IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/05/11

Guests: David Yepsen, Tim Pawlenty, Dafna Linzer

ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: Rachel, did you know the Republican Party -- I was stunned yesterday watching "Meet the Press." It`s you and me -- they`re concerned about us. RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Well, Ed, I very rarely feel a warm feeling toward the Republican Party. I feel it`s smart and sweet of them. SCHULTZ: I knew they were concerned about you. Now they`re concerned about me. I`m feeling really good, you know? MADDOW: They have great taste. Thank you, Ed. Thanks very much. SCHULTZ: You bet. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. Happy Monday. So, what did poor children do to deserve this? What could poor children have done that was so wrong that earned them the role that they are now playing in American presidential politics? The current front- runner for the Republican nomination for president, the man who`s leading in three of the four early voting states, as well as in the national polls, has now made his third in a series of policy pronouncements about what he wants to do to poor children. I ask you again, what they have done to deserve this. First, the candidate advocated making poor children janitors at their own schools. Poor children would be taken out of class and given a mop. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They`d be dramatically less expensive than unionized janitors. And you`d begin to reestablish the dignity of work. And in very poor neighborhoods, you have to literally reestablish the dignity of work. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Right, because poor people don`t know anything about work. Also child labor, underappreciated factor about it, it`s very cheap. Deciding that one policy pronouncement about poor kids was not enough. Mr. Gingrich then suggested that poor kids could be assistant janitors and they would specifically be responsible for cleaning the toilets. So poor children would be responsible under a Newt Gingrich presidency for cleaning up the urine and feces of the other children in their schools. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: I will tell you personally, I believe, the kids could mop the floor and clean out the bathroom and get paid for it, and it would be OK. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: But because poor children are such a rich vain for this year`s presidential campaign, that, too, wasn`t enough. And so, today, we learned of a third proposal from the presidential front-runner. Now, he says poor children should be put to work for Donald Trump. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN: He did mention, if I could do something for some of the kids in very, very poor schools throughout the city -- I thought it was a great idea. We`re going to be picking 10 young, wonderful children and we`re going to make them apprenti. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Apprenti. If you thought the Republican presidential nominating contest was going to get less weird now that Herman Cain has dropped out, welcome to the new normal. As we reported that he would on Friday night, Mr. Cain officially suspended his campaign for the presidency on Saturday afternoon. The root word in this case of suspended is ended. If you were at all persuaded by my thesis that Herman Cain has been not so much a candidate but rather an art project about being a candidate, the way that Mr. Cain to bow out of the race will not disabuse you of that notion. For starters, there was the fact that the event at which he announced the end of his campaign was described by his staff as the opening of a new campaign office in Georgia, it`s a little like doing a big ceremonial ribbon cutting at an eviction. Immediately before Mr. Cain took to the podium to announce he was ending his campaign, a featured speaker at the event asked people to come down and volunteer at the new campaign office. As Mr. Cain announced that his campaign was ending, he also announced that a new Herman Cain-related thing was just beginning. The banner awkwardly dropping behind him to reveal a new organization called What`s Unclear. That Web site is still under construction at this moment. "The New York Times" reporting the Web site was registered the day before Mr. Cain`s announcement by a Georgia company that`s called Bell Research. Bell Research among other things makes low fat powered peanut butter. All the yummy goodness of peanut butter without the hefty calories that usually come with it. And so, the artist formally known as Herman Cain and that whole phase of the Republican primary this year, that`s over. The phase has been replaced by new post-Herman Cain serious nominating phase of the Republican presidential nominating process wherein the front-runner is Newt Gingrich and he has tried to solidify his hold on Iowa this weekend by attending a book signing on Staten Island in New York City. Mr. Gingrich then tried to win Iowa the following day by attending the celebrity studded Kennedy Center honors in Washington, D.C. Tickets for that event were apparently $5,000. He then continued trying to win Iowa today by taking a meeting with Donald Trump and making their joint announcement about his vision of poor children being apprenti to Donald Trump. Donald Trump, himself, has a book that has just come out apparently, shocker. So, this is working out great for him. If you`ve got a book to sell, it`s obvious why you`d want to be a presidential debate moderator. It`s obvious why you would want to be associated with the front-runner for a major party presidential nomination. It is harder to see why that major party would want to be associated with you if you are Donald Trump. In Mr. Trump`s book promotion/self-promotion media appearances today, he not only announced the Newt Gingrich-endorsed poor children as apprenti program, he also made a weird crack about the religion of two of the Republican Party`s candidates for president. And he continues to push the theory that President Obama is secretly foreign, and therefore secretly not really president. He`s still pushing the whole birtherism thing. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Mr. Huntsman called my office a number of times trying to set up a meeting. I didn`t have a meeting with him. And then he went on the debate and he said I didn`t meet with Mr. Trump like everybody else in the room. So, you know, I`m sure he`ll tell the truth about that because he`s a Mormon. Whether or not he was born here, you know, to me it means something, but I guess it doesn`t mean a lot to a lot of people. But to me, it happens to mean something. The fact they can`t find any records in the hospital that his mother was ever in the hospital, you know, that to me means something. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: At one point this year, Donald Trump, that man you just heard speaking, was the front-runner for Republican nomination for president. But apparently, that was not just an aberration, that was not just a weird glitch in this year`s political history. We`re now having round two of Donald Trump as a leading indicator in Republican presidential politics. The presidential front-runner for the Republican Party, Newt Gingrich, has now said he will happily participate in the debate that Mr. Trump is set to moderate in Iowa later this month. The sideshow has been moved inside the tent. The sideshow has now been put in the main ring of the circus. If you thought Michele Bachmann was going to be the fringe in this campaign, now the fringe is the front- runner. For mainstream Republicans who may be a little bewildered by this surrealist turn of events in their party`s politics, for you guys I think, the silver lining here is that this late strong showing in the polls by Mr. Gingrich has caused the Mitt Romney campaign to wake up and actually start campaigning a little more vigorously. In what is perhaps a reaction to the challenge from Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Romney -- his ads used to end like this, with this image of Mitt Romney standing stiffly behind a podium in New Hampshire. Now, Mr. Romney`s ads end like this. Mr. Romney hand in hand with his lovely wife. Mr. Romney also featuring his wife in a softball interview with "Parade" magazine this week, playing up his family values bona fides, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, Newt Gingrich. For instance, Mr. Romney was asked by "Parade," quote, "How do you like to spend your Sundays when you`re not campaigning?" Mr. Romney responded in part, quote, "Well, in the afternoon, we`ll watch a football game, tell stories, wrestle." Wrestle? Mr. Romney goes on to explain how at their mansion in New Hampshire, they like to spend time playing on their private manmade beach. It`s hard for Mitt Romney to seem like a regular Joe, but at least they are finally trying, right? At least they paired him up with his wife and family and they`re trying to show him as a human being who one might conceivably relate to. The campaign also unveiling a grab-a-bite with Mitt promotion online today. Donate $5 and win a chance to join Mitt for a meal. The campaign throwing in the folksy sounding, "if it`s up to Mitt, it will probably be pizza" -- which unfortunately calls to mind the revelation of the latest politico e-book about the campaign that Mr. Romney does not allow himself to consume the cheese when he eats pizza. Pizza must be freed of cheese before it encounters Romney-bot. Romney-bot, no fat. But again, he`s trying. It appears that this sort of out of nowhere challenge from Newt Gingrich late in the campaign is forcing Mitt Romney to at least try to become a better candidate. And if he makes it to the general election, that will probably suit both Mr. Romney and the Republican Party well. This is probably good for them. It`s all depend on, though, if he makes it through the general election. He will have to go through Newt Gingrich, first, which is astonishing giving how Newt Gingrich has been barely bothering to run what looks like a campaign. Last week, it was revealed that Mr. Gingrich failed to file the required number of state delegates in New Hampshire. The way it works is you submit a list of 40 supporters to the New Hampshire secretary of state`s office. Newt Gingrich could not come up with 40, he only managed to list 27, which means if he wins the state, he conceivably can only pick up 27 delegates. Mr. Gingrich will not appear on the ballot for the Missouri primary in the beginning of February. His explanation, he said he didn`t want to qualify for the Missouri ballot anyway. Despite his campaign still apparently knocking the rust off, Newt Gingrich leads Mitt Romney by nine points in the key early voting state of Iowa. Mr. Gingrich has opened up a big lead there, even though he only ran his first Iowa TV ad today. And even though he did not get around to opening up a campaign headquarters in Iowa until last week. This is the new normal in running for president in the Republican Party. Good-bye, Herman Cain. Hello, apprenti. Joining us now is a man who knows what it takes to win Iowa in any year. David Yepsen, director of Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. He covered every Iowa presidential caucus campaign since 1976 for "The Des Moines Register." Mr. Yepsen, thank you very much for joining us tonight. DAVID YEPSEN, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY: It`s good to be with you. MADDOW: I think that Americans absorbed enough information about the Iowa process to know that organization is important and retail politics, meeting people is important. But can you tell us why that is the case? What about the Iowa process requires those things? YEPSEN: Because you`re asking people to go out on a cold January night, find some school or courthouse or church basement and then stand around for a couple of hours. And so, it`s helpful to find, to have an organization that can find your most motivated supporters, can remind them to get out, and on the margins, I think it`s helpful. Now, it may not be as important this cycle as it has been in the past. The cycle is shorter. We`ve seen the power of these debates to change the campaign dialogue. And so, I think organization is important, but it may not be as important as it`s been in the past. MADDOW: Do you think that Iowa voters are swayed by the same sorts of political winds that are swaying the rest of the national polls? Or is there something in particular that you think the Iowa Republican voter is looking for that might not match the way the rest of the country is looking at and judging between these various candidates? YEPSEN: Well, I think, we`re not talking about Iowa and Iowa electorate. We`re talking about Republicans and we`re talking about Republican activists. Out of the state of 3 million people, there`s probably a target audience of 150,000 of the most active people in the Republican Party. So, they do tend to be a little better educated, little higher income and a little more conservative than the electorate as a whole. That said, I think even social conservatives are saying in that state that the most important issue to them is jobs, is the economy, is health care. These are all the issues that they cite as important ones in their decision. But, Rachel, the decision goes beyond just a checklist. It`s more of a gut-level decision, about how they feel about these individuals that are running for president. Do I see this person as a potential president? Do I see them in the Oval Office? And I think they get a chance to take a real close measure of individuals and sometimes they like what they see and elevate them. Other times, they don`t like what they see and vote against them and tend to win from the field of candidates. I think that process is going on right now on the Republican side. MADDOW: It seems like it remains to be seen, that sort of gut-level - - looking for a gut-level match that you were describing. That remains kind of a major unknown with the Mitt Romney candidacy, whether voters are almost viscerally comfortable with him as a man, and as a candidate, as a potential Republican nominee. He`s not thought this year as being a good ideological match with the conservative Iowa Republican electorate that you`re describing. But I wonder if you see in Iowa that Mr. Romney has been running the more professional, more experienced, more savvy campaign. Is his campaign in good shape in Iowa? YEPSEN: Well, it`s not as in good a shape as he should want it to be. He got in late. It`s interesting, he made a -- he was going back and forth about whether he got into Iowa. And then -- got in. And I think it was a wise move because you had the conservatives chopping up the vote all up and down the line. It was much like 1980 when George Herbert Walker Bush won with a plurality, because other conservative candidates carved up the other end of the spectrum. Romney gets in, and what happens? The Herman Cain episode occurred and he drops out of the race. Some of the conservative vote is now starting to coalesce. Mitt Romney has got an authenticity problem with the Iowa Republicans. It isn`t just issues. They`re not sure where he is on a lot of things. He can still win with moderates. He can still do well with moderates. Rachel, 60 percent of the caucus-goers say in the polls that they could be persuaded to change their mind. And if we`re talking about 60 percent to 40 percent, 40 percent to 60 percent, somewhere in there of the caucus-goers are social conservatives, you know, that means another 40 percent to 60 percent are not. And so I think that there is still an opportunity for Mitt Romney to go in there and say we have to have a sensible Republican candidate and I can be that. MADDOW: Does it make sense to you there will be a Donald Trump- moderated debate that includes at least one of the front-runners in Newt Gingrich? Does that -- do you see how that jibes with the Iowa Republican electorate and their concerns right now? YEPSEN: Well, these caucuses have always been something of an entertainment for people in Iowa during some cold winter months. You know, that`s been true in both parties. Celebrities come in and they do things and they endorse candidates. Iowa caucus-goers make up their own minds. They`ll take this debate he`s going to do, no matter what shows up. Some will pay attention to it, some won`t. The important thing would be to watch and see if anybody makes a mistake. Debates maybe don`t help candidate as much as they can hurt them. You can ask Rick Perry how that works. And so, I think -- I think it will count for something, but I -- that close to the election, all the candidates who appear are going to want to do well because they`re not going to have time to recover from a mistake. You know, Donald Trump is not the most popular guy with Iowa Republicans. He stiffed them on an event he said he was going to do. You know, we got some polling data that shows by 2-1, he`s a liability to people he endorses. So, you know, I think if he`s trying to help one candidate or another, he has to be careful how he does it. MADDOW: I was wondering if saying yes to this debate might, itself, be the mistake for the candidates. But so far, that`s not been the calculation. This is going to be fascinating to watch. David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute -- thanks for joining us tonight. I feel lucky to have you here. Thank you. YEPSEN: Thank you. MADDOW: All right. The interview tonight, Tim Pawlenty. Finally. I know. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANNOUNCER: Four times before, they clashed. MADDOW: Governor Pawlenty, it`s a pleasure to have you on the show tonight. Thank you so much for being with us. ANNOUNCER: Four times before, it was epic. TIM PAWLENTY (R), FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: I`m happy to be here, and you`re funny, Rachel. ANNOUNCER: She`s invariably courteous. MADDOW: Thank you for being on the show. I appreciate it. ANNOUNCER: He`s impossibly friendly. Until he`s not. PAWLENTY: Tell Rachel Maddow that -- LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: She`s listening. PAWLENTY: -- she`s been afraid of me. She used to have me on her show. And she`s ducking me, bobbing, weaving. She`s ducking me. So, tell her to come out and let`s have it on. ANNOUNCER: Governor Nice Guy talk junk. Well, two people known for being respectful can play that game. MADDOW: Governor Pawlenty, you say I`m ducking you, but at this point, I`m rubber, you`re glue. Stop talking smack if you can`t back it up. ANNOUNCER: But is Rachel Maddow tough enough to face down a Midwestern family man who likes to watch hockey fights? Just ask the fish, 12/5/11. Pawlenty/Maddow V. Push comes to gov. Available in this cable and see your local listings or just don`t change the channel. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That`s why there are special rules taped up on MSNBC on the doors of the editing rooms that ban THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff from the editing rooms at peak hours because that`s the kind of thing we do. That`s why we can`t have nice things. Joining us tonight for the long-awaited interview on this program is the former Minnesota governor and former Republican presidential candidate, Tim Pawlenty. At last we clash, Governor. PAWLENTY: Well, Rachel, I was having a little fun with you when I made those remarks and you go get serious on me. You go rhetorically postal. You kind of lose it. And then I come on your set a week or so ago and you brush me off. So, I had to come back. I`ve been trying. So, here I am. I`m ready. MADDOW: You know, you must have a different definition of postal than I do. If you think that was me losing it, oh, sir. PAWLENTY: No, I was just having a little fun with you and you took it seriously. I thought, here`s Rachel Maddow, you know, somebody who`s got a lot of capacity, obviously. I have a little fun with her and you took it over the cliff. MADDOW: Yes, it`s true. I`m completely unreasonable. But if you prefer, we could just talk about politics instead of having a big fight. PAWLENTY: All right. Let`s do that. MADDOW: Let`s do that. All right. You are -- you`ve been a very good sport about this, I should say. All right. You`re signed up for the Romney campaign now. So, I know you have to give us his campaign`s line on things to a certain extent. But why do you think that Donald Trump and Rick Perry and Herman Cain and now, Newt Gingrich have gone through cycles of outpolling Mr. Romney? Why has he not been able to sew up support from Republican voters over time? PAWLENTY: Well, I would turn that around and ask, why has Mitt Romney been the front-runner or near front-runner status since day one? Why has he been such a consistently steady, strong candidate in the race? Other candidates have risen and fallen, risen and fallen. And it`s remarkable to the positive that you have Mitt Romney being so steady at such a high level throughout. I think the reason for that, Rachel, is he has these strengths -- conservative private sector business person, didn`t spend his whole life in government. He is steady. He`s smart. He`s capable. He`s knowledgeable. And he`s got a great record. And so, he`s not perfect. None of the candidates are. The president of the United States isn`t perfect. So, we`re not here to say he`s perfect, but he`s, in my view, the most capable, the most knowledgeable, the most electable candidate in this race by far. MADDOW: He has been sort of de facto in the race, or at least in the room considering running for president for a very long time. I was living in Massachusetts when he was governor and we all knew when he was governor that he was going to run for president. He made a run for it in 2008. He`s making a run for it now. People had a long time to know him. But all this year, while you say he has been sort of steady toward the top, he can`t seem to really get higher than, say, mid-20s. We`ve been calling him Mr. 22 Percent. Everybody else has risen and fallen over time. And there does seem to be the ceiling on his support. I can`t imagine he needs to tell Republican voters anything more about him that they don`t already know. PAWLENTY: Well, keep in mind, Ronald Reagan spent many years -- in fact, a decade or more, running, not being successful, laying the groundwork intellectually and philosophically for the next campaign. And then the moment in history was right for him to become president. And we know the rest of the story. And as to Governor Romney, as to Mitt, he`s been running against a field of six, seven, eight people. It`s very hard to break out when you have that much dilution in the field. As this aggregates down to literally or actually or practically I should say down to a few candidates, I think you`ll see him do very well. But I don`t think it`s a negative that he`s been at or near the top of the field the whole time. I think that`s actually a positive that he`s been that steady, that strong for that long. MADDOW: If you were still in the race right now, would you say yes to the Donald Trump debate? PAWLENTY: Well, I know Governor Romney has that under consideration. He hasn`t said no. I don`t know the format. I don`t know what the rules are. So, it`s hard for me to say whether I`d say yes or no to it. But I think your previous guest said it well, Iowans are accustom to people coming in and supporting candidates. You know, they find this to be an interesting thing in Iowa. Of course, the debate isn`t just about Iowa. It`s about the whole country. But Donald Trump is going to bring a different take to it. He`ll probably draw more interest and if he can get more people more interested and more informed, you know, what`s the harm on that? MADDOW: You know, I wouldn`t have pushed back on you at all on that before Donald Trump gave interviews today, one big conference call thing, and one interview, where he just went off again on the birther idea -- floating the idea and still arguing for the idea that President Obama is secretly foreign and therefore not the president of the United States and that is an unsettled issue and he thinks that`s a matter of national significance that ought to be discussed in the presidential race. That`s still his platform. He says he might get back into the presidential race next year. PAWLENTY: Yes. But, Rachel -- MADDOW: Given that, do we really understand any format in which it would be OK to legitimatize that guy on the national stage? PAWLENTY: Well, I mean, Al Sharpton has a show on your network. He has said all kinds of things in the past that some people might think are off the mark or unusual. MADDOW: What are you going to put up against the birtherism on Al Sharpton there? PAWLENTY: Well, we`ve all done and said things, made comments, taken positions with the passage of time, better information or the like, you might look back and say, you know, that probably wasn`t the best move. But as to the birther issue, my personal view is that should be put to rest. I believe President Obama was born in the United States. It`s a nonissue as far as I`m concerned. Donald Trump has a different view of that, but that`s why we have a democracy. People can express their views. They have free speech. It doesn`t mean they`re right. It just means they have the ability to express it. So I understand that`s in my view and your view that issue doesn`t have credibility. But I don`t think we should forever chastise him because he feels he has the right to express it. MADDOW: It`s not in the past. He did do it this morning. So, it`s not like this is something you can look back on with the passage and time and say -- PAWLENTY: I know. I know it`s a hot button issue for you. I think most of the country has moved on. He obviously still thinks it`s an important issue. But I would just suggest to you, and I think you know this, that presidential race isn`t going to rise or fall on that issue. We got millions of people, over 10 million people unemployed. We`ve got an economy that`s in the tank. We`re going to have a debate amongst other things about who`s the best person to lead this country back toward a more prosperous, vibrant economy? And if you look at the candidates, there`s only one person spent the bulk of his life starting businesses, growing businesses in the private sector, providing jobs, it`s Mitt Romney. And I think that`s going to be one of the main reasons he`s going to be the next president. MADDOW: The reason I`m going to have you back again and chase you around the country to get you back, it`s ridiculous that that debate you`re talking about is going to be moderated by birther Donald Trump. And Mitt Romney has to explain the part of his private sector experience that was about closing businesses and sending all the American jobs overseas. PAWLENTY: Rachel, now, come on, be fair. MADDOW: I am. PAWLENTY: Bain Capital, if you look at the net job increases, when he was at Bain Capital, the number of jobs under his supervision increased, didn`t decrease. Now, there`s individual companies that had a hard time ort went bad. But overall, it was a net job increase, not increase. MADDOW: A net job increase being associated with big companies like Staples, but you go to a place like Marion, Indiana, and you talk to them about how Bain and Company left them in the lurch and shipped their jobs overseas, took the jobs back and made them worse jobs. And if they didn`t want them back, they got shipped overseas. That`s as much of the record as Staples is. So, I -- PAWLENTY: Sure. MADDOW: Yes? PAWLENTY: Rachel, let`s -- if you look at Bain Capital, Mitt by all accounts was a successful leader there, well liked. And people at Bain had high regard for him, not just as a leader but as a person. Number two, if you look at the whole Bain story, and private equity firms buy and sell companies, hold them for periods of time and did that over many years. So, are there going to be some companies that had difficult times, went bankrupt, had layoffs? Of course. But if you look at the full record and be fair minded about it, you`re going to see that the story is one of a net job add. And so, I know you want to be fair minded. I hope you`ll look at the whole story, not just one slice of it. MADDOW: I will -- I want to talk about the whole story. I have a feeling I`m going to for a long time provided Mitt Romney doesn`t lose to Newt Gingrich early on in the primaries. And I have a feeling that I`m going to have that conversation with you, sir, because you`re going to come back, aren`t you? PAWLENTY: Well, I will come back. But, you know, I got to be careful how I say that because you`ll chastise me mercilessly and rhetorically beat head and shoulders for months. And I got other things to do. I got to go get a job, I`ve got other responsibilities. I can`t just be the foil for you and Lawrence O`Donnell all the time. MADDOW: I understand that. But, you know, life is a hockey fight. But I`m willing to fight it out with you, sir. PAWLENTY: All right. MADDOW: Governor Pawlenty, thank you for your time. I really appreciate it. PAWLENTY: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: When you think about the Constitution, other than thinking of it as a physical thing you might pull out of your hip pocket and brandish at someone during an argument, when you think of the Constitution, what do you think of? You think of the big stuff, right? You think of the separation of powers, you think of the basics of who we are as a country, divided government, checks and balances, no king, the bill of rights. But the Constitution also prescribes some really, really specific nuts and bolts things, too. The Census, for example. The reason we get counted every 10 years is because the Constitution says we have to. The idea of the president delivering periodic State of the Union addresses, that`s n the Constitution. The post office, there is such a thing as the United States Postal Service because of the Constitution, because the Constitution specifically gives Congress the power to create the post office. The Founding Fathers wanted us to have a Postal Service -- which is why the news today from the postal service seemed so particularly disastrous. At Congress` insistence, the Postal Service trying to cut costs by $20 billion. And part of the plan to do that now involves lowering the post office`s delivery standards for the first time in 40 years. The plan involves closing down about half the postal service`s mail processing centers and slowing down first-class mail delivery, making the post office which functions very well -- thank you very much -- and purposely making it run worse. So if you were getting your Netflix movies nice and quick, if in fact that quick delivery was crucial to the success of businesses like Netflix and many others, well, too bad, thanks to Congress, the post office is about to slow the whole enterprise down. This very specific super useful American thing that is specifically provided for in the Constitution is now poised to drop its own standards unless there is a "We the people" outcry over them being forced into this new plan. One of the other really specific things provided for in the Constitution is the presidential pardon. After you`ve exhausted all of the rights you`re guaranteed in the criminal justice system, there`s one very specific right that`s given to the president and the president, alone. It`s the right to issue a pardon. And something seems to have gone terribly awry with that power now. That`s next in a primetime exclusive. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. Remember Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon? Gerald Ford using his power as president to let the previous president off the hook for Watergate. Remember Poppy Bush pardoning all the Reagan administration officials that were going to go to the pokey for Iran Contra? Tonight, a new presidential pardon scandal that ranks right up there. That`s next. Stay tuned. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In Article 2 Section 2 of the Constitution, the president is given the power to pardon people. For a country that took great pains to be really un-kinglike, the pardon power is sort of kinglike. It`s basically an absolute power given to the president alone. It has been used thousands of times by presidents, and most of the time, pardons aren`t that a big deal. That said, sometimes, they are scandalous, like Gerald Ford`s pardon of Richard Nixon in 1974, or like the Iran Contra pardons from President George H.W. Bush pardoned Reagan administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who`s about to go on trial in his role in allegedly illegally selling arms to Iranians and using the money to fund rebel groups in Nicaragua which Congress explicitly said it would be illegal to fund. So, sometimes, pardons are scandalous. Sometimes, pardons are a nice mix of pitiful and disgusting, like when on his last day in office, President Clinton pardoned a man named Marc Rich, who is a fugitive charged with tax fraud and with running illegal oil deals with Iran. His ex-wife was a big Democratic fund-raiser and lobbied heavily for the Marc Rich pardon and she gave lots of money to the Clinton Library. So, sometimes pardons make scandals. But most of the time, we hear very little about them. And we hear nothing about it when somebody is denied a pardon. That is one reason why "ProPublica`s" blockbuster new investigation into the pardon process is ground breaking. Through a Freedom of Information Act request and a lot of shoe leather reporting thereafter, "ProPublica" gained access to nearly 2,000 pardon request under President George W. Bush. They then analyzed a random sample of 500 or so of those cases. And with rigorous statistical analysis, controlling for all other factors, check out what they found. Look at this. Quote, "White criminals seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities." White people are 400 percent more likely to get a presidential pardon than African-Americans and other minorities. Even when you control for the type of crime, the sentence, et cetera. After the Clinton Marc Rich scandal, President George W. Bush decided he would not handle pardon requests directly through the White House. They`d all be delegated to a little office at the Justice Department called the office of the pardon attorney. That office would make recommendations and President Bush would then have the choice whether or not to follow those recommendations. When the White House looks at a pardon recommendation from that little Justice Department office, the president is not told the race of the person who wants the pardon. Of course, the office of the pardon attorney says that race plays no role whatsoever in whether they recommend someone should get a pardon, or shouldn`t get one. But somehow, it is the outcome of the squirrely process that you are four times as likely to be pardoned simply by virtue of you being a white person. Quote, "Every drug offender forgiven during the Bush administration at the pardon attorney`s recommendation, 34 of them, every single one, was a white person." And although race is the most striking factor here, the "ProPublica" investigation also found other weird things that affect your likelihood of getting a pardon, like, say, whether you`ve been divorced, whether you are in debt, and, of course, whether you have a friend in Congress. Pardon applicants who had a friend in Congress were three times as likely to be pardoned as a person who didn`t have a friend on the Hill doing that for them. The president`s power to pardon is an extraordinary power. In a country like ours, it is extraordinary for a president to have a power like that. It is an extraordinary power given to the elected official from whom we expect the most and the most extraordinary responsibility. Fobbing that responsibility off to a secretive back water office neither absolves the president for that responsibility, nor does it seem to be a way to produce particularly sane outcomes. Joining us is "ProPublica" senior reporter, Dafna Linzer. She wrote this piece about presidential pardons, along with her colleague, Jennifer LaFleur. Dafna, congratulations on the scoop. I know you`ve been working this a long time. DAFNA LINZER, PROPUBLICA SENIOR REPORTER: Yes, thank you very much. MADDOW: Let me ask you first if I got any of that wrong? I know that was only touching on what you found. But was that a fair summary? LINZER: Yes, it was exactly right. And I think you`re right that, you know, forgiveness is really what a pardon is about. It just is only going to one segment of society. Only white applicants are receiving this presidential forgiveness. Others are not getting it. MADDOW: It made me think of that "Saturday Night Live" skit where the black actor woke up in the morning as a white person and went to the newsstand and got the paper for free. Wait a minute, this is how it works? Right. There`s this -- it is a documentation of really, really specific white privilege, that if you are white, you`ll be allowed all sorts of things in your pardon application that minority applicants never got away with. How does the office of the pardon attorney and indeed the justice structure around the pardoning process explain this racial disparity? LINZER: You know, they haven`t. They haven`t explained it to us at all. We went to them months before we published the story to tell sort of what the findings were looking like and to say to them, look, you know, here we are, we`ve got this gigantic race disparity right at the heart of the president`s only unfettered power. You`re the only place in the world that touches up against this power and all of your recommendations, really I mean, you`re just really recommending white applicants for pardon. And they have no explanation for it. You know, they didn`t challenge the statistics at all. They said it all looked good to them. And then they said, well, you know, you just looked at objective measures. But there are subjective things we look at, too, which was kind of surprising because the subjective things seem to be, you know, even more extraordinary when we looked at them side by side, as you said, with applicants, white and black applicants who are almost identical right down to the race. In each case, the white applicant will get the pardon and the minority applicant, almost always the African-American applicant does not get the pardon. MADDOW: They clearly say they do not intend for there to be a racial disparity in the outcomes here, but they`re very open, at least open with you in your reporting about the idea that something like debt or divorce would be a reason for recommending a pardon or not recommending a pardon. What is the justification for that? LINZER: You know, they`re looking for the perfect person. They`re looking for this incredibly stable person, this ideal person who will not present a risk to the president, who will not be some person who goes out and commits a crime again. That`s their sense of what they`re looking for. Again, as you said, in each of these cases, you know, we looked at bankruptcies, we looked at liens, tax liens against people. You know, did they own their own home? All kinds of things. And each case we found minorities who were struck out who had bankruptcies or other issues. We found, you know, African-American applicants who wanted a pardon in order to improve their employment stability and were denied for employment instability. Or seeking a pardon because they want, you know, they want a better job. They want financial stability and are denied for financial instability. And at the same time, we found successful white applicants pardoned by President Bush who had bankruptcies who filed for bankruptcy more than once, who were divorced multiple times, who had -- you know, for me one of the striking things was language that was used to describe African- Americans who had children outside of a marriage. Where those children were described in denial recommendations as legitimate or born out of wedlock. White successful applicants who had children outside of a marriage, those children were described as having been born from a previous or non- marital relationship -- completely different language. MADDOW: Wow. One of the factors that you found was statistically significant in whether or not a person got a pardon is whether or not a member of Congress intervened on their behalf. Was there also a correlation between the person seeking the pardon or their family giving money to that member of Congress? Are people, in effect, trying to buy pardons? LINZER: We saw a couple things. One is, as you said, if you got a member of Congress in your corner, you are three times more likely to get a pardon. In some cases, you know, there are people who are seeking pardons who are actively donating to that member of Congress. We saw instances where there was a donation, you know, made on a Tuesday. There was a letter written to the White House on behalf of the applicant three days later. You know, the applicant gets a pardon a few weeks later -- a new donation comes in from the family 10 days later. You know, that happened. We didn`t see a single member of Congress in one letter to the pardon office disclose voluntarily if they were writing on behalf of a donor. You know, so we saw, you know, we saw a bunch of different things. One of the things that surprised me was the number of members of Congress who have close personal friends who are convicted felons. MADDOW: And who are willing to put that in writing on their behalf. Well, would that be a potentially effective reform to the process? I mean, on the one hand, this is -- this is a power that doesn`t come with a lot of due process protections. It`s essentially supposed to be the president`s mercy power. It`s a safety valve. It`s there for miscarriages of justice. It`s not the way it`s used anymore. But there aren`t any due process protections. So I guess while it is horrifying, I don`t even know on what grounds we complain this is being done so unfairly other than just a sense that it`s unfair. But I wonder if there could be reforms to the process that would make it less blatantly unfair? Would disclosing donations to the member of Congress making the appeal on a person`s behalf help? LINZER: Yes, maybe. I mean, one of the things, too, including in the issue of donations or in members of Congress, you know, sometimes members of Congress, you know, were doing just a regular, you know, nice constituent service. They were writing on behalf of a constituent who they didn`t know. But if you have a member of Congress, your representative who`s not interested in writing a letter on your behalf, you know, then your chances just fell to the likelihood of getting a pardon and the guy in the next district over who has a representative who is interested in writing a pardon has a better chance. You know, the one thing about reform on the issues of pardons is that, you know, this is completely at the president`s discretion. He actually doesn`t need Congress to reform this. This pardon office was put together, you know, at the very beginning of this country. Grover Cleveland when he was president signed an executive order just making all the paperwork go through a pardon clerk. But that pardon office, that`s not what`s in the Constitution. That could change. There`s lots of things they could look at, reform-wise. You know, you could broaden the people who are looking and sifting through pardon applications. You can take it out of the Justice Department with something that, you know, early advisers to President Obama were looking at. Taking it away from career prosecutors who made their names prosecuting, you know, drug offenses in this country. You could do that. You could make it much more similar to what they do at state levels in some places where you have more of a parole or pardon board where, in fact, you could even come before the board and argue your case. Where there would be a lot more transparency in something like that. MADDOW: Those proposals for reform early in the Obama administration, one of the most interesting things in your reporting -- we posted a link to the whole series at our Web site tonight. But, congratulations on this, Dafna. LINZER: Thank you. MADDOW: I think this is the sort of reporting that`s going to change the way things are done. Congratulations. LINZER: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. Dafna Linzer is a senior reporter for "ProPublica" and at, you`ll find links to that whole series. A year`s worth of reporting on this pardon process. All right. Best new thing in the world is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Happy December 5th. Happy repeal day. On this day 78 years ago, prohibition was repealed. Cheers. Having failed to keep people from drinking, having made the booze people did drink less good, having failed to reduce crime, having made booze associated crime more organized, having cost the government a lot of tax revenue -- prohibition met its maker when Pennsylvania, then Ohio and then finally Utah became the 34th, 35th and 36th states to ratify the 21st Amendment to the Constitution which repealed prohibition. Woo-hoo. Thank you, Utah. At 6:55 p.m. on December 5th, 1933, FDR signed an official proclamation, and prohibition was finally repealed throughout the land. Mr. Roosevelt urged all Americans in all states to proceed to the drink with caution. And he added specifically, quote, "I ask especially that no state shall by law or otherwise authorize the return of the saloon." Despite FDR`s request that states not authorize the return of saloons, state did, in fact, authorize the return of saloons, and how. But dozens of states also restricted booze sales to adults in all sorts of other ways. So, no liquor on Election Day, or no liquor on Christmas Day, or no liquor on Sundays in towns under or over a certain popular or in some states no booze at all Sundays at all ever. The state that still has one of the strictest set of alcohol laws in the country is the state of Kansas, the home state of an infamous figure in booze history, Carrie Nation. Carrie Nation was not born in Kansas but that`s where she lived her life as an adult. Carrie Nation was, to put it mildly, anti-alcohol, like the way that a black hole is anti-light, Carrie Nation was anti-booze. Her personal expression of prohibition activism was to pick up a hatchet, as in an ax, and walk into a bar, and start swinging. Swinging not at people but swinging that hatchet at liquor bottles, and at the bar counter, and the mirrors, and whatever else she could hit before being arrested. She was arrested 30 times for destroying saloon. She paid the jail fines with the money she made from public speaking and from selling little novelty hatchets. Carrie Nation`s home base more than a decade was the south central Kansas town of Medicine Lodge. That`s where she formed the chapter of the Women`s Christian Temperance Union which in the 1950s bought her house and turned it into a national historic landmark 25 years later. Thirty-five years after that is now, today. And the best new thing in the world I can report to you on this 78th anniversary of repeal day, that Medicine Lodge, Kansas, the town which Carrie Nation launched her hatchetations, Medicine Lodge, Kansas, population 2,000 has just approved the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Beer and liquor sold in Medicine Lodge`s two liquor stores on all Sundays, bud Easter from here on out, as of a vote this month. So, extra special happy repeal day to Medicine Lodge, Kansas. That`s the best new thing in the world today. That does it for us tonight. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END