The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/25/15
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Alex. You are going to
have so much fun doing that.
ALEX WAGNER: I totally will.
MADDOW: It`s going to be spectacular. Well done.
Thanks to you at home for being with us on this big, big night.
You know, on any normal day, the leaders of the two most powerful
countries on earth having their first formal state dinner at the White
House, that would be the lead news story in the world by a mile, right?
I mean, on any normal day, frankly, this radical fascinating pope
addressing the United Nations and speaking at the 9/11 memorial and then
holding a mass at Madison Square Garden where they turned the concession
stands, the place where you get popcorn and Pepsi, they turn the concession
stands into confession booths before his arrival, on any normal day that
would be the lead story in the news by a mile. Even the way he got there.
I mean, on any normal day the pope`s drive to Madison Square Garden through
an adoring and ecstatic crowd of 80,000 people in Central Park, that would
be the lead story in the news by a mile.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton probably thought this new
campaign ad of hers, her best campaign ad by far, she probably thought this
would be the biggest political news story of the day.
Donald Trump probably thought when he got booed at by a big crowd of
hard right conservatives at the values voter thing today, Donald Trump
probably thought that that would be the biggest political news of the day.
That`s what he told NBC`s Katy Tur, that actually nobody booed at him even
though plainly and on tape people absolutely booed at him.
On any normal day, Jeb Bush pulling a Mitt Romney and saying the
Republican party has to try to attract black voters with hope and not with
free stuff, that`s the phrase he actually used, “free stuff”, on any normal
day, that statement by Jeb Bush, that would be news today, news tonight,
news for days yet to come.
But this is not a normal day. This is today. And today, the speaker
of the House, the man third in line to the presidency, the second most
powerful man arguably in Washington after the presidency of the United
States, today he decided it was – such a wonderful day that it would be
time to shock everyone and quit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,
zip-a-dee-a. My oh my, what a wonderful day.
I used to sing that on my way to work in the morning.
Just yesterday we witnessed the awesome sight of Pope Francis
addressing the greatest legislative body in the world. And I hope that we
will all heed his call to live by the golden rule.
But last night I started to think about this. And this morning I
woke up and I said my prayers, as I always do, and I decided, you know,
today`s the day I`m going to do this, as simple as that.
REPORTER: Who is the first person you told and what did they say?
BOEHNER: Well, I told my wife.
REPORTER: What`d she say?
BOEHNER: She said good.
BOEHNER: I told – my chief of staff and I talked late yesterday,
and I told him I was thinking that today might be the day. And I told him
I`d sleep on it.
So before I went to sleep last night told my wife, you know, I might
just make an announcement tomorrow. What do you mean? What kind of
announcement? I might just tell them it`s time to go.
So, this morning, I woke up and walked up to Starbucks as usual and
got my coffee and came back and read and walked up to Pete`s diner and saw
everybody at Pete`s. And got home and thought, yep, I think today`s the
So, my senior staff was having a meeting at 8:45 and kind of walked
in before I opened the house and told him, this is the day, it`s going to
happen someday, why not today?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Why not today? That is a happy man. That is not usually
the way these things go.
The last three Republican speakers of the House have not had good
endings. Newt Gingrich resigned in political disgrace amid a big ethics
scandal. Bob Livingston resigned in disgrace in a sex scandal. Denny
Hastert, he left in good terms in Congress but now he`s under criminal
indictment on charges that followed serious sexual abuse allegations.
I mean, that`s how the last three Republican House speakers ended.
This guy, in contrast, is leaving not just on his own terms sort of, but
he`s so happy about it, it might not even matter. The man is literally
singing “zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” He sang “zip-a-dee-doo-dah” twice at his “I`m
And he seemed to mean it when he sung the part about it`s a wonderful
day. Have you ever seen anyone so happy to just resign from their job
Actually, brief digression. I have. For ten years on and off, I
worked with an amazing producer named Nazanin Rafsanjani. Nazanin is a
great friend, great person. I worked with her on radio, Air America Radio,
and then when I got this TV show she came and worked here on this TV show
and everybody on the staff fell in love with her and she took over
immediately. Wonderful person, amazing co-worker, and recently she left.
And we threw a sort of staff going away party for her and at that
going away party, Naza and I posed for a Polaroid picture on the occasion
of her leaving the staff of this show. And here it is.
So that`s me. Doesn`t really look like me. I`m wearing kind of a
funny little cowboy shirt. And this is me saying good-bye to Naz, right?
I`m very sad. I barely even look like me but I`m very sad, I`m sad that
Nazanin is leaving her job.
And here – there`s Nazanin. You know, not at all sad to be leaving
her job. Eric Friendler (ph) took this picture and he said think I`m
leaving my job. And that was my reaction and that was hers.
See, this is a portrait of happiness for someone who is quitting a
job they want to quit. And that is the closest thing from my personal life
that I have ever seen in terms of how John Boehner was leaving his job
today. He pulled a Nazanin the way he left today.
And we`re now about to see if that happiness is because it is
intrinsically impossible to be a Republican speaker of the House in this
modern Republican Party. And so, anybody would be delighted to leave that
job. Or maybe there was something about John Boehner being speaker of the
House that specifically made it so miserable. And that`s making him so
happy to leave.
I mean, to be fair, his tenure has been an ostentatiously terrible
time for Congress. The first congressional session where John Boehner was
in charge, that was the least effective Congress in the history of the U.S.
Congress. That first one where he was in charge, they passed less
substantive legislation than any session ever before in Congress since
Congress has existed. And then the Congress that came after than, the next
one where he was also in charge, those two congresses back to back, those
are the two least productive back-to-back sessions of Congress ever in the
history of Congress.
Since John Boehner has been speaker, we had a 16-day-long government
shutdown for no reason. We deliberately hit and exceeded the national debt
ceiling for no reason, which resulted in the national credit rating of the
United States being downgraded, which was a significant economic hit to our
country at a time we were trying to recover from this terrible recession.
Quantitatively, most of what Congress did under House Speaker John
Boehner was vote dozens and dozens and dozens of times to symbolically fake
repeal Obamacare, again and again and again. None of those votes actually
repealed Obamacare or actually did anything in the real world except take
up time that could have been spent doing real stuff. And, of course, they
did give people fund-raising opportunities back home.
Even though Speaker Boehner has had really big Republican majorities
to work with since he`s been in charge, he has been able to do as close to
absolutely nothing as anyone who has ever held the job of speaker of the
United States. And yes, there are some things that he screwed up himself.
I mean, when he first took over, there were a couple members of
Congress who he forgot to swear in. And then he let them onto the House
floor to start participating in votes and everything even though they were
technically not sworn in and therefore members of Congress. That was day
one of John Boehner`s speakership. That was a big awkward screw-up.
You might also remember right at the start of his speakership they
were going to read the entire Constitution out loud on the floor of the
House except they were all reading out of a three-ring binder and some of
the pages stuck together, and so they skipped whole sections of the
They also set this new rule where they would have to identify, they
would have to write down what part of the Constitution gave them the
authority to pass every single piece of legislation they wanted to work on
in the House. They passed that rule. They said it has to apply to every
piece of legislation. And then the first three bills that they passed
under John Boehner as speaker, they did not follow that rule that they had
just put in place.
So there was some stuff that honestly it was on him. There were some
things on which he did not do a great job. And that kind of stuff,
particularly very early on, gave rise to, you might remember this, the John
Boehner is bad at his job hypothesis, which we have talked about on the air
several times – well, we`ve talked about it a lot.
In the big picture, though, to be totally fair, John Boehner may have
been bad at the job of being speaker of the House but it is unclear whether
anybody could have been good at it, whether anybody could have done better
because of what Republican politics is now. I mean, yes, he had big
Republican majorities, but they were fractious as all get out, aggressively
combative. Republicans right now enjoy fighting with their own leadership
maybe even more than they enjoy fighting with Democrats.
And because John Boehner could not corral, could never corral any of
his numbers to doing any one thing, he very frequently had to resort to
asking the Democrats if they could lend him some votes to help him pass
even the very basic stuff. I mean, that was how he passed Hurricane Sandy
relief. That`s how he finally got the debt ceiling vote in 2014. That`s
how he got us off the fiscal cliff. That`s how they reauthorized the
Violence Against Women Act.
I mean, time and time and time again John Boehner couldn`t get it
done with Republicans because Republicans refused to go along with him and
he instead had to go to Nancy Pelosi hat in hand and beg for some
Democratic votes to help him out.
And, of course, that sort of thing is seen as an unpardonable sin by
the most combative and loudest and most telegenic members of his own
And the problem going forward is that there`s no reason to believe
that dynamic`s going to change now that John Boehner`s leaving. I mean,
that still is going to be the tiny little spot between the rock and the
hard place where the next Republican speaker of the House is going to have
to slide himself in after John Boehner leaves next month.
But John Boehner really did shock everybody today when he announced
his resignation. It`s actually – as far as I can tell, it is an
unprecedented thing for a House speaker to leave out of the blue in the
middle of a congressional session like this. I mean, absent some big
scandal, some proceedings against the speaker or something, I don`t think
it`s ever happened where the speaker in the middle of a congressional
session just said, “I quit, I`m leaving.”
House Speaker John Boehner today denied overtly that he was inspired
to quit because of the pope`s historic visit, which was organized by John
Boehner. It was put into motion by John Boehner in the first place. He
was so obviously moved by it.
He said today that wasn`t it, that isn`t why I quit today. But today
when he talked with such trademark John Boehner emotion about how moving it
was for him to meet the pope yesterday and how much that experience meant
to him, it was kind of hard to believe him that that was not the catalyst
for this earthshaking decision that he made today that shocked the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. Boehner, you were noticeably overcome with emotion
BOEHNER: Really? What a surprise.
REPORTER: I`m curious if you reached this decision last night if the
grace of Pope Francis led you to this decision.
BOEHNER: No. No. Yesterday was a wonderful day. It really was.
And was I emotional yesterday? I think I was.
I was really emotional in a moment that really no one saw. As the
pope and I were getting ready to exit the building, we found ourselves
alone. And the pope grabbed my left arm and said some very kind words to
me about my commitment to kids and education.
And the pope puts his arm around me and kind of pulls me to him and
says, “Please pray for me.” Well, who am I to pray for the pope? But I
REPORTER: If it wasn`t the pope, then what was it?
BOEHNER: It`s – listen, it was never about the vote. There was
never any doubt about whether I could survive the vote.
I don`t want my members to have to go through this. I certainly
don`t want the institution to go through this. I thought when I knew I was
thinking about walking out the door anyway. It`s the right time to do it,
and frankly, I am entirely comfortable doing it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He is entirely comfortable doing it, meaning leaving. The
question is whether whoever comes next ought to be comfortable taking over
that job or whether that is an inherently undoable job that even John
Boehner couldn`t do but maybe nobody can.
Joining us now is Robert Costa, national political reporter for “The
Robert just this morning published an incredible piece about an
encounter he and another reporter had with Speaker Boehner last night after
the speaker`s day hosting Pope Francis at the Capitol.
Robert Costa, thanks very much for being here. It`s nice to have you
ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Can you tell us what happened last night, this sort of odd
encounter you had with the speaker?
COSTA: It was a surreal moment. My friend Jake Sherman of
“Politico” and I were standing there at twilight, sun setting over Capitol
Hill and we heard rumors that Boehner may be retiring but it didn`t seem
believable. We thought to ourselves might as well hang around for a few
The capitol was empty. And Boehner finally comes out. And he
usually passes by reporters, doesn`t take questions, rolls his eyes. And
then he did something unprecedented, five, six years of covering Boehner
he`s never done this, comes over to us in the hallway, puts his hands on
our shoulders and says come over to this little spot where the pope met him
earlier in the day as the pope was leaving.
And for the next ten minutes Boehner starts acting out this entire
scene, has me standing where the pope was standing, and he just kept
saying, “The pope said please pray for me.” And he kept repeating it. We
really didn`t know how to handle it.
So, we just let Boehner do his thing, and he with just thought to
ourselves, what is this after he left. We thought Boehner seemed at peace
with himself and happy.
MADDOW: Robert, when you say you had heard and part of the reason
you were hanging around late was because you heard he might be resigning
and it seemed far-fetched but you`d heard that might be possible, had you
heard those rumors before the visit of Pope Francis?
I`m asking because I think everybody`s trying to discern just at a
human level whether or not that obviously spiritually moving experience was
the catalyst for him leaving the day.
COSTA: I heard Pope Francis came. I heard from a couple friends of
Speaker Boehner on deep background that Boehner actually had floated the
idea maybe I`ll just leave after the pope because it`s the cap of my
career. He`s a devout Roman Catholic. He`s talked to friends an informal
way saying wouldn`t that be a great way to leave? Brought the pope, say
good-bye to all these churning currents within my party, within the House
Nobody believed him but they told us about it. And it sounded
believable to the extent as a reporter you`ve got to check it out. But
Boehner kept close counsel, only told his chief of staff until this
MADDOW: Robert, those cross-currents you were just talking about.
Obviously, nobody knows exactly yes went and how much of it was personal,
how much of it was impersonally political, meaning anybody in that job
would have been facing those same currents and maybe they became impossible
to continue facing.
From your judgment, and I know you have great sources among
Republicans in Congress, do you feel like some of the hostility from the
sort of hard right members of that Republican caucus, that hostility was
specific to John Boehner, or is that going to be the inheritance of whoever
comes after him and it`s going to be a similarly difficult job?
COSTA: I think it`s more of the latter. Boehner has wide respect
throughout the conference. He has a good rapport even with his critics.
He doesn`t have many enemies on a personal level.
I think if, say, Majority Leader McCarthy inherits the speaker`s
position, he wins the speaker gavel, he`s going to be dealing with the same
group of 30 or 40 hard-liners who are unhappy with any kind of impasse, any
kind of deal legislatively that doesn`t really involve an extended fight
with President Obama.
I think one of the reasons Boehner decided today to do this, he saw a
government shutdown on the horizon over Planned Parenthood. I knew if he
didn`t endure a shutdown the right flank would have this motion to vacate
the chair and that would put the whole House GOP up to a vote on Boehner`s
speakership. And he knew that would be a difficult time for him
politically for the whole conference, and so he said no thanks.
MADDOW: He said today I know I could survive that vote, but that
doesn`t mean he wanted to go through it or put the country and his party
and his caucus through what it would mean to go through it.
COSTA: I was just at the Capitol ten minutes ago right before I got
here. McCarthy`s still there eating fried chicken with his aides. He`s
seeming like the consensus pick at this point.
The real race, these conservatives, they want a voice in the
leadership, Rachel. So they`re going to try to be majority leader,
majority whip. But McCarthy, he has ties to the tea party because he
recruited a lot of them in 2010. So, he looks like for now someone who`s
going to be the next speaker, but will he be able to avoid the Boehner
difficulties? Probably not.
MADDOW: Robert Costa, national political reporter for the
“Washington Post” – Robert, thanks a lot. I know it`s been a long day and
a long week. Appreciate having you here.
COSTA: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. What he was just saying about Kevin McCarthy
looking like he`s the consensus pick but the tea partiers feel like they
got Boehner`s scalp and they want more, turns out that`s got a few
wrinkling developments in it to get to later in the show.
There`s so much going on in the news today and tonight. Please stay
with us. Lots ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Congratulations, Mr. Speaker.
BOEHNER: Thank you.
REPORTER: Does it feel like a weight off your shoulders?
BOEHNER: It`s a wonderful day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has been
really, really, really rich in huge, wonderful, cheering crowds, adoring
crowds, for most of his presidential campaign. I mean, other than that
initial announcement for which it appears he had to hire actors to portray
Donald Trump supporters.
Apart from that he really has been attracting big crowds of people on
the campaign trail. Really big crowds. Almost Bernie Sanders style
But then this week, something went very wrong for Mr. Trump. This
week, Mr. Trump faced an uncomfortably empty room in South Carolina.
People had two weeks` notice he was doing this event but he couldn`t even
half fill the room.
News outlets that reported on that fact including “The New York
Times” and politico.com, those publications, even their individual
reporters found themselves attacked publicly by Mr. Trump for even deigning
to point out that empty room he addressed this week. He`s very touchy
about these matters.
So, imagine what`s going to happen now, now that today at a
conservative event in Washington, D.C. Mr. Trump actually got loudly booed
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, you know, like you
have this clown Marco Rubio. I`ve been so nice to him.
I`ve been so nice. I`ve been so nice. And then – no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Calling Marco Rubio a clown apparently did not go over well
with the evangelical conservative crowd at the Values Voter Summit in D.C.
And if you are Donald Trump and you are not accustomed to being
booed, you may not quite know how to process that kind of experience.
Well, after that speech where he got booed, reporter Katy Tur from
NBC asked Mr. Trump about it and watch what he said. This was amazing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATY TUR, NBC NEWS: What about those boos?
TRUMP: I didn`t get boos. I got cheers.
TUR: You didn`t get boos.
TRUMP: I got boos for you but I got cheers.
TUR: Boos for me but not cheers.
TRUMP: They were cheers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They were cheers?
You didn`t get boos? I got boos for you. But I got cheers.
Actually, they really were booing. And they were not booing NBC
reporter Katy Tur. That I`m quite sure about.
But that is an amazing Republican presidential front-runner.
Amazing. We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I mean, you know, like you have this clown Marco Rubio. I`ve
been so nice to him.
I`ve been so nice. I`ve been so nice. And then – no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The pope is now officially a card carrying New Yorker. It
doesn`t go this fast for everyone. But this – look. This is Pope
Francis`s official New York City identification card. It was given to him
today by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
As you can see, it lists his address as the Apostolic Palace. It`s
signed with his Latin name, Franciscus.
And as a card-carrying New Yorker, Pope Francis tonight celebrated
mass before a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, a mass for 20,000
people. A mass that was at times very reverent and at times very raucous.
People cheering for him and jumping to their feet in joy and excitement.
Before the mass this afternoon, he went to a Catholic school in East
Harlem called Our Lady Queen of Angels. And on his way in he posed for
photo after photo with kids. You can hear the kids in the crowd – they`re
saying, “Holy Father, we love you. Holy father, we love you.”
Look at this. One of the kids getting a picture of the pope. They
have to totally contort themselves to get themselves into the picture. The
perfect shot. Or attempting the perfect shot.
As he made his way into the school, the crowd, which was not a choir
or anything, just a crowd that was gathered to see him there in Harlem,
they started to spontaneously sing, “Oh, when the saints go marching in.”
That`s what occurred to them, they started to sing. But then of course it
morphed and they changed the lyrics and it turned into this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHLDREN (singing): Oh when the saints go marching in, oh when the
saints go marching in, oh how I want to be in that number, when the saints
go marching in, oh when the saints go marching in, oh when the pope goes
marching in, oh how I want to be in that number, when the pope goes
marching in –
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A spontaneous street song “When the pope goes marching in.”
The pope then got to spend a little time in the classroom with third
and fourth-graders. The kids showed him projects they were working on. It
was all going along pretty swimmingly until two kids walked him over to the
classroom`s giant touch screen smart board, and while this pope can do many
things, he can, for example, broker peace after 50 years between the United
States and Cuba, today, we found out that wall-mounted high technology
might not be his strong suit.
I don`t just sympathize with him here. I sort of empathize with
this. He was trying to play this little interactive game on the smart
board and an error message kept popping up.
That`s awkward for anybody. But when you are used to the whole papal
infallibility thing, I`m guessing you`re not used to get error messages of
The little girl chaperoning him to the board, she took his hand, see,
to help him figure it out.
In the school`s auditorium he met with immigrant families who all
presented him with gifts. He apparently really liked the soccer ball that
he got from one young man. From two day laborers from Yonkers, the pope
also received a hard hat. They brought him a hard hat and they brought him
a pretty professional-looking, pretty heavy-duty tool belt.
Before Pope Francis left the school he told the crowd that they had
some homework to do. He told them they had to promise to pray for him. He
said that in his remarks. And then he reminded them about it again after
he gave his papal blessing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POPE FRANCIS (through translator): God Almighty, Father, Son, Holy
POPE FRANCIS: Pray for me.
Don`t forget the homework.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Don`t forget your homework.
And you know, that would be enough energy to exert in a day for any
young person, right? I mean, delivering a long address to the United
Nations, leading a very emotional prayer service at Ground Zero, doing all
the stuff, right? Doing the event in Harlem. Motorcading across New York
But after giving a peace sign from the window of his little papal
Fiat in Harlem, the 78-year-old pontiff headed out for what was going to be
his biggest event so far in New York City. After he was in Harlem more
than 80 – look at this. More than 80,000 people jammed along the route
through central park, including producer Jen Mulraney`s mom, she was there,
to watch the pope as he rode in his white Jeep Popemobile on his way to
celebrate that mass at Madison Square Garden.
The security lines just to get people into their standing places
along the route through central park, the security lines got so long during
the day today the NYPD at one point was scared they wouldn`t get everybody
situated in the park in time to see him. But miraculously, tens of
thousands of people were all able to get themselves in place and it was a
20-minute procession through the park, just deafening in the ecstasy of the
Judging from the footage along the route taken at eye level, it seems
like every single person seemed to be capturing moment on their cell phone
even if what they ended up capturing was lots of other cell phones
capturing each other, not necessarily the pope.
Aside from waving, we did not see the pope himself get out into the
crowd in Central Park as he had in some other places. We didn`t see him
physically interact with people along that route in the park. But that is
maybe what made this scene all the more striking. He arrived for mass at
Madison Square Garden and Pope Francis rode onto the floor of Madison
Square Garden in a little golf cart, a little electric golf cart.
And as that little golf cart weaved its way through this crowd, this
capacity crowd of 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden, there he did
stop. He made a point to stop over and over and over again. He stopped to
touch people and to bless kids and to bless the disabled.
Tomorrow, Pope Francis heads to Philly. We`ve got more on that later
on in the show. But tonight, tonight, God bless New York and the city`s
newest New Yorker.
MADDOW: We`ve got much more ahead tonight on this huge news day,
including the speaker of the House unexpectedly quitting, including the
pope`s weekend plans in Philly.
But you must also feast your eyes on this. Because a member of
Congress just sent us this video. This is a member of Congress. And she
recorded this video just for us. Exactly what compelled her to make this
utterly charming video is straight ahead.
MADDOW: There`s a post office in California named for Buck Owens,
which is awesome because Buck Owens is awesome. He`s from Central
The sound of Buck Owens became known as the Bakersfield Sound. And
in Bakersfield, California, they named a post office after him. The year
that Buck Owens died in 2006 Bakersfield had just elected a new Republican
congressman, and that new Republican congressman got that thing done for
Bakersfield and for Buck Owens.
Turns out it would be another seven years before that same
congressman got anything else done in Congress. But seven years after the
Buck Owens post-office renaming, that same Republican congressman passed
his second ever piece of legislation. The first bill he passed was naming
a post office for Buck Owens.
The second bill he passed seven years later was renaming another
thing. It was a bill to rename a research facility in his district.
So, those two bills, as worthy as they might be, those two bills
which were to rename existing buildings, those are the only two pieces of
legislation that he has ever sponsored and passed. And now, he`s about to
be the speaker of the House. Seriously.
When Bakersfield, California Congressman Kevin McCarthy got the
leadership job he has now, when he became the number two Republican in the
House under John Boehner, he was the least experienced member of Congress
to ever get that job by a mile. No one had ever ascended that far in the
leadership of Congress, the number two position in the House, after such a
small amount of time in Congress.
Kevin McCarthy also has not passed any meaningful legislation in his
time in Congress other than those two very meaningful bills renaming
things. But now, he is poised to become third in line to the presidency,
When House Speaker John Boehner shocked everyone by announcing today
that he was resigning as speaker and resigning from Congress, no speaker
had ever up and resigned out of nowhere in the middle of a congressional
session before. But when John Boehner announced his resignation, the
common wisdom quickly settled onto two facts about this shock move.
The first one was that this resignation was brought on by the attacks
on John Boehner from the fractious hard line right-wing elements of his own
party, which have now started using him as almost more of a political
punching bag than even Nancy Pelosi or even President Obama. That`s one.
The second fact that became instant common wisdom about Speaker
Boehner resigning today was that that same hard line right-wing faction
that may have forced him out or may have made his life so miserable he
couldn`t do anything but quit, the second little piece of common wisdom
that sort of settled in immediately today about them is that even though
they may have forced him out, they certainly do not have anybody in mind to
replace him, nor do they have the votes to pick anyone to replace him even
if they could agree on who they wanted. They have enough votes to make his
life miserable but not enough votes to take over.
And so lucky, lucky Kevin McCarthy, John Boehner`s number two, is
expected to ascend to the top job even though conservatives who lit this
fire in the first place really have no more reason to like Kevin McCarthy
than they did John Boehner. But that`s the common wisdom now. Kevin
McCarthy, who is quite literally a lucky guy, he won the lottery on a
scratch ticket when he was 20 years old, bought a deli with the proceeds
that became a very successful business, Kevin McCarthy, lottery winner, out
of nowhere is once again the guy in the right place at the right time and
appears therefore to be about to ascend to one of the most powerful jobs on
earth with no congressional track record of any sort that might explain how
he got there.
Here`s the question, though, and it can sort of only be answered by
someone who is well sourced on Capitol Hill and hopefully well sourced with
conservative Republicans. Here`s the question: is the common wisdom right?
And I ask because the last time there was a surprise shake-up in
Republican leadership thanks to right-wing objections, that was when Eric
Cantor lost his seat in Virginia. Remember old Eric Cantor? Eric Cantor
used to be the number two guy in Congress. He was the number two guy in
Congress and he lost his seat.
We now know that Speaker Boehner was planning to resign last year, so
Eric Cantor could step up and be the new speaker of the House. But then
when, shock, Eric Cantor instead lost his seat in a primary to a right-wing
Tea Party upstart, obviously that plan fell apart. That`s why John Boehner
says he stayed on until now.
But when Eric Cantor died that bizarre political death, the
Republicans had to scramble to rebuild their leadership team. And in the
end, when they had to do that unexpectedly they decided to take a hard
right turn, the man who would have been the first Jewish speaker of the
House in the history of the United States, Eric Cantor, was effectively
replaced in the Republican leadership by a congressman who once called
himself David Duke without the baggage, and who was known in his home state
for speaking at a white supremacist Klan gathering.
I mean, I know everybody thinks that lucky, lucky Kevin McCarthy is
inevitably going to become speaker of the House, but he would not answer
the concerns of the hardliners who forced out John Boehner and who made
John Boehner`s tenure as speaker so miserable. And honestly if you look at
your history the last time Republicans in Congress had to make an
unexpected change in leadership in response to unexpectedly strong pressure
from the right, they picked Steve Scalise. I mean, they went unexpectedly
and controversially right-wing in their choice.
So, is lucky lucky Buck Owens patron Kevin McCarthy a shoo-in for
this top job, running congress, two heartbeats away from the presidency?
Or could we be in for a more hard line surprise choice from the
Joining us now is my friend John Stanton, D.C. bureau chief of
John, it`s great to have you here. Thanks for being here.
JOHN STANTON, BUZZFEED: It`s good to be here.
MADDOW: So, Robert Costa said earlier this hour that he thinks that
Kevin McCarthy is becoming the consensus choice, it looks like it might be
him. Does that seem like that`s everybody`s view? Is there any chance he
doesn`t become the next speaker?
STANTON: Yes. I mean, look, it`s House Republicans, right? I
wouldn`t bet on them to do anything. Even if they all told me they were
all going to vote for Kevin McCarthy, I would not believe they were going
to do it until they`d actually done it even if it was 30 seconds before.
I`d still say don`t trust you.
Yes. You know, look, McCarthy seems like he`s on the track. The
thing that he`s got going for him is the fact that conservatives don`t have
a consensus candidate that they could really put out there that could pull
enough votes to do it.
You`ve got to remember, Scalise, they don`t trust Scalise either. To
a lot of folks, Steve Scalise seems very conservative but to the most
conservative members of the House, they kind of think he`s a little best a
squish. This is the dynamic that Kevin McCarthy is sort of wading into
here. And that helps him in a lot of ways to at least get this position
for the next, you know, maybe six months or year at a minimum, because
there`s nobody out there that the conservatives can agree to that they
think – that they can force enough of the sort of rank-and-file
Republicans to vote for at this point.
MADDOW: It seems to me like they don`t have – the hardliners don`t
have enough votes, as you say, to elect anybody. Even if they could come
to a consensus over who they liked, but they seem to have enough votes to
potentially stop anybody else from getting elected, potentially if they
vote as a bloc and they decide that anybody who`s establishment enough to
get nominated is therefore too establishment to live and they could sort of
take down anybody if they made it a concerted effort.
STANTON: Yes, and you know, that`s funny. That`s basically the
space that they`re most comfortable in. That`s what they`ve done with
legislation. That`s what they`ve done with Boehner now.
They`re really, really good at undermining people. They`re not so
good at finding people who can get put up. It`s because the group of them
is very small. There`s about 25 members of the – what they`re calling the
Freedom Caucus, which is the most conservative members of the House.
They have an enormous amount of sway over the rank-and-file members
because at this point your rank-and-file members are not RINOs or moderate
Republicans. They`re incumbents and their entire life is devoted to
maintaining their incumbency. So, they`ll do whatever it takes to get re-
elected in most cases, and that means making sure they don`t get run afoul
of the hard right, so they don`t get primaried.
The problem with this situation is Boehner was becoming such a
bogeyman for hard line Republicans they could use him against those people
in potential primaries. But if you get into an open race with a bunch of
people running those people are not going to have the kind of name
recognition or juice with the conservative base at this point to really
force the whole group of people to vote for that person. And so they don`t
have the ability to do that at this point.
MADDOW: And if they get Kevin McCarthy as a consequence of that
honestly I think you`re going to be able to take all of the John Boehner
having a nightmare time as speaker headlines of the last five years and
just photoshop a new head onto his suit because that`s how they`re going to
MADDOW: I mean, we`ll see. John Stanton, D.C. bureau chief of
“BuzzFeed” – John, it`s great to have you here. Thanks for being here.
STANTON: Thank you.
MADDOW: I will say in looking today to talk about Kevin McCarthy as
potential speaker of the house, you see like his colleagues interviewed
like what do you think about Kevin McCarthy? Oh, I think he`s all right.
He`s a nice guy. He`s easy to get along with, he does the work.
What do you think he cares about? What are his issues? What are his
important legislative priorities? Look at the time.
Nothing is known about him in terms of what he cares about in terms
of policy, in terms of ideology, in terms of what he might want to get
done. He is a blank slate. Project at will.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Still ahead tonight, if you thought we saw big crowds for
the pope this week in Washington, D.C., and then today in New York, wait
until you see what is on tap for this weekend. Wait till you also see what
possessed a member of Congress to send us this video.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Pope Francis was in New York City today at the U.N., at the
9/11 memorial at a school full of the world`s most adorable kids in Harlem
in Central Park, at Madison Square Garden. The schedule tomorrow makes
today seem tame and relaxed in comparison.
But there is one thing about this papal visit to the United States
that I still can`t quite believe. But it turns out it is true. Because
congressional leaders didn`t trust members of the Congress to refrain from
touching the pope as he arrived in the house chamber in Washington this
week as he gave a speech to Congress. Because congressional leader were
pretty sure their own members couldn`t be trusted to control themselves
when they were near him.
Some special members of Congress were designated to be pope blockers.
These were folks who were going to get prime seats along the aisle, as Pope
Francis walked into the House chamber, and it would be their job to
basically be human shields for the pope in case any overzealous other
members of Congress got huggier or grabby at him.
When we first heard that story in “Roll Call”, it seemed almost too
to be true. So, we spent significant amount of time, maybe too much time
calling congressional offices about it, trying to determine if this was
really true. If it was, who among all the members of Congress was getting
designated to be these pope-defending, tackling linebackers.
And from making all those calls. We finally figured it out, at least
on the Democratic side we figured out. Republicans and Democrats were
designated. We got the list of which Democrats in Congress were assigned
to guard the aisle so other congressmen and women wouldn`t touch the pope.
And I tell you – by the way, they did great. People mostly kept
their hands to themselves. The blockers took up their space. They did
their jobs. Nobody inappropriately touched the Holy Father.
But I think we are the only news outlet who figured out who the
blockers were. And because blocking your colleagues from mauling the pope
seems like an exercise where size might matter, I will now tell you who
they were and list them by height. OK?
We`ll start with the big ones. On the big side, we start with
Congressman Mike Thompson, 6`1”. Assigned to physically block and tackle
for Pope Francis in Congress if necessary this week. After him,
Congressman Lacy Clay, six feet even. Then, Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr.,
5`10” tall. Then, Gregorio Sablan, who represents the Northern Mariana
Islands, also 5`10”, big guy, tough guy.
Eleanor Holmes Norton. She represents Washington, D.C. She is 5`7”
of tough as nails. Congresswoman Marty Kaptur, 5`6”, known for her
freakishly impressive upper body strength. And then there`s Congresswoman
Anna Eschew, 5`4” of fierce. And rounding out the group, Congresswoman
Debbie Dingell, officially designated Pope Francis physical protector in
the House of Representatives who responded to our question about her height
by sending us something that is so awesome I could hardly stand it.
By far, Debbie Dingell wins the sportsman reward when we rudely
called her office and demanded to know her height. Congresswoman Debbie
Dingell of Michigan sent us this as her response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: Five-foot-two, eyes of blue, but
oh what these five feet can do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, 5`2” of linebacker tough Pope
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, you win, you win. I give up. You win.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN MCNICHOL, PENNSYLVANIA, CONVENTION CTR. CEO: All the A.V.s that
you see from here to the parkway where his holiness will be for mass on
Sunday, it`s the equivalent of 25 Super Bowls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Twenty-five Super Bowls.
We`re now told to expect 2 million people in the mass that Pope
Francis is due to celebrate Sunday and another 1 million people for the
event he`s doing tomorrow evening in the festival of families in Philly.
One of the pope`s events tomorrow will also be in Independence Hall,
home of the Liberty Bell. He`s going to give an address there using the
lectern, the exact same one Abraham Lincoln used to give the Gettysburg
On Sunday morning, he`ll visit a prison. He`ll meet with prisoners.
But then Sunday at 4:00 p.m., the pope is going to be hosting this outdoor
mass that will be the capstone, the largest event he`s doing in the United
States. They are, again, expecting 2 million people, Philadelphia Sunday
for that 4:00 p.m. mass.
Big weekend. Big week. It`s been amazing already. This has been
one of those days, one of those weeks that`s just been nonstop news from
morning until night.
You know what you get after a news day like that, you get to curl up,
relax and have a word with the warden.
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