The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/24/15

Kenji Yoshino

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC GUEST HOST: Good evening to you, Chris. I can
hear you right across the room, too. It`s very exciting. Anyway, thanks
for that. I`ll wave to you, too.

And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

As you know from Chris` show, we are in Washington D.C. tonight,
we`re getting ready for the White House Correspondents Dinner. That`s
going to be tomorrow night here in Washington and, of course, people tend
to think of that as the funny event in that it usually is. And we`re going
to have a lot more on that later in the show.

But it was also four years ago on this same weekend, in late April
2011, at the White House Correspondents Dinner, that President Obama
delivered a sort of unforgettable monologue. And the target of his
monologue that night was Donald Trump. We`re going the play a bit of that
for you ahead in the show.

But what was even more amazing about that night in April of 2011, and
about the president`s remarks that night, about those shots he took at
Donald Trump was that Saturday, when the president stood up to deliver his
lines, he demonstrated that he had the world`s best poker face, because
what he knew and what no one else in that room knew and what basically no
one else in the world knew was that as he was standing up to deliver his
jokes, he was also in the final stages of authorizing the raid on Osama bin

And when the comic chosen to host the dinner that night, Seth Meyers,
made mention of bin Laden in his act and how we`d still not found him.
Watch what happened.


SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN: People think bin Laden is hiding in the Hindu
Kush, but did you know that every day from 4:00 to 5:00, he hosts a show on



KORNACKI: The president just laughing right along with that when
Seth Meyers delivered that line that night.

Look at the screen grab, just laughed like any other ordinary joke.
Just one in the routine from Seth Meyers.

And one of the reasons we were able to identify and snag bin Laden
four years ago after that dinner, the weekend of the correspondents dinner,
is because of something called the Office of Director of National
Intelligence. That office was created ten years ago, created as a result
of recommendations by the 9/11 Commission. The idea was to streamline
intelligence and to improve information sharing between the various
intelligence agencies.

Now, that office helped to identify the intelligence that led to the
raid and the killing of bin Laden. And today, on the 10-year anniversary
of the creation of that agency, on this day the president took the time to
thank the intelligence community for all of their work and for their help
in finding and locating bib Laden.


job even more challenging is that despite the extraordinary work that`s
done here and the lives that are saved on an ongoing basis, a lot of our
work still requires that we maintain some – some things as classified.
And we can`t always talk about all the challenges. I don`t want you or
folks across the intelligence community to ever forget the difference that
you make every day, because of you we`ve had the intelligence to take out
al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden.


KORNACKI: The other thing the president addressed today with visible
emotion is the news that we learned yesterday of the killing of an American
and also an Italian hostage by an American drone strike along Pakistan`s
border with Afghanistan earlier this year.

And the intended target that day was an al Qaeda compound. The
administration said yesterday they had no idea that those two hostages were
hidden inside of that compound. And one of the big things, of course,
around the story is why it has taken the administration months to come
forward and to report on these two deaths, these innocent deaths.

It appears the CIA, which heads up the drone program, knew had
something had gone terribly wrong after the strike when they saw six bodies
and not four bodies were pulled from the post drone rubble. For weeks
before that strike, intelligence feeding back to the CIA from drones
monitoring the compound, had shown four men going in and out of the
compound, just four men. So, after the strike they expected to see four
bodies and when they saw six, that is when they knew they had made a

There are also new reports circulating that the captors of the
American hostage, warren Weinstein was his name, has privately received
$250,000 in ransom for his release from a Pakistani intermediary. That is
a payment that did not actually secure his release.

The family of Mr. Weinstein has been critical of the U.S. support
they got during this long captivity. Today, they released a new statement
thanking the Italian prime minister in relating their condolences to the
family of the Italian aid worker who was also killed in that same drone

And today, they released a new statement thanking the Italian prime
minister and relaying their condolences to the family of the Italian aid
worker who was also killed in that same drone strike.

And today, while thanking the intelligence community for all of their
work, the president revealed something about how the news of the killing of
this American hostage was weighing on him.


OBAMA: I was asked by somebody, you know, how do you absorb news
like that that we received the other day? And I told the truth that it`s
hard. But the one thing I wanted everybody to know – because I know you,
because I work with you, because I know the quality of this team, is that
we all bleed when we lose an American life. We all grieve when any
innocent life is taken. We don`t take this work lightly.

This self reflection, you know, this willingness to examine
ourselves, to make corrections, to do better. That is part of what makes
us Americans. That is part of what sets us apart from other nations. It
is part of what keeps us not only safe but also strong and free.


KORNACKI: One of the interesting things about what the president
said today and about his acknowledgment of this error in the need to make
and make – examine and make corrections is that actually when he was the
junior senator from Illinois, back when he was running for president in
2007 and 2008, one of the things that he ran on back then, one of the
things that essentially made Barack Obama a viable candidate, among the
slew of powerful Democrats who also ran with him back then, including then-
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and later in the campaign, Senator John
McCain, one of the things that made Barack Obama stand out was that he was
against the Iraq war from the get go.

That campaign in 2008 ended up being a referendum on how we do war
and how we wanted our country to do war in the future.


OBAMA: I am proud that I opposed this war from the start, because I
thought that it would lead to the disastrous conditions that we`ve seen on
the ground in Iraq.

I think it is much easier for us to have the argument when we have a
nominee who says, “I always thought this was a bad idea. This was a bad

I believe I showed the judgment of a commander-in-chief, and I think
Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgments on that.

I opposed going to war in Iraq. Senator McCain was one of
Washington`s biggest supporters for the water.

This is an area where Senator McCain and I have a fundamental
difference, because I think the first question is whether we should have
gone into the war in the first place.


KORNACKI: Part of what won Barack Obama the Democratic nomination
against Hillary Clinton in 2008 was that he was against the war and she had
been for it.

Part of what won Barack Obama the general election against John
McCain, part of what made him the president of the United States was that
he had been against the war and McCain had been for it.

And then when President Obama got into office, he had a new way of
doing things. Yes, he called for the winding down of the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, and that was sort of happening, or in the process at least.
But he also had a new way of doing war, a war that didn`t include boots on
the ground, covert war, the drone war, the drone program was moved out of
the military and into the intelligence community. It`s now run by the CIA.

And it was less transparent. We started using drones in places where
we weren`t officially at war, places like Yemen and Pakistan. And as a
result of that, as a result of a decision of doing that over the last
several years, there`s been emerging criticism from Republicans, most
notably from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky of the president`s drone war.

Two years ago, Paul staged a nearly 13 hour filibuster on the floor
of the senate on the topic of drones. He started at 11:47 in the morning
and he continued standing there and talking on the Senate floor on his feet
until 12:39 a.m., just railing against drones and then – well, then he had
to stop.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: And I would go for another 12 hours to
try to break Thurman`s record. But I`ve discovered that there are some
limits to filibustering and I`m going to have to take care of one of those
in a few minutes here.



KORNACKI: He would have gone on for another 12 years, but he had to
go to the bathroom.

So, when the news broke yesterday that an American drone strike had
killed an American hostage being held by al Qaeda, the politician you might
expect would be most upset, most outraged, most forceful in stepping
forward to condemn the drone program, you might think it would be Rand

But that`s not what happened. Instead, Dave Weigel reporting
yesterday that when the news broke that the American hostage had been
killed in a drone strike, Paul`s campaign sent over a statement which said,
quote, “It is a tragedy that these Americans lost their lives and my
prayers and thoughts are with their families.” Then, moments later, they
sent over another statement clarifying that he was referring to the
American hostage, not the other two Americans who were members of al Qaeda.

General response from Rand Paul was this strike was not the kind of
thing he had been protesting before.

On the other side, the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton
has not come out and addressed this head on. She is also not participating
in the debate while she campaigns for the nomination for presidency. And
at end of the day, the entire 2016 field will have to deal with this, had
to deal with this question, because elections during war time are elections
that are about foreign policy, that are about counterterrorism. They are
about how we choose to do war.

President Obama`s first and second elections were referendums on the
Bush wars, and what those wars did to our country. This election in a way
will be a referendum on what President Obama has done, how he has conducted
war. How he has conducted in some cases convert war, that might not be
putting boots on the ground but they can never be error-free, where
accidents as we found out this week, will happen.

Eugene Robinson writes about this in today`s “Washington Post”,
quote. “If all goes as planned, there are only terrorists and no civilians
in the building or vehicle being targeted. But war never goes entirely as
planned, not even war conducted by remote control.”

Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, writer for “The Washington Post.”

Gene, thanks for being with us.

Well, let`s talk about this for a minute, because there`s a balancing
act that I still can`t quite figure out when I think about this, because
one way of looking at this is saying that over the last two years, because
of the drone program we`ve had, we`ve taken out an awful lot of bad guys
out there. We have put a real dent in al Qaeda because of this and we have
done that while paying a much lower cost in terms of casualties in our side
than we normally or used to have been the case.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: That`s absolutely that case.
That`s why this is hard. It`s a really hard issue.

And it`s not really a Democrat versus Republican issue. It actually
hasn`t been, and it really shouldn`t be.

I think that, though, we can`t escape what I see as moral questions,
as legal questions. I mean, this is war by assassination. And I think we
ought to figure out what we think about that.

You know, we have a law against assassinating foreign leaders. This
isn`t quite the same thing, but I`m not sure the principle is all that

I – maybe we`ll decide that this is – you know, that that is not a
moral problem. But I think we ought to talk about it.

We`re doing this in countries with which we`re not at war.
International law is – you know, there are questions about that. And the
president says he has the authorization under the authorization to use
military force against al Qaeda. But I think that should be debated.

KORNACKI: What do you think though? When you poll this question
right now, it comes back very popular.

ROBINSON: Yes. Sure.

KORNACKI: Drone program, for the criticism that`s been out there for
the filibuster from Rand Paul a couple of years ago, this polls well right

ROBINSON: It does poll well, and why not, because as you said, we`re
not risking American lives. We did not risk American lives to take out
that al Qaeda compound. And that is an important thing.

I`m happy that we didn`t risk American lives. And I`m happy if they
got rid of a bad al Qaeda people who were plotting to attack the United

But we need to talk through these questions. One other question we
need to ask is whether drone strikes eliminate more terrorists than they
create or vice versa.

You know, there are civilian casualties. The administration
downplays this aspect. Human rights organizations have a much higher
estimate. There certainly have been hundreds of such casualties in the
drone wars.

And if you sort of extrapolate from that – those sort of mushy
figures, certainly we have embittered and angered some substantial number
of people who probably have been gone on to join this group or join that
group or otherwise impede what we`re trying to do over there.

So, I mean – you know, it`s – you don`t make friends that way. You
don`t make friends by blowing up –

KORNACKI: The kind of discussion and debate you are talking about,
do you think that is going to result from this? My completely unscientific
sample of just, you know, talking to friends and family about this, almost
everybody I talk to has basically look at this, and the conclusion has not
been this is an indictment of the drone program. It`s been, this is al
Qaeda. This is what happens when you`re at war with al Qaeda.

ROBINSON: Yes. I – I`m not tremendously optimistic there is going
to be a broad and deep sort of discussion of these issues. But we`ll see.

You know, President Obama looked really grim yesterday and he has
talked about how effecting these decisions or how difficult this decision.
And I take him at his word.

I think he is far-sighted enough to look ahead to a world in which
drone warfare proliferates. You know, it – we have the best technology
now. We and perhaps the Israelis are the only ones who have weaponized
drones to this extent.

But other countries can figure how to do it. There are literally
scores of countries now flying fairly sophisticated drones and to put a
missile on it and fire it as a target, you now, that`s not an easy thing to
do, but there are lots of countries that can figure it out.

So, you know, fast forward 10, 20 years, to a world where Russia is
flying weaponized drones and China and Iran and North Korea and who knows
who else, imagine – and it is not hard to imagine – that the technology
becomes more sophisticated that that`s drones become more smaller, smarter,
deadlier, that`s the way technology works. Think about that world.

And I think at least we ought to consider before we rush down this
route, I think we ought to consider whether this technology should be
thought of the way we thought of chemical warfare for example after the
first World War. And it was just decided that, you know, gee, we are two
countries, we don`t like each other, but as much as I might hate you and
you hate me, we`re just not going to do with chemical weapons.

KORNACKI: This is a certain line we`re not going to cross.

ROBINSON: There is a line we`re not going to cross.


ROBINSON: I wonder if we imagine the possibilities, 20, 30 years out
and where we are headed if it isn`t time to say, let`s just wait a minute.
Let`s just all talk about this and see if that`s really where we want to
go, because if we don`t, that`s where we`re headed.

KORNACKI: All right. Eugene Robinson, writer for “The Washington
Post” – thanks for your time tonight. I really appreciate your time.

Lots more ahead on the show tonight, including our chat with Senator
Ted Cruz in a very unexpected place.

And later, presidential jokes, no cover, no minimum.

Lots ahead in the show tonight. So, please stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The argument next in case 13534, North Carolina
State Board of Dental Examiners versus the Federal Trade Commission. Mr.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the court.


KORNACKI: That was real audio from a U.S. Supreme Court hearing last
year. The North Carolina board for regulating dentists sued the federal

The case had do with teeth whitening and whether the dentist members
of that state board could block people without dental licenses from
offering to whiten other people`s teeth on the cheap.

And the dentists lost that case last year. That court ruled against
them. And maybe that was for the betterment of the human race. I actually
have no idea. I didn`t follow it that closely.

What I do know, though, is that the telling of the case with the case
with the high court and the lawyers and the stenographers all represented
by dogs and a chicken and a duck, well, all of that is world changing. We
are now reaching the peak of our first full Supreme Court season since John
Oliver gave the world B roll of the high court in canine form.

And now, the Supreme Court dogs have become their own mini-genre on
YouTube, which may change the way you get to see two super important cases
that are on their way to the court right now. These cases have huge
generational, landmark implications for the country.

One of our favorite court watchers is going to walk us through them
in just a minute.


KORNACKI: Behold the Supreme Court, where great questions of
American democracy are settled – Marbury v. Madison, Brown v. Board of
Education, Roe v. Wade.

And then there`s Horne v. Department of Agriculture, which is about
whether or not the United States government can take your raisins. That
case was argued before the court this week. Mr. Horne, that`s him right
there, challenging a Depression era law that allows the government to take
a portion of a raisin farmer`s crop in order to regulate supply and price.

But let`s not bore ourselves with the details on that one. Suffice
to it say that the case has spawned an spate of terrible pun headlines, and
apparently even the justices had trouble keeping a straight face during the

Next week though, next week, the court is finally getting to a pair
of big, grand historically important case. These are big cases, both of

But if there is a sleeper issue, it`s the one about the way we
execute prisoners. Death row inmates in Oklahoma are challenging the three
drug protocol used for lethal injection, and has been extensively covered
on this show, this case comes as states across the country are having
trouble securing the drugs they normally used for lethal injections.

This as more and more drug makers are refusing to sell their products
if those products are used for the purpose of execution.

Just last week, Oklahoma approved a new execution method, nitrogen
gas. It`s completely untested. Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on
lethal injection protocol, Oklahoma and other states are making plans for
alternate methods of execution, in case the court rules against. Some of
them are throwbacks like the electric chair. And some never used before.

The really big case, though, the really big case before the Supreme
Court, the one that`s being watched and fought over already in state houses
and on the campaign trail is the one the justices are going to hear on
Tuesday. That is day the court will hear arguments whether to declare
same-sex marriage to be legal nationwide.

Specifically, the justices have two questions before them. Number
one: does the Constitution require states to license a marriage between two
people of the same sex? And number two, does the Constitution require a
state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their
marriage was lawfully licensed and performed outside of that state?

The justices have addressed the issue of same sex marriage before.
Most notably two years ago in the Windsor case. That`s when the court
narrowly struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, and ruled
that the federal government must recognize lawfully licensed same sex

But next week`s case, next week`s case is the big one. It could make
same-sex marriage legal across the United States, invalidating all of the
remaining state bands. Or it could say that the state bans are OK. And if
it did that, it would create legal chaos as thousands of same sex couples
who got married while state bans were tied up in court would find
themselves in the kind of matrimonial limbo. Would their marriages count
or would they not count?

That`s one of the reasons main legal observers think the Supreme
Court is unlikely to uphold the state bans. So, a very big week ahead at
the court, a momentous week ahead.

And joining us to help us sort through it all is Kenji Yoshino. He`s
the professor of constitutional law at New York University Law School,
author also of “Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial.”

Kenji, thanks for joining us tonight.

So, I – the expectations that conventional wisdom, the sense to the
extent this stuff matters is that court, at the end of this, is going to
allow gay marriage across the country. It`s sort of reached that
threshold, although it`s legal in so many states already, people expect the
court to do this.

Let me ask you this though – legally speaking, what is the best
argument that can be made in front of the court right now for that not to

putting me on the spot there because I have just written a book about how
no such argument exists. But I suppose the strongest argument would be
that the argument, you know, that they keep proffering, which is the
channeling function of marriage is to prevent heterosexual couples from
reckless procreation. So, this isn`t based on animus against gay couples
at all, but rather is trying to guide wayward straight couples into the
correct unions.

The problems that I have with this are manifold. First, no one
thinks that, you know, bans on same sex marriage were enacted with that
reason in mind. And second of all, this is a kind of gays are too good for
marriage kind of notion, if you know, gays are so responsible in the way
they procreate that they are simply too good to need to have their rickety
union shore up with this institution of marriage.

So, you`re really sticking it to me here, Steve, for that second deal

KORNACKI: Let me take another shot and ask you a different one here.
It is about the margin, right? Nine votes on this. And I think back to
Brown versus Board of Education. And it was so important to Earl Warren on
the court that the ruling basically be unanimous. How important is the
margin on this? The difference between this say being, say, a 5-4 vote
that would make gay marriage legal across the country, or like a 7-2, 8-1,
9-0 vote. How important is that?

YOSHINO: Yes, I don`t think it`s important to get a 9-0 vote. And
you`re absolutely right. Earl Warren did all of these things where he went
into Justice Jackson`s hospital room and emerged mysterious with his
agreement not to write a concurrence and then sat down with Stanley Reed
and said, you know, Stan, you are all alone on this now, you`d be the only
dissenter, as a Southerner, you have to think about what`s best for the

So, we all know the story of how he really tries tried to use all of
his formerly gubernatorial skills in order to get a unanimous court.

I don`t think that is as important here and here is why – in the
case of Brown, resistance could take the form that it ultimately really did
take, which is massive foot dragging on the part of the South from
integrating schools. And integration is a very hard and complicated thing
to do if people don`t want to do it. Whereas, in the gay marriage context,
implementation is much simpler. So, you get a 5-4 majority, as Ted Olson
is fond of saying in the last round, all you need to be able to do as a
Supreme Court litigator is to count to five.

Once you have five votes, the implementation is very easy. All that
needs to be done is marriage licenses have to be issued and then recognized
across state lines.

So, the kind of operationalization, to use a terribly $10, $20
ponderous word, you know, is a lot simpler in this instance than it is in
the desegregation context, because we`re obviously still dealing with the
integration today.

KORNACKI: All right. Kenji Yoshino, professor of constitutional law
in New York University Law School – sorry for the fastball on the first
question there tonight. You handled it well, though. Thanks for your
time. Really appreciate it.

YOSHINO: Thanks a lot, Steve. Be well.

KORNACKI: All right. Once a year, American presidents are
confronted with one of the toughest challenges they will ever face –
comedy. That is just ahead.


KORNACKI: We are in Washington D.C. this week, a town not known for
its comedy. But coming up, we have a double dose of one of the only
intentionally funny things to happen here in Washington. It`s an annual
rite of actually funny stuff. And if it happens to make very powerful
people epically mad – well, and so what?

That story is straight ahead.



ELAYNE BOOSLER, COMEDIAN: By the way, congratulations on your first
hundred days. I think it`s a fine first hundred days. The beginning the -
- look, no one should be judged on a hundred anything. These are writers.
They know if they were judged on the first hundred words if your column, it
would be a disaster. First 100 words, people go, nothing happened, it`s
the set up. You have to wait, it`s a set up.

This was a set up. I believe in that. I feel guilty because I was
at your inaugural and I met someone at your inauguration who happens to
live near me, but we met here, and I feel in love, and I just feel so
guilty because I had just a much better first hundred days than you did.



BOOSLER: Of course, I had a lot more cooperation in the House, you
know? But –

WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: You know proud to be able to say that. You
know, the first black president, you know? Well, that`s unless you screw

And then it`s going to be what`s up with the half white guy, huh?
And who`s idea was it to give the queen an iPod? What an awful gift? Do
you know who`s idea?

What is she going to do, download Lady Gaga? What are you going to
give the pope, a Bluetooth?


SKYES: You should have given the queen something, you know, like a
memento of our country. Something that says America. You know, give her


KORNACKI: The highlight reel there from comedians Elayne Boosler and
Wanda Sykes. Each of them hosting the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Sikes doing it back in 2009. Boosler back in 1993 with President Clinton
in his first year.

Along with comedian Paula Poundstone who hosted it in 1992, and
together, those three women are the only women ever to serve as the solo
host of the dinner, the only ones.

White House Correspondents Association has been around now for 101
years. There had been 88 annual dinners. And all that time, attended by
each of the last 15 presidents, that gets you all the way back to Calvin
Coolidge in the Roaring `20s.

And in all of that time, all of those decades, all of those
generations, a woman had been picked to play the role of the host three
times. Women weren`t even actually allowed to attend the White House
Correspondents Dinner until 1962 when John F. Kennedy, at the behest of the
Helen Thomas, whom you may remember refused to attend until the dinner was
made open to women.

But in just about 24 hours from now, that number of female hosts is
going to jump from three to four. That is when Cecily Strong takes the
stage in Washington tomorrow night.

Now, Strong has played characters in the animated series “The
Awesomes.” She`s been cst in the upcoming “Ghostbusters” remake. But most
people know here from “Saturday Night Live”.


CECILY STRONG, COMEDIAN: We need bipartisanships.

MEYER: Bipartisanships, like ships that are bipartisan.

STRONG: Like ships that are bipartisan?

You need to grow up, Seth, because there are some people in Africa
right now where it`s like, no. Also, I`m sorry. Why can`t secret Santa
just be openly gay?

Tonight was prom night in most parts of the country. So if you are
watching this live – sorry, buddy.


KORNACKI: White House Correspondents Dinner has its share of
detractors but like or loathe, it`s become a major event on the political
and cultural calendar.

Tomorrow night, we`re going to see what kind of joke Cecily Strong
brings with her. And, of course, there is also the real star of the night,
the president of the United States trying to play comedian.

Some really great video from the archives you are really going to get
a kick out of it, and we`re going to have that for you next.



DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN: If you are going to be the president of
the United States, you have to be born in this country. And there is a
doubt as to whether or not he was born –

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. Do you really –


KORNACKI: That was Donald Trump back in 2011 suggesting that
President Obama may not have been born in the United States. Now, Trump
kept it a for months and months until finally, the president decided he`d
had enough and then he went ahead and released his birth certificate,
putting all the mindless speculation to rest once and for all.

And then, after that though, it was time for the annual White House
Correspondents Dinner. And the Donald Trump was a guest that year in 2011.
But it was President Obama who had the microphone.


OBAMA: No one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to
rest than the Donald and that`s because he can finally get back to focusing
on the issues that matter. Like, did we fake the moon landing? What
really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?


KORNACKI: President Obama in 2011 there. And tomorrow night,
President Obama will be giving remarks at the White House Correspondents
Dinner for the seventh time in his presidency. Now, every president since
Calvin Coolidge has dropped by at least once during their time in office,
but that doesn`t mean they always like it.

Richard Nixon writing to his chief of staff in 1971, after one dinner
that, quote, “The reporters were considerably more bad mannered and vicious
than usual. This bears out my theory that treating them with considerably
more contempt is in the long run a more productive policy.”

But it`s so ingrained in our politics right now, this dinner, that no
president can skip it. That one night a year when the president of the
United States is forced to play the role of stand up comedian.


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: I know it`s getting rate dear but
it`s not often we have people who have written about us and broadcast about
us and all together in one room like this. And I thought you might like to
say a few nice words to them.


How about a word or two? Something friendly. Even one kind word?

NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: I`m thinking, I`m thinking.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I always forward to these dinners.

STEVE BRIDGES, IMPERSONATOR: It is just a bunch of media types,
Hollywood liberals, Democrats like Joe Biden. How come I can`t have dinner
with the 36 percent of the people who like me?


OBAMA: In the next 100 days, our bipartisan outreach will be so
successful that even John Boehner will consider becoming a Democrat. After
all, we have a lot in common. He is a person of color, although not a
color that appears in the natural world.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: They`ve only got seven more
months to investigate me. So little time, so many unanswered questions.


For example, over the last few months, I`ve lost 10 pounds. Where
did they go?

This is a strange time in the life of any administration. But I
think this short film will show that I have come to terms with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, with the vice president and the first lady
out on the campaign trail things aren`t as exciting as they used to be
around here. In fact, it`s really starting to wind down.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON: Joe? Anybody home?

Hello, White House. Hold please. Hello, White House.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER FIRST LADY: I wish I could be here more.
But I really think bill has everything under control.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON: Honey, wait, wait. Wait. You forgot your


KORNACKI: And joining us now is the Michael Beschloss, NBC News
presidential historian, and someone who`s attended the White House
Correspondents Dinner many times over the past 20 years.

Michael, thanks for being here tonight. I appreciate it.


KORNACKI: So, it is – this is that time when the president has to
play stand up comedian. And I wonder, you look at the presidents who done
this, we show some of the clips there. Who was really good at this among
the presidents?

BESCHLOSS: Well, they began with a pretty low bar. As you mentioned
the first to do this was Calvin Coolidge –

KORNACKI: Silent Cal.

BESCHLOSS: – in 1924, and it didn`t matter because for most of
history, this was a private dinner more or less, and it wasn`t on TV. This
wasn`t even on C-SPAN until 1993. But probably the person who really
changed it was Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, because if you think about it,
for about 40 years before he became president, he did a lot of this kind of
speech, Hollywood dinners, he would give funny speech and so on. So, he
was very much in his element, and it created expectations for every
president after that.

KORNACKI: How does Obama, say this is his seventh one. How does he
stack up against some of his predecessors?

BESCHLOSS: The sort of laugh-o-meter.


BESCHLOSS: I think the one thing that he has in common is that most
of them do not particularly like to come to these dinners, and this is not
only White House correspondents, but radio and TV correspondents. These
large dinners when they have to make a speech and they are expected to be
very funny because, you know, most of them are not naturally comedians and
in recent years, because these things are so publicized, not only on C-SPAN
obviously, it`s going to be MSNBC tomorrow night and all over the place,
they feel they have to perform almost to the level of the hired comedians
who are there. It takes a lot of time.

And Barack Obama – he`s gotten very good at it, but this did not
necessarily come naturally to him.

KORNACKI: Yes, I got to say, we had it in the intro there. I think
you`d given us a heads up about this survey, but Nixon, you`ve got to love
Nixon in his – he`s always so raw, it`s so uncensored –

BESCHLOSS: The gift that keeps on giving to historians.

KORNACKI: But I and – I wonder, I look at the comments, just the
absolute contempt for the press. But I wonder, was he just articulating
there what they all feel but only Nixon is the one who`s going to say it?

BESCHLOSS: Well, Nixon took it to another level, because, as you
know, on the White House tapes, he tells Henry Kissinger, the press is the
enemy, the press is the enemy. So, to have to go to these dinners and sit
there for three hours, and then, what`s also complaining about was Nixon in
another memo was complaining to his aide (INAUDIBLE) he has to sit there
while the drunken audience is the derisively jeering him as he has to watch
over the granting of awards for journalism to reporters who are trying to
tear him apart. It drives him crazy.

KORNACKI: And I imagine that probably does drive a President Obama,
President Clinton, President Reagan – whoever. These are reporters
scrutinizing the administration. They`re writing stories the
administration doesn`t like.

BESCHLOSS: Absolutely.

KORNACKI: And they have to go there and pal around with them.

BESCHLOSS: And almost every single one of these presidents, as we`ll
probably see tomorrow night, the president will give a funny speech, at the
end, he`ll get serious and they almost always say it`s a great thing we`re
living in a democracy where there is a free press and, of course, they
believe it intellectually but not always viscerally.

KORNACKI: It`s a tough rule, I think for the stand up comedian,
because like you say, there is so much pressure on the president but when
the president comes through and you are the professional comedian and
you`ve been sort of overshadowed in your own game, it`s got to be a blow
for the comedian too.

BESCHLOSS: Yes, and the other thing is how far you go in criticizing
the president. Stephen Colbert in 2006 was criticized for maybe crossing a

You know, you take up, for instance, Lyndon Johnson gave a speech in
1968, wasn`t very funny. I don`t remember who the comedian was or what the
entertainment. But I think in those days, one would have been terrified to
give speech when the president was there with anything remotely approaching
that kind of criticism.

KORNACKI: Yes, Don Imus changed all that, if you remember that one.

IMUS: Created an entirely different dimension.

KORNACKI: Yes. Michael Beschloss, NBC News` presidential historian
– thanks so much for your time tonight. Appreciate that.

BESCHLOSS: Pleasure, Steve.

KORNACKI: And as Michael mentioned, MSNBC is going to have live
coverage of the White House Correspondents Dinner tomorrow night, beginning
at 9:00 Eastern Time.

Ahead, a change at the top of the Justice Department and the legacy
of asparagus.

Stay with us.


KORNACKI: So, how about this? Yesterday on Capitol Hill, we ran
into Senator Ted Cruz, ran into him at one of the few places that didn`t
close, at least right away, when Cruz led the effort to shut down the
government in 2013 in a failed effort to defund Obamacare.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I started coming to the house barber shop
when the government was shut down because the house barber shop is private.
And so they were still open. The Senate barber shop was closed down as
part of the federal government. So, I crossed over here to get a haircut
during the shutdown and Shelton does such a good job that I kept coming


KORNACKI: And actually for the record, Cruz`s barber the House shop
eventually did close down as part of the shutdown, but it didn`t close down
until after Cruz got his haircut.

Yesterday, I was happy to spend the afternoon at that barber shop.
It`s a great place, full of great stories from both the members of the
House, and senators who go there for a trim. And from the 78-year-old
Italian immigrant who has been running it for the last 45 years. He calls
it his American dream.

You can watch our full report on my shop “UP”. We`re in D.C. all
weekend. We have a lot of great things to look forward to, including our
visit to the House barber shop on Sunday morning.

We`ll be right back.



ERIC HOLDER, OUTGOING ATTORNEY GENERAL: It`s going to be hard for me
– not going to be. It is hard for me to walk away from the people who I
love and who represent this institution that I love so much. But it is


KORNACKI: Attorney General Eric Holder has held that job for the
past six years for the entire duration of the Obama presidency so far. In
this coming Monday, Eric Holder`s replacement, Loretta Lynch, is going to
be sworn in as the new attorney general. This after waiting longer than
just about any cabinet nominee in history to get confirmed by the Senate.
This will make her the first African-American woman to serve in that

But today was Eric Holder`s last official day on the job. He gave an
emotional and moving speech on his way out the door, heavy on praise for
all the personnel at the DOJ.

But if you follow the story of Eric Holder these past six years, then
you know his interactions weren`t always so warm and fuzzy – namely, the
parts where he had to sit through hearings with members of Congress. From
the very beginning of Holder`s tenure as attorney general, he has been
reviled by many on the right. The Republican House actually charged him
with contempt at one point, and Republican leaders have routinely demanded
that he resign.

Actually, Republicans had a chance to replace Eric Holder months ago,
but they waited until yesterday to go ahead and actually do it, to confirm
Loretta Lynch to replace him. It actually became a running joke at the
Justice Department these last few months. People there, including holder
himself wearing these free Eric Holder bracelets, all but begging the
Senate to just let him leave already. But today was finally his last day.

And in honor of that, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW would like to play
tribute to a tape inspired by Eric Holder. Now, to set up, this was Eric
Holder at one of those congressional hearings where Republicans would take
turns grilling and castigating him.

This was one comes to us from back in 2013, with Republican
Congressman Louie Gohmert working himself into a fury as he confronted
Holder over the Boston marathon bombings. Watch.


HOLDER: You don`t have access to the FBI files. You don`t know what
the FBI did. You don`t know what the FBI`s interaction was with the

I know what the FBI did. You cannot know what I know. That`s all.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And that is
simply the reason – I did not assert what they did or did not do. I
asserted what the – my point –


GOHMERT: I cannot have a –


GOHMERT: Challenge my character and my –

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, regular order, please?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman will


GOHMERT: – respond to that.

When you attack somebody`s integrity, and say they made statements
that were not true, then, of course, that is – raises a point of personal
privilege. But the attorney general failed to answer my question –

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the gentleman will suspend –


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Regular order, Mr. Chairman.

GOHMERT: Aspersions on my asparagus.


KORNACKI: That last part there, what was that again?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the gentleman will suspend –


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Regular order, Mr. Chairman.

GOHMERT: Aspersions on my asparagus.


KORNACKI: For the record, the attorney general never forgot that,
and a year later when he was in another completely unrelated congressional
hearing with Louis Gohmert, he made sure to bring it up.


GOHMERT: Let me ask you –

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The time of the gentleman has expired,

The chair recognizes the gentleman –

HOLDER: Good luck with your asparagus.


KORNACKI: Goodbye, Attorney General Eric Holder. Goodbye aspersions
on my asparagus tape.

And for Loretta Lynch, who will start her new job on Monday, talk
about a tough act to follow.


HOLDER: Now, I want to do something here. We have these bands that
I`ve been wearing for the last whatever number of whatevers. I think I can
officially take this off now.


HOLDER: I think we can officially say now that Eric Holder is free.


KORNACKI: Eric Holder may now be free, but you are not so lucky.
Now, as Rachel would say, it`s time for to go to prison.


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