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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/09/13

Guests: Bill Burton, Ryan Grim

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: The second term of the George W. Bush presidency, in particular. Way earlier than that, though, Republicans do have this one big problem area. One big plunge. It`s more than a dip, right? They kind of fell off a cliff right there. What exactly was going on right there that made the country hate the Republican Party so much more dramatically than they had ever hated them before? That was the vote to impeach President Bill Clinton for stooping an intern. The Republicans, of course, saw that as a great political triumph. They had finally impeached a Democratic president. But the country hated them for it. Over the last 20 years, the country has never hated Republicans more than they hated them at that moment until now. Until now. The new Gallup polling on the American public`s view of the Republican Party is now the worst it has ever been in modern times. It has even gone lower than it was during the Clinton impeachment era. And that apparently is the reward that you get if you can stretch your government shutdown to be longer than Hanukkah. It is more than eight crazy nights now, we are into day nine, and day nine, I guess, is when the wheels start to fall off. Things really did just seem like they started to break apart today. And I think it started with the front page of this morning`s newspapers. The fact that Republican members of Congress no longer believed blowing through the debt ceiling might be a big deal, they no longer believe that defaulting on the national debt would have catastrophic consequences, the denialism that the debt ceiling matters at all, that has been a story that`s been percolating a while now in this crisis, right? It`s been covered extensively in places like the "National Journal", places like Talking Points Memo online. It`s been on MSNBC. You`ve seen it on this show. It is a known story that has been increasingly reported out over the course of the crisis. But today, for whatever reason, today was the day that this story about Republican denial of the debt ceiling being a big deal, today was the day it finally landed on the front pages in places like "The New York Times" and It also got very prominent placement in the "Wall Street Journal." And it`s kind of hard to believe that Wall Street actually has to read it in "The Wall Street Journal" before they believe it`s true. But in fact, the main stream influential financial and political press finally waking up to the fact that Republicans are in la-la-land about whether the debt ceiling is a big deal, that finally seems to have woken some people up today. That today finally with it on the front pages, seems to have made this issue go off like a particularly loud and jarring alarm clock, because today was the day that Wall Street finally started to freak out about what is happening in Washington. I mean, if you have been watching closely recently, you would have seen things like the Vicks, what they call the fear index that has been going up over the last few weeks since the shutdown crisis has been upon us. Over at Ezra Klein`s wonk blog, they`ve been watching the price of short-term bonds go up. See how it spikes there on the right side of the graph? And that`s -- that`s a bad sign but it`s a very specific, wonky and relatively small sign. Today was the day that the signs got bigger. Today was the sign that we started to get bigger and much less subtle signs that the ground is shaking beneath Wall Street. The biggest shutter today was when the investment firm Fidelity dumped U.S. treasury bonds. Fidelity is the biggest manager of money market mutual funds in the whole country and today, they announced that they have sold off all U.S. government bonds that might come due around the time that we are due to be hitting the debt ceiling. They told the Associated Press somewhat shakily that they expect the debt ceiling issue will be resolved but just in case, they are, quote, "taking steps to protect their investors." Eek, and those are just the mutual fund people. If China does that, if Japan does that, with all the T bonds they own, we`ll all be living in Yerkes, milking goats by next week. So Wall Street today started their sell-off of U.S. government bonds. Wall Street today decided to finally essentially rattle the cage about what`s been going on in Washington. And inside the cage, inside Washington, they did get rattled. The Republican politics around the shutdown and the debt ceiling and what this is all about and where they ought to hold the line and what they`re supposed to be fighting for just collapsed today. The narrative just collapsed. Two of the most aggressive conservative groups who have been pushing for the shutdown all along, who have been hounding any Republicans who wouldn`t go along with the shutdown, today, two of those groups essentially bowed out. The CEO of Heritage Action, which is the political activist part of the Jim DeMint group, the Heritage Foundation, the Heritage Action that ran targeted ads against 100 different Republican members of Congress. Republicans. Hounding them for not signing on to that letter to John Boehner that demanded the shutdown last month. They ran out against a hundred different Republicans demanding that they take a hard line on the shutdown. Well, Heritage Action today said, "We think that Republicans should pass a clean debt ceiling." Also today, Freedom Works, which has been banging the drum for a shutdown for months now, today, Freedom Work`s CEO told the "Huffington Post" that yes, we also think they ought to pass the debt ceiling, at least get that part of it taken care of. You know, that same person, that same CEO from Freedom Works -- Freedom Works one week ago, a week ago said we will go past the deadline for the debt ceiling, and I don`t think that`s a bad thing. That was one week ago, but now a week later, with Wall Street starting to get a little freaked out and political people starting to hear about it, one week later he has completely changed his tune. Now he says yes, we need to pass the debt ceiling. Both the Freedom Works flip-flop guy and the Heritage Action Group, they`re trying to save face by saying the only reason they don`t want to blow through the debt ceiling now is because they don`t want it to be a distraction from the focus on Obamacare. But at the same time that they made that argument today, Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor both published op-eds today saying that the Republicans need to keep up the fight for a whole bunch of stuff that does not center around Obamacare. Paul Ryan did not even mention Obamacare at all in the op-ed that he wrote in the "Wall Street Journal" today about what it is that the Republicans need to keep fighting about. So if you`re looking for cues from Washington about what exactly is going on and why we`re still shut down and what it`s all about, you can take your pick today. They`re either fighting only about Obamacare and forget the debt ceiling, or they are definitely fighting over the debt ceiling and forget about Obamacare. OK, whatever the strategy was before, it sort of evaporated today between the conservative groups and the members of Congress who supposedly are doing their bidding, or vice versa, absolutely no coherence as of today. And that was all before the Koch brothers freaked out today. The Koch brothers and their conservative funding bank, Freedom Partners, they spent nearly a quarter billion dollars over the last year funding all the groups that have been driving the shutdown fight. That creepy paper mache head Uncle Sam wants to get in your pants ad, that ad telling college student to not get health insurance, funded by the Koch brothers, right? Heritage Action, which has been advocating the shutdown and whipping the vote on the shutdown and running ads against Republicans who are insufficiently hard line on the shutdown. Heritage Action funded by the Koch brothers. The Tea Party patriot which put out the defund the government to shut down Obamacare tool kit, funded by the Koch brothers. They spent $236 million over the past year to fund basically every significant component of the shutdown effort. Shut down the government to stop Obamacare, brought to you by the Koch brothers. Well, today the Koch brothers wrote a letter to Congress, explaining that, really, they we have no position on this whole issue. (LAUGHTER) No position on the shutdown. Sure, they`re against Obamacare but they`re not actually working on doing anything about it. They`re just funding all of the groups that have been demanding that the government shutdown as a way of trying to take Obamacare apart. Their letter says, quote, "Kohn has not taken a position on the legislative tactic of tying the continuing resolution to defunding Obamacare. And technically I am sure that is true. But they have also funded the entire network of organizations that have demanded that outcome and forced it on the country. Who else? Don`t blame us. So the wheels are really coming off here. The Republicans do not agree anymore on what they are trying to get and or on how they are trying to get it. And they are clearly moving into that phase of the collapse where people try to make sure that they are not going to get blamed for what had just happened. It is starting to feel like this is ending. It`s an important practical question now, though, about how fast it ends because the practical impact of the shutdown is not just becoming politically untenable, it is becoming untenable untenable. The way that most government agencies dealt with the prospect of a shutdown was by moving money around as best they could. By sliding money away from things that could wait, to things that had to be done right now, essentially hoping that the shutdown would be short and by moving around they could maybe ride it out. That strategy all over the government and basically all the government agencies is now resulting in new stuff closing down every day. Because the money is drying up. They could make it work for a couple of days. But now this is long enough that it`s not working anymore. So we had for a few days enough people on staff at the Veterans Administration to process veterans` claims for the benefits. Now we don`t. Seven thousand people furloughed there yesterday. We had enough people on staff to keep the Nuclear Regulatory Commission going, you know, the people who make sure no Fukushima here. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission today announced that they had been using carry-over funds that they had been able to use to keep the Regulatory Commission open for these last few days. But now those funds have been depleted. A notice from the commissioner today says Wednesday, today, is the last full day that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be operating normally until we received an appropriation. There was a fatal train incident on the red line of the D.C. Metro System last week. Because of the shutdown the National Transportation Safety Board has stopped investigating what caused that accident. The West Texas Chemical plant apocalypse that blew up 150 buildings and killed 15 people, that is being investigated by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board which has a staff of 41 people, 37 of the 41 as of now are on furlough. The investigation into that explosion has now been put on hold. Do you have a plant like that in your town? The cries of outrage coast to coast yesterday over the families of service men and service women killed in Afghanistan not being funded to fly to Dover to greet the caskets with the remains of their loved ones coming home from the war -- from the way they are fighting in our name? Congress and the White House and the Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon and even private organizations all scrambling today to try to make that better, to try to piece things together for those families. To try to at a least put that back together again. But every day now, this piece by piece rescue effort, this respond to the latest outrage, fix this thing here and this thing here piecemeal response is just starting not to work. With each passing day less of this is going to work. With every passing day, every passing hour, something else has to shut down, that will be an outrage, or huge danger or grave political upset to somebody somewhere who will clamor to try to get it fixed. But there are more of these things every day because the money runs out every day. And it gets worse every day. And ultimately, all the king`s horses and all the king`s men are not going to be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. This is broken. And until it is made whole again, this catch-as-catch-can happenstance way that they`ve been trying to alleviate the worst of it is becoming impossible. And it was -- it will be more impossible tomorrow than it was today and it`ll be even more impossible today after that. And so the pressure of the shutdown itself, the political pressure of Republicans not knowing why they`re doing this, and how long they`re going to keep doing it, the rattling of the financial markets today as people realized they might actually blow through the debt ceiling today. That seems to have broken this thing open on the right. The continuing pressure of the shutdown itself is breaking this thing open for everyone. But if this is in fact breaking apart, what happens next? Joining us now is Ryan Grim. He`s Washington bureau chief for the "Huffington Post". Ryan, it`s great to have you back. Thanks for being here. Thanks for having me. MADDOW: What is the Capitol Hill manifestation of the kinds of shifts we`re seeing around the arguments about why they`re doing this, about what their strategy is? How is this manifesting among House Republicans? RYAN GRIM, HUFFINGTON POST D.C. BUREAU CHIEF: Well, you`re totally right that this whole thing has broken apart, but in a way that`s been a gift to House Republicans because, you know, as I said earlier this week they really didn`t have a strategy. They were just kind of waiting for something to happen. And so the Tea Party taking the debt ceiling sort of off the table is a gift to them in the sense that it at least -- at least allows them to form a semblance of a strategy. If you think about what is the Republican coalition if you can even call it that at this point -- if you have Wall Street and you have the Tea Party, Heritage and Freedom Works together, that is pretty much it. And with both of them telling House Republicans don`t blow up the debt ceiling, that means they`re not going to blow up the debt ceiling, so they`re now talking about a 30-day, or a six-week completely clean extension. And once they extend it once, it`s extremely unlikely that they`ll play brinkmanship with it again right between Thanksgiving and Christmas which is -- which is where that would take us. But that leaves you with the government shutdown. And they genuinely think that they can keep win on the CR. You know -- they look at the government and, you know, they`re not noticing what you noticed that more things start shutting down every day. They have just seen the stat out there saying 86 percent of the government is still running. So this is OK, we can weather this in our district and, you know, suburban Dallas, or wherever they might represent. MADDOW: Ryan, what do you expect in terms of the timing on sorting out the debt limit issue? Obviously any signals to the market both worldwide and domestically that this is going to get fixed are going to have an immediate calming effect but what do you sense in terms of the procedural timeline it`s going to take in order to get that squared away? GRIM: You know, according to Harry Reid`s office they have -- they have heard nothing from Republicans in terms of moving forward on the debt ceiling -- MADDOW: Wow. GRIM: So that part is not hopeful. But they have an absolutely awful relationship right now, the Boehner and Reid staff and Boehner and Reid personally. So that`s not necessarily surprising. So even though that it`s happened I think that it will move pretty quickly. And they don`t even need to talk about it because if Boehner actually puts a clean debt ceiling bill on the floor and it passes with some Democratic Senate votes, the Senate will have to take it up. I mean there will be no excuse for them not to. And the president will obviously sign it. And I do see that happening relatively quickly, especially because of the volatility that you alluded to. MADDOW: Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for the "Huffington Post." Ryan, thanks for helping us track this. I appreciate you being here, man. Thanks. GRIM: My pleasure. MADDOW: All right. I`m seeing into the future. It is six months from now. And on every television screen and every inch of that machine, I see Democratic campaign ads whaling on Republican candidates who voted to shut down the government. Actually, you don`t have to see in the future, it`s already happening right now. They`re doing a dry run right now for the 2014 election. Are they doing a good job? That`s coming up, stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. PAUL LEPAGE (R), MAINE: The only thing that I have heard is if you take a plastic bottle, put it in the microwave and then heat it up, it gives off a chemical similar to estrogen, and so, I mean, in worse cases, some woman might have a little beard, so we don`t want to do that. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would you like to do, we can fly -- LEPAGE: I want to fly over (INAUDIBLE) and blow it up. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re about to put on screen what the governor said in response and some of our viewers who find it distasteful may want to hit the mute button and turn away for the next 20 seconds or so. The governor told the reporters Senator Jackson claims to be for the people but he is the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline. When he was asked if he realized some people may find that comment offensive, he`s reported to have said, good, it ought to, because I`ve been taking it for two years. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: You know, if you had had to guess who was it going to be, you probably would guess that it was going to be the Vaseline guy, right? Maine`s amazing Tea Party Republican governor Paul LePage. Governor Paul LePage today made what has got to be the strangest and most unexpected political response yet to the government shutdown. Governor Paul LePage of Maine today declared a state of emergency. He issues a unilateral Proclamation of Civil Emergency for the state of Maine which somehow in some unexplained way and to an unexplained extent expands his powers as governor because of the government shutdown. A press release from the governor says he has proclaimed this civil emergency and given himself these new powers in order to, quote, "minimize the financial impact of the shutdown." Now there is nothing about him yelling emergency that will give him any authority he doesn`t already have to spend state money. The Maine Constitution is very clear on that. So who really knows what this is all about? I mean, with Paul LePage, you never really know. But he says officially he is hereby exercising his authority to suspend strict compliance with laws or rules. Because why not? One man`s shutdown is another man`s opportunity to proclaim himself the king of Maine, the king, I tell you. I`m sure the long-suffering people of Maine cannot wait to see how this works out. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LEPAGE: So, I mean, in worse cases, some woman might have a little beard. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We have new polling tonight from the great commonwealth of Virginia from the Virginia governor`s race, with less than a month ago before that race, a new poll shows Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli trailing the Democrat in the race, Terry McAuliffe, by six points. And that counts as good news for Ken Cuccinelli because in the other big poll released yesterday, Mr. Cuccinelli was trailing by nine points and in polling from the day before that, same deal, Ken Cuccinelli losing by nine. The last time Ken Cuccinelli led this race in even a single poll was July 14th, when one single poll, that`s a bit of an outlier, had him up by six. Since then, though, Terri McAuliffe has led in every single statewide poll in Virginia, and there have been almost plenty of them. At this point, the Virginia governor`s race is going badly enough for Ken Cuccinelli that people have sort of given up wondering whether Bob McDonnell is dragging down Ken Cuccinelli or maybe the corruption scandal that both McDonnell and Cuccinelli are tied to. Maybe that`s striking him down or maybe it`s the shutdown, and the National Republican Party`s woes that are dragging down Ken Cuccinelli. At this point Ken Cuccinelli is far enough down in the polls and he has been for so long that nobody is really worried anymore about what caused it. Now the worry is whether Ken Cuccinelli is going to cause other Republicans to start failing, too. The new dynamic that Virginia Democrat are trying to exploit in this race is that Ken Cuccinelli could be a heavy anchor that drags down the other Republicans who have the unfortune of being on the ballot with him. Case in point, the Democrat running for the job that Ken Cuccinelli is leaving, the Democratic candidate for attorney general released this new ad this week, banking on the idea that the best way to make people vote against Mark Obenschein is to show Mark Obenschein riding around in the same convertible with the dreaded Ken Cuccinelli. The message from this ad is basically, you know, vote for me, vote for me, the Democrat, is my opponent is just like Ken Cuccinelli. He -- Ken Cuccinelli just riding around in the convertible looking for women`s rights to limit. But even with Ken Cuccinelli losing this consistently and this badly in the polls in Virginia so far, nobody thinks that this Virginia governor`s race is going to be a historic blowout. Everybody thinks it`s going to be closer than the last election, for example, which really was a blowout. Bob McDonnell took the last election in Virginia in a walk, he won by nearly 18 points. Here is the interesting thing, though, even though Bob McDonnell won by a mile, won by 18 points in that race, it still didn`t mean that he won by all that many votes. Virginia is a big state with a big population but they hold their governor`s elections in off, off, off years. Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009. This new election is in 2013. These aren`t election years. These are off, off-year elections, and they have low turnouts. So even though Bob McDonnell won in a landslide, the total number of votes between him and the guy he beat, weren`t that many, there were fewer than 350,000 votes between them in that giant state, even though it was a blowout in that race. Well, this race this year is going to be a blowout. Everybody thinks it`s going to be closer than the last one. You can basically guarantee that at maximum there`s only going to be a couple of 100,000 votes between these two candidates. If you are heading into that relatively close election, if the polls say you`re behind in this election by a couple of 100,000 votes, max, maybe even fewer, what kinds of things do you think you could do to help your chances in an election like that? With just weeks before the election day? Well, here`s one thing you could do. How about a voter purge? How about purging 57,000 Virginia voters off the rolls immediately before the election? In a huge blowout race, the margin between the candidates is only 300,000 something votes, you get rid of 16,000 voters, yes, that`ll make a dent. The state elections board in Virginia has just sent out a list of 57,000 voters who they say ought to be stricken from the rolls immediately before the governor`s race which is less than four weeks from now. Now in Virginia the current governor, Governor McDonnell, is of course a Republican. Under state law that gives the Republican Party control of the state elections board. They also get to appoint a Republican majority to run all the county boards of elections. It`s in their hands, the whole thing. And so ahead of this race that Ken Cuccinelli is slated right now to lose by probably not that many thousand votes it`s the Republican-controlled state elections board that`s issued this order to kick 60,000 people off the voter rolls. Interestingly, though, they are getting some pushback from even the Republican local officials who control voting at the local level. They may be Republicans but they are not down with this. In Loudoun County, the registrar there tried to resist the state purge order after she found more than 400,000 names on the purge list that she believed were on there by mistake because she found so many errors on the purge list she said wanted to wait until after the election to proceed with the state ordered purge so it can be -- it could be done carefully and correctly. The state board rejected that decision from her and order her instead to start purging people off the rolls immediately right now before the election. That local registrar told the "Washington Post," quote, "I will do in best." In Chesterfield County, the registrar there did an initial check of the list of voters that he was told to purge. He says just in his initial dive into the list he found more than 170 names that were on that list in error. He told the "Richmond Times Dispatch," "What am I going to find when I really start digging?" That Republican county registrar says he, too, wants to put off the state- order voter purge until after election day in the governor`s race. The state has been trying to pressure him otherwise but in Chesterfield County, his local board is standing by him in his decision. So that means Chesterfield County voters may not get purged off the rolls this month ahead of the election if they can hold out. So less than four weeks out from the governor`s race, Republicans at the state level in Virginia are running into some trouble with their attempted voter purge in some counties. Not everywhere but in some counties. Even local Republican officials are balking. Also, there is the matter of the Democrats who have sued Governor McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to try to stop the purge. But here`s the thing. Ken Cuccinelli`s current job is attorney general of the state, right? As such he is the lawyer, the counsel for the State Board of Elections. For the first time in almost 30 years, this attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has decided to not step down from the attorney general`s office because of his run for governor. So if this election for governor does end up close or does end up in court because of the way it ends up close, do you want to know who the chief legal officer of the state of Virginia is? Who`s going to be dealing with those conflicts? All right, that guy, acting as the legal counsel to resolve any legal disputes over his own election. Excellent planning, you guys. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Do you ever just feel like you need a good cry? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) (CRYING) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Oh, God, that is cathartic. It is still a little unsettling, you have to admit. But it helps to see it in context. Because that sort of annoying baby close-up footage is actually part of an ad, wait until you see the rest of it. That is coming up next. And it explains also about how Democrats are trying to use the government shutdown right now to frame the shutdown in a way that will work for them. That will work for them particularly next year when the whole country goes to vote. That story is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Once upon a time, like say at the beginning of this week there we a couple of dozen Republican congressmen who said they didn`t want the government should be shut down anymore. Defending who was counting, they were between 22 and 26 Republicans who said they wanted a chance on a clean bill to just reopen the government and we can settle our differences some other way. Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Lou Barletta was one of those Republican members of Congress who told the local press in Pennsylvania that he wanted to fund the government. But after telling the local press he would absolutely vote to fund the government, Lou Barletta then changed his mind. Now, he tells Dave Weigel at, he said he is not for that anymore. Quote, he says, "I`m past that." And now, Lou Barletta is waking up to ads like this running in his district. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AD NARRATOR: Lou Barletta joined with Tea Party Republicans in Congress and shut down our government, putting hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work, putting critical benefits for veterans, seniors and the disabled at risk, denying cancer treatment for kids and halting food inspections. Economists say Lou Barletta`s Tea Party shutdown could weaken the economy and devastate middle class families. Call Congressman Barletta. Tell him to do his job. End the Tea Party government shutdown of our government. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: We`ve blocked out the phone number, but you got the idea. That`s being run in the home district of Republican Congressman Lou Barletta in Pennsylvania, and also in the home districts of nine other Republican members of Congress like him. It is run by a liberal group called Americans United for Change. They tend to support Democrats, and they are linked to the labor movement. But they are not alone, Organizing for America is also running ads against Republicans, trying to capitalize for Democrats politically off of the Republican shutdown vote (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AD NARRATOR: Irresponsible. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obamacare hurts this country much more than any government shutdown. AD NARRATOR: Reckless. UNIDENTIFID FEMALE: People are probably going to realize they can live with a lot less government. AD NARRATOR: Destructive. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the happiest I`ve seen members in a long time. AD NARRATOR: The government shutdown is hurting veterans, seniors and our kids. Now, Tea Party Republicans are threatening an economic shutdown, refusing to pay our nation`s bills, endangering American jobs. Tell them to stand up to the Tea Party. Enough already. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That ad is from the White House group, Organizing for America. That follows this, the long web video posted online from the liberal American Bridge PAC, which shows Republicans crowing about how great the shutdown is, and thereby taking the blame for it. And then there is the House Majority PAC ad, which is really quite epic, which runs starting this past weekend during some Sunday afternoon NFL games. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) (CRYING) AD NARRATOR: Speaker John Boehner didn`t get his way on shutting down health care reform. So, he shut down the government and hurt the economy. House Majority PAC is responsible for the content of this advertisement. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Not subtle. What you are seeing here -- what this looks like at least is the playbook, essentially a dry run of the Democratic playbook for the mid-term elections next year, testing to see what works and what sticks and packs a punch. In normal times, nobody would expect the Democrats to have a prayer in mid-term elections. The president`s party always gets clobbered in midterm elections. And with the gerrymandering of the districts right now, I mean, 2014 would normally seem like an impossible task for the Democratic Party. But right now, the head of the Democratic Party`s House campaign committee is out there saying if the 2012 election were rerun today, the Democrats would take back the House, John Boehner would lose his job and Nancy Pelosi would get the gavel back. Democrats need to take 17 seats that are currently held by Republicans in order to take back control next year and 17 seats is a lot. But the Democrats right now are crowing like they`ve got a real shot at it. They even sent out this e-mail today boasting about their chances next year. The subject line of the e-mail is the words "Speaker Boehner," but with the word speaker crossed out. Is this just cocky? Is this trash talk? Or is this something that the Democrats actually think they know how to pull off? Joining us now is Bill Burton. He`s former deputy White House press secretary, senior strategist and cofounder of Priorities USA. He`s now executive vice president at Global Strategy Group, which I`m sure is less terrifying than it sounds. Thank you for being here. BILL BURTON, PRIORITIES USA: Don`t count on it. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: So, there is less confidence on the Democratic side right now, I think not about how this resolves, but about how badly the Republicans have hurt themselves politically by the way they have handled this thus far. Is that just trash talk? Or do you think there is reason for them to be so confident? BURTON: So, when I was at the DCCC in 2006, I was rooting (ph) for Rahm Emanuel, the job that Steve Israel has right now, who quoted there. And the process of winning the House for Democrats, making Nancy Pelosi speaker, was building a case over the course of two years. I think what you`re seeing Democrats do right now is they`re building a case. They`ve put it, Steve Israel has very a talented staff, the DCCC. They have recruited some very great candidates across the country. But this part of the case they`re building, which is that Republicans are at center of this dysfunction, you`ve got to get them out of power, is a very important part of getting to the next piece of the case, which is here is the real life consequences of the dysfunction in Washington, in the lives of middle class Americans and all over the country. Because I don`t think you can get to that place, you can actually get to Election Day and change control of Congress. But what they`re doing is building a very important part of it right now. And it is getting to the place where I think that we could actually win a whole lot of seats. But we`ll see if the Republicans will really fumble the ball so much that Democrats can take advantage of it. MADDOW: I -- I see in watching the Republicans denied that the debt ceiling is a big deal, particular Republicans who don`t expect to be in the sort of Louie Gohmert seat, kooky caucus, like you see guys like Richard Burr and other people like that who otherwise sometimes sound like they know what they`re talking about. When you hear these guys expound that the debt ceiling is no big deal, we shouldn`t worry about it, what I am hearing when they start talking is them saying, yes, you know what, if (INAUDIBLE) debt ceiling, it might be the next great depression, it might even be worse than 1929, but what are the odds that people will blame Obama for that? I mean, the Democrats are trying obviously to make political hay out of what the Republicans are doing, aren`t the Republicans going to do the same? BURTON: Yes. But they`re -- they`ve been pretty ineffective at doing it right now. But look at who we`re dealing with right now. We`re dealing with people who are not just denying what default would mean. They deny global climate change. They deny evolution. They deny that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. These people are not driven by facts. They`re driven by much scarier voices that they`re hearing somewhere. Although watching all those ads, one thing that I was thinking is that after tonight, they can use something else that`s even far more scarier than in those Democratic ads, which is what you said, that we all might be living in yurts, drinking milk from goats. Be afraid, America. (LAUGHTER) BURTON: Pay attention. MADDOW: Listen, I live in rural western Massachusetts where people chose to live in yurts, you don`t want to live in yurts, America, trust me. Don`t go through the debt ceiling. Are there particular races where you see a shutdown like this having a bigger impact than the average? BURTON: Well, I think races, where there`s a lot of government workers, and a lot of folks who actually either work for the federal government or depend on it. I saw this, because I`m kind of a nerd about the politics and news reporting. There is a story about the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, where the library was shut down because of the shutdown, and as a result, local businesses which depend on the people who come through town and stop at the library, like the local coffee shops, everything like that, they have seen the revenues drop like 75 percent as a result. So, places where there`s a lot of government jobs and other places that depend on those government jobs, those will be affected. And then you`ve got other places like Coffman`s district in Colorado, or Southerland in Tennessee, where they`re just already competitive districts where people are so sick of what is happening in Washington, that this is the sort of thing that sends them over the edge, we just need to change what`s happening there so that we don`t have to live in yurts one day. MADDOW: Yes. Even if goat milk is delicious. I can hear the goat milk gearing up right now -- BURTON: That`s right. T-bills people, the goat milk people are all watching the show tonight. MADDOW: We`re toast, toast. You`re always do this to me. Bill Burton, executive vice president at Global Strategy Group, former deputy White House press secretary -- Bill, thank you for being here. BURTON: Thank you for having me. MADDOW: Mee! Be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Lots still to come on tonight`s show, including some stuff that has nothing at all to do with the shutdown, some jaw-dropping stuff out of Russia. And story about a real hero in North Carolina. That`s all ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There is a bit of a dramatic update for you tonight on a story that started dramatically in the first place. A couple of weeks ago, we reported on a confrontation between Russian coast guard and a ship from Greenpeace. Russia is trying to start the first oil drilling in the Arctic, of massive offshore rig. Greenpeace is protesting against drilling in the Arctic, they sent a ship up there to try to have their activists board the platform. Well, Russia decided to meet them with an armed response, guns drawn, even knives drawn against the activists. They fired shots across the Greenpeace ship. Russia arrested the entire crew at gunpoint. They even arrested journalists who are on board the ship covering the confrontation. They impounded the ship. They forced it into port in northern Russia. The entire crew, including the captain and the journalists, have been held in prison in Russia ever since. Last week, Russian authorities charged the entire crew, the entire group with piracy, which carries a sentence of 15 years in Russian prison if they are convicted. The group is 28 crew members, plus two journalists. They are from 18 different countries, including one from the United States. Russia, thus far, is refusing them bail. So, they`re languishing behind bars. And now, Russian officials say they`re still considering adding charges of, quote, "more grave crimes" on top of the 15 years in prison piracy charges. So, this is a story that started off very dramatically. But it is getting more dramatic and more draconian over time. We are watching this closely to see how it resolves. It feels like it is getting close to the point where there has to be international diplomacy to try to resolve this situation. Meanwhile, there`s also another story in Russia that`s following kind of that same trajectory right now, where it started off as a bad story but it`s escalating quickly now into something much, much worse. And that story has at the center of it a bunch of American conservative activists who apparently are egging Russia on. Russia is now trying to start taking kids away from their parents if their parents are gay. And American conservatives are helping make it happen. We`ve got that story here exclusively on tomorrow night`s show. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK, a few weeks ago, we took a trip on the show to Elizabeth City, North Carolina. We went down there to cover the story of that state`s new voter suppression law, which is signed into law by the Republican Governor Pat McCrory, and is now the subject of a lawsuit by the federal Department of Juice. North Carolina`s voter suppression law has been called one of the worst voter suppression laws passed in any state since 1965, since before the Voting Rights Act was enacted to put a stop to literacy tests, poll taxes and the like. So, we went to North Carolina to cover the story of this guy, a college senior year at Elizabeth City State University, who`s name is Montravias King. Montravias King was trying to run for city council in Elizabeth City, which is where his school is located. He has lived there and voted there since 2009. But when he tried to run for office, the chairman of the local Republican Party turned up and challenged his right to run. He told the Republican controlled elections board there that Montravias King shouldn`t be allowed to run for city council because he lived at college. And that meant he couldn`t be a real resident of that town. He said going to college in that town doesn`t really count as living there. Now, the local elections board, Republican dominated, agreed with him and said, yes, all right, Montravias King can`t run. And the really deep thing about that decision, is that the residency requirements for running for office are the same as the residency requirements for voting. So, if Republican activists and Republican elections officials are going to start blocking college kids from running for office, that lays the ground work for them also blocking every college student in the state from voting in North Carolina. Well, Montravias King in Elizabeth City would fight for the right to run for office, and the right to vote. He was going to fight for it for himself and for every college student in North Carolina whose voting rights had been put in danger by the way politics turned in the state. So, we went done to North Carolina to talk about the impact of that law and to cover Montravias king`s fight. And, once getting down there, driving around with Montravias, talking about the fight he insisted to me against skepticism that he was going to win this fight. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I can tell you have the appetite for the fight. I cannot tell, from talking to you, whether you are just spinning me by saying you think you are going to win. Ha-ha. Is that just like, oh, yes, I am confident. Like really do you think you`re going to win? MONTRAVIAS KING: I am completely, absolutely sure -- MADDOW: Everything is against you. KING: -- that I`m going to win. MADDOW: The local board is against you. State board is Republican controlled appointed by the governor who just rolled back voting rights further than any other state in the country since the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965. Everything is stacked against you. You are like, I am going to win. KING: Oh, yes, I am completely sure. Not only do I know that the students are behind me and supporting me, but I believe a large number of people in the Fourth Ward are going to vote for me. I am really sure about that. MADDOW: You are a man with great optimism. KING: Yes. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Yes. Yes, you are really optimistic for no reason. Right. He did, he did not seem worried. He did not seem concerned. And, I have to say in that moment I really admired that he seemed so cool and given that I thought he had no chance. It also has to be said that I`m not from around there. I didn`t totally have my bearings. So then this happened. This was so embarrassing. Keep an eye on the front windshield up in the sky. Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The voter suppression bill as I have been calling it. Wow, that thing came in low. Oh, it was crop dusting. KING: Yes, welcome to the countryside. MADDOW: I was like, OK, then we filmed a plane crash on the highway. Crop dusting. Very nice. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was nice going, Maddow. It`s like a crop duster. I`m like, ah, look, an amazing special effect. There is Montravias, cool, calm, collected I am freaking out about the crop duster and also freaking out about his chances of making the ballot and saving North Carolina student voting rights in the process. Last month, the state board of elections, Republican dominated heard Montravias King`s appeal. At the hearing, the same local Republican Party chairman showed up to say that Montravias King should be ineligible. The board voted that day and they sided with Montravias King. They voted that Montravias should be allowed to run for city council. And I`m not going to lie, I was surprised. The deck was stacked against him, right? So, that was, me being wrong the first time. Wished him well on the race, of course. Nobody was really sure how it would play out. After all he had been through. His chances of winning seemed slim. But then last night happened. Last night, king won. He won a seat on the city council. He became the first Elizabeth City State University student and youngest person in the history of Elizabeth City to when a seat on the city council and he was the top vote getter in the race. He swept up 38 percent of all votes cast in a race in which 1 million people were running, he was the best vote getter by far. So, there you have it. He won. He beat the odds to get on the ballot. He beat the odds to win. And maybe I just don`t understand the odds, very well, but either way, I was wrong. And I stand very, very, happily corrected. And, Mr. King, congratulations on a fight well fought. Now, you have to be a good city counselor because we`re all going to be watching. That does for it tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow night. 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