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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/09/13

Guests: Tommy Vietor, Barbara Lee

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, man. Turning 5 in TV is kind of like turning 100 in people years, so -- CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: Oh, it`s 500, are you kidding? (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: Yes. Thank you, man. I really appreciate it. Which is a nice way of sort of saying that I feel old. But anyway, here we go. Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. This is our five-year anniversary, and we are pretty happy to be here, got to say. All right, these are the countries in the world that have nuclear weapons. When United States and Russia set off the first atomic tests in the 1940s, a lot of people thought over subsequent decades, every country in the world would get nuclear weapons, but the international community took steps to try to make it hard to become a nuclear weapons country, to try to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. And so, now, 70-something years into the existence of atomic weapons on earth, yes, this is a scarily long list of countries that have nuclear weapons, but this is a much shorter list than most people thought it would be by now. I should note here that Israel is on the list because everybody knows that Israel has nuclear weapons, even though Israel does not technically admit that they have them. North Korea is also sort of only technically on the list because, yes, North Korea kept setting off nuclear tests, but whether or not they have a deployable nuclear weapon is a little bit harder to figure out. The question, though, overall of which country on this list causes the most international agita is probably a toss-up between North Korea and Pakistan. North Korea causes agita just because it is so crazy and unpredictable. Pakistan causes agita for a number of reasons. Pakistan has been very unstable over the years. It has been a hotbed of radicalism. It is where we found Osama bin Laden, after all. Nuclear Pakistan is in this longstanding, very touchy, hair-trigger conflict with its neighbor, India, which also has nuclear weapons, right? All of these reasons to be concerned. The part of the reason that people get concerned about Pakistan having nuclear weapons is because of this guy. Part of the reason Pakistan`s nuclear weapons program freaks everybody out more than all of the other nuclear programs in the world is because this man, this Pakistani nuclear scientist took it upon himself to not only steal material and expertise that led his own country to become a nuclear state, he also decided to sell that material and knowledge and expertise around the world to the highest bidder, no matter who it was. And so, when rogue countries around the world have aspired to become nuclear weapons countries or have started down that road, more often than not, it has been because this guy helped them do it! His name is A.Q. Khan, and one of A.Q. Khan`s most profitable success stories was the nation of Libya. Thanks to A.Q. Khan being willing to sell nuclear equipment and know-how on the black market, Libya under crazy Moammar Gadhafi, Libya started to put together an illegal, secret nuclear weapons program in the 1980s. They had thousands of centrifuges, they had uranium, they had the blueprints for a bomb. But when Libya started to fall apart a couple of years ago when there was the Arab spring rebellion in Libya and the rebels were going to topple Gadhafi and there was eventually the big international military action that did topple Gadhafi and all of the chaos therein and thereafter, do you remember how there were no worries about Libya`s nukes? There were no worries about highly enriched uranium and what was going to happen to Libya`s nuclear weapons program and their centrifuges and everything. The reason in the middle of all that, the one thing we didn`t have to worry about was Libya`s nukes is because although they had had a nuclear weapons program for decades, which was fairly sophisticated, which is everything they needed, Libya gave that program up. Libya gave up their nuclear weapons program 10 years ago. At the end of 2003, Moammar Gadhafi made a deal with the West. He said he wanted to come in from the cold. He said he didn`t want to be considered a state sponsor of terror anymore, he wanted to be taken off that list, so Western companies could do business in Libya. And in exchange for that, he let U.N. inspectors and British and American inspectors come in to Libya to see his weapons facilities. He allowed them to not only inspect those facilities but to take away his highly enriched uranium and his centrifuges and his nuclear bomb parts and blueprints. He gave up his entire nuclear program. The United States went into Libya in 2003, picked up Gadhafi`s nuclear program, put it on planes and took it to Tennessee. It is right now at the Oak Ridge Laboratory in Tennessee. And it was not just his nuclear program. It was also his other programs for weapons of mass destruction. Forever, Libya had resisted signing on to the international protocol that bans the use and stockpiling and manufacturing of chemical weapons. Gadhafi had 23 tons of mustard gas stockpiled in Libya. But as part of this deal 10 years ago, Gadhafi said he would abide by the international chemical weapons convention, he would give those weapons up, he would allow them to be handed over to the international community and destroyed. That happened in late 2003. The George W. Bush years basically had no diplomatic victories at all except for this one. But it happened. And eventually, there was a revolution in Libya and Gadhafi was overthrown, Gadhafi was killed, and Libya today is still chaotic and nobody quite knows how things will end up in that country, but they gave up their nuclear weapons program, and they gave up their chemical weapons. They handed them over to the U.N. for destruction. And that was a rare thing and that was amazing. And maybe that is about to happen again? Maybe. And if it seems today like nobody is quite sure about whether something like this really could happen again for the first time in 10 years, for the first time since Libya did it in 2003, if people seem a little unsure about this today, it is because the idea was born and came to fruition all in one day today, and nobody saw it coming. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: Syria`s foreign minister said today that Syria would consider placing international inspections around its chemical arsenal. Do you believe it? Are you skeptical? Do you think it might be a stalling tactic? BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think you have to take it with a grain of salt initially, but between the statements that we saw from the Russians, the statement today from the Syrians, this represents a potentially positive development. We are going to run this to ground. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: There`s President Obama speaking tonight with Savannah Guthrie of NBC News, one of six interviews the president did today with major TV networks ahead of a personal presidential lobbying effort scheduled for Capitol Hill tomorrow afternoon, also a major address to the nation scheduled from the White House tomorrow night. On the eve of that address, in the middle of this intense debate here about whether the U.S. should use military force in Syria, in response to Syria`s alleged use of chemical weapons, there was what seems to be a huge and totally unexpected breakthrough today. This is a huge deal, if this pans out. It started this morning in London, when Secretary of State John Kerry made what seemed like a frustrated, off-the-cuff, even dismissive remark about how, hypothetically, Syria might be able to convince the United States to not hit them with cruise missiles. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CBS REPORTER: Is there anything at this point that his government could do or offer that would stop an attack? JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn`t about to do it and it can`t be done, obviously. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Or maybe it could be done. After John Kerry said that early today in London, things moved very quickly today and very far ahead of where they had been just hours before. Even as the State Department today was still trying to explain that Secretary Kerry wasn`t really formally proposing that when he said it, he was just speaking rhetorically about something that everybody assumed could never happen. Even as they were still explaining that today, first Russia and then Syria weighed in to say, actually, we don`t care if he didn`t really mean it. That really could happen. And thus was born a whole new way out of this that nobody knew was coming. Between what we have had so far, which is no international response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria and what the United States has been proposing, which is a U.S. military strike on Syria, maybe as of today there is a credible, possible third way forward, which is not about us bombing and is not about the world doing nothing, but which is specifically about Syria`s chemical weapons, specifically about the specific problem. It`s specifically about Syria turning those weapons over, as John Kerry proposed today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Russia, perhaps seeking a way out, chose to take him seriously. Only three hours later in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, "If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons makes it possible to avoid strikes, then we will immediately get to work with Damascus." Syria`s foreign minister also in Moscow said his government welcomes the Russian initiative. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: This is amazing. If anybody told you this was going to happen in advance, you wouldn`t have believed them. But that`s how this went today. John Kerry says, listen, the only way out of this is if Syria hands over its chemical weapons stockpiles right away, how likely is that to happen? That`s not going to happen. And Russia says, really? Well, turns out, we can get Syria to hand over their chemical weapons stockpiles. And Syria responds to that by saying we agree with Russia. Yes, we can do that. This is an amazing turn of events. Then, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon weighs in and says, hey, don`t just hand over your chemical weapons, destroy them. Have them handed over to the international control so they can be destroyed. And the Russians say they agree with that. Quote, "And we call on the Syrian leadership to not only agree to setting the chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also to their subsequent destruction." So, Russia said yes, their chemical weapons ought to be handed over and destroyed. And so far, Syria says, yes, they`re going to go along with it. They are being described as publicly welcoming the Russian proposal. So, ta-da? Maybe? I mean, again, this is all moving very fast, but even without knowing whether John Kerry meant to start what he seems to have started, he does seem to have started something. And you can feel the debate changing now as the United States government that thought it was making the case for acts of American war against Syria now starts to change tack, realizing that there might be another, maybe even more direct way out of this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: If the regime immediately surrendered its stockpiles to international control, as was suggested by Secretary Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step. But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was at the White House for an unrelated event today when she made those remarks on Syria. That was roughly midday today. And that was supposed to be just one high-profile component of this huge full court press today by the administration, including the national security adviser, Susan Rice, speaking on this today, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, speaking about this today. But as events changed and moved so fast over the course of the day today, over the course of just a few hours, you had Hillary Clinton and then President Obama himself in the stacked network interviews tonight having to take account of this whole new idea, this potential light at the end of the tunnel. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GUTHRIE: But does it feel like a ploy? OBAMA: Well, you know, I think what we`re seeing is that a credible threat of a military strike from the United States supported potentially by a number of other countries around the world has given them pause and makes them consider whether or not they would make this move. And if they do, then this could potentially be a significant breakthrough. But we have to be skeptical because this is not how we`ve seen them operate over the last couple of years. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama expressing that skepticism tonight based on how Syria has behaved in the past around this issue. And he is right that Syria has been super sketchy on this issue in the past. As recently as yesterday, the Syrian president was still neither confirming nor denying that his country even has chemical weapons. But that was yesterday! And today, they have moved past neither confirming nor denying it to at least seeming to agree to a Russian proposal to hand over their chemical weapons to international inspectors to have them destroyed by the international community. And apparently, even, maybe, to sign on to the chemical weapons convention, which has not had a new signatory since 10 years ago when Libya agreed to start complying with it, in an equally unexpected move. What a difference day makes. Man, I would love to talk to somebody from the White House about this, wouldn`t you? That, of course, will never happen. But, you know, the advantage of talking to people who were once at the White House but are no longer there is that sometimes those people can tell you even more of what they really think is going on now that they are free of their White House shackles. Joining us now is just such a man, Tommy Vietor. He served as national security spokesman in the Obama administration. Tommy, Mr. Vietor, thanks very much for being here tonight. TOMMY VIETOR, NATIONAL SECURITY SPOKESMAN: Yes, shackle-free. MADDOW: Yes, exactly. Well done. Let me ask you, just from your experience in the White House but also from your experience just in national security, do you see this as a breakthrough? And if it is a breakthrough, does it matter if it`s accidental? VIETOR: It doesn`t matter if it`s accidental. I am very skeptical that it`s a break-through, but as you said -- I mean, the great thing about this proposal is that the most durable efforts to disarm a country with nuclear weapons had been when they voluntarily give them up. Efforts to bomb them or, you know, sanction them out of these weapons have been more difficult to make durable over time. So, I think this is, you know, would be great, actually, in fact, would be better than a military strike, because if this C.W. were shipped out of the country, it would take that option out of his hands permanently, rather than degrade the capability to use it. MADDOW: Is there anything you can see the United States doing to make this more likely to be true? I mean, I agree with you that just in terms of tactics, this is a better way to solve the chemical weapons problem than shooting cruise missiles into Syria that won`t materially affect necessarily their ability to use them in the future. If they get rid of them, this would be a better way to address that problem. What can the United States do to make that more likely to happen? VIETOR: I think ironically, the Congress needs to authorize the use of military force, because this only happened today because, as the president said, there is a credible military threat on the table. This is classic diplomacy. You back up a diplomatic entree with a military threat to force a bad actor to move. MADDOW: How`s the administration and its surrogates who are making the case -- do you think -- do you think they have made a convincing case that there could be a blow hit against the Syrian regime on chemical weapons by using a military strike? I mean, I think they -- I think you`re right that they have persuaded the world that they are ready to shoot cruise missiles at Syria even if the Congress says no, and maybe that is what`s pushed is diplomatic breakthrough forward. Do you think they have really made the case that hitting Syria with cruise missiles would have any effect on chemical weapons use in the future? VIETOR: I think they have began -- they have begun to make this case over the weekend. As the intelligence came in, I think they made it even more strongly than they did in those initial days. I think that there is a very real impact on his military if you`re landing 300 cruise missiles on runways or helicopters or airplanes or command and control sites. That truly does degrade his ability to use these weapons. It also should serve as a very strong deterrent to Assad. Now, I think they`ve also tried to be un-Bush-like in saying that there are unintended consequences to any military action. We do not know what those will be, but we know that the unintended consequences of doing nothing is likely to be that Assad does this again and continues to use poison gas on children sleeping in the night, and that`s unacceptable. MADDOW: Tommy, if the United States congress does authorize the use of military force, or if, indeed, the administration keeps insisting that they might wage that kind of strike, regardless of what Congress does, do you think that precludes in the short term doing something that is truly international, something that maybe even conceivably involves the U.N. Security Council on this proposal? VIETOR: No. MADDOW: Is there a way to hold that off in the distance while still in the immediate terms trying to work with Russia on what they`re proposing today? VIETOR: No, I think you need two tracks. You get that military authorization so you have a real hammer to hold over Assad and that frees you to up to pursue potentially something at the U.N. or a bilateral agreement with the Russians and the Syrians. I mean, I think that credible threat is what the president needs to make the Syrians understand that their buddies at the U.N. Security Council, the Russians and Chinese cannot protect them anymore. Those days are over. When you gas 400 children in their sleep, when you basically torture them to death with a chemical, you no longer get a free pass. MADDOW: Tommy Vietor, former National Security Council spokesman for the Obama administration -- Tommy, thanks for your time tonight. It`s nice to see you. VIETOR: Thanks for having me, Rachel. MADDOW: Thanks. All right. There are some politicians who have taken this moment of crisis, this important decision moment on Syria to have a real honest and thorough and painful debate about what to do. That group does not include the most vocal wing of the Republican Party, and that story is ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Every time chemical weapons are moved, unloaded and used on the battlefield, it raises the likelihood that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists active in Syria, including Assad`s ally Hezbollah and al Qaeda affiliates. That prospect puts Americans at risk of chemical attacks targeted at our soldiers and diplomats in the region and even, potentially, our citizens at home. AMB. SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: President Obama does not want to get involved in this conflict. He wants to degrade Assad`s capability of using this weapon and affect his cost-benefit calculus, because he will use again and again and again. And it`s only a matter of time before these weapons will fall into the hands of non-state actors, again, imperiling some of our closest allies in the region but also in the long term hurting the United States. GUTHRIE: I know you`ve been asked this, and I`ll just try to pin you down a little bit. If this resolution fails in Congress, would you act without Congress? The answer could be yes, no or I haven`t decided. OBAMA: Yes, I think it`s fair to say that I haven`t decided. I am taking this vote in Congress and what the American people are saying very seriously. If you ask somebody, if you ask Michelle, do we -- do we want to be involved in another war, the answer`s no. People are wary about it, understandably. They have seen the consequences of this last decade. So, I recognize how important that debate is, and it`s my belief that for me, the president, to act without consensus in a situation where there`s not a direct, imminent threat to the homeland or interests around the world, that that`s not the kind of precedent that I want to set. And I`ll evaluate after that whether or not we feel strongly enough about this that we`re willing to move forward. GUTHRIE: And you`re confident you`re going to get the votes? OBAMA: You know, I wouldn`t say I`m confident. I`m confident that members of Congress are taking this issue very seriously and they`re doing their homework, and I appreciate that. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: President Obama speaking with NBC`s Savannah Guthrie tonight. Part of a major messaging effort by the administration today and tonight on Syria, you saw the president`s national security adviser, Susan Rice. You saw the U.N. ambassador, Samantha power speaking there as well, making the case about chemical weapons in particular, how alleged chemical weapons use is a qualitatively different matter for the United States than anything else that has been going on in Syria`s horrible civil war. The president for his part tonight, you heard Savannah there ask him about the congressional vote on using military force in Syria, the president saying, "I would not say that I am confident about that vote." Things are moving so fast now. Things moved on this so fast today that you actually have to note that that interview was done before the Senate postponed its vote. The Senate tonight decided to postpone its vote. They had been due to vote on the Syria issue Wednesday. That plan changed today after all the options on the table seemed to change. Now that Russia and Syria have unexpectedly pounced on John Kerry`s remark that Syria might avoid a U.S. military strike by handing over and destroying all its chemical weapons, now that that possibility is out there and Russia and Syria are making positive notions about that, the Senate is delaying its vote to see what happens next. And that means that all of the speculation about what happens in our Congress on this issue and what happens between our Congress and our president on this issue, that all now gets put on hold and potentially gets reset. And here, this is the important part, here is maybe how it gets reset. On Thursday last week, this did not get that much attention at the time, but on Thursday last week, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Democratic senator, said he would vote no on the Syria authorization that the Senate was considering, but he said he had a different idea for what he would support. Joe Manchin said, if the real problem is chemical weapons and the real problem is Syria being an outlaw nation when it comes to chemical weapons, well, why don`t we tell the Syrians that, yes, we will use military force against them unless they stop being a chemical weapons outlaw? Let`s be specific. Let`s use all our threats at leverage, not to say we disapprove of something they`ve already done but instead to force Syria to get better on this issue. Senator Manchin`s proposal was that we use all of our powers of threat and persuasion to persuade Syria to sign on to the international ban on chemical weapons that Syria has never signed before. And now today, Syria says it just might sign on to the international ban on chemical weapons that it has never signed before. Syria`s best friend, Russia, saying that, in fact, Syria will sign on to that ban, and Syria will allow the international community to take all of its chemical weapons and destroy them. And Syria seems to be going along with what Russia says here. And that is why everything changed today in Washington, and that is why the Senate has delayed its vote and the U.S. government and the president say now that the only reason this progress was made is because of a threat of U.S. military force seeming real in this case. And they`re saying that is what Russia and Syria responded to. And if it is up to the guy who I guess saw this coming, then the Senator Joe Manchin path out of here, the way forward is that the U.S. and the Senate and the president should change tact to reflect this progress today. Say yes to this offer from Syria and Russia, say yes to this offer from Syria to come in from the cold and hand over their chemical weapons, lead the world in universal approval of that move, see to it that it happens and save the prospect of the use of force for if they don`t follow through. If the world-riveting problem, if the problem the U.S. cannot ignore is chemical weapons, then what happened today should be and will be seized on as a way to fix that problem, not symbolically but actually, and not alone, but in concert with a unified international community. That was not possible before today, and all of a sudden, that is the thing that is at hand. Opportunities like this do not come along very often, but the world will hang on the words of President Obama in his White House speech tomorrow to see if and how he seizes this opportunity that has come his way. This is a big deal. Watch this space. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Allow me to introduce you to United States Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who`s a member of the United States Congress from the United States. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: My name is Michele Bachmann. I`m a member of the United States Congress from the United States of America. I want to assure the people of Egypt that I as a member of Congress will stand strong in support of continuing military support for -- United States support financially to stand for the military in Egypt. We`ve seen the threat that the Muslim Brotherhood has posed around the world. We stand against this great evil. We are not for them. We remember who caused 9/11 in America. We remember who it was that killed 3,000 brave Americans. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: No, you don`t remember, because the Muslim Brotherhood is actually a thing. It`s not just a term for guys who are Muslims who maybe have siblings. Muslim Brotherhood`s a thing in Egypt, a real thing, and members of the United States Congress, from the United States of America, going to Egypt and telling Egypt that as members of the U.S. Congress, you think that it was the Muslim Brotherhood that did 9/11? Oh, excuse me, 911? That`s amazing, but that happened in Egypt. Republicans Michele Bachmann, Steve King and Louie Gohmert, "A," have passports, and "B," used them this weekend to go to Egypt to praise the military coup there and to tell the Egyptian people that the Muslim Brotherhood did 9/11. Congressman Gohmert told the Egyptian generals that when he looks at them, he thinks of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. One political scientist who studies Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular told "The New York Times" about this trip today that, quote, "Mr. Gohmert and Mr. King and Ms. Bachmann`s visit to Egypt was, quote, `like a `Saturday Night Live` skit, unbelievable, ludicrous, almost comic if it wasn`t so painful`." At times, when war`s on the doorstep, when Congress is asked to make decisions about war and peace, it`s a rise to the occasion kind of moment. Congress may be terrible on everything else, they may be unable to resist even the most petty distractions on everything else. But on war and peace, we need there to be debate, we need the debate to be a good debate. We expect that Congress will take that job seriously, even if they can`t take anything else seriously. We expect that even the most vehement partisan opposition will be loyal opposition for the purpose of these hard, somber decisions about war and peace. We expect that we ought to be able to expect that. But there`s the Michele Bachmann flying circus in Cairo saying the Muslim Brotherhood caused 9/11. There is New York Congressman Michael Grimm going for the cash solution. Congressman Grimm a week ago said he supported the president on a military strike against Syria. That was a week ago. Now, he`s fund-raising on this. Will you stand with me in opposing President Obama`s plan for Syria with a donation of $25 or more right now? Hours after pulling a switcheroo on whether or not to catapult ammunition into a Middle Eastern country, Grimm says look, now I`m against the military exploding things in Syria, give me some money! And if you don`t want to give me money for that, hold on a minute, I might change my mind the other way and ask you for another 25 bucks. The congressman has reportedly now pulled that fund-raiser, but not before sending it out to his constituents and donors, so everybody could see. Meanwhile, the Republican leader in the United States Senate is leading his flock on this most important issue by refusing to say anything about it. Senator Harry Reid, leader of the Democrats, gave his floor speech today, saying he was in favor of the president`s proposal to use military force in Syria. When it came time for the Republicans to respond, though, his counterpart in the Senate, the leader, Mitch McConnell, decided to duck. Mitch McConnell`s up for re-election, don`t you know. So, the Republican response in the Senate was delegated to Dan Coats. Who? Dan Coats, yes, a senator from Indiana, because the leader of the Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell, doesn`t actually want to say what he thinks, so Dan Coats gets to. That said, the Republican Party has to go on the record every week with its official party response to the president`s weekly address, so the Republicans have to go on the record whether they want to or not with their take on what they think is the most pressing issue facing the country every week. The Republican weekly radio address this weekend tackled head on, bravely, the pressing issue of how much Republicans hate health reform. Yes, that was their weekly address to the nation this weekend. Down with Obama care! Nothing else going on, right? There is a good chance that the president of the United States could order a military strike in Syria. Members of Congress, both parties in Congress have been explicitly asked to weigh in on this very sober issue. The Republican Party, for the most part, is just deciding not to weigh in, or they`re going to Egypt to say the Muslim Brotherhood did 911. It would be awesome at times like this for the opposition party in Washington to be a useful part of the debate. Hard-fought fights are better fights than fights that are wussy, right? The more contentious the discussion sometimes the more rigorous the discussion. Instead, though, a lot of the more substantive discussion and debate is happening just inside one our two parties. It`s happening inside the president`s party, among Democrats, who respect each other but who do strongly disagree on this issue. Joining us tonight for the interview is Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California. Congresswoman, thank you very much for being with us. It`s nice to have you here. REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: My pleasure. MADDOW: You have circulated a draft resolution that presents a menu of possible responses aimed at finding a solution to the Syrian crisis other than through military means. Have you had any input, bipartisan or otherwise, from your Democratic colleagues or your Republican colleagues on working on this type of approach? LEE: Rachel, I must say, we`ve had quite a bit of input from our Democratic colleagues. We have not actually introduced it yet, but I think it`s very important, one, to recognize that the president really exercised tremendous leadership, constitutional leadership, by answering our call and by really deciding that he should come to Congress for this debate and a vote. He really believes in the process, in the democratic process. And so, moving forward, we have submitted for review an alternative that really lays out nonmilitary options, because many of us believe, myself included, that, first of all, the Assad regime, Assad should be held accountable for these horrific crimes against humanity. No one believes that this can go unchecked, but we do believe that there are other ways to put him in check and to hold him accountable. The secretary of state, Secretary of State Kerry indicated and said, and so has the president and others, that they want to get to a negotiated settlement, that there is no military option. And so, many of us believe that we have to seek and follow some nonmilitary strategies, diplomacy, negotiations, because if not, a military strike could lead us in the opposite direction. MADDOW: It seems like in these fast-moving developments today that started with Secretary Kerry`s comments this morning but then moved very quickly when Russia and Syria both responded to what he floated as a potential way out of this, it seems like today, there is a much more feasible, nonmilitary solution to this chemical weapons problem than there was even 24 hours ago. Do you think that congress will play a role in trying to push all parties involved here toward that specific nonmilitary solution of Syria giving up its chemical weapons? LEE: I hope so, because as part of my alternative, Rachel, we have that listed as a strategy, as what we think is one of the ways we can get to a negotiated settlement, and that`s by requiring Syria to join the chemical weapons convention. Having said that, it`s very important that this debate move forward and that we consider all of the nonmilitary options, and I`m very pleased with the fact that, of course, Russia, and we have to be cautiously optimistic about this, and Syria and others, are really looking at viable alternatives now. And so, I think the president once again has shown tremendous leadership in being cautious, in being deliberative and really thinking about how to move forward in consideration of what the American people are saying in terms of the possible consequences, unintended consequences of a military strike. MADDOW: Congresswoman Lee, you, of course, famously, were the one vote in either House of Congress back in 2001 against starting the Afghanistan war, which we are still in. You were opposed to the Iraq war. You`ve taken the responsibilities of Congress voting on matters of war and peace very seriously, even in the case of bucking all of Washington to vote your conscience. Do you feel like your House of Congress, do you feel that the House of Representatives should get on this and start voting? So far it seems like the plan is to wait until the Senate has made their move. The Senate`s plan to vote on this has been delayed further by today`s developments. Do you think the House ought to start talking about this sooner rather than later? LEE: Rachel, the House is talking about it, the American people are talking about it. There is no rush, as the president said. I believe this debate is very informative and it`s very needed, because the use of chemical weapons, it`s a dangerous, dangerous option that the Assad regime has exercised, and that should never, ever happen. And so, now we`re hearing from both sides of the aisle, we`re hearing from the American people about the dangers of the use of chemical weapons, the horrendous, tragic consequences and what we need to do to stop this onslaught that`s taking place. And so, we don`t need to rush, Rachel, we need to engage our diplomacy in a way that we`re, I think, doing right now in a very methodical way, the president and the administration. They`ve been doing this for years. And so, a military strike, the military option, that`s always going to be on the table. So, we`re saying let diplomacy work, let`s see if we can get to a negotiated settlement, hold the Assad regime accountable and really begin to help resolve the conflict that`s taking place in Syria and so much of the Middle East. MADDOW: California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, thank you so much for your time tonight, ma`am. It`s great to have you here. LEE: Thank you. My pleasure. MADDOW: Thank you. All right. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In 2010, the governor of Iowa was a man named Chet Culver. Mr. Culver is a Democrat. He was first elected governor of Iowa in 2006. He had a four-year term, so that meant he was heading into a re-election fight in 2010. And a few months before that 2010 election, the Iowa legislature passed a new law about gun permits. The new law said if you wanted a permit to carry a gun in Iowa, concealed or otherwise, there were almost no grounds on which you could be turned down for that permit. Under that new law which was backed by the NRA, Iowa sheriffs essentially lost the ability to say no to gun permits, even for reasons that historically made sense in Iowa. Because of that, not surprisingly, most of Iowa`s sheriffs opposed the NRA`s new law. But it passed, and the governor signed it, and a few months later, he pocketed the endorsements of the NRA, whoo-hoo, for Chet Culver! But yes, he lost anyway. The NRA`s support was not enough, and Democrat Chet Culver lost the election that year anyway, and he got turfed out as governor. So, now Iowa is governed by Republican Terry Branstad, the kingdom of mustacho. Still, though, the NRA-backed law that Chet Culver signed has been hanging around fully in effect for two years with some astounding results so far. "The Des Moines Register" made a search of the new gun permits and discovered that now, yes, as planned, basically, everyone in Iowa who asks for a gun permit gets one, and that means the list of people to whom sheriffs have had to give gun permits in Iowa includes a person known to the local sheriff as a suicide risk. A man known to be a suicide risk gets gun permit. So, does another person found by law enforcement with a lot of the key ingredients for making methamphetamine. "The Des Moines Register" published that report in March, then the paper kept digging into these new permits. In May, "The Register" found that 50 of the new easier-to-get gun permits in Iowa have gone to sex offenders, most of whom would have been denied a gun permit before the NRA`s new bill. Well, now, "The Des Moines Register" is back on the case with a new headline about the effects of this NRA-backed law in Iowa. Did you see this today? It`s amazing. Look. "Iowa grants permits for blind residents to carry guns in public." At least three legally blind residents so far. Quote, "State law does not allow sheriffs to deny an Iowan the right to carry a weapon based on physical ability." Now, I just want to say, I know that basically impaired people can shot guns. These days, people with even no vision at all can take target practice using special audio gun sights that sound off when you get the bull`s eye lined up. That`s not what we`re talking about here. We`re not talking about blind people taking target practice on specially equipped shooting ranges. We`re talking about permits to carry. We`re talking about blind people carrying guns around wherever, including concealed weapons. What could possibly go wrong? But that is now public policy in Iowa, guns for blind people, thanks to the NRA. The NRA got what it wanted. See also Colorado. In March, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed some of the nation`s first gun reforms, responding in the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Universal background checks, a 15-bullet limit in ammunition magazines. The NRA was very angry about this and they fought those new laws in Colorado, but they lost the fight and the new laws went into effect. And so, now, the NRA is trying another means of flexing its muscles in Colorado, they`re trying to get two state senators recalled because they supported those gun reforms. On the right there is Democrat Angela Heron. She`s one of the people facing recall. On the left is the Democrat State Senate President John Morse who is term limited out anyway but they are trying to recall him in the meantime to make a point. Recall elections are difficult to predict. What polling we do have suggests that voters are not necessarily sold on the state`s new gun restrictions but Coloradans also really do not like recalling lawmakers for supporting those restrictions. Colorado voters say they oppose the recalls by almost 2-1. But the real poll, of course, is tomorrow, election day. Polls close in Colorado at 7:00 p.m. local time, which is 9:00 on the East Coast. Does the NRA win this one, too? Just like they won gun permits for blind people in Iowa, do they win this one, too? Watch this space. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Vice President Joe Biden lives at number one observatory circle on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington. In that very, very nice house, the president and his wife, hosted a family style Italian dinner with six Republican senators, and also a man named President Obama. President Obama was there spending about an hour and a half to the vice president`s house to bend the six senators` ears on his resolution for military action against Syria. Tomorrow, the president will break bread again with Republican senators at their weekly luncheon. Then, he will attend the Senate Democrats luncheon, to lobby the senators of his own party. This is the full court press. There`s also going to be more rounds of classified briefings for members of Congress, from officials including the secretary of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the director of national intelligence. In terms of the public case, President Obama gave six sit-down interviews with TV anchors tonight. And that came after his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, lobbied all five Sunday morning political shows on the networks. And that came after a public speech by U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power on Friday. And after a public speech by national security adviser Susan Rice earlier today, which was followed by a public speech by retired Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She talked about Syria in the midst of a speech she was giving about a totally unrelated issue. This is the administration`s game plane. This is how they`re building their case for military action in Syria. In the first weeks of the administration`s push for a strike on Syria, it seemed as if Secretary of State John Kerry was going to be really the point man, the guy who was out there every day ahead of this. He was the first man out for the intervention certainly. But now, the administration has got all hands on deck. Part of their strategy, of course, is President Obama`s address to the nation tomorrow -- a direct appeal to the American public from the White House. We`re going to bring that to you live here on MSNBC. Of course, our coverage is going to start at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I will be here for that along with Chris Matthews. And all of our prime time anchors are going to be previewing the speech, which shall start at 9:01:30 p.m. And then we`ll return with reaction from our MSNBC casts, as well as lawmakers and reporters. It is a big, big night for the country and the world. Special coverage starts tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. We hope you will watch us -- you will join us to watch it. We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, today is September 9th. Yesterday, September 8th, is the birthday of "Star Trek". It is also the birthday of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Happy birthday, Senator. September 8 is also the birthday of Scotch Tape and the rapper Wiz Khalifa, and the great Patsy Cline. September 8 is also our birthday of this TV show. We started this program five years ago, September 8, 2008. Our very first guess what Steve Benen, who we sat down in front of a piece of linoleum on which a child had drawn an impressionist rendering of books on a crooked bookshelf using cheap crayons. Steve Benen has since developed a better backdrop and we have now approached from the ranks of our guest, so he is now a full-time writer for us at "Maddow Blog". Five years has flown by but we are all acutely conscious of what a rare thing it is for a show in this business to make it to five years. Speaking for myself, I feel lucky and blessed and grateful, grateful to MSNBC for putting us on the air. Grateful to the best staff in television who I get to work with every day. And grateful most of all to you for making it worth MSNBC`s while to put the show on every day because you apparently want to watch, for which I am grateful. So, thank you. We are five. We made it to five years old, which means we are just about ready to start learning to read. Watch out, we are just getting started. Thank you for being with us every night, tonight, and for the last five years. 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