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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/30/13

Guests: Carol Rosenberg, Paul Rieckhoff

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour, on what has been a very, very busy news day. After a year`s long fight that was not over science, it was over politics, today, the Food and Drug Administration said that Americans can purchase over the counter a one-pill drug that if taken three days after sexual intercourse can help prevent an unwanted pregnancy. It`s emergency contraception. For political and not scientific reasons, the Bush administration and then Obama administration had previously refused to let anyone under 18 buy it over the counter. But, today, the FDA said that 15 will be the age limit. The FDA commissioner today said access to emergency contraception like this one-pill Plan B drug, access to emergency contraception has the potential to further decrease the rates of unintended pregnancies in the United States. That happened today. Also today in Mississippi, an important announcement from federal prosecutors in the ricin case. Yesterday, the FBI arrested the man you see on your screen there in connection with ricin-tainted letters that were sent to President Obama and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, as well as an elderly Mississippi judge. He is the second person arrested in the case. The first suspect was released without charges after no traces of ricin were found in his house or his car or his workplace. But an FBI affidavit released today says the second suspect, the guy who was just arrested yesterday -- well, with him they have found traces of ricin at his martial arts studios and items he`s alleged to have dumped after sending the letters. The FBI also says that the man who they arrested yesterday bought castor beans on the Internet. And castor beans are what you make ricin from. Also today in Washington, on the 100th day of his second term in office, President Obama held a wide-ran press conference answering questions on everything from immigration reform, he says he`s hopeful. To Syria, he says he`s cautious. To the NBA center who just came out as gay, the president today said he`s proud of him. Also today, FOX News today asked the president about the dastardly cover up of what really happened in Benghazi. In response to that at his press conference, the president professed confusion, as in, oh, FOX News Channel, nobody really knows what you`re talking about anymore. So, there`s lots going on in the news today. There`s lots to get to tonight. But we begin with the thing that seemed to most exasperate President Obama today at that aforementioned press conference. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed. Now, Congress determined that they would not let us close it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Our president is not the most emotive guy in the world, but I think that qualifies as exasperated Obama or at least frustrated Obama, even if you just define frustrated in the technical sense as in the president being frustrated from doing something that he wants to do. For frame of reference here, consider Iran. Consider Iran circa 1985, OK? A relationship with Iran in 1985 was very, very bad. It was even worse than it is now, I think. At that time, we were only a few years out from the hostage crisis in Tehran where 52 Americans were held hostage for more than a year at the U.S. embassy. We were still embroiled in another ongoing hostage crisis where Iran was supporting the kidnapping of a lot of different Americans and other foreigners in Lebanon. People are held hostage in Lebanon included a professor, an aide worker, a university president, and even the CIA station chief. Iran was involved in the Iran/Iraq war. And we had kind of taken Iraq`s side in that war. In 1984, we had declared officially that Iran was a state sponsor of terrorism. So, between us and Iran, circa 1985, things were really bad. I mean, I know things are bad now between us and Iran, but things were really bad back then. But in the middle of all that, the president of the United States decided that he would secretly sell them a bunch of missiles, secretly shipping weapons to Iran illegally. I mean, we are the great Satan to them and they are the great Satan to us and the president is secretly sending them missiles? Yes, that happened. And that is why Ronald Reagan is not going to be on Rushmore, you guys. I mean, that and some other stuff. But honestly, Ronald Reagan, as president, illegally sold missiles to a state sponsor of terrorism, in secret. And at the same time, Congress had passed a law saying that he could not spend any money to rage a war he wanted to have in Central America. Ronald Reagan really, really wanted to overthrow the government in Nicaragua. Congress knew that he wanted to and they said no. They passed a law saying he could not do that and he did it anyway. Since he couldn`t get legal money to do it, he used the illegal cash that he`d stashed away from illegally selling those missiles to Iran. And it was just astonishingly illegal. And when it all came out, even people who otherwise kind of dogged (ph) Roland Reagan were frankly horrified. The congressional investigation into what happened was considered to be fairly stacked in Reagan`s favor, but when it came out, it was scathing. The big bipartisan congressional investigation into what he did said that the Reagan administration had undermined a cardinal principle of the Constitution. They had undermined the Constitution`s most significant check on executive power. The congressional investigation said that Reagan administration officials, quote, "viewed the law not as setting boundaries for their actions but as raising impediments to their goals. And when the goals in the law collided, it was the law that gave way." Just a scathing conclusion that this kind of law breaking by an American president was outrageous. It was a bipartisan consensus. It was almost a bipartisan consensus. There was a dissent filed, a minority report that said actually, everything Ronald Reagan did here was fine. It was authored by an obscure Wyoming congressman who didn`t have any national profile at all. But unlike the rest of Congress, who are all horrified with Reagan breaking the law so flagrantly, this Wyoming congressman filed a minority report that said as far as he was concerned, it was all fine. He said essentially that a president can do anything he wants. On national security, no law can constrain a president. That was the one dissent filed to the congressional investigation. That was the minority report, the Wyoming congressman. Fast forward two decades, to a December afternoon in 2005. You were on board Air Force II with the vice president of the United States, en route to the Middle East, the "New York Times" has just broken the news that the government has been secretly wiretapping Americans without a warrant. And while he is being questioned about that on board Air Force II, Vice President Dick Cheney interjects this advice to the reporters questioning him. He says essentially, hey, listen, if you want to know why I think what we`re doing is kosher, why I think it isn`t illegal for us to do this, even though it sure looks illegal, if you want to know my feelings on what a presidency can and cannot do, go back and look at the minority report I authored on the Iran-Contra affair. That said all that needed to be said about the kind of unilateral, above the law power that a president ought to have. We are in an era of radically extended presidential power. It matters that Ronald Reagan was never impeached for illegally selling missiles to Iran, and for giving Congress the one finger salute when they passed a law saying you can`t have the war you want in Nicaragua and he just secretly did it anyway. But the missile thing and the war things were plainly illegal, which is why 14 senior administration officials, including Ronald Reagan`s defense secretary and national security advisers -- I mean, they all got indicted. But President Reagan himself got away with that illegal behavior. And that helped set political precedent. In the George W. Bush era, it was not just the wiretapping Americans without warrants. It was also things like defying the laws against torture, on the president`s say so. There was the big non-partisan review, years in the making, that just came out a couple of weeks ago. The review of how our country treated prisoners after 9/11 and concluded that that there never before in our country had been the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11, directly involving a president and his top advisers, on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody, We are in a radically expanded era of executive power. We are in an era of racially expanded executive power that was expanded on purpose. And even though President Obama has washed himself clean of things like the torture prerogative, which was claimed by the last president, the fact that no one was ever prosecuted for torturing anyone means it is essentially just a policy preference that we do not torture now. The political and legal precedent has been established, that if you do torture people, even if the advice goes all the way to the president of the United States, the United States, the United States will not mind. We just elect to not do it anymore. So, a future president might feel differently. It will be his or her prerogative to choose that or not as they see fit. Presidential power is like -- we like to think of it as a rubber band that can expand and contract depending on our politics but it`s more like an aged rubber band. It`s old. It stretches but it does not always stretch back. Congress authorized the president after 9/11 to use military force anywhere in the world as he saw fit to retaliate against the people who attacked us on 9/11. Not only is it 12 years later and that is still in effect, but there`s noise in Washington that they want to make that authorization permanent. So, the U.S. president, whoever it is, will have permanent authority forever to use military force however he or she sees fit anywhere in the world, forever, thanks to 9/11, no matter how many decades we get into the future. We are living in an era of radically expanded executive power and yet there`s President Obama today exasperated, talking about how his hands are tied he can do nothing. It is a national security matter on which he just has no authority to fix the problem, because even as the Cheney doctrine of executive power lives on and the Congress wants to foist on the presidency the constitutionally inconceivable power to wage war forever on his own say-so without checking with anybody -- despite all that, on this one thing, on the issue on an offshore prison the United States opened up under the last president, in communist Cuba, on this one thing, the Congress has decided to get up on its hind legs and tell the president, no, no, Mr. President, you don`t get to decide, we do. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I`ve asked my time to review everything that`s currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively, and I`m going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that`s in the best interest of the American people and it`s not sustainable. The notion we`re going to continue to keep over a hundred individuals in no man`s land, in perpetuity, even at a time when we`ve wound down the war in Iraq, we`re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we`re having success defeating al Qaeda core, we`ve kept the pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks, when we`ve transferred detention authority in Afghanistan, the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests and it needs to stop. Now, it`s a hard case to make because, you know, I think for a lot of Americans the notion is: out of sight, out of mind. It`s easy to demagogue the issue. That`s what happened the first time this came up. I`m going to go back at it because I think it`s important. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama today was then asked a follow-up question about the growing number of hunger strike prisoners at Guantanamo of 166 prisoners who are still here, 100 are now officially described by the military as refusing food. Some are them are being force fed because one of more Orwellian dimensions (ph) of imprisonment is that you`re not allowed even to die if you want to. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILL PLANTE: Meanwhile, you continue to force feed these folks -- OBAMA: I don`t want these individuals to die. Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can, but I think all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this? I mean, we`ve got a whole bunch of individuals who have been tried who are currently in maximum security prisons around the country, nothing`s happened to `em, justice has been served, it`s been done in a way that`s consistent with our Constitution, consistent with due process, consistent with rule of law, consistent with our traditions. But the individual who attempted to bomb Times Square -- in prison serving a life sentence. Individual who tried to bomb the plane in Detroit -- in prison, serving a life sentence. Somali, who was part of al-Shabaab who we captured, in prison. So we can handle this. I understand in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, with the traumas that had taken place, why for a lot of Americans, the notion was somehow that we had to create a special facility like Guantanamo and we couldn`t handle this in a normal, conventional fashion -- I understand that reaction. But we`re now over a decade out. We should be wiser. We should have more experience in how we prosecute terrorists. And this is a lingering, you know, problem that is not going to get better. It`s going to get worse. It`s going to fester. And so, I`m going to, as I said before, examine every option that we have administratively to try to deal with this issue but ultimately we`re also going to need some help from Congress and I`m going to ask some folks over there who, you know, care about fighting terrorism but also care about who we are as a people to step up and help me on it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: What is it about this part of national security and counterterrorism that makes the Congress wants to so badly, wants so badly to block the president when they give the presidency historically unprecedented leeway on everything else related to war and terrorism? What is it about this part of it that makes them feel that they should be in charge of this, if nothing else? And is Congress`s plan really to hope those 166 men just up and die at some point so we never have to come up with another plan for what to do with them? And for the roughly half the prisoners there who have never been charged with anything, who have been cleared for potential release to other countries, if only the Congress would let them go, should we see their refusing food now, trying to kill themselves as speech? Should we see it as their way of pleading their case to let them go, to be sent home? I know exactly who I want to ask about this and she is here, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This is one of the first newspaper stories ever written about the American prison that our government decided to set up in communist Cuba a few months after 9/11. This is published on January 10, 2002 in "The Miami Herald". "A New Alcatraz Rises: Guantanamo Ready for Taliban". The article quotes the commander in charge of the prison back then, saying that the goal for how to treat people at that prison was as follows, quote, "It will be humane but we have no intense of making it comfortable." The reporter who wrote that story more than a decade ago about this new way the U.S. was keeping people in prison offshore, in another country was Carol Rosenberg. That was her first story about Guantanamo Bay as a prison camp. Her most recent story on the same subject was today. It was about how the American Medical Association has written to the Pentagon now to protest the force feeding of the hundred prisoners at Guantanamo who are currently on a hunger strike there. Carol Rosenberg has been covering Guantanamo for more than 11 years. She`s often the only reporter who`s consistently on that very difficult feat. She has been called the institutional memory of Guantanamo. It is a statement I agree with and she joins us live for the interview tonight. Carol Rosenberg of "Miami Herald", thank you so much for being here. CAROL ROSENBERG, THE MIAMI HERALD: Thank you. MADDOW: You have been a lifeline for a lot of us in terms of understanding what`s going on there, even when nobody else has been willing to pay attention. I know you were last there about ten days ago. You have said that you have not seen condition there this austere, this austere since President Obama took office. What did you have mean by that? ROSENBERG: For much of the Obama administration and even in the final days of the Bush administration, communal was the norm, meaning that groups of detainees, eight, 10, 12, got to eat together, pray together, watch TV together. The vast majority were considered to be communal captives who are kept in medium security confinement. The guards were on the outside looking in, the detainees were on the inside organizing their own lives. And when I went back down there about 10 days ago after this raid, virtually every detainee down there is under lockdown, one man to a cell, kept inside as many as 22 hours a day, can be all day if he refuses recreation. The way he got to recreation before during the earlier part of the Obama years until last month, he walked outside his cell, he went outside to a yard and the guards would be keeping an eye on him. Now, to leave that cell and go to a recreation yard, he has to be shackled by the hand and feet and led with a guard on each side and put into a cage, a cell. For all but a very few number of detainees down there, that is the norm. We have not seen that for the majority of them for years. And they have not experienced that for years. There were detainees who were considered medium security communal detainees throughout much of the Obama administration and something has gone terribly wrong. Most of Guantanamo now is under lockdown. MADDOW: Is lock -- can you tell, actually I should say, can you tell if the lockdown is because of the prisoners protesting or are the prisoners protesting because of the lockdown? Which came first? ROSENBERG: The protest came first. The lockdown was the result of the guards deciding that they need to go in and clear off the cameras of the cells. You know, under communal, the doors were open to their cells and it was more like dorm room atmosphere. Obviously, it`s a prison, it`s not a college, but they could come and go themselves with the exception of two hours a might when they were supposed to lock themselves inside. And the way they watched is the guards looked through cameras and they could see each of the men in their cells at night during this two-hour period if not more. Well, one by one, they covered up their cameras. We`re talking about 80, 90, 100 detainees of the 166. They put cereal boxes on their cameras. If you listen to the attorneys, this was considered a sign of distress. They believed that their conditions had gone -- they believed that their conditions had gotten to be so bad they wanted someone to intervene. MADDOW: So even while they were still living communally, they haven`t been put in sort of lockdown conditions, they still felt that conditions were changing and that`s what they were protesting about by blocking the cameras. ROSENBERG: They felt they had lost benefits. MADDOW: OK. ROSENBERG: There had been in January -- excuse me, there had been in F a shakedown in which the guards went into the individual cells and took many things away. They took, according to the lawyers, legal documents, they took family photos, they took -- I mean, the military said they took electronic equipment that they didn`t understand how these detainees had gotten. They took away, according to the lawyers, wrist watches, which the military said they were not allowed. But two years ago I`m there, and I have seen wristwatches on the detainees and asked about this and was told this was a perk that the military had decided to give some individuals. MADDOW: And then they retracted it. ROSENBERG: And then the guards changed. And they knew rotation of guards came in and whatever they saw in their protocols, whatever they believed the circumstances of detention and doctrine should be did not match what they saw going on in the prison. And so, they started taking things away. MADDOW: So this should be seen both as -- what`s going on right now, this real crisis that we`ve gotten -- with all these prisoners refusing food, we should see this as a response to a change in conditions that may be about just differences in opinion in administrative approaches as to how to manage these prison facilities overtime between different rotations of American commanders, but is it also a form of speech protesting their indefinite detention? ROSENBERG: Well, the -- I think all sides agree that the shakedown was the spark. But the underlying message is frustration. These men have been held here for 11 years. They -- 86 of them were told about four years ago or 86 of them were designated about six years ago-- excuse me. Eighty- six of them were designated about four years ago for release with conditions and nothing has happened. So that frustration has boiled up and when this shakedown came, when the new guards arrived, whatever the source of tension was broke -- erupted into this hunger strike. So, what you had was a hunger strike going on behind the hidden cameras and guards who felt they couldn`t see if people were starving themselves to death in secret, went in, took the -- cleared off the cameras, put them in their cells and now can watch them, have complete control over them 24 hours a day. If somebody were to cover up their camera, they`d be alone in a cell, locked inside and the guards have protocols for how to go inside, to do that prisoner and take the -- and clear the camera. So, the doctrine allows the guards this total control. But in the process, the detainees have lost a quality of life that they`ve become accustomed to that was seen as a management tool for taking care of people who if politics and international affairs had not intruded could have been gone through years ago, could have been taken to their homelands or found another country to resettle them and that some of these men were chosen to be released through reviews, reviews conducted by the CIA, the DIA, the FBI, the Justice Department, the State Department, all looked at the files and said there`s 86 men shouldn`t be there, let`s find a way to get them out. And they haven`t gotten them out. MADDOW: And they knew they were on that -- they knew that they had been adjudicated in that way. The hope that they would leave is then quashed and it`s indefinite with no hope of knowing how it`s going to end. ROSENBERG: Yes, they don`t see a way out. MADDOW: It`s amazing. The international and policy consequences of this are playing out in that briefing room today. But knowing the connection of those political debates to what the circumstances are on the ground, a lot of the way we are able to connect those things is because of your reporting, for which I have been grateful all these years and I`m very grateful you`re here. Carol Rosenberg, thank you very, very much. ROSENBERG: Thank you. MADDOW: Carol Rosenberg works for the "Miami Herald", but the whole country owes "The Miami Herald a debt of gratitude for employing her to stay on the Guantanamo beat when nobody else would. Thank you. I`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: I have one little piece of tape for you. It`s really short. This is an exchange from this afternoon. It`s between New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte and one of her constituents. This is at a town hall meeting that was today in northern New Hampshire. Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a question, but it`s based upon something that was said during the conversation and I`d like to be recognized to make my point. Thank you. SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Let me just say this, I do every town hall meeting this way, and we have a process and we will get to as many questions as we can. So -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You like to regulate that. You don`t want to regulate guns. AYOTTE: Well -- (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was today in northern New Hampshire. It turns out that Senate vote to filibuster background checks for gun sales, even though 90 percent of the country wants that, it turns out that filibuster vote was not taken anonymously. People know how their senator voted on that. The political price of those votes is starting to get rung up. That`s coming up in just a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Ten years ago tomorrow, President George W. Bush pretended to land a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier. He was wearing a flight suit. He went somewhere inside the aircraft carrier and took off his clothes and changed into a suit so he could stand behind this podium and declare the month-old war in Iraq to be all but over. We have prevailed! Mission accomplished! See? It says so right on the banner. The same day, mission accomplished day, while President Bush was declaring victory in the battle of Iraq and saying that major combat operations were over, that same day, First Lieutenant Paul Rieckhoff`s platoon received their order to ship out to Baghdad. That was 10 years ago tomorrow. Paul started serving his tour in Baghdad, and ended up being in house- to-house fighting as a platoon leader. That`s what Lieutenant Rieckhoff was working on then. This is what he`s working on now, as the founder and CEO of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, IAVA. This is the average amount of time that veterans have to wait now for their benefits claims, for their disability benefits claims to be processed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The problem is particularly acute for the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem has been building for years. The V.A. has been assuring everyone for years they`re working on it, but the facts remain that the problem has gotten worse, the problem has continued to get worse not better year after year. Well, this week, 67 senators from both parties signed a letter to the president calling on him to personally get involved in fixing this problem. IAVA itself submitted tens of thousands of signatures a couple of weeks ago demanding the same thing. As we talked about on the show last night, there`s been a rash of top- level staff departing from the V.A. recently. The chief of staff of the agency, and the chief technology officer both left in March. The chief information officer left a few weeks later. Yesterday, the deputy secretary, the man in charge of day-to-day operations at the V.A., they`re all gone, all out in just a matter of weeks. Even when they had not always been in lockstep with other veterans organizations, IAVA has been really good at putting the pressure on on this problem. They have publicized the issue. They have put vets out there to tell their personal stories in the press and on the Capitol Hill. They have used social media to make this a familiar issue, to circulate it widely, to get people talking about it. They got freaking Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid to sign on to same letter asking the president for the same thing. Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren signed on to the same letter. This is a lot of pressure being brought to bear. And seeing these high-level departures all at once, it`s kind of like seeing a building under pressure when the bricks start to pop off the facade. Look out below. So, here`s my question: this pressure now is evident. Is the pressure going to fix the problem? Joining us now is Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who no longer has hair. (LAUGHTER) PAUL RIECKHOFF, IAVA: Thank you. We can hook you up -- (CROSSTALK) MADDOW: It`s great. RIECKHOFF: Yes. MADDOW: So, first of all, I have to say, congratulations on how hard you have been able to push on this issue, how much pressure you have been able to apply. Do you think it will help fix the problem? RIECKHOFF: I hope so. That`s why we`re doing it. I mean, we`re just spook on the wheel. There are now 13 national veterans groups that have stood with us and are calling on the president to end the V.A. backlog. So, it`s a team game. It`s got to be a team game in Washington to move this ball forward. And our goal is simple: get the backlog to zero. If it takes two years, we`re not going to stop until we get there because that`s what our veterans deserve. I just came back from Boston today. In Boston, if you file a disability claim for benefits, you`re going to wait on average 517 days. That`s average. MADDOW: To hear. Not to start getting benefits. To hear whether or not you are going to get. RIECKHOFF: Right. In New York, in Reno, in L.A., it`s around 600 days. And if you file an appeal, you`re looking at two years. So, this system is clearly broken. Sixty-seven senators don`t agree on anything but they do agree the president has got to step in here and fix this. Once and for all, get involved, because it can`t just be the V.A. You`re focusing on the V.A. and that`s important. But the Department of Defense and the rest of the government agencies have to work together to fix this problem. That`s why we need the president to step up. We`ve heard from everybody in America basically, except the president. Now, we`ve got to hear from him. MADDOW: Well, I don`t -- I mean, I take your point on the relationship between the V.A. and the DOD. I was particularly interested to see when the deputy secretary quit, part of his remit was managing the relationship between the V.A. and DOD. So, the top guy on that is now gone and we`ll be replaced. I don`t think the V.A. is lying when they say they are trying to fix this. I just think they have been incapable of doing it. Why do you feel like personal, presidential involvement is the linchpin in terms of what`s going to make a practical difference? RIECKHOFF: Because of what you said. I mean, the V.A. has been trying to fix this problem for a decade and they`re focused on it again, and that`s a good thing. We know there are folks internally working very hard and we know they need help. And strength is asking for help, and we need the V.A. to ask for help, just like our veterans are asking for help every single day. And I think they have been but they need to do it faster. They need to get this done faster. This is not absurd. If you`re not outraged, you`re not paying attention. We got Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz to agree on this. MADDOW: Right. RIECKHOFF: Along with only combat vets left in the Senate, Senator McCain and Senator Lautenberg from different parties. And I think the real difference maker right here, Rachel, is we`ve got the American people behind us. They didn`t really know about this until recently. Now they know about it, the media is on it and the American public is not going to stop until we get this fixed, and that`s why we need the president to respond. Memorial Day is coming up. He`s going to have the opportunity to lead on this and it will help all veterans. MADDOW: I think of you, Paul, every mission accomplished day, since you were deploying to Baghdad and starting your tour as President Bush was declaring major combat operations are over. I have been reliving a lot of politics of the Iraq war because of the Bush library opening on mission accomplished day 10 days later, which is amazing to me. And the library itself is still really trying to argue the case for starting the war. On this date, on this anniversary while this stuff is happening, how do you think we have done as a country in separating our feelings about that war from our feelings from the people who fought it? The big picture thing we all worried about when you guys were first starting to come home? And the country was so against the war, 10 years on, how do you think we`re doing? RIECKHOFF: I think we`re doing a good job. And I think it`s been miraculous. We`ve finally learned to separate the war from the warriors, the people from the policy. And I think the Vietnam veterans, especially deserved credit. They said never again, it`s not going to happen what happened to us. And all the veterans that came before us made sure we were treated well when we came home. So, I think, overwhelmingly, the American public supports us, no matter where you live, no matter who you voted for. But now, we need the government to catch up, right? So, if you do support the troops, it`s 10 years later, there`s another mission that`s definitely not accomplished and that`s fixing the V.A. I never thought 10 years ago when I was in Iraq that this would be a problem 10 years later. It`s absolutely absurd. So, I think this is a good chance for us to take the next step and continue to turn the page on how our veterans have been treated in the past. MADDOW: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO and founder Paul Rieckhoff, thank you very much for being here tonight and I`m sorry I talk to you about you hair again. RIECKHOFF: That`s OK. Thank you for staying on this issue. MADDOW: I`ll get you a wig later, I know (INAUDIBLE). (CROSSTALK) MADDOW: All right. The great state of Massachusetts held primary elections for John Kerry`s vacant U.S. Senate seat today. Based on the turnout, that probably comes as new information to more than a few of you, even if you`re all watching me from Massachusetts right now. That story`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Today in the great state of Massachusetts, Democrats and Republicans got to pick the Senate candidates who will run in the June election to fill the seat that was previously held by John Kerry who`s no longer in the Senate because now he`s secretary of state. So, today was the primary election. And that means it`s that time again. (MUSIC) MADDOW: I`m like Pavlov`s dog. I salivate at the sound. All right. Polls closed in Massachusetts a little more than an hour ago. In the Democratic side, "The A.P." is now declaring that Democratic Congressman Ed Markey is the winner. It had been foretold in the polls and it`s now official. Congressman Markey is seen as the more liberal of the two Democrats who are on the ballot today. But the polls closed, he appears to have defeated the more conservative Democrat, Congressman Stephen Lynch. Eighty-five percent of precincts, Congressman Markey leading Congressman Lynch with 57 percent of the vote to 43 percent for the second place finisher. So, that`s the Democratic side. On the Republican side, "The A.P." has declared a winner and it is Gabriel Gomez, who has never run for public office before but who raised a ton of money for this race, and was the only guy to run TV ads. He`s a military veteran, a former Navy SEAL. He beat the former U.S. attorney Mike Sullivan and a Republican state rep named Dan Winslow to win the Republican nomination today. So, with Gabriel Gomez winning on the Republican side and Ed Markey winning on the Democratic side, we now have what looks to be our matchup for the June 25th special election to replace John Kerry in the U.S. Senate. I don`t know how that will shake out in June. One thing we do know is that the dominating feature of the primary today was that nobody voted. Turnout was like tumbleweeds. It`s based on anecdotal reports from precincts across the state. One note on this, looking ahead, the date the general election is scheduled for, June 25th, at least the Boston part of Massachusetts is again scheduled to be otherwise occupied on the day that general election is going to happen. June 25th ought to be right in the middle of the sure to be salacious trial of this man, the single most famous person in all of Massachusetts. If there were no other household name in Massachusetts, it would be his household name, Boston mobster Whitey Bulger. The special election for the Senate seat is likely to fall right in the middle of his criminal trial. He was one of the FBI`s most wanted criminals who eluded capture for some 16 years. So, if you think people didn`t turn out today for the primary, wait until the general election held right in the middle of Whitey`s trial. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Check out this new ad. This is from the mom`s group that formed on Facebook right after Sandy Hook. The group is called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. This is the new ad they`ve done. I think it is really, really good. (BGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I want to begin by saying that -- GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Our nation is shocked and saddened by the news of shootings at Virginia Tech today. OBAMA: The majority of those that died today were children. BUSH: The exact toll has not yet been confirmed. CLINTON: To the people of the community of Littleton. OBAMA: Our hearts are broken today. As a country, we have been through this too many times. BUSH: Schools should be places of safety. OBAMA: Whether it`s in elementary school in Newtown. CLINTON: Perhaps we may never fully understand it. OBAMA: We`re going to have to come together and take meaningful action. BUSH: In any way we can. OBAMA: Regardless of the politics. CLINTON: To the parents who have lost their beloved children. BUSH: My administration would do everything possible. CLINTON: To prevent anything from this happening again. OBAMA: May God bless the memory of the victims. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That ad launched today by Moms Demand Action, ending with a capital switchboard line for people to call their U.S. senators. I see a lot of issue ads in this job. I think this is a really, really good one. In the last election, in 2012 election, you might remember that for a long time, conservatives refused to believe the polls, right up to the night of the election, Mitt Romney for president campaign believed the conservative line that the polls just could not be trusted, even though the polls said they would lose, they were convinced they would win. The Romney folks did not win. The polls that said Mitt Romney would lose the presidential race were accurate polls. The polling firm that did the best work, the most precise work in foretelling the results of the 2012 election was this firm, PPP, Public Policy Polling. Their polls correctly foretold the results of the election in 49 out of 50 states. Well, this week, PPP polls came to a new conclusion about the state of the electorate. They found that this man is the most disliked person in the whole United States Senate. Congratulations, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. You have only been in office four months and already, your approval rating is the worst in the nation. Jeff Flake has a 32 percent approval rating. Thirty-two percent, that`s like as bad as the Republican governors who everybody hates, that`s Rick Scott level bad. That`s Tom Corbett level bad. That`s atrocious. That is the worst in the U.S. Senate. Senator Flake initially responded to the PPP poll by saying PPP is a terrible organization, they don`t know what they`re talking about. He said, "If we believe PPP polls, I wouldn`t be here at all." Actually, sir, PPP was not only the most accurate pollster of all of them in 2012, PPP accurately predicted the outcome in Jeff Flake for Senate race. So, yes, attacking the accuracy of the poll that says you`re less popular than pond scum does not make you any less popular, or more popular. It makes you kind of like pond scum. And today, Senator Jeff Flake finally admitted on Facebook that, yes, he is in his words less popular than pond scum. The senator accurately noting the poll showed that his -- that a majority of Arizonans say they are less likely to vote for him because of his vote against background checks for gun sales. It probably also does not help the senator that he wrote to one of his constituents ahead of that vote, he wrote to a grieving mother whose son was killed at the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting and he told her in a handwritten note that he would vote for better background checks right before he voted against them. So, yes, pond scum, that`s his phrase for himself, not mine, by the way. Literally. That probably puts me somewhere just below pond scum. It`s not ad hominem if you admit it. But that general trend of the vote on background checks having real consequences for senator is not just a Jeff Flake thing. It was noticed first last week when PPP polling showed that the approval ratings were going up for Pat Toomey who sponsored the background checks legislation. At the same time that approval ratings were going down for Kelly Ayotte, who`s the only senator in the Northeast who have voted against it. Here is how it looks in chart forms. You can see senators` fortunes rising if they supported background checks and falling if they voted against. That was Senator Toomey going up and Senator Ayotte going down. Well, now, we`ve got more. Not only has Kelly Ayotte tanked in the polls since voting against background checks, here she is today holding her town halls in her home state since that vote. They have been very contentious thus far. Not only has Senator Ayotte tanked in the polls since voting against background checks. Not only has Senator Jeff Flake tanked in the polls since voting against background checks, but all of these senators that voted against background checks have seen their poll numbers drop since the vote. Both Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich in Alaska, Senator Dean Heller in Nevada, Senator Rob Portman in Ohio, they all voted against background checks, and they`ve all seen their poll numbers drop since. And in every one of those polls, a plurality of their constituents say that the vote against background checks makes it less likely that senator will ever get their vote. If you`re wondering why Joe Manchin says he is not giving up on the issue and he`s bringing this background thing back up for vote with whatever tweaks are needed to get it to pass this time, those are the kinds of poll numbers that are why. Also, this kind of pressure is why. Here is another new ad. This starts running tomorrow. Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m a grandmother, a hunter, and a gun owner. I`ve been the victim of a home invasion. I hid my girls in a closet, called for help, aimed my handgun at the door and waited. Guns can protect us, but we`re less safe with guns in the wrong hands. Seventy-nine percent of Montana voters support background checks, so why did Senator Max Baucus vote against us? Senator Baucus, now that you`re retiring, please put Montana first. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That`s a new ad from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. It`s running in Helena, Montana, Missoula, Montana, and Billings, Montana, starting tomorrow, as well as running in D.C. It follows this print ad with the same message basically that targeted Senator Baucus in 20 different Montana newspapers this past week. The families of kids who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary were out there again today, still working relentlessly. Today, in New Jersey, asking legislatures there to vote for a limit on high capacity magazines. Nicole Hockley whose son Dylan was killed at Sandy Hook told legislatures today that although her son died, his classroom was the one where 11 kids escaped and lived while the killer reloaded his guns. She said today that Dylan was not able to escape. I`m one of those parents who ask myself every day, every minute, if those magazines had held 10 rounds instead 30 rounds, forcing the shooter to reload many more times, would my son be alive today? The Newtown families are still pushing. The groups pushing for reform are still pushing. The country still says background checks make sense. The senators who vote against that sentiment are paying the price. This is not over. This is not over by any stretch of the imagination. Watch this space. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." Thanks for being with us. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END