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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/13/12

Guests: Dan Rather

ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: Rhonda Lee, keep the faith. You`re a great talent, and things will work out. I appreciate your time on "THE ED SHOW" tonight. Thanks so much. 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. That was a tremendous closing story. Great interview, man. Thank you. And thanks to you at home for joining us for this hour. After what has been honestly an amazing day of news, it was 3:42 Eastern this afternoon when NBC News, network news, broke into regular programming with an exclusive special report. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANNOUNCER: This is an NBC News special report. Here`s Brian Williams. BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Good day. We`re coming on the air right now to break exclusive word that the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Susan Rice, has transmitted word to the president of the United States that she is withdrawing her own name from any future consideration for nomination to become perhaps the next secretary of state following Hillary Rodham Clinton. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was the news broken today by NBC at 3:40 in the afternoon. Susan Rice remains the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and a high-profile one at that. She`s known for being very close to President Obama, a long-time friend and ally for the president. She`s also known for being blunt, and for being aggressively intelligent. She is a Rhodes Scholar. She`s Stanford educated. She was on the National Security Council staff and served as assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration. She was unanimously confirmed in 2009 for the post she holds now as the U.N. ambassador. When Hillary Clinton made clearer than clear that she would not stay on for a second term as secretary of state, Susan Rice`s name was floated basically immediately as a potential nominee for that job. Hers was not the only name floated for that job, but her potential nomination was given new prominence and new political heat when Republican senators, led by John Mc-Guess Who, decided that the political traction they could not get before the election in attacking the president for the Benghazi attack, they would try to get instead after the election by attacking Susan Rice for the Benghazi attack. They attacked her specifically for going on Sunday morning talk shows after the attack and delivering the administration`s talking points about what was believed to have happened there. It later emerged that those talking points were exactly what the intelligence agencies told the administration they should say about the attack. Senator McCain described that as the worst cover-up he had ever seen in his life. He said it was worse than Watergate. He said that that Susan Rice, she`s not very bright -- actually used that phrase about her, "not very bright." Part of the reason Susan Rice became such a high-profile potential nominee was because of that criticism from Republican senators. More than that, it ended up becoming a very high-profile potential nomination because of the president`s response to that Republican criticism. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace. If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I`m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous. And I don`t think there`s any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed that`s a problem. And we`ve got to get to the bottom of it and there needs to be accountability. We`ve got to bring those who carried it out to justice. They won`t get any debate from me on that. But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she`s an easy target, then they`ve got a problem with me. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: One of the closest things to a flash of temper that we have ever seen from President Barack Obama. That was at his first press availability after being re-elected. Still, though, the president`s spirited and maybe even angry defense of Susan Rice appears to have been motivated as much by the president`s disgust for the way she was being attacked as it was by any bottom line determination that Susan Rice was definitively his number one choice for that secretary of state job. Throughout this whole time as the Beltway and the country waited to hear even the first news of who President Obama would choose for his second-term cabinet, White House aides consistently described to the president as genuinely conflicted about whether he wanted Susan Rice or maybe somebody else, maybe Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, to put in that secretary of state job. Well, if it was a contest in the president`s mind between Susan Rice and John Kerry for that big job, for who would be the best successor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, well today at least the binary competition between these two was settled with that letter that NBC News broke the news of today, that letter from Susan Rice to President Obama. Quote, "I am highly honored to be considered by you for appointment as secretary of state. I`m fully confident that I could serve our country ably and effectively in that role. However, if nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive, and costly to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country. It is far more important that we devote precious legislative hours and energy to enacting your core goals." "The position of secretary of state," she says, "should never be politicized. As someone who grew up in an era of comparative bipartisanship and as a sitting U.S. national security official who has served in two U.S. administrations, I am saddened that we have reached this point, even before you have decided whom to nominate. We cannot afford such an irresponsible distraction from the most pressing issues facing the American people." She says, "I am grateful as always for your unwavering confidence in me and especially for your extraordinary personal support during these past several weeks." That`s from the letter from president -- from Ambassador Rice to President Obama today. But here`s how Ambassador Rice explained herself this decision tonight in an exclusive interview with NBC`s Brian Williams. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICE: I withdrew my name because I think it`s the right thing for the country, and I think it`s the right thing for the president and putting those things together, that makes it the right thing for me and my family. I`ve all my life been a public servant. I`m not a political person by -- at my foundation. I just want to, as I`ve had in academia and think tanks and two terms -- two administrations of this government tried to dot right thing. And that`s what I`m going to continue doing. WILLIAMS: You pulled yourself out today. Did you want the job? RICE: I would have been very honored to serve in that job, just as I`m delighted to do what I`m doing. But yes, sure. How can you not want to, in my field, serve at the highest possible level? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Again, that exclusive interview with Brian Williams today. Since that was taped, Susan Rice has tweeted this evening just within the past hour, "Those of you who know me know that I`m a fighter but not at the cost of what`s right for the country." She then tweeted three minutes later, "I don`t do this work for me. I do it because I believe in President Obama`s approach to the world, and I want to get things done." In terms of what happens next here, in terms of what this means here, there is one line from Susan Rice`s letter withdrawing her name from consideration for this position I think is going to be very important here, is that line toward the end that I read a moment ago when she thanks the president for his extraordinary personal support. His support of her was extraordinary. And that I think ends up being a big political deal here, because when a president personally sticks his neck out for someone, like President Obama did so dramatically for Susan Rice at his first press availability after being re-elected, a president doing that is putting himself on the line along with that someone`s political fortune. So, now that Susan Rice has withdrawn from consideration for this job, where does that leave the president? Especially vis-a-vis those Senate Republican critics he took on so personally on her behalf. And not to jump too far down the road here, but if this means President Obama is now likely to nominate this man, John Kerry, for secretary of state, will Republicans keep their word that they will happily support his nomination for the job, they`ll confirm him in the Senate with only enough of a pause to afford time for clapping? And not to jump too much further down the road here, but if John Kerry does lead the Senate to accept the nomination as secretary of state and if he is confirmed as Republicans say they are so eager to do, who will replace John Kerry in that Senate seat from Massachusetts? There will have to be a special election in that state to replace him. Now, Elizabeth Warren just beat the pants off incumbent Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown in this past election, but now, Elizabeth Warren is already in the Senate. This is the other Senate seat for Massachusetts. Today, Elizabeth Warren was celebrating her confirmed seat on the Senate Banking Committee. But meanwhile, Scott Brown just gave his farewell address and in his farewell address he said in the senate that he would very much like to come back. He told senators in his farewell address, quote, "Victory and defeat is temporary." That`s how he said it. I would correct it if it was somebody else sighing it but it was him. "Victory and defeat is temporary. Depending on what happens and where we go, all of us, we may obviously meet again." Probably not, sir. You just got beat by seven points in a campaign where your main line of attack was attacking Elizabeth Warren for having Native American ancestry. Oh, also the bit about you making up stories about meeting with kings and queens. Yes, and then you lost, as an incumbent, by a lot. But still, you never know. Has the Scott Brown comeback fantasy been inflecting the consideration of John Kerry as a potential secretary of state vis-a-vis Susan Rice? How is that affected by Susan Rice now taking her name out of consideration? Was the withdrawal of Susan Rice`s nomination inevitable? How does the president`s personal defense of her resonate now that he does have not the choice to nominate her if he wanted to? And what does this all mean about who is going to be running some of the most important parts of the government in President Obama`s second term? It`s a big news day. It was NBC News who first broke the news today about Susan Rice. Joining us now with the latest is NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell. Andrea, thank you so much for your time tonight. ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Thank you. Good to be with you, Rachel. MADDOW: The White House released a statement this afternoon praising Susan Rice but also condemning the political attacks that caused her to remove her name from consideration. Is this what the White House was hoping for? Do we know -- do we know if they wanted Susan Rice to bow out? MITCHELL: I think they expected her to. I don`t think she was pressured to. But it was a very uncomfortable situation. The conclusion was that this was too painful and it was a distraction. And she wrote, she has an op-ed that she`s already posted, has been posted by the "Washington Post" for tomorrow, and saying that it had become a distraction, that she wants to focus on her work and that clearly was not possible the way this had proceeded. I think that no one asked her to withdraw but they were unable, since she had not been nominated and the president was still obviously ambivalent between her and John Kerry at this stage, they did not surround her with the kind of support she would have had if she had been a nominee. I think it`s very clear from our reporting and from Chuck Todd`s reporting that some of the top advisers in the White House -- they were divided also -- but some of the top advisers said to the president you do not need this political battle right now with the Republican Senate because this would stretch the Benghazi investigation forever and it would mean that the confirmation hearing would be very difficult. They probably could have won it. But that it would be a distraction from the main act, which is to move on, create a cabinet, have a national security team and focus on the tax-and-spending debate, which is already at loggerheads. MADDOW: Is there a cost to the president? MITCHELL: Yes. MADDOW: Or does the White House perceive a cost to the president for having this nomination end in this way given that he`s so personally and so fervently supported her, including right after -- right after he was re- elected? MITCHELL: Well, I was told by someone who was very close to this, very close to these conversations inside the White House, that the president might have accepted a withdrawn nomination earlier but wanted to fight it out because he did not want to back down in the face of a fight and a challenge from John McCain, because there is a cost. Now, I think that they think overall the Republicans will pay a higher price because they have now opposed a woman and a very qualified person, a person who`s a Stanford and Rhodes Scholar, you know, Oxford, and career diplomat and U.N. ambassador. So, on paper, very, very well-qualified. So I think that having opposed a woman and a woman of color given what they`ve just experienced in this president election, I think the conclusion on the White House is that Republicans will pay a higher price. But a lot of Democrats are saying that the president did not show enough loyalty. A lot of women in the administration are very angry. And I`m saying this at a very high level -- angry because they feel she was not treated with respect, she was not given the support she needed and she was left to twist in the wind. MADDOW: They`re angry with whom, though? MITCHELL: Angry with the White House, and with the boss, with the president for not being willing to fight this out. That he`s backed down in the face of a challenge from a Republican minority after having won a re-election victory. And most people in the foreign policy community understand that as qualified as John Kerry is, and he`s superbly qualified, he was trained, he lived for this, the son of a diplomat and clearly wanted this job and will get this job. But the anger is that she was not responsible for Benghazi and what she said on those Sunday talk shows -- if you were to deny a promotion to everyone who misspeaks or gets something wrong on Sunday television, including all of us, there would be no one left in Washington. So for her to be punished for Benghazi, which was not even her responsibility, if there were failures and this independent review board is coming out with its report next week or it`s going to be presented to Congress next week and Hillary Clinton, we`re told from the House and Senate, is scheduled to testify next Thursday, that is likely to conclude that the State Department was largely at fault for failures, security failures prior to Benghazi. So, to blame Susan Rice who`s over at the U.N. mostly in New York City for Benghazi is really a stretch, is that she was the person who went out on Sunday television. And I think if she said today to Brian Williams that she is not blameless. I think there was a lack of care with the talking points and the Republicans seized on it and claimed that she was being political and trying to be political at a key point in the presidential election campaign, which she strongly denies. MADDOW: But you`re saying that the president`s statements to that effect were not enough because they were not backed up with essentially procedural support for her to be fighting these attacks that could have happened had he nominated her. MITCHELL: I mean, once she`s nominated she is armed with the White House counsel`s office, with all -- you know, every wise person, man or woman in Washington who would be assigned to her to get her through the nomination process. But she was left -- she said she didn`t feel that she`s a victim here, but she certainly did acknowledge to Brian that she thinks politics played a part. And I don`t think there`s any way to deny that. Now, the fact that he had an alternative nominee who is so well- qualified, is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has gone on secret missions for this White House, has done so much hard work in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and can sail through confirmation and prevent another big political fight when he`s got his hands full on the economic side, that`s certainly a big plus. MADDOW: Andrea Mitchell, NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent -- this is just an incredible story from every angle. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. MITCHELL: You bet. MADDOW: OK. We`ll be right back with Dan Rather. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICE: I would have been very honored to serve in that job, just as I`m delighted to do what I`m doing. But yes, sure. How can you not want to, in my field, serve at the highest possible level? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice talking with Brian Williams exclusively tonight after withdrawing her name for consideration for secretary of state. It has been a day of high-stakes politics in Washington today and not a little bit of intrigue. Joining us now is Dan Rather. He`s the anchor and managing editor of "Dan Rather Reports" on AXS TV. Mr. Rather, thank you for being here. DAN RATHER, AXS TV`S "DAN RATHER REPORTS": I`m always honored to be here. MADDOW: Susan Rice withdrawing her name from consideration for secretary of state. This is not the most unforeseen thing in the world but it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. What do you think is the most important thing that just happened or that we should watch for happening? RATHER: Well, the most important thing that just happened is that President Obama has once again been backed down and away. Let`s make no mistake. This is chalk one up for the Republicans. They can hopefully in private smile, even smirk, wink at one another. They have the professional scalp of Susan Rice now hanging on their door. They backed President Obama down and away. President Obama for whatever reasons -- and I thought Andrea Mitchell laid out, a lot of the potential reasons for it -- chose not to fight it to the end. There will be any number of people, and not all of them Democrats, who say this tells us something about President Obama. He was not for a friend, a close friend, a long-time supporter, someone who was eminently qualified, Rhodes Scholar, the whole -- public servant. Somebody who made a lot of money on the outside but has dedicated herself to public service. He indicated in his press conference after the election, he made a tough talk, he didn`t back it up. So there are people who say listen, the kind of leader we want is one who will fight to the finish, never give in. On the other hand, one can make the case that President Obama has said to himself, yes, I could probably force this to vote and win the vote but it would cost me down the road. But I think it raises very, very serious questions about what the president`s second term is going to be now looking toward the future. I said on this program, I think the last time I was here, that President Obama needs to take it in basketball terms hard to the hoop. Instead, so far in this early part of his second term but after the election, he`s preferred, again, in basketball terms, to dribble and pass around the perimeter. Whether that`s a winning strategy or not over his second term, we`ll just have to see. MADDOW: You know, I hear that analysis from you and hearing what Andrea was reporting about anger with the White House over the way this worked out today, I understand it -- I understand it intellectually, that the president could have done more, but I contrast that with the public stances that he took on Susan right, which were so strong and emotional and personal. And that public backing her up, you`re saying that that wasn`t matched with appropriate politicking backing her up, supplying her with staffers? RATHER: Talk is cheap. MADDOW: Yes. RATHER: It`s what you do that counts. MADDOW: What should he have done? RATHER: Well, I think particularly after making that news conference he should have taken it to a vote. MADDOW: Nominated her. RATHER: He should have said she`s my nominee, let`s take it to a vote. Because what has happened today plays into the perception, the perception that`s been growing among the Republicans that in street language, President Obama can be rolled for his wallet and his watch. He`s not a guy who`s going to put up much of a fight, even when he feels strongly about it. Even when he has a strong emotional and loyalty quotient, won`t fight for it. For me, personally, I think it`s a little early to make that judgment. But that perception is out there. And what happened today plays right into that perception. Another way of -- you`ve heard it said, President Obama plays soft, he`s too soft. In the early stages of his first term, that was more understandable and I think more acceptable by more people, saying, well, look, he`s come to Washington, wants to get along, nice guy, feels he wants to take the toxicity out of it. But he learned very quickly that the Republicans had a whole other strategy, which was fight them trench by trench, fight them hand to hand if necessary. Now, the message out of President Obama`s news conference appearance was, listen, this woman is qualified and I will stick with her to hell and back, until hell freezes over, and help her cut through the ice. That`s the impression he gave. But that`s not the way he played it out. MADDOW: Does this -- if he has, as you`re sort of arguing, if he`s sort of incentivized the Republicans to keep fighting in this way, to keep doing what John McCain did here, however unfair the president thought it was, does that bode ill for his -- for whoever he does pick for his cabinet? We heard reporting today that Chuck Hagel may be in the running for defense secretary. He`s a former senator. He`s a Republican. Both of those things should make it easy. But we`ve already heard in conservative media a lot of whining and complaining about the Chuck Hagel nomination. We`re hearing from Andrea Mitchell that John Kerry will certainly sail through if he is picked for the secretary of state job. Looking down the road what do you think this bodes? RATHER: Well, first of all, I do think that John Kerry will probably be nominated by the president. And I do think that he will sail through. For one thing, as you pointed out, you earlier point out, there`s another advantage for Republicans because it opens that Senate seat in Massachusetts and they have a strong candidate, Scott Brown, giving that. In terms of the Chuck Hagel appointment, from the outside looking in this looks like a very smart, shrewd, perhaps even wise move. Hagel is a Republican, fairly long-time Republican senator. He was in the service during Vietnam. He knows what it was like to be in military uniform during that -- during jungle hell. MADDOW: Absolutely, yes. RATHER: So that could be a very good appointment for him. But you make a good point that the buffoons (ph) digging around on Kerry and Hagel because many Republicans are in the more, quote, "conservative wing" of the party consider Hagel not a real Republican. He was too moderate, "too willing to compromise," quote-unquote, in their words. So they`ll be poking around. And if they can find anything on which to attack, they probably will. MADDOW: Dan Rather, anchor and managing editor of "Dan Rather Reports" on AXS TV -- it`s wonderful to have you here, sir. RATHER: Good to be here. Thank you very much, Rachel. MADDOW: The bigger the news the more excited I am that talk to you about it. RATHER: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. What remains of the Cold War is mainly archives, right? Dramatic and world-altering history, John le Carre novels and the memory that we used to hate and fear and know very little about the Soviet Union. But there are remnants of the Cold War that are fully alive and that matter a ton in the most dangerous place on the planet right now. That story`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The U.S. has military bases all over the world, right? Our military is everywhere. The Army recruiting Web site right now, the page on where might I end up serving if I signed up? It has a rollover map that shows Army outposts sprinkled all over the world like glitter. The U.S. military, whether you think it is a good thing or a bad thing that this is true, has outposts covering the globe. In contrast, our old Cold War adversary, Russia, has one military outpost anywhere in the world that is not the former Soviet Union. They`ve only got one. Guess where it is. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. It`s October 1973. President Richard Nixon is up to his neck in the Watergate scandal, the scandal that will soon topple his presidency. His vice president is just days away from resigning. The walls are closing in around him. And out of nowhere, a crisis breaks out half a world away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR: Good evening. It is an all-out war. That`s how Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan describes an invasion of the Golan Heights and the east banks of the Suez by Syria and Egypt. The surprise attacks came early this morning in the air and on the ground. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Surprise attacks. In October 1973, as Richard Nixon is crumbling beneath the weight of Watergate, our ally Israel is simultaneously surprise attacked by Egypt from the west and by Syria from the north. After initially being caught off guard by the attacks, Israel eventually takes the upper hand. They are not only able to defend their own borders. They go on offense. They drive to within 65 miles of Cairo and just 25 miles of the Syrian capital of Damascus. Israel is on the move. And then something extraordinary happens. For the first time since the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960s, the United States military moves to DEFCON 3. For some perspective, the only other time we have been at DEFCON 3 since then is on 9/11. This is something that almost never happens. And when it does, it is historic and it is historically scary. And when it happened in 1973, the order to go to DEFCON three was not issued by President Nixon. He was apparently asleep at the time, and the order had to be given by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. And it had to be given because this fight in the Middle East stopped being just a fight in the Middle East. We went to DEFCON 3 that year while President Nixon was sleeping because the Soviet Union threatened to get in on that war, militarily, on behalf of not just Egypt but their long-time ally Syria. The Soviets and Syria were like this. And us and Israel were like this. So if Syria and Israel are going to go to war, that was going to mean us and the Soviet Union going to war? Ultimately, we, of course, did not go to war with the Soviet Union in 1973. A cease-fire was brokered. But it got close. It got DEFCON 3 close. And it got that close because of Syria`s great protector in Moscow. For decades, the Soviet Union supplied Syria with billions of dollars` worth of weapons and military aid, and Syria was their great ally in the Middle East. The two countries signed an official treaty of friendship and cooperation in Moscow in 1980. And the years that followed that treaty, when the Soviet Union was occupying Afghanistan for a decade, you`ll recall of course that the Muslim world was enraged at that occupation, except for Syria. Syria, they were fine with it, because Russia was their best friend. And this best friendship has survived the Cold War. Russia and Syria have had a sort of de facto exchange program over the last few decades. Syrian military officers go to Russia to study. And then they return to Syria with their education and with Russian wives. There are a lot of Russian women who are married to Syrian men who are living in Syria. The two countries have had their share of disagreements over the years, but honestly, they have stuck together. At times when Syria has not had a friend in the whole world they have had Russia, and vice versa. This is a Scud missile. Scud missiles are of Russian design. They`re basically entry-level ballistic missiles, in the words of a BBC story about them today -- ballistic missiles 101, if you will. Scuds are not that accurate, but they are easy to move around. They`re not that big. They`re not that complicated. You can put all sorts of different warheads on them. Ek! And as ballistic missiles go, Scud missiles are fairly ubiquitous in the world. There are a lot of them around, in part because Russia during the Cold War sent Scud missiles all over the world. Everybody that was allied with Russia, at least enough to do business with them, was getting Scud missiles. And as these countries have held on to them and as these countries have sold them on to other countries, in some cases even improving them as they go -- North Korea apparently has a really nice Scud upgrade -- Scuds have turned up in all sorts of conflicts over the decades. In that Israel crisis in 1973 during Watergate, Egypt fired Scud missiles at the western side of the Suez Canal. After the U.S. bombed Libya in the 1980s, Libya fired Scud missiles at a U.S. facility on an Italian island. The Soviets used them in Afghanistan. The Iranians and the Iraqis shot them at each other during their war. Scuds have turned up all over the place. And they still do. So the news this week that Syria is using these Scud missiles right now in its civil war -- Syria has denied it, but NATO says they`re doing it -- that news is scary. If it`s true, and it seems to be true, it means that Syria is using ballistic missiles inside their own borders, shooting them at their own people. It is scary. The White House press secretary yesterday described it as a "stunning, desperate, and completely 2disproportionate military escalation in that conflict." But however scary the firing scud missiles at their own people development might be for the fighting in Syria, it is also a reminder of how key Russia is -- not just to the history of how we got here and to the history of what weaponry is there to be used in this fight, but how key they are to what happens now, to how this maybe resolves. After the Cold War, when we went from Soviet Union to Russia, right? Russia kept their close ties to Syria. The one military base they have outside the former Soviet Union, they have in Syria. The Russians and the Syrians are very close. They`re very close to Syria`s dictator, Bashar al Assad. They were very close with al Assad`s dad. They`ve done billions of dollars` worth of trade deals, as I`ve said, in weapons alone. And in this year and a half-long civil war in Syria that has cost tens of thousands of lives, Syria`s only friends in the world have been, naturally, Iran and China but also their best friends, Russia -- Russia. And that was true until today. Russia today did not formally declare that they`re no longer going to support the Syrian government against the rebels, but for the first time, a high-ranking Russian official said publicly that, yes, it looks like Assad is going to lose this war. I mean, the United States has been saying that forever. NATO has been saying that forever. Everybody who wants Assad to go has been saying that forever. You try to create an air of inevitability about the thing you want to happen, right? That makes sense. But now for the other side to be saying it, for Syria`s best friend to be saying, yes, Syria, you`re going to lose this, it`s going to happen, that is a huge, huge deal. It is sometimes hard to follow the day-to-day news out of this war -- to know what is an important day and what is just another awful day. But this is a really important moment, because Syria was sort of down to their last friend in the world. And if they are now down to not even having that friend anymore, then Russia may not just be predicting that it`s over in Syria. Russia may be ensuring that it is over in Syria. What happened today is a big deal. Watch this space. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: When Michigan Republicans came back after this last election and suddenly moved without warning to get rid of union rights in their state, one of the things that was so shocking about it was that they had not campaigned on doing that. That was not what this election was about in Michigan. In fact, the Republican governor of the state, Rick Snyder, has said that he didn`t want to do that. But they came back after this election and they did it anyway. All of a sudden in a bit of a surprise attack. Their cover, what they explained about why they felt justified doing it, was that Michigan voters in this election had voted against a pro-union rights constitutional amendment. Governor Rick Snyder explained that because the voters said no to an unrelated pro-union rights measure, he felt that was a green light for him to strip union rights across the state. The logic is a stretch. But at least you can sort of follow it, right? Well, now there`s this. In the 2012 election, in this past election, Michigan voters also got to vote on Governor Snyder`s emergency manager law, which let him come in and take over your town in Michigan and just unilaterally get rid of democracy at the local level. Voters in Michigan voted to repeal that law by a big margin. They voted no on Michigan`s emergency manager law. So Michigan voted no on union rights in the election. So that`s why Rick Snyder says he got rid of union rights in the state. Michigan at the same time voted no on the emergency manager law. And so Rick Snyder responded to that vote by passing a new emergency manager law, one that can`t be repealed by the voters this time. That happened this afternoon. Snyder is due to sign it as soon as it hits his desk. And this is how Michigan works these days. This is why Rick Snyder is making Michigan famous for the most radical state governments in the nation. They treat democracy there like a coin toss. It`s one of those coin tosses where if it`s heads they win. But if it`s tails, you lose. Do you want to flip again? What has happened in Michigan so far is the most dramatic manifestation of how the Republican Party intends to govern in response to the last election. There`s been a lot of talking about what the Republicans are going to do, what the Republicans might do differently now, but this isn`t about talking. In Michigan, we are seeing what they are doing. Are these guys an outlier or is this representative of what we should expect from Republicans around the country and in D.C. after this election? Joining us now is Gene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst. Mr. Robinson, it is great to have you here tonight. EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: It is great to be here, Rachel. MADDOW: I would not have expected it as the first big political thing after the election, but it is Michigan that decided to make a real spectacle of itself here -- the union stripping thing, the new emergency manager law, really draconian new restrictions on abortion, on and on. Why is this the result of the last election in a place like Michigan? ROBINSON: You know, it`s a good question. One reason why is this happening could be get it while you can, right? I mean, they still have the majorities in the statehouses and they have Republican governors in the states. And so, just go for it because who knows how long that will last. But it`s very interesting that it`s in Michigan and it`s Governor Snyder whom I`ve met, I spent a day with him about a year and a half ago, right after he had taken office. And he clearly wanted to project a sort of very, very far right conservative agenda but with a smile, with a kind of technocratic smile. And, all of a sudden, the smile is like missing. It`s gone. He`s not smiling anymore. And neither are the people of Michigan, who are not going to like this sort of governance. MADDOW: I think that state politics are important in illuminating anyway, particularly when Republicans aren`t actually running anything from Washington. You get to see the relationship between their rhetoric and how they`re actually going to behave when they`re actually in control of things, and they are in the state. So it`s always interesting. But in this case, I feel like in these weeks after the election when the Republicans just got shellacked, we hear from all the Republicans in the Beltway that the party needs to change, they need to get off all these fights about people`s rights and they need to focus on economics. And in the states, I feel like it`s not that we don`t see signs of that happening. I feel like it is the opposite. And so, I don`t -- I don`t understand what the dynamic is at work here or if maybe just the Beltway and the country don`t talk to each other. ROBINSON: The Beltway and the country don`t talk to each other. We inside the Beltway really ought to get out more. That`s one thing that ought to happen. But, you know, inside Washington, inside the Beltway you see the sort of battle among the factions of the Republican Party and how they`re going to have to work this out. And we talk about it all the time. It`s out in the states where the sort of bloody battlefields are and where this stuff is going on. And so you see it in Michigan. Now, how is this going to impact the Republican brand nationwide? My assessment is it`s not going to help. But it`s not going to help what some people here at kind of party headquarters are trying to project about the Republican Party going forward. So the party might someday win national elections again. MADDOW: Gene, you write in your current column that -- you`re writing about the factual basis of politics or the lack thereof. You write that "Republicans are getting stuff so wrong that Democrats are not even forced to go to the trouble of getting it right." I feel like your diagnosis is that we are mentally atrophying as a nation because of a lack of fact-based argument. Is that what you`re condemning us all to? ROBINSON: Basically, because look, competition is good. A competition of ideas is good, and there should be a smart, forward-thinking Republican Party to challenge progressive ideas, to challenge the Democratic Party, to be creative, to come up with better solutions because, you know, this may come as a secret but the Democratic Party is not perfect, right? The Democratic Party gets a little hide-bound and a little tied to old ways of doing things. So we should have that challenge. But we`re not -- we`re not getting it. It`s not coming from the Republican Party. And when is it going to come? When, for example, the Heritage Foundation, a Republican think tank essentially, which has been very important as a generator of ideas in the past, is now going to be run by Jim DeMint, who doesn`t like most ideas. He likes a few ideas. And I have a feeling that those are the ideas that are going to be acceptable coming out of Heritage. That`s a real shame, I think, for the Republican Party, and ultimately for politics in this country. MADDOW: Yes, it`s a replacement of purpose with tactics. It`s been under way for a long time. Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "Washington Post," MSNBC political analyst -- Gene, thank you. Appreciate it. ROBINSON: OK, Rachel. I`ll keep flipping that coin and see if somehow I win. MADDOW: Exactly. ROBINSON: You know, so far, no. MADDOW: Tails you lose. All right. There has been a series of pretty spooky, maybe connected, maybe not connected stories on mostly handled in local news over the last several weeks. They have not seemed to rise to the level of connected national news stories until right now. Tonight, we have some exclusive news on that. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: One year ago this Saturday, the war in Iraq ended. It ended rather quietly, a trillion dollar, nine-year war that killed 4,000 Americans. A year ago, Saturday, they played the national anthem. They took down the flag and we left. And on this Saturday, on the one year anniversary, December 15th this year, the great city of Chicago will hold a parade to say welcome home to the people who fought it. Are you anywhere Chicago? You could go. It`s Saturday. It starts at noon in Grant Park, in Columbus Drive, and heads north from there. Volunteers spent today stuffing more than 2,000 gift bags and resource kit that will be handed out to veterans at the end of the parade. Sears donated a bunch of staff. The Laugh Factory donated thousands of tickets. The organizers tell us that among the volunteers this weekend will be the folks who organized the St. Louis parade this past January. St. Louis, of course, was the first U.S. city to hold the parade to mark the end of the Iraq, but Chicago this weekend will be the biggest city to do it. So, if you are anywhere Chicago this weekend, check out the link to the parade`s Web site on our blog, Pulling off something like this in a city as big as Chicago is not easy. But the people of Chicago are proving it can be done. So, seriously, New York your excuses for not having a welcome home parade are starting to get fewer and fewer, right? I mean, if Chicago can do it, why can`t we? (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Here`s the story that so far has been only covered as a local news story. But I think this may end up being a national story. And I want to put it on your radar because of that, when on 1:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon, a bunch of courthouses across the state of Mississippi started getting alarming phone calls. Local authorities say it sounded like a man`s voice. The call sounded like they were recorded messages. And in each case, they are explicitly threatening. By the end of the day, it was 31 courthouses and 29 different Mississippi counties who got these threats, they were bomb threats. A state emergency management agency spokesman told the Jackson "Clarion Ledger" that when you looked at the chronology at which threats came to which counties when, the threats it turns out were phoned in, in alphabetical order by the name of the county. Also tonight, law enforcement agencies hadn`t compiled the fullest of the 29 counties that got the threats, but this is 25 of them. Because of the threats, there were evacuations in Mississippi, but no explosive devices were found and nobody was hurt. So, at this one level, this is an interesting but ultimately local Mississippi story, right? Except, look at this, so here`s the day yesterday, when the Mississippi threats came in, 31 bomb threats in 29 Mississippi counties. Now, look back about six weeks ago, November 2nd. November 2nd, it was Friday, shortly after 11:00 in the morning that day, nine court houses in the state of Nebraska received bomb threats. Roughly two weeks later, it happened in Washington state, eight court houses receiving bomb threats beginning in the late afternoon. They were cleared by authorities by early evening. Four days later, November 19th, it was Oregon. Twenty-eight county courthouses across the state of Oregon getting bomb threats. A week after that, Tuesday, November 27th, it was 30 courthouses across, in this time also other government buildings, across the state of Tennessee. Bomb threats and once again, no devices were found by authorities. In that case, one court clerk in Tennessee reported picking up the phone and hearing a man`s voice say if this is the Cheatham County courthouse, you are about to be blown up. So it`s Nebraska, and then Washington and Oregon and Tennessee and now Mississippi. After the news broke in Mississippi, we spoke of officials from the FBI. And the Department of Homeland Security about whether law enforcement agencies believe these threats are related. And they told us, pretty unequivocally, yes. A spokesperson for the FBI in Memphis telling us tonight, quote, "It`s an ongoing investigation so we can`t comment specifically, but it would be foolish not to look into the possibility that these are connected." The director of homeland security in the state of Mississippi tonight was much more specific. He told us, quote, "We were in contact with several other states. And it does look like they maybe related." He stressed that while no explosive devices had ever been found associated with these threats, he told us, quote, "The threats have been narrowed down to a couple of cell phones. Some might call them disposable cell phones." So, that`s new information tonight on the strange stories that have mostly been covered as local news, but that do seem to have some national connection at least across these five states so far. We are watching this one closely and we`ll keep you posted. I think it`s at least worth setting a Google news alert for it in the meantime. 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