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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/20/13

Guests: Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. It`s nice to have you with us. Very excited to tell you that our first guest tonight, in just a moment, is Elizabeth Warren. She`s senator from Massachusetts who is making Democrats all over the country do back flips over the effect that she is having on the Democratic Party, of course, over the prospect that she could be a very big part of the next round of national Democratic leadership for 2016 and beyond. Senator Elizabeth Warren is our guest live in just a moment. In Washington, though, this was the remarkable scene outside the home of Republican House Speaker John Boehner early this morning. It`s dark in these images because it started before dawn on the sidewalk in front of his House on Capitol Hill. And it carried on into the early morning light this morning -- as young activists were bold enough to go to John Boehner`s doorstep to try to increase the pressure for him to allow a vote on immigration reform. This footage is from NBC Latino, which covered the action this morning. (BEGIN VDIEO CLIP) REPORTER: Why are you protesting here at Boehner`s house? PROTESTER: The reason why is because we have the vote for immigration reform. There is still time left in their calendar, in the congressional calendar. And the only thing stopping us is him. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It is true that the same immigration bill that passed the United States Senate probably would pass in the House, too, if Speaker Boehner put it up for a vote. But he will not put it up for a vote. This group today set up a Thanksgiving table in front of Speaker Boehner`s house in the wee hours of the morning. They set up place settings and everything, in the centerpiece, as one young man pleaded from the speaker from the sidewalk in front of his home, that the speaker should imagine what it is like for him, for this young man, to not be able to have Thanksgiving with his father next week, because for the first time he is not able to do that. And the reason he is not able to do that is because his father has just been deported. This is the same group of very bold young activists who have staged other emotional protests on this issue to show that immigration isn`t just an issue of political calculation and economics. It`s a policy that quite literally splits families apart. It forces children and parents to be forcibly separated from one another. These young people all raised in the United States are reaching through the border fences at Nogales to see their mothers on the other side of the fence. And the only way they are allowed to see them because our immigration system is so dysfunctional. It`s the same group of kids and moms and dads who spontaneously made the decision to just sit down in front of a bus leaving an immigration detention center in Phoenix, Arizona, a few weeks ago. Peaceful, but fairly radical direct action to stop that massive deportation, and the people in the bus crying, holding up their shackles, while the kids and the parents sitting in front of the bus also cried and prayed and sang and waited themselves to be arrested. The votes are there, actually, to pass immigration reform. And it has already passed the Senate with lots of Republicans voting for it. And of course, the present would sign it. But it is the House Republicans who will not let that happen. Speaker John Boehner personally will not let that happen. And so, these emotional protests not only continue but they are getting more and more intimately focused on the Republican leaders in the House, who actually are the only reason why this policy is not changing. Why this long awaited reform is not happening. Speaker John Boehner eats breakfast every morning at the same diner in Washington, D.C. It`s not a secret that he does it. It`s supposed to be one of the charmingly down to earth things that we are allowed to know about him. Now, forget the golfing and the tanning thing, look, he eats grits every day. But with him standing in front of immigration reform and the kids who are organizing for immigration reform being so bold and so unpredictable and so emotionally compelling in their protests and their appeals, it probably was just a matter of time before John Boehner sitting there at the diner had a spectacularly articulate Latina 13-year-old, telling him very politely as he was eating his grits, that her father was being deported, and that she loved him and that she wanted her family to be able to stay together and, please, wouldn`t he allow a vote? And there they were again talking to his windows in the pre-dawn gloaming, talking to the pulled blinds and closed drapes, setting that sad Thanksgiving table out on the sidewalk. And then once they left John Boehner`s House this morning, they went to Eric Cantor`s office at the Capitol, where 11 of them were arrested for peaceful civil disobedience. It would be one thing, it would not be nearly as newsworthy actually if these dramatic, resonant protest, this movement that has come up in the last two years, it would be one thing if they were trying to get Republicans to do something that Republicans just say they don`t want to do. If these guys were protesting for let`s, say, abortion rights or a progressive tax system or something else that Republicans just flat out say they do not want, then what these kids were doing could still be an interesting act of political expression, but it wouldn`t really have any suspense to it. The reason this is so compelling, though, is because in the case of immigration, Republicans theoretically say they do want to do this. They say they do want to help. Their one official Republican Party policy prescription for themselves after they lost so badly in the last election was that the party would have to find a way to say yes to immigration reform. They say they want it. Today, after the protesters were arrested at his office, Eric Cantor continued to pay lip service to the idea, saying that he agrees, sure, they should stay. He is even maybe working on a bill like that some day. But the bill that would let that happen, one that already passed the Senate, that`s ready to go, he and John Boehner will not let that go to a vote, even though it would likely pass if they did. Yesterday, President Obama even told "The Wall Street Journal" that he would consent to passing immigration reform the way the Republicans say they want to do it, he`d be a right with doing one piece at a time instead of one big comprehensive bill. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats want to do comprehensive reform. Republicans want to do step by step reform. It`s a poisonous political atmosphere. Can you make it happen? BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I am actually optimistic that we`re going to get this done. I`m -- but I am a congenital optimist, I have to be, I`m named Barack Obama, I ran for president. So -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And won. OBAMA: And won twice. So look, keep in mind first of all that what the CEOs here said is absolutely right. This is a boost to our economy. They`re suspicious of comprehensive bills, but you know what? If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don`t care what it looks like as long as it is actually delivering on those core values that we talk about. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The latest stated objection from House Republicans as to why they won`t do immigration is that they wanted to do it piece by piece instead of one bill. That was the last objection they had, the last thing they could use to explain why they hadn`t done it. Well, as of that interview yesterday with "The Wall Street Journal", that problem for them is now solved. The Democrats are now saying, OK, we`ll do it that way. Regardless, no signs at all that the Republicans are going to move on this at all. And now, John Boehner can`t get out his front door, even if he wanted to hit his favorite morning diner he would probably hit another heart-rending 13-year-old once when he got there. Last night on Comedy Central, on "The Colbert Report", Stephen Colbert hosted the man who came in second to Mitt Romney in the Republican Party`s 2012 presidential primary. Rick Santorum, where you`ve been? We missed you. Rick Santorum and Mr. Colbert talked about Mr. Santorum`s new Hollywood movie studio. And then the conversation turned to how conservatives, how Republicans can ever appeal to Latino voters. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDY CENTRAL: Yes, go ahead, give it up for going forward. OK, the new movie is called "The Christmas Candle." RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That`s correct. COLBERT: And it`s a story of -- it`s a town with a set of miraculous candles. So, the true meaning of Christmas -- SANTORUM: Not really. COLBERT: It`s not? SANTORUM: It`s a town -- COLBERT: There is no miraculous candles? SANTORUM: There`s candles that blessed. Every 25 years, an angel comes in this town and blesses a candle. COLBERT: Just like it does in the Bible? SANTORUM: Not exactly. COLBERT: Not exactly. OK. SANTORUM: And this candle was given to somebody who is in need, and a miracle happens on Christmas Eve to that family. It`s a beautiful story. And now, it`s -- COLBERT: So it`s not a miraculous candle. SANTORUM: Well -- the candle is not miraculous, but the prayer that is said, given the instructions, light it and pray. So, it`s not the candle that gives the miracle, but it`s the prayer -- an answer to prayer that is the miracle. COLBERT: I can accept that. SANTORUM: There you go. COLBERT: I can accept that. SANTORUM: We`re not -- you know, it is not like voodoo stuff. This is a real prayer. COLBERT: Miraculous candles is not voodoo, it is Hanukkah. OK? (CHEERS) COLBERT: So, we`re both Catholics, OK? SANTORUM: Yes. COLBERT: You`re probably the most famous Catholic politician. I`m the most famous Catholic on television. OK? SANTORUM: Sure. COLBERT: Can we talk about the Hispanic vote for a second? They`re Catholics, we`re Catholics, why can`t conservatives reach out to the Hispanics for the Pete`s sake? The pope, the Pope is a Hispanic now. SANTORUM: Yes. COLBERT: Doesn`t that kind of make us Hispanic ourselves? SANTORUM: Somewhat. COLBERT: You know, by the transitive property of popping -- SANTORUM: He is our father. COLBERT: Yes, he is our holy father. S can we reach out to them on social issues? SANTORUM: Absolutely. That is one of the things I said with Republicans who say I want to abandon the issues, the way we can reach out to a large segment of the minority population is through social issues, is through issues where there is common agreement on those biblical principles. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The transitive power of popping. Yes. I don`t know how that works. But the long-held Republican theory which was voiced by Rick Santorum there last night on "Colbert Report" that theory that Latinos would come to Republicans, as long as the Republicans stay really hard core on social conservatism, that theory, which Republicans have had forever, it got a test last night in New Mexico, where the 47 percent Latino voting population of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was treated by social conservatives to a super divisive, super intense, super expensive, city-wide anti- abortion referendum. Albuquerque just had a mayoral election last month. They got 70,000 people to turn out for the mayor`s race. Last night for the abortion ban, they got 17,000 more people to show up and vote. And the abortion ban lost badly. There was a bit of a blowout. It lost by 10 points. This was a test case for the long-held Republican view that the Republicans don`t need to change anything about what they`re offering in terms of policy. They can count on a Latino electorate turning out for their side of things if they stay really hard core on abortion. It turns out that in a test lab for that idea, in a largely Latino city, in a single issue election, that test was a failure. So, is there anything new under the sun from Republicans? They keep telling themselves they definitely don`t have to change, that everybody else is going to come around to their way of thinking? Is there anything new from them on offer? Today in Ohio, the Republican controlled legislature there passed the "stand your ground" gun law. They loosened gun regulations on concealed weapons and they moved to make it more legally defensible to shoot someone, ala the George Zimmerman case in Florida, nice timing on that one, Republicans today. Ohio Republicans also today passed new restrictions on voting rights. These were the lines to vote in Ohio in 2004, lines up to 10 hours long to vote in Ohio in the presidential election in 2004. Ohio did not have lines like this in the two presidential elections after that, because after 2004, the state instituted changes. Like this is not a hypothetical thing in Ohio. The state has a really recent history of it being terribly difficult to vote in heavily populated, especially Democratic-leaning parts of the state. It was really bad in `04, and they fixed that problem by making changes like expanding early voting so the lines wouldn`t be so long on Election Day. About a third of Ohio voted early last year. It is much easier to do that. And the fact that so many people like early voting and are thereby finding their ways to the polls, that, of course, is a problem for Ohio Republicans. And so, Ohio Republicans moved to break that system again, to go back to the old broken system that didn`t work before. Today, Ohio Republicans voted to cut back early voting by six full days in Ohio. They`re also voting to end same day voter registration, to make it harder to get your vote counted if you have to cast a provisional ballot, and they`re considering cutting back on the number of voting machines at the polls. Yes, we`ve always had way too many of those. Your state government at work, Ohio. You`re hoping that your local state legislator would go to Columbus and start working overtly to make the process of voting a lot harder and a lot slower for you? Congratulations, if you voted for a Republican, you got what you paid for. The Republican governor of North Carolina was on "THE DAILY RUNDOWN" with Chuck Todd here today on MSNBC. Chuck asked him about the law he signed to dramatically roll back voting rights in North Carolina, much the same that Ohio moved toward today. When Chuck asked Governor McCrory why he and other North Carolina Republicans had moved to cut seven days out of early voting in North Carolina, the governor responded by saying that, you know, they`re not cutting early voting. Really, his exact words were, what he says they were doing was they were compacting the calendar. Compacting the calendar. Try that on your boss the next time you`re late for work. Hey, I`m not late, I`m just compacting the work day. North Carolina Republicans are just compacting seven days off the number of days in which you can early vote. Compacting -- they`re just tidying it up, making it more compressed. It`s a denser calendar. You want to see a magic duck appear on my desk? Look, the magic duck. I compacted duck season this year so it fit on my desk, bang! It`s just amazing. It`s just amazing. But you know what, it also feels like deja news from the Republican Party when you stop covering updates. You stop just writing down what they tell you to write down and you actually look at what they`re doing. In the Republican Party, in the states, around Washington, even in Washington, it`s deja news right now. Senate Republicans are putting forward their own national version of the abortion ban that just failed by 10 points last night in Albuquerque. They said they want to run on being anti-abortion in 2014 and 2016. Enjoy. They`re also holding the line in the face of immense pressure against immigration reform. They`re also standing up against gay rights, not only in the states, but in federal law, with the gay rights anti-discrimination law that House Republicans won`t let come up for a vote. They`re moving even more aggressively than they did before 2012 to roll back voting rights, in North Carolina, in Ohio, in Texas, everywhere they`re in control. And if they move on to anything in Congress other than opposing health reform, which is the only thing they say is definitely on their agenda right now, the next thing down the pipe, the next thing to expect from them is to let Paul Ryan introduce another Republican budget plan. Which if it is like the Republican budget plan will have the knives out to gut Medicare and maybe Social Security and maybe both. Look familiar right? I mean, it`s deja news. It`s the same list of offerings from the Republican Party that they have been bestowing on the country for the last two cycle elections. No to immigration, no to health reform, no to voting rights, no to reproductive rights. I mean, this is it. It`s staying exactly the same. And why would they change? It worked great for President Romney. No to health reform, no to immigration, no the gay rights, no to reproductive rights, no to voting rights, and maybe we`ll see, maybe no to Medicare and no to Social Security again, too. It`s all the same. From one side, it is all the same. What`s really interesting, though, is the other side. Where the change is right now is on the other side of the aisle. And, yes, on the Democratic side there are things that are the same, too. The Democrats are saying yes to health reform, yes to immigration, yes to gay rights, they`re mounting a defense of reproductive rights, a defense of voting rights. But on the Democratic side is where they are also adding something new, where both the White House and the Democratic bench, the up and comers in Congress and in the states, they are going back to a place they have not been in a while and for which the Republicans, thus far, have absolutely no answer, and that is economic populism. Yesterday, the blue state, state Senate in Massachusetts voted to raise that state`s minimum wage to $11 an hour. Blue state New Jersey voters just voted to raise that state`s minimum wage, after Democrats and the legislature passed it, but the Republican governor vetoed it. They vetoed his veto. After the president proposed raising the federal minimum wage back at the beginning of the year in his State of the Union Address -- all of a sudden, the Democrats said we`re on this, we think we can get it passed maybe before the end of the year. And then there is a big kahuna, after fighting for a generation, the Republicans` constant threat to cut Social Security, to privatize Social Security, to do away it, to pare it back, now, all of a sudden, Democrats all of a sudden have found their sea legs on economic populism. And now, they are not fighting with Republicans anymore about how much of a cut is too much of a cut. Now, they are fighting not to cut Social Security but to expand it. To make things better for seniors, and for everybody`s retirement prospects instead of fighting with Republicans about how much worse they`re going to be allowed to make things. Whether or not Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, against Hillary Clinton or not, regardless of the presidential politics but mindful of them too, her brand of economic populism and the brand of Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown, and other aggressive Democrats on these issues, that brand is on the ascendant right now in Democratic politics. The Republican Party is stuck on pause, on the Democratic side they are doing something new. Economic populism on the ascendant and on the offensive. And Elizabeth Warren is our guest next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people of New Jersey have spoken and they want a raise. Last night, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to raise the minimum wage by a dollar an hour. OBAMA: I am a congenital optimist. I would have to be, I`m named Barack Obama, I ran for president. So -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And won. OBAMA: And won twice. So, look, keep in mind first of all that what the CEOs here said here is absolutely right. This is a boost to our economy. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama this week making the case that immigration reform should happen because it would be a good economic step forward for the country. The voters of the state of New Jersey just a couple of weeks ago making the case that people who make minimum wage ought to get paid more. That that would be good economically for New Jersey. The state Senate in Massachusetts today voting that Massachusetts should move to a statewide $11 an hour minimum wage, because that would be good economically for the state of Massachusetts. And this week in the United States Senate, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts made a widely circulated Senate floor speech, making the case that the era of fighting about cutting Social Security is over. And now it is time to talk about expanding Social Security. At the very least, that used to be Beltway heresy. Senator Warren now joins us. Senator, thank you very much for being with us. It`s nice to have you here. SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It`s good to be here. MADDOW: So why now? Why do you think now is the time to talk about this when all we`ve heard from the very serious people in the Beltway for the past forever is that it`s time to cut it. WARREN: Because it`s time to talk about reality. You know, America`s middle class has been hammered for a generation now. So, adjusted for inflation, the wages of the middle class family have gone down. And yet, core expenses -- housing, health care, sending kids to college have all shot through the roof. Families cut back as best they could. They sent two people into the workforce if they had a two-person household. And yet families couldn`t make it. So, they stopped saving. They went into debt. And now, as they`re starting to hit their retirement years what we`re seeing are seniors who are really in a financial squeeze. They have more debt. They don`t have savings. They owe money on their homes. The old defined pension plans that help protect them from their employers. About 35 percent of the work force had them a generation ago. Now, we`ve cut that in half. So they`re really under a squeeze, and what they have got is Social Security. So now we`ve got an America where about two thirds of all seniors count on Social Security as their principal form of income. And for 14 million Americans, Social Security is all that stands between them and poverty. We have a retirement crisis in America. This is no time. This is the last time to be talking about cutting Social Security. This is the moment when we talk about expanding Social Security. MADDOW: Are you talking about a narrowly targeted expansion that would specifically try to steer more benefits towards seniors in need. So, seniors at the lowest end of the economic spectrum, or do you think this should be a broad, across the board rise in benefits even to seniors who were better off? WARREN: Yes. I think what we have to watch is we have to think about two things on Social Security. The first one is, we absolutely need to make the system secure over a long period of time. And I really want to stop for a second and drill on that, because we have to remember all the folks who talk about cutting Social Security, always start with the fact that hey, listen -- you know, it`s just terrible what is happening with Social Security. It`s not. If we did nothing to Social Security, we go 20 years paying at the same rate, and then after that we drop roughly about a quarter and pay all the way to the end of the 21st century. So, what that tells us is that we can make modest adjustments to Social Security and we could level it out so that we`d be able to protect the benefits we`ve got. But then is the time to start thinking beyond that. And it`s to think about all the Americans who depend on Social Security. Remember where I started this, Rachel. Two thirds of seniors right now are counting on Social Security for their principal income. We have to think about a broad approach to this. MADDOW: The types of tweaks that it would take to make the program fiscally sound in the very, very long-term that you`re talking about, I`m assuming the basic one is raising the cap at which after which rich people stop paying their Social Security taxes. So people at the higher end of the economic spectrum just pay their Social Security taxes for a larger proportion of their income. That always seemed like a very simple fix to me, why has it always been very politically radioactive? WARREN: You know, it`s interesting part of it. What`s interesting to me about is, Social Security, fixing it, to get it to work over the long haul, when you remember how close it is now to working all the way through the rest of the 21st century, there are a lot of fairly modest changes you could make. You identify one of them. Another is how you bring more people into the system so there are more payers into Social Security. Another one is how you change some of the questions where parts of it are bleeding out that shouldn`t. There are a lot of different dials you could turn on getting Social Security leveled back out just a little. That`s really all it takes. What`s interesting to me is why we haven`t focused on that. Why the conversation started with cutting benefits. That was always the direction this went. And I just think it is fundamentally wrong. We need to have a different conversation. We need to have a sensible economic conversation about how to do it. It is not that hard. But what we also need to do is remember, this is partly about math. But it`s partly about our values. This is about what kind of a people we are, what kind of a country we are trying to build. I believe fundamentally, we are a people who believe that anyone should be able to retire with dignity. And that`s what Social Security is about. People who work all their lives and pay into it should have a minimum level that they don`t fall beneath. That`s good economics. But the point is, it is who we are. It is the kind of country we are building. MADDOW: That argument that u are making about our American values, but also what you want to fight for politically, is -- I know you don`t want to have this conversation but it is why people are talking about you as a national figure and not just a senator from Massachusetts and the Democratic Party. I`m not going to ask you the facile question about whether or not you want to run. But do you believe the types of values you articulate are the future of the Democratic Party. Do you feel at home in the Democratic Party? Or do you feel like your fight is partly with your own side to get your fellow Democrats to make these issues a priority? WARREN: I think this is -- this is our moment. I think we have come to understand that, you know, America changes much of the time. It`s in increments. It is in small pieces. But we truly have come to the crossroads now. And there are two very different visions of how we build a future. The Republicans have made theirs clear. You know, you protect those at the very top. You make sure they`ve got the maximum number of loopholes and subsidies. And, you know, everyone else, so be it. In other words, their vision is -- I got mine, the rest of you are on your own. Our vision is different. It says that we really do make these investments together. And when we make these investments together, we build a strong future. Not just for some of us, but for all of us. The pieces are tied together. We`re here tonight to talk about Social Security. And that is what I want to attack about. I`m glad to fight for it. But remember, the pieces we`re talking about are tied together. It`s about fighting for education, our kids who are being crushed by student loan debt. It is, it is about fighting for the minimum wage. It is about fighting for dignity when people retire. It is about fighting for a world that we build together because we believe that when we do that, we all got a better chance. We`ve all got a fighting chance to make something. And that`s what we`ll do. MADDOW: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts -- thank you very much, very much for your time tonight. It`s always great to have you here, ma`am. Thank you very much. WARREN: Good to be here. MADDOW: All right. Something you will not believe happened in the great state of Oklahoma today. And I bet you believe a lot of good things can happen in the great state of Oklahoma, don`t you? We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: As of right now, five U.S. states are openly defying orders from the Defense Department. They`re defying orders from the Defense Department because they want to discriminate against certain members of the United States military. And the Pentagon is telling them not to do that. But now, one of those states has come up with an extra special way to fix the problem -- by making it 100 times worse for everyone. Cutting off ones` nose to spite ones` face, Oklahoma styly. Stay tuned. More ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Whenever you see a lawmaker standing on the house of the Senate floor next to an easel, that lawmaker is very likely getting ready to show us some fancy charts. In Congress, they chart out the easel and the chart so often that there`s a great blog dedicated just to screen grabbing them in action. So, don`t worry, the fungal meningitis case count in map have been rescued from obscurity by Or the top tax rate and total net job creation chart -- don`t worry, that one is going to be around forever, at least online, and notice all the empty seats there. It`s lonely out there for the guy with the big chart executive order number 13547. Every once in a while, though, charts require human help. Do you remember back on the campaign trail, poor Mitt Romney had to sign a campaign staffer to the job of just holding that chair steady? Props are hard. Now watch this guy -- on the Senate floor yesterday, trying to help out New Hampshire Senate Republican Kelly Ayotte. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: If we lose the opportunity to gather valuable information to protect our nation, then we can`t prevent future attacks against the country. And here`s the problem that we face. Here is the current head of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That guy, whoever he is, is an unsung hero of congressional chart display. Now look, the first one goes up. Al Qaeda guy number one has made it to the easel, OK, the boss is reaching for the second al Qaeda guy, quick, get the first guy out of there, get the first out of there. Now, grand finale, bring back the first guy, bring back the first guy, second chart is still there, first chart now on top. Come on now, stick the landing, whew, who is the guy popping out of your head there? It is like holiday on ice. This guy is great. Last, though, Senator Ayotte lost that vote, she got the charts right, except for the part that bin Laden looked like mini me. But in terms of what she was trying to legislate and decorate with her charts, she endured a real consequential failure in the Senate. In that failure, which was both unexpected and pretty spectacular, Senator Ayotte actually made some big news on the subject she was talking about. She managed to illuminate something about where Washington stands on a really important issue and what might be possible now that nobody thought was possible before. As you know, President Obama has been trying to close the prison that we keep in Cuba, the one in Guantanamo. Since his first day in office, he signed an order on day one saying we would shut down that facility. It has not happened yet, though, and that`s because of Congress. And it`s not just Republicans in Congress who have blocked them. In 2009, when Congress took a vote, the Senate took a vote on stripping out the funding that would be used to close the Guantanamo prison, the vote was 90-6. In the new defense spending bill, though, in the military budget that is being debated right now in Congress, part of that bill opens the way to actually closing the prisons down. If people are not threats, send them back to their own countries. If people are threats, put them on trial. It`s not rocket science, right? The prison has been running for more than 12 years now. Are we just waiting until they get hold enough that they die? Is that the policy? Well, closing down Guantanamo is what Senator Ayotte was trying to stop yesterday with all the chart and the helpful staffer. And maybe it was that old 90-6 votes four years ago that led her astray, maybe she just made a freshman counting mistake, or somebody stirred her wrong, I don`t know. But Kelly Ayotte brought up trying to keep Guantanamo going indefinitely. And it lost, and it lost by a lot. It didn`t even get close to 50 votes. It only got 43 votes. And that ends up being way more interesting than I think even the senator expected it to be, because what her mistake proved, what her mistake proved, just in bringing that thing up and seeing it go down with such a bad vote, what it proved is that a majority in Congress doesn`t feel the same way about Guantanamo that they used to. Senator Ayotte just proved through her failure yesterday that Congress is way more ready to shut this thing down than they have ever been in the 90-6 pass. And if Congress has changed on the question of Guantanamo, what is to say they have not changed more than at? Yesterday, NBC`s Richard Engel obtained and posted this draft agreement between the American government and the Afghanistan government, calls for an enduring military presence in Afghanistan long after 2014 when U.S. troops were supposed to come home. Richard reporting yesterday that in the draft agreement, in a sense, the war in Afghanistan just starts all over again. Albeit on a smaller scale but with a time frame that stretches past 2024. Richard telling us here last time that it was striking to him that the Afghan government this week is convening a loya jirga, convening a big consultative body, to sign off on this long term about where U.S. troops will be. But the American government has no such plans for that kind of debate, let alone that kind of signoff from Congress. Then today, NBC News reported that a bipartisan group of senators is going to bring the own amendment to the defense budget that would require a congressional signoff on any extension of the U.S. troop commitment in Afghanistan past 2014. And look at this coalition, sponsoring the idea of there being a time line in Afghanistan that Congress has to vote on. Republican Mike Lee, Republican Rand Paul, obviously both from the far right, Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both from the left, also Joe Manchin, from the land of smack-dab in the middle. So, yes, sure, John McCain is never going to vote for something like that. Kelly Ayotte is never going to vote for something like that. The forever caucus is never going to say no to a war bill like this. But guess who might say yes? The old assumptions are proving wrong. Bedfellows are getting stranger than ever on issues like this in our country. The Senate, as of this week, has now stopped trying to keep Guantanamo open. Might they also be willing now, despite the common wisdom, to actually try to put an end to the war? Joining us now is Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Senator Merkley, thanks very much for being here tonight. It`s nice to see you. SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Oh, you`re welcome, Rachel. It`s great to be with you. MADDOW: So it seems to me you are on to something here that might be unexpectedly popular, even though the Beltway common wisdom says stuff like this never flies. Do you think the Senate has changed enough to support this idea? MERKLEY: Well, I absolutely do. The idea that we`re going to extend this war another 1- years, make a commitment to have perhaps 7,000 to 12,000 troops there for that period, to spend at least another $50 million, and I think that`s understating it probably by a factor of two. To do this without any form of congressional dialogue to say, yes, this makes sense, I think it`s a bipartisan sense that absolutely Congress should weigh in. And, by the way, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on this back in June. And they approved it 305-221, overwhelming support. You finally found something both the House and Senate can say yes to. MADDOW: I was just going -- I was just going to point that out, because on every other issue in the world, when the Senate gets close to doing something, unexpected, a departure from hawkish ways in the past, or conservative ways in the past, we also think, oh, yes, but the House will never go for it. In this case, the House has already jumped. They considered the same issue. The bedfellows are really strange on this. I wonder if it makes you feel like the sort of Beltway common wisdom. The way that stuff like this is instinctively thought of being impossible to happen. If you think that`s outdated? MERKLEY: Well, I think in this situation, you do have both the grassroots on the right and the grassroots on the left saying enough is enough. Let`s have a fundamental debate about what commitments we make. I mean, we realize that al-Qaeda is everywhere. They`re not just in Afghanistan. In fact, very few are in Afghanistan. So, we need to meet the terrorist threat where it is, not necessarily lock ourselves into one country for another decade. By the way, an extraordinarily corrupt country, a country where we have tremendous challenge of Afghan soldiers shooting American soldiers. Tremendous challenges of cultural understanding, communication. A lot has gone wrong in this presence. And the idea we`ll make another 10-year commitment of this fashion without a congressional debate, I just think people say enough is enough, let`s reevaluate. Mr. President, come back to Congress and ask for authority by the middle of next year before we make this kind of commitment. MADDOW: I have to ask you, this is a little weird given the subject, but I have to ask you about something that happened on "The Tonight Show," with Jay Leno. Specifically because Jay Leno asked former President George W. Bush. It is a short clip, but I want your reaction to what George Bush said here. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAY LENO, THE TONIGHT SHOW: Do you think we`ll be there a long time like Korea? GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I hope so. I don`t know how big the footprint needs to be, but if we leave too early, women and young girls will suffer a lot. LENO: Right. BUSH: And then the question is, does it matter to our conscience? And I think it should. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Bush says he hopes we stay there a long time and he thinks that the U.S. troop presence is good for women in Afghanistan. I have to ask if you think that helps or hurts you in making your case here? MERKLEY: Well, I think President Bush is arguing for the perpetual war. And there are certainly our members of the Senate who will argue for the same. Once anywhere in the world, they will say stay there, build the permanent bases, they want to continue the bases and they want to continue the presence. And let`s face it. This is a huge opportunity cost in terms of American troops that can do other good things in the world elsewhere or good things elsewhere in our security. There is a huge cost in terms of dollars that are spent. We have huge infrastructure demands that would put people to work and prepare the infrastructure for the next generation. We have huge education demands. I love the conversation you had with Elizabeth Warren, talking about one of them, our kids can`t afford to go to college, which puts a big aspirational vision for America that every child should have in our nation. So, commitment unending for vast resources in a small country, or a fairly large country in territory, but a small country in terms of numbers, half way around the world that we have to re-think these types of things. They shouldn`t be an automatic "let`s add another decade" to what s already been the longest war in American history. MADDOW: Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, I think you`ve got a better chance with this than the Beltway press is giving you credit for. Stay in touch with us as this moves in the Senate, sir. Thanks. MERKLEY: Thank you. MADDOW: Nice to see you. MERKLEY: Great to be with you. MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Today, the conservative state government in Oklahoma made a strong case that they should become really nationally famous really, really fast. Oklahoma made a decision today so stunning that for a big part of the day, I almost could not believe it was real, and it was one of those far right groups trying to punk us into covering a story that we never should have believed in the first place. But we called Oklahoma, we checked it out. It`s real. They really did it and that story is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Several states today are refusing to issue these ID cards to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities. This is wrong. It causes division among our ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DOD has fought to extinguish. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel came to New York late last month and he called out nine states that were defying orders from the U.S. Department of Defense. He called out those states where national guard facilities were refusing equal treatment to some married couples in the U.S. military and he demanded those states get their "bleep" together, to some discriminating against certain service members. He gave them a deadline, December 1st. But with 10 days until the December 1st deadline, there are still some states holding out. The Texas National Guard, for example, appears to be flat out defying the direct order from the Pentagon. Texas is deliberately refusing to process any benefits or any housing allowances or any ID cards for service members who are in same-sex marriages. Service members in those marriages are being told by Texas that if they want the sort of housing allowance that other married couples get and that they`re legally entitled to, they have to do it at a federal installation because a state installation will not help them. They are not welcome in Texas state facilities. Wow. And the Lone Star State is not alone. Of the nine states that had been thwarting federal law and refusing to follow the chain of military command on this issue, only four states have come around since Chuck Hagel gave that blistering speech in New York and gave them a deadline. The rest are now arguing that their state anti-gay laws give them reason to ignore federal military policy and give them the right to discriminate between different service members on their own terms. In terms of lengths the states will go to, to deny those the rights in the military, it is the great state of Oklahoma that wins the prize, takes the cake, blows everybody`s mind. Anything else I can say? Not really. Hard for me to explain how amazing I think this is. Governor Mary Fallin in Oklahoma has decided to stop Oklahoma from processing benefits for all couples, gay and straight, so she can stick to her guns and not give gay couples their rights. Polls closed, kids! Everybody go home. All of our schools, they`re now private. Wow. Because Oklahoma has anti-gay marriage laws on the books, Governor Mary Fallin says she simply cannot recognize same-sex couples in the National Guard no matter what they`re in the United States military and subject to federal military policy. So, every benefit that any married couple is due from the Oklahoma National Guard will have to be gotten at any one of four federally run facilities, because given the choice the state of Oklahoma will pass when it comes to treating members of the military the way the military says they ought to be treated. Instead of treating anybody -- instead of treating one group with dignity and one group with indignity, now nobody gets treated at all. In the state of Oklahoma, marriage is canceled because they didn`t want to have to offer its benefits, privileges and rights under law to people who are gay, when told that they couldn`t just single out the gay people and leave it for the straight people. They took it away from the straight people, too. Congratulation, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, you`re about to be way, way more famous than you have ever been before. That does it for us tonight. Thank you for being with us tonight. "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL" starts right now. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END