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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 07/20/11

Guests: E.J. Dionne, Wayne Slater, Gary Keever

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. Thank you. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. Today at 5:00, President Obama summoned the top two Republicans in the House. The House Republican leadership team, he summoned them to the White House, presumably to freak out. About 24 hours earlier, this has been the president‘s message to the nation and House Republicans in particular. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We‘re in the 11th hour, and we don‘t have a lot more time left. We don‘t have anymore time to posture. It‘s time to get down to the business of actually solving this problem. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was yesterday. The 11th hour, not a lot of time left. Today, no announcement from the president in the pressroom like you saw there, anything like that. No congenial presidential information and discussion of our options and what‘s before us. Today, just literally a tweet from the White House press secretary announcing this meeting. The tweet was “Update: the president will meet with Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor at the White House today at 5:00 p.m.”—as in you guys get over here now. One of the things that President Obama has been pointing out recently is the deadline that is upon us to raise the nation‘s debt ceiling is not really August 2nd. He has been trying to say that there‘s no reason to expect that the markets, the bond markets, the stock market, et cetera, there‘s no reason to expect that they will wait until we actually default, until August 2nd, before reacting adversely. As we get closer and closer to the default date, just being too close to it without a resolution of this issue may, in fact, knock the economy off a cliff. At this point, it could happen any moment. The bond rating service Moody‘s warned last week that the U.S. AAA credit score, which we had enjoyed for 94 years, our AAA credit score is in danger of being downgraded. And it‘s in danger of being downgraded not on August 2nd when we start defaulting, not on August 3rd, the day after, but they said by the middle of July, because we are flirting with the possibility of default now on purpose. They threatened by the middle of July. It is now July 20th. Today, Moody‘s had yet another terrifying little warning, this time to five states, to Virginia, Maryland, New Mexico, Tennessee, and South Carolina. They said, quote, “Should the U.S. government‘s rating be downgraded to AA status or lower, these five state‘s ratings would likely be downgraded as well.” In other words, Moody‘s has identified these five states as having a state economy that is entwined enough with the federal economy that if and when the U.S. gets our bond rating destroyed by what is going on in Congress, something that‘s never happened before in the modern history in this country, that these states are going to go down along with the rest of the country. And so, today at the White House—tweet, tweet. Hey, you guys, get over here. This needs to be done now. It‘s worth remembering that this is a crisis created by Congress. Option A for dealing with raising the debt ceiling has always just been, hey, let‘s raise the debt ceiling. Congress did it seven times under George W. Bush. I said it was five times the other night—forgive me, it was actually seven. Congress did it 18 times under Ronald Reagan‘s presidency. It‘d done it more than 17 times since the 1960s. And 130 Republicans in Congress right now voted happily throughout the George W. Bush era to raise the debt ceiling without so much as a peep. This time, however, for some reason, no. This year, they have decided for political reasons that they are just not going to do it. That‘s the whole crisis here. That is the origin of the crisis. That‘s where it comes from, and option A for solving this crisis has always been “let‘s not choose to have this crisis.” This is a chosen crisis. Let‘s choose not to have it. That has always been option A—barring the political impossibility of that this year, what has emerged is option B. Option B, a giant, all encompassing, long-term, generation-long debt reduction proposal to handle America‘s fiscal concerns for decades to come. The president has spoken frequently of his desire to do something like this—if not his understanding it might happen through this particular Congress. But that‘s what gave rise to the “gang of six” rainbows and sunshine happy talk that we got out of the Beltway yesterday—a bipartisan group of senators came up with a very, very, very conservative proposal to cut taxes on the rich, to cut taxes on corporations, to stick it to Social Security and Medicare and call it macaroni. But it‘s bipartisan. So, the Beltway loves it. Conservative Democrats and conservative Republicans agree that this is a great way forward. And God bless them, the Senate is conservative enough they probably could get a super majority for that proposal if it ever came up. But there are two problems with the sunshine and rainbow, about this whole “gang of six” thing. The first rainbow/sunshine problem is just logistical. But the rules of the Senate and the gigantic scope of this legislation, the people in charge of getting things passed in Senate said today that regardless of the substance of the proposal, it‘s too big. There is no time to get something this big done before the August 2nd deadline. It literally cannot be passed through the Senate in time even if everybody likes it. The other rainbow/sunshine problem here is the president and the Senate agreeing on this or anything doesn‘t actually get you any further towards raising the debt ceiling, because it‘s not just the president and the Senate, it‘s crazy town down the hallway, too. It‘s John Boehner‘s Republican House—that, frankly, likes the idea of the nation defaulting, that kind of thinks the explosion of the economy might be pretty, or at least warm for a second. They are not looking for a good deal or achieve particular policy objectives. Regardless of what they get, they are not going to vote to raise the debt ceiling. The Republicans who are running for president from the House of Representatives, for example, are not saying: don‘t raise the debt ceiling unless—don‘t raise the debt ceiling until. They are saying don‘t raise the debt ceiling at all. Let‘s see what happens. This is how Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann‘s first presidential campaign ad ended. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling. I‘m Michele Bachmann, and I approve this message. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I will not—that was how the first ad for Michele Bachmann‘s campaign ended. This, today, is how her second presidential campaign ad starts. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BACHMANN: I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I will not—again, it‘s not—I will not unless or I will not until. It‘s just I will not. Just the answer is no. It‘s like—you know what it‘s like? It‘s like that moment in the Rupert Murdoch testimony in the British parliament yesterday. We played this on the show. There‘s no more perfect representation of the House Republican position from the news this week than this tiny clip from the Murdoch testimony. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When were you informed about the payments made to Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford? RUPERT MURDOCH, CEO, NEWS CORP: Nope. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: No? When were—was that a yes or no—it was not a yes or no. No. The answer is no. It doesn‘t matter what the question is. They don‘t want to do it. So, the only way out of this—well, there may be two ways out of this. One is if the president can circumvent Congress, the president theoretically could break the law that says it is Congress that has to raise the debt ceiling by instead raising it himself by using emergency powers out of the higher allegiance to the Constitution itself which says our debt has to be honored. That is one of the things in politics that may be technically feasible, but it is also just impossible to imagine—not that he wouldn‘t do it to save the country, presidents have done things more extreme. But the idea he would be made to do it or consider it, it is almost impossible to imagine. Putting that aside, is there anything short of something that dramatic that could be done here? Yes, at least used to be something. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate proposed last week—remember this? Proposed last week—he proposed Republican surrender—but a surrender they thought would make them look great politically. Mitch McConnell came up with a super complicated, connect the dots, do it backward, triple axle, double reverse kowtow by which Congress would vote to raise the debt ceiling, but only a third of Congress would have to vote in favor of doing it, so it could just be the Democrats who did it. It was a complicated thing involving the Republicans saying they didn‘t want to do it, and then the president vetoing, the Republican saying no, and then Congress not overriding his veto. It was kind of a mess. But the idea the debt ceiling would be raised, but it would be raised by the president and by Democratic members of Congress alone. That was the Republican surrender in this fight. And ever since they introduced the prospect for example about a week ago, everybody has been assuming that this, frankly, is the escape hatch, that this is the way this ends, that if Republicans and Democrats can agree on nothing, if Republicans and Democrats cannot even agree we should take mutual action to not default, then at least Republicans and Democrats could agree that Democrats could keep us from defaulting. But now, days into this, days into this—days closer to this apocalyptic deadline, Congress has decided they can no longer even meet the soft bigotry of these expectations. More than 80 House Republicans have now signed on to a letter saying, no, we do not even want the escape hatch. We do not even want the surrender model that has the Democrats do it for us because we abdicate. We don‘t want this to come up in the House. Do not let it come to the floor for a vote. Maybe Republicans want to force President Obama into taking presidential actions so they can turn it into taking dramatic, constitutional crisis, presidential actions so they can turn it into some dramatic plan to impeach him. Maybe that‘s what they want. Maybe they want to see how pretty it is when the economy explodes, because sometimes when things explode, it‘s pretty and then it‘s warm for a second. Maybe they are bluffing. And as the Beltway common wisdom had it today, sometime next week, maybe, they‘ll actually come to their senses and get scared about the prospects of what they are doing to the American economy and whole country and they will come around. Even if you believe that, that ultimately Republicans in Congress are planning on doing the responsible thing, even if you believe that, next week, in all likelihood, would be too late. Where is the new escape hatch here? Joining us now is E.J. Dionne, “Washington Post” columnist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. E.J., it‘s good to see you again. Thanks for being here. E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST: It‘s good to be with you. MADDOW: You are more experienced with Washington—I have to move my flag pole, hold on. More experienced with Washington and by constitution, I think you are a sunnier person than I am, E.J. And so, do you see a way out of this mess here that I do not see? DIONNE: You know, I am a glass one-tenth full person. You could be just a little bit of beverage, and I shout, oh, things can be OK. I have rarely been this depressed, I think, and I‘ve been here awhile about the way Washington is working. This is a totally politician-induced crisis. I mean, we didn‘t have enough crises, so we had to induce one, create one, out of whole cloth. And the problem is, you cannot see how to get 218 votes in the House of Representatives for anything because of this rejectionist caucus that you mentioned, otherwise known as the Tea Party caucus, and both Speaker Boehner and the majority leader, Eric Cantor, are kind of playing to them. They don‘t want to sort of annoy them. At some point, I think they‘re just going to have to say, we will not let the country get wrecked by this. I agree entirely all of your remarks at the beginning. We could get downgraded at any moment. I mean, we are courting real trouble. And if only we would pay—if all it was we‘d pay more interest, that‘s crazy. More interest means less of everything. We really would prefer to pay for interest, say, help kids go to college, it‘s crazy. MADDOW: After weeks of saying that he would not support any sort of short-term extension of the debt ceiling, today, President Obama came out and said that—now, he would, he would support a short-term deal as long as there were other concrete plans in place to move forward towards a bigger, grand bargain after the bridge. Do you see that as a potential pivot here, as an important point towards moving forward? DIONNE: I think people in the White House are really legitimately scared. I mean, they are not paralyzed. They‘re just looking at the same stuff we are. And, yes, he drew a line in the sand, now he may cross it. But it was some sense a negotiating posture. I mean, I think when Boehner and Cantor saw the president today, what I was told they were going to tell him is that we may be able to do $1 billion in a few months, so we sort of keep this game going for awhile. I guess that would be better than defaulting, but it‘s still—it‘s still an enormous wasted effort. You know, John Kennedy said he who seeks power by riding the back of the tiger usually ends up inside. And I think that‘s where Boehner and Cantor are. They rode the Tea Party, and now the Tea Party is, I think, threatening to devour the Republican Party. MADDOW: Well, that‘s—your column published tonight on “The Washington Post” Web site says that this crisis may—or maybe already is kind of forcibly cleaving the Republican leadership from the Tea Party. You say that Ayn Rand in her writings may help explain how that is happening. Can you explain that? DIONNE: Well, in her first most popular book, “The Fountainhead,” and the famous movie, I guess, with Gary Cooper, the guy who doesn‘t get what he wants blows up a building. And I think what‘s scary here is you have folks, many, you know, there are Ayn Rand followers in the majority who would rather kind of blow things up than make any concessions at all. And I think quietly there are moderate conservative Republicans, not really many actual moderate Republicans anymore, are saying this is taking us all too far. You know, they are looking at the polls, not helping Republicans in the polls, but I think some of these guys really want to govern and they are looking at this and saying, we can‘t govern this way. And I‘m hoping they are thinking about saying to these other folks, we can‘t walk the rest of the way with you. MADDOW: E.J. Dionne of “The Washington Post” and the Brookings Institution, E.J., thanks a lot for your time tonight. DIONNE: Great to be with you. MADDOW: Your column is great. I really appreciate it. DIONNE: Oh, thank you. MADDOW: One sign that your high profile, full of hope presidential campaign is not going well is when a polling company, a major one, stops asking people about you, so they can make room instead for someone who isn‘t even running. T-Paw. We‘ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK0 MADDOW: So, here‘s who‘s running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Here‘s who‘s running in alphabetical order: Congresswoman Michele Bachmann; Herman Cain, the former CEO of a mafia-themed pizza chain; Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and tireless perpetrator of direct mail schemes designed to separate the gullible from their money; Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor, more recently President Obama‘s ambassador to China; Gary Johnson, former New Mexico governor, he‘s the libertarian in the race who is not Ron Paul; Fred Karger, long time Republican Party operative and gay rights activist; Andy Martin, a man who proclaims himself to be the king of the birthers, and who am I to question; Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, politician, guitarist, wear very, very fancy socks in YouTube music videos; Jimmy McMillan, hero to rent payers everywhere; Congressman Ron Paul, who, of course, needs no introduction; former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who would love a introduction, but frankly I‘m busy; Buddy Roemer, who once lost a Republican primary election to David “frickin” Duke, as in Ku Klux Klan guy David Duke; former Massachusetts‘ governor and current moneybags, Willard Mitt Romney; and finally, he who cannot be Googled, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. There are a lot of people who think they should be the Republican Party‘s choice to run against Barack Obama next year. Who has a real shot at it? The way you tell is by polling. And polls are really expensive. Each one costs thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars. And so, if you are a polling firm, particularly if you are polling nationally, you have got to decide who is viable enough as a candidate to warrant inclusion in your poll, who you think has got a real honest to goodness chance. You cannot poll on every one every time, you will go broke. You cannot poll on every candidate. You have to narrow down the field. I mean, are you going to poll, for example, on Mr. Jimmy McMillan? He does seem like a very nice man, and indeed, the rent is too damn high. But he is probably not going to be president or vice president, or even a trial balloon about the possibility of him being vice president. Pollsters have to make what amount to editorial choices when they poll. And yesterday, a major polling firm made a major choice. After Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty performed the opposite of well in its latest poll, the firm Public Policy Polling announced that it was dropping Governor Tim Pawlenty from its general election polling. They are replacing Pawlenty with Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is not even technically running yet. Aww! Although it seems he will run, one of the reasons it seems like Rick Perry is getting close to announcing is that he‘s taking steps to sort of clean up his act, to scrub his record a little bit, to thin out connections between him and some of the more headline worthy people with whom he is currently associated. As you know, Rick Perry is hosting a stadium prayer extravaganza in Texas next weekend to ask God‘s help for policy issues that he doesn‘t have good ideas about. The official endorsers of Rick Perry‘s stadium prayer rally include a pastor who says that talk show host Oprah Winfrey is the harbinger of the antichrist, another pastor who says God sent Hitler to hunt the Jews, another who explains softness in the Japanese stock market as a result of the emperor of Japan having sex with demons. All of those pastors have been highlighted on the Web site of Rick Perry‘s stadium prayer event as event endorsers. They have their names there. They have their pictures there. You got a little information about them. Late last night, however, we at the show noticed something about that. The menu at the top of Rick Perry‘s stadium prayer thing Web site no longer has a link to all of the events endorsers that it has been endorsing all this time. After growing attention to those endorsers, the endorser link has now been removed from Rick Perry‘s Web site, erased, scrubbed unless you speak Spanish. At the Spanish language version of the Rick Perry stadium prayer even Web site, the endosantes still exist. We contacted the Rick Perry folks to see, que paso? What‘s going on here? They informed us that actually the endorsers were not removed from the English language Web site, they were not removed—they were just moved. So, now, to find them, if you click in FAQs and scroll down way past the information about where the event is, and how to get there, and where to park, and whether or not there will be designated areas for bus parking, and where you might want to stay and how much it costs, and the availability of Spanish translation and handicap access, and interpreters for the deaf and bringing a group and what the response believes in, and why it‘s happening and why a person should go—after that, you get to a link about who else is supporting the event. If you click on that, you will get to the old endorsers page. Maybe Governor Perry intended to totally bury all mentioned of the controversial headline grabbing endorsers and he just forgot to deep-six the endorsers list on the site in Espanol. Maybe he intended to keep the list of endorsers easily accessible only to the Spanish-speaking population. We do not know. But I know somebody who might know. Joining us now is Wayne Slater, senior political writer for the “Dallas Morning News.” Wayne, it‘s great to have you back. Thanks for joining us tonight. WAYNE SLATER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Great to be with you. MADDOW: Why do you think the Rick Perry folks made the list of endorsers of his big prayer thing, a needle in a Web site haystack when they used to be right on the front page? And do you think that has political implications here? SLATER: Yes, it has political implication. Look, you can find those endorsers with a divining rod, that‘s about it. It‘s amazing, your discussion. Look, clearly the exotic ideas and news and reports on your show and elsewhere about how exotic and unorthodox some of these religious views are has caused heart burn inside the Perry camp and has really threatened to distract from what they wanted to do. They just say, look, we‘re having a prayer rally, people are going to show up, they are going to pray, they are going to sing, and then when you have the guy who has sex with the sun goddess as part of the story, it‘s not helpful. So, clearly, they wanted to do that. I don‘t think it‘s a real big problem for him because many of the social conservatives, religious conservatives who will be there understand that they are a species, a group that‘s persecuted, they are victims, and that this movement of them is something that‘s understandable. The governor would do this to kind of deflect some of the attention. And even more importantly, one of the things they‘ve also done, the American Family Association, is put up some new co-sponsors, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist, God‘s lobbyists in Washington. These are substantial figures on the religious right on the political side. These are the kind of figures that won‘t get Perry in so much trouble but the people who will attend will say I like those people, too. MADDOW: Doesn‘t he have to finesse that a bit, though? Doesn‘t he have to take somebody like a John Hagee, or the Japanese emperor sex with demons guy who runs a very large church—doesn‘t he have to sort of take their concern seriously that they might feel like they were being thrown under the bus by Rick Perry? He has tried to really court an association with these people and they do, after all, have influence among social conservatives even if, as you say, they are seen as sort of exotic from the point of view of mainstream religion. SLATER: Remember, the mainstream religion and the mainstream media and all the rest of us who noticed this at our level see this going large. But at the same time, Rick Perry, like George Bush and other politicians can micro-cast. They can go to these smaller groups on e-mails, on Web sites, in personal appearances, with representatives and can speak directly to social conservatives, Christian conservatives, who will be assuring them that Perry is behind them, is with them, and is committed to them. That‘s why when Rick Perry said—to the “Des Moines Register,” I think I‘m being called, a religious reference really, it was really designed a kind of religious speech to those folks who he wants to appeal to without causing a big problem at the national level. One of the things that we have been able to see up until this point is Rick Perry and his relationships, how he‘s managing it and, as you say, using things like micro-casting, to sort of micro-target his response or his message to social conservatives. We‘ve been able to cover that. It has been harder to cover Rick Perry‘s relationship with the Republican establishment and with the people who would really catapult him to the category of being a real contender to challenge Mitt Romney for the nomination. We reported last night that fundraisers are meeting in Austin to discuss a Perry presidential run. The governor would be meeting with them later in the evening. Do we know anything about how these big Republican establishment money people are responding to the prospect of a Perry run? SLATER: Well, we know a couple of things. We know that they are looking for somebody—somebody other than Michele Bachmann. Not necessarily somebody other than Tim Pawlenty. Though, the people here in Austin were still unaffiliated and still looking to somebody like Rick Perry. One of the things that Perry heard as part of this gathering, a really blue chip Republican bundler money guys, is that he‘s got a problem, not in Texas where he can raise $4 million, $5 million, $10 million, $20 million fairly easily, but in places like New York City and Wall Street, where some of the big money in this key place of Republican fundraising isn‘t convinced yet that whether they are put off sort of the secessionist talk and his religious affiliations or the suggestion that he is the Tea Party candidate who would not compromise. And Wall Street doesn‘t like this no compromise approach, I don‘t know. But I know that Perry has been given word that he‘s got a weakness in this very key money source and he‘s going to have to take steps if he hopes to raise the kind of money that he would need from Wall Street, New York, and the traditional business Republican establishment. MADDOW: Which means we should probably look out for a Rick Perry speech to the big traditional Republican think tanks, to the Chamber of Commerce, to the Commerce Clubs, to all these different groups to try to establish those bona fides. Wayne Slater, senior political writer for “The Dallas Morning News”— I learn so much about this campaign, the whole campaign, every time I talk to you. Thank you so much, Wayne. SLATER: Great to be with you. MADDOW: All right, we have a live satellite hook up tonight to a tree. We—look, we paid extra money—it‘s live—for the shot of the tree, because the story of this particular tree is an epic tale of revenge and rivalry and tradition and healing and college football and toilet paper. This tree is a hero, and it is the scientific subject of our “Moment of Geek” in just a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Paul Finebaum—excuse me—Paul Finebaum is a prominent radio show host in Alabama. Just every day, all year long, somebody calls Paul Finebaum‘s radio show to talk about the Alabama Auburn football game. It‘s called the Iron Bowl. It is played once a year, even if there is a reason to talk about it every other day of the year. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) CALLER: The weekend after the Iron Bowl, I went to Auburn, Alabama, because I live 30 miles away, and I poisoned the two Toomer‘s Trees. PAUL FINEBAUM: Is that against the law to poison a tree? CALLER: Do you think I care? (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: That confession to tree-ocidal over-exuberant college football rivalry fan-dom is a lot of things. But for our purposes, it has led to a totally unexpected, totally awesome “Moment of Geek” tonight. That is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This is Ely, Nevada, E-L-Y, pronounced Ely, not Eli, no matter how it‘s spelled. If you‘re wondering what‘s by Ely, Nevada, let me relieve you of your troubles—not very much is near Ely, Nevada. It is an old stage coach station for the Pony Express. Today, it‘s got some tourism, it‘s got a few thousand people, it‘s got these bathtub races. And because Ely is so isolated, so out there in the middle of halfway to not really anywhere, it is really very handy that Ely does, at least, have an airport—an adorable airport with two runways and one commercial airline. They also have what they call a jet center advertising first-class hospitality even though you are all the way out there in Ely, Nevada. And in this picture, the Ely, Nevada Airport is the dog. And the man holding the dog is John Mica, Republican congressman from Florida, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Congressman John Micah and the itty bitty airport in Ely, Nevada, are in the news today because the federal agency that regulates air travel in this country, the Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA, that agency is due to shutdown on Friday. The FAA‘s legislative authority expires this Friday, the day after tomorrow. Unless Congress acts, the agency that runs air travel has two days to live—everybody, freak out. The reason not to freak out about this is that the FAA has been this close to shutting down 20 times since the year 2007. September 2007 was when the last long-term authorization of the FAA has expired -- 20 times since then, Congress has passed temporary extension after temporary extension, 20 of them. And now, we come to the 21st time when suddenly, Democrats and Republicans cannot even agree to kick it down the road. They cannot even agree to keep the FAA around on another short-term lease. The “why” of this, the reason they are fighting now this time is that House Republicans are insisting on a provision in the reauthorization to strip union rights from people who work in transportation. Republicans want to make it harder for people who work for airlines and railways to join unions. Republicans want to strip the union rights and Democrats don‘t want to strip those union rights. And so, we have an impasse, deadline is Friday. Time is up. And the reason the dog is looking at John Micah in this picture is that instead of just passing another extension of the FAA and kicking this down the road again, John Micah now says that unless Republicans get their way on the union stripping thing, even a temporary extension, this time, would put the screws to small town airports, by cutting support for the few commercial airlines that serve them. The airports Republicans are going after, it so happens, are in states represented by powerful Senate Democrats who get a say in these matters. The airport in Ely, Nevada, of course, is in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid‘s home state. Here‘s another airport in the Republican list, it‘s in Glendive, Montana, which is not near anything else except for maybe North Dakota. Montana, naturally, is represented by Democratic Senator Max Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and that has a lot to say about the taxes that fund airports and the FAA. And, hey, Alamogordo, New Mexico, another airport on the Republican hit list, represented by Democratic Senator Tom Udall, who serves on the Senate Transportation Committee, which makes Tom Udall the legislative counterpart to Republican Congressman John Micah who is from Florida, where none of the airports are on this new Republican hit list. This is not really overall a fight about airports or subsidies for rural air service, or whether the people of Ely, Nevada, or Glendive, Montana, or Alamogordo, New Mexico, can ever get on a plane. This is not even a fight really about the FAA and regulation of air travel in this country. This is very clearly a fight about union rights and the Republican will in 2011 to strip union rights away at every opportunity. As long as Senate Democrats will not give in to Republican demands to strip union rights here, as long as Senate Democrats stand up for those rights, then the Republicans are telling them these are your two choices, either the FAA can shut down altogether or Republicans start threatening American airports in bunches, and this is just for now. Come September, we are back here again and we‘re going to have to get another dog because something will have already happened to this one if you know what I mean. Is this too graphic a metaphor? Yes, it is. But that is how Republicans are trying to govern on the issue of union rights right now. That is really how they are doing it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In 1992, Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush in the presidential election. Bush 41 became a one-term president. Bush got 43 percent of the vote in that election to Bush‘s 37 percent. And those numbers do not add up to 100 percent—not even close. Somebody else ran that year as an independent and took 19 percent of the vote, a Texas billionaire named Ross Perot. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROSS PEROT, TEXAS BILLIONAIRE: Pretty simple: If you‘re paying $12, $13, $14 an hour for factory workers and you can move your factory South of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor, hire young—let‘s assume you‘ve been in business for a long time and you‘ve got a mature work force pay a dollar an hour for your labor, have no health care—that‘s the most expensive single element in making a car—have no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement, and you don‘t care about anything but making money, there will be a giant sucking sound going south. We‘ve got to clean this mess up, leave this country in good shape, and pass on the American dream to them. We‘ve got to collect the taxes to do it. If there‘s a fair way, I‘m all ears. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Ross Perot got nearly 20 percent of the vote in a presidential election. For awhile he was first got into the race as a third party candidate, he was first in polls in California and in his home state of Texas. Ross Perot was popular in Texas because frankly he was a great character. Even though he was quite pint sized and he had kind of a funny voice, he carried himself as a tall, tough Texan. His populist economic message helped with that. Another big part of his popularity was his business savvy that made him a billionaire for founding and then selling computer services companies that employed tens of thousands of people. But Ross Perot was popular in part because he had a habit of making grand gestures of topics close to people‘s heart. For example, in 1989, a man tried to murder a tree, the last of Austin, Texas‘ Council Oaks oak tree, tried to murder it with a massive dose of herbicide. Ross Perot responded to this Texas crisis by handing over a blank check to pay for the cost of nursing the tree back to health. The costs reportedly ran into six figures. That tree these days I have to say is not in great shape, but it is still alive and it produced its first acorns eight years after it almost got tree murdered and it produced those acorns and survived—thanks in large part to Ross Perot and his act of generosity. Now, America is dealing with another sentimental case of attempted tree murder. It happened earlier this year at Auburn University in Alabama when somebody poisoned two oak trees in Auburn. And this time, there was not so much a one blank check Ross Perot figure to come to the rescue. This time, there‘s an entire community of people from locals and alumni and students, to people just riveted by the news coverage of this who have joined Facebook groups and donated money to pay for an effort to try and save these trees—even entering a lottery to buy seedlings of the poisoned tree to try to keep their genetics alive somehow. Here‘s what happened—in January, a man called into a Alabama radio station to claim that he had done the unthinkable by the Auburn trees. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) CALLER: The weekend after the Iron Bowl, I went to Auburn, Alabama, because I live 30 miles away, and I poisoned the two Toomer‘s Trees. I put Spike 80DF in them. PAUL FINEBAUM: Did they die? CALLER: What? PAUL FINEBAUM: Did they die? CALLER: They‘re not dead yet, but they definitely will die. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: The reason that man allegedly targeted these 130-year-old live oak trees is that they are where Auburn football fans celebrate when their team wins. They wrap the trees in massive quantities of toilet paper. They call it rolling the trees. But now that the trees have been poisoned, the university is collecting rolls of toilet paper instead with get well notes for the trees. This is what the trees looked like before. Here‘s what they look like now, tonight, about six months after the attack was discovered. Auburn University has convened a task force to save the trees—experts in everything from horticulture to chemistry to try to fight this poison and keep the trees alive. So far, they have removed and replaced contaminated soil from around the trees roots. They‘ve added activated liquid charcoal to try to neutralize the affects of the poison. They coated the leaves with what‘s called an anti-transference. The point of that, I believe, is to slow down the trees‘ metabolism, to reduce the amount of water the trees have to send to their leaves because by doing that, that could make them take up through their roots in new water, less new water contaminated by the poison. Joining us now for tonight‘s “Moment of Geek” to help understand all of this is Gary Keever. He‘s a professor of horticulture at Auburn. He‘s a member of the task force trying to save the Toomer‘s Corner Oaks. Professor Keever, thank you so much for your time. GARY KEEVER, AUBURN UNIVERSITY: Glad to be here, and War Eagle. MADDOW: Can I ask you to explain the point of the anti-transference on the leaves better than I just did? KEEVER: Sure. The leaves have openings on the backside that serve for gas exchange. The anti-transference tends to coat those openings so the gas exchange doesn‘t occur. The gas that‘s lost from the leaf is water vapor. And this process of losing water vapor creates a tension stream in the conductive tissue of the tree and it pulls water up from the root zone. At the same time the water is pulled up, the herbicide is also pulled up and moves from the root zone to the trunk to the foliage. MADDOW: I know that you used also liquid charcoal to try to keep the poison out of the root system. How does that work? KEEVER: Well, what we use—we actually use both liquid and powdered activated charcoal. And this has a tremendous surface area, and it also has a high cation exchange capacity. That means that it has little sites on the particles that bind other chemicals. And what we did with it is with fluid activated charcoal, we poured it into the root zone and watered it in, the intention with this was to bind the herbicide until we could get around to removing the soil, the contaminated soil. MADDOW: In terms of removing the soil, I know you built a little bit of a barrier around the tree. That you have gone to great lengths to get the contaminated soil out from those trees. They‘re old trees. And I imagine you can‘t just uproot them and move them anywhere to make them more safe. What‘s the—what was the process by which you took the soil away from the trees as best you could, while still trying to keep them standing and safe? KEEVER: OK. It was really a two-step process. We built these plastic greenhouses to enclose the area around the two beds that the trees are growing in. The purpose of this was to retain any dust that was blown up during the loosening of the soil around the roots. Our first attempt at removing soil involved coming in with what‘s called an air spade and is basically these instruments that are attached to an air compressor. And it‘s used to blast soil off of the roots, and it does minimal damage to the roots. And the enclosure kept us from contaminating other areas. We used this in combination with what I call a super vacuum. This large truck with a hose on it that would suck the loosened soil out and we would carry that to a disposal site. We then came back in later, when we realized we didn‘t get all the contaminated soil out, and we used high pressure water to break up more of the soil and go deeper into the beds, and we also used a similar truck to suck out the slurry of water and soil. This was carried off to isolated sites. MADDOW: Professor Keever, bottom line, what‘s your prognosis? How do how and when will you know if these trees have survived or if it was too late? KEEVER: Well, from the very beginning we knew that this herbicide had a proven track record of killing trees. It‘s been around since the ‘70s, it‘s extremely toxic. It has a half life, meaning that it breaks down slowly over a 12 to 15-month period. The activity is only reduced by 50 percent. So, it will persist in the soil for five to seven years and we have seen the tree‘s decline over the summer in the heat and humidity of the south Alabama site. And while the trees have declined, they‘re also putting out a new flush of growth following leaf defoliation. So, we‘re not ready to give up on them yet, but the prognosis is not very good. MADDOW: Gary Keever, professor of horticulture at Auburn University, men working night and day to keep these trees alive—thank you so much for your time tonight, sir, for helping us understand this. And good luck. Appreciate it. KEEVER: Thank you. Appreciate it. MADDOW: We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In 1987, Ronald Reagan told Congress—forgive the phrase here—to get their freaking act together and raise the debt ceiling. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veteran benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets and the federal deficit would soar. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: That little graphic of Reagan‘s words from 1987 was done by the Democrats yesterday. The Democrats because it‘s today‘s Republicans now who say they don‘t think the country defaulting would be any big deal. Today, Democrats went back to that same well, delivering to every Republican in Congress this letter that Reagan wrote to Senate Republicans in 1983. Quote, “The full consequences of a default or even a serious prospect of a default by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the U.S. would have substantial affects on the domestic financial markets and on the value of the dollar. The nation can ill afford to allow such a result. The risks, the costs, the disruptions and the incalculable damage lead me to but one conclusion, the Senate must pass this legislation to raise the debt ceiling.” If you want to see this online in its original 1983 type phase and real Reagan signature glory, one place can you do that is at the Web site of Raul Grijalva, Democrat, proud liberal, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. He has the Reagan letter posted at his Web site today. And it is the Progressive Caucus sent this to all Republicans today. Is this because liberals have fallen in love with Ronald Reagan in 2011? Is it because liberals have decided that Ronald “giant deficit, voodoo economics, richer” Reagan was right about the economy? No. No, no, no and no. It is because liberals and Democrats, broadly, are now to the point of using anything they can think of to try to get through to Republicans. If you guys don‘t believe the Treasury Department when they say default would be a disaster, if you don‘t believe the Fed when they say default would be a disaster, if you don‘t believe the banks or the ratings agencies when they say default would be a disaster, if you don‘t believe the economists, Republican economists, when they say default would be a disaster—do you guys believe Ronald Reagan? Could Ronaldus Magnus really be wrong, Republicans? That does it for us tonight. Thanks for being with us. Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.” Have a good night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END