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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/19/12

Guests: Frank Rich

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thanks very much, man. Appreciate it. ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: You bet. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. The presidency of Barack Obama, now at its halfway point, has already been a presidency of historic firsts. But tonight, there are two more firsts to add to the list. This was President Obama today in the nation of Burma. That`s him with the president of Burma. Here`s President Obama in Cambodia alongside that nation`s prime minister. These trips to Burma and Cambodia represent the first visits by a sitting U.S. president to either of those countries ever. And on this pre-Thanksgiving trip he`s on, the president also squeezed in a trip to our most longstanding ally in the region, Thailand. So, the president is traveling right now in a part of the world that is very important to the United States, obviously -- important to our position in the world. It is important in particular to this president`s view of us as a world power, specifically as a Pacific power. But awkwardly, this trip happens to be going on while something worrying and compelling is happening in a totally unrelated part of the world very far away. So there`s our president in Thailand standing there with the prime minister of Thailand. But our president in the setting is fielding questions about something that`s going on 4,000 miles away, around the other side of the globe in the Middle East. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There`s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So, we are fully supportive of Israel`s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people`s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians My message to all of them was that Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory. If that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that`s preferable. That`s not just preferable for the people of Gaza. It`s also preferable for Israelis because if Israeli troops are in Gaza, they are much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Long simmering conflict between Israel and Gaza boiled over on Wednesday of last week after Israel killed the top commander of Hamas in an airstrike. Since then, it`s been five straight days of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and five straight days of rocket barrages from Gaza into Israel, including some rockets targeting the big population centers like Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem. The big question now is whether this is as far as it`s going to go, whether both sides feel like they have accomplished whatever they felt like they needed to accomplish with this exchange of force. Or alternatively, whether Israel is going to roll these tanks that has massed on the border over that border for a big ground incursion into Gaza. Israeli officials have authorized the call up of 75,000 military reservists. They have mobilized about 30,000 troops so far. And they are making it clear that they just might turn this thing into a ground war. And so, yes, it is a little unsettling, a little strange, to see the president traveling in Asia while this big conflagration is happening in the Middle East -- but this is sort of the way the presidency works. This happens and it happens pretty much to every president. I mean, remember, when the Libya war was kicking off last year, President Obama at that point was in South America. Back in 2006 when the Lebanon war was kicking off, for that matter, President George W. Bush at the time was in Germany. When you are the president, the presidency travels with you. When international crises happen, you weigh in no matter where you are. And President Obama is weighing in right now with clear support for Israel, but he`s also putting the weight of the United States behind the idea of de- escalation, encouraging Israel to not, for example, start the ground war that they are threatening to start. And that position is essentially where most of the world is with this conflict right now. The head of the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon went to Egypt today where he would appeal personally for deescalating, for ending the violence. Why did he go to Egypt to do that? Well, after ousting Hosni Mubarak in a revolution and electing a Muslim Brotherhood president, Egypt`s role as a potential peacekeeper in this conflict has never, ever been more important. The Egyptian prime minister today said that, quote, "Negotiations are going on as we speak and I hope we will reach something soon that will stop this violence and counter violence." The whole world is working on trying to deescalate this conflict. The European Union weighed in to that affect as well today, as did Russia -- Russia reportedly preparing a U.N. resolution calling for a ceasefire. Probably our closest ally abroad in matters of war and peace is Britain, and the Brits are taking the same line as President Obama, although they are perhaps being even more direct about it. The British foreign secretary saying today that Hamas bares responsibility for what`s going on in Gaza right now, but then he also warned that, quote, "a ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy they have in this situation." He continued, quote, "A ground invasion is more difficult for the international community to sympathize with or support." So the world, at least the world of the United States and our allies, is pretty much speaking with one voice here. Israel, ixnay on the whole ground war thing. That is the message from the president. That is the message from our allies. That is the message from the international community. That is the message from the Europeans. That is the message from the Egyptians. And even though our own president is traveling abroad in Asia, that is the word from the mouth of our own president. Let`s deescalate here. Everybody agrees. Except for one rogue state, I mean one red state. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I think Israel should do whatever it has to do to defend itself. Obviously, the president is going to work diplomatic channels. But I`m not in position, nor do I want to, to second guess what Israel has to do SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Send in ground troops in is the only way to clean out the nests of rockets being fired at them. You know, you can`t blame them for doing it. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: The whole world calling for de-escalation until Republicans go on morning news programs and then it`s not the whole world. What does the Republican Party stand for when it comes to foreign policy now? It`s kind of an unsettled thing, right? I mean, the Republicans just nominated candidates for president and vice president who had precisely zero foreign policy experience between them. I guess I should correct that. The vice presidential candidate for the Republicans this year did say that he had some foreign policy experience, in that he voted for the Iraq war, which he did. Mazel tov. Their presidential candidate vying to become president at the time that the United States is in the middle of our longest war ever took a big international trip designed to fortify his foreign policy bona fides. And on that trip, he did not visit the war. He did not mention the war in his speech accepting the Republican nomination and still, nobody quite knows what he would have done about it had he become commander-in-chief. I mean, his last of many positions on in seems to have been that setting a date for withdrawal would be a horrible mistake and that he would go along with setting a date for withdrawal. In terms of his broader take on foreign policy and America`s role in the world, the Republican nominee`s idea this year was that our great enemy in the world is Russia. It`s now in 2012. Not like used to be that our enemy was Russia, but now, it`s a more complicated -- no, no, no. Now, he thinks that right now, our biggest geopolitical foe in the world is not -- I don`t know, China, Iran, North Korea, maybe -- no, no, it`s Russia. This is a weird and important time for the Republican Party, because you can`t pick and choose what kind of presidency you`re going to have. You can`t predetermine what`s going to be important in the country or for our country in the world now or for years ahead. Stuff happens, right? Things fall apart. And the Republican Party has essentially absented itself from any real substantive engagement on the issue of foreign policy, at least any coherent engagement on it. Really, what is the Republican position right now on foreign policy broadly speaking on Afghanistan war? How about on Israel? After the Iraq war debacle, which we are now at the 10-year anniversary of, the time when the George Bush administration turned grief and anger and horror over what happened on 9/11 into a false pretense for attacking a totally unrelated country and starting a war that it took us nine years to get out of. Ten years on from that absolutely unmitigated foreign policy disaster perpetrated by the last Republican administration, 10 years later, the Democrats who went along with that misadventure paid a heavy political price. They had to do their mea culpas, right? It`s not an accident that so many leading Democrats at the time voted to go along with George Bush`s march to war in 2003. It`s not an accident that none of them ended up becoming president. It`s not an accident that the guy who did become president was the guy who was against that war from the beginning. These are not two unrelated circumstances. The Democratic Party had a real reckoning about what they got wrong by going along with that Bush administration hoax and that disaster perpetrated on the American people. Even the press went to a certain extent went through a period of shame and horror at its own acquiescence to what the Bush administration did on foreign policy. I mean, the press is certainly not perfect, right, but it is much better than it used to be on matters of war and foreign policy and self-consciously so, because they went through a bit of a reckoning there. The Republican Party though, which is the party that actually committed that error, they never figured out what went wrong there, if anything went wrong there. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To go into Iraq, I supported it at the time. I support it now. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I support it now. That was nearly five years into that war. Let me cut to the chase. The Iraq war was not a good idea. If that`s confusing to you, if you have not bothered to figure that out, that implies that you`re not thinking very hard or very clearly about the role of America in the world and the idea of what counts as a good idea for a war. And the Republican Party has not been thinking very hard or clearly about these issues for the past 10 years -- as evidenced by the fact they picked somebody to be their nominee who had nothing to say on the subject of foreign policy. And that didn`t bother anybody in the Republican Party, because they are not taking this issue seriously. They are, in some cases, just refusing to think hard about the issue or reckon with mistakes made and how things could be done differently. The party is at sea when it comes to what America`s role in the world should be. There`s nobody in charge. And that means by default, the guy who gets to be in charge is the guy who says he ought to be, the guy who says he`s the real Republican Party expert on foreign policy. So for the lack of any better ideas, for the lack of any competition for the title, the Republican Party is once again turning to this man, Arizona Senator John McCain, to lead them on foreign policy. Senator McCain continues to lead the charge, as of this weekend, for politicizing the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. He`s now not only saying he would block the U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice from being nominated to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state if President Clinton makes that -- excuse me -- President Obama makes that nomination, he now says he would block all nominations for anybody to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state until he feels satisfied that he, John McCain, has received the information that he wants to receive about Libya. This coming from the man who did not bother to show up to the three-hour briefing on Libya that was in his committee last week. But he`s not embarrassed by that. He wants America not to have a secretary of state until he gets what he wants. Even though we don`t really know what it is that he wants, because it`s definitely not more information, because when information is being offered, he`s not showing up for the briefings. How did John McCain get to be the Republican Party`s North Star on foreign policy in 2012? I mean, Senator McCain had an illustrious and capital H heroic military career in the 1970s during the Vietnam era, right? Being held as a prisoner of war and holding himself -- holding himself in circumstances as a prisoner of war that have never been duplicated in modern times, right? But in terms of whether that translated into any specific acumen on foreign policy, honestly, why is he the guy in charge? In terms of whether or not his experience in the military has translated into him being the guy who is right about foreign policy, you be the judge. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: That old Beach Boys song: Bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb -- anyway. CHRIS MATTHEWS, "HARDBALL" HOST: Do you believe that the people of Iraq, at least a large number of them, will treat us as liberators? MCCAIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I believe we can win an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time. I believe the success will be fairly easy. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years. MCCAIN: Maybe 100. The second phase is Iraq. There`s some indication, and I don`t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may -- and I emphasize may -- have come from Iraq. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, is that right? (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: Oh, is that right? No, no, that`s right. No, the anthrax did not come from Iraq. And no we were not greeted as liberators in the Iraq war. And no, the Iraq war wasn`t easy. And no, it turned out not to be cool to muddle through in Afghanistan for, what it is now, 12 years. Muddle through was John McCain`s suggested policy proposal on Afghanistan. Muddle through. John McCain suggested all the way back in 1994 that our approach toward North Korea should be to threaten them with, quote, "extinction". John McCain said when he was running for president in 2008, and Russia was at war with the nation of Georgia, he said, "We are all Georgians" now and that therefore that U.S. should think about going to war with Russia. U.S., war with Russia -- what could possibly go wrong? And, you know, it`s not just his judgment. It`s also often his basic grasp of the facts. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) MCCAIN: It`s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That`s well known. SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: You said that the Iranians were training al Qaeda. I think you mean they were training extremist terrorists. MCCAIN: I`m sorry. The Iranians are training extremists, not al Qaeda. I`m sorry. You and I are both students of history and we`ve seen this movie before. When Ronald Reagan stood up for workers of Gdansk in Poland, when he stood up for the people of Czechoslovakia in Prague Spring, and America did. And some good Democrats did too. We were on the right side of history. We have a lot of work to do and I`m afraid that it`s a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: The Iraq/Pakistan border. Iraq and Pakistan do not share a border. Iran was not training al Qaeda operatives. Ronald Reagan did not cause the Prague Spring of 1968. Do you want to know what he was doing in 1968? That was his first year as governor of California. Do you remember when "UP WITH CHRIS HAYES" did a great John McCain arm the rebels montage? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) MCCAIN: We need to get a sanctuary for the Free Syrian Army. We need to get them supplies. We need to get them weapons. I do believe that as we have in the past, we can help facilitate weapons to get to the hands of the Libyan military, those who are fighting against Gadhafi. Congress passed a law couple of years ago called the Iraqi Liberation Act. The administration has done that. We should help them with arms. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If not strategic airstrikes is a viable option, what if any military option would you think realistic and plausible? MCCAIN: Arming the Bosnians, recognizing that training is also got to be part of that. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: John McCain`s favorite approach to Bosnia was we should arm the rebels. John McCain`s favorite approach to Iraq was we should arm the rebels. John McCain`s favorite approach to Libya was we should arm the rebels. John McCain`s favorite approach to Syria was, am I right, arm the rebels. That just works everywhere. Listen, I understand the Republican Party needs somebody to tell them what to do, needs somebody to tell them what direction to point in when it comes to America and the world right now, when it comes to foreign policy. But they haven`t figured out if Iraq was a bad idea. And if that was a bad idea, how did that happen in your own party? In this last election, the Republican Party tried to just punt on the issue of foreign policy. Or rather, by the time of that third debate, it was more like a forfeit, OK, you win, we don`t want to talk about it. We`ll do whatever you want. But you don`t get to decide when you want to learn about it, right? You don`t get to decide when you want to talk about it. The policy committee is in Congress that makes decision about foreign policy really do have to make decisions about foreign policy. The Senate really does have to confirm somebody as secretary of state, even if John McCain has decided he doesn`t want one this year. There`s a basic level of competence required, even of the opposition party on the subject, even if the country has decided they don`t want to put you back into the White House. Not after what George W. Bush with it - - not after George W. Bush did with it. Even if you`re just in Congress, even if you`re just the opposition, you need to know what you`re talking about. You need to have a basic level of competence. And doing what John McCain says is not a reasonable substitution for basic competence on this subject. Pick somebody else. Frank Rich joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The great Frank Rich joins us here in just a moment. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) MATTHEWS: Do you believe that the people of Iraq, or at least a large number of them, will treat us as liberators? MCCAIN: Absolutely, absolutely. I believe we can win an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time. I believe that the success will be fairly easy. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Bush talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years. MCCAIN: Maybe 100. The second phase is Iraq. There`s some indication, and I don`t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may -- and I emphasize may -- have come from Iraq. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, is that right? (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: Senator John McCain telling the American people how the war in Iraq was going to be easy and we would be greeted as liberators, and Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks and -- how do you go from being that guy to -- growing up to be the guy who is now suggesting that the Republican Party`s first big fight with the newly elected president should be on foreign policy, because you guys have the credibility on it? How does this happen? Joining us now is Frank Rich, "New York Magazine`s" writer at large. Mr. Rich, thank you for being here. FRANK RICH, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Great to be here as always. MADDOW: Why is John McCain the leading voice on national security in the Republican Party? RICH: Because there`s a total vacuum. This is a party in defeat. What path for foreign policy in the Romney campaign was the sort of last bunker remnants of the Bush neocon, let`s charge into Iraq team, you know, John Bolton, Dan Senor -- all these people whose policies have been completely discredited. Now, Romney is gone. There`s no one there. The only there -- the one senator, Republican senator who had some stature on foreign policy was Richard Lugar of Indiana who was taken out by the Tea Party in a primary and replaced with Richard Mourdock who gave us God blesses women by having them raped. That`s what happened to the foreign policy expertise in the Senate. McCain has a vacuum to fill. He loves to be on camera. He`s constantly on the Sunday shows and war and peace and everything in between. There`s no one else -- there`s no else home. And meanwhile, the rest of the party is worrying about discovering Latinos and women and young people that they have to court. MADDOW: The thing that struck me watching news over the weekend and watching today, seeing President Obama on this trip to Asia, which is all about his priorities about our sort of geospatial power, right? RICH: Yes. MADDOW: He wants us oriented towards the Pacific nations more than we have been both economically and in terms of national security. It`s important to him in terms of his long range view of how he views the country. And while that`s happening, everybody wants to talk about Israel and Gaza. It just -- it seems like a reminder to me that you can`t -- you don`t have the luxury of choosing to specialize in one type of policy and to just give up on the others. And the Republicans have just sort of given up on competing in foreign policy. RICH: Oh, absolutely. They`re not talking about the Pacific and McCain isn`t really talking in any coherent way about Israel and Gaza. He`s talking about Susan Rice. MADDOW: Yes. RICH: You know? An appointment that hasn`t even happened yet -- a figure that, frankly, not known to most of the American public. And he`s making -- he`s like a kid holding his breath until his face turns blue wanting, as you said, some information. Some -- he`s not going to approve any secretary of state? You know, he lost too four years ago. He`s going to have to reconcile himself to that fact one day. MADDOW: Well, in terms of what McCain-ism is, for the lack of anything else on foreign policy on the Republican side, we got that. When John McCain did try to talk about what was going on in Israel and Gaza, yesterday, he said, we were crumbling all over the Middle East because of the light footprint policy of the Obama administration. What do you think he means by light footprint? RICH: Well, all I can think of is he wants a heavy footprint. As you said, he wants to arm everybody. He -- MADDOW: Not leave Iraq? RICH: Not leave Iraq. Surge, he used to -- everything, surge worked in Iraq. It didn`t. It just stems the bleeding. A surge was going to work in Afghanistan, he pushed for that. It didn`t. You forgot about the surge we should have had in Afghanistan after 9/11, as we went off into Iraq. So, it`s this one size fits all, bomb, bomb, bomb, fill in the blank. And that`s it. So I guess Obama has a light footprint, whatever that means, because he doesn`t want to bomb everybody, arm everybody, and be a bull in the China shop in the Middle East. MADDOW: Do you think that -- even if they are coming from this place that I think you and I agree on is frustrating in terms of John McCain`s prominence on this subject. If the president decides that he does want to nominate Susan Rice for secretary of state, should they be taking the John McCain threats seriously? Do you think he could stop it? RICH: I don`t think he could stop it. I don`t think they should take seriously. His power is just about noise at this point because the Republican Party really doesn`t care about it. Yes, there are a group of people in the House who agree with him. He`s now lost one of his three amigos. He`s lost Joe Lieberman, his lame duck. So it`s him and Lindsey Graham and a Republican Party which really doesn`t give a damn about foreign policy or any of it, and wants to fight about taxes for the wealthy. MADDOW: Do you -- when you look ahead to what happen -- you wrote so eloquently about Iraq and the lead-up to the war when it was happening. And I feel like looking back on that 10 years later now, I really, really want the Republican Party to have changed because Iraq was such a bad idea. I want them to both know it was a bad idea and to have come up with a new conservative idea about how to clean up the problems that got them to Iraq and to have a better idea about how to be a conservative opposition party or even a governing party on issues of foreign policy. How long is it going to take to get that? RICH: I think there`s going to have to be a turnover in the Republican Party on this issue, as in everything else, because there really is no foreign policy. There`s a return to isolationism, the Ron Paul position now being advanced by his son, Senator Rand Paul. MADDOW: To no great effect. RICH: To no great effect, and that`s an old kind of Republicanism that didn`t want us to go after Hitler, you know? Then you have this remnant in the bluster of McCain who one of these days is going to be on his way out, won`t face it. And then, you have the Paul Ryans and Marco Rubios, Chris Christies, they have no foreign policy. So, we`re just going to have to wait and we have to hope that they`ll educate themselves and find something worthwhile. And by all means, an opposition to the Democrats, but the Democrats and to some extent the press did learn from the Iraq debacle. After all, a lot of Democrats signed on to it, too. But they are in this sort of denial about the Iraq war like everything else. MADDOW: Yes, man, we need -- we need to force progress there. I don`t know how it`s going to happen. RICH: It`s all up to you now. MADDOW: They are not going to listen to me or you. But you`re talking about it behind their back and hope they overhear us. Frank Rich, "New York Magazine`s" writer at large, Frank, it`s always good to have you here. RICH: Great to be here. Thank you. MADDOW: All right. Have you ever, speaking of Iraq, failed really dismally at something and then feared the consequences of you failing so dismally? I actually have a story that will set your mind at ease. Nothing bad might happen to you, no matter how bad you failed. Hold on. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The Republican Party got shellacked in the election this year. No president has been reelected in modern times with an unemployment rate this high. But against Mitt Romney, President Obama did it and did it by a lot. After this election, it was just supposed to be -- I mean, it was to be a no-brainer this year that the Republicans would take back the Senate. Their numbers were all in their favor this year. But not only did the Republicans not take back the Senate, they lost seats in the Senate and they lost seats in the House. The Republicans jut had a terrible election this year. And after this election, guess who they have decided to fire for that outcome. Guess who is losing his job. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The president is in the middle of a four-day trip to Asia right now. He left on Saturday morning. And during his trip over the weekend, he took time out to make some phone calls. The White House says the president spoke with Warren Buffett from Berkshire Hathaway, of course, one of the richest men in the world. He spoke with Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, which is the largest bank in the country. He spoke with Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, which is a bigger market capitalization than any other company in the world. Apple is bigger than Exxon now. The president spoke with Jim McNerney, the CEO of Boeing, which is the largest exporter in the United States. He spoke with Craig Jelinek, the CEO of Costco, one of the world`s biggest retailers. All of these calls to these top tier blue chip CEOs come right on the heels of the president`s high profile White House meeting last week with a whole different list of top tier blue chip CEOs. Given how obsessed the Beltway was during the election with the titans of the business world siding with Mitt Romney over President Obama, I`m sort of surprised that the president making this much nice with the who`s who of the business world this past few days has not attracted more mainstream attention. It turns out I`m a bad predictor of what the Beltway media thinks is interesting. Tada! In any case, with all of this president-to-CEO chitchat, it does raise the question of whether the president is trying to hit the reset button with the business community in general. And, specifically, with some of the most powerful, most influence executives in the business community. But it also raises questions about the way that big business wields its power in Washington. How they wield their power and what they are capable of getting for themselves when they want something. And I raise that question today in one specific context, because we are right now at the moment when not just newly-elected senators, but incumbents, too, are looking to get their assignments, their committee assignments, which determines where they do their work in the Senate, and therefore what kind of work they`re going to be able to get done as senators. When you think about that as a job, after the basic question of whether or not you can get elected, your assignment once you`re in the Senate is the most important thing about a senator`s power in terms of what kind of impact you can have in D.C. I mean, if you want to influence policy in the Senate, step one is get elected. Step two is get on the right committees, and step three down the line is try to take over your favorite committee. Try to become the chair, or at least the ranking member. Both parties have their own really specific rules on how these kinds of assignments are made. The Republicans, for example, have kind of a term limit rule for being chairman or the top ranking Republican on a committee. After six years, you have to roll over. You have to move on to a new place unless you can get a special waiver to stay longer. The Democrats don`t have that strict kind of rule. If you`re a Democrat, once you have become a top Democrat on a committee, you can generally remain the top Democrat on that committee as long as you can keep winning reelection. But for both parties, even with these different systems of promoting people, decisions about who serves on which committees and when are basically made unilaterally, basically made by these top two guys -- Mitch McConnell for the Republican Party and Harry Reid for the Democrats. They essentially just get to decide themselves. They have a ton of power in terms of putting senators where they want to put them or where the senators want to be put, or not. So here`s my question: What`s going to happen with her? What`s going to happen with the most high profile freshman member of the United States Congress in a long time? What`s going to happen with her when committee assignments are handed? Elizabeth Warren`s background is an expert on bankruptcy law. She was the chair of the oversight panel for the bank bailout. She came up with the idea for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and helped get it off the ground. Elizabeth Warren, in other words, was born to be on the Senate Banking Committee. If anybody was ever born to be on that committee, she was born to be on that committee. Want to know who would very much not like Elizabeth Warren to be on the banking committee? The banks. We have been hearing pretty much since she got elected all about how Wall Street is going to do anything in its power to keep Elizabeth Warren off the Banking Committee and presumably out of their hair as much as possible. The latest reporting coming from "Mother Jones". "Mother Jones" reporting today on Wall Street lobbyists and trade groups "pressuring lawmakers to somehow block Elizabeth Warren from getting a seat on the Banking Committee." One Senate aid telling "Mother Jones" that D.C.`s lobbying corridor, quote, "has been going nuts trying to keep her off that particular committee." But what -- how does that work? How does that work in day-to-day terms? How does Wall Street trying desperately to affect its own desired outcome in Senate committee assignment? How does that manifest in the real world? What does that look like on a day to day basis? We know Wall Street tried to elect Mitt Romney president. That didn`t work. So, what are they doing now? Who is making calls to whom? And what are they using as leverage? And perhaps most importantly, is it likely to work? Joining us now to help us understand this seemingly small thing that might have a big impact on us as a country is Ezra Klein. He`s columnist for "The Washington Post" and "Bloomberg News" and MSNBC`s policy analyst. Ezra, thanks very much for being here. EZRA KLEIN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Good evening, Rachel. MADDOW: So, I feel like there was a wonky, young handsome guy committee, like you`d be the guy who would be born on that committee. KLEIN: You`re going to make me blush. MADDOW: I`m trying. I`ve been trying for years. It`s never worked. But I feel like when I say Elizabeth Warren was born to be in the Senate Banking Committee, I feel like it`s as natural a fit as you being on the wonky guy at the MSNBC committee. Do you see it that way? That that`s the natural fit for her? KLEIN: Yes. And I think -- most everybody else does too. I have a hipsters take on Elizabeth Warren, like I liked her before her stuff became cool when she was doing papers on bankruptcy and the number of bankruptcies that were driven by medical debt. And so, I think it`s important to say that banking committees more than just Wall Street, it`s also bankruptcy and the credit card bill and all these different things. But I`ll tell you, I made a number of calls today to try to talk to people who would know how the process is going. And almost to a person when I talked to them, like, yes, this is not going to be a problem here. MADDOW: Really? KLEIN: At least we don`t expect one. You know, people seem to assume this would be a smooth process and she would end up on the Banking Committee. They didn`t really frankly see Wall Street`s leverage on this particular appointment would come from. MADDOW: Obviously, people do not need to be confirmed by the larger Senate to get their committee assignment. There isn`t any public review process, is there? KLEIN: They kind of do. It`s a little bit weird. So, the way it works is Harry Reid will put forward a slate of committee assignments. And the way -- and then the entire Democratic conference or caucus will vote on that slate. So in theory, it`s true. The Democratic Caucus could reject Harry Reid`s slate. It just never happens. The norm is simply accepted because these appointments are done in consultation with the committee. They`re done in consultation with the members. Every effort is made to assure that seniority and what people want is respected. And, again, there are two slots coming open on the Banking Committee, right? Herb Kohl is retiring and also, Daniel Akaka of Hawaii. So, it would be very, very hard for Harry Reid to come out and say with two slots open that he couldn`t get one of America`s foremost experts on bankruptcy and Wall Street, and a person beloved by the same people who gave Harry Reid a victory in 2010 and Democrats with larger minority in 2012 that he couldn`t get that person a seat. MADDOW: So to the extent that Wall Street is lobbying, they wouldn`t just be lobbying Harry Reid on this. They`d be lobbying the whole Democratic conference to try to turn people against her, however, unlikely that might be. KLEIN: Yes. I mean, they could be trying, but it probably wouldn`t be working that well. The other thing people sort of bringing up today, you remember the line in "The Wire", if you are a "Wire" fan, when Omar says come at the king, you best not miss? Wall Street came at Democrats as hard as it possibly could. I mean, and particularly came at Elizabeth Warren. But if you look at Obama`s 2008 donors, eight of the top 10 were Wall Street. If you look at his 2012, none were. And almost all of Romney`s were. Wall Street spent hundreds of billions, maybe billions, to elect a Republican president, a Republican Senate and a Republican House, and they failed on all counts because of redistricting the House. So, the nature of Wall Street`s relationship with the Democratic Party is now a little reversed. It`s them who are kind of supplicants now trying to get back into the graces of a party that largely controls the government and will legislate a myriad of things that Wall Street needs to have their ear on. And so they are not going to be trying to make people hate them at the moment on the Hill. They are trying to curry back some favor. MADDOW: How do you expect Wall Street to try to get back into Democrat`s good graces? I mean, you can do a lot with campaign donations, but as you say, it works sort of both ways. We saw how the president tried to sort of leverage the insurance industry in the health reform fight and said, listen, I`m going to get you a bunch of new customers, but you are going to help me sell health reform to the county when I need you to. Is there something else like that that the president is going to go to Wall Street for that he can use them on if they are trying to get back in? KLEIN: I don`t think particularly to Wall Street because they -- people don`t love hearing Wall Street is on the side of something. I think the broader project the president is engaged in now, it does have Wall Street in it, but also other CEOs, is to try to get CEOs to break away from their trade associations in Washington. As a general point, CEOs are more moderate. It`s true of Wall Street CEOs and also more manufactures and others. Their beliefs about what should happen in Washington like Simpson-Bowles, which include $2 trillion in tax cuts, are much more moderate than the Chamber of Commerce and the NFIB and the Business Roundtable, which tend to be helmed by fairly conservative political operative types. So, one thing you`re seeing with the president trying to single out CEOs and bring them into the game is to get them to argue for the kind of - - more moderate, more centrist policies. The White House would like to see Republicans begin to accept and break away from the kind of heavily conservative Republican Party affiliated representation they`ve had in Washington up until now. MADDOW: That is like -- that is the policy related key that I have been looking to unlock this recent spate of political activity. You`ve totally helped me figure it out. Ezra Klein, thank you very much. KLEIN: I`m happy to help. MADDOW: That was good. Ezra is a columnist for "The Washington Post" and "Bloomberg News" and an MSNBC policy analysts. Fascinating. All right. The best new thing in the world tonight is restorative. It will improve your mood even if you`re already in a good mood. Stay tuned. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: A best new thing in the world today coming up right at the end of the show tonight -- truly good news from a place that needs truly good news. It`s a good one tonight. Hold on. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Under the previous chair of the Republican Party, Republicans won back the U.S. House, Republicans shrunk the Democrat`s majority in the Senate dramatically, Republicans won most of the governorships in the country. Republicans won more state legislative seats than in any time since the 1920s. Under the last Republican Party national chairman, the Republicans did really, really well. Republicans however, decide that national chairman was a failure and they fired him. That was in 2010. They replaced that very successful chairman, Michael Steele, with the guy you see on the right side of your screen. The head of the Wisconsin state Republican Party. He said if he was going to get to run the national party, that his personal goal would be to get rid of President Obama in 2012 and to take back the Senate, too, and to hold on to the House. More specifically, the new chairman, Reince Priebus, said that under him there would be, quote, "more focus on winning." More focus on winning. That was Reince Priebus in the wake of the historic Republican glory of the 2010 elections. His focus on winning manifests in the form of what Mr. Priebus called an unprecedented ground game for the election this year in 2012. This was him on FOX the day before the election speaking from his home state of Wisconsin. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: It`s huge, Greta. I mean, we`ve got the biggest ground operation this party has ever seen. We`ve got a good operation. We think we`re better than the Democrats here. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That same day on election eve, Mr. Priebus` Republican Party sent out a memo bragging about the Republican Party`s ground game nationwide, how it would prove decisive in the election of Mitt Romney as president. "We are poised to blow the Obama campaign out on Election Day," he said, "thanks to a superior get out the vote problem. In Colorado, Florida, Iowa, and Nevada, we are poised to win the Election Day vote by greater margins than we did in 2008. It`s ground game over." It was game over, but with the opposite outcome. Colorado, Florida, Iowa and Nevada actually all voted Democratic. They all voted for President Obama this year. And Mr. Priebus` home state of Wisconsin did not go Mr. Romney`s way either. Even with Paul Ryan being from there as well. There are a lot of lessons to be drawn from this year`s big, decisive margin victory for President Obama and the Democrats. But at the level of political, technical proficiency, the correct political science term for understanding what happened on the Republican side of things in this election is that the Republican Party`s ground game this year sucked. Under the Chairman Reince Priebus` watchful eye, not only did their get out the vote effort fail badly even before Election Day, it failed badly in a way they were not able to fix it in time for Election Day. In addition, Mr. Priebus at the RNC hired a veteran Republican consultant to conduct all the Republican voter registration drives in the crucial swing states of Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia. To be clear, it was the only firm Reince Priebus hired to register Republican voters. And then weeks before Election Day, the party had to fire that consultant and his firm amid accusations they committed voter registration fraud and were being investigated in multiple states. The RNC wasted millions of dollars paying this single firm to fake register voters in five crucial swing states and they had no backup plan when things went wrong. Mitt Romney ultimately only won one of those five states and he only won it barely, and down ballot in a year where Democrats were up for reelection than Republicans, Republicans actually managed to lose seats in the Senate and they lost seats in the House as well. And now, after all of that, his term is up as the Republican Party`s national chairman. And not only does he intend to run for the job again, he`s apparently going to win. Yes, according to him, he`s got a majority of RNC members supporting him. Really? What does it take to get fired at the RNC? Other than winning elections, of course. That obviously is grounds for dismissal. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Best new thing in the world. OK, let`s cue up the train tape right where it crosses the water. OK, what you are looking at here is one of the strangest parts of the subway system in America`s largest city. This is the A Train, the longest subway line crossing the water of Jamaica Bay. New York City is truly huge both in terms of the number of people who live here and how much land the city covers. The A Train, this section of it, goes from Queens across Jamaica Bay. As you see here, the trip over the water is long enough that -- I kid you not -- pigeons have learned to get on the train at one end and ride it to the other side. The pigeons commute. And where they are going is the Rockaways, a 11-mile long Atlantic Beach Peninsula, which is still part of New York City, but it`s more than an hour`s ride from Manhattan and it has sand and waves and lifeguards all at the southern edge of New York City. The Rockaways are a funny place. It`s got a dozen distinct neighborhoods with a lot of housing for the elderly, also a lot of housing projects when the city put thousands of low income families way, way, way, out there -- an hour`s ride by subway from the Manhattan skyline that everybody thinks of when they think of New York. Half a century ago when these projects went up, the urban planners of New York City thought that the elderly and poor people didn`t need to be near town or near jobs, so they put them way, way, way out there in the Rockaways. Now, working poor families making long commutes from the beach to their jobs in the city. And conversely in the summer, especially, you can find surfers toting their surf boards on the subway out to the part of New York City where the word swells doesn`t rich people, it means waves. So, it`s thanks to that miraculous and very long A Train subway route that you can move between the Rockaways and town. It just takes awhile. That was the deal before hurricane Sandy. And I`m sorry to tell you these trusty A Train tracks with the families and the surfers and the commuting pigeons, those tracks got washed out last month by hurricane Sandy. The storm surge swamped the tracks and twisted them and dropped all the (INAUDIBLE) on them, they are not expected to get fixed for many, many long months -- which means tens of thousands of people, our fellow Americans, are logistically stuck out there in the Rockaways. Lots of them still without power and heat in their homes. The Rockaways are not an island, but for people out there, that is how life is being lived right now. After the storm, the Rockaways got so hard to reach that some bicyclists pedaled in supplies, I think partly to prove that they could it, but partly because with gas supplies short and ration, biking still worked. Believe it or not, the U.S. Navy made an amphibious landing a couple weeks ago because that was the best way to bring in equipment. Just pull up to the beach and go. Today, we got some news. The folks that run the subway system just posted this video. Look at that. The city -- look at that -- the city has trucked in 20 subway cars for the Rockaway side of the busted tracks. They did this in the dark four nights running, bringing in the subway cars and putting them back together. The replacement train is going to run along the eastern part, the far part of the Rockaways where an old line remains intact. And then when you get to the busted part, a bus is going to take people across a bridge, across the broken down part of the tracks, and then the bus will drop folks off where they can catch another train and continue their commute. They are calling this rejiggered line the H Train. And it starts tomorrow morning. This H Train is not a perfect fix, but it won`t work for anybody. But it gives something back to the people who were left up a creek without a paddle after Sandy. The H Train and the will and ingenuity and the long nights working of everybody involved to make it happen and the city`s manifest determination to not forget that far flung part of the world again, and life looking ever so slightly up again because of all that hard work, that I humbly submit as the best new thing in the world today. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you tomorrow night. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." Thanks for being with us. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. 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