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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/16/14

Guests: Nancy Youssef, Dave Helling

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. The Sunni militant group ISIS has released a new video today. It is not as overtly gory as some of their other recent videos. It`s also not as long, it`s only about 2 1/2 minutes long. I`m happy to say that this latest video from them does not include the beheading of a hostage like three of their recent videos have shown. But in its own way, this footage that ISIS has released today through their online media arm, even though it is not overtly gory, it is very, very chilling, particularly for an American audience. Because what they released today is this. And I need to tell you, this has not been verified by NBC News, so all I can tell you for sure is what this terrorist group says they are showing in these images and what some terrorism analyst groups say about it. But what ISIS says they`re showing here is the remains of a Syrian military jet, which ISIS says it shot down over Syria. One of the groups that monitors terrorist group postings like this, group called Flashpoint Global Partners, they say that their analysis of this footage indicates that the type of plane ISIS shot down and that you`re seeing the wreckage of here is one of these. It`s a variant on a Russian- origin MIG fighter jet. And it`s the kind of plane that looks sort of like this when it is intact. Russia has been the main arms supplier to Syria for decades. So it would make sense at one level that if it was a Syrian military jet that was shot down, it would be a Russian-origin aircraft like this. That said, the footage that ISIS posted online today of this plane that they say they shot down, it does show, as you can see here, it shows a lot of component parts with instructions written on them, apparently in English. Again, NBC News has not verified this content. And I am not enough of an aeronautics expert to tell you what exactly the specific components and these English instructions mean in terms of what was shot down or at least what this wreckage is that turned up in this ISIS footage that was released today. But if the reports about what happened here are accurate, if this was a Syrian warplane conducting airstrikes against ISIS, near the ISIS headquarters in Raqqah, in eastern Syria. If that`s what happened, if ISIS was able to use anti-aircraft weapons to shoot down a Syrian military plane, that is a turning point in terms of what kind of war this is. I mean, we knew ISIS had antiaircraft weapons so at some level we knew this was coming but before today something like this had never happened before. If ISIS now has the proven ability to shoot down military aircraft that are conducting air strikes against them, that not only has immediate implications for the Syrian military effort against ISIS, which is now a year`s long effort in the middle of that civil war, it also, of course, has really big implications for us, to the United States. U.S. drones and U.S. manned aircraft with pilots in them, have already conducted more than a month of air strikes against ISIS targets inside Iraq. And after President Obama announced last week that he`d be expanding that effort, we`re now just waiting to hear when those air strikes are going to cross the border and start happening inside Syria, as well. Apparently, President Obama has authorized air strikes in Syria. It`s just a matter of when they would start. And again, we have known for weeks now that ISIS, among all the things that it has, they have heavy anti-aircraft artillery buried in those regular notices that we`ve been getting almost every day now from the Pentagon about where they`re bombing ISIS and what the success of those air strikes has been buried in those reports. You often see several sentences into it, references from the Pentagon to the antiaircraft weaponry that U.S. pilots are targeting and trying to blow up when they are bombing ISIS targets. But if what ISIS posted online today is true, we now not only know that they have weapons that theoretically could shoot down planes. And we now know that they want to shoot down planes. In addition to that now, though, we know that they can shoot down planes because they`ve done it. So in terms of what we are getting ourselves involved in here, well, today U.S. planes completely what we`re told is they`re 167th air strike of ISIS targets inside Iraq. That`s what the Pentagon announced today. Five more strikes bringing the total number to 167. All inside Iraq. When the other show drops and those air strikes start inside Syria, then U.S. pilots will be facing a dual threat. On the one hand, the prospect of being shot down over Syria by ISIS antiaircraft weapons, and also the possibility of being shot down over Syria by the Syrian military because the Syrian military has pretty advanced Russian made antiaircraft systems. So if we`re bombing Syria, this is not going to be the same kind of bombing that`s happened in tribal regions in Pakistan and Somalia and Yemen. These drone campaigns and U.S. air strikes that have been going on for all these years. These are going to be different because there`s no agreement in Syria. There`s no tacit agreement, no overt agreement with the Syrian government that they`re going to allow U.S. planes to do these air strikes inside Syria without the Syrian military shooting at our planes. And ISIS has antiaircraft weapons, too. Both in Syria and in Iraq where we`re already bombing them. So this is a qualitatively different kind of operation that U.S. troops have started in Iraq already and that they`re about to expand into an even more dangerous environment where not just one target on the ground but two targets on the ground might be shooting back. Today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin Dempsey, short of dropped the pretense that somehow what American pilots are doing right now is not combat. He answered a direct and blunt question from Senator James Inhofe today. The question from the senator was blunt. But the answer that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs gave him was even more blunt that the question had been. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: In your opinion, let me ask you two questions, General Dempsey. In your opinion, are the pilots dropping bombs in Iraq as they`re now doing a direct combat mission? And secondly, will U.S. forces be prepared to provide combat search and rescue if a pilot gets shot down? Will they put boots on the ground to make that rescue successful? GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Yes and yes. INHOFE: While I appreciate that. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Yes, so yes, if a U.S. pilot gets shot down in Iraq or in Syria, there will be American boots on the ground to find that pilot and rescue him or her no matter where they have come down. And, also, yes to the second question. The Americans pilots flying missions over Iraq right now and soon to be in Syria are in combat already. Yes, and yes. According to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs today. Can I just put on -- just going to break script here for a moment? Can I just put on a media criticism hat for just a second? Regardless of the hat, can I just point out for a second how ridiculous the beltway press is when they report on stuff like this? There was this eruption of headlines today from all the beltway press. When Martin Dempsey, that same general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, when he said if conditions on the ground change, if this conflict shifts over time, he could imagine the circumstance in which he would recommend to President Obama that U.S. ground troops be used in Iraq or in Syria. He could imagine a scenario in which he might make that recommendation to the president. The beltway just erupted today over that. Scandal. Well, the president has said no ground troops. The administration keeps saying no ground troops. But here`s General Dempsey saying, I could imagine recommending ground troops at some point. You know what that is? That is not a scandal. Because we have this notable and important thing in this country in which the guys in uniforms, no matter how many medals and stars and fancy hats and all those things that they have, they do not get to decide whether or how the United States conducts a war. I mean, some of the generals involved in this effort against ISIS have already recommended to President Obama that ground troops be used. When U.S. airplanes were bombing near the Mosul dam in Iraq, the general in charge of special operations apparently recommended to President Obama that U.S. ground troops be used there. That U.S. ground troops be put on the ground at the Mosul dam to target those air strikes. That recommendation was made by the general. But you know what, the president turned down the recommendation. He said no. Because the president is the person who makes the decision. And he said no ground troops. The military makes military recommendations to the president and the president decides whether to accept them or not. That is not a scandal. If they recommend something to him and he says no to that, that`s not a scandal. That`s actually a America. That is our system of government. It`s one of the best things about it. That`s sort of a whole civilian control of the military things and how that works. That`s why the guy in the suit is the commander-in-chief, not the guy in the uniform. It`s very simple stuff. Right? This is like first day of what`s America class. The beltway is completely confused by this dynamic. It makes me crazy. Sorry. My mom told me the other day, you know, honey, I`ve been really enjoying your show, but when you yell -- I know, I shouldn`t yell. I`m sorry. I`m sorry, mom. Now, on the other hand, I should tell you, when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs says the U.S. pilots who are doing these bombing missions, when he says, yes, those bombing missions are combat missions and we shouldn`t say that that isn`t combat, what they`re doing, on that, he`s right about that. The beltway apparently didn`t really pick up on that. The general was right about that. And what he said about that really is contradicting everybody in the beltway. Everybody in the administration, everybody in Congress, everybody in the beltway press who is saying that combat troops aren`t being used here when we`ve got plenty of troops there and what they`re in is combat. There are more than 1100 men and women in the U.S. military, soon to be more like 1500 men and women in the U.S. military who are serving in Iraq right now. The number is expected to go up to something like 1600 in coming days and weeks. They`re either there to fly combat missions, dangerous combat missions against an enemy armed with antiaircraft weapons, or they`re there in support of those dangerous combat missions. This is combat. As Congressman Jim McGovern said today, quote, "This is a war. Maybe I`ve got to look up what the new definition of what war is but if bombing people isn`t war, I don`t know what the hell is." And so the question is, is ISIS worth a war? If we drop the pretense and when we recognize that when you`ve got U.S. pilots flying combat missions against the target, that can shoot them down, we drop the pretense and admit that that is war. The question for us as a nation is, is ISIS worth a war? Is it worth putting U.S. troops back in combat to fight this terrorist group. If we stop with the euphemisms, if we admit that there are real risks here, real flesh and blood, life and death risks here. Are those risks worth the benefits? Is it likely to succeed to fight these terrorist group in this way? These are hard, hard questions. And so therefore Congress does not want to ask them or answer them. At least not any time soon because of course there`s an election 49 days from today. To avoid the hard questions of whether or not to authorize this war. This authorize this new combat mission in the Middle East. Congress has now decided what they`re going to do. They`re going to let it happen without themselves weighing in on it at all. They`re just going to let the president authorize this alone with no debate and no authorization at least for a while. At least until after the election. In the meantime, though, so as to look like they are not completely shirking their responsibilities, Congress has decided to bite off a small piece of this problem that they think might be easier to chew. The House tomorrow is going to vote on what`s being described as the far simpler, far smaller matter of whether the U.S. should provide weapons and training to Syrian rebels. House is due to vote on that tomorrow. The Senate is due to vote on it on Thursday or on Friday. To be clear, what they`re voting on is not the question of whether or not the U.S. should be using our own military force in Iraq and Syria. They`re putting that off for a while. Instead, what they`re voting on is this separate question of whether the U.S. should be up arming rebel groups in Syria. Because they think that`s supposed to be an easier question. Supposed to be easier, right? I mean, yes, sure, ISIS is also a rebel group inside Syria. And you don`t want to arm and train them when the whole idea is we`re supposed to be fighting them. But that means that you just have to survey the landscape of Syrian rebels and pick out the good ones. Not the ISIS ones or not the one who might help ISIS or turn over to ISIS the weapons that we have just given them. You just have to focus in on the good ones. It should be easy, right? The comedian Andy Borowitz in June drew up this helpful application form to show how easy this process could be. He called it the moderate Syrian rebel application form. And it`s multiple choice. So to see if you qualify for millions of dollars in American weapons, please choose an answer for the following questions. Number one, first question, as a Syrian rebel, I think the word or phrase that best describes me is, A, moderate, B, very moderate, C, crazy moderate or D, other. Second question, I became a Syrian rebel because I believe in, A, truth, B, justice, C, the American way, or D, creating an Islamic caliphate. Question three, if I were given a highly lethal automatic weapon by the United States I would, A, only kill exactly the people that the United States wants me to kill, B, try to kill the right people with the caveat that I`ve never actually used an automatic weapon before., C, I would kill people only after submitting them to a rigorous vetting process, or D, I would immediately let the weapon fall into the wrong hands. Andy Borowitz posted that in June. Today he posted an update under this headline, "John Kerry claims U.S. has found a moderate Syrian rebel," in what Secretary of State John Kerry described as a significant foreign policy coup. The U.S. claimed on Tuesday that it had successfully located a moderate Syrian rebel. The secretary of state said the Syrian had been appropriately vetted and was deemed moderately rebellious. (LAUGHTER) Yes. The great Andy Borowitz is just making fun with that stuff, but the fact that he has been making that particular brand of fun for months now is a good reminder that this policy has been kicking around for months now. This policy, this proposal that the U.S. can somehow find the good rebels to arm in Syria. It`s been kicking around for a long time and there`s a reason why there`s been no formal decision made by Congress to go ahead with that on any great scale. Because it`s really risky. Risky enough to make fun of in the pages of the "New Yorker," right? I mean, risky enough that the administration has been really open about the risks. All the way to the top. And in the military, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs himself, Martin Dempsey wrote a letter to the Senate last July spelling out the risks of trying to find moderates among the Syrian rebels, to train and arm them. He said the risks include extremists gaining access to those weapons that we were trying to provide to the moderates. He also voices this sort of delicately worded worry that if the U.S. arms and trains the Syrian rebels, we may end up having a, quote, "inadvertent association with war crimes due to vetting difficulties." You know, that`s if the moderate rebel application process doesn`t work out the way we hoped. The same doubts were voiced today in Congress including by members of the president`s own country, as both the House and the Senate prepared for this same vote on this piece of this big problem. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: How can you truly vet them and how can we have any hope that if they do agree to fight ISIL on some level, not just Assad, that they will continue to do so and not align themselves with ISIL. And they feel like Assad is in their sides? SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: And those weapons will probably be used against us at some time in the future. If everything that`s happened in the past, I have a hard time understanding why all of a sudden we`re going to convince these 5,000 to turn and fight ISIS, who`s fighting the same religious war that they`re fighting against the Assad regime? It doesn`t make any sense. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Joe Manchin today voicing doubts about arming and training the Syrian rebels. Those doubts are coming from both Houses of Congress, from both sides of the aisle. Last month; President Obama himself expressed his own doubts about arming and training those rebels. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With respect to Syria, it`s always been a fantasy this idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth. And that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state, but also a well- armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah. That was never in the cards. THOMAS FRIEDMAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You`re finding that now because you`re trying to arm people, find people? What are you finding? OBAMA: There`s not as much capacity as you would hope. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Congress does not want to vote on whether the U.S. ought to start waging a new war in the Middle East. Even as those combat missions are already on the way. Congress does not want to vote on that. Instead, they have broken off what they hope will be an easier decision about whether to train and arm the Syrian rebels. And that vote is due to happen over the next 48 hours in Congress. Probably tomorrow in the House, supposed to be Friday in the Senate but you know senators want to go home Friday and campaign, right? So you know they`re going to push that up to Thursday. There`s no reason not to think that this is going to be an easy vote. Right? And there`s no way to predict how it`s going to go. Anybody who`s honest about this question knows that it`s a hard thing to decide. Otherwise, this would have been months ago -- a year ago when they first started talking about doing this. But here`s one really important thing that`s been lost in the debate so far. One really specific important thing. And Thomas Friedman was getting at this in his follow-up question to President Obama there. His last point is crucial and that has been lost so far. One ought to be a good debate. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FRIEDMAN: You`re finding that now because you`re trying to arm people, find people? What are you finding? OBAMA: There`s not as much capacity as you would hope. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It`s kind of broken up in the way he`s saying the question there. "You`re finding that now because you`re trying to arm people." What he`s alluding to there is the fact that we`re already doing this. The United States government is already arming and training the rebels in Syria. That`s supposedly what the big debate is about in Congress right now. And the big vote in Congress this week, instead of voting on the actual war they`re going to vote on this little piece of it? But this little piece of it is already happening. It`s the CIA doing it. And like everything the CIA does, it`s a covert action so they don`t want to talk about it. But it`s not a secret, really. It`s already happening. It`s already happening. There`s already efforts underway for months now to arm and train those rebels. Debate in Congress is just to ramp that up and expand it and make it less covert. If that`s the case, shouldn`t we know if what we`ve done already is working? And if we`ve been doing this already for months, has it been successful? And if it hasn`t been successful, presumably shouldn`t we wonder why we would do more of it? If it has been successful, then why are we starting our own war now out of apparent desperation and so fast that it can`t even wait for Congress to vote? Joining us now is Nancy Youssef. She`s a national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspaper. She`s covered the American government`s current ongoing campaign conducted under the CIA to arm and train the Syrian rebels among lots of other things in this region. Miss Youssef, thanks very much for being here. NANCY YOUSSEF, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPER: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: So the CIA has already been part of an effort. And in fact a multinational effort to arm and train rebels in Syria. How has that operation gone thus far? Has it met the objectives that it was set out to meet in the first place? YOUSSEF: Well, so far they`ve trained about 3,000 and this is a program that began last spring and the first fighters started showing up in September. And given this progress that ISIS has made, the territory that they`ve taken in that time, it is a program that has frankly struggled. The fighters themselves are divided. They don`t have any real leadership. They lose timeline off of the battlefield. The definition of a moderate, it depends on who you ask. And the fact they have only been able to train 3,000 against an ISIS force that is upwards of 31,000 now really strikes as some of the challenges that this program has faced. Perhaps the biggest one of all and the one that will continue to confront this effort is a lot of these fighters don`t want to fight ISIS immediately. Their primary concern is getting rid of the Assad regime and then dealing with ISIS. And so convincing them to change their objectives and align themselves with people, their fellow rebels, to fight ISIS, and not Bashar al-Assad, that is, in the immediate, the biggest challenge facing this program and has been a challenge of this program from its inception last spring. MADDOW: So this program, as you say, started last spring. There`s a political question that I think is worth asking about. Why Congress is voting on this while letting the authorization for the use of military force by U.S. forces sort of drift until after the midterm elections. That`s a political question but there is sort of this strategic question about whether or not what they are voting on in this program would just expand that thing we`re already doing, or whether this would change the program in some significant way. You say they`ve already trained about 3,000 rebels through the existing program. They`re saying they`d want to do about 5,000 rebels over the course of a year under what they`re debating now. Would they be doing it in a significantly different way? YOUSSEF: Well, it would be gunned by the military versus the CIA. And of course the military has done this for upwards of a decade in Iraq. And so that would perhaps be the biggest change. We`ll perhaps don`t see a change in the types of weapons that are provided, the duration of the training under the CIA. It was over a period of months. The Pentagon has said that they could do it in a matter of weeks and so that would be a big difference. But perhaps most -- the biggest change you would see in the two programs is where the CIA was something -- it was covert. This would be something that would perhaps lay the groundwork for training more if successful whereas the CIA, one of those essentially trial program in terms of creating a rebel force. This would be laying the ground for -- training more fighting the course of the conflict depending on how these fighters do. MADDOW: That`s a very interesting and I think important structural point. This idea that when you were doing something at a covert level, yes, you can avoid political debate on it because it`s technically covert but it also to certain extent limits the scale of what you can do before it`s too big for you to avoid talking about it. Fascinating. Nancy Youssef, national security correspondent from McClatchy Newspapers, thanks for helping us talk about this part of this tonight. I appreciate it. YOUSSEF: Thank you. MADDOW: Thank you. McClatchy, I would say in general, as a news organization has been invaluable in terms of getting parts of these debates about national security in the Middle East into the national discussion in the United States that wouldn`t be there if McClatchy reporters weren`t there covering those hard angles on this stuff. They are proud to be an impolitic news organization when they need to be and we are a better country for it. Anyway, so lots more to come tonight, including some breaking news on the NFL scandal and a big, long thing about space disco. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There is some breaking news to report on at this hour, which is that the union representing NFL players has tonight officially filed an appeal in the Ray Rice case. Ray Rice was originally handed a two-game suspension after he was arrested on domestic violence charges earlier this year and then charged with a third-degree felony. The NFL, after that, decided to change that sentence. They decided, instead, to suspend Ray Rice indefinitely after a videotape was made public last week which showed the domestic violence incident in question. The tape showed Mr. Rice knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an elevator and then dragging her unconscious body out of that elevator into a casino lobby. Well, the NFL players` union had until midnight tonight to make a decision on whether they would appeal Ray Rice`s punishment. And the players` association has now decided to do so. A representative for the players` union telling NBC News tonight that they believe that there was not a fair and impartial process in this case. There not a fair and impartial process that caused the NFL to switch from its original two-game suspension to the indefinite/forever suspension that Ray Rice has now. They say Ray Rice was not afforded due process in that decision and that`s why they are sticking up for him in this appeal. Now normally an appeal like this would be overseen by the commissioner of the NFL. He would act basically as the judge and jury in a case like this. But the players` union tonight has also asked that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recuse himself from this case entirely. That`s in part because Roger Goodell would likely be called as a witness in this appeal. So he shouldn`t be judging a case in which he`s also a witness. The NFL has not yet commented on whether Commissioner Roger Goodell will in fact recuse himself. But again, this breaking news tonight that the NFL players union is officially appealing the Ray Rice suspension. This means that as much as they would really like to put this behind them, the NFL is not going to be able to put this case behind them any time soon. Especially today as more and more sponsors voiced their concern with the league and they`re handling of these matters. This continues to move very fast. We`ll let you know as we learn more. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Something is changing in election land. Watch this, Nate Silver, the famous stats guy at 538.com, his statistical model predicted back at the end of August a 60 percent probability that Republicans would take control of the Senate in this year`s election. So, that`s late August. Republicans with a 60 percent chance. But now look at this. As of last night, Nate Silver`s model has dropped that probability from 60 percent to 55 percent. Democrats` chances getting better, Republicans chances getting worse. And it`s not just 538. When Nate Silver left the "New York Times" and took all of that monster web traffic with him, the New York Times in his wake built something called the upshot. And the upshot at "The New York Times" at the end of August for them, they said the Republicans had a 65 percent chance of taking over the Senate. So, again, that`s last August, Republicans have a 65 percent chance. Now, they have dropped that probability from 65 percent to 50/50. Now, the New York Times says it`s a tosser. Both parties have an equal likelihood of winning the majority in the Senate. And it`s not just 538 and "The New York Times." Because here is "The Washington Post." "The Washington Post" election widget. Their prediction model, the thing it`s called election lab, in late August, election lab`s prediction was that Republicans have a 57 percent probability of taking over the Senate. Now, they have dropped that probability from 57 to 50.1 percent. So at 538, "The New York Times", the "Washington Post," all of these statistical sites where they are aggregating all the polls from around the country coming up with a big picture prediction about who`s going to win in November, all three of them were saying that Republicans have an even or better chance of taking over the Senate for the rest of the Obama presidency. One source that`s disagreed with all the others for weeks now is the Princeton election consortium which is run by Sam Wong. Sam Wong in his statistical model in Princeton correctly predicted the outcome of every single U.S. Senate race in the country in 2012. Something that nobody else did, at least as far as we can tell. And all along, in this election cycle, Sam Wong, in the Princeton election consortium, they have been way more bullish than everybody else, on the Democrats` chances for holding on to control of the Senate. So, when everybody else was predicting last month that the Republicans had a 57-60, 65 percent chance of winning the Senate, Sam Wong in Princeton, they were saying the opposite. They were saying, in that same time frame at the end of August, that it was actually the Democrats who had a 70 percent chance of holding on to the Senate. The Democrats, not the Republicans. That was the Sam Wong view at the end of August. Well, today, look. Like everyone else, he, too, thinks that the Democrats chances are getting better. He was already bullish on Democrats` chances of holding on to the Senate, but now he`s upped his prediction from Democrats having a 70 percent chance of holding on to instead having a 78 percent chance. The people who were down on the Democrats chances are now suddenly up on the Democrats` chances, and the people who were already up on the Democrats chances today, they`re way up on the Democrat`s chances. What`s going on? Why is all of this turning around and happening right now? Well, of course, it is multiple states, multiple races, multiple polls, lots of different numbers. But it is also one amazing story. Which happened today in a little little-noticed state Supreme Court in the middle of the country. And that story is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: As they try to win control of the U.S. Senate this year, National Republicans said not counted on having to for the Republican Senate seat that they already hold in Kansas. And if his lazy days campaign schedule is anything to go by, longtime incumbent Kansas Senator Pat Roberts had also not expected to have to fight very hard to hold onto his seat. But, now, Senator Roberts and Republicans more broadly, appeared to have woken up to the fact that they do have a real fight on their hands in blood red Kansas, of all places. National Republicans are flown in a new team of seasoned Republicans pros from Washington to take over the Roberts campaign from the locals? They`ve also started running these new ads. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kansans are struggling, and Barack Obama`s failed policies are hurting working families. Pat Roberts is fighting back and getting results. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Republican Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran say the money for the national bio and agro defense facility was approved. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The national bio and agro defense facility proposed for the Kansas State campus in Manhattan would bring in more than 300 high paying jobs. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pat Roberts, strong effective leadership in challenging times. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: OK. That ad, fresh today from the newly re-invigorated Pat Roberts` campaign in Kansas. But look at the headlines that flash by in the ad. See, it`s very fine print, but where it says Roberts marshals efforts to put defense facility in Kansas? The date on that is from seven years ago. 2007. Also, this other one, huge win, bio defense lab, boost entire state. That one is from six years ago. That`s from 2008. You can see Senator Roberts in the middle there in the light-colored suit with a shovel. Senator Roberts did do work in D.C. to try to get the federal government to build this national bio and agro defense facility in Kansa, and in a way, he did win. At one point, they were going to get that thing built in Kansas. Bringing home the pork. Yeah, jobs. But that was a really long time ago. That was even before Barack Obama was elected president. That was before this term for Kansas - Kansas Senator Pat Roberts in the Senate. And if you look at this more recent record, well, this year in January, Senator Roberts actually voted to defund that same project. And, you know, that`s fine. Folks change their minds. But that`s also - the kind of thing that local press is going to notice. If you start all of sudden running campaign ads toting your support for something that you just voted to defund. Embarrassing. It has not been a great reboot for the Pat Roberts campaign: he`s a long-time incumbent. He`s supposed to be sailing the victory here. That all changed, though, this month, when the Democrat in the race dropped out. The Democrat was running against him. Dropped out of the race, that made way for a popular independent candidate to run against unpopular Senator Roberts in a two way race. A two way race, in which the latest polls show Pat Roberts losing his seat to the independent guy who`s running against him. We`ll have more on that in just a second. But since they have to get out- they are already in trouble in Kansas. The National Republican Party has stepped in to try to rescue their Kansas candidate. They flew out this new team to take over the campaign. They put out those new ads today. Republicans are also fighting for him in court in Kansas. The Kansas Supreme Court today heard arguments about whether that Democratic candidate would in fact be allowed to drop out of the race. The Republican Secretary of State in Kansas, the guy named Kris Kobach, he has ruled that the Democratic candidate didn`t fill out his paperwork in exactly the right way. So, he will not be allowed to quit. So now the Kansas Supreme Court has to decide whether the Democrat will be allowed to take himself off the ballot or whether the Republicans in Kansas state government can force him to stay on the ballot. In which case Pat Roberts has a much better chance of keeping his seat, and national Republicans have a much better chance of holding onto the entire United States Senate. We expect a ruling on this case from the Kansas Supreme Court, probably to come down really fast. It could come down as early as tomorrow, even as though they just heard arguments today. They need to move fast, because the ballots have to get printed in Kansas on Friday. So, there isn`t much wiggle room here. In terms of the stakes here, though, as promised, here is that polling from today. Which does suggest that even a court- mandated three-way race, even if they don`t let the Democrat off the ballot that might not be enough to help Senator Roberts now. Today`s polling is of likely voters, and it shows the independent in the race, Greg Orman, leading the senator by ten points if they are in a two-way race. That`s head-to-head. The senator, the incumbent, senator trailing by ten. Even if this does stay a three-way race, though, if the court decides that the Democrat has to be forced to stay on the ballot, Pat Roberts is still trailing in a three-way race by seven points, which is still a lot, especially when you`re the incumbent. Whatever the Kansas Supreme Court decides, this is not what Republicans expected to find themselves doing seven weeks from the election. But what is the Kansas Supreme Court going to decide here? Joining us now is Dave Helling, political reporter for the "Kansas City Star." He`s been following this story closely from the start. Mr. Helen, great to see you. Thanks for being back with us. DAVE HELLING, KANSAS CITY STAR: You bet. MADDOW: So, watching those oral arguments, it`s always folly (ph) to extrapolate from oral arguments, to predict what the court is going to do. But will you do it anyway? Do you have a sense of how they felt about this case? HELLING: Well, since you ask, yes, I will speculate a bit. You`re right. You don`t want to prejudge based on what judges, justices ask in court, Rachel, because sometimes they like to pretend they are reporters and ask questions on both sides of an issue. But in this case, you did get the sense today that the judges, by the way, many of them Democrats, or appointed by Democrats, are pretty skeptical of this idea that Kris Kobach could force Chad Taylor to stay on the ballot. They did suggest that he`s ruled differently in other cases that involved people who have left the ballot. So, again, without being too aggressive in prejudging their decision, it does seem like the justices or majority of justices are skeptical of this idea, that Chad Taylor who says he has no interest in f running for office, he should actually be forced to be on a ballot. MADDOW: I`m glad you raised that issue about precedent here. I understand that one of the things they went through today with the lawyers were other instances of people trying to drop off the ballot. People applying to Kris Kobach`s office and saying hey, I want out of this race. In general, with those precedents, with those other candidates, were they perfectly explicit to the letter of the law and saying exactly why they wanted to get off the ballot according to the terms that the Chad Taylor cases didn`t meet? What did you make for that evidence? HELLING: No, the Kris Kobach has said look, you have to say specifically, you have to declare in that letter why you are incapable of holding office. That`s what the statute said. But these other letters didn`t make a blatant statement of incapability. Some of them have said look, I`m too busy, I`m worried about my other scheduling. I just can`t serve. And Kobach said, well, at that point, I have the discretion to determine whether or not the excuse in the letter is sufficient to meet the standard in the law. And Tony for Chad Taylor said well, that`s pretty silly. I mean as long as you substantially comply, as these other people did, you should be able to get off the ballot and again, the judges seem to indicate that they had some sympathy for that argument. MADDOW: Dave, we are seeing the Roberts campaign ramp up, especially with this - the cavalry being brought in from Washington to supplant his local team. HELLING: Right. MADDOW: How do you assess the Orman campaign? The independent candidate in this race? Is he running a good campaign in Kansas terms? HELLING: To date, he`s running a very good campaign. Remember, Rachel, three months ago, nobody had ever heard of Greg Orman. Nobody - n either party he was a virtually unknown in the state. And now as you suggest he leads by ten points in one on one matchup with Pat Roberts in the latest poll. So, he`s doing something right. I think the spots are very sort of neutral. They`re very positive. They suggest that both sides have a problem and as an independent, Greg Orman can solve problems in Washington. Now, you know, we are seven weeks away, a lot of things could happen. You mentioned the rescuers if you will, from the East Coast coming out of Kansas. One of the people involved in the Roberts campaign is a guy named Alan Cobb as a consultant. Alan Cobb is closely connected with Koch industries and Americans for prosperities. So, we don`t know yet whether there will be a lot of third party involvement from either side in this race. That could change the calculus. We do expect it to get a little nastier before Election Day. At this point, Greg Oman is running an almost-perfect campaign, which you almost have to do to beat Pat Roberts. MADDOW: Great heads up in terms of what to keep an eye on. Dave Helling, political reporter for "The Kansas City Star." Thanks, Dave, I really appreciate it. HELLING: You bet. MADDOW: Thanks. HELLING: You bet. MADDOW: All right. I will meet you at the crossroads of Studio 54 and the final frontier coming up next. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK, just ahead there is a legitimate news reason for this, I promise. And it involves Vladimir Putin. It is a bad news story for Vladimir Putin, it is good news overall and it involves this song and this dance specifically I swear. It`s next and I love my job. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Vladimir Putin, disco and blackmail. Here`s how they fit together. If you were born in the 1970s or later you basically missed disco. Yes, you know what it is. You can probably hit the high points in terms of "Saturday Night Fever" and Studio 54 and even if you can`t remember that the bland was chic and the song was "Le Frick" you can probably still freak out. (MUSIC) MADDOW: If you weren`t of dancing age by the late `70s it was possible to miss disco because the disco era did not last all that long. And if you missed the disco era you probably do not remember that there were also disco subgenres, there was Euro disco typified by Newt Gingrich`s favorite band, Abba seen here singing about "Waterloo." There`s a specific sub- variant of Polish disco that survives to this day, they call it disco polo and there was a specific variant of disco called space disco. See what you missed out on, my fellow 40-year olds? This was a spacey era in pop culture. Disco was there to take advantage of it. The movie "Star Wars" came out in 1977 and this song, which was called "I love playing court to his courtship trooper" (ph) was written in `78, came out in 1979, and its lyrics were about "Star Wars," about fighting for the federation. (MUSIC) MADDOW: We conquer space! Perhaps, the foremost example of space disco, the song "I lost my heart to a starship trooper." It did very well with the top ten single in the U.K., and it launched for singing career of the lay in the leotard. The teenage lead vocalist for the song was Sarah Brightman, she got her start in space disco. And now she wants to go to space itself. Sarah Brightman is now in her 50s, she is very successful, she sold tens of millions of records as a crossover pop classical artist, and now she plans to become a space tourist. She`s paid something like $15 million for the privilege of traveling along as a passenger on a Russian spaceflight. She`s tentatively due to go up next year at around this time. She traveled to Russia already to do some preliminary medical testing to see if she`s fit enough to make the trip into space. But here`s where Vladimir Putin comes in. And blackmail. Right now, yes, it is embarrassing that the Russian space agency has to fund itself by offering $50 million tickets to celebrities, yes. But right now the Russian space agency is the only ride in the world for anybody who wants to go to the international space station. Since the U.S. Space shuttle program shut down in 2011 when we want to put our astronauts on the space station now we have to get in line with the celebrities and pay the Russians to give us a ride to space. Vladimir Putin and the Russians have a monopoly on manned spaceflight right now and like any good monopolists, they are abusing it. By using the monopoly control over that resource to get what they want. Quietly last week the Russians announced that anybody wanting to get a ride into space with them, anybody wanting to ride along on a Soyuz spacecraft now may have to do their preflight training in Crimea. Russia invaded Crimea and took it over six months ago. The world, including the U.S. doesn`t recognize Crimea as part of Russia. They recognize it as still part of Ukraine, the country that Russia took it from, but Russia now says they`re about to insist that the mandatory cosmonaut training for people who want to ride into space with them is going to happen in the part of Russia that is called Crimea. So you don`t recognize Crimea as part of Russia? You can`t fly into space. That goes for you, American astronauts, planning to fly to the space station in the next couple of years and, yes that goes for you Sarah Brightman would-be starship trooper. Everybody has to kiss Putin`s ring and go to Crimea and call it Russia if they want to go to space. That`s what Russia announced last week. Well, today NASA announced that they would fix it. Today NASA announced that the Russian monopoly on flying people into space is over. Boeing and the company SpaceX founded by the Tesla guy will both receive multibillion dollar contracts to get the U.S. back into the business of delivering humans safely into and out of space within the next three years. SpaceX has already been delivering cargo to the space station, but NASA`s announcement today means they`ll be delivering humans as well, soon, may not be soon enough to prevent Sarah Brightman from having to go to Crimea and call it Russia, which Putin will collect as blackmail along with her $52 million but it would stop the spectacle of more of that blackmail in the future. Her space tourist mandatory cosmonaut space training is due to start in January 2015. SpaceX and Boeing are supposed to be ready to take humans in 2017. Maybe she`ll decide she can wait. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END