comet in a place that is shady, a place that is
shielding its solar panels from the sun. So the little comet lander is at
risk of running out of energy and essentially dying there on the comet
unless it can get into a sunny spot.
The question now is whether they`re going to be able to shove it off into
space again on purpose. And hope that the next time it comes down on the
comet, it comes down in a sunnier place. But the triumph of that comet
landing yesterday - no, today, became a real drama as to whether or not
this little lander is going to be able to live now that it`s there?
So, there`s criminal law drama today, there`s space drama today. The
political drama today was this unbelievable story, literally unbelievable.
I thought that this story, I kid you not, I thought that it was satire when
I first saw the headline. I`m feeling very superior about all the people
who fell for this obvious satire. Ha-ha-ha. That could not possibly be a
true thing. It`s a true thing. The governor of Arkansas is about to leave
office. He didn`t run for re-election. He is on his way out - on his way
out the door. He is issuing a pardon to his own son for a drug offense
from ten years ago. This is the kind of story that would be made up by
anti-American state TV in some country that hates us. Oh, you want
democracy? Look at the way democracy works in America. That really is the
true news out of Arkansas today.
If you know any idealistic youngsters who you are hoping might pursue a
career in public service some day, you may want to hide that story from
them. You don`t want to impose Arkansas news blackout in that family for a
I`m going to use it just not today. Even like the corky sidebar human
interests stories today have a good component.
You may have seen headlines today about a tiger being on the loosen near
Euro Disney in France? You know, you see those headlines and you think oh,
I didn`t know that Euro Disney had live tigers as part of the Disney
experience. Turns out, they don`t. There`s a live tiger that`s been
spotted near Europe Disney near Paris, but it didn`t escape from Euro
Disney. They don`t have live animals like that at Euro Disney. So then
you read into the story, OK, that`s interesting, where the tiger come from.
Two paragraphs into the story turns out, oh, OK, there`s a parc des Felins,
forgive my French. A parc des Felins, a wildlife park with sea lions, with
lions and tigers and stuff that is only about 20 miles away from where they
have seen this tiger on the loose in France. So you think oh, that`s where
it came from. It didn`t - the tiger didn`t come from Euro Disney. It
must have come from the parc des Felins.
No, it turns out they`re not missing any of their tigers. All of their
tigers at the parc des Felins are present and accounted for. So, this is
where you are wondering, where this freaking tiger come from? Then, you
read a few more paragraphs into the story and it turns out, oh, there was a
circus in town. The tiger must have come from the circus. It wasn`t from
Euro Disney. They don`t have tigers. It`s not from the parc des Felins.
They haven`t lost any of their tigers.
Was it your tiger circus? Must have been from the circus that was in the
area. Except no, the circus also says they have not lost a tiger. So
French police have been roaming the country side near Euro Disney with
tranquilizer guns hoping to find this 150 pound tiger on the loose in the
country side. Should be kind of a normal, whacky lost, a wildlife story.
But because it`s today`s news, it also has to be completely inexplicable.
Because you know what, tigers are not native to France? And there`s no
conceivable place this tiger could have come from.
That`s kind of a rough cross-section of what has happened in our world
today. And not even just in our world, what has happened in our solar
system today? Forgive the acronym, but this has been kind of a what the
hew hockey (ph) sticks Thursday in the news. Everything is like,
seriously? Except in Washington, actually. In Washington, everything
today is going just as expected.
Today was the announcement from each of the parties as to who their
leadership is going to be in the Senate. This is who the Republicans
picked. The Republicans did decide to go for it in terms of diversity this
year. In addition to these three white guys named John, they also decided
to pick two other white guys named Mitch and Roy. So, the Republicans
really mixed it up this year. The Democrats picked their team, too. Harry
Reid, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Patty Murray. They were all there
before. But the last two leadership positions, those are new faces. And
the last one there, the lower right hand sight of your screen there, that
is an interesting choice for a few reasons. The thing to know about
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is that she enjoys this very rare status
in American politics, which is that she appears to not have an enemy in the
world. I have never met anybody in the world of politics, or in the world
of news about politics, left, right, or center, and I have case. I`ve yet
to meet anybody in this entire business who does not have a favorable
opinion of Amy Klobuchar.
She`s a centrist Senator. She`s very, very, very, very popular in her
state. She first won election to the Senate in 2006 by a 20 point margin.
She then won re-election six years later by a 35 point margin. And yes,
President Obama did carry her state, as well, in that year in 2012. But in
Minnesota in 2012, when Amy Klobuchar and Barack Obama were both on the
same ballot that year, Amy Klobuchar outperformed Barack Obama in that
election by 27 points.
Same voters. Look at those maps. So that is one reason why Amy Klobuchar
is an interesting choice for the Democrats to add to their leadership in
Washington. If the Democratic primary for president in 2016 is going to be
more on the wide open side and less just a coronation of Hillary Clinton
for whatever reason, it`s going to be a more interesting race than people
think it`s going to be. Then a lot of people think that Amy Klobuchar is a
potential dark horse candidate for president from the Democratic Party.
If not, regardless of who the Democrats pick for the top of the ticket, if
it`s not her, Amy Klobuchar is at the top a very close to the top of
everybody`s list for who the Democrats might nominate for Vice President.
So, Amy Klobuchar, very interesting choice that the Democrats made today -
to their leadership. There other reason it`s interesting though, as a
choice is because in order to get that leadership job to which she was just
named today, Amy Klobuchar has to replace somebody who already has that
job. It`s not like the Elizabeth Warren job where the Democrats just
created a whole new leadership position so they would have something to
give her. In Klobuchar`s case, the job of the steering committee chair for
the Democratic Party, that`s her new job, right? Before today, that was a
job that had already been taken. The Senator Mark Begich of Alaska already
has that job. And, yeah, if Mark Begich isn`t in the Senate anymore, then
that leadership job is open and it`s available for somebody else to take.
But Mark Begich isn`t conceding that he`s going to be out of the Senate.
In Alaska, with tens of thousands of votes yet to be counted in the Senate
race, the Associated Press has called that race for Mark Begich`s opponent,
Republican named Dan Sullivan. NBC News is calling Dan Sullivan the
apparent winner of that Senate race. But Mark Begich is not conceding.
And he says he will not concede until all the remaining ballots that were
cast in Alaska are, in fact, counted. And there are still tens of
thousands of them.
So depending on what happens with that Alaska Senate seat and that Mary
Landrieu runoff in Louisiana, Republicans will control the Senate starting
in January with somewhere between 52 and 54 seats. It`s not a huge
majority, but it`s comfortable control in the Senate. And, of course,
they`ve got very comfortable control in the House. They`ve got a really
big margin in the House.
But because of the way things are now, the same party sitting pretty
comfortably in controlling both houses of Congress that apparently does not
mean that we`re not going to have a government shutdown anyway. Seriously,
they are starting that whole thing up again. Today, the “New York Times”
dropped this anvil in the soup of today`s news. The paper reporting that
the Obama White House has teed up the president`s long-awaited executive
action on immigration. And, as early as an next week, President Obama will
announce that he will change the enforcement priorities for Homeland
Security and immigration officials to basically allow about 5 million
people who are in this country without proper documentation, to come
forward, make themselves known to authorities, pay a fine, pass a
background check. If they do all of those things, they can qualify, for,
essentially, a temporary promise that they will not be deported. So it`s
not a change to the law. It`s not a permanent fix to our screwed up
immigration system. It`s essentially a reprieve hoping to buy time until
the system can be fixed. It`s what the president can do legally on his own
without Congress acting to change the law.
So, what was floated today by the “New York Times” this proposal that may
or may not be announced by the President next week? It is - it`s less,
frankly, than what immigration activists have been demanding of the White
House all this time. It`s less than what they say the White House has been
hinting at for months now.
But even to spice up, the reaction on the right to this news the “New York
Times” has basically been like watching a super montage of the greatest
movie explosions of all time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (LAUGHING)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We actually had that laying around for a long time, just waiting
for the day to use it. But that is sort of what it`s been like to watch
the conservative media today. Oh, my god, today, their new word was
explosion. Look. It`s like they did - the Republicans in the focus group
about how to talk about President Obama now and the takeaway messaging
instruction from the focus group was it really should have something to do
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R): When you play with matches, you take the risk of
burning yourself. And he`s going to burn himself if he continues to get
out on this path.
REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLIAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The president is
just throwing a barrel of kerosene on a fire, if he signs an executive
amnesty. He didn`t deliver it when he had an opportunity. Then he went
forward and threatened executive amnesty, which is, in our mind, a nuclear
REP. HAL ROGERS (R) KENTUCKY: Surely the president understands the kind of
explosion that would occur up here if he takes that unilateral action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And once there is an explosion, once there is a fire, it turns out
the only water that can put that out is a little word that starts with I
and ends with impeachment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: There is going to be a fire storm on Capitol
Hill. You are going to see calls for impeachment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some of the other things, that people are suggesting,
such as possible impeachment of the president for what many would consider
lawless actions if he goes too far.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the president failing to comply with his oath.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is that equal? That equals serious violations of
the Constitution. That equals offenses that rise to the level of
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t think they will, but that`s the constitutional
remedy for presidential behavior this wide of the mark.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some have suggested he goes too far. He should be
impeached. How big would the action have to be? What would he have to do
to make it an impeachable offense? Is President Obama trying to bait the
Republicans into impeaching him? Already, there`s pressure on them not to
impeach. Don`t do anything that would hurt them politically.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But if they think he`s lawless, and if the American
people think he is behaving lawlessly, what should they do?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Normally, if the president does something that would be
bring the country to a tipping point, the first thing people would say, is
- is impeachment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, in conservative media, they want to impeach President Obama
for taking executive action on immigration, as the “New York Time” says now
is an imminent thing.
The last time there were lots of loud calls in Republican politics for
impeaching President Obama, the way Republicans tried to make those calls
go away was by deciding instead to file a law suit against President Obama.
Remember that? They never actually did file that law suit this summer, but
they said they would. In order to try to quiet down the impeachment talk.
Well, the law suit gambit that happened today, too. Republican Congressman
Mo Brooks of Alabama told the Wall Street Journal today that he supports a
new lawsuit. Even though they didn`t file the first one, but a new one,
suing President Obama over his actions on immigration, actions, which, of
course, President Obama has not taken yet, but he already knows he wants to
sue him for them. But if you don`t like threatening to impeach the
president, or threatening to sue the president, it does seem like what the
Republicans are settling in on now, is planning to shut down the government
In an effort led by Congressman Matt Salmon of Arizona, incidentally, he`s
the congressman from that district in Arizona where the local school board
recently decided to rip pages they didn`t like out of the honors` biology
textbooks. Matt Salmon from that very conservative district in Arizona, he
has just spearheaded an effort that includes more than 50 Republican
members of Congress now, in which they`re promising that they will not
allow Congress to pass the basic legislation that keeps the lights on, that
keeps the government running. The basic funding the government
legislation, they will not let that pass, unless that legislation also
somehow blocks President Obama from taking any action on his own on the
issue of immigration. So either block the president from doing this or
shut the government down.
We made it nine whole days after the election before we could put the next
government shutdown on the map. Democracy! The government is currently
funded through December 11, but they`ve got to pass legislation if they
want to keep it open thereafter. So, we are good through December 11.
After that, who knows? Fiery adjective. Explosion metaphor,
So, none of these are surprising developments in Washington, right?
President Obama has been saying for months that he was going to act alone
on immigration, Republicans have been saying for months that they were
going to lose their minds if and when that happened, both of those
(INAUDIBLE) seem to be coming to pass. The question now is, seriously,
where is that tiger from? Sorry, the question now is what`s actually going
to happen? If, inevitably, President Obama is going to do something, and,
inevitably, the Republicans are going to lose their minds. Impeach them!
Or sue them! Or shut down the government, or whatever they are going to
do! Out of the great upset over this thing that they know is coming. Is
the White House going to do something that, in substantive terms, is going
to be big enough to be worth it? Is the president about to do something
that is going to make a real difference? Giving all the upset it`s going
to cost? Is he going to do something that`s going to make a real
difference? And how can we help?
Joining us now is Alan Gomez. He is the immigration reporter at “USA
Today.” Mr. Gomez, thanks very much for being here. It`s nice to have you
ALAN GOMEZ: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: If President Obama moves forward with action on immigration via an
executive order as early as next week, that`s the reporting from what both
“The New York Times” and Fox News in the last day or so, what do you think
we should expect in terms of the scope of his action and how big the White
House will believe they can go?
ALAN GOMEZ, USA TODAY IMMIGRATION REPORTER: Well, it believes, they think
they can go very, very far. And, understand, this is pretty much they`re
viewing this as an extension of what - from what they did a couple of years
ago, deferred action for childhood arrivals where they are protected. It`s
now been up to close to 600,000 young, undocumented immigrants from
deportation. And in their view, they`re allowed to pick who they`re going
to focus their immigration enforcement efforts on. And, so by doing this,
when that - so they think what they can do now is extend that to one, two,
three, four, million people. So long as they don`t say we`re not going to
deport anybody, they think they can protect certain group of the
undocumented population. So they - trust me, they`ve been told, they`ve
been suggested, they`ve been advocated, they`ve been pushed to prevent –
to stop all deportations completely. They don`t think they can do that.
So what they`re looking at is about - a group of about 3.5 million as what
we are hearing right now, maybe 4.5 million. And mostly parents of
children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents in this country. So,
that`s about 3-4 million people. There is some that are pushing for more,
there is some that are obviously pushing for less, but it sound like that`s
kind of the ballpark where they are settling in.
MADDOW: There`s so much attention in Washington in the national news
including here, on the way that Republicans are freaking out about this, on
what potential options the Republicans might have to suck (ph) them, but on
the other side of it, I mean you mentioned that advocacy groups have been
pushing the president, pushing Democrats, pushing this White House to do
something and to go as big as they can. What sort of reactions are we
seeing from those advocates? From those people who - who want the
president to act?
GOMEZ: Well, it`s already process planned for tomorrow, and it`s not going
far enough. I mean it`s as simple as that. This - right now, I guess, it
is, what they are looking at and what it sounds like they`re really looking
at is this - the parents of the people who are U.S. citizens.
But those kids, they got protected, those 600,000 kids that got protected a
couple of years ago, they wouldn`t be included in that. So, the want their
parents to be included as well. The way that the Senate approached which
group of undocumented immigrants to protect when they passed their bill
last year, had nothing to do with who you`re related to. It had to do with
how long you`ve been in the country. Even some Republicans like John
McCain have talked about the idea that if you`ve been here five, ten, 15,
20 years, you`ve established yourself in the community, that you should be
able to stay as well.
So it doesn`t look like they`re considering that group of people right now.
And so, yeah, they`re absolutely going to be pushing for him to continue to
go further and further. And so now that we`ve heard about this, 4, 5
million figure. Yeah, already, there`s going to be protest tomorrow saying
that it needs to go a heck of a lot further.
MADDOW: It`s amazing, before there`s any announcement, there`s already
planned impeachment, a lawsuit and shutting down the government and
protests over what`s not in the deal. They haven`t actually announced
anything, but just a sign of how hot this issue is. Alan Gomez,
immigration reporter, “USA Today.” Alan, thanks very much for being here.
I appreciate it.
GOMEZ: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thanks. All right, we`ve got lots more to come tonight, including
some astonishing new details about the Secret Service and them failing to
prevent an intruder from entering the White House back in September. Stay
MADDOW: Don Blankenship is almost a mythical figure in West Virginia. In
1982, he got a start and made his name fighting the United Mineworkers in a
long and sometimes violent strike. In 1992, he was named president of
Massey Energy, one of the biggest coal companies in the country. He went
on to become the chairman, and CEO. At one point, he was the highest paid
executive in that whole industry, he was making $17 million a year. With
that kind of money and power came some very overt political involvement.
In 2004, Mr. Blankenship used $3 million of his own money to help elect a
judge to the West Virginia Supreme Court in the hopes that that judge would
rule in his favor in a case there. Four years later, Mr. Blankenship
shared lunches and dinners on the French Riviera with that very same judge,
while his company had another case pending in that same court.
At the time of the French Riviera revelations, an ABC News reporter tried
to ask Mr. Blankenship a question about that, it did not go well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON BLANKENSHIP, MASSEY ENERGY COMPANY CHAIRMAN & CEO: If you are going to
start taking pictures of me, you are liable to get shot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are doing, Mr. Blankenship, ABC News. Sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s what it looked like to ask Don Blankenship a question in
2008. This is what it looked like to work for him. Government documents
cite a memo from Mr. Blankenship to one of his managers, pushing the
manager to up his production, to get more out of the minds and faster. The
memo said, “Pitiful. You need to get focused. I could crustshaft (ph)
you. Do you understand?”
And, inside the lines, records show that his operations had hundreds and
hundreds and hundreds of safety violations. Still, though, Mr. Blankenship
prided himself on mine safety. He said it was his most important job.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLANKENSHIP: As someone who`s overseen the mining of more coal than anyone
else in the history of Central Appalachia, I know that the safety and
health of coal miners is my most important job. I don`t need Washington
politicians to tell me that. And neither do you.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
BLANKENSHIP: But I also know, I also know that Washington and state
politicians have no idea how to improve miner safety.
The very idea that they care more about coal miner safety than we do, is as
silly as global warming.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was in September, 2009 at a Labor Day rally. About six
months later, on April 5, 2010, one of Don Blankenship`s mines blew up. It
was the mine called the Upper Big Branch. It was the worst mining disaster
in this country in almost 40 years. Families waited days for word of their
loved ones trapped underground, and the news when it came, was just
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On a beautiful spring day and under state trooper
salute, the remains of 22 miners were carried out of West Virginia`s Upper
Big Branch mine today. Overnight, the death toll had climbed.
Just after midnight, the governor delivered the worst possible news:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did not receive the miracle we prayed for. We`ve
accounted for four miners that had been unaccounted for.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After days of fighting toxic gas and smoke, rescuers
finally reached the last rescue chamber, deep in the mine just before
midnight. No one was inside. In fact, rescuers had walked passed the
bodies of the missing four miners on the first day, but never saw them
through the smoke and debris.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this journey has ended. And now the healing will
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The death toll at Upper Big Branch eventually rose to 29. 29
people killed. It was a disaster of generational proportions. Almost
immediately after that explosion, people started asking questions about Don
Blankenship and Massey Energy and his company`s rich history of safety
violations. Don Blankenship denied any responsibility for that
categorically. He told the Senate committee that putting profits before
safety is just something he would never do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON BLANKENSHIP: Let me state for the record, Massey does not push profits
over safety. We never have and we never will. Period. From the day I
became a member of Massey`s leadership team 20 years ago, I have made
safety the number one priority.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I have made safety the number one priority. Since the disaster at
the Upper Big Branch Mine, there have been four convictions related to that
disaster. A security chief, a mine superintendent. As for Mr.
Blankenship, a few months after the explosion, he announced his retirement
from working at Massey Energy after nearly three decades. And for a while,
it seemed like maybe the story of Don Blankenship and the Upper Big Branch
Mine was going to be just another part of West Virginia coal mining lore,
the time when 29 husbands and sons and brothers and fathers went to work
and didn`t come home, and then a few middle management types you never
heard of went to prison for their part in how that mine had been run. But
that is not where that story ended.
Late today, federal prosecutors unsealed a four-count indictment against
the former CEO, against Don Blankenship. They alleged that Don Blankenship
conspired to cause routine and willful violations of mandatory federal mine
safety and health standards at that mine starting in 2008, more than two
years before the explosion, quote, “Blankenship knew the mine was
committing hundreds of safety law violations every year. And that he had
the ability to prevent most of the violations. Yet, he fostered and
participated in an understanding that perpetuating the mine`s practice of
routine safety violations in order to produce more coal, and to avoid the
costs of following safety laws and make more money. Profits over safety.
That is the criminal allegation here in this new federal indictment. Mr.
Blankenship`s attorney issued a statement today his client is “entirely
innocent of the charges.” He says Don Blankenship`s will fight these
charges and “he will be acquitted.” And maybe so, but that is the news
today about the one-time, long time king of coal in West Virginia. If
convicted of these charges, Don Blankenship will go to prison for 31 years.
MADDOW: This is a little bit weird, but last night, we detailed the start
of Herculean efforts by one master meteorologist to break a world record.
Today, I guess roughly 23 hours into what he`s doing, frankly, we just want
to make sure that he`s still alive. He is. That`s live. Al Roker is now
nearly 24 hours into his effort to break the world record for the longest
unbroken stretch of time spent weather forecasting. And although there
were moments today when it seemed like he was about to keel over, as you
can see, look, he`s alive. I mean he doesn`t look great, but he`s alive.
And that`s as much as I`m willing to say. I hereby prove to you that he
lives. If he wants to make the record, he has 10 1/2 more hours to go.
Oh, god. So, we are just checking in.
AL ROKER: Good.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: OK. It is amazing to me that the story hasn`t been told before
now. This is a story you won`t believe, and you have never heard it before
The man who is now president, Barack Obama, was a United States Senator
before he was president. Before that, he was an Illinois state senator.
He was elected to the Illinois state senate in 1996 when he was only 36
years old at the time. He looked even younger, as you can see here. But
when you go to work in the Illinois state senate, this is where you work.
This is the senate chamber. It`s beautiful, right? Beautiful, historical
building. And as you can see, the desks are arranged in kind of a radial
pattern. Concentric circles in the Senate chamber.
As such, some of the seats for the senators are linked together. I mean
there are aisles in the chamber, but the senators desks are clumped
together in little twos and threes and fours. When Barack Obama became a
brand new freshman senator in Illinois in 1997, he was given an assigned
seat and his seatmate, at his little conjoined desk in the state senate
chamber was this senator. Her name was Penny Severns. And yes, Barack
Obama was an impressive politician right from the get-go. But this senator
who they paired him with, and who became Barack Obama`s mentor in his first
year in the state senate, she was also a bit of a shooting star. Penny
Severns had been elected to the Senate even younger than Barack Obama had
been. She was 34 when she was elected to the Senate. When she was only 20
years old, she had been elected to be a delegate at the Democratic National
Convention in 1972. She was the youngest person ever to have been elected
a national convention delegate. She ran for Congress in 1980. She won a
city council seat in Illinois thereafter. She then ran for the senate.
Penny Severns ran for the Senate in her state against a ten-year,
Republican incumbent who`s not seen as endangered at all. He was a member
of the leadership and everything. But she beat him. You see the sign
there? Hello, Penny. Good-bye, Jim.
In 1994, Illinois Democrats decided that for the first time in the history
of the Democratic Party, or the Republican Party in any state in the
country, they would run an all-female ticket for governor and lieutenant
governor. Now, in 1994, you might remember, was a bad year for Democrats
coast-to-coast. They didn`t win in Illinois. But Penny Severns was
lieutenant governor candidate on that historic ticket. She disclosed
during the campaign that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. But
she stayed on the ticket. She campaigned hard. In 1997, she was re-
elected in her senate district. This is a photo of him being
congratulated, after she won in a district. In 1998, she decided to run
for secretary of state. But she did not make it. Two days after ending
her campaign for secretary of state, she died. She died at home. Her twin
sister had survived breast cancer, at that point, her younger sister had
died from breast cancer. And in 1998, Penny Severns died from breast
cancer, as well. She was only 46 years old.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freshman senators say you do got have to be a state
house veteran to appreciate Severns.
BARACK OBAMA: She had integrity. And she had vision. She took me under
her wing immediately when I came down and gave me all kinds of terrific
advice and tips. So, she`ll be sorely missed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Since Senator Penny Severns died in 1998, her name and her legacy
have loomed really large in the home state. “The Chicago Sun Times” wrote
recently about how the current secretary of state keeps a photo of her in
his office. 16 years after she died. The portion of Interstate 72 that
runs between Springfield, the state capitol and her home district in
Decatur, Illinois, that stretch of Interstate 72 is named for Penny
Severns. The public health department in Illinois maintained something
called the Penny Severns breast cancer, cervical cancer and ovarian cancer
research fund. The Illinois State Library maintains the Penny Severns
family literacy program. The city of Decatur, Illinois, which she
represented is in Macon County, Illinois. And Macon County has known its
share of scandal and scoundrels over the years. Illinois politics are not
a fairy tale. You can visit more Illinois former governors in prison than
in any single other place. But in Macon County, Illinois, there is an
award that`s given every year to a public official who has done the right
thing when it was hard to do the right thing. That award is called the
Penny Severns Integrity Award.
Penny Severns died in 1998, but her legacy still looms really large in that
state. And it`s not because of her role in Barack Obama`s political life,
right at the start of his political career, his first year in elected
office, it`s not because of that. It`s because of her own political life.
Had breast cancer not killed her when she was still in her mid-40s, who
knows where she would have ended up by now. But the thing to know now is
what was never known about her in her whole career, in her whole life.
Last November, 15 years after Penny Severns died, Illinois moved a marriage
bill. It was introduced by a state rep named Ann Williams. And in
introducing that marriage bill in Illinois in November, Ann Williams broke
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE REP. ANN WILLIAMS, (D) ILLINOIS: One of the greatest love stories I
have ever heard played out right here under our beautiful dome. But it was
a secret. Why? Because it happened over 20 years ago, involved a state
senator, the late Penny Severns and one of my dearest friends, a woman
named Terry Mutchler at the time, an A.P. reporter here at the capital.
Penny served in the Senate from 1986 until her tragic and untimely death
from breast cancer in 1998. For much of that time, there were no openly
gay members of either chamber.
So the relationship between Penny and Terry remained pretty much a secret
until after Penny`s death.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Penny Severns, Barack Obama`s mentor in his first year in
public office in the state senate in Illinois, among many, many other
things about her political career. She only died in 1998. She`s not that
long ago. But even in 1998, what she considered to be her marriage and her
whole private and romantic life, was a secret to everybody. And so long
after she dies, and then the story eventually could be told.
The late Senator Penny Severns partner, her partner in secret throughout
their lives together, is Terry Mutchler. She`s now written a book called
“Under This Beautiful Dome.” Terry Mutchler is a lawyer. She`s a former
journalist and she joins us tonight for the interview.
Terry, it`s really nice to meet you.
TERRY MUTCHLER, “UNDER THIS BEAUTIFUL DOME” AUTHOR: Thank you. It`s a
great pleasure to be here.
MADDOW: Did I get any of that wrong?
MUTCHLER: You got it all perfectly right.
MADDOW: OK. It feels like I feel like I`m talking about you in the room
while you are sitting there, which is awkward. But this is a very personal
thing. I have to say also, we don`t usually do book interviews on this
show, but I found this to be a very moving story and also sort of - it`s
remarkable that this has been so hidden, given how big she looms in
Illinois politics and her connection to the president. Why is that?
MUTCHLER: Penny and I when we fell in love in 1993, I was a journalist and
she was a senator and we embarked on a very complicated, hidden marriage.
And throughout all of those years, even though we attempted to kind of come
out of the closet at various points to our families, we never made it there
because of Penny`s health. In fact, the Thanksgiving before she died, we
were on our way to Jeffersonville, Indiana to talk to my sister and her
husband and reveal our relationship. And then we were going to reveal it
to Penny`s brother, Rod and his wife, Jane. But Penny had the last round
of four diagnoses of cancer. She had a tumor in her skull and tree months
later she died and we never made it to that juncture.
MADDOW: Do you think - I read when your book first came out, and when it
was first about to come out, it got a lot of - a lot of people in Illinois
politics writing about it, and I - people write to say that she was so
popular, she was such a phenomenon in Illinois politics, and she was just
so well-loved, particularly in her district, which is the sort of
conservative district in a way.
MUTCHLER: It`s majority Republican.
MADDOW: That she was so well loved, that had she come out, had she been
able to come out for all the personal reasons, that I wouldn`t tell, but
she would have been embraced. That it wouldn`t have been political suicide
for her. Do you think that`s right?
MUTCHLER: Not initially, no.
MUTCHLER: I think that people loved Penny a great deal for a couple of
reasons. She put them first. She put her family second and herself last.
And you can`t fake that kind of integrity. And so she gave people 24/7
However, at the time of our relationship, you had a lot going on in central
Illinois. You had the mother of a sailor, a gay sailor who had been beaten
to death on a ship testify before the senate and Penny had come home to
tell me that night that fellow senators were, you know, making fun of the
dead sailor. Even in the news room at the time. You know, people were
basically saying, oh, you know, the guy should have known better. And so,
I did not believe that if we had come out at that time, that Penny would
have retained that seat at that moment. I think you would have had a group
of people that would have said yes, we want Penny to be in that seat. But
I`m not quite sure that at that time Decatur would have been ready. But as
we all know, you should never speak to reporters.
MADDOW: Right. Yeah.
MUTCHLER: So .
MADDOW: And you never know what happens until it happens.
MADDOW: You`re also - you are in this incredibly ethically compromised
position, because you`re sleeping with your source.
MADDOW: So you`re the AP .
MADDOW: State house bureau chief.
MADDOW: And that`s a compromised position.
MUTCHLER: Completely unforgivable.
MADDOW: And you`re very open about that in the book, you`ve been very open
about how that was the wrong thing to do at that ethical level. Had this
been an opposite sex relationship, though, had this senator been a man,
would you have dealt with that ethical conflict simply by disclosing it?
MADDOW: Simply by talking about it?
MUTCHLER: You know, yes, I believe I would have. You know, when I was in
Pennsylvania and I had been dating a man who was on the speaker staff, I
went to the AP bureau chief, I said I think this is going to be a serious
relationship. I was involved with this guy for about a year. AP said just
don`t cover the house. You know, I covered the senate. And it was .
MADDOW: Sleep with the elephants, but just don`t cover .
MUTCHLER: Right, exactly.
MUTCHLER: But I could not bring myself to do that. And for a whole host
of reasons. And Penny and I at that very beginning, I mean we were falling
fast. But it`s interesting to me now that we spoke about the ethical
conundrum more than we spoke about the crazy ways that we went to hide this
And So I believe I would have, but, you know, that`s pretty easy to say, in
MADDOW: Well, Terry Mutchler, author of “Under This Beautiful Dome.” As I
said, we don`t really do book interviews very much on this show, but I was
really, really moved by this. It`s a beautiful book and a remarkable
story. Thanks for telling it.
MUTCHLER: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: A troubling update for you on a story we first covered in
September, about a man who jumped the fence at the north lawn of the White
House, ran across the lawn, ran inside an unlocked door at the White House
and then ran through a significant portion of the building before he was
finally tackled just outside the East Room. It turns out he had a knife in
his pocket the whole time. After that incident, the Department of Homeland
Security launched a review into what exactly happened on September 19 and
in the days leading up to that security breach, that review is now
complete. Members of Congress were briefed on its findings today. And so
naturally, tonight, the findings of the report were leaked to the press.
Based on the leaked portions of the report, we now know that the suspect in
this case, Omar Gonzalez was able to scale the White House fence so quickly
and easily because he did it in a spot where one of these ornamental spikes
at the top of the fence was apparently missing. We had known previously
that there had been a Secret Service officer and an attack dog stationed on
the north lawn that day. It`s been mysterious as to why that officer and
that dog didn`t chase the intruder. We now know the reason the officer and
the dog didn`t notice Omar Gonzalez climbing over the fence and making a
run for it, it`s because the officer was actually sitting in his van and he
wasn`t listening to his two-way radio because he took his ear piece out of
his ear. All the easier to conduct his personal cell phone call. He was
on a personal phone call and not monitoring his radio when the incident
That officer was supposed to have another radio on him, but he left it in
his locker that day. He only realized that Omar Gonzalez was on the White
House lawn when he happened to notice another Secret Service officer
chasing the man. Another detail we now know is that Omar Gonzalez caught
the Secret Service off-guard when he ran through a row of bushes outside
the North portico door of the White House. Quote, “at the time of the
incident, both emergency response team officers were surprised that Mr.
Gonzales was able to get through those bushes. Prior to that evening, the
officers had believed the bushes were too thick to be passable. Then
there`s this. For a significant amount of time while the incident was
under way, the Secret Service officers who should have been directly
involved in stopping the intruder, they could only hear unintelligible
noise on the radios because their radio systems were not working properly.
Right, because - why would active duty Secret Service officers patrolling
the White House grounds need working service radios? Times are tight.
Right? Tighten your belts. Can`t afford that. Those and many more
details made public tonight from a Homeland Security review, hasn`t been
publicly released but it has been quite sufficiently leaked to the press.
We have got a link to that leaked report in all its devastating detail
posted right now, (INAUDIBLE) blog.com.
Stay with us. More ahead.
MADDOW: Programming note, the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW will not be seen tomorrow
night nor will our excellent Friday night news dump game show so that we
can bring you something instead that I`m very, very excited about and that
frankly we`ve worked for a really long time to make happen. If you are a
frequent viewer of the show, you have no doubt seen some remarkable
reporting from NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. The
intrepid Richard Engel has been reporting on America`s wars in the Middle
East for more than a decade now. And the reporting that he does on a daily
and nightly basis and the places that he goes to get the story frankly
warrants its own 24-hour Richard Engel network, if I had my way. Well,
tomorrow night, at 9:00 Eastern, Richard will have the run of this network.
He`s just returned from one of the most dangerous places on earth, the
Syrian city of Kobani. Kobani has been under assault from the terror group
ISIS, for months now. Richard is the first network correspondent to get
inside that city, to see the fighting on the ground there, and he has
brought back some absolutely incredible reporting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: We decided to risk a trip into the
besieged city to see for ourselves. We crossed the no-man`s land and
entered Kobani. What we found was a city demolished but undefeated. ISIS
controls no more than 50 percent of Kobani. And American airstrikes are
gradually reducing that area to rubble.
Meanwhile, under free side of the city, Kurdish men and women outgunned and
outnumbered, are not just standing their ground. They`re smiling. Azima
(ph) leads us to City Hall. In Kobani now you never enter a building
through the front gate or the front door. She walks us to the counsel
room, describing a recent battle to take the building back from ISIS.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She says there were about 40 ISIS fighters just in
these rooms here. So, it`s not that they`re fighting between billings and
across streets, but room to room. And you can see some of the damage. You
can see the bullet holes. This was real close quarter fighting.
ENGEL: Azima shows us where the enemy is. Not far.
“We watched them all the times, ” she says and make sure to shoot them
before they get too close.”
MADDOW: Richard Engel is the first American network correspondent to
report from Kobani. And there`s a lot more that came from. Tomorrow night
at 9:00 Eastern, Richard is going to be hosting an MSNBC special on the
U.S. battle against ISIS. Richard Engel live from the region with much
more of that reporting, as well as an exclusive interview he`s doing with
the former CIA director Michael Hayden. So it`s going to be incredible.
I`ve seen a bunch of what he`s sent back so far. It`s amazing stuff. Set
your TV watching plans now. Required viewing tomorrow night at 9:00. Now
it`s time for the “Last Word” with Lawrence O`Donnell.
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