The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/06/14

Guests: Charles Schumer

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Wow. Then we get a square, straight-up ruling or the constitutionality of marriage bans. That will be something. Matthew Breen from "The Advocate", Camilla Taylor from Lambda Legal, thank you much. That is "ALL IN" for this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now. Good evening, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. The United States of America needs a new ice breaker. Not in some metaphorical sense like a getting to know you game at a party ice breaker, but I mean an actual ice breaking ship. We only have one. Or at least we only have one that is considered to be a heavy duty ice breaker. And it`s this guy right here. It`s called the Polar Star. It was built in 1976. When it was built in 1976, it was supposed to have a 30 year life span. Do the math. Starting in 1976, that gets us to 2006. And in 2006, the Polar Star was, in fact, taken offline after 30 yards of hard duty. Being a heavy duty ice breaker is really hard work. The ships can`t last forever. And so at the end of its expected 30 years, in 2006, the Polar Star was not moth-balled exactly, but they stopped deploying it. It basically retired as a ship. Four years into that retirement, though, in 2010, the only other ship that the coast guard had with that same capacity broke down, that one was the same vintage, a sister ship. It broke down in 2010, pretty catastrophically. It had engine failure. When that ship broke down, that left the United States of America with no capacity at all to get through heavy sea ice. And we need to be able to get through heavy sea ice. We have needs. We have the ye oldie, northwest passage. We have this thing called Alaska you might have heard of. We also have McMurdo station, a research hub for the National Science Foundation in Antarctica. We have the American station at the South Pole. We`ve got places to go, people to see, stuff to maintain in a way that requires us to have the capacity to get through really heavy, thick sea ice. We have to be able to do it. And as of 2010, when the Polar Star`s sister ship broke down, while the Polar Star was already in retirement, when that happened, we had none of that capacity. We had not a single ship that could do it. We did not have a heavy ice breaker. Eek. So, in 2010, when its sister ship broke down, they unmoth-balled the Polar Star. They took it out of retirement. Congress passed an appropriation to do it. They spent $90 million and 3 years getting the Polar Star out of retirement, getting it ready to go, break heavy sea ice again. The repairs were done, 90 million bucks. The upgrades were done. As of last week, the Polar Star was back out there again, back out on its first deployment after its big $90 million makeover. The ship was in Australia. It was about to start a supply run south to McMurdo Station. A mission they were calling Operation Deep Freeze. But while the Polar Star was in port in Sydney getting ready to start Operation Deep Freeze to go to McMurdo, while they were there, they saw the bat signal. They got the distress signal. The United States has been asked and now the United States has agreed to assist with something that nobody else in the world can do. Only the Polar Star can do it. This 38-year-old ship that we just dragged out of retirement, that we don`t have a backup for, it`s the only one that can do it. When it comes to navigating through an icy ocean, there are lots of degrees of seaworthiness. There are lots of ships that are comfortable in an icy environment. Like, for example, this Russian research and tourism ship. It makes regular trips to Antarctic waters. It`s comfortable in an icy environment. But you know, when the pack ice gets really thick, gets more than a few feet thick, this kind of ship really does not have capacity to cut through the ice or break through the ice in any way. And so, it was on Christmas morning when that tough little Russian ship, which is seaworthy in icy waters but not an ice breaker, it got stuck. It got stuck. You heard about this. And there were these 52 tourists and scientists onboard that ship. They got stuck in the pack ice. They had no way to move their ship to get out of it and so they called in what basically seemed like the Calvary. They called in two big icebreakers. And here they are. One of them is a Chinese icebreaker. It`s really big. It`s called the Snow Dragon. It`s more than 500 feet long. It is not only comfortable in an icy environment. It can break out and break through ice as a steady clip. If it`s going just under two miles an hour, it can steadily break through ice that`s 3 1/2 feet thick. But the Chinese ship did not go on that rescue mission, alone. An Australian icebreaker went, too. This one`s a little smaller. It`s 300 feet long, instead of 500 feet long like the Chinese ship. But the Australian one is also a stronger vessel. While going faster than the Chinese ship does, it can steadily break through ice that is more than four feet thick. So it`s tough guy, right? So last week, the giant Chinese icebreaker and the Australian icebreaker both went down there to go rescue the people who were trapped on that little Russian ship in the packed sea ice in Antarctica. They used a helicopter from the Chinese ship to pluck all of the tourists and scientists off of the little Russian boat and it moved all of the rescued passengers and scientists on to the Australian ship for safekeeping. So, all the people are safe, right? Then the Chinese ship got stuck. The giant Chinese icebreaker is in ice it cannot get out of. Now, when we last reported on this story on Friday night, it kind of seemed like that might happen. They were worried about it happening on Friday. But on Saturday morning, according to one reporter onboard the Chinese ship, quote, "an iceberg appeared overnight." They woke up to a brand new iceberg right in their faces and the Chinese ship is stuck. Now, that Australian ship down there, too, is more powerful and can break through thicker ice than the Chinese ship, and it is not now stuck, but that has apparently been pretty dicey as well. And so, in what is starting to feel like kind of a food chain diagram, they have now called in the big mamma jamma. They have called in the heavy artillery. They have called in the Polar Star, which luckily for them was already in the southern hemisphere in Australia getting ready for operation deep freeze when it was going to go into Antarctic waters anyway. But, remember, this is the Polar Star`s first deployment since 2006. It just got refurbished. Had this crisis happened any time in the last few years, the United States would have had no capacity to help out here. No one would have. The capacity of this coast guard heavy icebreaker, the "polar star," it`s just incredible capacity. I mean, those other ships out there that are stuck are pretty incredible, themselves, but the Polar Star has 5 1/2 times the engine capacity of that stuck Chinese ship. The Polar Star has 75,000 horsepower. Going faster than either that Chinese ship or that Australian ship, it can steadily break through ice that is six feet thick, continuously crushing ahead at 3 knots going through 6-foot-thick ice. And if the ice gets thicker than that, the Polar Star has other options. Watch this. Look at what it does here. Yes. That is not us manipulating the footage. It`s going backwards and forwards. This is the delicate little maneuver that in the icebreaking rule they call ramming. They just back it up, gun it and ram right into the ice ahead of them. Using this kind of technique, the Polar Star can ram its way through ice that`s more than 21 feet thick. What? It can steadily cut through ice that`s more than six feet thick, but doing this 21 feet thick. That`s taking one of me, two of me, three of me, 3 1/2 of me and stacking me on top. Are you kidding? It also has a special bow design that`s curved in such a way, shaped in such a way that it can use its engine thrust to actually push the ship up out of the water on top of the ice to then use the 11,000- ton weight of the boat to crush the ice underneath it and break it that way. Having a hard time imagining that? Well, you know this pro wrestling move? That`s what the Polar Star does. It pushes itself up on top of the ice and body slams it. Not every icebreaker can do that. And now, the Polar Star, America`s only body slamming, heavy icebreaking ship is on its way to rescue the other really quite impressive massive icebreaking vessel down there that still cannot handle what the Polar Star can handle. Now, what if the Polar Star gets stuck? Really? I mean, really, no options. Arguably, no options. The United States Coast Guard does not have anything more powerful than the Polar Star. And, again, we only have one Polar Star and it`s really old, no offense. The only icebreaking ships that are thought to be more powerful in the whole world, more powerful than the one we`ve got which is now on this mission, the only things thought to be more powerful and more capable are the nuclear icebreakers, because -- yes, we live on a planet where we have nuclear ice breakers. We don`t have one actually. The United States does not have one. The Russians apparently have four of them. So, theoretically, I guess, they might be able to help if all else fails. The Russian nuclear icebreakers can apparently cut through 10 feet of ice at a steady clip. But the Russian nuclear icebreakers, none of them have ever been deployed in the southern hemisphere. Ever. So, the Polar Star is kind of it. It`s due to be there by Thursday. Godspeed. And while that story, and that technical understanding of our human capacity to break ice using amazing machines is an amazing story on itself own terms, that story is also a rather obvious allegory for the icebound stucktude of our national political system. The ice bound stuckitude of Washington. We elect members of Congress, members of the House every do years, so Congress is a two-year thing. Each of the years in a two-year Congress is a session. So session one of this Congress was its first year, 2013. Session two of this Congress is 2014. And session two of this congress started today. Last year`s session of Congress was the worst session of Congress in the history of Congress. Measured according to whether or not they actually got anything done, it was the worst ever. They really got nothing done at all. They passed fewer laws than any session of Congress in the history of the United States of America last year. In the words of the "Washington Post" today, quote, "Last year was a legislative wasteland. Among the laws enacted, it is impossible to find a significant new accomplishment." The number of new laws passed is, quote, "easily the lowest tally for any year in history." and this year`s expected to be worse. The first year of any two-year Congress is usually when they actually do get the work done, because the second year is always an election year, right? This is the election year. This is the year we`re not supposed to get anything done because we were so busy last year. Last year, we got less done than ever before. And this year, they`re planning on doing even less than they did last year. Last year, they worked a grand total of 135 days. This year they`re only planning on working a grand total of 112. Do the math. That`s one day on, two days off, all year long. It must be nice. Today`s day one, and you never know what they might unexpectedly get around to doing but their plans in the House are to pretty much do nothing all year long after having done nothing all year last year. But the Senate was back today, too, and in the Senate, there are some signs of life. Tonight, the Senate voted to confirm Janet Yellen to be the new chair of the Federal Reserve. She`s been the vice chair of the Fed before now. On paper, she is the most qualified person ever nominated to the job, probably. She`s also the first woman to ever head the Federal Reserve and one of the only female central bankers anywhere in the world. So that got done today. The White House today also announced this list, which we`re going to scroll here because it`s too long to show in a static way. It`s a really long list. This long list of 664 nominees for appeals court judges, district court judges, superior court judges, U.S. Marshals was put forward by the White House today. Huge, long list of nominees. And most of these nominees are re-nominations of people who had already been put forward by the White House last year, but the senate didn`t act on them. So, maybe the length of this list is deceiving since it`s a lot of re-nominations, but this is a very long list of people. And it is possible that a great number of these people, if not all of them, could happen now that the Democrats in the Senate have changed the rules so Republicans can`t block nominees with just a minority of votes anymore. It`s a huge list that the White House put out today. So, Janet Yellen, that happened. That list of nominees, that could happen. And tomorrow morning, at 10:30 Eastern Time, we will find out what else can happen, because tomorrow morning the United States Senate has scheduled a vote on a bipartisan proposal to extend for three months the unemployment benefits that got cut off at Christmastime for 1.3 million Americans. The Labor Department estimates that that cutoff letting those benefits expire will cost the U.S. economy 240,000 jobs. The Senate will vote tomorrow on whether or not to reinstate those benefits and thereby try to save those jobs. When you look at Washington from most angles, it feels like the sea ice is winning. It feels like we are stuck, there is no hope of movement, and it is starting to feel like our little ship of state might be at risk of being crushed by the ice and sunk altogether. But then, you know what, along comes the old, tough, many times refurbished Polar Star, and maybe we can keep going. Maybe movement is possible. Maybe there is an American way to get unstuck, even here at home. Joining us now is Senator Charles Schumer of New York. He`s vice chair of the Democratic Conference. Senator Schumer, thanks very much for being with us. SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Your "Polar Star" at your service here, ma`am. MADDOW: When it comes to the unemployment insurance issue, specifically, 1.3 million Americans cut off from unemployment benefits. We`re learning tonight at least three Republican senators are saying they will vote with you, the Democrats, for that extension. Do you think it`s possible it can pass the Senate? SCHUMER: I think it is possible. The pressure is mounting on our Republicans because what`s happening is this. The tectonic plates beneath our politics are changing. The issues that dominated the first five years of President Obama`s term, "A," the deficit, "B", health care, Obamacare, are giving way to a new issue and that is the decline of middle class incomes, the lack of good jobs and the increase in poverty. And the public is feeling that. And so, on an issue that used to get bipartisan support like unemployment insurance, the fact that it`s deadlocked and gridlocked now makes no sense. It shows you how far the Republicans have moved over. In 2007, when the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent, now it`s 7 percent, George Bush, mainstream conservative, put in place the present regime we have for unemployment insurance, the present amount of weeks and everything else. And yet these Republicans are trying to block it. But I think enough of them are beginning to say they can`t follow the Tea Party, the hard right, over a cliff. And I`m very hopeful we can actually get an unemployment insurance done, if not in this vote, where right now, we`re only a vote or two shy. If we do it again and again, the pressure mounts and we`ll get it done. I think the same will happen for reducing the costs for tuition and Pell Grants so kids can go to college. The middle class is hurting and yearning for us to end the gridlock, to stop this freeze and get things done for them. And it`s becoming clearer and clearer to them that it`s the hard right Republicans who are stopping everything. MADDOW: Senator Schumer, let me ask you about one procedural reference you just made there. You said, if we don`t have the votes tomorrow morning, we`ll keep doing it again and again. Should I take that to mean that this vote on extending unemployment insurance is something that you will keep putting up for a vote until you can get the votes? SCHUMER: And I would recommend we do the same with minimum wage, we do the same with the kind of low-cost student loans that Elizabeth Warren has advocated. We`ll win every one of these. It`s becoming clearer and clearer to the American people that gridlock is not being caused by both parties but by one party. The turning away from the middle class is dominated by one party. The refusal to do things that even mainstream Republicans did, like unemployment insurance, like minimum wage increases, even five years ago, is hurting them. And our politics works. It works slowly. It`s like ice melting, unfortunately. But it does work, and I can sense signs where it`s really beginning to work. As I walk the streets of New York this weekend, average folks said to me, get that unemployment insurance done. And these were people with jobs. They were middle class people. But everyone now knows somebody who`s been out of work. And one other point, you know, one of my colleagues, Rand Paul, said that unemployment insurance is a disservice to the American worker. Well, I find that insulting. What he`s saying is that people would rather not work. And collect these meager unemployment benefits. That is not true. There is a work ethos in America. It`s part of our American being, and it doesn`t just apply to CEOs or nuclear physicists. The guy who cleans the floor late at night has a pride in making sure that floor is really clean. The woman who will organize an office has a real pride in making sure it`s extremely well-organized and everything`s in its place. So this idea that the hard right has that if we extend unemployment benefits, people will stop looking for work, is just bunk and insulting to the American worker and to the American ethos. MADDOW: Senator Charles Schumer of New York, vice chair of the Democratic conference -- thank you for helping us understand this tonight, sir. It`s nice to have you here. SCHUMER: Great to be here. Thanks. MADDOW: Thank you. All right. There`s an expression that involves still fighting the last war. There`s also apparently a thing that involves fighting the war two wars ago which is what a certain Arizona senator appears eager to keep doing. Richard Engel is going to be joining us live in just a moment. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The National Republican Party does not usually make a big splash with their annual winter meeting. Last year`s meeting, they drafted several obscure resolutions like this one calling out the Obama White House for, quote, "veiled socialist slanting tactics", very serious sounding stuff if you believe that sort of thing. But nobody found it newsworthy that the Republican Party officially declared that it believed this and it didn`t get much coverage. This year`s Republican winter meeting is happening in Washington, D.C., where they have not met for a few years, and this is interesting. It turns out that the RNC winter meeting opens this year in D.C. on the same day as the big national antiabortion march, which they hold in D.C. every year around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. So what do you do if you`re Reince Priebus? What does an antiabortion Republican Party chairman do when he has nevertheless been calling the whole Republican war on women thing a myth? A myth? Right? But he suddenly finds himself holding a national Republican Party meeting in the same city, on the same day, that antiabortion activists are holding their once a year huge national antiabortion March. Your meeting conflicts with the March. What do you do? What does he do? He decides to get out of the way. The conservative "Washington Times" newspaper reporting, quote, "Winter meeting to be delayed so members can attend the antiabortion march." Chairman Reince Priebus explained to the paper, quote, "this is a core principle of our party. It was natural for me to support our members and our principles." And Chairman Priebus is not only delaying the start of the Republicans` annual winter meeting so they can go to the antiabortion march. Instead, he has decided to charter an official Republican National Committee bus to take people to the antiabortion march on the Republican Party`s dime. They`re just going for it. Republicans in Congress have been derided as the do-nothing Congress, and in fact, Republicans have done nothing in this Congress. This Republican-controlled House has been setting new records for congressional do-nothingness. Last year, the number of laws they passed was so small we had to create a special flashing, phasing arrow because otherwise you almost could not see their progress on this historically accurate chart. But as little as they get done in Washington, Republicans actually get a lot done when it comes to being antiabortion in the states. Over the last three years. As they have done basically nothing at all in Washington. Republicans in the states have passed more antiabortion laws than were passed in the entire proceeding decade. Republicans swept to power in the states in 2010. They have used that new power in the states to prioritize restricting and criminalizing abortion almost above all other priorities. Roe v. Wade supposedly protects American women`s right to access abortion services, in every state in the country. But Republican-controlled states are testing that like never before. Some of the most aggressive antiabortion legislation in the states has aimed to shut down whole clinics by requiring those clinics to have agreements with local hospitals. Now, no other types of clinics are being required to have these agreements, just clinics that provide abortions and the laws are being passed with the knowledge that these special agreements with hospitals will be basically impossible for these clinics to get. In four states, courts have blocked new laws like that. In Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin. In a fifth state, in Texas, a similar law is already in effect. And that law being in effect has forced a third of the clinics in the state to close or stop providing abortions. That kind of law has been blocked in four states already, but not in Texas. Is it constitutional for the state of Texas to try to make abortion inaccessible in this way? Is it constitutional for the state of Texas to pass laws like that with no real purpose other than to shut down clinics that are providing what is supposed to be a federally protected, constitutionally protected right? A right that 60,000 women in Texas access every year? Today, a federal appeals court held a really important hearing on that question. A panel of three judges considered a challenge to some of the antiabortion restrictions passed by Texas Republicans last summer, including the ones designed to shut down the clinics with those hospital agreements. Irin Carmon was in the courtroom reporting for and summarized the oral arguments today as a debate over how much hardship is too much hardship for Texas women to endure on purpose at the hands of their state government? All three judges in that Texas courtroom today are women. All three are Republican appointees. All three have been hostile to abortion rights in the past and two of the three already have ruled in favor of letting the Texas antiabortion restrictions go ahead. So nobody`s really expecting a big abortion rights breakthrough from that court that`s hearing that hugely important Texas case. But if that court does, as expected, rule in favor of the state of Texas, if that court does say that Texas can restrict abortion rights the way it wants to, that ruling, a ruling like that would conflict directly with the other federal appeals courts in other jurisdictions that have ruled the other way on that exact same question. And that cannot stand. Right? Conflicting decisions on an issue like this can`t stand. With Republicans pushing laws like this as far and as fast as they can all over the country, shutting down clinics with laws like this can`t be federally constitutional in one place and federally unconstitutional in another place. At that point, someone`s going to have to decide. These guys are going to have to decide. And depending on that Texas ruling that we`re all waiting for now, the day when it goes to these guys should be coming very, very soon. Watch this space. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: For the past couple of years "Associated Press" photographer David Guttenfelder has had incredible access to the really isolated country of North Korea. The "A.P.`s" chief Asia photographer, he captured countless images of everyday life in a very secretive place we otherwise know very little about. He frequently posts a lot of these photographs to his Instagram account like this one which was taken at a dress shop in Pyongyang. Or this one of a bride and groom standing in front of statues of Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-Il. Or this one of Dennis Rodman, to visit Kim Jong-un who he says is his friend. Last month, Mr. Guttenfelder took these photographs of commuters reading from a public newspaper displayed in a Pyongyang subway station. This is how these North Koreans learned the news that the uncle of Kim Jong-un had been executed. Now, say what you will about the North Korean media, but these commuters in these pictures were probably getting better information than the rest of us about that uncle. Debunktion junction is sorely needed tonight, and that story is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Between Christmas and New Year`s, somebody leaked something rather extraordinary to "The L.A. Times", specifically to David Cloud at "The L.A. Times." He quotes an unnamed official saying the U.S. commander in Afghanistan has told the White House that after the war in Afghanistan is over, so even after the end of this year, he wants a force of at least 12,000 troops to stay in Afghanistan, 8,000 American troops and 4,000 from other allied countries. And here`s the important part. If he can`t get approval for there to be 12,000 troops in Afghanistan, indefinitely, even after the war is supposedly over, then reportedly he doesn`t want any, 12,000 minimum or forget it, just leave altogether, just go down to a couple hundred, a token force. Equivalent to the tiny number of U.S. troops who are still in Iraq. Should we leave altogether? Does the war in Afghanistan ever end? It is already our longest war ever. But if ending it means leaving minimum 12,000 people there, indefinitely, and bases and all the rest, then what does it even mean to say the war is over at the end of this year? The other thing that got leaked between Christmas and New Year`s is this. The National Intelligence Estimate for Afghanistan, which is a classified document, but somebody is leaking it to the press, or at least describing parts of it to the press. And although the basic details are different depending on who`s leaking and who`s reporting and we don`t have the actual classified document to confirm, what`s in the press about it is that the intelligence community`s consensus view about what`s going to happen when U.S. troops leave Afghanistan is a dark assessment. In one estimation, quote, "insurgents could quickly regain control of key areas of Afghanistan and threaten the capital city of Kabul as soon as next year." As soon as next year, 2015. No matter what we do this year. This year is already year 13 of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. The first U.S. combat casualty of the year in Afghanistan was on Saturday. U.S. service member killed in eastern Afghanistan in what was described by Afghan officials as an attack on that base by multiple suicide bombers. Should we stay longer in Afghanistan? If what`s reported about that NIE is correct, and parts of Afghanistan do backslide toward the Taliban after U.S. troops leave, at that point, would we wish that U.S. troops were still there? Or would we be happy that U.S. troops were home instead? That is a question about the future, but it is also a question that we are living right now. As the reporting becomes clear from Iraq that two years after American troops left Iraq, altogether, the western Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Fallujah are under the control of Sunni extremist insurgents, some of whom claim affiliation with al Qaeda. If you know nothing else about the American war fought in Iraq over 8 1/2 years, if you know about only one battle in that war, you know about Fallujah, right? You know about the battle for Fallujah in 2004. It was actually two huge battles in Fallujah, sustained face-to- face urban combat. The heaviest sustained street-to-street combat for any U.S. service member since Vietnam. More than nine years after more than 1,000 Americans were wounded in Fallujah, and nearly 150 Americans were killed in Fallujah, Fallujah apparently is gone again now. And Ramadi is teetering. And the residents are fleeing again and the civilians are caught in crossfire again and the large-scale military fight is on again to retake the cities of Anbar province, only this time it is the Iraqi military doing that fighting, not the American military. It is resonant and chilling to see the smoke rising again and the extremists raising their black flag again over the site of the largest battle of the Iraq war now that our American/Iraq war is over. But does it make us wish that U.S. troops were still there? Or were going back? If Afghanistan will teeter once U.S. troops are gone after 13 years, if parts of Iraq teeter now, after U.S. troops were there for 8 1/2 years, does that mean we should have been there longer? Does anyone wish we would go back? And if not, what else can we do? What else should we do? And how does it feel to be seeing this right now in Anbar province if you were there to see it all happen the first time around? Joining us now from Sochi, Russia is NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, who as usual stayed up into the middle of the night for us. Richard, I really appreciate you being here. I`ve got to ask your reaction to what`s happening now in Anbar province. RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it is, as you said, a very chilling reminder of what`s happened in Iraq, what is continuing to happen in Iraq. And I think you`re drawing the right parallel for what lessons we should draw for Afghanistan, because we are facing now this same situation. U.S. troops left Iraq and the civil war returned and al Qaeda went back right to the center of Fallujah and Ramadi. Now, as we leave Afghanistan, what is going to happen? Are we going to leave a residual force behind? If so, how large? I think going back to that comment by the general that was quoted in "The L.A. Times," I was in Afghanistan not that long ago and I think that is quite a powerful statement. If you have 12,000 troops there or a number of that scale which is a pretty big number, then you can actually do something. You cannot only defend yourselves, you can do some sort of missions to support the Afghan security forces. If you don`t, and if you just have 4,000, 5,000, 6,000, then really what`s the point in being there because most of your time and most of your capability is just going to be to defend yourselves? So, what`s the point of having troops stationed in the middle of central Asia if all they can do is defend themselves against incoming rockets? MADDOW: Richard, do you feel, like, when you talk to your sources in intelligence and in the military and in foreign policy circles, even other -- the foreign correspondents that you talk to, do you feel like the experience of leaving Iraq is coloring, is shadowing the decision- making process and the debate about how to leave Afghanistan? Are those parallels being drawn? ENGEL: I think they are being drawn 100 percent. I spoke to a commander who said, well, maybe we can get one out of two. There`s a pride issue here. There is a legacy issue. The U.S. military`s prestige is on the line. Generally, the consensus is Iraq didn`t go very well, and they`re hoping that if Afghanistan doesn`t totally fall to pieces, that it will be something of a saving grace for the military, that they can pull out from this experience and say, look, we didn`t fail over this last decade in our foreign endeavors, we didn`t launch these wars only to see chaos and turmoil in the wake. But the question is, going back to Iraq and going back to Afghanistan, and these aren`t theoretical issues. These are issues that we`re going to face right now. What would have happened if the U.S. left a small force in Iraq of a few thousand? We can never know, but I think you can have a pretty good idea. Let`s say we had left behind 5,000, 6,000 troops, 10,000 troops, even, in Iraq. Would that have been enough to stop the civil war from breaking out again? Would it have been enough to stop this Sunni/Shiite divide which is a 1,300-year-old conflict, from return to that country? I`m not sure that it would have, especially when you had this absolute outbreak of violence across the border in Syria. You had the whole Arab spring. Would that residual force in Iraq have been enough to stop the flow of history, as it has changed? And I`m not sure the same thing in Afghanistan, would a small force, even 12,000, be enough to keep the Taliban from coming back? Already, the Taliban is coming back. Already, they are making inroads in southern Afghanistan and eastern Afghanistan. And that is with 50- plus thousand American and other foreign troops on the ground right now. If 50,000 can`t do it, how could 12,000 do it? MADDOW: NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, live for us tonight in Sochi, Russia -- Richard, I really appreciate you staying up to do this for us. It`s good to see you, my friend. ENGEL: My pleasure. MADDOW: Thanks a lot. All right. Lots to come tonight including how rock ribbed Tea Party principles were defeated by a pizza. That`s just ahead on another installment of Debunktion Junction. Stay with us. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis. That`s exactly what the president and world decided some time ago when we left Iraq. So, we are not obviously contemplating returning. We`re not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight. We`re going to help them in their fight. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. This is not the most important thing in the world, but for the record, this is generally believed to be the first official White House press secretary. This is FDR`s press secretary, a man named Stephen Early. He was press secretary from 1933 to 1945. He served again a few years later as press secretary for President Harry Truman. So what you are looking at here are FDR`s press secretary and Harry Truman`s press secretaries. This handsome fellow here, he was Dwight Eisenhower`s press secretary. This was JFK`s press secretary. These were LBJ`s press secretaries. He burned through a few of them. This guy had a tough job. He was Richard Nixon`s press secretary. These were Gerald Ford`s press secretaries. He had two. This was Jimmy Carter`s press secretary. Only had one his whole presidency. These were Ronald Reagan`s press secretaries. The last guy you see there, Marlin Fitzwater, he was also George H.W. Bush`s only press secretary. These were all of Bill Clinton`s press secretaries. He had a bunch. These were George W. Bush`s press secretaries. This was President Obama`s first press secretary, Robert Gibbs. And this, as of today, is President Obama`s current press secretary, Jay Carney. Notice anything different here between Jay Carney and all of his press secretary predecessors? Notice something new that we have never seen before? Ah! Oh, my God! What`s that? That. This -- I think it`s that, has never happened before in the history of the United States. At least we think so. We reached out to NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss about this today, and he said since the modern press secretary has only existed since FDR, this in fact might be the first ever beard at the presidential press secretary podium. Now, Abraham Lincoln did have a really cute guy with a beard who used to talk to the press for him, but he was not technically a press secretary because that job didn`t exist yet. Thank you, Michael Beschloss. But otherwise, until we are proven wrong, and I would love to be, until we are proven wrong, I believe that Jay Carney today has made hirsute history. First ever beardy White House press secretary. First ever, America! (APPLAUSE) Change is possible. Whoo-hoo! We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Debunktion Junction, what`s my function? Ready? True or false -- Republicans in Idaho decided over the weekend to eliminate their ability to nominate a candidate for president in 2016. Is that true, or is that false? False. Although it looked like that for a second today. This is such a weird story. In 2012, Idaho Republicans held a caucus to nominate their candidate for president. They held their caucus in March. Mitt Romney won the caucuses. Well, this weekend, the "Idaho State Journal" reported that Idaho Republicans voted to kill the caucus, do away with that method of selecting a nominee. The newspaper reported that in 2016, Idaho Republicans will no longer hold a presidential caucus. And that would be an amazing development because that would leave Idaho Republicans with no way of nominating a candidate for president. See, when they voted in the caucus system back in 2012, the governor of Idaho signed a law eliminating the state`s presidential primary system. So, no primary but now no caucus either? Did Idaho Republicans by killing their caucus leave themselves with no way of nominating a candidate in 2016? No, they did not. Apparently, it`s all a big misunderstanding. The Republican official quoted in that story over the weekend about Republicans deciding to kill their caucus told us today that there was a, quote, "miscommunication" between him and the newspaper. He said that the Idaho caucus is just fine, it has not been killed. He attributed the miscommunication to a lack of sleep on his own part. So, to repeat, despite the headlines to the contrary, the Idaho caucus is still alive. It has not been killed. It was all just a big misunderstanding. And jack tripper`s not gay. And then, Mr. Roper came in and things got totally zany. All right. Next up, true or false? A Tea Partier in Utah has committed to fasting, as in not eating -- according to his Web site -- quote, "until the state of Utah exercises its right of nullification against gay marriage." He is not eating until Utah stands up to the tyranny of activist federal judges. Is that true or is that false? Also false. Turns out dude is eating pizza this very day and gay marriage has not been nullified in Utah or anywhere. Today, the United States Supreme Court did put at least a temporary halt to same-sex marriages in Utah while the state appeals the overturning of its gay marriage ban. You will recall that the overturning of Utah`s gay marriage ban sent hundreds of couples racing to their local clerk`s offices and left Utah with nearly 1,000 married gay couples before today`s stay. The Supreme Court`s stay, the decision to sort of hit the pause button, does not invalidate those Utah marriages. It does not overturn the ruling that allowed those marriages in the first place. It does not even hint at what may ultimately become of same-sex marriage in Utah or around the country. It simply says pause. It simply says no more gay marriages in Utah until we figure this thing out. So, no Utah lawmakers stood up and said no to the tyranny of federal judges. No Utah lawmakers stood up for the people in the face of the satanic marriage hordes. There has been no nullification of marriage of any kind in Utah. But still, the guy who said he wouldn`t eat until that happened is eating. Utah`s most demonstrably anti-gay marriage person, a man named Trestin Meacham, a failed candidate for public office, he broke his starvation until nullification promise. Not only did he order pizza today, he`s asking people to send him more pizza. His fast has apparently ended on the 16th day. In any case, Mr. Meacham would like you all to know there was more to his fast against gay marriage than his opposition to gay marriage. He says the fast was also to expose the hatred of the homosexual movement. Yes, I don`t know either. Finally, true or false? Back in December, Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of North Korea, executed his uncle and second in command by stripping him naked and feeding him to starving ravenous dogs. Is that true or is that false? Thank you. False. File this under sounds to absurd and so outrageous that you believed it could actually happen because North Korea. Kim Jong-un did not feed his uncle to starving dogs. The original report, story, idea, the original fabrication came from an online satirist based in China. The satire was then lifted nearly word for word and published in a Hong Kong tabloid. People probably should have known the story was potentially less than true because the originator`s Web site background is a photo of Kim Jong-un flipping the double bird. Wait a minute, that`s not a photo. That`s a cartoon. It`s almost as if you can`t blindly believe whatever you see on the Internet anymore, especially if it`s about North Korea. Just to be clear, the supreme leader did have his uncle/vice chairman of national defense executed. It was likely execution by firing squad. Still brutal. Still authoritarian. Still a terrifying story. Still, the execution of a family member, right? Just not as cartoon as real-life style. As much as it feels like you should, do not believe every insane-sounding thing about the person in charge of North Korea. Some of them really are made up. 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