The indivisible project. TRANSCRIPT: 11/13/18, The Rachel Maddow Show
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you
Big thanks to Ali Velshi for filling in for me yesterday while I was
fishing. I did okay. I was out with my friend who always catches more
fish than me. I caught two fish before she caught anything, and then she
caught one, but it was way smaller. It was a really nice day.
Anyway, but it`s really nice to be back at work. And yes, I put the fish
If we`re going to start anywhere tonight, the poop train seems like as good
a place as any to start. Last year, train cars filled with human sewage
started turning up unwanted in Alabama towns. Now, this was not human
sewage of an Alabama origin, which would be bad enough, right? Somehow it
was worse that this was imported human sewage.
This is human sewage that was – generated is the right word? Generated in
the first instance by humans in New York and New Jersey, and then got
shipped on a train down to Alabama. Now, this sewage was treated and on
paper theoretically, it was supposed to be a totally inoffensive thing to
ship by rail and park in your town. But that turned out to be a load of,
ah – let`s call it claptrap.
This stuff stunk so bad as it passed through town after town after town in
Alabama that town after town after town and county after county, every
place it turned up, the locals realized, whoa, we have no choice. We have
to fight back. Well need to get this stuff out of here. We need to do
something to keep this stuff away.
At one point early last year, the poop train ended up parking in a town
called West Jefferson, Alabama. And it parked way out at an out-of-the-way
small rail yard. I think they thought that was going to be sort of out of
sight, out of mind. It was not out of stink range. That rail yard was not
enough out of the way given how bad this stuff smelled.
The town of West Jefferson, Alabama, revolted literally. A judge
ultimately allowed the town to kick the poop train out of that distant rail
yard as a zoning violation, because the people in that town literally could
not stomach it.
That same train then moved on to a town called Parrish, Alabama. Before
the poop train arrived in Parrish, the town mayor had expressed confidence
that this would be no problem. She told the local press she didn`t have
any objections. She didn`t think the train passing through her town or
loading or unloading at the rail yard in her town would pose any particular
problem. But, oh, man, that was just in theory.
When the train actually showed up full of human sewage, that same mayor of
Parrish, Alabama, her name is Heather Hall, she told AL.com, quote, the
smell really started getting bad here. I mean, it was terrible. Quote, it
greatly reduces the quality of life of anybody that this is around. You
cannot go outside. You cannot sit on your porch. And this stuff, it`s
here in our town. It`s not like it`s an industrial area.
She told the paper, quote: We were hoping things wouldn`t be like they were
in West Jefferson, that maybe the reactions in West Jefferson were
overblown, but we came to realize real quick like that they were not
blowing it out of the water. This stuff does not need to be in a populated
And so, Parrish, Alabama, had thought it would be fine. It was not fine.
And the poop train got moved out of West Jefferson. Then it got moved out
of Parrish. People in Parrish had thought those West Jefferson people
complaining were big wusses, making a big deal out of nothing. They were
quickly disabused of that notion.
And so, the poop train was moved out of Parrish, Alabama, as well. Where
did they move it to? They moved to it Birmingham, Alabama, which you have
heard of, because Birmingham is a big place in Alabama. And when the poop
train moved into town there, the reaction was instant and soon became
A councilman for the area in Birmingham where the train had stopped turned
up at the next Birmingham City Council meeting to raise the alarm about
railroad cars in his area of the city, quote, that may be carrying feces
from other states. Quote, when they get stopped on the train tracks in
your area, the stench is almost unbearable.
In the local press and local social media, the reaction was even stronger.
Some local businesses reportedly started getting calls that there must be a
dead body nearby somewhere, because nothing else could possibly explain a
smell that awful.
Eventually, Alabama`s poop train troubles made national news all over the
country this past spring, and a lot of that coverage came from the explicit
or implicit angle that somehow New Jersey and New York had done something
wrong here, right? New Jersey and New York had foisted this train full of
Yankee poop on Alabama without Alabama having any say in the matter or
having any idea that it was coming.
The problem for that angle in the national coverage of this strange story
from earlier this year, the problem for that angle was that the state of
Alabama`s Department of Environmental Management, the state environmental
agency in Alabama had actually approved this whole plan. They`d approved
this whole idea. Apparently, they didn`t look into it at all that much
detail when they agreed that Alabama would receive like 10 million pounds
of this stuff, indefinitely, on an ongoing basis from the Northeast. They
just decided oh, we`ll tuck into it a landfill somewhere. Nobody will
The state environmental authorities in Alabama are not known for their
stellar modern track record. The previous administrator of the state`s
environmental agency had been embarrassed and ultimately forced out of
office after what seemed like a never ending series of ethics scandals,
including accepting baseball tickets and other gifts from a company that
his agency regulated. He accepted private plane trips for his whole family
to Disneyworld from another company who had business before the state. He
also as a state official had approved payments to a company that was run by
a guy that he was applying for a job with.
The Alabama State Ethics Commission unanimously referred him for criminal
prosecution on that one, and that really means something in Alabama. I
mean, Alabama has been really kind of busy recently on ethics issues. Just
within the past few years, Alabama`s speaker of the house, the serving
speaker of the house was convicted on multiple felonies and sentenced to
multiple years in prison.
That happened roughly the same time that the state`s governor was forced
from office in a sex and ethics scandal. And that happened around the same
time that the state`s chief Supreme Court judge was kicked off the bench in
an ethics scandal. You might remember him, actually. His name is Roy
Moore. He went on to be the Republican Party`s nominee for the U.S. Senate
seat that opened up when Jeff Sessions moved from the U.S. Senate over to
the Justice Department to become the Trump administration`s first attorney
Roy Moore`s Senate campaign was the point at which pedophilia and its
public defense became part of the Trump era of Republican politics. It`s
also how we got a Democrat in the United States Senate from the great state
of Alabama. When Alabama decided they couldn`t stomach Roy Moore in that
So Alabama has had a busy few years in general on ethics issues, but on
environmental stuff, Alabama has been even worse than that. I mean, it has
been a poop train couple of years in Alabama. That same administrator of
the state`s environmental agency, that one who got referred for
prosecution, the one who left office under this cloud of mushrooming ethics
controversies, after he left office as the top environmental official in
the state, he left to go work in his private business career.
In his private business career, he became a key player in the worst
criminal environmental scandal to hit that state in years. I mean, even
after losing the top person in the legislature, the top person in the
Supreme Court, and the governor to ethics scandals almost simultaneously,
the state of Alabama has since subsequently had to endure a huge criminal
bribery and money laundering scandal involving top businesses and law firms
in the state, who were trying to stop the EPA cleanup of a radically
polluted, densely populated black neighborhood in north Birmingham.
That scandal is ongoing. It has resulted in multiple, lengthy prison
sentences. It has even ensnared Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Remember,
he is from Alabama. As the senator turns out, he got lots of money from
the people behind the scheme. As a senator, turns out he lobbied against
that EPA clean up effort which was apparently what they were paying people
Jeff Sessions even turn upped on a witness list in a felony trial that sent
a well-known businessman executive and a top Alabama Republican lawyer to
prison in that environmental scandal. I should also mention that once Jeff
Sessions stopped being a senator implicated in that scandal and started
being attorney general of the United States, he never once said he was
recused from overseeing that matter as a federal prosecution despite his
personal and direct involvement in it.
But when it came time to staff up the Trump administration, they didn`t
just go to Alabama for an attorney general. The Trump administration also
went to Alabama for environmental expertise. That guy from the state
environmental agency in Alabama, the guy who was referred for criminal
prosecution, the one who got in trouble for accepting all those gifts and
private plane rides from his family for companies he was supposed to be
overseeing, the one who left state office in a cloud of scandal and then
got involved in what turned out to be a giant criminal scheme to keep a
poor black neighborhood polluted and not cleaned up, that is who President
Trump named to run the Environmental Protection Agency for the whole
southeastern United States.
Was anybody else on the short list? His name is Trey Glenn. President
Trump appointed him to run the biggest region in the country for the EPA.
It covers eight states in the southeast.
John Archibald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at AL.com wrote a
column at the time when Trey Glenn was pointed in which he John Archibald
basically could not contain himself. He wrote, quote, ha ha exclamation
point, that guy now heads the Environmental Protection Agency? It`s like
Roy Moore leading the ACLU.
But then it got better. After Trump appointed that guy to run the EPA for
the whole quarter of the country, right, for the whole southeastern United
States, that guy now is a high-ranking federal employee eventually had to
make financial disclosures. Well, when his disclosures came out a few
months ago, Alabama learned for the first time among the folks who had been
paying him since he left his job running the state environmental agency
before he got appointed by Trump to run the EPA for the whole southeastern
United States, among the people who put him on the payroll were the poop
train folks. Yes, literally the landfill company that brought the poop
train into all of those towns in Alabama. They had this guy on their
payroll as the former top environmental official in the state.
Here is John Archibald again. Quote, Trey Glenn, the Trump-appointed EPA
director, has more ties to that poop train and its dumping ground than the
railroad track it ran on. Quote, all the Charmin in the world can`t wipe
it away. Quote: Ain`t enough bubbles in the world to clean the stain.
As of tonight, Trey Glenn still serves in the Trump administration as the
head of the EPA for the whole southeastern United States. It`s hard to
believe that will stay the case, however, because today, Trey Glenn was
indicted for multiple state crimes related to his time so ably
administering environmental issues in his home state of Alabama. We`ve
been – I got to tell you, we`ve been trying to get ahold of the charging
documents from his indictment in Alabama today. It`s been a little tricky
to get ahead of them, but it appears he has been basically charged with
corruption charges, akin to bribery and conspiracy.
So, the administrator, the head of the largest region in the country for
the EPA is now under criminal indictment in Alabama. This comes, of
course, after the head of the whole EPA for the Trump administration Scott
Pruitt was forced out of office, forced out of the Trump cabinet in his own
maelstrom of ethics scandals. We actually learned after Scott Pruitt was
forced out at least one of the scandals that forced him out of office also
resulted in a referral of Scott Pruitt to the U.S. Justice Department for
We learned that after he was already gone. We learned that around the same
time this we learned another Trump cabinet official, the current secretary
of the interior, Ryan Zinke, has also been referred to the U.S. Justice
Department for potential criminal prosecution. So given the Alabama
background of the Trump environmental official who was indicted today, it`s
easy to see that maybe as an Alabama scandal, right? I mean, there has
been a lot of Alabama ethics scandals there has been a lot of Alabama
ethics scandals related to the environment. Maybe it`s an Alabama thing.
I will mention that it`s a little bit weird to see a state court indicting
a high-ranking federal official rather than these corruption charges being
brought as federal charges. Kind of makes you wonder if maybe the stench
of this Alabama case followed Jeff Sessions all the way into the U.S.
Justice Department in one way or another. How come the feds aren`t in on
this? This is a high level public corruption case involving a federal
But the latest indictment of someone serving in a high level in the Trump
administration at this point, whatever the fine points are of his alleged
crimes and his culpability, at this point, you also have to see it as just
the latest tilt in a White House and in an administration that appears to
be going quite wobbly at the moment. I mean, ever since we learned, for
example, that Ryan Zinke has been referred to the Justice Department for
criminal prosecution, there`s been an open question as to how he can still
be in the cabinet, right?
Serious questions about how long he can stay in the job when he`s under
federal criminal investigation. When will he become the next Trump
administration cabinet official to resign in an ethics scandal and under
the threat of federal corruption prosecution? The last couple of days have
also been filled with news stories suggesting that Homeland Security
Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen might be about to be fired. The president today
canceled what was supposed to be a trip to the southern U.S. border with
Secretary Nielsen. Maybe that`s because he is going to fire her. Maybe
it`s because he was afraid it might rain, I don`t know.
But the White House is sort of gleefully stoking the idea that another
cabinet secretary is about to be fired. There have also been a new round
of reports, including tonight, that the president is on the verge of firing
his second White House chief of staff, John Kelly, which may or may not be
true. Who knows? Right?
But there is more, right? In the middle of the afternoon today, there was
even a brief flurry of weird stories that the first lady of the United
States, the president`s wife, had somehow arranged the firing of the deputy
national security adviser. And I know that sounds crazy.
I mean, yes, first ladies in the past have clashed with White House
staffers up to and including famously the White House chief of staff under
president Reagan who was disfavored by and ultimately axed to please First
Lady Nancy Reagan. Again, White House staff and the first ladies sometimes
But a national security job? Melania Trump wants to fire the deputy
national security adviser? Is that how we do things? Nobody knows if
that`s how we do things.
I mean, there were these initial reports today, first in “The Wall Street
Journal” that the deputy national security adviser of the United States,
Mira Ricardel, had been frog marched out of the White House and had her
pass revoked at the insistence of the first lady. Those reports later
turned out to be inaccurate when other people reliably produced information
that, in fact, the deputy national security adviser was still inside the
None of that conflicting reporting, though, could erase this actual
statement which really was put out by the office of the first lady today.
Quote: It is the position of the office of the first lady that she, Mira
Ricardel, deputy national security adviser, no longer deserves the honor of
serving in this White House. It is the position of the first lady.
Apparently, tonight, the deputy national security adviser still enjoys the
honor of serving in this White House, but now, everywhere she goes it`s
under an imaginary banner floats over her head, right, that says the first
lady wants me fired. Can I still stay?
The White House, the Trump administration more broadly appears to be in a
kind of rattly phase. They appear to be in an even more chaotic state than
usual. There have been ethics troubles in this administration from the
very beginning. Some of today`s wobbles appear to be the inevitable
product of law enforcement and investigatory pressure on ethically
challenged high-ranking individuals including those who are now facing
either criminal investigation or flat-out indictment in the case of this
So, some of it I think is driven by the way ethics scandals tend to end up,
which is not good for the ethically challenged official. A lot of this,
though, appears to be driven by the political pressure that the White House
is newly under in the wake of last week`s elections results. Tonight marks
one week since the polls closed in the midterms. The scale of the
Democratic Party`s victory in last week`s election is still coming into
focus one week later as vote tallies get certified and close elections get
called and recounts get fought over.
The turnout in this year`s midterm election appears to have been the
highest midterm election turnout in more than a century. The percentage of
the popular vote by which Democrats won congressional seats around the
country appears to be even higher than the popular vote percentage that
gave Republicans their massive landslide win in 2010 which President Obama
famously called a shellacking. Democrats did better in terms of the
popular vote this year in 2018 than Republicans did in the shellacking year
Democrats appear on track to gain 37, if not 38 seats in the House of
Representatives from these elections, which would be their largest
congressional gains in a midterm election since the immediate aftermath of
Watergate, right after Richard Nixon resigned.
In the Georgia governor`s race and in the Florida governor and Senate
races, what appeared on election night to be Republican wins, those are now
turning into full-blown ballot-to-ballot battles in both states, including
in the courts where today the big development was a federal court judge
ordering the delay of the certification of the vote totals in Georgia,
which is what the Stacey Abrams campaign has been fighting for because they
say not every vote has been counted and what they want is for every vote to
So, there is a lot going on right now in the news. There is a lot of
pressure on this White House in this administration. And from everything
we have seen thus far, this is a president who does not handle pressure
particularly well, to the extent that his political fortunes and his legal
jeopardy are tied up into one great double helix of a story right now, the
president`s firing of Jeff Sessions in the immediate aftermath of last
week`s elections, his effort to put in charge of federal law enforcement in
the entire U.S. Justice Department, a random loyalist who was never
approved by the Senate.
I think ultimately this may be seen when we look back on it some day as the
president`s big Hail Mary pass at this point in his term in office – his
one big, desperate, probably won`t work effort to try to fix all of his
problems all at once by trying to fix law enforcement so that it starts to
help him out instead of continuing to threaten both him and senior members
of his administration.
And Hail Mary passes occasionally do work, right? That`s why it`s still a
play that people try in football. There are reasons tonight to think that
this one is probably not going to work. We`ve got that story for you next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Maryland is not that big. Maryland is the ninth smallest state in
terms of square mileage. It`s about the size of Belgium, if you`re
But that didn`t stop Maryland today from taking on President Trump`s
administration in a punch above its weight kind of way. Back in September,
Maryland had filed a lawsuit against the federal government, arguing that
Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, is constitutional and the Trump
administration should stop trying to sabotage it.
That lawsuit is little old Maryland against several federal government
defendants, from the IRS to the Justice Department, including specifically,
Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That ends up being important. So, stick a
pin in that for a second.
That lawsuit was brought by Maryland in form of the attorney general of
Maryland, a Democrat by the name of Brian Frosh. Today, Brian Frosh, on
behalf of Maryland, threw another wrench at the Trump administration,
trying to stop their works. Maryland today challenged the president
installing right after last week`s elections, Matt Whitaker as acting
The Maryland challenge promises to show that Whitaker`s appointment is
unlawful, in part because Matt Whitaker is not Senate confirmed, unlike
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is, which they say would,
quote, make Rosenstein the proper successor to Jeff Sessions. Maryland is
arguing that because they`re just in the process of suing Jeff Sessions
over the ACA, this whole thing needs to be cleared up fast. They don`t
want Matt Whitaker sticking his nose in their Affordable Care Act lawsuit
if he`s not lawfully able to hold that job.
Quote, once Whitaker appears as acting attorney general, it will be
difficult to unwind any positions that the attorney general takes.
So this is a federal lawsuit, right? If the judge rules in Maryland`s
favor here, what would happen to Matt Whitaker? Could this federal judge
order that he`s not really the acting general and effectively install Rod
Rosenstein in his place? I mean, if the judge ordered anything like that,
right, the Justice Department would almost certainly appeal that would
ultimately send this case hurtling towards the Supreme Court.
We`re sort of in permanent hearing loss zone now when it comes to alarm
bells being sounded over Matt Whitaker being installed to run the Justice
Department, what that means for the Justice Department, what that means in
particular for the Mueller investigation. But now, we`ve got a whole bunch
of open questions that need to be answered quickly. The question of
whether Whitaker will recuse himself from the Mueller investigation, given
his history of outspoken public statements against it, including how he
thinks the Justice Department could undermine the Mueller investigation,
all comments that he made before he himself joined the Justice Department.
He`s prejudged the case in the Russia investigation. Does that mean he can
legally and ethically oversee the investigation of that case? The Justice
Department keeps just putting out the same statement, saying Whitaker is
fully committed to consulting with ethics officials on whether or not he
needs to recuse, but they won`t say whether that consultation has happened
or whether he will recuse if the ethics officials at the Justice Department
tell him to.
Some time tomorrow, the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department
is expected to weigh in. They`re expected to issue some sort of letter or
ruling explaining why it`s okay for Whitaker to have been appointed to that
job, even though he is not Senate confirmed.
So I have a bunch of questions here. That judge in the Maryland case, can
that judge effectively remove Matt Whitaker as attorney general? Could a
federal district court judge essentially insert himself or herself into the
process that the president has gummed up already at the Justice Department
in terms of whose running DOJ? What about that Office of Legal Counsel
advice that`s due to come out tomorrow? What if the Office of Legal
Counsel and the judge say two different things about whether Whitaker is
legally allowed to be in that job?
Will any of this or any of these things being fought over now pose any real
problems for Whitaker staying employed as acting attorney general? Will it
make any difference in terms of what he can do while he is there?
I`m hoping my next guest can help us through some of this.
Joining us now is Matt Axelrod. He is a former senior official at the
Justice Department. He was deputy at the Justice Department to then Acting
Attorney General Sally Yates.
Matt, thank you for being here.
MATT AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR DOJ OFFICIAL: Thank you.
MADDOW: There is a number of things going on, a number of fights on a
number of different levels about the installation of Matt Whitaker as
acting attorney general. I haven`t had chance to talk to you since the
president put him in this job.
Can I just ask you big picture, sort of top-line level, what is your
reaction to the president installing him in that job?
AXELROD: It`s really extraordinary. Never before in our country`s history
have we had an acting attorney general who didn`t come from a Senate
MADDOW: It`s such an important job, obviously, it`s top law enforcement
official in the country. Why it is so important for that job to be a
Senate confirmed person?
AXELROD: Yes. So – and that`s part of what the legal fight about is
whether it has to be a Senate confirmed person or not. But regardless of
that legal fight, the tradition has been that it has always been someone
who has previously been confirmed by the Senate, that the president has
nominated and the Senate has fulfilled their constitutional role of
providing advice and consent. And there are legal arguments about whether
that`s required or not.
But what I think is so interesting here is that it just so happens that the
first time in our country`s history that we have an acting attorney general
who is not in a Senate confirmed seat is the same time that that person is
going to oversee prosecution investigation being carried out by the special
counsel that involves not only the White House, but the president himself.
MADDOW: In terms of this legal challenge that is unfolding interestingly
with this Maryland case, because Maryland was suing anyway over an
unrelated matter. One of their named defendants was Attorney General Jeff
Sessions. That apparently gives Maryland, at least in their view, standing
to sue against this appointment.
What do you this of those kinds of court challenges? I imagine that the
Maryland case isn`t the only one that we`ll see.
AXELROD: Yes. So, it will be interesting to see how they play out. The
Maryland motion today that you were describing in terms of relief that it
requests, it actually asks for a declaration from that federal judge that
Rod Rosenstein is the proper acting attorney general. Now, if the judge
were to grant that relief and issue an order saying Rod Rosenstein is the
acting attorney general, I think you can expect an immediate appeal.
But for the time being, and unless the judge enters that order, and unless
a court up above on the chain stays that order or reverses it, Rod
Rosenstein would be the lawful acting attorney general. And really, what
we have is a mess. And I think the American people deserve to know
unambiguously who their chief federal law enforcement officer is. And
we`re entering in a period where unfortunately that may not be the case.
There is going to be some murkiness about it until all this gets
MADDOW: Since Whitaker was installed in this position, we have learned a
lot about his background, including the kind of things that would come up
if he were being confirmed by the Senate. His involvement with a company
that appears to be under FBI investigation, according to public reports.
His involvement today reported in a publicly supported land deal that he
appears to have walked away from, that left a lot of victims and unhappy
people, including government agencies that appointed money for it. There`s
also his public statements about the Mueller investigation.
All of these things would go into his vetting by the Senate if he were up
for confirmation, which he is not. On the issue of overseeing the Mueller
investigation, though, the question of potential conflicts of interest, the
question of him prejudging the case, presumably the ethics officials at the
Justice Department would consider those when deciding whether or not he
should be recused from overseeing Mueller.
How does that process work, though? And how much transparency are we
allowed to see? How much transparency are we allowed into that process in
terms of seeing whether he has been given that advice?
AXELROD: Yes. So the way the process works is that the attorney general
would ask the career ethics folks at DOJ for their view on whether recusal
is required. Then he`ll receive that advice, but confidentially. It`s not
made public. Then he will make a decision based on that advice as to how
So, unlike with a court case where there is a ruling that is public, here
that all happens behind the scenes.
MADDOW: Can Congress ask to see it?
MADDOW: I know that Democrats have written to the top ethics officer at
the Justice Department asking whether these consultations have happened.
AXELROD: Right. So, I think that`s the mechanism by which this advice at
the career ethics folks give is likely, although it`s not guaranteed, but
likely to eventually become public, both congressional requests and also
media requests, right? I think the past precedent here is pretty clear.
Jeff Sessions recused himself from this same investigation after receiving
advice from the career ethics officials. If you go back to the last
administration, Loretta Lynch also sought advice from the career ethics
officials about whether she had to recuse from the Clinton e-mail
investigation, was told she did not.
So there is clearly a past pattern of both attorney general asking for that
advice, receiving that advice, and then following that advice. And so I
think the sort of the forcing mechanism here, if Matt Whitaker did ask for
that advice, did receive that advice, but then didn`t follow it, there
would be a lot of questions asked by the press, a lot of questions asked by
Congress, and you would think with enough of those questions being asked
with enough force over time, that eventually the truth would come out.
MADDOW: There you`re talking about the laws of political pressure. And
sometimes those work and sometimes those don`t, but I`m starting to see how
they all line up here.
Matt Axelrod, former senior official at the Justice Department – I really
appreciate you being here, Matt. Thank you very much. I really appreciate
AXELROD: Thanks for having me.
All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Tonight, we`re continuing to watch big high stakes and
increasingly dramatic electoral fights in the two great states of Georgia
and Florida. In Georgia today, more than a dozen people, including a
sitting state senator were arrested at the state capitol as they urged
authorities to count every vote after a federal judge ordered a review of
all provisional ballots in the state and a delay of the certification of
the vote totals.
In Florida, a statewide machine recount continues in all 67 Florida
counties. That will end up deciding not only the Florida Senate race but
also ultimately the makeup of the U.S. Senate, what will be the partisan
balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Even once that U.S. Senate race is
settled in Florida, you also have to remember there is still one more U.S.
Senate race that remains to be decided.
That will be the Mississippi Senate runoff which is scheduled for November
27th between the incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde Smith who is an appointee
to that seat and the Democratic challenger for that race, Mike Espy. And
you know, honestly, it is hard to imagine a Democrat winning a U.S. Senate
seat in Mississippi. That said, there is currently a Democratic U.S.
senator from Alabama right next door, which seemed unthinkable less than a
You might have heard yesterday about the controversy in this Mississippi
Senate race after Cindy Hyde-Smith talked about a friend she likes, saying,
quote, if he invited me to a public hanging, I`d be on the front row. What
do you mean by public hanging in Mississippi?
This is Mississippi, a state which has seen more public lynchings than any
other in the United States.
That controversy erupted yesterday for Senator Hyde-Smith. It got worse
since then because this is now how she is publicly fielding questions about
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI: Put out a statement yesterday, and
we stand by that statement.
REPORTER: Could you expand on it then, why you said it, what you meant by
it, and why people in the state should not see it as offensive?
HYDE-SMITH: We put out the statement yesterday, and it`s available, and we
stand by that statement.
REPORTER: Senator, are you familiar with Mississippi`s history of lynches?
HYDE-SMITH: I put out a statement yesterday, and that`s all I`m going say
REPORTER: You mentioned that it shouldn`t be viewed with a negative
connotation. Could you at least explain why it could be positive?
HYDE-SMITH: I put out a statement yesterday, and we stand by the
statement. And that`s all I`m going to say about it.
REPORTER: Is that phrasing in your everyday lingo, in your vocabulary, do
you use that phrase?
HYDE-SMITH: I put out a statement yesterday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Local reporters, as you can see there, apparently interested in
but not about to get more than a two-line statement on that topic from
their sitting United States senator as she heads into election to try to
hold on to that seat two weeks away. So, I mean, who knows how this race
is going to play out on the ground in Mississippi between now and then, but
one thing seems quite clear, which is that in some important ways, Cindy
Hyde-Smith doesn`t appear ready for prime time in Mississippi, and
Republicans may not be ready for the new wave of Democratic energy that
they are facing all over the country, which has become increasingly clear
in the last week since polls closed in the midterms.
And we`ve got more on that story next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: It started out as a Google Doc. Simple answers to basic
questions. Question, should I bring a sign? Answer, if you`re holding an
oppositional sign, staffers will almost certainly not give you or the
people with you the chance to get the mike or ask a question. OK, got it.
Here`s another. Question, help. My members of Congress are pretty good.
Now what? Answer, do not switch to targeting other members of Congress who
don`t represent you. They don`t care what you have to say. Instead,
praise your own member of Congress for doing the right thing. It will help
ensure that they continue to do the right thing.
Don`t know what to say when you call your member of Congress? Here. Use
Don`t know what to do when you go to your senator`s town hall meeting?
Here. Use these step by step instructions. Get there early. Spread out.
Ask good questions. Record everything.
This Google Doc is just 24 pages long. It`s called the indivisible guide.
It was written by former Democratic congressional staffers from a
Democratic congressional staffers right after the 2016 presidential
What they were trying to do with this Google Map, which became this guide
was essentially come up with a road map for Democrats during the Trump
presidency, a guide for people who wanted to push back against the
president`s priorities. These congressional staffers took what they had
learned working on Capitol Hill to try to teach people what works, to give
people specific clear, granular tactics they could use to break through and
be effective with their member of Congress.
All these people showing up at congressional town halls with prewritten
questions, that was a suggestion from the Indivisible guide. All those
people going to the home offices of the home district offices of their
members of Congress? That`s on page 20.
Scheduling a meeting with your representative? Check the Indivisible
guide. Organizing as a group? Check the Indivisible guide. The reason we
have all of these pictures and videos and tweets, that`s from the
Indivisible guide too. Take pictures. Tag your congressman. Record
The whole point of this instruction manual right after the Trump and
Republican victory in 2016 was to put power in the hands of Democratic
voters at a time when Democrats held no power at all in Washington. The
Indivisible guide right after the 2016 elections, it caught on. Since it
came into existence less than two years ago, it launched more than 5,000
Indivisible groups all across the country.
And honestly, part of the reason Democrats do have a little power in
Washington now, part of the reason they were able to win back the House in
this midterm election is because of some of the tactics and instructions
that were borne out of that tiny little guide, all that organizing and
agitating with people with their home representatives? It ended up pushing
a bunch of Republican members of Congress to quit. They didn`t want to
deal with their constituents showing up at their office like this every
Enough Republicans quit that that really did help Democrats shift the
balance of power in Congress. So, now that the playing field looks a
little different, now that Democrats do have some power in Washington, now
that they are poised to take control of the House, now Indivisible has done
2.0. They`ve put out new instructions.
This is the Indivisible guide 2.0. It has just been released this hour.
It`s brand-new. Just like the first Indivisible guide, this one is super
granular and specific. A lot of the tactics are the same. Visit district
offices for your representative.
Go to town halls with your representative and your senator, spread the word
on social media, tag your representative, record everything. But there is
a whole new genre of instructions that weren`t in the original guide,
because now that Democrats have power, their constituents get to tell them
how to use it. This is from the offense through oversight and
If you`re concerned for example that HUD Secretary Ben Carson spent $31,000
of taxpayer money on a dining room set for his office, you can tell your
member of Congress to investigate this misuse of public funds. You can
tell your member of Congress they can bring on a formal congressional
Here is a starter list you could pass along. Tell your member of Congress
to use their vote. Tell them to sponsor a bill. Tell them to introduce
new legislation. Tell them to write letters to the administration.
We are in a new phase of the Trump era in American politics, one where the
power of the White House is no longer unchecked. So, the objectives have
changed, and now as of this hour, as of tonight, the road map from the
Indivisible folks have changed – has changed too. One of the former
congressional staffers who wrote this joins us next.
MADDOW: The Indivisible guide was a influential part of how Democrats and
liberals approached power and Congress in particular after Trump and the
Republicans won power in Washington in the 2016 election. Well, now that
we`ve had the midterm elections and the Democrats have taken back some of
that power, they`ve taken control of the House.
Indivisible tonight has published version 2.0 of the Indivisible guide.
It`s called Indivisible on offense, a practical guide to the new Democratic
Joining us now is Ezra Levin. He`s a coauthor of the Indivisible guide.
This is his first interview since the new handbook was released tonight.
Mr. Levin, thank you for being here.
EZRA LEVIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INDIVISIBLE PROJECT: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, the last guide was defense basically. It was about how
Democrats could stop Republicans and Congress in the Trump administration
from getting everything they want given that they had all the levers of
power. This one is about offense.
What is the tactical difference?
LEVIN: We are incredibly excited for this tactical difference because the
first two years, the last two years that we spent had been on defense, like
you`re saying. We didn`t have the House, the Senate or the presidency.
So when we put out the original Indivisible guide, we started from this
place of weakness. We knew we didn`t have agenda-setting power. Democrats
did not have agenda-setting power. Instead they had the power to respond.
But now that`s different. Because of the House of Representatives, because
that House is in control of Democrats` hands, they can go on offense in two
key ways. They can go on legislative offense, means they can pass bills.
They can introduce bills. They can get co-sponsors. They can choose what
gets a vote and they can go into oversight offense.
So, all the stuff that has been going on under this administration in the
dark for two years without any real oversight, that ends. Now we can shine
a light on it and that`s the big, big difference heading into the next two
MADDOW: But in terms of legislative offense, I mean, you say explicitly in
the guide that we can safely assume that the vast majority of good
legislation passed in the House will die in the Republican controlled
Senate. If nothing they pass will become law or policy, then how much
offense is that?
LEVIN: So, on legislative, there are two types – this gets complicated,
which is why we put out a guide, right? So, there are two types of
legislative offense. One is there are must-pass bills that are going to go
through in the next Congress. Things like a budget.
In order for government to keep on running, they`ve got to pass a budget
and every budget requires both Republican and Democratic votes. Now, what
we`re seeing now is in the House of Representatives, Democrats are going to
be able to put their stamp on any budget that goes through. That`s a
chance to actually get real wins. Not just pass bills that are going to
sit in the Senate. But actually change law.
Now, the second thing is what you`re pointing to here. That a Republican
Senate or President Trump is not going to sign a good progressive bill.
Look, I think that`s right.
But the next two years are going to be when the Democratic Party debates,
what is our policy on the environment? What is our policy on immigration?
What is our policy on taxes?
So that when we get control of the House and the Senate and the presidency
in 2021, when we have a unified progressive government, we know what our
first bill is going to be. The next two years are debating that. And
that`s why these legislative vehicles that we`re going to see progressives
introduce over the course of the next two years are so important.
MADDOW: In the first guide I think the thing that made it catch on the way
that it did – we talked about this the time that it came out – was that
it was a little bit counterintuitive. You`re telling people don`t pick the
worst person in Congress who bugs you the most and then go bug them.
You`re only allowed to talk to your own member of Congress because other
representatives don`t care what you have to say if you don`t – they don`t
But it was also very practical in terms of how to most effectively
communicate with and pressure your representative whether they were on your
side or not.
Do you feel like at Indivisible, you guys learned anything that you were
either doing wrong or that you might have rethought over the past couple
years the way that advice was implemented?
LEVIN: Yes. So one thing that we saw early on in the Congress last year
is that people were just overwhelmed with a number of folks who were
showing up at these Indivisible meetings. If you remember the original
guide, we said, you know, if you can get ten people together, that would be
LEVIN: We saw some folks with hundreds and then thousands of folks showing
up. So figuring out how to take folks who were brand-new to this movement,
who had not been engaged in political activism before and teach them how to
do the basics of just organizing, how do you develop a leadership
structure, how do you build for the long haul, I think that`s what a lot of
the first two years were about. The people who have been out in the
streets marching and getting behind candidates and registering voters and
getting out to vote, they`re not professional political organizers or
professional political folks. They`re just people in their communities who
are organizing to take back control of their communities.
And so, one of the things we`re trying to emphasize in this new guide is
precisely that. This is not going to be something where we just flip the
switch and suddenly, we accomplish everything we want to do. We have to
fight on our home turf. So the thing that does not change is something you
brought up here, which is, look, we`re in a representative democracy and
what that means is like them or hate them –
MADDOW: Talk to your own representative.
LEVIN: Talk to your own representative, because your representative is
your voice in the House. Your two senators, your voice in the Senate. And
that`s where we`re going to have power.
And one of the really exciting things about our moment right now is it
doesn`t matter if your member has been there for years, if they were just
elected. They sit on subcommittees, they sit on committees that have power
over oversight. They can actually launch investigations. They can use
hearings in order to really shine a light and that`s what the opportunity
is for the next two years.
MADDOW: Indivisible 2.0, Indivisible on offense – Ezra Levin, thank you.
LEVIN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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