IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/10/13

Guests: Bill Burton, Ladd Everitt

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thanks, my friend. SCHULTZ: Thank you. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. There were quite a few laugh-out-loud moments in the last election. But most of them, honestly, were from the Republican primaries. Come on. Very few of the laugh-out-loud moments from the last election involved President Obama himself telling a laugh-out-loud deadpan joke. But it did happen once. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Governor Romney maybe hasn`t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military`s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Ships that go underwater. After that moment in the third presidential debate last year, there was a brief but fascinating flurry of really earnest fact-checking about the question of whether or not there really are fewer bayonets in the U.S. military right now. Remember? TMZ had an exclusive inside scoop on outrage from the bayonet community. "We are not obsolete." In fact, the last famous bayonet charge in American history was in 1951 during the Korean War. But as Rajiv Chandrasekaran of "The Washington Post" noted at the time of that debate, it was in 2004 when some of our British allies were out of ammunition in a big battle in Basra, in Iraq, and they resorted in that battle to using a bayonet charge to fight their way out. And for those guys, thank goodness, they not only still had the equipment, but they had been trained in how to use it. If you`re going to do battle and target your enemy in wartime using a bayonet, you obviously have to have the skills to do that. It is a very close quarters way of killing somebody. I mean, there`s hand to hand. That`s as close as you get, right? There`s the bayonet. That`s probably next closest. Or some other form of warfare that is about cutting somebody with something you are holding. But beyond that, warfare and our means of attacking each other as humans have evolved to put all sorts of distance between us and whoever it is that we are trying to hurt or kill. A small handgun or even a big but inaccurate gun you still have to be pretty close to the person you`re trying to kill but not as close as you had to be with the bayonet. In terms of a grenade that you have to throw, that lethal force can be projected a distance away from yourself that is derived directly from the strength of your arm. So I don`t know, maybe about 180 feet. And you have a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, the same kind of weapon can be propelled about 1,000 feet away from you. A sniper rifle can be lethal up from to a mile away. The highest altitude from which U.S. bombers can drop bombs is considered to be about 9 1/2 miles. When the guns get really, really big, the distance at which they are lethality effective goes up as well. The generally accepted range say for a howitzer is about 14 miles. We have never fired an intercontinental ballistic missile except in testing but the ones that we`ve still got in silos up in the Plain States aimed at what used to be the Soviet Union, they have a range of 6,000 miles or more. Ever since man stopped just throwing rocks and started using sling shots and then advanced to catapults, people have been able to project lethal force. People have been able to inflict injuries or death on their enemies in wartime from a relatively safe distance. From a distance that relatively speaking keeps at a safe distance the person who is pulling the trigger. In the debate now over the most modern form of American warfare, which is killing people using planes that don`t have pilots, using unmanned flying robots in far-away countries, what is often portrayed as novel and especially morally troubling about that means of killing people is that there isn`t a person inside the plane. There isn`t a person inside the plane that has the missiles on it. That the person piloting the aircraft and pulling the trigger to fire the missile used in that attack is actually thousands of miles away in Virginia, say, or Nevada, or somewhere, rather than him or herself actually being at the battlefield. But the idea that the ethically relevant thing about a drone is how far away you the trigger puller are from the explosion or the damage that you cause with your weapon, that is a quantitative matter. That is not a qualitative matter. We have always been able to project force far away from the person who is exerting it. The ethical sensitivity here is really not about the particular type of weapon of war we are using. It is that we are killing people using that weapon of war in place that aren`t war zones. And that is the unnerving consequence of the whole idea of a war on terror, or a war against a non- state actor that could be anywhere in the world and that therefore designates that war as taking place everywhere. The most frequent, outside a war zone place where our government carries out these kinds of attacks is of course in Pakistan. In 2010, we saw what the Obama administration was going to be like on this score. There was a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan roughly every three days in 2010. The New America Foundation tracks these things and their record shows it was an unprecedented spike in terms of how frequently we were killing people in Pakistan using this particular method of killing people even though Pakistan is supposedly not a war zone for us, at least not more than anywhere else in the world. Interestingly, though, in 2011, it dropped off. In 2011 we launched from dropping drone strikes in Pakistan roughly every three days to launching them on average every five days. Then in 2012, it dropped off even further. We were launching a drone strike in Pakistan about every seven or eight days as of 2012. Well, how is this year shaping up? It is January 10th. So, so far, there have only been 10 days in 2013. Of those 10 days in 2013, so far, we have launched a drone strike in Pakistan on seven out of those 10 days. Now, maybe that is an aberration. Maybe those are the only seven we will have this year and by the end of the year, our average will keep up this year-to-year pattern of decline. But seven strikes in the first 10 days of the year, that`s kind of off the hook, right? Of course, the most amazing thing about this as a matter of policy is that it isn`t really a matter of policy, or at least it isn`t publicly a matter of policy. The administration, when we have a drone strike in Pakistan, never says, yes, we just launched a drone strike in Pakistan. When you talk to people in the administration, or when they are willing to go on the record to the press about these things, they will describe these drone strikes as having been reported. They never full on admit that the United States is carrying them out. But it is the United States carrying them out. The fact that we know that these things are happening and that our government nevertheless considers them to be deniable is frankly one of the more Orwellian things about being an American citizen in the 21st century. The closest thing we have to a face for the drone policy or the drone non-policy is this man. He is the face of this policy that we have of killing people outside of war zones using this particular tool. And he is the face of the policy both because he is the man who is reported to bring specific names and specific details of specific targets to the president for the president`s personal approval. So to the extent that there is a kill list, this guy is reportedly the keeper of the list. But the other reason that he is the face of the policy is that he is the member of the administration who came forward to give a speech about it. This past spring, it was John Brennan who gave the first ever U.S. policy address, admitting to some of our drone strikes and defending them as both wise and legal. John Brennan also this past fall told "The Washington Post" this -- quote, "I think the rule should be that if we`re going to take actions overseas that result in the deaths of people, the United States should take responsibility for that. We should. But we don`t. At least not for all of the drone strikes that we launch. The deniable drone strikes, the ones the U.S. does not take responsibility for, the ones the U.S. does not admit to even though everybody knows we`re responsible for them, those are the ones that are committed as covert action. They`re the ones that are launched by the CIA. As John Brennan has now been nominated to head the CIA, he`s being described as somebody who wants to bring this policy out of the dark. Not that he wants to stop killing people using this particular tool, but he thinks we should do it in a way that is more accountable. He specifically thinks we ought to admit we are doing it. And even more specifically than that he is said to prefer to have the military do these strikes instead of the CIA. Now, we may or may not like what our military does in wartime. But the rules under which our military operates and the political expectations we have when they do operate are that we get to know what they`re doing. And our political leaders, who are at the top of their chain of command are therefore responsible for giving the orders, and our political leaders can be voted out of office if we do not like what they have the military do. We do not have that luxury, the accountability when our government doesn`t admit to what we do. This idea of killing people with drones is not a qualitatively novel thing. This idea that it is basically just a form of killing people in warfare and should -- therefore, the military should do it, this idea is said to be one that John Brennan favors, have the military do it, not the CIA. That`s not a new idea, either. The 9/11 Commission made that same recommendation back in 2004. Quote, "Paramilitary operations, whether clandestine or covert, should shift to the Defense Department." Remember when we as a country supposedly accepted all the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission? That one was accepted in theory but obviously never acted on. John Brennan is now on tap to be the new head of the CIA. He said he agrees with that idea. At least we`re told he agrees with that idea. But while he has had the job of leading the overall counterterrorism policies of the Obama administration, we have seen no such shift in direction. So why are we now supposed to believe, now that he`s up to be the director of the CIA, which is a senate confirmable job, why are we now supposed to believe that regardless of how things have gone under his leadership so far it all might change and get a lot more accountable and more transparent and he gets this new job? If he does want to bring drone war -- drone warfare out of the dark and put it on more authoritatively legal and accountable grounds, if he moves to run the CIA, will that make him more able to effect that change in our government if he really wants to do if, if he really has wanted to do it all along but hasn`t been able to pull it off? I mean, it is kind of hard to believe he`s going to go run an agency so he can give some of that agency`s authorities away. Or are we to believe that the president, who is nominating John Brennan to run the CIA, that the president also wants to make this change, that the president, who has used drone warfare in an unprecedented way, who has been unprecedentedly aggressive on that subject, that this president wants to bring the drones out of the dark too, and therefore he needs to move John Brennan over to the CIA because he knows then he`ll have a CIA director in press who will acquiesce to the CIA losing that particular job of running all our flying killer robots and never having to answer for it. The critique from the left on President Obama on national security and there`s a lot of them, you could go into any level of detail on any one of them, but the big ones are one he hasn`t closed Guantanamo, although we know he is trying to do that and it is Congress who blocked him. Two, that we are still in Afghanistan in big numbers. We shall see how quickly we get out there have when he comes one his recommendations for the speed of the drawdown. But there is also this third thing. That the wholesale embrace of the secretive, pseudo-legal deniable, Orwellian means of raining death from the sky all over the world, even in places where we`re not technically at war and never admitting to it. Does President Obama appointing John Brennan to run the CIA mean that he does care about that critique from the left? Or is it the opposite? By promoting the architect of the drone program we`ve got now, is this a punch the hippie moment? Is it a sign he`s happy for drone warfare to be his legacy and it`s becoming entrenched, it`s getting promoted, it`s not going to change? Which is it? Joining us now is Bill Burton. He`s former White House deputy secretary for the Obama administration. He`s co-founder of Priorities USA Political Action Committee and he`s a good sport who rushed over here when we suddenly changed the time at which he need to arrive. Thank you for hustling over here. I really appreciate it. BILL BURTON, PRIORITIES USA CO-FOUNDER: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: Is this a punch the hippie moment? Does the White -- is the White House concerned by the critique of drones from the left or do they share any of the aspects of that critique? BURTON: Well, even if you just take this back a step from talking about whether we`re just talking about the left who has a critique or the American people who have a right to know certain things about what the government is doing, I think it`s worth noting that the CIA is accountable and they are accountable to Congress. And anytime Congress wants to have a conversation with the head of the CIA they bring him down and have a conversation with him. Sometimes those conversations are open. Sometimes those conversations are not. But Congress does have oversight legally over what the CIA is doing. And as for John Brennan, this is a guy who you note is for accountability, is for transparency, and is the guy who gave the first speech as you noted that talked about the drone program that the United States has. The question that we have to ask ourselves is if the presumption is that the president has to do every single thing in his power to keep the American people safe, then how is he going to do it? If there`s bad guys in Yemen who are a part of al Qaeda, is he going to send a drone in to go and get them? And I`m not revealing any classified information. Is he going to send a drone in to get them? Or is he going to put thousands of American troops on the ground to go get them by some sort of standard rules of warfare that some might think are better to prosecute a war -- MADDOW: I think that -- BURTON: -- and I don`t think that`s the best way to necessarily prosecute this war. MADDOW: That`s not what I`m arguing, though. And I don`t think that`s what this debate is about. I think that we kill people in wartime using all sorts of means that Americans would find distasteful when viewing them from the comfort of our living rooms, right? BURTON: Absolutely. MADDOW: Killing people in wartime is something you do by all sorts of horrible means. Drones used by the military in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and places like that are not something that have ever attracted attention. The use of drones in Yemen and Somalia by the U.S. military in ways that were admitted to by U.S. policymakers I also don`t think upset very many Americans. I think the thing that is morally different is covert action, denying that it`s happening. It has been reported that there has been a drone strike in Waziristan. Yes, I have seen those reports. I will not comment on whether or not that is an action of our government. The covert nature of them when they are done by the CIA seems to be what bothers John Brennan. He keeps saying it should be done by the military instead. The question is whether or not he is going to be in more of a position to change that if he runs CIA or less? BURTON: Well, he`s certainly going to be in a position that`s a lot more accountable to Congress, and he`ll be in a place where whenever the heads of the committees on intelligence call him down, he can certainly answer questions about what he`s doing, how he`s doing it, how this war is being prosecuted. But when you have known members of al Qaeda and their leadership and you`re going after them, it makes sense that the American government does every single thing it can to keep us safe, because the rules of warfare change. During the American Revolution, the British thought, you know, you could march in a field. The other guys march in a field, everybody just shoots until everybody`s dead. When al Qaeda flew planes into buildings in New York City and in Washington, D.C., they changed the rules of warfare, too. When Congress said the American government can go after al Qaeda, they authorized the use of force against al Qaeda. And that`s what`s being prosecuted right now. MADDOW: When it is the CIA doing it, though -- and you talked to members of Congress about what oversight is like on intelligence matters especially on issues like this. And they say, yes, we go into a room we`re not allowed to have any staffers we`re not allowed to take any notes and we get out we`re not allowed to talk to anybody about it. So you tell me how strong an oversight rule that I have here. The -- BURTON: They still get to vote on it. They still get to vote on budgets. They still get to vote on the policies. They still get to -- they still get to do their role of oversight even though they don`t have staffers there. MADDOW: Right. BURTON: They could certainly defund the drone program. MADDOW: Well, the way that this works right now doesn`t necessarily affect nuances of modern warfare so much as that it affects the basic idea that American policy should be accountable to American voters. And when we have policy that is deniable, when our political leaders don`t admit it to us, they`re not allowed to admit it to us, then there`s something wrong democratically. There`s not something wrong with the rules of war. And that could change. There`s nothing operationally more capable about the CIA than the military. The military can do everything operationally that the CIA can do. Just a matter of the legal authority under which it`s being done. How do we find out what the president thinks about that when he won`t admit that he`s doing it? BURTON: Well, Rachel, two things. For starters, there have been things that the American government has done to keep Americans safe for the last two centuries that Americans don`t know all the details about. And sometimes, it makes sense that you and I don`t know every single thing that the government is doing and every single mission because it affects your ability to do those things. The government has to be careful. And, of course, the president is as careful as humanly possible in following the rule of law and making sure that we are doing everything we can to keep people safe, but within the bounds of what Americans think that we ought to be doing. But, yes, that`s right. The government does sometimes have secrets. The second thing I will say is just if you take a step back from this debate, the thing that the American people missed in this last presidential election was a real debate over these issues. MADDOW: Yes. Mitt Romney was not capable of holding up his side of the debate. BURTON: Mitt Romney couldn`t hold up his side of the debate and he basically ceded all this to President Obama. And if I just take off my Obama hat for a second, put on my analyst hat, I think it will probably be -- we get a chance in this confirmation hearing to have a conversation about these things, but it will probably not be until the Democratic primary in 2016 where we have a full airing of this debate and people really discuss where do we think the country ought to be on these issues, and did we do everything right, did we do something that`s wrong. And, you know, I think the fact that Mitt Romney wasn`t able to come to the table and have a conversation about these issues means that all of us lost out on it. MADDOW: The Republicans are not capable of participating in this debate. That`s why I think it`s so interesting and the confirmation hearings may be so interesting. If in fact this nominee in particular thinks that we ought to be doing things in a way that`s more accountable than has been true under the leadership of his counterterrorism adviser. And I just want to make sure we have the debate even if the Republicans can`t hack it. And I`m hoping that you will help. BURTON: Well, he`s certainly shown more transparency than we`ve ever seen in this. So -- MADDOW: Bill Burton, thank you for rushing in here and be willing to fight with me about this. I appreciate. BURTON: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: Thanks a lot. All right. Vice President Biden -- speaking of fighting -- spent part of his day across the table from the National Rifle Association today. Guess how that went. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The great Ezra Klein wrote recently at "The Washington Post" that for all the good-natured joking about our nation`s vice president, old handsome and all that, Joe Biden, Ezra said, is secretly, incredibly effective." That thesis about the vice president`s effectiveness is about to get a major road test. Today alone, the vice president met with a bunch of political pressure groups who are not exactly thrilled with his current task, which is to come up with policies to deter gun violence in our country. Among the vice president`s guests today were the NRA. How that went and how it stands up to Ezra`s thesis is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: A political miracle was proclaimed in Washington today with the rather shocking news announced unexpectedly that something big is not only about to get done, it is about to get done early. Here was the president speaking on December 19th. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing. The fact that we can`t prevent every act of violence doesn`t mean we can`t steadily reduce the violence and prevent the very worst violence. That`s why I`ve asked the vice president to lead an effort that includes members of my cabinet and outside organizations to come up with a set of concrete proposals no later than January. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: No later than January. Meaning by the end of January, you guys have got to have something figured out. The president insisted in those remarks on December 19th that he really wanted to move fast. He said, "This is not some Washington commission. This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and pushed aside." He said, "This is a team that has a very specific task to pull together real reforms right now." The president emphasizing again and again how big a deal he wanted to make about going fast. He wanted to go fast. He wanted recommendations for action not within months but within weeks. He wanted it by the end of January. Well, today we learned from Joe Biden that he`s going to beat that deadline by 2 1/2 weeks. The vice president says he`s going to have his recommendations to President Obama by Tuesday. This upcoming Tuesday, the 15th. As a lifelong procrastinator, I`m kind of jealous. But as somebody who covers the news for a living, I`m surprised. This usually does not happen. Everything`s always down to the wire, right? But this is happening early. It`s happening faster than even expected. And it`s really important that it is happening that way. The same week of the president`s press conference, a "Washington Post" op-ed, a person who is the top White House assistant on domestic policy issues, one of the last times we pride ourselves out of moral traction to do something about reforming our laws on guns, wrote with some advice for President Obama. He said, "Fifty years later essentially it`s all about urgency, it`s all about the timeliness and how quickly you could act." Quote, "If ever there was a moment for President Obama to learn from history, it is now, in the wake of Friday`s shootings at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The timely lesson for Obama, drawn from the experience of Lyndon B. Johnson, the last president to aggressively fight for comprehensive gun control, is this: demand action on comprehensive gun control immediately, from this Congress, or lose the opportunity during your presidency." Joseph Califano then goes on to quote LBJ directly in terms of the way he instructed his staff directly back in 1968. Listen. "In the aftermath of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, President Johnson pressed Congress to act gun control legislation he had sent to Capitol Hill years earlier. After the assassination, LBJ ordered all of us on his staff to act swiftly. Quote, he said, "We have only two weeks, maybe even 10 days," he said, "before the gun lobby gets organized." After Newtown, President Obama was not suggesting action on gun reform in 10 days or two weeks but he was asking for it within six weeks, by the end of January. And now, Joe Biden has sped up that six-week time frame to four weeks. And the consequence of that, just like back in 1968, is that the gun lobby is having a hard time getting organized. Just like LBJ said. The same dynamic is actually at work not just at the federal level but in New York state where New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday in his state of the state address called for new state-level restrictions on guns in New York. And he`s not kidding. He was not just calling for something in a speech he hopes people will start working on. The state assembly speaker today said legislative leaders and the governor are already 95 percent of the way done. With an agreement on a new package of gun reforms in the state and the Republicans in the state Senate are already telling reporters that they are not intending to block this deal for new gun laws. Mr. Cuomo`s state of the state speech was yesterday. New York state lawmakers come back next week, and the word in New York is that they`re not just going to start considering what was in that speech next week. They are going to have a vote next week on that package of reforms. Done. Because speed is of the essence, because momentum is on your side, and why would you give the other side more time to get organized? Just like LBJ said. Well, the way that the other side is organized or not is starting to come into sharper focus right now as we get closer and closer to specifics. at least at the federal level, in terms of what we`re going to do on this subject. The gun lobby, the NRA at least, in some ways is a victim of their own success. Their political M.O. is to prevent anybody from even bringing up gun control legislation, to make it seem politically impossible to even broach the subject. And so they`re not used to having the debate, their side of the argument, with powerful, motivated, organized proponents of the opposite view. In other words, they have been so successful at shutting down any possible debate over gun control in this country that they now seem legitimately surprised that there might be a legitimate debate in this country over gun control. Their reaction today to their meeting with Vice President Joe Biden in Washington was that they said they were disappointed. That was their word, "disappointed," that one of the subjects of discussion was reforming gun laws. Yes, what did you think you were there to talk about? This is the list of gun owner groups and gun advocacy groups that Vice President Biden met with today. In this ongoing series of meetings he`s having toward producing a list of recommendations that we now know will come next week. The National Rifle Association is fourth there on the list. Other than the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has the distinction of being headquartered in Newtown, Connecticut, where that massive school shooting was last month, none of these other groups are really seen as all that influential in the field or even all that well- known. But there are other gun advocacy groups in the country besides the NRA, who were not at that meeting today. Take, for example, from the `08 presidential election. The NRA in that election endorsed John McCain for president, saying he had steadfastly voted against every gun and ammunition ban in Congress. That was the NRA endorsement of McCain for president in `08. At the same time, the Gun Owners of America, which is a competing organization, they compete with the NRA. They were denouncing John McCain as a liberal gun grabber. Not only did they not endorse McCain in his 2008 election, they gave him an F rating on their A to F scale as a politician. This competing group with the NRA touts an endorsement on their web page from Ron Paul. Ron Paul calling them the only no compromise gun lobby in Washington. Because you know those NRA guys, they`re the appeasers. And to prove it, the Gun Owners of America points to moments like after the Virginia Tech shooting when the NRA agreed to go along with an effort by the Brady Campaign to try to tighten up the part of federal background checks to keep people with diagnosed mental illness from getting their hands on weapons the way the Virginia Tech shooter did. The NRA did work on that with the Brady Campaign even though nothing came out of that. But the Gun Owners of America opposed that work. If you want to get even further out there, consider the bill that passed the Republican-controlled House in 2011. It would force states to accept permits for concealed weapons that were issued in other states, even if they themselves had tighter rules about this thing. The bill would essentially eliminate the ability of a state to regulate who can have a concealed weapon in their state if the state allows concealed at all. It would force the rules from the least restrictive states in the country onto every else no matter what other states wanted. You`d think this would go down on predictable lines, right? You`d think you`d have Carolyn McCarthy and the other famous voices for gun regulation in Congress against it and you`d have the gun rights stuff -- gun rights guys on the other side. And indeed the NRA and the Gun Owners of America with reservations said they were for this thing. But then you go further out on the limb, and there`s the National Association for Gun Rights saying they were against it. Why were they against that? Are they just some gun control group that has a weird counterintuitive name? No, this group is so anti-gun control that they see even a law like this as a secret Trojan horse to allow the government to come in and take your guns. Any regulation on guns at all, even if it`s one designed to allow more access to guns, they think is too much regulation. They do not even accept the legitimacy of pro-gun proliferation laws because it`s a law and a law, that can`t be allowed. This is what the pro- gun side of the conversation is like. These are the kind of fights these guys have with each other. That side of the argument is not just the NRA. It`s the NRA arguing over how many well-armed angels can dance on the head of a pin with even more fringe groups that get even more fundamentalist over time and are rewarded for their fundamentalism. When the NRA came out after what happened in Newtown and shocked the country with their demand for more guns as a response to that kind of carnage, they weren`t trying to win an argument with a country that was horrified by gun violence and trying to do something about it. They were trying to hold on to their own seat at the table. They were talking to the other pro gun groups out there that are even more extreme than them. They were trying to hold on to their gun anarchy, fundamentalist, uncompromising street cred. They`re like a Republican political who in the real world seems like a super conservative until he`s facing a Tea Party challenge in a Republican primary and all of a sudden you`ve got Orrin Hatch saying he`ll burn down the country over an individual mandate for health reform when he used to sponsor the individual mandate for health reform. These guys are worried about getting primaried. In terms of whether or not the gun lobby is well organized here, whether they`ve got their act together, the NRA with their response to the meeting with vice president Biden today, with their immediate response to Newtown which horrified the country, which everything they have done since, all shows that they are so preoccupied with fending off a challenge from inside the pro-gun movement, they`re so worried about their own right flank that they`re not capable of any sort of political acuity in participating in the wider discussion. I mean, they got their chance, but they could not pull it off. They are not well-organized enough to do it. They are confused as to who they should be fighting with, and they do not appear to be able to fight a two- front war. Meanwhile, on the other side, on the other side of this debate, that side has literally never been so organized and so ambitious as they are right now. The marquee powerful and rich political figure on that side of the debate is of course New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He has been thinking strategically about this issue for a long time, in ways that are now beginning to pay off. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Does that dynamic change now? Does the NRA have disproportionate power? You argued a moment ago that they didn`t have the power they once had in a presidential election. MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK CITY: Look, I`ll give you a good example. One of the things they decided to do in this last election was to support some candidates that were running against those that had great records with the NRA, where the NRA was putting their money into one side. I decided to put my money into the other side. GREGORY: Joe Baca in California, one of those Democrats that you -- BLOOMBERG: We won four out of seven. Four out of seven where the NRA supported every one of those four and we won with a small amount of money. There is this myth that the NRA is so powerful -- (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Mr. Bloomberg`s experimental anti-NRA PAC spending, it did focus on seven races in 2012. He didn`t win all of them. But he did win four of those races. And it didn`t take him a ton of money to do it. And as we reported last night, the NRA`s own spending was profoundly impotent in the last election. Less than 1 percent of their multimillion-dollar expenditure in 2012 was spent on winning candidates. They wasted more than 99 percent of their money in 2012. Mike Bloomberg up against them won most of his races. And now there`s more. On the same day that Mike Bloomberg`s group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, started running this ad on the second anniversary of the Tucson shooting that nearly killed Gabby Giffords. On the same day they started running this ad demanding a plan, a concrete plan of action in Washington and not just platitudes, Gabby Giffords herself, the survivor of that shooting, she and her husband launched not just a generic political initiative to push for improvement someday or increased awareness on this issue. Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly launched a political action committee to fund a real nuts and bolts political effort to oppose candidates who will stand in their way and to promote and reward candidates who will help on this issue. They stated today their initial fund-raising goal is $20 million. The money in politics is supposed to be gross, right? Ooh, it`s so impure. And it`s true, it is very impure. But it is also the reason why we think of the NRA as powerful, that they will devote resources, money, at campaign time to punish candidates who don`t do what they want and to reward candidates who will. That money is what supposedly creates the political fear of the NRA. Well, what if that fear isn`t one-side one-sided? What if the fear and the disincentives and incentives it creates don`t end up only on one side? That`s the new landscape of this policy issue with Bloomberg and what Gabby Giffords is doing in terms of money. And it is also how the gun reform side has now started to operate on a day-to-day basis. Now, this past weekend, the Beltway dissolved into cynical puddles of uselessness when on ABC`s Sunday morning show, the newly elected centrist Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota had this to say about the prospects for gun reform via this process that Joe Biden is heading up. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP (D), NORTH DAKOTA: What I hear from the administration and if "The Washington Post" is to be believed, that`s way, way in extreme of what I think is necessary or even should be talked about. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: When this brand new Senator Heidi Heitkamp said that last weekend, the entire beltway collectively smirked, right? Started putting exclamation marks on their repeated insistence of the NRA`s chosen common wisdom on this issue. See? We told you. We`ve always told you nothing can be done. See? No matter how much the country wants it, our political system does not work on this issue. Politicians only answer to the NRA. That`s the only thing they will respond to. They`re so rah frayed of the NRA that nothing can be done. Our democratic process is hopeless before the power of the NRA. The NRA like Matt Drudge rules our world. That was the reaction from the Beltway, right? But look at what happened two days after that appearance on television. Two days after Heidi Heitkamp went on that Sunday morning show and said what she said about any discussion of gun control being way extreme, a group called the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence started running this ad in both places where Heidi Heitkamp has offices -- in Washington, D.C., where she`s just setting up her Senate office, and back home in North Dakota. It says, "Shame on you Heidi Heitkamp for telling the country on Sunday that the Obama administration`s response to Newtown is extreme. Seventy-four percent of NRA members support criminal background checks on all gun buyers. Blocking common sense solutions to keep military-style weapons out of dangerous hands? Now, that is extreme." And then in prototypical meant to be intimidating style, they gone go on to list her office phone number and district the reader of this ad to tell Senator Heitkamp it`s time to stand up for American families not the gun lobby. They give her direct number and tell people to call her. And I have no idea whether anybody called. But this kind of thing is designed to make a member of Congress feel like there is a political threat to them and not just on one side of this issue but on both sides. And after that happened, she said that thing she said on Sunday, those ads came out on Tuesday, and after that Senator Heitkamp put out a statement clarifying that while she does believe that Americans have a right to bear arms, quote, "with that right come responsibilities." The senator stating affirmatively, "We have a responsibility to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill." She said, "Every option must be considered. All options must be on the table when it comes to addressing gun violence in America." Still a pro gun rights statement from the senator but it is a measured, "I`m willing to be constructive" pro-gun rights statement which is nothing like what she said on that Sunday morning show. One ad run in the right places with the right tone and run fast, right away, no time to let anything sink in. Time is of the essence. And the people trying to move forward on this issue, despite all the obstacles in their path, seem to be very appreciative of how much time is of the essence right now. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HEITKAMP: What I hear from the administration and if the "Washington Post" is to be believed, that`s way in extreme of what I think is necessary or even should be talked about. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was incoming U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota talking about potential gun control measures coming from the White House. After ads were run against her based on that statement, Senator Heitkamp later put out a statement clarifying a more moderate-sounding position on the issue. Joining us now is Ladd Everitt from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which is the group that ran the newspaper ads, asking voters to call Senator Heitkamp about her stance on the issue. Thank you for being here, Mr. Everitt. It`s nice to have you here. LADD EVERITT, COALITION TO STOP GUN VIOLENCE: Yes. Thanks for having me, Rachel. MADDOW: I have described the way I think you guys responded to Senator Heitkamp in terms of her comments in your ad and what happened thereafter. Did I get that right? Can you help us understand your organization`s thinking in how you approach this? EVERITT: No, I mean, I think you did a great job of explaining it. I mean, you know, absolutely, we were reacting to words that we found very offensive. You know, one thing you didn`t have a moment to mention was that the ad was signed by four parents who lost their children in mass shootings including Roxanna Green, the mother of Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old who was killed in the Tucson mass shooting. And you know, like you said, we wanted to send a very clear message here. And that message is that, you know, the era of no accountability is over. If you are a politician who shills for the NRA, who is putting our families basically in the line of fire, you`re no longer going to be able to do that without paying a political price. MADDOW: Is there room in terms of your view of that accountability for a politician like Heidi Heitkamp or anybody else to be a self-defined pro-Second Amendment, pro-gun rights legislator but also be amenable toward what you would consider to be common sense gun regulations? EVERITT: I would say absolutely. And you read a line from the ad itself which tells that polling shows that 75 percent of NRA members support background checks on all gun sales. So, you know, I think the data clearly shows that the NRA leadership is broadly out of step with their own membership. And I think, yes, a politician like Senator Heitkamp absolutely can support the Second Amendment while offering some common sense solutions to prevent people like Adam Lanza from getting immediate access to assault rifles and other weapons. MADDOW: We`ve heard Michael Bloomberg and others on your side of this debate trying to change the common wisdom about how powerful the NRA really is. Trying to sort of turn on the lights and look under the bed at this bogey man that they have made themselves out to be who as somebody who can threaten a politician`s career with just one wrong vote. Do you believe their power is overstated, and what do you think the evidence is for that? EVERITT: Well, I mean, it`s incredibly overstated. I mean, you showed the statistic from the Sunlight Foundation that shows that their top PAC performed worse than any other PAC in the nation in the November elections. You know, they lost seven out of eight senate races where they put more than $100,000 in. They got clobbered in the presidential race. Their campaign slogan was all in. They were going all in because they were telling people that President Obama literally was going to destroy all freedom in America. Well, no one responded to that message. No one cared. So, you know, if on one hand they want to claim that they single- handedly supposedly won the 1994 and 2000 election -- well, you`ve got to own up to getting shellacked in this one. MADDOW: Ladd Everitt, the director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, taking an aggressive and proudly aggressive approach on this issue. Keep us posted on how you see this going, sir. It`s nice to have you here. Thank you. EVERITT: Thanks so much, Rachel. MADDOW: Thanks. So how does the idea of zero American troops in Afghanistan sound to you? The Obama administration apparently wants to know how that sounds to you. That whole possibly encouraging but to be determined story is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So this was the headline on Tuesday, "Rescued by a Bailout, AIG May Sue Its Savior." The company that did more than any other to basically tank the world economy in 2008 got $182 million taxpayer bail out but now they are going to sue us for not saving them kindly enough? Seriously? In response to that news on Tuesday, just about everybody from the less significant, cable news hosts, to the more significant, Senator Elizabeth Warren of the Banking Committee, we all collectively lost our minds at the unmitigated gall of AIG of even thinking of doing this. Update, they are not doing it. They heard the case from their former CEO who wanted them to sue taxpayers and they said no. AIG initially said they`d take a few weeks to make the decision. But they didn`t. They decided the same day they heard the case. No, we`re not going to do it. They added words to the affect of, and please do not be mad at us about this anymore. If Tuesday`s headlines before a trial balloon, that balloon was rather quickly blown to smithereens with a contrite insurance behemoth urgently backing away from wreckage. But it turns out that is the second most interesting trial balloon in today`s news. The other one, the more important one, is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: On Monday of this week, ABC senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz, the great Martha Raddatz, reported this tidbit from an anonymous administration official. Quote, "At first, the military hope there might be as many as 20,000 U.S. troops left behind after combat operations in Afghanistan official cease at the end of 2014. But now, an administration official is saying that number will not exceed 10,000 and could even be zero." Zero, really? That was Monday. Martha Raddatz. Then, Tuesday, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes was asked about that on a conference call with reporters. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) REPORTER: There`s been some talk in recent days in some circles about a so-called zero option, that is no U.S. troops to remain on the ground based in Afghanistan after 2014. Is that an option you`re considering? BEN RHODES, DEF. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: That would be an option that we would consider, because again, we -- the president does not view these negotiations as having a goal to keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He views these negotiations as in service of the two missions, security missions identified post-2014, again, counterterrorism, particularly focused on al Qaeda and its affiliates, and training and equipping of ANSF. So that`s the objective and that`s what causes us to look for different potential troop numbers or -- or not having a potential troops in the country. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: Or not having potential troops in the country as a possibility, as in zero. So, on Monday, Martha Raddatz. On Tuesday, that conference call. Again on Tuesday, "The Washington Post" reported the White House was floating the idea of zero. But then "The Washington Post" quoted a senior defense official saying that the troop levels that were under serious consideration ranged from 2,500 to 6,000. Behold, the classic Beltway trial balloon. A number is allowed to anonymously escape the confines of the White House. It is not denied as being within the realm of possibility when they were asked about it. And even though the president is not out there talking about it on the record, the whole idea is to let the balloon float and see how high it flies before somebody shots it down. In this case, the balloon is still floating. The idea of a very small, residual force in Afghanistan or none at all and perhaps and significant drawdown to those low numbers, it`s so far generating precisely zero outrage, provided you do not count the stopped clock that is Senator John McCain who is always outraged. Yesterday, John McCain tweeted a link to a neoconservative op-ed saying if we end the war in Afghanistan, the whole thing will have been a waste. But honestly, John McCain regularly falls in the forest and nobody hears him. Other than him, if you heard a chest bumping outcry about the Afghanistan war, how it has to be longer and bigger and we can`t bring troops home? I have not heard that outcry. The balloon is still floating. President Obama is meeting with President Karzai tomorrow, and maybe this big balloon float has all just been a show for President Karzai`s benefit. But it has also revealed where American politics are in year 12 of this war. Nobody is outraged by the prospect of it being all the way over. Nobody is shooting this balloon down. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". Thanks for being with us tonight. Have a good one. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END