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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/12/14

Guests: Dave Helling

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Happy Friday. Thanks for joining us this hour. Let`s play spot the difference. A really big change has happened. See if you can spot what it is. This is what we were told yesterday. It was consistent across different parts of government. Yesterday this was the line. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I don`t know whether you want to call it a war or a sustained counter terrorism campaign or I think frankly this is a counterterrorism operation that will take time. JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe what we were engaged in is not a full pledged war like we were before. It`s a heightened level of counter terrorism operation. And it have its own pace, its own dynamic, but it`s counter terrorism. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: OK. That was yesterday. National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry, both saying the same thing. This is counter terrorism. You can call it a war if you want to but it`s not a war. It`s counter terrorism. That was yesterday. Now spot the difference. Because this is today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Make no mistake. We know we`re at war with ISIL in the same way we`re at war and continue to be at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Yesterday, we were not at war. Today, war has been declared in the literal sense of the word declared. Today is when they started calling it war. It started at 1:52 Eastern Time today. That`s when Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral Kirby said for the first time, we are at war with ISIL. Was that a screw up? Did the Pentagon spokesman just get out a little over his schemes on this particular job? Did he really mean to say that? Apparently it was not a screw up because 12 minutes after he broke the news at the Pentagon, in the White House briefing room 12 minutes later, it became clear that that was not a slip of the tongue. That was not a screw up at the Pentagon. Rather it is official. It wasn`t true yesterday, but today we are declaring, and by declaring I mean saying, that we are at war. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The United States is at war with ISIL in the same way that we are at war with al Qaeda and it`s al Qaeda affiliates all around the globe. So in the same way that the United States is at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates around the globe, the United States is at war with ISIL. OK? And so in the same way that we are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates around the globe, we are at war with ISIL. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: This is new today. But if the repetition means anything, apparently they mean it. The Pentagon and White House both rolling out that new identical line saying we are at war with this group, ISIS or ISIL which operates in Syria and Iraq. And it`s a little awkward that they`re calling it war, war, war today because the secretary of state yesterday and the national security adviser, they asked directly if we were at war and they said no, call it a counter terrorism operations instead. So do we have a disagreement about this? The White House and the Pentagon think one thing and the secretary of state and the national security adviser think another? They may have been disagreeing overnight but now it`s settles because as soon as John Kerry`s State Department held their briefing today, they also made clear that they have updated their verbiage since yesterday as well. Now their line as well is very clear. This is war. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We are at war with ISIL in the same way that we are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates around the world. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: State Department spokeswoman. So as of this afternoon, it`s war. War has been declared by which I mean it has been spoken, it has been described, it`s been asserted by the spokespeople from various government departments at their regularly scheduled press briefings on a Friday afternoon. Is that the way we declare a war now? It seems like kind of unceremonious start to a war. But even though the government is all of a sudden using that very specific language to describe what`s going on, it doesn`t mean that there`s clarity about what they mean when they call it a war. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) EARNEST: Well, I`ll let other people determine what the precise legal or academic definition of war may be. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: OK. Well, whatever the definition of war may be, something did change today pretty dramatically. The United States government shifted on a dime from talking about counter terrorism against ISIS militants to now saying we`re not just starting a war against them. We are already in a war against them. The United States is at war. Why did this dramatic change happen today? It wasn`t true yesterday, it`s true today. And I`m not sure we know yet exactly why the government made this change today to say we`re at war when they wouldn`t say it before? If I had to guess, I might pause it. That this is part of the reason why they have just made this sudden change. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DANIEL KAWCZYNSKI, CONSERVATIVE PARTY: Why is it that our allies in the Middle East like Saudi, Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and others cannot take military action? Why does it fall on us yet again? DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Put simply, is it in Britain`s nation interest to maintain an international taboo about the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield? My argument is yes, it is. Yes, of course intelligence is part of this picture but let`s not pretend there is one smoking piece intelligence that can solve the whole problem. This is a judgment issue in one which honorable members will have to make a judgment. This have to be surely a basic point. Evidence should precede decision, not decision precede evidence. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do not rule out supporting the prime minister. I just want to make this point. I do not rule out supporting the prime minister but I believe you have to make a better case than he did today on those questions. CAMERON: It is very clear tonight that while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It was one year ago in the U.K. British Prime Minister David Cameron was very confident he was going to win that vote. And he took measures to ensure that he would win that vote. That vote in the House of Commons was taken as a three-line whip, which is less exciting than it sounds, but still kind of a big deal. When parties whip the vote, right, they`re basically taking disciplinary measures to ensure that all the members of their party vote the way the party wants them to on that matter. It can be, in Britain, a one-line whip, a two-line whip, or in very extreme, a three-line whip. If you`re a member of parliament and you defy a three-line whip on a vote, that is a very, very serious matter. That is something, supposed to be the kind of offense for which you can lose your position in the party. You can get kicked out of the party for that. Well, the conservatives three-lined whipped that vote on using military force against Syria a year ago. And even so, with a three-line whip, they lost that vote more than two dozen members of David Cameron`s unconservative party voted no, another two dozen members of his party did not even bother to show up for the vote. And they lost that vote. And because of it Britain did not use military force against Syria. That was this time last year. Now, this week, here in our country, in the 48 hours that have passed since President Obama gave his big address to the nation about Syria this week, in that 48-hour window, we have gone from basically a foregone political conclusion that there was no way our Congress was going to take a vote on this issue, to all of a sudden, a situation today where it appears like they very well might. Something has changed very quickly in the last 48 hours. It seems like we are deciding as a nation that Congress really ought to step up and make a decision here. This is the editorial of "USA Today," making the case that Congress needs to vote, "The squeamish should be forced to declare themselves now rather than winning from a tough reelection vote." And here`s the "Washington Post." "Congress has a duty to go beyond writing the check. It should also debate the policy and vote to authorize this mission." Here`s the "L.A. Times." In a democracy, the use of military might requires ratification by the people`s representatives. Congress, this Congress, should vote on any and all military action Obama takes against this new enemy." Here`s "The New York Times" just excoriating Congress for even thinking they might be able to weasel out of this vote. The "Times" says, "Some lawmakers have made it known that they`d rather not face a war authorization vote shortly before midterm elections, saying they`d rather sit on the fence for a while to see whether an expanded military campaign starts looking like a success story or a debacle." Quote, "The cowardice in Congress, never to be underestimated, is outrageous." Congress should weigh in. And soon. The winds have shifted on this. Really fast. At the beginning of this week even, it seemed perfectly clear that there was no chance that Congress would do its constitutional duty and vote on whether or not we ought to go to war. But now the informal whip count that we`ve been keeping on line of members of Congress to say actually yes, we should debate this, and we do want to vote on it, our whip count, which you can see at, it`s been growing by leaps and bounds, in particular lots more Republican members of Congress, they`re saying they are OK with having that debate and with taking a vote. At the "Washington Post," Ed O`Keefe and Robert Costa are also reporting this, too. They describe now growing support among lawmakers to debate the issue. They say the idea of holding an up or down vote, a standalone up or down vote to authorize President Obama`s military strategy is drawing, quote, "wide support among lawmakers now." It`s further evidence, very specific evidence that Congress might actually do what the Congress does -- what the Constitution says they`re supposed to do here, further and surprising evidence came today in the news that Congress is going to come back from their long weekend early next week. What? Yes, they were planning on working on Monday. Naturally. Monday is a precious campaign day in this home stretch before the midterms but they`re planning to come back and work on Monday, than giving up that campaign day to come back to D.C. a day early in part to make time to vote on part of President Obama`s plan for how he wants to fight ISIS. They want to vote specifically on whether we should provide more assistance to Syrian rebel groups that are fighting ISIS. They also want to make time to start holding hearings on the other parts of the president`s proposal. And I almost cannot believe these words are coming out of my mouth, but this does not seem like a particularly partisan decision on that part of Congress. Yes, right? It doesn`t seem like a partisan scheme of one party or the other. It seems like Congress really might be coming back to Washington to do something that`s going to be hard to do, where there aren`t clear partisan consequences to their actions, they`d even screwed up their carefully calibrated do-nothing political schedules. It`s pretty close to election time in order to come back to Washington and talk about a hard thing. It`s a miracle. It`s a small miracle, a political miracle. But kind of a miracle. And President Obama is the one who appears to have brought it on with this primetime address to the nation on Wednesday night in which he made the case for why the United States should fight ISIS and how he wants to fight is. More than 70 percent of Americans in the CNN poll now said they want Congress to vote on that. Editorial boards across the country say they want Congress to vote on that. Members of Congress who would not commit to vote on this before are now saying increasingly, OK, all right, we acknowledge that maybe this is our job. We ought to be debating this and voting now. It seems like they`re going to vote on this. And the president accomplished that changed in Washington with this speech. And I have to say it`s not at all clear that he wanted to accomplish that with this speech. But it does appear to be what he`s got. And so, as the White House is very keenly aware, in part, because they saw it happened to their very good friend, David Cameron, just last year, even with his three- lined whip on that vote, the White House is very keenly aware that if Congress really is going to vote on this, that they`re going to take it up, they`re going to vote on whether or not to authorize military force. That means there`s a chance that Congress will vote no. And so as the winds have shifted in Washington very suddenly, to make it seem like yes, there very well may be a vote in Congress. Maybe even before the election? Is that why the administration today made this equally sudden shift to describe us as already being at war with ISIS already. If we are already at war and Congress votes no, then from the White House`s perspective, they can say, OK, Congress, that`s good to know that you don`t want to start doing anything new. But we weren`t already at war with ISIS before you ever took that vote. So we`re not going to change anything. Right? A no vote might be embarrassing or might curtail something that they wanted to do in terms of expanding what they were doing, but if we`re already at war before Congress takes the vote then the Congress -- than the Congress won`t slow down what they`re doing in the Middle East. Did the Obama administration just declare that we are already at war today? Basically, as an insurance policy in case Congress votes that we shouldn`t be at war. Chuck Todd, the moderator of "Meet the Press," joins us to help me climb down off this roof. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KIRBY: This is not the Iraq war of 2002. But make no mistake, we know we are at war with ISIL in the same way we are at war and continue to be at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. EARNEST: The United States is at war in the same way that we are at war with al Qaeda. HARF: We are at war with ISIL in the same way that we are at war with al Qaeda. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The Pentagon, the White House and the State Department all today, suddenly using the words "at war" as in the U.S. is at war with ISIL. All of them looking down at papers in the exact same way while reading exactly the same line. Just yesterday the secretary of state and the National Security adviser were asked directly if this is a war, both of them said no, this isn`t a war. You should call it a counter terrorism operation. But, today, this is new from the Obama administration. A small word change with a potentially very big meaning. Joining us now is Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and of course the moderator of "Meet the Press." Chuck, thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it. CHUCK TODD, "MEET THE PRESS" MODERATOR: Of course, Rachel. Thanks for having me. MADDOW: So is -- is the White House explaining this shift in language, suddenly saying with very specific notes we are at war in a way that they didn`t say it before? TODD: They`re not. This is basically a cave into not having a semantics argument with the Republicans inside the beltway. And you and I both know how quickly that can blow up into what would become a silly debate. But this, this actually has its roots. And you remember this very well. A decade ago when there was a lot of criticism, Democrats in general, in particular John Kerry, when he was a candidate for president, Barack Obama when he`s a candidate, and he`s been very careful. There was always a lot of criticism lobbed at president -- then-President Bush for using the phrase "war on terror," meaning there is no -- and a lot of Democrats, a lot of people said, hey, you can`t be at war with a tactic that is -- that is not a war. What does that mean? And the president, you know, I -- well, he`s very careful here but tonight he said it was a campaign against ISIS to degrade and this has been -- so this is where this has its roots. I think this is -- was their gut instinct. This was what they believed. I honestly think they caved simply not to have silly debate on semantic that you know Washington could get itself all in a fuss over. MADDOW: So I have a cockamamie theory on this that I`m going to give you lots of opportunity to shoot down. Because I fully admit that this could be just completely made up. But it seems to me like there is a new sort of wind blowing in Washington that it seems like it might be more possible that Congress might take a vote on this issue. Not just on funding the rebels or just -- or some side issue about it, but whether or not to authorize force. If Congress did take a vote on it and they voted no, wouldn`t it be more convenient for the White House if they`ve been saying for a long time in events that we already were at war? Then it would be sort of like, yes, yes, Congress, we`re interested to know that you don`t want to start a new thing but this war already existed before you ever heard it. TODD: Yes. Well, I think that you -- look, I think you`re not wrong. That`s not too cockamamie of a way to think, I mean, because don`t forget the president is justifying this. He has said, I don`t need Congress` authorization, I already have it. MADDOW: Right. Right. TODD: And he`s using the same -- he`s using the same legal -- same legal justification that President Bush used with that initial war authorization and that`s what this White House believes. I don`t -- I`m with you, I do think there is a demand for a vote. I think the fact that the calendar is still in the even number on it, we`re still on 14, elections 52 days away. You saw NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. There really is sort of a mini panic in the public over ISIS, over the beheadings, and that created some anxiety. So I don`t think you -- you`re not going to see Harry Reid or John Boehner. One thing they`re going to agree on is not to bring up a vote now. But I think after the election I think you could see a vote. And frankly, Rachel, I don`t understand, it doesn`t seem as if Congress learned the initial lesson from the Iraq war, which is why are you guys -- why are you guys agreeing to this so quickly? Why aren`t you holding the administration`s feet to the fire on exactly what the strategy is. How do you prevent a slippery slope, you`re saying no troops, no combat troops on the ground in Syria? How do you prevent this slippery slope from happening? And the fact that we`re not having any of those hearings, any of that debate, any of that discussion makes me think that a lot of these guys didn`t learn the lesson from the Iraq war. MADDOW: And the hearings will start next week. There will be some hearings starting next week. I thought it was a remarkable -- at least remarkably unexpected development that the House said they would come back a day early next week. TODD: Right. MADDOW: Not only coming back and do what -- they`re used to long weekends. Not only coming back early but coming back when they`re really needing the time to campaign in their home districts. It does seem like they`re giving themselves some time on this. But to be clear, you feel like if they are going to vote, they may sort of schedule it and talk about it and they`ll have hearings now, but maybe during the lame duck? TODD: Right. Two votes. Right? They`re going do the initial vote on Monday for the training of that moderate Syrian opposition. The so-called moderate Syrian opposition, whatever -- MADDOW: Right. TODD: Whatever exist of it. And then I think you`ll see them say -- I think there`s enough momentum now where they`re going to have to at least verbally promise to do another vote. But they`ll postpone it until after the election. MADDOW: Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and of course moderator of "Meet the Press" which is worth spending your Sunday morning with on which he`s going to have much more on this newly declared war on ISIS this weekend. Chuck, thanks very much. TODD: You bet. MADDOW: Really appreciate having you here. All right. Much more ahead on tonight`s show, including the super weird red state ballot surprises that could decide which party controls the United States Senate for the last two years of the Obama presidency. Please stay with us for that. But, first, one more thing about the human side of these world events and this new declaration of war on ISIS. The folks over at "Esquire" magazine this weekend have done I think a smart and excellent tribute to Jim Foley, the American journalist who was executed last month by ISIS after spending two years in captivity inside Syria. "Esquire" has taken its classic feature about the fallen man photo from 9/11? It`s the photo that you see and it shows a man falling from the Twin Towers on 9/11. It`s framed really exactly between towers. It`s one of the unforgettable images of 9/11. Maybe one of the unforgettable images of the century thus far. "Esquire" published a seminal piece about the falling man photo. It gets re-circulated really widely, really widely read every year particularly around the 9/11 anniversary. Well, this year, "Esquire" decided to put the falling man story behind a pay wall. But it`s an optional pay wall. You can still read the article without paying, but if you agree to give them $2.99 to read that piece, that money all goes directly to a James Foley scholarship fund, which is being set up at his alma matter at Marquette University. If you want to learn more about it, either the fund or what "Esquire" is doing about it, we`ve posted a link for you at All right. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Last night, we gave you a sneak peek of this chart, possibly the weirdest ever presented on this program. Tonight we will explain this totally functional political chart as a way of trying to keep track of one of the weirdest political stories in the country right now. Lavon, Lois, Lanie, Les, and yes, you, too, Lola, your time is at hand. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK, there are three states in the country right now where, surprise, it turns out that who`s on the ballot in the election this year is not really who`s running for office. Either the ballot isn`t going to reflect who`s really running or the ballot changed at the last minute after a lot of campaigning had already been done. And so it`s not going to be who people expect to see on the ballot. Something like this happens somewhere in the elections every year. But for some reason, it`s happening all over the place this year in a whole bunch of red states. And in all the places where it`s happening in red states this year, it`s because of bad news for the Republican Party. One of these in Alaska, which is a pretty red state. And where the governor is Sean Parnell. He was Sarah Palin`s lieutenant governor and when she quit half way through her first term in order to pursue a career in bar fights and reality television, Sean Parnell was elevated to the governorship in Alaska and now he is running for reelection there. Sean Parnell was looking at a pretty easy walk to reelection as Alaska governor mostly because he`s running against a split field. There was both a good Democratic candidate and a good independent candidate running against him and they were splitting the vote against him. So what happened in Alaska is that that good, independent candidate and that good Democratic candidate, they decided that they would stop splitting the vote against Sean Parnell and, instead, get together to try to beat him. They`re now running as a fusion ticket against him. The independent is the candidate for governor, the Democrat is his running mate and, surprise, Sean Parnell, that is not who you expected to be running against this November. But the ballot changed and now Sean Parnell is probably in way more trouble than he was before in terms of his reelection chances. And that governorship is seen now as a potential Independent/Democratic pick-up. Another red state with a real surprise on the ballot is Nebraska. Nebraska is a really, really, really red state. The governor is a Republican named Dave Heineman. He`s not running for reelection and everybody thought that, like in Alaska, his lieutenant governor would step up and run to replace him. The lieutenant governor, a handsome guy, former paramedic, eight years as lieutenant governor, he announced way back in 2011 that he would be running in 2014 to replace Governor Heineman when he stepped down this year. But, then, the "Omaha News Herald" put in a Freedom of Information Act request for the phone records on the lieutenant governor`s state-owned cell phone. Uh-oh. Quote, "A month long investigation by the Omaha World Herald uncovered a secret life during the lieutenant governor`s travels around the state involving 2,300 phone calls to four women other than his wife." The governor -- the lieutenant governor refused comments on this story. One of the women then told the paper lots of details about what she said was her years long, a full with the lieutenant governor and ultimately he resigned. So Governor Heineman needed a new lieutenant governor after that resignation. Again, the governor`s name is Heineman. The man he picked for his new lieutenant is named Heidemann. So it`s Governor Heineman and Lt. Gov. Heidemann. Thanks, Nebraska. And this week, Lieutenant Governor Heidemann also resigned after another kind of domestic dispute. And, in his case, it was a domestic dispute involving police. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it stems from a violent confrontation between the lieutenant governor, Lavon Heidemann, and his sister Lois. Lavon and Lois apparently argued about land that is farmed by Lavon and their brother Les, but which is now going to be farmed by Lois and their other brother Lanie instead of Lavon and Les. And it all happened at the home of their mother, Lola. This dispute between the Lieutenant Governor Lavon and Lois, Lanie and Les, also there`s Lola. So that happened. Police report and all the rest, a tearful resignation. And now the Heineman- Heidemann ticket is no longer. Legally. Logistically. You could look it up. I love it. But because this is a weird election year, and there is weird stuff like this going on in red states all around the country, it appeared that not Lola, Les, Lanie or Lois but Lavon would not be able to take his name off the ballot in Nebraska. The scandal and the police report and the resigning from the lieutenant governorship and the trying to get his name off the ballot, it all, legally, happened too late. There`s no provision in Nebraska law for getting your name off the ballot if you want to do so after the deadline has passed. They decided to let it slide for him now. Now the Nebraska secretary of state has decided that actually Lavon Heidemann can take his name off the ballot. Secretary of state says that, although the state deadline to remove the candidate was September 1st, and this all happened thereafter, the secretary of state says he has a duty to make sure the ballots are accurate and didn`t confuse voters. So Lavon Heidemann is being replaced after all very late in the game. And yes, Nebraska is a very red state. But the Democratic candidate for governor there is a good and credible candidate. Could that new scandal in Nebraska and the Nebraska Republicans serial troubles with the governor`s running mates, could that new scandal which is getting a lot of play in the local press, affect Democrats` chances of winning that governorship? I do. We`ll see. But there is a third red state where the ballot itself is the shock this year and where Republicans might end up losing a seat. Because of it a seat that they never thought they had to worry about before. And that red state is Kansas. And in Kansas, things have just gone completely unexpectedly pear-shaped for the Republican Party very quickly this year. That story is unfolding fast and quickly in the courts right now, has national implications and we`ve got a report on that story for you coming up next. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: A gesture indicating uncertainty. This is what the affidavit says. So let`s say somebody asked you a question. You`re uncertain about the answer but you do not want to say out loud that you are uncertain about the answer. You don`t want to say it. You would prefer to gesture your uncertainty. What are your choices? There`s the classic shrug. There`s the -- I guess like the wobbly hand. That`s like jazz hands. And then there`s the less commonly used shoulderless shrug. I mean, one of those gestures indicating uncertainty. Turns out could win the Republican Party`s chances of winning control of the United States Senate this year. And here`s why. This is not just any random parallelogram. This is the state of Kansas which has Kansas counties voted in the last presidential election. Kansas is a very red state. Very red. But look at this, these are the latest three polls for the governor`s race in deep, red Kansas this year. Look at that. The Republican governor of Kansas in that red state looks like he very well might lose his effort to get re-elected in Kansas. Sam Brownback may be a Republican governor in a Republican state but he is an unpopular one. His Democratic opponent, Paul Davis, says that he`s Sam Brownback has basically turned Kansas into a far-right ideological laboratory with terrible results for the state. Even a lot of Kansas Republicans seem to agree with some of that critique. Dozens of moderate Kansas Republicans even some conservative Kansas Republicans have publicly crossed over to say they`re supporting the Democrat, they`re supporting Paul Davis against their party`s own governor. But it`s not just him in trouble. The other really nationally high profile Republican in Kansas state government is a guy named Kris Kobach. Kris Kobach is kind of a national Tea Party poster boy. He may just be the secretary of state in a smallish square state but for years Kris Kobach has used that perch to travel the country, writing anti-immigrant legislation for Republicans in other states. You can thank him for Arizona`s "papers, please" law for example. He`s also been the Republican Party`s chief national marketer of all kinds of laws to make it harder to vote, starting with voter ID laws and going downhill from there. Kris Kobach is a very smart guy. He went to Harvard, he went to Yale Law School, he went to Oxford. He`s used his position in Kansas to make himself a national figure and kind of a far-right very aggressive edge of the Republican Party. The conservative movement, has always had big plans for Kris Kobach`s bright future. But right now he, too, is also looking like there`s a chance he could lose his reelection race in Kansas alongside Sam Brownback. The last poll on his race in deep red Kansas shows Kris Kobach trailing his Democratic opponent in his reelection race. I mean, not trailing by a lot, trailing by three points, but still trailing. In Kansas. In Kansas. A Kansas. A state that picked Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by 21 points in the last election. Kansas is a state where, since before World War II, they have sent only Republicans to the United States Senate. An unbroken string of Republican U.S. senators going back generations from 1930s. But now, maybe even that could change as well. Last week, in Kansas, the Democrat running for Senate against Republican Senator Pat Roberts, the Democrat in that race, announced that he no longer wanted to run for the U.S. Senate. The Democrat`s name is Chad Taylor. And Chad Taylor`s announcement that he wanted to drop out, that was kind of a bombshell in that Senate race because him dropping out would mean that the race for that Senate seat would be between Republican incumbent senator, Pat Roberts, and an independent candidate named Greg Orman. Without the Democrat in the race, splitting the anti-Pat Roberts votes with Mr. Orman, this well-funded, basically centrist independent guy, suddenly, has a very good chance of winning Pat Roberts` Senate seat and turning that seat from red into not red. This is how Pat Roberts was sailing to election when there were two guys splitting the vote against him. This is how the polling says Pat Roberts might very well lose his seat if one of those guys drops out. So high stakes right now for Republicans in Kansas. Right? Kansas is not supposed to be a place where Republicans have a hard time defending a U.S. Senate seat. But if this Democrat, Chad Taylor, isn`t on the ballot, Kansas is going to be a tough race for Republicans. And as secretary of state, Kris Kobach is -- as he`s worrying about his own skin in his own reelection race right now in Kansas, Kris Kobach is also working on a little something-something that he`s got going on in his office that could save the skin of U.S. Senator Pat Roberts. When the Democrat Chad Taylor went to withdraw from the Senate race last week, Chad Taylor went down to the secretary of state`s office in Topeka. He went down in person, it was deadline day, the last he could legally remove his name from the ballot, he spoke with Kris Kobach`s deputy, the state elections` director, who he says gave him explicit instructions as to how to go about getting his name removed from the November ballot. Chad Taylor says he followed those explicit instructions and then he says he asked the Kansas elections director if his name, indeed, would be removed from the November ballot. According to Mr. Taylor, the director of elections told him yes. So the Democrat dropping out of the race, he leaves the secretary of state`s office that day having heard a yes from the director of elections. Yes, your name has been removed from the November ballot. The following day, Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state, announced that actually no, Chad Taylor would not be allowed to withdraw his name from the November ballot because he hadn`t filed his paperwork correctly. Really? And then we get to the shrug. So Kris Kobach`s office has now released a sworn affidavit from the elections director. From the guy who Chad Taylor says told him yes, OK, you`ve done it right. You`re off the ballot. This sworn affidavit says that yes, Chad Taylor did ask if his name would be removed from the ballot. But, according to the affidavit, no one ever spoke any words in response to that question. Instead, the elections director says he gestured but the answer was uncertain. Look at the affidavit, it`s amazing, it`s like a human magic 8 ball. Quote, "He asked if his name would be removed from the ballot. And I, in response, gestured, but the answer was uncertain." But again, quote, "Mr. Taylor asked if his name would be removed from the candidate list and I gestured by shrugging my shoulders as to indicate, we`ll see." So now we know. It wasn`t this, it wasn`t this, it was the classic shrug. The secretary of state`s office in Kansas says nobody ever told Chad Taylor his name would be removed from the ballot or not. We gave him the "we`ll see" shrug. Why would he think that would be enough? The argument here is that he sought official advice in person about how to do this properly before the deadline and the response from the Kansas state government was to shrug in his face. What? It`s amazing. Here`s the kick of it. In that same affidavit, the director of elections, the shrugger, admits that after he shrugged his noncommittal response, he did instruct then removed Chad Taylor`s name from the candidate list. But then he says his boss, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, called into the office and instructed him to put Chad Taylor`s name back on. Nice. And Kansas Supreme Court is going to hear this case on Tuesday. They`re going to make a financial decision about whether Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach can force the Democratic state candidate to remain on the ballot even though he doesn`t want to be there, even though he applied in person at the state elections office to have his name taken off the ballot before the deadline by which he had to make that decision. The court is going to hear that on Tuesday. And Tuesday isn`t a moment too soon to figure this out because the state of Kansas has to start printing their absentee ballots for this race a week from today. Kansas has one week to figure this out before those all- important ballots are printed, which may determine who`s the next U.S. senator from Kansas, but, also, who controls the U.S. Senate in the country. And, in the meantime, there is suddenly a giant spotlight coming all the way from the beltway directed at this race. National Republicans are all of a sudden fundraising for Pat Roberts there, all of a sudden campaigning for him, the Roberts campaign has new guys running it, flown in from Washington. Well, recent imports, right? Mitt Romney personally has jumped in to help. Kansas Senate? That`s supposed to be an easy one for Republicans this fall. Can Washington Republicans save this race for Pat Roberts? And, if not, can Kris Kobach? Joining us now is Dave Helling, political reporter at the "Kansas City Star" who has been covering this insanely entertaining race very closely. Mr. Helling, thanks for being here. Appreciate your time. DAVE HELLING, KANSAS CITY STAR: Great to be here. By the way, there are a lot of gestures going on in Kansas, Rachel, right now, not all of them involving shoulders, as you might imagine. MADDOW: I love the idea that -- that their defense to this is yes, he asked us a direct question and our response was -- (LAUGHTER) HELLING: Well, they`re playing a lot of politics as you can imagine with the ballot out here. And a lot of eyes are focused on the Supreme Court which we`ll meet Tuesday. Six members of that court, six judges sitting there, four of them appointed by a Democrat, a Democrat`s name that you might recognize, Kathleen Sebelius, when she was governor. I So think the general assumption out here in Kansas is that the court will find that Kris Kobach erred and that indeed Chad Taylor`s name should come off the ballot. We don`t know that for a fact. We do expect a rather quick decision. MADDOW: Is Senator Pat Roberts in as much trouble as he looks to be from the polling? I mean, from outside, it looks like if it is a one-on-one match between him and that very well financed independent, he might have a hard time holding on to that seat. HELLING: Yes, here`s the thing to understand about Pat Roberts. He has never really had a difficult race in Kansas, stretching all the way back to 1980. He`s a Republican in what may be the most Republican state in America. And yet in that latest poll, he had 36 percent of the vote in Kansas. One-third of the voters in this state say now that they would vote to re-elect Pat Roberts. That means he is in serious trouble. Now we have to see what kind of campaign Greg Orman runs. We do have to see what happens to Chad Taylor`s name on the ballot. But Pat Roberts has a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it. He was really hit pretty hard, Rachel, as you know, during the primary by a Tea Party guy named Milton Wolf. That was the guy that really made an issue of Pat Roberts` residency which continues to be a problem. Pat Roberts is being hit by the Tea Party on his right and by Chad -- by Greg Orman in sort of the middle. And he`s got seven weeks to figure that riddle out. MADDOW: Well, we`re watching Pat Roberts struggle, but what`s fascinating to me, as you say, one of the most Republican states in the country, maybe the most Republican state, we see Pat Roberts in trouble. We see Governor Brownback in trouble. We maybe even see Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has a big national profile for that kind of a job, we`ll see him potentially in trouble. What`s going on with the Kansas election this year at large? Are all of those individual problems or is it -- should we connect them? HELLING: No, we should connect them. And we`ll see how it all plays out of course when voters go to the polls. But I think what you`re seeing out here, Rachel, is whether or not the rubber band gets snapping back from the most rightward tilt of the Republican Party. I mean, you do get the sense, talking with moderate Republicans that they are concerned that for whatever reason, the pendulum to mix my metaphors, has swung so far to the right that it needs to come back a little bit. Brownback, of course, you`ve talked about it on your show repeatedly, has problems on tax policy. Pat Roberts went very far to the right because he feared a Tea Party challenge. And now it`s very difficult for him to get back to the middle, particularly because Greg Orman is not a Democrat. You know, Pat Roberts expected to a race against a Democrat and there`s a formula for that. And Democrats as you noted just don`t do well in Senate races in Kansas but in this particular case, Greg Orman has been very successful of sort of saying, I`m not a Republican or a Democrat. And that has really flummoxed, if you will, Pat Roberts and his campaign. And so they`re trying now to figure out a way to push Orman to the left and make their race easier. MADDOW: And we`re seeing that flown-in crew from Washington try to turn that Roberts campaign toward that. It`s just fascinating to watch. Dave Helling, political reporter for the Kansas City Star, I envy you your beaks in years like this. Thanks very much. Great to have you here. All right. The best new thing in the world is both sorry they needed this week and it is next on the show. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Best new thing in a world, yay, happy Friday. All right. As you know we are about seven weeks away from a big national elections this year that we have on November elections this year that we have on November 4th. As we gear up for those elections, it`s important to keep in mind, that while U.S. elections can be dramatic and consequential and exciting and occasionally hilarious, we Americans by and large do not tend to vote in our elections. Even in the 2008 presidential election in which more people turned out to vote than in any election in the previous four decades, the percent of eligible voters who actually voted in that blockbuster election was just 57 percent. More than 40 percent of the country`s voting age population didn`t show up even for that one. We Americans love democracy. We do not always love the act of taking part in our democracy. But because we think highly of ourselves and we think highly of our democracy it is always sort of a punch to our collective civic gut every time we hear that somebody else somewhere else in the world is doing it better than us. It does happen. You heard these really high voter turnout rates from other countries, right? In most cases, though, when it`s a really high voter turnout, there`s usually a catch. 2002 when Saddam was still in power in Iraq. They held their national elections and afterwards an Iraqi officials came out and announced that there were over 11 million eligible voters in that year`s presidential election. And wouldn`t you know it, no kidding, every single one of them turned out and voted for President Saddam Hussein. One hundred percent voter turnouts and the margin of victory is 100 percent. Seven more years. Dictatorships amazingly see high voter turnout elections all the time. But in modern democracies, one of the freedoms that we all have is the freedom to vote or not to vote. And in our little democracy here, lots of us choose not to vote, and that is the way it is in lots of Western democracies. There is one modern Western democracy right now, though, that is challenging that norm in a mind blowing way. Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for over 300 years. And while Scotland has its own parliament, it still operates within the sovereign state, that is the UK. As you probably heard the Scotts are now preparing for a referendum on independence. Vote yes to secede, vote no to stay part of the UK. It just takes a simple majority to pass this thing and form a new country. It`s a binding vote. Voting is open to everyone 16 year of age or older in Scotland. And you don`t have to vote in this referendum, it`s not compulsory, but apparently everybody in Scotland wants to vote. Everyone. We learned today that voter registration for this upcoming voluntary referendum in Scotland next week is now approaching 100 percent. There are an estimated 4.4 million Scottish citizens who are of voting age, almost 4.3 million of them have already registered to vote in the referendum which means that Scotland could very well have basically a 100 percent turnout for this vote next week. Without a dictator to blame it on. A hundred percent turnout in a voluntary election where there`s only one thing on the ballot, independence, yes or no. Exercising your civic duty at a rate of 100 percent of the country, obviously that is the best new thing in the world today. Imagine if that happened here. Who would be president? That does it for us tonight. We will see you again Monday. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END