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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/15/13

Guests: Sheldon Silver

ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: Thank you. 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. Tremendous news for you and Wendy. Just amazing. I knew you were glowing today for some reason. That`s awesome. SCHULTZ: Well, I want to tell you, she is one tough girl. MADDOW: Yes, and you have been a tough guy along with her all this time. It`s been amazing to see you standing by her the way you have. And it`s great news. Congratulations. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Rachel. I appreciate that. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Breaking news this hour in Washington. The House has finally passed its bill to pay for relief efforts for hurricane Sandy. It has just happened tonight. The storm hit on October 29th. It caused 140 deaths. It caused billions of dollars of damages in the densely populated regions of New York City and New Jersey and Connecticut where it hit most directly. Although the U.S. Senate acted last month on Sandy relief, it has taken John Boehner`s Republican-controlled House 78 days since the storm to pass this bill responding to the storm. In the end, on the Republican side, it ended up being a grudging vote for Sandy relief. Republicans voted against Sandy relief by a 3-1 margin. The bill was only able to pass because a minority of Republicans joined with Democrats to get it done in thousand. Now, even though the Senate already passed its version of hurricane Sandy relief last year, last month, the Senate bill has to be redone because it took the House so long to get their side of it done. The Senate is expected to get their side done again shortly. And then the president says he will sign the measure into law. And, tonight, in further breaking news, as slow as House Republicans were to act in response to hurricane Sandy, tonight`s other major news is about how fast New York state was able to move to respond to a different kind of disaster. Tonight, one month and one day after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a town that is only about nine miles from the New York/Connecticut border, tonight the state of New York has become the first state in the country since that tragedy to reform its gun laws. And it reformed its gun laws dramatically. As of tonight, as of tonight, New York has just enacted the toughest set of gun laws in the country. The state Senate, which is run by a Republican-dominated coalition, passed the measure last night by a vote of 43-18. That was last night. Then it was this afternoon, the heavily Democratic assembly voting. The margin in the assembly was 144-43. And then tonight, less than an hour after it won final passage in the legislature, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it, signed it into law. Parts of it take effect immediately. New York`s new law bans any gun magazines that can hold more than seven rounds of ammunition, seven. It expands an existing state assault weapons ban to ban guns that are semiautomatic and have detachable magazines, and that have one what they call military-style feature such as a flash suppresser or a bayonet mount. It used to be you needed two of those features in addition to being a semiautomatic weapon and having a detachable magazine, now you just need one of the features. Also, as of now, you can no longer have guns -- excuse me, as of now you can no longer have guns that meet that description I just gave in New York state. But if you already own a weapon like that in New York state, you can keep it. You`re grandfathered in. But you will have to register that weapon with the state. That is the part that`s new. The new law requires a background check to buy a firearm, which you need now if you buy a gun at a store. But it also closes the loophole. So you will need a background check now if you buy your gun at a private sale. It closes the gun show loophole, in other words. You will also now need a background check to buy ammunition. And mental health professionals will be required to report to the state patients who they consider to be a threat to themselves or others. Law enforcement would then be allowed to confiscate firearms owned by such a patient. And if you are a gun owner, you are responsible for keeping your weapons inaccessible to others if you live with someone who legally should not have access to weapons in New York state. That`s the package. This is a big deal. And they did it a month and a day after Sandy Hook. They did it on day two of the legislative session in Albany. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: This is a complex, multifaceted problem. And this is a comprehensive bill that addresses the full panorama and spectrum of issues that come up. I`m proud to be a New Yorker because New York is doing something, because we are fighting back, because, yes, we`ve had tragedies and, yes, we`ve had too many innocent people lose their life. And yes it`s unfortunate that it took those tragedies to get us to this point. But let`s at least learn from what has happened. Common sense can win. And good people can win. And you can actually get government to work and get good things to happen. You can overpower the extremists with intelligence and with reason and with common sense. And you can make this state a safer state. (END VIDEO LCIP) MADDOW: The National Rifle Association responded late today to New York`s actions. They put out a statement saying naturally that they are outraged by what New York has done. It should also be noted that the NRA is frequently outraged. But other states are looking to join New York. Maryland Governor Martin O`Malley, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, have all announced in the past few days announced ambitious legislative proposals on gun reform in their own states. And, of course, federally, tomorrow, ahead of schedule, President Obama is set to unveil his own set of proposals in response to the Newtown school shooting. The White House releasing this picture today of Vice President Biden, presenting his findings to the president and other cabinet members in a gun policy meeting. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can tell you that tomorrow the president and vice president will hold an event here at the White House to unveil a package of concrete proposals to reduce gun violence and prevent future tragedies like the one in Newtown, Connecticut. They will be joined by children from around the country who wrote the president letters in the wake of that tragedy, expressing their concerns about gun violence and school safety, along with their parents. That event will be at approximately 11:45 a.m. I will not get ahead of the president in terms of what his package of proposals will include. I will simply note that the president has made clear he intends to take a comprehensive approach. He has also made clear that there are specific legislative actions that he will continue to call on Congress to take, including the assault weapons ban, including a measure to ban high capacity magazine clips, including an effort to close the very big loopholes in the background check system in our country. But I will beyond that leave to it the president to announce what actions he proposes tomorrow. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Joining us now is Sheldon Silver. He is the speaker of the New York state assembly which passed New York state`s sweeping new gun reforms this afternoon. Mr. Speaker, thanks very much for making time for us today. I know it`s been a very busy day. SPEAKER SHELDON SILVER (D), NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY (via telephone): Thank you, Rachel. Thank you for having me. MADDOW: This has happened quickly. This is the second day of the legislative session. It`s a month and a day after the Sandy Hook shooting. We`ll all trying to understand exactly what was just passed in New York. I feel like I should first ask you if my summary of the new law was basically accurate. Is that -- is that basically what you -- what you passed today? SILVER: Your summary was fantastic, absolutely on point. We added other things like increasing certain penalties such as straw sales, which has been a problem in New York, where people go, get guns out of state, come back and in a sense, purchase it for others who don`t clear background checks. We have made those clearly illegal here in New York. The registration of any existing assault weapon is very, very important. And the outright ban of the multiple more than seven and you cannot have more than seven in any clip. These are the key elements that are designed basically to protect people, to protect children, to protect police and fire. There is no reason that I see that we should have guns that are designed to kill the most number of people in the fastest time period possible. And let`s face it. That`s what assault weapons are. It`s not for hunting. It`s not for target shooting. It is for that and that alone. MADDOW: I understand that one of the provisions included in this package of reforms today would have increased the criminal penalties for anybody who shoots a first responder. It`s being called the Webster provision, because the Webster, New York, situation around the turn of the year, around Christmas time when firefighters were ambushed and shot and killed by somebody who laid in wait for them. How much of what happened today was able to be achieved in Albany because of recent tragic incidents like those and like Sandy Hook? How much of this never would have been possible before? SILVER: Well, it`s unfortunate that these were the impetus. Newtown, our Webster in New York, where somebody set a fire in order to attract fire personnel and then open fire on those fire personnel. That`s what happened in Webster. And it`s almost tragic that we needed that in order to bring the impetus for this kind of legislation. We needed that. You know, we have been passing -- I say the New York state assembly. The Democratic-controlled House has been passing an assault weapons legislation like this on previous occasions, many previous occasions. But it took the leadership of Governor Cuomo and those horrendous acts that happened in Newtown and in Webster that actually brought the impetus for this to take place. And this is really the first bill of the legislative session that passed right on the opening. MADDOW: Speaker of the New York state assembly, Sheldon Silver -- I know this was a long-term goal of yours, sir, and a profound legislative achievement, New York state. Thank you for your time tonight, sir. It`s nice to have you here. SILVER: A pleasure. MADDOW: Thank you. SILVER: All right. Let`s turn to E.J. Dionne. "Washington Post" columnist, senior fellow at Brookings. E.J., it`s nice to have you here too. E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST: Good to be with you. SILVER: We just heard from Speaker Sheldon Silver in New York. Obviously, New York is not exactly like the rest of the country politically or in any other way. Interesting, though. New York does have a Republican-controlled Senate. It`s a Republican coalition that controls the Senate. The speaker there saying we were able to do this in the assembly before, but never -- we were never able to get it all the way through in law before Governor Cuomo made it a priority, and before these tragedies. How significant do you think this is what New York did today? DIONNE: I actually think it`s very significant. Of course, New York is not typical of the whole country. In fact, there is no state in our whole union that is typical of the whole country. But there are a lot of Republicans in the House of Representatives which is seen as the roadblock who are like the Republicans in the state Senate, a few in the state assembly, who voted for this bill. If you look at the numbers now, there are 12 Republicans from New York and New Jersey, 13 from Pennsylvania, 20 from the West Coast, 44 from the Midwest. Within that group of 89 are the votes that you`re going to need to pass assault weapons ban, bans on big magazines, tightening up the background checks. And I think that`s very possible. And I think the Sandy vote tonight really tells us something. John Boehner allowed this to pass, even though most Republicans voted against it. Forty-nine Republicans voted for it. I bet you in those 49 are the votes you`re going to need for meaningful gun control. And so a lot will be up to John Boehner. Will he let Republicans who are like the Republicans in New York who voted for this vote the views of their constituents or will he impose the views of people from other parts of the country and not let this stuff come up for a vote? MADDOW: What do you think the White House`s assessment is of that what you just laid out? What do you expect from President Obama tomorrow in terms of a balance between things he can do himself and things he would need Congress to do? DIONNE: Well, he is going to do as much as he can to enforce existing law and do things through executive orders. No, the gun owners don`t have to fear he is not going to take guns away through executive orders. It`s that fear, that paranoia being spread by the NRA and others. But he is going to take executive action. But I think he is going to propose a very robust plan from everything I hear, including an assault weapons ban. That seems to be the measure that has the most difficulty. One of the things I think they`re going to propose, by the way, is to make it a lot easier to collect data on gun violence, on people who die in violence. The NRA has blocked even the collection of data. So we can`t know what is going on. So we can`t come up with the right solutions. I hope that is part of his package, and I think it will be. MADDOW: E.J. Dionne of "The Washington Post" and the Brookings Institution. Thank you. It`s always great to see you. Nice to have you here. DIONNE: It`s great to see you. Thank you. MADDOW: You know, I will say this about blue states in the country. We`ve got this major landmark action tonight from New York state, a blue state acting on its own terms. We are anticipating this announcement tomorrow from the Democratic president, but federal measures where he`s got a divided Congress between the two different parties. Here is the interesting thing about blue states and the rest of the country. New York is a big state with a lot of gun owners. New York is not just New York City. New York has a huge rural area, right, with a lot of gun owners and gun rights folks, and a lot of Republican representatives from those areas voted for gun law reform today. It is underappreciated how much blue states can pilot new gun control measures for the country, if only so that gun owners in those blue states can then tell the country that those gun control measures have not resulted in somebody coming in in a black helicopter and confiscating all their guns. People dismiss blue states as being able to do stuff that the rest of the country can`t do. But blue states can move the ball forward. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: How is the United States constitution like a banana peel? Well, a certain group of people who are frequently unfunny keep slipping on it. That story is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This was the scene earlier today on the House floor. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R), VIRGINIA: We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Now, he did not write that himself. Yes, it was Constitution Day on the floor of the House of Representatives. Read the Constitution day. Remember two years ago when Republicans took over the House, John Boehner became speaker for the first time, they decided to make a big show out of reading the Constitution page by page on the floor of the House as one of their first acts? Well, they apparently enjoyed that so much a couple of years ago when they did it the first time that they decided to bring it back. So, today, for more than an hour, members of the House took turns reading a section of the Constitution, again. And honestly, the second time around, the whole thing sort of lost a little bit of steam compared with last time. All told, just 74 members of the House turned up today to read parts of the Constitution. Now organizers had said they expected 120 members to show up. So they divided the Constitution into 120 sections. When not that many people showed up, they ended up having to stretch. They had to give the congressmen and women who did show up two or three sections apiece to read all at once. The sequel is never as good as the original, right? Fortunately, for House Republicans, though, it was not as flat-out embarrassing for them as a group this time the way it was when they did it the last time a couple of years ago. I mean, remember, a couple of years ago when they did it, the first time they did not just skip parts of the Constitution they didn`t like, they accidentally skipped some parts of the Constitution that they liked just fine, but just had the misfortune of getting lost when pages in their binder got stuck together. This time, I think the group experience was a little less humiliating. It was more sad and sparsely attended. But this year, they saved the real embarrassment for just one guy, for just Republican Congressman Dennis Ross of Florida. He drew the short straw today. He was the guy who showed up I think totally randomly, but just in time to be handed Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution to read out loud. That`s what he got assigned. If that specific clause is not ringing a bell, that`s the part of the Constitution that goes like this -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DENNIS ROSS (R), FLORIDA: Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion shall not be questioned. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Ooh. The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned. So says the Constitution, Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment. That`s the part of the Constitution that says explicitly that the U.S. government can`t under any circumstances default on our debt. And that made it a very awkward section for Republican Congressman Dennis Ross to have to read out loud since he has been one of the House Republicans who has been threatening to force the United States government to default on our debt, damn the Constitution. Lakeland`s Dennis Ross among the GOP freshmen to tell John Boehner no. Ross was among the freshman Republicans who told John Boehner that he would not be voting for the debt ceiling proposal. That was from the last time the House Republicans threatened the country with defaulting on our debt back in 2011. Dennis Ross, you probably should have calibrated your place in line a little better. Throw a Democrat in there ahead of you when you realize that`s what you`re going to get. Get there in time for the repeal prohibition amendment next time. That`s more fun. If you have found yourself at home constitutionally -- forgive me, constitutionally incapable of getting excited over having another fight about the debt ceiling this year, if this isn`t exciting because it just feels like Groundhog Day to you, oh my God, I`ve got reckless brinksmanship fatigue, it is true that it`s hard to get excited over something we have done before. It is 2013 now. The last time we have a big fight over the debt ceiling was 2011. And, of course, remember when it happened, it was a total disaster. Even if you just ignore the political consequences, if you just look at the economic impact, it was a self-imposed economic disaster caused by Washington refusing to do something that it needs to do and that it has done dozens of times before. Republicans just refused to do it. It was such a disaster, you would think that there would not be a reason to explain that this shouldn`t happen again. But it`s happening again in what looks like an exact repeat of 2011. Except for one thing -- there is one thing that is different so far this time around, and time will tell will this proves to be a harbinger of something bigger, or whether this is just a single outlying happy fact. But this year, there is one Republican member of Congress who has broken ranks on the big stupid debt ceiling thing. In 2011, there was not a single Republican in Congress, in the House or in the Senate, who broke ranks publicly and said actually, purposefully driving the American economy into a ditch to make a point that even we don`t understand and that is against the Constitution, that might not be a great idea. Nobody broke ranks when the Republicans did this in 2011, nobody on the Republican side. But today on the Republican side somebody did. Today, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska broke ranks. She gave an interview to her hometown newspaper in Alaska, "The Fairbanks Daily News Miner". She said she disagrees with her party`s strategy of threatening the country with default. Quote, "Senator Murkowski is breaking with Republican leadership in the debate about raising the U.S. debt ceiling, saying the country has a duty to assure it pays its bills. Lisa Murkowski said she does not think the debt limit should be used for political leverage. Murkowski said not all of her colleagues in the Senate will say it out loud, but she believes most agree that failing to raise the debt limit would harm perception of the country." Quote, "If you incur an obligation, you have a responsibility to pay for that," Murkowski said. Time is going to tell if Lisa Murkowski is the first Republican to break ranks or if she is the only Republican to break with Republican leadership on this issue. But the fact that she has done it already makes this a better movie than it was in 2011. Stay tuned. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We`ve got Richard Engel here live tonight. Very much looking forward to that. And to wrap the show tonight, we have a big story, a big politics story that -- well, if you know anybody who works with the Beltway media, can you please call them and tell them to watch the last story on the show tonight? (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: When the United States was openly mulling the prospect of going to war with Iraq, people inside Iraq who were enemies of Saddam, people who wanted the U.S. to invade Iraq and overthrow him found that the U.S. government, and in some cases the U.S. press were very interested in hearing all the horrible things they had to say about Saddam. Now, Saddam was a horrible guy, so it wasn`t hard to find horrible things to say about him. But the known record of his awful behavior toward his own people had previously not been enough to get the U.S. to invade Iraq. But once the Bush administration got bent on war, once it seemed like the U.S. was being led to war, and it just needed to be tipped a little bit further, all sorts of new horrible things about Saddam Hussein that hadn`t been known before started to pop up in the press. A CIA report that Saddam had imported aluminum tubes that could be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium to make nuclear weapons that exciting little piece of data, which proved to be out of context and not true, that`s not what the tubes were for. That nevertheless ended up on the front page of "The New York Times." It had been leaked to "The New York Times" by people inside the Bush administration who had access to raw bits of out of context intel like that. Recognizing that that sort of thing sounded really scary, they plucked it out of context, didn`t check it for accuracy, leaked it to "The New York Times," and then cited the fact that it had been in "The New York Times" as evidence that the scary claim was out there and should be added to the case for going to war. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Specifically, aluminum tubes, there is a story in "The New York Times" this morning. This is -- and I want to attribute "The Times". I don`t want to talk about obviously specific intelligence sources. But it`s now public that in fact he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Yes, that was bullpuckey -- leaked for the purpose of trying to get the U.S. to invade Iraq. But that leak to "The New York Times" and then citing "The New York Times" as having published it, that was very effective at the time. Part of the Colin Powell presentation to the U.N. around that same time, about why the U.S. was going to invade Iraq was what he described as evidence of Iraq`s mobile biological weapons labs. That intel, which was publicized to try to get us to war with Iraq came from an Iraqi defector nicknamed Curveball, a guy who later admitted he made up everything he told to German intelligence, specifically to try to get the West to go to war with Iraq because he thought Saddam was an enemy. The complicity and direct help of our own government in selling us that bullpuckey that was not true in order to make it politically possible to go to war in Iraq, that is the original sin of the George W. Bush era in America. But it does not mean that they cooked up all that fake and misleading intelligence all by themselves. Some of it came from enemies of Saddam and Iraqi exiles and expats and activists who shoveled it to the U.S., knowing it was false, but hoping that we would nevertheless fall for it because they wanted us to invade. That recent history of the U.S. and how we get into wars these days looms large, right? It looms large particularly on days like this when we see bombshell headlines like this one. Our friend Josh Rogan at "Foreign Policy" tonight reporting that someone inside the Obama administration says that he or she has seen a cable that if the information in that cable is true would be a very scary thing. The headline, as you can see there, "Chemical weapons used in Syria." Chemical weapons used. Nobody is known to have used chemical weapons in 25 years. We know Syria has them. But have they used them in their civil war? Because that really would change everything. But look back at that headline again. The part before the part that would change everything is crucial. "Secret State Department cable says chemical weapons used in Syria." And can we see this secret State Department cable that says this incredibly inflammatory thing? No, of course not. It`s secret. And it`s an unnamed Obama administration official who says that he or she has seen the cable. And that it makes a, quote, "compelling case" that this Rubicon has been crossed in Syria. The same official then quoted multiple times, insisting that the U.S. must react, that Syria is testing our resolve. That when the president said any use of chemical weapons would be a red line, well, then this incident means he must really not have meant it. It is, of course, possible that it is true, that Syria has used chemical weapons. If it is true, it is both awful on its face, and it is something that the president and the secretary of state said would be treated as a red line, a serious response from the United States. In his report tonight, Josh notes that it is activists and defectors from Syria who are marketing this story that Syria has crossed that red line. This reported secret document from U.S. State Department officials in Turkey, Josh says, was also born of interviews with Syrian activists and defectors, who of course very much want the largest military power on earth involved on their side of their war with their own government. The whole thing is both very worrying and almost sort of emotionally triggering for us as a country still traumatized by the last time people inside our own government stove-piped specific, scary intelligence to the media in order to scare us into a war we wouldn`t have otherwise been involved in. Oh, and also incidentally, our ally France just invaded Mali, and we`re helping in some ways. Times like this we sort of need expert assistance to try to sort out what is going on in the world and what we know about it. Joining us is NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. Richard, thank you for being here. RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you. Bullpuckey? MADDOW: Bullpuckey. ENGEL: Twice. I was looking actually because from this angle, I can see your teleprompter and you actually wrote bullpuckey. MADDOW: I wrote the script and I wrote bullpuckey. ENGEL: I wasn`t sure that was a real word. MADDOW: Yes. ENGEL: On a much more serious note -- MADDOW: What do you make of this report from Josh? It`s very scary, and also for me reminds me of a lot of stuff I`ve heard before. ENGEL: I had heard this report from Syrian rebels while I was inside Syria, because at the time I was asking them did they think that the regime would use chemical weapons. They said, well, of course, the regime already has used chemical weapons, and they referred to an incident specifically in Homs in December, around Christmas time, December 23rd. And I was listening to activists tell me about it. And it seemed not convincing, frankly. They said there had been some gas released in Homs, potentially fired from tanks, maybe dropped from the air, and that it made people sick. I asked if anyone was killed. They said, no. I said, well, maybe this is tear gas. Maybe there was something else that got people sick. When your -- when buildings are dropping, there is asbestos in the air, there`s dusts in the air, there are a lot of things that seem suspicious. You hear claims like this all the time. When I was in Gaza, for example, I`ve been there twice for wars, you hear Gazans talk about the Israelis firing chemical weapons on them. I think they usually mean white phosphorous, which is a different kind of weapon. So, I generally treat these claims with a great deal of suspicion. And in this case, I couldn`t find any compelling evidence and didn`t report it. Now we see this claim coming out -- MADDOW: Cable. ENGEL: -- in a leaked cable. So what`s new is the leaked cable. And what is new is that the United States is investigating it. Good. And it deserves to be investigated. It`s an inflammatory claim. And that this leaked cable, that this cable has been leaked to the media. What they`re talking about specifically, according to experts who were listening to this testimony, and they were listening to some of the symptoms, because this gas wouldn`t necessarily be lethal unto itself. It was causing nausea. It was causing hallucinations. It sounds like something called BZ gas. And BZ gas is not sarin or tabun. It is not a nerve agent. It`s not in the same kind of scale. This is a not a red line kind of event. This is not a genocide weapon. MADDOW: The type of symptoms would indicate it is that type of weapon which is a chemical weapon, but not the worst kind of chemical weapon. ENGEL: Not even close to the worst kind of chemical weapon. MADDOW: OK. ENGEL: The worst kind that Syria may or may not have, we pretty much know that they have sarin and tabun. Those are nerve agents. They will kill you. If they`re dropped on a village, they will cause mass casualties and then dissipate. VX, also a nerve agent, also lethal. What is worse about that, if it`s dropped on a village, it kills people and then stays there. MADDOW: Persists. ENGEL: It persists. So people can`t go in. This is a gas that makes people unconscious, disoriented, vomit, and according to opposition medical sources, the people who died, allegedly five, choked because they vomited and choked on their vomit. So, it would be a different kind of scale if indeed -- MADDOW: If it indeed it happened. ENGEL: If indeed it happened. MADDOW: And we need to watch for further reports, including from the State Department whether they confirm what is in this cable or how they have assessed it. On another matter, on Mali, France has invaded Mali. They`re up scaling -- ENGEL: Socialist government, unilateral military action. Who would have thought that? MADDOW: Well, is the U.S. going to get involved? ENGEL: Not -- there will not be American boots on the ground. I can`t imagine that. But the U.S. is involved. There are now about 800, 900 French troops on the ground, armored vehicles, 40 or so of them. And the U.S. is providing logistical systems and more -- intelligence, satellite images, aerial refueling, lift, which means airport -- air transfer of some equipment. So the U.S. is very pleased that France is doing this. I think to a degree surprised. Even two weeks ago, France said it wouldn`t do this. And now France is going to have eventually about 2,500 troops on the ground and be involved in ground combat in Mali. And there are some specific reasons France is doing this. France saw that extremists in the north, some of them linked to al Qaeda, were marching toward the capital, Bamako. They were heading south. And the government in Bamako panicked, called France for assistance and France intervened. France also was worried that there is a very large community of people from Mali, about 200,000 living in Paris, living in France. And France was worried that these Malian nationals would be influenced by the extremists back home and carry out attacks. France had intelligence an attack may have been in the active planning stages. MADDOW: France`s reaction to what happened in Mali and the U.S. reaction to what France did is fascinating at the outset. It`s going to be more fascinating when we see the extent of how much the U.S. decides to be in support. Will you come back and talk to us more with a big map? ENGEL: Bring the map. And will you say bullpuckey? MADDOW: I will say bullpuckey, but never accusingly at you. Richard Engel -- ENGEL: Maybe. It depends on what I say. MADDOW: That`s true. Richard Engel, of course, NBC`s chief foreign correspondent. All right. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: President Obama today chose the license plates that are going to be on his limo when he driven to the Capitol to be inaugurated on Monday. They say taxation without representation. At the request of the D.C. City Council, President Obama chose these tags. He did not need to, but he is doing it. D.C. of course is taxed by Congress, but has no vote in congress, which famously is not the way we`re supposed to do things in this country. What, you want to argue with James Otis? Taxation without representation is tyranny, Boston, 1765? The president getting those license plates on the giant limo that is going the carry him to his inauguration officially makes the inauguration better than it otherwise would have been. Or maybe ever has been before. We`ll see. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Iowa caucuses this year were a bit of a fiasco, right? On the night of the caucuses, the Iowa Republican Party chairman proclaimed that Mitt Romney had won, and then 16 days later he said, no, no, I was wrong. Actually, the Iowa caucus were a tie between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. And then he hours later that, no, no, it wasn`t that Mitt Romney won, and it wasn`t that it was a tie, it was actually that Rick Santorum won. And then, ultimately, when it came to Iowa allocating its delegates, actually participate in choosing a nominee for the Republican Party for president, Iowa did not pick Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum. Iowa picked Ron Paul. So the Iowa caucuses were a mess, right? Three different winners, depending on when you asked. After the caucuses this year, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party resigned, and then ultimately, there was a big fight for control of the Republican Party. The end result was that some Ron Paul folks became the chair and co-chair of the Iowa Republican Party. And while that may not mean much for Iowa at this second, what does that mean for the next presidential election, when in all important first contest in the presidential race, the Republican Party in that state is controlled by what is effectively an insurgency, the Ron Paul movement. And if the Iowa Republican Party is still controlled by the Ron Paul folks come 2016, is the rest of the Republican Party going to allow Iowa to still go first? Because Iowa has defended their right to be first in the nation, as if going first were all 10 of their first 10 commandments, right? Iowa is first with the caucuses, New Hampshire is first with the primaries, and no matter how screwed up those states might sometimes be, no matter how dysmorphic their effect can be, it`s kind of strange states on the presidential election process. They have done everything in their power to be first. Everybody wants to be fought over in a presidential election. Everybody wants someway to monopolize the candidates and the nation`s attention. So, we`re Iowa, we`re first in the caucus. You have to spend tons of time here. You have to go to all 99 counties. We`re New Hampshire. We`re the first primary. You have to spend tons of time here. Mitt Romney, you`ve got to move here. You, too, Jon Huntsman. All of the candidates, you all have to move here and live in New Hampshire. We want all your attention. Every state wants to do anything they can for the presidential candidates` attention. They all want a battle ground. They all want to be fought over. Or at least they used to want to be fought over. Something weird has been happening since this past election. And it was percolating in some of these places before. But it seems like now that the election is over, it`s really starting to happen. I think you should know about it. In Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Virginia and Florida, there is now noise that these states, which were at pretty hard fought in the presidential election, these were all battleground states, these states are all fighting to make themselves less important in the next election, to make themselves no longer presidential battlegrounds. All of these states were battleground states this year, all of them voted Democratic for president in the end. And all of them are controlled at the state level by the Republican Party. So they`re red states that voted blue. And all of those states with that combination of factors you are seeing underground moves to stop those states from being battlegrounds, at least to stop from being battlegrounds in a way that might enable a Democratic candidate to win their electoral votes in there, by winning the presidency. We have been watching hints of this, and dribs and drabs, in all of these states overtime. But now, it sort of seems as though it is falling into place. It started in Pennsylvania early in 2012, when Republicans who controlled the legislature there tried to change the way that state votes for president. So, no one candidate could win the whole state. Because they tried this in 2012, right before the election, it was pretty much seen as a transparent attempt to rig the election in Pennsylvania for whoever the Republican presidential candidate would be. And so it lost. But now after the election, with much less attention on any impending election, Republicans in Pennsylvania are trying again. Also in Wisconsin, Republicans tried to advance this idea in 2007 before the 2008 election. It lost in Wisconsin for the same reasons that it lost in Pennsylvania, in that it seemed like a transparent attempt to rig that state for the Republican presidential nominee. But then after Wisconsin went for Barack Obama in `08 and went for Obama again in 2012, now that Republican proposal has been brought back. And this time, the member of the state legislature who unsuccessfully pushed for it last time -- well, now, he is speaker of the assembly, the assembly is controlled by Republican, the Senate is controlled by the Republicans, and the governorship is held by a Republican. And the state`s Republican governor, Scott Walker, now says he`s intrigued by this idea of changing the rules. Since the election, we`ve also seen Republican legislators in Republican-controlled legislatures float the idea of changing the state`s vote for president rules. In Ohio, you can see that the data on this one was November the 8th, right after the election. In Virginia, you can see the date here, a month later, December 9th, one month later. In Michigan, you can see the date on this one, December 18th. This is a phenomenon. This is a phenomenon which is scarcely getting covered by the Beltway at all. But this is a phenomenon right now in the Republican-controlled states that voted blue for president. What Republicans are doing in these states is trying to figure out if they can use the fact that Republicans have the control of the state government to change who that state votes for, for president. If Republican legislatures take apart the Electoral College system that exist in their states now, then, Wisconsin this last election would have cast its 200,000 more votes for Obama rather than Romney. And then, instead of Obama getting 10 electoral votes out of it, Wisconsin effectively would have cast half a vote for Romney and half a vote for Obama. It would have been five-to-five in terms of electoral votes. Extrapolate this out to the national level, under the most aggressive plan that`s been put forward on the Republican side, President Obama would have finished the election nationwide with 5 million more votes than Mitt Romney, but Mitt Romney could have still won the Electoral College and won the presidency. Fair vote did the math on what the Republicans are maybe rigging in the states, and it kind of works like magic. Quote, "If the Republicans in 2012 had passed laws for allocating electoral votes, the exact same votes cast in the exact same way in the 2012 election would have converted Barack Obama`s advantage of nearly 5 million popular votes and 126 electoral votes into a resounding Electoral College defeat." Republicans didn`t make those changes in 2011 so that it didn`t happen for this past election. But they are very quietly thinking about making those changes right now. And if they do change those rules in these states now, and with Republican control and nobody really paying attention, why wouldn`t they make these changes? Effectively, what they would do is use the exact same gerrymandering, that let Republicans keep the House this year, even though more people voted for Democrats for Congress than voted for Republicans. It would let them use the exact same maps that rigged the House for the Republicans this year as their means of also rigging the next race for the presidency. The next race for the presidency, and the next race for the presidency, and the races after that, too. It would be rigged from here on out until the Democrats could figure out a way to unrig it by changing the rules back in the states, because they could have to take back all the states, despite the gerrymandered thing being stacked against them. In Republican-controlled states right now in these legislative sessions, they could do it. And there have been signs that they are thinking of doing it. There have been signs. And now this week there is a really, really big sign. The chairman of the National Republican Party endorsing this strategy of red states making a change in a way they deal with the electoral vote. When "National Journal" first reported on Republicans maybe doing this, and "National Journal" is just about the only place reporting on this. The thing that was most interesting about what they found was that it was not just happening independently, spontaneously in individual Republican-controlled states. They reported that it was coordinated in Washington quietly by senior level Republicans, the former chair of the Michigan Republican Party, Saul Anuzis, who said to have briefed the RNC chairman and the RNC`s chief of staff on how they were trying to make this change in the states. Well, now, the RNC chairman is coming out and said that he supports it happening in his state, and, of course, the states will have to make the decision on their own. The vehicle by which the Republicans say they engineered the congressional maps that let them keep the House this year, even though the country voted against them for House seats, that vehicle is something called "red map." A couple of weeks ago, Republicans released a triumphant self assessment of how they rig the rules to keep control of the House this year, even though the country voted for Democrats instead. We posted that on our blog at if you want to look at it. But it is blunt, unembarrassed. They are bragging how the Democratic candidates for the U.S. House won more than a million more votes than their Republican opponents, but the speaker of the House is a Republican and presides over the Republican majority during the 113th Congress. How did they do it? They say they erected a Republican firewall through the redistricting process, that paved the way for the Republicans retaining the House majority in 2012. In other words, we figured out a way for us to win even when the country doesn`t vote for us. And the same maps that let them do it in the House, they want to apply for the presidential election in every state they can get away with it. We have a ban on the show talking about 2016. This is a corner of the white board. It`s written up there that nobody is allowed to talk about the 2016 election, at least until next November. But this is not about who the candidates are going to be in 2016. This is about whether or not if the country votes for a Democratic president in 2016, any Democratic candidate -- this is about whether or not it results in us having a Democratic president. This is going on in the states right now. Hey, Beltway, wake up. 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