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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/12/12

Guests: Chellie Pingree

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. Thanks, my friend. And thanks to you at home for staying with us this hour. Over the summer, this past summer, Republican Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan signed a bill to expand the use of telemedicine in his state. His new law requires that insurance companies have to pay for treatment that you get via contact with a doctor through like a webcam or otherwise online. It`s telemedicine. Governor Snyder was so excited to sign this thing. He said at the time telemedicine offers an incredible opportunity to easily provide health care to Michigan`s elderly, disabled, and rural communities. I applaud the legislature`s initiative to use technology to save lives. The bill got unanimous support. Governor Snyder signed it with his big happy statement about how awesome this was going to be. He was so excited. Yay, telemedicine. Telemedicine, you are the future for Michigan. You are saving lives. That was this summer. Tonight, that same Governor Snyder is poised to sign another law in Michigan that would ban the use of telemedicine in that state, specifically for one type of medical care. It`s the same type of medical care provided at clinics in Michigan that Governor Snyder is poised to single out for brand-new, deliberately intrusive, deliberately hard to comply with regulations that everybody knows are designed to shut those clinics down, with red tape that is designed just for that purpose. Governor Rick Snyder likes to be seen as an anti-regulation guy -- but not for this. The shutdown the clinics regulations, and the anti-telemedicine law that Governor Rick Snyder in Michigan is poised to sign after these bills race through both Houses of the Michigan legislature during this lame duck session, both of these target abortion rights in Michigan. If fully implemented, they`re expected to likely shut down most of the abortion clinics in Michigan. Governor Snyder is hard at work on that now. While he is at it, the jobs, jobs, jobs governor is also poised to sign a law that would ban any insurance policy in Michigan from covering abortion. No insurance coverage for abortion unless you would die without getting that abortion. That is the only exception. So if you are raped, if you are raped by your father or your uncle, if you`re the victim of incest -- tough luck. You can hold a bake sale or something. Governor Rick Snyder is poised to ban your insurance from covering that cost. Jobs, jobs, jobs. And also, because obviously it was the message of the last election, Michigan Republicans are now moving a bill in the legislature to ban Sharia law in the state -- because, well, obviously President Obama is a secret Muslim, or so says the bill`s Republican author in Michigan. All of this stuff is being passed and signed or debated in Michigan this week, after state Republicans there passed their monumental legislation stripping union rights in the state. With no warning and no debate after an election in which they did not say that was what they were going to do. That surprise attack legislation passed in such a breathless hurry is there are now lawsuits in the state whether the bills that were passed were passed illegally, whether they were in passed in contradiction of the state`s sunshine laws. They`re also trying to figure out whether the new union-stripping laws in Michigan will apply to workers who work for the state government, or whether they only killed the unions in the private sector. But the reason that Governor Snyder has been able to do all of this in such a hurry, the reason he was able to make the 180 he pulled on stripping union rights, for example, the reason he is able to pursue the anti- abortion and the anti-Sharia law legislation is because he can, right? I mean, Michigan Republicans are moving full steam ahead with whatever they want. They`ve got control of both houses of the legislature. They`ve got the governorship. Even after they come back next year for the next session, even after this election, which was not very kind to Republicans, including those in Michigan, they`re still going to have control of both houses of the legislature. They`re still going to have the governorship. They are steaming right ahead. Republicans can do whatever they want in Michigan, now and for the foreseeable future, because obviously, as you know, Michigan is a red state -- a red state, Michigan. That`s why Republicans get to say what happens there. See? Red state. See how red a state Michigan is? See how Republican they are? Michigan voters statewide picked Democrat Barack Obama by almost 10 points over Republican Mitt Romney in the presidential race, which technically at least makes Michigan a really blue state at one level, at the level where all of Michigan`s voters are voting on the same race. I know it looks weird that Michigan is so blue in one way and so red in another, but I think that it looks weird because it is weird. I think it`s weird by design. Look at this. In the last election, when they voted for new lawmakers in the Michigan statehouse, more people in Michigan voted for a Democrat than voted for a Republican. More people voted for a Democrat. But even with more people voting Democratic, the Michigan House ended up with more Republicans in it than Democrats. So in one sense, Republicans lost. They lost in the very traditional sense that they got fewer votes. But Republicans won what counted, which is control of the House, which is why they are now taking away union rights and abortion rights, and they can ban Sharia law if they decide that`s a fun and important thing to do. The same thing happened when it came time to elect members of the U.S. Congress from Michigan. More voters in Michigan cast a ballot for a Democratic member of Congress than cast a ballot for a Republican member of Congress. And it was by quite a lot, by a couple 100,000 votes. Over all, more Michigan voters wanted to send a Democrat to Congress to represent them than wanted to send a Republican to represent them. Well, guess who is actually going to Congress to represent them? Ah, yes, Republicans. Michigan`s congressional delegation will include almost twice as many Republicans as Democrats, even though more people in Michigan picked a Democrat when they voted for Congress. Republicans got nine seat and the Democrats got five. What has happened in Michigan is not some sort of miscounting of the votes. It is not a mistake. It is weird, quite deliberately, and weird by design. Elected officials draw up new districts for electing members of Congress in state legislatures every ten years after the new census. Well, Republicans were in charge this time around in Michigan, so it was the Republicans who drew up the maps. And so, Republicans got themselves pretty good advantage. They got to decide how to clump voters in certain districts, how to divide voters in other districts so the election could produce the maximum number of Republican candidates that conscience and the federal Justice Department would allow. That same dynamic at work that we saw in Michigan, that same deal that played out there, it played out in other states too. It played out in Wisconsin, where Republicans were also swept to power in the 2010 elections, just in time for drawing up the new maps. Wisconsin, of course, voted for President Obama for a second time -- voted for President Obama by a lot. Also in Wisconsin, more people voted for a Democratic member of Congress than voted for a Republican one. More Wisconsin voters want a Democrat representing them in Congress, but they are getting more Republicans anyway. Next month, Wisconsin is going to send five Republicans to Congress and three Democrats. Same kind of deal in Virginia. Republicans took full control in Virginia in time for drawing up the new maps after the census. And in November, in this election, Virginia voters again picked President Obama. Now, by a margin of 70,000 votes -- just 70,000 -- it should it be noted that more Virginians wanted a Republican member of Congress than a Democratic one. It was very close. But there were 70,000 more votes for a Republican member of Congress than a Democratic member of Congress in Virginia. But the resulting Virginia congressional delegation, not close. Look at that. Eight -- it basically evenly divided in the state. But they`re sending eight Republicans and three Democrats to Congress, more than twice as many Republicans as Democrats. Also, in Pennsylvania, where Republicans took total control of that state in 2010 in time to draw up the new maps. Well, Pennsylvania picked Barack Obama for president again this time, and again picked him by a lot. And more voters in Pennsylvania wanted a Democrat for their congress person. But Pennsylvania will send 13 Republicans to congress next month and only five Democrats. How about Ohio where Republicans won the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature in 2010. Hey, it was big year for Republicans in 2010, right? Well, this year around, Ohio quite memorably voted for President Obama, a second time. It was Ohio that put him over the top for reelection, right? And that made Karl Rove all crazy, right? Ohio went for Obama. Even so, there were more votes for Republicans in Ohio Congress there -- in Congress there. Narrowly speaking, Republicans had the edge in congressional votes from Ohio voters, narrowly speaking. But look what they`re sending to congress. Look at that. Not narrowly speaking -- three times as many. Ohio is going to send 12 Republicans to Congress and just four Democrats. And that is why all these blue states which went blue in 2008 and again in 2012 ended up with dyed red legislatures, with statehouses that are under total Republican control and will stay red no matter how blue the state gets for the foreseeable future. "Mother Jones" made this great-looking graph for us the other day. You can see that they weighted it. You can see for every vote it takes to elect a Republican to Congress in each of these states, you need this many votes to elect a Democrat, because they`ve confined all the Democrats to Democrat-only districts. So it doesn`t matter how much you run up the score there. It`s more difficult for Democrats to win in these states. The climb is steeper for Democrats and their supporters by design -- by the design of the Republicans who drew up the districts. Imagine if we picked the presidency this way, right? I mean, you can imagine what the country would look like if we picked the presidency using these same gerrymandered districts, right, that combined all of the Democrats in one little designated Democratic district so all the rest of the districts in the state could go Republican. Imagine if you didn`t just pick state legislatures that way, and you didn`t just pick congressional seats that way. Imagine if that is also how you picked the presidency. Republicans have been imagining that. Since the election, the Republican secretary of state in Ohio has floated the idea of Ohio picking the presidency the way it picks its other elections. In Virginia, a Republican state senator in Virginia is proposing doing the same thing. Last year in Pennsylvania, the Republican senate majority leader proposed doing the same thing. This year he proposed another version for how to do the same thing, using the same gerrymandered system that elects Republican majorities no matter how the vote goes, essentially. Imagine if we picked the presidency that way, in the same what they we pick these state legislatures in these congressional seats. How we draw congressional maps and legislative seats is politics, right? It`s played by both sides for the advantage of their side whenever they can. What is different now is that Republicans are talking about crossing a Rubicon here that has never been crossed before. And in these states, there is not necessarily anything to stop them. This is not just going to be how we decide who goes to Congress. If they get their way, this will be forever, how we decide who goes to the White House. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: In addition, we should consider reforms to the redistricting process for state and federal offices -- so that districts were drawn in a way that`s neutral, that promotes fair and effective representation for all; and that can`t be abused to protect incumbents and undercut electoral competition. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: Attorney General Eric Holder last night proposing the radical outre concept that elections ought to be run in a neutral way, a way that is not designed to favor one party or the other. It`s crazy, right? The man has gone crazy. Joining us now is Steve Kornacki from, the co-host of MSNBC`s 3:00 p.m. show, "THE CYCLE." Steve, it`s good to have you here. STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Great to be here. MADDOW: Some Republican-controlled states, including Ohio and Virginia are talking about making their state vote for president the same way they vote for Congress and the legislature, which right now is set up in a way that dramatically favors Republicans, no matter how people vote. Is it -- is it feasible that they could do this? KORNACKI: It is feasible, sure, because they have the power. We`re talking about states here where you control where the Republican Party controls the governorship and controls both houses of the legislature. So they have the power to do it. And the significance -- I literally have some back of the envelope calculations. MADDOW: That`s an actual -- (CROSSTALK) KORNACKI: This is envelope with some calculations on it. And this is -- I think it`s worth pointing out. You have four states you mentioned the first block -- Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan, Ohio. Right now, this year in the 2012 election, the electoral vote count from those four states was 61-0, Obama. He won all four states. If you did this thing that they`re talking about where it`s awarded by congressional vote, you get a vote for every congressional district you win, plus you get two if you win the popular state vote, that`s basically the standard. If you did that, then Romney would have won 37 of those 61 electoral votes. So, it would have taken the national margin from 332 to 206, Obama, which what we have now, to 295-243. MADDOW: Wow. KORNACKI: Basically, at that point, Florida which was less than a point could win it for Romney in that scenario, even with him losing the national popular vote by four points. And then I asked Dave Wasserman, with the "Cook Political Report". I said if you did that in every state around the country, if that was the methodology for awarding electoral votes, how would this year have gone? He said 276-262 Romney. Romney would have won if you did every state based on congressional district. And what`s going on here is gerrymandering is part of it. And the other aspect is, it`s a lot of Democratic voters and a lot of big states are packed into geographically sort of small areas. It`s cities and the districts are drawn in ways that the city is the district. And so when you do that, it opens up these sort of wide swaths of suburbia that you could have four or five or six Republican-friendly districts drawn there, and that`s where we start to see some imbalances. MADDOW: So, like in a state like Pennsylvania, which everybody talks about, Philadelphia being the key to that vote, if you win Philadelphia, that wouldn`t get you anything more than winning any other place in the state, despite the huge number of people who live there. KORNACKI: Pennsylvania would have been, under this system, 13-5, Romney this year. MADDOW: Wow. Even though Obama won. KORNACKI: It was 1988 the last time a Republican won there, you know? MADDOW: There are only two states, Nebraska and Maine that do these - - that do their system anything like this, and their history of how they got there doesn`t really have anything to do with -- doesn`t match the current history I think for why these things are being proposed in these Republican-led states right now. Given that this would be sort of uncharted territory for these states to go this direction, what do you think would be the political impact? What do you think -- would they be at risk for some sort of backlash? How do you think people would react to it? KORNACKI: I think there are two things. One is you have to look at - - take these four states and separate them into two. Look at Virginia and look at Ohio. These are states that -- look, Obama won them this year and won them in 2008. But these are close states that Republicans can definitely be competing in, in 2016. So, one calculation there Republicans have to think where they might get some pause is, hey, if we can win these states outright in 2016, why are we potentially giving away two or three electoral votes in our state. MADDOW: Yes. KORNACKI: There`s that. But then look more like Pennsylvania and Michigan, these are states that have really been lost causes for the Republicans in presidential elections. 1988 the last time they won either one of them. These are really much more safely blue states. And there you got -- sure, you`ve got Republicans in the governorship and Republicans in the state legislature. But I think there is an awareness on the part of the Republicans at some level that they are existing in blue states with Democratic-friendly electorates. And if Democrats, and if the media cried foul and said this is an explicitly political sort of repurposing of election law, and if Democrats made this a major point of emphasis that this was this dramatic sort of unprecedented overreach on Republicans part, and it became an issue like that, I think there is a chance for a backlash that would make Republicans in those states look at it and say, OK, we have the power to enact whatever we want, but there are limits on that because of this backlash potential. So what are really our priorities here? You look at Michigan, it`s like, yes, OK, right-to-work is going to be a priority. They`re going to take a lot of abuse for putting that through. I don`t know if ultimately they would be willing to take a lot of abuse to help the national Republican Party when it wouldn`t really help the state Republican Party. MADDOW: See, I think that they would -- I felt like that calculation was something that I thought would be a barrier to entry for them doing this, until I saw them move on right-to-work. KORNACKI: Right. MADDOW: And now, I think, you know what? If they`re willing to take the cradle of American union rights and just ram it through, no debate, we`re announcing it on Thursday, it`s done by Thursday night, screw you, state, screw you. We don`t want to hear about it. We`ll deal with the consequences when about we have to -- to take that approach to right-to- work is why I`m talking about this potential proposal for Michigan now, because now, anything seems possible. KORNACKI: And we know too, they didn`t talk about right-to-work before they did. MADDOW: Yes. KORNACKI: And they haven`t really talked about this until now. So, it doesn`t mean anything that they haven`t really been making this an issue before now. MADDOW: We are learning all sorts of new stuff about all sorts of uncharted territory we never thought we would have to map. Steve Kornacki, host of MSNBC`s 3:00 show "THE CYCLE", senior writer at "Salon" -- thanks, Steve. Great to have you here. KORNACKI: Sure. MADDOW: Can I keep the envelope? KORNACKI: You can have it. Yes. MADDOW: I`ll put it in a file. All right. We`ll be right back. Oh, I can read your writing. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: About a decade ago, a really big political scandal unfolded in the state of Wisconsin. And like many scandals, even though it ended up being a big scandalous deal when it started, it went -- it ended up being a big scandalous deal. When it started, it was a pretty subtle thing. This was the start of it. Look. May 21st, 2001, the "Wisconsin State Journal" in Madison runs this headline: "Caucuses are not needed, some say." It`s not exactly an all caps screamer of a headline. But there it was on the front page. And it was their investigation that revealed ultimately that state legislators were using their taxpayer-funded legislative staff as campaign workers, which is totally illegal. The newspaper ran that first investigative piece on a Monday. On Tuesday, it was another front page story. "One caucus may have illegally helped group." That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, yet another story. On Thursday, "Chief clerk vows caucus overhaul." On Friday again, on the front page, "Lawmakers push for caucus curbs." When a newspaper pushes a story on its front page every day for a solid week, that means they think this story is a big deal. In this case, despite the rather anodyne headlines, "The Wisconsin State Journal" was right that this is a big deal. Five state lawmakers eventually got indicted in a massive ethnics bust. They were convicted of corruption. Four of them were sentenced to prison. And it was not just a huge Wisconsin politics scandal. It was a huge Wisconsin bipartisan politics scandal. It was two Democrats and three Republicans who got indicted. "Wisconsin State Journal`s" reporting, that investigation that they kicked off, changed politics in Wisconsin for a decade to come. The scandal did not just convict a bunch of politicians and lock a bunch of politicians up, it also led to a determination in Wisconsin that it really never should have gotten that far, that somebody should have caught them before it went that far, that the state entity in charge of ethics, and the state entity in charge of elections and elections rules had failed to do their jobs. This massive bipartisan corruption had been happening for years under their noses. They were supposed to be watchdogs, or at least cops on the beat. And it did not work. So that whole system they decided needed to be overhauled because of this scandal. State lawmakers decided that they were going to create an entity to run elections in the state and oversee political ethics in the state that was technocratically sound, as close to politically unimpeachable as possible -- a totally nonpartisan stable structure that would enforce the laws and investigate wrongdoing and run elections in a way that could not be corrupted. What they came up with, they called the Government Accountability Board. Remember during the recall effort for Scott Walker in the state? Remember when they turned in a million signatures to start that recall? It was that government accountability board that those signatures got turned into. That`s who received the signatures. That`s who had to do the counting. And in the interests of transparency, the Government Accountability Board set up a 24-hour webcam so anybody could see at any time of day or night what they were doing with those million signatures. And while elections themselves are exciting and competitions between competing ideas and competing entities are exciting things, and there can be a ton of energy around the Democratic process, the literal process of making sure that the I`s are dotted and the T`s are crossed and the forms are counted right and the things are all filled in, that should not be exciting. That should, in fact, be this boring on purpose. And if the webcam was any judge, this really was that boring. Day and night, it looked like this. You know, you don`t want an exciting banker. You don`t want an exciting accountant. And you don`t really want an exciting signature counter either, right? I mean, the emotionally supercharged Scott Walker recall effort, the Government Accountability Board was a peaceful island of boring by design, because they are a nonpartisan just the facts kind of place. That`s the way it ought to be. The rules about who can serve on the Government Accountability Board are kind of amazing. Six members, all former judges, nominated by a special nonpartisan independent committee, and then they get appointed by the governor. But the governor can only choose people who have been presented to him from the nonpartisan independent committee. The members may not hold any other public office. Also for a year before they`re nominated, they can`t be a member of any political party. They can`t be a member even of any political club. They`re not allowed to make any political contribution while they`re on the board. They cannot be lobbyists. And one more amazing detail about them, they do not have to go begging the politicians they may be investigating to please fund their investigations. Their funding is totally independent of state lawmakers. So when they want to investigate state lawmakers, they are insulated from those lawmakers trying to shut them down by shutting down their funding. It`s a smart system, right? It`s a tough system, it`s independent, it`s aggressively nonpartisan. Now, it`s not like Wisconsin elections are perfect. They may have this tough, independent, aggressively nonpartisan structure at the state level, but they do have very partisan elected clerks at the county level who have to administer elections by county. And some of those county officials are more partisan and therefore maybe a little more suspect than others. But in the overall structure of the state, the elections are not being run by one of these guys. They`re not being run by a Katherine Harris or a Jon Husted or a Scott Gessler, right? There`s no statewide partisan elected official who is both running the election and endorsing one of the candidates in that election that they are running. Wisconsin does not have that. Wisconsin has a better way of doing it. They have a more good government, technocratic model for the nation way of doing it. And so, naturally, Wisconsin Republicans now say they would now like to get rid of it. The new Republican Senate majority leader of Wisconsin says, after this last election that he doesn`t like the way the Government Accountability Board has been ruling. He wants it to be reconstituted in a more partisan way. He wants the member to be political appointees. That`s the Republican who heads the Senate, and the Republican who heads the assembly also says that he also is open to that idea. Both of those Republican legislators independent -- incidentally voted in favor of creating the Government Accountability Board in the first place back in 2007. They voted for it. They voted to create this thing, along with every other Republican in the legislature at the time. But now, now they say it`s got to go. It`s not partisan enough. And they know just how to fix that. So what ought to be a model for the nation in terms of nonpartisan good government neutral elections administration, the Wisconsin Republicans are trying to tear that down. And that is not the only thing that Wisconsin has to be proud of that the Republicans there are now saying they`re going to dismantle. One of the other ways in which Wisconsin leads the nation is that their voter turnout is sky-high, something like 70 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in this last election in the state of Wisconsin. That`s way higher than the national average. That achievement is partially attributed to the state`s 36-year history of same-day voter registration. You can just go to the poll -- go to the polls on Election Day. You can register to vote right there and cast your ballot. It is simple. It is straight forward. Wisconsinites have been doing it for decades and honestly, it makes it easy to vote. So lots of people vote. It`s a common sense policy that works. They have incredibly high voter turnout, something to be proud of, right? Right, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker? You`re proud of that, right? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: I think states across the country that have same-day voter registration have real problems because the vast majority of states have wonderful poll workers who are wonderful volunteers work 13 hours days, most cases they`re retirees. It`s difficult for them to handle the kind of volume of folks who come at the last minute. It would be much better if registration was done in advance of Election Day. It would be easier for our clerks to handle that all that needs to be done. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The clerks, incidentally, disagree. After this last election, Governor Walker raised the prospect of getting rid of same-day voter registration, which his state has been enjoying for 36 years, and which the poll workers and the election administrators in his state actually say they desperately would like to keep. He set off alarm bells all across the state with that comment about getting rid of same-day registration. And then when those alarm bells actually went off, he basically denied that he meant anything by it, after people kept asking him what exactly he meant to do. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) WALKER: This is a ridiculous issue. My priority is about jobs, creating jobs. I answered this simple question. It`s not a part of my legislative priorities. It hasn`t been something I talked about. It`s something I rarely answer a question on. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: It`s a ridiculous issue. It`s not even a legislative priority, except when I said I wanted to get rid of it 30 minutes after Scott Walker called it ridiculous that anybody would pay attention to comments he made about ending same-day registration, 30 minutes after those comments, two Republicans in his state legislature announced their bill to end same-day voter registration. And in a very nice, full circle kind of way, it`s the Government Accountability Board, the other part of elections that you think the state would be proud of but they`re trying to do away with, it`s the Government Accountability Board weighing in to say that ending same-day registration would cost more than $5 million in the state and make Election Day much harder. And so, Scott Walker has been walking this back. We`re a country that has a really lousy election system overall, in the sense that there is a lot of weak links, right? There are still places where you have to wait nine hours to cast your ballot. There`s partisan administration of elections that makes people reasonably doubt whether or not the rules around elections are designed to favor one party`s voters and disfavor the others. We elect people in districts that are put on the map in a way that wildly distorts what voters actually want. Our election system, kind of, sucks because of its weak links. But there are some strong links too. Some states that have innovated, maybe because of scandal or maybe just because they decided to take responsibility or whatever, but they have innovated solid, nonpartisan, good government models for running elections in a nonpartisan way. And those strong links, those good examples for the nation are now in danger in states like Wisconsin, where Republicans are in charge. But that is happening in a really interesting context, because both Republicans and Democrats it turns out at the same time are testing the waters right now on elections and how we have to change the system in this country. Both sides, Republicans and Democrats, right now are floating ideas to see what the reaction might be. The difference between them is that one side is trying to break what already works as in Wisconsin, and the other side is trying to fix what is already broken. Last night, we got the first, serious, national, sort of, detailed broaching of the subject by a federal official of how we might nationally try to make our system better. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) HOLDER: Modern technology provides ways to address many of the problems that impede the efficient administration of elections, and to bring our elections into the 21st century. For example, by creating a system of automatic portable registration in which government officials use existing databases with appropriate privacy protections to automatically register every eligible voter in America and enable their registration to move when they do, rather than the current system in which voters must navigate complicated and often changing voter registration rules. We cannot only improve the integrity of elections, but we can save precious taxpayer resources. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last night proposing an actual idea for actual, modest, nonpartisan, good government federal election reform. And that speech -- that speech last night, the attorney general also talks about making redistricting more fair and making it easier for members of the armed services to vote, and making sure polling places have enough voting machines -- basic stuff, but a national agenda to make our elections fair and boring, as they should be. The elections themselves are an exciting contest, but the way the elections are run should be a nonissue. President Obama on election night made his "we have to fix that" comment about the long lines to vote. While Eric Holder`s speech last night was the first high profile step forward from that point toward actually making something happen. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: One more thing about what may be a new effort from the Obama administration to reform the broken partisan election system that we`ve got. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, we invite you to "Meet the Press". (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: NBC`s "Meet the Press" is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year. And as part of that celebration, they have put out some of the best stuff from their "Meet the Press" archives in an e-book. And on this morning on MSNBC with Chuck Todd, David Gregory from "Meet the Press" played this from their archives. Check this out. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ICON: Even in the area of voter registration, I think there`s much more than can be done. Now, the bill that we have, which is mainly in the area of voter registration, will help, particularly in some communities. But it is not at all a panacea. It has certain red tape, complex qualities about it which will still make the process a long one. And I think, ultimately, the federal government should set forth a uniform pattern of registration and voting so that no citizen will have a problem at this point. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: "The federal government should set forth a uniform pattern of registration and voting so no citizen will have a problem at this point." Dr. Martin Luther King on "Meet the Press" on April 17th, 1960. And that is exactly the same thing still being proposed 52 years later, now, by our current attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder -- because 52 years later, we still don`t have that. We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Surprise! The defense secretary, Leon Panetta, is at the war. And it`s always a surprise whenever a high profile American official goes to the war. They never say they are on their way ahead of time. They never tell you until they`re there. Sometimes until after they have already been there and left, because they say it would not be safe otherwise. So, it was supposed to be a surprise when we were told today that the defense secretary was in Afghanistan. Even though they said it is a surprise, it is not that much of a surprise in the larger sense because it`s December, and defense secretaries and even sometimes presidents tend to make their way to visit the troops in harm`s way around Christmas time, just about every year. We can see the pattern, because it`s been 11 years in a row now that we have had troops in harm`s way during the holidays, as Americans have been fighting wars abroad for more than a decade now. Given that, it is a nice tradition I think that we send over some top level civilians in December or any time both to visit the troops, but also importantly, to bring the national media with them, to bring national media attention to where they are going. It`s a rather good use of a photo-op and a publicity stunt to drag the press corps that typically only follows high level politicians, to drag the press corps into a war they might not be talking about. And so, we see this every holiday season. We get these images of the defense secretary today talking to the troops, and we get the national reporters there to cover this bigwig on his big trip, and we get those reporters exposed to the top U.S. military commanders in the war. So we get those top flight reporters explained -- they get to have the war explained to them by the top tier commanders, explaining what`s going on and the progress of the fight. That`s how it goes roughly every December. This year, though, there was a slight change. This year, the top U.S. military commander in the war did brief Secretary Panetta on the war, and he was seen -- you can see him on the video here, the press is shooting while visiting the war -- but that top military commander is not himself speaking to the reporters this year. Because this top military commander is not in a position to be answering any unscripted questions from the press corps right about now, not when his e-mails to a Tampa socialite are being scoured by a review at home. And his next job at NATO is on hold during the investigation. General John Allen is still running the war in Afghanistan, but that`s happening while he is still under investigation at home for those e-mails, after his name and his behavior came up during the previous commander of the war in Afghanistan`s sex scandal, when he was forced to resign from his job heading up the CIA. And that has now squirreled its way into maybe an unrelated but concurrent scandal about why General Petraeus seems to have been secretly taping a conversation he held with a FOX News reporter last year. The reporter says she is not the one who taped it. It was not her tape. And so when that tape was leaked to "The Washington Post," if it didn`t come from the reporter, does that mean it came from General Petraeus? If so, why was he taping his conversations with reporters without them knowing it, and who leaked it and why? So that`s still unresolved. And General Petraeus, of course, was the commander before General Allen. And, of course, the commander before General Petraeus, who had to resign in his own political scandal, he is now poised to release a new tell-all blockbuster book which will open that whole scandal up again. So, those are the last three top guys. In terms of the top level leadership in the war in Afghanistan, it`s kind of a freaking mess, right? And it has been a mess for a long time. The Pentagon just released its report that shows the results of President Obama`s big surge of troops into Afghanistan after he took office. The report found that violence in Afghanistan after the surge is higher than it was before the surge. Enemy-initiated attacks are higher now than they were before the surge started -- the surge that was supposed to decimate the enemy. One of the other main goals of the surge, which was supposed to train up Afghan forces, that goal has been roughly 1/23rd successful. I meant that in the sense of a fraction. There are 23 Afghan army brigades. And of those, of those 23, one can operate independently without support of American or NATO forces -- one of 23. And remember, the surge is done, and that`s the result. More violence and one out of 23 brigades. And there are 66,000 Americans in Afghanistan right now. And American combat operations in Afghanistan are slated to continue there for another two years. But the whole basis of the plan to keep Americans in combat operations there for another two years was this idea that the surge was going to reduce violence and make it so the Afghan army could fight on its own. Well, guess what didn`t happen? Either of those things. I don`t mean to be a bummer, but it`s true. At least the Pentagon says it`s true. And it seems important -- not just for the military, not just for politics, but for us as a country. It`s our war, right? Even the traveling press corps with Secretary Panetta and even the people who get stories into their papers and on to the wire services about what`s going on in Afghanistan, even when we are talking about the war, which is rarely, what the press and the politicians who are talking about it seem mostly to be focused on is what happens after two years from now, what happens after the end of 2014. Are there going to be a thousand Americans who stay around in country after combat operations are over? Is it a thousand or 6,000 or 10,000? We`re told that the president will make a decision soon, that he is reviewing options about the U.S. mission after 2014, about how many residual troops will stay after combat operations are over. But combat operations do not end for another two years. And here is one other thing to consider about this. Here are the troop levels, the number of American soldiers deployed in Afghanistan over the years. The big hump there, you can see the Obama surge starting late in 2009 and ending just a few months ago. Now, side by side next to it, over the same time period, these are the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in each of those years. See the pattern? I mean, look at those numbers on the same chart. The more troops you send to the war in Afghanistan, the more American troops die in the war in Afghanistan. Of the more than 2,000 American troops that have died in the war of Afghanistan, of the more than 2,000, more than 1,200 of those, more than half, have died since the start of the surge in 2010, in just last few years of an 11-year long war. And so, as the White House decides what happens in the last two years that they have slated for continued combat operations in Afghanistan, there is this very pressing question -- not for what happens after 2014, for what happens after now. I mean, how big are you going to let the number get? Yes. We need to talk about what`s going to happen after combat is over in 2014. But it`s 2012. There`s two years between now and then. What happens right now, what happens at the end of 2012? What happens in 2013? 2013 starts in two weeks. Joining us now for the interview is Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine. She`s a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Congresswoman Pingree, thank you so much for being here. It`s real pleasure to have you here. REP. CHELLIE PINGREE (D), MAINE: Thank you very much and thank you for bringing up this topic. MADDOW: Let me ask -- in my summation, it`s hard for me to talk about troop deaths in terms of their statistical manifestation over time. It`s a difficult thing to put in those terms. But that basic thesis, the more Americans we have in Afghanistan, the more Americans are dying there -- do you think at base level that has to be part of the calculation for how much time we spend there and how many Americans are there over the next two years? PINGREE: Oh, absolutely. We have had a suspicion that the surge didn`t work and now, we have concrete proof that it didn`t, and in fact, it`s only made things worse. I mean, I personally have opposed the war since 2002. You have been talking about it for a very long time. We have been encouraging the president and arguing that we should bring the troops home. Losing 2,000 lives, the billions of dollars that we`ve spent and not to have increasing progress says to me, we need to have an end. We can`t be talking about what to do after 2014. We have to talk about what to do before 2014 and bring our troops home. MADDOW: You are in a position of some responsibility here and, also, you have good access to information here because of your position on the Armed Services Committee. When you think about the strategic goals of why we are there, I don`t think we are there for wanton reasons. They have articulated a strategic way out that they think would leave the country more stable, at least according to the strategy, than if we didn`t stay. Do you think the failure of the surge on its own terms disproves the basic strategic reason for why we are staying? Do you think it says the longer we stay doesn`t necessarily make things more stable there? PINGREE: I mean, I think it gives concrete proof to that. I think it is what many of us believed for a long time, that we are a bigger target in Afghanistan and frankly around the world. It is time to allow the country to proceed and it is time to discontinue the loss of lives and the spending of American taxpayer dollars at something that`s not becoming more effective, not working any better and, in fact, as you say, it`s getting worse. And, you know, the American public is strongly behind this. I occasionally get the argument from my colleagues that say, we should set new conditions. There should be more and more reasons that we stay. But I don`t hear that at home from my constituents. I hear from people -- you know, most people, it`s off their radar screen. They think it should have ended a long time ago. Now, they really want it to come to an end. MADDOW: Do you think there is -- I guess asking your advice -- what should we watch for in Washington if we are hoping for some substantive debate on this? What needs happen in Washington in order for this to become a media enough political issue that it`s debated to enough extent that it might make a difference in when the troops do come home? PINGREE: Boy, I feel like we`ve tried everything. We have just gone through an enormous election cycle. It hardly made it on to the radar screen. You know, I hope that the president, now that he has won the election, starts to say, I need to be effective here. I have to do what`s right for our troops, for our country, really for the future of Afghanistan, and make the argument that it is time to come home. And that we can`t be talking about post 2014, we have to say, can we speed this up? I mean, there is good, concrete evidence that says, it`s not getting better. It`s getting worse. And for all of the talk of the challenges that we have of reducing the deficit, of nation-building back here at home, rebuilding our infrastructure here, how can we justify spending taxpayer dollars there and particularly with the figures you showed us, the increasing loss of lives? We are a bigger and bigger target all the time. And we can`t keep saying to people or letting one more general say to us, oh, it`s going to get better. We`ve got this new idea. It`s right around the corner. It is not. It`s not and it hasn`t been going in that direction for quite a while. MADDOW: Democratic Congressman Chellie Pingree of Maine, member of the House Armed Services Committee -- thank you so much for being with us here to talk about it. PINGREE: Thank you. Thank you. MADDOW: I appreciate it. Thank you. All right. We have a much-needed best new thing in the world, coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Best new thing in the world. You know how you`re watching TV and you get drawn in by the intimacy of what`s going on. It`s kind of intense even if you`re paying close attention. And what you are watching ends on this sweet, thoughtful note and the screen slowly fades to black and then it`s -- commercial! Buy this really awesome thing that we`re selling you with tons of enthusiasm. Whoa! Once upon a time, so many Americans complained about that thing happening to them while they are watching blessed television, that Congress decided to do something to fix it. The fix was a piece of legislation called the "Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act", with the soothing acronym CALM. The CALM Act passed both houses of Congress in 2010, during the 111th Congress. It said you essentially have to mitigate the loudness of your TV commercials so they are not dramatically louder than the other things on TV. And here`s the best new thing in the world -- after time to create the standards, after time to give stations a chance to comply, the CALM Act goes into effect tonight at midnight, which means that after midnight, if the station you are watching plays a commercial that is much louder than the program it is sponsoring, you get to complain to the FCC and the offending station gets in trouble and it gets fixed. It is simple. It`s useful. Our current Congress, the 112th Congress, is now in its lame duck session. It is on track to be the least productive Congress ever in the history of the United States -- even less productive than the famous do- nothing Congress that cost Republicans control of the House in the Harry Truman era. That Congress managed to pass around 900 bills. That red arrow is for the do-nothing Congress. This Congress, the 112th Congress only passed about one-fifth as many bills, making it the do way less than the do nothing Congress. But it is this Congress` great good fortune that right now, when we are reflecting on how little they have done, you`re remarking upon how little they have accomplished, something goes into effect from a previous Congress that did actually do something. Maybe the CALM Act passed a couple of years ago but it is going into effect now. It is making headlines now, reminding us that Congress is supposed to do even basic stuff that improves our lives, which maybe should be both an inspiration as well as a satisfying, calming effect on your evening -- best new thing in the world today. That does it for us tonight. Now, stay tuned for philosopher, 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