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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 06/25/13

Guests: John Lewis, Bill Burton

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home for staying with us this hour. It is Election Day in the state of Massachusetts. Bay Staters today went to the polls to pick their new United States senator to replace John Kerry, who`s now secretary of state. The polls in Massachusetts closed almost exactly one hour ago. And as far as we know, right now, it`s undecided, 49 percent of the vote in. Right now, Ed Markey leads Gabriel Gomez, 51 percent to 48 percent. But again, that is 49 percent of the vote in at this point. And so, we do not yet have any sort of winner to announce. The results of tonight`s election in Massachusetts will end the short Senate tenure of Mo Cowen, who you see on the left there. Mo Cowen was picked essentially as a place holder for the seat by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Mr. Cowen promised not to run for the seat on a permanent basis. He`s spent his months on Capitol Hill essentially keeping his head down, keeping the business of the Massachusetts Senate seat rolling. He`s been voting basically the way John Kerry would have voted and he`s been keeping the seat warm for the duly elected next U.S. senator from Massachusetts who has been chosen by the voters of Massachusetts today. Again, the polls closed an hour and a minute ago. We`ll keep you posted as we get further news. But again, right now with 49 percent of the vote in, Ed Markey, the Democratic candidate, leading Gabriel Gomez, the Republican candidate, by 51 percent to 48 percent. We`ll keep you posted. Now on the other side of Capitol Hill today from the Senate, on the House side of Capitol Hill today, today was the day when they had to make a decision about Stan Musial. Stan Musial, the baseball player who played for the St. Louis Cardinals, quite possibly one of the greatest hitters of all-time, baseball legend, a legendary hitter, a legendary gentleman, legendary nice guy. For 22 years, Stan the man played for just one team, played for the Cardinals. He loved the Cardinals and his fans loved him for it. And a few months ago, Stan Musial passed away at the age of 92 after a life well-lived. There`s a new bridge, a new beautiful bridge being built on the Mississippi River. It connects the state of St. Louis to the state of Missouri, across the mighty Mississippi. And St. Louis, which is the home of Stan Musial`s St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis sits on the Mississippi River and when it came time to propose a name for the new bridge, Missouri lawmakers agreed that this new bridge should be called the Stan Musial Bridge. It should be named after the St. Louis baseball legend. Well, across the riverbank on the other side of the bridge, in Illinois, lawmakers there decided, Stan Musial is nice and all, but it`s not like they care about him that much in Illinois. In Illinois, they instead want to honor American veterans. They want to call the bridge the Veterans Memorial Bridge. So, the two states on the two sides of the bridge disagree. They have a border dispute over the name of this bridge which, after all, they both sort of have a right to name since the bridge goes between their two states. Honestly, though, if you think about this, this is not the most difficult dilemma in the world, right? One side wants to name it the Stan Musial Bridge, one side wants to name it the Veterans Bridge. Stan Musial is, himself, a veteran. So this is not exactly a problem, right? You can just call it the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge and everybody would be happy. Problem solved. But because these two states did propose different names, the final choice of the name is apparently now a federal issue. It has to be decided by Congress. So, today, in the House of Representatives in Washington, Congress considered this vexing challenge of what to name this bridge. How can we possibly name this bridge the obvious thing it obviously should be named?\ And, yes, members of Congress from both states, from both parties in both states, agree that it really ought to just be freaking called the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. And so, yes, congress considered it today and they debated and they voted that the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge just should be the name. Congress was able to do that. Maybe. Now, it has to go to Senate where who knows, anything could happen. And will it be filibustered? Then if it passes there, it will go to the president for his signature then maybe, maybe we will have confirmation that even this Congress can manage the achievement of saying, OK, whatever, to something that is already obviously been decided already and is basically fine with everybody concerned. This is the level of decision-making that our Congress can reliably handle right now. Maybe. So, when President Obama made his big announcement today about climate change, and pollution, the reason it`s such a big deal is because the things he announced do not depend on Congress. So these policy changes he announced today are things that actually will happen because nobody has to count on Congress to make that true. I mean, imagine what would happen if Congress was where we had to make these kinds of decisions on this kind of issue. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: We don`t know what those other cycles were caused by in the past. It could be dinosaur flatulence, you know? Or who knows? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Who knows? It could be dinosaur farts. That`s basically Congress right now. In particular, that is the Republicans who are in control of the half of Congress that is the House. And because of that, today we`re getting a list of policy changes on climate change, which are mostly pretty centrist lower common denominator policy changes. But the one most important thing they all have in common is that they are executive actions that avoid the dinosaur flatulence death spiral of nonsense that is the U.S. Congress. But that void, that place where hard decisions don`t go to die, hard decisions going to be laughed at there. That void is where the Supreme Court of the United States today threw voting rights, in the most consequential blow against civil rights law in a generation. Last night on this show we highlighted one example of how the Voting Rights Act works. This is a community college district in the greater Houston area. They tried to change the way they conduct elections in this district. They tried to cut the number of polling places in this district from 84 polling places down to 12. And the list of 12 proposed new polling places had one very notable feature. The new list made if really easy to vote if you were a white person and really hard to vote if you were not a white person. Look, the site with the smallest proportion of minority voters, so the whitest voting site was set up to serve 6,500 voters. The most heavily minority site serves over 67,000 voters. The big new election idea in this election district in Texas was that the most heavily minority polling place should serve 10 times as many voters as the whitest polling place. The Justice Department told that election district in Texas that they could not do that. They could not make that change. The Justice Department looked at that plan and told them to try again, to try to find a way that was more fair. That happened because Texas officials have to get an advanced OK from the Justice Department before they change their election laws, because of Texas` history of racial discrimination in elections. Discrimination like, oh, say, making the polling places for black and brown people handle 10 times as many voters as the polling places for white people. Because Texas has done and has kept doing stuff like that, Texas needs preclearance when they make changes. If they think they should not be on that preclearance list anymore, Texas could apply to opt out. They could try to prove that they are not trying to discriminate anymore. Texas has not been able to opt out. And so, the Justice Department was able to block that plan in that greater Houston area college district. Also, the Justice Department was able to block Texas Republicans` voter ID plan. Rick Perry signed this law when he was trying to make a splash running for president. But the Justice Department said the Texas voter ID law would be a disaster in terms of racial discrimination in Texas elections. Since Hispanic registered voters are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic registered voters to lack the ID that would be required to vote in Texas under the new law. So, Texas plans like that. New laws to block Hispanics from voting at more than double the rate of non-Hispanics or killing 80 percent of the polling places and setting up new ones where white people get 10 times the service as non white people. Plans like these from the last few years in Texas, they were blocked from ever coming into effect, even though Texas wanted to do them, they were blocked from coming into effect because the Justice Department could block them, because of the Voting Rights Act. As of today, that`s over. The court did not change anything about the basic idea that some places could not be trusted to make new election laws on their own. They should have to get preclearance from the Justice Department. The court left that in place theoretically, but they invalidated the existing list of places that qualify for that kind of special scrutiny. They threw that part of it instead to Congress. In its infinite wisdom to come up with a new way of identifying places that need that special scrutiny of preclearance in order to change their laws. And until Congress gets around to working on that, it is open season on voting rights right now in America. In Texas, today, the Republican attorney general announced, "With today`s decision, the state`s voter ID law will take effect immediately." In Mississippi today, same thing, the Republican attorney general announcing, "The process for implementation of voter ID begins today." In Alabama today, same thing, the Republican attorney general and Republican secretary of state announcing, "Voter ID will be the first process that we will go through under this new ruling." North Carolina, same deal. Republicans had been holding back from voter ID there because they knew it would be too racially discriminatory to pass the preclearance requirement. Now that that requirement is gone, hey, full steam ahead. Now we can go with the full bill, says the Republican rules committee chairman in North Carolina`s Republican-controlled Senate. Why stop just with voter ID, he says? He predicted an omnibus voting bill would surface in the Senate next week that could go beyond voter ID to include issues such as reducing early voting, eliminating Sunday voting and barring same-day voter registration. They might not have been able get away with racially discriminatory policies like that before today, but as of 10:00 a.m. today -- go for it. The flood gates are open. The flood gates are open. Anything these states with a history of racial discrimination could not get away with before, because they were covered under the Voting Rights Act, and the Justice Department blocked them, now they can go ahead. And they are. Day one, they`re already rushing forward and there`s nothing to stop them, unless Congress fixes it. What are the odds of Congress fixing it? No, really. What are the odds? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: The Voting Rights Act that broke the segregationist lock on the ballot box rose from the courage shown on a Selma bridge one Sunday afternoon in March of 1965. On that day, African- Americans, including a member of the United States Congress, John Lewis -- (APPLAUSE) BUSH: -- marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a protest intended to highlight the unfair practice that kept him off the voter rolls. Today we renew a bill. My administration will vigorously enforce the provisions of this law and we will defend it in court. (APPLAUSE) BUSH: I am proud to sign the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The vote in the Senate that made it possible for then- President George W. Bush to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act seven years ago, that voice was 98-0, famously. In the Senate, it was unanimous. In the House, it was not unanimous. It was still an overwhelming vote, but there were 33 no votes in the House, 33 Republicans in the House who voted no that year. And of those 33 House Republicans who voted against the Voting Rights Act, 19 of them are still in House as Republican members of Congress. And occasionally, House Republicans do pipe up on this issue. As Georgia Republican Paul Broun did last year when he introduced an amendment to block the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. He brought it up in the middle of the night, tried to get it passed as part of a big spending bill. And John Lewis, that Democratic Georgia congressman beaten to an inch of his life on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in a demonstration that became a conflagration of police violence, which is how we got the Voting Rights Act in the first place, John Lewis was there in the House in the middle of the night last year, in May of last year, to answer Paul Broun when Powell Broun tried to block enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. And when John Lewis confronted him on the floor of the House, Paul Broun just collapsed, apologizing and stuttering and wishing he had not brought it up. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: Maybe some we need to study a little contemporary history dealing with the question of voting rights. Just think, before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it was almost impossible for many people in the state of Georgia, in Alabama, in Virginia, in Texas, to register to vote, to participate in a democratic process. It`s shameful that you would come here tonight and say to the Department of Justice that you must not use one penny, one cent, one dime, one dollar, to carry out the mandate of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. REP. PAUL BROUN (R), GEORGIA: I apologize to my dear friend from Georgia if he`s gotten angry with this amendment. It`s never my intent to do so, and I`m going to ask unanimous consent to withdraw the amendment. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So which is it now, Republican Party? Are you Paul Broun stuttering and apologizing and saying he never meant any offense, taking it back? Or are you Paul Broun introducing the stealth amendment in the middle of the night trying to kill the Voting Rights Act? Are you every single Republican in the United States Senate voting to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, standing proudly by as your Republican president, when he`s -- with your Republican president as he signs it, or are you the 33 House Republicans who that same year voted no, voted to kill the Voting Rights Act? Are you the Republican House Majority Eric Cantor marching with John Lewis this past year to re-enact what happened on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, to re-enact the human toll and the human endurance of violence that brought us the Voting Rights Act? Or are you these Republican state officials in Alabama, in Mississippi, in North Carolina, in Texas, rushing ahead today with the laws that were too racist for the Voting Rights Act to allow, but that now can be forced through because the Voting Rights Act is dead, dead unless Republicans in Congress agree that it should be saved? Which Republican Party are you? In a blistering, long, incredulous descent from the court`s ruling today, liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said that the court erred egregiously. She said the court dramatically overreached. She said, quote, "Hubris is a fit word for today`s demolition of the Voting Rights Act." John Lewis put it in terms just as stark. He said, "The Supreme Court put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act." The thing about this dagger in the heart, though, is that the patient with the dagger in the heart is still alive. And the doctor standing over the body thinking about what to do next turns out is a Republican. The Voting Rights Act did not have Section 5 struck down. Preclearance still exists theoretically. The Voting Rights Act can be saved right away if Congress decides to save it. The Democrats want to save it, unanimously. The Democrats, they control the Senate, their judiciary chairman in the Senate today said he`ll get to work immediately on legislation to save it. The Republicans control the House so far their judiciary chairman has said nothing. This is the cornerstone of American civil rights law. This is legacy time. What are you guys going to do? Congressman John Lewis joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Breaking news for you in the special election tonight to fill the U.S. Senate seat that had been held by now Secretary of State John Kerry. "The Associated Press" has now declared that Democratic Congressman Ed Markey has won the U.S. special election for that Senate seat in Massachusetts. Polls leading up to this contest had indicated that Congressman Markey was comfortably ahead of his Republican rival, Gabriel Gomez. But now, it is official. With 82 percent of precincts reporting, Ed Markey ahead 54 percent to 46 percent and "The A.P." has called the race. Senator-elect Markey will serve out the term that John Kerry won in 2008. And then, next year, he will be up for re-election for a full term. Gabriel Gomez is already hinting that he wants to run again the next time around. Why the Republicans would run the same guy again that just lost tonight is, who knows? That`s their own private Idaho. But, again, tonight, the breaking news that Democrat Ed Markey is the new U.S. senator from Massachusetts. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Senator, what`s your reaction to Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act? SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Well, I haven`t read it yet. Obviously, it`s an important bill that passed back in the `60s, at a time when he had very different America than we have today. My state is not covered by the Voting Rights Act. There may be others who want to comment on it. At this point, I think I`m just going to have to read it first, but I would say I do think America is very different today from what it was in the 1960s. Anybody else want to comment on that? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Well, nobody wants to talk about it? All the other Republican senators standing there with him. Nobody. U.S. Supreme Court ruling today on the Voting Rights Act left in place the basic idea that some states, some counties, have sketchy enough records with regards to racial discrimination and elections that they should have to get preapproval from the Justice Department if they want to make changes to election laws. But the court threw out existing lists of what those places are which means nobody needs to get preclearance anymore. Nobody is getting any scrutiny at all with changing their election laws until Congress manages to find a new way to figure out who ought to be on that list. With reins off Republican governors and state legislatures are already today, the day of the ruling, rolling out new round of ways to make voting harder in ways that are racially discriminatory enough that they could not have done them when the Voting Rights Act was still in effect yesterday. Joining us now is John Lewis, congressman of Georgia, one of the 13 original freedom riders and a civil rights activist who nearly died trying to secure every Americans` right to vote. Congressman John Lewis, thank you so much for being with us. LEWIS: Thank you very much, Rachel, for having me tonight. MADDOW: You called this Supreme Court ruling a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act when you first heard about it today. Since then, have you heard anything from your colleagues in Washington that gives you any more hope about saving this law? LEWIS: Several of my colleagues on the Democratic side have said that we must go back and reauthorize the act the same way that we did in 2006. And I did read a statement that the majority leader, Eric Cantor, made that because of his trip to Selma last March, that was moving to him, it had a profound impact on him, that he would take a serious look at the decision and whether we should reauthorize that section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. MADDOW: Do you agree that if Congress was able to act, maybe that showing of support from Congressman Cantor means that Republicans might be willing to do it, if Congress could act post-haste, could that limit the amount of damage that I know you think has been done to voting rights in the protection of minority voting rights in this country in particular by today`s ruling. LEWIS: Well, I think it`s important for us to act now. If we fail to act, the hopes and dreams and aspiration of many people to participate in a Democratic process would be denied. So it is my hope that Democrats and Republicans members of the House that we would come together in a bipartisan fashion and fix it. Today, it is shocking, it`s unbelievable. It makes me so sad to see we have to fight this fight all over again. If somebody told me on August 6th, 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law that we would be fighting this fight, this battle again in 2013. MADDOW: What do you make of John Roberts` argent and the majority ruling in this case? Chief Justice Roberts arguing that essentially this laws a vestige of an earlier era, that the kind of discrimination that justified this type of remedy in the first place no longer require this kind of remedy? We need some different way of approaching these matters now, times have changed. LEWIS: Well, the only thing I would have said to Justice Roberts if I had an opportunity to talk with him, I would say not to forget the past. Not to forget the history. I would invite him and the other four members of the court to walk in my shoes, to travel with me through Alabama, through the delta of Mississippi, through southwest Georgia. And not just walk in my shoes, but walk in the shoes of others that stood in those unmovable lines. There`s some history there. We cannot forget that history. As Justice Ginsburg said, if we tend to forget it, we will repeat it. In another period in our history, more than 100 years ago, people of color, African-American, former slaves, could register, they could vote. They ran for office. They got elected. And a few years later, they lost it. We cannot go back. We must go forward. MADDOW: Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, thank you for your time tonight. I`m sure this has been just an emotionally exhausting day for you, sir. Thank you for being with us. LEWIS: Thank you. MADDOW: Thank you. All right. Here is a live shot from Austin, Texas, where we are in the middle of a real life nonstop talking filibuster to try to stop the proposed antiabortion legislation that`s being pushed by Republicans in Texas. This is happening right now. This is live, and the Democrats are winning. We`ve got details on that next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES HENSON, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN: This was such a big session for following the legislature on Twitter and I don`t know if anybody`s ever gone back, as it was leaking out and people were speculating about whether you were going to do it or not. People were tweeting about your shoes, whether you wore shoes for standing. STATE SEN. WENDY DAVIS (D), TEXAS: Right. As you can see, I have my typical shoes on right now. HENSON: No filibuster today? DAVIS: No filibuster today, but when I came on that night, I had flat shoes on. It`s the first time I`ve worn flat shoes on the Senate floor. (CROSSTALK) HENSON: One of the reporters, one of the female reporters, I bet she`s going to do it, she`s wearing flats. It turned out to be right. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was from the first time that Texas Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis brought the state of Texas to a standstill with a one- woman filibuster. That was 2011 when she singlehandedly saved billions of dollars for education in Texas by filibustering Republican efforts to cut that funding. And filibustering in Texas is hard. The rules say only one person can filibuster, so you can`t trade off with a colleague to get any relief. You cannot sit down. You cannot eat. You cannot touch the podium or the desk where you are standing. You cannot lean on anything. You cannot leave even for a second for any reason including having to go to the bathroom. You cannot just read the telephone book. You have to stay on the topic of the bill you are filibustering. Filibustering in Texas is hard, so, yes, do not wear high heels if you are going to do it. Having learned that lesson the last time, today in the Texas legislature, that same state senator, Wendy Davis, she wore sneakers. And she wasn`t shy about them. Look nice. Wendy Davis has spent all day, all day today, all day alone on her own not stopping, not eating, not drinking, not leaving, not peeing -- forgive me, not leaning, not straying from the topic. Texas Senator Wendy Davis has spent all day today personally filibustering the Republican bill that Democrats otherwise had no shot of stopping. Governor Rick Perry called a special legislative session in part to try to pass antiabortion legislation that Republicans couldn`t get passed in the regular session. The abortion bill would ban abortions statewide in Texas at 20 weeks. It would shut down more than 80 percent of the state`s clinics. There would be zero access to legal abortion of any kind in all of West Texas which is giant. And so this, right now, is Wendy Davis, right now, she started speaking and standing there about nine hours ago. Earlier in the day, she read testimony from men and women across the state who had wanted to testify against the Republican bills last week, but they were not allowed to. At one point, she broke down in tears while she was reading a letter from one woman who had to have an abortion when doctors discovered severe abnormalities with the child that she wanted but that could not live outside the womb. Republicans tried at one point to end her filibuster by saying she wasn`t staying on topic because she started talking about the financial impact of the antiabortion bill, but they had no luck there. Wendy Davis was allowed to proceed. This is what it has looked like today in the Senate gallery. I think we`ve got the gallery shot, don`t we? Every spectator seat has been filled in the gallery. There`s been people there wearing orange shirts in solidarity with filibuster. There`s been a long line of people waiting to get in all day to watch the state senator talk without stopping, stand without stopping for 13 hours. Just like they did on Thursday night, and, again, on Sunday night, hundreds and hundreds of Texans, again, showed up today at the state capitol to protest this Republican effort to ram through the country`s most sweeping abortion restrictions and to support the Democrats who are trying to stop it. Also there today, in the Senate gallery was Cecile Richards. She`s the national president of Planned Parenthood and daughter of former Texas Governor Ann Richards. What`s going on in Texas right now, this is a big deal. There are about 3 1/2 hours maybe, three hours left in Wendy Davis` filibuster and apparently is still going strong. Now, theoretically, Governor Rick Perry could call another special session for the legislature if the Republicans cannot stop her before midnight, which is when this session comes to an end in Texas tonight. But if they cannot stop her by midnight tonight and she keeps talking all the way until midnight tonight, this round goes to the Texas Democrats. They are winning this thing -- as Wendy Davis speaks, still, as we speak, she`s doing it right now. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, this morning the Supreme Court of the United States pretty much gutted the foundation of American civil rights law. Tomorrow, they are expected to issue their biggest landmark ruling ever on gay rights. For the last 10 hours, a Democratic state legislator has been standing in the state Senate in Texas singlehandedly resisting the passage of a draconian law. And a new United States senator, Democrat Ed Markey, just got elected in Massachusetts. So, what was the president up to all day? It turns out he was giving a speech that on a lot of other days would have been the lead story in the whole world. It`s been a busy day. Hold on. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, there was an early sign that something was wrong. There was a visual clue. There`s President Obama standing at the podium about to deliver his big speech on climate change today. And wait a second, what`s wrong at the top? That`s what`s known in the bunting business as a wedgie. Actually, I just made that up. I don`t even know if there is a bunting business. But that`s what I would like to think of as a bunting wedgie. Like bunting number one and bunting number three are fine. But bunting number two, the important one right above the president, bunting wedgie. That was the first time maybe it was not the White House "A" team doing the advance work for today`s big speech. The next sign of that was an audible one. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last year I took office, or the year that I took office, my administration pledged to reduce America`s greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent, from their 2005 levels by the end of this decade. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama essentially being forced to do his first Carey Grant in North by Northwest impression, drowned out by the unsettlingly close sound of airplanes, throughout the speech, over and over again. They had the president speaking outdoors today at Georgetown which apparently nobody on the advanced team noticed is right in the middle of the flight path for national airport. So after this one today with the bunting and the flight noises drowning him out throughout the speech, and then a couple of weeks ago somebody forgetting to president put the president`s speech on the podium for him. He had to stand in front of the press -- people, people, can I get my speech, people? In terms of White House advanced work, I think somebody needs a pep talk. But in terms of the substance of the speech, President Obama had to live up to what had been a dramatic pre-speech buildup. We were told far in advance to expect something big. On the same day that President Obama spoke about climate change and other matters at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin last week, his aides started leaking to the press back in this country that something big was coming on that issue back home. We were told to expect a high-profile presidential address on this issue. And, then, over the weekend, the White House announced in an elaborately produced video that address was coming not just soon, it was coming this week. And then today was the day with the wedgie bunt and airplanes flying overhead, President Obama took on the issue of climate change in a way that he has not done this aggressively in at least this much granular policy detail up until this point. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: The question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science, of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements has put all that to rest. I don`t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don`t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society. The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it`s too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren. As a president, as a father, and as an American, I`m here to say we need to act. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: When he says there, over the engine noise, we need to act, I think what he really means is he plans to act. What the president announced in this speech today were a series of concrete actions that he, alone, is taking on this issue without Congress. Things like limiting the amount of carbon pollution emitted by new and existing power plants, taking federal action to increase fuel standards in new cars, increasing the amount of renewable energy that is produced on federal lands. The president announced today that was in the next seven years, the federal government, itself, will get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources. And that may sound like an insider deal but it`s a big deal in absolute terms because the federal government is one of the biggest organizations on earth. On the issue of the Keystone pipeline, the president said today he will not approve its construction if it significantly increases the overall problem of carbon pollution. So this was a speech that had a lot of news and a lot of presidential pronouncements that lots of people have been waiting for and, frankly, pushing for, for a long time. And that leverage that has been exerted essentially against the president on this issue, pushing him to do this, is leverage that the president now would like to try to apply to the problem at hand. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I`m going to need all after you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends. Tell them what`s at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future. Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there`s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth, and remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote. Make yourself heard on this issue. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Make yourself heard on this issue. Joining us now is Bill Burton. He`s a former deputy press secretary for the Obama administration. He`s now senior adviser to the League of Conservation Voters which, itself, seems like an important part of the political news here. Bill, thank you so much for being here. BILL BURTON, LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS: Hi. Thanks for having me, Rachel, and, but, I don`t thank you for having me follow John Lewis and Wendy Davis. MADDOW: Yes, I know, it`s kind of a big night. Can I ask you a petty question, first, as a guy who was on the inside of Obama communications? BURTON: You can, because I think it`s going to give me the opportunity to defend some of my friends. Please go ahead. MADDOW: Nobody knew about the whole flight path thing? It seemed like he was dodging crop dusters the entire speech. It was absolutely completely distracting. And I`m not easily distracted from a policy speech. That was crazy. BURTON: Well, I was there at the speech. The thing that was most distracting was the fact it was so hot. MADDOW: Yes. BURTON: It was 110 degrees in there. MADDOW: Put him inside. BURTON: He was outside in a big city. There`s airplanes. The folks on the presidential advance staff are hardworking folks. They get there at 4:00 in the morning. They stay until 2:00 in the morning. They have crazy jobs. I don`t know if we can blame them for one little piece of bunting getting blown away by the wind or airplanes outside in a big city. That`s what happens. MADDOW: I say, you know, it`s going to be 100 degrees and you`re in the flight path, inside. I`m an idiot, come on. Inside. BURTON: When I was sitting there, I was sort of wishing that it was inside, too. It`s a climate thing. You sort of have to be outside. MADDOW: Bill, let me ask you about how you going from team Obama to team conservation voters, which has been pushing the White House to be more aggressive on issues like the ones we heard in this speech today. What is your involvement in this issue? What was your decision to make that move? And what do you do on this issue? BURTON: Well, you know, after I left the White House and I did the super PAC, I went to global strategy group where one of the big projects that we`ve taken on is League of Conservation Voters and the fight to stop the Keystone pipeline from moving forward. It`s something that, you know, as the president laid out today, this is a generational issue. And for me and for the folks who I work with, we thought it was important to get involved with and it`s an important project, and today was a critically important day for that in. It is an important project, today was a critically important day for that fight. MADDOW: Well, specifically on keystone, the president tied his upcoming decision on Keystone to what the president had to say about emissions. At did it mean in practical terms? What did you understand what he was saying there? BURTON: Well, the reason that that`s important is that he changed the terms of the debate. It`s not about the politics. It`s not about what the candidates are going to think, it`s about what science says that will make our planet demonstrably worse off, if this project moves forward. Now, for us, we think that yes, the science is there and shows that it will make the climate far, far worse. And so, I think what we need to do in the coming days, we need to show grass roots activity. We need to show the scientific reasoning behind it. And make sure the decision-makers at the State Department, the White House know that. The science is there, we`re going to keep on this fight. Now, none of it is to distract from the historic of this announcement today. This is an amazing announcement. I know you called it lowest common denominator policy earlier on the show. But a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels from 2020 will make a phenomenal difference in the arc of global climate change. So, this is a very important announcement today. We`ve got another fight that`s coming down the road. MADDOW: You know, the promises, what we got was meat on the bones about actually getting there, about actually making policy changes that will cut back and make a big impact in terms of those bottom lines. I mean, over the past few years, we have heard consistently aspirational statements from the president and administration what they wanted to do. But we haven`t before today seen these very concrete changes -- policy prescriptions, I guess for things that are not being asked from Congress but things that are actually being done. Do you understand what changed politically to make it OK to go ahead with this today? BURTON: Well, I don`t know that anything necessarily changed politically. What we know is that, Congress, as you pointed out, has a hard time naming the Stan Musial Veterans Bridge between Illinois and Missouri, what the president did today was something he has been talking about since the early days of the campaign when we all started with him, January or February of 2007. Now, there is a lot of different things that have been happening here and there, the auto bailout, the fiscal, the financial industry bailout. Two wars, there have been just a lot of things going on. And the president has gotten to a point where, you know, we`ve got to act in order to, if we`re going to get something aggressive done, the president knew he had to act right now, and that`s why he did it. MADDOW: In terms of the relationship between the scientific consensus and the political consensus, the president today ridiculing the flat society, people who deny that there is a problem to be addressed. Do you think the political risk here lessen at all as a scientific issue becomes more blatant? BURTON: Well, 100 percent. And sometimes, the politics and the science are not always on the same track as you know. But I think it is interesting the speech was given on the same bay as the Markey-Gomez race up in Massachusetts. Massachusetts isn`t the most purple state in the nation, but it is a state where in this race, climate was on the ballot. And if you look across the country, especially generationally, this is an issue for which most Americans, especially of the younger persuasion, this issue has been settled. But when you look at Republican leadership in Washington, you look at McConnell, you look at John Boehner, you hear the rhetoric, for them it`s not -- it`s still an issue of whether or not climate change is right. Well, for most of America, that issue has been settled. It`s what we`re going to do about it. So, I think that the politics here, great for Democrats, because Republicans are isolating an entire generation of voters. MADDOW: Bill Burton, former deputy press secretary for the Obama administration, now with the League of Conservation Voters, senior adviser to them -- Bill, it`s great to see you. Thanks for being here. BURTON: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: I do actually think the last point Bill made there is important. It is going to end up being interesting and important and maybe a weird circumstantial coincidence that on the day that President Obama announced all of this new policy on climate change, Ed Markey went to the Senate. I mean, if there is an opposite number to James Inhofe, climate denier in the Senate, it has been Ed Markey, climate championed in the House. And Ed Markey, today graduated to the U.S. Senate, on the day that President Obama made these huge promises in policy in this field. This may be sort of a turning point day. I`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Right at the top of a Pentagon press conference today, the Army chief of staff, General Ray Odierno, announced big news for the U.S. Army. Right now, there are 45 combat brigades, excuse me, of active U.S. duty soldiers. But the Army today announced that they are cutting those 44 brigades down to 33 brigades, as part of an overall effort to cut the size of the army by 80,000 troops over the next few years. They are cutting out 12 brigades. Even after cutting 80,000 troops out of the army, we will still have an army that is 10,000 soldiers larger than the force we had on 9/11. Today in the war in Afghanistan, Taliban launched a major attack in Kabul, specifically one of the parts of Kabul that is supposed to be one of the safest parts of the city, where the presidential palace is, and the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters is. One of two Taliban vehicles made it through a checkpoint into that supposedly very secure area of capitol. The second Taliban vehicle was then stopped and that is when the Taliban fighters started to shoot and then blew up one of their vehicles. This was in broad daylight, early this morning, in supposedly the safest and most heavily guarded place in that entire country. The Taliban claimed credit for the attack right now. They said that their real target was the CIA compound. Here is the most worrying part of all of it, though, the reports that the attackers were driving the types of vehicles that diplomats were driving there in Afghanistan and that other people generally do not have. More worryingly, also reports today that they had NATO ID cards. Fake ID is not exactly a news flash in Afghanistan or anywhere, but fake NATO IDs got enough to get in at least some of the presidential compound in Afghanistan? That is very, very bad news. I mean, I guess the alternative explanation is that the NATO IDs were not fake, they were real, and the Taliban attackers were actually the guys issued the IDs in the first place. If that`s the case, then that`s even worse. So yes, we are winding down the war in Afghanistan, there are awkward diplomatic efforts underway to try to get peace talks. Responsibility for security in Afghanistan has been handed off to the Afghans from U.S.-led forces. But there are 68,000 Americans still there, just in the military, plus CIA, plus State Department, plus, journalists, plus contractors, plus everybody else. And the winding down phase in Afghanistan is due to the last still another year and a half. And it is still a hell of a dangerous place. That does it for us tonight. 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