The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 03/26/14

Guests: Daniel Miller; John Walsh

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. If there`s about to be a large volcanic eruption. If you live near an active volcano and it is about to blow big time. Apparently, one of the ways a volcano lets you know ahead of time it`s about to blow is that the same forces that are about to cause the volcanic eruption also cause earthquakes ahead of time. It doesn`t happen every time, but that is what happened in March 1980 on the slopes of the giant active volcano between Portland Oregon and Olympia Washington that`s called Mt. St. Helens. Watch this footage that we have before that volcano erupted. We knew it was coming. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what the volcano area looked like today, covered with clouds, but a flume of gas harbored over the summit, the rumblings could be heard for miles and earthquakes sent herds of wild elk into confused flight. All houses close to the mountain have been evacuated except for one. An 83-year-old man by the name of Harry Truman refuses to leave, says he`s not scared. He describes what the quakes are like. HARRY TRUMAN, 83-YEAR-OLD: A little uncanny, they just shake. In bed, you`re protected, you`re on two, three layers of springs. (INAUDIBLE). (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was 34 years ago this week. That was March 1980. And those little earthquakes that Mr. Truman was feeling, said he may didn`t know if it made him feel drunk or what. Those small earthquakes that he was feeling, small eruptions of gas at Mt. St. Helens they were seeing. It turns out they were not a false alarm. They were in fact signs that an eruption was coming. And on May 18th, 1980, just a few weeks after that footage was shot, that eruption happened and it was huge and it was devastating. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Good evening, the Mt. St. Helens volcano erupted today. It was the worst eruption of that mountain in 123 years. At least five people were killed fleeing down the mountainside and more feared dead. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: At 8:32 this morning, Mt. St. Helens shuddered with a strong earthquake. The explosion was heard more than 100 miles away. The volcano then spewed out a huge cloud of ash, two miles across and up to 10 miles in the air. UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: The force of the blast at least as big as the Hiroshima bomb, 100 million tons of rock blown off the top. Possibly, as much blown up from below. What happened, this bulging twisting north face of the mountain seen here before the blast exploded laterally. The force and heat of the event totally destroyed an area eight miles long, 15 miles wide. Volcanic ash was carried as far as the Dakotas today. In Spokane, 200 miles east, the dust was so thick, some people wore gas masks. Below Mt. St. Helens, total desolation, not a tree standing. People caught in this area died yesterday including presumably the only resident who refused to leave and became a folk hero, 83-year-old Harry Truman. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: 83-year-old Harry Truman obviously not the former president, but that man who refused to evacuate in advance of that volcanic eruption, Mr. Truman was later confirmed who have died in the eruption. His whole camp where he lived on the banks of the volcano was buried in 150 feet of volcanic debris. In total 57 people were killed when Mt. St. Helens blew up in 1980. It is still the worst natural disaster on record in the state of Washington. Nobody yet knows what the death toll is ultimately going to be for the giant landslide in Snohomish county, just north of Seattle, Washington this week. but if rescuers worst fears are realized. What lapped at this site, on this Stillaguamish River, it may rival Mt. St. Helens in terms of the human toll of that tragedy. It`s been four days now since this hillside collapsed into the valley below. Forty nine homes were in the path of the landslide and are known to have been destroyed, 49 houses. A total of eight people were rescued from the scene on the first day, including this 4-year-old boy. You can see from footage taken from the helicopter, a 4-year-old boy, who was spotted by first responders wading through the mud alone. That little boy was saved. He was pulled to safety from above as you can see here. But his father and his three brother and sisters are all still missing. The rescue efforts have been heroic from the very first day at this disaster. Now, that we are at day five, in part it is the endurance, the physical endurance of the rescuers who have been at it day after day that is part of their heroism now. They`ve been using tools that are both high- tech and very, very low tech. In some places even today they are just digging with their hands. Rescue dogs are being used extensively to try to pinpoint locations over the dogs may be able to smell humans so then human rescuers can come in and focus their digging efforts there. After some rescuers themselves had to be rescued from the mud on the first day of the landslide. There`s been an intense focus on trying to move people around on site in a way that they can do the work of trying to find people without themselves becoming victims of the slide. They`ve used zodiac rafts on site. They`ve also used vehicles that are essentially like hover crafts. They have used very sensitive high-tech listening devices, as well as remote cameras so they can insert into small spaces at the cameras can look around even if the rescuers themselves can`t get into the small spaces to see if anyone is there, anybody who could be rescued or whose body could be recovered. But for all of the hundreds of people on site, for all the herculean effort that has been expended here, no one has been found alive since the first day. On the first day, three people were pulled alive out of the air. Three people were pulled out of the area and confirmed dead. Five more bodies were pulled out the next day on Sunday. Six bodies were recovered on Monday. Yesterday two more bodies were recovered. One of the things that has been truly scary about this disaster, one of the things that, frankly, has made it grow as a national story rather than recede since it happened, is not only been the growing death toll in the disaster, the death toll stands at 16 confirmed dead. But it`s also the expectation and the worry that that death toll may rise, and potentially that it may rise significantly. Last night Snohomish county rescuers reported that while they have recovered two more bodies yesterday, bringing that death toll to 16, they also spotted eight additional bodies that they have not been able to safely recover. They will not add those eight people to the list of confirmed dead until they can recover those bodies. But when that happens, it is expected that that will be bring the total death toll to 24. Beyond that, there is a list of missing persons, people who were believed to have potentially been in the area of the spill at the time that it happened. Those are people who are still unaccounted for. The list of missing started at 18, but it has steadily risen to where it stood earlier today, at 176. As of tonight, as of just moments ago, that number has now been revised down to 90. Ninety people still considered missing. Part of the emergency response to this disaster has been to tap law enforcement officers who have experience in missing person`s cases. Essentially to treat everybody on that list of 90 people as a missing person who can hopefully be identified alive and well, somewhere. They`re also trying to clear up any potential duplicate names on the list in the hopes that the looming and very scary number of at least 90 people missing, they`re hoping that that number can be brought way down. But there were 100 -- excuse me, there were 49 houses known to be in the path of that wall of mud, when it came down. The square mile that is the rescue and recovery scene, the place that they are searching that has been inundated with all of that earth. They say the rescue and recovery area, it`s a square mile. They say it is covered at minimum in 15 feet of soil and mud and debris, at minimum. But a lot of the search area, the mud is 40 feet deep. That`s the depth of a four story building, that`s what they`re searching. The local press in the pacific northwest has done an incredible job of documenting the rescue efforts so far, covering the heartbreak of the 16 people who are known to have been killed and the many dozens more who are feared lost. But the local coverage has also increasingly turned to the question why these 49 homes that were destroyed in the disaster were there in the first place, why people had been allowed to build their homes there. This exact same spot on the Stillaguamish River has seen landslides before, and not just once or twice. This is an aerial picture posted from "The New York Times" that shows the still visible scene. This is before the landslide this weekend. And in the before picture, you can still see the visible scene from the last massive landslide on that hill which happened in 2006. But before that flight in 2006, there was also a huge landslide on the same mountain on the same bend of the river in 1967. Before that, there was another huge landslide there in 1951. Before that, there was another huge landslide there in 1949, all at the same spot. In the 1950s, after the two first big landslides of the modern era, in 1950s, the "Seattle Times" reports that two state agencies in Washington contracted with an engineering firm to study whether that landslide site would ever be safe. The engineering firm suggested that maybe there were a few things that may be done to try to shore up that bend in the river, that side of the mountain. But they concluded that any fix would likely be temporary. Quote "it`s almost impossible from a practical standpoint to stabilize this slide. The slope will continue to slide." That was in the 1950s they said that. Fast forward 50 years. In 1999, again, a report prepared by the U.S. army corps of engineers warned that quote "the potential for a large catastrophic failure at this location." The following year, the year 2000, another expert offers a similarly dire warning for the army corps of engineers, saying the slide area posed a significant risk to human lives and private property since human development of the flood plane in this area has steadily increased since the last major slide in 1967. Then again, warned again in 2010, which was four years ago, a report prepared for the county, for Snohomish county itself, warned that again this specific hillside area was one of the highest risk places in the whole county for destructive landslides. And now just as it did four previous times in the last 65 years, the side of that mountain has come crashing down. In day five of searching for survivors, the immediate hope is still to try to find signs of life. The next stage will be to try to recover the dead. And then at some point this will have to be reckoned with as a failure of policy, for why those dozens of homes were there at all. Given the repeated and emphatic due diligence that was done at the federal level and at the state level and at the local level, warning over and over and over again over a period of generations in Clarian terms, warning that this was going to happen. Joining us now is Daniel Miller. He is a geo morphologist with Earth Systems Institute which conducted that 1999 study on the landslide area for the U.S. army corps of engineers. That was the one that predicted a large catastrophic failure at this site. Dr. Daniel Miller, thank you very much for being with us tonight. DANIEL MILLER, GEO MORPHOLOGIST, EARTH SYSTEMS INSTITUTE: You`re welcome. MADDOW: Obviously, this is an ongoing tragedy. This is not over. We can`t look back at it with hindsight except to those warnings. Is it fair to characterize this as a site where it was repeatedly warned there would likely be future landslides? MILLER: I think it`s fair to characterize it that way, yes. MADDOW: The head of the Snohomish county department of management told reporters Monday, again, in the midst of this disaster, that the area was considered very safe, that this all came out of nowhere. As far as you understand it, was it widely understood in the region that there had been these repeated warnings? MILLER: I think anyone that had lived there very long was aware of these landslides. All of the people that I worked with there were quite aware of these landslides. I don`t think that anybody had any idea that something of this magnitude could occur? MADDOW: When you described the potential for a large catastrophic failure in your report in 1999, obviously you`re speaking as a scientist and you mean that in the technical sense. I look at this as a laymen and think that`s a large catastrophic failure. Are you saying you weren`t imaging something on this scale? MILLER: Analysis that we did for that project suggested that there was a potential for very large volume of soil to fail from the western margin of the landslide. It suggests that it wasn`t currently completely unstable, but that if conditions continue to evolve, that could be stabilized and fail. For that study, we were looking solely at the potential for sediment to the river. We didn`t translate that then to an assessment of risk for the areas down slope. But that information was available. We just didn`t take it to the next step. MADDOW: One of the things that has been raised by some of the residents of this area has expressed frustration and upset to the press saying that they did not feel adequately warned about the risk here. One of the concerns that they have raised is that they say there`s been a lot quite a lot of logging, timbering on that mountain, and that they believe, at least anecdotally, that maybe that had something to do with causing this current landslide. Is it reasonable to look at factors like that in terms of why this happened when it did? MILLER: It`s certainly reasonable. And in fact, prior to 1999 study, we did another study in 1996 to examine the factors that affect that particular landslide. Timber harvest was one of the things that we examined. And we certainly found that there`s the potential that could have an effect. But it was minor compared to other factors like erosion of the toe and erosion of the body of the landslide by streams. So it`s certainly a potential effect. MADDOW: As a scientist, when you look at phenomena like this, and when you, especially look back at the history of this particular site, do you think there`s a reasonable public policy case to make that governments should use the kind of data that you provided for example, to say that this area will be zoned in such a way that it`s not fit for human has been taking, this should be left as an area that`s considered to be inherently unstable and humans should not put themselves in risk in living in an area like this? Would you feel like that as the reasonable response? MILLER: Well, in hindsight that is a reasonable response. But, you know, if somebody had asked me that two weeks ago, it might have been -- I might have given a different answer. I mean, you strive with what happened with Mt. St. Helens. You know, in the Pacific northwest, we`ve chosen to live in a really dynamic landscape. And so, we`ve all chosen to accept a certain level of risk in our lives. I, for example, live in Seattle and I know that at some point we`re going to be struck by a very large earthquake and that`s going to have devastating consequences as well. So I work to quantify these risks. I think we do have the responsibility to ensure that everyone is aware of the level of risk of the consequences of something happening so that they make informed decisions about the risk that they take. I`m not -- clearly, I mean, we`re not successful in communicating all this information in this case. That is something we need to improve on, I think. MADDOW: Dr. Daniel Miller of the Earth Systems Institute at a San Francisco native, and as somebody who`s house in New York city was flooded with 14 feet of water in super storm Sandy, talking about living with risk is something that I absolutely empathize with, sir. Thank you very much for helping us understand this. Thank you. MILLER: You are welcome. MADDOW: A lot of other news around the world tonight. A banner day for people who root out political corruption, for example. But again, the breaking news that we just had tonight on the situation in Snohomish county, just north of Seattle, is that the terrifying list of 176 people still missing in the very, very unfortunate and deadly landslide there in north of Seattle. The list of the missing, of people unaccounted for at that site has been downgraded tonight from 176 to a still very high number of 90. That is the new list of missing tonight in Washington state. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In 2012 in California, Republicans basically became extinct. Functionally after the 2012 election in California, it no longer mattered if elected Republicans showed up to work at the state capital. Because Democrats won so many seats in that election they could do anything they wanted without a single Republican vote on anything. Democrats, not only had the governorship and large majorities in both the assembly and the Senate they had super majorities, they had enough to override a veto if they ever wanted to even though the governor was also a Democrat. They also had enough to enact to anything they wanted that was budget related or tax related for the state. Even though those things in California require a two-thirds vote in both houses. Democrats just had everything. They had over two-thirds of the seats in both the state assembly and the state Senate following their huge successes in 2012. And then, of course, by the law of political complacency, you know that things had to start going horribly wrong. Democratic senator Roderick Wright, January 28th, he was convicted of eight felonies. He had first been indicted in 2010 and then in January he got convicted eight times over. But Senator Wright would not resign his Senate seat. His fellow Democrat did strip him of his committee assignments. They put him on a leave of absence, but he`s still being paid his state senator salary and he still technically holds the seat. They debated kicking him out of the Senate. But his fellow Democrats voted that they did not want to. And this is the most amazing part, actually. Look at this. The state Senate president, a Democratic senator, Darrell Steinberg, explained after that vote. Quote "the integrity of this institution," meaning the senate, "the integrity of this institutions cannot tolerate a convicted felon in its ranks. But at this time Senator Wright is not a convicted felon." Actually, he totally was a convicted felon. He was convicted of eight different felonies, in January, and being convicted of a felony is usually what people think makes you a convicted felon. I don`t know, apparently that`s splitting hairs to California Senate Democrats so the California senate Democrats voted to let the felon keep his seats in the state Senate. And he still hold it today. And then, you deserve another one, the Democrats in California have that precious super majority by two seats in the state senate. Well, here is state senator number two explaining why they don`t have that super majority any more. "The Sacramento Bee" help fully explains this, noting that when the Senate convened in late February this year one seat was conspicuously empty, because Senator Ron Calderon was to use the official parliaments excused on personal business. His personal business was, that he was being arraigned in Los Angeles on federal corruption charges that could imprison him for decades. So the Democrats had their super majority by two seats, one senator gets eight felony convictions. The second gets a 24 count felony corruption indictment. And then neither of them quit the Senate, and their fellow Democrats in the state Senate refused to kick either of them out. And so, California taxpayers are paying the salaries for these two guys and the Democrats can`t replace them. Incidentally, they`re both from very Democratic districts so it wouldn`t be hard to replace them with other Democrats. But these seats held by the felon and by the 24 count indictment guy, those seats are not being -- they`re still being held by those guys but those guys are not coming to work. They`re on leaves of absences while they`re dealing with their, you know, problems. Because those guys aren`t showing up to work every day, that`s how the Democrats lost the super majority in the most populous state in the nation. And that was before today, that was before shrimp boy, behold Raymond Shrimp Boy Chow, one of the most notorious gangsters from the bad old days of San Francisco`s Chinatown from the 1970s and `80s. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Chow was 16 when his family moved to San Francisco in 1976. The smallest of five brothers, his grandmother called him (INAUDIBLE) or shrimp boy. He says when students at Galileo high school make fun of his poor English, he shot one of them in the leg. By age 18 Chow was behind bars for robbery. In the mid 1980s he was out of prison and was back controlling the gambling den. In this photo, a young rimed Chow hosts the then new technology that brought the gang down, his cell phone. Based on wiretaps, gang members were charged with racketeering, heroin smuggling and murder for hire. Chow was convicted of gun running and sentenced to 23 years in federal prison. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Now, eventually Raymond "shrimp boy" Chow turned states evidence against another gangster and so he got out of prison early in 2006. He`s had a fairly high profile existence since then, claiming he`s turned over a new leaf. He says he is now a force for good in the community. Well today, at 5:30 a.m. local time, FBI agents descended on his home and his offices and arrested him along with 26 other people across northern California in a huge corruption, gun running, racketeering, drug trafficking sting. And at least one accusation of murder for hire. Hundreds of police officers and FBI agents were involved in dozens of simultaneous raids across northern California today. And one of the people arrested was yet another Democratic state senator from the great state of California, makes him number three. State Senator Leland Yee. He is a fixture of bay area Democratic politics. He is a leading Democratic candidate this year for the statewide office as secretary of state. That, at least, is probably not going to happen now not when the most resonant images of you as a public officials, as one of you in handcuffs being conveyed to the federal courthouse downtown. Although, all 26 suspects were arraigned today on a way array of charges Senator Lee specifically was charged with public corruption with soliciting funds from what turned out to be undercover FBI operatives. The senator allegedly offering to help the operatives in the state Capital in Sacramento in exchange for them giving him campaign cash. So California out of 40 state senators total, out of 28 Democratic state senators, there are now three Democratic state senators with federal criminal indictments against them, just this session, resulting already in eight felony convictions. And yes, the Republican party is essentially defunct in most of California and probably beyond reviving. But if anything can bring them back, it`s probably days like this. Incidentally, this happens on the same day the Democrats in Rhode Island had to choose a new speaker of the house after their last one resigned to the post following a day of still unexplained FBI raids on his home and his office. It also happens on the same day that the FBI arrests and indicts the Democratic mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina after only four months on the job. A federal sting operation in Charlotte, stretching back to his days on the Charlotte city council allegedly found the mayor soliciting and accepting bribes. And the indictment in his case, it`s like a series of rejected scenes from American hustle. Look at this. January 17th, 2013 the undercover informant gives Mr. Cannon $12,500 in cash by placing it on the coffee table in front of him, saying, well, there`s the 12.5 under the radar. When the undercover informant presented the case, Mr. Cannon looks nervously toward the window and covered the money with a folder. Cannon`s reaction caused undercover informant to closed the window blinds. After undercover informant closed the window blinds, Mr. cannon placed the money near his ear and fanned the bills. So like that`s how he`s counting the money maybe? I think it`s only 12.4. Federal officials and statewide office holders of the Republican persuasion have had a really good run of public corruption and other scandals recently. Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie., Pat Corey, Tray Raydell (ph), Scott Walker, Michael Grim, and none of the Democrats who got done today by the FBI was a federal official or statewide elected. But still, today was basically democratic catch up day on the reasons why the word politician has become an insult in our country. Today, the Democrats did their part, smelled by partisanship. Seriously, smell it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There can be only one. There can be only one haircut in the United States Senate from the great state of Montana. Why the state of Montana`s representation in the United States has just become an issue of national importance beyond the eerie hairdo thing. That is coming up tonight in just a moment. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The first veteran of the Iraq war to get elected to Congress was Patrick Murphy. He served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 with the 82nd airborne. He was awarded a bronze star. He came home in 2004 and was elected to the House in 2006 in a swing district in his home state of Pennsylvania. Patrick Murphy went on to served two terms in Congress. He serve on the intelligence committee and on the armed services committee as the first and, at the time, one of the only Iraq war in Congress. It was a big deal when Patrick Murphy worked hard as a member of Congress to try to end the war that he served in. It was also a big deal given his military background and his status as believe on democrat, when he took on a leading in getting rid of the militaries anti-gay, don`t ask don`t tell policy. Patrick Murphy again served two terms in Congress. Among other things he now works here on MSNBC. He has a show that airs weekends here on MSNBC called "taking the hill." And frankly, from a personal point of view, I think it`s an honor that he works here and we got to work with him, frankly. The first Iraq war veteran to make it to Congress, where he used his time to Congress to try to end the war and try to help people who served in it. He was the first Iraq war veteran in the house. And now, here is the first Iraq war veteran in the Senate, his name is John Walsh. And here he is being sworn in just a few weeks ago as the newest member of the United States Senate. John Walsh was appointed to filled the vacated senate seat of Democrat by Max Baucus who left the senate to become the new U.S. ambassador to China. Senator Walsh served in Iraq as commander of a combat infantry battalion from 2004 to 2005. He too, was awarded a Bronze star. He served in the Montana National Guard for three decades including as the adjutant general, meaning the man in-charge. John Walsh was appointed to the Senate seat. Come November he`s going to have to fight to keep it. Karl Rove`s Cross Roads groups started running ads against him in Montana literally on the day he was sworn in the Senate. He had to say Montana voters in question his ability to lead, which is something to say. Even though John Walsh is technically the incumbent senator from Montana, the candidate -- republicans who are running against him already has four times the amount of money that Senator Walsh has for the campaign this November. But John Walsh doesn`t have the luxury of just campaigning for what is going to be a hard fight to hold on to that seat. He is also now a serving senator. He is brand spanking new serving senator. And as such and as the first ever Iraq war veteran to serve in the United States Senate, he is introducing new major legislation tomorrow. It`s a bill to up suicide prevention efforts for American veterans. The VA estimates that the number of veterans committing suicide is up to 22 every day, they say that the pace of suicide is even higher among veterans under the age of 30. So that`s Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans of America are group oava.org. They are lobbying intensively on the issue of suicide this week in Washington, they`re at the Pentagon, at the VA, on Capitol Hill. Tomorrow they will be announcing the introduction of this new bill alongside Senator Walsh. Alongside the only person in the United States Senate who knows exactly what the veterans of those wars lived through, because he himself lived through it too. Joining us now is Senator John Walsh of Montana. Senator Walsh, thank you very much for being with us. It`s nice to have you here. SEN. JOHN WALSH, MONTANA: Thank you, Rachel. Thanks for having me. MADDOW: So why this issue? You obviously haven`t been in the United States Senate very long. It has to be a major priority for you to move so quickly on this issue? WALSH: Well, Rachel, this is very personal to me. Like you mentioned I commanded an infantry battalion in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. And when our unit returned home, I had a young soldier that died by suicide. Sgt, Christopher Dana who, you know, was over in Iraq with me through the entire deployment. And so, this is a personal issue. And, you know, you also mentioned that we have 22 veterans that are dying of suicide each day, you know. So we have an epidemic in this country that needs to be solved and I want to solve that problem. MADDOW: It is hard to think of suicide as having a public policy solution. I think a lot of issues like this, it`s hard to get your head around what can be done from a public policy perspective to solve a problem that seems so personal. That`s it. This bill is fairly comprehensive, it takes seven different approaches to try to tackle it. What do you think is the most important thing in the bill, what do you think works or could most be done to prevent suicide among veterans. WALSH: Well right now, we have a shortage of mental health care providers. You know, we opened a brand new facility in Montana, we built it right next to our VA hospital in Montana. And we couldn`t open that facility for over a year, because we didn`t have the health care providers available. So we need additional health care providers in this country to help us deal with this problem. MADDOW: I know you have not been in the Senate all that long, even those of us who haven`t been there, aren`t very optimistic about the Senate`s capacity to actually create new policy, when you talk to other senators about these ideas, now that these have been imploded and you`re going to introduce this bill tomorrow. Are you getting push back on any of the components of the bill? Do you see this as a matter that`s controversial or hard fought? WALSH: Well, I think that my colleagues will realize that we do have a problem and will join me in wanting to solve the problem, because we have veterans all over this country. You know, this is not a partisan problem. This is a problem that we have and we have to deal with it. MADDOW: Senator Walsh, we think of veterans as having enormous political capital. We think of veterans as being a nonpartisan and noncontroversial issue where all Americans believe that we ought to do right by our veterans. At least, we all believe we ought to say that. As a veteran yourself and seeing groups like IAVA lobbying in Washington this week, do you think that veterans in Washington get more than lip service? Do they actually get listened to? I sort of feel like the more I talk to veterans, the more I feel like they`re happy to have the thank yous and to have to sort of plot it, but it doesn`t always translate to policy. WALSH: Well, you have to take a look at what our men and women have sacrificed. Not only the men and women, but their families. They sacrificed a great deal for this country. They were willing to put their lives on the line. And so, I think that this country owes them a great deal of gratitude. And we need to show that by making sure the benefits that they earned are there for them and their families when they need them. MADDOW: Iraq war veteran United States senator John Walsh of Montana sponsoring new legislation in lowering the rate of veteran suicides. Senator Walsh, here on the program for the first time, I hope you`ll come back, and thank you for your time tonight, sir. WALSH: Thank you, Rachel, I definitely will. MADDOW: Thank you. All right. Though he is not known as a comic insult president, President Obama is actually secretly very good at the art of insult, at the art of the creative and strategic putdown. That story is newly important in international terms tonight. And that story is coming up in just a moment, complete with the thing that the president said about Mitch McConnell. Did you hear that? Hold on. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This year, the White House Correspondents dinner is going to on Saturday May 3rd. It is the 100th year of their being a White House Correspondence dinner. So, this one is probably a slightly bigger deal than usual. Joel McHale is going to be the host this year, which should be great. He is very funny. But of course, President Obama will also be there as well delivering, as he always does, a few serious remarks but mostly stuff like this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some folks still don`t think I spend enough time with Congress. Why don`t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell they ask. Really? Why don`t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The specific skill that President Obama has been honing at the White House correspondents dinner all these years has just come in handy. In his escalating confrontation with President Vladimir Putin of Russian, President Obama turns it up to stun with just a withering insult on the international stage. That story and the tape showing it is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Behold, President Obama insulting a comedian. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ZACH GALIFIANAKIS, COMEDIAN: What is it like to be the last black president? OBAMA: Seriously? What`s it like for this to be the last time you ever talk to a president. GALIFIANAKIS: You must kind of stink though, that you can`t run, you know, three times. OBAMA: You know, actually, I think it`s a good idea. You know, if I ran a third time, it would sort of be like doing a third hangover movie. It didn`t really work out, did it? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it going to be hard when you`re no longer president and people stop letting you win at basketball. OBAMA: How`s it like having a three inch vertical. GALIFIANAKIS: It`s a three-inch horizontal. So, you know, what I do if I were president, Mr. President? I would make same-sex divorce illegal. Then see how much you want it. OBAMA: I think that`s why you are not president. And that is a good thing. GALIFIANAKIS: You said if you had a son, you would not let him play football. What makes you think that he would want to play football? What if he`s a nerd like you. OBAMA: Do you think woman like Michelle would marry I`m a nerd? Why don`t you ask her whether she thinks I`m a nerd? GALIFIANAKIS: Can I? OBAMA: No, I`m not going to let her near you. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama and comedian Zach Galifianakis on the "Between Two Ferns" comedy web show that apparently did work at the whole point of that as a stunt which is to get lots of people to go to healthcare.gov, to see about signing up for health insurance under the new health reform law. The deadline for people to sign up for coverage this year is Monday, this upcoming Monday. And the total number of people signed up by then will be a crucial sign of the law`s success. Also, it will always be a footnote about the success of that law that one of the ways the president got lots of young people to sign up for health coverage at the end was by doing this skit where he repeatedly insulted Zach Galifianakis. President Obama is not a particularly jocular guy. His personality is that he`s basically kind of reserved. So there`s not that many instances on record of him insulting people. This is probably the most famous one. This one happened before he was president. This one, though, I`ve got to say, I was never sure he did mean what he said as an insult, even though that`s definitely the way it came out. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What can you say to the voters of New Hampshire on this stage tonight who see the resume and like it but are hesitating on the likability issue where they seem to like Barack Obama more? HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, that hurts my feelings. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m sorry, senator. I`m sorry. CLINTON: But isle try to go on. He`s very likable. I`ll agree with that. I don`t think I`m that bad. OBAMA: You`re likable enough, Hillary. CLINTON: I appreciate that. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I`m not sure she did appreciate that. But I`m also not sure that he meant it as that much an insult when he said it. Not like he very obviously meant it when he unloaded on everyone`s least favorite non seneschal real estate tycoon. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Donald Trump is here tonight. Now, I know that he`s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birther certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that`s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are biggie and Tupac? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama at the White House correspondent dinner. That was in 2011. Two years later, it was also at the White House correspondent dinner 2013 when the president saved a special poke in the eye for the top Republican in the United States Senate. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Some folks still don`t think I spend enough time with congress. Why don`t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell, they ask. Really? Why don`t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama does not frequently insult people, but when he does, and he`s able to do it in a joking way, he seems to enjoy it. In talking about Mitt Romney in 2013, the president almost seemed to enjoy it a little too much. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: He said that he`s very supportive of this new budget and he even called it marvelous, which is a word you don`t often hear when it comes to describing a budget. It`s a word you don`t often hear generally. So here`s what this marvelous budget does. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And he cracks himself up. The Barack Obama presidential insult is a weapon that is very infrequently used, but it is used with relish when he does it. By our otherwise rather reserved, rather formal president. And our president just did it again. The president`s trip to Europe continues this week. Yesterday on that trip an ABC news reporter asked President Obama about the aforementioned marvelous Mitt Romney and Mitt Romney`s claims during the presidential campaign that America`s number one geopolitical foe is Russia. Now that Russia is behaving so abominably toward Ukraine, the question are asks, was Mitt Romney right? This was the president`s response, complete with throwing some more rare and serious presidential shade at Vladimir Putin. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: In right of recent developments, do you think Mitt Romney had a point when he said that Russia is America`s biggest geopolitical foe, if not Russia, who? OBAMA: With respect to Mr. Romney`s assertion that Russia is our number one geopolitical foe, the truth of the matter is that America has got a whole lot of challenges. Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength but out of weakness. Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades since the breakup of the soviet union. And, you know, we have considerable influence on our neighbors. We generally don`t need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them. The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bear these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama yesterday in the Netherlands explaining that Russia is basically a gnat on the butt of an elephant. Calling Russia, in his words, merely a regional power that does not rise to the level of a major challenge for the United States. Saying that that Vladimir Putin`s recent actions, yes, to serve condemnation and punishment, but Putin`s aggression should not be mistaken as a sign of strength. It should instead be seen as a rather pitiful form of weakness. President saying, we don`t have to invade out neighboring countries to have influenced on them. Today in Brussels, President Obama made that point again in a formal address. And he made the point in an even more pointed way. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Understand as well, this is not another cold war that we`re entering into. After all, unlike the soviet union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama saying today this isn`t another cold war in part because Russia is not important enough to fight another cold war with. The keenest Kremlin watchers that I have spoken to during this whole Russia crisis, people who have been trying to figure out Vladimir Putin`s next move, the things you hear most consistently from these folks now is how really desperately vain President Putin is. How he values his image and specifically the image of his strength above all else. And that`s where he`s most vulnerable. Now, our president is uncorking his very rarely used power of insult to mock Vladimir Putin`s weakness and deride poor little Russia as a regional power with no standing as an international force. What will this do in practical terms? We have no idea yet. But nonmilitary war between us and Russia is not just an economic one, it`s very clearly a psychological one as well. And that part of the battle is officially joined. Neener, neener. Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". Have a great night. END THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END