The Rachel Maddow Show, transcript 2/7/2017
JOY ANN REID, MSNBC GUEST ANCHOR: – for “A.M. Joy” and please follow me
on Twitter @joyannreid. “The Rachel Maddow” show starts right now. Good
evening, Rachel. Extraordinary scene on the Senate floor.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Exactly, I’m glad you were able to discuss
that breaking news on the air. If Senator Warren is being held accountable
for impugning a senator, she’s reading something out of the congressional
record that was entered into the congressional record the last time this
person was being considered for an important federal job other than being
Alabama senator. This is just –
REID: It’s amazing. And she’s reading the words of Reverend Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr.’s widow. It’s amazing. Wow. Politics is nothing if not
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: February 7, 2017
Guest: Jon Tester, Dahlia Lithwick
MADDOW: And you think, like, all of these senators, they take these fights
as they come, right? But if you’re Mitch McConnell, is that the hill you
want to die on? Really?
REID: Exactly, I don’t get it but it happened and it happened here tonight
MADDOW: Stunning. We will have more on that ahead tonight. Joy, thank
you very much.
REID: Have a great show. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us at this hour. This is
turning out to be a very interesting night in the news. Not only do we
have the remarkable turn in the Senate, Senator Elizabeth Warren according
to Mitch McConnell running afoul of Rule 19 saying she can’t impugn a
They’re saying she impugned a senator when she read a letter that had been
written to the Judiciary Committee when Jeff Sessions was nominated to be a
federal judge in 1986, it was a letter from the widow of the Reverend Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
That is being considered impugning a senator and they’ve use it to shut up
Elizabeth Warren on the floor of the Senate tonight, just incredible. And
again, the optics of calling Coretta Scott King an epithet, saying her
words are an epithet that can’t be spoken in the United States Senate.
We’ll have more on that ahead.
Also, when’s the last time the audio live stream of a three-judge panel
reviewing a temporary restraining order was not only live streamed on the
internet machine but also broadcast live on television on national news.
If you are a civics dork between Rule 19 and this, this is like a high holy
day right now. If there is a kid in your life who dreams about ever
becoming a lawmaker or a lawyer or judge, the fact they got to listen in
tonight to this argument.
This incredibly tense dense, no nonsense cuts like a knife argument
involving these three federal judges and the lawyers for the federal
government and the lawyers for the state suing the federal government over
the Muslim ban, don’t call it a Muslim ban.
I mean – you know, you can see arguments like that. You can hear
arguments like that as a citizen if you know they’re happening and you get
up and take yourself to a federal courtroom and listen in but most of us
don’t do that.
Most of us don’t watch these things happen ever, but tonight millions of
Americans heard that court hearing live as it happened, which itself feels
like another new benchmark in this era of civic engagement that we are
I know I have said it before, but it surprises me every day. There are two
equal and opposite things going on in American politics right now. Two
equally remarkable gobsmacking brand new things that nobody saw coming.
And one of them is obviously Donald Trump being elected president of the
United States, but the other one is this huge new engagement in our
political processes and civic processes and organizing and demonstrations
and just paying attention.
This upsurge in civic involvement from regular people, so much so that we
all spent more than an hour in prime time tonight riveted to what honestly
was a hearing about a restraining order.
But it was amazing and it was important and tonight that three judge panel
in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, they are right now considering
their ruling in this first big head-to-head confrontation between the new
administration and the judicial branch of government.
That court let it be known ahead of time that they would likely not rule
tonight, but they said their ruling will probably be sometime this week.
We’re going to have expert advice in just a couple minutes to what was
legally important about that hearing, whether it did go as badly for one
side as it seemed like it was going for one side. But what do I know? I’m
not a lawyer. So we have expert advice coming up from a veteran court
We have also got an interesting news tonight about a whole different kind
of confrontation with the new administration and, again, this is – it’s
something that is new. This one is absolutely unique.
Absolutely historically unprecedented because this other confrontation
we’re able to report on tonight exclusively. It’s something only possible
because this new president has done something no other president has done.
He has made a decision to keep his business interests alive, to continue to
profit from them while he is also serving as president running the federal
government. Because he made that remarkable decision we knew this day
would come but it’s happened.
A government agency has now had to make its own governmental decision about
something that’s going to directly affect the president’s income. It’s
going to affect his profits.
For all the different things that can happen in American life and politics,
nobody has ever been able to affect how much money the president has while
he’s president. That happened today and we did see this coming. We knew
inevitably something like this would happen when we learned the president
wasn’t going to give up his business interests.
In the end, the first decision by a government entity about the president’s
money, about the president’s profits and his businesses, it came from kind
of a skeezy (ph) little case in which the president’s company tried to make
taxpayers in one state pay for environmental clean-up cost instead of him
having to pay for them.
A government agency considering that claim from the president’s company,
tonight they have just decided against the president. Wow. Everybody
freak out. So we have that story exclusively here tonight something we’ve
reported on a few weeks ago and we saw coming down the pike, they have now
made their decision fascinating.
That story is coming up as well. With we start tonight with pet stores.
Pet stores in these seven states, Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, New
Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia. Those seven states and also in New York
City which incidentally has a bigger population than all but two of those
In all of those jurisdictions right now in those seven states and New York
City, it is illegal right now to sell puppies to pet stores unless those
puppies are from a reputable breeder.
Specifically breeders selling puppies to pet stores in those states, they
have to be registered with the USDA, which means they get a USDA number and
they have to have no violation in terms of their inspection reports.
So again, not every state does this. But seven states and New York City
do, and slowly but surely experts in this field say that these laws that
are in effect in these states and increasing around the country, it’s sort
of becoming a new trend in state law making, experts in this field say
those laws are slowly but surely having an effect on what people call puppy
They’re making the puppy breeding business less profitable for people who
can’t pass those inspection reports. For people who abuse animals or keep
animals in horrible conditions. USDA registration is not particularly hard
USDA inspections are not particularly hard to pass but it’s something and
importantly it’s enforceable. It’s doable. It’s a relatively simple
standard and how you enforce it is obvious.
Pet stores or law enforcement in these states, if they want to check and
see if a dog breeder is legally allowed to sell puppies to a pet store,
they get on to the USDA web site, look them up by license number and read
their inspection reports, see if they have clean inspection reports.
That’s how you can enforce the law in these places that have that kind of
law. All that data about who holds a license with the USDA and the
inspection reports in terms of preventing animal abuse, all of that data
for years now has been posted in easily searchable form on the USDA web
It’s been there for years. It was there for years. It’s no longer there,
the Trump administration just took down all that data. They made no
announcement about it. They gave no notice they were doing it. There was
no press release.
No misspelled 7:00 a.m. tweet from the president. There was no discussion
at the circus like press briefing. There was no explanation. They just
By taking that data in one fell swoop, they made it impossible to enforce
the law in these states, home to almost 58 million people where the law
about not torturing puppies is based on people being able to look up this
information that has always been publicly available to anyone.
And that’s one specific thing for those states. They’ve now got a law
enforcement problem. What do those states and New York City do now that
they’ve got on their books a law they basically can’t enforce anymore
because they can’t get access to the data because they can’t enforce it.
Even outside those states it’s another thing for you as a consumer, whether
or not you live in one of those seven states. What if you personally want
to avoid buying a dog from a puppy mill known to have a record of abusing
animals, whether or not you’re going to buy it at a pet store?
You’re going to buy an animal from a breeder, wouldn’t you want to know if
they’ve been inspected and found to be abusing or torturing or mistreating
their animals, wouldn’t you want to know? Shouldn’t you want to know?
This is information in the public domain, right?
If federal inspectors have gone to a place and found at that site they’re
killing dogs, torturing cats or abusing horses or something, those are
federal inspectors. They work for you. They work for us.
That data that they found while working on the taxpayer dime, that’s
supposed to be for our benefit. But now if you want to look up that
information, they have gone out of their way to take it down.
That data is no longer there for you. If you want to access that
information now, the USDA under the Trump administration, look what they’re
saying, they invite you to file a freedom of information act request to get
And then you can sit back and wait a few months or probably years if we’re
being honest. What on earth is this about? Whether or not you care about
animal welfare, what is this about? What’s the urgency? No wonder they
didn’t make an announcement about this.
No wonder they didn’t want to explain why they’re doing this. I don’t
think anybody remembers the part of the presidential campaign where the
president sat down in front of an editorial board and explained he wanted
to be president in part so he could make sure that illegally operating
puppy mills that abuse baby animals can finally get privacy and peace and
quiet to get away with that now.
Do you remember that coming up? Honestly, where is this coming from? So
the USDA dropped this data off their web site. Apparently, they dropped it
on Friday. It took a while to figure out they had done it because, again,
But now that people have realized what they’ve done, what’s missing, the
USDA is understandably getting some pushback. And this is where it gets to
be a more broadly interesting story because when things go badly for the
Trump administration, when nay do something that doesn’t land well, when
they experience pressure about something they’ve done we’re starting to
learn how the trump administration responds in those circumstances.
We’re starting to see patterns. One of the things they do when something
goes wrong, when they do something that doesn’t have an explanation, when
they get called out doing something they really don’t want to answer for,
one of the things they have started doing in that circumstance is that they
say Obama did it.
It wasn’t us, don’t blame us, this is an Obama thing. They tried to do
that for a while with the refugee ban. Remember? They tried to say Obama
had banned Iraqi refugees, and this was just a slightly different version
of that policy.
That argument did not work because Barack Obama was president really
recently, and we were all here. That kind of a claim is look-upable.
People are like Barack Obama banned Iraqi refugees? No answers. No
response. No, not true. You can check that stuff.
You can talk to the people involved in the policy and read contemporaneous
reporting. You can see that it’s bull pucky. They tried to do it with the
refugee ban. They tried to do it with the disastrous fatal raid in Yemen,
which killed a U.S. Navy SEAL, injured three others and killed a bunch of
Yemeni civilians, including children.
They tried to say that that disastrous military operation was only approved
because Obama approved it. They said Obama’s National Security Council,
the deputies at the National Security Council, they approved that mission
at a meeting on January 6th.
Again, a claim like that is not going to work because the folks from the
deputies meeting at the National Security Council under Barack Obama, those
folks are still around. That isn’t ancient history. You don’t have to dig
those people out of deep retirement.
Those people can answer for themselves. It’s a matter of record as to
whether or not they approved that mission. They did not approve that
mission. That’s on you guys. Now they’re trying this Obama did it defense
again on the puppy torture thing.
This is what they put on the USDA web site where they used to have all the
information about inspections of places where they breed animals. It says
“In 2016, well before the change in the administration, the animal care
section of the USDA decided to make adjustments to the posting of
See, Obama did it. This is a decision made by the Obama administration
don’t blame us, blame the USDA under Obama. The problem is that the people
who ran the USDA under Obama are real people. They’re not that old yet.
They’re around. They can speak for themselves. They can tell us whether
or not they did that.
So here’s the former spokesman for the USDA under the Obama administration
saying, uh-uh, to that attempt to weasel out of the now-growing backlash to
what they just did with the animal abuse reports.
Quote, “Decision by USDA to remove animal abuse reports was not required.
Totally subjective. Same option was give on the past administration, we
refused.” Then he adds, “#transparency.”
So the previous administration, the Obama administration had the option to
take down all of the inspection reports about people abusing animals around
the country so you could check to make sure you’re not accidentally buying
an animal from one of them.
And so these seven states could use that information to make sure their pet
stores state-wide didn’t buy any animals from those people. The Obama
administration said, yes, we had the option to take down the abuse reports
but we did not. We chose not to. Don’t blame us.
Now the Trump administration has taken those reports down and people are
starting to notice and they’re trying to blame it on the Obama
administration. It’s ridiculous. And so we’ll see what happens here.
This does kind of fit the pattern of actions like this from the Trump
administration that ultimately get reversed. It’s amazing. They’ve only
been there for two and a half weeks, but we’ve already got patterns and
we’ve already seen a bunch of these things where they have made a sweeping
radical, unannounced decision to disappear data or gag public servants or
do something else that shocks people.
And then when the action gets noticed and there’s a reaction, their M.O. is
to reverse themselves and say they never really meant to do that shocking
things in the first place. We’ve seen it happen a bunch of times already.
We saw it happen with the Health and Human Services Agency. They initially
told staffers and scientists at HHS that they were forbidden from speaking
about their work with anyone including members of Congress.
They weren’t even allowed to respond to requests for information from
members of Congress or congressional committees. They tried that with HHS.
They got a big pushback and they reversed that order.
Happened with the EPA when they circulated plans to remove the climate data
from the EPA web site. An EPA employee publicized that instruction, they
got obviously huge pushback then they reversed that decision. They climbed
down, left the data up there.
Happened also at the Department of Energy during the transition. They
demanded to have the individual names of all Energy Department employees
who worked on anything related to climate change and because it was the
transition that agency was still run by Obama appointees and they
publicized that demand for names and pushed back directly on it and said no
and the Trump folks caved.
They rescinded the request. We have even seen it happen at the USDA. The
Agricultural Research Service is part of the USDA. They have about 2,000
scientists, public employees, scientists that work for USDA.
The Trump folks had initially told those 2,000 scientists were forbidden
from discussing their scientific findings in any public-facing venue. Like
this casual order from the Trump folks to gag 2,000 scientists and prevent
them from talking about their work.
That order was leaked, there was pushback and the Trump folks rescinded it.
We are only a couple of weeks in, but we are starting to see some patterns
about who they try to blame and how they respond when they get a shove
And the USDA taking down public information about people who abuse puppies
and kittens and horses? I mean, I don’t know but this seems like it’s one
of those things that will get reversed.
Again, they did it with no announcement. They have come up with no
argument or explanation for it other than “Obama did it.” People are just
now figuring out it happened, Obama did not do it.
I think it’s safe to assume you’ll hear a lot of barking from American dog
lovers about this one. I don’t see how they can stick with this at all.
It may be the case what they did violates a court order between the USDA
and Humane Society so the courts may force this data to go back up even if
public pressure does not.
But I would bet on public pressure on this one. Again, don’t watch what
they say, watch what they do. They’re not announcing they’re taking down
the data. They just take it down and hoping they can get away with it.
When they don’t get away with it and they get shoved back, more often than
not, they cave.
With this one, how can they explain it? So there is a lot going on in the
courts. We are going to have more tonight on the legal fight over the
refugee ban and Muslim ban. That’s coming up in just a moment.
There is some unprecedented stuff going on in government agencies large and
small who are making these novel never before seen decisions about what
would otherwise be normal business matters, normal regulatory issues except
now sometimes when those come up they’re about the business interests and
the financial bottom line of the sitting president of the United States.
So that’s happening already. There’s also a lot going on in Congress, as
we spoke with Joy Reid, there’s been some drama tonight in terms of
Republicans in the Senate silencing Elizabeth Warren as she quoted from
Coretta Scott King, Coretta Scott King’s criticism of Jeff Sessions from
They said she was impugning another senator and have ruled against her and
ordered her to be quiet. She may have to be quiet in the Senate, but she’s
going to join us live on this show in just a moment. There’s a lot going
on tonight. Frankly too much to get to. I’ll stop talking now and we’ll
be right back with Elizabeth Warren. Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK, so we have been keeping an eye on a developing situation
tonight in the U.S. Senate. Democrats tonight have been trying to take a
stand trying to hold the Senate floor in protest of Jeff Sessions’
nomination as attorney general.
In the last few hours, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren took the
stand to read a very interesting piece of Senate history. One of the
reasons it’s interesting is that until recently it didn’t exist in the
In 1986, 30 years ago, Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King
Jr., she wrote a letter to the U.S. Senate vehemently opposing the judicial
nomination of a U.S. attorney for Alabama on the grounds of his hostility
to civil rights and his hostility to voting rights in particular.
That letter opposing his nomination to be a federal judge was almost lost
to history because the Senate president at the time, long time
segregationist, Strom Thurmond, he didn’t submit Coretta Scott King’s
letter to the congressional record even though he was supposed to.
Well, thanks to some intrepid reporting last month from “Buzzfeed” and the
“Washington Post,” that lost letter was found and we now know what Coretta
Scott King said in her plea to the Senate in 1986 to keep this U.S.
attorney off the federal bench.
In 1986, the U.S. Senate actually went along with Coretta Scott King’s
wishes. They rejected that nominee for a federal judgeship. His name was
Jeff Sessions, he went on to be a U.S. senator from Alabama. He’s now
nominated to be attorney general of the United States.
And tonight, Elizabeth Warren took to the Senate floor to express her
opposition to the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be AG and she decided to
wield I think what most people would agree is the most devastating
rhetorical weapon she had at her disposal.
She had that same letter from the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
making the case against Jeff Sessions 30 years ago, which Democrats say is
the same case that could be made against him now.
As a result of that, as a result of Elizabeth Warren quoting Coretta Scott
King, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to cut her off, to end
her speech due to a breach of Senate rules.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Majority leader?
MCCONNELL: The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our
colleague from Alabama as warned by the chair. I call the senator to order
under the provisions of Rule 19.
SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Mr. President?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator from Massachusetts.
WARREN: Mr. President, I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King
are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate. I ask leave of
the Senate to continue my remarks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there objection?
MCCONNELL: I object.
WARREN: I appeal the ruling –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection is heard. The senator will take her seat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We are expecting to be joined live by Senator Elizabeth Warren any
moment now. That has just happened in the Senate. She’s just been called
back to the floor, but we are going to get her. So sit there for the
commercial but then be there when the commercial is over because we’ll be
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I rise in opposition to the nomination of Senator Jeff
Sessions to be the next attorney general of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Sessions’ record in the Senate provides
little evidence that his views have evolved since the last time the Senate
evaluated his fitness to serve in high federal office.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over the course of his career, Senator Sessions has
opposed key legislation that protects and further enhances women’s rights.
As a Senator that trend was worrying. As attorney general of the United
States it must be disqualifying.
WARREN: Senator Sessions obviously isn’t going to stand up to the
president’s campaign of bigotry. How could he? In the real world, Senator
Sessions is one of the principal architects of that campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: At one point tonight, Republican senators ruled Elizabeth Warren
out of order on the Senate floor when she read a scathing assessment of
Jeff Sessions by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., a
letter that Coretta Scott King wrote about his judicial nomination in 1986.
Republicans spent a good bit of the last hour voting on that matter whether
Elizabeth Warren could be allowed to read that letter or whether she would
be essentially shut down and silenced by the Senate.
Again, we expect Senator Warren to join us shortly. Regardless of whether
or not she is allowed to speak in the Senate again tonight, Democrats say
they do plan to hold the floor all night long again tonight.
Last night Democrats held the floor all night long to try to stop Betsy
DeVos from becoming the nation’s next education secretary. They claim as
close as you possibly can to stopping her nomination.
The vice president had to come in and cast a tie breaking vote when it was
deadlocked at 50-50, but ultimately they didn’t get there and DeVos was
sworn in tonight.
Tonight though they are not put off. Democrats are running another all-
nighter, this time to try to stop Jeff Sessions for attorney general. The
vote on his nomination is expected tomorrow.
Democrats, of course, know that their odds of stopping these nominations
are slim. But they really are doing everything they can to slow these
nominations down at least.
Joining us now is Senator John Tester, Democrat of Montana, who opposed
Betsy DeVos’s nomination earlier today. Senator Tester, I know it’s very
busy tonight, thank you for joining us.
SENATOR JON TESTER (D), MONTANA: It’s great to be here, Rachel. Thank
MADDOW: Can you give me a little bit of insight in terms of what happened
tonight? What you Democrats are trying to do and what’s happened with this
kerfuffle over Senator Elizabeth Warren and what Senator McConnell has done
to interrupt her speech?
TESTER: Well, a lot of shenanigans by the majority. I think it’s just to
take the focus off of Jeff Sessions. There’s plenty of reasons to vote
Senator Sessions as attorney general and I think this is politics as usual
in Washington, D.C., and you know, trying to run up the roadblocks.
When the fact is that on these cabinet appointees, we need to have a full
debate. There’s no if ands or butts about that, Rachel, and there’s plenty
of things like I said. Elizabeth brought up some, I heard Dick Blumenthal
and others brought up some issues on Jeff Sessions and we ought to have the
And I think that’s what Democrats are doing, fully vet these folks before
the vote and hopefully we’ll get some help from the other side on some of
these candidates that don’t match up.
MADDOW: Senator, before tonight – and forgive me if this is an oversight
on my part, but I was not clear if you have made an overt statement, if
you’d made a clear statement as to how you intend to vote personally on
Senator Sessions’ nomination. Have you decided whether you’ll vote yes or
no on him?
TESTER: I have. Jeff Sessions has been a strong supporter of the Patriot
Act. When we tried to fix the Patriot Act to protect civil liberties and
protect privacy, he voted against that. He also voted against the Violence
Against Women Act. He does not appear to care about women who have had
violence committed against them and so I’m going to be voting no.
Like I said, there’s plenty of reasons to vote no on Jeff Sessions. You
know, this is an attorney general, which is an incredibly important
position in this country, and we’ve got to have somebody that not only will
do a good job in that position as the chief attorney, but also hold the
president accountable when he does things that may be a little bit off the
MADDOW: Senator, you have a reputation as a very practical man, a
practical politician, somebody not particularly ideologically motivated,
and you’re more of a get things done kind of guy. I think, that’s why you
have admirers on all sides of the ideological spectrum.
Given your political instincts and where you come from, what’s your take on
this overall strategy by the Democratic caucus to just slow things down?
Even when you don’t have the numbers, even when all the way down to the
wire with Betsy DeVos, you’re praying for a third Republican to side with
you even after you got those two.
With the Sessions nomination we haven’t heard any Republican say they won’t
vote for him. What’s your assessment of how valuable it is to slow things
down even if you can’t stop them?
TESTER: Well, Rachel, first of all, I look at it from a different
perspective. We’re bringing out all the information and talking about all
the challenges these different cabinet appointees, in this case Jeff
Sessions has. I think that’s healthy.
I think there’s a world of information out there on Jeff Sessions and his
years in public service that we need to scrutinize and evaluate and see if
he’s fit for the job. If that takes 30 hours to do, let’s take the full 30
hours and do it. I think that’s a good strategy.
Let not only the people in the Senate hear what’s going on with these
different nominees, but let the American people hear, too. I will tell
you, in Betsy DeVos’ case, we received 35,000 e-mails and phone calls in
January and that’s seven times as many as we did in January of 2016.
And it not only is DeVos, but a lot of these other cabinet secretaries,
Jeff Sessions being another one, that quite frankly don’t match up with the
values of many of the middle-class families of this country.
MADDOW: Senator John Tester of Montana, thank you for your time tonight.
I know the second night of a two night all-nighter. It’s not fun to be on
TV. So thanks for being here, sir. I appreciate it.
TESTER: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right, we are expecting, again, to be joined by Senator
Elizabeth Warren live shortly after her drama being silenced on the Senate
floor tonight by the Republican majority. That’s ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Tonight, more than 135,000 people tuned in simultaneously to the
Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals YouTube page to hear the oral arguments
over President Trump’s Muslim ban and refugee ban. A 135,000 people
listening to an appellate court live stream that amazingly didn’t crash.
That was only people listening on the court’s YouTube page. That doesn’t
count the people who, for example, heard the arguments broadcast live on
networks like this one.
This argument tonight which is amazing in part because of people’s civic
engagement with it, it was probably the most important judicial test yet
for the new administration and honestly the arguments were complex.
They involved issues of standing and prior case law and for your average
non-lawyer it was sometimes a little hard to follow, but it wasn’t always
hard to follow. Check this out.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
AUGUST FLENTJE, TRIAL ATTORNEY, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: The executive order
relied on the Congressional and administrative determination of years ago
of 2015 and 2016 so it’s not an order that discriminates in a – on the
basis of religion and there would not be a valid equal protection.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could the president simply say in the order we’re not
going to let any Muslims in?
FLENTJE: That’s not what the order does here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know. I know that.
FLENTJE: The order relies – sorry, your honor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could he do that? Would anybody be able to challenge
FLENTJE: That’s not what the order does here.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Lawyers have jobs, maybe one of them isn’t to answer questions?
Even I could follow that part. Even I know what just happened there.
Joining us now is Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent
for “Slate” magazine and she is our interpreter of moments like this.
Dahlia, it’s great to have you back. Thanks for being here.
DAHLIA LITHWICK, “SLATE” SENIOR EDITOR AND LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there,
MADDOW: Does it warm the cockles of your heart that 135,000 people were
simultaneously streaming from the court’s YouTube page while they were
having that argument tonight?
LITHWICK: Little bit. Little bit of civil procedure. Whoo.
MADDOW: It was really interesting to listen to. It was also a little bit
impenetrable. As somebody who observes these things closely, what’s your
overall impression about how this went for the two sides?
LITHWICK: You’ve heard me say so many times, Rachel, it’s so dangerous to
predict based on an oral argument. I think it’s fair to say one of the
three judges was extremely hard on the Justice Department’s side. One of
the three judges was quite hard on Washington State and Minnesota.
Judge Canby probably more inscrutable. I didn’t count two votes for doing
away with the stay all together. I think they were trying to figure out is
there some middle way we could grant standing, narrow the order so they’re
I don’t think this is a thing they cannot out this evening. I think
there’s enough differential among the three of them that they’ll have to
think this through.
MADDOW: You know, we’ve been watching this in part because of just an
interest, almost an abstract interest in terms of how much the judiciary is
going to be a check on things that the Trump administration wants to do and
for seeing this is sort of the first big test.
I imagine there will be lots of hearings like this in the future. I don’t
imagine they’ll get this much attention, although, who knows. But the
other part is obviously practical. When this ban went into effect on
Friday, it was human chaos on a very large order.
We’re partly wondering if this ban goes back into effect. If the
restraining – I don’t get – if the ban goes back into effect, would we
have as much chaos as we had the first time around?
Were you able to get practical clues from either the judges and lawyers in
terms of whether or not they would be better prepared to reinstate this if
it does go that way?
LITHWICK: There was a colloquy with the lawyer from the Washington State
who said we’re going to be back in chaos land and we’re going to be back in
chaos land kind of taking the government’s word at their faith that this
time it won’t be crazy because certain classes of visitors and visa holders
that we were confused about we’re no longer confused about.
Do we want to take their word? I think the feeling was generally that if
you have to weigh whether the government is going to be more harmed or
Washington State is going to be more harmed, again, it felt as though there
was less harm to the government for keeping this on pause for a little
MADDOW: Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for “Slate”
magazine, really appreciate your time talking about this tonight. When we
do get the ruling from them, can I call you to have you explain it to me?
LITHWICK: Yes, you can.
MADDOW: Very good. All right, thanks, Dahlia.
All right, still ahead tonight, we are still expecting to hear from Senator
Elizabeth Warren, who has just officially silenced on the Senate floor.
We’ve also got that sort of remarkable news out of South Carolina tonight
that we have exclusively this evening. Stay with us, lots still to come.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, the suggestion that the reciting the
words of the great Coretta Scott King would invoke Rule 19 and force
Senator Warren to sit down and be silent is outrageous. I move that the
senator from Massachusetts be permitted to proceed in order.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: New California Senator Kamala Harris moments ago urging the Senate
to let Senator Elizabeth Warren resume her speech against the nomination of
Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. Senator Warren tonight was called to
order and essentially sat down by the Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell for the crime of impugning Jeff Sessions.
They accused her of that one. She read a letter from Coretta Scott King
about Jeff Sessions’ nomination to a federal judge in 1986. Joining us now
is Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who has just been
through this strange ordeal this evening. Senator Warren, thank you for
joining us on short notice.
WARREN (via telephone): Thank you.
MADDOW: What happened tonight?
WARREN: Well, what happened is that I was speaking about Jeff Sessions and
what I believe to be is his complete lack of qualification to be attorney
general of the United States and I believe he should be disqualified to be
And I had gone through the facts. I’ve done part of my speech and then I
went back – and he had been considered for a nomination to the federal
bench and I read Ted Kennedy’s statement into the record.
And when I finished, I then read Coretta Scott King’s letter that she sent
to the committee. The committee that ultimately decided no on Jeff
Sessions, including Democrats and Republicans who voted against him.
And now reading that letter out loud, according to Mitch McConnell,
impugned Senator Sessions and, therefore, I got gavelled and was forced to
sit down and I am not allowed to speak on the floor of the Senate.
MADDOW: I’m unfamiliar with this part of Senate rules. Obviously
everybody in that room know what is a Rule 19 violation is.
MADDOW: We saw them tell you to sit down. You said you’re not allowed to
speak. How long are you not allowed to speak for?
WARREN: I’m not allowed to speak so long as the topic is Senator Jeff
Sessions. I’ve been red carded on Senator Sessions. I’m out of the game
on the Senate floor. I don’t get to speak at all.
MADDOW: The fact that this has happened over the word of Coretta Scott
King puts almost a surreal cast on this. It seems hard to believe that the
Republicans would want to make a national issue, create a political
national crisis around this nomination, specifically around the widow of
Dr. Martin Luther King.
Did you know that you would be treading into this territory where they
might be gavelling you and sitting you down when you chose to read this
letter? Did you think it would be this controversial?
WARREN: No, I did not, but I will say this. I hope that everyone reads
Coretta Scott King’s letter because her letter lays out in detail what it
looked like back in the 1980s when Jeff Sessions came up to be a federal
And she talks about what it meant when he was a U.S. attorney and the
actions he took. She summarized by saying that she did not believe that
Jeff Sessions ought to be confirmed to a federal judicial position and why
he was disqualified.
It is eloquent and it reminds us of a time in history that we would like to
think is far behind us but reminds us that it is not.
MADDOW: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, I know you need to
return to the floor. Thank you for helping us understand it.
WARREN: Thank you. Bye-bye.
MADDOW: Just recapping what happened here, in case you didn’t grasp the
overall arc here, this really is a remarkable thing. Senator Warren has
not been a Senator for all that long, but she’s an astute – she’s one of
the people who knows the rules, she’s not a rookie.
Had she gone in there picking a fight to get purposely thrown out because
that was going to be the appropriate political drama for this moment, we
would know it. It’s not that.
This is the Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate,
deciding that Coretta Scott King’s words are so offensive on their face,
that her eloquent argument is so offensive on its face it’s unfit to be
heard on the floor of the United States Senate.
The widow of Martin Luther King Jr., and therefore, Elizabeth Warren is red
carded, is off the floor for the entire discussion of the Sessions
And they should go ahead toward his nomination vote, despite the civil
rights and racism concerns around him because Coretta Scott King’s words
have been – have been shut up, have been stopped from being read on the
I mean, if you think they’re worried about symbolism of these sort of
things, if you think they’re worried about, I don’t know, offending
African-Americans in this country, think again. Watch what they’re doing.
Senator Elizabeth Warren joining us live there from the Senate floor.
We’ll be right back.
MADDOW: I mentioned at the top of the show that we have an exclusive story
about a ruling in South Carolina about the president and his business
interests and a state government agency being called on to make a ruling
about the president’s pocketbook interests and profits.
That’s an unprecedented thing this U.S. history because presidents have
never had those sorts of conflicts of interest before. We do have that
story. I am not going to do it tonight in part because we’ve had this
breaking news. We’ll break that story tomorrow.
By then you may have heard about it in other places, but I’m giving that up
because I do think we’re having a moment right now that’s worth noting
about the Jeff Sessions nomination being voted on tomorrow and what Senator
Elizabeth Warren was just silenced for on the floor of the Senate.
She suggested people should read Coretta Scott King’s letter about Jeff
Sessions’ nomination to be a federal judge in 1986. I’m not going to read
you the whole, but I will read some of it.
This is from Coretta Scott King, March 13th, 1986, “Mr. Chairman and
members of the committee, thank you for allowing me this opportunity to
express my strong opposition to the nomination of Jefferson Sessions for a
federal district judgeship for the southern district of Alabama.
Civil rights leaders including my husband and Albert Turner have fought
long and hard to achieve free and unfettered access to the ballot box. Mr.
Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free
exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to
serve as a federal judge.
This simply cannot be allowed to happen. Jeff Sessions’ conduct as a U.S.
attorney from his politically motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his
indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws indicates that
he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge.
Blacks still fall short of having equal participation in the electoral
process, particularly in the south. Efforts continue to be made to deny
blacks access to the polls, even where blacks constitute the majority of
It’s been a long uphill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that
protects the most fundamental right to vote. A person who has exhibited so
much hostility to the enforcement of those laws and thus to the exercise of
those rights by black people should not be elevated to the federal bench.
The irony of Jeff Sessions’ nomination is that if confirmed, he will be
given life tenure for doing what the federal prosecution what the local
sheriffs accomplished 20 years ago with clubs and cattle prods.
I’ll skip to the end of her letter to the Senate in 1986, quote, “I do not
believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgment, competence and
sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to
qualify for appointment to the federal district court.
Based on his record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating
effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress
we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband’s dream that he
envisioned over 20 years ago –
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