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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/13/11

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Joe Biden

ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel. Looking forward to seeing the vice president tonight. RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thanks, Ed. And I`m glad to hear about the Pelosi interview, too, man. Congratulations on that. SCHULTZ: Thank you. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us the next hour. We`re coming to you from Washington tonight because the interview tonight is with the vice president. The vice president. The vice president of the United States. That`s coming up this hour. Very excited to bring that to you. Plus, the attorney general of the United States is putting his dukes up. On an issue that has been scorched earth in the states all year long: Red states changing their laws to make it harder to vote. There has been a big pushback on that tonight from the U.S. attorney general, from Eric Holder. That`s all ahead over the course of this hour. But we begin tonight with what`s turning out to be a rather bumpy road to the Republican presidential nomination this year. Today, Newt Gingrich`s new political director in the great state of Iowa agreed to resign. He agreed to resign after word got out he had called Mormonism a cult. Mormonism, of course, is the faith of Mitt Romney, Mr. Gingrich`s primary competitor for the party`s nomination at this point, as well as long-shot candidate Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah. A Gingrich campaign spokesman saying the Mormonism was a cult comment was, quote, "inconsistent with Newt`s 2012 pledge to run a positive and solutions-orientated campaign." For what it`s worth, I checked. He does say orientated. I would say oriented. But, hey, potato, potato. Maybe he`s British. In any case, Mr. Gingrich has been saying for months now that the key to the Republicans beating President Obama next year in the general election is that the Republican primary should be conducted in a positive fashion. No Republican on Republican fighting, Mr. Gingrich says. No negative ads. Smiles, everyone. Smiles. Back in September, back when Mr. Gingrich was polling in the single digits, he actually refused to answer a policy question at one debate on the grounds that him answering that question might cause Republicans on stage to fight with each other. He also called on his fellow candidates to do the same that night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I for one, I hope all of my friends up here, are going to repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Newt Gingrich is very proud of this don`t say mean things idea he`s got this year, right? His idea that all the Republican candidates should stick together and get along and have a super friendly, no going negative collegial type primary. Last month in an interview with Yahoo! News, Mr. Gingrich bragged about this as a strategy, saying, quote, "Watch the way in which I`m methodically not getting engaged in a fight with my friends." This past weekend in Iowa, Mr. Gingrich again talked up this no negatives Republican strategy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: We`ll not engage in negative ads. We`re not going to engage in tearing people down. We should have a positive campaign on the Republican side. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Sadly, the Newt Gingrich happy Republican plan started to unravel that very same night. During that night`s Republican debate when he let this little boldness of negativity slip his lips. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: Let`s be candid. The only reason you didn`t become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now wait a second. Wait a second. That`s -- now, wait a second. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I`m no expert, but I`d say that counts as negative. As, what do we say, tearing people down? But it`s nothing compared to what Mr. Gingrich unleashed against Mitt Romney yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Governor Romney said this morning on FOX News that you should return the money that you earned from Fannie Mae and Freddie. GINGRICH: I love the way he and his consultants think of these things. I would just say that if Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he`s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain, that I would be glad to then listen to him. I bet you $10, not $10,000, he won`t take the offer. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I love that he starts with "I love the way he and his consultants think of these things, as if Mitt Romney can`t think of things like that himself. That was Monday morning in New Hampshire. Monday night, Newt Gingrich was back to the nice guy plan. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: I`ll release a letter to my staff, to any consultants, and to any surrogates we have indicating that our determination to run a positive campaign and also indicated that should any super PAC doing so in my name, attack any of my friends who are running, that I would publicly disown them and urge people not to donate to them because I think we do not need that kind of negative influence. All I can promise you is that I will do everything I can to keep this campaign positive. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Newt Gingrich did release that letter he just described there, urging his campaign staff and his surrogates to be positive. What`s unclear now is whether that letter made its way to one senior campaign aide in particular. There is this one Newt Gingrich campaign aide who`s not only pretty harsh but has been pretty harsh for a long time. The Manchester, New Hampshire "Union Leader" has a story last week in which they quoted a senior aide in the Gingrich campaign calling Mitt Romney a pro-tax increase candidate. That`s not very friendly. That senior aide to Newt Gingrich we learned this week was Newt Gingrich, himself. Newt Gingrich, senior aide to Newt Gingrich. Mr. Gingrich`s spokesman telling "The New York Times" that Mr. Gingrich did not want to be identified as himself to avoid the impression that he was getting into a fight with the Romney camp -- which, of course, he was. You wouldn`t want to sound negative. At least not with your own name attached to it. Better to lob the bomb anonymously. Of course, the other reason for the collapse of the "smiles everyone, smiles" idea is that the entry of Mr. Gingrich himself into the top tier of the presidential race is really bringing out the best of negativity from all over the right wing. The Newt Gingrich pile-on is already a who`s who of the Republican establishment. "The New York Times" conservative columnist David Brooks calling Gingrich out for narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance. Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan saying people who know Newt Gingrich, quote, "are mostly not for him." Karl Rove writing of Mr. Gingrich, quote, "When a man of his self-confidence begins to feel on top of the world, bad things often happen." Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, former Republican Senator John Talent, former Republican New Hampshire Governor John Sununu all coming out as not just for the other guy but explicitly against Newt Gingrich. As has current Republican Senator Tom Coburn who says that Newt Gingrich is one of the last people he would ever vote for for president. But it doesn`t just stop with the Republican establishment. The relatively far right shock jock conservative radio host Michael Savage is now publicly offering Newt Gingrich $1 million if he`ll drop out of the race. Former FOX News host and now Internet guy Glenn Beck has said if Newt Gingrich is the nominee, he might vote for Ron Paul as a third party candidate. Whether or not Ron Paul`s running as a third party candidate, I guess. And this all comes amid mixed signals, frankly, about the sustainability of Newt-mentum in the polls. Por ejemplo, new data out today from the Public Policy Polling firm showing Ron Paul virtually tied with Newt Gingrich for the lead in Iowa. And here`s a worrisome figure for Republicans in today`s NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, when asked if they would vote for enthusiasm for a given candidate, take a look, Newt Gingrich only gets 14 percent of voters, saying they`ll vote with enthusiasm for him, Mitt Romney down at 12 percent. President Obama still way ahead of both of them at 25 percent. So people aren`t exactly excited to go and vote for Newt Gingrich. But if it`s not Newt Gingrich, they`re left with Mitt Romney, who Republicans really don`t like. And this 2002 video clip that`s going viral on the Internet machine today, this is a good example of why Republicans don`t exactly have a lot of enthusiasm for a Mitt Romney candidacy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I think people recognize that I`m not a partisan Republican, that I`m someone who is moderate and my views are progressive and that I`m going to go to work for our senior citizens, for people who`ve been left behind by urban schools that are not doing the right job. And so, they`re going to vote for me regardless of the party label. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Mitt Romney pitching himself to Massachusetts voters in 2002 as the not really Republican Republican -- the moderate Republican with progressive views. That`s who Republican voters are probably left with at this point if they do not choose Newt Gingrich. So, even as the Newt Gingrich pile-on grows, and the enthusiasm for Newt Gingrich seems sort of shallow, the big unanswered question is: if it`s not going to be Newt Gingrich, are Republican voters really going to go back to Mitt Romney again, if Newt Gingrich is just the new bubble guy, are they going to go back to Romney? Is this all there is? Peggy Lee? Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning "Washington Post" columnist and MSNBC political analyst. Gene, is Peggy Lee the answer? EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think Peggy Lee is the answer. We`re all going to be singing that song at some point. MADDOW: It`s amazing. ROBINSON: It is. It is. You know, there`s Mitt Romney, the constant one. I mean, nobody`s excited about him. He stays at his 21 percent, 22 percent, 23 percent in the polls everywhere and doesn`t go higher. MADDOW: Yes. ROBINSON: He doesn`t go lower. And now, you`ve got Newt Gingrich who is hypocritical. Gee, you know, that`s a story that we can`t tell often enough. But he is who he is. And he has a long, long history of being kind of intellectually promiscuous, saying the first thing that comes into his head, of going back on what he said last week, he`s done it time and again. He`s going to do it, you know, tomorrow. He`s going to do it the next day. That`s who he is. MADDOW: The whole idea, though, of it being Mitt versus not Mitt, being Mitt Romney versus whoever is the not Mitt Romney of the moment, is there`s no enthusiasm for Mitt Romney. And so, in order to come up with a contest, instead of it just being the inevitable guy who nobody was excited about, there would have to be somebody who enthused Republicans or they actually got excited about. That`s why the enthusiasm number is being so low for Newt Gingrich in that NBC poll I think is sort of a take a big picture look at this. I`m not sure if Newt Gingrich is the answer to the "We need a non-Mitt Romney" question. ROBINSON: I`m not sure he is either. You know, this is one reason why I think you`re going to see Newt become less and less sunny and more and more mean, because mean seems to be what worked for him. The conservative base seemed to like it when he went after Obama and they think here`s a guy who`s really going to punch the president in the general election and not debate him in a civil manner as Mitt Romney might. But who`s going to go after him. And so maybe mean works for him. Maybe nice doesn`t work for him. Maybe we`re going to see more of the bad Newt. MADDOW: Does mean against Mitt Romney work or does only mean against Barack Obama work? I mean, that`s the question, right? Should it be the same tactic? ROBINSON: That`s a very good question. You know, I think mean in every context may work better than not mean in every context for Newt Gingrich. And in any event, he`s bleeding a bit in the polls. So he`s kind of got to do something to try to keep this momentum up, because if it starts to slide -- I mean, we`ve kind of seen that movie. We know what happens when the non-Mitts start to go down. They go down pretty hard and don`t come back. Then you are, I think, probably left with Romney. MADDOW: Do you think that part of the bleeding in those polls is the Republican elite opinion and now some of the elite conservative media opinion turning against Gingrich is actually having an effect on Republican voters? Or do you think it`s an independent phenomenon? ROBINSON: Well, I think it`s definitely having an effect on some Republican voters, those who are susceptible to the blandishments of the establishment, the kind of Tea Party hard-line wing that`s just looking for red meat. Maybe they don`t listen to the establishment anymore. But the fact that so many people who served in Congress under Newt Gingrich are coming out and saying, you know, he`s a bad guy, he`s a terrible leader, I don`t trust him, I would never -- he`s the last person I`d ever vote for, says Tom Coburn. I mean, that`s pretty tough. And there are people in those states who listen to these officials, these former officials, and who trust their judgment. So that`s got to hurt him. MADDOW: With that, I think that`s powerful -- I think that`s a powerful picture of where things are right now. And I think you`re right about how much weight it has. Do you think that means Republicans end up picking Mitt Romney as their nominee? There has to be an end to this. No end seems plausible. ROBINSON: Look, my theory has been these non-Mitts would keep popping up and one would be lucky enough to pop up at the right time. MADDOW: Yes. ROBINSON: When people actually started voting. And I thought that was Newt. But maybe he was a little bit early. MADDOW: Yes. ROBINSON: So if he starts to slide, I just don`t know what happens. You know, soon they are going to be caucusing in Iowa and we`re going to have an actual result. And then the campaign is going to take its dynamic from that. And so, what happens if Ron Paul wins the Iowa caucuses? I think that`s possible. MADDOW: Then we`ll both have the best jobs in America talking about it. ROBINSON: Yes, we will. MADDOW: Gene Robinson, thank you so much. Good to see you. All right. Gene Robinson, of course, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post." All right. As American troops are finally leaving Iraq for good today, I had the chance today here in Washington to sit down for an exclusive interview with the vice president of the United States, with Joe Biden. My exclusive conversation with him coming up next. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iraqi people who`ve been occupied in the past, looked and really wondered, do these guys really mean it? Didn`t they come for our oil? (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: My exclusive interview with Vice President Joe Biden is coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: All year long, we have been reporting on the roll back of voting rights in America, new ways to make it harder to vote and harder to register to vote. The rolling back of early voting, making voter registration drives all but impossible, blocking you from voting unless you show some kind of new documentation that you never had to show before and that hundreds of thousands of people in some states just don`t have. All year long, we have been reporting on these new laws that have been pushed by newly elected Republican governors and legislatures and state attorneys general. Well, today, for the first time we can report on action on this front from the attorney general, from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pushing back tonight against those changes at the state level, pushing back in a speech at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. Eric Holder citing LBJ`s landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. The attorney general`s speech tonight according to a draft released in advance says that recent efforts to curtail voting rights in this country, quote, "have the potential to reverse the progress that defines us -- and has made this nation exceptional, as well as an example for all the world. We must be true to the arc of America`s history, which compels us to be more inclusive with regard to the franchise." The franchise as in the vote. Not as in, like, Carl`s Jr. The attorney general tonight pledging his support for the reintroduction of an election protection anti-dirty tricks bill that Barack Obama sponsored when he was in the United States Senate. The attorney general also pledging a thorough, and he says fair review, of new restrictive state laws on voting and voter registration. Interestingly, also, the attorney general tonight calling on the general public to see the protection of the right to vote in America, quote, "as a moral imperative." To speak out, in his words, and raise awareness about what`s at stake for voting rights -- effectively calling on the citizens of this country to not stand for having our voting rights rolled back. He even praised the election results last month in Maine where Maine, the citizens of Maine, recalled a new make it harder to vote law there. The roll back of voting rights in the states this year has been of historic proportions. This move tonight by the attorney general makes it seem like the administration thinks so, too. We`ll have more on that ahead, plus my interview with Vice President Biden. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, THEN-ILLINOIS STATE SENATOR: I don`t oppose war in all circumstances. And when I look out over this crowd today, I know there is no shortage of patriots or patriotism. What I do oppose is a dumb war. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Nine years ago in 2002, an Illinois state senator named Barack Obama gave a speech against the Iraq war, before that war began. Nine years ago, in 2002, a senior U.S. senator from the great state of Delaware, Joe Biden, along with some fellow ambitious Democrats including Senator Hillary Clinton of New York voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq. Two-thirds of House Democrats voted against that authorization for the use of force, but it did pass easily. And in 2003, the United States invaded Iraq. Now, 8 1/2 years later, U.S. troops are finally all coming home. Joe Biden became a crusading opponent of the Iraq war from his powerful position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Hillary Clinton barely missed becoming the Democratic nominee for president in 2008. Her vote for the war did not help her in that race. She eventually would become Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the administration of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who promise that they would bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. In a speech this past October, we learned from President Obama what that ending would look like. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home. The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops. That is how America`s military efforts in Iraq will end. Across America, our servicemen and women will be reunited with their families. Today, I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Since that statement in October, U.S. troops in Iraq have been leaving Iraq at a quick pace. Lately, they`ve been leaving at a rate of 500 a day. Republicans have criticized the impending end of the Iraq war, saying that we should stay there longer. Vice President Cheney saying he thinks the United States should have negotiated to keep 15,000 or 20,000 American troops in Iraq. The pro-war "Washington Post" editorial page lamenting today the administration didn`t try very hard to leave thousands of American troops in Iraq. John McCain has been calling bringing the troops home a failure. Defending the war represents failure, what would success be? The administration sees ending the war as success. In their words, they see it as a promise kept. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: President Obama and I came to office absolutely determined to bring this war to a responsible end and to keep the promise we made to the American people and the people of Iraq that we would meet our commitments. We will keep our promise to remove our remaining troops from Iraq, which when we came to office numbered 140,000 American forces. Where I come from, where the president comes from, a promise made is a promise kept. And we are keeping our promise. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Vice President Biden speaking in Iraq earlier this month. Vice President B Biden took time today to speak with me here in Washington. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: We are leaving Iraq with no residual force left behind. Everybody`s coming home. BIDEN: Correct. Absolutely. MADDOW: Had the Iraqi government requested that 10,000 or 15,000 or 20,000 American troops stayed behind on an indefinite basis, would you have supported that? Was there any U.S. objective that would have been met by keeping more troops there for longer? BIDEN: No, not troops in that number at all. I don`t think that would have ever -- I don`t think we would have responded positively to that. Had they come back and said, we need some troops to help us train in country these troops or finish this, that we would have considered. But the idea of keeping 20,000 troops there, no. And I don`t think would have had any impact. MADDOW: The -- BIDEN: Any positive impact. Particularly in -- look, one of the things about Iraq is, we made a commitment we were going to leave. The Iraqi people, who`ve been occupied in the past, looked and really wondered, do these guys really mean it? Didn`t they come for our oil? We didn`t take their oil. As I said to the troops leaving, you`re leaving in the tradition of American forces. The only thing you`re leaving with is your honor and a job well done. And that has made a real impression on the Iraqi people. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: There`s more of this interview to come. I just want to point out, though, there -- the vice president there bluntly rebutting Republicans criticizing the end of the war right now, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, Senator McCain, presidential contender Mitt Romney and others. All of those Republicans have said that the U.S. wanted to persuade the Iraqi government to accept a large contingent of many thousands of American troops to stay on in Iraq. They have alleged we failed to get Iraq`s permission for something that we wanted. Mr. Cheney saying it should have been something on the order of 20,000 troops not coming home. Vice President Biden flatly telling me today, no -- even if Iraq asked us for that many U.S. troops to stay, the administration would not have agreed. That is news. There`s more news ahead from my exclusive interview today with Vice President Biden. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: I tell you, I feel like -- I feel like I did something that, or participated in something being done that I can be proud of the rest of my life. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: Mr. Vice president, thank you for doing this. BIDEN: Nice to be with you. MADDOW: The Iraq war, the end of the Iraq war in particular, has really been your brief as vice president. The administration has been open about the fact that the president really tasked this to you -- BIDEN: Yes. MADDOW: -- in terms of winding this down. Your son served there. You`ve been involved as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before being vice president. You were involved intimately in all of these decisions. Do you -- do you feel -- do you feel emotional about the end of the war? BIDEN: I tell you, I feel like -- I feel like I did something that, or participated in something being done that I can be proud of the rest of my life. I -- had I stayed as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, no matter how engaged I was, I don`t think I would have been in a position to be able to affect events on a day to day basis to bring us to this point. I`m now saying -- our troops brought us to this point. Our diplomats brought us to this point. But to be able to -- I`ll be blunt with you. After I made that speech in the palace with Maliki and Talabani, the president and prime minister to Iraqi and American assembled troops, I left, got on the phone and called Barack, the president and said, thank you, thank you for giving me the opportunity to do something that meant a great deal to me personally and to the country, to end this war in Iraq. That makes everything worthwhile in this job for me. MADDOW: Looking back nine years now, to the fall of 2002. You voted for the authorization of use of force to go to Iraq. Over the course of those nine years, how do you think the Iraq war changed us as a country? Is there a lesson learned about how we debate the use of force, how we debate whether or not to go to war? BIDEN: I hope to God there is, because, you know, when that original debate took place, what is easy to forget -- I don`t expect people to remember -- those of us like Dick Lugar and myself and others who voted to authorize to use force were based on the president`s commitment not to use force. He had no intention of using force. It was to demonstrate to the United Nations and to the world that we were united in wanting to stop Saddam Hussein. That`s what we were united in. We were united in him coming clean on what he had under his control. And it really -- it really spiraled out of control pretty quickly. And so, the fact is that I think one of the lessons we`ve learned is you can go -- America is so powerful, has such an incredible military capability that you can go into any dictatorship and you can try to impose, as was stated, democracy, but it`s going to take you $1 trillion, a decade, and you`re going to have to make a judgment whether or not you`d better spend your time and effort doing something else to make the world safer than that. So, I think it`s -- it`s really -- I would give Libya as an example. It was clear that Moammar Gadhafi, who I personally knew, was really not a good guy at all. But what did the president do? The president because of the confidence he had and the reestablished leadership in the world, people looked to him as a leader, look to America as a leader. But what did he do? We spent several billion dollars, but we didn`t lose one American life. We didn`t put one boot on the ground. And we had a shared responsibility with the rest of the world, including Arab nations as well as NATO to deal with that issue. And now, there`s a shared responsibility to the world to help them establish a democracy. That`s very different than going it alone. I hope we`ve learned the lesson that going it alone, unless our immediate vital national interest is at stake, going it alone should be the very last option. MADDOW: When applying that sort of world view and thinking about that logic and the conflict in Afghanistan that we are still involved in -- I mean, right now the horizon on Afghanistan is that that war does not end for America this year or next year or the year after that, but at the end of the year after that. At the end of 2014 is the horizon that the president described for the end of the Afghanistan war. Is it possible -- that`s also a war you did not start, started by the previous administration. But is it possible that that war could end sooner than the American people are already expecting at this point? Could that be wound down as well? BIDEN: It has the potential to be wound down. It`s in direct proportion to how wound up the Afghan military is, how good they are, how quickly they come online. And how much responsibility the Afghan government, Kabul, is able to exert politically within Afghanistan. For example, the president said that we were going to withdraw, quote, "the surge," 33,000 forces by the end of this summer. And he said we would continue to keep a pace, that pace. We`re not going to slow this down. This doesn`t mean that we`re going to wait until the last minute to say the other 60,000-some folks are going to come out at the end of 2014. So, we are -- the president`s plan, and he kept his commitment exactly as he stated it in Iraq, and he`ll keep it as it relates to Afghanistan -- is we are going to continue to drawdown forces on a continuous basis, continuing to turn over responsibility to the Afghans, because at the end of the day, we cannot want stability and peace in Afghanistan more than they want it. And so, our objective is to as responsibly as we can withdraw American forces in the numbers we have from Afghanistan. MADDOW: Iran borders both Afghanistan and Iraq. BIDEN: Yes. MADDOW: Bottom line, after the Iraq war, is Iran in a stronger position than it would have been without the Iraq war? Because for all of Saddam Hussein`s faults, he was Iran`s sworn enemy, and now, a new Iraq is in some ways a de facto ally of Iran or at least a closely allied nation. BIDEN: Well, the argument was made early on that we remove two of Iran`s most greatest concerns, Saddam in Afghanistan -- I mean, in Iraq, and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the result now with regard to Iran, in large part because of some very significant moves the president made, and some really outrageous moves that Iran has made, it actually has lost power in the entire region. The fact of the matter is its only ally left in the region is about to be toppled. That is in Syria with Bashar Assad. You also have a circumstance where -- since they flouted every international norm, from refusing to protect diplomats, to violating international agreements relating to nuclear arms and nuclear weapons, attempt to get nuclear weapons, to actually attempting to assassinate on foreign soil a diplomat of an Arab nation. They`ve been continually marginalized. But the biggest thing that`s happened is the president has been able to unite the world, including Russia and China, in continuing to ostracize and to isolate Iran. So, the truth is -- and I really mean this, Rachel -- the talk about the projection, the capacity of Iraq to project power in the Gulf is actually diminished. They are less feared. They are less -- they have less influence than they have had any time, I would argue, in the last 20 years. And there will be a relationship between Iraq and Iran because they have a very long border. They will trade. They should have a normal relationship. But they are not allies. Remember, these are the guys that, in fact, fought against Iran. Even the Shia in Iraq found great difficulty with Iran. You`ve seen a Shia leader now who`s the prime minister sharing power with other of his colleagues, moving against the forces of the militias that are supplied by and have been in part supplied by Iran. So, I would argue that I see no evidence, no evidence that Iran`s influence has produced a de facto alliance with Iraq, nor has their influence grown in the last three years under the president`s policies in the region. MADDOW: Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for your time today. It`s a real honor. BIDEN: Thanks. MADDOW: Thank you, sir. BIDEN: Great to be with you. MADDOW: Thank you. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: Vice President Joe Biden speaking exclusively, excuse me, with me here in Washington, D.C., today. At the end there talking about Iran. The vice president was implicitly encountering some Republican criticism that the Obama administration should somehow be tougher with Iran. Among this year`s Republican presidential candidates, for example, even long-shot former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who sort of has the reputation as the cool, calm, collected guy in the Republican room. Even Jon Huntsman said he`d like to start a war with Iran, a preemptive war. Former Vice President Dick Cheney even said on CNN last night we should have dropped a bomb on Iran last week, after one of our drones crashed there. Personally, I have to say, it is striking to be in Washington in this context. Today, having this face to face conversation with the Democratic administration, this vice president, about his pride in ending the war, which you could see in the way he talked about it there -- his pride and their satisfaction in finally extricating us from Iraq after 8 1/2 years there. And then to have the parallel Republican political conversation in the country be about how upsetting it is that the Iraq war is ending, questioning how soon can we start another one next door in Iran? Ron Paul is the only Republican presidential candidate who dissents from that view, who doesn`t say he wants to start another war and let`s not end the Iraq one either. Ron Paul is the only one among the Republican candidates -- which gives you a counterintuitive politically incorrect angle, why no one in the Beltway takes him seriously, the latest PPP poll out today says Ron Paul is only one point out of the lead right now in Iowa. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: If you cast your first vote anytime after the advent of push- button telephones, then by law, you should never have encountered a poll tax. This is a receipt for a poll tax in Florida. Before 1964, it was still legal in this country to charge a tax, to charge money for the privilege of voting. The 24th Amendment put an end to that, at least in federal elections. The next year in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act which made it illegal to tax people wanting to cast a ballot in a state election or local election as well. But before then, you could make people pay money as a condition of voting in this country. The voters most affected by the poll tax and other barriers to voting were the ones that entrenched officials most did not want voting, African-Americans generally -- and generally African-Americans in the south. Poll taxes were designed to keep the descendants of slaves away from the voting booth. This history is part of why the story of Dorothy Cooper was a big deal this year, 96 years old, female, African-American. Dorothy Cooper had managed to vote in nearly every election after 1960. She missed one because she moved. But other than that, she voted in every election. This year, Tennessee Republicans passed a law that said you could no longer vote in Tennessee unless you had documentation you`d never had to show before and that many thousands of Tennesseans do not have, including Dorothy Cooper. The many documents Miss Cooper did have did not match Tennessee`s requirements for obtaining the new ID the state said she`d now need to vote. So, Tennessee told her she could not have one, which would mean she wouldn`t be allowed to go down to the polls and vote. That happened in October. Now, meet Ruthelle Frank from the village of Brokaw, Wisconsin. Ms. Ruthelle Frank is 84 years old. So far as she can remember, she`s voted in every election for the past 66 years. This year, the new Republican majority in Wisconsin decided to pass a bill like the one Republicans passed in Tennessee. As in Tennessee, the Wisconsin bill says you can`t vote in Wisconsin anymore unless you have documentation you never had to show before, and that many thousands of people in the state do not have. In Wisconsin, they say you can apply for a special state-approved ID that will allow you to cast a vote. The special cards are free. They`d have to be otherwise they`d amount to an illegal unconstitutional poll tax, right? But to get one of those free special state ID cards for voting, you need to show a birth certificate. If for whatever reason you do not have your birth certificate, lots of people don`t, close relatives of mine do not, it is something not everyone has even if you have one. If you don`t have your birth certificate, getting one costs money. One of the reasons people don`t have a birth certificate, particularly older people in the country is if they were born at home rather than a hospital. That`s the case for Ruthelle Frank. She was born at home. She doesn`t have a birth certificate. She`s born at home and her mother wrote down the day and year of birth in the family Bible. But Ruthelle Frank has never had a birth certificate. And so, now, at the age of 84, she has to pay the state of Wisconsin before she can cast a ballot. Voting could actually cost Ruthelle Frank much more than the usual 20 bucks for a birth certificate. Her birth was recorded by the state register of deeds, but state register of deeds spelled her name wrong way back then. It could cost $200, maybe more to get not just a birth certificate but one with the name spelled right. So, she can get a state- approved special ID so she can vote, which she has been doing without a hitch for 66 years. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RUTHELLE FRANK: I may never vote again. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The state vital record division advised Ruthelle Frank to go ahead and buy the birth certificate with her name spelled wrong on it. And then they said she should see if the DMV in the state will say it`s good enough for the ID she needs to vote. Quoting the state vital records division, quote, "If she gets it, great." And if not, the further $200 or more. Asked for comment, the Republican county chairman where Ruthelle Frank lives says his party, quote, "applauds the implementation of the law." Today, the ACLU filed suit against the state of Wisconsin in federal court with Ruthelle Frank one of several named plaintiffs who say they`re being charged in unconstitutional poll taxes in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker is among the named defendants. Nationwide, after Republicans took over so many state legislatures in last year`s elections, they spent this year looking for ways to solidify those gains maybe, including making it harder to cast a ballot. Whenever you cut the time for absentee voting or early voting, whenever you make it difficult to register to vote or you block people from voting unless they show documentation they never had to show before and not everybody in the state has, the people most affected by rule changes like that tend to be the poor, the elderly, students, minorities, the same people who tend to vote Democratic -- the same ones entrenched Republican officials in these Republican-controlled states would rather not see at the polls on Election Day. A new report from the NAACP says a quarter of all African-Americans and twice as many Latinos as white voters do not have state approved photo IDs the way Dorothy Cooper didn`t in Tennessee. This matters in Mississippi, for instance, where you`ll now be required to show ID at the polls. The cards for voting are free. But the birth certificate you need to get one of those IDs, that costs 15 bucks in one of the poorest states in the nation -- 15 bucks to vote, which is a de facto poll tax in the state of Mississippi. In Wisconsin, Democratic State Senator Jim Holperin put in a bill last week that would make birth certificates free if you need one for voting. So far, he`s got as 20 co-sponsors, only one of them a Republican. Mostly Wisconsin Republicans say the same things that Republicans everywhere say about the new laws that make it harder to vote. They say they want to protect the integrity of elections for people like 84-year-old Ruthelle Frank, even if they protect her right out of the process. Ruthelle Frank was born paralyzed on one side of her body. With her age and disability, she could get an exception from the new law if she claims to be indefinitely confined. She could still vote for free. But she does not want to use the indefinitely confined exemption because she is able to shuffle off to meetings at the town hall where she serves on the town board. She gets around well enough. So, no way is Ms. Ruthelle Frank is going to claim she`s indefinitely confined. She says, quote, "that would be lying." And lying would be wrong. So sleep better, Wisconsin. Your elections are safe from the likes of Ruthelle Frank. Citizen, village, leader and voter for 66 years. If only your elections were safe from the lawmakers who have worked so hard this year making it so hard for Ruthelle Frank to vote. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So you know that conservative Iowa group that really, really wants its name to be said on national television and is demanding that all the Republican presidential candidates sign its Iowa marriage vow? To refresh, this group`s marriage vow is a 14-point pledge to, among other things, not cheat on your spouse, to not ruin anybody else`s marriage, to keep the gays from getting married. There`s also a bit about protecting members of the military from intrusively intimate co-mingling among attracteds. Also a bit about rejecting Sharia law. Because marriage? So far, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum have also signed this Iowa marriage pledge. And now, now that right wing Iowa group that really, really wants its name said on national television has landed their current Republican front-runner, Newt Gingrich. At least they`ve sort of landed him. Newt Gingrich has not actually signed the group`s marriage vow. Particularly the part about agreeing to not cheat on your spouse I suppose might have been awkward. But he had submitted his own statement now to this group affirming that he agreed with their mission. He submitted this statement laying out the actions he says would take as president -- actions against gay marriage, against abortion, also, to maximize capital investment and job creation. Again, because marriage? Job creation for wedding planners maybe? Or for the staff of gay bars for keeping all the gay people single? Anyway, that group that I will not say, just to annoy them, is very excited to get what they call an affirmation of their marriage pledge from candidate Newt Gingrich, even if he won`t actually sign it. I`m sure Newt Gingrich is happy to get them off his back. So there`s that. That`s today`s news in political oaths. But the best new thing in the world today is an unrelated political oath that has been around for nearly 200 years. Most of us did not know it existed before today. At least I will venture to guess most of us did not know. It`s an antiquated part of the oath of office that elected officials are required to sign by the Kentucky state constitution. Kentucky`s governor, Steve Beshear, had to swear to this oath today as inaugurated in front of the state capitol. And seeing him do that is how we all learned today that this exists. Listen. This is amazing. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JUSTICE MINTON: And you further solemnly swear that since the adoption of the present Constitution, you, being a citizen of this state, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this state nor out of it, nor have you sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons or have you acted as is second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted nay person, thus offending, so help you God. GOV. STEVE BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: I do. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I do swear I have not slapped anybody with a glove, or met anyone at dawn and in fair of honor, so help me God. Kentucky is the only state in the country to have an anti-dueling clause in its oaths of office, at least as far as I know. But I got to say, learning that today, and learning that unexpectedly today because that`s the way Steve Beshear got sworn in, that is the best new thing in the world today. I do so solemnly swear. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow where we`ll be back in New York City. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END