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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/30/13

Guests: Richard Blumenthal

ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you. SCHULTZ: Thank you. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. On the eve of the start of his second term, President Obama announced that he would spend this term at least in part on an issue commonly believed to be among the heaviest lifts in all of American politics. He said he would do something about gun violence. Now the president can create certain changes by himself with his executive authority. He can make changes, not laws. He cannot change laws, but he can change things that the administration is responsible for itself. For big changes, though, for real reform, the president needs Congress to pass new laws, and that`s where the real political heavy lifting comes in. To do that political heavy lifting, the White House announced a new political strategy, or at least a new political tactic to try to get this done. The 2012 Obama/Biden reelection campaign would morph itself into an advocacy group, a powerful Democratic grassroots activism machine. The old campaign would transfer to this new group its vast database of information about Obama supporter, about voters. And then the new group would mobilize supporters to mobilize the president`s agenda now, the same way they supported him all the way into the White House last year. This new group, Organizing for Action, is a new phenomenon in politics. This has not been done before. And a group like this could be a fearsome and unique tool for the president to wield if it works in politics the way its organizers expect it to work. Well, we reported the other night that when the folks at Organizing for Action put out their very first e-mail solicitation on a policy issue, they picked gun reform as the issue. They urged those millions of voters on their contact list to call their member of Congress immediately, and to tell their member of Congress to back the president`s proposal on gun reform. And this "call your congressman right now" e-mail went out at 4:26 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, on a Friday afternoon specifically when neither the House nor the Senate was in session. Hello? Hello? Anybody there? If a voice mail falls in the empty Capitol, maybe the light on the phone still blinks, at least? Yes. So that happened on Friday. An inauspicious beginning for the president`s mighty, mighty new political operation, for them launching their big grassroots push for gun reform, which is otherwise seen through traditional means as being something that`s almost impossible to get. That was Friday. Today, look at this. If you go looking for the president`s new organizing group, if you go looking for organizing for action online, so you get online and you type into your browser, say,, if you type that into your browser, what you will find is you land on the NRA home page. You get redirected to the National Rifle Association, to the opposite side of the gun reform argument. And that is because Organizing for Action failed to register their own natural domain names when they launched. The website Tech President noticed this on Monday. Organizing for Action failed to get, or So all of those sites have been swooped by Republicans and NRA supporters. Seriously? Yes. Come on now, wow. But in the department of clouds and silver linings, if these embarrassing early fails from supposedly the greatest political geniuses on earth, if these failures are kind of a cloud when it comes to the prospects for gun reform, around this cloud is also a silver lining, and her name is Debbie Halvorson. Debbie Halvorson is a Democrat from Illinois. Ms. Halvorson used to serve as majority of leader of the Illinois state Senate and then spent two years in Congress. But now that Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has resigned, Debbie Halvorson is one of many Democrats who have thrown their hats into the ring to try to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. She is not alone and far from it. It`s five Republicans already in the running for the seat, and Debbie Halvorson started out as one of 17 Democrats running. There is a lot of people in this field. The primary is going to be next month. But because Debbie Halvorson has previously served in congress, because she has national, or -- excuse me, district-wide name recognition because of her high profile role in the state legislature previously, Debbie Halvorson was instantly pretty widely thought to have a good shot at winning that very, very, very crowded primary for Jesse Jackson`s seat. But it should be noted that Debbie Halvorson is not your usual Illinois Democrat. She comes with an "A" rating and previous endorsements from the National Rifle Association, from the NRA. A few days ago, she told "Politico" that she knows that voters in this majority African-American, heavily Democratic Chicago district are not all that big on the NRA, but she said, quote, "I`m not willing to change my stance." So Debbie Halvorson not budging on gun reform, not giving in to public pressure. She is NRA all the way. And then Debbie Halvorson met this public pressure. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NARRATOR: In the race to replace Jesse Jackson, watch out for Debbie Halvorson. When she was in Congress before, Halvorson got an A from the NRA. The NRA -- against comprehensive background checks, against banning deadly assault weapons, against banning high capacity ammunition clips. Halvorson even sponsored a bill that would allow some criminals to carry loaded guns across state lines. Debbie Halvorson -- when it comes to promoting gun violence, she gets an F. Independence USA PAC is responsible for the content of this advertising. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That ad, that pressure ad comes from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg`s pro-gun reform super PAC. It`s part of his campaign to build support in Congress for meaningful national gun reform. And you know what? It appears to be working. Once that ad started running in her district, Debbie Halvorson, who had said she would not be moved on this issue, Debbie Halvorson moved on this issue. Ms. Halvorson telling BuzzFeed, quote, "My win will not be a victory for the NRA. How can it be a victory for the NRA when I`m for universal background checks, beefing up the database, going after straw buyers and making sure we register our v guns? Those are not things the NRA wants." That`s true. Those are not things the NRA wants. And that is probably going to make it hard to hold on to that NRA "A" rating. But maybe that`s not the most important thing in the world anymore? In the debate over gun policy and gun laws, we are supposed to believe that the only real pressure on this issue comes from the NRA, who, of course, always pushed against reform. But there is pressure on the other side, and it apparently works just as well, and it`s not just Michael Bloomberg`s PAC. She called the president`s gun proposals way, way in extreme of what was necessary. Well, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence started running these ads in Washington, D.C. and back home in North Dakota, calling Senator Heitkamp out for having said that. Senator Heitkamp then issued a statement clarifying her feelings, saying, quote, "all options must be on the table when it comes to addressing gun violence in America." Heidi Heitkamp responding to pressure, just the way Debbie "not budging" Halvorson responded to pressure when she discovered a sudden newfound willingness to advocate for background checks for guns, NRA be damned. Pressure worked. Pressure works. Pressure works not just for the NRA, but for the other side too. Well, today in Washington, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing, a very high profile hearing with a title that was ambitiously broad, "What Should We Do About Gun Violence." Five witnesses on both sides of the issue offered expert testimony. Those witnesses included NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, naturally. Wayne is always there. But also James Johnson, the chief of police of Baltimore County, and Captain Mark Kelly, astronaut, Navy veteran, and the husband of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Gabby Giffords, of course, was shot in the head by a mentally ill gunman in an assassination attempt in January 2011. Today in an emotionally charged and at times contentious testimony, the most moving part of the day happen right at the very beginning with a surprise addition to the witness list -- as Gabby Giffords herself made her way down the aisle into the hearing room to deliver a short statement to the senators and the assembled media and the audience. This was a surprise today. It was clear that this was not something that was easy for her to do. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FORMER REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D), ARIZONA: OK. Thank you for inviting me here today. This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats and Republicans. Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying -- too many children. We must do something. It`s -- will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you. (END VIDEO CLIP) SCHULTZ: Americans are counting on you. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords speaking today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. When Gabby Giffords` husband spoke after she did, he talked about he and Gabby both being gun owners themselves, talked about them both being people who are pro-gun ownership, but he said that reform is necessary within the bounds of the Second Amendment that you can be both pro-gun ownership and pro-gun safety reform. Specifically, Captain Mark Kelly said our number one priority as a country should be to fix the background check system for buying guns. When people talk about the broken background check system, they`re talking about the fact that if you buy a gun at a gun show, or through a private sale, just person to person, you`re not required to go through a background check. If you buy from a licensed gun dealer, the law says you do need a background check. But 40 percent of the guns sold this country aren`t sold that way. So our background check system is not really much of a system at all. And don`t take it from me. You can take it from the Baltimore County chief of police. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHIEF JAMES W. JOHNSON, BALTIMORE COUNTY POLICE DEPT.: On behalf of my colleagues across the nation, I`m here today to tell you that we are long overdue in strengthening our nation`s gun laws. The organizations and the national law enforcement partnership to prevent gun violence urgently call on you to require background checks for all firearms purchased. Federal law prohibits dangerous individuals such as convicted felons and those with mental health disqualifiers from possessing firearms. While background checks are required for purchases through licensed gun dealers, no check is required for private sales, such as those through online or print ads or gun shows. It`s a major problem. (END VIDEO LCIP) MADDOW: Even though fixing the background check loophole is presented as kind of a no-brainer by most people participating in the gun reform debate, you should know that the NRA is vehemently opposed to fixing the loophole, often for reasons it has a hard time explaining, which became clear today in this weird moment between judiciary chairman, Senator Pat Leahy, and Wayne LaPierre, the guy from the NRA. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY CMTE. CHAIRMAN: Do you still as in 1999 still support mandatory background checks at gun shows? Yes or no. WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER: We supported the national check system on dealers. We were here when Senator Birch Bayh, one of your colleagues, held the hearings in terms of who would be a dealer and who would be required to have a license. If you did it for livelihood and profit, yes. If you were a hobbyist, no. LEAHY: Let`s make it easier, though. I`m talking about gun shows. Should we have mandatory background check at gun shows for sales of weapons? LAPIERRE: If you`re dealer, that`s already the law. LEAHY: That`s not my question. Please, Mr. LaPierre, I`m not trying to play games here. But if you could, just answer my question. LAPIERRE: Senator, I do not believe the way the law is working now unfortunately that it does any good to extend the law to private sales between hobbyists and collectors. LEAHY: OK. So you do not support mandatory background checks in all instances at gun shows? LAPIERRE: We do not. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Don`t make me say it -- we do not. The reason why Wayne LaPierre is physically squirming there, the reason he is trying really hard not to answer that question in an excerptable sound bite-friendly way that`s going to turn up in an ad to damn politicians who might associate themselves with his group is because if Wayne LaPierre is paying attention, and I bet he is, he knows the NRA stands very much alone in this country in opposing universal background checks for buying a gun. The last CBS News/"New York Times" poll showed that nine out of 10 Americans, 92 percent support universal background checks for buying a gun. Among NRA members, his own members, 86 percent believe that anybody buying a gun should have to undergo a background check. Which is why Wayne LaPierre does not want to answer a straight question about it -- 86 percent of my members want this, but I`m against it because I`m a -- you bet, you do -- hey, nice tie. Let`s move on. After the president unveiled the administration`s list of proposed reforms related to gun violence, the conventional wisdom was, and still is to a great extent, ah, this is doomed. There`s no way any of this can get done. But pressure, public pressure is working in certain corners of the gun policy debate, and one of those corners may end up being specifically universal background checks -- the centerpiece of what the president has proposed there is consensus building in Washington that outside of the fringiest fringe in the gun debate, the fringiest fringe, I mean, we`re talking 14 percent of NRA membership at best? Outside of that fringe, everybody agrees that we need to fix the background check loophole. Pretty much everyone agrees if you want a gun, you should undergo a background check regardless of where you are buying that gun. And now, quietly, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators are working on legislation to finally fix it. Republicans Tom Coburn and Mark Kirk, along with Democrats Charles Schumer and Joe Manchin are working together to do that. And yes, that`s Joe Manchin -- Joe "A" rating from the NRA, I`m so proud of the NRA -- Joe Manchin, now working on a proposal to extend background checks against the wishes of the NRA. We spoke with both Senator Kirk`s office and Senator Manchin`s office tonight about who else might be part. Their offices declined to give us any names or any more details, but both offices independently stressed that this truly is a bipartisan effort, that is realistic. Republicans are thinking they might want this too. Is public pressure on this one issue, is public opinion on this one issue so lopsided that this finally is a no-brainer policy, no matter how cynical the beltway feels about it? Joining us now is Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Community and who has introduced the Ammunition Background Check Act of 2013. Senator Blumenthal, it`s really nice to have you here. Thank you for being here. SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: At today`s hearing in the Judiciary Committee, was there a moment when you felt like the politics were moving? That we`re actually making progress on the issue? BLUMENTHAL: Certainly, Gabby Giffords` appearance was absolutely riveting, a high point, dramatic and powerful moment for the entire committee, Republicans and Democrats, the strength and courage that it took for her to do this first public appearance. Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you. That moment I think will stay with many of us for a long time and inspire us. But I think also some of those weird moments, like the one you cited and an equally weird one, if I may say, when Wayne LaPierre tried to explain why he was against background checks, which is that the criminals won`t comply with them. Well, of course, the criminals won`t comply with them because they won`t go to the dealers or to private sales to buy weapons if they know they`re going to be background checks. And if that law is combined with one that goes after straw purchases and gun trafficking, it can have an enormous effect, not only on firearms purchases, but also ammunition purchases. Remember, it`s against the law right now for felons, fugitives, as well as drug addicts, seriously mentally ill people, and domestic abusers to buy both firearms and ammunition. And background checks are a law enforcement tool, a simple common sense way to enforce the law. And again, Wayne LaPierre has a hard time explaining. He was really back on his heels in this hearing several times. Why he does not favor better enforcement of existing laws when that`s been their mantra for so long. MADDOW: That is -- I`m glad you put it that way, because that`s exactly what the fight ended up being about today, and I think from today on, the fight is going to be on background checks. That it`s not about who is allowed or disallowed to have a gun. Those laws stay the same. What changes is whether or not we agree to catch people who are already legally prohibited from having guns, but we have no way of catching them before they get them now. I feel like both stylistically and in terms of the NRA`s inability to hold up their side of the argument, that`s changed. Do you think that`s going to manifests as Republican senators coming to your side of this issue? BLUMENTHAL: I think it will. I think that it will have a profoundly important effect, partly because the law enforcement community as you saw from Chief Johnson`s testimony, and he was speaking on behalf of many, many law enforcement people through the association he represents, are saying we need background checks to better enforce the law, to protect ordinary people, and also to protect the police who are out there in the trenches on the front lines and who are often outgunned by criminals who can buy these firearms with impunity. And, by the way, no one is contending that there shouldn`t be better enforcement of existing laws. I was a former federal prosecutor, U.S. attorney in Connecticut, and I tried to enforce gun laws. There need to be more resources for this effort. But this kind of law will actually save resources and save lives. And I think it will help to turn the tide. And in the last show, last week, you made some very, very compelling statistics available about the numbers of people, 90 percent favor background checks, 80 percent favor background checks, 90 percent on firearms, 80 percent on ammunition purchases. So the American public is moving on this issue. I think it can be the centerpiece for other measures as well like the ban on assault weapons and high capacity clips. MADDOW: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who, again, has introduced the background checks for ammunition bill. Senator, please keep us posted as this continues to move forward. Thanks for being here tonight, sir. BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. The United States Senate, while we`re talking about it, the United States Senate set a record today. Also, there is a huge development in one of the wars in our world. Also, we have a very important chart that imitates life that may undue the agita you felt before your morning coffee when you look at the headlines about the economy today. Also, if you are against Women Against Violence Act, what does that mean you are for? We have a lot coming up this hour. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Map time! Here is the part of the world where more than anywhere else, you need to be looking at a map to understand what`s going on there in the news on any given day. For reference, here is where our current war is. That`s Afghanistan. Now, the eight-and-a-half-yearlong war that we just finished up, that was here. Oh, what`s that one big country right in between our two wars? That would be Iran, and we know why the U.S. feels antsy about Iran. This shows in part why Iran feels antsy about us. Mostly because of the impact of our Iraq war, Iran now exerts considerable influence in Iraq. Iran also has considerable influence in Lebanon and the terrorist group Hezbollah that operates out of Lebanon. Lebanon not only has a big board were Israel, Lebanon also has a big border with Syria. And Syria, of course, is embroiled in a raging and brutal civil war. Look where the capital city of Syria is relative to this map. Look how close it is to Lebanon and to Israel, this ravaged capital city in this horrible ongoing war. And it is that geography that explains why there was an international gasp and shock today when this headline crossed, that Israel had sent planes to bomb inside Syria. Or maybe it was on the border between Syria and Lebanon, depending on which headline you read and who they had asked for information on the ground. But if Israel is sending bombers now deep into Syria, or just over the border, does that mean this war inside Syria, this 2-year-old awful civil war has just gone international? Specifically, has it become a war that involves Israel, too? And at least Iranian interests, if not Iran itself? Did a much bigger war just start? Joining us now from Cairo is NBC foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin. Ayman, it`s really nice of you to be here, especially staying up so late to be with us. What do we know about this airstrike today, especially about where it was? AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can start off with what we officially know from the sources of those that we have been speaking to. One, the Syrian government has come out confirmed the airstrike did take place. It does not say it happened along the border. It does not say it took place targeting a convoy, but rather at a military research facility northwest of Damascus. It also confirmed that two people were killed, five were injured, and there was substantial material damage. We also know from the Lebanese government that in fact Israeli airplanes violated Lebanese airspace multiple times on Wednesday in an attempt to suggest that Israeli airplanes flew in the direction of Syria. We haven`t heard yet from Hezbollah. Their media has been silent. They have not confirm anything that has happened as a result of what we`ve been reporting on today. And we`ve also learned from the United States government that, in fact, Israel carried out air strikes targeting a convoy that was carrying weapons to Hezbollah. We haven`t heard anything from the Israeli government. So you can see on that map that you just pointed out, a lot of players, a lot of different mixed signals. MADDOW: We don`t generally expect to hear Israel cop to do things like this. In the past, when they have done things -- not exactly like this, but similar to this -- they generally make a policy of not announcing it. In 2007, when Israel bombed a nuclear reactor in Syria, neither Israel nor Syria said that it happened. And it was widely viewed that Syria not admitting that that strike had happened sort of gave them more of a pass than they might otherwise have had in terms of retaliating. The fact that Syria is confirming that this happened today, does that mean that there is going to be some sort of next step, either Syria is going to do something or Hezbollah is going to do something or Iran is going to do something? MOHYELDIN: Well, you know, in the past, the policy has been kind of intentionally ambiguous. That`s how many of the regional players like to keep it so they aren`t forced into a corner and have to come out and react. But in recent days, the Iranian government has said that an attack on Syria would be considered an attack on Iran. Now, to what extent that is going to be tested remains to be seen. We know that in the past, Hezbollah has also defended Syria and has said that it would in any case if it felt that it was being attacked also join the fight there to defend its sovereignty and Lebanese sovereignty. So, really, it`s a matter of interpretation. And as you said, since we don`t officially know who was behind it, it`s very difficult to anticipate how either one of these or any of these parties may respond. The Syrian military and the government is really bogged down in this civil war. It probably doesn`t have the capabilities at this stage to engage in a regional war. The question really depends now on what would Hezbollah do in southern Lebanon towards northern Israel, and more importantly, whether Iran would actually deliver on its promise to defend Syria if it is in fact attacked. MADDOW: Wow, Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC foreign correspondent in Cairo -- Ayman, thank you for staying up late for us. This is -- this is impressive but a scary situation. It`s good to have you perspective on it. Thanks a lot. John Kerry is about to become our new secretary of state. Just in time. The world is a complicated place right now. John Kerry`s replacement as a U.S. senator turns out also to be complicated. Hold on. We`ll be right back with that. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There is a lot of really specific language instruction going on on the political right, right now. There is, of course, the memo we talked about on last night`s show. The memo instructing Republicans on how to talk, or how not to talk about Latinos and immigration. For example, consultants advising Republican members of Congress to not use favorite phrases like "send them all back", or "electric fence." Huh, you think? But that is not the only language-specific instructions that Republicans are giving each other right now. Conservatives are not just telling each other not to call American children "anchor babies." Conservatives are also advising each other on how to talk about ladies -- very specific advice. You know this is going to be good. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Adam Serwer at "Mother Jones" magazine had the perfect headline this afternoon to encapsulate today`s good news/bad news in the United States Senate. With the announcement that the appointee to fill the John Kerry Senate would be a man named Mo Cowan. That means, hurray, as you see here, that the U.S. Senate will now have more black members than ever in its history, which is great news, right? And here is the rest of the headline. The new record number of black members in the United States Senate is two. A total of two, out of 100. That`s the record. We`ve hit the record. It is a remarkably low number to be a record. Still, interestingly, this appointment to the U.S. Senate today is actually the second one that Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts has made as Massachusetts governor. When Senator Ted Kennedy died in office, the governor made a similar choice for the appointment to that seat when he chose, also like Mo Cowan, a trusted former staffer who had no designs on running for the seat himself. And if you think about that, it`s actually a pretty respectful way to handle the profoundly anti-democratic process of one person just getting to designate a person to be a U.S. senator because there is a vacancy. We don`t generally do that for the House, right? But we do that for the Senate, which is a kind of grossly undemocratic thing about the U.S. Senate. And when a governor is given this grossly undemocratic power to be the individual designator of who gets to hold a seat in the U.S. Senate, how that governor chooses to use that power says a lot about that governor in terms of his or her ethics. They can, as Deval Patrick did both times, they can appoint a real place holder to neutrally care-take the seat until an election can be held, an election that is not going to be affected by whoever this neutral place holder is. That`s how Deval Patrick has now done this twice. Or, alternatively, a governor can choose someone to appoint to the U.S. Senate who actually intends to run to keep the spot. Thereby just granting that person the power and advantage of incumbency for the U.S. Senate seat for any future race. And that`s what South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley did when she got the profound undemocratic power to appoint someone to a Senate seat in her state. She picked Congressman Tim Scott, who intends to run to keep that seat. One governor taking maximum advantage of her chance to put her individual thumb on the scale of democracy, and one governor refusing to do that, staying neutral before the will of the voters. This kind of thing is a test of political character, I`ve always thought. Just ask Rod Blagojevich when he gets out of prison. In any case, the election to pick a full-time non-place holder replacement for John Kerry in the Senate now has a date. It will be on June 25th in Massachusetts. But Massachusetts may find itself voting on that seat before then. And that`s because we`re told to expect that tomorrow, conservative Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch, who you see on the right side of the screen there, who voted against Obamacare and who is anti-abortion, Stephen Lynch is going to announce that he too is going to run for the seat as a Democratic against the already declared progressive candidate you see on the left side of your screen, Congressman Ed Markey. If Stephen Lynch does run against Ed Markey, so there does have to be a primary. The primary will take place on April 30th. Interesting question, right? Would a primary for that seat help the Democrats` chances of sending another Democrat to serve alongside Elizabeth Warren in the Senate, or would it hurt the chances? And who would have a better chance at winning, Ed Markey or Stephen Lynch? On the Republican side of things, there is still no word as to whether or not this guy on the right here intends to run again after Elizabeth Warren beat him by eight points back in November. Still no word from Scott Brown other than -- which Scott Brown tweeted late at night on Saturday in the midst of a spring of misspelled and combative late night tweets where in the former senator appealed to flailingly picked misspelled online fights with his critics on Twitter, he then deleted the late-night tweets and has since refused to talk about them. He`s refusing all comment on what was going on there, Scott? Even as his patented Scott Brown knew whatever -- has finally become the most popular thing about him online. Joining us now is Steve Kornacki, Massachusetts native, host of "THE CYCLE" here on MSNBC and senior writer for "Salon". Steve, it is great to see you. STEVE KORNACKI, SALON: Great to be here. MADDOW: Do you think -- totally -- total speculation, do you think Scott Brown`s late-night tweets that sort of seem like drunk tweets, but which don`t know, and then deleting them and refusing to comment about it, do you think it`s less likely he is going to declare for the seat if he was legitimately conflicted about it? KORNACKI: No, I think all indications are right now that he is going to go. It`s not necessarily the smartest political decision. I think the smartest political decision is 2014 governor`s race in Massachusetts for a whole host of reasons. But sort of behind the scenes you start talking to Republicans of Massachusetts, they say that he and people around him are taking the steps to get into this thing, probably next week. MADDOW: Except on Saturday night. KORNACKI: Right. MADDOW: Something very different. KORNACKI: Unless that was a code that he was sending out somehow. MADDOW: That`s possible. Or maybe some kings and queens hacked his account. KORNACKI: He does hang out with the royalty, right. MADDOW: Or his Shih Tzu got in there. You never know. People think of Massachusetts as the bluest of blue states. But you have been writing at salon that Democrats might have a hard time holding on to John Kerry`s seat. Why do you think that is? KORNACKI: It all depends on whether Brown runs. And again, as I said, very likely he`s going to run. If he doesn`t run, then the Republicans are stuck in second tier. The best they can do is Bill Weld, who recently moved back to the state. Everybody has sort of forgotten who he is. They would probably lose that race by 15 points. If brown runs, he is still very personally popular, even though he lost last fall. So, the thinking for Republicans would be last fall was the high watermark for core Democratic turnout, the presidential election year, Democrats were really motivated to turn out. And frankly, Elizabeth Warren ended up motivating a lot of Democratic voters too. So in that climate, he lost by eight points, but he walked away with a personal favorable rating still well over 50 percent, still makes him basically the most popular politician in the state. So if you can have a lower turnout on a special election some time this summer, June 25th, and you run a Democrat that doesn`t quite inspire people the way Elizabeth Warren does, then, yes, 51, 52, 53 percent very possible for him. MADDOW: That said, hugely, hugely risky, which is why I think the "Boston Herald" and other media outlets are advising against it. Yes, if he wins, he gets go back to the Senate. He doesn`t even probably need to re-rent a new apartment. Great. But if he loses, he is dead meat forever. If you lose that seat twice, you`re kind of done. Forget the governor. KORNACKI: Two chances, right. One is the has-been syndrome. Lose two races in a row, and yes, that`s it. You`re a has-been. But the second is the problem that sort of bedeviled him the last few years starts all over again if he wins this special election. He won the special election in January 2010 and spent the next two years having to be a Republican senator having to represent a very blue state, and casting all of those votes that Elizabeth Warren threw in his face relentless for the fall. And he would be up in 2014. This is just to fill the final basically year and a half of John Kerry`s seat. So it would be a year and a half of casting votes that are going to put him in a very dangerous position for 2014. MADDOW: And even if he survived both of those, he would be vulnerable again for the same reason, more vulnerable again for the same reason. KORNACKI: He`d be up in 2020, a presidential election year, so then you get the turnout issue. Massachusetts, Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, Mitt Romney, even a different version of Mitt Romney, they will elect Republican governors. You know, Scott Brown, 2010 in that special election is the only time since Ed Brook in 1972 that Massachusetts has elected a Republican to the Senate. And not since 1994 in the Gingrich landslide when two slipped in have Massachusetts elected a Republican to federal office of any kind. MADDOW: Yes, and there is a reason why. And the state is getting more blue, not less blue over time. KORNACKI: Right. MADDOW: Let me ask you about a broader picture on the Senate. "The Miami Herald" reported on an FBI raid on the office of a long-time supporter of New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. The senator is denying any wrongdoing. But is that rattling New Jersey politics enough? Is there enough noise around Senator Bob Menendez that potentially his seat is worth thinking about on either side? KORNACKI: There is a lot of concern, yes, among Democrats there is a lot of confusion about what exactly has happened here. It`s worth pointing out that Menendez has sort of been down this road before. It did not involve prostitution or anything salacious like that. But at the height of 2006 campaign when he was first running for his seat, it leaked from the U.S. attorney`s office, that would be U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, it leaked that Menendez was under federal investigation, and records had been subpoenaed from his nonprofit, supposedly, a quid pro quo. Very unusually. It was really the only time that Christie`s office had tried to do this within 60 days in an election. No charges ever emerged from that. Finally five years later, a different U.S. attorney cleared Bob Menendez. So he has been down this road before. But that said, if there is something to this, if there is something that forces him to resign, we`ll find out over the next few months, this is an appointment that Chris Christie, a Republican governor, will make. And there`s all sort of ways that Christie can handle scheduling a special election, a situation Democrats might not like is, it could potentially take place on general Election Day 2013 when Chris Christie currently with an approval rate of 74 percent will also been to the ballots. So, circumstances where a Republican candidate could be helped. And if you call around New Jersey and you say, who would they run if there was a special election this year, who would they like to run, their dream candidate, the name you hear is Woody Johnson. That`s the owner of the New York Jets and one of Mitt Romney`s big backers. I don`t know if he is interested at all, but he`d bring a lot of money to the race. And if you`re on the ballot with Christie and you start to put these things together, that`s a tough situation for Democrats. MADDOW: We are having such a weirder perspective on what is going on in the Senate right now than we thought we would be even a couple of weeks ago. KORNACKI: Yes. MADDOW: Tom Harkin`s seat and Saxby Chambliss` seat unexpectedly coming up, John Kerry`s seat now coming up and the place holder and the primary, plus the stuff around Bob Menendez -- it`s fascinating. Thanks for helping us talk about it. KORNACKI: Fun stuff. MADDOW: Steve Kornacki, host of "THE CYCLE" on MSNBC, senior writer for "Salon", and a man who should not be held accountable for me fixating on Scott Brown`s seats, including the -- one. Go away. Goodbye. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. Chart imitates life, straight ahead. Plus, Republicans instructing each other how to say the right words when talking about women folk. That`s all coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Chart imitates life, all right, it is never a good thing to see economic headlines that feature the word surprise, or unexpected, or yikes, within a few words of shrink or contract. But this morning that yikes thing happened, when the Commerce Department announced that the economy shrunk this last quarter for the first time since 2009. It was a very small, 0.1 percent, but still all surprise, yikes, eke, because nobody was expecting it. Analysts thought that the national GDP was going to grow, but it shrunk instead. Maybe this number will get revised later, there`s always revisions, you never know. But regardless, until then, it turns out the really interesting thing about today`s terrifying shrinkage announcement is why it happened. Let`s go to the chart. It`s from "The Washington Post`s" "Wonkblog". This is defense spending over time. It`s kind of random, right? In one quarter, defense spending goes up and another time, it goes down, all over the map. That doesn`t say anything about defense policy. It is just a characteristic of how the Pentagon spends in modern times. It happens in fits and starts for a bunch of different reasons. The defense spending chart is what economics geeks call lumpy. But when defense spending, for whatever reason, gets lumpy, when it drops sharply, GDP goes down. The last big dip on the defense spending chart there, the really big dip there, the last night? That`s last quarter, the one where we had the overall economic shrinkage. The only other big plunge in defense spending two years ago also coincided with an unexpectedly bad economic quarter for the whole year. The lesson here and I say this agnostically about policy, is just about the scale of how much we spend on defense. We spend so much money on defense that when we stop spending all of a sudden, the economy really feels it. Defense spending jumps around a lot for a lot of different reasons. And when it jumps way down like it did last quarter, that`s how we get the scary economic growths headlines we got this morning. Chart imitates life. I`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Right before President Obama`s inauguration last week, House Republicans held a private two and a half day retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia. The idea to strategize and prepare for this new Congress. Well, during one very well-attended session at that retreat, Republicans were taught important lessons about how to talk to voters of the lady`s persuasion. Here is how the conservative magazine, "The National Review" described the session, quote, "Pollster Kellyanne Conway drew rave reviews for her upbeat presentation in which she lectured members on how to appeal to women. Sources say hundreds of Republicans sat through the talk, hoping to learn more about how to better craft their message to women. Most pointedly, Conway advised Republicans to tread carefully on language, particularly on sensitive matters such as rape, which she called a four- letter word, that should be used sparingly or not at all." Don`t say rape, ever. Republican congressmen are getting the same kind of advice from a national anti-abortion group, with "Politico" reporting, that the Susan B. Anthony List is launching a training program for conservative candidates and lawmakers, a program described as designed to keep candidates and lawmakers from continually making the same kind of comments that may have helped ruin the Republicans` chances of winning the Senate. Oh, right, comments about, say, which kinds of rape are legitimate and which kinds of rape are not legitimate, or how God wants some rapists to also impregnate their victims. A Republican strategist and former Romney campaign adviser boiled it down like this, quote, "This is actually pretty simple, if you`re about to talk about rape as anything other than a brutal and horrible crime, stop." Looking back on their latest electoral defeat, Republican strategists are clearly deciding that they do not want to be known for having relentless, fringe, hard line anti-abortion politics that make them talk about women in ways that are creepy, which is why you`re seeing the urging of Republicans by other Republicans to stop front-paging these beliefs. Basically they`re saying, listen, even if you think it, try not to say the government should force impregnated rape victims to give birth against their will. Congressmen, you can think it, stop saying it. But, you know, understating that you have a problem is not the same thing as understanding what the problem is. Does all the language sensitivity training mean that Republicans see themselves as having a policy problem with women, or do they think they just have a language problem with women? And that is the question that looms over the House right now as Republicans face pressure to act on a piece of legislation that does have a very blunt, direct, straightforward name. It`s called the Violence Against Women Act. For years, ever since it was passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has been a bipartisan bill, routinely reauthorized without notably conflict. Until last year -- last year, when Republicans decided to stand up against the Violence Against Women Act, all eight Senate Republicans voted no on it when I came through committee. And when it came up for a vote in the full Senate, Republicans voted against the by a 2-1 margin. And after than, House Republicans effectively killed the bill altogether, that was the last Congress, before inauguration. Now, it is the new Congress. And now the issue is back, and Democrats in the Senate are fast-tracking it. Senate Republicans seem prepared to just let it quietly pass, but it does have to go through the House. And so, House Republicans have to resolve this looming question, what have they learned? What have they learned about how to deal with women`s issues? Are they going to take a cue from Senate Republicans and let the Violence Against Women Act get through Congress, or are they going to kill it in the House again? Is the problem just the way they talk about things like killing the Violence Against Women Act? Or is the problem, dude, you`re killing the Violence Against Women Act? It is a structural question, really, a question of whether the House looks to the national discussion, the Republicans in the Senate, the other Republicans in Washington, the national message of what went wrong for the Republicans in this last election, or do they look home for guidance? Do House Republicans look for guidance to what is going on in their states? To what`s going on with the Republicans back home? Because what`s going on with the Republicans back home, it turns out, is a whole different universe from what`s happening at the national level. And that is the focus of a special in-depth look we`re going to be taking on tomorrow`s show. And I hope you will join us for that. Now, it is 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