The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/2/15
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us
this hour this Friday night.
This has been a very busy news day with a lot of news breaking late
into the evening tonight, including new details about the shooting in
Roseburg, Oregon, yesterday. We now have both the identities of the nine
victims other than the shooter in that case.
We also have some new and unexpected information about the shooter
that we did not have yesterday. We are now learning tonight that the
shooter was a student at Umpqua Community College, which is something we
were assured yesterday was not true. But we`re going to have a live report
from Roseburg, Oregon, coming up in just a couple of minutes tonight.
President Obama also did a long and wide-ranging press conference at
the White House today. He talked about gun violence. He talked about how
the United States is not going to wage a proxy war with Russia in Syria
even though the U.S. and Russia are both dropping bombs in Syria now on
opposite sides of that conflict.
There was also a bunch of news on the 2016 presidential race, which
we`ll have for you tonight, including some startling news from the Donald
Trump campaign and some bad news for both the Chris Christie campaign and
the Rand Paul campaign.
Tonight for the interview, we`ve got a sitting Supreme Court justice.
What? Yes. Ari Melber is here tonight, having just interviewed sitting
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. It is very rare for Justice Breyer
to do an interview. But we have got that here tonight.
Plus, there`s a hurricane in the Atlanta which you may have noticed
or heard something about. There`s a lot going on tonight. We`ve got a big
But we start tonight in Washington. We start in Washington, where
something that was supposed to be a sure bet is now starting to look like
it might not happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), CALIFORNIA: In the past few years alone I
have visited Poland, Hungria, Estonia, Russia, and Georgia. We don`t have
the same as difficult decision but this White House is managing the decline
and putting us in tough decisions for the future.
Unlike during the surge in Iraq when Petraeus and Crocker had an
effective politically strategy to match the military strategy.
The simple promise to all of our heroes to the need when they need it
It defies belief that the president would allow the ban on Iranian
oil exports to be lifted and also stand by a Russia blackmails an entire
continent – all the while keeping the place of the band on America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: All the while keeping the place of the band on America.
His new job title is supposed to be speaker. There`s a bit of a
political earthquake rolling through Washington right now about speaker in
waiting Kevin McCarthy. Kevin McCarthy became the number two Republican in
Congress last year.
And when John Boehner suddenly resigned a week ago tonight, Kevin
McCarthy was widely hailed as the man who would be next in line to become
speaker after John Boehner. If he does become speaker next week, that
would put Kevin McCarthy third in line for the presidency of the United
States. And one of the remarkable things, a truly historically remarkable
thing about that prospect of him becoming speaker, is Mr. McCarthy`s lack
Not since 1891 has anyone with such a small amount of experience in
Congress become speaker. And frankly the guy who became speaker in 1891,
even he had more experience than Kevin McCarthy did in Congress. He`s just
the closest one that we can find.
One of the other remarkable things about the prospect of Kevin
McCarthy becoming speaker is the issue of his skill at speaking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCARTHY: In the past few years alone I have visited Poland, Hungria
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hungria was super happy to have him. No American politician
has ever visited Hungria before. We checked the records.
Kevin McCarthy`s speaking skills are unusually, notably insert
adjective here for any member of congress, let alone for somebody who`s
supposed to now become the second most powerful person in Washington, the
man in charge of Congress.
I mean, those clips we showed before with him talking about visiting
Hungria and putting the band on America and all the rest, those are all
from his first ever foreign policy speech, which he delivered earlier this
week as what I think was sort of a rollout event, so we could all start
imagining him being third in line to the presidency.
And when Kevin McCarthy screwed up so many things in that speech, to
the point where it was – at times it was funny, some observers, fair-
minded observers said maybe that was just an instance in which he was
having trouble reading. One empathetically near-sighted producer on this
show said perhaps Kevin McCarthy screwed up so many things in that speech
because he didn`t have his reading glasses on and maybe he just couldn`t
read the pages of the script in front of him during that speech. I was
sympathetic to that possibility.
But then this happened. This was Kevin McCarthy last night on the
FOX News show, which is hosted by a very nice guy named Bret Baier. And
for this particular Kevin McCarthy word typhoon – can we call it that? –
he was not reading this time. This one cannot be explained by forgetting
his reading glasses or something. I think this is maybe just what he`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCARTHY: Look at the way they have carried themselves out. What
had happened within the truth, you found out about a server. Sometimes
truth comes out in other manners. It wasn`t what I in my mind was saying
out there. I was saying some truth came out from this committee is where
you found the server, where you went forward. You can always improve.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You can always improve. But it is daunting to think look at
the way they have carried themselves out. They picked themselves up by
their pants and – it is daunting to think how much he will probably want
to improve between now and next week when they take a vote on him to become
the second most powerful person in Washington after the president. But
this really is the way Kevin McCarthy talks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: This has been a bit of a setback.
MCCARTHY: It`s been a setback, yes, because I do not want to make
that harm Benghazi committee in any way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I do not want to make that harm Benghazi committee in any
way. Nobody wants to make that harm.
What the congressman is trying really hard to talk about there, what
he was trying to undo in that FOX News interview, is the other big worry
that has arisen among Republicans in particular about the fact that Kevin
McCarthy is about to become speaker. And that worry is the fact that Mr.
McCarthy volunteered on FOX News this week that the Republican Party sought
to bring down Hillary Clinton`s poll numbers with the special select
committee they created to investigate Benghazi.
Mr. McCarthy bragged to FOX News this week that bringing down Hillary
Clinton`s poll numbers is why the Republicans created that committee, and
he further bragged that that plan worked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCARTHY: Let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary
Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special
committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Since those comments it has been a building, building,
building rumble throughout Washington that maybe Kevin McCarthy should not
be speaker of the House. There`s been a lot of other news this week, but
the Washington headlines, the beltway headlines since Kevin McCarthy
stepped in it the way he has, the headlines about Kevin McCarthy have been
like this – McCarthy`s GOP critics see opening after Benghazi blunder.
McCarthy`s nasty Benghazi hangover. Kevin McCarthy`s Benghazi gaffe roils
House speaker race. Kevin McCarthy`s Benghazi gift to team Hillary.
I mean, this has been the headline all this week in Washington. I
mean, other Republican members of the House have called on him to
apologize. They have said over and over again that they done agree with
him, that he must have misspoken. John Boehner himself had to come out and
repudiate Kevin McCarthy`s comments.
Now, Democrats are threatening to leave the Benghazi committee.
They`re demanding the committee be disbanded. I mean, this is the longest-
standing select committee investigation in congressional history. They
have kept this thing going longer than the 9/11 investigation, than the
Watergate investigation, longer than the JFK assassination investigation,
longer than Iran-Contra, longer than anything else.
And Republicans were going to use this endless select committee to
try to nuke Hillary Clinton somehow, to try to ruin her presidential
campaign. Well, now they have given that game away because of the guy who
was suppose td to be their next speaker of the House. He got on FOX News
and started talking about it openly. Even now it`s getting harder and
harder and harder to imagine he`s actually going to get that job when the
vote happens next week.
Tonight another high-profile Republican member of Congress who
previously said he would support Kevin McCarthy for speaker, Jason
Chaffetz, congressman from Utah, just announced that tonight actually he`s
going to run himself.
He`s getting called a long shot by the Beltway press tonight since he
announced he was getting in. But honestly at this point if I had to bet on
Kevin McCarthy to win versus Jason Chaffetz to win, I would bet on Jason
Also, the top Democrat in Congress, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi,
has now really called the question on what Kevin McCarthy screwed up so
badly. Nancy Pelosi tonight has submitted a letter to the Republican
leadership in Congress saying basically, hey, if you guys are going to use
the most powerful tool that Congress has, if you`re going to use one of
these select committees, the longest one ever, to just wage a political
partisan war against a Democrat presidential candidate, you guys knock
yourself out doing that, go for it. But if that`s how you`re going to use
the select committee process can we also please have one of those select
committees now to address the plague of mass shootings in this country?
Maybe you could turn your attention to that as well if you guys aren`t too
busy spending taxpayer dollars on a multimillion-dollar partisan vendetta
against Hillary Clinton.
That proposal today from Nancy Pelosi for a select committee on gun
violence. Maybe you could turn your attention to that as well if you guys
aren`t too busy spending taxpayer dollars on a multimillion-dollar partisan
vendetta against Hillary Clinton. That proposal today from Nancy Pelosi
for a select committee on gun violence. That was one of several serious
and provocative political responses to the mass shooting yesterday in
That includes comments today from President Obama on his own terms
about that shooting. But also comments from President Obama tonight – or
this afternoon directly repudiating what presidential candidate Jeb Bush
said about the shooting today. There`s more to come on all of that
including new news about the Roseburg, Oregon, shooter.
Lots to come tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In a very busy news week like this one a state issue would
not usually pop, something going on just in one state. But there is a
state, there`s one state`s decision that has come up this week that is so
outrageous, even on a week like this it`s finally starting to get a lot of
attention including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton weighing in on
the issue today. This again is a single state issue, but I think it is
going to become a national issue, probably as of this weekend. It`s out of
Alabama. It`s absolutely stunning.
And we`ve got that story coming up for you tonight. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But, you know, no matter
what you do, guns, no guns, it doesn`t matter. You have people that are
mentally ill, and they`re going to come through the cracks and they`re
going to do things that people will not even believe are possible.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I don`t
believe that gun control would stop this.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I always find it
interesting that the reflexive reaction of the left is to say we need more
DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You`re not going to
handle it with more gun control because gun control only works for normal
law-abiding citizens. It doesn`t work for crazies.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It`s just – it`s very sad to
see. But I resist the notion. And I did – I had this challenge as
governor because we had – look, stuff happens. There`s always a crisis.
And the impulse is always to do something, and it`s not necessarily the
right thing to do.
REPORTER: How would you react to governor bush?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t even think I
have to react to that one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Some of the political reaction today, to the mass shooting
in Roseburg, Oregon yesterday. But as we noted last night, there have been
enough mass shootings in this country now that we`re used to a certain way
they go. A certain flow of information, a certain tempo at which the basic
facts of the crime and the basic facts about the perpetrator get confirmed
by local authorities and become publicly known.
Well, in this case in Oregon that standard tempo hasn`t been
followed. There`s a lot that we didn`t know in the first 24 hours after
the shooting that we would usually expect to know, and there have been
important details that have changed about this case even today and into
night, including some important new news about the shooter that was first
reported by our next guest.
Joining us is Ian Campbell. He`s a reporter with “The News-Review”
in Roseburg, Oregon.
Mr. Campbell, thank you for your time tonight. I appreciate you
IAN CAMPBELL, THE NEWS-REVIEW REPORTER: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Ian, just a short time ago you broke some major news about
the gunman, specifically about his relationship to Umpqua Community
College. We were told yesterday that he had an uncertain relationship to
the college but he certainly wasn`t a student.
You`re now reporting that he was a student.
CAMPBELL: That`s correct.
So, earlier today I was able to talk to a student at UCC who was able
to confirm and find that an e-mail address or an e-mail account under the
shooter`s name was available and existed, and from there with what we did
is we contacted the Douglas County sheriff`s office and we also contacted
some UCC communications people who later were able to confirm that not only
was the shooter a student at UCC but was also enrolled in the classroom
where the shooting occurred.
MADDOW: Do we know whether he had actually attended that class,
whether he had actually shown up and been there, would have been a
recognizable figure in that classroom before the shooting?
CAMPBELL: We don`t know. It was the fourth day of school. So it
would be, you know, a long shot to say if anyone had recognized him,
whether he had shown up or whether he knew anyone. You know, at this
point, we just know that he was enrolled in the class and, you know, four
days into school, he showed up and shot and killed nine individuals.
MADDOW: In terms of the people who he killed, we understand now
they`ve released a list of the people who were killed in this instance,
that one of the victims was the professor in that class, in the classroom
where at least the bulk of the shooting seems to have taken place. Do we
know anything further about or anything else that could – about that list
of nine that could tell us more about what happened or at least where the
CAMPBELL: We don`t know a ton of specifics. What we do know and
what is kind of a symptom of being in a small community, which Roseburg is,
and Douglas County is, is you know, when the news came across of who the
victims were, almost everyone in the county had a personal relationship
with one of the victims, whether it was a friend of a friend, an
acquaintance, or you know, a loved one.
Even when the news broke across the newsroom, there were many people
inside watching television who hadn`t heard or were shocked to learn that
someone that they knew or someone they were close to had been killed the
MADDOW: Ian Campbell, reporter for “The News-Review” in Roseburg,
Oregon, which is not the biggest city in the world to be involved in news
reporting, but this is just incredibly close to you and you guys are doing
nationally and internationally, important work from your perch. I hope you
know how much it`s valued. I know how difficult it is.
CAMPBELL: Yes, thank you for having me.
There`s lots more ahead tonight including a very rare interview with
a sitting justice of the United States Supreme Court. Don`t miss it.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Whether or not Hurricane Joaquin becomes an epic east coast
storm this weekend, and it looks like it probably won`t, still the threat
of Hurricane Joaquin earlier this week was enough to cancel several high-
profile presidential events, one of which seemed frankly unlikely in the
But Donald Trump and his presidential campaign really had apparently
planned for Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to be doing a
rally tonight at a mega church in Virginia Beach. Before they canceled the
event the tickets had sold out, all 2,500 of them, which would have filled
the megachurch to capacity. By the time Donald Trump announced they were
canceling the event, though, that had morphed into a forgone crowd of
10,000 people who were definitely going to be there. It`s kind of like
loaves and fishes but different.
The Donald Trump megachurch event tonight, though, was canceled
because of expected heavy weather. But it`s been interesting. This has
been kind of an evangelically focused week. He has never himself professed
to be that religious, but this was the week when he started to bring his
bible with him to campaign appearances. That made for a slightly strange
sight in its own right. It definitely made for a juxtaposition when it
became clear that this was also going to be the week when Donald Trump
started swearing at his campaign events. The holding the bible thing and
the swearing was a weird combination of things to roll out in the same
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They asked Bush, what do
you think of Rubio? Rubio comes out and he`s talking about bush and, you
know. What do you think of Rubio? He`s my dear friend. He`s so
wonderful. I love him so much.
So they ask Rubio, what do you think of Bush? Oh, he`s my dear
They hate each other. They hate. Trust me, I know. They hate so
much. They hate more than anybody in this room hates their neighbor.
But it`s political bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Do you understand?
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
Remember when Obama was saying we will leave, we are leaving Iraq as
of a certain date? Now, the opponents said, wow, that`s great. What do we
have to fight any more for? Let`s just wait a year and a half. That`s
And then as soon as we left they knocked the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out
of everybody. Right? They just knocked the hell out of everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It`s weird to hear presidential candidates swear. But all
of the swearing was particularly weird because this was also the week when
he decided that he would be publicly cleansed. Sort of. Repenting. I
don`t know. He was at least prayed for publicly.
Mr. Trump at his New York office made a public show of himself being
laid – having hands laid on him. These evangelical leaders whom Donald
Trump invited to meet with him, they all touched Donald Trump which is
interesting to see because one of the famous things about him is he`s sort
of germaphobic, he doesn`t like to be touched.
There was a lot of touching of Donald Trump including touching his
face. It`s not the way we are used to seeing him either as a TV
personality or a businessman or a presidential candidate.
But this was a very colorful group of evangelists whom Mr. Trump
invited to pray on him at his office. Many of them are evangelists with TV
shows. Many of them are proponents of the idea that the gospels are key to
getting rich, the so-called prosperity gospel.
At least one of the televangelists who invited to this display of
praying for Donald Trump is a little famous even outside of evangelical
circles for claiming she has the power to raise chickens from the dead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAN CROUCH, TELEVANGELIST: When you`ve gone through depression, you
know there`s no way out. Except Jesus healed me. And that`s the only
reason I`m here. I had a little chicken that died.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, not the chicken story.
CROUCH: And the only thing I did was prayed in the name of Jesus.
And that little chicken became alive. It happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Her name is Jan Crouch. That`s the way she appears on
But here she was meeting this week with Donald Trump.
So, Donald Trump had a big evangelical week. That said, his
megachurch event tonight was cancelled a couple of days ago because of
worries about this hurricane.
Chris Christie also canceled events scheduled for today and tonight
ahead of hurricane Joaquin. Governor Christie, along with the governors of
several Eastern Seaboard states, declared a state of emergency ahead of the
storm but as news emerged that the storm appeared to be banking out to sea,
imposing less of a threat to people and property on the East Coast, a
little bit of a political storm simultaneously broke out for Governor
One of his cabinet officials chose basically 5:00 on Friday today as
his opportunity for a surprise resignation. And you know, people do resign
from state government. It happens. Even late in the day on Friday. It`s
not always a scandal.
But in this particular case this particular Chris Christie cabinet
official is tied very directly to the ongoing criminal probes of the Chris
Christie administration and his appointees in New Jersey. One of those
investigations of course is bridgegate, in which criminal trials for Mr.
Christie`s appointees and staffers are supposed to start in March.
Another one of those criminal investigations involves the Christie
administration`s dealings with United Airlines. This probe has already
claimed the scalp of the CEO of United Airlines. And tonight the man whom
expectedly quit Chris Christie`s cabinet, his secretary of transportation,
he`s tied to that scandal as well because he was the lobbyist for United
Airlines when that company bribed Christie administration figures for
preferential treatment at Newark Airport, et cetera.
And these sort of scandals, even these sorts of criminal
investigations biting him on the ankles, these are the sort of things that
a stronger presidential candidate could probably weather without much
worry. Chris Christie, though, is not a strong presidential candidate. In
the new national Republican poll that just came out from pew polling today,
Chris Christie`s name does not even appear in the pullout graphic of how
people did in the poll.
Chris Christie is just lumped in as other, with all the other
candidates who are somewhere south of 2 percent in this new national
So, Chris Christie`s New Jersey looks like it may have dodged a
bullet with this big Atlantic hurricane, but Chris Christie`s presidential
campaign really only got bad news today.
And if we`re talking about life at the bottom of the polling universe
that also needs to bring us to the man just above other in this poll. That
would be Rand Paul, who`s polling at 2 percent from pew today. It has been
a week of bad news already for Rand Paul.
At the beginning of the week, one of his three super PACs died. The
head of his super PAC called Rand Paul`s presidential campaign futile, said
he didn`t want to waste his time raising money for his presidential
campaign anymore. Beyond the super PAC, we`ve also got campaign fund-
raising numbers for his campaign as of today. And they`re terrible.
They`re just off a cliff.
I mean, if you look back to last quarter in the second quarter, Rand
Paul raised about $7 million. In the third quarter, which just ended
yesterday, he raised $2.5 million. He went from $7 million to $2.5
million. That`s a drop-off of what, 65 percent?
And remember, Rand Paul isn`t just trying to run for president. He`s
also simultaneously trying to run for re-election to his Senate seat in
Kentucky. This week Rand Paul has been doing fund-raisers for that Senate
This weekend, he`s heading home to Kentucky to try to boost his
Senate re-election efforts. He`s planning to tomorrow do a joint campaign
event in Kentucky with the Republican Party`s candidate for governor in
that state. Governor`s races in Kentucky happen in odd years I guess so,
that election is next month.
Well, as a measure of how bad things are for Rand Paul right now even
at home two, hours after his campaign announced that joint event between
Rand Paul and the Republican candidate for governor in his home state, two
hours after they announced the joint event between these two guys, that
Republican candidate for governor went on local talk radio and announced
that his choice for president this year is probably Ben Carson.
Apparently, these guys are still doing the event together tomorrow,
but presumably it will be awkward.
So, it`s tough times right now for Rand Paul. Even if he were not
trying to run for president and Senate at the same time, he would be having
a hard time with either of those races. At this point, as we reported
earlier this week, Rand Paul is on the bubble to potentially not even make
it onto the main stage for the next Republican debate later this month in
Colorado. But if you`re looking for signs today about whether or not Rand
Paul`s going to be the next candidate out, whether he`s going to be the
next one to quit the presidency, there was one very specific smoke signal
on that issue today.
And granted, it`s from people who are absolutely not allies of Rand
Paul. It`s from the leading Democratic super PAC American Bridge. I think
of American bridge as kind of an opposition research organization. But
they`re a super PAC. They`re very much in support of Hillary Clinton`s
So, take it with a grain of salt because it`s coming from them. But
American Bridge announced today a subtle sort of low-key personnel
This is what they said: “Hi, all. In case you haven`t met me I`m the
primary press contact for Senate races in American bridge. In light of
recent events including fund-raising numbers for this quarter we`re making
updates to our staff assignments. Please direct any future inquiries about
Senator Rand Paul to me,” the Senate press person, “instead of to our
So take that for what it`s worth. That is a Democratic group that
does not have nice things to say about Rand Paul, nor do they wish him well
politically speaking. But they have announced that they are now treating
him as a Senate re-election candidate and they are no longer even bothering
to oppo him as a presidential candidate because his presidential candidacy
is getting smaller and smaller and smaller on the horizon so you`re
starting to feel like maybe you`re watching a sunset that you`ll never be
able to rewind.
I mean, usually not this many candidacies end before Iowa, let alone
among candidates who are household names. But this year it`s two down
already and several teetering. and the hot money`s on Rand Paul to be next
to go. Watch this space.
MADDOW: There are nine justices on the Supreme Court. Contrary to
popular impression, the nine life-tenured members of the United States
Supreme Court, they are human. They are people. That said, that doesn`t
mean you can talk to them.
Except tonight we can. Tonight, an interview with sitting Supreme
Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Seriously. That`s next.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARI MELBER, MSNBC CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me ask you about
another big issue, Citizens United, a case where the dissent that you
joined said this will cripple the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress,
and the states to adopt even limited measures to protect against corporate
domination of the electoral process.
JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT: But I don`t want to – I
mean, that`s a very important issue. I was in the dissent in that case.
It`s complicated and takes a significant amount of time to explain.
And so, I would rather not explain it on television because it is so
controversial. And I`d like to go on to some other thing. Not that I
don`t have views on it.
MELBER: All right.
BREYER: But they`re in writing. And I`ve joined opinions and so
forth. That`s too controversial and too complex a matter for me to discuss
in this forum.
MELBER: Let me ask you, then, a theoretical question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes. Change tack, go back at that time a different way.
That was amazing.
MSNBC`s Ari Melber on the one hand getting this incredibly rare
thing, an on-camera interview with a sitting Supreme Court justice, Stephen
Breyer. And on the other hand he just got this brick wall, one of those
crazy old school brick prison walls studded with broken glass on the top,
when he tried to push Justice Breyer on the issue of Citizens United. The
justice would not talk about it when Ari sat down with him for this
interview this week.
But it wasn`t that Justice Breyer wanted to avoid controversial
issues altogether. This week in particular has been full of dramatic and
controversial, even at times shocking news on the death penalty, including
the state of Georgia killing a female prisoner whose death had previously
been delayed because of problems with the drugs they were going to use to
Just last night, Virginia killed a prisoner whose death had been
delayed because of the mystery where the drugs came from that were used to
kill him. Oklahoma this week at least temporarily ended the death penalty
in that state after a bizarre last-minute screw-up where they were less
than two hours away from killing a prisoner whose case had gone all the way
to the Supreme Court.
But less than two hours before that killing as the state un-packed
their execution kit they realized that they didn`t actually have the drugs
on hand they thought they would have on hand. They had different drugs.
And nobody knows how the screw-up happened. But now, because of that,
Oklahoma has scotched its plans to kill all three of the prisoners who they
had lined up next for the execution chamber, including Richard Glossip,
whose namesake Supreme Court case this summer paved the way for continued
legal lethal injections, even a amidst the chaos that reigns in the states
right now over the drugs used in that kind of killing.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a remarkable dissent in the Glossip case
in which he said he not only disagreed with the majority ruling but that
the whole question of the death penalty itself should be considered again
by the Supreme Court now.
He said, “I believe that it is now time to reopen the question” –
which for a Supreme Court justice is kind of going way out there on a limb.
And Ari asked him why.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BREYER: Sometimes it`s the wrong person. Often, it`s very arbitrary
as to who gets executed. It`s not the worst of the worst very often. And
there are just absolutely arbitrary criteria that shouldn`t be in
determining who is selected for execution. That it takes years to litigate
a matter. So if a person is sentenced to death on average if there is an
execution it takes place on average 18 years later.
And the number of instances in which there is an execution has fallen
dramatically within the United States. There are just a handful of
counties where there really are executions. A handful, that`s so few. And
the risk of arbitrariness is so great. And the risk of the wrong person is
enough. And the length of time is so long. It`s like being hit by
lightning 40 years later.
And all that put together convinced me that there is a good case to
be made under the constitutional provision, is it a cruel and unusual
punishment? Those are the things that are relevant that this court should
hear the case. And that`s what I said in the dissenting opinion.
MELBER: And you talk about it being arbitrary. You also in that
dissent talk about it being worse than arbitrary, it being unfair. You
cite data that shows murders of white victims are more likely to receive
the death penalty. That is part of an argument that`s been circulating in
the country right now, in the Black Lives Matter movement, the idea that
the justice system is sometimes treating black Americans differently, be
they defendant or victim.
Is that issue with regard to the death penalty a matter of simple
unfairness that people can debate, or could it raise to the level of being
BREYER: In my – in the opinion that I wrote I mentioned that and
many other things. Quite a few problems, and put those problems together
and they all spell out let`s hear this issue again. And that was the point
I wanted to make.
MELBER: Justice Scalia this week says he would not be surprised if
this court overruled the death penalty. Do you think that could happen?
BREYER: I won`t go beyond what I said. What I said was we should
hear it. That means you get arguments from both sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We should hear it. Justice Breyer writes in a new book that
he`s got out which is called “The Court and the World,” he writes that
Americans should care, for instance, that the death penalty has been banned
by most other democracies in the world. And he now is basically lobbying
the legal world to bring the Supreme Court a case that would challenge the
death penalty in America. Not one way it`s done versus another way that
it`s done but the way that it`s done in America. Once and for all, should
killing prisoners be legal?
Fascinating, super controversial, and amazing that Ari got him to
talk about it that way even as he was trying not to.
That doesn`t mean, though, that he was willing to talk about
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: You`ve been on the court over 20 years.
MELBER: How do you know in a job where only you decide, how do you
know when it`s time to retire?
BREYER: That`s a good question. I feel I will know. And I feel so
far I seem to be able to do the job. And there will perhaps be some
indication or I`ll think about it. But I haven`t thought it through enough
yet to be able to give you much guidance on when I`ll retire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is Ari Melber, MSNBC chief legal
Ari, congratulations on that. It`s – I mean, it`s great to watch.
How`d you get it?
MELBER: I got it partly because of his book. He`s not doing a ton
of interviews, but he`s doing a few.
MADDOW: Yes, it was great to hear you draw him out and how far he
would go on some issues and not on others. That said, I mean, I think I`m
attuned to the death penalty stuff right now because there`s so much going
on around that issue. Is it – from a legal perspective is it remarkable
that he is basically begging the legal world for a case to rule on the
death penalty`s constitutionality again?
MELBER: It is certainly unusual. It is striking. We know that the
court is generally reactive. It takes the cases that come up, and it
doesn`t have the opportunity in opinions or in other remarks to say bring
us this or that. It can because as you saw, the justices can say or, as
you point out, not say whatever they choose. They do have life tenure.
So, what you see here is a growing sentiment led by Justice Breyer
and other justices on the court to say let`s not just look at the margins,
let`s look at the way this country at this point in time metes out capital
punishment and question whether it is really constitutional.
MADDOW: He is making the argument, and the reason he`s not only
written the book but he`s willing to do interviews about it, is that he`s
making a case which I think would be a very politically unpopular case if
he were a politician, that Americans should care about how the rest of the
democratic world views the death penalty, that there are things that happen
in other countries, both like international law but also in foreign law,
and just in foreign sociology, understanding the international world that
should reasonably be part of our jurisprudence.
That is – I mean, had he written this book before he was up for
confirmation, that would have been the game, set and match, right? But
this is controversial stuff.
MELBER: It is. There`s a sort of political nativism that we know
about that is seeping into the courts. He cites with alarm in the book a
Republican bill in the House that would have tried to prevent judges from
even looking at anything abroad, including this kind of information.
What he says is obviously the court is bound first by American
precedent and what the text of American documents including the
Constitution say but that there`s an obligation on these courts in a
globalized world to look around the world. And with regard to cruel and
unusual, that can mean unusual and cruel in a domestic setting and he
believes as part of the broader analysis in a global setting, if we are the
only democracy doing something. And as he argues, we`re doing it so
poorly. We should reconsider.
MADDOW: Oh, that`s fascinating. That the unusual part of cruel and
unusual could simply be the fact that we`re alone in simply our strata of
the world in treating prisoners this way. Fascinating stuff.
MSNBC chief legal correspondent Ari Melber, congratulations again.
This is a fascinating interview.
I should tell you if you want to see more from this interview, please
go to MaddowBlog.com. We`ve got lots more clips from the interview posted
there. And it`s totally worth watching.
MELBER: Thank you.
MADDOW: Much more ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We have a story tonight that you will not hear elsewhere.
It has snuck under the national radar so far. Honestly, I think it`s
mostly been lost in the incredible flood of news this week.
But this is a story that`s not going to stay lost. It`s almost
unbelievable state news out of one state in the Deep South. It is truly
stunning. I think it`s about to become a national story this weekend. But
see it here first. That`s next.
MADDOW: OK. Deep breath. This is an amazing story and I think you
have probably not seen it anywhere else.
You can see here, map makers best efforts at showing us Planet Earth,
right? They take it apart like an orange peel. It`s not like a globe
anymore you would see from space. It`s something more like we would
experience walking around as human beings.
Our planet has changed a lot over time. The continents are slowly
shifting around over time with vast consequences. There was a period, for
instance, when Maine was connected by land to Africa. There was a period
where you could walk from what we now call Russia to Sarah Palin`s house in
Parts of earth that used to connect are now separated by ocean. And
parts of what we think of as solid land were covered by the sea. If you
look closely of this map, you will recognize what became the modern United
But you`ll also see water where we do not have water now. One
hundred millions ago, some states of what was now the American South, they
were covered by water. They were covered by seawater. And inside that
water, right, were jillions of little sea creatures, little plankton.
And the presence of all that life had profound consequences for the
land itself, because when the water reseeded with all that life in it, that
let behind some of the richest soil on the entire earth. Those geologic
events happened over a vast amount of time, 100 million years ago or more.
But if you look at our history, you can see the lasting effect of
that. Starting in the 19th century, farmers used that rich soil left
behind by the prehistoric sea. They used it for growing cotton. You can
still see it using something like Google Earth.
You see this crescent of light green, that`s farms there. One name
for this rich fertile swath of Alabama is the Cotton Belt, because of all
the cotton that was grown there. This is a map of production in 159 just
before the civil war. You see the same crescent shape there.
But that region, that space, it has another name, too, particularly
inside Alabama itself, what they call it is the Black Belt. First, for
this particular kind of rich, rich, rich dark soil there. But second for
the slaves who were brought there to work on the cotton plantations.
Booker T. Washington writing at the turn of the century, quote, “The
part of the country possessing this thick, dark and naturally rich soil
was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most
profitable. And consequently they were taken there in the largest numbers.
Later, and especially since the war, the civil war, the term seems to
be used wholly in a political sense to designate the counties where the
black people outnumber the white people.”
The Black Belt in Alabama. And what Booker T. Washington wrote about
the Black Belt at the turn of the century, it`s still true today. The
Black Belt of Alabama now means the parts of Alabama where, because of old
slave economy, African-Americans tend to outnumber white people.
In political terms, it ends up to be where Democratic voters tend to
outnumber Republican voters. If you studied this stuff at all or if you
happen to live now in what is the old confederacy, you won`t be surprised
where counties where they once grew a lot of cotton is where there are
majority black populations even today.
But in Alabama specifically this story, this history took a new turn
that I did not see coming and I`m not sure anybody did. Check this out.
Check this out – after a very bad year of budget trouble, Alabama`s
governor just signed an emergency budget. It had to be passed by the
Republican legislature in an emergency session. He just signed it. And
this week, cuts went into effect.
They got this budget crisis and to deal with it, they are closing,
for example, five state parks. In 28 counties in Alabama, they are closing
where you get a driver`s license. And, of course, that`s an inconvenience
for anyone who wants to deal with that state service.
But Alabama is a state a where as of last year you now had to show ID
you never had to show before in order to vote. A quarter million people
who are registered voters in the state don`t have the kind of ID that the
state now says you need if you want to cast your ballot.
But here`s where it gets amazing. Here`s where the stories come
together, because at the top of the short official state IDs Alabama will
accept at the polls, top of the list is a driver`s license. And, of
course, the state just made it harder to get a driver`s license. But they
didn`t make it equally harder to get for everyone.
Of the 28 counties losing, the place in that country where you get a
drivers license, half of them are in the Alabama Black Belt. Half. Look
at this. Of the counties in that state where three-quarters of the
registered voters are black, every single one of those counties, every
single one of them is losing a place where you can get a driver`s license
that would let you vote in Alabama. Every one of the states, every one of
the counties, which is more than 75 percent black.
These are the ten counties where Barack Obama posted his biggest wins
in Alabama in the year 2012. In eight of those ten counties, you will no
longer be able to get a driver`s license. In case you wanted to get one to
use it as your ID to vote.
To the everlasting credit of the Alabama press, the outcry over this
announcement this week has been mediate and loud.
John Archibald writes in “The Birmingham News”, quote, “It`s not just
a civil rights violation, it`s not just a public relations nightmare, it`s
not just an invitation for worldwide scorn and an alarm belt of Justice
Department, it is an affront to the very notion of justice in a nation
where one man one vote is as precious as oxygen. It`s a slap in a face to
all who believe the stuff we teach kids about how we`re all created equal.
Maybe it`s not racial at all, right? Maybe it`s just political. And
let`s face it, it may not be either. But no matter the intent, the
consequence is the same.”
Hope springs eternal, that Alabama Republicans did not just
deliberately zap the ability to get the most common voter ID in all of the
blackest counties in that state, right? Hope springs eternal that it
wasn`t specifically that racist. But out of all God`s great green evolving
earth, Alabama Republicans really did manage to pick this one spot, this
center of African-American life in their state in the black belt as the
place where they could really save some money by cutting all those offices
where you get what you need to vote.
Hillary Clinton put out a statement on this today calling it a blast
from the Jim Crowe past. Whether Alabama Republicans meant to do this with
as much racial specificity as it seems they did, that I cannot say. But
the important question now is whether or not they`re going to get away with
And that does it for us tonight. We will see you again on Monday.
I`m going to cool off in the drunk tank for a while.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>