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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/21/11

Guests: Bob Herbert

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Happy Wednesday. Thanks for being with us. It is a battle royal in Washington right now. Battle royal, starting to get vicious. People are name-calling. We`ve now moved from the part of the fight where it`s not just unnamed sources talking smack and hurling names at other people in Washington. It`s also now named elected officials talking smack as well. The partisan press is now getting involved in the bluntest possible terms, just destroying people. It is a battle royal in Washington like we have not seen in a long time. And this entire battle in Washington is happening inside the Republican Party. The issue, of course, is the payroll tax cut -- whether or not to extend the payroll tax cut for everybody who gets a paycheck in America or whether to let taxes on all of those people go up on New Year`s Day. In a span of just the last few weeks, congressional Republicans have gone from saying they`re not for doing the payroll tax cut extension to then saying they are for doing the payroll tax cut. To then not agreeing to do it once they got a chance, to now being very angry that it`s not being done despite the fact they`re the ones who aren`t doing it and actually never wanted to do it in the first place. Does that make sense? No, of course, that does not make sense. Republicans in Washington right now are engaged in an epic battle with each other over whether or not they will or won`t raise everybody`s taxes. This issue has turned Senate Republicans against House Republicans. It`s now turning the conservative press both House Republicans and Senate Republicans. In a lead editorial today headlined "The GOP`s Payroll Tax Fiasco," the very conservative "Wall Street Journal" editorial page just rips every living, breathing Republican in Washington for what`s gone on over the last few days. Quote, "GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell famously said a year ago that his main task in the 112th Congress was to make sure that President Obama would not be re-elected. Given how he and House Speaker John Boehner have handled the payroll tax debate, we wonder if they might end up re- electing the president before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest." Oow. This rapidly right wing "Wall Street Journal" editorial page goes on to -- not only goes after them on the payroll tax issue specifically, but then it goes on to talk about, quote, "the accumulated frustration of over a year of political disappointment. After a year of the Tea Party House," "The Journal" says, "President Obama and Senate Democrats have had to make no major policy concessions beyond extending the Bush tax rates for two years. Mr. Obama is in a stronger re-election position today than he was a year ago and the chances of Mr. McConnell becoming majority leader in 2013 are declining." Ow, ow, ow. Blaming that all on the Tea Party House. This is a really conservative paper. It was sort of impossible to come across a major news outlet today without finding one Republican devouring another Republican over this fiasco they created for themselves in D.C. This is just from CNN today. Quote, "Multiple Senate GOP sources say that frustration with their counterparts in the House is mounting." Quote, "The House Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. They are on their own," a Senate GOP leadership staffer said. That staffer continued, quote, "This is a lose/lose situation for us. They`ve let the Democrats get the messaging advantage and more specifically, we turned one of our key issues on its head. It`s inexcusable." A second senior Republican Senate staffer telling CNN, quote, "The House Republicans pulled defeat from the jaws of victory." More than anybody else, the Republicans interparty fire is now being trained on the top Republican in Washington, House Speaker John Boehner. "Roll Call" newspaper reporting that this payroll tax cut fiasco, quote, "has raised significant questions about John Boehner`s ability to lead his conference for the long term." Listen to this: "The number one question that will be debated over the eggnog at Hill-centric holiday parties is whether John Boehner will be able to continue -- excuse me, will be able to save his speakership for more than a few more months in light of his horrible miscalculation on the payroll tax bill and then his desperate flip-flop to get in front of the troops that were marching in opposite direction from where he said they needed to go." Wow. Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee is turning out to be the personification of the Republican Party`s political and policy incoherence on this. Here`s Senator Corker on CNBC this morning calling on House Republicans to just pass the darn payroll tax cut bill. And remember, Bob Corker is also a Republican. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Are Republicans getting killed right now in public opinion? There is no question. Both Republicans and Democrats have agreed that this is going to happen and probably the best thing to happen now is just to get it over with. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Bob Corker there calling on House Republicans to just pass the bill. Pass the bill. He says just pass the bill that he, himself, voted against just four days ago. There it is. Bob Corker, nay. And Mr. Corker did not just vote against the payroll tax cut extension once, he voted against it when it came up earlier this knot, too. But, now, Bob Corker thinks the irresponsible House Republicans really ought to just pass the bill that he opposes. Senator Corker is one of a growing number of Senate Republicans who are just openly attacking their fellow Republicans on the House side for the mess that all of them are in right now. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona scolding House Republicans yesterday for, quote, "harming the Republican Party." Fellow Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts saying, quote, "It angers me that House Republicans would rather continue playing politics than find solutions. Their actions will hurt American families and be detrimental to our fragile economy." He`s a Republican talking about Republicans there. It`s also Susan Collins, Dick Lugar, Dean Heller, Olympia Snowe, Chuck Grassley, Roger Wicker. All these sort of name-brand Republican senators either openly trashing House Republicans for what they`re doing or at least publicly prodding them to get their act together. The incoherence and infighting of Republicans in Washington on this issue is now even starting to spill over into the Republican race for president as well. After chastising congressional Republicans for failing to, quote, "speak with one voice", on this issue, presidential candidate Mitt Romney was unable in three separate media appearances to state which side of this argument he is on. I was going to say that the only candidate with any coherence on this issue at all is candidate Newt Gingrich, but then he got incoherent on this as well. First, Mr. Gingrich decided to come out and bash Senate Democrats on the issue. OK. The vote was 89-10, but at least you`re aiming your fire outside the Republican circle. So far, so good. But then just a little while later newt Gingrich about faced, decided the party in the wrong is actually the House Republicans. Now, he says House Republicans should just pass the darn thing already, which just moments ago he was against. Republicans are unable to explain themselves on this. And it would be one thing if this were an interparty fight on a matter of principle. A fight because one side wanted to make a point. But in this case, even the point isn`t clear. The only clear message that any Republican has on this tax issue right now is: what are we doing? We look like idiots. That`s the only clear message from Republicans right now. And that`s the kind of thing that happens when leadership fails. That`s what happens when, say, a Republican House speaker is really bad at his job. And it all came full circle today for John Boehner. The very first day of John Boehner`s tenure of House speaker, you remember this? One of the first things he did wrong was that he didn`t notice he`d forgotten to swear in two of his own members, Republican Congressman Pete Sessions of Texas and Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. They were not present for the official swearing in, which meant they technically were not members of Congress. They hadn`t been sworn in. Pete Sessions and Mike Fitzpatrick tried to make it better by attempting to swear themselves in by raising their hands at a television set that was showing their colleagues being sworn in. But you know, it turns out that`s not actually in the Constitution. So despite not being actual members of Congress, these guys started voting on stuff and the House had to go back and correct those votes to account for the fact that John Boehner had not made sure all of his people were there to be sworn in. It was a total mess. And even on pedestrian matters such as those, even on the logistics, John Boehner`s leadership in the House has just been a mess from the very beginning. Everybody wants to blame those radical Tea Partiers in his caucus. You can`t blame the radical Tea Partiers for forgetting to swear in two guys. I`m sure that John Boehner`s a very nice man. John Boehner is manifestly bad at the job of being speaker of the House. And that came full circle for him today. One of the guys who John Boehner forgot to swear in, Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, finally is now a dually sworn member of Congress. Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick today was presiding over the House chamber when the number two Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer, tried to bring the Senate payroll tax cut bill to the floor. And John Boehner`s folly, otherwise known as Mike Fitzpatrick, Mike Fitzpatrick apparently had no plan to deal with the Democrats trying to do this. He did not arrange for Republicans to argue against it or to make some procedural move to try to make it look like it was being worked on or something. He didn`t do any of the legislative things that help a side win in Washington when they`re engaged in a big fight. The way that he dealt with it when the Democrats tried to bring up this bill today is the guy who was the acting speaker of the House today, Mr. Fitzpatrick, just kind of walked away. He just shuffled off the House floor and walked away. While Steny Hoyer, number two House Democrat thoroughly embarrassed the House Republicans even further. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MIKE FITZPATRICK (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Pursuant to section 3B of House Resolution 493, the House stands adjourned until 10:00 a.m. on Friday, December 23, 2011. REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker. We`d like to ask for unanimous consent that we bring up the bill to extend the tax cut for 160 million Americans. As you walk off the floor, Mr. Speaker. You`re walking out. You`re walking away. Just as so many Republicans have walked away from middle class taxpayers, the unemployed, and very, frankly, as well, from those who will be seeking medical assistance from their doctors, 48 million senior citizens. We regret, Mr. Speaker, that you`ve walked off the platform without addressing the issue of critical importance to this country. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The John Boehner is bad at his job hypothesis is getting close to graduating into the John Boehner is bad at his job working theory of understanding Washington. Joining us now is "Washington Post" columnist and MSNBC policy analyst Ezra Klein. Ezra, it`s good to see you. Thanks for being here. EZRA KLEIN, WASHINGTON POST: Good evening. MADDOW: Why are we seeing this level of discord among Republicans on the Hill? It seems in part to be logistics. They do not know what they are doing. Or what they`re supposed to be doing next. It does also seem to be some policy incoherence here. KLEIN: There was a bit of a collision on the racetrack here. On the one hand, Republicans want to oppose things that Barack Obama would like to do. That President Obama would like to do. On the other hand, Republicans would like to pass tax cuts. And you see it most clearly in the case of something like "The Wall Street Journal." That is the business wing of the Republican Party. And the business wing of the Republican Party doesn`t like Barack Obama very much, but they really don`t want their taxes to go up. They really don`t want to pay more to employ workers. They don`t want to have a hit to consumer demand next year. So, this is -- this is not going to go well for the Republicans until they figure out a way out. And the problem is they sort of thought they had one, at least for a couple months. And then John Boehner sort of ended the deal. Mitch McConnell thought he was negotiating on behalf of John Boehner and behalf of the House Republicans and it turned out he wasn`t. And what people in Washington don`t like is to have a deal they thought they agreed to reneged upon. MADDOW: Could you see somebody other than Speaker Boehner stepping up to sort of get this job done? By the job I mean in part the policy. Getting this tax cut extended which everybody at least says they want to do, but also in part getting the Republicans back together. Is he the only one who can do it? Because he doesn`t seem to be good at anything he tries to do. KLEIN: Speaker Boehner has essentially admitted he can`t do it. One of the really interesting movements in this debate over the last week has been now, the big position of House Republicans is there needs to be what`s called a conference committee. And a conference committee is when the House and the Senate offer up negotiators who have to deal with the bill together in a room somewhere behind, away from cameras. Now, conference committees have largely disappeared over the last decade. They used to be there because you needed -- the leadership needed the very powerful committee chairs to be onboard with them. That`s what the conference committee was. They got a bunch of people in the room, all whom had power and they worked out a deal. And as leadership became more powerful, conference committees began to disappear. Boehner needs a conference committee now. And he`s tried to appoint House Republicans to a conference committee despite the fact that the Senate has not been willing to enter into a committee with him because he needs these other Republicans, eight other Republicans from different wings of the party to take responsibility for the deal. Boehner can`t do it, himself. So, he`s got to offload it on to a coalition of other Republicans hopefully who go back to different parts of his conference and say to them, look, this is the best we can get, we were in the room, you got to trust us on this one. It is a stunning show this has gotten beyond him now and there`s not a single leader anymore in the House Republican conference who you can call and make a deal with. MADDOW: Isn`t it true, though, that even in trying to delegate that responsibility, because he doesn`t necessarily have the authority and as you say he`s sort of trying to push it off on to this conference committee to make theme do the hard work rather than him because he can`t handle it. Even in doing that, he`s screwed up because the Republican line is that they do actually want the payroll tax cut extended. A majority of the people who he appointed to the conference committee as far as I understand it are on record of being against extending the payroll tax cut. So, even in trying to save himself, he seems to be continuing to screw up his main message. KLEIN: Well, to some degree, I wouldn`t put it exactly like that. What I would say is he`s trying to reflect to the best extent possibility the fundamental Republican incoherence here, which is how do you oppose a payroll tax cut when seeming like you`re on the side of the payroll tax cut? So, if you listen to John Boehner statements on this, he says continuously, we just want to get into negotiations so we can do what everybody wants us to do which is extend the payroll tax cut. Everybody does not want to do that. Whenever I hear him say that, I think of the moment in "Social Network," when Mark Zuckerberg says, if you had invented Facebook, you would have invented Facebook. If they wanted to extend the payroll tax cut, they would have extended the payroll tax cut. But the Republicans don`t want to do that, and yet, they keep saying that is their ultimate goal here, as they try to negotiate things like Keystone oil pipeline or discretionary spending cuts. So, right now, Boehner is trying to sort of walk the line, cloudy issue for the American people. Say Republicans are on the side of getting this done but somehow reflect this sort of anti-tax cut majority that is emergent in its own members. MADDOW: I never mean to imply John Boehner`s job is easy and therefore he should be good at it because it`s easy. I think it is a hard job. But, boy, if I were a House Republican or if I were a Republican who was interested in Republican congressional power, I would be really eager to see the northbound side of a southbound John Boehner. I got to tell you. Ezra Klein, MSNBC policy analyst, and "Washington Post" columnist -- thanks, Ezra. I really appreciate it. KLEIN: Thank you. MADDOW: All right. If the sight of a cute dog snoozing by a roaring fire in a warm Christmas setting fills you with bottomless rage, then stay tuned. There`s a very famous Republican governor who shares your inexplicable outrage at that dog. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The Pentagon funding bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, is always at least a little bit controversial. Heck, I`ve got a book coming out soon about how I wish the whole thing was a lot more controversial when it came out every year. But this year, there has been some real consternation about a specific part of the defense bill. And it`s the part that concerns prisoners. The language in the bill says that people arrested on suspicion of terrorism would be held by the military and not by police. It says there could be indefinite detention, life in prison without trial for people arrested in those circumstances. Now, the Obama administration and the head of the FBI and the intelligence agencies and the military say that they do not want this but Congress has been pushing this on them anyway. After changes to the bill and much back-and-forth about whether the language was still bad enough that it should be vetoed by the president -- late today, we`ve had breaking news on this subject. As the attorney general has confirmed now that President Obama will sign the defense bill into law, but he will also issue a signing statement with it. Now, a signing statement is a means by which a president essentially objects to and says he will ignore a part of a law that he is otherwise signing and will implement. Signing statements were used frequently and to relish to much controversy in the George W. Bush administration. They used them hundreds of times. A signing statement has been used to object to a law less than 10 times by the Obama administration -- less than 10 times by President Obama in three years. But apparently, according to the attorney general today, there will be an Obama signing statement on the defense bill. We will let you know when we have more detail. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: When you think of the great and wonderful city of Los Angeles, you do not think of public transportation, like trains, for example. But that is changing. Slowly. Maybe. Los Angeles is expanding its passenger rail service. Most recently the Gold Line, which now runs to east L.A. over the historic First Street Bridge. During the expansion, officials did not have to shut the Gold Line down, which was great since about a million Angelinos ride it every month. The First Street Bridge was built in 1884, made of wood back then. Five years later, it was remade with steel. And then in 1929, just before the Great Depression, that bridge was rebuilt with concrete. To get these new train tracks over it, the First street Bridge was shut down almost four years ago. While it was shut down, they added two for traffic lanes along with the rail lines to strengthen the bridge to hold all that new extra weight. Its five 200,000-pound pylons had to be taken out, strengthened and then put back in. New railings were added, so was a new round of seismic retrofitting for earthquake safety. Four years and $45 million later, the First Street Bridge is all set. It`s good to go. It re-opened yesterday, to great fanfare. A number of city officials on hand to celebrate and basically everybody in L.A. seems quite pleased with the new First Street Bridge final product. As a native Northern Californian, it is kind of hard for me to say this, but in this case, yay L.A. Meanwhile, in Northern California this week, the pro football stadium in San Francisco looked like this. For part of -- look at that -- for part of Monday night`s 49ers versus Steelers game. No, that is not mood lighting. That`s a power outage. Two power outages, actually. The first unexpected lights out delaying kickoff by about 20 minutes. Leaving the crowd of 70,000 football fans in almost complete darkness until one emergency light came on. Oh, what can possibly go wrong? And then the second power outage came in the second quarter, delayed the game by another 15 minutes. Now, among the people in attendance at the game that night, where the lights kept going out, was this man. He`s the head of PG&E, which in San Francisco is the electric company. Anthony Earley is his name. He was at the game in the owner`s luxury box from which he had a lovely and luxurious bird`s eye view of the blackout. It`s now reported that the power outage was caused when a primary overhead distribution line carrying power into the stadium snapped. Nobody knows why it snapped. Everybody knows the worn out but true metaphor that when you`re in a hole, you should stop digging. But in real, if it`s your economy that`s in the hole, it`s kind of time to start digging. At least if you`re concerned not just with the physical state of the nation`s roads and bridges and power lines and transit systems but with the job market and with the overall economy. Last week in one of those Washington, D.C., press releases that usually gets very little attention, our nation`s Department of Transportation announced a new round of funding for infrastructure projects around the country. The funding is for a new round of the very popular TIGER grant program. TIGER stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN PORCARI, DEP. SEC. OF TRANSPORTATION: We`re moving forward with the big projects that will move people, products and our economy forward were years and generations to come. And a big part of our success has been the TIGER program. We`re asking public officials and experts at the local level to tell us which projects will make the greatest difference. And one of the greatest sources of satisfaction we`ve had through this process is hearing directly from our mayors, our county commissioners and our community leaders on their priorities. We invest in those projects as partners. And then we reward the proven results. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Did you get what he`s saying about how this works? Instead of having members of Congress decide, right, with this TIGER program, states and cities and local government, local transit authorities and things like that apply to the Federal Transportation Department for money for specific projects that are ready to go. They`ve been doing this now for three years. This is the third year. And over those three years, states and cities and town governments have put forward $90 billion in projects that they say, from the ground level, they say they`re ready to go, that could be funded this way -- $90 billion in requests from the ground level for concrete that needs pouring, for asphalt that needs laying down, for bridges that need repaired, for tracks that need to be installed and for people that need to be hired to do all that need work. But the TIGER program doesn`t have $90 billion to spend. The TIGER program has less than 1/30th of that to spend. The TIGER program has only had $2.5 billion to spend over three years. There`s a ton that could be done if Congress could expand this kind of thing. But even with the little bit of money this TIGER program has to spend this year. It`s going to build 3 1/2 new miles of track on the Blue Line in Chicago. It`s going to replace the Sellwood Bridge in Multnomah County, Oregon. It`s going to replace the Kennebec Bridge in Maine. It will fix Main Street in beautiful Buffalo, New York. It will reinstruct two miles of Illinois Route 83. It will improve Interstate 5 right at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, which is all great. But again, this year, cities and towns put up more than 800 projects like that that were ready to go, ready to inject a very stimulative $14 billion worth of investment into the economy. But instead, we are only funding a fraction of that amount. The amount for the TIGER grants this year is less than $1 billion. They asked for $19 billion. The proportion that`s getting funded here is just -- you know how everybody`s worried that Europe is going to fall off a cliff? That various European economies are going to implode like ours did at the end of the Bush administration but in Europe, they`re not going to have a way to rescue theirs, so it`s going to domino effect, right? That`s the big worry in global economics and American economics right now. We`re worried about what`s going to happen in Europe. The situation in Europe was first and foremost a worry about the economy of Greece. But also Italy, too, right? In Italy, Berlusconi is out. He`s been replaced by a guy seen widely as a technocrat whose only job is to get Italy`s economy back growing. So Italy can get its debt under control, says after he has done his work on the economy, he -- even he says he will not try to stay in office. He will not run for re-election. He`s just there to fix the economy and he`s gone. You want to know what the technocrat is doing with his singular focus on getting Italy back on track to economic growth? They`re doing huge infrastructure investments. Everybody, even as everybody`s talking about austerity for Italy, austerity for Europe, they`re taking awful, painful economic medicine -- Italy just announced a 6.5 billion euro investment in their nation`s infrastructure, for the purpose to stimulating the Italian economy. Highways, high speed rail. They`re even building retractable underwater barriers to protect Venice from flooding. When you are in trouble, you build your way out. Governments are not like families or like individuals. Governments cannot wait until they`re flush and they have money laying around in some great economy to start building. It`s when times are toughest you have to build your way out of that. It also has the added benefit of keeping the lights on to better see the 49ers sack Ben Roethlisberger over and over and over again. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Good news and bad news today for Newt Gingrich. The good news, Mr. Gingrich is polling first in Virginia. Just when we thought the great Gingrich bubble had burst, he turns up today leading Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican field in Virginia`s latest Quinnipiac poll. And in a head to head, mano-a-mano, it is Newt Gingrich in Virginia, by a mile. So that`s the good news for Newt Gingrich in Virginia, right? The bad news is that Newt Gingrich is not on the ballot in Virginia. Mr. Gingrich raced there today for a couple of events that suddenly materialized on his schedule. A little speaking, handshaking, a little -- hey, would you sign my nominating petition? The deadline for getting on the ballot in Virginia is tomorrow. And that puts Newt Gingrich in kind of a desperate situation now that he is leading there and he has not yet qualified to run there. "Politico" today reported that the Gingrich campaign appears to be paying people to collect signatures. They appear to be offering a bounty of $1 per signature with a special bonus if you collect a whole bunch of signatures and a special, special bonus if you organize a crew of people and get lots of signatures, too. The Gingrich campaign is just in a frantic race there today to try to get him on the ballot in Virginia. Meanwhile, the Mitt Romney campaign blundered into some brand new trouble today. They blundered into some trouble on the one foreign policy issue that I think everybody cares about, even if this is going to be a year when nobody really cares about foreign policy. Here`s what Mitt Romney supposedly thought the last time he ran for president. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MODERATOR: Governor Romney, was the war in Iraq a good idea, worth the cost in blood and treasure we have spent? MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I supported it at the time. I support it now. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was Mitt Romney in 2008. Here was Mitt Romney today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: If we knew at the time of our entry into Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction, if somehow we had been given that information, obviously we would not have gone in. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don`t think we would have gone in? ROMNEY: Of course not. The president went in based upon intelligence they had weapons of mass destruction. Had he known that was not the case, the U.N. would not have put forward resolutions authorizing this type of action. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: OK. First of all, the U.N. didn`t authorize the Iraq war. Seriously, you don`t know that even know? That was -- that was despite -- oh, geez. So there`s that problem. But perhaps more importantly, Mitt Romney in 2008 says "now that we know there were no weapons of mass destruction," he says, "it was the right decision to invade Iraq." Mitt Romney today says, "Now that we know there were no weapons of mass destruction, of course we wouldn`t invade Iraq." Mitt Romney is making a hash of it. We`ll have more on that in just a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Last night in New Hampshire, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney rolled out a new stump speech. It was sort of an event unto itself. "The New York Times" describing the speech as carefully crafted. Not just in its word, but in its atmosphere. Noting the presence of special overhead lights and two teleprompters and four cameras from the Romney campaign on hand to film the scene. The new Mitt Romney stump speech both looked and sounded a lot like his probable template for a general election stump speech. The major theme being, of course, how awesome it would be if Mitt Romney were elected president in November instead of Barack Obama. So, here it is. Here`s the new general election oriented anti-Obama, Mitt Romney for president trademark message. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Four years ago, many Americans trusted candidate Barack Obama when he promised to bring Americans together. But now, we`ve learned that President Obama`s idea of bringing us together is not to lift us up, but instead to use the invisible boot of government to bring us all down. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The invisible boot of government? If you put on an invisible boot, does hat mean it will look like you are walking around barefoot even though you are really not? I`m sure Mitt Romney means for the invisible boot of government to sound like something terrible, but it`s kind of too weird to sound terrible, right? I mean, if anything, it sounds kind of neat. Maybe an invisible boot works like Wonder Woman`s invisible plane. She`s in a seated position, but why? Perhaps the invisible boot can be controlled by telepathy. Mitt Romney is supposed to be scary big government metaphor. The invisible boot? It needs a little work. But if you can get past the whole invisible boot idea, the concept that Mitt Romney is getting at is a good one to debate I think. And I mean that without sarcasm. He is getting at a core issue about the role of government and how we make things better, particularly in difficult economic times. This is about governance. And it`s about governance decisions that are being made right now. Right now, we do have a Democratic president and the Obama administration is making regulatory changes including two big ones unveiled today. Regulatory changes that matter. This is substantive stuff. This is not who`s up and who`s down. This is not just some symbolic thing to score points. This is real governing, right? The National Labor Relations Board is the subject of one of these new rules. They have passed a new rule as of today which they have been debating for a very long time which will change the rules by which people can decide they want to join a union. Right now, if enough people who work someplace are interested in there being a union there and they get enough signatures to hold an election to decide about the union, one of the ways that businesses try to block the union from ever forming is by making it take forever between the time the workers say they want an election and the time the election actually happens. The new rules are designed to speed up that process. Also today on air pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency just released new rules to limit the amount of mercury and other toxins released into the air. The new standards will require coal and oil-fired power plants to make use of technology that`s already out there to cut back emissions. The agency estimates that the new rules will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 cases of childhood asthma every year. These new rules have been two decades in the making. They were unveiled today by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at the Children`s National Medical Center. And I want to show you a little bit of what the rollout looked like. This is how the Obama administration rolled out this new rule and made the case for what they`re doing here. I think this is substantively important to understanding what`s going to happen next here. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LISA JACKSON, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: This is a great victory for public health, especially for the health of our children. Before this rule, there were no national standards limiting the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases that power plants across the country could release into the air we all breathe. When we talk about cutting hundreds of thousands of cases of respiratory symptoms, we`re talking about young people who can go outside and be with their friends without the worry they`ll have to struggle to breathe. When we talk about reducing mercury levels in our environment, we`re talking about lower amounts of mercury in the fish Americans eat each and every day. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Again, that was at a children`s medical center. So, that is how the Obama administration wants the country to understand this new rule. They rolled it out publicly with a pitch. Mitt Romney calls this new rule the invisible boot of government. Which is a really ridiculous phrase, but it does get at a really important point. In the economy that we have, with the economic disparity that we have, with the middle class longing that we still have, even though we don`t have much of a middle class anymore. From where we are now as Americans, do we look at changes like these? Changes like air pollution rules on mercury levels? Do we look at changes like making it not as hard to form a union where you work? Do we look at the changes and believe those things are helping us as a country or hurting? Not every American is going to answer that question the same way. But that is a good debate to have, whether or not we have to talk invisible boots in order to do it. Joining us is Bob Herbert, former columnist for "The New York Times," currently a senior, distinguished fellow at Demos and a contributor to Mr. Herbert, thank you for joining us. BOB HERBERT, DEMOS: Hi, Rachel. You know, I`m wearing invisible boots right now even as we speak. MADDOW: I`m actually wearing an entire invisible fat suit. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: It`s clearly this -- I mean, the way they set it up, this clearly it seems like they`re maybe shooting it for a TV ad. They want this to be the template for us moving forward. The invisible boot thing I think is inadvertently hilarious. But I`m sort of psyched by the overall message because I feel like at least finally we can have a substantive debate about something that`s about governance and not just elections and not just name-calling. HERBERT: Well, you know, he talks about the invisible boot and regulations and all that sort of thing. And, you know, it just makes me think, the greatest period economically for our country and the time when the great middle class was created was that period from the late `40s to the mid-1970s. It was a period in which labor unions were very strong. Taxes were much higher than they are now. Regulations were much tighter. We had Glass-Steagall in the financial industry, for example. And things worked much better. It was when that began to unravel, starting in the mid-`70s, coming all the way up to the 21st century, that things went haywire. You see where we are now. MADDOW: Are you happy from the perspective of somebody who writes from a center-left perspective, are you happy that that would be the turf the Republicans are staking, or at least this one leading Republican candidate is staking for the big argument of the election? HERBERT: Oh, yes. This is a tough environment for Obama or any Democrat to win in in any event. And the Republicans are just, from their perspective, fouling things up fairly well. So, you have someone like Romney talking about this invisible boot and talking about the need to get rid of regulations and that sort of thing. Just emphasizing the fact that he is essentially for the 1 percent -- to use the Occupy terminology. And then you have the crazies in the Tea Party in the House, for example, who are thwarting at least until now this, the extension of the tax decrease, the payroll tax decrease. And their whole goal is just to defeat Obama no matter who gets hurt. That combination is terrible for the Republicans. MADDOW: Right now, as I`m thinking back on Mitt Romney`s 2008 campaign, I was thinking back to his RNC speech at the convention. And that convention, of course, is remembered most for drill, baby, drill, and, of course, for Sarah Palin`s speech which was political genius even if it was a little bit weird in the moment. But Mitt Romney`s speeches when he talked about taking an ax to regulations, taking an ax to red tape. He has always thought that -- and a lot of Republicans have always thought that inveighing against regulation is a good thing because it makes it sound like you`re for businesses being let loose to grow and create more jobs. Do you think the politics of that changed because of the Wall Street collapse? Do you think the politics of that changed at all? Or do you think they can sort of count on the political benefit of that? HERBERT: I don`t think they can count on the political benefit of that. I think they are tone deaf when you start thinking about working Americans, whether they`re middle class, whether they`re poor. No matter where they are, as long as they`re not the very wealthy. So if you start talking -- I have never once in my life traveling in this country interviewing ordinary people, never once heard anyone bring up the idea of regulations. They are not concerned about regulations. They`re not concerned about taxes, for that matter. People don`t think that they`re too heavily taxed. They`re concerned about the state of the economy. They`re concerned first and foremost about jobs. But they`re also concerned -- and this is a little harder to quantify, they`re concerned in a general way about what is happening to the country. There is still that streak of patriotism out there. They don`t want the United States to fail. And they hate it when our alleged leaders in Washington are behaving the way they do. They can get nothing done and seem to be fouling things up fairly well. MADDOW: On the issue of those National Labor Relations Board regulations, Republicans sort of stormed into 2011 thinking that going after union rights was going to be a real political winner for them or at least be a policy goal for them. HERBERT: Right. MADDOW: We saw the huge massive 100,000 people in the streets backlash to that in Wisconsin. We saw not only the backlash in the streets of Ohio but we saw the bill recalled by Ohio voters after they did it there. I wonder if Republicans may be recalculating or maybe ought to be recalculating what I`m sure they`re planning on is being a full-court press against this new rule. They`ve been upset that the NLRB might change this rule of union. HERBERT: Now, I don`t know whether they are recalculating. But they ought to be -- to use your words. I mean, I think what has happened, the Republicans have made hay for decades by pitting one group against the other. And one of the saddest things I saw a couple years ago was when ordinary working people who were not in unions, were sort of making bitter comments about people who were in unions. Oh, they make too much, oh, they have these pensions and I don`t have a pension and that sort of thing. But I think that has faded, and the Republicans are in danger now of really being perceived as being, as attacking working people and attacking the middle class. And that`s not a place where you want to be as you`re entering a presidential election campaign. MADDOW: Bob Herbert, thank you very much for joining us. Nice to have you here. HERBERT: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: Merry Christmas, Bob. HERBERT: Great to see you. You, too. MADDOW: All right. Next up, speaking of Christmas, why does President Obama hate Christmas so much? Sarah Palin is demanding some answers right now. We will help her answer them. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: All right. Straight ahead, the best new thing in the world today is the best new thing in the world today, but it is also 4.5 billion years old and still a youthful delight. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: All right, America. How offended are you by this? I know, right? How dare they? I mean, Bo Obama on the White House Christmas card? Bo, a dog? A dog on the official White House Christmas card? This is a holiday travesty, if you ask me. But don`t worry. FOX News is on this. FOX`s Todd Starnes is all over the story. His intrepid reporting revealing that this is what it says inside the evil dog-themed White House Christmas card. Quote, "From our family to yours, may your holiday shine with the light of the season." Where I ask you is any mention of Christmas, let alone Christ? I mean, how are we even supposed to know it`s a Christmas card? And there`s more. According to FOX`s exclusive reporting, holiday presents on the card are placed on a table underneath a poinsettia instead of under a Christmas tree. Now, of course, some pagan traditions have poinsettias as a symbol of Satan. Just saying. Our friends at FOX knew that on a story this hot, they need experts to weigh in. Luckily, they`ve got former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin on payroll. She told the network that she found this White House Christmas card to be a bit unusual. Quote, "`It`s odd,` she said, wondering why the president`s Christmas card highlights his dog instead of traditions like family, faith and freedom." Governor Palin saying, "The majority of Americans appreciate more traditional, quote, American foundational values illustrated and displayed on Christmas cards and on a Christmas tree" -- like, for example, the Christmas cards of our other not secretly Kenyan presidents. Like the ones that they have displayed, right? On their American Christmassy Christian Christmas cards, like look at President Bush`s card from 2005. OK, well, maybe not that one. Are those dogs? Yes. Definitely this one from 2002. You know I`m actually sort of having a hard time locating the baby Jesus in this one. I bet we can find him on some Ronald Reagan cards, though. No, not this one in 1983 unless he`s the chandelier. And no, not there either. Turns out almost every White House Christmas card features some picture of the White House, or a room in the White House, or dogs -- which is not a source of outrage to FOX when any other president does it. But it is a source of outrage to FOX and to Governor Palin when this president does it. Why is that, I wonder? And now is the part where I show you the very, very, very Christmassy emphasis on Christ Christmas cards from FOX itself. Nothing says the little baby Jesus like two foxes roasting the NBC peacock over an open flame while sheep look on in wonder. That`s the holiday card from FOX Business Channel this year. Maybe they`re secretly Kenyan, too. Here`s the FOX News card. If you can`t make out that picture, it is fox racing down a hill and beating ABC, CBS and NBC. And then there`s us. That`s us, MSNBC and CNN cowering behind a big hill of snow. All right. As somebody who is being made fun of in the FOX News Christmas card, I think that`s a funny card. It is a good Christmas card. Cartoony. I like that. Perhaps we should call Governor Palin, though, and ask her to point out where the family, faith and freedom are in that card -- or maybe we should not do that. At least we shouldn`t do that and call it news because to do that would be totally, totally idiotic. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Best new thing in the world today, this is the sun, this is the earth. Not to scale. All right. On the earth, we rotate on our axis, right? We spin this way. Well, we spin like this. All right? And a spin takes a day, right? We also revolve around the sun, which takes a year. Now, there is a genius, genius thing about this whole system. We are not straight up and down. We are actually on a tilt. You see that "x" there? You see that? As I said, not to scale. Imagine that`s us. Imagine that`s North America, as I said. Not to scale. And there`s this genius thing that happens because of the tilt, because we are not straight up and down with the equator, straight around the middle. When we are tilted toward the sun, we "X" marks the spot North America, when we are tilted toward the sun, we get summer. When we are tilted away from the sun, we get winter. But we start to come out of the winter and make the turn towards summer. We start to cozy up to the sun. We start to come around again so that our tilt is getting us more sunshine during the day at a time of the year when you would not expect. Let`s put the solar system away for a second. Excuse me. If you look at the calendar, if you look at the datebook, if you look at just the weather, just look outside, right? This time of year, it feels like the dark night of our soul is just beginning, right? The depths of winter lay before us. We are just getting into the darkness, the cold, the January, February and March misery. But praise Copernicus. It`s technically not true that the worst lies ahead, even though it feels that way. As of today, starting tonight at a half hour past midnight Eastern Time, the days start getting longer, every single day. The shortest day of the year is done. It was today. Yea! Which means tomorrow`s better. And it means that the day after that is better than that. So join with me seasonal affected disorder afflicted North Americans in recognizing that the best new thing in our half of the world today is something that has a really hippie name but that has a really, really happy outcome, the solstice, just in time -- best new thing in the world. That does it for us tonight. Now, it is 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