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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 07/01/14

Guests: Sam Stein

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: That is "ALL IN" to this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, man. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Today at the White House, they held a viewing party for the World Cup. For whatever reason, soccer is one of the sports where everybody feels better if we all watch together in a large group. Not every sport is like that. But today at Soldier Field in Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri, and Piedmont Park in Atlanta, and City Hall Plaza in Boston, at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, there were really big public groups of fans gathered together in the literal public square to cheer for the American team in their big historic match today versus Belgium at the World Cup. And those big gatherings of people watching together included this rather buttoned up watch party at the White House. Actually, specifically, this was at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is right next to the White House. And President Obama himself walked over from the White House to the building where they were holding the watch party at one point today and he dropped in unexpectedly on the federal workers there watching the game. Before sitting down in the room there to watch some of the game himself, President Obama led the crowd in a round of "I believe that we can win. I believe that we can win." Which is apparently the American fan chant that you hear most often now at our international soccer matches including at the World Cup. But "I believe that we can win", that did not start as a soccer thing. "I believe that we can win" was invented as a chant by a Navy midshipman who is serving in Annapolis. He came up with it because he had a friend on the cheerleading squad and they wanted a way to support the Navy football team. But, now, it has become an all-American sporting chant, including the one led today by the president of the United States. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe. I believe. I believe. I believe. I believe that we can win. I believe that we can win. I believe that we can win. I believe that we can win. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So the White House is hosting watch parties. The president is leading chants. He has been leavening all speeches with "Go Team USA", right. There are big watch parties all across the country. Our country`s support for our national soccer team at the World Cup is a real thing. It is not forced. We legitimately feel passion for America`s prospects at the World Cup, especially for a huge game like today`s game against Belgium. But our sincere desire that our national team do well, our sincere interests in seeing them succeed is not the same thing as us having a deep organic national understanding of how this game actually works and how it is actually played. I mean, other than the American team being at the World Cup, we don`t watch much international soccer as a country. And so, stuff that happens in international soccer which probably seems normal to other fans in other countries who watch more of it, these things don`t seem normal to us and they have transfixed the American public because we don`t watch much of the stuff and some of the stuff doesn`t really have a parallel in our sporting events. It has been a new national experience of moral outrage for Americans to be watching a lot of international soccer right now and therefore be treated to the sight of players faking it, faking being hurt. This is part of how the game is played. It happens in professional soccer all over the world. It definitely happens in international matches in soccer. It`s a totally normal thing they do in high level soccer. And every four years in the World Cup, American fans are completely horrified that this is how the game is played. But this really how the game is played. Watch the guy in red here. That guy with the circle. He falls down. Is he hurt? Maybe he is hurt. It`s kind -- watch the replay. So, he falls down. Looks around. Am I hurt? Oh, I`ve decided to be hurt. This is another really good run. This next one, watch the guy in yellow. They are having words. They`re upset. They`re having a confrontation. Oh, I am deciding to fall down. The guy in the stripes is like what? Oh, yes. This is my favorite. You watch this one unfold it looks like the guy in red might have been hurt. You see the replay. Watch what he does. The guy in the red shirt here, watch what he does. He picks up the other guy`s hand and uses it to punch himself in the face, thus creating a very keen illusion that the guy in the yellow shirt might have punched him in the face. I mean, technically he did, right? I mean, as non-die hard soccer fans when America`s attention turns to the World Cup for a minute every four years, every four years, we are shocked by this behavior on the soccer match. As international soccer players, Americans, I should say, are not thought to be very skilled at this particular part of the game. The lying and cheating and faking that you are hurt in the hopes that somebody else will get a penalty called against them, that they don`t really deserve, your team might therefore get advantage from your acting skills rather than something that you did on the pitch, or that the other team actually did to deserve your free kick or their penalty. It turns out American players aren`t that great at that. I feel kind of good about that. I mean, I know it would be better if we had beaten Belgium and we`d win more and all that stuff. But it`s kind of a point of national pride that we suck at the cheating part. But even if we are not good at the cheating part in soccer, even if we`re not good at faking it for advantage, it does not mean that we are not good at that in life or at least in politics. We don`t do it in soccer. We do it in Washington, pretending to be grievously injured or grievously insulted when you`re not actually in the hopes that you might get a penalty called on the other guy if you complain in just the right way -- I mean, when that other guy has done nothing to you, that is basic pee wee league American political strategy. We can`t do it in soccer, we can`t do it to each other in red and blue fights on a different kind of pitch all the time. For example, we are having a big national one right now. There was this telling moment in Washington a few days ago when congressional Republicans announced they were going to bring a lawsuit against President Obama because he is so terrible. Now, what specifically is so terrible about President Obama? You know, that`s not really the point. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Are you planning to initiate a lawsuit against the Obama administration and President Obama? REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I am. REPORTER: Can you explain why that is necessary? BOEHNER: You know, the Constitution makes it clear that a president`s job is to faithfully execute the laws. In my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws. REPORTER: What specific executive actions are you planning to challenge in court? BOEHNER: When I make that decision I will let you know. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: There is John Boehner. I`m hurt. I`m hurt so terribly. How are you hurt? What did this terrible person do to you? I don`t know yet. I will get back to you on that but please assign that person a penalty. If you don`t know what you are suing somebody for, you`re just suing them and you`ll figure it does later, it does sort of undercut the idea that that person has done something seriously worthy injurious to you, seriously worthy of outrage, if you have to figure it out after you file the lawsuit. In politics, though, this is kind of a classic strategy. In soccer, it`s a classic strategy. But in this case, in this political case, the single party most delighted about John Boehner being caught punching himself in the face or falling down for no reason or trying to look injured, when he clearly doesn`t even have a plausible explanation for what hurt him, the party that is most excited about this which actually can`t stop talking about this even though John Boehner sort of hasn`t talked about it anymore after that press conference where he couldn`t answer why he was doing it, the person in Washington who`s most happy about this weirdly enough, appears to be the man being sued in this instance. President Obama turns out to be delighted at this turn of events. President Obama went back today to what is apparently his new favorite topic of political conversation, the fact that he is trying to act to make stuff better, to change policy in ways he thinks is good for the American people, and the Republicans are suing him over it because they want nothing to change. President Obama went back to that today, even though Republicans aren`t talking about it anymore but he apparently could not be more happy to discuss the subject. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: It`s not crazy. It`s not socialism. You know, it`s not the imperial presidency. No laws are broken. We are just building roads and bridges like we have been doing for the last -- I don`t know, 50, 100 years. But so far, House Republicans have refused to act on this idea. I haven`t heard a good reason why they haven`t acted. It is not like they have been busy with other stuff. No, seriously. (LAUGHTER) I mean, they are not doing anything. Why don`t they do this? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama has now done some version of this for the third time in five days. Since the Republicans announced late last week that they were going to sue him for executive actions that he`s taking on issues that Congress won`t vote on, the president has taken that issue which they started and he has tried to elevate it into a national daily point of discussion. They picked this fight with him but he is the one who is very happy to have it. He is more than happy to have it. He keeps talking about it. He keeps bringing it up unsolicited. He seems to enjoy himself more and more every time he does it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: As long as they insist on taking no action whatsoever that will help anybody, I`m going to keep on taking actions on my own that can help the middle class, like the actions I have taken to speed up construction projects and attract new manufacturing jobs and lift workers` wages and help students pay off their student loans. And they criticize me for this. Boehner is suing me for this. And I told him, I`d rather do things with you. Pass some laws. Make sure the Highway Trust Fund is funded so we don`t layoff hundreds of thousands of workers. It`s not that hard. Middle class families can`t wait for Republicans in Congress to do stuff. So, sue me. As long as they are doing nothing, I`m not going to apologize for trying to do something. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was President Obama speaking today. That was right before the kickoff of the World Cup game this afternoon. He started speaking in the 2:00 hour. Kickoff was at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Yesterday, it was the president speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House, where he announced he`d be taking new executive action on the issue of immigration. And again, he made that same point about Republicans refusing to do anything themselves but threatening to sue him over his willingness to act. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, the best solution to that is passing bills. Pass a bill. Solve a problem. Don`t just say no on something that everybody agrees needs to be done. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was the president speaking yesterday at the White House. He keeps going back to the topic again and again and again with some evident if not glee, at least happy to be talking about it. It is like it put a spring in his step, right? I mean, the White House has a new focus now. Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Now, some of you may have read so we take these actions and then now Republicans are mad at me for taking these actions. They`re not doing anything and then they are mad that I`m doing something. I`m not sure which of the things I have done they find most offensive, but they have decided they are going to sue me for doing my job. I -- you know, I might have said in the heat of the moment during one of these debates I want to raise the minimum wage so sue me when I do. I didn`t think they were going to take it literally. I just want to be real blunt. If you watch the news, you just see, OK, Washington is a mess and the basic attitude is everybody is just crazy up there. But if you actually read the fine print, it turns out that the things you care about right now Democrats are promoting. And we`re just not getting enough help. And my message to Republicans is join us. Get on board. If you`re mad at me for helping people on my own, then why don`t you join me and we will do it together? (APPLAUSE) We`ll do it together. I want to work with you, but you got to give me something. You got to try to deliver something -- anything. (APPLAUSE) They don`t do anything except block me, and call me names. It can`t be that much fun. It would be so much more fun if they said, you know what, let`s do something together. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama speaking this weekend, speaking Friday, excuse me, in Minnesota. They don`t -- he says, you know, it would be a lot of fun -- it`d be more fun if they said let`s do something together. I think it is clear, to the point, I think that`s a good look for the president in terms of his public face, and the way people think about the presidency and what`s happening in Washington. But when he says that he thinks it would be fun if Republicans came along and said, let`s do something together, I don`t think Republicans want to do something together. I don`t think they would think that is fun. The fact that Republicans have made it so clear that they don`t want to do anything together, not even the things that they would want to do alone, that does appear, I think, to have sunk in despite what the president said there. I think it appears to have energized the president and the White House like nothing else on the domestic front on this second term thus far. Something is going on right now and I think the immediate political calculation is clear. I think the White House and the administration is proud of all of the things that the president has acted on through executive action at all of these speeches and all these events. Like these three he`s done in the last five days, the president lists all of the things he has done. He always starts with raising the minimum wage to the extent he could for federal contract workers, fair pay for women, making student loans more affordable. I mean, the things that they put on the list, these actions that he`s taken at the executive level, these are all very popular actions, and so, the White House is proud of them. I mean, to be attacked for doing those things: (a), reminds the country that the president has taken those popular actions and the Republicans in Congress haven`t. They like that contrast, they like that framing, so they are speaking with the president`s agenda of taking executive action where he can and now, they are talking about it more than ever. They invited the press to see the president start a meeting with his cabinet today. The president went out of his way while the cameras are still on the room to say he was going to be asking all his cabinet secretaries for them to also start talking about what executive action they could do on their own on things that Congress could not act on. So, (a), the Obama administration likes the way this looks. The Republicans choosing to sue the president for trying to do so much the White House sees this as a great strategic gift. This is something they can work with, right? I believe that we can win. You can sense how they have grasped on to this and they are running with it. But there is another strategic part of this -- if that`s (a) -- there is another strategic part of this, (b), that is a much more open question. And that is, what effect is it actually going to have on Congress for the president to be traveling around the country every couple of days now, getting big rounds of applause and big laugh lines and big headlines for mocking Congress and teasing Congress about how little they do? When the president travels around the country they don`t do anything and the crowd goes they don`t do anything, what effect is it going to have on Congress that that`s what the president spends his time on now? Because even though that line of attack does make him look good in contrast to the people who are doing, there is the little house keeping matter that there is stuff that Congress actually does have to do and that the president can`t do. The ostensible reason for the president`s trip today to the key bridge between Virginia and Washington, D.C., was to talk about the fact that the decrepit bridge is now being repaired. Federal highway funding is being spent to fix the bridge. That was the set piece for the back drop today because of this letter that was sent today from the administration to all 50 states -- 50 of these letters went out today telling all states, hello, today is July 1st. In most parts of the country this is known as construction season. Summer is when we do the most work to repair roads and bridges and fill potholes and all that stuff. Well, it is July 1st today and on August 1st, one month from today unless Congress acts, every state in the country is going to see on average a 28 percent immediate cut in the transportation dollars they are getting to do their roads and bridges projects. There is more than 100,000 construction projects underway supported by federal transportation money right now. Unless this -- this is a very short term problem. Unless Congress acts to pass a transportation bill now, all of those projects are in jeopardy of basically being stopped midstream. This is not some indefinite far off in the future, we better handle this long-term problem kind of thing. The funding is going to start being cut off a month from today, August 1st. Construction projects that are underway right now will be stopped because the money is going to go away unless Congress does something in short order. What is the likelihood that Congress is going to do that thing that only they can do, especially given that Congress doing nothing has just inspired the president of the United States to start a barn storming multistate tour, raking in the political capital nationwide talking about how this Congress won`t do anything? I mean, does that make Congress more likely to do something or less likely to do something, to have the president capitalizing on their inactivity in such an over the top way? I will tell you I personally have bought three new tires in the last six months and not because I like new tires but because I needed them. I don`t know about you, but I have an interest in whether or not they get the next thing done. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: So far, House Republicans have refused to act on this idea. I haven`t heard a good reason why they haven`t acted. It`s not like they have been busy with other stuff. No, seriously. (LAUGHTER) I mean, they`re not doing anything. Why don`t they do this? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama speaking today in Washington. And we are hearing a lot like this from the president now about how Congress he says, they`re not doing anything and I will. There is, however, stuff that only Congress can do. What happens now with that stuff, some of which is rather important and rather pressing. Joining us now is Sam Stein, senior political editor and White House correspondent at "Huffington Post". Sam, it`s great to see you. Thanks for being here. SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: So, does the White House actually love that congressional Republicans are suing them? STEIN: I think they do. I think as you mentioned, it portrays the president as this kinetic political force and the Republicans as recalcitrant political force and here president is getting stuff done through sheer grit, and Republicans are doing nothing more than standing in the way. It`s a nice contrast for them. But, I think, you under score the problem which is that what the president can do is largely temporary. And if he does want to have a greater impact and pass larger legislation, he obviously needs the input of the Congress. MADDOW: And there is some stuff that is really pressing that is going to happen regardless of political wins. One of them is, as the president was highlighting today, that transportation bill where more than 100,000 construction projects around the country may just stop in a matter of weeks if they don`t act. There is also the pressing matter of now they`re being between 700 and 800 U.S. troops in Iraq and the president only having so much time there before the president needs congressional authorization. There`s stuff happening in the world that requires Congress. Do you have sense from your reporting whether or not Congress is up to the task of doing the stuff that they really need to do? STEIN: Well, it`s scattershot, right? For instance, on the Highway Trust Fund, it`s clear that congress needs to pass a bill in order for the fund to be replenished. There has been talks in the Senate much greater than what is happening in the House, but there is no real indication that anything is imminent in terms of getting it done. Now, contrast that with what`s happening in Iraq. You get a sense of talking to people on the Hill that they want nothing to do with authorization at this point. They don`t want their fingerprints on it. They say to the president, here, you take it and put your fingerprints on this quagmire. We don`t want anything to do with it. So, I think that`s the frustration that the White House has as well, which is that they don`t get a clean message from the legislative branch all the time about when they need to have the legislative branch`s input. MADDOW: In terms of the Republican strategy here -- we were talking about the Democratic strategy, I am mocking and will defend my mocking of John Boehner as kind of faking injury here, if you don`t know why you are suing somebody, the fact that you are suing sort of starts to seem a little bit silly. But in terms of the Republicans moving ahead with trying to force this confrontation, this constitutional confrontation with the president, is there any sense that they have picked the thing in which they wish to sue the president, will they pick just one thing? Do we know? STEIN: Yes. Also, John Boehner is the striker in the box who acts like a sniper has taken him out and he falls down and he gets the penalty. I think that was largely the case when he announced the lawsuit. But as you talk to people on the Hill, you get the sense that he, and the Republican Party, the Republican leadership in the House are coalescing around a few ideas. One will be health care, the other will be energy, and then there`s immigration and then there`s foreign policy. I am guessing they are going to look at some of the changing that the administration made unilateral to the health care law or potentially EPA regulations as things which they base this lawsuit. MADDOW: That would be hilarious. STEIN: Yes. MADDOW: The EPA one would be hilarious because the Supreme Court decision -- STEIN: Let me make the quick point -- MADDOW: Yes? STEIN: -- that this is what the president wants, essentially. He wants John Boehner to say, you know what, we don`t like that you delayed the employer mandate. We want employers to have to cover health care for workers. We don`t like that you redid this whole thing about cancelled plans. We want more cancelled plans. I think that`s the contrast that the White House is almost welcoming. MADDOW: Exactly, but they are excited to have fights about the stuff that they have done unilaterally. That`s why they pick those things. STEIN: They think they`re good. MADDOW: Exactly. Fascinating times. Sam Stein, senior political editor and White House correspondent for "Huffington Post" -- Sam, thank you very much, I appreciate it. STEIN: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead. We`ll be right back. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STATE SEN. CHRIS MCDANIEL (R), MISSISSIPPI: In the most conservative state in the republic this happened. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere, and that`s -- that is why we will never stop fighting. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: There has still been no concession in that fight in the most conservative state of the republic, but no concession part of it turns out is the least weird part of what is still going on in that never stop fighting fight. We`ve got big news out of that state tonight and that story is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: If you think of the Vietnam War, who is the U.S. president who most comes to mind? Richard Nixon, LBJ, John F. Kennedy, maybe even Gerald Ford. Gerald Ford didn`t get sworn in until 1974 after U.S. troops were out, but the fall of Saigon while he was in office in 1975. I mean, the legacies of these presidents were tied up in the long Vietnam War, because it was long enough to touch on all of their terms in office. But none of these four presidents is the U.S. president who started the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. On the Vietnam War Memorial on the National Mall, the names of American service members killed in that war are listed chronologically. The first names on that wall are from the 1950s. We think the 1950s is when we fought the Korean War. If you think of the Vietnam War is the one from the late `60s and early `70s. But the first American president to send U.S. forces into Vietnam, the first Americans who died in Vietnam were under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He resisted starting a full scale of U.S. military intervention, even though some people were demanding it. But he nevertheless did start what became a full scale U.S. military intervention when he deployed several hundred U.S. military advisers to not fight an American war there, but to advise, to help the South Vietnamese with their own fight in their own country. That`s how it started with the few hundred advisers under Ike. But, of course, that`s not how it ended up. Military intervention has a way of starting small and getting bigger and being hard to end. Shortly after he was sworn in, the new Obama White House, certainly after President Obama was sworn in, the new Obama White House, let it be known that the new president and a number of advisers were reading this book by Gordon Goldstein. It was a history of the Vietnam War and American policymaking around that war, told through the lens of McGeorge Bundy. He was national security adviser to both President Kennedy and President Johnson. Part of the thesis of that book which President Obama and lots of White House advisers read very early on in the Obama presidency, part of the thesis of that book is that even though Eisenhower had put the first few hundred military advisers into Vietnam, had President Kennedy lived longer than he did we probably wouldn`t have seen the same huge escalation in Vietnam under a President Kennedy, that we saw under President Johnson. Yes, Kennedy brought the number of U.S. advisers in Vietnam from Eisenhower levels up to 9,000 men by the end of 1962, but the thesis was that Kennedy would overall have been more restrained and over time would have resisted a bigger war even though he oversaw some of the escalation himself. But after he died, President Johnson was basically too insecure about foreign policy and military issues to resist making the war bigger. And so, LBJ slid down the slope into what turned into a huge war and almost endless American war that would not end until the 1970s and until more than 50,000 Americans were killed and our country was transformed by the accompanying trauma. Just under two weeks ago, President Obama made a somber announcement that two and a half years after U.S. troops left Iraq after our long war in Iraq, he was ordering up to 300 American military advisers to go back in. President Obama had already at this point dispatched an additional 250 to 300 troops to go bolster security at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. But this announcement a week ago Thursday, this is for more, for 300 military advisers to go in to help Iraqi security forces. And when President Obama faced questions in that briefing room that day you could tell he knew exactly what was coming in terms of the questions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Americans may look at the decision that you are making today as a preview of coming attractions, that`s the number of advisers that you`re planning to send in may just be the beginning of the boots on the ground scenario down the road. Why is Iraq`s civil war in the national security interest of the United States? And are you concerned about the potential for mission creep? OBAMA: I think we have to guard against mission creep. So, let me repeat what I have said in the past. American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again. We do not have the ability to simply solve this problem by sending in tens of thousands of troops and committing the kinds of blood and treasure that has already been expended in Iraq. Ultimately, this is something that will have to be solved by the Iraqis. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: We always have to guard against mission creep, says the president. That was two Thursdays ago. Then, last week, the Pentagon press secretary announced that the first batch of those American advisers had arrived in Iraq, saying that they were on a short term limited duration mission. And that, of course, led to exactly the right follow up question from NBC`s Jim Miklaszewski. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC NEWS: When you say short-term limited duration of this mission, what is this mission? JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Initially, to provide assessments and then eventually, to advise and assist. MIKLASZEWSKI: Now, Secretary Kerry said today in Iraq that the U.S. effort there would be sustained and intense. Is there a disconnect between DOD and State? Or are you talking about two different missions? KIRBY: No, I won`t speak to Secretary Kerry. My impression on his remarks were talking about the sense of urgency and level of effort, not the necessarily the duration of time. This is a limited short term duration mission. I`ve -- we have been saying that since the beginning. That has not changed. No, I don`t have a fixed date for you as a deadline or an end date. But it`s very clear, the commander in chief couldn`t have been more clear, that this would be limited short term mission. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: A limited short term mission. So, first, 275 troops to secure the embassy and then 300 advisers to help Iraqi forces and now even more. President Obama notified Congress late yesterday that he is deploying another 200 troops to Iraq to further bolster security at the U.S. embassy, but also at support facilities for the embassy and also the airport in Baghdad. The most recent injection of troops brings total number of U.S. personnel to be sent to Iraq to between 700 to 800 people, 275 and then another 300 and another 200. President says American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again. But there they go and they are at least combat equipped, that the president is making clear. Congressional leadership taking no action to debate, let alone vote on this renewed U.S. engagement in Iraq. And so, here`s the question: how slippery is this slope? How creepy is this creep? Who is being listened to in Washington on this subject? What is the level of influence right now in Washington of those who are pushing for Iraq War III? Joining us now from Aspen of all places is Steve Clemons, senior fellow at the New America Foundation and Washington editor at large for "The Atlantic". Steve, thank you very much for being here. I appreciate it. STEVE CLEMONS, THE ATLANTIC: My pleasure, Rachel. MADDOW: So, is there anyway to know if this is a start of upward and continuing trajectory here if we have ended up starting the slide into Iraq? CLEMONS: We only have history to look to. In the Obama administration, he kept his word. Libya was a case where a lot of us, including myself, were concerned about a slippery slope to a much larger engagement in which we basically owned the country over a long period of time. That didn`t happen. But in other cases with President Obama and certainly in the Bush administration and on back, when we`ve seen these kinds of quick escalations in troop, we see a much larger engagement follow. And the slippery slope is more the standard than not when we see cases like this. That`s why red flags up. MADDOW: What advice do you think that President Obama is getting? What can you tell from your sources in your reporting who he is listening to, who has the advantage and the initiative on this issue in Washington right now? CLEMONS: Well, I think he is listening to commanders and I think he`s listening to certain advisers both in state but also CIA who are telling him that they are worried about the quick moves of ISIS and the alliances of ISIS with other parts of the Sunni establishment, and the worry they have that the weakness of the troops that we trained combined with the incompetence of Maliki. You know, he`s supposed to come out today, with the new government. That clearly didn`t happen. So, we are seeing the ones we are trying to help incompetent and without resolve. I think he is worried that Baghdad could fall and that Iraq could either turn into a much larger mess or turn into a haven for terrorists again. So, he is hearing that and worried he doesn`t want that to happen on his watch. MADDOW: Trying to stop Baghdad from falling is something 300 American troops or 800 American troops is not going to make a difference in, right? And thinking about and training Iraqi forces. I mean, you think about sending 300 elite troops, commando forces, in to go train the Iraqi forces. When we left we had thousands there and we saw what happened with the Iraqi military after we left. The idea of American military capacity being determinative at this point for what happens in Iraq, if that`s the level of -- if that`s the discussion, then there`s no way out. The camel`s nose is under the tent and the tent is almost gone. CLEMONS: Right. This is a reactive move. We are moving a carrier close with Apache helicopters for potential extraction capacity. So, they are already looking at Vietnam-like scenarios, in which Americans were extracted there from the embassy if you may recall. But I think one of the larger issues is there is still no broad strategic plan for how we, you know, essentially knock this up and bring the Saudis and the Iranians and those driving these interior issues together to talk about what`s happening. So, there is this bizarre view that if you deploy power, if you`re able to deploy drones and air power in certain cases, we`ve been discussing that, in fact, in Aspen that somehow that will move the needle. I find it naive when you look how large the tectonic plates are grinding against each other in Iraq and Syria. But they definitely have the day at the moment. MADDOW: Knowing what the analysis -- if the analysis is about how bad things are and the solution to things being bad as American military power, then we are at the start of something here and not the tail end. It`s -- I think it is a very fraught time. Steve Clemons, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, Washington editor at large for "The Atlantic" currently at the Aspen Ideas Festival -- Steve, thank you very much for being here. CLEMONS: Thank you so much, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. Lots more ahead, including the will of the electorate versus alleged envelopes full of cash, my favorite kind of story. That`s still ahead. Stay with us. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: I think that you have to be careful sending Special Forces because it`s a number that has a tendency to grow. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Programming note: right around 3:00 Eastern Time yesterday afternoon, President Obama emerged from the Oval Office to deliver an unexpected statement from the White House Rose Garden. The president announcing he was no longer willing to wait for Republicans in Congress to act on our broken immigration system. He would plan to act himself. Now, specifically, the president announced he`d asked his attorney general, Eric Holder, and his homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, to report back to him by the end of the summer basically by next month about what he can do as president without Congress to try to fix the problem. Right after the president wrapped up those remarks in the Rose Garden, just a few moments later, the aforementioned Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson held his own press appearance in Texas. Jeh Johnson appeared in front of the cameras in McAllen, Texas, where he had been visiting a border patrol station, his second visit to that facility in the span of 10 days. So, that was yesterday afternoon in Washington and Texas. This was earlier this morning, Jeh Johnson, again, fresh off the trip to the border, now sitting alongside President Obama in the White House cabinet room. As the president, for the second time in as many days, announced that if Congress will not act on immigration and a host of other issues, he`s not afraid to act alone. Jeh Johnson tasked with helping the president circumvent Congress to do immigration reform. He was in McAllen, Texas, yesterday. He was in the White House cabinet room with the president just a few hours later, today. And tomorrow night he will be right here sitting at this desk with me. Tomorrow night, on this show, we`re going to be joined live by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who does not do very many interviews and who is one of the busiest man in American government right now. That`s tomorrow night. This that time, this that channel, we`re very excited. I`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Happy July 1st. Today is day one of the second half of 2014. But today`s news made it clear that maybe the second half of 2014 is going to be as crazy in Mississippi as the first half of the year was. The big picture Mississippi headline, you know, Republicans long-time incumbent Senator Thad Cochran, Mr. Establishment. He fended off a Tea Party challenge from a man named Chris McDaniel, in order to hold on to his Senate seat. That Mississippi matchup offered perhaps the best chance anywhere in the country for the Tea Party to turf out an incumbent senator, but it didn`t happen. And then came the rest of the story, the amazing stuff. Chris McDaniel, it turned out, was not just a run-of-a-mill conservative. He`d been a featured speaker for secessionists, neo- Confederates who want the South to break off from the Union again for all the same reasons they did the last time, as well. In May, four supporters of Chris McDaniel were arrested in connection with an alleged scheme to take photos of Senator Cochran`s wife in a nursing home to use against him in a political video. One of those suspects who was arrested in that case co-hosted Chris McDaniel`s conservative radio talk show. Another of those suspects, I should say, has since committed suicide. Late on the night of Senate primary itself, June 3rd, a McDaniel campaign staffer and two McDaniel supporters somehow slipped into the Hinds County courthouse in Jackson after hours on election night. Got themselves locked inside the courthouse with the completed ballots. They had to call for help to get out of the courthouse that night. After all of that, Chris McDaniel and Thad Cochran ended up in a runoff. Senator Cochran finished second in the primary. And in order to turn the race around in order to try to win the runoff, he started openly courting votes from Mississippi`s African-American voters. He ran ads in black newspapers in Mississippi. He mounted a ground game in heavily black counties. As unlikely as it might have seemed, especially from afar, the strategy worked for Thad Cochran. He grew the overall turnout by courting black voters. He beat Chris McDaniel by 6,800 votes. In the night of the runoff, Chris McDaniel refused to concede. He said the Republican Party had lost its inner Reagan. He said the party had lost its commitment to its principles, that conservatives no longer had a home in the Republican Party. And ever since then, McDaniel supporters had been going over the poll books in the Hinds County courthouse, the same place where staffers got themselves locked in on the night of the primary. They say they have found 1,500 fraudulent votes in that county alone. Wow, fraudulent votes. Really? In those numbers, seriously? I don`t know. Neither do you. They`re just allegations at this point. It`s not as if this campaign hasn`t been super, super sketchy and full of bizarre allegations from the beginning. But on Friday, the local Republican chairman in Hinds County explained to reporters most of what were being called fraudulent votes were clerical mistakes and had been mixed already. But then, because this is Mississippi, and this is how this particular election has gone in Mississippi, the day after saying, ah, those weren`t fraudulent votes, those were just clerical mistakes, that Republican Party County chairman, that very guy got arrested for DUI. Mississippi Republicans have thrown themselves a senate primary for the ages. And it turns out we`re not even near the bottom of the barrel yet. Today, a right wing blog posted allegations that Senator Cochran`s campaign paid African-American voters $15 apiece to vote for Cochran. And, obviously, that would be really, really illegal. That said, the Web site that posted these allegations admits that they did pay a local minister to give them that story. They then posted this telephone interview of themselves asking the minister how many votes he brought in for that $15 reward? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOTNEWS: How many do you think you delivered? STEVIE FIELDER: Hundreds. GOTNEWS: Hundreds? STEVIE FIELDER: Yes. GOTNEWS: How did you go about recruiting people? Did you say, hey, if you come and vote, we`re going to give you some money? What did you do to get people to go? STEVE FIELDER: They told us. You just go out and just tell them $15 for your trouble if you go in down there and vote for Thad. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The Cochran campaign immediately denied the report, saying they paid that guy whose voice you just heard a few hundred dollars for a legitimate get out the vote operation, but they said that didn`t include paying any voters for voting. The Cochran campaign is now threatening to sue the conservative Web site. And in the middle of this, the leaders of the Mississippi Republican Party met today so the counties could report in their vote totals and they could come up with an official winner. This is the scene outside that meeting where reporters were told they could not attend. They could not watch happens. The McDaniel campaign says they`re still considering whether to challenge the vote legally. They claim to have evidence of 3,300 irregularities, quote, "plus or minus." They say they have not gone over the poll books from the heavily black counties along the Mississippi river but say they will. Also today, a national right wing poll watcher`s group filed a lawsuit in federal court against Mississippi`s Republican secretary of state and the Mississippi Republican Party. They`re demanding access to the records from that runoff election across the state and they are claiming evidence of voter fraud. Apart from this 18-ring circus of a race, I should also mention that Mississippi right now this second is in the middle of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, a summer of activism that led to the Voting Rights Act. Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act in this country. A local paper in Neshoba County, Mississippi, pleaded today for an end to what they called the McDaniel kook fest. "If African-Americans in Mississippi voted Republican for the first time in this runoff," the paper says, "Maybe they`ll vote Republican again. That would be good for the Republican Party." Maybe. But for a large and vocal win of the Mississippi Republican Party and for their conservative supporters around the country, and the right wing online media, voting by large numbers of black people remains suspicious enough to be considered illegal from the get-go. We are 50 years on now from the Civil Rights Act almost exactly. That is still the conservation about Mississippi in politics today. Amazing. And it`s not over. Watch this space. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow. Now, it is time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." Good evening, Lawrence. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END