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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 03/20/13

Guests: Richard Blumenthal

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That`s THE ED SHOW. I`m Michael Eric Dyson, in for Ed Schultz. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now. Good evening, Rachel. And who`s your pick to win it all? RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: You know, my pick obviously is Gonzaga, because it is the funnest school to say a name of, but I love that you just put out a nationwide alert that women of America can share your ice cream. This is going to be on bumper stickers by tomorrow morning, I`m telling you. DYSON: All right, Rachel. MADDOW: Michael, thank you very much. DYSON: Thank you. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us this hour. Usually when the president of the United States is traveling abroad, things slow down at home in terms of political news. But that is not true of today. Yes, the president is in Israel. It`s his first trip there as president. We`ll have more on that trip in a moment. But while he is in the Middle East, here at home, the nation is marking the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq. For example, neoconservative Iraq war cheerleader Richard Pearl, who was wrong about Iraq and al Qaeda, wrong about Iraq and WMDs, wrong about Iraq and nukes, wrong about how easy he said the Iraq war would be -- tonight, Richard Pearl marked the 10-year anniversary of the war he was so wrong about by telling National Public Radio that it was not reasonable to even be asked whether that war should have been waged. Washington, Congress itself is busy ignoring the anniversary of the war, since I think neither Democrats nor Republicans who supported it want to talk about having done that. And the Democrats and Republicans who opposed the war 10 years ago, they are still not taken seriously in the Beltway on national security issues, even though they were right and all the supposedly serious people were wrong about Iraq. Today, the Congress did hold a hearing on the outrageous and worsening backlog at the veteran`s administration. Veterans home from Iraq and from other wars waiting months and even years to hear back from the V.A. in the claims process. The V.A. insisted at today`s hearing that they have a rock solid plan to fix the problem. But the Republican chairman of the veteran`s committee in the House is calling for the resignation of the V.A. official who is in charge of the claims backlog. So, there is a lot going on in politics right now. And in news about politics right now, despite the president`s overseas trip. But in our news tonight, we begin in Colorado. We begin at the scene of a rather stunning crime. Now, it may have been a random act. It may have been an act of revenge of some kind. It may have been something personal. It may have been an assassination of sorts and we do not yet know and we may not know for a long time. And until the police are able to tell us more about what exactly happened. But here`s what we do know: at 8:47 local time last night, a woman in the town of Monument, Colorado, called 911. Monument is in central Colorado. It`s not far from Colorado Springs. It`s in El Paso County. And the woman was distraught. She told the 911 dispatcher that somebody just rang her doorbell, when her husband opened the door, whoever was standing there shot her husband in the chest. He died on the scene. This is from last night. The El Paso County sheriff`s dispatcher telling the police what had just happened. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) DISPATCHER: A female party saying her husband has been shot in the chest at this address. Not conscious. Not breathing. Somebody rang the doorbell, the husband answered and was shot. Unknown if the suspect is still on the scene. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: No suspect was found on the scene. The man who opened the door of his home only to be shot in the chest by the person standing there was a man named Tom Clements. Tom Clements is the head of the Corrections Department in Colorado. Tom Clements` title was executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. That is a cabinet level position in the state. At this hour, there is still no one in custody. Authorities have released the description of an unoccupied car that was reportedly seen running, although nobody was in it, near the Clements home about 15 minutes before the 911 call was made. The car was described as being a dark-colored or black Lincoln. The car was described as boxy in shape. They were speculating that was a two-door sedan. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper gave an emotional press conference early this morning about Mr. Clements` murder. The governor said Tom Clements was on the verge of retirement. That he had worked in corrections in the state of Missouri for three decades before coming to Colorado. He said that he had been about to retire, but that he, the governor was able to lure him to come to Colorado to take the job running the state`s prisons, because the Governor Hickenlooper said he knew he was exactly the right man for the job. Governor Hickenlooper then took questions from the press. And, right away, the reporters on scene raised the question of whether there might be any connection between this murder last night and the gun debate that`s going on in Colorado right now, with this major high profile political event that was scheduled for this morning. It`s the governor planned signing of three major new pieces of gun reform legislation. The governor responded by saying that as a cabinet member, Tom Clements had been supportive of the bills, but not in a particularly active way. Until there is a suspect or any other explanation of what happened, nobody has any idea what motivated this murder. Law enforcement at the scene today said they are not jumping to conclusions as to whether Mr. Clements job in the cabinet, or his job as head of the state`s prisons, or his job as head of the state or as second in command of state prisons in Missouri before he came to Colorado, whether any of those job titles had anything to do with his murder last night. They said they are keeping an open mind as to the possibility that what he does for a living had nothing to do with why he was killed. But in response to the killing, at what is already a heightened time of political tension in the state, Colorado officials have responded by increasing security for other top government officials in the state. They have also increased security at the governor`s mansion. This is happening in Colorado at an already heightened time. The Colorado legislature in recent weeks has been debating and passing gun reform legislation and that debate has been unusually contentious. Those votes have already been along party line. Some Republicans in the Colorado Senate who opposed in the gun reforms have pledged on the floor of the Senate that they will disobey them. They will disobey the state`s new laws. Democratic lawmakers in the streets have received threats for their support of gun reform. Criminal charges have been brought against people for making death threats against pro-gun reform legislators. The debate has been marked by sheriff in some Colorado counties vowing not to enforce the new gun laws. That was after Republicans in the state legislature said they would not obey the laws. The sheriff in El Paso County, which is where Tom Clements was killed, his office is the one in charge of the investigation of Tom Clements, the sheriff at El Paso County is one of the sheriffs who has been highly critical of the gun legislation. So, all of that pre-existing tension and those threats and that political battle on a day when a member of his cabinet was murdered by means of a gun, Governor John Hickenlooper in Colorado today did not reschedule. He went ahead and signed those three new pieces of gun legislation into law. Universal background checks, a law that requires customers to pay for the cost of the background check, and a law that limits magazines to 15 rounds or less. When the governor sat down to sign the bills on this incredibly difficult day, after the news of the death of his cabinet secretary last night, after everything that led off to this day, the governor did not just sit down and sign right away. It was an interesting moment when he sat down to sign these bills. I think he was taking a minute to let it sink in. Watch. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYS) MADDOW: Historic day today in Colorado as those new gun reform -- gun law reforms are signed into law. Of course, it will also be remembered as a tragic day because of what else has happened in Colorado at this time. Meanwhile, this is the front page the people woke up to of "The New York Daily News" today, "Shame on us. Shame on U.S., assault weapons bill dead." As we reported on the show last night, Senator Dianne Feinstein said yesterday that her bill to bring back a version of the assault weapons ban that had been in effect from 1994 to 2004, a bill to ban the sale of high capacity magazines that hold more than 10 bullets at a time, that bill will be left out of the Senate Democrats` broad gun reform package that they are moving to the floor of the Senate. That is a decision made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who says that the assault weapons bill does not have the votes to make it past what he says is an inevitable filibuster by the Republicans. He says that if he were to include the assault weapons ban, that would just sink all the other proposed reforms an they would get nothing. So, that is what we reported yesterday. And all of that is still true. Senator Feinstein`s bill is still not going to be in the Democrat`s gun reform package in the Senate. But if you ask Senator Dianne Feinstein, that fact that it`s not going to be included in the overall package of bills that goes to the Senate floor, that does not mean that her bill is dead. According to her, it may not be a part of that overall comprehensive bill, but she is not going to play dead on this subject, and she insists that it will be voted on by other means. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TV ANCHOR: Now, Senator Reid, Senator Feinstein, had said before that you deserved a vote. But it`s appearing that it could be an amendment, that it could ultimately just be a symbolic vote. What`s your response to this new -- SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: No, if it`s an amendment, that is not ha symbolic vote. I did the bill in 1994 on the floor as an amendment. It enacted a law. It went on to the House. It was enacted. What Senator Reid told me is that I would have an opportunity for a vote. I take him at his word. This is very important to me, and I`m not going to lay down and play dead. I think the American people have said in every single public poll that they support this kind of legislation. It`s aimed to protect children, to protect schools and malls. It`s aimed to dry up the supply of these over time. And it came out on a 10-8 vote of the Judiciary Committee. Not to give me a vote on this would be a major betrayal of trust in my -- as I would see it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Senator Dianne Feinstein saying her bill will be voted on as an amendment, even if it is not included in the main package of legislation sent as one piece to the Senate floor. Also, yesterday, this man, the White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said that as far as the White House was concerned, they consider this assault weapons ban to be very much alive. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We`ll see what happens in terms of what bill comes to the floor. We think it`s really important and a good step that several of these measures were passed out of the Judiciary Committee last week, that the Senate has now dedicated time as soon as they come back from this next recess to address the gun issue. JAKE TAPPER, CNN: But Harry Reid says he`s not going to bring it up. MCDONOUGH: No, he says it`s not going to be on the base bill and there will be amendments I`m sure from Senator Feinstein, who`s been a champion of this now over the course of decades. So, we`re going to work on this. We`re going to find the votes. And it deserves the votes. Let`s see if we can get it done. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: We are going to find the votes, says the chief of staff. Also today, the vice president, Joe Biden, repeated that very claim. What everybody says is impossible is not impossible, he said. He said, we are not giving up on this assault weapons ban. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am still pushing that it pass. We are still pushing that it pass. The same thing was told to me when the first assault ban was in `94 was attached to the Biden crime bill, that it couldn`t possibly pass. It was declared dead several times. I believe that the vast majority of the American people agree with us. The vast majority of gun owners agree with us. So I haven`t given up on this. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: I have not given up on this. After news broke yesterday that the assault weapons ban would be dropped from the broad gun reform bill in the Senate, the junior senator from the state of Connecticut, Chris Murphy, said that he wants to be able to get a vote specifically on the high capacity magazines, a ban on high capacity magazines as a standalone amendment. The senior senator from Connecticut is Richard Blumenthal. He is a sponsor of the assault weapons ban. He says that while he supports a broad gun measure, the ban on assault weapons is the single piece of legislation that is most relevant to what happened in his state to spark a new round of national interest and reform on this measure. To what happened in his state, which, of course, was the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. Senator Blumenthal says that if we are to address what happened that day, the assault weapons ban is a must for how to do it. Joining us now is Senator Richard Blumenthal, the senior senator from Connecticut, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Blumenthal, thank you very much for be being back with us tonight. I appreciate your time. SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you. MADDOW: The headline in all the Beltway press is that the assault weapons ban is over, that it`s dead, it`s not going to move forward at all. Senator Harry Reid says it won`t get past a filibuster. But Dianne Feinstein, the White House chief of staff, the vice president are all saying do not proclaim it dead already. This can still happen. What do you think? BLUMENTHAL: Reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated. I think that it still is very much alive. And the reason that I think so is that the vast majority of American people want this provision of law, because they know that an assault weapon, an AR-15 was used in Newtown magazine, as was as a high capacity magazine. The two provisions are joined together for a reason. They both attest to what we must do to stop more Newtowns and Newtown is a call to action. So I think what has to happen, the silent majority, up to now silent, to become a lot less silent and to tell their congressmen and their senators in the next two weeks when they`re home, what they think is necessary. Now, the bill right now, as it`s been described, the base bill, has a lot of good elements -- the illegal trafficking ban, the straw purchase prohibition, the requirement for background checks of all purchase of firearms and, of course, the school safety provisions, all very, very important. But I think we need to keep fighting. MADDOW: Do you think that this is an issue -- specifically on the assault weapons ban which right now includes that extended magazines ban -- do you think this is going to make a difference on the pro gun reform side of it? The NRA says that the pressure from its members are what stopped it in its tracks. Do you think that members of the Senate who have been on the fence, who would not feel particularly inclined to stick their neck out on this issue could be pushed by their constituents? BLUMENTHAL: Very much so. Three and a half months ago, this issue was thought to be politically untouchable. The whole issue of gun violence prevention was thought to be politically so risky that no one would get near it. But this time really is different. And we`ve made a lot of progress so that the public sense of urgency has really tipped. It`s changed viscerally and seismically. So I think that as long as we can sustain that sense of urgency, as long as people in Congress hear from the country, I think it can be passed. We knew it was going to be an uphill job. It was always going to be a marathon, not a sprint. And the assault weapons ban was always the most ambitious, the politically toughest of all these provisions. And I am looking forward and I will be proud to be with Dianne Feinstein in supporting this measure when it`s offered as an amendment and I hope that it will pass. MADDOW: Today, the news out of Colorado was so shocking in terms of the death of the corrections commissioner last night, shot on the doorstep of his home. That happening just hours before the Colorado governor was due to sign three new pieces of gun reform legislation into law. Obviously, there`s no reason for us to believe that the incidents are connected other than the fact that it was a gun murder. Just a remarkable confluence of headlines though. I wonder how you view the fact that Colorado and also New York state have sort of led in terms of the states in terms of passing those extended magazine bans, is what`s happening in the states giving any sort of momentum to what might happen at the federal level or to other states? BLUMENTHAL: I think it does enhance the momentum, these kind of events which tragically and unfortunately have continued and probably will continue. And nobody wants them to continue, but they will add urgency. And the point about Colorado, although we know very few of the details, but the 2,500 people who have perished, who have been killed by gun violence since Newtown, 2,500 people, a lot of them were killed with stolen guns, illegally trafficked guns, straw purchased guns, guns that would have been stopped from purchases by background checks. These other measures can make a difference. So we should look for what is positive and important in the bill that will be presented with the leadership`s endorsement and try to improve it with amendments on the floor. That`s the strategy that I think has to be followed using the momentum that`s generated by unfortunately these continuing incidents. MADDOW: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, thank you very much for your time tonight. Sir, I have a feeling we will be in further touch with you as this stuff moves quickly. Thank you. BLUMENTHAL: Thank you very much. MADDOW: If you were looking for a moment of leverage with your member of the Senate on this issue, this is probably the moment of leverage. It has to be said. While they`re making the decision about how to move these things and in what order and piece by piece, this is the time when hearing from their constituents makes all the difference. The NRA certainly knows that or the side knows that, too. All right. President Obama is abroad. He`s in Israel as we speak. So, it is ridiculous, self-defeating unnecessary American congressional policy. Stay tuned. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: President Obama is in Israel tonight. And all day, his trip got lots and lots of attention. This is what it looked like all over the Internet machine today, at every new source that starts WWW-dot, it was blanket coverage, as you would expect president on foreign trips always gets lots of attention, even more so when the foreign trip is to Israel. Israel has for decades, of course, been a big boisterous high profile part of our American politics. During the presidential campaign Republicans tried to make a big stink about how President Obama had never visited Israel, not once in his whole first term, not once. Just hike every Republican president since Richard Nixon. President Reagan never went to Israel in either his first term or his second term. George H.W. Bush never went to Israel. George W. Bush only went at the very tail end of his second term. So, on a sense, President Obama is breaking with the tradition set by recent Republican presidents by visiting Israel so early and so often. Meaning, he`s gone there once. On his trip today, he planted a tree. He also signed a guest book. There were plenty of photo ops, the photo ops that you expect. But this was really the big one. The president today visiting -- see that big box thing that looks like it`s kind of on the back of a truck there? This is the big photo-op today. The president visiting the Israeli air defense system that has a name that sounds like it comes out of a comic book. It`s the Iron Dome, right? This is a defense system designed to shoot incoming missiles out of the sky like a fly swatter -- a big Iron Dome fly swatter paid for in part by the United States. And that`s where our domestic politics intruded on today`s presidential trip abroad. Here in the United States, we, of course, are still trying to wrap our heads around the totally self inflicted unnecessary designed to be dumb budget cuts, that hack off a percentage of every line item in every budget in almost every department of the federal government without any leeway for discretion or prioritization, the sequester. And yes, those cuts include the funding for the Iron Dome. At his press conference today with his Israeli counter part, the president oohed and aahed at the technological impressiveness of the Iron Dome, but then had to go out of his way to say he would try to keep its funding flowing, but no promises. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re providing more security assistance and advanced technology to Israel than ever before. And that includes more support for the missile defenses like Iron Dome. We will take steps to ensure that there is no interruption of funding for Iron Dome. We will continue to work with Congress on future funding of Iron Dome. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Taking steps to ensure that there`s no interruption of funding for Iron Dome. One of the ways to not interrupt the funding of the Iron Dome would be to get rid of the sequester. But, apparently, we`re not talking about that. We`re just talking about trying to mitigate its effects with no budget-related way to do that. On a related note, related to those budget cuts at home, here on the show last night, we spoke to Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. She represents Illinois`s eighth district. But before she was in Congress, Tammy Duckworth was a helicopter pilot in Iraq. She lost both legs. She almost lost her arm as well when her chopper was shot down ion the war. She left the service and worked as assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and then she was elected to Congress. But last night, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of invading Iraq, she told us about efforts currently underway in Congress to try to protect service members and their families from the cuts of the sequester, trying to protect benefits already promised to service members and their families. One of those promises is that the Defense Department will help out with tuition assistance for active duty service members. But because of the sequester, the Army, the Air Force and the Marines have had to suspend that situation assistance program. The Navy has not yet decided what to do about it. But the other branches have suspended. The Defense Department says it did not want to cut that program, but it finds that it didn`t have a choice because of the way the sequester is structured. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth said she would be signing onto a letter to the secretary of defense asking him not to kill the tuition assistance program, to try to find some way to keep it going. But this is only a draft letter. See, no signatures on it yet. It looks like it will stay in draft form. It may never make it to Secretary Hagel`s desk, because today, the Senate passed an amendment to another funding bill that would prevent the Defense Department from killing the tuition assistance program. The Defense Department could cut some of the funding, but not all of it. That bill will go to the House tomorrow where we think it`s got a good chance of passing. So, in other words, what this all boils down to is that Congress isn`t fixing the sequester problem that they created. In fact, this Band-Aid passed today will only last six months. But on the bright side, this is the way they have to go about trying not to make it any worse. So, it`s not fixed, but it`s not worse. I mean, the other option for the Iron Dome, for tuition assistance for service members, for the educational grants that go to the children of service members killed in the war, any of these things rub you the wrong, if any of these things seem like dumb cuts, we could just not do the sequester. They could just get rid of the sequester altogether. All they have to do is repeal it. Hello, Iron Dome funding, hello, education grants to the kids of men and women killed in combat, hello, all tuition assistance for active duty service members -- you could bring it all back if you just repeal the sequester. That`s what you`d call a win, win, win. But viewers are advised to not hold their breath for that. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Congressman Patrick Murphy was a captain with the 82nd Airborne. He was part of the initial invasion force in the Iraq war, where he earned a Bronze Star. He`s here for an interview, next, on a story that broke today about a big change in direction that could be announced by the president quite surely. That`s next. Hold on. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: From 1966 to 1972 and 1973, the head of the CIA was this guy, Richard Helms. He was fired as head of the CIA in 1973 by Richard Nixon. Mr. Helms had been associated with, frankly, a lot of shady things that the CIA did. But one shady thing he would not do was use the power of the CIA to stop the Watergate investigation. President Richard Nixon wanted him to do that and we not do that, and he got fired. The man who Nixon installed to replace him was this guy, James Schlesinger. He only lasted six months on the job running the CIA. But those six months had lasting consequences. For starters, he ordered a review, a collection at the CIA of anything the CIA had done over the years that might be seen as embarrassing or illegal or at least in contravention of the charter under which the CIA was founded. At the CIA they call that collection of embarrassing and illegal activity, the "family jewels". In 2007, the agency declassified the "family jewels" when they decided to publish the 700-page report that resulted from James Schlesinger asking the agency to self report all heir misdeeds from over the decades. A lot of it was heavily redacted. But some of had was clear as a bell, like this. Hey, look. See the numbers on the side there? So who knows what number one is? That`s totally redacted. But in number two, they clearly say that the CIA used a member of the mafia to try to assassinate Fidel Castro. They say so. And then later on in the report, they go on to give all the details. The CIA`s mission statement is that it is supposed to collect information and analyze information and give that information to policymakers so they can decide what to do with it. The agency even has an all about the CIA web page that`s aimed specifically at sixth graders to 12th graders. And they spell out, "Our mission is to provide information or intelligence to the president, the National Security Council, and all other officials who make and carry out U.S. national security policy. We provide these leaders with the best information possible to help them make policy involving other countries." True. But also sometimes they send a mafia guy named Johnny Roselli to go try to kill Fidel Castro in Cuba, which is a heck of a lot different than providing information to policymakers on that subject. The CIA has always had its hand in something other than just getting information. They have taken direct action, helping install the shah of Iran in 1953, the disaster at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Participation in lots of bloody civil wars and coup d`etat around the world, sending a mafia hit man to go kill Castro. They have always done at least some of this stuff to a certain degree. But in 1973, the short-lived, 6-month-only director of the CIA, James Schlesinger, he decided that the CIA needed to warn Congress about something they were going to do. He went to Congress. He went to talk to the chairman of the Armed Services Committee to tell them about something that the CIA was about to do. But the chairman of the Armed Services Committee said to him, "Don`t tell me. I don`t want to know." This is now part of the Senate`s official history. Look. "In 1973, the CIA Director James Schlesinger told the Senate Armed Services chairman that he wished to brief him on a major upcoming operation. `No, no, my boy,` responded the senator. `Don`t tell me. Just go ahead and do it. But I don`t want to know.`" Congress did not want to know. Part of the U.S. government was engaged presumably in using force, presumably, in some foreign country, but the Armed Services Committee, the part of congress that oversees the use of force against foreign entities didn`t want to hear anything about t don`t tell me, because while they did think it was their job to oversee the actions of the U.S. military, they did not see it their job to oversee the actions of the CIA, even when they were acting in a rather military-ish fashion. You see the problem, right? No oversight. Our country`s not supposed to work like that. In 1975, in the midst of the post-Watergate uproar in Washington, when Congress decided that it ought to get up on is hind legs and play and role in governing the country, instead of letting the crook in the White House run it all, in the mid-`70s, after Watergate, after this upset caused by Watergate, the Congress decided to do something about this oversight problem, specifically on these types of actions. They decided that if the Armed Services Committee wasn`t going to oversee the CIA, then somebody else should, some other thing in congress should. So they created something called the Select Committee on Intelligence, which they gave responsibility for overseeing the stuff that spies do. Since clearly the spies were doing a lot more than just spying. Thirty years later, by the time of our post-9/11 wars, the CIA`s so- called kinetic activities were ramped up to be more than its standard bad assassination attempts and ham-handed revolt facilitating. By the end of the George W. Bush administration, the CIA was operating a full-blown air force of remotely piloted planes. So, what about oversight, right? Was that committee that they created back in the 1970s to oversee intelligence up to the job of overseeing this? The answer seems to be sort of and sometimes. Look at this. Quote, "Even after drone strikes against militants in Pakistan were expanded significantly by George W. Bush, in the summer of 2008, the strikes were subjected to little congressional review, according to former intelligence officials." Quote, "During my time, the committees didn`t do any oversight on drone strikes to speak of," said a former senior CIA official who left in 2009." Since 2009, it has apparently gotten better, which is the whole point of "L.A. Times" report which quoted the CIA official saying the oversight used to be non-existent. Overall, it has gotten better. And the members of Congress who chair the Intelligence Committees in the Senate and the House say frankly they are overseeing the CIA just fine, thank you very much. But the broader issue is still this -- what the CIA is doing now, since 9/11, a big part of what they are doing really isn`t spying at all. It`s just war. I mean, when it is six straight years now of aerial bombardment with a death toll in the thousands, this is not sending Johnny Roselli to Havana to go get Castro any more. This is war, ongoing, relatively large scale war. But because it is the CIA that`s doing it instead of the military, it`s war that is waged secretly with no expectation that our elected officials will even admit that it`s happening. And there`s no expectation that it will be overseen by Congress the way that war is overseen by Congress, the way that military is overseen by Congress. This isn`t Armed Services. This is Intelligence, and it`s responsible for keeping safe the "family jewels", right? One of the interesting D.C. dynamics in the Obama era of national security is that the CIA, at least a high levels of the CIA kind of seems like they don`t maybe want this job any more, that although they have been ramped up militarily to essentially become a covert air force, not everybody at the CIA is all that psyched up about it. After David Petraeus had to resign as head of the CIA following revelations about an extramarital affair, the acting director who took over, a CIA lifer, was described in the press as concerned about the over- militarization of the CIA. Quote, "And so are many at the agency who fear who they have wandered too far from the job of analyzing trends and obtaining secrets." John Brennan, who President Obama appointed to run the CIA in his second term after Petraeus, he told "The Washington Post" in October that he too was interested in the CIA getting out of the drone business, saying essentially that that is war and not intelligence and as such it should be done by the Pentagon and not by the people who are supposed to be our nation`s spies. Well, that transition, that change, that potential change, at least, is now maybe happening. It`s just a single article, citing three anonymous sources. But it says the White House is poised to sign off on getting the CIA out of the war business, putting the CIA back in the business of spying, putting the drone program fully under the offices of the military, which would mean that our nation`s war by any other name would be conducted by the military, which admits to being bound by the laws of war and that is overseen that way within our government. Our civilian officials could not deny this part of our warfare to us anymore and thereby, the line between peace and war would get ever so slightly sharper than they are right now. The 9/11 Commission recommended doing this, years ago. The upper echelons of the CIA say that they would like to do this. Even hawks like John McCain have been advocating for this kind of change. Former White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told us on this program to expect this change of the president`s nomination of John Brennan to run the CIA was successful. But if this happens, if this happens, if they move drone warfare out of the hands of the CIA and put it under the auspices of the military, this would not be the end of drone warfare, but it would be the end of a really big and far-reaching change that we made as a country after 911 that we never, ever debated. It just happened. Joining us now for the interview, is -- I`m very pleased to announce - - MSNBC`s newest contributor, former Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy. In Congress, he served in both the Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee. He served in the U.S. Army in Bosnia and Iraq, where he won the Bronze Star for service. Congressman Murphy, thank you so much for being here. Congratulations on the new gig. PATRICK MURPHY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks so much, Rachel. Good to be with you tonight. MADDOW: What do you make of this report today in "The Daily Beast" that the White House is ready to pull the CIA out of the drone warfare business and put it under Pentagon control instead? MURPHY: Well, I`m a little ticked because on my first day on MSNBC I got scooped by somebody else on a different Web site. So, in all seriousness, Rachel, this is a big deal. We`re basically going back to the fundamentals of what the CIA should be. And it should not be a paramilitary force. It`s clear rules of engagement under Title 50 of the United States Code. The military is under Title 10. There should be a military operation, a drone, because it is an instrument of war. And there should be one set of rules and regulations that we abide by. MADDOW: When you were in Congress, serving both in Armed Services and Intel, obviously, there`s a split responsibility between those committees for the different military actions taken by the intelligence community and by the military. Do you think that it is as possible for Congress to oversee the intelligence community as it is for them to oversee the military? Is it harder to know what the CIA is doing? MURPHY: It`s much harder, for several reasons. One, all you`re hearing in the intelligence committee are there`s no staff, you`re there. I remember I was -- I take copious notes and I took a bunch of notes and I would have to keep them there. I couldn`t go back and digest them or rewrite them, because it`s all secret information. But it`s important. And we had our hands full to be very clear, Rachel. I mean, it was really the intelligence committee that ended torture or what the Bush administration called enhanced interrogation techniques. And that was not an easy task and what we did there, because I think this is very analogous, what we did there was we made sure that they, CIA and other intelligence assets that we do, if we do have folks that are detainees that we use the rules of engagement, we use the law of war under the Department of Defense. And in that case, General Petraeus was actually one of our biggest advocates, saying, yes, we should have one standard. Because, Rachel, you`ve got to look at it from the other perspective. The folks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and wherever, you know, they don`t say, oh, this is a intelligence guy. They just know it`s the United States of America. And that`s why we`ve got to be clear and concise in how we treat people and how these instruments of war are deployed. MADDOW: If the White House does make this change, do you think it`s going to make a difference in terms of the way that our country is connected to the wars that we are waging overall? I mean, obviously, there`s the issue of wars going on for 10, 11, 12 years and whether the country feels connected to them. But there`s a specific problem with drone warfare when our elected officials legally have to deny that they have any knowledge that these things are happening. Do you think it would make any difference when officials who are supposedly directing the war to have to admit this stuff to us? MURPHY: Well, it does give, there is some ability under Title 50, what the CIA`s under, that because they can basically lie, because it`s a covert program, they don`t have to be necessarily forthful and they wouldn`t be perjury, versus under Title 50, they don`t have the same -- I mean, they can still have clandestine programs, but they can`t lie to the Congress or they`ll be held in contempt of Congress through other protections they do not have. But I do think it`s a shift, Rachel, of President Obama`s war fighting. He`s going clearly from a counterinsurgency to a counterterrorism doctrine. He`s being very specific. As you know, counterinsurgency is a lot of manpower. It`s very expensive and it`s nation-building. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has been very clear that we`re going after the bad guys. He`s very clear that he`s an ass kicker and if there`s someone that`s going to put our families in harm`s way, he`s going after them. MADDOW: Patrick Murphy, former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, now, our newest MSNBC contributor, I`m very happy to be able to announce that tonight -- Patrick, thank you so much. MURPHY: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: Thanks. All right. You know, we have the John Boehner is bad at his job hypothesis, which is mostly about he`s supposed to be the leader of the Republicans but none of them actually follow him when he leads -- that hypothesis is about to get a part two, coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The House Tea Party Caucus established 2010 was founded in 2010 and by halfway through 2011 accumulated 60 members, 60. But then poof. As quickly as it emerged, it appears to have fizzled. Today,`s Dave Weigel observes that the vaunted Tea Party Caucus that was supposedly shaking up Washington and fundamentally changing our politics, they have not actually met since July of last year. Their Web site is still up and running, so somebody is paying web hosting fees but the membership page no longer exists. Apparently, the group is refiling to try to make themselves exist again in Congress, but right now, they`re just not there. Haven`t been there for months. And until today, nobody really noticed, which is fine, unless the Beltway wants to keep using their supposed existence as justification for why no one listens to the Republican Party`s so-called leaders. If you do not have existence of the Tea Party caucus to blame for that any more, who are you going to blame instead? That story is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Happy vernal equinox, everybody. Despite what the weather would have you believe, spring has sprung. That means cherry blossoms in Washington maybe depending on global warm, H&R Block TV commercials that make you panic about your taxes, and just about everyone taking minutes to fill out an NCAA basketball tournament bracket. Death, taxes, car insurance, ketchup, potholes, March Madness -- these are the ties that bind. This is American exceptionalism. And the president of the United States is not immune. As he has done every year since being elected, President Obama appeared on ESPN this morning to fill out his own NCAA bracket and let us know his favorites to do well in this year`s men`s basketball tournament. This time around, he picked Indiana to win the tournament, which is not an especially daring pick but it`s also not an entirely obvious choice. Now, in previous years, Republicans responded to the president doing an NCAA bracket with outrage, as if this is a major scandal that he does this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE: You know what, we as a world are going through a dire state, we need to address it, maybe I am not going to worry about brackets for March Madness. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president may look a little disconnected focusing on the NCAA. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: He is so disconnected. How dare he? Basketball is terrible. The American people hate basketball. He is so disconnected. The Republican Party right now is going through a period of reflection, especially about the issue of its own connection with the American people. Why is it people see this president and his party as being more in touch than, say, the stuffy old men of the Republican Party, which is the term their party chairman used to describe the image of his party this week. On Monday, the chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, tried to head off members of his party and the conservative movement from attacking the president on the basketball thing again this year. He told that his party, quote, "has divorced itself from the American culture." Mr. Priebus brought up the fact that Republicans have complained so much in recent years about the president, quote, "talking hoops for a half hour on ESPN." He said it is time for Republicans to get smarter about these things. Quote, "I think we`ve got to get with it." OK. So right. So the president does something normal and human relatable to most people in the country, try not to attack him for that one thing. Take on the president on policy, if you`re going to beat him, do it on substance. Reince Priebus is getting with it. The rest of the Republican Party is not getting with this. Soon after the president appeared this year on ESPN, it was like clock work. There`s Republican Congressman Steve Scalise, who`s the chair of the Republican Study Committee issued a statement saying President Obama`s NCAA bracket is a shocking failure of leadership. The House Republican Conference put this video on YouTube, echoing the same complaint. How dare he? All kinds of congressional Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner went on Twitter insisting Obama should stop this outrage of liking sports. Get off my lawn! It is March Madness, Republican style. The first day of spring, the annual opportunity for House Republicans to turn over an old leaf they know they shouldn`t turn over any more but they can`t stop themselves. Also, clearly, it`s going to be Gonzaga. But don`t tell John Boehner because he would be furious with you for caring enough to know that it`s going to be Gonzaga. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night. Right now, it is time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." Have a great evening. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END