Remembering ex-Maine Governor Lepage. TRANSCRIPT: 1/4/2019, The Rachel Maddow Show.
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: January 4, 2019
Guest: Chris Murphy, Chris Lu
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Don`t worry. And I was just enjoying you
talking about my show from last night. That was very nice of you.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: It was so good. I watched it – I listened in
the car on the way home that thing you did on public puppet and sort of the
president`s esoteric views on Montenegro national character. And I
listened to it and I got home last night and watched it, and I`ve just been
thinking about it all day, because I`m now sort of like obsessed with the
question who put that in the president`s brain.
HAYES: It`s a very important, interesting question.
MADDOW: Well, thank you. A, thank you for listening to it. That`s above
and beyond. When you do cable news all day, you don`t have to consume any
HAYES: Sometimes you don`t want anymore. That`s true.
MADDOW: But also, I mean, the – I mean, the contrary – the non-worrying
interpretation of this series of facts is that the president has come up
with all of these things, all of these, as you put it, esoteric ideas about
Afghanistan and about Montenegro and about Belarus and Poland and all these
things on his own, without any input from the Kremlin. And that just seems
so unbelievably improbable.
HAYES: I don`t think that`s true.
HAYES: Someone. Someone is talking to him.
MADDOW: Someone. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you here
this fine Friday night.
CNN`s excellent legal reporter Katelyn Polantz was first to report today
that the grand jury that has been impaneled in Washington, D.C. to hear
evidence and issue indictments in conjunction with the special counsel`s
investigation under Robert Mueller, that grand jury has just had its term
extended. Remember when the president`s lawyers kept insisting to
reporters that they were totally sure the whole Mueller thing was going to
be over by Thanksgiving, by last Thanksgiving in 2017? Yes, it turns out
it is not over.
We think of a jury as, you know, the kind of jury that sits in a courtroom
during a trial, hearing from witnesses, maybe hearing from the defendant,
in front of a judge, and there is members of the public or even reporters
sitting back there in the back of the courtroom. That`s what we think of
when we think of jury.
A grand jury is not like that. A grand jury is not the same as the 12-
person jury that sits in on a public trial. For one thing, a grand jury
holds its proceedings in secret.
They also don`t sit every day. They meet behind closed doors, often one
day a week. There are up to 23 people on a grand jury. Prosecutors bring
witnesses before the grand jury.
Again, behind closed doors. Those witnesses give the grand jury sworn
testimony. Prosecutors also bring them documentary evidence they have
obtained as part of an investigation.
The role of the grand jurors is to look at all that evidence, weigh all
that testimony, weigh all of these things that prosecutors bring them to
consider, and then the grand jury has to decide if, considering all this
evidence prosecutors have assembled enough of a case to justify bringing
charges against a defendant. So, the whole point of a grand jury is that
they need to sign off if prosecutors want to bring an indictment against
Once a grand jury signs off on an indictment, that`s when a person can be
charged. That`s when the person gets put on trial. That`s when a regular
jury is convened to sit there in the courtroom and decide if the defendant
is guilty or not guilty of those charges.
But it is the secretive and I think sort of hard to imagine role of the
grand jury that allows people to get charged, to get indicted in the first
place. And the special counsel Robert Mueller has charged a lot of people
in the Russia investigation thus far, and he has been working with a grand
jury that was impaneled, that came into being in the summer of 2017,
specifically on July 5th, 2017. Under court rules, a grand jury can serve
for up to 18 months, but then if a judge believes it`s in the public
interest to keep that grand jury on the job for even longer than 18 months,
a judge does have the opportunity to approve an extension for that grand
jury of up to six more months.
So, that is what has just happened today with Robert Mueller`s grand jury.
It was due to expire 18 months after it was first impaneled, which I think
means it was due to expire this weekend. The chief judge of the federal
court in D.C. has now as of today granted an extension to that grand jury.
That grand jury extension can be up to six months. It doesn`t necessarily
have to be for that long. But we shall see.
There are 23 presumably grand jurors out there among our fellow citizens
who have been following along for 18 months now with the special counsel
every step of the way as he has put together all of these indictments, seen
all of this evidence, heard all of this testimony. Those 23 Americans on
that grand jury have had a really fascinating last 18 months, but they`re
going to be doing this work for a little longer yet.
I will say presumably, if the special counsel continues to need more work
from a grand jury, even after six more months have gone by, at that point I
don`t think this existing grand jury could be extended any further. At
that point, I think a whole new grand jury would need to be impaneled in
D.C., then that new grand jury, of course, would need to be brought up to
speed by Mueller`s prosecutors so they could then start weighing more
evidence and more potential indictments.
So, whatever this means for the overall polite of the Trump administration
and the president and his campaign and everybody else who`s adjacent to the
Mueller investigation, the only definite thing we can say based on this
news is that it`s not over. And everybody who has told you that it is
over, everybody whose been selling this horse hockey for the past year and
a half that oh, this whole thing is definitely about to be over, you should
not believe those people. You should not believe those people when they
try to sell you the next line item in their bill of goods.
That said, a spokesman for the administrative office of U.S. courts,
spokesman basically for the U.S. federal judiciary gave word today that the
American federal judiciary is about to run out of money to keep operating
as of one week from today. The federal government is in its 14th day of a
shutdown, as of today the longest federal shutdown on record is 21 days,
which means we`re closing in on the record. The court system says they can
piece together enough money from here and there to keep things running for
about 21 days for about the length of the longest shutdown on record. That
means they`ve got enough money to piece things together in the court system
until next Friday, until January 11th. But after that, individual courts
and individual judges will have to figure out what they`re going to do
without money to try to keep the U.S. federal judicial system running.
As its first order of business, the new Democratic majority in the house of
representatives last night passed two bills that would end the federal
government shutdown, would open up the agencies that have been shut down
now for the past two weeks. Those two bills that the Democrats passed last
night, they cover – those bills cover absolutely no new ground. They make
no new policy. They make no new prioritizing decisions about funding some
stuff and not funding some other stuff.
Those two bills that the new House of representatives passed last night
under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, those were very simple technocratic
bills that punted all of these important decisions about priorities and
things you might want to fund and might not want to fund, they punted all
those decisions. All those bills would do is reopen the government at the
funding levels all the agencies were operating at before the shutdown
started. That`s all they will do.
And those bills, incidentally, the ones that Nancy Pelosi and her new
majority in the House passed last night, those bills were exactly the same
bills that were passed unanimously by the Republican-controlled Senate to
keep the government funded before President Trump insisted that he wanted
everything shut down because he no longer wants Mexico to pay for the wall,
he wants U.S. taxpayers to pay for it, and he wants Democrats to vote for
it because he thinks this is awesome politics somehow to keep the
government shut down. He said today it could be for years, and he seemed
delighted by that prospect.
That said, some Republicans in Congress are already peeling off from this
White House strategy. Republicans can afford to lose some Republican votes
on this in the house. So a handful of Republicans voted with Democrats
last night in the house to reopen the government and deal with the whole
wall stunt some other way. The bigger problem for Republicans and the
White House is that Republicans only have a teeny tiny little majority in
the U.S. Senate, and they`re starting to lose Republican senators on this
issue as well. And if enough Republican senators peel off on this, then,
well, we will see.
But at this point, I think everybody in the country is having sort of the
same feeling, that the president fantasizing out loud today about a federal
government shutdown that goes on for years, maybe that had a little
something to do with his personal fantasy that that would end the federal
law enforcement and counterintelligence investigations into him and his
business and his campaign. But law enforcement does not work that way.
That`s no way to end this thing.
Even if the courts have to triage, you cannot just dissolve law enforcement
this way. They`re not going away, and that includes the special counsel.
But you know who is going away? You know the big other thing that is
happening right now in U.S. politics? Well, the Democrats take over in
Congress and the Republicans start to freak out about the shutdown that the
president is so happy and gleeful about, the other thing going on right now
in U.S. politics, which is going to mean big change for Americans all
across the country, potential life-saving changes for Americans in some
parts of the country, the other big thing going on right this second in
American politics right now, the big changeover that`s happening this week
is that guys like this are also hitting the bricks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. PAUL LEPAGE (R), MAINE: I got a bill in to the legislature right now
to take the traffickers. Now the traffickers, these aren`t people that
take drugs. These are guys that are named D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty, these
type of guys come from Connecticut, New York. They come up here, they sell
their heroin, then they go back home. Incidentally, half the time, they
impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is the real sad
thing because then we have another issue that we got to deal with down the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Maine`s Republican Governor Paul LePage lamenting the impregnation
of white girls by drug traffickers named D-Money and Smoothie. It`s a real
sad thing, see, because it`s the white girls.
After making those public remarks, the governor decided to clarify what he
meant by that. He was sorry. Well, to be clear, he was not sorry, but he
did have more to say on the subject.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEPAGE: I was going impromptu and my brain didn`t catch up to my mouth.
Instead saying Maine women, I said white women. And I`m not going to
apologize to the Maine women for that, because if you go to Maine, you will
see that we`re essentially 95 percent white.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We`re white people. So, like, whose offended, right? Maine?
Maine is white, all right? What?
He also said anybody implying there was anything creepy or remotely racist
about those remarks was fake news making it up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEPAGE: If you want to make it racist, go right ahead. Do whatever you
want. I didn`t say anything about black.
REPORTER: Didn`t you say, D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty? Aren`t those –
LEPAGE: Yes, what are they, black? I don`t know who they are. I just read
the names. I don`t see them because I read your newspapers.
I get a report and his name is street name D-Money, street name Smoothie.
I don`t know where they`re come. I don`t know if they`re black, Asian, I
don`t know. It wasn`t intended to be race.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I didn`t say anyone was – where did you get that terrible report?
This is why I don`t read your newspapers. The governor then put out an
official statement saying, quote, the governor is not making comments about
race. Race is irrelevant.
Now, this is the governor of the state. Maybe this was kind of a mix-up.
Maybe he had been up all night. Maybe it was – I don`t know.
Actually, yes, we do know. Everybody knows because he couldn`t stop
himself. Couldn`t leave it there.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
LEPAGE: We got a few more drug agents, but what do I have to do? I had to
go screaming the top of my lungs about black dealers coming in and doing
the things that they`re doing to our state.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Had to start screaming about the black dealers. Remember, I
thought you didn`t say “black.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEPAGE: Let me tell you something. Black people come up the highway and
they kill Mainers. You ought to look into that.
REPORTER: Governor, we`re not trying to get into a battle. We just –
LEPAGE: You are a sick bunch of people. You make me so sick.
When you go to war, if you know the enemy, the enemy dresses in red and you
dress in blue, you shoot at red, don`t you?
Ken? You`ve been in uniform. You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify
And the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in are
people of color or people of Hispanic origin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It`s the people of color, the people of Hispanic origin. That`s
how you can identify the enemy. I mean, they come in here, you shoot them.
I also suggested cutting off their heads. Bring back the guillotine. Cut
off their heads before they impregnate a white girl.
This is the governor of the state of Maine. This has been the governor of
the state of Maine, until a couple of nights ago.
And Paul LePage has been a number of things during his tenure as that
state`s Republican governor. For one thing, he was the occasion for the
state`s largest newspaper to issue a remarkable apology basically for his
existence to the rest of America. Message to America, sorry, we gave you
“Portland Press Herald” published this editorial after Paul LePage could
not stop himself from talking about wanting to shoot black and Hispanic
people since that`s who he was sure needed to be shot, because they`re the
enemy and can be recognized that way as if they were wearing a uniform.
They needed to be shot or beheaded in his state.
But it`s interesting. That ongoing very racially specific eruption from
that Republican governor, that was all supposedly about his vitriolic,
almost uncontrollable rage about drug trafficking, right? That`s what all
of this stuff was about, wanting to kill drug traffickers, these black
dealers, these Hispanic dealers and drug traffickers that come to Maine and
impregnate white girls, because we`re all white up here.
He wanted the death penalty for drug traffickers. No, he said actually the
death penalty was too good for them. He specifically wanted them beheaded.
He said he wanted people in Maine taking bets on which hole their heads
would roll into after he cut their heads off. Because he was so wound up,
so upset, so determined to stop drug trafficking in his state.
Nothing could be spared to stop drug trafficking in his state. If he had
to spout off like an unbelievable racist in order to get this point across,
he was willing to do it. At least wasn`t willing to stop himself because
he was so passionate about drugs.
As one of Paul LePage`s last acts of governor this week, as governor, as he
left this week, one of the last things he did as governor was that he
issued a pardon to a man convicted of felony drug trafficking, a Republican
state representative who had been a Paul LePage loyalist throughout his
time in the legislature. For some reason, Paul LePage looks at him and
does not want to behead him.
The state rep not only had had the drug trafficking, since that conviction
he has admitted to using firearms multiple times which in his case as a
felon was additional felony. He has had multiple misdemeanor criminal
offenses since his felony, but Paul LePage on his way out of office
pardoned him. Today, we learned that Paul LePage pardoned him despite the
direct recommendation from the state`s clemency board that this guy should
not get a pardon. We learned that today from “The Portland Press Herald”.
For context sake, in one of the most high profile pardon issues never the
state of Maine, this mom in Waterville, Maine, lost her husband and her
kids lost her father after a man who had lived in Maine for 25 years, who
had been married here, had a beautiful family here, had kids here, had run
a very successful business here, he got deported away from his family by
the Trump administration because of an old felony drug conviction for which
he served time more than a decade ago, and he has never been in trouble
Here`s his family and his neighbors and his business partners begging for
help in his case. Paul LePage refused to pardon him or to commute his
sentence, and so his wife and kids are in Maine now without him because
he`s been shipped off to Haiti.
This guy, though, with the active investigation for also being a gun felon
and his other misdemeanors and the overt recommendation from the clemency
board that he should not be pardoned, hmm, it`s weird, he got cleared, as
Paul LePage`s last act on his way out the door.
But Paul LePage is gone now. He has been replaced by a new Democratic
woman governor, Janet Mills. She is the first woman governor Maine has
ever had. Because of the slick that Paul LePage left behind him as he
slithered out the door and announced literally that he was immediately
moving to Florida, see you, suckers!
Because of what Paul LePage left in his wake in Maine, the new Democratic
Governor Janet Mills as one of the first thing she has to think about, she
may need to change the pardon laws in that state given what Paul LePage
decided to do with him for one of his buddies on his way out the door. But
Governor Mills has been pretty busy without that, as her very first order
of business, as executive order number one with the stroke of a pen, she
restored health insurance to 70,000 people in Maine – 70,000 people in
Maine who currently don`t have health insurance who now will get it.
More than a year ago, Maine voters, clearly by 18 points, in a landslide
vote more than a year ago, Maine declared at the ballot box that they
wanted to expand Medicaid. So tens of thousands of people in that state
could get health insurance who don`t otherwise have it. Maine voters
passed it. It became law.
But Republican Governor Paul LePage blocked it anyway for more than a year.
He just would not let it happen. But Wednesday night, he left office, and
Thursday morning bright and early, first thing, she uncapped her pen, there
was Janet Mills, new Democratic woman governor, finally making it happen.
Quote: Mainers who think they`re eligible for coverage can begin applying
immediately. Just visit the Maine Department of Health and Human Services
website. About 4,500 Mainers had tried to sign up under the expansion last
year which, again was signed into law by voters, but they were rebuffed by
the LePage administration. Quote, the coverage is retroactive to July 2nd.
So Mainers who applied in 2018 but were denied expenses and incurred
expenses that should have been covered by Medicaid will now be reimbursed.
Just like that. Done. First order of business. Very first thing she did.
And for 70,000 people in that state, their lives will now change this week
because Paul LePage, poof, is gone. And this Democrat, Janet Mills, has
In Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder is also being replaced by a
Democratic woman governor, Governor Gretchen Whitmer. She made it her
first order of business in Michigan, her first executive order on day one
this week was about the Flint water disaster, with multiple Rick Snyder
officials facing criminal – excuse me, Rick Snyder administration
officials facing criminal charges, including manslaughter charges for their
role in causing and covering up and lying about the Flint disaster, the
first thing the new Democratic governor of Michigan did this week was sign
an executive order requiring state officials to immediately report health
and safety threats the way that Snyder officials did not when the city of
Flint was being poisoned and people were dying because of it.
There is – there is a national impact. There is a big American impact to
these things, right? Paul LePage is gone in a puff of smoke now. Rick
Snyder is gone, Democratic governors replacing both of them and immediately
moving to try to fix the worst damage that those governors inflicted on
In Washington, D.C., Democrats, led by a Democratic woman speaker, they
only get to take over part of the government, and we are therefore still
stuck. For example, in this shutdown, as long as the Republican Senate
decides they want to hold out and not vote on the exact same bills they
voted for before that would open things up.
But today, after passing those bills that would reopen the government if
Republicans in the Senate agree, Democrats moved on to start declaring
their own priorities now that they control the House of Representatives.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: What a difference an
We are introducing H.R. 1 to hold legislation to clean up corruption and
restore integrity to government.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Over the
last two years, President Trump set the tone from the top in his
administration that behaving ethically and complying with the law is
optional. Ladies and gentlemen, I`ve stopped by here to simply say we`re
better than that. We`re better than that. It cannot be optional.
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: I truly believe deep in my heart, in my soul
the way votes were not counted and purged in Georgia, in Florida.
CUMMINGS: Tell them, John.
LEWIS: And other states, with the last election, that must never happen
again in our country.
LEWIS: Never again.
CUMMINGS: Never again.
CUMMINGS: Never again, John. Never again.
LEWIS: We will make it illegal with this bill. It is in keeping with the
Voting Rights Act of 1965 where some of us gave a little blood on the
bridge. We don`t want to give any more blood, but we have our votes, and
we must use our votes as a powerful instrument to change things. With this
bill, we demonstrate that this house is for the people, and we will choose
the side of fairness, equality and justice over special interests every
time. That`s the right thing to do, and we will do it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes!
CUMMINGS: Amen, amen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Democrats gathering today to announce what amounts to their first
substantive bill. Their voting as of last night to keep the government
open, that`s now in the Senate`s court. They can decide what to do about
But when it comes to what Democrats want to do, substantively, overtly in
terms of what their agenda is, they`re proposing H.R. 1. It`s a huge
reform measure. I mean, imagine if it became law, right? This isn`t all
of it, but it`s like nationwide automatic voter registration, an end to
partisan gerrymandering. Independent commissions have to make nonpartisan
Two weeks of early voting in every state in the Union. Ex-felons get their
voting rights reinstated. Funding for states to use paper ballots for
election integrity. Georgia is a state where they don`t have that.
Election Day is a federal holiday. Prohibitions on states using aggressive
voter purges to throw people off the rolls. Candidates for president and
vice president and sitting presidents and vice presidents have to disclose
ten years of their tax returns.
Dark money groups have to disclose their donors. No more gigantic
anonymous campaign contribution. How about a small donor matching seasonal
so congressional candidates can get public financing instead of having to
rely on PACs and giant donors. That would change everything about who
could afford to run for Congress. Restoring the Voting Rights Act that was
gutted by the Supreme Court.
I mean, imagine if that kind of a reform bill passed. Ari Berman, who is
the best reporter in the country on national voting rights issues, he
called this today, quote, the most far-reaching democracy reform plan
introduced in Congress since the Watergate era. Democrats have been
getting ready to take control and thinking about what is most important to
them in governance.
And, you know, they will be able to pass this in the House. In all
likelihood, they`ll be able to pass it as a big omnibus reform package,
including all the things I just described and more. They will also be able
to break it up and pass it in little chunks if they want to. Some of those
little chunks may be able to attract Republican support. They will pass
If we`ve learned anything from seeing Nancy Pelosi as speaker before, we
know that if Nancy Pelosi wants that bill to move in any way, shape, or
form, it will move. And of course it will not come up in the Senate
because Republicans run the Senate. And it certainly won`t become law,
because this president would never sign something like this.
But this is an important moment, right? When Trump and the Republicans won
full control of government in 2016, almost the first thing that they sent
to Trump`s desk, do you remember? The first stand-alone substantive bill
they sent to Trump once they got control, remember what it was?
It was literally a bill specifically and only designed to make it easier
for mentally ill people to buy firearms. That was the first thing they
thought was the most important thing they should do once they got power.
Make it easier for people adjudicated to have mental illness serious enough
that they are not legally allowed to manage their own affairs, make it
easier for those people specifically to obtain firearms and ammunition,
first priority, first stand alone bill.
Democrats` first priority, first stand-alone bill? Restore the Voting
So game on. I mean, goodbye, Paul LePage. Goodbye, Rick Snyder. Goodbye
all those guys. Goodbye Republican Congress. It`s a new day.
MADDOW: President Obama described it as the worst day of his eight years
in office as president. It was December 14th, 2012, the day a gunman shot
and killed 20 first graders in Newtown, Connecticut. Newtown`s
representative in Congress at the time had just been elected to become the
new junior senator from the state of Connecticut, Congressman Chris Murphy,
soon to be Senator Chris Murphy, made it his mission as an elected official
from that day on to do something about gun violence, to pass legislation
that would at least try to prevent another tragedy, another massacre like
the one in Newtown.
Chris Murphy has since been called the Democratic Party`s conscience on gun
control. In 2016, after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida,
Murphy staged the ninth longest filibuster in U.S. history. He spoke about
gun policy reform for nearly 15 hours on the floor of the Senate.
In 2017, after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history happened in Las
Vegas, Senator Murphy introduced legislation requiring universal background
checks for anybody who wants to buy a gun. That`s something that`s
supported by a vast majority of Americans, a vast majority of American gun
owners, a vast majority even of members of the NRA. But Congress still
won`t do it.
Senator Murphy has gone to the president personally, directly, face-to-face
on this on what to do about gun violence. He has called his fellow
lawmakers complicit. He has repeatedly faulted them for their failure to
This was Senator Murphy last year when reports of a shooting at a high
school in Parkland, Florida started to stream in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Turn on your television right now,
you`re going to see scenes of children running for their lives. Let me
just note once again for my colleagues that this happens nowhere else other
than the United States of America. It only happens here, not because of
coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction.
We are responsible. As a parent, it scares me to death that this body
doesn`t take seriously the safety of my children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ahead of last year`s midterm elections, the senator tried
something new. Senator Murphy launched what was called the NR8 campaign.
It`s supposed to kind of sound like NRA. It was an effort to raise money
for eight specific Democratic candidates. Seven in the house, one in the
senate, and all eight of these candidates were taking on Republican
incumbents who had A ratings from the NRA. It was a campaign specifically
for those eight Democratic candidates. All eight of those candidates won,
all eight of them. The seven lawmakers on the house side who won are now
part of the new Democratic majority.
Next week that new Democratic majority will introduce a bill for, you
guessed it, universal background checks to buy a gun. But it will do so
with the help of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. The bill will be
named H.R. 8 because it will be introduced on the eight-year anniversary of
the shooting that almost took the life of Congresswoman Giffords and a
shooting that killed six of her constituents.
The Democratic majority will introduce that in the House this upcoming
week, and on his side of the Capitol, Senator Chris Murphy will also try
Joining us now is Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut whose own bill on
background checks he is ready to reintroduce.
Sir, I appreciate you joining us tonight. Thank you for being here.
MURPHY: Yes, thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, I want to ask you, we`ve talked about this issue broadly.
We`ve talked about the background checks issue specifically a number of
times over the years. I wonder if you feel like the window is shifting at
all, the window of what`s possible and what can be reasonably discussed
with an eye towards actually getting somewhere with the Democrats taking
control of the House.
MURPHY: I got sworn in to Congress for my second term to the Senate this
week, and I`m furious that six years after I got sworn in right after the
shooting in Sandy Hook, we still haven`t made any meaningful progress. But
that belies the transformation that has happened in the American electorate
over that time, this is now an issue that you have to run on, background
checks, bans on assault weapons if you want to win seats in the United
And so, you see this new wave of Democratic freshmen who unapologetically
enthusiastically went out there and ran on these issues and won. You see a
race like Georgia`s sixth which was the epicenter of the political world
right after Trump`s election. John Ossoff lost, having frankly stayed away
from the gun issue. Two years later, Lucy McBath, whose son was killed in
gun violence, ran on the issue and won, a swing district. As you mentioned
the eight races we targeted won as well.
It used to be that guns turned out Republicans in general elections.
That`s not how it works any longer. Exit polls show from last November
that of the voters who said guns was their number one issue, 70 percent of
those voters were Democrats, not Republicans.
And so, if Republicans want to win back the House of Representatives,
they`ve got to start voting for things like background checks that have a
97 percent approval rating. And I would argue to my colleagues in the
Senate that if they don`t get right on this issue right now, this year when
they have the chance, that they`re not going to control the Senate for long
MADDOW: Well, let me ask you about that, the strategic dynamics at work
here. I noted that the NR8, as that effort was titled, was essentially a
reference to the NRA. I noted in my introduction that even NRA members are
among the vast majority of Americans who support universal background
The NRA has been such an important part of how we understand who the
adversary is on this policy issue that otherwise is so popular with the
American people. The NRA today, however, is in a very different position
than they were even a year ago. I mean, most troublingly, they have been
implicated in certain ways in Russian government efforts to influence our
There are important questions I think about whether NRA financing
potentially has been used as some sort of Trojan horse for foreign
government financing, making its way into U.S. elections. The NRA
financially as an organization is crying poverty and saying that they don`t
have the resources that they used to, and indeed, in these elections, we
saw their spending fall off a cliff.
Do you think they are significantly weakened as an organization? And do
you think that`s going to make a difference in this fight?
MURPHY: So their power was always reputational. It wasn`t actually
practical, right? The NRA has always been a bit of a paper tiger.
Everybody sort of has this mythology about the 1994 Republican sweep. They
attribute Democratic losses to the vote on the background checks bill and
the assault weapons bill, and the NRA spending lots of money to get those
Democrats out of office.
That`s not actually how the `94 election played out. In fact, if you look
at the NRA`s endorsements, they lose a lot more race than they win. And
so, Republicans have always had outsized fear of the NRA than reality would
But you are right. The NRA is a shell of themselves. Today, they are
financially in deep trouble, maybe because one of their primary sponsors
and funders was a foreign government, but also because they simply are
hemorrhaging dues and members.
But they are also upside down in the approval rating polls for the first
time. It used to be by and large people thought better of the NRA. Their
approval ratings outstripped their disapproval ratings. Not so any longer.
If you are an NRA-backed candidate in a swing congressional district, you
are in trouble in a way that you weren`t before.
So, again, NRA has always been trumped up a bit in their political power,
but they are simply much, much weaker today, and we are much, much stronger
MADDOW: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, I really appreciate you
making time to be here on a Friday night, sir. Thank you for joining us.
MURPHY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Again, both the House, newly controlled by the Democrats and
Senator Murphy in the Senate will be introducing background check bills
next week, and the politics on that issue are very, very different than
they were even quite recently. And expect that to be a wild card issue.
Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Hey, we`ve got more to come the tonight, including a story I was
sure would result in somebody being arrested, but instead, that person is
still working in the White House as of tonight. So we`ve got that story
Before we get to that story, you need to know what`s going to happen after
this show tonight here on MSNBC so you can plan accordingly. It is not
going to be Lawrence O`Donnell here after me tonight. It is going to be
Nancy Pelosi and Joy Reid.
Joy Reid`s town hall with Nancy Pelosi, which is called “The Speaker.”
That is right after this show tonight here at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. You are
going to want to see this. Please plan accordingly.
Meanwhile, I will be right back.
MADDOW: A couple of weeks ago here on the show, we brought you a simple,
very straight forward sort of textbook example of self-dealing 101. It
involved a deputy White House chief of staff named Zachary Fuentes. He was
brought into that job by the now departed White House Chief of Staff John
But instead of leaving with Kelly at New Year`s, Zach Fuentes reportedly
told his White House colleagues he had a plan, as “The New York Times” put
it, a plan to hide out at the Eisenhower Office Executive Building adjacent
to the White House for six months, remaining on the payroll in a nebulous
Why does he need to hide out for six months? Because in six months, Zach
Fuentes, who has been an active duty member of the Coast Guard all this
time serving in the White House, in six months, he would qualify for the
Coast Guard`s early retirement program, which could mean he could retire at
the age of 37. Whoo!
The problem for Mr. Fuentes is that the Coast Guard early retirement
program has lapsed as a matter of policy. And so, allegedly, according to
“The New York Times” reporting, Mr. Fuentes went about using his lofty
government position in the White House to get the Homeland Security
Department, of which the coast guard is a part, to get the Homeland
Security Department to pressure Congress into reinstating that early
retirement program immediately. So, he specifically could benefit from it.
So, we did that story here on the show the Friday before Christmas. It was
like a present. It was like a Christmas present in terms of having an
example to work from in like how to explain what corruption is.
Since then, two things have happened. One, even though Zach Fuentes` plan
for early retirement was outed in “The New York Times,” it still seems to
be his plan to hang out aimlessly in the Trump administration for a few
months. We learned that today because the new White House chief of staff
is keeping him in his job. The acting chief of staff, which is what we`re
supposed to call him, Mick Mulvaney, told ABC News, quote, Zach`s a good
man. We`ll find something for him to do productive.
Oh, good. Our top concern was definitely that Mr. Fuentes might not be
productive while he hides in the woodwork for six months. But the other
thing that`s happened now is of course, as of this week Democrats are in
charge of Congress. So the committee that he tried to get to reinstate the
early retirement program for himself, that committee is no longer run by
Republicans. It`s now run, as of today, by Oregon Democratic Congressman
We contacted Congressman DeFazio`s office today if he expects to
investigate the issue of the serving deputy White House chief of staff
possibly using a federal agency to pressure his committee into getting
himself an extra special good retirement deal. The congressman told us,
quote: Because of Republican neglect, there is a backlog of deferred
oversight of the issues under the jurisdiction of this committee. This
most certainly is on that list.
So, this straightforward simple textbook government corruption story may be
about to get some simple congressional oversight. Still doesn`t explain
how this situation got to this point inside the White House. After
something like this gets exposed, the guy gets to keep his job and you
think nobody`s going to look into it? Hold onto that thought.
MADDOW: When a high ranking White House official is accused of blatant
corruption, for instance the deputy White House chief of staff in the Trump
administration who reportedly was using his position to pressure homeland
security and Congress into extending an early retirement program
specifically to benefit himself, when something like that happens, one,
does the White House have the option of not caring about it? And two,
doesn`t somebody investigate? How would this sort of thing work in a
normal White House?
Joining us now is Chris Lu who was White House cabinet secretary in the
Obama administration. He`s now a senior fellow at the Miller Center at the
University of Virginia.
Mr. Lu, thank you for your time.
CHRIS LU, OBAMA WHITE HOUSE CABINET SECRETARY: Thank you.
MADDOW: If the deputy White House chief of staff faced credible
allegations of corruption and self-dealing, who is supposed to look into
that in a normal White House?
LU: Well, in a normal White House that person would have been out on the
street so quickly. Literally, every single day of this White House, I
thought to myself, if I did something like this, I would have gotten fired.
I mean, this stinks on so many levels. You have somebody who`s staying on
government payroll without working, which is offensive even if we weren`t
in the middle of a government shutdown.
You have somebody who abuses their authority to try to get a legislative
fix to help only themselves. You have a 36, 37-year-old who wants to claim
early retirement after 15 years. I mean, this is the definition of a
swamp. And in a normal White House, you`d have a chief of staff and
president who would set high standards to ensure that this kind of
misconduct doesn`t happen.
MADDOW: Is there an oversight mechanism within the way White Houses are
structured that should address problems like this? I mean, I know there`s
a lot of things you can`t do with a White House that you could do with a
government agency, like you can`t FOIA the White House for example the same
way. But is there some sort of mechanism in place that`s supposed to
LU: Absolutely. Look, here`s the thing, when you work in the White House,
you have an enormous amount of power. When you pick up the phone and call
an agency and you say jump, they jump. And that`s the reason why you make
sure there are good people at the White House who don`t abuse that
authority, and that you put processes in place, to get check on them.
So, in this instance, you would have an deputy chief of staff asking for a
legislative fix. That would go through the legislative affairs office.
You would have that person saying hey, I`m going to go sit in an office and
not do anything. That would be cleared through the chief of staff, through
the president. And, finally, if there were any question about the legality
or the optics or something, it would be cleared by the White House
counsel`s office and in this case going through also at the general
counsel`s office at DHS.
But what we`ve learned over the last two years that this is White House
that doesn`t care about process or legality or optics, and this is what we
MADDOW: Giving us some places to start there in terms of the White House
counsel`s office, general counsel`s office at DHS. It does seem at least
from that comment we got from Congressman DeFazio tonight, there may be
some congressional oversight interest here even if the White House does not
Chris Lu, former White House cabinet secretary for President Obama, now
senior fellow at the University of Virginia Miller Center, Chris, thank you
so much tonight. Much appreciated.
LU: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: There`s a 1962 yearbook entry from Trinity College in Washington,
D.C. Nancy Patricia D`Alesandro, a senior with the yearbook, quote, solemn
she is rarely seen yet thoughts and deep are there.
That woman is now very much seen and is definitely full of thoughts. She`s
now speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi. She returns tonight to her alma
mater, to Trinity, for a town hall interview with the great and good Joy
“The Speaker” with Nancy Pelosi and Joy Reid starts right now. Have a
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