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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 02/14/13

Guests: James Heckman, Richard Blumenthal

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you, my friend. SCHULTZ: You bet. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour on a day that made history. Today, something happened in American politics that has never before happened in the history of our republic. In all of the trials and tribulations we have been through as a nation, through the wars, through the Great Depression, through the time when senators used to beat one another with canes inside the Capitol, in everything we have ever been through as a nation what happened today has never happened before. Not ever. Not one of the 44 presidents our country has had has ever been blocked by a minority in the Senate from choosing someone for his cabinet. But that happened today to President Barack Obama. Republicans in the Senate decided to do something unprecedented to him and to thereby set an entirely new precedent for how the presidency itself is treated in our country. When they said today that even though they could not muster a majority of votes on their side, they would maneuver anyway as a minority to block President Barack Obama from appointing his chosen secretary of defense. This has never happened before to anyone ever. I mean, we have had cabinet nominees not make it through the Senate confirmation process before, people who could not win over a majority of the Senate. So they did not get confirmed. We`ve had that happen. We`ve had plenty of people pull their name from contention when it became clear that they couldn`t win a majority vote, that they could not win confirmation in the Senate. But President Obama`s nominee for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, he does have majority support in the Senate. What happened today is that a minority of that body, the Republicans, decided that they were going to block him anyway. Never happened before. They filibustered a cabinet nomination. In the past, over the years, there have been a couple of token efforts at maybe doing this in the past, that got a handful of votes, didn`t actually slow down or stop anything. But the minority actually blocking the nomination, that is a whole new thing. This is a fresh hell in American politics. And that is why before today even Republican senators said it would be nuts to do this. Before today these senators, these Republicans, for example, all said -- yes, listen, I might be opposed to Chuck Hagel for defense, I might vote no on his nomination, but I`m not going to blow up 220-something years of precedent and filibuster the guy. I`m not going to block there being a vote on him. We`ve never done that before. Republican Senators John McCain, Roy Blunt, Roger Wicker, Lindsey Graham, Susan Murkowski, all these Republican senators said before today they might vote no on Chuck Hagel but they wouldn`t block a vote from the minority. They wouldn`t filibuster. Well, today when push came to shove, it was only Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski who kept their word. All the others said that they wouldn`t filibuster, that that would be wrong, and then they did it anyway. John McCain, Roy Blunt, Roger Wicker, Lindsey Graham all said they wouldn`t do it, and then they did. Senator Graham for his part says he does not want his filibuster today to be thought of as a filibuster even though that`s what it is. He said he prefers to think of what he did today as just blocking the nomination because he wants to use it as leverage to get more information out of the administration on the president`s birth certificate. I`m sorry, I mean Fast and Furious. I`m sorry, I mean aliens in area 51. I`m sorry, I mean his theories about what happened in Benghazi. What does nominee Chuck Hagel know about Benghazi? Precisely nothing. He has nothing to do with it. He had nothing to do with it. But Lindsey Graham is filibustering his nomination over it anyway. I mean, since Chuck Hagel had nothing to do with it substantively, why block his nomination instead of, say, the John Kerry nomination, which sailed through the Senate? Don`t know. Why not? Wrecking stuff is fun maybe? Hulk smash? The guy who the Republicans waited to spring this on for the first time in our nation`s history, to break all precedent, is a former Republican senator from a red state, a decorated and wounded combat veteran nominated to lead the Pentagon while we are at war. Republicans have never before felt the need to filibuster a cabinet nominee in the history of the country, but now, apparently, this is the time and this is the guy worth waiting 224 years to spring it on. It has never happened before, but why not now? Heck. The White House is not pleased. Quote, "Today`s action runs against both the majority will of the Senate and our nation`s interest. This waste of time is not without consequence. We have 66,000 men and women deployed in Afghanistan, and we need our new secretary of defense to be a part of significant decisions about how we bring that war to a responsible end. Next week in Brussels, the United States will meet with our allies to talk about the transition in Afghanistan at the NATO Defense Ministerial, and our next secretary of defense should be there. For the sake of national security, it`s time to stop playing politics with our Department of Defense and to move beyond the distractions and delay. Allow this war hero an up or down vote, and let our troops have the secretary of defense they deserve." Do you remember when the top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid, declared just a few weeks ago the Democrats would not change the rules in the Senate? Remember that? Wouldn`t change the rules to stop Senate Republicans from abusing the process there. Harry Reid decided he would just instead make a handshake deal with the Republicans` top senator, Mitch McConnell. He said he was satisfied with the Republicans just agreeing to be more reasonable on issues like this. Remember? They wouldn`t change the filibuster rules. They would just agree as gentlemen that the Republicans would curtail the excesses of filibustering everything and effectively ruling from the minority. Democrats decided to not actually change the rules on the filibuster and just make that agreement with the Republicans instead. They said, you know, at a minimum this will at least improve the confirmation process for the administration`s nominees. How is that working out now? Just a couple of weeks later, how`s that gentleman`s agreement going -- now that we`ve just had a filibuster of a cabinet nominee for the first time in American history? Joining us now is Andrea Mitchell, NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent, the host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS" on MSNBC. Andrea, it`s great having you here tonight. Thanks for being here. ANDREA MITCHELL, ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS: Thank you very much. Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: What happens next here? Does Leon Panetta stay on as defense secretary even after he has gone through all the motions of stepping down and heading back home? MITCHELL: Yes. We have had all these farewell speeches, the most recent today. And then he went off with his wife, Sylvia, for a Valentine`s dinner and was hoping that he wouldn`t have to come back. But now he will come back because the Senate is in recess. When these things happen they don`t change their plans for recess. And so, he -- Leon Panetta, the lame duck defense secretary, is going to have to lead the delegation and represent the United States at NATO in Brussels for the annual meeting, the big meeting of the NATO defense ministers. And this was supposed to be the debut performance of Chuck Hagel on the world stage. And that is only the first impediment to Hagel by this delay and this -- what they claim, the Republicans claim is not a filibuster, but by any stretch of the imagination when you have a cloture vote and you get 58 votes and your nominee then cannot get a vote on the floor and they go into recess, that sort of smells like a filibuster. MADDOW: Have you heard anything about how people inside the Defense Department and even the State Department, the other national security major agencies, how they`re reacting tonight? Is there any concern that this holdup is going to project weakness or otherwise be bad for the country? MITCHELL: I think there`s a lot of embarrassment and annoyance, anger. We do have Leon Panetta. We have Ash Carter, the deputy defense secretary. So there is leadership. You know, the other sort of incidental but not unimportant victim of all of this is also John Brennan`s nomination. Whatever you think of it, that has also been held up until after the recess. For very good reasons, many say, because Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Intelligence Committee, is now demanding seven more legal documents on targeted killings from the administration. The administration says that that`s an exaggeration, that some of those were already turned over actually were simply expansions of some of the seven she`s demanding. But in any case, you`re not going to have a CIA director either until after the recess. MADDOW: If Chuck Hagel ultimately ends up confirmed, and that was part of the White House statement today saying listen, he has majority support, he got 58 votes on the cloture vote today, which implies he is going to be confirmed, if they ever allow a vote. Once we get Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, what does what we just went through mean for what the relationship`s going to be like between Congress and the Pentagon? Congress and the Pentagon are a little bit at each other`s throats right now anyway because of the negotiations around the sequester and how the Pentagon budget is going to proceed not only over this next year but over the next few years. What`s it going to mean between Congress and the Pentagon once Chuck Hagel`s in charge after they made him go through this? MITCHELL: Well, if the president thought that by having a Republican in the cabinet at the Pentagon he was going to buy any kind of loyalty or relationship with Republican senators, he can think again about that, because this simply isn`t happening. Chuck Hagel is not going to have relationships with the people who have just humiliated him to this degree. Secondly, he was weakened by his own poor performance. And whether he was playing rope-a-dope and this was a deliberate tactic, as they say, to not pick a fight and get into an argument in a public forum with John McCain and the others on the committee that he would then have to work with, he didn`t fight back enough. Claire McCaskill and other Democrats, Claire, you know, you saw on our show and others saying look, he clearly is better at asking questions than answering questions but still came strongly to his defense, as did the other Democrats on the committee saying -- Joe Manchin and others, saying he is clearly qualified and the president should have his man there and that to take one statement out of context from a speech that he gave when he wasn`t in office is not really taking the measure of the man. He`s not going to have a good relationship with Republicans on that committee, and he is weakened within the Pentagon, where you have that crisp military be prepared attitude. You know it better than anyone. You`ve written a book -- you`ve been with the military far more than I have. And, Rachel, you know that they have things all down very, very carefully. And the way he performed, the way he answered the questions, that was damaging to him despite all of the encomiums from so many people, from Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell and people who Republicans admire and revere, who have all said this man should be confirmed. MADDOW: I think we are at an important and fragile and sort of unsettled moment in terms of civilian relationships with the military, in particular political civilian relationships with the military. And this is the biggest wrench in the works I could have possibly imagined. We will have to see how it plays out. Andrea Mitchell, NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent, host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS" on MSNBC -- Andrea, as always, thank you so much for being here. MITCHELL: My pleasure. MADDOW: All right. The president left Washington today for the comparatively grownup environment of a room full of 4-year-olds. It went well. Hold on, that`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This man was the Democratic nominee for president in the year 1984. He served as vice president in the late `70s and in the very early 1970s, as you see him here in all his early 1970s glory, he was a senator. Senator Walter Mondale, Democrat of Minnesota. Mr. Mondale entered the U.S. Senate at the beginning of our national war on poverty under LBJ. Senator Mondale outlasted President Johnson in office, but he kept working on that basic idea, of using public policy to help out the least well off among us. By 1971, he succeeded in getting passed with big bipartisan support a bill that would have created a daycare system essentially in this country, universal preschool for American kids. The tuition was on a sliding scale so everybody could afford it. Senator Mondale got his bill passed and it went to the guy who was president by then. It went to Richard Nixon. And Richard Nixon vetoed it, even though it passed with lots of Republican votes. President Nixon said the idea of preschool for everyone had, quote, "family-weakening implications." He said, quote, "The child development envisioned in this legislation would be truly a long leap into the dark for the United States government and the American people." A long leap into the dark. Forty years after President Nixon said no to preschool for all American kids with the weird leaping in the dark analogy, President Obama is trying to bring a version of that idea back with a plan for early education for all Americans. But this time the president has wind in his sails blowing in from an unlikely source. It`s blowing in from a really, really red state -- from maybe the reddest of all red states. This is how Oklahoma voted in 2012. Mitt Romney swept every county. In 2008, John McCain swept every county. In 2004, George Bush swept every county. Oklahoma is the reddest place we`ve got in America. And Republicans, you may have heard, like to think that they do not think much of the policy ideas of Barack Obama. Which is why it was so interesting to hear the two states that President Obama mentioned as models when he announced his State of the Union plan for preschool. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America. (APPLAUSE) In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Today, President Obama took that proposal on the road, visiting a pre-K class, pre-kindergarten class in Decatur, Georgia. He played a game of "I spy" with the kids there and noticed the magnifying glass Nancy Drew style. He did some phonics. He did the kinds of things you do in pre-K if you have pre-K where you live like they do in Georgia. Georgia is a conservative state. But no state is conservative like Oklahoma is, right? And yet, Oklahoma has had universal pre-kindergarten since the late 1990s. And they got it in the most amazing way. The story starts with this guy, Joe Eddins. He`s a rancher, a biology teacher, an Oklahoma state representative, and that rarest of all Oklahoma political critters, Joe Eddins is a Democrat. At the time Mr. Eddins first got to office in 1994 Oklahoma schools were already putting 4-year-olds in school because the law allowed them to and because a glitch in state law said that inadvertently Oklahoma schools would get paid for having extra kids enrolled in kindergarten. Well, they started putting 4-year-olds in kindergarten and it turned out putting pre-kindergarten aged kids in kindergarten classes didn`t necessarily suit those kids all that well. So, Mr. Eddins proposed closing the loopholes that let 4-year-olds be in Oklahoma`s kindergarten classrooms. But when he did that, he snuck in way deep in the legislative thicket of the wherefore`s and the hereby withes he snuck in an entirely different grade, a prekindergarten, just for those kids he kicked out of kindergarten for being too young to be there. In doing so, he gave Oklahoma the most successful pre-kindergarten education program in the entire United States of America. And it was all done kind of on the QT. Joe Eddins, Oklahoma state rep, hoped that nobody would catch on to what he was doing. But it worked. Oklahoma`s pre-K kids got a chance to learn their letters and their numbers and their colors and how you wait your turn and you take only your own Graham cracker and you nap when you are told to nap. On the world`s greatest radio show, "This American Life," my friend Alex Blumberg got a chance to ask Joe Eddins about how this all happened, about his sneak bill. Alex asked whether Mr. Eddins could have gotten this thing done in Oklahoma if people had really known what he was doing at the time he was doing it. Listen. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) JOE EDDINS, FORMER OKLAHOMA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I don`t see it ever being funded if you had it like other states do. If you had to say here`s a program that we want to implement. Here`s how much money it`ll take. "Whoo, where are you going to get the money?" OK? If you would have to have a line item appropriation, nobody would have supported it except the young mothers, and they have no political clout. ALEX BLUMBERG, PRODUCER: What lessons could other states -- say, other states want to try to do something like this? EDDINS: They don`t have a prayer. They don`t have a prayer. They don`t have a prayer. Because it`s expensive. And there`s -- state legislatures are run by people that don`t want -- they want to cut programs, not add programs. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: Those are states haven`t got a prayer of getting what Oklahoma kids got. What Oklahoma kids got by stealth. And now Oklahoma loves. Oklahoma loves it because kids in Oklahoma just a few years into this started making truly long leaps in their letters and their spelling and their problem solving. Oklahoma kids made truly long leaps. Black kids, white kids, Native American kids, Hispanic kids. Everybody. It really worked. And yes, it costs money to do this. But the academics who track this stuff say that the earlier you invest in a child`s development the more you get back. They say that this is among the smartest money you can spend in public policy. And that was President Obama`s case this week. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: We know this works. So let`s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let`s give our kids that chance. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: We know this works. Specifically, we know this works in the reddest of all of the red states. We are not used to policy being extrapolated from Oklahoma to the whole country. And I do not mean to offend Oklahoma with that statement. It just doesn`t really happen. But could this be the time with this Democratic president saying hey, you know what? Georgia and Oklahoma are doing it right. And the whole country should follow their lead. Could it work? After all, Richard Nixon is not going to veto it this time. Joining us now is James Heckman. He`s a Nobel Prize winner and professor of economics at the University of Chicago. He is an advocate for the idea that you can increase equality by investing more in very little kids. Professor Heckman, thank you so much for being here tonight. JAMES HECKMAN, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: It`s my pleasure to be here. MADDOW: In the states that have the kind of program that the president is calling for, are there any lessons to be learned? Clear lessons about what works and what doesn`t work, what might be extrapolatable to a larger platform or to other states. HECKMAN: Well, it`s not just a question of these particular states, although they`re models and they provide an example. But there are many programs that have been evaluated for many, many years where we can see what the economic and social benefits are of these programs. And so I think it`s important to draw lessons from a broader portfolio of policies that have been implemented. MADDOW: What is -- what explains or what is it about these programs that is so economically beneficial? What gives us such a bang for the buck is the way we think of this as a policy matter. HECKMAN: You`re asking for the particulars of why they work or -- MADDOW: Yes. HECKMAN: -- just how it`s evaluated? MADDOW: Or how we know that they work. HECKMAN: Well, we know they work because we`ve actually done experiments where we give people these programs, randomly assign them, and others are not randomly assigned, and we follow these people for as long as 40 or 50 years in their lifetimes to see what the benefits are of these programs in terms of their income, in terms of their participation in crime, even in terms of their health, and in terms of their schooling and many other dimensions of social performance. MADDOW: Are there specific aspects of the type of pre-k or early education that have larger benefits later on? I mean, pre-K education can be lots of different things. Lots of different states have different standards. Do we know anything about what is most important about getting it right if you want to get those kind of benefits? HECKMAN: Well, getting it right involves putting quality into the program. There`s no question. You can`t do it on the cheap. That`s for sure. MADDOW: What is -- what is -- what do you look for in terms of quality education? What are you spending more money to get? HECKMAN: Well, we have to understand what these programs are doing. These programs are working with children and with families. And they`re supplementing the family lives of disadvantaged children. That`s really the ingredient. The successful ingredient is really asking how you can replicate for disadvantaged children the kind of advantages that more -- that children from wealthier and upper-class environments come from. Get -- MADDOW: How does that speak to the prospect of having this as a universal benefit, something that kids of all different advantage levels or economic strata, all sorts of different demographic orientations, how does it speak to that being something that everybody gets if it disproportionately benefits kids who are from worse off background? HECKMAN: First of all, you have to understand, as you said yourself in your introduction, the proposed idea, I guess going back to Walter Mondale, was a sliding-fee schedule. Everybody could have access to these programs. But the payment would vary depending on the income level and the degree of disadvantage. MADDOW: In terms of the politics here, I know that you`re not a political scientist in these matters -- HECKMAN: No. MADDOW: -- but do you think there is -- do you think that there is an economically and scientifically sound argument to make to counter the political conservative concerns that this is going to supplant family life in some way, it`s going to undermine family living? Is there something we know from the data that could be used politically in that -- HECKMAN: See, it`s interesting. I hadn`t realized this quotation you read from Richard Nixon. It`s just the opposite. These programs are actually bolstering family life. We know that one of the biggest challenges and something President Obama and many politicians can`t say, one of the biggest challenges in American society is the changing family environment, especially for disadvantaged kids. A lot of kids are born into environments where they`re not getting the same stimulation. Single-parent families where the mothers are high school dropouts or not very well-educated are not getting the same benefits as children from more advantaged homes and that has consequences. And we can remedy some of those deficits, and we can actually improve those consequences by giving those children the kind of -- at least some version supplementing the family life and giving them some of the same opportunities and working with both the parents and the children. This is really a family strategy. And this shouldn`t be a liberal or Democrat versus Republican conflict. This should really be something that should resonate with people who value and talk a lot about family values and also people who are interested in inequality and reducing inequality. This is one of the rare public policies that has two features. It`s economically productive. It survives very stringent analyses. And at the same time, it reduces inequality and promotes social mobility. MADDOW: James Heckman, Nobel Prize-winning professor of economics at the University of Chicago -- it`s fascinating to have your perspective on this. Thank you so much for being with us here tonight. HECKMAN: OK. Thank you. MADDOW: Thank you. That last point that he made, I think somebody should cut that into a YouTube clip and send it to everybody they know on Facebook maybe. Maybe we`ll do that in the commercial break. No, I`m busy. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: As we promised you, we`ve got exclusive footage just ahead from a new MSNBC documentary that I think is probably going to rattle a lot of very famous cages. We`ve got our first clip of that exclusively, coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: At the State of the Union, members of Congress until a couple of years ago used to sit with their own party. So partisan dividing lines became almost architectural. The Republican side clearly evident, jumping up and applaud things that they liked all as a group while the Democrats sat and waited sullenly for their turn. And then the other side, the other side of the room would jump up and the Republican side would all sit down. That`s the way it was for years. But we don`t do it that way anymore because for the past couple of years, it is non-partisan seating. They go out of their way now to sit next to someone from the other party. So Republicans and Democrats at the State of the Union now are all mixed together. Congress started doing it that way just in 2011 when the State of the Union that year was scheduled just days after the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that killed six people and that nearly killed Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Her intern Daniel Hernandez, who helped save her that day, and her surgeon, both of them went to the State of the Union that year, as did the parents of the little girl, Christina Taylor Green, who was killed in that shooting. Arizona`s congressional delegation held open a seat for Gabby Giffords herself that year, and the president mentioned her right at the top of the speech. But even with all of that attention to what had just happened days earlier in Tucson, Tucson was not discussed that year at the State of the Union as a catalyst for policy change. The president made no mention in that year`s speech of the problem of gun violence or any related policy reforms. That was in 2011. One of the most moving moments of the next State of the Union, the following year, 2012, happened before the president began his speech. As lawmakers filled the room, a quiet applause started up in the chamber and initially it was hard to tell why people were clapping. But as the applause continued to build, it became clear that the Capitol was applauding louder and louder and with more and more emotion for Gabby Giffords, because she was there and she made her way to her seat. She was in the chamber for the president`s speech that night, one year after suffering a gunshot to the head. Gabby Giffords` husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, was also there in 2012. He was seated with the first lady, but yet again in 2012, even with that very emotional presence, there was no mention from the president about gun violence or related reform as a matter of policy. This year, finally, things were different. The first visual reminders of gun violence that we saw at the speech this year were the green ribbons, right? Vice President Joe Biden wore one. Several members of Congress did as well. In honor of the kids and the educators who died in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Green and white are the school`s colors at Sandy Hook elementary. In addition to the green ribbons, which were everywhere, more than 30 people who were personally affected by gun violence, people who lost their child or another loved one, more than 30 people with that connection to gun violence were in the gallery, were in the audience watching the speech. People who lost loved ones in mass shootings like Aurora and Newtown and Tucson or in the kind of one-off gun violence that happens every day in our country -- accidental shootings, drive-by shootings, workplace shootings. The parents of one of the little girls killed at Sandy Hook, Grace McDonnell, her parents were there at the State of the Union, along with the younger brother of Vicki Soto, a teacher who was killed at the school that day. Two Sandy Hook teachers were in the audience including one who survived gunshot wounds to her foot and leg and hand. She was invited by the congresswoman from Newtown, Elizabeth Esty. Several of these folks also spoke at a press conference on gun violence that took place before the State of the Union, highlighting the fact that they would be there watching in person. First Lady Michelle Obama had gun violence victims seated with her for the speech. She invited Cleopatra and Nathaniel Pendleton. Their 15-year- old daughter Hadiya Pendleton was killed last month in Chicago, just about a mile from the president and first lady`s Chicago home. The first lady also invited police Lieutenant Brian Murphy, who was the first on the scene police officer at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Sikh temple mass shooting in august. Lieutenant Murphy took 15 bullets to the head, neck, and body when he confronted that well-armed shooter that day. He survived. Also seated with the first lady was another Sandy Hook teacher, Kaitlin Roig. The first lady has hosted victims of mass shootings at the State of the Union before, but in past years that honor, that symbolism never translated to the speech itself, right? To policy. Well, that this year in 2013, it changed. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets because these police chiefs, they`re tired of seeing their guys and gals being outgunned. Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. (APPLAUSE) If you want to vote no, that`s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote, because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun. More than a thousand. One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house. Hadiya`s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote. (APPLAUSE) They deserve a vote. (APPLAUSE) They deserve a vote. (APPLAUSE) Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. (APPLAUSE) The families of Newtown deserve a vote. (APPLAUSE) The families of Aurora deserve a vote. (APPLAUSE) The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence, they deserve a simple vote. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: While the president was speaking, you could see a woman wiping her eyes and holding a picture of her son. That`s Carolyn Murray. She`s from Illinois. Her son Justin was shot and killed at 19 years old. That`s whose picture she`s holding. Carolyn was invited to the State of the Union by Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. Today marks two-month shooting of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. And today more than 5,000 people gathered at Hartford, Connecticut, in the state apt capitol. Many in the crowd were wearing green to honor Sandy Hook just as members of Congress did at the State of the Union speech on Tuesday. The people there in Hartford were there to honor the children and the educators shot and killed there two months ago but they were also there with policy demands, with demands that the country not forget Sandy Hook and that we specifically turn what happened there and our outrage over it into change. A lobbyist who works for the NRA`s Wisconsin branch last week told an audience that the organization the NRA is now just waiting for what he called the Connecticut effect to wear off in the country before they think things will return to business as usual. You can see why they would want to think that way. But they might be wrong. This might not wear off. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. DANNEL MALLOY (D), CONNECTICUT: We cannot let what happened here in Connecticut ever be forgotten. We have to use it as our justification for making the kinds of change that we all desire seeing. We will not rest until we have changed America. We will not rest until we have changed Connecticut. We will not rest until we have done that, which makes our children safer. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy today speaking at the state capitol in Hartford, where more than 5,000 people turned out today, two months to the day after the Newtown shootings to demand policy changes in response. Joining us now is Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has introduced the ammunition background check act of 2013. Senator Blumenthal, thank you for joining us again tonight. I really appreciate your time. SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: It has been two months since what happened at Sandy Hook. You and I have talked several times on this show since the tragedy about how the nation`s going to respond. What is your assessment today -- particularly after the issue played such a large role at the State of the Union? What`s your assessment today about how we`re doing in terms of our national response? BLUMENTHAL: First and foremost, Rachel, clearly the Connecticut effect, as that NRA spokesman termed it, and I asked the NRA to repudiate it, that Connecticut effect is not going away. The rally today in Hartford shows it. The State of the Union response shows it, where the entire chamber literally rose to its feet when the president said those measures deserve a vote, the families deserve a vote. I think we`ve really reached a tipping point or turning point in the national debate. And what`s also different this time, as the president said, is that the NRA has lost a lot of its political heft. You know, Wayne LaPierre has spoken the last couple of days with the kind of hate and fear that clearly consumes him but also consigns the NRA as an organization to the political fringe of this national debate. And certainly, he no longer speaks for many NRA members, no longer speaks for the majority of gun owners, and that`s a fundamental difference as well. So I think the sense of urgency has been maintained and sustained. The momentum is there. The judiciary committee`s going to mark up a bill. In other words, frame the final language of the bill next month if not this month. And those votes will occur on the floor of the Senate, I hope and believe, because the president`s absolutely right. Those families, the victims, the first responders, all Americans deserve a vote. MADDOW: In terms of the way that the president phrased that in that repetitive cadence that he had that was so moving but also very specific saying these "deserve a vote, deserve a vote, deserve a vote." And he went out of his way to say, if you want to vote no that`s OK, but we ought to vote. I wonder what your assessment is of what he`s getting at there politically. My sense was that he meant the way that the gun lobby works is by preventing people from ever having to take a stand on this, preventing people from ever having to put themselves in the position of voting against something that would be very popular like a background check, that the way that they get what they need is making stuff not ever come to a vote and we ought to vote on it, is that what you think he meant? BLUMENTHAL: I think that is exactly what he meant and I think that`s our hope for what we want. Ninety percent of the American people say they are in favor of background checks for all firearms purchases. Approximately the same percentage, maybe closer to 80, say they are in favor of background checks for ammunition purchases. Keep in mind. Right now, the law says that criminals, drug addicts, domestic abusers, people who are seriously mentally ill, are barred from buying both ammunition and firearms. And yet, there`s no background check to make that law enforceable. The president was very specific, as you said so well, not only about who deserves a vote but what measures deserve a vote, background checks, the assault weapon ban, the high capacity magazine prohibition, trafficking and illegal weapons, straw purchases safety. So there ought to be, there has to be a strategy and we deserve to have a vote, people can vote against it. But the American people deserve a vote. Our constituents deserve a vote and small minority should not block it. MADDOW: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut -- Senator, thank you for being here tonight. I have a feeling we are going to keep this conversation going you and I, as long as you are willing to come back. Thank you, sir. BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, Rachel. I`ll be back. MADDOW: All right. MSNBC is launching a documentary on Monday. It is an MSNBC doc but I am hosting it. We are expecting this thing to ruffle a lot of feathers, but I`m going to be able to tonight give you the first exclusive sneak peak. That`s here, that`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) INTERVIEWER: What is your favorite virtue? RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Integrity. INTERVIEWER: What do you appreciate most in your friends? CHENEY: Honesty. INTERVIEWER: Your idea of happiness. CHNEY: A day on the South Fork of the Snake with a fly rod. INTERVIEWER: What do you consider your main fault? CHENEY: Main fault, well, I don`t spend a lot of time thinking about my faults, I guess, will be the answer. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That is the start of a thriller for a new Showtime documentary that`s about to air. It`s called "The World According to Dick Cheney". He has no idea if there`s anything to object to about him. He`s perfect, no fault. Today with the historic ally filibuster for the defense secretary, because Republicans are filibustering Chuck Hagel, we have kind of a soft spot in national security leader. I mean, we have over 60,000 Americans fighting a war in Afghanistan, North Korea just set off their nuclear tests. We have newly heightened tensions with Iran over their potential nuclear program and their involvement in the terrible war next door in Syria where the war continues in it`s brutality, where the Assad regime holds on even with the rebels announcing more gains and Iranian general was reportedly assassinated inside Syria which means that Iran has it`s generals in Syria. They`re on t Assad side naturally. This is a tough time in the world for Republican senators to have decided that America doesn`t need a secretary of defense. But they are blocking Chuck Hagel. Leon Panetta has already said his goodbyes. He`s had his going away ceremonies and sort of wrapped up, that they are not letting him leave now, since nobody knows how long Republican senators are going to keep filibustering. Nobody knows. Nobody has ever done this before in U.S. history. We have no idea how long it will take. One of the reasons it seems not awesome to not have the leadership in place in our key national security jobs right now is because there is someone inside the U.S. government right now who is leaking things to the press to try to get us to go to war in Syria. Someone described by "Foreign Policy" magazine as an Obama administration official started a few weeks ago leaking information to the press that is clearly designed to make it seem like Syria has crossed red lines that would require us to get involved in that war. The leaked information is designed to make it seemed like Syria is using chemical weapons. Quote, "The official warned that if the U.S. government does not react strongly to the use of chemical weapons in Homs, Assad maybe emboldened." There is no real proof that Syria is using chemical weapons and the administration officially says that that leak is bullpuckey. It`s not true. It`s not happening. But someone inside the administration, right now, over the past few weeks, has been trying to make it seem like there are WMDs in Syria and that Syria is using them and we have to get into that war because of that. WMDs, we`ve got to go. Sound familiar? The difference, of course, this time is that it`s the official line of the administration this time that we should be cautious about the WMD intel. That`s just the people lobbying to get us to go into the war, who are calling it a slam dunk. The last time we went through this as a country, the rules were reversed, it was our own government, the vice president, like Dick Cheney, the president, the secretary of state, the national security advisor, the defense secretary, everybody that administration could draft with any supposed national security credibility at all, they were the ones that were telling us thing that is were not true to get us to start a war. It was not that long. This is our first preview clip from the new MSNBC documentary that`s going to premiere on Monday about how that deception went down and whether we have learned from it and whether we might be susceptible to the same kind of thing again if anybody ever tries to do that to us again. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW (voice-over): Atta, Mohamed Atta, leader of al Qaeda`s 911 hijackings. From Prague comes a Czech intelligence report of a photograph allegedly showing Mohamed Atta meeting with a high ranking Iraqi intelligence officer. The photograph of the supposed meeting is never made publicly available. MARK ROSSINI, FORMER FBI AGENT: Mohamed Atta was a slight guy, barely 5`5" and 5`6" and skinny. The guy in the photograph was muscular and thick and had a neck the size of two of my necks. That`s not Mohamed Atta in the photograph. But send it to the lab anyway. Into my find, the matter is put to bed. CHENEY: In the final analysis -- MADDOW: But even without definitive evidence, the vice president goes public with it. CHENEY: It`s pretty well-confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with senior official with the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April. ROSSINI: I was sitting in my den, in my home in Washington, D.C., and I remember looking at the TV screen saying, what did I just hear? And I first time in my life I actually threw something at the television because I couldn`t believe what I had just heard. SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Over and over again the vice president for years would say we had a report of this meeting. It`s true. There was a report. And nobody believed it. That is what they didn`t add. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That is from "Hubris", based on a book by the same name by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. On Monday night, right here, I will be hosting MSNBC`s new documentary on what happened when our government lied us into war and how they got away with it and whether we understand it well enough to stop it from happening again the next time somebody inevitably tries it. That`s Monday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, here on MSNBC. We understand that this is likely to cause political upset when we air it. But sometimes you`ve got to do that anyway. After all, it`s for a good cause. 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