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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/28/12

Guests: Jake Tapper

ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: And that is "THE ED SHOW." I`m Ed Schultz. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. In the wake of the 2010 midterm elections, that election when Republicans took control of the House, in the wake of that election, a fight broke out in Washington over what had been a routine piece of Washington business. Republicans after that election threatened to vote to force the country to default on its loans. They were not going to raise the debt ceiling, remember? President Obama responded in a primetime address to the nation. He asked the American people to get involved in that fight he was having with the Republicans. He asked the American people to get involved directly. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people may have voted for divided government but they didn`t vote for a dysfunctional government. So I`m asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Let your member of Congress know. Send that message, said the president. And the American people did. So many American people did that congressional Web sites and phone lines crashed after the president`s speech. House phone circuits were so overwhelmed, in fact, that an alert went out to members of Congress that if they were expecting any really important phone calls, they should they should try using a different phone. If you tried to visit the Web sites for the House Speaker John Boehner or, say, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann after the president`s call to action, you just got a "server too busy" message. Then, last year, in the fall, the president went and did it again. The president went on a multi-state barnstorming campaign-style tour to push for the passage of his jobs bill. And again, he asked the American people to get involved in that fight directly. He asked the American people to talk to Congress. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I want you to call. I want you to e-mail. I want you to tweet. I want you to fax. I want you to visit. I want you to Facebook, send a carrier pigeon. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Then, he did it again at the very end of last year, when the payroll tax cut was about to expire and the president was trying to get Republicans to agree to extend it, the president again asked the American people, specifically, to sweet about what that tax rate meant to them. He asked them specifically to use the #$40, because $40 is how much the average American worker stood to lose per paycheck if that payroll tax cut wasn`t extended. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: We asked folks to tell us what would it be like to lose $40 out of your paycheck every week. And I have to tell you that the response has been overwhelming. We haven`t seen anything like this before. Over 30,000 people have written insofar, as many as 2,000 every hour. They should remind every single member of Congress what`s at stake in this debate. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So, that was the end of last year. And then, again, this year in September, the president used his weekly radio address to ask Americans one more time to talk to Congress. This time, it was about legislation to help struggling homeowners refinance. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: The truth is, it`s going to take a while for our housing market to fully recover. It is going to take a lot more time and cause a lot more hurt if Congress keeps standing in the way. If you agree with me, I hope you will make your voices heard. Call your representative. Send them an e-mail. Show up in their town hall and tell them that when Congress comes back to Washington, they better come back ready to work. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was in September of this year. And now, today, the president has yet another matter for you to take up with your member of Congress. The Bush tax cuts are about to expire at the end of the year. The president is trying to convince Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for all income under a quarter of a million dollars a year, so tax rates won`t go up on anybody making less than that. And that`s where, according to the president, you are supposed to come in, you and your phone, you and your Facebook page, you and your Twitter account. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I`m asking Americans all across the country to make your voice heard. Tell members of Congress what a $2,000 tax hike would mean to you. Call your members of Congress. Write them an e-mail. Post it on their Facebook walls. You can tweet it using the #my2k -- not y2k, my2k. We figured that would make it a little easier to remember. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The president once asking regular folks, asking the American people to get directly involved in a policy matter by pressing the case with Congress. And, he is also planning on taking the show on the road. The president is starting to make campaign style visits, including one planned for later this week to suburban Philly, campaign style trips to plead his case, to get local media to report what he has to say, to ask people to pressure folks down on Capitol Hill on this matter of policy. And the Republicans could not be more annoyed about it. The Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell releasing a rather angry statement this week condemning the president for choosing to fight this fight in this particular way, saying, quote, "It was with some concern that I read this morning that the president plans to hit the road this week to drum up support for his own personal approach to the short and long-term fiscal challenges we face. Rather than sitting down with lawmakers of both parties and working out an agreement, he is back out on the campaign trail." We know what happened the last time he was out on the campaign trail. But, you know, it makes sense. Think about it. Put yourself in Mitch McConnell`s shoes. If you were Mitch McConnell, you too would be complaining about the president leaving Washington to talk about these matters. I mean, no Republican would want the guy they are negotiating with to be out talking to the country about this issue once you look at how the country feels about this issue, and specifically about what the two parties are negotiating about, their respective positions. Look at this. Look at this new "Washington Post" polling on this. The president`s idea is raising taxes on income over a quarter million dollars but keeping the Bush tax cuts for everybody else. That idea is very popular, 60 percent support. It is a very popular plan that the president is trying to drum up even more support for now with these campaign style trips. Now, on the other side, what the Republicans want to do, their plan instead is to just limit deductions, right? Limit tax deductions. That`s their plan instead. That, in contrast to the president`s proposal, is not popular. More people oppose that idea than support that idea. Even Republicans hate the Republican idea. Look how unpopular, only 39 percent of Republicans support the Republican proposal. And that`s before you get to the other part of the Republican proposal, something being floated by Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, an idea we should raise the eligibility age for Medicare. That is just a wildly unpopular idea. Look at that -- more people oppose than support that idea by a 37 percent margin. And, again, it is more unpopular among Republicans than it is among the general public. So, Republicans have not even convinced their own voters on this issue, let alone the rest of the country. They have not convinced their own voters on what they are trying to get in this big Washington negotiation that`s underway. So, yes, Republicans, obviously, do not want the president out in the country talking to the people of the country about his ideas, which the country likes and about their ideas, which broadly speaking, the country hates. Republicans do not want the president urging the American people to get involved on this, right, to call their member of Congress, to invade their Facebook pages and their Twitter feeds. But this is not a new strategy for President Obama. This is the latest in a long line of efforts on the part of the Obama White House to organize Americans, right, to bring a grassroots campaign style efforts to bear on a policy debate. This not the first time the Obama administration has done this. In fact, you know, this isn`t even a new thing for president`s broadly speaking. President Obama did not invent this strategy of trying to get his way on policy. Remember George W. Bush after he was reelected? George W. Bush took off on a tour of the country at the start of his second term. Of course, what President Bush was barnstorming the country with to call Americans to action about was his idea we should privatize Social Security. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I like going around the country. I am going to keep telling people we`ve got a problem until it sinks in. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It did not sink in and we did not turn Social Security over to Wall Street the way President Bush suggested in 2005. But that experience I think is less a caution for the current president, right, that president`s broadly speaking shouldn`t try to involve their public in their policy causes. It seems less a caution for president`s broadly speaking on trying to do that than it is a specific cautionary tale about trying to involve the public in your cause when the public hates your cause, when the public doesn`t agree with you. I mean, President Obama has the public on his side. President George W. Bush was touring the country behind an idea that was wildly unpopular. For President Obama, people already like his idea, about raising taxes on income over a quarter million dollars and keeping everybody else`s rates low and having that be the approached to a balanced approach to the deficit. That is -- that popularity of the idea that he is traveling around the country talking about. The popularity, the positive polling numbers for what he is talking about around the country is one of the two big advantages that President Obama has here. The other is sort of as yet unexplored territory. When it comes to this type of campaigning, to asking the public to get involved in a policy issue, this president has an advantage that we don`t really know how it is going to play out. This president, more than any other president, more than any other candidate in America history, maybe more than any other candidate in any country in history has built up a complex, comprehensive, robust, working system for finding his supporters, figuring out how best to contact them and then mobilizing them on his behalf, more than anybody else in history. The data-driven, high-tech system of contact with voters that the Obama campaign built up is how this president earned both his terms in the White House. So, on the one hand, what the president is doing right here is sort of old news. I mean, presidents asking the public to bring the campaign beyond the election, to get their supporters involved in achieving the policy they want. On the one hand, presidents do that. This has been done before. This president in particular has done it a lot. But on the other hand, after this re-election campaign, this may be totally uncharted territory. Nobody has ever had the kind of high-tech, robust connection to the individual human Americans who voted for them that this president has. Technology has afforded this president an ability that we have not seen before in terms of how it plays out in American politics. What remains to be seen is what he is able to do with that. Joining us now Gene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst -- Gene, it`s great to see you. Thanks for being here. EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Great to be here, Rachel. MADDOW: What do you think of the president`s strategy to take this fight to the public? He has done this before. Is this the right kind of fight? Is this the right time to do it? ROBINSON: Well, it makes sense to me. Look, if you are going to fight a battle, you want to fight it on the friendliest terrain you can, right? And public opinion is very friendly terrain for the president on these issues, as all that polling data you just showed indicates. Whereas, the other way of fighting this battle which is to go immediately into the smoke-filled room with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell -- the Republicans have power there. The House -- the Republicans control the House. They can filibuster things in the Senate. They`ve got power here in the sort of inner councils of Washington. They have much less pour out in the rest of the country, especially after the recent election. So the president is going where, you know, the terrain is best suited for what he is trying to do. MADDOW: Well, how does that translate, though, in Washington? I mean, ultimately, the president is out there. He is going to be out there, for example, in suburban Philly later this week and doing more stops beyond that. He is going to be out there trying to employ that favorable terrain in a way that pays off for him in Washington. How does that translate? How do you think Republicans respond to the kind of public pressure that the president looks like he is going to be able to begin gin up here? ROBINSON: Well, you know, that`s going to be fascinating to watch, because it depends which Republican. Look, Republicans that are interested in national or statewide elections, mink the senate, those Republicans will respond, right, because they understand where public opinion is. They have to -- they have to pay attention. Whereas, in the House, the Republicans are basically, most of them, in these very safe, gerrymandered districts -- thanks to redistricting, which they got to do this time around. And so, most of the House Republican Caucus doesn`t worry about being defeated in a general election by Democrats. They are worried about being primaried from the right by someone who will jump up in their faces basically and say, you broke your pledge not to raise taxes. And that`s -- that`s the issue. So how do you move this sort of very difficult to crack nut of Republicans in the House? I think the Senate will be a much easier -- a much easier lift. MADDOW: Gene, what do you think about the translation of the kind of technology the Obama campaign built up for this re-election campaign? There`s been a lot written about how robust and data-driven and sort of unprecedented their voter contact machine was for this re-election. What do you think about the employability of that towards policy? I mean, it`s not like they are using more than a database. The system they built to come up with whose door to knock on during the election, it`s not like they are using that exact system in order to do this. But hey have proven capable of developing something in terms of human contact and technology that nobody else has done before. Do you think that could be a game-changer? ROBINSON: I think they are trying to figure out whether they can make it a game-changer. They have this incredible machine they have built, a machine like no political machine that has ever been built before. And it`s an amazing thing. But we know it`s very good at getting people out of their houses to the polls on Election Day. It`s very good at that. Is it -- how does it affect policy? Can you organize, you know, a -- the way you organize a precinct, can you organize a congressional district or voters to put the right kinds of pressure on a congressman or congresswoman? I don`t know the answer to that. It`s going to be fascinating to see as they try to figure out what levers to push. MADDOW: And it was something we watched for after 2008. We were told to watch for to see if the Obama campaign would do that. They didn`t really try that hard to do that. They moved the Organizing Obama for America into an Organizing for America sort of desk at the DNC. But it never came to fruition. I think it`s one of the big unanswered questions of this second term, whether -- (CROSSTALK) ROBINSON: It is. And not every machine is suited for every task. So it may have to be modified. You might have to put the hemi engine in it and turbo charge it. And then see if -- MADDOW: And the hydraulics that make it bounce at a stop light. That`s what I`m looking for. ROBINSON: Yes, yes. Just like my car, you know? MADDOW: I know, Gene, I know. You don`t have to prove it to me. Eugene Robinson, columnist with "The Washington Post," MSNBC analyst and secret gear head -- gene, thank you very much. It`s great to see you. ROBINSON: Great to be here. MADDOW: Hey, I`m told that they just lit the Rockefeller Christmas tree just right this second. Hold on. That`s coming. Hold on. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There are a lot of questions that we have for Ambassador Rice. There are many layers to the onion. There`s all kinds of questions that have been raised. All these questions need to be answered. REPORTER: Do you still think there are unanswered questions? MCCAIN: About 50 unanswered questions. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: About 50. John McCain is a man with many, many questions. John McCain is a man with many questions and he is a man in desperate need to some answers to those questions or at least he just likes to say that over and over again on television. There is a strange thing about all of Senator McCain`s questions, though. The answers to his questions appear to be readily available, known to everybody in the country who cares about this matter, except for John McCain. Here`s what I mean. Yesterday, Senator McCain went on FOX News, naturally, to continue to advance his theory of a massive White House cover-up of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Senator McCain has been advancing this cover-up theory for weeks now, demanding answers. But he appears to be tuning out those answers that he`s demanding when they are, in fact, provided to him. It is getting weirder and weirder over time. Here, watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: Who changed the talking points that were used by Ambassador Rice? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That is a question, Senator McCain, that we have the answer to. The intelligence agencies acknowledged last week that they were the ones who changed the talking points. Senator McCain, you know that. We know you know that, because you open put a statement about it when it happened. That question is answered. But he still has questions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: Who changed the talking points that were used by Ambassador Rice, and why and under what circumstances? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Another question to which everybody already has the answer as we learned again last week. The talking points originally linked the attack to al Qaeda. When the document was sent to the rest of the intelligence community for review, a decision was made to change al Qaeda to extremists for intelligence and for legal reasons. You say you want an answer. That one has been answered in public. Everybody knows. Also, more questions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: Why were references to al Qaeda left out? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Sir, we`ve known the answer to this one for nearly two whole weeks now. Quote, "A reason the references to al Qaeda were deleted was that the information came from classified sources and the links were tenuous." I mean, this is strange, right? I mean, John McCain going on national television constantly as the point man for this supposed mass cover-up. He does not appear to be familiar with even the basic details of the story that have been made public. Even the basic details of the story he is alleging was covered up. Senator McCain outdid even himself, though, yesterday when he offered this as his latest piece of smoking gun evidence that something is definitely rotten here. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: We knew within hours all the details when we got bin Laden in the raid there, every one of them. They are making a movie out of it. Now, here we are 10 weeks later and finally, our ambassador of the United Nation who appeared on every national Sunday show has now said she gave false information concerning how this tragedy happened. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: OK. Think about this for a second. We knew all the details of the bin Laden raid right away. Why would it take 10 weeks to figure out all of the details of the Benghazi raid? Think about this just for a second. The bin Laden raid, for the record, was our raid. We planned it. America planned it. We knew all the details of it right away because it was our idea. America carried it out. The attack on the consulate in Benghazi was not us, unless that`s the next part of your giant cover-up conspiracy. Why -- different things, right? Done by different people. There`s obviously something else going on here, right? I mean, the purported concern here. What we are supposed to believe about this whole Benghazi scandal, the purported concern is -- I`m sorry for the language. But it is getting stupider and stupider by the day, to the point of being a really special kind of stupid by now. And I will just say that on the other side of this, my personal cockamamie conspiracy theory about this is seeming less and less comparatively implausible. I mean, last night in the show, we talked about the other thing that may be at the root of this current campaign -- this weird, fact-free campaign against U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. Ambassador Rice is one of two candidates reportedly on the short list to become the next secretary of state after Hillary Clinton. The other candidate is Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. And if somehow Susan Rice is disqualified from becoming secretary of state and President Obama then picks John Kerry instead, guess what happens in the United States Senate? Massachusetts suddenly has an open U.S. Senate seat, as well as a certain Republican senator from that state who is basically just sitting around doing nothing since he just lost his re-election effort. I know this sounds crazy. I`m fully aware of that fact. But that`s kind of part of the point. And, honestly, it is getting harder and harder to find a rational explanation for all of this Republican handwringing. It`s been going on over something that Susan Rice said on a Sunday morning talk show two and a half months ago. I mean, there are legit questions to ask about what happened during that attack on our consulate in Libya. What led up that attack, right? Those questions deserve answers. They are being investigated. There also may be legitimate questions to ask about Susan Rice as a potential secretary of state. But that`s not what`s going on. There is this added dimension to what`s going on right now that is really strange. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: I just believe that she has actually disqualified herself to be secretary of state. If the president wants some easy confirmation hearing and an easy confirmation process, what he would do is nominate John Kerry, who is imminently qualified to be secretary of state. I believe he would sail through in the nominating process. SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I would need to have additional information before I could support her nomination. I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: It`s like the same breath. Susan Rice, disqualified. More information. I need a question answered or seven. Susan Rice, disqualified. John Kerry, now, pick him. That`s your guy. That`s Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. In terms of the Republican attack dogs who are leading the charge against Susan Rice right now, I feel like I should point out, right, the ones who have been the most vocal and out front in recent days against Susan Rice have been Susan Collins, good old John McCain and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Senator McCain and Senator Ayotte have suggested that they would even put an individual hold on a potential Susan Rice nomination. Susan Collins is now out there saying that John Kerry would be much better for that job. I think it is worth noting now that we are already hip deep in this conspiracy theory of mine that this trio of Republican senators have been united behind another cause in the really recent past. When Republican Senator Scott Brown was running for re-election against Elizabeth Warren this past fall, he did pretty much everything in his power to convince the citizens of the commonwealth of Massachusetts that he wasn`t really a Republican, that that little "R" next to his name just stood for really nice guy. It doesn`t stand for Republican. It stands for reformer or bipartisan. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS: Listen, I`m the second bipartisan in the United States Senate. I was recently named by "Washingtonian" magazine as the least partisan senator. We need to sit down in a room in a bipartisan manner. The only way we are going to get this done is to actually work together in a truly bipartisan manner. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Scott Brown ran as far as he possibly could from the Republican label during his Senate campaign. But there were a few select Republicans that Scott Brown would allow himself to be associated with in his campaign. There were just a handful of Republican senators. Scott Brown was apparently so chummy with that he was willing to tote them around Massachusetts with him. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: What an honor it is to be with you today. You know, I`m here because of my great friendship with my colleague, Senator Scott Brown. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Hello, Susan Collins. Susan Collins did a big bus tour with Scott Brown just a few days before Election Day. Scott Brown also campaigned alongside New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte. There she is outside of a Massachusetts deli shouting into a bullhorn that Scott Brown is holding. It might be Mr. Brown`s famous truck behind them. I can`t quite tell. OK. But Kelly Ayotte and Susan Collins are from sort of neighboring state. So, maybe that makes sense. This guy is not from a neighboring state. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: This man is the one I want most in the United States Senate working side by side with me. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Scott Brown is the one I want most in the United States Senate. John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Susan Collins are the three Republicans -- they are pretty much the only three Republicans that Scott deemed not too toxic to bring to Massachusetts during his campaign. And now that there`s an inkling of a chance that a Senate seat might open again in Massachusetts, that Scott Brown run for, guess who is doing all of the dirty work to make sure that Massachusetts Senate seat opens up? Tada! I know. I know it seems nuts. I fully admit that it seems nuts. It makes a heck of a lot more sense than what John McCain is saying right now. It`s the only thing that makes sense right now given the really, really, really incessantly hollow nature of all of these attacks against Susan Rice. Earlier this afternoon, the great and good Andrea Mitchell did some digging on this. She asked Senator Kelly Ayotte directly about this strange set of circumstances. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: There is another suggestion that has been made that this is a Republican attempt to get her so wounded that John Kerry is nominated instead, which would then open up a vacancy and lead to a special election in Massachusetts that Scott Brown would then be teed up for. Is there an effort here that has to do with Senate politics, raw politics? SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Absolutely absurd, Andrea. I would remind you -- this is an issue I was pursuing and others long before the election, before we knew whether Scott Brown was going to win that election. So, I think that claim is absurd. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Absurd or absolutely spot on. Something is up here. What they are saying they are doing here is so stupid as to not plausibly explain what they are doing. Something else explains what they are doing. I don`t think we have gotten to the bottom of it yet but something is up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Do you know why I am wearing my patented shiny jacket tonight that my mom told me never to wear on TV again? Special occasion, because they officially lit the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree just a few minutes right here outside our studio. Do you want to see it go? Go, go, ready. Here we go! Yay! There it is. Sorry, mom. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: First, there were the Young Guns. It was 2007, three conservative Republican congressmen started a brand for their young gun-ish style of Republican leadership. There was Eric Cantor -- pow! Kevin McCarthy -- bam! Paul Ryan -- bang! Young Guns -- conservatives with kick and youth and gunliness. Then, earlier this year, the Young Guns decided to expand their brand. They called it their brand expansion effort. Woman Up, like man up only for woman. This was their woman-up pavilion at the Republican convention where there were talks about politics and also a bar and also hair and makeup touchups. I kid you not. Outreach and touchups intersect in Tampa. Then, there was the election where the Republican presidential nominee lost women voters by 11 points. And the number of Republican women in the House went from 24 women to 19 women, which is woman something but it is definitely not woman up. Then, there was last night when the Republicans in the House picked for their 19 committee chairman, 19 committee chairmen -- 19 jobs, 19 men. And it turns out that story actually gets worse. Bang! That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I could not have a better collection of people, many of whom have stayed here throughout my first term. I think we`ve had as little turnover as any president during the course of a first term. The reason is because everybody has done such a remarkable job. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was the "Associated Press" camera feed from the president`s first cabinet meeting today since the election. The White House had announced that they would be letting cameras be there at the beginning of the cabinet meeting to take this shot of the cabinet meeting to maybe capture a statement from the president. But then all the cameras and reporters they said would have to leave. And the cameras and reporters did leave eventually, reluctantly, which you can tell from the way the camera panned away from the president to instead in very short order show Susan Rice sitting at the table and then reporters tried to throw in some questions for the president about Susan Rice potentially being nominated for secretary of state. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: The reason is because everybody has done such a remarkable job. So, my main purpose is to say thank you to them, but also to remind them, we`ve got a lot of work to do. REPORTER: Mr. President, Susan Rice -- OBAMA: Thank you so much. OBAMA: Susan Rice is extraordinary. I couldn`t be prouder of the job that she`s done as U.N. ambassador. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And that was the end of the press coverage of the president`s first cabinet meeting, just ended right there -- first cabinet meeting since the election. That shot, though, that you see of the president flanked by his defense secretary, Leon Panetta, and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, that is a reminder of how strange it is that cabinet jobs are sort of expected to all turn over when a president earns a secretary term. I mean, big picture: if you think about -- if you are a great secretary of transportation or you are doing a fine job running the Agriculture Department for the nation, why should you leave that job when the president who picked you for that job just got reelected to stay in his job for another four years? It`s weird, right, the turnover for the second term. I mean, occasionally, people do stay on for a second term or part of a second term. But, mostly, because either they are tired or just because it`s tradition. Cabinet secretaries move on. And frankly, personnel changes at these top echelons at the U.S. government even when these people are good at their jobs, change in the key policy roles I think does give a chance to put fresh eyes on old problems. And that`s not just true for the cabinet. It`s true throughout. For example, even before his name was caught up in the David Petraeus affair scandal, we knew that this man, General John Allen, was on his way out as the commanding general of our war right now. At the CIA, because of that affair scandal, David Petraeus, is already gone. At the Pentagon, Leon Panetta may yet stay on for a while as defense secretary. But he may just as likely be replaced by Senator John Kerry or former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel or by top Pentagon official, Ashton Carter, or former top Pentagon official, Michelle Flournoy. We also learned today that the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mark Grossman, the man who took over that job after Richard Holbrooke died, Mark Grossman, he too is stepping down from that envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan position. And, of course, the nation`s top diplomat, Hillary Clinton, she may be replaced by Susan Rice or by somebody else. But Hillary Clinton says she, herself, will not be staying on for the second term. So if you just want to focus on the war for a second, it is all change in terms of the leadership for the top officials in year 12 of America`s longest war. All change for everybody in top roles there, right, except for the president and the vice president, and the 66,000 Americans who are still in Afghanistan fighting that war. America`s war in Afghanistan is not due to end this year or next year. It is not due to end until the end of the year after that, at the end of 2014. That`s the date by which President Obama says the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan will end. It seems important to note that that is the latest possible date by which the president says the combat mission will end. It doesn`t mean it has to go on that long. Even with negotiations under way now about the size of some residual American force after the combat operations are over, the number of Americans in combat there in the meantime, the number of Americans there between now and the end of 2014, that is a matter of policy. That is a matter for deciding. That is not a matter of course. And what`s going on in Washington and in Kabul right now is that all the key decision makers on that matter, all the decision makers on the war and the diplomatic issues surrounding it, everybody below the level of president and vice president is being changed out for somebody new right now -- fresh eyes on a very, very old war. "The New York Times" editorializing today that although they supported waging the Afghanistan war in the first place, they now say it is time for, quote, "a safe and orderly departure, withdrawing all combat forces on a schedule dictated only by the security of the troops." "The Times" says withdrawal, quote, "should start now and should not take more than a year." Quote, "There is no reason to delay the troops return home by another year." And yes, it is true that "The New York Times" editorializes from the left or from the center left. But on this issue of the war, honestly, the constructs of right and left don`t mean all that much anymore. This is not a very partisan thing. We are at a point where an argument between someone calling for the troops to come home and somebody making a case they ought to stay there longer, that kind of argument almost seems like too much to hope for in politics. In Washington, broadly, it is starting to feel like it would be an achievement even to just have a conversation about what it is that 66,000 Americans are doing there right now. What are they doing there now anyway? Joining us now for the interview tonight is a man who`s doing pretty well forcing that conversation about the lives and goals of daily work of the 66,000 Americans who are in the Afghanistan fight right now. He is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News, which gives him a heck of a platform. His new book is called "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor". Jake Tapper, thank you so much for being here. Congratulations on the book. JAKE TAPPER, AUTHOR, "THE OUTPOST": Thank you, Rachel. Good to be here. MADDOW: What did you learn on focusing on this one outpost on this one far-flung part of eastern Afghanistan that you felt like you couldn`t learn from reporting on the war as a whole? TAPPER: Well, when you talk about the war as a whole, whether it is 66,000 troops or 100,000, it just becomes vague in its kind of esoteric goals. What exactly are we trying to achieve there? What exactly are we accomplishing? But by drilling down on this one combat outpost, Combat Outpost Keating, built at the bottom of three steep mountains 14 miles from the Pakistan border, and going over the entire life span of it from the push up north to get there in 2006, to the counter insurgency in 2006, 2008, that is trying to win over the local populace, trying to connect them to the Afghan government, encourage economic development, pay for millions of dollars in projects and then, ultimately, the end of the outpost, the overrunning of the outpost in 2009, it helped me understand exactly what it is that we are trying to achieve there, why it is so difficult -- and on a more personal level, who it is that is waging this war for you and me, Rachel, who it is that is sacrificing at the home front by not having daddy or mommy at home. MADDOW: You know, the combat outpost that you were reported on, Outpost Keating, was closed after that battle there, that killed eight Americans in 2009. I was just reading, in Paktika province, the Army just announced that the combat outpost that was named for Pat Tillman, the NFL star, also just closed down at Thanksgiving. That`s happening to dozens of outposts all across Afghanistan. They are shutting them down. I mean, having reported so extensively on one of them, and what experience was like at that outpost, what is your feeling about them being rolled up all together or handed over to the Afghans now? TAPPER: Well, I have mixed feelings obviously. There are some of these outposts -- Combat Outpost Keating is a shining example. By the end of their life, one lieutenant colonel referred to Outpost Keating as a self-licking ice-cream cone. In other words, it only existed to defend itself. It was accomplishing nothing else. Some of the reluctance to close down outposts, not just Keating but other ones is because people live and die for them. And actually, there are people in the military who feel very ambivalent about naming outposts after American heroes like Pat Tillman or Ben Keating or Jacob Lowell, Ryan Frichey (ph), et cetera, Jared Monty (ph), because it then invests this place that should not necessarily have an investment of American longevity with -- an importance that might not necessarily deserve. MADDOW: One of the things that I think is important about your book, Jake, because you do drill down so specifically on one place and one time period is that you really get a very strong narrative about the -- at times, the disconnect between people on the ground whose skin is in the game and people who are making decisions about where they need to be and the people at home in Washington who are making decisions about whey we`re there at all. With the end of this year approaching and military officials planning to present President Obama with recommendations on troop levels going forward between now and the end of 2014, do you feel like, are you reporting, able to report about whether commanders on the ground there think the president is going to get an unvarnished assessment about what`s the best thing to do? TAPPER: I know that there are soldiers who serve in Afghanistan today who feel like President Obama is not getting the unvarnished truth, who is not being told what is actually going on on the ground, but is in fact being given spin and best case scenarios by generals. President Obama does not consult with lieutenants and captains. He consults with generals and chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense. And what I was able to see in my book and reporting my book is that the decisions that are made in this town I`m in, Rachel, Washington, D.C. and across the river, at the Pentagon, directly affect the lives of the men and women who serve in Afghanistan, but that does not necessarily mean that the people making the decisions have any idea of what`s going on on the ground. MADDOW: Jake Tapper, ABC News senior White House correspondent, author of "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor" -- Jake, I feel like -- I spend a lot of time trying to wave my hand to make people talk about the war and I feel like -- the fact that you have chosen the focus on this, and written this very, very readable, very impressive, well reported book makes me feel better about the prospect that we`re going to have a better conversation about this as a country. So, thank you for doing it, and congratulations. TAPPER: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: Thanks a lot. OK, more ahead, including why the day is naked protesters in his office yesterday might actually have been a better day for John Boehner than today was. That story is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Update: Last night, we presented a handy dandy, clip and save to put on your fridge. These are the 19 members of the House who Republicans have chosen to put in charge of their congressional committees as of yesterday. Now, there may be a lot of diversity here in terms of which flavors of ice cream these gentlemen prefer or something, but otherwise as you can see, they do all have one thing in common -- the Republican Party`s commitment to diversity after the 2012 election. Clip and save. However, you should know that the Republicans do not have 19 committees to put -- to pick chairmen for. Actually, they have 21 committees. They still have two more committee chairs left to decide -- two remaining opportunities for House Republicans to go from being the party to put white men in charge of all their committees to being the party who put white men in charge of almost all their committees. And it is up to this one man, House Speaker John Boehner, to make that decision. John Boehner gets to pick the last two Republican committee chairs. North Carolina republican Congresswoman Sue Myrick told "The Hill" today that, quote, "Female members of the GOP conference are appealing to Speaker Boehner to fill the two remaining two open spots with women." The outgoing Foreign Affairs Committee chair, Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also told "The Hill" today to totally not read into this whole no women in leadership positions thing. She said, quote, "It`s not over yet." Side note, I should mention she would now be replaced by this man, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It is not over yet though. NBC News congressional producer Frank Thorp caught up with Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn today to ask her whether this whole thing maybe looks bad for the Republicans. The exchange was off camera, but Frank did get the audio. Listen. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) NBC NEWS: Do you think that the aesthetics of having all that men chairmanship is a problem for the party? REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: I think that it is -- I wish we weren`t having to address that issue. I would like to have thought that we could have had women chairmen, but the fact that this is kind of the way it has turned out as a vote, I think what we have to do is just continue to highlight the well-qualified women that are in our conference. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: Can we please not talk about this? I wish we didn`t have to talk about this. But it`s not over, right? John Boehner still has a chance to change all of this. And remember what this is, OK? The last two committees that have open chairmanship spots are the Committee on House Administration and the Committee on Ethics, the House Ethics Committee. So, Speaker Boehner wants to pick a woman, any woman, he just has to choose one from among the membership of those two communities, right? Well, this is the Republican membership of those two committees. This is the binder full of women that Boehner has to choose from in terms of the Republican membership of the last two communities he has to choose from if the Republicans want to put anyone in charge of anything who is not a white man or Darrell Issa, who apparently is half Lebanese. Choose from among these gals, John Boehner and good luck. 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