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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/06/13

Guests: Chris Murphy

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for this next hour. At the end of what has frankly been a really, really weird news day. Today, President Obama made one of his patented bipartisan outreach efforts. He played a golf foursome with one Democratic senator and two Republican senators. But because it is kind of a weird news day, the headline out of the golf outing ended up being that one of the Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, apparently hit a hole in one. Seriously. Mazel tov, Senator. In New York today, yet another state legislator was arrested and taken into custody by the FBI. This is kind of starting to feel like a daily occurrence in New York state politics. The really bizarre revelation around this latest arrest, though, is that the narc, the person who wore a wire to help law enforcement in this case, is yet another member of the New York state legislature. So far, we know of a Democratic state assemblyman and now a Democratic state senator who were both wearing recording equipment to help law enforcement catch other allegedly corrupt members of the state legislature while they themselves were going about their daily, allegedly corrupt New York state legislative business. Wow. Today in northern Virginia, a senior defense official told NBC News that the United States Air Force has fired the lieutenant colonel who is in charge of the Air Force`s sexual assault prevention and response office. The reason they fired the guy in charge of sexual assault prevention in the Air Force is because he was arrested over the weekend for alleged assault. Himself. I told you this was a freakish day in the news. There`s also the usual suspects on the right trying to get us involved in another war in the Middle East. We`ve got more on that coming up this hour. Plus, there`s a congressional election tomorrow. We`ve got more on that as well. But in today`s news, in today`s sort of freakish news day, news that all seemed normal on the surface, but turns out none of it was, today the most visually compelling news story in the country was this. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYS) MADDOW: Hey, look. It is the 3D printer gun guys again. This is their latest publicity stunt. They now have done a bunch of videos like this now. With each one they get more and more coverage. And they`re set up like classic publicity stunts. I mean, the guys who are behind this whole effort to get attention to the idea of home manufacturing guns using 3D printers, they`re becoming one of the news business is known as unavoidable for comment, which means they`re very good at getting the media to tell their story the way they want their story told. The story is pretty simple to tell at base level. The reason this guy is firing such a funny looking gun, a silly looking gun, is because the gun is made of plastic. It is made of the kind of polymer material that a 3D printer spits out when it uses computerized design files to provide the specifications to build objects like a toy dinosaur or a car or in this case, a gun. And the fact that they`re 3D printing guns means, yes, if you have a 3D printer, you can make a gun at home. Their previous publicity stunts have shown parts of guns being printed and other parts being metal that you had to buy off the shelf. What`s new from them now is that in their latest stunt in their latest video, they`re demonstrating the successful firing of a gun that has zero store bought parts. It has one store bought part. They use a nail as a firing pin. So just a regular old nail that you can buy at a hardware store, but other than that, the whole thing is 3D printed. It`s all plastic. However, thanks to this guy, plastic guns are illegal in the United States. Ronald Reagan in 1988 signed into law something called the Undetectable Firearms Act. It bans any gun in the United States that doesn`t set off a metal detector, for obvious reasons. This plastic gun could functionally be made entirely of plastic, except for that one little nail, which might not set off a metal detector because it`s very small. Just to comply with Ronald Reagan`s plastic gun ban from 1988, the publicity stunt guys who made this weapon, quote, "inserted a six ounce cube of nonfunctional steel into the body of the gun, which, of course, makes it detectable with a metal detector. So the publicity stunt guys have put that piece of metal into the gun in order to comply with the law. But functionally, the metal does not have to be there. That piece of steel they have dropped into the gun is nonfunctional. Anybody else who 3D prints the gun based on their specifications, based on the program they`re going to distribute, might not put that piece of metal in there. So that means that any place right now that is protected metal detectors, so airplanes, and public events and, oh, I don`t know, say the White House, those places now are not protected from guns anymore. If you can make an all plastic gun that won`t set off a metal detector, then what good does a metal detector do at keeping a gun out of that place? And if that`s what you are doing, if you`re designing an all plastic gun that can evade metal detectors, it`s actually an interesting decision that you`re not doing that in secret. That you`re doing it as a publicity hound, that you`re trying to talk about it all the time, and get as much press as you can. The 3D printer gun guys brought a reporter from "Forbes" magazine to watch them pull off their latest stunt with their all plastic gun. But they didn`t want to just be seen. They also wanted to expound on why they`re doing this thing. There is a political motivation of what they`re doing. They describe it as a radical libertarian anarchist agenda. The goal is to, quote, "to demonstrate how technology can circumvent laws until governments simply become irrelevant." Quote, "This is about enabling individuals to create their own sovereign space. The government will increasingly be on the sidelines saying, `hey, wait." It`s about creating a new order." So that`s why you don`t do this secretly. You do this publicly. You try to get as much attention as you can to make government seem beside the point, to make government seem impotent and irrelevant, so ultimately in your anarchist utopia, government will wither and die on the vine and we`ll all self-govern ourselves. Without government, we can move forward into a well-armed anarchist utopia where everyone fends for themselves with stupid-looking plastic looking guns that sometimes blow up after one shot. That`s why there is such a publicity effort around this. It`s a political effort to try to do away with government. And that is one way to fight the government. The other way to fight the government, of course, is to shoot at the government. The other quite visually compelling, distracting news story was this, the head and torso shooting target on display in the vendors area of the NRA convention that just ended in Houston, Texas. As you can see from this particular target, it is designed to look like President Obama, like a zombie sort of green President Obama, and the novelty trick with these types of targets is when you shoot them, they appear to bleed. So this is a target where you can effectively practice shooting at and killing or wounding a dead ringer for President Obama. At the same convention, the NRA elected their new president, who explicitly makes his case against gun control by saying Americans should be arming themselves and training to fight the government with weapons. That`s why we can`t have gun control. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES PORTER, NRA PRESIDENT: One of our most brightest charges that we can have today is to train the civilian in the use of the standard military firearm so when they have to fight for their country, they`re ready to do it. Also, when they`re ready to fight tyranny, they`re ready to do it. Also, when they`re ready to fight tyranny, they have the wherewithal and the weapons to do it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That is the new president of the National Rifle Association explaining we need weapons to fight a tyrannical government -- the wherewithal and the weapons to fight tyranny. If you were going to fight the U.S. government, if you were going to physically fight the U.S. government, what would you need in order to do that? Presumably you would be fighting to win, not just fighting to make a symbolic stand and then lose. If you were going to fight the U.S. government and you planned on physically defeating the U.S. government in a fight, the U.S. government is tyrannical and must be overthrown and you`re up against them, what would you want to be able to wage that fight? Want to be able to defeat the United States in battle? So, you`d be up against, like, just for perspective sake, you`d be up against, like, the Navy SEALs. You`d be up against the 82nd Airborne. You`d be up against Apache attack helicopters and F-16s and B-2 stealth bombers. You would be up against the whole nuclear triad of nuclear bombs that could be lunched from submarines and from bombers and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads that we can shoot from like North Dakota and stuff. So, if that`s what you are up against, what do you need to be able to win that fight? If that is the tyrannical force that you are going to fight and your plans to fight the U.S. government are the basis for how you right now in 2013 are figuring out what weapons should be legal in this country, you are going to need everything you can get your hands on. I mean, ideally, you really should have your own nuclear weapons. But until you can figure that out, you`re going to need non-detectable weapons you can sneak past metal detectors, you`re going to need fully automatic machine guns, you`re going to need antiaircraft. I mean, you`re going to need a lot of things that are currently illegal for civilians to own in this country . When the plastic gun ban passed in 1988, and Ronald Reagan was the president who signed it into law, the vote in favor of the plastic gun ban was 413 votes in favor, and four votes against. One of the four votes against banning plastic guns was cast by Dick Cheney, who then went on to become vice president. But even he, by the time he was running for vice president, said he regretted that vote. And he would have voted to ban plastic guns had it been brought up in a more procedurally sound manner. So, even Dick Cheney. So, that means the vote wouldn`t have been 413-4, it would have been 415 -- 414-3 and Dick Cheney been able to change his vote. If the plastic gun ban was not already law right now, and it was coming up for discussion right now in this Congress, would it pass? Two years before the ban on plastic guns, same president, Ronald Reagan, also signed into law a ban on average civilians owning machine guns for their own personal use. If that were not already the law today, if machine guns were legal today, and there was a proposal in Congress to make them illegal, could that pass? Would Republicans in Congress today support that? When the NRA convention convened in Houston this weekend, Vice President Joe Biden greeted them by writing an op-ed in the local paper, in "The Houston Chronicle", so that anybody in town for the convention if they looked in the local paper would find a note from him. The vice president`s op-ed, he starts a hopeful sort of non-confrontational note, saying that background checks are going to be expanded. He`s not giving up. They`re going to keep working on it. He said, "In the end, I believe we will prevail and those who wrote off gun safety legislation last month will come to realize that moment was not the end at all, it was the turning point." Is he right? And how will that be tested? Joining us now is U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Senator Murphy, thank you so much for being here tonight. It`s nice to have you here. SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: What do you make of what the new NRA president, his line is about gun control? Saying we need to be training every U.S. citizen in the use of standard military firearms, to defend against tyranny by the government. How does that fit into what you have been participating in, which is the legislative debate about gun safety? MURPHY: Well, you know, this guy is really kind of the wing nuts` wing nut. And he exposes what the NRA has really become. I mean, the NRA kind of announced this weekend they`re morphing into a paramilitary group, that essentially they`re going to be advocating for armed resistance to the U.S. government. And, listen, as is true in a lot of politics, and a lot of public policy, what`s behind this I think is money. I mean, the fact is, is that the gun manufacturers who are a big part of the NRA`s constituency have been hurting, right? I mean, they used to sell guns to half of Americans. Now they sell guns to only about a third of Americans. And so, a new citizen paramilitary force is a pretty nice business model for the gun industry. So, when you got an NRA president going out there and saying we need to arm Americans in order to fight our government, well, that sells a lot more guns and that means more dues into the NRA and that means a little bit bigger budget to play with. So, I think this is just what the NRA has become. It`s not a gun safety organization. It`s not an instructional organization. It is now a voice for the gun industry and the gun industry needs a handful of citizens to buy a whole mess of guns in order to stay solvent. I think that their choice of this radical new leader is kind of a signal that`s a direction that they`re permanently headed in. MADDOW: We have seen this divergence in what direction the states have gone in, since Newtown and since there has been such a discussion about gun violence in the country following the Newtown massacre. And there have been bipartisan efforts, like in your state, which is a blue state, but have bipartisan effort on this issue to move forward on gun reform. Other states that are in total red hands that are in full Republican control have gone the other direction. We have seen states like Alabama and Kansas and others try to essentially nullify federal gun laws saying if there is anything that happens federally that they perceive to be an infringement on the Second Amendment, those laws will be null and void in those states and will not allow them to be enforced. How do you view those measures? MURPHY: Well, they`re laughable. I mean, you know, let`s look at the context of nullification. Nullification was last used by Southern states to try to eviscerate civil rights legislation, to try to prevent states from basically enforcing desegregation and, frankly, I think history will look back on this round of nullification as kindly as it did on the last round. It`s laughable also because it`s a total bastardization of the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment is not an absolute right. It`s not a God- given right. It has always had conditions upon it, just like the First Amendment has. And this idea that the Second Amendment was put in there in order to allow citizens to fight their government is insane. If that was the case, we wouldn`t have also included treason in the United States Constitution. We basically said if you take arms up against the government, we`re going to knock your block off. And that`s what the early presidents ended up doing in the Shay`s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion. So, the Second Amendment is not designed to allow the citizenry to arm itself against the government and nullification is just another example of states not understanding the true nature of that amendment. MADDOW: Do you think we`re moving into a phase, though, where we`re actually going to be hearing from the other side of this argument, from the NRA side of this argument, sort of fundamentalism in terms of what people ought to have access to? I mean, if their president now argues that the basis for the Second Amendment, the basis for all of their political stands is the idea of arming people to take up weapons against the government, don`t you expect them to be arguing for legalized machine guns, for legalized plastic guns that can evade detection, which we know can now be 3D printed, even if it is crudely, that they should be looking at the kinds of weaponry that could do more damage even against a military force? MURPHY: Yes, listen, I think they`re going to look at the 3D gun industry to the extent it exists or will exist as a new source of money. And I absolutely am confident that the NRA is going to fight our efforts, which is under way today, to try to put regulations around these 3D guns, should they be marketable in the near future. You know, but, ultimately the NRA isn`t going to win this argument. In the end, we are going to pass a bill that puts all gun sales under the background checks because the NRA is moving so far out of the mainstream that it is going to make it a lot easier for the senators and the representatives that are on the edge to side with 90 percent of Americans who want these changes. I think the NRA overestimates the degree to which they can just move themselves off the cliff. At some point, members of Congress are going to realize these guys don`t speak for anybody other than the gun industry, and I really do believe that the vice president and the president are as sincere as I am and Senator Blumenthal and Senator Manchin, that we`re not letting this issue go and, frankly, the NRA is giving us fodder to try to bring some of these senators back into the conversation with weekends like this last one. MADDOW: U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, thank you so much for your time tonight, sir. MURPHY: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: Good to have you. Thank you. It is interesting to think about what the two sides of this argument are right now. Like if it`s a seesaw, where is the fulcrum, right, that the NRA and the rest of the country -- the NRA tells that story, they like to imagine the fulcrum in the middle of the seesaw. But right now, we know that with polling, the NRA is on one side of the seesaw, 90 percent of the American public is on the other side. We now know that on the NRA side is also the argument that we must be taking up arms in order to potentially fight a military battle against the U.S. government. So, it`s that argument and maybe 10 percent of the population on their side of the argument and everything else that is normal in argument, and that represents 90 percent of American opinion on the other. That is the seesaw that only goes one direction. I`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In the last presidential election, South Carolina was not close. In November`s election, South Carolina picked Mitt Romney over President Obama by 11 points. South Carolina was a very red state this past time around. But South Carolina`s first congressional district is even redder than the whole state. In the first congressional district in South Carolina, Mitt Romney beat President Obama not by 11 points, which was the state wide margin, but by 18 points. And that very Republican district is the district that is about to have a special election tomorrow to pick a new member of Congress. And because it is such a Republican district, you would expect any Republican to have a huge advantage heading into tomorrow`s voting. But instead, in this particular district, in South Carolina, heading into tomorrow`s voting, it`s essentially a jump ball. It`s essentially a tied game. And that is because the Republicans did not pick just any Republican for this congressional race. They picked this guy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARK SANFORD (R-SC), FORMER GOVERNOR: I`ve let down a lot of people. I`ve been unfaithful to my wife. Started out as a dear, dear friend from Argentina, it began very innocently. About a year ago, it sparked into something more than that. I have seen her three times since then, during that whole sparking thing. I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina -- (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The rambling statement at that press conference went on and on and on for almost 20 minutes as he ruminated on the sparking thing and all the rest of it. That was less than four years ago. But today, disgraced former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is the Republican nominee for Congress in that South Carolina election that`s going to be held tomorrow. The last round of polling heading into tomorrow`s race shows that it is essentially a tied game, in a district that is almost twice as Republican as the very Republican state of South Carolina, Republicans should be able to elect almost anyone in this district who has an "R" after their name. But the fact that Republicans picked Mark Sanford will be a test of the limits of that hypothesis. We will know in roughly 22 hours when the polls close in South Carolina. Watch this space. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, this is my nominee for 2013`s real politics headline that seems least likely to actually be true. You may have other contenders in mind for the awards this year, for 2013, but this so far, I think, is the best one yet of the entire year. It is a headline from the Web site of the CBS affiliate in Raleigh- Durham, North Carolina. Are you ready? Here it is. Senate passes bills to allow hunting with silencers, comma, require cursive writing instruction. So, you want genteel? The North Carolina Senate has got your back. Hunting in peace and quiet, killing your prey without any other prey having any idea, and then writing home about it in lovely perfectly formed script, like ladies and gentlemen do -- acting at the same time on hunting with silencers and requiring cursive. There is a reason North Carolina is full of protests all of a sudden, with a lot of people living in North Carolina basically lighting their hair on fire and trying to alert the country about that is going on in that state`s politics. Hunting with silencers is part of that. What could possibly go wrong? Another part of that is coming up in just a moment. And, we have got a best new thing in the world coming up at the end of the show tonight that brings the cursive crisis very close to home. That`s all coming up still. Hold on. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDO CLIPS) REP. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: I think we also need to move towards imposing a no-fly zone, so Bashar al Assad cannot continue to use helicopter gunships against civilians and so his refugees he`s creating aren`t destabilizing our allies. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: One way to stop the Syrian air force from flying is to bomb the Syrian air bases with cruise missiles. You don`t need to go deep into Syria to do that. If you can neutralize the air advantage the Syrian government has over the rebels, I think you could turn the tide of battle pretty quickly. SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: I think we can take affirmative action. Lindsey referred to cruise missiles. We`ve got F-22s and B-2s that can take out the antiaircraft missiles that they have and they are very sophisticated. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: One thing I learned about some of our military, some of our military leaders, if they don`t want to do something, they can invent lots of ways not to do it. The fact is we`re capable of taking out their air on the ground with cruise missiles, cratering their runways, where all of these supplies, by the way, from Iran, and Russia, are coming in by air. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: The Republican Party is starting to get excited about the prospect of another war in the Middle East, another American war in the Middle East, because, of course, what they want is not for us to start a new one, but for us to join a war that is already in progress. The civil war inside Syria has been going on for two years now. Israel this weekend waded into it again, not for first time, but in its most dramatic fashion yet. There`s not total clarity on what sites Israel hit with its air strikes this weekend or why they chose those sites. Or even how many sites it was that Israel hit. Israel is not formally acknowledging that it launched those attacks. They usually don`t, at least not until a long time after. But it seems clear that Israel`s acting in its own interest here. And not because they are allying themselves with one side in the war, or trying to pick a winner. Adding to the wooliness of the situation was the odd assertion this weekend from a very prominent U.N. investigator. Carla del Ponte telling an interviewer this weekend that if anybody was using chemical weapons in Syria, she said that there was strong suspicions that it wasn`t the government side, it was the rebel side. Then, the part of the U.N. that`s actually investigating claims like that in Syria immediately put out a statement denying that, effectively saying, no, no, no. We know she said that, but really we know nothing of the kind. We don`t know what she`s talking out. So, yes there is a war on in Syria. That much is clear. The rest of it, including chemical weapons and what Israel is doing and why, all of it remains woolly at best and unknowable at worst. But here at home, to the exact same people who insisted that the last war in the Middle East, the war in Iraq would be easy, we would be greeted as liberators, to them, to those exact same folks, the whole situation in Syria right now is clear as day, we can easily get involved with no risk to ourselves. The only question is why we have not started bombing already. Joining us now is MSNBC contributor and former Democratic congressman, Patrick Murphy. He was a captain with the 82nd Airborne and part of the initial invasion force in Iraq where he earned a Bronze Star. In Congress, he served in both the Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee. Congressman Murphy, thank you for being here. PATRICK MURPHY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Rachel. First time in person. MADDOW: Is that true? MURPHY: That`s true. MADDOW: I see you around here, but you never get to sit at my table. MURPHY: Well, first time for everything. MADDOW: And feels like deja vu because I feel like it is 2002 and we`re talking about Iraq. Obviously, you had a re different perspective on Iraq because you were part of the -- you were part of the invasion force preparing to head over there while the debate was going on. But how do you hear these hawkish arguments that we ought to get involved and it will be easy to do so? MURPHY: Well, it`s like you said, it`s like deja vu all over again. MADDOW: Yes. MURPHY: And the same war hawks that go us into Iraq are now trying to get us into Syria. And Syria is a lose-lose situation because, Rachel, the two sides, it`s either Hezbollah or al Qaeda, what side do you want to take? The American people don`t want either side because neither -- they`re both not good for us. And, you know, as disturbing to see the war drums beating and beating and beating, and so many folks as you pointed out are going along with it, hook, line and sinker. Real quick, McCain`s quote, which I thought was great, well, you know, I`ve been around the military, they don`t do something, they`ll make up reasons. Yes, listen to the military experts. They don`t want to get involved in this war in a civil war between Sunnis and Shia all over again because we have no strategic endgame. MADDOW: That`s -- that`s the point actually -- there`s a couple of things that General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has been saying that I wanted to ask you about. And the first was that he`s saying, listen, the objective everybody wants to achieve here, the military, our political leaders, any civilian who cares about this, everybody around the world, the outcome that everybody wants is for there to be a political resolution, for there to be stability in Syria and people to stop dying there. What about us intervening militarily, makes you think we`re going get any closer to that goal? Do you think he`s right about it? MURPHY: I think he`s absolutely right. And, listen, I served under General Dempsey. He`s our commander in Baghdad. And, listen, he`s a tough son of a bitch. But he`s a smart guy, West Point graduate. He said very clearly, listen, what Barack Obama did a couple of years ago in Libya with Gadhafi, basically, he did what`s called the quarterback approach, he said, this is what we`ll do, we`ll have command and control, give you our intelligence and France and England, you go out for the pass and I got you, you go do it. In this case, everyone is, like, I don`t want to get in this game because there is no endgame and, you know, until other folks, like Russia and others step up, we`re doing the right thing and thinking through this thing, because unlike in Libya, the air defense system in Syria is about five times stronger than it was in Libya. So, what that means, Rachel, when people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham say, let`s do a no-fly zone, first that costs $2 billion, second, it is going to cost American lives because our sorties are going to get -- some will be shot down. So, you basically go to those families and say, I`m sorry, on behalf of a grateful nation, I`m sorry your son and daughters gave their lives to support al Qaeda. MADDOW: To support the Syrian rebels here, some of whom are allied with al Qaeda. MURPHY: Right. MADDOW: You know, on the air defense side of it, one of the new arguments since Israel launched airstrikes there, since Israel has been bombing sites in Syria and, again, they never explained what they`re doing, we don`t even know precisely what exactly they`re hitting, but does that show that sites can be bombed in Syria, that things can be taken out from the air, without risk? MURPHY: No, this is like apples and oranges. What Israel did over the weekend was basically take out the Hezbollah armaments because they said they don`t want these certain armaments that could hurt their people. It`s basically saying, self-preservation, we`re not going to let Hezbollah get their hands on these weapons. And so they took them out, and a strategic strike. That is apples. That is completely different than a complete no-fly zone where it is -- takes a lot of manpower. It takes our men and women going into harm`s way. And, oh, by the way, Rachel what Israel did, when they launched the weapons, these attacks, it was like a three-point shot. They weren`t in the lane compared to basketball. They were probably not even Syrian air space. They were up in the air and they`re shooting over and then double back. If we do a no-fly zone, that means our planes are going to be in -- that`s basically declaring war on Syria when the U.N. Security Council didn`t act on it, when Russia still basically is in bed with Syria. Now, thank God John Kerry is there and trying to get diplomatic means, but until we take that quarterback approach, until we get folks to say, let`s do this together, there is no strategic endgame. These guys just are so hungry for war, and I don`t know if it is because of the military industrial complex or what it is, or just basically they`re fake tough guys, are trying to send our men and women into harm`s way and some of them are going to die. MADDOW: Patrick Murphy, MSNBC contributor, former Democratic congressman, thank you for your time tonight. I have a feeling we`re going to be having this conversation a lot because at this point, the right is dominating the conversation because they want to be having it more than anybody else and it does feel like 2002 all over again. Thank you, sir. Great to have you. MURPHY: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled very succinctly that states have to allow students to vote in the same towns where they go to school. But as they say in North Carolina, equally succinctly, court schmort. That story is coming up. Hold on. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This weekend in Ohio, they marked the anniversary of this spring day at Kent State University in 1970, when National Guard troops opened fire on American students protesting against the Vietnam War. The American military is not supposed to fire on American civilians this way, but they did. They killed four students, they injured nine. The students gathered to express their political position against the Vietnam War. They wanted to be heard in that political debate, even though many of them were not yet old enough to vote. In 1970, the year of the Kent State shootings, the voting age in this country was still 21. So, if you were 18 or if you were 19 or if you were 20, you could get drafted into war. You stood a good chance of getting forced into service in the Vietnam War. But even so, at 18 or 19 or 20, you could not vote for or against the politicians who would send you to that war. You were old enough to fight, but not old enough to vote. That situation seemed unfair enough to enough people that the country voted to change that idea. Students marched for the right to vote. They marched and lobbied and pushed and organized to lower the voting age to 18, to the same age at which you could be drafted. And the students got what they wanted. They got a voice in the process in the form of a new amendment to the United States Constitution. President Richard Nixon signed it over the July 4th holiday in 1971. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: It seems to me it is particularly appropriate that on this same day, we are certifying the 26th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. That amendment, as you know, provides for the right to vote of all of our young people between 18 and 21, 11 million new voters as a result of this amendment. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Eleven million new voters -- 11 million new voters who were suddenly eligible both to serve their country in the military and to have a say in how their country was run. That idea was not universally celebrated in this country. In college towns from Lexington, Kentucky, to Middlebury, Vermont, they sued to try to stop the local students from voting. They sued in New Jersey and Mississippi and Pennsylvania and Texas. They sued in Michigan. This is not a regional. It happened almost everywhere. And almost everywhere, the courts found that if anybody over age 18 could vote, and vote where they lived, well that applied to college students too. College students over the age of 18 have a constitutional right to register and vote from where they are living to go to school. When one of those lawsuits ended up at the California Supreme Court, the court wrote these few lines of emphatic poetry, basically in taking the voting right side. Quote, "America`s youth entreated, pleaded for, demanded a voice in the governance of this nation. On campuses by the hundreds, at Lincoln`s Monument, by the hundreds of thousands, they voiced their frustration at their electoral impotence and their love of a country which they believed to be abandoning its ideals. Many more worked quietly and effectively within a system that gave them scant recognition. And in the land of Vietnam, they lie as proof that death accords youth no protected status. Their struggle for recognition divided a nation against itself. Congress and more than three-fourths of states have now determined in their wisdom that youth shall have a new birth of freedom, the franchise, rights won at the cost of so much individual and social suffering may not and shall not be curtailed on the basis of hoary fictions that these men and women are children tied to residential apron strings." Dang. In other words, students can vote where they go to college, settled. But the holdout of all holdouts, the place where they dug in harder than anywhere else to try to make that not so, was this place, Waller County, Texas. Waller County is not all that far from Houston, but is a relatively rural county. It also has one university called Prairie View A&M. Prairie View is a historically black university. It was founded after the Civil War on old plantation land. Today, Prairie View has several thousand students, most but not all of them are African-American. The school graduates a lot of engineers, nurses, teachers. Through its ROTC program, it graduates a lot of Army officers. The deputy commander for Desert Storm graduated from Prairie View. Prairie View is also known for its band, the famous Marching Storm. Look how good they are. If you are within reaching distance of Waller County, Texas, at home coming this fall, all the tape I looked at today said you should go. Their band is really, really good. We know from the record that Prairie View students, the ones who are old enough, began trying to register to vote in 1966. That was the year after Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. We know from the historical record that the local registrar of voters didn`t like the idea -- started forcing these new would be voters, people he said he did not know, to take extra steps and jump through extra hoops in order to be registered to vote. When the voting age was then lowered to 18, and more Prairie View students started trying to register to vote, that local registrar typed up a questionnaire the new people, the people he said he did not know and who did not own property in the county. He would ask them, are you a college student? What do you plan to do when you finish your college education? Do you belong to a church, club or some Waller County organization other than college-related? If you went to Prairie View and wanted to vote there, you went to this one registrar and answered the questions and waited for his answer. The caption on this old clipping says this is the registrar, LeRoy Symm, coming to give students his questionnaire to, quote, "determine whether they meet requirements for voting." That determination according to LeRoy Symm was almost always no. And so, the students at historically black Prairie View A&M in Waller County, Texas, did not get to vote at their school in the 1972 presidential elections. Like the rest of the students in America did. Over the next few years, the court would tell LeRoy Symm to let the students vote. Election officials in Texas made several trips to Prairie View trying to help the students vote. The Texas legislature passed a law telling that registrar to let the students there vote. But LeRoy Symm in Waller County, Texas, would not budge, not for those people he didn`t consider part of his community, who he didn`t think ought to be allowed to vote there. Well, in the next big national election in 1976, this particular Prairie View A&M student, a man named Sidney Hicks (ph), he took part in a voter registration drive. This is him holding the county`s questionnaire. Court papers show that the Prairie View students sent in several hundred applications to vote, maybe more than thousand. At most, three dozen got through. That year, Sidney Hicks ran for city council in Prairie View and won but was still not allowed to vote in the town. We spoke with Mr. Hicks today. He told us this, he said, "All we wanted was a part of an American dream, that all citizens have the right to vote." The year Sidney Hicks could not vote there, the federal government sued on behalf of the students at Prairie View. LeRoy Symm fought them in court after court. Until, finally, in 1979, in January, 1979, the United States Supreme Court issued a one sentence ruling for the Prairie View students. The Supreme Court said students have the right to vote at their college, whether the college is historically black Prairie View A&M or Harvard or anywhere else. The Supreme Court settled that question overtly and succinctly. The right of students to vote where they go to college is an overly, uncomplicatedly settled matter of law in this country. But something has happened in the last couple years, in which elected Republicans around the country, again not regionally specific, but around the country, Republicans in the last couple years have decided that they just cannot abide this piece of settled law. Forget the Supreme Court. They are back to desperate on this issue. And if you want to know why every few days now, you`re hearing about more people being arrested doing civil disobedience in North Carolina, dozens more people arrested just today. If you want to know part of the reason why, it`s because what is happening to voting rights in North Carolina, along with other things in North Carolina. One of the Republican bills in the state would try to make students stop being able to vote where they go to college by raising taxes. It would raise your parents` taxes, punish your parents with a tax hike, if you as a student register to vote at your college. But it`s not just in North Carolina, the chairman of the Republican Party in Maine threatened several hundred college students trying to vote in 2011. In 2012, in New Hampshire, Republicans tried to block students from voting there. After an election, a Republican in Indiana proposed banning any student from voting if they paid out of state tuition. She did eventually give it up after the College Republicans pointed out it would violate students` constitutional rights. Now, in Ohio, Republicans there have proposed punishing universities for helping students vote. They would block schools from charging student voters out of state tuition. Ohio`s public colleges say it would cost the schedules hundreds of millions of dollars every year. That bill passed the Ohio House and is onto the Republicans in the Senate. There is an underappreciated radicalism that`s at work here, and also a willingness to refight very much settled fights. This is a settled matter. But Republicans right now are relitigating it anyway, pushing laws straight out of 1970s Waller County, Texas. But it is no mystery why Republicans are so desperate to go there, even though this ought to be a settled matter. These are the results by precinct from Ohio state last year. It was a sweep for Barack Obama in a big way. It was also a sweep for Barack Obama last year at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Look at those margins. Nearly a sweep at the University of Indiana. Students tend to vote Democratic and everybody knows it. Yes, we have still this stubborn idea that voting is a good thing without regard for how you vote. You could hear it yesterday in the remarks President Obama made at Ohio State`s graduation when he quoted of all people, President Bush. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m not going to get partisan either because that`s not what citizenship is about. In fact, I`m asking the same thing of you that President Bush did when he spoke here in 2002. America needs more than taxpayers, spectators and occasional voters, he said, America needs full time citizens. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: America needs full time citizens. We used to have a national consensus on that. I`m not convinced we still do. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Best new thing in the world today. Back in January, President Obama announced to replace Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner he would choose his own chief staff, a man named Jack Lew. Jacob Lew goes by Jack. And aside from all these standard questions about credentials and background and the inevitable political posturing around the nomination, there was one factor in the selection of Jack Lew that presented a unique kind of worry. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: All of the political media today got fixated on a signature that is even loopier than Tim Geithner`s signature. It`s the signature of this guy, Jack Lew, White House chief of staff, former director of the Office of Management and Budget. All signs point to President Obama nominating Jack Lew perhaps as early as tomorrow to replace Tim Geithner as treasury secretary. And if he is nominated and confirmed, that will mean that our money might end up looking like this because that is Jack Lew`s signature on it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Did you ever play with a drawing toy called the Spirograph. Remember if sometimes if you pressed too hard on the paper, a little disc would jump around out of its track? I always thought it didn`t look like a name as much as a Spirograph malfunction. In some versions of it, you can maybe make out the J at the start. In some versions, the squiggle at the end maybe does resemble a W if you squint at it. But mostly, just looks like he is not trying hard. Somebody brilliant at Yahoo, even came up with a Jack Lew signature generator, where you could see out what your name would look like if someone like Jack Lew signed it. But four months later, now, that Jack Lew is treasury secretary and his signature really is about to be on the money, he appears to be trying to tidy it up a little bit. "The Wall Street Journal" was the first to notice his new signature on a government document that was released last week. Look, you can actually make out a J with an A-Y next to it, and maybe a middle initial and last name, maybe. "Politico" reporter named Steve Friess (ph) found another version of that signature on an ad in a newspaper today. You might be seeing the B at the end of Jacob in that one. Jacob Lew maybe. Progress? I like to think somewhere in the fiscal year 2013 budget, maybe very deep far and kept far away from the sequester is one line item for penmanship lessons for secretary of the treasury. I`m hoping they`re paying a Catholic school nun somewhere to get him into shape. Watching a grown man, an already accomplished grown man has to learn a skill they teach in third grade -- that`s the best new thing in the world. 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