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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/25/12

Guests: Steve Kornacki, Arne Duncan

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you. And thanks to you at home for joining us for this hour. For the third time since he ran for the nation`s highest office, President Obama has sat down for an interview with "Rolling Stone" magazine. Now, these are always long, substantive, totally on the record interviews. And in today`s "Rolling Stone" interview with the president, which just came out, without ever saying the name "Mitt Romney," President Obama made news by saying this. He said quote, "I don`t think that the Republican Party`s nominee is going to be able to suddenly say, `Everything I`ve said for the last six months, I didn`t mean.` I`m assuming that he meant it. When you`re running for president, people are paying attention to what you`re saying." See the etch-a-sketch is implied there. President Obama skewering Mitt Romney there for what has already started to happen on the Republican side of this general election, which is that Mr. Romney is abandoning a lot of the hard right positions that he took to win the primary and he is instead adopting a whole new and in some cases opposite positions that he`s going to try to run on in the general election. At the same time that President Obama went after Mr. Romney for shedding his skin and dropping his own positions and picking up new ones, because it`s convenient, the president also in this new interview goes after the Republican Party as a whole for how far and how fast that party has sprinted to the right, even just in the last few years. This is kind of incredible. He says, quote, "Think about John McCain, who obviously I have profound differences with. Here`s a guy who not only believed in climate change, but co-sponsored a cap and trade bill that got 43 votes in the Senate, just a few years ago, somebody who thought banning torture was the right thing to do, somebody who co-sponsored immigration reform with Ted Kennedy. That`s the most recent Republican candidate for president, and that gives you some sense of how profoundly that party has shifted." And it`s true. I mean, it`s not only that Republicans like Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan would be way too liberal for the Republican Party of today, even the very last Republican they just nominated for president in the last election is a off the charts to the left of where you are allowed to be a Republican now. What John McCain sponsored with Ted Kennedy, the president referenced there, was a comprehensive immigration reform bill, a bill to reform the whole immigration system. For people who did not have the stomach to reform the whole system, Republicans cooked up a much, much smaller bill, kind of a niche bill called the DREAM Act, which just did the easiest, smallest parts of fixing immigration policy. That was what was on the menu before. Now, this year, not only are they not going to reform the whole system, their guy this year says he would even veto the little niche bill. He would even veto the teeny tiny, everybody-agrees-on-it fix that was cooked up for conservatives who were too scared to do any big policy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I were to elected and congress were to pass the DREAM Act, would I veto it? And the answer is yes. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: This year, the Republican nominee would veto the conservatives` own immigration bill, the little one. Their "if you can do nothing else, at least you can to this" bill, he would veto that. And he says the Arizona papers, please, law, which sticks the police on anybody who looks like they might be an immigrant, he says that law should be a model for the nation. That is the bill that is before the Supreme Court today, the Supreme Court of the United States. Today was the last day for oral arguments for the Supreme Court for this year. One of the liberal-leaning justices, Elena Kagan, is recused from this case, so there are actually only eight justices hearing this instead of the usual nine. Now, Arizona calls the policy that it`s pursuing with its "papers, please" law, it calls it attrition through enforcement. The basic idea is that you`d make life miserable for immigrants and hope that that scarce them out of the state. They call it attrition through enforcement in the courtroom. On the campaign trail, they call it self-deportation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say you don`t want to go and round up people and deport them, but you also say that they would have to go back to their home countries and then apply for citizenship. So if you don`t deport them, how do you send them home? ROMNEY: Well, answer is self-deportation, which is that people decide that they could do better by going home. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: This is one of those things that Mitt Romney is going to try to pretend that he never said. Endorsing the Arizona "papers, please" law as a model for the nation, and specifically endorsing this idea of self- deportation. Yesterday, in a Q&A with reporters, Mitt Romney`s now-great surrogate and supporter John McCain denied that Mitt Romney had ever said "self-deportation." A "Huffington Post" reporter Jennifer Bendery caught this exchange on tape. Listen. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) REPORTER: He also has supported a policy of self-deportation. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No, he hasn`t. He has said that that`s one of the options that needs to be looked at. So don`t put words in his mouth. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: "Don`t put words in his mouth"? For the record, one more time, here`s the words that were, in fact, in Mitt Romney`s mouth of their own accord. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Well, the answer is self-deportation, which is people decide that they can do better by going home. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: What is that that President Obama said? I don`t think their nominee is going to be able to suddenly say, everything I`ve said for the last six months, I didn`t mean. Mitt Romney, you said the answer is self-deportation. So far, John McCain is denying that you said that that, saying anybody who quotes you saying that is putting words in your mouth. Mitt Romney`s main adviser on immigration issues has been this man, Kris Kobach. Here`s the Romney campaign`s announcement that Kris Kobach had joined the Romney campaign the first time he ran for president back in 2008. Kris Kobach is one of the authors of the Arizona`s "papers, please" law. When Mr. Romney proudly announced him as his guy on immigration this year for the 2012 campaign, he said, quote, "Kris has been a true leader on securing our borders and stopping the flow of illegal immigration into this country. With Kris on the team, I look forward to working with him to take forceful steps to curtail illegal immigration and to support states like South Carolina and Arizona that are stepping forward to address this problem." Arizona has its "papers, please" law before the U.S. Supreme Court today. South Carolina essentially copied the Arizona law, but South Carolina had theirs blocked by a lawsuit before it could take effect. But Mitt Romney, in choosing Kris Kobach implicitly, and explicitly, out loud, in print, spelled out when he was announcing Kris Kobach as his immigrations adviser, has called the Arizona idea a model for the nation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN KING, CNN: You have talked, Governor, about self-deportation -- if businesses do their job, asking for the right documents, that people will leave. But what about arresting? Should there be aggressive, seek them out, find them, and arrest them as Sheriff Arpaio advocates? ROMNEY: You know, I think you see a model here in Arizona. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Mitt Romney`s campaign is also trying to deny that he ever said that. They`re trying to deny that he ever said the self-deportation thing. They`re trying to deny that he ever said that Arizona would be a model for the nation. But he did, in fact, say those things. He`s really, really, really extreme on immigration. He will try to erase that for the general election. He`s already trying to deny that he took those positions, but he took those positions. There is tape. There is a problem here, though, for Mitt Romney, beyond just what President Obama points out today, about having to try to convince us all that he didn`t mean anything that he said for the last few months. There is a problem beyond just blatantly reversing positions and denying that you said stuff that you very plainly said. There was an amazing article in "The Washington Post" yesterday. It was an interview, kind of a pseudo-puffy profile of Kris Kobach, Mitt Romney`s immigration guy, the SB-1070 guy, along with the guy with whom he wrote the "papers, please" law in Arizona. The "papers, please" law in Arizona became the Alabama law, became the South Carolina law. All of these draconian, unprecedented in modern times, anti-immigrant laws that have passed in the last couple of years were written by Kris Kobach and a guy named Michael Hethmon. Quote, "Kobach and Hethmon have helped six states and at least seven cities and counties to write tough legislation that allows local police or bureaucrats to crack down on illegal immigrants. So why are they doing this? What is their aim? Remember, Kris Kobach is Mitt Romney`s immigration adviser, and this is what Mitt Romney says should be a model for the nation. What is motivating these guys? Why are they writing these laws? What do they think they are doing with these laws that Mitt Romney says should be a model for the nation? Quote, "Immigration is on track to change the demographic makeup of the entire country. You know, what they call minority-majority, says Hethmon. How many countries have gone through a transition like that, peacefully, carefully? It`s theoretically possible, but we don`t have any examples." Wait, that`s why we need anti-immigration bills like the ones you guys wrote in Arizona that Mitt Romney says are a model for the nation, that`s why we need them? To make sure that America stays white enough? To keep the number of non-white people in America low? That`s why we need immigration reform, that`s what`s motivating these bills? You know, what they call minority-majority. How many nations have gone through a transition like that, peacefully or carefully? It`s theoretically possible, but we don`t have any examples. If that kind of reasoning, that the country might not be white enough unless we act to keep it that way, if that kind of reasoning sounds a little familiar to you, it`s because a group called Public Enemy did a whole record about it in 1990. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is public enemy? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What`s the deal? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What`s your latest hit, brother? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fear of a black planet. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: Do not believe that this is hype. The guy who with Kris Kobach wrote the papers, please, law that is before the Supreme Court today which Mitt Romney says should be a model for the nation explains that the justification for anti-immigrant laws like the ones he wrote -- the justification is maintaining an adequate proportion of white people in this country. And so, Mitt Romney is trying to decide where he wants to be seen on this issue. And he`s doing in public, clumsily. After he`s already gone on the record in ways he is apparently now regretting. And this issue is only going to get bigger between now and the election. The Supreme Court having heard arguments on the "papers, please" law today is going to rule on it before the election. Democrats say if the court lets the law stand, they will bring up a bill in Congress to overturn it legislatively and make Republicans vote on it. Republicans boycotted a Senate subcommittee hearing on the issue yesterday, where that announcement was made, leading to awkward pictures like this one, where it`s just republic -- excuse me, just Democrat Chuck Schumer and Democrat Dick Durbin, and a guy trying to hold up Dick Durbin`s visual aid, but that`s it, because nobody else showed up. During that hearing, Arizona`s Republican Senate state president, who got recalled from office, and replaced by a more mainstream Republican for having supported this Arizona law, he yelled at Chuck Schumer -- I can just play it. Here he is, yelling at Chuck Schumer. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RUSSELL PEARCE: We have a national crisis, and yet everyone wants to ignore that. The cost of the damage, the crime, and we can go through this, and if I had the time, chairman, or were allowed the time, I could give you a lot more information too. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Again, that`s Russell Pearce, having been turfed out of office for having made Arizona essentially a national pariah, for having shepherded this legislation through to passage, this "papers, please:" law. Russell Pearce speaking there in the Senate, talking about the national crisis that justifies this law. For the record, this national crisis he`s talking about, this national crisis we have on illegal immigration, turns out is not so much really a crisis right now. Literally, in terms of the numbers, "The Wall Street Journal" reporting this week on a new study showing net migration from Mexico to the United States has dropped down to zero. But having taken the position that there is a huge crisis, a crisis so dire that it necessitates radical policies like Arizona`s, to be a model for the nation, Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee now has some problems. Tactically, there`s no way he can win the election with numbers among Latino voters that look like this. It is just not possible. He has the awkwardness of very clumsily now trying to drop his super anti-immigrant positions, as if he didn`t have them, in time for the general election -- even though everything he said was on tape, and denying he had those positions that he took on tape, of course, makes him look like a liar. But maybe the biggest problem and the least reported problem in all of this is that in allying himself with the "papers, please" side of the immigration issue, in taking Kris Kobach on as his immigration guy, he has hopped in bed with and advanced the national interests of people who say they`re doing what they`re doing in order to preserve the white majority in America, in order to keep the number of nonwhite people in our country from getting to be too high. How do you explain that one away? Joining us now is Steve Kornacki, senior political writer for and MSNBC contributor. Steve, it`s good to have you here. Thank you. STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Good to be here. MADDOW: Do you think Mitt Romney has a bigger problem than flip- flopping in that his original position that he`s going to try to flip-flop from is maybe more perilous than has been anticipated in the political calculus so far? KORNACKI: Yes. Well, I think the issue is that. Romney`s sort of flip-flopping tendencies, there`s a very specific way that he flip-flops and reason he flip-flops, and it`s to bring himself into alignment with whatever the target audience of the moment is for him. So, in that sense, the Mitt Romney that we see right now really is more than any other nominee we`ve seen from the Republican Party in decades, I think, a perfect reflection of where the Republican Party is right now. And on this issue of immigration, you see, it means that basically, if Mitt Romney had not even opened his mouth on this subject right now and became the Republican nominee, he`d face a huge issue with Latino voters right now, because, yes, John McCain won the nomination in 2008 and he was sort of a black sheep on the immigration issue, but since this issue exploded about six, seven years ago, nationally, the Republicans have sort of gotten in bed with the guys like Russell Pearce. They have defined and driven the Republican Party`s message on this. So, even a guy like McCain, who basically had a reasonable immigration record, absolutely got his clock cleaned with Latino voters in 2008. It was an historic, you know, 40, 41-point gap. So, that`s what Romney`s inheriting right now. And that means if he`s going to try to etch a sketch his way away from this in a way that doesn`t alienate his base that`s already suspicious of him, it`s almost an impossible task because when you inherit that much baggage, you need to do something dramatic. And his wiggle room here I think is very nuanced, it`s very limited. MADDOW: Obviously, the difference in opinion, difference of political opinion on this issue and how much wiggle room politicians have on it is determined in part by broad feelings about immigration and what the right thing is to do about them. But I wonder if this new detail that`s emerged in "The Washington Post," that the co-author with Kris Kobach of the Arizona law, which is the model for all of these other laws, which is before the Supreme Court today, before the Supreme Court today, I wonder if him saying it`s explicitly for a racially designed outcome in the United States, in order to maximize the white population vis-a-vis, the nonwhite population. If that`s potentially a political tipping point -- doesn`t that kind of sharpen the edges here a little bit? KORNACKI: Yes. But again, you wonder, how will Mitt Romney handle something like this? Because we`ve seen a pattern where the people he`s aligned himself, the sort of forces he`s aligned himself with to get this nomination. When they have said sort of comparable things, I think of like Rush Limbaugh. When Rush Limbaugh went after Sandra Fluke a few months ago, what was Romney`s response? It was a very tepid -- well, that`s not quite how I would have put. You know, it wasn`t an explicit condemnation. He is scared of going to war with these guys. And so, I think the most wiggle room he realistically has about this, if someone makes a blatantly racist statement on this, he can distance himself from the statement. He can make sort of a bland statement that, hey, I don`t necessarily think that the Arizona law is national model, but this is quickly going to become a specific, policy-oriented discussion at some point. OK, you`re president, Congress passes an Arizona law, what do you do? You know, you were president. You know, a state like Arizona passes this, do you do what the Obama Justice Department did, and do you go after this, or do you let it stand? There are very specific questions he has to answer here. And when you have to pick a side there, somebody`s going to be upset. MADDOW: Yes, and even before he has to pick the policy side of it, he, as of today, should probably be answering whether or not -- I mean, what`s he going to say? I like this law, even though I don`t agree with the guy who wrote it, that the aim of it should be to preserve the white majority in America? I mean, like, I`d love to hear him parse that. KORNACKI: Right, there`s really no -- it`s a needle you can`t thread. MADDOW: Steve Kornacki, senior political writer for, MSNBC contributor -- Steve, thanks a lot. Appreciate it. All right. A while back, former Republican candidate Rick Santorum called President Obama a snob. Remember that? He said President Obama was a snob for saying that Americans should go to college. Rick Santorum has now issued a rare half mea culpa, which is an awkward thing to do, even in Latin. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Here`s something about which there is not a partisan divide, but where exists a really important and unresolved political issue. It has to do with the war. The war in Iraq ended in December, right? More than a million Americans served in Iraq. At the height of that 8 1/2-year-long word, there were 166,000 American troops there at time. As of now, there are zero American troops in Iraq. That war is over. But our even longer war in Afghanistan are still underway. There are nearly 90,000 Americans deployed in Afghanistan right this second. The Obama administration`s plan is that there will never again be more Americans in Afghanistan than there are right now. The number of deployed troops is due to start dropping over time as combat missions gradually start to end next year or be transferred to Afghan forces. And then basically, all Americans are due to come home from Afghanistan by the end of the year after that. But here`s something new about that. An important article, and so far pretty much overlooked, today in "The Hill" newspaper, says that the White House is about to start pushing the message that the Afghanistan war is ending. Quote, "A senior administration official told reporters this week that the U.S. transition from Afghanistan is the most important message the White House will be telegraphing as it moves into the general election." The most important message -- I think what they mean is the most important message the administration has about the war, is that the war is ending. I don`t think they mean that the president is going to base his whole re-election campaign around the issue of ending the Afghanistan war. But, frankly, if the president wanted to do that, there`s almost nothing in U.S. politics that unites Americans like opposition to the Afghanistan war. In a new FOX News poll released just a few hours ago, the proportion of Americans who say they want U.S. troops out of Afghanistan is 78 percent. The last "Washington Post"/ABC News poll said the proportion of the Americans who think the Afghanistan war has been worth fighting is only 30 percent. The last CNN poll showed a clear majority of Americans not only wanting troops out of Afghanistan, but a clear majority wanting troops out of Afghanistan earlier than the president`s two-year 2014 timeframe. Again, I don`t think that this reporting in "The Hill" today means that President Obama has a secret plan to base his whole re-election effort on talking about end the war in Afghanistan. But if he did want to pick something popular, bringing the troops home from Afghanistan is very, very, very popular. It`s not even partisan. Everybody wants that. That said, as much as everybody in the country wants all the troops home, polls show that we are glad they are home from Iraq, and we want them home from Afghanistan. As much as Americans are united in that, we frankly have some responsibilities as civilians to how responsibly bring those troops home. And apparently, we are blowing it in at least one really important way. Look at this. This is a new report from the inspector general for the Veterans Affairs Administration. A new report on whether our troops are coming home -- whether our troops coming home from these wars are getting what they were promised they would get from Veterans Affairs. This is scathing. Not only are vets not getting mental health help that we promised they`d be able to get, not only are our vets waiting more like 50 days or even 80 days to get a mental health appointment, the V.A. isn`t even being honest about how badly they are screwing this up. The inspector general calls the V.A.`s own data, their own reporting on how long they`re making our veterans wait for mental health care, quote, "of no real value." So in other words, how`s the V.A. doing in terms of seeing vets who need someone to talk to about mental health issues when they come home from the war? Don`t ask the V.A., they`re making up the data to hide the problem. That`s what the inspector general`s report says. This is bad. And frankly, it`s not on the veterans to fix this for themselves. This is on us. This is on civilians. We`re the ones who made them the promise that if they serve, part of the deal is that the V.A. is where they would get their health care and their mental healthcare when they came back. We are blowing that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)( SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA), VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: The findings of this first phase of the investigation are at once substantial and troubling. We have heard frequently about how long it takes for veterans to get into treatment. And I`m glad the I.G. has brought those concerns to light. The I.G. has also found the existing scheduling system is hopelessly insufficient and needs to be replaced. The I.G. findings also show some serious discrepancies in what V.A. has been telling this committee and veterans. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was Senator Patty Murray, chair of veterans affairs, speaking today at a Senate hearing. Also today at that hearing was an undersecretary at the V.A. Also a veteran. Also somebody from the I.G.`s office, the inspector general`s office. Also a retired major general. Not at the hearing today, the guy in charge of the V.A. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki was invited by the committee to speak today, to offer testimony, to explain what`s going on in his department and how he intends to fix it. He did not show up. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which is the largest organization of veterans from these wars, they have been asking for a meeting with the secretary for a while now. They again requested to meet with him this week to talk about this devastating report on a really important issue. So far, bupkis. Sometimes in politics, we think that if things are not partisan fight, they probably aren`t a big deal. But this one, this one is not partisan at all, and this is a big freaking deal. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Once upon a time, Newt Gingrich was the Republican front- runner for president. And he was running a positive campaign. He was the front-runner who didn`t need to go negative. He didn`t need to run attack ads, because the other candidates were so beneath him in the polls, there was no chance that Newt Gingrich wouldn`t win the nomination. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you respond to Republicans who say, if you don`t draw the distinctions with Mitt Romney and others who are attacking you, if you don`t point out what their perceived vulnerabilities are, Barack Obama and the Democrats sure aren`t going to show that same reluctance and you`re doing Obama a favor by staying positive -- NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They`re not going to be the nominee. I mean, I have no -- I don`t have to go around and point out the inconsistencies of people who aren`t going to be the nominee. They`re not going to be the nominee. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re going to be the nominee? GINGRICH: I`m going to be the nominee. It`s very hard to not look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I`m going to be the nominee. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The fine line between thinking positive and being delusional, it`s a fun place to be. Covering Newt Gingrich running for president was like free pizza. Or, surprise, go home early! Boss is calling today a half day because it`s so nice outside. It`s like a spur of the moment office visit from Tom Brady if you`re like me and you like Tom Brady. Covering Newt Gingrich running for president made coming to work fun. Now, fun`s over. Maybe. I have something up my sleeve. Stay tuned. Best new thing in the world today is coming up right at the end of the show. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: I think we might be on the verge of a correction. On April 2nd, when Rick Santorum was still a candidate for president, he said this crazy, untrue thing about the University of California. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was just reading something last night from the state of California, and that the California universities, they`re -- I think it`s seven or eight of the California system of universities don`t even teach an American history course. It`s not even available to be taught. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That is not true. Not true at all. Every university in the University of California system teaches American history, every one. Even the one that`s just a medical school, they teach American history classes. Three weeks ago, while Rick Santorum was still in the race, his senior strategist came on this show and said that if, in fact, Mr. Santorum had been totally wrong about that, and he was, in fact, totally, 100 percent wrong about that, certainly, if he had been wrong, Mr. Santorum would apologize for that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN BRABENDER, SANTORUM STRATEGIST: I would guess if that somebody who he felt was credible gave him information that he thought was credible and he felt that he misspoke, I think he would be one of the first people - - the person to say, I was wrong, and I`m going to tell you. That`s the kind of person he is. MADDOW: I will follow up with you on that, because these are easy ones. BRABENDER: OK. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Now, Rick Santorum still has not apologized. But he has now started apologizing for some other stuff. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANTORUM: The snob one, because I misread his comment. I thought he said everybody should go to college, and it was -- what I had read was someone`s interpretation of what -- and I just used that as a fact, and I - - it was factually incorrect. So that`s the one I feel bad about. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was Rick Santorum on CNN last night saying that he feels bad for having said this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)] SANTORUM: President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Rick Santorum now says he feels bad about that, because, in fact, what Barack Obama was saying was that everybody needs access to some post-high school something, whether it`s two-year college or four-year college or vocational or technical training, something, because that`s what our economy requires. President Obama says this on the campaign trail all the time. The unemployment rate for people with high school education or less is way worse than the unemployment rate for people who have more education than that. Everybody needs access to higher education. Rick Santorum ran with that on the campaign trail forever, like it was a huge scandal. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANTORUM: I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. SANTORUM: Because they`re indoctrination skills, absolutely. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Oh, yes, the indoctrination, oh, yes. As of last night, Rick Santorum is sorry for calling the president a snob, for wanting people to have access to higher education. He still has not corrected what he said about American history not being taught in the University of California. And I`m guessing that he still believes that colleges where you get liberally indoctrinated. Republican politics this year around the issue of college -- about going to college, about colleges being suspect places, in particular, about how we pay for college in this country, Republican thinking on these issues is usually out of the spotlight in politics. But this week, the spotlight has been on it. The president has done a three-state college tour this week, and Democrats are really focusing on trying to win younger votes, and in part because of that, they have really gleefully been shining a spotlight on what Republicans think now about the issue of college. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One Republican congresswoman said she had very little tolerance for people who tell me they graduate with debt, because there`s no reason for that. I`m just quoting here. I`m just quoting. She said -- she said students who rack up student loan debt are just sitting on their butts, having opportunity dumped in your lap. I mean, I`m reading it here. So I didn`t make this up. Now, can you imagine saying something like that? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I love the girl standing behind the president going, Virginia Foxx, Virginia Foxx, the whole time. She`s right. She knew exactly who he was talking about. Obama, President Obama speaking yesterday in North Carolina, quoting Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican congresswoman. Here with was the president today at the University of Iowa talking about a congressman from the state next door, Todd Aiken of Missouri. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: You`ve got one member of congress who compared these student loans -- I`m not kidding here -- to a stage three cancer of socialism. Stage three cancer -- I don`t know where to start. What do you mean? What are you talking about? Come on. (APPLAUSE) OBAMA: Just when you think you`ve heard it all in Washington, somebody comes up with a new way to go off the deep end. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The president, the Democrats broadly, have been aggressively on offense against Republicans on the issue of going to college and student loans, all week. And today on this issue, they won. We`ll have that and the interview tonight with our nation`s secretary of education, coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: We can`t price the middle class out of a college education. We can`t do it. (APPLAUSE) OBAMA: Especially when most new jobs in America will require more than a high school diploma. Congress needs to act right now to prevent interest rates on federal student loans from shooting up and shaking you down. That`s where you come in. I`ve got to tell you, the Republicans who run the House of Representatives have not yet said whether or not they`ll stop your rates from doubling. Helping more young people afford college should be at the forefront of the America`s agenda. And it shouldn`t be a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an American issue. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was President Obama at the University of Iowa today, his third college speech in two days. Democrats have been on offense against Republicans on the issue of education, and on the issue of student loans in particular, all this week. Well, the president has been doing speeches like this at colleges, pitching his policies and going after Republicans, the Democratic-leaning American Bridge PAC put out a highlight reel of Mitt Romney talking about college issues on the campaign trail. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) (INAUDIBLE) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just started law and they`re doing away with unsubsidized loans for grad students, which makes it almost to impossible to pay out of our debt, have a house, have a car, have a family before we retire. What are you going to do for people like me? ROMNEY: I wish there was a place to find really cheap or free money, that we could pay for everyone`s education, but that`s not going to happen. I would like to have more competition between schools. I hope you shopped around. Not everybody is going to go to college, of course. College is not right for everybody. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: After weeks of ads like that and bully pulpit pressure from the president personally on colleges, House Republicans and Mitt Romney has done a 180 on the issue of whether or not student loan rates should double this summer. The Republican position all year long, the position of the Paul Ryan budget, is that student loan rates would be allowed to double this summer. But the pressure from the other side appears to have worked. First, Mitt Romney, and now congressional Republicans have caved on this issue. House Republicans say they are now planning to vote on Friday, on the Democrat`s plan to keep student loan rates where they are. Joining us now for the interview is a man who is not a combatant in these political fights, but who is in charge of implementing the nation`s education policy, our nation`s secretary of education, Arne Duncan. Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us tonight. ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Good evening, Rachel. Thank you so much for the opportunity. MADDOW: Why have educational costs gone up so fast? Two and a half times the rate of inflation over the last 30 years, that`s even faster than health care costs. Why is this happening? DUNCAN: Yes, it`s a real challenge. Two basic things. One, states have to continue to invest. And when states don`t invest, universities, particularly public ones, raise their tuitions. And secondly, we have to continue to challenge universities to become more efficient and to use technology to do more in those classes and we have to -- this is all about shared responsibility. We have to invest, we need to continue to invest, states have to do their part. Universities have to do it as well. MADDOW: What about the Republican`s argument that the reason college is getting more expensive over time is because of the government trying to help people afford it? That student grants and loans are pushing the price of education higher over time. DUNCAN: Well, it`s just factually incorrect. My team looked that this very, very closely. Over the past 30 years, Rachel, 19 of those years, Pell Grants have gone up. Ten of those years, Pell Grants have stayed the same. One of those years, Pell Grants actually went down. And all 30 of those years, tuition went up. MADDOW: So there`s no correlation between Pell Grants, at least, towards grants towards college education and the cost of it. DUNCAN: That`s exactly right, over the past three decades. MADDOW: Student activists called today one-trillion-dollar day. They say this is the day that the accumulative student debt in the country hit $1 trillion. In a bad economy, it`s getting better but it`s still bad, with college so expensive and getting worse all the time, how do you tell people how to figure out whether it is worth the debt to go to college now? DUNCAN: It is absolutely worth the investment to go to college. As you said, Rachel, all the jobs in the future are going to college graduates. Today in a tough economy, the unemployment rate for college graduates is half that of other folks. Lifelong earnings are two to three times as much. And this is why it is so important that Congress act now. College has to be accessible and affordable for the middle class and for those aspiring to be in the middle class. And I can`t tell you how many young people and families I talk to, not just in disadvantaged communities, but in middle class communities are starting to think that college isn`t for them, it`s for rich folks, people not like them. So Congress has to act and has to act now in a bipartisan way by July 1st to make sure that these interest rates don`t double. That would make no sense, whatsoever. MADDOW: Beyond specifically the issue of college, the Republicans likely presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who I was talking about a moment ago, he has talked about maybe eliminating the Department of Education, which you head, or all but eliminating it. It is becoming fashionable in some parts of Republican politics to talk about abolishing public schools all together, to not have public schooling in America anymore. Do you feel like it`s part of your job as education secretary to make even the very basic case now that every American kid ought to be able to go to school for free? Is that part of the remit of your job now? DUNCAN: Well, frankly, I don`t pay any attention to the other side. My job is to do a great job of educating young people. Fundamentally, Rachel, as a country, we have to educate our way to a better economy. We have to invest in high-quality, with early childhood education. We have to invest in K to 12 reform. Make sure we`re driving down dropout rates, increasing graduation rates. And then we have to make sure that all of our young people have access to some form of higher education, four-year universities, two-year community colleges, trade, technical, vocation training. That`s our national mission and we have to all work together and stop all this silly bickering and fighting. MADDOW: The Chronicle for Higher Education says that for-profit universities, relatively new sector, they educate about 12 percent of American students but they account for about 50 percent of student loans that are in default. For-profit schools are really targeting veterans to get their G.I. bill benefits in the way that has some veterans concerned. Is the for-profit college industry making more money than since for us as a country? Are there new challenges around that sector that we don`t fully appreciate it? DUNCAN: Well, it`s a tremendous variation there. You have some very high quality, for-profit institutions where people are going and getting an education that`s leading to good-paying jobs. And there are others that are taking on far too much debt and not having access to a good job at the back end. So what we want to make sure is a good access, have a chance to continue to offer great education, but challenge the status quo. And that`s what our regulations did for those that are taken advantage of the disadvantaged, be they veterans or be they a single mother with three children, trying to go to school and take the next step up the economic ladder. The last thing you want is for that kind of person to be in a worse position than when they started. MADDOW: Our nation`s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, sir, thank you for joining us tonight. It`s nice to have your time, I know you`re a busy man. Thank you. DUNCAN: Thanks so much. Have a great evening. MADDOW: Thank you. All right. Right after this show, on "THE LAST WORD", yogurt gate, the president of the United States versus the bacterial fermentation of milk. Lawrence O`Donnell has the details of that. And here, best new thing in the world. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. Best thing in the world. Best Newt thing in the world. As you know, Newt Gingrich announced today that he will suspend his presidential campaign. Randomly, he also said he won`t start the suspension of his campaign until Tuesday of next week. So, I guess we got some time to pull ourselves together. Of course, we did kind of see this thing coming, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades and that doesn`t even count as close. But now that he`s officially out or officially almost suspended or whatever, it is -- thanks for the memories time for Mr. Gingrich. Before this presidential campaign, I mean, you remember that -- yes, remember? Newt Gingrich was just a live newt girls guy. The former speaker of the House who was making money with scammy spammy blast faxes and direct mail and giving people fake awards that you had to pay thousands of dollars to collect? He accidentally giving spam fake award to a Dallas strip club and then trying to take the awards back, he was live, Newt girls, blink, blink. But now, he`s so much more. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you say to somebody, you shouldn`t go to work before you`re what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You`re totally poor, you`re in a school that`s failing with a teacher that`s failing, I have tried for years to have a very simple model. Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitor, have one master janitor and payroll students to take care of the school. The NRA has been too timid. And I want to explain what I mean. A Gingrich presidency will submit to the United Nations a treaty that extends the right to bear arms as a human right for every person on the planet. By the end of my second term -- (APPLAUSE) GINGRICH: -- we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That last, what do you call it a policy proposal? Inspired us to do the following for which I will be eternally grateful to Mr. Gingrich. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Greetings from the year 2019. Obviously I`m on the moon ,where Newt Gingrich is the president of the moon. How can anybody be president of the moon, you ask, from the past where you live? Well, back when he was just candidate Gingrich, President Newt, that`s what we call him, President Newt, he not only promised a permanent colony on the moon before the end of his second term, but he declared that that colony would be an American colony. He said once he figured out a way to get a few thousand Americans up here on the moon, in our permanent colony here, the moon could then become the 51st state. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Don`t you miss the days when Newt Gingrich was the frontrunner for the Republican nomination? That happened, in our lifetimes, America. He was running first. Do you think Mitt Romney is ever going to inspire anybody to wear a space costume on a news show? Will Romney ever reveal his true self-through via a ring tone? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Newt Gingrich`s ring tone on his cell phone is "Dancing Queen." We found that out today in Waterloo. I do, I do, I do, I do think that nobody is going to (INAUDIBLE) on Newt Gingrich. But I could be wrong, Fernando. Can you hear what he`s playing there? I thought we had the subtitle showing. (MUSIC) MADDOW: This ring tone is Newt Gingrich`s ring tone. It`s "Dancing Queen" by Abba. Duh. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Suspend all you want Newt Gingrich, I paid for the "Dancing Queen" ring tone and I`m keeping the "Dancing Queen" ring tone. I have to say that I believe years from now when I find myself reminiscing about the Gingrich candidacy -- full disclosure: I will never reminisce about the Gingrich candidacy. But the thing I will remember about the Newt 2012 candidacy is the mind-bendingly blatant way that Mr. Gingrich and his wife turned a run that was ostensibly for the Republican nomination for president of the United States into a book and DVD tour. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: I recently wrote a book called "A Nation Like No Other," designed to deal. We recently a movie called "A City Upon the Hill," the explains the origin of American exceptionalism. I wrote a book in 2002 called "Saving Lives and Saving Money," and I outline what we could do. UNIDENTIIFED FEMALE: Former House Speaker Gingrich is running, as we all know, for the Republican nomination for president. He`s also the author of the new book called "The Battle of the Crater." GINGRICH: I should say, like brief commercial. Callista couldn`t be here because she`s at a bookstore in Dubuque signing her new book, which is called "Sweet Land of Liberty," which is for 4 to 8-year-olds. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: "Sweet Land of Liberty" which features a character named Ellis the Elephant. Said elephant seen here with Mrs. Gingrich. Inside that costume, a Gingrich staffer. That was a job on the Newt Gingrich presidential campaign. There will never be another campaign like the Newt Gingrich to the moon, baby janitors, "Dancing Queen," infomercial for president campaign. Good bye, sir. We will miss, until inevitably, you do it again in four years if you can figure out how to make money off of it. Best Newt thing in the world today. 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